Chapter 36: Inertia
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
She had been waiting for days for this.
Caster was nothing more than an annoyance to her. True, the power she had amassed recently made her somewhat of a threat, but ultimately the renegade Servant served two simple purposes: fuel and bait.
She had done nothing the previous night as Lancer, Archer, and the other Caster assaulted and immolated the side of the mountain. The one she wanted wasn't there, and while gathering information on her future opponents was a smart thing to do, it was nearly impossible to learn anything while the blaze blocked her view of anything. The most she got was that the second Caster was able to organize her summons for more than just simple up front attacks. She had left shortly after Archer and his Master first approached the Mountain, having finally lost interest in doing nothing but looking at an ever growing blaze.
It was obvious that their goal was to set as much of the mountain on fire as possible. Likely it was to reduce the oh so scary Assassin's territory advantage for the rest of the war…
It reminded her of his methods of assaulting enemy bases. She wouldn't be surprised if her target was the one who planned this, even if he wasn't there. He always seemed to be involved in one way or another when something big happened. No, she was certain that he had orchestrated it. None of the other Masters in this war were the types to plan the destruction of such a wide area just to gain a slight territory advantage later on.
So that meant that in addition to Rider, he held some sort of agreement with the other Caster as well. Maybe Lancer and Archer, but unlikely. The attack would have been more coordinated had that been the case, resulting in Caster's and Assassin's death…
Instead, apparently, Caster had somehow gained control over Lancer after she had left. It was a somewhat concerning fact, as it meant that the Witch could somehow steal Servants, but she wasn't worried about that happening to Berserker. Caster would be too preoccupied with trying to survive to even attempt to steal him.
Lancer was a reasonably strong Servant. Her encounter with him shortly before the War went into full swing proved it, as the Irishman had managed to hold his own against her Servant without receiving any substantial injuries for a fair amount of time before retreating. No, the real issue with the shift in power was that while Caster still was incapable of defeating Berserker, she did have the resources to spare to stall the Black Giant while the Witch looked for his only weakness… her.
The homunculus may have a child's body, but she was not stupid. She had every reason to be confident in her Servant's power and strength, but the same could not be said for her own capabilities. All things considered, she wasn't really that much of a Magus either. She had been trained and prepared for the war as a "grail" than a magus. Oh she knew a good deal of spells and theory, and could channel more prana than virtually anyone on the planet, but how her powers worked and how she thought… no, she was not a magus.
She was just a tool.
She had watched the fighting from the top of one of the taller buildings in the area a kilometer or so away from the Mountain while masking her presence. She'd still be noticed if anyone bothered to look in that area, but given all the fighting recently, it was more likely that Caster would focus on the buildings and alleyways bordering her property.
Generally speaking she was only moderately skilled at any sensory based thaumaturgy, but she had been altered for the War specifically by the family that designed the system itself. Keeping general tabs on all of the Masters and Servants was an easy task for her. Assassin and Caster were, of course due to their traits and abilities, somewhat more difficult. However the fact that she knew where they were beforehand corrected that flaw.
The reason why she didn't rush the war and pick off the enemy Servants one by one was fairly obvious. She knew she was going to die once all the servants died and she took their power within herself to activate the grail. Even if none of the Servants died or their power went somewhere else, she only had a year left to live anyways. She had come to terms with that.
That did not, however, mean that she was going to rush her death. There were still a few things she wished to resolve before she pretty much committed suicide.
She had felt Saber and Rider approach the mountain long before they had actually arrived. Initially she had planned to just attack them as soon as they got there, but with Caster controlling a greater force than she had liked, she had decided to wait it out a bit before wiping out everyone. Best case scenario, she managed to kill off her target and five Servants in a single night. Pretty productive all things considered. She doubted her grandfather would ever expect such a victory from her, not that the old bastard expected much other than for her to die one way or another.
She had expected a somewhat amusing battle when Saber encountered Lancer, but she was unpleasantly surprised when Rider interrupted and allowed Saber to rush towards the Temple.
It didn't make sense to her. She had sensed Assassin at the top of the mountain, but all things considered, the smart move would have been to overwhelm Lancer as quickly as possible with numbers. Given the battle yesterday, Assassin and Caster were likely still recovering, so Assassin would have only been able to provide mediocre support at best. With the strongest enemy there dealt with, the remaining opponents there would have been easy for the combined might of Rider and Saber to steamroll.
She was even more baffled when moments later her target ran out into the open and up the mountain, completely ignoring the impressively fast and wide ranging battle that Lancer and Rider were engaging in. Despite neither Servant being his, the Greek Gorgon and the Irish Hound did not seem to make any attempt to take out the easiest target there.
It was as if none of them were even trying to win the war…
Her anger flared.
Seven Servants summoned to seven Masters fight to the death for an unconditional wish. Akasha. Victory. Heaven's Feel. Wealth. Fame. Honor. Any of these would be sufficient enough to drive nearly anyone to participate. To be a major participant and not try to become the victor… to not try to win… it was not simply suicidal, but impossibly insulting to her.
She was going to die because of this war. People would die because of this war… but he was doing nothing of the sort. To him, the war was just another chore, a means to an end that she did not know or care about, and somehow he was dragging other Servants into this farce rationalization as well.
He claimed that he wanted to save her. Zouken claimed that he was working for the Matou to win the War for him. And yet here he was, with the only Servant that she felt had a chance of beating her Berserker, enacting some scheme that went against both.
"Shirou Emiya was merely designed to fight in this very war. And his goal does not involve winning the grail."
Briefly she scanned the sky above her and her surroundings for anything out of the ordinary… well, out of the ordinary for the war at least. She had made it a habit after her encounter with the Apostle a few days past and was not about to let up on it anytime soon. Anyone that could produce such monstrosities with ease would warrant such attention.
The childish immortal's words echoed in her head, causing her to growl in frustration. She wished she could ignore what he had said, but when what very might well be an Apostle Ancestor spoke words of wisdom and advice to you, you damn well listened. They weren't ones to do such actions unless something was up. On the contrary, most were likely to kill you and ask questions later.
Still it annoyed her that an immortal bloodsucker that she had never heard or seen before claimed to know more about her family than she did.
With a silent command, Berserker had taken her small body into his possession and leapt across the tops of the buildings in the area, invisible to both the combatants and the locals. She took a moment as they landed to truly marvel at her Servant's deceptive grace. Despite being insane, he had surprisingly made little noise as they dropped six stories to the street below, three blocks north of where the steps to the Mountain were.
In the current situation, the biggest threats to her were Saber, and admittedly Assassin and Caster. The latter pair simply due to the fact that so long as Berserker was distracted they were the most able to kill her before anything could be done. All things considered, she didn't believe that all of the Servants in the war combined had enough A ranked attacks total to get rid of her Servant's lives, but that did not mean she would stupidly rush in without thinking.
As it stood, said greatest threats were preoccupied with one another in the Temple, with Lancer and Rider in between. Oni-chan wouldn't dare attempt to try to go up fully exposed unless all of his enemies here were accounted for and preoccupied. As much as she hated him right now, she would none the less admit that he was good at what he did.
Regardless, in the current situation, the best option available for her was…
… To get rid of the unnecessary distractions. With Lancer and Rider out of the way, dealing with Assassin, Caster, and Saber would be significantly easier for her.
She'd keep the fighting to the lower portions of the Mountain just in case one of the Servants in the Temple tried to go for her. That way, even if Berserker was somehow overwhelmed by any additional opponents, she would not be in any real danger.
She watched as Lancer and Rider wisely joined forces almost the moment they realized that the strongest Servant in the war was upon them, not that it would do them any good in the end.
Admittedly, while she doubted that either Servant had much outside of their Noble Phantasms that could pose a threat to Berserker, Illya did have to commend the speed of both Servants. Had Berserker not possessed Godhand's defensive traits, she may have been concerned about her monstrous Servant's ability to come out of the current situation intact. Berserker was by no means a slow Servant. However, even he seemed to have some issue coping with the relentless assault from all angles that the blue and violet enemies were giving him.
The pair were nothing more than colored streaks from her perspective as they forced the juggernaut to fight on the defensive. Adding onto the spectacle was the insane amounts of ash that Berserker kicked up with each deceptively fast swing of his stone weapon.
Even with the dust trailing and outlining exactly where the stone tool had been, Illya had trouble keeping up with just exactly what was happening as the fighting became faster and faster. What was even more ridiculous was how the airborne ash seemed to segregate and get torn apart one section at a time as one of the two blindly fast Servants sheered through the particles faster than it could get kicked up.
Sparks seemed to be erupting everywhere around and on the Black Giant as he assaulted the two smaller Heroic Spirits with mindless ferocity. Had he been against just one of them, Heracles would likely have made some form of progress by now…
However both of them at once was apparently another story. Lancer was durable enough to endure and exchange a few direct blows from the monstrous Servant before quickly getting out of attack range, and Rider had no qualms about attacking him from behind as a distraction. Despite the latter's small frame, she possessed enough power behind her blows to at least garner some of Berserker's attention, which would create another opening for Lancer to either escape or charge in for another clash of weapons.
When Berserker turned his attention to Rider, the Gorgon would instantly get outside of attack range and keep it that way while Lancer gained his attention again. She never stopped moving, and despite the impossibility was quick enough to run away faster than Berserker could complete a swing to kill her.
When Berserker focused on Lancer, he would be stuck in a direct and unforgiving exchange of blows with neither side relenting. Rider would then use this to her advantage to attack the distracted madman just enough that Lancer got a few extra hits in.
The battle seemed to exchange between these two states ever few seconds, and did not appear to show any signs of stopping soon.
For all intents and purposes, it was a stalemate between an untouchable alliance and an unstoppable force. As it stood, Lancer and Rider were speed demons that could not be hit. On the other side, Berserker was a monster that could not be harmed even when blows were landed.
It was an annoyance for the albino. Berserker's advantage was all but obvious to everyone to see, and by all means he should have been able to crush both of the Servants within the first five minutes of battle. However, that had not been the case.
She could just let things progress as normal. Her Servant was not in any danger of actually losing in the current situation. All it would take is one eventual small mistake on either Lancer's or Rider's part and the battle would be as good as hers.
Problem was, they weren't alone in the area and Berserker… was about as subtle as a train wreck with rocket fuel cargo into a fireworks factory. There was no doubt that everyone in the area knew of the giant's current location. The Einzbern didn't rule out the possibility of someone in the Temple redirecting their attention to the fight here in the near future.
… No. Apparently she still had some time. Looking up she saw her target run into the Temple, meaning he clearly thought trapping himself inside was more important than dealing with her. Coward. If he stayed in the natural bounded field of the mountain, he could of at least staved Berserker off another hour or so before she caught him.
Oh well. At the very least that meant that Caster and Assassin would be preoccupied with Saber for a good while, buying her time to deal with the annoyances here. If her luck held out they'd kill one another off…
… And if it didn't Shirou would be killed and she would end up spending the rest of the war with a bitter taste in her mouth. Definitely something to contemplate seriously.
Then again it was rather difficult to think clearly when Berserker was rampaging nearby. She had liked to think that she was used to it by now after two months, but then again it wasn't as if there were many things in the world that could stay intact longer than a few seconds against the Servant.
She had returned to reality as she noticed that for the first time Berserker had ignored Lancer to purposefully block a blow from Rider. The force of the impact blew away nearly all of the dust in the area and the shockwave had caused her to clench her teeth reflexively.
The fact that Berserker had intentionally defended was a warning sign. The Servant was insane, but his instincts were still there and intact. The only reason for him to perform an action of defense was if the thing he was defending against actually posed as some sort of threat to him.
The threat couldn't be the nail that Rider was using. It was a weapon, but the Master could tell that it wasn't a Noble Phantasm. It was an interesting piece, but little more mystical than the giant axe sword that her own Servant was wielding. Rider didn't seem to have any abilities to get past Berserker's defense either.
So, given what she could see the only remaining possibilities were either Rider had some sort of conceptual Noble Phantasm that she had yet to identify, which was unlikely…
Berserker spun and swung his tremendous weapon again at torrential speeds, this time aiming for Rider. The beautiful Servant was unable to get away as she had just landed from her airborne strike, and thus could only retaliate. Her lithe figure seemed to coil like a serpent as it lashed out at the weapon that was larger than her… but even more absurd was the fact that she had managed to stop the insane attack with her miniscule nail through pure raw force.
Yes. There was no doubt about it. Rider was using her Monstrous Strength skill to increase her physical power to A rank, enough to enable her to hammer through Berserker's Godhand and kill him… once at least.
How silly. Trying to compete against Heracles using physical power. Even a child knew better than to think of something like that.
However, even A ranked strength still paled before the might of Berserker as Rider soon found out first hand. Despite her impressive jump in power and holding off the ferocious attack, the smaller Servant was still eventually thrown back with unrelenting force, falling back down the mountainside and into the grave like black remains of the trees that were burned away the previous night.
The monster made way to pursue the annoying thing that had tried to kill it from behind, when the other annoying thing that kept on talking got in its way and began to fight it again.
"Oi oi! I know she's a looker, but I'm still here!" Lancer grinned as he lashed out with his spear and swung low, or in this case, at chest height, in order to nail the weakest part of the human body, the knees. Granted, Berserker's knees were still far more stable and held more power than most Servants, but they were still technically a viable target.
The Mad Servant roared loudly as it turned its focus to the closest target again. It wasn't out of frustration or rage. His mind was too far gone for such superficial emotions. The closest thing that it could be compared to was a greater expression to murder the thing that had gotten in the way of his pursuit to kill the other thing he was about to go after.
However, its seemingly unstoppable swing to bash away the annoyance was momentarily halted before it could reach its target, allowing Lancer to hammer his weakest joints…
For the first time in the war, Berserker had been brought down to his knees.
The Master watching from a distance clicked her tongue in annoyance as she saw the cause of Berserker's failed attack: the chain wrapped around Berserker's arm that led all the way back to Rider. The harlot had somehow managed to snare her precious Servant's limb with her feeble weapon during their brief confrontation and had used it to give Lancer an opening. She was honestly more astounded that the thin links of metal had managed to hold together well enough to actually stall Berserker's movements more than that her Servant had been brought to his knees. Rider must have put a good deal of prana into them in order to accomplish such a feat.
With another thunderous bellow the demigod flexed his muscles, bulging them so suddenly that the metal around his arm shattered instantly and forced the Irishman on the defensive again.
She frowned. This becoming increasingly annoying. She just had to be facing the only Servants in this war that were faster than Berserker in a wide area, thus capable of countering his normal dominance of the battlefield. They weren't winning by any means, but she certainly wasn't either, and it didn't look like that was about to change anytime soon.
She spied the remains of Rider's chain fade away into prana as her Servant began to thrash about rampantly to get at the annoyance that had managed to actually bring it down. Due to the more restricted stance, Lancer was able to get some more strikes in. Not that they did anything as the spear tip sparked against the Greek's legendary body, but the Master still considered it a bit of an insult that it happened at all.
And then as if she was a ricocheting shooting star, a violet blur shot out from the darkness and began to seemingly assault her Servant from five different directions within a second, further distracting Heracles.
Her mind was made. "Kill Lancer. Ignore Rider," she ordered. Rider may be proving herself to be a bigger annoyance, but Lancer was the one that seemed to be holding her Servant back the most. Sure it may take some time and cost Berserker a life or two, but in the end it was the best choice. With Lancer out of the way, Rider would be nothing more than a fly to swat if she got too close.
The Servants seemed to notice the change instantly as Berserker began to make it his existence's mission to decimate the smaller male. From his kneeling position his weapon seemed to move so fast that it was multiplying, instantly putting Lancer on the defensive and behaving as if Rider's attacks did not exist.
"Hahaha! Now I'm feeling too much love!" The battle junkie laughed as he attempted to pretend his arms weren't about to fall off from dealing with countless titanic blows. The fact that he was being pushed back by an opponent that was on his knees was not lost on him, but neither was the fact that his opponent was one of the most famous demigods in existence.
Another colossal blow was made, and Lancer this time was brought to his knees while simultaneously being thrown down the mountain.
Berserker attempted to get up, but Rider was still assaulting him from virtually every side and had seemed to make it her purpose to keep buy as much time as possible.
A sickening crack was heard as the knee that the giant had put his weight on was impacted from behind by the violet blur, causing it to bend at an awkward angle…
The monster didn't seem to even notice as it finished rising to its full insane height and bolted towards the blue target.
"Hahahaha!" Said target didn't even seem to mind the fact that death seemed to be coming down upon him as runes began to glow all over his body. His crimson eyes seemed to glow with as much glee and bloodlust as the magic on his body. "What a guy! It's been a while since I met someone almost as stubborn as I am!"
The fighting resumed with greater intensity than before. Every collision between the two weapons made was enough to send a shockwave that not only kicked up all the ash around the Servants, but was even felt by Illya from her position. To her it was if she was standing close to a massive fireworks display, where every single rapidly fired explosion was hammering her body and gradually making it numb.
However even from her position she could tell that Berserker was not faring well. Her Servant was immensely powerful and fast, but Lancer's new strength was giving him the slight edge he needed to turn this battle around. For every clash they made, the lightning fast crimson spear seemed to puncture through the Giant's skin two or three times. Even with his enhancements, Berserker was unable to keep up with such ridiculous speed and skill.
Even so, Lancer was incapable of utilizing his enhanced state to its fullest. The amount of strength and control it took to edge in those extra blows after every clash with the monster was beyond extraordinary. The fact that he was capable of such a feat at all was a marvel in itself. His god like speed was countered by god like power.
The minor blows he landed were not sufficient though. Gae Bolg's cursed tip did manage to pierce Berserker's hide, as his owner's strength had been boosted temporarily to A rank much like his temporary partner's. However none of the blows had been lethal. Anything short of a killing blow would not put down this beast, or any beast with a Battle Continuation ability of A rank as well. Truly Berserker was an unreasonable Servant to deal with.
Illya watched the fight with anticipation. She did not expect Lancer and Rider to be able to put up such a good battle. She still did not think that Berserker would lose, but she was glad that she had focused her attention on Lancer first. His ability to enhance his traits with runes was unexpected, and given enough time, she dare even suspect that he may have become a genuine threat to Berserker…
A sickening crack was heard as the violet blur struck again, this time driving a silver nail into the skull of the mad beast, driving the metal right into his brain and hammering his top heavy body with enough force to topple it near instantly.
Having finally stopped, Illya managed to get a good look at the beautiful Servant's altering appearance. Her hair was still violet, but it was starting to take a darker, dirty hue, while clumping together into several solid looking steams. Her skin was also becoming less pristine, more reptilian and monstrous, the greatest change being in her hands which were now clawed and chorded.
This was likely only roughly the halfway point of the Servant's transformation. Given enough time, enough of her would change that her identity would probably be known. However that did not matter. Knowing her identity was only needed if the user needed to employ strategies in order to fight. Berserker needed none.
"That was one…" The girl thought, only flinching at the sudden death of her mad familiar, already feeling Godhand coming into effect. "Now can you do it eleven different times?"
Berserker had revived before his body had even hit the ground. Rider barely managed to get away from the screaming skull before the area she had occupied was torn through by a tremendous hand.
"You really are a pain you know that?!" Lancer's grin didn't match his words as he once more jumped in and began to engage with the Servant.
Illya wasn't bothered by it. Rider had wasted her kill now, and the best she could do was run interference. Berserker's ability recovered his body to its prime condition. His head was intact, his knees were fixed and his body…
The homunculus' eyes narrowed as she focused on the Mad Servant's torso. "That can't be right…"
The wounds created by the cursed spear's blade were still visible on Berserker's body. Countless minor cuts and gouges that had been spawning all over were still weeping blood. They weren't impairing his movements in the slightest, but the fact that they were still there was… concerning.
She attempted to pour some prana into the Servant and heal his body, something she was unused to doing for obvious reasons, but found that the wounds would not close. Even with Godhand's ability to revive him from the dead, there were apparently things that even the Noble Phantasm could not rectify…
What was concerning though was that these cuts were still there. They were flaws in the otherwise impenetrable defense that was Godhand.
As tiny and inconsequential as they may be, Berserker, and Illya by association were now… vulnerable.
And should Lancer score a lethal blow with that cursed weapon…
"▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅ ▅▅▅▅▅▅ ▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅▅!"
The beast seemed to roar with outstanding rage and fury as it felt its Master's sudden distress and fear. It could not understand anything specific, or even what the reasons were. However he understood the following logic: the blue thing in front of him scared his Master. It must be destroyed.
"What the hell?! Why are you pissed off at me?!" Lancer's eyes widened as he had to double up on his defense. One moment, Rider had managed to finally get something through that thick skull of Berserker's, the next, the clearly not dead Servant was trying to turn him into paste as if he was the one that scored the blow.
The further corrupted purple blur that was Rider once more resumed her assault from all angles on Berserker in an attempt to regain his attention, but her blows seemed to have no effect this time. Regardless of how heavy or frequent the blows were, they didn't even seem to have any sort of physical effect on the monster that was hacking away at the other Servant.
Some of the tension in the homunculus abated at this. With Rider's physical attacks being next to useless, Berserker could focus all of his attention on Lancer without interruption. It was only a matter of time before the War would be down two Servants now…
The world seemed to echo as a particularly tremendous blow was delivered. Even though Lancer had properly blocked it, he was still launched back down the mountain like a missile, tearing up the landscape in the process with his body.
Unfortunately, that did not seem to be enough to take out the Irishman, as moments later, the violet and silver shooting star that had been assaulting Berserker from all angles had been joined with a blue and crimson bolt of lightning.
Then Berserker moved, and became a living avalanche.
The mountain itself seemed to shake and quiver in pain as the strongest Servant rampaged all over its side in an attempt to catch his prey. He was not fast enough to catch it, but neither was he something to be ignored until he either died or succeeded in his task.
Illya marveled at the display or relentless destruction. It wasn't often that she was able to watch Berserker go all out like this for so long. Most things tended to break after one or two hits, so she could say for certain that watching him battle for extended periods of time were rare and unique experiences…
Her attention, however, was then abruptly occupied with a massive spike in mana from just over a block away. To appear so suddenly so close to her without her noticing until just now was unnerving.
Another Servant? Given who was here, the only ones left were the other Caster and Archer. Caster would certainly be capable of teleporting this close to her, but there was no point for her to show up. She was by far one of the weakest Servants in the War, and making herself known now might as well be akin to suicide for her. Archer… may have something interesting to contribute to the fight, but if that was the case, why would he bother to appear at ground level when sticking to the rooftops would give him a better position? She had never actually encountered the Servant, but she highly doubted that he would be of the same pedigree as the one from the previous war.
She momentarily lost her balance as the fighting got closer to her and the ground shook more than expected. She was still a good distance away from it all, but her body was small. It was not meant to endure physical activities like this…
She smiled with bitter amusement. Why was she worrying? Archer? Caster? What could they possibly contribute that would defeat Heracles? Her Servant was unstoppable. Even just standing here while he fought in the distance was enough to nearly bring her to her knees.
She could actually see the craters and trails that Berserker was making in the mountain now. It looked as if a genuine war had taken place there, minus the bodies… which would soon be corrected. A vast majority of the equipment that had been left over by the fire department to combat the fire from last night and deal with the damages had been destroyed via crushing, smashing, slashed apart, and in one instance, thrown off the side of the mountain and crashing through a second story window of one of the nearby buildings…
For a brief moment, the homunculus wondered just how badly the war was going to affect the insurance rates in the city, let alone the general area. Given how many fights had occurred on the mountainside, she could only assume that the Temple would be strapped for cash for a good while…
"Man, those three are really going at it huh?"
The albino froze as the voice reached her ears. She had only heard it once in person, but even so its owner shouldn't be here. She had seen him enter the Temple at the top of the mountain not even ten minutes ago, and had not seen him since.
Slowly, she turned around to see her target, her step-brother slowly walk to her, leaning somewhat on the building that she herself was using for physical support. His clothes were slightly ripped in a few places and were slightly dirty, but the main thing that stuck out in his appearance were the poorly wiped away blood trails coming from his nose and ears. Should their sources not be extraordinary in nature, it would mean that he had recently suffered pretty damaging mental trauma of some sort.
"Oni…chan?" She blinked in disbelief. "How…?"
"How?" Shirou's lips twitched into a weak smile as he slowly walked to her general direction. "Well… let's just say that things got a bit messy in there and I had to make an emergency retreat with Saber."
As if she had heard her name being called out, the Servant of the Sword had decided at that moment to shoot out from a nearby alleyway like a silver and blue rocket up the mountain. She was at best as fast as Berserker, and overall seemed to have the least impressive appearance as she made her move. However the instant she had collided with Berserker, the world seemed to shake from the impact like a bomb had just gone off. All of the ash and debris on the mountain seemed to be blasted away from the shockwave, and a good number of windows were shattered under the pressure.
Even Lancer and Rider were temporarily halted, unable to keep control of their movements in the face of the newcomer's opening strike.
Berserker's strength was indeed insane. It alone was overwhelming enough to put him on a pedestal that few Servants could hope to surmount even with their Noble Phantasms.
Saber's power on the other hand derived from her impossibly deep mana pools… which in many ways was just as absurd as her opponent's strength. By all means, she could, no, should be considered just as insane of a monster as Berserker is.
The two humans held their arms in front of their faces in order to protect themselves from the outstanding backlash and ash that headed their way. Illya for one was stunned that Saber was this powerful. The small servant had not demonstrated nearly this much force in the previous fights.
Shirou on the other hand…
"It took that long for the wound to close…" He frowned, not allowing the debris to force him to close his eyes and focus on what was there.
Saber and Berserker became the clear center of attention as their blades impacted one another with the force and sound of cannons. The spectators there could easily see the shockwaves made in the air with every single collision of their weapons. Lancer may have been a significant force with his runes, but he still paled in comparison to Saber when it came to raw firepower.
Berserker's attention was completely focused on Saber. He still had his orders to attack the first blue enemy, but this one was stronger, faster… a true threat. It couldn't be ignored, even in his current mad state, even if he had enough sanity to want to.
"Illya." Shirou caught the Einzbern's attention again. She turned around angrily, not liking the fact that he addressed her so familiarly, but froze when she saw his face. Unlike her past experiences with him, the assassin wasn't smiling at her gently or trying to put on a gentle or welcome atmosphere. On the contrary, he seemed to be exclude a cold calm aura around him as he looked emotionlessly at the fight. "I'm going to need you to have Berserker focus on Lancer for a bit. I need to know something and time isn't on our side. You can ask me whatever you want after this. I'll answer everything after this, and if you don't like what I have to say then you can do whatever you want to me."
It took a few moments for her to gather her thoughts, but the daughter of Kiritsugu recovered well. "And why should I do that? From your appearance, I can kill you now and easily weaken Saber for Berserker to handle."
"If I told people that I knew of you, odds are very high that you would have come to Japan with more than just Berserker and two handmaidens as backup." He stated firmly as he slowly closed the distance... no, he wasn't approaching her. He was getting closer to the fight so he could have a better view of everything. "Having you come here instead of trying to break into Einzbern Castle all the way in Germany sounds much simpler, don't you think? This way I don't have to waste time with an annoying army of supercharged homunculi."
He paused briefly. "… Then again. I apparently misjudged how badly the rumors spread about me would get to you. Sorry about that. I've made it a habit of ignoring what people tend to think of me, and it seems to have backfired in this case."
The girl's eyes widened in realization at what the boy was insinuating. If what he was saying was true, then the male in front of her had been using the Holy Grail War, one of the most complex and intricate rituals in the modern world… as bait to lure her out where she was the least guarded by her family.
It was absurd. It was insulting. It spat on everything that magi stood for…
It was exactly what her father was known for…
His eyes narrowed as he focused on the battle. "Saber's going to break from Berserker in three… two..."
With another earth shattering bang, Saber had poured an absurd amount of power into her next strike, forcing her and somehow Berserker away from the epicenter and rattling everything in a mile radius. Unlike her opponent, the King of Knights rode the recoil like a professional and moved towards her true target, Rider.
There was a tense moment as everyone seemed to focus on the giant.
"Rider! Don't move!" Another instant. Saber was nearly halfway to Rider. Berserker seemed to not even be aware of what was around him.
It was only because Shirou was connected to his Servant that he could tell that she had dispelled her invisible sword…
… and had taken out the copy of Rule Breaker that he had made less than a minute after teleporting to the base of battlegrounds.
Berserker turned his focus on Lancer once more.
"Oh come on! This is getting ridiculous! Why are you going after me again?!"
Rider appeared to be following Saber's frantic command, as she did not seem to be preparing to escape or counter Saber's sudden unexpected attack…
The sound of metal hammering metal rang though the air as at the last moment, the Gorgon Queen knocked aside the dagger with one of her nails and attempted to stab her former partner in the neck with the other. Another explosion of prana erupted from the smallest Servant, blasting away the half transformed woman a good dozen yards almost instantly. Apparently Saber had been expecting such a thing happening and had prepared just in case.
"Damn. She noticed after all," Shirou growled angrily as he saw Rider shakily stand up straight, her arms, legs and body twitching erratically as if she was fighting against an invisible force. "She used a Command Seal…"
"What are you talking about?" Illya was growing more confused by the second. "I thought you were partnered with Rider's Master."
"The Caster up there has a Noble Phantasm that can sever the link between Masters and Servants and gain control over the latter." He made no attempt to hide the information, but still tried to be brief. "She accidentally stabbed the medium I was using to control Rider with it earlier. Normally she has to stab the Servant with it, but I guess what I was using was enough of a grey zone that she managed to steal the rights as Rider's Master from me. It would explain why Sakura still has her Command Seals."
"Wait… you were supporting two Servants the entire time?!" Illya honestly wondered if it was best just to kill him now and spare herself the headache. "Why on earth were you doing that?!"
Off in the distance, Rider was now beginning an assault on Saber. However unlike Berserker, the King of Knights was nowhere near as disoriented and sloppy in her counterstrikes as she managed to follow her former ally's attacks with little issue. While the skirmish had initially appeared to be in Rider's favor as she seemed to appear from multiple directions at once, the conclusion that was her being sent flying away from everyone by a single hit was not missed by anyone.
"Let's just say that it's one of the many, many things that we are going to go over later." Shirou muttered as he watched with a solemn expression.
The timer he had set on his watch went off. It was now exactly midnight.
Tools of the Trade had reset. They were out of time and had lost their advantage.
"I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but we have to leave." He slowly began to move to her again, but keeping his eyes open and constantly scanning his surroundings. "The way things are now, we're going to lose."
"Hah?" Illya really didn't know what to say to that. They may be outnumbered, but out of all the possible pairings in the war, they had, at least temporarily the two strongest ones fighting side by side. "What do you mean? Your Saber is the only Servant that can stand a chance against my Berserker. If they work together there is no way that they can be defeated."
The Emiya grimaced. All things considered, she was right in that sense. No two Servants in the war had more muscle than theirs. All things considered, in a straight up fight he believed that they could go up against all of the other Servants in the War at once and still come out on top with the odds in their favor…
On the other hand… "Work together huh?"
Illya blinked in confusion at his statement and the small amused smirk on his face before she realized he was echoing what she had just said and gaining color in her face like a certain unnamed tsundere. "I! You! Don't misunderstand me! You know what I-!"
"Shirou!" A yell of panic from the battleground caught their attention and towards the rapidly approaching violet and silver shooting star approaching them.
Caster must have located where they were hiding already and ordered Rider to kill him. The stepsiblings were far enough into the alleyway that it was not possible to see them from the Temple Entrance, but that did not seem to be enough protection in this case. The Witch must be reveling in the possibility that he would be killed by his former comrade. Shirou certainly wouldn't put it past her to think like that.
Saber wouldn't make it in time. Berserker wouldn't either. Outrunning Rider was a stupid idea akin to trying to beat Saber in swordsmanship. He could use a Command Seal to warp Saber to his location to counter the attack head on, but he did have another option.
"Trace overclock. Rho Aias."
Just before Rider could make it to the entrance of the alleyway, multiple copies of the legendary seven layered Shield of Ajax spawned in front of it and halted her progress. She would have gone over the fairly large bounded field, but the replicas overlapped one another going up, spanning all the way up to the rooftops of the buildings that her mortal targets were between.
"Gggh!" Shirou winced as he felt something in his head nearly burst from the pressure of producing so many shields at once. Creating mass replicas of blades was an easy enough task for him to do, but shields and armor were a good deal more straining. He didn't notice a new stream of blood coming from his nose. Ironically, he had assumed that without being forced to support Rider anymore, he could use some of his more straining spells and methods again… However he forgot to take into account his rather exhausted and weakened state…
When he had snuck into Caster's temple, he had only managed to make a short distance inside when Bazett had fallen on top of him like a freight train.
He had attempted to reason and speak with her to try and snap her out of whatever Caster had done, but that yielded nothing. Normally he was capable enough to hold his own against her for a reasonable amount of time before she ultimately crushed him with her bare hands. He had been learning to fight under her for years, and knew her moves pretty well all things considered...
The problem was that when she fought seriously and used her runes, it was impossible for him to keep up unless he accelerated his body. Even worse was that she seemed to be sporting new sequences on her gloves and clothing that made her even faster and stronger than before. The best he managed to do was lure the fight to where he wanted to go while playing defensive the entire time.
It didn't help that in a moment of desperation, he had activated his Pure Eyes in an attempt to get a better reading on her, and was temporarily shocked by the fact that her legs were nearly identical to Merem's limbs. This momentary pause in his movements earned him a pleasant fist to the ribcage and four broken bones. The slight concussion she gave him when she knocked him into the area where Sakura and the other Servants were earlier didn't help either.
Normally he was more careful and considerate when it came to dealing with his literally oldest friend… However he definitely had a few choice words in mind to say to the Ancestor the next time he saw him.
He had Avalon inside of him, so the physical wounds he sustained from the attacks and from the backlash of using Time Alter were all eventually dealt with. The problem was that dealing with such unbearable pain and stress after utilizing a magic that caused multiple veins in his skull to burst was not having a welcome effect on his state of mind, stamina, and ability to remain conscious.
Apparently Avalon could heal a good many things at impossible speeds, but it still paled in comparison to aspirin for headaches.
The alleyway seemed to pulse as Rider attempted to charge her way through the last second defense and impacted it at full speed. Only one petal of the shield she had hit had cracked, but the reflected damage onto Shirou's person did not help things.
Time seemed to stop as Shirou and Rider looked at one another through the semitransparent shield. Rider's transformation had progressed even further now. Her skin was darker, as was her violet hair which had all but been turned into countless thick tentacle like strands that each seemed to have a life of their own.
What stuck out to Shirou most though was her mouth. It wasn't the fact that her teeth were now altered, sharpened to that of a carnivore's. No, what he saw was that they were clenched together tightly, showing a good deal of frustration and resistance that she was exerting on herself… against the orders that she was being forced to carry out.
"Shi-rou…" Even her voice had been altered by her power. Where before it had been smooth and sultry, it was now thick and raspy.
Her appearance seemed to send a spike through the Emiya's chest. Rider had ended up like this because of him. It was his fault. He had gotten careless and she was suffering because of it.
"Rider. Don't push yourself. Please," he spoke up gently, but the pain and worry clearly evident in his words. Above all else though… behind the soft volume and the soothing tone of compassion… was a foundation of cold silent rage directed at a source that was not there. "Be patient. I'll get you back soon. I promise."
The Gorgon's breathing seemed to become less ragged at his words, and her expression relaxed softly to regain some of the beauty that she had held before… and then she moved to avoid Saber's attack from behind.
"Shirou! You shouldn't push yourself! You haven't fully recovered yet!"
"Now isn't the time Saber!" Shirou snapped as he focused on the fighting in front of him. "Midnight's passed! You have to keep an eye out for…!"
He felt something strike his chest and suddenly became unable to find the ability to talk anymore. A moment later he realized that he had lost strength in his legs and was falling backwards.
A loud bang was the only indication they had that they had been attacked, and by the time it reached their ears it was already too late. It did not originate from a clashing of weapons or a result of something else being absolutely destroyed by Berserker…
But from a modified Thompson Contender hunting pistol.
"SHIROU!" Saber and Rider shouted in surprise and shock as the teen fell back with a large bloody hole where his heart was.
The projections he had made to separate himself and Illya from the Servants at once shattered, and Saber wasted no time getting into position between her Master and all of the other Servants…
No. Between Shirou and Kiritsugu.
"Again?!" the King of Knights roared, her emerald eyes piercing into his dull black. "Again you go for those close to you, Kiritsugu?! This goes too far, even for you! Answer me for once! Assassin!"
Standing right across the street from the alleyway, Kiritsugu didn't seem to register Saber's outburst in the slightest as he lowered his gun. Instead his attention was focused on the white haired girl standing behind her, who was in turn staring back at him with wide crimson eyes of disbelief.
"… Papa?" Her voice was little more than a whisper, not because of any emotional expression, but simply because she couldn't seem to muster up enough energy to her lungs to increase the volume greater than that. "What? … How? You're dead… they said you were dead…"
Saber clicked her tongue in frustration. Shirou had told her that he wanted to avoid having Illya encounter Kiritsugu if at all possible. There was no telling what the girl would do now, and likewise there was no way to predict what Caster would make Assassin do to exploit the situation. "Illyasviel! Don't get any closer! You can't trust him!"
"… Illya…" The gunman made himself completely open to attack as he took an unstable step forward and slowly widened his arms in a welcoming gesture. "… I…"
"Why? Why are you here?" Her eyes were growing progressively unfocused as her voice grew. "Why did you kill mama? Why did you give up the grail? Why… why didn't you COME BACK?!"
The mindless beast responded to his mistress' distress. Without warning, he had turned his attention away from the thoroughly exhausted Lancer to charge down the Mountain at the small thing that had caused the girl so much pain. Without stopping the monstrous existence barreled down the mountain at full tilt, and within moments had crossed the majority of the distance between him and his target…
And had set off one of the several broken landmines said target had set up before making his appearance while everyone was preoccupied with their respective battles. As Berserker did not have the ability to detect or even determine what the explosives were before they went off, Assassin's Opportunist skill came into effect, so the broken C ranked weapon went off with the power of an A ranked bomb, packing enough power in it to surpass the Giant's defensive abilities and spawning a shockwave that shattered nearly every piece of glass in a hundred meter radius. The explosion was powerful enough to blow off one of Berserker's legs completely, with the other leg and arm on the same side being damaged tremendously in the process.
That being the case, there was little surprise when everyone witnessed the Bastard of Zeus collapse forward and slide down the mountain with momentum he had been carrying before…
And set off another two hidden explosives that had been placed further down the slope, utterly destroying what remained of the strongest Servant's body. Chunks of the Heroic Spirit flew everywhere. What appeared to be his head flew into the streets a good hundred meters away from everyone, and the largest part of him, his terrifyingly large torso and chest, landed as a shouldering hunk of meat just a short distance to the left of Assassin.
There was little doubt that he would recover. At the very best, Berserker had been killed twice due to the intensity of the blasts if Assassin had been lucky… however even so it would take some time for him to recover enough to battle.
"Oi oi. That's just not fair. I bust my ass all night just to hold that guy off and that annoying mute weakling manages to kill the monster without even looking? This war doesn't make any sense at all anymore," Lancer grunted as he allowed himself to take a few moments to recover. Despite his complaining, he couldn't help but shiver at Assassin's handling of Berserker. The abnormal Servant was without a doubt a monster of a different make than what most would expect from a Heroic Spirit.
It was an abnormal sight. Assassin standing out in the open like that with so many Servants surrounding him. If the situation was different and Caster didn't control half of everyone there, he really would be dead in the following five minutes.
In all honesty, Lancer was scratching his head as to why on earth that bitch Caster was still around considering Assassin clearly wanted to off her. All things considered, Assassin should have been able to find a way around Caster's orders by now even with the Command Seal keeping his actions in check and killed her.
Allowing his runes to fade away, he scanned the scene below him with mixed annoyance and curiosity before seeing something that clearly put a bad taste in his mouth. "... The hell?"
"B-Berserker…" Illya stared in disbelief at the spot where her Servant had been blown up the second time. She had expected him to die in various ways in the war. Stabs. Slashes. Beams of power. Perhaps gored or crushed by a fairly powerful summon. Maybe even punctured by a lance or strong spell. But to be blown apart like that… and so easily… the scene would no doubt stick with her for a long time to come.
"Illya, come here…" Kiritsugu took another step forward despite Saber pointing her sword at him. "Papa's here now. You don't have to worry anymore. I'll protect you. I won't let Acht take you away… just like Mama wanted…"
It was a soft but sharp sound. The sort that could reach one's ears over a good distance despite the low volume it had.
It was familiar to everyone who heard it, but at the same time completely unheard of at the same time. Like a song remix from an old tune that you heard on occasion but still had to think about to remember the original title.
Regardless, it was an out of place sound. In a situation like this, it meant that it could only belong to something of concern.
It took a few moments for everyone to find the source… and a few more for most of them to comprehend what it was…
The young man that had just had his heart shot and a hole punched through his body was somehow on one knee, throwing up blood and minced organs that had gotten mixed in with the lung that had also been pierced.
Despite the unnatural nature of the sound, its pattern was unforgettable to anything that had flesh and blood. Despite clearly being metallic, what they were hearing was no doubt a heartbeat.
A heartbeat performed by an organ made of countless interweaving and interlocking blades.
Even Saber was slightly unnerved by what she was witnessing as her Master slowly picked himself up. She knew that with Avalon inside of him and their connection that he would eventually recover even from that wound, but… she had never witnessed its powers in such a twisted form.
Everyone had a clear view of the jagged and irregular organ throbbing and scraping against itself to provide blood to the rest of the body as he managed to prop his body up against the wall of the building he was closest to, his left arm hanging lifeless next to his body as his pectoral muscle was still completely useless. The organ seemed to be comprised of countless little edges that interlocked like scales, shining with bodily fluids as the wound itself continued to heal and close at an unnatural rate. The fact that it was even there after being blown out in itself was almost completely ignored when compared to the bizarre nature of its replacement.
It was an image that even the Servants, individuals who had made their legends confronting impossibilities and undefinable creatures, were temporarily struck mute at witnessing.
Shirou had trouble breathing. Every exhale hurt to the point that he felt as if he was about to black out again. His head was throbbing from the previous pain he sustained combined with the short amount of time it did not receive any fresh oxygen. His chest was on fire. His lungs were both burning and filling up with blood as the wounded organ had yet to fully heal along with his heart. Every time he threw up blood, he could feel countless blades coming up his throat and out his mouth, cutting up the tube that traveled through his body and causing him to spew out even more bodily fluids as a result.
But it wasn't unexpected for him. It shouldn't be. His body was made of blades. The fact that he was being cut up by them only meant that he still wasn't familiar with himself. If his blood was turning into sharp pieces of metal, and his heart was being altered, then it should be no issue for his trachea, cricoid cartilage, thyroid cartilage, vocal folds, epiglottis, pharynx and oral cavity to make a similar change. It shouldn't be that hard… he was already unconsciously doing it with his heart and blood already…
He didn't exactly know how he did it, but somehow the next surge of altered blood and bile from his damaged lungs and stomach traveled up without any issue, scraping against an organic mesh of sharp implements and out through his mouth…
He held back a swear as sharp pain flooded his mouth. He had forgotten to enforce his tongue and teeth, and ended up having the bones and the organ littered with more cuts. Avalon managed to deal with those quickly, but the sensation was still far from pleasant.
No, this wasn't the time to be concerned about minor issues like being hurt. He had Avalon in him. He'd be fine. There were more important things to focus on.
He blinked his eyes multiple times in an attempt to clear his vision as he looked up wearily, unaware that not only said ocular organs had turned a dull silver (as opposed to the somewhat glowing silver which was the standard whenever he used his pure eyes), but that his teeth had sharpened into small dagger like existences as well. Combine all of that with blood that had recently been exiting him mouth, and he had a rather intimidating and bizarre appearance.
"Ill-ya…" he gasped out despite the horrific pain it put him under, causing more blood to exit his mouth. His voice itself had clearly been altered by his pseudo transformation as well, becoming scratchy and even had a metallic undertone to it.
His chest hurt in a new way when the girl took a step back away from him in absolute fear. He understood it must have been shocking to see him get back up from such an injury, but her reaction still hurt. It was only later on he would come to realize just how twisted his image had been at this point in time, but that was irrelevant now.
He stopped moving to her and looked ahead to what the entrance of the alleyway revealed, taking the time to rest more of his weight against the wall and recover more. It was much easier to think when he didn't have to move, and thus bring himself more pain than what he was already experiencing.
He saw Saber a short distance behind Illya giving him a look that held so many different emotions that he couldn't really determine them all in his current state. He couldn't really ask her now anyways. It was taking all of his effort to stand up right now. Using magic that required focus was beyond him at the moment.
Beyond her, outside in the streets and at the base of the mountain, he saw the person likely responsible for his current state with wide open arms and dull eyes…
… Ah. So that's what happened. The Thompson Contender was in Assassin's right hand. It made sense now… the gun had been modified on summoning to be a conceptual weapon in itself. It had punched through so many halfhearted mysteries in its existence that only the target's most powerful defense would be recognized by the normal bullets now. Rho Aias was a very powerful shield, but so long as Saber was his Servant, it wasn't his strongest. Avalon was. The bullet fired by the Noble Phantasm simply phased through his wall of barriers when he wasn't paying attention.
However, as deadly as Assassin's attack was supposed to be… he still didn't use the Origin Bullet. That combined with what he saw in the Temple and what he was seeing now was all he needed to figure out what he already knew.
"… Baka-Onee-chan…" He coughed out more blood, never taking his eyes off of his attacker. "Use your eyes. Does dad really look like he wants you to come to him?"
Illya's eyes widened as her brother's distorted voice somewhat snapped her out of her shock. Somewhat hesitant to take her gaze off of the twisted young man that claimed to be her brother, the homunculus turned to look at her father again, this time more carefully.
Upon closer look, it was clear that all was not right with Assassin. The fires ignited from his explosives earlier somewhat distorted his image, but anyone that had their heads on straight could tell that he appeared to be fighting something. His limbs were trembling erratically, and his "gentle smiling face" had more tense muscles in it than nearly the rest of his body combined.
"Ill-ya…" Assassin's voice was clearly strained, as if fighting against a force that no one could see, which was likely the case.
The girl's breathing began to grow heavy as she looked between Shirou and Kiritsugu. Her step brother was some kind of monster, and her father was a Servant. It didn't make any sense at all. It was supposed to be simple. Kill her brother. Kill the Servants. Die for the grail. Why did things have to end up this way? Why did her brother sound like he wanted to protect her? Why was her father a Servant? Why did they sound like they did care for her? Why did she want to believe them?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Wh-
Her body was jolted as in her progressively deteriorating mental state, Shirou had managed to stumble over and wrap her in a bloody and clumsy one handed hug which had him admittedly putting a good deal of his body weight on her for support. The sudden unexpected extra force on her small body had result forced both of them to their knees almost instantly. She'd be lying if she said that the pain of her knees slamming onto the concrete had no part in snapping her back to reality.
"Sorry Nee-chan," Shirou muttered as gently as he could, his voice still altered from the state of his throat. "I should have figured out a way to get to you earlier, to explain everything. I was so busy trying to help everyone I didn't see how badly you were suffering because of me. I should have focused on you sooner."
The small homunculus' body stiffened as he talked and embraced her, unsure of what exactly to do. How long had it been since someone had held her like this… so gently and with such compassion? Even Sella and Lysritt, as dedicated and loyal as they were to her, did not use such intimate and humane gestures of affection, even in their softest and most private moments. True she frequently acted like the child she appeared to be, but very rarely did she receive the same treatment in full.
She shivered as she felt his warped heart beat through the blood that was soaking her ash covered clothing. The vibration of metal grating on metal echoed through her body with a rhythm that she had known from birth.
"Onii-chan…" Her voice cracked, her confusion once more spiking. She was angry at him, but at the same time he seemed to be doing more for her than the majority of the rest of her family put together. Her father was there but he was Assassin. The boy who stole her father from her was protecting her from said father and had regrown a blown out heart. Berserker had been blown apart into multiple pieces. It was getting harder and harder for everything to make sense anymore…
"That's right. I'm here now." He sighed as he attempted to comfort the girl with one arm…
… and glaring coldly at the Servants staring at him from the Mountain. "Onii-chan will take care of everything…"
Berserker was still recovering from being blown up. Caster was likely holed up in her Temple. Bazett was likely hidden somewhere. Lancer, Assassin, and Rider were ready to fight, and Saber was currently their only line of defense, blocking the closest entrance to the alleyway. If the fighting broke out now, Saber could only be able to hold them off for so long before someone got through.
He was honestly surprised that Caster didn't exploit their situation already.
"Saber. You've hidden your sword long enough." Shirou all but ordered in a far darker tone than he had been using before.
"Shi-?" Saber began to ask before catching the deadly look in his eyes and steeled herself instantly. This was not the time to question her Master's orders. By the time she had turned to face her opponents, she had already figured out what Shirou was planning. It was not something she would instantly approve of, but a necessary evil none the less. "I understand. As you wish."
As if a switch in reality was flipped, the air around everyone began to thrash wildly. The immensely pressurized layers of air that had perpetually kept Saber's sword invisible unwound and dispersed itself chaotically upon its owner's command as she took an offensive stance…
Assassin's eyes widened momentarily, recognizing instantly what she was about to do moments before the attack came his way.
"Strike Air!" The King of Knights shouted out the name of her weakest Noble Phantasm as she swung down, unleashing a typhoon of wind in the only direction she could fire it. The lashing streams of air that seemed to thrash out in every direction blasted away any and everything in front of Saber and near the alleyway. Assassin and Rider, who had been standing somewhat to the side of the entrance, had realized the danger of the attack almost instantly and moved as quickly as possible to avoid being completely torn apart.
Berserker's regenerating torso, on the other hand, which had respawned part of his arms, legs and head a short distance away from where Assassin had been standing, was completely unaffected by the attack.
The weaponized storm charged unmolested across the street and hammered into the mountain just a short distance away. While the attack was nowhere near powerful enough to punch through the natural formation, it did proceed to tear up a trench in the stone and earth as the ground redirected its path up the slope. The gouge made it more than halfway up the height of the landmark before the power behind the strike finally lost steam and tapered off.
Assassin grimaced as he fell to a knee and held his injured side arm. He had not fully recovered from the previous night, and while he had held his own using his indirect tactics, he was still by nature a fragile Servant. He had needed to use his time spells to enable him to move out of the way in time since he was in the direct line of fire and close to Saber. Even so he had still been clipped by the attack.
Regardless, the end fact was that all of the Servants were pushed back by Saber's rather reckless move. At first glance one might have assumed that she had done so in an attempt to buy time to escape. However that was not the case. Saber was a powerful Servant, but nowhere near versatile or fast enough to deal with these odds. No, the reason behind her action was far more concerning…
They had all been pushed back so that Saber would have enough time to use her REAL Noble Phantasm.
The base of the mountain seemed to tremble in awe and reverence as Saber's weapon was exposed for everyone to see. There was not a single sane Heroic Spirit that that could not recognize the holy blade on sight. It was after all the single most famous and iconic sword on the planet. Even in Japan, a country on the other side of the planet from its origin, the blade's name was near universally recognized and revered.
Shining with a near overwhelming holy light, the strongest sword was unsheathed and exposed to the masses for the first time in ten years. Its owner, the legendary King Arthur, stood at the ready to defend or attack at a moment's notice without any hesitation.
"… Damn. That kid really knows how to hide his aces." Lancer grinned with a bead of sweat trailing down the side of his head. He was a strong Servant, but even he knew when it was better to fold. "It's really going to suck if the bitch's ego makes her do something stupid now…"
"I know you can hear me, Caster," Shirou spoke out with a slightly louder voice as he as gently as possible pushed Illya behind him and stood up unsteadily. The fact that only a few globs of blood came up his throat was evidence that his healing lungs were close to fully restored. "I also know that you have a good idea of what I'm seriously contemplating on doing."
He looked up at the Temple in the distance. "Your hideout is starting to look like a very tempting target right now…"
Saber held her emotions in check at Shirou's declaration. Despite all the chaos that had occurred here over the past week, so far no one had done any lasting damage to the residents of the Temple itself. Even if that wasn't the case, Marjatta was still in there. Shirou was more or less declaring that he was willing to kill the girl just to get rid of Caster… no. In this sort of situation, where the Witch is in control over multiple Servants, he was declaring that he was willing to kill everyone that Caster was in control of in a single blow. His father. His teacher. His comrade. The girl that he had promised to rescue. All of them.
And to be honest… Saber really didn't know if Shirou was bluffing or not. Not in the state he was in…
"… Hoooh?" Caster's voice echoed in the air as if coming from everywhere at once. "That is a rather impressive weapon you had hidden from everyone boy. I can see why you wanted Saber to hide her identity for as long as you have. King Arthur as Saber… no doubt many Servants would team up to get rid of you just with that knowledge. I'm somewhat surprised that you are willing to take out the civilians here just to get rid of me…"
"Saber. Get ready." Shirou made no effort to try to small talk with her. He barely had the energy to stand.
Another benefit of using Excalibur as a threat was that it completely hid the fact that Shirou knew what Caster was using Marjatta as. Under other circumstances, the Witch would use her Master's bomb like condition as a fallback threat in case the fighting was going against her. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option now since using the Sword of Promised Victory yielded the same result as setting off the makeshift lesser grail.
There was no point in holding the mountain at ransom if he was going to blow it up in the first place.
"Now now, rushing is quite unlike you," Caster continued to taunt, clearly believing that Shirou's actions were just a bluff. "Did you know that Lancer's Master has a rather interesting ability…"
"I know of Fragarach," he interrupted her emotionlessly as his still lame left hand began to glow. "There are ways around it. Saber. By the power of my second command seal…"
"WAIT!" Caster's voice shouted with no hint of the previous confidence it once held. Shirou had caught her off guard with his willingness to use his command seal, and the realization that its power would be more than enough to at least enable Saber to complete her attack despite the Ace Killing Joker's unique power.
Saber likely would have been able to survive the needle like spear through the heart with the copy of Avalon he gave her, but Caster didn't know of it yet. It was far better for him to use something that she did know to give himself an edge if needed. Plus, all things considered, the idea of facing down an unleashed Excalibur blast with a command seal behind it was a rather terrifying prospect to imagine, Servant or not.
The fact that Shirou stopped talking was a silent blessing for those who were watching. All of the Servants there, even Assassin, let out a breath of relief. The boy was willing to listen.
"Kid knows how to play hard ball. Can't deny that." Lancer nodded approvingly with a nervous grin.
The Master remained silent, but his eyes were still darting around to the three Servants watching him warily. It was clear he was in no mood for games.
"You have made your point." Caster's tone was now bitter. She had thought herself untouchable with her latest acquisition, Shirou had once again proved why he was not one to be underestimated under any circumstance. Despite the numerous advantages she had at the moment, the fact of the matter was that she was once again with the dagger at her neck. "What is it you want?"
Shirou looked at Rider, at Kiritsugu, at the mountain itself, and clenched his teeth in frustration and anger. "We are done fighting for tonight. Illya, Berserker, Saber and I will leave and you will make no effort to come after or attack us. If you don't do that, I guarantee that Saber will destroy the entire mountain by morning."
The area was deadly quiet as Shirou's demand was made. He was essentially forcing the end of the fighting right then and there. "… An interesting request. You do not demand that I release Rider from her servitude to me? I thought you were more dedicated to your close ones… or does she and your father not apply?"
"Of course they apply…" he growled loud enough that everyone heard him. She was tempting him to make such a request, sounding as if she was perfectly fine with handing over one of her valuable tools in exchange for her life.
It was a trap. The only way he could get any of the Servants save Lancer was if Rule Breaker was used on them. The only ones on his side that could use Rule Breaker were him, Illya, Saber, and the soon to be revived Berserker.
He didn't trust Caster to release them herself. The witch had too many tricks up her sleeve. He highly doubted that she'd be willing to come out into the open in her current condition regardless.
Saber couldn't do it because he needed her to be at the ready to nuke the Temple if things went south.
Berserker couldn't do it because, among other things, he couldn't even hold the dagger correctly in his massive hands.
He couldn't do it because there was always a chance that Caster would force one of the Servants to kill him at the last second for a multitude of reasons.
And Illya couldn't do it because it was blatantly clear that she meant a goal to him. He was willing to push past the pain of having his heart blown out just to calm her down for heaven's sake. Caster could easily have the Servants kidnap her at the last moment to control him, Saber, AND Berserker.
And, of course asking for Marjatta was just not going to happen for a whole slew of reasons.
The only possibly reasonable request was Bazett, and through her Lancer… but… but…
His head spiked in pain, and for a moment his vision blurred. He was having trouble thinking clearly. He knew that his teacher was the safest request compared to the others, but his paranoia was at an all time high. For all he knew picking his teacher and second elder sister figure was the worst possible choice out of all of them. Several dozen possible ways that picking any of the individuals under the Witch's control could bite him in the ass semi formed in his head before being washed away by the pain he was experiencing.
A small hand reached out and rested on his shoulder, bringing him back to reality.
"You need to pay attention more Onii-chan." Illya stared at him with an expression of disappointment and mild concern. "You should have noticed the spell that Caster set up."
Shirou blinked in confusion before realizing that his mind was clearing up rapidly. While it still was painful to simply stay awake, he could think somewhat easier again. "Illya?"
"Don't think that this means anything." She pouted childishly to the side. "I've seen enough to know that you're too stupid to hurt me. If I don't like what you tell me later, I'm still going to kill you. If anyone is going to end the Emiya name, it's going to be me like I originally intended it to."
The teen stared at her for a few moments before chuckling a few moments and wincing. His warped heart was no longer visible beneath the rapidly regenerating flesh, which was also consisted of a bizarre sword like meshing. It looked as if the wound would close in a few minutes at most, however it still didn't change the fact that it was painful to even look at. "Well, at least we can trust our family with that much…"
He paused for a moment as his words echoed in his head.
"Humph," Caster's voice spoke up again. "I admit, I didn't expect Berserker's Master to bother with you boy. You are fortunate."
"None…" Shirou muttered under his breath, causing Illya's eyes to widen in surprise.
"Care to speak up? My spells do not work when one party is mumbling like an asinine monkey." The Witch grunted in an annoyed tone.
"I said that you can keep them, Caster." Shirou smirked weakly to the sky. He doubted that she was looking at him from that angle, but then again he was too tired to care at this point.
"Are you serious?" Illya looked at him in disbelief.
"Shirou?" Saber glanced back with apprehension, confusion, and worry.
Rider didn't say anything, but her expression did become more unreadable at his declaration that he wasn't making an attempt to help any of them.
"I share similar sentiments." Caster's tone of curiosity, disappointment, and concern was exactly what he was expecting and wanted. "You wish to abandon Rider and your father here? I thought you were more dedicated to your kin than that. Or do you think that you do not need them now that you have Berserker on your side?"
The teen's smile didn't fade. In fact it became even hungrier and twisted, his altered teeth still not reverting back to normal. "No. I fully intend to get all my friends and family back, Caster. I just think that instead of risking myself with a trap you no doubt have, I would rather load all of them, incredibly angry at you, on you, and see what happens before I do anything else. You'll be too preoccupied with your own forces to be a threat to everyone else for the time being."
He wasn't done rubbing salt in the wound just yet. "If memory serves, you have only one Command Seal left. Assassin and Rider wouldn't be struggling against your orders otherwise."
The mountain was silent as his words were digested by everyone there. As it stood, Caster was in control of three Servants and a Master… and absolutely all of them wanted nothing more than to kill her.
Caster's decision to gain more control over Rider just before Saber stabbed her with the copied Rule Breaker came with a price far bigger than just a command seal.
"Heheheh." Lancer grinned savagely as he turned to the Temple with hunger in his eyes, unable to hide his amusement. Caster may have the strongest army in the war, but her means of holding it together were strained to the breaking point. The woman had stretched her key resources too thin and her greed was coming to bite her in the ass. As powerful as the Command Seals were, they couldn't grant her absolute control over her Servants all the time. "Oh, I'm really starting to like this kid. Even when he's losing, he wins."
"… You are the bane of my existence boy." Caster's voice was absolutely flooded with malice and murderous intent.
"I couldn't care less." Shirou countered as his limp hand began to glow again. "If you don't mind, we'll be leaving now, unless you have something else to say."
A minor rumbling directed everyone's attention to where Berserker's smoldering torso had landed, and finally regenerated enough to resemble a complete functional body again.
Unlike before though, the monstrously huge Servant didn't roar with enough force to rattle bones or go on a blind rampage. Instead, the demigod walked over to the alleyway with each step causing a small shudder through the earth, completely ignoring the other Servants, even Saber with Excalibur completely exposed, and to the two Masters there.
He came to a stop where Illya and Shirou were, and for a moment Shirou couldn't help but lose focus of everything else and marvel Berserker up close. He of course instinctively knew that all of the Servants in the War were easily able to murder him, but Berserker… there were no words to describe how much of an overwhelming presence the demigod had at this range. Even upon closer inspection, his stone like skin showed none of the natural defaults or flaws that one would expect from any other flesh and blood creature…
… Other than the faint, yet persisting scratches made by Lancer's spear.
The fact that the other Servants could actually fight and possibly kill him was a testament to how powerful they were and the strength of their wills…
The fact that Shirou had somehow managed to hold off this monstrosity without help was a testament to how unique his magic is, and how damn lucky he was.
"Boy." Caster's voice echoed through the air just as the monstrosity on a leash bent down to carry his Master, causing everyone, including Berserker, to stop.
"What is it?" Shirou asked, silently hoping that she didn't escalate things now of all times. He didn't think that he'd be able to handle it physically if Berserker went on another rampage when he was less than two meters away from him, even if they were temporarily on the same side now. Hell, he was having trouble staying conscious in general.
The silence was almost palpable as all sides began to get ready for combat at a moment's notice. No one wanted to battle, but they unfortunately didn't have a choice in the matter.
"… A fair warning before you do something foolish. Think of it as a paltry attempt to make our agreement equivalent," the woman's voice spoke up again, gaining confidence and stability as she prattled on.
Shirou and Saber both frowned at the woman's wording. They doubted that Caster knew something about the war that they didn't; however, they couldn't simply say such a thing. The fact that her confidence was returning from talking about the subject was not a comforting sign either.
"Well?" Illya frowned, speaking up before Shirou could brace himself for the pain that came with talking in his condition. Berserker was like a statue in the crouched position right above her, ready to move at a moment's notice. "Enough theatrics. What is this warning of yours?"
"Hmhm. It is rare to come across a doll with such will," the Witch chuckled with mirth. Said laughing stopped almost instantly as Berserker slowly began to stand and Saber's sword shone with brighter intensity. "As for my meaningless warning, I advise you to be wary of my counterpart's Master."
Saber's expression hardened. "Your warning sounds more of a bluff for your convenience, Caster."
"It is no bluff, Saber." The bodiless voice was stern enough that those listening could practically see her frown. "We were summoned for this War with the expectation that our powers together would surmount any opponent we encountered, yes. However our Masters had a hidden objective to achieve as well. A task they undertook due to their family's trade. One that they did not believe they could accomplish without the additional support of my counterpart and I. You have no doubt figured out by now that I clearly have no desire to follow my Master's wishes anymore. The same cannot be said for my other."
"I see." Shirou closed his eyes for a few moments and breathed out slowly through his nose. Despite the Servant taking a roundabout method to get to the point, he had already figured out what the bottom line was. He hadn't spent long in the Clocktower, but he knew a drawn out backstory speech for some backstabbing when he heard one. A person couldn't go a week in that compound without hearing at least two or three during lunch sessions. "So the Edelfelts were contracted to kill me during the war."
Saber's grip on her sword tightened reflexively. Being surrounded by traitors was not something she was unused to, but it was still something that she by nature disliked greatly. True, this time it was technically Shirou that had been the subject of this twist; however, the boy had long since earned her loyalty. Even if they did not have a Master Servant relationship, she saw and recognized his worth. Despite his personality, he did not trust easily. This revelation would not go over well…
"Humph. How presumptuous of them," Illya huffed childishly, not at all bothered by what Caster had just told them. "No one is allowed to kill Onii-chan but me. The Edelfelts are but simple scavengers. They do not have the right, standing, or the ability to take what is rightfully the Einzberns. I guess I will have to make an example of them once-"
"Illya. That's enough. We'll talk about this later," Shirou chided his sister sternly in an older sibling like fashion, cutting her off. He didn't bother mentioning that if all went well, which he admitted was growing more and more unlikely as the night progressed, the girl wouldn't be an Einzbern for much longer. "I had suspected something like this might happen due to my reputation and the nature of the War, but was hoping that it would be from a Master that I did not have connections to. Caster has only confirmed my suspicions. Thank you."
"… Do not thank me, boy. You are the source of the constant assaults on my Temple. I am merely giving you information that will ultimately benefit the both of us." The Servant's voice grew cold. Clearly he did not have the reaction she expected or desired from him. "Now leave me before I change my mind. There is much I need to do, and I doubt either of us would prefer risking another hole punched in our respective bodies for the night."
Shirou dryly snorted before wincing in pain. It was easier to talk now, and he wasn't coughing up blood every time he breathed. However sudden jerks caused by laughing or coughing still hurt him a good deal. On the bright side, he had recovered almost enough muscle tissue to move his left arm without screaming in pain again. Then again it wasn't as if he was otherwise in picture perfect health as his skull throbbed in tandem to his new heartbeat and threatened to throw off his balance.
His eyes wandered to the three enemy Servants in front of him, watching his every move as carefully as he was them. Lancer was the furthest away, nodding at him in approval with a dry shit eating grin on his face. The expressive Servant was the one that Caster had the least control over at the moment, and as such was likely the one that could convey what all the others were thinking at the moment whether Caster wanted him to or not.
Rider was at first glance the same as normal. Her lithe and seductive body, albeit altered by her transformation, was ready to move at a moment's notice for whatever reason, and her face was an impassive mask that seemed to hold no emotion. After nearly a week of talking and spending time with her though, the teen had learned to be able to read some of the woman's body language and point out things that most would have missed. Despite her initial appearance, Rider was in reality hiding a myriad of conflicting emotions and thoughts.
Obviously she was stuck in a position that she greatly disliked and was reasonably distressed that Shirou was unable to get her back. However, those were pushed down by her acceptance and understanding of the situation. She had… faith, for lack of a better term, that her former Master would come back for her. She was understandably worried for Sakura's sake, but with Shirou protecting her Rider was confident that the girl would be fine. After all he had done for the girl, the former goddess was certain that the boy would go above and beyond what he set out to do. It was proven time and again that he was an anomaly in this era that no one could accurately predict or gauge. The issue with his heart recovering in the manner that it did only further backed her impression.
Her underlying confidence in him was probably the largest reason why she wasn't as stressed as she should be given her current situation.
The third Servant of the group simply stared back at Shirou emotionlessly with blank eyes. Father and Son took one another's gaze in without hesitation or signs of distress, as if the other were targets and nothing more. There was no intent to kill, fight, talk, embrace, or anything else as they did so. At the moment, they were enemies and they couldn't do anything about it. The best they could do now was to play their roles for the masses…
… and play their games when the curtains were closed.
"Onii-chan… Papa…" Illya muttered hesitantly as she turned her attention to Assassin. She had never seen or remembered her father like this in her childhood. Was this what Kiritsugu Emiya was really like? Was this how the world at large saw him?
Now that the shock of seeing him had worn off, she couldn't help but realize just what her father's appearance as a Servant meant. She had known that her father was a killer as a profession and, that at the time, his name stood out more than any other freelancer's by a wide margin… but she did not expect him to be so… devoid of anything. Completely unreadable and emotionless, yet his mind was still clearly his own. Like a sentient machine.
She shivered as his gaze briefly turned to her for a moment before it went back to his son. She had heard stories of her father's exploits before, but even then she had always wondered why someone as prideful as her grandfather had decided to rely on outside help in order to win the previous war. Not once had she ever been told of this emotionless behavior of his, and she had a feeling that the reason was that no one ever wanted to recall being on the receiving end of such an ominously empty look ever again. The impression the man made onto others alone was probably enough to intimidate most of his clients into never second guessing his skills.
It wasn't until now that she realized her error in thinking. The Einzbern had not decided to utilize outside help to win the fourth war. They had decided to use Kiritsugu Emiya's. Accepting mere rabble was not enough for their family. They only accepted the best, and like it or not they without a doubt got it then.
… And now like it or not, it was her turn to deal with it.
The stare off lasted for several agonizingly long moments before Assassin turned around without so much as a sound and began to walk up the mountain while simultaneously fading away. His actions seemed to hold enough weight that, to nearly everyone else there, he was the one that had determined whether or not the fighting continued and not Caster.
"Come on Illya," Shirou broke the silence once more, his voice smoother now that the blood and bodily fluids had all but exited his repertory system. He spared Rider one last long look before turning around himself. He was still in partial shock and hurt all over, but he had recovered enough to walk without leaning against anything. "We have a lot to talk about."
"I shall remain to ensure that Caster does not change her mind." Saber stated firmly without looking back, Excalibur still glowing sharply like a dagger to the darkness.
"Please do. I will let you know when we are far enough for you to return." Shirou replied softly without breaking step.
The albino was the last to turn around before she ordered Berserker to pick her up and carry her to follow her step brother. Gently cradled in the giant's hand, she repeatedly went over what had just occurred within the past hour and tried to make sense of it all. Shirou. His abnormal recovery ability, knowledge of nearly everything about the war, and his determination in talking to her. Assassin's identity. Caster's steady rise in power and force. More than once she had to remind herself to keep her Servant from killing everyone lest she lose control over both herself and him.
She was tremendously confused, and did not like it one bit…
The three were a block into the city and out of sight of the mountain when Shirou broke the silence. "Illya, I have something to give you."
The girl blinked several times as she was snapped out of her deep thinking. "What is it?" Her voice was a bit sharper than she probably intended, but no one would blame her if she did it on purpose regardless. "Is now really the time to give others random gifts of charity?"
Shirou took his right hand out of a pocket in his pants, holding a letter with paper that appeared to be fairly aged and held it up to her. "I didn't have this on me when you first showed up, and was kicking myself for it for days. I've been carrying it ever since so I didn't make the same mistake twice."
The girl stared at him skeptically before inspecting the paper for any traps, ignoring the blood smeared on the envelope left by the coated hand that had given it to her. All in all it looked like fairly harmless paper with her name written on the front. "… It's enchanted."
He didn't flinch at her even tone. "For privacy. Only the intended can open it and read what's inside. If anyone else tried to open it, the contents would be destroyed instantly. Even I don't know what is written in it."
"If it's not from you, why give it to me like some common messenger?"
"Dad wrote it."
She stiffened at the three words and slowly began to pull back the hand that had been reaching out. "Assassin…"
"No. Not Assassin," Shirou corrected her, his voice soft. "Dad."
The girl paused at the simple statement and stared at the paper with uncertainty and some fear. Nervously she licked her lips in apprehension. "What if… what if I don't read it? What if I tear it apart right now?"
"It's your decision to make." He replied without any hesitation before his lips twitched. "… Though if my guess is right, reading it will save us some time when I finally start to answer your questions."
"Why can't you answer them now?" Her crimson eyes narrowed suspiciously, but carried none of the weight they held earlier.
"Can't risk being overheard." His answer again came instantly and simply, as if it was obvious.
Letting out a huff of annoyance, the girl caved into her curiosity and snatched the letter from his hands. Judging from its texture and weight, it was pretty old and held a good deal of paper inside. Apparently, while her father wasn't much of a talker, he certainly didn't have the same issue with writing letters.
"Shirou?" A new voice made itself known, causing everyone to stop. Turning to the source of the voice, but found nothing as it seemed to come from one of the building walls right next to them.
"Who is there?" Illya was instantly at attention, eyes darting everywhere and letter temporarily forgotten.
"The Crest Worms are all removed, but the soul still lingers." Shirou sighed out the pass code he had told Sakura before they had separated earlier. The girl had used her magic to transmit her voice through the shadows and come out in a completely different location, but he didn't have the energy or the time to explain it. "Sorry. But Rider's still with Caster at the moment."
The area was quiet for several moments before a labored pattern of steps was heard from a gap between buildings behind them. Shirou frowned as the sight of Sakura limping heavily came into sight, tightly holding her side tightly. "You made Saber go before you healed completely, didn't you?"
"It's not so bad." Her failed attempt at smiling and downplaying the injury that he gave her failed at its intended purpose. The fact that her face was drenched in sweat and her hands were covered in blood didn't help either. "I had a good amount of prana available so I was able to continue to patch up everything after she left. Besides, you're the one who said that the clock was against us."
She didn't mention that the wound would be a good place to sink all of the excess prana she had absorbed from Caster's attack into. The unknown hole in her had helped somewhat, and without Rider she needed an outlet to put all the energy into fast lest she tear herself apart from the inside. She was still on the verge of bursting with power, but at the very least she wasn't almost blacking out from the pain anymore.
Shirou shook his head. "Sakura, I would have never forgiven myself if you allowed yourself to die because of my mistake. Even if I did rescue Rider, if you died, she probably would have killed me because of it."
The strained smile on the Matou's face grew slightly in amusement. "I highly doubt that she would harm you for that, Shirou. Rider likes you too much to kill you for something like that."
The Emiya's face lost its serious expression for a moment as he blinked in confusion before he shook his head and chuckled. "I don't know why, but I feel like you just gave me the kiss of death by saying that."
"… Let's just say that it's another thing that we are going to have to work on." The dry amused tone in her voice clearly indicated that this wasn't the first time she was dealing with the boy's near obliviousness when it came to the opposite sex.
"No." Illya's cold tone sent a dagger through the relaxed atmosphere that the other two humans had been building up. "I don't want her coming with us."
Sakura looked up in confusion to meet the gaze of the girl glaring back at her. "What?"
"Illya, what are you talking about?" Shirou's face matched Sakura's.
"I will not have those of the Makiri line interfere with private matters," the small girl stated evenly, giving Sakura an emotionless look. "I also want you to evict Zouken as well. Since they have lost their Servants, they can stay at the Church. I do not care what arrangements you have set up between one another."
Shirou and Sakura blinked before looking at one another in confusion before the latter spoke up. "Um… Illya-san. Ignoring the fact that you knew that my Grandfather had been at Shirou's home at all… you seem to be mistaken about a few things."
The Homunculus' eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And what may that be? That you have contracted Onii-chan to win you the grail so that you may be cut off from your heritage?"
Had the night not already been full of unwanted surprises, Shirou would likely have been more shocked and caught off guard by the statement. Since that was not the case, and his skull was killing him, he instead reacted with a tired grunt and scratching his head in frustration. The slight increase in his warped pulse was once more wreaking havoc on his head and wearing away at the little patience he had left. "I killed Zouken. Sakura's the new head of the Makiri, and she's ultimately absolved the contract. We're now working together to deal with the pile and a half of problems that are happening in the war. Illya, now is really not the time for accusations, so can we please get back to my place before we resume any important talks and potential accusations?"
"… Huh?" This time it was Illya's turn to blink in confusion. "You… you killed Zouken? The head of one of the three families that set up the grail? B-But you made a deal! And… and he was at your house… a-and he's…"
"A complete pain to kill, let alone without repercussions, and he should have died centuries ago. Yes, which is why it took so long to get rid of him for good." The redhead grimaced irritably. Just thinking about the bastard only made his headache worse and caused him for a moment to lose his focus and balance. "Illya. Please. Can we just go home before we talk anymore? Sakura and I need time to rest and recover. I could do for a drink too…"
Sakura's eyes widened momentarily at his statement, but didn't say anything. Now wasn't the time or place to bring up any more sensitive topics. Instead she limped over to him and positioned herself so that she could support him while still managing to put pressure on her wound. All things considered she really didn't have to do so at this point as the bleeding had stopped. However, the skin over the hole had yet to form and her muscles and sensitive nerves were still exposed to the outside. She couldn't do anything about the exit wound on her back, but thankfully there were fewer nerves on that side so it didn't agonize her nearly as much as the front. Regardless, their physical issues would wear off as soon as Saber got closer anyways.
"Come on." She got close to him in an attempt to help, enough that they were sharing a fair amount of skin contact. She didn't dare show that she secretly was enjoying Illya's reaction to their close proximity. It was rather difficult for anyone to be confident around her when Berserker was right there. "How much longer until it's safe to call back Saber?"
Shirou breathed out heavily as he reluctantly leaned against Sakura, trying to put as little effort on her as possible. He knew she was trying to help him out, but he couldn't in good conscience willingly load her with more burdens that she already had. He was after all the one that had punched a hole in her in the first place. He didn't bother to note that his vision was blurred and he was having trouble controlling his motor functions. "A block or two. Enough that Caster can't risk sending out her resources and risk losing them. She's keeping an eye out for any sudden moves. Caster's trying to get her to talk about me, but Saber's not falling for it."
"… Saber is an impressive Servant." Illya's statement was made as if she was stating a fact than expressing her opinion. Shirou could feel her eyes boring into the back of his head, but he couldn't tell if it was because she was accusing him of something, or because she was allowing Sakura to come even though she still really didn't want her to. "King Arthur herself. It is rather surprising that you managed to obtain an artifact that could call her Onii-chan. There are not many Servants that are powerful enough to rival my Berserker."
Shirou laughed lightly, causing more miniature blades to cut into his insides. By this point his entire repertory system had returned to normal save for the portion of his lungs that had regenerated from scratch. He knew exactly what the girl was insinuating. "You don't sound that surprised."
The girl sighed, already receiving the answer to her question. She was getting really tired of coming across all this new information at once and honestly wanted nothing more than a nap or some tea now. "I hope you understand the debt you owe the Einzbern for this."
"Given how they probably put in a good amount of effort to convince you to kill me on first sight, I'll consider us even." The dry retort caused Sakura to giggle and his sister to childishly puff out her cheeks in frustration.
"… Baka-Onii-chan," she muttered childishly. She mentally commanded Berserker to slowly follow the limping pair down the road. While it wasn't as fast as she normally would like to travel, there was something oddly soothing and therapeutic about listening to the giant's rumbling and steady footsteps…
o. o. o.
On top of a building nearby, a single person stood still watching the figures below.
For the longest time she remained silent as the chaos unraveled in front of her eyes, completely unaccustomed to the show of power and mystery that the Servants had played. Even though she had trouble focusing on anything there, she knew for a fact that she did not belong in such a spectacle. She could not contribute anything that could or would turn the favors to the side she was on… even if she did manage to figure out who was on whose side in the end.
She didn't dare make a noise, let alone take a shot. She knew for a fact that it wouldn't work even if she had the perfect opening. If she drew any attention to herself, she was without a doubt dead. The rule applied to all of the other targets she had taken out before, but she at least knew that they could be downed by a bullet. The monsters in front of her though… no way in hell she could even put a scratch on them.
She stayed in her spot for almost half an hour after all of the monsters in human form disappeared. It was only after she witnessed the first few cars drive down the road and subsequently stop in front of the debris that had been kicked up that she even trusted herself to speak.
"What… the fuck…"
o. o. o.
Inside the Temple:
The Witch scowled as she stood in front of the rat's carcass.
Had she been in a better mood, she would have without a doubt been interested in the fact that it was similar in nature to the Banshee children.
Had she been in a better mood, she would have no doubt attempted to experiment on it to see where it had come from and who was responsible for it.
Had she been in a better mood, she would have contemplated on how it managed to get inside her Temple so easily and why it had known to meet up with the girl within her workshop.
Instead, her mind was preoccupied with recovering from nearly having her heart shot out by a Master, wrapping her mind around the fact that Emiya DID have his heart shot out and regenerated it in front of everyone, and that she was left with a single Command Seal and everyone knew about it. Given that none of her Servants were actually on her side, there was little doubt that she would need to be careful around them lest they force her to use it just to keep herself alive.
She had attempted to interrogate Assassin as he returned inside the Temple, but he had acted as if she had not even existed. When she tried to push harder, she had found herself facing down the barrel of the Thompson Contender. It was only her quick words that had saved her head from being blown to pieces. Nonetheless, it had been enough for the Witch to realize that whatever minor leeway that Assassin had given her was now gone.
Her decision to use him to play with the minds of Berserker's and Saber's Masters had clearly not gone well with him, even if he once more behaved as if he had no emotions or aspirations of his own.
Her power base in the war was stronger than ever with Rider added to her ranks. Unfortunately the foundation and stability supporting it all was on the verge of collapsing. She didn't know what was likely to kill her first at this rate: mutiny, the combined forces of the remaining Servants… or, and what she felt was the most likely, by someone named Emiya.
She didn't have time to bother with minor annoyances like this rat. She'd deal with its source once she dealt with the bigger threats at hand.
With a brief grumble in an unpronounceable language, the Servant destroyed the rodent's body with a beam of light a foot in diameter that proceeded to punch down through the floors below until stopping twelve feet into the earth. She didn't bother to fix the damage until the next morning.
… By that time, unknown to her, Merem had already recreated his faithful left arm.
o. o. o.
The room was silent as Caster turned off her monitoring spell, its controller ready to move at a moment's notice, unwilling to trust the human female giving her master a look of utmost loathing at the moment. The accused, on the other hand, seemed not to notice and was calmly drinking some tea that had been served earlier. The drink was no longer hot, a fact known by everyone there, but it served as a decent enough distraction.
For what seemed like the longest time, none of them spoke. Each female dwelled on their thoughts on the situation, what they learned, what they knew, and what the others would likely do with this information.
While they were all concerned with the simple fact that the shift in power in the war had no doubt changed greatly once more, the Witch's revelation that Luvia had intended to kill Shirou in particular shattered any form of potential alliance that the Edelfelts and the Tohsakas might have had.
The simple fact of the matter was that while Rin did expect backstabbing and killing to take place in the Grail War, and intended to do a bit of both, she had at the very least was not the type to sell out the closest people in her life for just some money. She might willing to grievously harm them, but only to the point of putting them out of commission. She'd at least make sure not to do anything permanent… on purpose.
"You have outdone yourself," Rin finally stated in a calm and collected tone. "I didn't think that you could lower yourself any more from my perspective, but you have proven me wrong. I must admit, I'm impressed."
"Welcome to the world of Magi, Tohsaka," the blonde replied with a near identical façade. "We are often confronted with tasks and individuals that we would rather not encounter. It must be a rather refreshing experience for you, who had grown up in such a backwater area."
"I'm surprised you get anything done," the guest's disposition didn't change, her relaxed posture failed to betray the fact that she was ready to kill the woman in front of her at a moment's notice, Servant be damned. "I had always thought that you had at least considered Emiya an ally of sorts. It must be difficult for your family to maintain your standing when you are clearly allow yourself to sell out anyone to the highest bidder. Do tell, how much would it cost for me to get you to forget about your sister?"
Luvia's body stiffened at the low blow before regaining her composure. To her side, Caster slowly prepared herself to attack at the slightest command.
"Remember where you are Tohsaka. I may be honor bound to treat you as a guest as is expected of me, but do not assume that gives you leeway to do as you wish."
Rin's azure eyes narrowed. "Funny, as Second Owner of this land, I do believe that I am in fact allowed to do just that. Just as I have full authority to ban you from here whenever I desire."
Taking a risk, Caster allowed herself to cough just loud enough for the other two females in the room to glance at her. "While I have no love for either Emiya, or yourself, girl, it would be best if we maintain our priorities for the moment. The boy will no doubt be contacting us soon about his failure and any other information he may have obtained. The fact that Berserker is potentially on his side, and my counterpart's growing strength cannot be ignored either despite what we may wish."
The two humans glared at one another, clearly ready to attack at a moment's notice before Rin let out a dry snort and began to rub her temple with a hand, covering her face in the process. "… I honestly don't know who the bigger idiot is at the moment. Emiya for all the ridiculous things he is doing, or you for actually believing you can kill him."
Despite the fact that deep down she knew there was more truth to that statement than she would like to admit, Luvia still took offense to it. She was about to speak her mind, but Rin cut her off.
"Shut up you, cow." Her voice took on a layer of malice and instability that was unlike her, and for a moment both Luvia and Caster suspected that she might actually attack right then and there. "Unlike Shirou, I honestly don't care what happens to you. You could die horribly in this war and all I would lament is the loss of a customer and a mediocre magus. On the other hand, what you do know does bug me far more than your shallow bleached brain could possibly fathom. The only reason why I am tolerating you to stay on my property unrelated to this war, let alone live, is because he needs as much help and resources as possible to deal with whatever the hell he believes is so important to lie, cheat, and maneuver all of us around like this. And make no mistake, until this is all over, I expect you to do everything he says like the bitch you are. If he says he needs your family finances, all your account numbers better be damn well in his hands by the time anyone blinks or there will be bloody consequences.
"The second he is done with you, I expect you and your sister, if she is fortunate enough to live, to leave like the trash you are and never come again unless it is absolutely necessary. That is all after I geass you to an agreement that is so tight you won't even be able to THINK of Shirou without my permission. If I ever hear of you coming anywhere near him for a reason other than for business and Magus Association related events, make no mistake, I will end everything about you."
Caster and Luvia looked at one another skeptically and with a hint of trepidation. By all means, Rin's decision to make a threat now could be considered foolish at best and suicidal at worst given that she was essentially defenseless at the moment. The issue was that Rin had been emotionally unstable ever since the previous night, so there really was no telling what she was willing to do at the moment.
"I'm surprised that you are letting Emiya off so easily," Luvia spoke up with the slightest hint of hesitancy in her voice.
A dry bitter smile etched itself onto Rin's features as she began to laugh. "Heh. Shirou? Oh don't worry about him. I'll make sure that he's aware of how much he owes me for this personally. He may be the Queen's bitch, but by the time I'm done with him there will be no question as to who is holding his leash. That idiot won't even be able to breathe without my permission once I'm done with him…"
The nervous feeling shared between Caster and Luvia intensified as Rin's disturbing smile grew increasingly disturbing. "Master, do you blame me if I harbor concerns for Archer's wellbeing at the moment?"
"No." Luvia somehow managed to keep a straight face as Rin slowly began to break down due to stress. "By all means Caster. Even he deserves some pity right now."
o. o. o.
On top of Luvia's roof, Archer sat and watched the city of Fuyuki with a bored expression. For what seemed like the hundredth time, he suppressed a shiver. It was as if he had missed something incredibly important, and it would no doubt come to haunt him intensely in the near future.
… He hated that feeling. He had experienced it far too many times when he had been alive, and things always tended to bite him in the ass soon afterwards.
o. o. o.
Once again, thanks Wayfarer for betaing, especially since he's still getting better from an operation. Hope you recover soon man.
And done. Whew. That took longer than I thought. Honestly I wanted to add the scene where Shirou talks to Illya when he gets back home, but the chapter was going long enough as it was.
I had actually played with various ways that this fight could have gone and ended, initially starting with a massive stareoff with everyone on both sides until Kiritsugu catches everyone off guard and blasts out Bazett's side, causing her and Lancer to retreat for her to survive, but in the end I scrapped it because it was too hard to both set up and resolve what happened after that without making things more complicated.
As you can see, While Shirou is having less problems interacting with the people he's trying to help out, it's not exactly working so well with the relationships between said people themselves. I'm not going to spoil anything, but let's just say it's going to lead to some… issues, in the near future.
As for the Rule Breaker on the Book of False Attendant effect… honestly I'm treating it as a grey zone until proven otherwise. Rule Breaker on Master just nullifies whatever major connection they have at the time (Sakura and Angry Manjew as an example). Rule Breaker on Servant nullifies the contract and allows the user to take the command seals (the entirety of Unlimited Blade Works for example).
The Book is… like a halfway point. It's made of familiars, but it's possesses the authority of being the specified Servant's Master. When slashed, the user of Rule Breaker gets the authority over the other Servant, but none of the extra command seals that the original Master had. As a result, Sakura's condition is also a bit unique in that she still has her command seals even though Rider isn't her Servant anymore.
So, on other news, the expendables 3 came out, and if you look at the people who went to the release screening at the Chinese theatre in California, you might have been able to catch a highschool special ed teacher and his wife walking down it. Why do I know this? Because my parents are friends with the CFO of Lionsgate and they were in the area for vacation.
They sat behind Arnold, Stallone, and all of the other actors there. Hell they were even at the damn after party.
Although, it was pretty funny in that when everyone was leaving, the paparazzi were taking photos of everyone, and when my parents came out their reaction went along the lines of this:
(With flashing cameras and fake smiles.) "Heeeeeeeeeey!"
(Secretly whispering to one another.) "Who the fuck are these guys?"
So… amusing stories aside… well that's it for now. I'm tired and meh.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make an ass out of myself playing Sengoku Rance.
So REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! CONTEMPLATE THE INSURANCE COSTS THE TEMPLE WILL HAVE TO PAY BY THE TIME THE WAR IS OVER! AND REVIEW AGAIN!