Chapter 35: Conflicts of Interest
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
The sun had long past set before they had decided to move.
Shirou stood in front of his house calmly dressed in his fieldwork clothes. Dark tan pants. Under armor made from the same material Sirius had made his bow with underneath a blue and black shirt. Combat boots. A belt. Gloves. The Shroud of Martin wrapped around his face. And finally his personal trench coat containing various items that he may find useful during operations that he cannot simply trace.
Virtually every article he was wearing was modified in some way to provide him a solid degree of defense against a physical or mystery based attack, more so to be reinforced by his magic for far greater effect. There had been many cases where his life had been saved during an Apostle or Sealing Designee hunt because of them.
Virtually none of that would be particularly useful should a Servant manage to land even one solid hit on him at half strength. He'd still likely die from such a blow.
In front of him, Saber, Rider, and Sakura were standing at the ready, all geared for what was to come tonight. Sakura, in particular, was wearing a rather dark ensemble consisting of a black short skirt with dark leggings and a deep purple sweater, and even her hair was tied up into a ponytail.
What was most eye-catching about her though, was the backpack she wore…
None of them showed any form of anxiety for what they were going to do. Admittedly, Shirou had somewhat expected Sakura to be a bit uncomfortable. However he guessed that after everything she had been through under Zouken's… care, and more so after what had occurred the last few days, she had become accustomed to the eerie silence before the battle.
They all stared at one another firmly, yet at the same time somehow able to read one another well enough to seemingly hold small silent conversations at the same time.
Shirou was the first to move, turning away from the group as he pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial button. The phone rang twice before someone on the other side picked up.
"Hello?" The female voice on the other side asked casually.
"… We're ready on our side." The Emiya's even voice sent minor shivers through Saber's spine. The pitch and accent was different, but it was almost as if she was listening to Kiritsugu speak instead of his son.
There was a brief pause.
"How convenient. Caster had finished crafting her spell not too long ago as well." The individual on the other side mused as if he was the one doing her the favor.
"And the locations I specified?" Shirou didn't bother with small talking. It would break his focus if he did.
"Absolutely nothing of interest from what we can tell." The accompanied sigh was clearly faked. There was no way the owner of the voice would truly be that bored during such an important operation.
"Good." Shirou proceeded to hook the phone up to his belt and connect it to a wire that led to a transceiver on his belt. He then looped a small plastic device onto his ear and tapped the microphone that it held to his mouth. "Testing. Testing."
"I hear you, Emiya." The Edelfelt's voice carried a hint of annoyance. She knew why he was using modern hardware for communication instead of using thaumaturgy. Any form of magical communication near the mountain might as well be flashing in the night sky as far as Caster was concerned. It still didn't mean that she had to be comfortable with it.
The leader of the group flipped a switch on the transmitter. "Sakura?"
"I hear you." The remaining practitioner of the Makiri arts replied through the device that was hanging off of her own ear.
"Are you still on Luvia?"
"As much as I ever will with these cumbersome devices." The blonde sighed.
"Keep verbal communication to a minimum once we are within range. We can't risk any distractions," the only male ordered calmly before turning to Sakura again and held up his open left hand and wiggled his fingers questionably. Around the glove, the Servants could see a small and fragile transparent ring on each finger.
Sakura nodded as she held up her own left hand and revealed that she too had a ring on each finger. "Don't worry, I remember each one."
Shirou gave a shallow nod before turning away from the group… and paused.
"… The moon's almost full tonight…" he muttered out loud, captivated by the orb in the sky. From what he could determine there would barely be any clouds in the way to block it. He gave it another day or two before it reached its full magnificence.
"I didn't know you were such a romantic." Luvia's dry retort was ignored. She was the only one who heard him that didn't know the significance of the statement.
"Shirou… will it be a problem?" Saber frowned, having dealt with Dead Apostles before in her time and knowing how dangerous his condition was.
The only thing heard for almost a full minute was the sound of the nocturnal insects going about their business before the afflicted human shook his head. "No…"
The Shroud of Martin, ever present on his person, slowly moved and altered under its owner's wishes, down on his body before it disappeared under his cloak. His unexpectedly peacefully smiling face revealed for all to see.
"Actually I quite welcome it tonight…"
o. o. o.
"They are going," the King of Rats reported to his master dutifully. "All of them."
"Yes, it does seem about the time they should," Crown mused as he sat on the park bench, staring aimlessly at the moon in the sky and swaying his legs like the child he appeared to be. "… You are uncomfortable."
"Forgive me for being such a disturbance, Master." The Rat may be a part of his host; nonetheless, he was still a separate entity, and furthermore Merem Solomon was a Dead Apostle over a thousand years old. Entities at such rank and power never appreciated being distracted from the moon, especially when it was as close to being full as tonight.
The vampire brushed aside his apologies. "You are my trusted arm. I value your input as it was my own… although I believe I can hazard a guess as to the specifics of your struggle…"
The fake old man nodded. His master truly did know him well. "… Lord Emiya will not succeed in his endeavors tonight."
It was a fact that they both knew to be true. Despite their comrade's impressive efforts and planning, the fact of the matter was that there was far too much that he was not aware of. Had these unknown factors been decreased by even a small margin, the odds of his success would have been comprehensible enough to fall in the realm of possibility…
If he had brought along the Edelfelt girl and her Servant, the situation would be far less grim for their friend, regrettably this was not so.
"No, he won't." Merem nodded. "A shame. He had been doing so well managing the war up until this point."
"The fallout from tonight's events could prove to be concerning," the priest continued. "Far too many players will be participating. Too many… undesired events could occur. Ones that may prove to be irreparable."
"We have already interfered enough as it is," the vampire stated factually. "Any more and we risk drawing too much attention to ourselves, which can easily result in more unwanted attention."
The other Ancestors.
Merem wasn't exactly on good terms with most of them given that he works for the Church in destroying his kind. Even if that wasn't the case, simply hearing rumors that one of the Twenty Seven was interested in the Grail War would turn a good number of heads…
Type Moon forbid they ever learn that the Ash of Miracles was involved as well… even if it would be rather amusing to see his fellow Apostles looking around blindly for a mystery person who doesn't even know his own identity.
No. One powderkeg event at a time, Solomon. We don't want to overextend ourselves before the Dark Six ritual in a few years…
"I was not thinking of interfering Master," the royal rodent argued. "Merely that we provide a form of... damage control... as it were. The situation regarding the younger Edelfelt is after all rather… volatile."
"Hmmmm." The childish Ancestor's pout would be quite amusing to those that didn't know what he was and what he was thinking about. "You make a fair point. We can't risk the girl's condition given what it is."
The one armed boy got off the bench and brushed off the dust on his clothes. "Very well. You best hurry to where you believe you should be. It won't be long before Shirou makes it to the temple."
The priest's stature relaxed greatly, as if a great worry had been relieved from his shoulders. "By your leave then, Master."
Crown did not once look away from the moon as his animate limb transformed into a small white rat that vanished into the darkness. His left arm was a rather predictable little demon to those who knew him well. The little rat was unquestionably loyal to those who had earned his trust and friendship…
Counting Merem and Shirou… he now had two people that fell into that category. Ah… no, four if you included those rather innocent Banshee girls…
It was because of that that Merem didn't even have to say anything to guide his most useful appendage to where he was heading now.
"It is a rather good moon out…" the child like immortal mused out loud. "… I suppose that is one positive thing that came out of tonight…"
o. o. o.
Luvia, Rin, and Caster sat comfortably in the observation room that had been set up by both Casters before the betrayal. The Masters were sitting in the obviously expensive and comfortable chairs that Luvia had set up in it earlier while the Servant hovered over her creation. She occasionally muttered an ancient word or two in order to adjust the projected image of Shirou's group making their way through the city and of the temple grounds themselves.
Rin would have made a comment about Luvia's need to stuff the room with "overpriced mistakes", but she knew better than to start a fight now. Tempers were still running high in the room, and things promised to become even more energetic soon enough.
"He seems to be taking his sweet time." The blonde frowned, glaring at the prematurely greying teen even though it would yield no results.
"Let it go." Rin drank from the complimentary cup of tea that her rival's butler had given her. Enemies or not, there were still certain procedures one went through when hosting guests. True it was a pale imitation of what Shirou could prepare, but it was good nonetheless. "He has plenty of time before midnight."
"Of course you'd be calm. You're not the one who's…" Luvia's counter died in her throat as she turned around to focus on Rin, only to notice that the hand holding the cup was shaking erratically. Not enough to spill the hot liquid it held but more than enough to be noticeable.
The Tohsaka's discovery that her Servant was a Counter Guardian had not left her in a calm state. In fact it had taken Luvia the better part of the afternoon to snap her out of being genuinely hysterical. She had absolutely never seen Rin act in such a way like this to anything before, and it honestly scared her more than she would ever care to admit.
Clearly, there was more to Shirou's apparent… distortion, than she had originally thought.
Archer had obviously felt his Master's distressed state and had rushed over to help her. From his perspective, it wouldn't have been hard to believe that Luvia and Caster had possibly done something to her while he was away…
But no one had really expected Rin to go nearly catatonic the moment he had entered the room and the pair laid eyes on one another.
It had taken a great deal of screaming, pushing, arguing, and threats possibly involving noble phantasms before Luvia finally managed to convince the stubborn Servant that his presence wasn't the best thing for his Master at the moment, and that no, she and Caster wouldn't take the easy way out and kill Rin when he was gone… this time.
She was a Magus. She could only extend her kindness only so far.
At the moment, the lone Servant was sitting on top of the mansion, keeping an eye out for any potential enemies that might come by. The fact that he was extremely confused and frustrated about his situation only seemed to bring a grim satisfaction to Caster and Luvia, who thought it was almost poetic justice for the Emiya, (or at least the agreed upon more annoying version of Emiya) to finally get a taste of his own medicine.
Rin's eyes were swollen and her face was a few shades paler than her normal complexion allowed. However, the Tohsaka either didn't seem to notice it or was doing an admirable job of pretending that she didn't look like a wreck. Regardless it didn't change the fact that she had not once taken her eyes off of the projection screen the moment Shirou's image had appeared.
"… You know, I believe this is the first time I'll be seeing it," Rin mused out loud, breaking the uncomfortable silence in the room.
"The first time seeing what?" Caster allowed her confusion to be seen by the others. They were on the job now. Hiding emotions could cause miscommunication at the worst times in a situation like this.
"Shirou when he's on the job." Rin didn't blink as she drank from her unstable tea cup. "I've trained and taught him a good portion of what he knows over the years, but I have never seen him move with that much confidence before. The closest to this was the night we dealt with Louvre, and we were all pretty much nervous wrecks for a good number of reasons when we left. Now though…"
"It was the opposite for me." Luvia watched Shirou's image casually walking down the road to the temple, his eyes darting left and right, no doubt structurally grasping everything he saw. No matter how many times she saw him do it, she was honestly astounded by how fast he could analyze virtually anything he laid his eyes on. Swords of course were a given; however, she had on occasion seen him completely determine the nature and mechanics mysteries of several magi before they could finish their first aria.
Granted, this applied mostly to mysteries that required physical conduits to perform the bulk of their tasks; nonetheless, it was still an exceptional feat to claim.
"When I first met him in the Clocktower, he was all business. No doubt that was your work. I doubt that McGinty and Lord El Melloi would have managed to do that much on their own." Luvia continued. "Imagine my surprise when I first saw him gushing over cook books in his spare time."
"Something tells me the biggest shock was when you first found out he can cook like a pro." Rin snorted. "… That or that he's actually a decent human being unlike every other magus on the planet."
"The latter so far is up for debate given recent circumstances." Luvia's counterargument was not unwarranted given how much trouble anyone bearing the Emiya name has given them… and pretty much everyone else in the war really, themselves included.
Rin's dry scoff was the only response her host received before they returned to focus on the projection. No, she was too absorbed into what was in front of her to simply be focused…
"She's trying to distract herself," Caster communicated with her Master telepathically. "I believe she is looking for something in tonight's events that will contradict what we know about Archer."
Luvia couldn't help but be disappointed in Rin. She had expected the girl she had unofficially decided to be her rival in all things to be strong enough to ever fall into such a state. However she apparently had been mistaken. "Just leave her be Caster. While we may have overestimated her, she is still at least competent enough to be of some use."
"I still don't get it…" Rin muttered, distracting the pair from their musings.
"What don't you understand?" The other master frowned. Anything regarding Archer was out the window since even looking at him caused the Tohsaka to completely lose any stability she had, so the only other relevant subject the girl was concentrating on was the image in front of her.
"Sakura." The native's eyes took in her sister's image with scrutiny, her hands stabilizing as its owner's mind honed in on a mystery that didn't unnerve her. "There's no point in her coming if all they're going to do is fight. Her powers are affective against spirits and Servants, but she's not strong enough to actually be of any use against any of them. She'd be close enough to supply Rider with more prana, but at risk of exposing herself to danger… Shirou..." She momentarily flinched. "He would never allow her to come if it was for such a simple reason as that…"
"He's going to use her for something." Caster frowned, already seeing that the Makiri's purpose was going to be irregular in tonight's events.
"It appears not even Sakura is untouched by the Magus Killer's machinations." Luvia eyed Sakura's backpack, speculating the contents…
… When the group stopped moving.
"Luvia. Caster." Shirou spoke through his mouthpiece, transmitting his voice to the speaker set up in the room. "We should be near the range of the Witch's sensory capabilities, correct?"
The pair in the building blinked in confusion for but a moment, before recalling that Shirou wanted to know before he was within the enemy's range. The group was still nearly four miles away from the temple, but for a servant like Caster sensing another Servant over such a distance was well within the range of believable.
It took only a brief moment for the Princess to confirm the Magus Killer's question. "Yes. That is correct Emiya."
Shirou nodded to the Servant more than ten miles away from him before turning to Sakura and Rider. Without any further instructions, the Servant instantly became intangible while the Master looked worriedly at her lover, hesitating for a good few moments before rushing a quick kiss on his cheek.
"Be careful," she all but whispered to him before quickly turning around and running down an adjacent street away from Shirou and Saber.
The Emiya momentarily looked surprised by the action. However, his expression grew darker the further the girl's image became. "Idiot. I'm the one that should be worried…"
"Is there anything you might want to tell us lovely viewers?" Luvia's mocking voice asked over the ear piece.
Shirou remained silent as Sakura vanished into the darkness, blocked off by both people that didn't have the sense to stay inside, and the random vehicles that occupied the roads. "… Nothing that you probably didn't suspect of me already, Luvia."
There was a moment of silence between the two parties before Luvia broke it again. "We won't be able to come and help you if you get into trouble."
"So long as you keep an eye out for me, I won't ask anything else from you." Shirou began to resume his walk to the temple, followed shortly by Saber. "I don't have any right to ask you of anything else."
"Be that as it may, you are not the only one with important assets at stake tonight." The blonde hummed as if she did not fall into that category. "In case you had not been successful, I did happen to hear from Tohsaka earlier. She is as annoying as normal. However, both she and her Servant are around, regrettably."
"Keep talking Edelfelt," Rin growled. "It'll just make kicking you off of my land feel so much sweeter when this is all done."
"Is that so?" Shirou allowed himself to breathe out in relief. "I couldn't get into contact with her earlier…" There was a pause as his expression darkened significantly. "… Actually I couldn't get into contact with Bazett-nee either…"
"You were rather close to her…" She didn't bother to be careful with her words. Even if she knew that Caster was controlling the woman via her magic, the odds of the Fraga still being alive now were not pleasant. Given what she knew of the Witch, it was probably better for everyone if the Enforcer was dead.
"She's like a sister to me," he admitted without shame. "There's no proof that she is dead yet. She's strong, and Caster is anything if not resourceful and greedy. She'd probably keep Bazett-nee alive to try and reproduce Fragarach if at all possible."
"The disturbing thing is that he has a point," the Princess agreed with his theory, silently commending how quickly he came to that conclusion.
On the other hand, Rin knew that it was simply how his mind worked. Unless he was given blunt information that someone he was latched onto was truly gone or without hope, he would instinctively reach out for other potential routes the enemy could have taken as if grasping at straws. He'd still acknowledge the possibility of the situation being lost, but he would outwardly deny it until he had irrefutable proof that it was so.
"Ignoring your unusual attraction towards female siblings and their stand-in's, this does increase the odds of you encountering Lancer tonight," Luvia pointed out, knowing damn well that said odds were essentially a hundred percent at the moment.
"… Better one than both at least." The Emiya's logic was sound despite the nature of the subject. "As it stands, if we are just battling with Servants, it shouldn't interfere with everything too much…"
The two girls and the Servant looked at one another skeptically. Did Shirou honestly just claim that going up against a third Servant was not a big deal?
"You truly are one absurd individual Emiya." Luvia shook her head with a dry smile on her face.
"I work for Barthomelloi hunting down Apostles, by myself in some cases." Shirou chuckled, no doubt trying to calm down from learning of Bazett's current situation. "And now I'm trying to manipulate a secret war while preventing at least three different cataclysms from occurring. I believe most people would have a good deal more to say about me by this point."
"I said my fair share a while ago." Luvia's voice echoed through the speaker, sounding far more tired than a girl her age should have. "Bring her back, Shirou."
The Emiya didn't say anything as he muted the line. He told Luvia that he would bring Marjatta back, and he intended to do so…
… But he was not an idiot. He knew that given Caster's personality, it may be better for everyone if he delivered a body back instead. He recalled some of the "bad ends" that his father had recorded involving Caster… and sincerely hoped that he would not encounter such a case tonight.
"You're a good man," Saber stated, knowing full well what Shirou was thinking.
"So was dad." Shirou's response held significant weight for the both of them, both in its meaning and in the reason behind it.
"… By my judgment, you hold a significant position over him." Saber held her head up high as she made her declaration and crossed her arms. "Unlike you, I could not tolerate working with Kiritsugu."
The Emiya couldn't help but snort in amusement. Even he didn't expect Saber to lighten up the mood in such a way. "Well then. I hope I can redeem your faith in working with the Assassins of Emiya."
His partner gave him a wry look. "At the very least, no one can deny your competency."
"I'm honored." Shirou's grin widened, allowing his Servant's passive insult go with ease. "I must be the first Assassin that the King of Knights has ever praised without misgivings."
"Keep persisting making light of my statements and I will be more than glad to show you how I normally treat your ilk in my presence."
The pair continued to trade vague insults back and forth as such until they were a half a mile from the temple…
Because Saber couldn't go spiritual, she would essentially be a walking beacon for any Servant with a high sensitivity. Stealth was near pointless against this sort of opponent with this setup, so he had Rider and Sakura split up from them before they got within range.
Saber would be the shining light of war and destruction on the battlefield, and he would be the ominous shadow in her silhouette.
Just like everyone expected…
Just like he wanted…
o. o. o.
It took her a good forty five minutes to get to position.
Half an hour to get to the building. Another fifteen to get to the bloody top.
"Hah. Hah. Man, couldn't they have made the elevator go to the roof?"
The service elevator did. Unfortunately only maintenance had the means to use it, so she had to climb the last ten flights on foot with her heavy load on her back.
Thankfully this was an office building, so she didn't encounter anyone there. As for any locked doors she encountered… well her special brand of "magic" could get her through most of them pretty easily.
She opened the door to the roof and winced as the high elevation cross breezes whipped at her face. She hated this feeling.
"Ugh. Why does it have to be so cold up here?"
Her complaints were drowned in the wind, not as if she had expected anyone to hear her. She had left her group down in the streets after all. They had their jobs and she had hers.
She took off her backpack and unloaded the contents. Heavy metal objects quickly fitted together in her hands, the results of being familiar with the process and a good deal of practice. One of the last things she set up was a convenient folding camping chair, the kind found in any department store if anyone bothered to look. Odds were likely she'd be here for a while, so she might as well be somewhat comfortable.
She nearly lost it when the wind gusted, almost tossing the light plastic furniture over the edge.
This secret war that had been tearing up the area was doing nothing but giving her headaches. Property damage. Murders. And enough fires to make people think that there was a pyromaniac convention in the city.
She knew tonight was a big night. It would be the deciding factor for a good many things that she could barely follow, and so she was aware that her part in everything could be essential to a reasonable conclusion for this.
"I've put my faith into you for this long, Shirou." She muttered as she set herself up while trying to retain her body heat. "Let's see what you can really do."
Several seconds passed as she sat on the roof and stared at the mountainside.
"… Damn it. I forgot to bring the coffee thermos again."
o. o. o.
Caster frowned as she felt Saber approach the temple. She had encountered the Servant of the Sword only once in person, but she would never forget the feel of such a unique existence. To her only Berserker's monstrous presence stood out more.
"She isn't even trying to hide herself…" the Witch muttered as she extended her senses. Come to think of it, there had yet been a moment when Saber had actually astrialized in all the time she had been spying upon her enemies. Was it a personal preference, or perhaps a desire of her Master? Regardless it was a rather reckless decision that wasted prana and a means of concealment. Had she not done such a foolish thing, Caster would have taken far longer to detect the oncoming Servant.
Speaking of annoying individuals, Saber's Master seemed to be travelling with her. Neither seeming to be making much haste towards their location.
"How conceited." She wasn't fooled by this ruse. The boy must think of her to be a fool if he believed that she would fall such a simple slight.
Expanding her gaze further, the descendant of Helios scanned the nearby city until she found what she was looking for. "Ah, there you are my friend…"
Approaching the mountain from the south, Rider in her spiritual form was making far greater time than her allies. Her efforts on remaining undetectable were commendable. However, she was no Assassin, and Caster had the greatest sensory capabilities of all the seven classes.
"So the boy wishes for Saber to be the distraction…" Caster mused as she looked further for any additional Servants, only to find none. She did not bother with the Masters. Save for Lancer's and Saber's Masters, the rest were inconsequential and posed no threat to her. Rider's and Berserker's were without a doubt interesting, but her focus now rested on the oncoming threats. Saber was the greatest threat to her out of all the Servants save Berserker, and Rider was if anything a tricky opponent if pushed too far.
Besides, Saber was the greatest potential prize out of all of them regardless.
Initially, the idea of sending out both Servants under her control to deal with the opposition was the correct one, but then the Witch almost instantly discarded it. Both of her Servants had every reason to have her killed, and she wouldn't be surprised if they let one or both of the oncoming threats through to the temple, where she would essentially be boxed in. Plus, Assassin's Tools of the Trade had yet to reset, not to mention that he was still recovering a great deal from the previous night's battle, so sending out to direct combat was the same as simply throwing him away without getting anything in return…
As powerful as she was here in her Temple, even she had to admit that facing down either Saber or Rider alone, with their high ranking Magic Resistance, was not a pleasant idea.
Luring them all in was also a poor decision. As stated before, nearly every other Servant there wanted her gone for one reason or another. True she had her… insurance, should the enemy gain too much ground, but she would prefer to keep that card hidden unless absolutely needed. Additionally, it would be far too easy for one of her "allies" to have an "accident" resulting in her death in such a commotion.
She could already hear Lancer claiming that him stabbing her in the heart with Gae Bolg's activated ability was a simple mistake. Annoying dog. As for Assassin… oh who was she kidding? He'd shoot her in the back the first opportunity he'd get if he could overcome her orders.
So then, her most reasonable option was for Lancer to provide the front guard while Assassin provided support from the entrance so the Irishman wouldn't get overwhelmed. Should one of the intruders manage to get within the Temple, then Lancer would be able to hold off one and she would face the other with support. With one enemy to focus on, she could keep a closer eye on her difficult to manage Servant. Much better odds all things considered…
Unless of course… the enemy had already had been counting on it.
o. o. o.
Saber stood at the ready in front of her Master, who had one eye closed as he finished his spell. The pair was standing behind a building just before the mountain so that Assassin couldn't just snipe either of them from the get go.
Save for one nearby building that had some explosives littering its top, Shirou had verified that there had been no traps in the urban bordering. From the brief scans he made of the mountain, the few traps that had survived the inferno would pose no issue to his Servant as they were in awkward positions that he didn't see any Servant battle taking pace in.
"Done." Shirou nodded as he stepped back from his partner. "Rider, are you in position?"
"I await your order, Master," Medusa replied, missing the fact that she had referred to Shirou as her Master without any hesitation.
The Second Magus Killer pressed a button on his transceiver. "Sakura. Are you ready?"
"… All I need is your signal," the girl's soft but firm voice rasped from the electronic device after a few moments. Shirou didn't give it any mind. The girl wasn't as bad as Rin, but she was still a bit clumsy when it came to learning how to use new gadgets.
"Good. From here on out we go silent. Don't do anything until you get the go," he ordered sternly.
The lack of a response caused him to momentarily smirk. Sakura, like Rin, caught onto things damn fast when they wanted to.
"Luvia. Anything?" he asked, pressing another button.
"Nothing major has changed in the general areas. However we can tell that one Servant is waiting halfway up the entrance," the Edelfelt replied.
"It seems as though you've inherited Kiritsugu's eye for reading the enemy," Saber dryly stated.
"Was that another compliment, oh mighty King of Knights?" Shirou smirked.
"Watch your tongue knave." The King didn't bother to hide her amusement as she approached the edge of the building, invisible sword in hand. "You have yet to earn such the right to wave it so carelessly in my presence."
The Magus Killer shook his head, chuckling for a few moments as he leaned against the office building with his eyes closed.
Saber shot out from the city to the Mountain like a silver and blue bullet, easily moving faster than the human eye could follow. Within less than two seconds of the command she had already started up the incline to the Temple, ignoring the devastation of the previous night consisting of tons of ash and corpses of trees to either side of her. Despite the flames finally being quelled early that afternoon, there were a good number of trails of smoke lazily escaping the battlegrounds like apathetic serpents. The scent of burnt wood had pervaded miles into the city, so the only real difference in smell was the intensity of the sensation once she reached the origin, which was strong enough that she might as well have stuck her head into a recently used fireplace. Every powerful step she made kicked up small clouds of ash, temporarily making it look as if it was snowing black.
In all reality, she could barely make out the stairs that she was climbing at record speeds, having been coated in so much soot that they were nearly indistinguishable from the rest of her surroundings. Only the occasional cleared out sections used by the firefighting teams earlier that day to battle the blaze, some yellow tape, the general outline of the path, and the distant arch at the top of the mountain indicated otherwise.
Swoosh. CLANG! Thump thump.
Well those, and the fact that Lancer had been standing dead center of the path and not hiding his presence at all.
"One…" Shirou muttered to himself.
"Yo Saber." The Irishman grinned as if nothing was wrong, twirling his cursed spear playfully as both Servants stared one another down on the flat stone walkway between flights. "Fancy meeting you here."
"Lancer…" Her jade eyes narrowed as she gave the demigod a glare before glancing at her surroundings. "Assassin?"
"Who knows?" He shrugged casually. "The Cowardly Bitch made it a point to keep me and Master out of the loop, so that annoying tricky bastard could be anywhere by now. I haven't even been on the inside of the temple yet."
"So she kept her alive after all…" Shirou whispered in his Servant's head with the barest hint of relief. "Caster must be holding her hostage somehow. From the way he worded it, Assassin must be with Caster as well."
There was a brief pause before Saber made a reply. "… I'm more surprised and worried that Lancer can do subtle."
It had been just as he had predicted. Caster may be powerful in her Temple on one of the city's major leylines, but she was a coward and would always go for the extra insurance. Ryudou Temple's natural defenses did serve as an excellent bottleneck to prevent other Servants from coming in, but someone as paranoid as the Witch, not that he could blame her given her situation and opponents, would attempt to play it as safe as possible.
Lancer tightened the bottleneck, while she and Assassin set up shop inside to make fighting in the Temple a living hell for anyone dumb enough to get inside.
FFFP! Swoosh! Clang! Clang! FFFPP!
Before Shirou could even tell what happened, Lancer had charged forward, forcing Saber to engage with him in a battle of weapons that the mere human Master couldn't hope to follow. Lancer's raw and ferocious speed was countered by Saber's skill and prana enhanced physical abilities. This was the second time they had fought, but neither of them were putting in nearly as much effort this time. Lancer was a battle junkie to be sure; however, as brash as he was, even he could pick up on subtleties when needed. His opponent was powerful yes, but she wasn't focused on him, which could only mean that something else was up and she was conserving her strength.
Shirou was still certain that he would be murdered without effort if he got involved in such a clash, but a small part of him was proud in the fact that he could actually follow and read the fight now.
A powerful swing from Saber blocked by the spearman caused him to slide back with a grunt and put a minor lull in the fight, the trail his feet made clearly visible in the ash around them.
"What of Caster's and Assassin's Masters?" Saber frowned, her grip tightening on her blade.
"Beats me. Haven't seen a hair on the annoying kid that summoned her since we first fought at the beginning of the war," the Hound replied as a way of distracting himself from the jolt his arms underwent. Even holding back, Saber's attacks were just unreal. "From what I can tell, the gloomy bastard was summoned by the shrew herself. Command Seals and everything."
"Damn." Shirou frowned as he pressed a button. Given what he knew of the younger Edelfelt, it was highly unlikely that she wouldn't appear to gloat like the standard Magus after a major victory such as controlling another Master and Servant. "Sakura, odds are high that something's happened to Marjatta. Be careful."
Lancer charged forward again, swinging his spear that was well over twice the length of Saber's invisible blade like a bat in a crimson arc, carrying with it enough raw force to crush any modern man made weapon like tinfoil…
However what it hit had not been forged by man in the slightest. The Sword of Promised Victory repelled the ferocious attack with as much power as it had encountered without the slightest sign of resistance, causing sparks to fly everywhere, blowing a good deal of soot away in virtually every direction, and knocking Lancer off balance. No matter how fast Lancer was, Saber was simply too strong and skilled for him to defeat without sacrifice or trickery. From his standpoint is was almost akin to trying to find a weak point in a fortress.
Not that he wasn't equipped for the job, but it was still one hell of an endeavor.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Saber pressed on the attack, forcing her target back with each blow and unable to retreat properly. Lancer was too good to have simply lost his footing and position like this. He had done it on purpose. Both he and Saber were aware of this. Thus the only reasons why he would do such a painfully obvious thing were to either trick someone else there, or to…
Clang! Clang! BANG! Clang!
Give an opening for someone else to move in on.
In the middle of her assault, Saber had instantly sensed the moment Assassin had prepared to snipe her from the entrance of the temple, her Instincts warning her of a setup the moment Lancer put on that purposefully poor show of combat skills.
The sniper round hit her blade with a healthy deal of force before it could bore through her skull as intended. Its power rivaled that of Lancer's previous attack, the shock of the impact echoing through her arms, before being deflected to the side and plowing through several charred logs. It had been nowhere near sufficient to take her down, but it had done more than enough to give the "unbalanced" Lancer enough time to regain his footing and fight on even ground against his opponent again.
"… Two…" Shirou frowned. "Rider. Go."
Medusa did not even bother to respond as she instantly materialized and bolted across the mountainside with unmatched speed. Her dark clothes blending into her surroundings so well that the only thing that most could possibly make out was the purple streak of her hair as she blurred by.
Lancer glared back at where Assassin had attacked from. "I know that neither of us are really in the mood to fight one another, but I still fucking hate it when rude assholes interrupt a good…?!"
The Servant of the Spear barely managed to turn and defend in time before Rider seemingly teleported out of nowhere from his side like a rocket and hammered him with her leg, powered by all the momentum she had been carrying at full speed.
As strong and skilled as Lancer was, Rider's attack was just too powerful to defend against on the fly. The end result of the brief engagement was a swearing blue Irish blur that was blown across the mountainside at speeds that would kill any normal human with ease.
Luckily for Lancer, he was built to be far superior to any normal human. He easily had the highest endurance capabilities out of all the Servants in the Fifth war next to Berserker.
Another shot from the Temple was made, only to be deflected from its intended target, Rider's skull, by Saber's blade.
"Make it a battle of speed. Give everyone a show." Shirou's instructions were understood instantly. Within a split-second, the Gorgon Queen pursued the displaced Lancer at full throttle, once more barely appearing to be nothing more than a blur that kicked up all the ash in its path and leaving Saber alone on the pathway up the mountain.
The lone, path that only had an injured Assassin in its way…
It didn't take much to tell that the Servant had bailed from his position the instant Saber had made it clear she was heading to his direction. In reality it was the only reasonable move he could make, and from the way he had been fighting the war so far, Assassin might as well have been considered a genius in tactics compared to the rest of the Servants.
Keeping mindful of any of the now infamous traps that Assassin was known for utilizing, Saber continued her initial charge up the long staircase up the mountainside like a silver and blue bull. Looking up she saw the arch style entranceway into the temple, the only true way in or out for any Spiritual existence into the estate…
… Without outside assistance at least.
She was past the gates. Her entrance had been completely unobstructed, and within moments the King of Kings had slowed to a stop in front of the main entrance of the temple grounds. It was a wide open garden-like field surrounded on the other side by the Temple itself and the needed buildings to house and sustain the monks that resided there. It wasn't as large as a sports field, but sufficient enough for the night's activities without too much collateral.
All around her stood a small army of human like skeletons, all over two meters tall and wielding crude weapons of some sort. Their movements were slow and mechanical, and despite their numbers, Saber could tell that she could literally charge right through them in her current state with minimal interference. Unfortunately in this situation that minimal interference was not something that she could afford at this time.
… And there, floating on a large staff in front of the main temple, was the Witch of Betrayal.
"Three." Shirou muttered to himself as he slowly pushed himself off of the building he was leaning on and made his way to the edge of the alleyway. He only kept one eye open as he moved, scanning his surroundings, the mountain, the blindingly fast paced battle between Rider and Lancer, and the Temple at the peak. All he could make out of the two was the blue and purple streaks that irregularly streaked across the landscape, causing brief flashes and sparks to fly every time they collided.
He grimaced for a moment, wondering if forcing Rider and Lancer to battle this way was the smartest decision before moving on. There was no point in second guessing himself this late in the game.
With the smallest flare of prana, he shattered the quartz ring he had on his smallest finger into dust.
Sakura's role had just started.
"Welcome to my humble dwelling, Saber." Caster smiled confidently as she sat on her floating perch. "I apologize for not providing you more suitable accommodations. Your arrival was a bit abrupt after all."
Despite the host's seemingly pleasant demeanor, Saber had not abandoned her guard. She had felt the sensation coming up the Mountain, but now there was no mistaking the thousands of souls that coagulated in the air in the Temple, fueling the Witch's mysteries.
"Keep her talking." Shirou whispered in her mind.
"I am afraid that your choice in decor leaves much to be desired, Caster." Saber observed. "Even if you had no time to prepare, the fact that this is how you prefer your living conditions does not do you any favors."
The spellcaster sighed whimsically. "You do make a fair point, and I wish I had the opportunity to prove you wrong. However we are at war. Sacrifices do have to be made in the face of necessity."
"Most tend to claim such a thing when they are the ones that are sacrificing." The King frowned, noting the absurd number of stolen souls around her.
"Haha. Come now, Saber. Must you be so aggressive? If what I have heard is correct than the Caster from the previous war was far more uncouth compared to me." The woman shook her head almost mockingly. "Purposefully abducting children and using them as sacrifices for his crude rituals. Torturing women and the youth for mere amusement. Even I am disgusted by such a crass individual."
"Your opinions do not excuse your actions. What you and your Master have been doing cannot go any further."
"Well then what would you have me do Saber?" Medea pouted as if talking to a child. "Fight honorably? Even a child could tell how that would turn out, what with more than half the Servants in this running about with absurdly high Magic Resistance of one form or another, I might as well have been summoned as Assassin for all that approach will do me. No, I believe I feel safer bending the rules to my favor thank you."
She paused purposefully. "Well… that is unless you make it worth my while."
"Listen to what she has to say." Once more, Shirou's habit of making unreasonable demands kicked in full swing. "It's unlikely but we might be able to deal with her without bloodshed."
Having been the king of a country for over a decade and participating in multiple political deals, Saber knew when she was about to listen to a request that would curdle milk. "Most deals are designed to be appealing to both sides Caster. Choose your words carefully or they will be your last."
"Hmhmhm. Even your Master is interested I see." Medea's eyes met Saber's. "Tell me, how are you, boy? We haven't seen one another since you impaled me with that spear of yours. If memory serves, you didn't seem to be faring that well back then."
Saber's face hardened as she recalled the night she learned of her Master's other affliction. "He is doing more than well enough. Why does it matter?"
"It doesn't." She sighed whimsically. "Shirou Emiya… you are quite the interesting little boy aren't you? Even the other Servants are wary of what you, not Saber, will do next. That is quite an accomplishment if I do say so myself."
"If I wanted empty praise I would have just gone back to the Clocktower." Shirou stated firmly. "Be careful. She has something planned."
"My master and I would both appreciate it if you skipped the semantics, Caster. We aren't in the mood for flowery speeches."
Caster smiled as if humoring a child. "My apologies. Very well. I shall get to the point. I see no reason why we should not team up. Between your party's resources and mine, securing victory against the other Servants should pose no issue."
"And what resources would that be?" Saber countered. "As it stands, should you be defeated, your… assets will diverge, and be easy targeting for mine."
"And Berserker?" The woman's expression became genuinely curious. "How will you manage to placate that rampaging force of destruction? Excuse me if I have my doubts, but I have known him when I was alive, and so far while you have shown yourself capable, it does not appear to be anywhere sufficient enough to surpass Heracles… unless you truly believe that you can convince that girl controlling him to stop despite her obviously obsessive urge to kill your Maser."
"How we will decide to address him is of no concern of yours, Caster." Neither she nor Shirou were surprised that Caster knew of Illya's thoughts of the Emiya heir at the moment. She had after all been watching their initial meeting with Luvia at the beginning of the war.
Saber looked around for any sight of Assassin. She was capable of defending herself, yes, but being out in the open like this was her greatest concern when Shirou told her of his plan. "However, as it stands, you have yet to provide us with a reasonable transaction. Killing you will stop the people in the city from being drained and disrupt the operations you have going."
"Hmmm. Well, if you are so confident about Berserker, then I suppose that you do make a valid argument," the Witch vocally pondered, clearly indicating that she was not worried about her current situation. "By that logic, my claims that I can easily win the war are moot as well… ah you two are so difficult to please… are you certain that you do not wish to team up with me Saber? I can provide you with far more power than your Master can."
"I will take my chances with the one I currently have." Saber's mouth twitched in dry amusement. "I feel my odds are better with him. Also I can tolerate him."
Caster hid her annoyance with an almost childish huff. "I'd take offense to that, but truthfully I cannot blame you for your response. The boy certainly has a talent in managing this war…"
"Saber. Quick. Tell her I have an offer. Now." Shirou quickly ordered.
"Caster. My Master is… interested…" Saber spoke up uncertainly before demigoddess could finish her ramblings. "But he has his own terms."
There was a brief pause as the other party digested what Saber had claimed. "… Does he? I must admit, I did not anticipate a counteroffer, though I will have to hear of the conditions before I agree to anything."
As experienced as she was, even she couldn't hold her surprise at the terms of the deal listed in her head. "What?! Shirou that's ridiculous! This would kill you! Not to mention she can't be trusted!"
"Do it." The words were as cold as Kiritsugu's had been. Saber was honestly unnerved at how emotionless someone as genuinely caring and kindhearted as Shirou could be if he wanted to.
Gritting her teeth, the King of Knights relented. At the very least, she doubted that Caster would agree to such a proposition in the first place. "Become Shirou's Servant and put Marjatta Edelfelt into her sister's custody. Those are the terms of our partnership, else we end you tonight."
For what seemed like a long eternity to both Saber and Caster, the only sound that could be heard was that of Lancer's and Rider's battle on the mountain.
"… Ha… haha… hahahahahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHA!" The Witch's laughter grew to near hysterical proportions. Her outbreak was so intense that Saber had begun to wonder if the Servant was at risk of falling off of her staff. "Of course! Of course he would make such a ludicrous demand! Why should I expect anything less from him after all he has done so far!?"
Saber on the other hand clearly was not amused by the deal. "I take it you will decline."
Caster continued to laugh for a few more moments before the tone of her voice became dark. "Hahaha… scary. How scary it is for all this trouble to come from a single child. To think that even for just a moment I had actually considered agreeing to such a proposition. Yes… it is safer that I don't comply. My apologies."
She was telling the truth. Out of all the participants in the Holy Grail War, Caster firmly believed that she would not be able to win so long as the Master known as Shirou Emiya was alive. The boy's resourcefulness was unnerving, and every time he got involved in an event, something unexpected and massive would happen that changed the course of the war. He had a strong connection to every party. He likely had more information about everyone and the war itself than anyone else. He was capable of applicable magic that could kill Servants if utilized properly. He fought different than the others. Hell, even his future self was a Heroic Spirit.
And yet despite all of that, he was not someone that she could genuinely hate. True, he had been making her life a living hell since their first encounter, but even then he had done so on his terms with other goals in mind. By all means the boy was a tolerable individual all things considered. He was not a fool. Not big headed. Not egotistical. Not rude. Not annoying. Not even that strong if she managed to fight him in direct battle… and yet he always seemed to at least be able to break even in every confrontation he had been in before the combat had begun.
There was no doubt about it. The boy was after something in this war, and the Grail itself didn't even seem to be in his mind. She could tell this simply because she could recognize someone like herself: a person with plans and ulterior motives.
In a way he was playing the same game as she was. Outclassed by a majority of their opponents physically, they had to utilize their wits and cunning in order to come out on top…
Only he seemed to be faring far better than she was for the majority of the war.
For such an individual to be in her way of her goal… he truly did terrify her. If there was ever a reason for her to despise his existence, that would probably be it.
She couldn't team up with him. Not in any form save him as a slave or literal tool. To do so would be akin to instantly giving up any hope to obtain the Grail. Just as she couldn't be trusted with allies out of risk of her backstabbing them, he couldn't be trusted to not have something prepared to counter it and make her suffer the consequences.
The sooner he was gone from this world, the better.
Saber readied her blade. "Then I am afraid that we have reached the end of our negotiations."
Caster's amused smile only widened. "A shame. That may be so, however before we battle I must at least grant you something of worth before we clash like barbarians. I would not be much of a host if I did not do this at least. Assassin, would you please step out for a moment please?"
After a few moment's pause, the cloaked Servant slowly allowed himself to be detected, revealing himself to be on the roofs of the buildings bordering the battlefield and armed with a sniper rifle.
The King of Knights was instantly on guard, as was Shirou. Purposefully revealing Assassin made no sense to them unless it was to lure them into a false sense of security. The Servant of Murder in this war after all, had proven himself to be just as dangerous, if not more so, than even Saber or Berserker if he was allowed free reign in a territory that he had prepared.
"Do not make light of me, Caster." Saber felt slighted by the action despite the fact that she now knew where the enemy was. The idea that the Witch would give up her comrade's position when it was a valuable commodity to them was almost an insult to her. It was as if the Witch had just claimed that she did not need such a thing to defeat her, even though Saber was strong enough to shrug off a vast majority of what both could throw at her. "I do not take insults to my pride that well."
"Please, Saber. Assassin did not come out to insult you." The witch taunted. "I just thought it would be nice to have a small reunion."
"Caster…" The normally mute Servant growled. Clearly there was no love lost between the two.
Hearing him speak for the first time, Arturia could not help but shiver unconsciously. She had heard that voice somewhere before, and no pleasant sensations came with it.
"Oh don't be shy. Now why don't you reveal yourself to the world? Heaven knows what it will do for your hair and complexion." The Witch didn't stall in the slightest. "… That's an order. Servant."
Saber watched with trepidation as Assassin futilely resisted his Master's orders and slowly removed his hood…
Her face went pale and her stomach dropped.
She couldn't tell if the sensations and words she echoed were only hers, or if compounded with her Master's.
Her jade green eyes met his lifeless dull brown, eyes that held a shrewd and cold intelligence that she had never encountered anywhere else. She could tell instantly that this was no copy intended to unnerve them. She was without a doubt staring at her former Master once more.
"Hm? So you recognize him as well?" Caster appeared as if she was a cat that just got away with the canary, unaware of her opponent's condition. "Allow me to introduce you then. Saber, this is my Servant Assassin. When he was alive, he was known as Kiritsugu Emiya, the Magus Killer, and the Hero of Sacrifice. Also, if I am informed correctly, he is also your Master's father."
It didn't need to be said that at the moment, the one that Assassin felt like sacrificing the most was his Master.
All the pieces clicked together instantly for the visiting party. Why Assassin seemed to purposefully leave his targets alive despite being capable of killing them on more than one occasion. His erratic behavior. His attack patterns and methods. His hatred of Caster…
The Servant shivered at the dead tone. Due to her connection to Shirou, she had always managed to get a moderate feeling of his mood whenever they were mentally connected… but now… now her Master felt as empty as his voice.
"My father is dead."
His words were absolute and his meaning was clear as the sky to her. She had been prepared to move since she had arrived at the Temple… but even so her Master's words carried an ominous finality to them that she had heard the equal to only a handful of times.
"Caster. Whatever you wish to say in your defense is meaningless now." Saber gripped her sword with both hands. Her voice was calm and controlled, not at all reflecting the confusion, rage, and uncertainty that had just been stirred up. "You have just squandered what little generosity my Master and I were willing to bestow you."
Before Caster could make any sort of retort, Saber had swung her blade. Combining the nature of her Barrier of the Wind King and her Prana Burst ability, the King of Knights unleashed a strong shockwave of air that decimated every skeleton warrior that stood between the two female Servants. Despite the fact that they were within the Witch's territory and had been reasonably enhanced by her spells earlier, the lifeless bodies were blown into dust as if there had been no difference.
The obliterated remains of the golems had not even started to head for the earth before Saber had made her charge to her real target.
Kiri- no. Assassin had fired upon her as she moved with his sniper rifle. However, even if she had paid only minor attention to his actions, she noted that his shots were nowhere near as accurate as they should be. Her charge only had only needed to be corrected slightly in order to avoid any damage at all.
" " Caster commanded the world, enshrouding herself in mana as black as the night moments before Saber leapt at her, no doubt intending to kill her in a single strike. Just as the invisible Excalibur tore through the space that Caster had occupied, she vanished.
"Kch!" The Servant of the Sword would have moved, only the air pressure around her seemed to increase tremendously the instant she landed, preventing her from going anywhere. The spell it seemed only affected the air in its proximity and didn't target her directly, which is why it had any effect on her at all.
"Hahaha. How depressing. As powerful as you are Saber, even your might is useless if you are unable to hit your opponent." Caster chuckled as she hovered roughly twenty meters to the right of the Temple gates, taunting Saber with the fact that their positions were nearly the opposite of what they had been before. "It may be obvious, but this is my territory. My magic is far more powerful here than on the outside, and after absorbing so much power from the leylines…"
Caster's cloak began to unfurl, stretching out in a wing like shape to either side with ominous glowing inscriptions on the inside.
Saber didn't bother to watch the show before focusing on breaking free of her trap. As powerful as she was, it would still take her a few moments to break free. Moments she clearly could not waste.
"I dare even say I am even strong enough to overwhelm you!"
Saber's breath hitched as her opponent began to chant under her breath, causing a small number of glowing orbs to manifest about her and the air around them to thrum with raw power. Under most circumstances she would not be worried. Her A ranked Magic Resistance was an absurdly powerful and useful ability in a battle such as this. It was why Shirou had sent her instead of Rider to the Temple in the first place…
However, Caster was aware of this resistance as well. She may not be as powerful as the incarnation witnessed in Kiritsugu's visions. Her Territory Creation ability may not have been as potent either. Nonetheless, the woman was from the Age of the Gods, and she had been recklessly tapping into the power of the city's leylines for days.
Larger and larger the orbs grew in both size and power as the witch chanted. So much so that Caster had even begun to show some strain in maintaining them.
These were beyond mere A ranked attacks. Just by looking at them, Saber could tell that her natural immunity to thaumaturgy would not fully protect her from this oncoming assault alone. Oh she would still likely survive, but it certainly would not be without repercussions.
Saber grimaced as she took in her situation. Trapped in place. Golems on the ground. Assassin to the side. Boxed in by the surrounding buildings. Caster with her tremendous spells about to fire. She could break free, but the moment's delay would not do her any favors. Her situation was clearly not in her favor and everyone was focusing on her...
The only sign that something had gone amiss was when Caster appeared to have detected something behind her. She had only barely begun to turn to look…
… And then a crimson arrow erupted from her chest.
o. o. o.
He had been watching through Saber's eyes the entire time. Well, one of them at least.
He would never have been able to guess Caster's position from outside the Temple if he hadn't.
He also would not have been able to make it up the mountain had he focused both his eyes on what Saber was seeing.
The spell he used was a rather crude one that he had learned from some Enforcers while on the job a year back, and among the few that he admittedly managed to actually get down on the field. It had apparently been one of the more popular answers to a particularly annoying string of sensory interference spells that had been frequently utilized in the mid eighteen hundreds. The spells tended to target and disrupt the connection between the user's eyes and the brain, but did nothing if he was watching through the eyes of a familiar.
It only affected one eye simply because it was damn near impossible for anyone to operate moderate periods of time while in the third person, especially when said third person might be looking somewhere else.
It took some time getting used to viewing things from two different points at the same time, even if the mystery was designed to ease the stress a bit on the caster's brain. However, it was not an impossible task if one just focused on one image at a time.
Neither were used much these days, but it was still taught simply because it was a quick and easy spell to use and it had its uses outside the initial intention. They also did it to piss off most of the noble asses that occasionally tagged along on the occasional hunt who were "above utilizing such crude mysteries".
Unsurprisingly, the ones that used the crude mysteries tended to have a higher survival rate in most hunts.
One of the first things that Kiritsugu had taught Shirou about bounded fields was that natural territories tended to have less distinct boundaries and rules than ones created by magi. As such it was always best to know the true limitations of such barriers.
Take Ryudou Temple's bounded field for example. The only way into the grounds for any spiritual existence was through the main gates; however, there were a few other facts to take into account. First of all, the field's effects were greatest only for about the top quarter of the mountain starting from the temple. Also the field's effects took place twenty meters to either side of the gate before declining at thirty degrees from the pathway. Give or take.
This meant that Servants couldn't approach the gates from the side, and could only approach it at the furthest from that angle once they got close enough, else they feel the effects of the natural boundaries. When Luvia had attacked the Temple the previous night, Shirou had actually suggested starting locations for the second wave of bulls to attack from to conform to these limitations for maximum fire damage and spread…
However what the younger Emiya had also discovered, not that anyone else would bother to do so, was that while spiritual existences were repelled by the natural bounded field… spiritual items, such as say, noble phantasms, were only slightly affected.
Sakura nearly found out the hard way about a year back by accident when Shirou tested it out… with him by tossing a copy of the Mace of Odo over the walls and nearly nailed her in the skull.
She may have loved him, but that didn't stop her from tearing him a new one for that stunt.
In short, should Caster ever turn the Temple into her own territory, she would likely give herself a tremendous blind spot that only Shirou could exploit to its full potential: the Temple boundaries themselves.
It was not an unreasonable mistake. Under most circumstances, no one would be stupid enough to attack upon a Caster's Territory without backup from a Servant. The blind spot prevented any Servant from crossing its borders all the same, and it wasn't as if there were many individuals living in the world today that could do anything remotely significant to a Caster's territory alone, let alone another Servant.
Shirou could do jack against the territory itself, but he had long since proven that he was an actual threat to Servants.
However, there in lay the second issue: the bounded fields that Caster had set up herself on the inside of the temple walls.
Regardless of what additional defenses she would set up, the Servant would at the very least establish fields to prevent prana from leaking out and outsiders from seeing what was happening on the inside. He had similar fields set up around his own home.
Watching everything from Saber's point of view would give him a good estimate of where Caster would be, but even with his rather high ability to judge distances and locations from eyesight alone, it still wouldn't be enough to make a reliable shot…
So, in classic Shirou Emiya fashion, he did something that virtually anyone that knew him well enough would instantly disapprove of and yell at him the instant they would learn of it…
… Which is why he didn't tell anyone he had been planning to do it in the first place. Everyone thought he was just going to try and get as close to the temple as possible for general support.
The moment he had confirmed the location of Caster, the third and final enemy Servant on the mountain, he moved. With the enemy focused on the Servants he sent out, he was in no danger of being sniped or falling into a trap as he bolted up the mountain armed with his traced customized bow and an altered copy of Gae Dearg. Even if it was reduced in power due to the natural bounded field around him, its power to pierce through virtually any and every form of mystery was a godsend in a situation like this.
He had one eye open to watch where he was going, and one eye closed to view everything from Saber's point of view. He couldn't keep up at some points, but that was to be expected given how fast Servants could move. He could also hear both what was going around him, and what Saber was hearing as well.
He was almost disappointed when he saw Caster, from Saber's eyes, begin to gloat as if she was in no danger at all. He thought the Servant would know better by now.
"Keep her talking."
Then again he needed time to climb the Mountain. Even with reinforcement and running it would take some time for him to make it all the way up. As strong as Saber was, he was still a pacifist at heart and disliked meaningless and wasteful fighting.
He paused momentarily to watch and make note of Rider's and Lancer's fight to his side… or at least attempt to keep track of it at least. The two fastest Servants in the war were nothing but colored streaks that erratically crossed the mountainside in every direction. Every time they collided they quickly separated again as if they were super magnets with the same charges. Every now and then he could make out Lancer saying something to Rider in a far too eager tone given their situation, but he was moving so quickly that the words were distorted too much for him to understand.
He held back a shiver. As good as he was, Shirou knew that if he accidentally got caught up in such a fight he'd be dead before he knew they were on top of him. No wonder Rider was so amused when she saw him moving at his fastest earlier that day. She probably thought his demonstration was adorable and harmless, like a puppy trying to be tough.
"Rider. I'm going up. Make sure I don't get caught up in your fun."
For just a moment he felt a brief flash of annoyance from his quiet Servant before he got a response. "… I fail to see how anyone can consider Lancer's bantering fun."
The Emiya held back a snort. Apparently Rider's quiet personality didn't mesh well with Lancer's rather talkative one.
He stuck to the burnt dirt as he raced up the mountain. A normal human could make it up a flight of these stairs at full sprint in about fifteen seconds, ten to twelve if they were in good shape. Running up the sides while reinforced, he was clearing a flight in just under four. As sturdy and surefooted as he was, he didn't want to risk slipping on the hard stairs due to the soot covering them. It slowed his progress a bit, but he'd rather not waste time by being careful…
… He nearly fell flat on his face as Assassin revealed his identity about three fourths up. He was so stunned he probably wouldn't have noticed if he did fall.
That was the first word that came to his mind as he saw his father's face in the flesh for the first time in almost a decade. He didn't dare risk actually speaking, lest he risk actually gagging on the horrible feeling in his chest.
He didn't notice that the electronic device on his hip was buzzing, indicating that someone was trying to contact him.
He had attempted on many occasions to try and reason out who Assassin was the night he had discovered the irregularity. It seemed absolutely bizarre that anyone other than Hassan-i-Sabbah or Kojirou Sasaki.
If he had been summoned by a normal human master, then one of the nineteen incarnations of the old man on the mountain would be brought forth since any uninformed Magi would use the name itself as the catalyst. If Caster summoned him, which she did, he had expected the fictional swordsman to be brought forth due to the irregularity of a Servant summoning a Servant causing enough of a distortion to bring out the Wraith. He couldn't think of anything else at the temple that could be used as an adequate focus to summon a hero of legend.
… But Kiritsugu Emiya? Even if the Magus Killer was buried in the graveyard behind the temple, Shirou would never have expected his father to actually obtain enough notoriety to ever reach the Throne of Heroes.
His father. The man that had all but guided him onto his current path… was fighting against him…
The weight of the idea pressed down on his shoulders as if Berserker was standing on them.
The mere thought of fighting against his father terrified him on levels that the War could not even begin to reach. First and foremost, his father was a relentless monster on the job. He had learned from the man first hand, and even though he had only witnessed his true cold anger less than a handful of times, the younger Emiya was fully aware of how ruthless his father was. Politics in the Clocktower was one thing, but even years from now Shirou would claim that he had never encountered anyone who was half as good at calculating a person's murder better than Kiritsugu.
It was an unmatched skill that was worth more than the strongest Noble Phantasm in a war like this.
Second, and also obviously, he loved Kiritsugu. The man was his father in all but blood. He had sacrificed so much to raise Shirou as his son… to prepare him… to protect him…
The thought of his sister, and his father's final wish snapped him out of his near catatonic state. He couldn't risk losing his cool now. Not when there was so much on the line now. Kiritsugu would never let him live it down if he found out.
The Magus Killer had always stressed abandoning emotions while doing a job, lest they get in the way of everything, and for the most part Shirou had agreed with the lesson. The second generation assassin was not as adamant to throw away everything as his senior had, but the boy had learned to shut himself down in inhumane situations. It came with hunting Dead Apostles for several years and walking through slaughtered corpses of undead men, women, and children that he had put down personally.
What would Kiritsugu do?
It was a question that Shirou frequently asked himself whenever he was in an emotionally trying situation like this.
The sick irony given the situation was not lost on him.
During Apostle hunts, he would use it when trying to infiltrate the target's base, locate the enemy in the first place, or plan a method of attack. Often when he asked himself the question, he would take on his predecessor's behavioral and thought patterns to increase his ability to answer the question at hand effectively.
It was a state of mind that he greatly disliked utilizing for multiple reasons, primarily the fact that he was naturally not that cruel or heartless. However, he considered it a necessary evil in his line of work and sometimes just to deal with some of the magi in the Clocktower in general. It allowed him to come up with quick solutions to immediate problems that would get out of hand if left unaddressed.
Some of the things he had done after getting into this state of mind… he'd rather if no one ever learned about them.
His breathing slowed down. His body loosened. His eyes focused. His mind grew cold. His vision cleared…
If Kiritsugu was in his position…
Then the man would without a doubt…
"My father is dead."
Act as if this information did not matter in the slightest and proceed with the objective.
Servants were tools. Elaborate copies of their original selves in the Throne of Heroes. Servant Assassin was no different. Once the war was done, he would return to being nothing but prana.
The least Shirou could do was ensure that his predecessor's wish was achieved before then. Anything less, and the boy might as well have spit on his corpse.
Ignoring Kiritsugu Emiya's current status and what could become of him. Treating him as an enemy. Pretending as though he was a stranger. That was the most efficient and kindest thing Shirou and Saber could do for him.
He didn't bother listening to what was said now. It was irrelevant. All that mattered was that he get to the walls of the temple.
"Time alter. Double Accel."
Ignoring his body's cries of pain and protest, he bolted up the last stretch of the mountain at abnormal speeds, making it to the walls of the temple just as Saber began her attack. He didn't make a sound as he released the spell and felt his body simultaneously self-destruct and recover from the damage due to Avalon. He was too focused and silently enraged by the situation at hand.
From Saber's perspective, he saw Caster vanish from her initial position, only to reappear near the entrance of the temple. He could easily estimate where she was from his side, but not accurately enough to deal a decisive precise blow. Not from Saber's standpoint at least.
Knowing he had little time, he moved, tightly gripping the bow and arrow that he had had with him the entire trip up the mountain.
Dashing to the part of the wall that was closest to the floating Caster, still invisible to the world outside of the Temple, the Emiya cocked two guns in his skull and jumped.
The walls of the Ryudou Temple were roughly five meters high from the outside, give or take. Even if Caster was floating above them, Shirou would still need to get to a certain height in order to get a good shot of her from behind with the element of surprise.
His best jumping height while reinforced was three and a half meters on a good day, three was his max average. Rin and Sakura could actually jump higher than him, but that was due to the fact that they were more diverse than he was in utilizing mysteries. Shirou tried to learn of their methods once, but it involved terms and practices he was unfamiliar with and wound up landing him losing an unreasonable bet.
The end result was him spending an entire afternoon of him embarrassing himself in front of them with a modified high jump bar. He didn't even try to figure out what that was all about.
The first gun fired, and a plain looking sword was projected in front of him two meters off the ground, flat of the blade parallel to the ground and unmoving.
His magically enhanced legs launched him off of the ground just high enough so that one of his feet landed perfectly on the floating sword.
The blade did not so much as twitch under the sudden new weight.
While it was not denied "internal temporal progression" like the weapons he had used to cage Berserker, the tool was still locked in its current position. It would not last long as such, the mystery keeping it in place was still a bit rough around the edges and had holes that the temporal adjusting normally covered, but that was fine. He only needed it available for a few seconds regardless.
He notched his bow as he prepared to leap for the second time, steeling himself for what he was about to do…
Caster's power was peaking. Even on the other side of her bounded fields, he could actually feel the overwhelming spells that she was preparing to unleash.
His leg extended, he shot up into the air, he drew back his modified arrow… and his eyes turned silver.
Caster was roughly right in front of him, but he couldn't see her. Even if he saw himself aim through Saber's eyes, he wouldn't be able to make a solid shot in midair. There was no way for him to dispel her bounded field without her noticing, and no way to see past the illusions with mere mysteries from the Common Era.
So he didn't try looking for her.
Instead he looked at the air in front of him… and where it wasn't.
Average composition consists of 77.89993 percent Nitrogen, 21.10004 percent Oxygen, .929901 percent Argon…▅▅▅▅▅▅▅
▅▅▅▅▅▅▅ Average composition consists of 77.89994 percent Nitrogen…
Adjusting... ▅▅▅▅▅▅▅ Average…
"… Tch! Urk!"
Current air pressure is 96.11▅7 K▅A.
Adjusting. Current a▅▅ pres▅▅re is 96.▅▅▅24 KPA.
Ad▅▅ing. Current ▅▅▅ pressure…
Pain flooded his skull as he structurally grasped the air in front of him. Analyzing gasses had always been horrifically difficult for him to do. Solids were simple enough. Liquids were slightly more abstract, but still not particularly outstanding or difficult so long as he wasn't looking at the ocean or a massive lake.
The third common state of matter though was a different situation altogether. It was always changing. Always adjusting. Always flowing. In a free and natural environment, every puff of air had its own story, origins, paths, pressures, temperatures, and more. It was like being forced to read thousands of different objects at once that were constantly moving all around you.
Something in his skull burst, unable to handle the strain that was placed on it. It was probably a blood vessel. The same thing had happened the first time he had tried something like this and had a seizure after two seconds.
Of course, back then, he didn't have Saber around to enact Avalon by then, but it didn't make the experience any less painful.
Nitro … 57 degrees wes … digested and passed through the body of a before being processed by a plant in….
His skull felt like it was going to split apart starting at his eyes. The pressure on his brain was beyond torturous. Had he not been so distracted by it all, he would have noticed that he had begun to bleed from his nose and ears.
But that was fine. He had been prepared for it so he shouldn't complain. He had died once already. Pain like this shouldn't even be registered. The only things he needed to feel were the bow and arrow in his hands, and the arms needed to aim them.
Temperature. Pressure. History. Purpose. Prana density. Composition. Growth. Direction… using all of his might he shoved against the torrent of irrelevant information that threatened to overflow his mind.
Range. Twenty meter radius. Filter. Only positional existence accepted. Deny irrelevant data. Compose information, processing, isolating areas where scanned substances are vacant…
What was at most a second as the top half of Shirou's body crested over the Temple's wall seemed like an eternity as his silver eye overlooked the battlefield that was hidden from the rest of the world. It was a good thing that the action of shooting an arrow was more of a bodily reaction than a conscious action to him after so many years of practice. It was nearly impossible for the assassin to focus on anything else, being preoccupied by the deluge of information that was threatening to overwhelm him.
Existence of matter labeled "air" processed. Positional data processed. Outline of intended target identified with 99.924 percent certainty.
Even with his eye's power, he did not actually "see" anything in front of him. His eyes were not strong enough to pierce the veil of magic stemming from the Age of the Gods, nor were they designed to. Instead, they simply instead took in information and expressed the Servant's position in numbers that were then processed and utilized.
It was akin to a blind man given information and experience as to where everything in his home was, and then being told to find the fork on the kitchen table without tripping, falling, or using the walls for guidance. Shirou "knew" where Caster was exactly now down to the millimeter, body and all. However he was still essentially shooting blind.
He corrected his aim. He had jumped up too late and had to aim roughly four point three seven two meters back towards the gate and nearly point five nine four meters up…
This irrelevant fact did not stop him from aiming the Crimson Rose of Exorcism at her heart with deadly accuracy and released his shot at the apex of his jump…
He didn't blink as his arrow-spear vanished as it crossed the barrier with no resistance and pierced the "data" that was Caster… just as she seemed to move as if turning around. For just a brief moment he had been able to see the entire battleground for what it was as the bounded fields encountered the tip of the Noble Phantasm, actually seeing the back of his target… only to have it all vanish again as it passed the barrier and the illusion reestablished itself.
He was back behind the wall and out of possible sight of his target before she even turned around. She wouldn't even be able to reach him because of her own defenses.
The tremendous spike in power in front of him dropped rapidly indicated that his shot had hit her. Saber's eyes indicated it as well, but he might as well have been blind due to all the stress he had placed himself under…
He collapsed to the ground heavily, unable to control his body after the tremendous strain he had placed his mind under. The traced bow in his hands fell to his side and disappeared, its purpose fulfilled.
"Gah! Hah… hah… urk!" He vomited as he allowed himself to succumb to the strain. Even with Avalon healing him, the pain he had put himself under was unreal. His eyes had been active for at most five seconds, but he knew without a doubt that he would have been crippled for life had it not been for the sacred scabbard inside of his body.
His limbs trembled as he tentatively regained control over them and pushed himself up and instantly reached for the nearby wall for support. He couldn't afford to rest just yet. He needed to-
The world stopped as the bellow of a monster that surpassed all others was unleashed.
"No…" Not now. Of all the possible times for something to happen…
He focused quickly at the phone on his waist and grimaced as he noticed that it had been buzzing. Without looking he pressed the button on the side as he pushed himself up and once more ignored the pain he was going through. He had to keep on moving.
"Emiya! What took you so long?!" Luvia hissed through the speaker. "Berserker is-"
"Here. I know. Sorry." He finished her sentence firmly while spitting out the last of the bile in his mouth. He wasn't exactly in the mood to banter right now. "I was distracted and couldn't talk. Keep an eye out if anyone else appears."
"What do you mean dis-" Click. He turned off the phone. He didn't have time to waste as he focused on his first Servant…
… And saw Caster teleport away just in time to not get sliced in half by Saber's sword.
His stomach fell for the second time that night and he almost threw up the nonexistent contents of his stomach again. Without any hesitation he pulsed prana in his hand and shattered all but one of the remaining jewel rings.
It was the sign to order an immediate emergency retreat.
"Ignore Berserker! Go after Caster! She's likely retreated to her workshop!" He mentally yelled as he looked down the mountain to see blurs that were Lancer and Rider teaming up to battle the massive black giant. Even from the summit he could feel the monster's blows echo through the earth. The monster was moving so much with enough power that he was more a rampaging ash cloud than a giant at this point.
He then turned to run to the Temple's entrance, only hesitating for a second to look down at where his sister was no doubt watching him. It was better he deal with the Witch first, lest everything truly go out of control.
"You have to grab Caster's attention! Sakura's still in there!"
o. o. o.
As traditional as the monks tended to be in Ryudou Temple, even they were not willingly blind enough to live in the 21st century without a means of getting vehicles to their grounds. Sticking to the old ways were fine, however some modern conveniences were simply too good to pass up.
The means to transport large amounts of goods to their home without dragging it up a mountain, plumbing, and electricity were at the top of the list.
The back road that allowed vehicles to reach the temple wasn't ideal. It wasn't even paved. The dirt and rocky path was used by the temple's three beat up nineteen eighty something Toyota pickups for mandatory chores and moving equipment around. If a good deal of monks needed to go somewhere for an occasion, the temple rented a bus from the town at a discount which everyone boarded at the bottom of the stairs, as they were one of the major tourist attractions, but that didn't happen often.
Of course, one of the essential things about having road access for cars was a location to place them in and access to the compound itself…
And conveniently enough, the detached garage for the temple cars was just outside of the main compound walls. It was the perfect spot for Sakura to wait for her signal without getting noticed after she had unlocked the back doors to the Temple. Shirou had asked Luvia and Caster about the security of the back entrance and the road leading up to it before he even came up with the approach just in case the Witch had realized that it could be exploited…
She didn't and the back entrance might as well have been wide open.
Sakura had been biding her time inside for nearly fifteen minutes before Shirou gave her the signal to move in the form of the crystal ring on her finger shattering.
The ring itself was a simple piece of thaumaturgy that Shirou had learned through Rin's teachings. Each one had a twin, and they utilized a simple conceptual mystery that caused them to share one another's existence. In short, if one broke, so did the other.
The first meant to start the operation. After that, if one ring was broken, it meant that they had achieved their objective. Two more meant they were in trouble. Breaking all of the remaining rings save one signaled an immediate retreat or danger. And all at once meant the other user was dead.
Shirou breaking the first ring indicated that he knew where all of the enemy Servants were and that he had their attention… meaning she could start her part.
Instantly on the move, Sakura reached into a pocket and took out the first of two traced items that Shirou had traced for her.
One of the first legendary weapons utilized by King Arthur in his legends. The small ornate dagger reacted to the girl's voice eagerly, wrapping her within the shadows that thrived the night.
And then she was gone.
Under most circumstances, Noble Phantasms don't obey the commands of anyone other than those that brought them to fame. Excalibur only worked for King Arthur. Gae Bolg for Cu Culainn, and so on. Weapons that held passive abilities such as Gae Dearg were an exception as their abilities were always active, and the Berserker from the previous war's power enabled him to use virtually anything he had his hands on. However they were not the only case.
Shirou was an exception to the rule simply because the Noble Phantasms he used, save Avalon, were not the originals, but made within him. As a result, one could say that the weapons made recognized him as their maker instead of their wielder. Of course he still needed to fuel many of these abilities to make them function, which was a daunting task for a human, but the fact still stood.
On the other hand, with regards to Carnwennan and Sakura, the fact of the matter was that the girl was just so in tune with her imaginary element, and darkness in general, that she was able to synergize with the often overlooked Noble Phantasm of Shadows… no, not just synergize, but actually enhance and magnify the dagger's powers as well.
In fact, when she first tested it out earlier that day, Saber had pointed out that the girl was possibly better with it than she was.
The small blade's ability to hide the user in shadow seemed to work perfectly with the last living Matou's powers. Had Saber and Rider not been paying attention in the first place, they would have had trouble detecting the girl. Rider had noted that it was almost as if Sakura was utilizing a lesser form of Presence Concealment.
It wasn't perfect, but it would be enough to get into Caster's territory while she was distracted by Saber flaunting her power, and Lancer and Rider beating one another senseless across the front of the mountain.
As for how Shirou managed to get King Arthur's dagger in his stock in the first place, the answer was simple. Saber allowed him to go through her mind and look at her memories of the Knights of the Round…
Or more specifically, their weapons.
Arondight. Excalibur Galatine. Rhongomiant. Red Hilt. Calibern. Clarent. Secace. Coreiseuse. Fail-Not. The shields of Lancelot, Galahad, Joseph of Arimathea, and Judas Maccabee…
These and hundreds of other armaments, legendary or not, were witnessed by Shirou through Saber, and thus near perfect imitations now existed within Unlimited Blade Works.
Sakura flowed silently through the Temple compound and buildings unimpeded, heading straight to the one identified to hold Caster's workshop. With Assassin under her command and opponents such as Berserker and Saber capable of near overrunning anything she could normally utilize, there was little doubt that Caster set up her bounded fields in the Temple to excel in combat purposes to increase the odds in her favor.
The fields around the building itself on the other hand were clearly defensive in nature. Memory decay. Attention deflecting. Anti Projectile. Anti Surveillance. The Witch clearly was making it clear that the building would not be targeted or even noticed should the fighting get out of hand in the area. No one pressed for time would be able to manage to identify or locate Caster's workshop under normal circumstances with the myriad of subtle defenses around it.
Fortunately, Sakura already knew exactly where it was, what it was, and why she needed to enter it. Hence, she was able to approach the building without losing sight of her goal.
The idea that anyone would attempt to sneak into Caster's territory was near comical given who was there and the Temple's setup. The fact that Servants could only approach through the front meant that only humans would be able to get in through any other direction …and since it was widely accepted that humans didn't stand a chance in hell against Servants alone, sneaking into the compound where Caster and Assassin lived via any other entrance was akin to suicide.
Everyone knew this, including Caster… so it was to be expected that the overconfident Servant did not place any advanced detection or security bounded fields around the other entrances of the compound.
Thus, Sakura's intrusion on the temple, and her approach onto the workshop fifteen seconds later, were completely undetected.
So far so good. Next came the part she had the most misgivings about.
The girl stopped at the edge of the building, hid under the stairs, canceled Carnwennan's power to undo her shadowy cloak, took off her backpack, and opened it to reveal the half a dozen bricks of primed C4 that were inside.
As a traditional Japanese temple, virtually every building within the compound was expected, and was, built in a traditional manner to validate its authenticity. True there had been some structural upgrades over the years, electricity and plumbing being ideal examples, but for the most part the buildings followed standard guidelines that had been established for centuries.
This suited Shirou's plan just fine, considering the fact that one of these "guidelines" was that these buildings were built on elevated platforms that virtually anyone could climb under… so long as they didn't mind dust, grime, bugs, moss, and the occasional half rabid woodland animal.
During his lessons, the first Emiya often lamented that he wished he had more jobs with these sorts of buildings. They made jobs so much easier it wasn't even funny.
Shirou didn't intend to actually destroy the building and everyone inside, but if things went pear shaped, it was always good to have a last resort even if it was a distasteful one. He still had to make sure that Marjatta was out first before he did anything though. Obliterating anything that Caster may have been working on the inside was just insurance.
Sakura slowly and silently summoned a familiar not even two feet tall, using as little prana as possible. The almost adorable looking golem knew what to do the moment it fully formed and took one of the exploding bricks before disappearing under the building. It would place the charge near one of the larger pillars under the structure before repeating the process with the others before finally dispelling itself once the task was complete.
Making sure to put the pile of bombs under the flooring so that no one would see it, the girl enveloped herself within Carnwennan's shadows once more and entered the building that Caster had turned into her workshop.
Her main task was simple. Get in. Find Marjatta. Then decide between getting her out through any means necessary, or using Rule Breaker on her to gain control over Caster and force the Servant into submission with a Command Seal.
Had she moved just a minute faster, she would have encountered a possessed Bazett running out the building through the exit on the other side.
Had she also placed the bombs herself, she would have also noticed that someone else already had the interesting idea of possibly blowing up the building from beneath with explosives.
Instead, she had barely made it ten meters into the building before she found herself looking at an albino rat with a crown and a large red jewel hanging off of its stomach. The rat, in turn, had no trouble aiming its beady crimson eyes back right at her.
She had been expecting several things once inside, but this admittedly was not one of them.
The two mammals stared at one another for a good five seconds in silence before the smallest of the pair turned and began to run down the hallway, stopped, looked back at her, and then bizarrely enough waved its front paw in a gesture to follow it.
Sakura liked to think that she had prepared for anything when she had entered the Temple less than two minutes ago. Apparently she had been mistaken.
Knowing full well that it could be a trap, but doubting it at the same time simply because the thought of Caster using a rat familiar at all was ridiculous, the Matou quickly, but warily followed the small creature as it led her through the building. She could not help but worry as she felt the air grow increasingly heavy with each step she took, as if she was breathing in more prana than air with each inhale.
Soon enough, she stopped at a door that the rat had temporarily been staring at intensely before somehow vanishing into a hole in the wall that did not exist.
She knew right away that Marjatta, or at the very least Caster's workshop, was right behind the door simply because she did not want to open it. Her instincts and senses were screaming to not open it if she knew what was good for her. Though there was very likely bounded fields set up to hold prana within its confines, there was still a tremendous amount of power leaking out.
Run. You should not be here.
The nerves on her spine were erratically going off. She didn't know if it was due to a bounded field that Caster had set up, or just her primal instincts reacting to the corrupted power she was feeling, but she did not want to go forward.
Her hands tightened in fear… and she felt the four remaining rings in her hand. The rings that connected her to Shirou, and reminded her why she was here in the first place…
She was ashamed of herself. She owed Shirou everything, but she had allowed her fear to temporarily get the better of her during such a critical time…
As if to spite her weakness upon this realization, she instantly threw the door open and prepared herself for whatever may be inside…
Again she failed to sufficiently predict just what she would see.
Surprisingly enough, the workshop for the most part was fairly rudimentary. Spread throughout several open door rooms that appeared to be used for storage at some point, Sakura's eyes were met with staple elements of thaumaturgy. Workbenches with tools, ingredients, and notes. The occasional formalcraft circle was seen on some of the floors and walls, though most of the symbols and patterns utilized were completely new to the Matou. Some gems glowing with power hovered in peculiar areas around the perimeter of the rooms for one reason or another…
But most of this was ignored for the biggest outlier that almost instantly met the intruder's eyes.
One of the adjacent rooms was dedicated to one thing and one thing only. In the middle of the square area was a tremendous cylindrical tube glowing with an eerie dark yellow fluid that pulsed every few seconds. Each thrum was accompanied by a tremendous wave of prana that overwhelmed Sakura's already flooded senses. She had been in workshops that were designed to contain power before, but never had she encountered this much at once. She'd hazard to guess that there was more power in the room than two whole Servants combined, possibly three.
Even so, while the tremendous energy in the area was significantly distracting, it did not divert the girl's attention to what… or more specifically who was in the tremendous container.
"Marjatta… Edelfelt." Sakura shivered as she instantly recognized the girl that she had fought to the death with almost a week ago. The teenager seemed to be unresponsive to the world around her as she bobbed in place within the clear fluid.
The Matou shivered. Would this have been her fate had Shirou not rescued her that night? To be used as some sort of prana generating tool? To be taken from one hell and placed in another?
Her hands clenched. She felt the rings again.
Her target was there. Now was not the time to be afraid or contemplate possibilities that had not taken place. Swallowing heavily, the girl walked forward and reached into her pouch…
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Her stomach dropped as she turned to the source of the warning… only to encounter the kindly looking priest that had aided with Shirou's Apostle condition the night Marjatta had attacked her.
"He gave you a copy of Caster's Noble Phantasm didn't he? Rule Breaker, correct?" The non-human eyed the girl's empty hand. "It is certainly a marvelous and useful tool in most situations. However it won't be of use regarding Miss Edelfelt's I'm afraid."
"Wh-what?" The girl attempted to try and keep up with what was happening. "How did-?"
"You'll find that there is little that my Master and I are unaware of in this War." The newcomer moved to approach the trapped teenager at a slow yet leisurely pace to exemplify that he meant no harm. "You can deactivate that Noble Phantasm in your possession. It is a rather useful tool and you use it well, but there is little point at the moment."
The girl hesitantly looked at the King of Rats for several moments before revealing herself to the world, but ready to act at the first sign of trouble. "Why are you here? I thought you wanted to stay as uninvolved as possible."
"You are correct. Make no mistake. I am not here to aid you so much as prevent you from making a significant err. Time is not something we have in abundance, naturally, so I will be brief. In her current state, it is nearly impossible to rescue the girl in front of us. Caster is utilizing her and her origin as both a source of prana, and a catalyst to access the Grail War's core system within the mountain below us. In essence, she is a poorly fabricated and unstable, yet still functional Lesser Grail. Given how much power has already been accumulated and what I have learned so far, I give it another week before enough has been gathered to achieve the minimum functions of activating the Greater Grail, a few days more if she has to expend power combatting the other Servants."
"Lesser Grail?" Sakura felt cold upon hearing the term. It sounded ominously familiar, as if she should without a doubt know what it should mean, but didn't. Much like doing a major question on a final exam, only to have the answer just out of your reach.
The Rat remained quiet for a few moments as he looked at her inquisitively before shaking his head. "Ask Lord Emiya. The penultimate fact of the matter, is that due to the outstanding prana being channeled through and around the girl, simply releasing her from her confines is not an option. Rule Breaker would indeed free her, but it would also destabilize all the power in and around her as well. At this concentration, I suspect that the resulting explosion would take out the entire temple grounds and a good portion of the mountain if you attempted to go through with your original instructions. Obviously, detonating the charges you placed under the building would yield a similar result."
The girl attempted to keep up and quickly process everything she had heard. The fact that he was aware of Shirou's contingency plan was far from the top of the list of things she needed to think about. "But… what about Gae Dearg? It can-"
"The Crimson Rose of Exorcism's power would be useful had there not been so much power accumulated already." The priest shook his head, already knowing what she was going to suggest. "Marjatta, the fluid she is in, and the chamber that holds them in place are all separate yet intricately entwined parts to this prana generating system. If one falters, the rest will destabilize rapidly. The spear nullifies the connection between "source" and "spell", but using it or the dagger here would be like attempting to pop a large balloon with a needle and hope it doesn't blow out the candle behind the needle."
She was frantically piecing together what she was learning with her current situation. "But Shirou and Saber are fighting Caster right now. Even if Assassin is backing her up, I don't see how Caster can possibly come out of the battle alive. If that's the case…"
His face turned grave. "You are underestimating your opponent child. Make no mistake, your greatest roadblock in this situation is Caster. She is no fool, and will retreat the moment she realizes the odds are not in her favor. More than that, without her or her counterpart to regulate the prison, it will naturally destabilize within a set amount of time. The frequency of this will only grow as more power is accumulated."
"You need one of the Casters to have any hope of getting the girl out alive. Caster will use these facts to her advantage." Was left unsaid, but spoken perfectly clear.
"If what you said is true…" She began to piece together what she learned. "Then Caster would most likely try and play defensively until she's gained enough power… but with three Servants under her command including herself, she'd likely try to pick off either the most threatening or least defendable opponents."
"The other Caster's territory is quite impressive. Had the Temple here not had its natural advantages, it would pale in comparison to that on Edelfelt's property." The priest nodded. He didn't admit it, but the European mansion was one of the few places he had yet to manage to infiltrate… after the bounded fields were set up at least. "It is likely she would instead go after the pairs that have yet to team up with anyone and overwhelm them with numbers to pick off the Master. And given who is left, the only safe choice is…" His face instantly turned to one of alarm. "Run."
The conversation was interrupted as a sudden spike of prana was felt from one of the adjacent rooms. Not the one that Marjatta was in, but the other one with the rather large and elaborate formalcraft circle in the middle. Normally it would have been easily detected, but with so much power flooding the rooms it was nearly impossible to detect. The only reason why the Rat had noticed it was because he had been conveniently facing the doorway to it during the conversation and saw the circle on the floor begin to glow.
They didn't know it, but the room itself was Caster's only way of being able to teleport to her Workshop. The amount of prana that Marjatta's cell gave off was so erratic and overwhelming that even the Witch could properly manage to perform long distance mysteries in its presence without some sort of prepared area to work in.
Both Sakura and the Rat moved out of the workshop before Caster's human form had even taken shape. The girl was already halfway down the hall and about to utilize Carnwennan when all but one of the rings on her fingers shattered simultaneously.
Enveloping herself in darkness once more, Sakura moved as quickly as possible. The building itself was not outlandishly large, so it only took a few seconds to have the exit visible in her haste. Right now the most important thing she needed to do was escape and relay what she learned to Shirou.
"… " Caster's voice echoed throughout the building as though it was coming from every direction at once.
The Matou shivered as she felt the Servant's prana seemingly lock onto her despite her cloaked state, but instantly ignored it as the door in front of her seemingly slammed shut and began to disappear before her very eyes, melding into the wall itself. At the rate it was vanishing, she had less than three seconds before it was gone.
Most magi would have instantly attempted to figure out a way around this situation and given up on the door. Most magi would have stopped to think and try to conjure up something that would counter Caster's spells.
"His body is made of blades…"
Most magi would not have instead reinforced themselves to the quickly vanishing door in a near blind rush.
Without breaking stride, the running high school student took out the second Noble Phantasm that Shirou had traced for her that afternoon.
Most magi didn't have Rule Breaker.
Holding the fragile looking Noble Phantasm dagger almost an inch in front of her body, Sakura slammed into the wall just a fraction of an instant before the door completely disappeared. Whatever mystery that Caster had been utilizing had instantly been dispelled as the wooden entrance instantly reappeared in its full glory…
… And then completely shattered as the full momentum of a reinforced girl running full tilt hit it head on.
Sakura let out a brief gasp of pain as she sailed past the stairs and fell an additional two feet to the ground below, accompanied by the splinters and remains of the doorway she had just broken, and landed nearly flat on her back. Her reinforced state helped mitigate a good deal of the damage she could have taken, so the air wasn't knocked out of her from the poor landing, but it was still far from a painless experience.
"So my suspicions were correct." An irritated, but strained voice snapped her out of her pain. Blinking several times, Sakura looked up to see Caster standing on top of the building that they had just been in. The Servant clearly seemed to be in pain given from the way she was breathing, clutching her chest, and the sweat coming down her face, but regardless the Master knew that she was no match for the reincarnated woman. "The boy is capable of replicating my dagger. How annoying."
The girl didn't risk saying anything as she swallowed heavily and slowly pushed herself up, not once taking her eyes off of her potential executioner.
It was only then that she heard the chaos, explosions, and gunshots that were coming from the direction of the entrance of the Temple. They were rapidly approaching her direction, but not quick enough in her opinion.
"I commend you both. The boy not only managed to nearly kill me, but had the foresight to exploit a weakness in my Temple that I had overlooked. To think that someone as lowly as you managed to get into the deepest part of my workshop without my knowing." The Servant's power began to peak. "It is equally impressive and infuriating…"
Sakura began to shiver and instinctively took a step back.
"And as if that were not bad enough, you had the nerve to use a copy of my Noble Phantasm to try to escape, destroying the bounded fields I had set up on the premises in the process." The elder woman's voice was akin to a deep growl now as a single malevolent purple ball of raw power floated in front of her. "I hope you understand how deeply insulted and frustrated I am right now girl."
She knew that running was impossible. She couldn't fight. Caster clearly was unwilling to talk. Nothing on her would be able to save her, let alone the two Noble Phantasms she had on each hand. The attack that was about to destroy her body was the equivalent of a ten count aria ritual comprised of nothing but pure… prana...
Caster wordlessly fired the bright projectile right at the girl, clearly intending on killing off at least one opponent that night…
"One cannot stain the shadows."
… and was left less than pleased when her attack disappeared into the black wall that appeared in front of her target.
The bounded field collapsed as its user lost control. Her breathing was erratic as she gaped like a fish out of water and held her body tightly.
She had taken in far too much prana at once and was instantly suffering the consequences. That single attack held as much power as she could hold in her entire being at once, and now it had been added to what she already had. Her body felt bloated with fire, like a water balloon filled to the brim with boiling acid. It was unbearably painful to the point that it was difficult to pay attention to what was around her.
It was only because she felt like every portion of her was about to burst that she had felt it. A small portion of herself that seemed to go nowhere, but still a place she had never noticed before… and it was slowly taking in the excess power that reached it without any resistance.
She didn't like it. It was likely the only reason why she was going to be able to survive her foolish decision, but she still didn't like it. The feeling she got from these tiny fragments of herself were unnatural, as if they weren't supposed to be there, but were now a part of her regardless of what she did…
And the worst part was they were reacting to the power that was being forced into them…
A bright light and some explosions around her snapped her back to reality to find Saber standing in front of her and glaring at Caster. Shirou must have sent the blonde Servant to save her as soon as he realized that she might be in danger.
"Do not worry, Sakura." She barely heard the servant reply. "I will protect you."
BANG! BANG! Swoosh CLANG! PING!
Gunfire to their side instantly caught their attention as Saber moved to intercept the rapid moving projectiles. "Tch. Kiritsugu! Why are you doing this?! Why are you following her orders?!"
"Kiri-tsugu?" The girl blinked in confusion, trying to remember where she had heard the name before. She knew she should know it, but she just couldn't remember…
"Because I have no other options available."
Her eyes dilated as she saw Assassin walk from the shadows and recognized his face instantly. She had only seen the man once in person before, but she could never forget it. He was the only person that she had ever encountered in her childhood that terrified her at first sight outside of her grandfather.
That face. Those cold, empty eyes. That emotionless voice. The way he carried himself. Even as a human, the aura of a man who has murdered countless times hovered over him, but now he was generating it as easily as breathing.
The first Magus Killer stared at the two of them as if they were nothing, yet still analyzing everything all the same…
The world around Sakura and Saber slowed down tremendously as they heard the canister Assassin had thrown earlier finally fall straight down from the sky and bounce off the ground behind them. The bullets he had fired earlier were mere distractions. Their eyes dilated as they instantly knew that they had run out of time…
The smoke grenade went off with unnatural force. Saber was at best buffed a little from the explosive shock, but Sakura was thrown a small distance before her body was enveloped in the prana enriched smokescreen the tool provided. It was nearly impossible to detect anyone or anything within three meters inside the dense cloud, and the lack of any natural light in the area didn't help things either.
"Cough! Sakura!" Saber shouted in alarm as she lost her charge. No doubt Caster or Assassin would exploit this opening to separate the two, so she had to act quickly.
"Time Alter. Triple Accel."
The wind in the area instantly began to thrash about as Saber poured her considerable power into her weakest Noble Phantasm. If anybody had trouble finding her in the smoke before, they didn't now.
"Get down!" The King of Knights shouted as she swung her blade slightly up and in the direction that Sakura had fallen. "Strike Air!"
Chaos was the best way to describe the next few seconds as the relentless thrashing wind tore through everything at waist height and above without discrimination, blasting away all the smoke that had been clouding her vision. Several nearby windows shattered from the sudden air pressure, as did the doors and some screen walls that were common on the buildings here.
Unfortunately it had all been for naught.
"My my. You certainly are productive tonight, Assassin." Caster grinned as she spotted her Servant standing to the side of the destruction, holding one of Sakura's arms behind her back and the other over her mouth to prevent her from saying anything.
The Magus Killer glared at the woman. "… Saber would have killed us if you killed the girl. Idiot."
The sly grin on the Witch's face disappeared almost instantly. The fact that her Servant had actually insulted her so bluntly spoke miles about how he felt about her decision making at the moment.
"I give you this warning only once, Kiritsugu," Saber growled, unconsciously allowing her instinctual dislike of the man to show. "Let her go now, or I will kill you."
"Hmmm. A very interesting exchange. However, I don't think I'll allow him to make that decision," Caster claimed from her perch. "Hold onto her will you?"
The Servant shifted, causing Sakura to flinch under his grip as if to prove his point. Saber didn't bother to question why he didn't have a weapon out. As weak as he was, he could still tear the girl apart with his bare hands if he wanted to, or snap her neck with the hand covering her mouth.
Ffffp! Slam! Ting! Crunch! WHAM! "Gah!"
Everyone's attention was suddenly drawn to the chaos happening some distance to Assassin's side as Shirou literally flew from the darkness backwards and landed heavily on his back. The boy didn't stay down for long though as he quickly rolled to his side and pushed himself away just as the possessed Bazzett shot out from the shadows and punched the ground he had just been occupying hard enough that everyone there felt the minor shock.
The teen quickly got onto his feet again with practiced ease, however it was easy to tell that something was wrong with him as he was swaying slightly and blinking more than he shoud.
"Oh?" Caster grinned as the boy panted and tried to take in what was happening. He clearly was not in the best of shape if the swelling of his face and the bleeding from the mouth was any indication. "I was wondering where you had disappeared to boy. It isn't like you to simply vanish without saying anything after delivering your… gifts."
Shirou didn't reply as two more nameless blades appeared in his hands and he looked around and stopped on Kiritsugu and Sakura…
His eyes instantly turned silver.
Even Kiritsugu shifted slightly under the gaze. He didn't like the feeling he got from them, and he certainly did not know what they did or how the hell Shirou got them in the first place.
"Hmmm? My my. Now that I have time to have a look at them, I must admit you have some quality eyes there boy," Caster mused curiously. "They certainly are not up to par, but they do remind me somewhat of Lady Athena's. Insight so intrusive that it can be considered a crime and the highest of insults to use them upon others… though you no doubt must have far more trouble dealing with them than she ever did. I can see the strain they exert just by looking at you."
Shirou didn't blink as he maintained eye contact with his father for a few more seconds before turning his attention to Bazett, preparing himself to fight again if needed.
"… Let Sakura go, Caster." the younger Emiya stated with an underlying menacing tone in his calm voice.
The Servant in turn simply chuckled as she slowly enveloped herself in black prana before reappearing next to Assassin. "Oh? And why should I do that boy? You have already shown that you wish to kill me. How else can you elevate your position in my eyes?"
"My body is made of blades."
As if to answer the woman's bluff, two dozen weapons appeared above him without uttering a single word, and all aimed at her.
Half were copies of Gae Dearg.
… The other half were of Kiritsugu.
Possessed as she was, even Bazett took a wary step back, unsure of her ability to deal with such an onslaught.
He didn't have to worry about her trying to attack him now.
Caster instantly recognized the blades as copies of what he gave Berserker's Master so long ago, and she figured that the spears were those annoying abominations that he kept on using to pierce through her spells and defenses. She grimaced as she felt the curse coming off of the swords. She didn't know what they were, but if the boy was pointing them at her, then their effects would no doubt be less than pleasant, even if they clearly weren't Noble Phantasms…
"Ah… interesting." Kiritsugu blinked as he stared at the blades. He could feel his very body resonating with the weapons and quickly reasoned out what they were.
"What do you mean by "interesting" Servant? Speak," the Witch ordered irritably. If she was at full health than the boy's tantrum would be no problem to deal with. However, she was still only just recovering from being pierced almost through the heart. She was incapable of performing rapid spells or move as quickly as she would like without damaging herself even further. Knowing what the boy's eyes did, he no doubt knew this as well.
Assassin looked at the weapons some more before a small smirk appeared on his face. "Those swords were made from my corpse."
"Your body? You mean to say that those blades have the same properties as your Origin Bullets then." Caster began to reason out the weapon's properties. "But then that would mean that the curse that they hold…"
"Is the same that killed me." Assassin concluded. "I am unsure of how it would change the effects of my origins bullets… I am certain it is not pleasant."
"I see." She turned to Shirou with a degree of acknowledgement. "It seems we are at an impasse then boy. I have the girl, and you wish to kill me quite intensely given your expression. Do tell, how do you suppose we should proceed?" A confident smirk made its way onto her face. "I suggest a trade. The girl for Saber."
A spear impaled the ground three meters to the right of them.
Saber bent her knees, preparing to move should fighting erupt again. Her eyes narrowed and focused on the enemy…
Assassin glanced at Saber warily. No. She wasn't focusing on them, only on Sakura. It was understandable given the situation, but even so she would at least have to spare some more attention on him and Caster as well to be safe. Something was going on…
He looked back at Shirou and the weapons aimed at them one by one… and noticed the single outlier. He instantly figured out his son's plan and decided to let things run their course.
"A simple no would have sufficed." Caster sighed. She may be the least combat capable of the Servants in this war, but she was still far beyond human and easily managed to determine the path of the projectile before it landed. "I am surprised though. Considering the efforts you went through to keep this child alive last time, I would have thought that you would do the same again."
Shirou's eyes narrowed. "You'd be surprised what I'm willing to do, Caster."
They felt his prana spike just a moment before it happened.
All the projectiles hovering over him fired at once.
Caster and Assassin eyes widened in surprise at the sudden onslaught. The speed of the projectiles was rather slow all things considered, but the fact that the boy had actually attacked them in the first place was what really had the largest shock value. That moment of disbelief was all that was needed to distract Caster from their real plan.
Assassin moved away from Sakura and out of the range of the attack the instant he had seen the weapons above him so much as twitch, took out a gun, and began to shoot at Saber. Meanwhile Caster barely managed to teleport away before she was shredded to pieces…
BOOM! BOOM! TING! TING! SNNNRK! TING! BOOM!
The large number of projectiles hammered the area where the two Servants and Sakura had been standing. While the destruction and damage had been significant, the fact of the matter was that every single weapon launched had not been aiming for where Sakura was. Servants they may be, but even his targets would not have been able to track the trajectories of that many projectiles at once flying right at them…
"Ah!? Uh? …huh?"
Correction. Almost every single weapon launched had not been aiming for Sakura's position.
A copy of Gae Dearg had impaled Sakura's stomach, passing right through her and into the spot that Assassin had just been a second before. Had the Servant still been holding her, he would have easily been skewered by the weapon just as easily as his hostage had. A talented magus she may be, but she was still human. Her body would hold no resistance against a Noble Phantasm.
As such, it was not surprising that the stunned and collapsing girl now sported a hole the size of a fist in her body…
It began to visibly shrink the moment Saber grabbed her while deflecting Assassin's shots, the copy of Avalon inside of her working just as expected. The wound was large, but not in an essentially vital portion of her body. She would recover quickly.
The fact that she was literally overloaded with power meant that she would only heal faster.
It had been a gamble, but in the end it had paid off. The end goal was to get Sakura away from Caster and Assassin alive. The hardest part was naturally somehow forcing Assassin to let go of Sakura without him killing her. He obviously did not want to gore one of the people he dedicated his existence to, but given what the alternatives were he was left with few options…
… At the very least, Kiritsugu was playing along with his gamble and making a very believable performance. Caster probably didn't even notice that her loyal servant wasn't actually holding Sakura's arm behind her back for the majority of the standoff…
Shirou would have been relieved at all of this, unfortunately he was preoccupied with the fact that he couldn't move, speak, or breathe for that matter. The nearly overwhelming source of killing intent directly behind him didn't help either.
"I've had enough of you boy!" Caster's enraged image faded into existence three meters behind him with Rule Breaker in hand and blood coming out of her mouth. Apparently her emergency escape had caused more strain than her severely wounded body could take.
"Shirou!" Saber roared in rage and concern as she in one movement swept Sakura's limp body onto her free shoulder while spun around before launching herself at her endangered Master as fast as she could. As fast as she was, even she had doubts on her ability to reach her master in time.
Shirou had reacted the instant he realized he couldn't move and reasoned out Caster's location from the raging murderous sensation behind him. Frantically reciting his oldest and most reliable spell in his skull, unable to say anything due to the paralysis he was under and manifested a copy of Gae Dearg above him, he instantly and blindly firing it down to the area he had suspected that Caster would try to attack him from: right behind him. Her screaming only confirmed his guess.
At that range, even Caster was forced to abandon her initial plan and forced herself to twist out of the way while swinging wildly with her jeweled dagger. Just as Gae Dearg grazed the side of the Witch, spilling her blood for the second time that night, Rule Breaker sliced through Shirou's coat towards his lower back and through some pockets, just barely missing skin contact…
It apparently was enough to dispel the paralysis he was under though…
"Saber!" Shirou shouted as he managed to take one step forward before his hand clasped hers. Already he could see the glow of a malevolent purple light behind him, indicating that Caster had lost all form of patience with him and was going to try and destroy him as quickly as possible. Judging from Saber's expression, the odds of her being able to shield him in time were debatable.
The mission was a failure. Sakura was unable to get Marjatta in time, and Caster was still alive. Even with Caster and Assassin weakened as they are, it was too dangerous to fight them here. He and Sakura were just too easy of targets in this situation.
They needed to retreat. Unfortunately simply running away was not an easy option.
Saber could carry them yes, but she wouldn't be able to defend them with Assassin and Caster about, especially in this territory. Fighting would yield a similar results. Saber was a close range juggernaut, but Caster and Assassin were ranged fighters. It would take too long for her to get to them, and way too little for the pair to target the humans there. By the time Saber could kill one or both of them, the odds were high that one of the humans there would meet their end.
He couldn't separate Sakura and Saber due to the former's wound, so having his Servant toss them over the Temple walls to get them out of the way so she could fight wouldn't work either. If Sakura wasn't in such bad shape, or if Bazett wasn't there to hold him off, the risks wouldn't be so great, but as it stood he was left with few options that didn't guarantee someone on his side getting killed.
So that only left…
Shirou's left hand was glowing crimson red before he had even made contact with his Servant. "I command you, Servant Saber! Teleport us to the base of the Mountain!"
He had never teleported before in his life, which was understandable considering that it was considered a mystery that bordered on true magic. The only people off the top of his head that he knew of that could do something of similar nature were either wielders of one of the Five True Magics, or individuals that weren't completely human in the first place.
Regardless, he could honestly say that he never wanted to teleport again after slamming into the rough asphalt street at the base of Mt. Enzo. The sensation of being pulled, pushed, contracted, expanded, and being subject to a multitude of sensations and phenomena at once was not something he was very keen on experiencing again.
Saber seemed to have no issue landing on her feet, but he had ended up hammering his knees on the ground, adding to the list of injuries, both combat and self-inflicted, that he had accumulated that night.
"Hah! Hah!" He gasped for air. Between the fighting, being frozen by Caster, and the irregular nature of his transportation, he was more than glad to finally get a steady supply of oxygen in his lungs. "DAMN IT!"
"I share your feelings." Saber looked around warily for enemies, more than once turning back to watch the devastation that was the battle between Berserker and Lancer and Rider. "We had failed multiple opportunities to finish off Caster…"
"No…" Sakura winced as she tried to speak. Her wound was healing, but it wasn't even close to closed yet even with Avalon. Her blood had coated a good portion of Saber's immaculate silver and blue armor with crimson fluid. "We shouldn't kill her. Caster… Marjatta's… we need…"
"Don't speak, Sakura. The fact that you have discovered important information for us about the situation is more than extraordinary considering what you were tasked to do," Saber soothed the girl and attempted to pour more of her power into her to accelerate the healing.
Berserker's roar sent shivers up all their spines. For two of them this was their first time seeing the black giant of destruction, and he did not disappoint.
"Saber's right," Shirou grunted as he slowly picked himself off of the ground. His skull was absolutely killing him, and he had used up a good deal of his prana during the night's activities. "We need to find Illya first and then signal a retreat. I'll warn Rider to…"
His face instantly went pale.
"Shirou? What's wrong?" Saber frowned, easily able to pick up that something was wrong.
"No…" He instantly began to check his coat pockets. "No no no no. Shit. Don't tell me. Please don't tell me that she actually managed to…"
"Shirou… I can't feel Rider." Sakura grimaced.
The Servant of the Sword instantly turned around to see the battle on the mountain. "That can't be right. Shirou, Sakura, I can tell that Rider is still alive and fighting Berserker. Caster is weakened as well. How is it possible that you can't contact her?"
"… Damn it."
The sound of countless small slime covered creatures writhing about one another was heard by the two females. It was something that Sakura in particular had become more than accustomed to, as she had heard it virtually every day of her life after becoming a Matou…
Everyone's eyes focused on the source: one of the pockets that had been cut open by Caster's last desperate attack with Rule Breaker. A large number of irregularly sized worms were leaking out of the hole in them…
Crest worms, that had once been the Book of False Attendant…
o. o. o.
ID: Kiritsugu Emiya
Alias: Magus Killer. Hero of Sacrifice.
Master: Caster (Witch of Betrayal)
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Noble Phantasm: B
Presence Concealment: B+
Independent Action: C
Subversive Activities: A
Mental Pollution: E
Eye of the Mind (True): B+ (Reduced from A due to Mental Pollution)
Tools of the Trade: E-C Supplementary
Thompson Contender: C Anti-Unit/Anti-Barrier
A single round hunting pistol, more suited to hunt big game than battle. This weapon was customized to eclipse every other single handed gun in use, easily surpassing "hand cannon" class guns, and was capable of piercing anything with defensive traits less than that of an armored vehicle. The recoil on the original weapon was great enough to shatter the wrist bones of those unused to its power.
Because of its design, the Contender was not intended to kill its target, but to force it into a situation where said target would have to utilize a great deal of prana to counteract its raw power. The gun was frequently used to punch through many mysteries that magi had assumed would defend them, underestimating the bullet's impact.
As a result, this Noble Phantasm has been recreated with an conceptual ability.
Any defensive measure utilized in response to normal rounds shot by this Noble Phantasm will fail unconditionally so long as said precautions are not "the owner's strongest defensive measure". Against a Caster, the bullets will pierce through any and all barriers save for the absolute strongest ones in their arsenal as if they did not exist. Servants with multiple armaments will have to utilize their strongest shields and armors in order to prevent the bullet from piercing through.
This ability is not, however, affected by counterattacks, evasion abilities, or opposing attacks. In the case of the latter, the bullet will simply carry the power of a standard C ranked Noble Phantasm with no additional properties when met with the opposing force.
Had the Servant been summoned in Japan, but not Fuyuki, the power of this Noble Phantasm would change such that the bullets fired would increase by one rank if encountering a non-ultimate defensive armament, instead of bypassing it completely.
Had the Servant not been summoned in Japan, the Contender would simply be a C ranked Noble Phantasm with no supplementary effects.
Origin Bullet: B Anti-Magic
The secret weapon of the Magus Killer and the ultimate murdering tool of any Magi. Utilizing the concepts of "Severing" and "Binding" via the powdered bone contained within each bullet, these projectiles cause irrevocable change and damage to whatever they are used on that cannot be healed. When used on thaumaturgy, the bullets will short circuit the magic circuits used at the time by the enemy caster, causing their Prana to damage them from the inside out.
This effect will also come about should the opponent's Noble Phantasm be shot while its ability is in use. However it is incredibly difficult to make such a shot unless the activated ability has a wide range.
These bullets are primarily fired from the Thompson Contender. However if it is destroyed, a substitute single round gun capable of firing them will be available via Tools of the Trade.
Sixty six bullets were made during his life from powdering the top ribs on either side of his chest, and only slightly more than half were used in his life time. Due to the Servant's exceptional skill, efficiency, and the number of opponents in the war, this Servant is summoned with six origin bullets total. One for each team.
Alias: The Gorgon Queen
Master: Caster (Witch of Betrayal)
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Noble Phantasm: A
Magic Resistance: B
Independent Action: C
Monstrous Strength: B
Mystic Eyes: A+
Blood Fort Andromeda: B
Breaker Gorgon: C-
o. o. o.
Again. Thank you Wayfarer for betaing this chapter and dealing with this monstrously large chap.
For all intents and purposes, compare Marjatta's situation like an unstable nuclear powerplant. Gae Dearg can shut off the power. Rule Breaker can wreck the internal programming. But neither one of them will deal with the unstable fuel and materials that are inside. Actually using either one would likely set off the plant. Shirou needs an engineer (Caster) in order to turn it off safely.
As for comparing lesser grails, think of it like this:
Illya's compatibility with the system is ninety out of a hundred, while her functionality is a perfect hundred.
Sakura's compatibility is a perfect hundred due to Angry Man Jew, but her functionality is around sixty to sixty five. The low score prevents her from absorbing Servants unless she's nearly on top of them.
Marjatta's a hashed together grail with a compatibility of around sixty, and her functionality is around seventy since Caster's been looking at the Grail's system directly and has greater spells. The thing about her is that she can actually activate the Grail at a lower power rating as she is able to unleash her entire payload at once due to her Burst origin.
However as mentioned, she's incredibly unstable and needs constant maintenance.
Shinji's (Hahaha… ha… oh Shinji) compatibility and functionality are both between 10 and 20, which is still higher than the average human. The only reason why he's even that high is because he does have a family history that's filled with thaumaturgy. Given the right conditions and wife, his spawn does have the potential to be born with a reasonable number of magic circuits…
Hey, the dude actually survived the end of the UBW route despite what happened to him. There has to be some reasonable explanation for that.
Speaking of the least liked character in Type Moon…
I have a story challenge! And I believe I have a good name for it too!
Shinji had a smart idea, and the world shuddered.
Please note that I said a smart idea, not necessarily a good one.
Ok! This is a straight up Fate Stay Night Fic challenge people! Stick to the script and keep everyone as in character as possible! There is only one thing that absolutely MUST happen at the beginning of the story that will set off whatever chaotic chain of events that eventually happen:
Shinji uses his head when he first sent Rider up the mountain to Ryudou Temple, saw that Fake Assassin had a piss poor Mana ranking, and had Rider turn his samurai ass to stone in three seconds flat.
Please note that this most likely happens BEFORE Shirou's encounter with Lancer, gets killed and actually becomes aware of the war in the slightest. This means that virtually everything from our favorite redhead's perspective could be completely different than how it played out in the visual novel.
The point of the challenge is not to focus on Shinji! It is simply to see what the effects were if he actually noticed something that could give him an easy win!
So yes, I'm back to working on FFD again after spending several months on TTRT. Rejoice! Or not! Who cares! I'm busy playing all the games I got from the Steam Summer Sales! One Finger Death Punch for the win!
It took me a while to get this chapter down. The comp ate up the first 5k words when I first started and it drove me nuts for about a week. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, and I wanted it to end on this cliffhanger. I originally wanted Caster to get Rider through stabbing the book by trying to use Rule Breaker on Illya and Shirou doing a heroic dive of heroism, which would double as a way for Illya to finally listen to Shirou, but as the chapter progressed I realized that wasn't going to happen. Then I switched Illya with Sakura… aaaaand that didn't seem to work out realistically either. All in all though I thought what we got here was pretty good. Not ideal exactly but still good.
Keep in mind that this is only roughly half, of the chaos that I planned for this "night's" events.
Anyways that's about it for now. Sorry for the wait guys.
So REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! CASTER IS NOW AFRAID OF SHIROU'S BIG RED STICKS COMING AT HER FROM BEHIND! AND REVIEW AGAIN!