Chapter 48: Double Tap
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
Lorelei sat at her desk and went over the paperwork she had to deal with. Despite the mess in Fuyuki and the public mess that holding Waver Velvet was causing here, it still did not excuse her from her duties as Vice-Director of the Clocktower.
It was incredibly dull work, and often times she'd put it to the side to hunt Apostle Ancestors, but she nonetheless was used to it. Having been raised to exemplify perfection within her home's confines, petty things such as boredom posed no risk to the quality and efficiency of her work.
She didn't so much as flinch when the bounded fields informed her that she was about to have an unscheduled guest. Normally she'd debate for a moment whether or not the fool should even be graced with her attention, but given the current circumstances it was likely important.
The door opened to reveal one of the men that kept regular contact with the Overseer and cleanup crews in Fuyuki. Thaumaturgy was all and good, but finances also needed to be taken into account for an operation this big.
"Well?" Her lone word was not a question but an absolute order. There was a reason for him being here outside of the three hour interval she had established ever since word of the War's instability reached their ears. She wasn't supposed to hear from anyone for another hour and thirteen minutes.
"Solomon has reported that your dog is moving tonight." The man stood straight at attention.
Her eyes narrowed. Not only has this idiot brought up the mistake working for the Church, but he dared assume that she didn't know of this already. "For your sake, I do hope that you did not come here just to tell me that."
He shifted on his feet just slightly. "No, that was merely what took priority on the report ma'am. We've also been losing contact with our sources on the ground that were part of the cleanup crew."
That had her attention. "Go on."
"It started a few days ago. Slowly. We've lost nearly half our people. At first we thought that it might have been Caster and Assassin's doing since they seem to be targeted in certain areas near them, and silenced before any word reached us. However, the past night or two the rate's accelerated tremendously. Caster should be preparing for Emiya, not wasting time on the help."
"All the Servants are either with the boy or enslaved to Caster. They're too preoccupied with one another to waste time on the rabble." Her eyes narrowed. The crews in Fuyuki had been ordered to stay away from the fighting. An all-out battle involving eight Servants would yield tremendous destruction everywhere. Trying to observe the fight was pointless and lead to wasted resources. Anyone that even glimpsed at the management of the Grail knew that.
Caster shouldn't even care about the cleanup. Shirou and the Servants with him would be her greatest priority.
Even if Shirou did turn against the Association, she knew that he had a soft spot for those living there to cause such trouble for everyone. Killing the crews there was counterproductive to his goals, and it took too much time and focus to do while Caster was still about.
By process of elimination… it could only be a third party. Either Solomon, or something else.
Either way, there was something going on in Fuyuki other than the War.
Someone didn't want something to be seen there.
o. o. o.
"You know, it would be a lot easier for everyone if you simply submitted."
Rider panted under the strain of having another layer of commands imposed onto her. Her mind was her own, but body more or less belonged to Caster.
The Witch stood over the helpless woman with a mixed expression, as though she didn't know what she was supposed to feel. "Why do you hold out, Rider? You don't truly believe that the boy is going to go out of his way for you, a monster of all things, do you?"
Rider didn't really care how things ended up for her. She had given up on herself long before she had been summoned. Caster was far too late to claim that much.
Sakura reminded her so much of herself it was almost painful. An innocent child that did not deserve the fate she had received. Torture and misuse by those that condemned her. Almost predetermined to be a monster long before the transformation occurred. It was almost like looking in a mirror…
… Only. Only, there had been someone for Sakura. Someone who swore that she would not become a monster. Someone that didn't care what she was becoming, what had been done to here, and only saw the person that desperately needed help.
And that person, despite the impossible odds, had succeeded at great risk to himself, not once hesitating in the slightest.
And that person, had sworn to her that he would save her too. He didn't care if she was a Monster, or a tool, or a slave.
It didn't matter if she had given up on herself. Rider knew that the boy would go out of his way to help her whether she wanted it or not, or if it was the right thing to do, or the smart thing.
And the titans save those that got in his way, because the Gods sure as hell wouldn't.
He wasn't a hero that saves. You couldn't call someone irrational or single minded like that a hero, especially if the ones he is trying to rescue risk an absurd number of human lives. With tainted vampire blood and violent methods, it would be more accurate to consider him a monster that saves. A creature that goes out of his way to ensure the wellbeing of only those he considers worth his time, regardless of what they were.
A small part in her heart was somewhat angry that someone like him didn't exist back when she was alive. Perhaps if he had, she and her sisters would have not suffered as they had.
And yet, another part wondered what it was like to be saved in the first place. Perhaps that morbid curiosity was why she still provided as much resistance as she did.
"It doesn't matter." Rider rasped out, her throat healed enough from her yelling to give an answer. "He will do as he wishes regardless."
"Humph. So you've resigned yourself to playing to tool, the pet that goes with whoever the victor is. How disappointing. I expected more. No wonder this reminded me of nothing more than training an animal." The Witch seemed to have lost interest in her. "Go to Assassin. He won't last long without someone competent with him.
Wordlessly, Rider slightly reveled in the bindings around her body vanishing, the wounds and marks fading away thanks to her nature as a Servant. She wasted little time going to her station, if only to put more space between herself and her "Master".
Caster frowned. She had hoped to completely break in Rider in order to gain another mental advantage on her enemy when they saw her, but it was apparently harder to crush the spirit of an inhuman monster than she had anticipated. She would have done it to Assassin, but the fool was already broken by his own means. She was not one to beat a dead horse.
"Quite a conversationalist, that one." A new voice droned from the shadows of her Workshop.
"You are not much better. I should have sown your mouth shut once I was done with you." The Servant didn't bother didn't bother to turn around.
"That merely means that my services are still in need." The newcomer chuckled, amused. "How rude. You were far more eager for my aid not too long ago. Polite t-urk?!"
Caster didn't bother to turn around to know that the latest annoyance was being swallowed by a black cloud of corrupted power. "Tools are best silent and do as they're told. They have no other purpose, or need to speak for that matter."
Moments later her workshop was silent save for the faint hum of prana emanating from her encased Master.
She stared at the entrapped girl. She truly did sympathize for her. They both were ensnared by the machinations of others. Both had been ignorant of the ways of the world. Both deserved better.
For a moment, Caster made to speak to her captive, to start a one sided conversation that would no doubt serve as some feeble attempt to justify her actions and make herself feel better.
She stopped, rid herself of the notion, and then turned back to her work. There were more important things to do. She didn't need to prove herself to anyone. She didn't need anyone. People were just weaknesses. All she needed were tools.
She'd do this by herself, for herself. Just like always.
o. o. o.
Rin turned to look at Sakura as they all walked to the temple. Ever since leaving her home, not one person in their group had said a word. The two had been at the front near Shirou was for the most part, but they knew they'd be splitting up soon. "Mmm?"
She didn't fidget or show her nervousness, but the Sakura's eyes did flicker in a way that did betray her insecurities. "Why doesn't anyone talk to me about Archer?"
The elder sister held back a wince and held back the urge to see how everyone else reacted. It was no secret that Shirou was Sakura's mental crutch, her pillar of stability. Archer, in contrast, seemed to do nothing but make people argue and distrust one another every time he opened his mouth, intentionally or not. That wasn't even mentioning the fact that the Counter Guardian had actually failed and or abandoned everyone in his timeline. Having those two in particular hold any extended form of conversation could potentially devastate the fragile cohesion everyone's managed to scrounge together for that night.
It was a miracle that Sakura held off talking about the subject for so long. Everyone had been present in her home so Shirou could go over the plan, whether they liked it or not. It had been the first time Sakura had actually seen Archer, and it took only a fraction of an instant to tell who the Servant was. Thankfully she realized there must have been a reason why no one brought him up in conversation, but the girl's curiosity had no doubt been perpetually chipping away at her self-control since then.
"It's frustratingly complicated in a way only Shirou could manage," Rin answered in a halfhearted tone that woefully attempted to play down just how bad it was. Not that it would work. Sakura was far smarter than most assumed. "We'll talk about it later, ok? Just… just don't expect Archer to be the same. He's been through a lot."
Her sister nodded, barely managing to smile in understanding and let the subject drop. If Rin was uncomfortable with talking about it, then it wouldn't do to continue with the conversation until the time and place were right. Certainly not right before the final fight.
Shirou didn't say anything from a few steps ahead of them, but it was clear that he had paid attention to what they were talking about. Dressed in his coat, shroud, and combat clothes, he looked as cool and calm as could be with his hands in his pockets and eyes focused forward.
"Caster. Are we being watched yet?" He broke the silence without changing pace or looking back. They were close to the Temple now.
"From a distance. The birds I summoned have intercepted and destroyed any and all familiars that may have gotten close to us." The Princess admitted. "Rider's Bounded Field is a few blocks from here."
He nodded. "Start setting everything up. We won't have the time for it later."
She didn't bother to nod or do anything to confirm that she heard him. Instead she began to chant in a language that was unpronounceable by everyone else there.
"Is there anything inspiring you want to tell us before we split apart? Something to raise morale?" Illya asked curiously.
"This is going to suck and you should expect horrible things to happen to us at the very minimum so don't let your guard down," he answered flatly. If it wasn't probably true, one of them would have probably laughed at his response.
"Not what I was going for Onii-chan. I was looking for inspiring, not deadly warning," the albino grumbled.
"Inspiration leads to overconfidence." Luvia crossed her arms and looked ahead at their destination. This wasn't the first time she was walking to a hellish experience and it wouldn't be the last, but this no doubt would definitely rank on her top five once she made sure she died of old age. "It's better to be cool and patient in a situation like this than hyped up and liable to overlook critical details. While I would have chosen more tasteful words, it doesn't make him any less correct on the matter."
"Shit happens. No plan ever survives the enemy." Archer shrugged from the back. "Not that we should disregard this one. It actually has a chance of working."
Several people looked back at Archer with skeptical expressions. While he had been rude about it, the fact still stood that he had essentially given their plan of attack his seal of approval.
And given what the strategy was…
"Done. I'll now begin summoning." The Princess stopped her chanting, allowing a faint glow hover over all the humans there.
She wasted no time, as an intricate arcane circle etched in magma red power manifested below her. It would take her a minute or two to bring forth enough bulls to fulfil their needs, but there were enough Servants there to protect her in the meantime.
"We'll split up when she's done. The longer we wait, the more power Caster accumulates." Shirou had a point. Over the past couple of days, the number of people that had been drained dry by the Witch's concoctions had skyrocketed. The public believed there was a sudden contagious outbreak of some unknown virus going about, but the panic caused regardless was not something that would easily be managed if things went for much longer.
"I can feel the prana she has from here." Saber frowned as she looked at the mountain. "It's sickening."
Indeed, even though the natural bounded field of the Temple combined with the Servant's spells should have contained all the power she's stolen since she arrived there, it was clear to everyone that something was horrifyingly amiss with the location. The power itself has been clearly corrupted and stagnant, giving it almost a putrid sensation that had them reeling as if they were smelling the remains of a warzone.
"Just another reason why we should finish this as soon as possible." Illya remained impassive. She was used to the smells of death and decay. She had been exposed to more than a fair share of bodies while being experimented on by her mother's family.
It happened from so far away that no normal human would and should have been able to detect it.
Before Illya, Sakura, Rin, Caster, or Luvia knew better, every other Servant and Shirou had moved in front of Illya in an instant with weapons brandished.
Shirou, being the one out front, had a hand held out, and manifested one of the many shields he had seen from his battle with Gilgamesh. A colorless, almost invisible film that resembled more of a lens than an actual armament.
Not a moment later, the air shook as a bullet fired from over two kilometers away hammered into the nameless treasure, screeching loudly as metal attempted to drill into unknown material. The sound disrupted everyone's ears for only a few seconds as Shirou angled his projection at an angle, and deflected the attack harmlessly into the air as a result.
He could have used Rho Aias… he was going to, actually, but this shield was chosen at the last moment. It was easier to manifest, cheaper to maintain, and normally just a C ranked defense under normal circumstances. But, it a particular quirk that made it increasingly stronger when blocking things from longer distances.
At Assassin's current distance, the thing might as well have been Rho Aias without the feedback.
Gilgamesh once apparently used it to deflect a bolt of lightning capable of wasting the city he was in that originated from the capital of a neighboring kingdom. How the golden ass knew it was coming in the first place even Shirou didn't know, but the history of it being used was still in the thing so it had to be true.
"That… that was…" Illya couldn't find her voice as she realized just what had happened.
Assassin… Kiritsugu had just tried to kill her.
Before anyone could say another word, Shirou and the Servants tensed once again and another bullet hammered into his shield. This one far stronger than the last with more speed and power behind it. The shock that came from its impact against the shield felt like a sucker punch to the humans nearby.
It took only a glimpse for those there to tell that this bullet had been Broken and temporally modified. The drilling projectile glowed erratically, and the space around it was distorted and twisted by the mystery that enhanced its performance.
Still, as powerful as the strike was, it alone could not surmount the treasure. Even as the bullet lost stability from the prana it contained and exploded, the shield stood strong, barring only a few moderate scratches on the surface.
A good chunk of the road shattered, and shards of asphalt flew in nearly every direction, but those behind the shield were not even scratched by the assault.
To his credit, Shirou only grunted slightly under the strain of the attack before it let up.
"Confident, isn't she?" Merem broke the deadly silence from the back, not at all surprised by the turn of events. "I guess she doesn't mind if I join you after all seeing as she literally did fire the first and second shots."
"So long as you don't get in the way, you can do as you wish." Shirou blew off the Vampire's offer to help as if it didn't matter while dismissing his shield. He had managed to pinpoint where Kiritsugu had been just before the second shot, but the Assassin was no longer there. There was no point in continuing a game of long range warfare while they had Archer with them, who already had a bow in hand, an arrow nocked, and aimed for a counterattack. The initial strike had failed, so all that was left was for everyone to get closer in range for a better chance.
The Twentieth Apostle Ancestor's smile widened to just beyond what a human could accomplish, his teeth becoming sharper along with his gaze. "Heh. You've gotten quite cheeky over the past couple of weeks, brat."
"I'm still nowhere near as bad as you, old man." The younger of the two didn't look back, his gaze still focused on the area where Assassin had been. No doubt he had been compelled to attack by the Witch, though whether it was actually her decision or she was tricked to do so was another story entirely.
"Someday I'll get you to respect your elders," laughed the Ancestor, not at all bothered with the situation. Shaking his head, he began to walk down the street and head to an alleyway that ran parallel to the one they were on. "Very well. I'll leave you to your devices. I eagerly expect your victory."
And with that, Merem Solomon disappeared into the night on his merry way.
"Was it wise to let him go?" Saber asked, still on guard for any more potential attacks.
"Merem's not one to follow instructions unless he has to. This isn't his fight, so there's no point in forcing him to do anything. He claimed that he was obligated to be the Overseer once Kirei died, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was just a whim of his too." Shirou clearly was not as concerned as she was. If he sounded any calmer, those there would have accused him of being bored. "He knows what we are doing, and he's probably more experienced at this sort of thing than all of us. He'll help in his own way. It's better off like this. Probably."
"That makes me feel so much better," Rin grumbled as she tried to determine where Assassin had shot at them from. She wasn't too surprised that the Servants had all managed to react to it in time, but seeing Shirou react in time with them was definitely unexpected.
Even though the physical distance between them hadn't changed, he seemed so much farther ahead of her now than he had been earlier. His back looked larger too…
"Are you alright, Illya?" Sakura turned to the target of the attack, who only now seemed to be shaking off her surprise.
"… Shirou. Kill that bitch."
And apparently replaced it with pure rage. To force Kiritsugu to shoot at her of all people was a new low that only seemed to exemplify just how desperate the woman was.
"That's the plan. Calm down. You're not as cute when you swear. Dad would be pissed to hear you talk like that," her brother chided, his tone just a hair softer than it had been earlier.
"C-c-cute?" The offhand comment caught the homunculus off guard, turning her cheeks red with embarrassment. They deepened even further in hue when she realized that he was manipulating her. "Hey! Shirou! Don't play with an innocent girl's heart like that, you insensitive jerk!"
"I'm done." Caster interrupted the conversation before it could fall apart any more than it already had, now surrounded by a good two dozen plus fire breathing bulls each the size of small trucks.
Personally, Shirou would have preferred it if she had doubled the number, but then again sometimes too many was as bad as too few. "Mmm. Then this is where we split up."
Everyone grew quiet as they realized that this could very well be the last time many of them saw one another.
It only lasted for a few moments though, as Illya materialized Berserker and had him lift her onto the back of one of the Monstrous Beasts. "Hurry up. I want to get this over with as fast as everyone else."
Luvia and Sakura sighed as they also moved to bulls of their choice and, with a little boost from some self-reinforcement magecraft, jumped onto their backs and tried to get comfortable. Sadly there were some things that even mysteries of untold lore couldn't accomplish.
"Fair warning, Emiya, I may have canceled our contract, but I'll still take the credit if you do die." Luvia gave him a look that pretty much said "Don't give me that option."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Shirou's harder to kill than most Servants. He'll be fine." Sakura smiled confidently before looking at Rin. "Be safe, Rin. Shirou can handle a beating, but I'm not so sure about you."
Shirou debated on whether or not to ask Sakura to stop insinuating that he was going to get mauled tonight. Just because he didn't need a morale boost didn't mean he enjoyed having it impaled.
The elder sister huffed in mock irritation, knowing what the younger was doing. "Don't worry about me. I'm not like this idiot. I don't look for trouble just so I can dive headfirst into it."
"Please give my Master more credit than that," Saber chided. "He has the sense to jump feet first."
"I feel so appreciated. The love is so overwhelming it's suffocating." Shirou's dead even tone cause everyone's nerves to relax even more.
"Are you done wasting time?" Archer frowned from the back, the only one there other than Berserker not sharing warm vibes with everyone.
And like that the mood darkened once again.
Shirou looked back at everyone briefly, his silver eyes almost shining through the shroud covering his head. He looked at each and every person there in the eyes, nodded, then turned around and continued to walk.
There was no point in talking any more.
With a series of heavy claps, the small herd of bulls leapt in the air, boosted by Caster's enchantments, and began to jump across the rooftops of the buildings nearby, leaving the ground forces behind.
Rin let out a slow breath and reigned in her nerves as she followed Shirou on foot next to Saber, and ignoring the two others that were with them, silently trailing them in one way or another.
She had always wanted to see what it was like to work with him on a job firsthand.
She can't believe how stupid she was back then to think that.
o. o. o.
To their credit, the Witch's forces had waited for the Princess to nullify three of Rider's sigils before finally losing patience and attacked.
It started with blowing up the top of the building that they had been on.
Archer was the only one that reacted quick enough to deflect Assassin's sniper fire while everyone was distracted from running from the collapsing structure, moving in time to prevent Luvia from getting a lobotomy with Kanchou in hand.
"Keep moving around and don't drop your guard. There's no telling what lengths Caster will go to try to get an easy win," he ordered the girls without looking back at them as they landed. His focus instead was purely on where Assassin was, roughly three blocks away.
In a single movement, the Servant of the Bow materialized his trademark weapon, drawing and releasing it more than a dozen times before the Masters behind him registered what he had done. An instant later, what appeared to be the entire floor of the building Assassin had been on, three stories from the top, had erupted as if a series of bombs had gone off in it.
"Archer!" He ducked just an instant later on that one word, barely managing to avoid getting impaled by a familiar nail and chain in the process. Already moving he turned to unleash a fresh payload at his attacker, except several gouts of fire from multiple angles beat him to the punch and immolated Rider… or at least, the location that Rider had been.
EMIYA clicked his tongue in annoyance as his eyes darted about to look for Medusa, only to momentarily freeze when he did find her one building away.
His pause was understandable, as it was both reactionary and forced.
Rider didn't have her blindfold on.
"Right off the bat. Wonderful." He grunted and shook off the tingle in his nerves. He should have seen this coming. Hell, half the people in their group had suspected that this would likely happen when they reviewed what Rider could do in the first place. Still, as many times as he had encountered it, there was no getting used to the Mystic Eyes of Petrification.
… Even if the effects were heavily diluted thanks to the Princess' enchantments on everyone earlier.
Rider didn't respond as she landed on all fours and looked at him with an unreadable gaze. She was there for the grand total of two seconds before the rooftop was completely engulfed in flames.
"I'll hold off Rider!" Caster landed next to him on top her own mount, surrounded by dozens of floating fireballs that were practically burning him from where they were lingering. "You handle Assassin! I can't keep track of him at this range by myself!"
To his credit, Archer only wasted a full second looking at the Princess as if she had grown another head in response to her sudden assertiveness, before regaining control of himself, allowing an amused chuckle to escape his lips and complying with her orders. He was just about to set things up that way himself, but she had beaten him to the punch. "Understood."
It took him two seconds to reaffirm where Assassin was, during which he avoided three more bullets and deflected a fourth that would have killed Caster had he dodged.
Once that time had passed, Assassin could no longer afford to waste time focusing on the girls as he was too preoccupied with avoiding Archer's exploding arrows.
Rider on the other hand was proving to be much more difficult as she was one of the two fastest Servants in the war. Much like during their first encounter weeks ago at Sakura's home, the Gorgon wove in and out of the attacks, appearing as little more than a purple and black blur in contrast to the white and orange flames.
Even though she was fighting against her will, there was no point in taking it easy on Rider. If they let their guards down for even a moment, the beautiful woman could and likely would exploit the opening and kill them with little time to respond. They best they could do right now was expect their opponent's skills were high enough to keep them alive as they attacked with all their might and effort.
Even when the Servant leapt from rooftop to rooftop, leaving herself essentially helpless in the middle of the air, it was almost impossible to hit her. With every spell and gout of fire that approached, she shifted her weight and wove through the sky like a stray ribbon in the wind. It was a beautiful and almost alien performance that transcended what should be possible.
Still, despite her aptitude, it was impossible for Rider to get close to the Princess. The limited ground and the gouts of flame everywhere combined with the ancient spells around the Servant made it all but impossible for Rider to get in close as things were now.
That did not mean that there were no other targets though.
"She's coming," Illya noted with an emotionless tone as she observed Rider weave and zigzag to where she, Sakura, and Luvia were situated. They were some distance from Caster, as being close to the Princess would only cause them to constantly get in the way of the spellcaster and put them directly in the line of fire. Not that it was much better being this close to the fighting.
They could feel their bodies becoming stiff and unreliable as Rider came closer, her Mystic Eyes already working their magic, pun not intended, from well over fifty meters away.
"How unreasonable. To have such a potent ability and not even be a Noble Phantasm," Luvia complained as she reached into her pocket and took out a handful of prana saturated gems, courtsey of the Princess and the leyline under Rin's home.
With a single wave of her hand, the gems sprayed out in front of the girls and hovered as if they were on a sheet of paper. Not a moment later, Rider's nail attempted to pierce through the blonde's head, but failed to get past the bounded field that the gems were generating.
In retaliation, six of the jewels that made up the defense shot forward and chased after Rider, all glowing malevolently and charged with enough power that even the Servant didn't want to risk being hit by them despite having B ranked Magic Resistance.
Luvia wasted no time throwing more gems out to expand and improve her defenses as Rider went on the defensive, avoiding not only her counterattack, but also the flames and spells generated from Caster as well. Her body was already lethargic, and her clothes felt as if they were made out of lead. However that did little to slow her down. She had dealt with far worse before, and she would no doubt have to deal with worse soon enough.
Still, she somewhat wished that the worse part would come sooner rather than later, if only to know that they were making progress…
Sakura remained silent as the world around her burned and exploded, never taking her eyes off of Rider. It had felt like an eternity since she lost her Servant, and that time seemed to have only magnified upon seeing her again. Every instance Rider came close to them or tried to make a pass, their eyes met if only for an instant. Her body froze each time, be it from guilt or the Mystic eyes she couldn't tell, but the reaction was there regardless.
She didn't hold any grudge against Rider for fighting them. It was her and Shirou's fault Rider was in that situation in the first place, and she was certain that Rider would be freed by the end of the night. Still that didn't absolve them for screwing up as badly as they did.
Even without their connection, Sakura could tell that Rider was deeply uncomfortable with all of this and was trying to come up with a way to turn this to their advantage. Despite the impassive mask she wore, it could do little to hide that from her former Master. They were too similar for Sakura to miss something like that.
But… there was something else in Rider's body language as well. Something that Sakura didn't completely understand. Fear? Alarm? Concern? Something had unsettled her enough that every now and then the Servant actually seemed to attempt to say something, only to be forced to hold back just before the first syllable was uttered. Illya, Luvia, and Caster wouldn't be able to see it, not with how fast and hectic the fighting was, but she could see it as clear as day.
More importantly, it seemed to be directed at Sakura in particular.
She and everyone else were interrupted from their current actions as the rooftop the girls were on shook violently and smoke began to rise.
Apparently Assassin had rigged the empty office building to collapse at some point. Whether it was by chance or it was on purpose was anyone's guess.
"Move!" Luvia yelled while urging the bull she was on to jump to a nearby rooftop just as the world began to go sideways.
The building they leapt to was across the street below and about two stories shorter than the one that had just been decimated. All three girls' breaths hitched as the sensation of weightlessness accompanied the leap their mounts performed without any hesitation. While common sense told them not to look down, none of them could help but do so, if only to witness the peculiar view of the more rural part of Fuyuki from just above the skyline. Complete with lights, a handful of parked cars, and the explosions that they had just avoided.
Shortly behind them, Rider followed in pursuit, chain and nail already thrown to kill.
Had the nameless weapon been of normal metal, it would have melted and shattered upon being blasted off course by several bulls that had approached the group from the side.
The girls landed to find that the Princess and her own vanguard of infernal beasts were between them and the seemingly emotionless Rider. "Try to keep me between you two whenever possible, and never let your guard down. Attack if you have to, but remember that my bulls can still tire. The night has only just started."
The Masters looked at one another warily before the sounds of the building they had just run from collapsing momentarily distracted them from behind.
To their side, more bulls from another structure were immolating the one they were on, very likely in an attempt to burn Rider as she raced and scaled up from the vertical glass face. Each and every attack shaking their new landing and unsettling everyone there.
"Shirou was right." Illya grimaced, knowing full well the accuracy of Caster's words and this was only the beginning of their trial. "This does suck."
o. o. o.
"Assassin and Rider are fighting the others," Rin informed them as they finally approached the base of the mountain at a leisurely pace.
The explosions and fire behind them were a solid clue that Assassin was preoccupied, but knowing that Rider was also there was good to know.
"And yet Rider still hasn't activated her Noble Phantasm," Saber noted.
"And yet she hasn't." Shirou nodded. If Bloodfort Andromeda had been used, everyone would have been able to tell.
In addition to being an utter pain and time sink to set up, the Noble Phantasm had several more drawbacks to its use. The first was that Rider had to be inside its bounds in order to activate, alive or dead. So long as "Medusa resided within the Temple of Blood", its existence would continue to persist.
That being said, the second issue was, obviously, that she couldn't leave once activated for the same reasons.
The third was that it couldn't be activated on and off frequently as it damages the local leylines, and thus the stability of the bounded field. Activating it once was enough to horrifically mangle the land and foundation that it was situated on.
Bottom line, once it was turned on, no one was getting out, and no one can get in except for extreme measures. Everyone there would be trapped with the Gorgon Queen, and likewise, the Gorgon would not be able to leave her Temple.
Technically, the Witch could summon Rider outside of it after being activated, but that would only result in the field naturally falling apart on its own.
The fact that Rider didn't activate it yet despite having two enemy Servants and several Masters in its range meant that the Witch told her not to.
So, logically, it meant that the Witch was being greedy and was trying to get more fishes trapped in Rider's "net".
"Are you ok?" Shirou looked back at Rin, who admittedly was sweating slightly, although she wasn't breathing hard in the slightest.
"I'm fine," she grumbled. "It's not my fault that when you did this the process was twisted and done wrong on purpose. I can handle the load fine. It's just for one fight anyways."
He was grateful for that. Just another reason to be glad that he killed Zouken. The sadistic fuck.
"We should move forward. It would not do for the others to tire themselves while we meander." Saber advised.
"Mmm," Shirou agreed as he slightly increased his pace, followed closely by the others.
Less than a minute later, just before turning around the corner of a building that would have him in full view of the mountain, he paused and looked down.
"Is it a trap?" Rin tentatively examined the seemingly untouched space in front of them.
"Bounded field." Shirou frowned, lifted a hand in front of him, and attempted to project a tool… only for erratic shards of nameless metals to spray from his hand instead.
"A precaution against your magic." Saber skeptically looked at the failed attempt. "Caster must truly be wary of your abilities."
"I don't blame her." Rin crossed her arms with an almost wry smile as she watched him step back a few paces. "I'd have set up something similar at my place if I wasn't on such good terms with him. Not that it would work if I tried now anyways."
Having retreated far enough, Shirou manifested a copy of Rule Breaker without issue in his right hand. He stepped forward again to where he once was, noted that the copy itself was still intact, meaning that the field interfered with the Projection process and not the final products themselves. Without waiting, he stabbed the dagger into the ground, collapsing the bounded field in an instant.
He didn't say it, but he was somewhat disappointed by how easy it was. True, Caster couldn't put many high level bounded fields and traps around the entrance of the temple due to it being a major leyline path that she needed more than they did, but still.
"That was rather simple." Saber frowned.
"I didn't notice it until Shirou pointed it out." Rin shrugged. "Odds are I probably never would have unless I attempted projection myself. It was very well hidden and made. Shirou probably only found it because he's more sensitive to the effects than we are."
Actually he didn't. The Witch's work really was far above anything people in this era could come up with. He only noticed it because it forced the skin on his recently regenerated cheek and arm to revert back to blades, but no one noticed.
Hopefully if the enemy was watching, she wouldn't try to pull the same trick twice and write it off as a lost cause because there was no way he'd be able to find another one easily even if he was looking for it until it would be too late.
It was a habit that Kiritsugu, Sirius, and Waver all drilled into his head at a young age when it came to Magi. When in doubt, bluff like there's no tomorrow.
Sadly, that might actually be the case this time if they screw up.
"Who knows? You really should give yourself more credit, Rin. You're better than most Magi out there." He merely shrugged, slipping the dagger into a pocket in case he needed it again later. He looked around the corner for a quick few moments before stepping back and manifesting a bow and a blue sword-turned-arrow.
"What is that? It doesn't look very powerful." Saber asked skeptically as he shifted a few feet to the side so that he got a better view of the Mountain and readied his shot.
Forty-three targets identified. Positions saved. Uploading variable data into projection and internal function.
Ignoring the spectators, Shirou notched his projectile and aimed more to the sky than to the mountain, so much so that no one knew what he was actually targeting.
"Just clearing up a few distractions."
He released, firing the blade well over a hundred meters into the air.
A few instants before his shot reached the apex, it duplicated itself several dozen-fold with Gradient Parallel.
Each blade scattered in a different direction, cobalt streaks that danced as they fell but never clashing or interrupting one another's path. It was almost as if it was raining a glowing metallic blue substance instead of the mundane liquid that normally came from the skies.
And when each drop connected with the mountain and streets below they, or rather, the charges that Assassin had planted into the ground, exploded.
From the seemingly safe distance they were at, Rin and Shirou had to take a few steps back to make sure that no shrapnel or debris conveniently impaled or maimed them by accident. It wouldn't be beyond Assassin or Caster to modify the traps to be extremely vicious this time around. Even then the pair could practically feel the heat and shocks from chain explosions devastate everything.
"Impressive shot." Saber nodded with approval.
"I cheated. Basic water element arrows can be given predetermined targets if you use them right. They don't home in well on things that move faster than the average dog so I don't use them often." Shirou brushed off the compliment and blinked a few times to get his eyes to stop throbbing. Scanning the bulk of the mountainside for base information, even for a few seconds at most, had not been pleasant.
"If Issei ever finds out about this, he's going to kill you." Rin shook her head to clear out her ears and looked around the corner again to see the already devastated remains of the forest be reduced to a series of fires and craters. Barely even a third of the staircase up to the temple was useable now, let alone intact.
"Don't bother. We both know he'd blame you in the end," Shirou chided as he joined her and allowed himself to take in the sight, grimacing beneath the shroud. Saber took the lead now, being in front of the two Masters as they slowly made their way up the road that ran alongside the mountain and would lead them to the stairs.
This was way more hardware and product than what Assassin had used in his earlier fights. The Witch must have used a Command Seal or even two to have him vastly increase what was available for the night. If he hadn't been able to pinpoint everything with his Pure Eyes and clear it all out before things started over here, it would have been extremely problematic.
"Ngh. Fair point. He'd probably just try to run me out of town and claim I'm a demon." Rin pouted, though never letting her guard down. "Did you know he once tried to exorcise me back in middle school?"
No he didn't, although it did make sense considering how out of control she could be back then.
"You were thinking about how it made sense, weren't you?"
Just don't say anything and pretend to be impassive and in control, Shirou. She can't see your face. You're safe. It worked in the Clocktower and it'll work now.
"Fair warning, you tend to square your shoulders slightly whenever you're actively trying to pretend to ignore me."
"As entertaining as it is to embarrass Shirou, there are better times to do so." Saber came to a stop.
They were at the bottom of the stairs.
"You certainly know how to announce yourself, boy." Caster's impassive voice seemed to come from every angle. "I was expecting you to show up as soon as Assassin and Rider confronted your comrades. In a far more discrete fashion at that."
"They're big girls. They can handle themselves," Shirou replied evenly as if it really was just another conversation and ignoring the loud explosion that sounded off behind him. All of them had stopped, having not gone up a single step.
"So you say." The Witch sounded almost amused by his statement. "I see that Berserker's Master has humored you."
Shirou, Rin, and Saber didn't bother to act surprised. Even if he was in spiritual form, there was no way they'd be able to hide Berserker, who was right behind Rin and Shirou, from Caster.
"The idea of sending Berserker and Saber against anyone is admittedly a humorous idea. Even you seem to be entertained by it," Rin casually noted.
She had a point. Sending Berserker and Saber against almost anyone was a rather laughable concept. Laughably overkill.
Sadly, it had lost its impact on Shirou after it proved to not be that effective against Gilgamesh when he got wiped out with them at the same time.
"The girl's confident, I'll give her that much." Lancer joined the conversation, materializing two flights of stairs up and sitting as if he didn't have a care in the world. Or rather, his body portrayed as much, but his blood-seeped eyes told a different story. The Irishman was incredibly conflicted. On one hand he wanted to mutilate the bitch that was being a pain in everyone's ass. On the other, he was absolutely starving for a good fight, and his two ideal opponents were right in front of him and ready to go.
"Lancer." Saber nodded, being the only one of the group that was on somewhat decent terms with him.
"Yo, Saber. It's been a while. Wish it could be under better circumstances, but then again this isn't the first time either one of us has had to deal with a bitch with way too much power and time on their hands, is it? Actually it's pretty nostalgic." Lancer smirked, saluting with his spear as he greeted her. "Hope your Master comes up with some more good shit this time around. He's always good for a laugh. The Shrew up there's been going spare trying to figure out what he's gonna pull next."
"That doesn't surprise me in the slightest." Rin graced Shirou with a deadpan stare.
Shirou looked up at the Blue Servant with an unreadable expression, and Lancer returned with one of his own.
There was confidence, and then there was doing things on purpose. Had Shirou not already guessed Caster's trap in the first place, he definitely would have been on guard for one now with how at ease Lancer was. The Servant probably couldn't say or do anything to expose the setup, but there were some things that could easily slip through the cracks with just body language.
You really don't want to come up here and fight me kid.
Something powerful enough to force Saber and Berserker to bow to the influence of a curse would require several rules that had to be followed. Territory. Triggers. Power. Setup. Odds were likely that Lancer wouldn't be able to enact the curse unless more than one opponent attempted to charge forward on the Mountain or fight him at the same time, or at least, something along that train of thought. Even so, Caster had to be careful not to make anything potent enough to disrupt the leylines coming from the entrance of the temple, lest she ruin her chance to obtain the Grail. It was a delicate balance that needed to be maintained if she wanted anything to work.
Bottom line was that so long as Saber and Berserker didn't take a step on the Mountain, he wouldn't be able to do anything about it, or attack them. And neither would Caster.
It was essentially a twisted Magical Mexican Standoff in Japan involving two Greeks, two Japanese, an Irishman and a Brit.
Saber broke the silence first.
She didn't charge forward, unleash her Noble Phantasm, or even attack. Instead, she poised the tip of her invisible sword onto the ground, lifted her armored right hand, pointed out her index finger…
… Focused prana into that finger, and casually began to etch a rune into the air right in front of her.
"… Eh?" Lancer blinked in genuine befuddlement as he recognized what Saber was doing, but at the same time had no clue what the hell she could do with it in their situation.
She was slow in her work, at least to him. He could finish entire chains of spells with just a swipe of his hand, where she was working on each individual line like a child. It was so laughable it was almost insulting.
Ansuz. The rune of communication.
Performing spells with Runes was a curious art. Boiled down to the simplest basics, one needed to apply power, inscription, form, interpretation, definition, and execution to get anything done. It was much like learning a written language. It didn't matter if you knew how to write the word if you didn't know how to read it. And even if you knew that, it would be just as pointless if you didn't know the rules behind how to read it.
"Lancer. What is she doing?" Caster demanded, her voice no longer confident and casual, but genuinely concerned. Normally the idea of Saber attempting to perform thaumaturgy outside of her natural abilities and Noble Phantasms would be laughable, but normal didn't even begin to cover the situation to begin with.
"A shit job," he answered honestly as Saber worked on her second letter. She was putting too much power into making the thing, causing the lines to be distorted in certain places. If Saber was planning on making anything consisting of six or more letters she could forget it. The thing would just fall apart in her face, or explode. He had enough experience with the latter when he was with Scathach when he first started learning.
Saber was not someone that knew how to "read and write" runecraft. He could tell with just one look at her work. Instead she was going through it as though she had only been practicing just this one "word" for the past couple of days. She didn't know the intricacies of what she was doing. She didn't know the deeper meanings of the letters or their histories.
Instead, she only knew the general meaning of this one chain of runes and the result that they were supposed to produce.
It was a sickeningly dangerous and stupid thing to do. If Lancer wasn't so curious as to what the hell Saber was trying to pull, he would have tried to kill her and the kid already for doing something so insulting.
Algiz. The rune of warding. Also ties together with other runes for fluidity.
"Be serious. Why would Saber bother to learn, let alone perform your craft here? What could she learn in such a short time that could be effective?" The witch was clearly losing her patience.
"Don't know, but it can't be much. I have B ranked Magic Resistance and your spells are miles above anything I can do. I can't think of any chain that a novice like Saber could use that could… be…" Lancer trailed off as Saber just barely finished off her third rune.
"Pfft. Snk. BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Whatever Caster said next was drowned out by the man's uncontrollable laughter.
He laughed from the deepest parts of his lungs. He smiled and howled so much that his face should have been distorted from the action. His feet stomped hard on the steps. His eyes teared up. His head shook and his legs even lost any ability to hold his body up for a short period of time.
It was the laughter of a man that had just been caught off guard by horrendously good news. The laughter of a man that had just got the meaning of the most hilarious joke he had ever heard in his life. The laughter of a person that was absolutely elated about a surprise gift.
The laughter of a man that knew that he was really going to enjoy what was going to happen next.
Nauthiz. The rune of restriction.
"LANCER! WHAT IS SHE DOING?!" The Witch somehow managed to up the volume of her voice to surpass Lancer's bellowing.
"Pffftaaahahahaha!" Lancer barely managed to get his breathing under control, wiping the tears of pure joy and amusement from his eyes. Words still eluded him though.
Ingwaz. The rune of loyalty and ending cycles of events.
"Wait. That sequence… that can't be?!" Caster seemed to understand what Saber was doing just a moment too late to stop it.
"Lancer!" Saber stood proudly as the five runes floated in front of her. "I challenge you to…!"
"Lancer! No! Sto-!"
Before Saber could finish her sentence, she was already defending herself against Lancer's spear. The impact of the two weapons caused a shockwave that all but launched Rin and Shirou from where they were standing a meager distance from the epicenter of the small crater that had been made.
The letters glowed for a moment and then faded away.
Saber's Ath nGabla had been enacted.
Shirou was right. It really was a horrifically easy spell to use.
The extra Ansuz at the beginning was to turn it into a verbal Geass, a mutual contract that both parties had to agree to in order to activate. In fact, Ansuz was almost always the first one used whenever a Geass was being made due to being the Rune of Communication. It was a small and seemingly pointless addition, but contracts were funny things in that they could get around certain things that normal one sided curses couldn't.
Such as natural resistances to thaumaturgy.
How could Masters have managed to contract themselves to Servants otherwise? If a Servant such as Saber had A ranked magic resistance and was practically immune to thaumaturgy, how could she last half as long as she could without some sort of clearly thaumaturgical based connection to Shirou? How could she link herself to another Master without worrying about her resistance getting in the way?
The answer was the mutual contract established, agreed upon, supported, and enforced, between the two parties.
More important than Saber's and Lancer's Magic Resistance though, was the fact that one couldn't cast Ath n'Gabla over another. You could only build off of it or modify the already established curse.
Saber was a complete novice in runecraft and magecraft, but that didn't mean she was completely clueless, unlike certain alternate versions of Shirou. As the sworn enemy of Morgana, she had taken upon herself to learn at least some of the theory and foundations from Merlin in case there was something she could do with her absurdly powerful reserves of Prana against Morgana's own personal brand of sorcery. Learning how to actually etch the letters into the air, crude as it may have been, only took her a half an hour at most to figure out.
She barely knew the definitions and purposes of the runes, much less how they worked. Had any self-respecting magus saw what she had done, or that Shirou had purposefully taught her the way he did, they would have attempted to kill both Master and Servant out of sheer principle.
In fact, her work was so cringeworthy in the eyes of a professional such as Lancer that he couldn't build off of the spell or change it once activated, even if he wanted to.
But that did not change the outcome. Had Cu Culainn not attacked or agreed to her request, her incomplete spell would have wasted away in less than three seconds due to its instability.
But the blue man had known what she was trying to do at the third rune, and couldn't help but be amused by being saved by a half assed spell by a novice.
It was ironic. Caster had wanted to use the curse to lock tight the entrance to the temple, only for Saber to use the same mystery to wedge it wide open.
And now, Saber and Lancer were stuck in a one on one deathmatch. They couldn't be interrupted. They couldn't be distracted. And most importantly, they couldn't get in the way of anyone that wanted to get up to the temple.
And Caster couldn't do a damn thing about it. Not without exposing herself to virtually everyone else there.
"Kid, if we all make it out of this, first drink's on me." Lancer's grin was absolutely savage as the bulk of his attention was drawn to Saber, his spear pressing down on her sword so heavily that an endless stream of sparks and superheated flares of air sprayed where they were grinding.
"I'm underage." Shirou, despite being less than three meters away from where the two Servants had collided, seemed to be utterly undaunted by the display. "Have fun you two. I'll come by later when this mess is over with."
"Try not to take too long. You are rather helpless without me." Saber allowed herself to smile wryly. This was her only purpose for the night. She was to take Lancer out of the picture and keep the Temple's entrance open. It was an important task without a doubt, but it did not make her happy that she would essentially be forcing herself to be unable to help Shirou for the rest of the night.
"Ah Saber, your cruel words are hurting us both!" Lancer's grin turned even more rabid. "Let the kid have his fun tonight! Right now the only man you need to dance with is ME!"
This time, Shirou and Rin were pushed back a few steps as whatever held the two Servants in place seemed to finally snap, dissolving the two blue individuals into nothing but blurs that yielded cataclysmic explosions and collisions between one another with every passing instant they were near one another.
Holes, slashes, gouges, and chunks were made in abundance in a matter of moments. The cover of a manhole had been just a few centimeters too close to the fight, and ended up flying, embedding itself into the side of the building behind two Masters. Rin couldn't help but be somewhat humbled and unnerved at being so close to an all-out brawl between two of the most combat heavy Servants in the War…
… Shirou on the other hand had returned to impassively looking up the mountain, as if the fighting that he was still dangerously close to no longer interested him.
"You… you brat!" The Witch's voice was saturated in pure loathing. There was no doubt that he had planned this, and there was no telling just how viciously she would torture him if she ever had the opportunity.
"Berserker," Shirou replied not with any insult or words of advice, but a command that was accompanied by him pointing a finger up to the temple itself.
"_▄▄▄▄▄█████████!" His sister's Servant bellowed a war cry that seemed to suck away the life and attention of everyone and everything in the city. For just a moment it felt as if the fighting between Saber and Lancer, and the brawl taking place with the rest of the Servants and Masters had stopped to take in and comprehend that the Bastard of Zeus had finally made his appearance, declaring his unfiltered intention to absolutely mutilate whoever and whatever got in his way.
In his hand was once more his sickeningly crude, and just as massive, stone axe sword. It was just a copy of the original, but because the weapon itself was merely enchanted stone, fabricated in the modern era, it was vastly closer to the original in terms of quality than most of Shirou's more potent projections.
No one was able to see it, but everyone was pretty certain that Caster's face had just turned ash white as the situation at hand dawned upon her.
Rider was occupied. Assassin was occupied. Lancer was trapped with Saber in one on one combat.
Bloodfort Andromeda was behind them. Lancer's rune trap was no longer an issue.
All that was left were Caster and the traps she had set up.
It was a perfect setup for Berserker to tank and trigger every and anything the bitch could set up on his way to the boss's lair that Shirou hadn't set off already earlier.
Ideally, this would be the beginning of the end for the Witch.
If Shirou had been in a more relaxed state of mind, he would have laughed in the faces of anyone that assumed such.
The force from the Giant's hybrid charge leap to the temple matched the force of the heated clashes between Saber and Lancer just a short distance away. With the grace and the mindset of a charging bull, Berserker made way up the stairs, completely ignoring any and all bounded fields that here hastily being set up to deter his advance.
Before anyone could properly react, Berserker was already halfway up the mountain, leaving Shirou and Rin behind completely unprotected.
Normally, doing so would be suicide for them considering how many variables were at work, but at the moment that was a non-issue with almost every significant player currently being occupied with their own respective fights. The only ones that weren't were currently busy dealing with the recent sudden turn of events and about two metric tons of roaring Berserker rushing up to what appeared to be end things early.
"So, what will you do now?" Shirou muttered under his breath as his eyes narrowed in speculation.
This part was the most uncertain part of the overall plan. They had no way to determine just what other precautions the Witch may have set up, if any. Likewise, the woman may have an actual strategy in mind outside of the defensive setup she had already prepared, unlikely as it seemed.
Illya had managed to restore Berserker's God Hand all the way up to seven lives. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than hoped. Not only that, but after the previous battle at the Temple, Berserker had gained an immunity to Rider's strength and Assassin's explosives, reducing the effective options that Caster had available.
Off the top of his head, Shirou could count at least four to six ways that Caster could readily kill Heracles, and two of them were locked down thanks to Saber having Lancer all to herself. There were probably more, but in order to get even that high now the Witch would have to call back both Assassin and Rider, which would enable the rest of his group to approach unimpeded and more importantly, get out of Bloodfort Andromeda's domain, which ultimately would make things worse for Caster.
But then again, letting Heracles have free reign to go ballistic in her temple was just as bad seeing as her Master and valued mysteries were there. She could hold him off by herself in her Temple for a while, true, but sooner or later she would be overwhelmed. That much was guaranteed. The moment Berserker was past the main entrance to the Temple, her defenses would be compromised and she'd no longer be able to keep solid tabs on what everyone was doing. That and actually managing to get him out of the area again would be all but impossible.
In fact, if there was one place that Caster was bound to place a last ditch trap to take care of any number of enemies powerful enough to deal with Lancer, it would be…
o. o. o.
The Princess grimaced as another one of her bulls died, its throat slit so deeply that the only reason why it wasn't decapitated was due to the thick spine that got in the way.
The location served to be far more useful to Rider than Caster, the uneven tops of the buildings and the three dimensional warfare gave the Gorgon plenty to work with while restricting the movements of the bulls simultaneously. Well more than half of the original herd was still available, but the numbers were still cut down significantly.
Not that Rider was completely unharmed either.
The beautiful woman's outfit was burnt and torn in several locations where she had cut it a bit too close in avoiding the never ending flames that hounded her from all angles. She would have passed off as extremely erotic had the multiple cuts and burns not disfigured her image so much.
The greatest damage though was on her legs and thighs, a result of her attempting to repeat their first battle and hijack one of the bulls with Bellerophon early on. She had managed to get the chains on the beast well enough, but when she landed on its back, the hidden trap that the Princess had gone off instantly, setting Rider ablaze and forcing her off.
Ever since that mess up, Rider had been forced on the defensive, dodging and running as best as she could on her burnt legs which, for the record, still made her faster than most of the Servants in the War. Had she not fallen for it, it was likely that far more of the beasts attacking her would have fallen by now.
Caster let out a slow breath. Keeping up with Rider was an arduous task, and getting progressively harder as she had less bulls to work with. The Servant was constantly attempting to get close to the Masters, no doubt due to being commanded by her counterpart, and the terrain for the battle was not making things easier.
That wasn't to say that the girls weren't carrying their weight, as little as that was. Luvia's jewelcraft had protected them on more than one occasion when Rider got too close, and all three of them were progressively getting more coordinated with both their movements and attacks to steer Rider into directions that benefitted them.
Still, if there was any consolation, their fight was still leagues above what Assassin and Archer's. The two of them combined had done irreparable damage to at least five buildings by her count. Probably more. Three of which had at least four floors completely demolished, and one had simply collapsed under the strain of Assassin's explosives and Archer's projections.
It had gotten to the point that she, Luvia, and Sakura had at one point or another looked at Illya apologetically for being related to the two.
Illya responded with trying to torch Rider in a vain attempt to ignore said looks.
With the Witch as Rider's Master, there was no logic in turning this into a battle of attrition, but sadly the way things were going it didn't look like much was going to change anytime soo-
In a flash of red, Rider suddenly vanished.
It took a few moments for the sudden turn of events to register to those there.
"What happened?" Sakura looked around frantically.
"It was a Command Seal activation." Illya matched her movements quickly. "Caster teleported Rider somewhere."
"You don't think that…" Luvia started before an overwhelming spike of prana caught all of their attention…
o. o. o.
Berserker had just made it to the entrance of the temple when he was utterly annihilated by a pristine white beam of power. His body reduced to little more than small portions of cooked flesh accompanied by ash that was ejected from the narrow arch of the Temple all the way back into the town, somewhere between where the two fights had taken place.
Had Shirou and Rin attempted to follow the rampaging giant up there, they no doubt would have been killed along with him.
Over a hundred meters up, Rin and Shirou saw Rider and the Pegasus she was riding on slow just enough for the two to make them out. Even from so far away, the two had to brace themselves from the harsh winds from the Phantasmal Beast that transcended its kind.
The situation was bad for them with Berserker gone and a new Servant to deal with, but even so Rin and Shirou had to instinctively pause to take in the breathtaking sight. It was one thing to hear and read about Rider's mount, but to see it in person was simply sublime.
"Rider! I command you as your Master to use all your power to kill those two now!"
Like many times before, the Witch ruined the moment with the use of another Command Seal, causing everyone there to suddenly still in horror as the words were comprehended.
The distance between the two sides was well over a hundred meters, but no one doubted that it would be covered in but a few scant moments.
Thirty-five hammers were simultaneously cocked back.
They would have to do.
"Rin!" Shirou reached out for his accomplice with one hand while sticking the other out in the direction of Rider, who had already begun to prepare for her next attack by turning into nothing more than a pure white light again and shot up into the sky at unfair speeds and pulling a one eighty just as quickly. No doubt in order to "attack with all her power", Rider needed to get a bit of extra momentum going, Command Seal or not.
It was a shape he was more intimately familiar with than his own body. More than the blades fabricated from his father's… no, that should only make sense. If those swords were Kiritsugu Emiya's final gift to Shirou, than this was the man's first.
Alarmed at the turn of events, Rin complied instinctively to Shirou's demand and pulled herself as close to him as possible. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as high as they could go and her teeth clenched tightly as he hugged her close with one arm.
What the hell had she been thinking when she forced herself to go with him on the front lines?! Victory and plans be damned, how could anyone function against something like this?! They'd have to be insane!
It was ironic. Shirou had inherited Kiritsugu's regrets and lamentations. Remains of failed and forgotten memories. If there was anything that represented these things more than the three swords made for him, Shirou didn't want to know…
… And yet… those were not the only things he had inherited.
Thankfully, the person she was with was definitely someone that could fall under that category.
All hammers fell. Twenty-seven natural circuits and eight crest circuits all opened as wide as they could go, flooding with power to fuel a single spell.
Rho Aias wouldn't work here. Not against something as absurdly powerful as a Command Seal enhanced Phantasmal Beast. Neither would any of the other shields that he had in his inventory. Even if he did have the ability to manifest them all at once, Rider's attack would probably overwhelm them, if not leave them horrendously crippled and or wound them in the end.
It was almost an absurd thing to imagine the Magus Killer having. After the people he killed. After the people he loved and sacrificed for the world, the idea of Kiritsugu having something as genuine, innocent, and infantile as hope was genuinely laughable. Every word uttered and action made by the man decried the very notion, putting faith in cold reasoning and cynicism.
But that was fine. From the very beginning of the War, Shirou had been in possession of the world's strongest defensive Noble Phantasm.
But that was fine. What the Magus Killer had aimed for in life was absurdly laughable to begin with and he knew it better than most people would ever achieve. It was a joke fitting for a comedy.
The man that had been so serious for a childish whim. The childish boy that had been given a serious goal. It was a suitable inversion of inheritance that complimented the two twisted men. Neither would be disappointed by the end results.
So it was only natural for the father's first gift to the boy be the greatest representation of hope. A hope that went beyond rationality and reason. A hope that had matched the man's unreasonable goal for humanity. A hope that was etched into the boy's very body on their first meeting.
A hope of an Everdistant Utopia.
Gold met White.
What was once night was drowned out in a blinding day that eclipsed any light that the sun had produced on earth so far.
The Scabbard of Excalibur blinked in front of his outstretched hand just moments before Rider collided with them. The scabbard dissolving as quickly as it had formed, scattering around Shirou and Rin and engulfing them in a golden bounded field.
Everything outside the defense was shattered and obliterated.
The streets. A good portion of the buildings nearby. The streetlights. Cars. Everything was razed into less than dust around the two teens as the White Comet collided with their position and discharged literally everything it had in order to kill them.
But despite all that power, Rin and Shirou weren't even getting ruffled by stray gusts of wind.
For all intents and purposes, the two were in a completely different world now, the land of the Fae, untouched and uninfluenced by anything by the crude human world that they had just been fighting in.
It was a complete and total isolation that the ultimate treasure of Gilgamesh, Ea, could not surpass. In comparison, even if it was enhanced by a hundred Command Seals, Rider's attack would be completely ineffective.
However, just because Rider's attack yielded no results didn't mean that Shirou did not sustain damage.
Avalon was always designed to be King Arthur's Noble Phantasm. It was only because it had been within Shirou's body for a decade that he was capable of manifesting it perfectly and actually use it to its full potential.
His ability to trace it had only magnified with his connection to Saber. The process was effortless to the point that it was almost sickeningly easy to do. It was as though if he wasn't careful, he could manifest a copy at a given moment without any power behind it at all.
Actually using it was another story.
Shirou was not Saber. His body lacked the tremendous potential that hers did. He could use Avalon in terms of function, but he was not designed to use Avalon in terms of cost. It was much like putting on a spare tire on a vehicle. The size and grip on the spare would more than likely not match up with the other three. It would work, but it was not a suitable replacement and would affect the car's performance overtime unless addressed.
"Shirou." Rin could tell as well. Being pressed directly against his body, she could feel him heat up rapidly from the use of his circuits. To use such a magnificent defense, to be in the realm of the Fae themselves, the cost in power must be absurd.
The only time Shirou had ever knowingly used the scabbard to its full potential in Kiritsugu's notes had been at the very end of the first route against Kotomine. Even then, Avalon had only been in use for a second or two at most, its full manifestation and use flashing out like golden lightning to clear and purge the physical sludge of the corrupted Grail around him in an instant.
Saber had used it slightly longer during her battle against Gilgamesh in that route, and she admittedly had been in poor shape at that, but even she didn't use it for a prolonged period like this.
While he had more and better circuits than in the alternate world, it still didn't change the fact that Avalon's requirements were inhumanely high. If the Princess had not recharged the gems on his belt earlier, taking advantage of the leyline under Rin's home, he would not have managed to last nearly as long as he did.
At ten, the chaos and white light of Rider's attack was finally starting to abate, and not a moment too soon. Shirou's body temperature had skyrocketed, and with Avalon outside of his body for once, his natural healing abilities had been reduced to that of a human… no, that of a Living Apostle. Saber could risk activating a copy of it for extended periods of time, but he couldn't. He didn't know how long he could keep it stable under extreme conditions like this to use one reliably.
He felt something pop in his head. If everything wasn't white and gold already, his vision would have gone white regardless.
At fifteen seconds, the world finally returned to more than just white and gold. The chaotic pressure that had been Rider's attack had weakened enough that Shirou instantly stopped feeding power to Avalon and pulled the particles surrounding him and Rin back into his body.
The moment he did so, the pair were heavily buffeted by the remains of Rider's attack…
No, it wasn't the attack that was assaulting them.
Just a short distance away, Rider was still above the ground on her Pegasus. The beat of its wings were enough to nearly throw them off their feet, but it was blatantly obvious that the creature was exhausted. Its pristine white body was as immaculate as ever, but it no longer seemed to shine with an alien like power that almost oppressed its surroundings, and it was breathing heavily, completely exhausted.
It was almost sinful to witness such a degradation to something so precious. An unforgiveable crime.
On top of her mount, staring at Shirou with wide eyes, Rider's normally impassive expression replaced with one of disbelief. Her body covered in burns and scrapes, and it felt almost as if her very being was less imposing as it had been just moments before.
It was only natural. There were probably only a handful of defensive Noble Phantasms out there that could hold up against one as powerful as Bellerophon with her Pegasus, and even less that were so quick to enact. Even after fighting Gilgamesh, most would only assume that the greatest tools at Shirou's disposal were weapons.
But, that had been the point. Up until after he had been confronted by everyone about his actions, after Rider had been confronted, he had kept almost everything close to his chest. His plans. His abilities. His knowledge. Kiritsugu's notes. His Apostle nature.
… And Avalon.
Rider knew that he possessed the Scabbard, and of its remarkable healing properties when he had gotten rid of Zouken's crest worms, but he had always kept its secondary use a need to know secret up until he had told everyone what he knew, long after Rider had been taken.
Had the Witch known about it, he doubted that she would have ordered Rider to attack him, much less with a Command Seal. She would have been more careful with her actions…
The sound of rattling chains snaked through the dying sound of destruction and wind, and was heard before anything else was detected.
… And she certainly would not have forced Rider to pour literally everything into the attack, leaving her too exhausted to react properly for what came next.
Before anyone could tell what had happened, a golden blur whipped out at Rider. The Servant barely managed to jump away in time. However her mount was not so lucky, as it was ensnared by a golden chain that seemed to perpetually elongate and entangle itself around every limb it had.
"Enkidu," Shirou hissed, steam pouring from his mouth from his overheated body and blood dribbling from several orifices as a result of overstraining his circuits. He still had a fair amount of energy saved in his belt, but his body would still need some time to recover. Thankfully, the chain was surprisingly cheap to manifest for a Noble Phantasm, as was its activation ability.
"▄▄▄███▄██?!" The exhausted beast shouted in alarm and confusion as its wings could no longer move the way they were intended and it fell hard onto the mutilated road below.
It could not break the chains. The creature was born of divine blood, as tainted as it may have been, and lived long enough to a Phantasmal Beast. Depending on the legend, some might even consider it to be the pronator of the breed known as Pegasi.
And now that magnificent creature was entangled, unable to fight. Unable to help Rider. Unable to do be a problem.
Rin looked around frantically as she attempted to regain her bearings and stepped away from the epicenter of the crater the two Masters were now in. From Shirou to the Pegasus, to Rider, and back to Shirou. "Holy hell."
"You… what are you, boy?" Caster seemed to voice what everyone there was thinking. Even she, with a literal mountain's worth of prana at her disposal, wouldn't have been able to protect herself from that attack due to the beast's anti-magical properties surpassing even Saber's.
Scratch that. Out of all the Noble Phantasms, mysteries, and powers available to her, Rider's Bellerophon combined with a Command Seal was more or less the most destructive attack available to Caster.
And Shirou, not a Servant but a Master, had just blocked the damn thing.
Lancer and Saber were a short distance away from the devastation, close enough that they had to stop fighting in order to deal with the blowback of the attack. Both of them watched as the two Masters took Rider's attack head on, and then somehow counterattacked.
"Damn." Lancer chuckled as he watched everything unfold. "I'm going to have to be honest, Saber. As shitty as this all is, I'm kinda glad this isn't a normal War. If it was, that he would have destroyed all of us by now. Your Master's one scary fucking kid. He just won't go down."
Saber took a moment to nod absently before remembering the situation and turning her attention to Lancer again, both readying their weapons. "A bit crass, but I accept your compliment. Though it should be no surprise. He is my Master. It should be obvious that he would be of such quality."
Technically, Kiritsugu fell into the "scary Master" category as well, but she conveniently forgot to bring that up.
"Heh! Sure! Let's go with that!" Cu Culainn barked out in amusement before charging once more, and the world around them returned to nothing but blades and battle.
Shirou didn't pay Caster's question any mind. His entire body hurt too much to focus on pointless questions. Those few seconds using Avalon had done almost as much damage to his body and system circuit-wise as his entire ordeal against Gilgamesh. He could literally feel where parts of his insides had been seared like freshly cooked meat, and his lungs were attempting to flood themselves with blood every few breaths.
"Ugh," he snarled and pulled the shroud off his head in annoyance, its wrapping doing nothing to help his overheated skull and was constantly getting in the way of the blood he was trying to eject from his respiratory system.
Almost instantly he could feel himself cool off and feel much better. For a moment he assumed that it was the result of having the cool winter air brush against his head since the fighting began, but instinctively he looked up at the moon in the sky and held back a frown of annoyance.
Of course, the shroud muted the influence of his Apostle nature, and with the moon just past the full phase a night or two ago, the effects of his abnormal state would only be more pronounced.
He clicked his tongue as he felt his body begin to revert and repair itself. He hated being reminded of his semi-non-human state. As far as he was concerned it was nothing but a pain in the ass.
Oh well. At least this curse came with some benefits. He needed all the help he could get at the moment.
Another long breath of steam and some blood escaped his lips. The throbbing in his skull weakened. His vision cleared. His body temperature cooled slightly. His muscles ached less. His mind took in the situation.
He turned to Rider, who had managed to regain composure in the time it took him to relax. She was significantly weaker than before, but more than enough to kill him if needed. Her unsealed eyes only added to odds of that possibility coming to pass.
Rider. Assassin. Lancer. Those three had been accounted for. Several traps and tricks had been accounted for and addressed. But…
… Caster and Bazett had yet to make an appearance.
While the Witch couldn't do anything with Lancer anymore, the same was true with Saber. It was a calculated gamble that he had made on the pretense that Caster would be less inclined to do something rash if one of the largest threats to her was occupied. So long as Saber was fighting Lancer, she wouldn't be considered a threat and add to the stress of a degrading situation.
But, that just left Rin here, who was Archer's Master. Heroic Spirit Emiya. A future, alternate version of Shirou Emiya from a timeline that was not possible to be achieved from this one.
Had Rider been in better shape, it would not have been that difficult to deal with the two of them, but that wasn't the case now. She was low on power, weakened, and her mount was no longer accessible. The possibility of both Shirou and Rin being able to pull something off was definitely a non-zero factor.
But then again, after what Shirou had just done, the possibility of him alone being able to pull something was also non-zero.
Caster would not risk leaving the safety of her Temple, where she was at her strongest, just to deal with Rin. Which meant…
Two copies of Natalia formed themselves in Shirou's hands as he slowly took a few steps to Rider, clearly expressing his intentions. He would have summoned more weapons around him to fire as projectiles, but his body couldn't handle the strain at the moment. He need more time. Time that Rider also needed to recover.
It was a good thing he had thought ahead before they came.
The exhausted beauty's only sign that she understood what his intentions were was to materialize her ever present nail and chain in her own hands.
"Shirou!? What are you doing?!" Rin balked at his actions. When they had strategized earlier, he had not brought up purposely and personally going one on one against another Servant! There had been discussions of maybe being forced to hold off one due to bad timing, but not actively seeking a fight out!
"Something stupid. Don't drop your guard, and remember why we're here." Shirou didn't look away from Rider. If he did, he'd die. His body was in bad enough shape already without her eyes paralyzing him too.
In an ideal situation, Berserker would have gone into the Temple, distracted Caster and opened the way for Shirou and Rin to finish things off.
Slightly worse was if Caster somehow managed to hold off Berserker and they'd have to wait and fight off what was likely going to be Bazett until the giant opened things up for them again.
Summoning Rider on the other hand was still something that they had potentially anticipated, but had a far smaller list of answers for. Less so after Caster had essentially tried to use Rider to blitz them and drained Shirou of a lot of his power.
"… Ha. Hahaha."
And now the Witch was laughing and regaining confidence. Wonderful.
"I see now. That was your last defense wasn't it? A marvelous card, but you can barely stand now, can you?"
"Rin." Shirou's tone grew terse. He could possibly hold off Rider, but only at the expense of ignoring everything else right now.
The addressed looked around nervously before readying herself to move at a moment's notice. Her right hand slipped into her coat pocket.
The area around the crater was shrouded in a thick black cloud that resembled miasma. "Rider will need time to recover. As much as I am disliked, I am not an unreasonable Master. See? I've sent you some help."
The first thing everyone noticed were the skeleton warriors rising in droves. Each one standing a head above the average male, with not a scrap of flesh on them and wielding a wide assortment of dangerous looking implements as crude looking as they were.
Shirou wasn't worried about those. Even in his current state he could plow right through them easily.
At the edge of the crater closest to the temple, just at the edge of his peripheral vision, a smaller figure stood up. A woman dressed in only dirty robes and gloves that went to her wrists. Her eyes were sallow and glazed. Her skin pale as if she had not eaten anything reasonable or seen the sun in days. Her short magenta hair a mess.
Shirou's fists tightened on his blades as he caught the slightest glimpses of Bazett. She had clearly seen better days, and if nothing was done soon she probably wouldn't last much longer.
"Ugh?!" Shirou's thoughts were interrupted by a surprised choking noise made from Rin. Rider's eyes also flashed to whatever it was that had caught Rin off guard, and for a brief moment even the Servant couldn't hide herself being completely blindsided. He was about to ask what had her so alarmed, but was beaten to the punch.
"Well now. Fancy seeing you on the front lines, Rin. Then again, knowing you, it was likely you had just lost your patience again."
The Magus Killer froze as the deep masculine voice massaged his eardrums with a soothing venomous sound. He could practically hear the owner smirk.
The man had died. Illya and Saber had confirmed it. Caster had killed him and then in order to obtain his Command Seals absconded with his bod-
Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid STUPID!
Caster had taken Kirei's body with her when they were at the castle. Of course the bitch was going to try and get as much out of him as possible, even if that meant bringing him back to life if possible…
… Which it was considering he was dealing with Medea of Fucking Colchis! It was in her bloody legend when she had tricked the King Pelias' daughters to kill him after cutting apart an old ram and then bringing it back as a foal!
"I see that Emiya is still alive and well, although I suppose that is to be expected. Even if they have different blood, the boy is no doubt his father's son. Stubborn and irrational to a comical fault, if it wasn't so effective," Kirei continued. Now that Shirou focused on the voice, he could tell that its tone was slightly different, meaning that it was likely the bastard also got the de-aging treatment too.
It was true. If Shirou could spare the moment to turn and look he'd see that his assumption was correct. Though his garb remained the same, Kirei Kotomine looked as if his body had regressed at least a decade in age… and doubled that amount in stress. His frame and appearance was younger, but his skin was several shades paler than it should have been. His hair frayed and dried to the point of being straw. His eyes so sunken that a normal person would wonder if the priest's eyes were even functional. His clothing unkempt, as if worn for days on end on the street without being washed.
Even so, the clearly amused look on his face seemed to decry any discomfort he was experiencing in his current state or the situation he was in.
This was bad. This was really bad. Rin could barely hold her own against Bazett in combat, but from what he researched, Kirei was possibly even worse. Rin wouldn't stand a chance against both of them at once…
"Kirei." Rin's one spoken word held so many emotions that not even Shirou could determine what held dominance in her mind. He'd be lying if he said that it didn't put a cold chill in his spine.
"Rin." No one needed to see the man to know that he was very much enjoying this. "Though most are surprised to see Emiya still alive after Rider's impressive display, I'm more intrigued in the fact that you're here with him. Or rather, I should be. You always did have an issue dealing with waiting. A fault of pride that you no doubt inherited from your father."
"Don't you dare talk about my father, you traitor. You are the one that killed him, aren't you?" Rin's voice was like a drawn bow, taut and strained to the limits, representing her emotions perfectly. The only problem was, what would she do if she snapped?
"Oh? You only now found out?" Kirei didn't bother to hide the fact. If anything he seemed barely surprised and amused. "Emiya must have told you something of interest recently. I'm disappointed that you didn't figure it out for yourself years ago. As much as a genius you claimed to be, you have the crippling tunnel vision of a mad bull. Only paying attention to what's in front of you."
"Rin. He's playing you. Don't fall for it." Shirou clenched his teeth. He couldn't turn his eyes off of Rider, but leaving his back open to Kirei and Bazett was just as lethal. He and Rin had to be in sync if they even had a hope of getting out of this alive.
"Emiya, please wait your turn. Rin and I are have a long needed conversation," Kirei chided. "Now, yes, your father. And your mother, no, allow me to clarify. I did not lay a hand on your kind mother, Aoi. Instead I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. You see, your uncle Kariya Matou was adamant about getting Sakura out of Zouken's hands, to the point that he became the Master of Berserker. But more than that, he was madly in love with your mother and bore a rather unpleasant jealousy and hatred for your father. Those emotions no doubt magnified magnificently when Sakura was given to her new family. It was rather easy to see during the war, what with how Bererker perpetually hounded Archer."
"You killed father for Uncle Kariya?" Rin was clearly having a hard time talking now, barely hanging onto her temper.
"You could say that, although I did have my own reasons at the time that took precedence. Reading others was not one of Tokiomi's strong point. Regardless, since your mother was worried about her devoted husband, and I had promised Kariya Tokiomi, I had them all gather together in the Church. First Tokiomi. Then Kairya, then Aoi. Of course, Tokiomi was already dead, and Kariya was on his last legs from the Matou conditioning and supporting Berserker, so Aoi naturally assumed the worst. The poor woman would not even allow the man who loved her all that time to tell her that he didn't kill Tokiomi before she assumed the worst and tore his heart apart. In his pitiful unstable condition, it's no wonder that he lost composure and tried to kill her. Of course, he failed in that just as he failed in saving Sakura." Kirei seemed to be unstably elated in seeing Rin's reaction to his deeds.
"Einzbern. Matou. Tohsaka. The three founding families that started this whole farce of a ritual brought low by a helper. It's so hilarious it's embarrassing. But then again, you're just as guilty as I, Emiya. You surpassed Tokiomi's Servant. You used the Einzbern's against them. And Zouken, even I must applaud you on that performance. How wonderfully devastating his last moments were. I must thank you for allowing me to be a part of it."
"You're more open than normal, priest." Shirou attempted to keep his voice even, but ended up with something akin to a growl. "I didn't think you'd be so comfortable being Caster's toy."
"Hehahahaha." The twisted laugh that escaped Kirei's mouth was more telling than any words were. "Ah. Caster was quite determined to see if I knew anything of particular use, so she made things easier in that regard when she brought me back. I am less, inhibited, as I am now. Be proud. I don't think I've ever heard of a Master that's invoked such a reaction from a Servant before. It was quite inspiring to see firsthand."
"Well he did kill Gilgamesh," Rin pointed out surly, the shock of the moment finally ebbing away enough to allow her to think somewhat clearly. "You wouldn't even pose a threat by comparison."
"Come now, Rin. As a magus you should know that everything is circumstantial. I taught you better than that," the Priest chided. "Speaking of circumstances, Emiya, I do hope you realize that if Caster studied my body, it also means she's studied my heart. Seeing as you were quite confident in Matou's ability to kill me…"
"Then affecting the girl in reverse should be more than possible…" the witch spoke the same time that Shirou's and Rin's lungs lurched up their throats.
"Shirou, you don't think she's… Archer?!" Rin's voice hitched as she no doubt was being informed about Sakura's turn of health right now.
His grip on his swords were so tight that his fingers screamed in pain. He wouldn't be surprised if he tore or cracked something. He didn't move though. "You really are a selfish fool. To think you're stupid enough to mess with that taint."
"I was surprised when I detected it. Such a vile and volatile concoction that surpasses anything that I could have imagined, even from my era. It's no wonder you were adamant in preventing any more from being produced." The Witch sounded proud of what she had done, as if she had finally regained control over everything. "Fitting that it will lead to my victory. True, Rider's former Master will be subject to its influence, but sacrifices are always a part of war, are they not, boy? I wonder, will she die first as her body consumes itself, or will she kill one of your precious comrades before she succumbs?"
That idiot. She was so far gone that she was completely ignoring just how absurdly dangerous messing with any part of Angra Mainyu could be. That didn't even take into account that they still didn't know exactly how Sakura was being affected by Caster's influence. Worst case, the girl might even…
"Shirou. I assume that the plan hasn't changed?" Rin's deadly even voice snapped him out of his thoughts, causing everyone else to look at her warily.
He let out a frustrated grunt. "No. It just sucks more and we have a shorter time limit."
"Like you claimed. I'm starting to hate you being right all the time." He heard a shift of clothing. "You mind if I change a few small parts?"
"Oh?" Kirei sounded genuinely curious, looking down at her from the top of the edge of the crater.
It wasn't like Shirou could do anything at the moment. He was the only one there that could keep Rider at bay reliably. Her skin had returned to being flawless, and her breathing had steadied, but even so she was cripplingly low on prana. That wouldn't be the case for long though.
In contrast, Shirou's insides had returned to almost normal temperatures, his normal bodily organs and functions healing as well, but his circuits were more than a bit warm and strained. He wouldn't be able to use them to their full potential for a while. That of course, didn't include the fact that Rider's eyes still had an effect on him, making every muscle in his body feel as if they were cramping painfully.
A bitter smile stretched on his face, and the metallic stare of his eyes sharpened. "I guess it can't be helped. Just don't get ahead of yourself. There is a schedule to keep."
"Don't worry." The girl's almost lackadaisical sigh was completely at odds with the situation. So much so that everyone watching her almost didn't notice as she took out a peculiar crystal blade out of her coat.
"It'll only take a moment."
Kirei moved before Rin did. The man may have been dead, but his instincts were intact enough to tell him that whatever tool the girl had in her hands was not for show. The man leapt to the side and threw three black keys at her that flew through the air with the force of high caliber bullets.
Unfortunately, making the first move was a mistake.
The knife poised over her heart remorselessly stabbed down. The pain triggering all the nerves in her body to fire off simultaneously.
With all of her circuits running on full, Rin swiped the mystic code Zelretch once.
"Es läßt frei. Werkzeug!"
Seven prismatic colors shined in the countless faces of the gem sword. Reflecting and angling at impossible angles an endless number of times, they accumulated at the tip, making it shine golden, an almost alien quality adorned it similar to that of Excalibur, but of a different origin.
The widespread beam of light didn't aim for Kirei, but went low. The power behind it was more than enough to completely obliterate the keys that had almost pierced the girl, and more than enough to shatter and dislodge a huge swath of the asphalt road at the edge of the crater she was standing in the middle of.
"Hugh?!" Kirei was caught off guard as all the ground beneath him erupted from underneath his feet, preventing any hope of allowing a foothold or changing his direction.
It was an understandable reaction. As lauded as magi envisioned themselves, the ability to perform mysteries of widespread destruction at will were few and far in between. A mystery used as much power as the results it yielded, so much like the machinery of today, thaumaturgy was aimed to yielding the greatest results with the smallest amount of input for the sake of efficiency. Using thaumaturgy in such a blunt fashion could be considered incredibly wasteful and pointless. If it required more energy than what the caster could produce by themselves, it shouldn't be considered to be used in the field. Even if the user's circuits could channel enough power, what they possessed within their body was another story entirely.
Case in point, being able to blow back roughly ten tons of stone and asphalt like Rin just did, should and would have needed to require several magi to pour in a great deal of power into a spell over a fair amount of time to yield similar results.
Rin Tohsaka only has on average about one hundred units of power in her body, but her circuits could utilize over a thousand. Still, it should be noted that as a magus, Rin's potential is outstanding. Normal magi only have about ten units in their body and their circuits about a hundred. Numerically, she can be considered at least ten times the worth as a normal magus.
Even so, she could not under normal circumstances be able to upheave that much stone so easily.
Or rather, she could, but it would waste all the power available to her. The spell would take up all the energy around her, enact, and leave her and Shirou with nothing but what's left in their bodies, and the charged gems in her pocket.
Again, it was a wasteful opening move that most magi wouldn't even think of, let alone consider. Almost akin to a Hail Mary. All or nothing. Thus, it was something that someone like Kirei, who not only was well accustomed to hunting and dispatching Magi and Vampires, but had raised Rin himself for ten years, was not expecting.
The sword was new. The power was new. The tactic was new. The power was new. It was all outside his ability to expect, and thus it had caught him off guard.
The resurrected man slipped backwards. The ground had been blown away beneath his feet, leaving him completely unable to change directions or properly adjust himself.
His eyes narrowed as he turned to his attacker and the ominous light she held in her hands. He could not defend. He could not dodge. By process of elimination, the only means left to him was to attack. His arms snapped to the side, throwing three Black Keys to either side of the girl in a wide arc that would avoid the next spray of light. Should she stay in place to attack him, she would no doubt be skewered.
"Verlasse den gesandten."
Rin didn't so much as hesitate as she pointed the glowing golden tip of the mystic code right at Kirei and blasted the area he was in with a beam of pure power several meters in every direction. The force of the focused blast was more than intense enough to hammer her back with the recoil, which she went with, skidding away from the focus of her rage just far enough to avoid being skewered from both sides.
Kirei's eyes dialated and the world around him seemed to slow down into instants.
He saw Emiya charge after Rider, completely ignoring what Rin did.
He saw Bazett strafe further around the crater in an effort to stay out of Rin's line of sight.
He saw the ground and any dirt between himself and the light erode rapidly into nothing and vanish.
The saccharine grin on his face widened with a mix of pride and self-mocking elation.
How annoying. Caster brought him back from the dead for nothing. He had went along with her plans and gotten his hopes up to see a completed Grail and this is where it got him.
The woman was truly hopeless. A desperate individual that grasped at anything and everything that caught her eye without paying attention or nurturing her surroundings. The odds were against her from the start.
A pity. Even if Caster didn't win, he had at least hoped to have seen or heard the Servant's last moments. Or witness whatever juvenile attempt at a last laugh she had fabricated beforehand.
Oh well. He had no right to complain or expect anything to begin with. He had died and been brought back twice over already from these silly lies with the mask of wars, albeit unintentionally.
"Heh. Well played, both of you." His skin was burning and peeling off at an absurd rate. The pain was outstanding, and probably would have been more so if he had been alive to begin with. "Shame I won't find my… answer… here."
No one had heard the priests' last words. They were all too busy with their own problems to listen to the words of a dead man.
o. o. o.
It had been easy.
It had been far too easy.
EMIYA cussed in five different languages for thinking those jinxed words earlier.
Assassin had been many things. A trap expert. A sniper. A Servant that couldn't go anywhere without blowing something up to kingdom come.
But he wasn't a combatant. And that went double so when the battleground was a wide open area.
It was a horribly mismatched setup from the start.
Assassin had more than enough time to set up traps. To prepare key positions. To plan ahead.
Against Archer, who knew what he was up against this time, he might as well have gone in without doing anything. The results would have been the same.
Long ranged battle was Archer's specialty. Picking out small and difficult to hit targets was Archer's specialty. Using a wide, open field was Archer's, and Rider's, specialty.
True, Assassin had a bit of a boost so long as no one could find him, and at the beginning he did set up traps around Rider's sigils, but once those advantages were gone, he was little more than a fast moving duck.
It was genuinely embarrassing. They had all had so much trouble with Assassin for all this time, and yet he was just so weak when out of his element it was almost laughable.
The "fight" between Archer and Assassin, if one could even call it that, mainly consisted of Assassin hiding inside one building or another and trying to stay out of Archer's sights while the latter fired a never ending rain of overcharged arrows in his general area. For every shot or two the elder Emiya fired off, the younger one returned five times as much at bare minimum.
Reinforcement. Time alteration. It didn't matter. Assassin was slightly above average in terms of speed to begin with, was still slower than Lancer and Rider when he pushed himself to the max, and neither of the latter would have been able to escape Archer's eyes in this scenario. In this setup it was next to impossible for him to lose Archer long enough to get a bead on Caster or the Masters with her.
As far as Servants went, Assassin's performance was utterly pathetic.
Then again, it made sense. The battle was not confined this time. There was no forest. The Masters weren't too close by. There was too much space covered for conventional traps. It was a setup that went against everything Assassin was designed for. Under most circumstances, anyone using him would absolutely avoid this scenario whenever possible. Much less against the one Servant that can exploit it to its full potential.
And then Rider was pulled away from the fight.
Archer felt her vanish, but didn't turn away. He wasn't some novice that flinched at everything that set his senses off, and turning away would open everyone up for an easy shot. He trusted Caster enough to deal with any particular surprise, or at least warn him if something was coming his way.
Almost immediately afterwards though came the familiar white light of Rider's Pegasus, complete with streaking across the sky, absurd levels of power, and the very warranted chill down his spine.
He had wasted no time backing away so that Assassin couldn't get a shot on him, materializing a twisted Caladbolg, and yelling at Caster to protect the girls from any attacks from Assassin. As useful and skilled as she was, the Princess was absolutely useless against something as powerful as Rider's mount without her dragon.
However, instead of the white comet heading for them, he was caught flat footed when Rider dive-bombed the area in front of the temple, colliding with a very familiar golden light.
"Tch." He clicked his tongue in annoyance as he pieced together what was happening and jumped forward again in an attempt to try and find his target, who had no doubt moved since he retreated out of sight. "Caster! I lost Assassin!"
No sooner had the words escaped his lips had two things happened simultaneously.
The first, and more obvious was that the top floors of the building that Archer had been on had exploded magnificently. The bombs used were so overcharged with prana that the roofing beneath his feet more disintegrated than shattered.
The second was a bullet, broken and temporally enhanced, being fired from a building next to the one that had just exploded, at an angle that would pierce through both Luvia and Illya. It didn't matter if it was a graze or not. At that velocity, power, and rotational speed, even the slightest brush of the bullet could mangle their bodies permanently, if not kill them.
Fortunately for them, Luvia had already been in the process of setting up another layer of prana saturated gems around them by the time the shot was fired. As a merc for the majority of her life, there were exceptionally few things that could set off one's paranoia and instincts more than being informed that the enemy's killing specialist was on the loose nearby unsupervised.
The bounded field that the Finnish girl set up hastily was no Noble Phantasm, but it had an absurd amount of power backing it up to offset that particular deficiency. That wasn't to say that it worked perfectly, as the bullet hammered into the shield so hard that half of the gems that made the barrier shattered on impact. It probably would have lasted long enough to hold out, but the second bullet that was fired three seconds later utterly decimated the remains. Thankfully, the girls had managed to barely get out of the way in the time they earned.
Assassin on the other hand, was unable to fire off another shot due to copious quantities of fire that had blocked his view of any potential targets, courtesy of Caster, eviscerating the floor he was on.
"Keep him in one building!" Caster ordered as she spread out her summons to surround and keep track of the enemy.
"Tch." Archer grimaced as he managed to finally get out of the smoke and flames that had nearly consumed him, landing nearby Caster, but not stopping and instead jumping to the next high-rise to encircle the area that Assassin was in.
It was a rather cheap trick he had learned over the countless years of being a Counter Guardian, although it didn't always particularly work depending on what he was fighting against.
A blueprint of the building instantly popped into his head. Building outline. Integrity. Powerlines. Outputs. Generators. Plumbing. Internal systems…
… Faults. Damage. Debris. History…
… Stress. Inconsistencies. Irregularities. Sudden and recent changes in pressure, weight distribution…
"There." His cold eyes narrowed as he aimed at the top floor of the building, two windows from the far right edge and three cubicles back in the office. Had Assassin had a higher level of Presence Concealment, Archer probably wouldn't have been able to pick up the barest traces of influence that the Servant had left behind while moving through it.
Despite being able to move without making the slightest sound, Kiritsugu was still unable to distribute his weight to the unnatural levels of the namesake of the Assassin class. The slight additional change in force on the floor beneath him was akin to a foghorn to his son.
Whether it was due to experience, or the bloodlust that Archer emitted just before the shot, Assassin found out that he had been pegged just soon enough to get out of the way of getting destroyed along with the office supplies that he had been hiding amongst.
Unfortunately for him, the projectile that Archer had fired had been the twisted Caladbolg that had originally been meant to counter Rider's Pegasus had it come their way.
The arrow had not been broken or overcharged with prana. There had been no time for that. But the raw innate power that belonged to "Caladbolg" the Noble Phantasm was still very much there. A direct hit from it would kill Assassin without question, but a near miss could be just as damaging.
The entire flooring around Assassin had contorted and sunk as if the maw of a tremendous beast had suddenly opened and inhaled everything above it. The drilling projectile had created a vacuum that had sucked in not only Assassin, but all the office supplies, equipment, and furniture there as well, pulling them all into the fires of the floor below that Caster had started earlier, giving the new hole the appearance of a gate to hell.
"Tch." Archer clicked his tongue in annoyance. He had missed, but even he didn't know if it had been on purpose or not.
Before he could proceed to look for his target though, two things had happened that almost completely wiped the thoughts of Assassin from his mind.
The first was a sickeningly sweet sensation crawling up his spine. If the scent of decaying bodies and corrosion could be converted into a tangible sensation, this would have been his closest analogy.
The second came almost instantly after, in the form of Sakura screaming her throat bloody.
He whipped his head around instantly to the source and allowed himself to swear.
Three rooftops away, Sakura was grabbing her head as if it was being assaulted, and her entire frame was emitting an ominous black aura that made her appear as though her outline was barely plugging a hole to an ocean of the substance.
Her bull thrashed about wildly, knowing that something was wrong, but despite being a monstrous beast that was ranked on par with a Noble Phantasm, it was not able to throw off the girl for some absurd reason.
"Sakura!" Luvia tried to steady her own mount as it ran away from her ally. She was barely able to keep it on the same rooftop. "What's happening?!"
"She's losing control of her connection to the Grail for some reason!" Illya was on the other side of the building and having a much harder time controlling her mount than the blonde.
"Rin! Something's wrong! Sakura's losing control over herself!" the Servant frantically updated his Master on the situation. Normally he wasn't this excited in chaotic situations like this, but normally he didn't deal with allies channeling ancient gods of evil spontaneously in the middle of battle.
"Archer?" The reply he got back was confused and distracted, as though she was focusing on something else right now. "But… no! I don't have time to explain! Blame Caster and keep Sakura alive!"
'Blame Caster,' she said. That alone fired several alarms in his mind. Had the Witch managed to tap into the Greater Grail? Had she somehow managed to figure out how to manipulate Angra Mainyuu?
It didn't matter. Whatever it was, the problem was liable to go away once Caster was dealt with, or shortly afterwards.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAH!" The girl's bloody cry was horrifyingly in tandem with the one the bull was making just below her. The black, mud-like aura covering it like a corrupted blanket, smothering the flames that it was jettisoning from its orifices on reflex.
The real question was, could Sakura last long enough?
The sound of a pair of hands clapping together snapped him out of his stupor.
"I have him."
The Princess had both of her hands together as if praying, and her eyes were focused on the building that Assassin was in. On top of all of the rooftops around the target, her bulls were situated, all glowing with an aura that almost resembled plasma.
It was only then that Archer noticed the peculiar feeling in the air, as though he was in a sauna. The smoke from the destroyed buildings nearby had masked the sensation, but it was only now that he realized that the source stemmed from thaumaturgy and not from rampant flames.
"A bounded field…" The bulls were the perimeter, the source of the mystery, and the enforcement. Caster's words merely forced the world to go with the outline already established.
It was terrifyingly fast how she had set up such a tremendous and powerful bounded field so quickly without him noticing. Archer didn't need to look to know that the woman's territory encompassed the entirety of the building all the way to the ground floor. He had encountered many oddities and monsters in his time, but he had never faced anyone that was capable of doing something on this large a scale on the fly.
Origin rounds wouldn't work. The power source for either Caster's magic didn't flow through circuits, but through the world itself. The thaumaturgy that Assassin had on hand was incomparable to what Caster utilized. Forcing himself through might have worked if he wasn't literally one of the weakest Heroic Spirits. And as for dealing with the source…
Before Archer or Caster could react, an enhanced bullet violated the space between a muzzle and the Princess, travelling the distance between the two in what seemed like an instant… no.
That wasn't entirely true. The distance wasn't covered entirely. In the final few meters to Caster, the bullet was restrained and incinerated into less than slag by invisible forces, slowing down just enough for the two to notice that it had existed in the first place before vanishing like a dying ember.
Archer had been surprised by the display. Caster had not.
"Help her. I have things covered here." The woman didn't bother looking at him, preferring to focus on her new temporary project.
His eyes lingered on the woman for another second, his expression unreadable, and then he was off.
"Can't you do anything?" Luvia yelled to Illya. "You're both Grails!"
"Don't compare us to one another! I was refined from birth to be one! Sakura was a half assed experiment made by Zouken with partial knowledge on the system! I barely know where to begin to look for what's causing this, and even then I doubt I'm able to do anything about it in time!" Illya shouted back.
It was a miracle that the two girls had managed to stay on the same rooftop as Sakura. Their respective bulls were, to put it lightly, scared shitless of their comrade and were extremely reluctant to be anywhere near the ebony chaos that was slowly spewing from her.
Archer landed right next to Illya, shocking her by his unexpected appearance.
"Shi-Archer!" The girl caught herself. As much as she wanted to, she knew that there was a time and place for calling him certain names.
"Anything in particular I should worry about?" he demanded evenly, as if there was no relationship between them.
She paused for a moment to regain her bearings. "I… no. She suddenly lost control over herself and has been like this since. Our bulls ran away from her almost immediately, but her powers crippled the one she was on…"
Thump. Said bull just collapsed, its heavy body shaking the floor beneath them. No one bothered to ask if it was dead.
"… Killed the one she was on," Illya corrected herself, watching with morbid fascination as the creature's body was falling apart right in front of them.
"Lovely." Archer grimaced, taking a step forward even though every nerve and instinct in his body screamed at him to do the opposite. As of that moment, Sakura was essentially the consumer of Servants and Heroic Spirits. The black miasma she emitted was lethal to his kind. A single brush against it could kill even the mightiest of heroes with ease save for a select few.
Thankfully, or not, he wasn't a genuine Heroic Spirit.
"Sakura! Can you hear me?!" he shouted as he got closer. If this worked from a distance, it would be ideal, but then again his luck never held out the way he wanted.
All it would take is one shot. Quick. Clean. Painless. She wouldn't feel a thing.
I don't want you to forget anymore.
His teeth clenched in annoyance.
"It. Hurts," Sakura gasped out, sinking to the ground as what remained of the bull under her deteriorated. "It hurts. So empty."
Good news was that she was still lucid. Bad news was that as she spoke, ominous red and black ribbons started to snake out from the cloud of corrupted power she was emitting.
Without even thinking, he manifested a copy of Rule Breaker in his right hand and tossed it right in front of her. "Sakura! Use the dagger! It should negate what's happening to you!"
"Dagger?" Her head swayed as though she was drunk, eyes blurry from the pain, it should be considered a miracle that she noticed the Noble Phantasm skid to a stop in front of her. "Oh. This. I remember. Shirou said…"
Barely able to pick up the multicolored weapon, the girl stared at it as if she had never seen anything like it before. Then, with one hand, she sloppily brought it down on one of her thighs.
The results were instant. The cloud dispersed and dissipated around her. Everyone let out a sigh of relief as the oppressive aura that had been suffocating them had lightened up…
"Did you really assume it would be that easy?"
… Only to return in full force, as strong as it had been just moments before.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Sakura hunched over, her body reeling as though she had just been sucker punched.
"Caster!" Archer snarled angrily.
"Don't be so put out Archer. With the sample of Avenger I have in my possession, I could have done much more to the girl," the smug witch purred. "I could have made it so that I would drain the power that's already accumulated in her. Or, even better, I could pour all of what I've gathered into her and let her go out of control. Wouldn't that be interesting to watch?"
He didn't bother to grace her with a reply. His attention and his senses were instead occupied once more by Sakura, who seemed to be in less control over herself than before.
Just one shot and it will all be over.
"It hurts! Shirou! It hurts! Make it stop!" the girl pleaded, crawling up into a ball in a vain and childish attempt to relieve the pain
"Think. Think you idiot. You're the only one that can do something now. Use that conniving head of yours that everyone is afraid of for something productive for once." Desperation, a rare emotion skittered across his nerves as he went over his options.
The whole mess would be over when they killed the Witch, but he didn't know how long that would take and how much longer Sakura could last. Even then, there was a good chance that things could get worse before they were better.
He wasn't a Caster. He couldn't set up a bounded field that could somehow prevent the Witch's spell from reenacting again. Lancer might have been able to do something with his runes, but he wasn't on their side sadly, and their Princess was preoccupied with Assassin. He didn't have any Noble Phantasms that could help either, or rather, he didn't know if he had any until he knew just how the hell Sakura was being cursed. Rule Breaker, the normal go-to solution, was only a temporary fix in this case. The moment Sakura stabbed herself to relieve the issue, the Witch would simply just…!
"Stupid." He cursed at himself for missing an obvious solution. "Sakura! Stab yourself again!"
"What the hell is that supposed to do?! That's barely a temporary solution!" Luvia shouted at Archer.
"Shirou?" The cursed girl was so weak that she had trouble speaking loud enough to be heard.
"Just do it!" he snapped. "It'll work! Trust me!"
'Trust me' he said. Those two words were ironic on far too many levels for those listening save the one he was addressing. It was almost insulting.
And yet they got through to her. Her hands shaking uncontrollably, Sakura somehow managed to grab hold of the dagger she had dropped earlier and managed to push the tip into her leg once more.
The instant the darkness was gone, Archer was right next to her, holding the girl's hand on the dagger and keeping it embedded in her leg.
There was a brief flicker moments later. As though the girl had pulsed a purely rancid power…
But it was simply that. A flicker. A brief instant and nothing more.
He let out a slow sigh of relief. It had been a gamble, but his guess had been right.
"What?!" It appeared as though the Witch was as surprised as Illya and Luvia. "What did you do? Answer me, Archer!"
He didn't bother answering her, keeping his focus on Sakura and the dagger still embedded in her body.
Rule Breaker. Such an absurdly lopsided Noble Phantasm. Its passive ability to cancel out mysteries was truly a miracle in itself. A single stab of it could nullify even the contract between Master and Servant…
… And remaining in contact with the blade could render the "victim" completely immune to nearly any and all curses that was imposed on it.
Of course, doing so nullified the enchantments that the Princess had cast earlier, rendering her subtle to Rider's eyes and Bloodfort Andromeda, AND Sakura now had to always keep hold of or be stabbed by the tip of the weapon to ensure her safety, but sacrifices had to be made. Bottom line was she had to be more careful for the rest of the night while making sure to be always stabbed by a dagger.
It sounded bad when he thought about it, but she should be able to manage. Hell, thinking back on it, that scenario doesn't even break his top thirty worst.
Then again, a good portion of that list involved Primate Murder and or ORT.
"Oi. Sakura. Are you with me? Speak up." Archer gently patted the girl's back to bring her back to reality.
"Ngh." She swayed about in a daze, focusing more on her breathing than most people should. "I… might. My body still hurts and my circuits are worse. What…?"
"Just do what everyone else does if something goes bad tonight. Blame Caster," he answered honestly, keeping the dagger stable and in her leg. "She's manipulating you via the Grail. Keep yourself stabbed. Rule Breaker will take care of the rest."
"… Ngh? Again using my tools! How insulting can you be?!" Caster was no doubt frustrated in the fact that her own dagger was being used against her. More than that, even she probably did not think that her tactics could be countered in such a way. "Fine! The girl was going to die regardless!"
A black and gassy miasma that, while nowhere near as ominous as the substance that came from Sakura, was still very concerning began to materialize into existence on virtually every rooftop in the area. It was as if the vents and exhaust themselves had all turned on to exhume as much of the unnatural compound as possible.
Skeletons began to manifest. Each with tools that were paltry compared to what Archer had in stock, but in numbers that could not be ignored.
Or rather, they should not have been ignored, but were regardless as a newer model of warriors towered above its rank and file brethren.
A dragon? An experiment? Or were they memories that were so degraded in time that the blueprint they were based off of were as tarnished as their resulting image?
Standing at well over eight meters, the monstrosities towered over everyone and everything there. They were made of the same corrupted bones as their lesser kind, albeit a bit thicker, and possessed no flesh as well…
But their upper bodies was some amalgamation of human and dragonic skeletons. Arms that devolved into claws. Jaws that devolved into fangs. Mismatched ribs and shoulders that did not appear right on either frame. Their entire setup was simply wrong, and yet it worked thanks to the ancient mysteries that animated them without fail.
"Do not assume I spent all my time pandering at failed schemes and mysteries. I have more power at my disposal than all of you worms combined!"
"Of course she does." Archer sighed, eyes darting left and right wildly. "Luvia! Illya!"
"Take care of the big ones!" Illya frowned as she pulled four silver hairs from her head with both hands and flicked them out in one practiced motion. Instantly, four small blue birds composed of glowing wires hovered about her, shooting tiny bolts of prana at any and every skeleton that got within range, oneshotting each and every target.
"These cheap toys are not worth fretting over!" Luvia agreed from the other side of the building. Unlike Illya, she had decided to go on the offensive, urging her bull into the fray while firing off Fin curses rapidly. The few arrows shot at her from the golems that managed to survive were easily repelled by the gem powered bounded field around her.
Archer repressed a sigh as he looked around warily. Individually, Luvia was right. The golems were worthless things. Even a talentless Shirou Emiya was able to trounce them one on one with some effort. To those with actual experience, even a hundred of them would cause no issue in terms of power and ability.
It was the numbers and positioning that had him annoyed. These toys were too easy and cheap to manufacture. An unending army. Caster had turned the battle into one of attrition, something that she would eventually win.
"I don't suppose you are able to fight back with the dagger in you." He glanced down at Sakura with an unreadable gaze as his bow materialized in his off hand. From what everyone's claimed, the girl was probably capable of wiping out these things faster than he was. More importantly though…
Sakura grimaced, her breathing still short and shallow from her brief ordeal, before shaking her head. "It's disrupting my prana the instant I try to use my circuits. I'm sorry."
… It would have made it so that he didn't have to constantly protect her. Something he wasn't exactly suited for when surrounded on all sides.
"Don't be. It's not your fault." He didn't bother looking at her as a new blade turned arrow was notched.
Running away was impossible. Having Sakura fight back was also counterproductive as it would just give Caster an opening to exploit. He could blow a hole in the roof, but if Assassin had any more explosives hidden around it would just ensure the girl's death. Plus there was a high chance that Caster could just make more golems inside.
A wide spray of unnaturally broad swords surrounded the surprised girl and impaled the roof. They were spread out in a way that they wouldn't prevent her from leaving if she wanted to, but they'd also stop anyone from getting a clear shot inside. Of course, the simple minded skeletons could always just shoot up blindly and hope their arrows strike her from above, but in that case she'd probably be ignored for the visible targets that actually were fighting back.
Speaking of which…
Taking aim in a fraction of an instant, Archer couldn't help but let a small smirk pass his lips. No matter what world he was in, the brat known as Shirou Emiya was an annoying pain in the ass. This world was no different in that regard. However at the very least, this one…
… Had a useful trick or two that he managed to pick up from the bleeding effect.
The shot he fired was akin to an unholy marriage between a shotgun shell and an overpowered rifle round, only instead of pellets, they were said rifle rounds. In one release, the spray of sword arrows he unleashed had simultaneously eradicated all of the skeleton warriors, large and small on the building in front of him with discrimination.
It took less than ten seconds for the small army to reform itself.
It took less than three for Archer to blast away the populace of the next rooftop over.
"As easy as this looks, I can't do this forever, Caster!" He tilted his head so his voice carried over to his ally as he readied his next shot. The arrows themselves cost next to nothing, but enchanting them to duplicate to such high numbers did make them cost a bit more. He could do this for a while, but if an enemy Servant came it would better for him to have as much prana as possible in reserve.
The Princess didn't bother to say anything as she focused on her bounded field. She didn't recognize or notice the small slew of arrows that some of the golems had shot at her from behind, nor did she react as said projectiles were immolated by the field she had set up around herself.
She did frown a bit as another charged bullet hammered into the field several inches from her face before stopping in place and turning into slag.
She simply stayed in place, chanting at an almost impossibly low volume to the world around her.
Just a little bit more time. She had to be patient. She couldn't act rashly or else the Witch would figure out what she was doing.
She had to give everyone the impression that she was simply trying to keep Assassin locked in place and nothing else.
o. o. o.
"Things are turning towards an interesting path."
"Mmm." Merem watched from far above in the sky on his flying limb. "Shirou's paranoia is probably his greatest asset in this battle."
"Don't let him hear you say that. We're on thin enough ice as it is." The King of Rats chuckled, as absorbed in the multiple bouts as his creator. "I still can't believe he tore into Fina's subordinate as viciously as he did."
"Heh. Me neither." Merem cracked a grin at the memory. He had actually laughed loud and hard at the performance from earlier, seen from a rat in a nearby drain gutter. The look of surprise on the slave's face, completely flat footed. Professional his ass. Van Fem would no doubt go out of his way to meet Shirou just for that beautiful bit of entertainment.
"Still… at the rate things are moving, he might still need a bit of extra help," the Left Arm mused, observing everything carefully. "Caster did technically break the ceasefire first."
"Mmm, but you know Shirou is rather touchy when it comes to people interfering with his plans. Had he not had a connection with nearly everyone in this war, he probably would have eliminated more than half the competition by now." Merem brushed aside the suggestion.
"Oh no. I wasn't suggesting something as severe as interference." The Rat shook his head. "I merely think that it would be best if we… aided in tying a few loose ends a bit tighter for him. Nothing too significant."
The Ancestor paused for a moment before finally tearing his eyes away from the show below. "Oh? You mean to suggest that you yourself wish to partake in the activities below? That's rather rare."
The "kindly old priest" smiled genuinely, before sticking out his tongue mockingly, revealing the unnatural checkerboard pattern on its flesh. "The Lord's aid comes in many forms after all. Sometimes it is needed, sometimes it is not, but it is always for the benefit of his children."
o. o. o.
(Music: Fate Zero OST: The Battle is to the Strong)
A single clash of weapons. And they separated.
Three seconds later, another clash. Another disengagement.
One. Half. Two. Half. Half. One.
Rapid skirmishes that repeated as fast as they ended. Travelling up and down the road alongside the Mountain. Back and forth. Scattering sparks along the street like small geysers of fireflies in the night.
A cursed blade met an unholy nail and chain.
The nail and chain were cut through with impossible ease… no, they were severed the instant they came in contact with the blade, allowing it to pass through the space between the separated parts with no interruption. The remains scraping against the flats of the victorious weapon as they passed. The sound of metal on metal invading the silence of the night.
The wielder of the butchered tools moved a bare centimeter out of the way of the edge of the tool that destroyed her weapons, and subsequently contorted out of the path of its matching partner. The maneuver prevented her from accurately lashing out with a kick that would have crushed the skull of her opponent.
The fighters passed one another, another failed attempt at the other's life. But it was far from the last.
Both kept moving, turning with the momentum they gathered. Prana was gathered. Tools were repaired. Bodies were reinforced. Eyes narrowed.
This was how Shirou and Rider had fought since they started. A never ending series of single passes that had them gambling with death every time.
It was a battle between two forces that did not possess the ability to stop the other without severely risking themselves.
Critically low on Prana she may be, but Rider was still a Servant. The legendary Gorgon, Medusa. Her speed was leagues above what mankind would ever achieve naturally, and her strength could easily destroy bones and bodies with even a glancing blow. Even while performing while at best a fifth of her normal potential, she should have been more than enough to take down any human, magus or not, with her raw physical prowess, and with her eyes uncovered, the fight genuinely should have been over on the first pass.
Weapons crashed. Bodies moved. And once more both combatants still stood, already on the move for the next round.
Rider had lost count of the count at around twenty, and that had been far too long ago.
How was it that Shirou was still able to keep up with her?
"Hah. Hah. Ngh." His lungs were on fire, desperate to supply oxygen to the blood in his body as he pushed it farther than should be possible. His limbs shouldn't have been able to move under the combined stress of his exhaustion and Rider's petrifying gaze.
The Princess' enchantments prevented him from turning to stone, but he was still slowed down.
His body was still in pain from overusing his circuits, but Avalon was perpetually healing him.
His body warmed up as he reinforced his twisted body to the limits.
His heart seared as his speed was constantly placed in double time…
… But that wasn't enough.
It shouldn't have been enough.
They turned around. Silver eyes met jewel eyes.
So how was he able to keep up?
Rider had seen him spar with Saber what felt like an eternity ago. When he quadrupled his speed and pushed himself to the limits, it had given her an idea of what his limits were. They were impressive for a human's, but that was it. That was his max. Half of that was far below what he was at now, and yet here he was moving at only double speed instead of quadruple and still keeping up. He shouldn't have been able to improve his performance by this degree in so short a time.
But that ultimately shouldn't matter. With Caster as her Master, she was gaining more prana than expending in the end. Her performance had nowhere to go but up.
Just a little faster, and he'll die…
Just a little faster, and I'll be able to keep up…
He had always respected Rider's speed. Saber had declared hands down that the blindfolded woman was the fastest out of all of the Servants summoned, even without Pegasus.
When Rider had more or less treated his demonstration of his max enhanced abilities against Saber as something adorable or cute, he had taken it somewhat personally. According to Saber, he was at least fast enough to hold his own for a short time.
He wanted to smack Saber upside the head for not including Rider in her general assessment. Even while running on fumes, Rider's speed was nothing short of absurdly unfair. If she had been at full strength he would have been killed before the word "go" reached his ears.
He was using everything he could think of to his advantage.
Natalia was a horrifically overpowered tool for this fight. Rider's nameless nail and chain put up no resistance to the thaumaturgic properties it held. Her body did not have that weakness, but it was still susceptible to being sliced as easily as any other body of flesh and blood should they make contact. She already had a small number of weeping cuts on her body from when she underestimated their nature early on. She had not made the same mistake since.
He reinforced his body far beyond what he normally thought possible. Filling and oversaturating every fiber of muscle and fragment of bone with power.
He temporally accelerated himself to double speed. He could go higher, but he wouldn't be able to last long if he did.
The moon was just past being full and there were only a handful of clouds out. It was a good night to be outside.
Every time they passed, Rider had to use her drained reserves to reconstruct her broken tools.
Every time they passed, Rider had to abandon her attempt to destroy his body with a single blow in order to avoid his counterattack with his offhand blade, lest she be crippled or worse. Her body was already sporting a small collection of paper thin cuts all over.
Every time they passed, Rider's features became just a hair more monstrous, and some of Shirou's facial features became less human, with scaled skin and sharpened teeth. Their faces scrunched up in frustration and inhuman annoyance.
She likely would have been able to get a solid hit in had she followed through, but the same was true for Shirou. The two focused on low risk high reward tactics. Exposing themselves like that wasn't in their best interests.
But Shirou had the advantage at mid-range battle with his magic, and she no longer had her mount available, so this was the best she could do for now.
The fight had devolved into a never ending series of skirmishes. Small bouts that compounded into a battle of attrition.
It was something that played against both of them, and was not in their best interests.
Every time they passed, Rider had just a bit more power.
Every time they passed, Shirou lost himself just a bit more to instincts that were not his.
Every time they passed, somewhere in the city, Berserker was recovering.
Just a little more and Rider would kill him.
Just a little more and Shirou would be able to keep up.
From an outsider's perspective that didn't know any better, it was a battle between Servants, or Monsters. The two labels were interchangeable by this point, as their performance was anything but human. There was little to no lull between one pass and the next. Sparks and fragments of chains flew in every direction as the two animals wove around one another with their metallic fangs born and their alien gazes ignoring everything but the other.
Had anyone bothered to keep notes or measurements, they would have noticed that Shirou, despite only moving at double time, had already surpassed what he normally performed when at triple.
It was a fight to the death that neither one of them wanted, yet, they were the only ones that they could vent their frustrations out on. A cruel and sick irony that they could have done without.
And it was also a fight that Shirou could have ended at any time. All he needed to do was summon a copy of Rule Breaker and Rider would be forced to kill herself.
But he didn't. Instead he fought.
There was a limit to how many openings could be exploited in a single pass. Rider had long since realized that Shirou knew that better than her. The seemingly easy shot to the back of his head nearly left her gutted from navel to chest. She abandoned the attack just in time to brush the hair on the back of his head just as he left a small cut on her stomach.
Shriou almost didn't manage to turn in time for the next pass. Rider was on top of him almost instantly, but his arms had been moving before he had even noticed something was wrong, training, reflexes, and Archer's experience all coming to play to save his life, allowing him the fraction of a second needed to get out of the way in time.
He did not look away. Even if he was going to die.
It was bound to happen.
Rider's performance had nowhere to go but up from the beginning, but Shirou was perpetually pushing his limits far beyond what his body was designed for. Sooner or later he was going to slip or lose ground. It was an inevitable conclusion.
His muscles clenched painfully as he turned, and something in his left knee fractured. His body seized up, his teeth clamped down, and for just a moment, he stalled.
It was more than a big enough opening for Rider to exploit.
A hand shot out like a snake, grabbing his right hand with hold of a viper's maw and yanked him forward.
His free left hand barely had enough time to slice through the nail that had been coming around to impale his spine, but as a result he had left his stomach to the explosion of pain that came with the Servant's knee.
"AHK!? Ka?!" He folded in half. Air rushed out of his lungs first, but it was soon followed by stomach acid and what felt like half the organs in his body.
It hurt. Oh god did it hurt. Several of his ribs snapped despite the reinforced clothes and enhanced body he had. In the back of his mind, he genuinely wondered if he had actually been split in half, as the pain unanimously seemed to cut right through him from front to back.
His mind didn't seem to process the sight of Rider's other leg as it came to crush his skull in as her first left his diaphragm, but thankfully his eyes and reflexes made up for that. Both copies of Maya came up with the flat sides spread out to protect his head just in time to serve as a metallic buffer between Rider's leg and its target.
Both blades shattered under the blow, but dispersed just enough force for the damage to not be instantly be lethal.
Shirou didn't know how far he flew. Only that Rider had hit him hard enough that by the time his addled brain caught up to the fact that he had been hit in the first place, he was still in the process of skidding through the streets like a rag doll. Had he not reinforced his body and coat beforehand, he was certain that he, and his clothes, would be torn apart from the friction with the asphalt.
He was still alive. He still hurt all over, but that meant that he still had "all over" to begin with, so theoretically he could still use "all over" and fight…
A trickle of prana tingled all over his body. A blueprint entered his mind.
Good. He was still intact. A good portion of his body was injured, but he had Avalon. He would get better…
Warning. Diaphragm and stomach heavily damaged. Internal systems unable to support continued activity…
He felt his insides shred slightly as they turned to blades, roughly stitching itself back together in a patchwork job. His broken ribs lurched painfully back into place, the pieces latching onto one another like locking pieces of metal. It would do more harm than good in the long term, especially if he kept on moving like this, but he had to live through the short term first for that to happen. Besides, it didn't hurt nearly as bad as when his heart was reformed. He'd be able to manage this.
He coughed out a wad of blood and forced his lungs to breathe. He made his nerves to ignore the signals his destroyed solar plexus was telling his body. He needed air more than the warning that he had been hurt.
His body had slowed down enough that he managed to reflexively flip back onto his feet while skidding backwards, a trick that Bazett had literally beaten into him when she first started to train him.
He was still reinforced, but his temporal augmentation was gone. The latter required constant attention in order to remain enacted while the former could last a while if done right. Sadly he didn't have time to scrounge up the focus to use the Emiya Crest right now.
Rider was closing in fast.
But fighting at midrange was to his advantage. Rider was fast and strong, but she wasn't capable of firing off Noble Phantasms like bullets.
The world of blades shifted. His hands flexed to grab onto a new set of Natalia…
His fists clenched, empty.
It really said something when Shirou's perception of time slowed down more than it had when he had been speeding himself up with time magic just moments earlier.
Blood drained from his face. His stomach felt suddenly bottomless despite it being on fire just an instant before. He could feel his heart beat unnaturally slowly. His nerves fired off in alarm.
Something was different. Something was on his arm that wasn't there before.
It was deceivingly harmless looking. A swath of purple colored leather, banded and seamless, wrapped around his right arm.
He had seen it before. Only instead of on a wrist, it had been covering Rider's eyes.
Rider's third Noble Phantasm.
Of all her various resources, Breaker Gorgon was Rider's least notable, and yet, arguably her most versatile. A bounded field that could only target a single person at a time, it could do one of many things, or many things at once, depending on how and when it was used.
It could serve as Mystic Eye Killers. A mental prison of euphoria.
But in this case, a lock. A barrier between worlds. Between this world…
… And Unlimited Blade Works.
Shirou was unable to trace weapons.
It had happened when she pulled him in right after he had slipped up. The instant her hand grabbed his wrist, her Noble Phantasm, and victory was secured. All she had needed was that one opening and everything fell into place.
By the time he had put it all together, Rider was right on top of him once more.
Her weapon was drawn.
He was helpless. He wouldn't be able to move in time and he had nothing to defend himself with.
Her arm struck down.
The rattling of chains snaked through the cool winter air.
Her dagger struck nothing.
The sound of chains had not come from Rider.
"What?" The Servant could not help but voice her confusion as Shirou was yanked away from her by something she couldn't see faster than she could react to…
A shimmer of gold caught her eyes, and her mind managed to catch up.
Linking all the way back to the still struggling Pegasus, Enkidu retracted rapidly, dragging its wielder with it, wrapped around his chest and arms under his coat, and sticking out of the back like a trick harness.
The reason why he had the chain on him when he couldn't produce any weapons was because he had had Gilgamesh's precious treasure on him since the beginning. A final gambit, not as a weapon, but a supplementary tool to expand his range of tactics, and more importantly, enable him to cheaply move with a degree of speed and flexibility that surpassed what he could manage on his own.
If he didn't know that it would piss almost everyone he knew off, he would freely admit that he got the idea from playing that God of War video game that Sirius gave him a while back. Fiction or not, the Blades of Chaos were bloody versatile and useful things to work with.
Even so, Enkidu was a rather peculiar Noble Phantasm. So long as two of the three main parts existed, the two ends and the center chain link, it could produce and erase any link on its body without fail almost instantly. Even if one end was shattered, he could reproduce it almost instantly for a minimal cost so long as the bulk of it was still on him.
Even more interestingly was that it was a Noble Phantasm that didn't seem to care when multiple copies of itself existed. If two links of Enkidu existed, then by some mystery that even Shirou couldn't figure out, the pair could be united and connected as one instantly. Both were "Enkidu" and could function as separate existences, but at the same time, they were still "Enkidu", the singular shared existence.
It was an interesting mystery to be sure, but not Shirou's field of expertise. In the end he simply chalked it up as: "Since it was Gilgamesh's most prized treasure, there should be no question that it has a peculiar trait like this."
He clenched his teeth. He couldn't trace. He had no Noble Phantasms on him save a copy of Rule Breaker and Enkidu. He could still perform basic thaumaturgy on himself, and Avalon was healing him, but he didn't want to risk using his time mysteries anymore than he needed. Breaker Gorgon was on his right hand, but it was a Noble Phantasm of a similar nature to Bloodfort Andromeda, though more of a "Sealed World" bounded field rather than an "Enveloped World". Rule Breaker wouldn't get rid of it.
On the other side of things, Rider was slowly growing in power and catching up, but she no longer had any Noble Phantasms to rely on, not that she needed them anymore to kill him. She knew he had Enkidu and would be prepared for it now. She had super strength, but her speed was what was most dangerous.
He had five seconds left before he reached the Pegasus and ran out of time.
His right hand slipped into his coat pocket and fumbled with one of the objects inside. He had wanted to use this in a better setup, but beggars weren't choosers.
Rider had nearly caught up to him again. He could feel his body stiffen in close proximity to her eyes again and grimaced in annoyance and frustration. That bitch Caster must have put in an absurd amount of effort to ensure that Rider followed her every order like this.
But then again, sometimes being overly eager to finish a job could have consequences.
With less than a second left, Shirou withdrew the item from his pocket and tossed it up at eye level between them before quickly crossing his arms in front of his body, looking away, and pouring probably more Prana than was healthy into his ear canals to plug them.
It was a black cylindrical device. Rider had never seen its like before in her life. However, despite that she had recognized it almost instantly from its use.
After all, she had been subjected to and been present almost countless times in this tactic's use before… with Assassin.
"Shi-!" Rider's curse was cut off as the enhanced flashbang, curtesy of Sirius McGinty, went off violently as Shirou had pulled the pin prematurely in his pocket. Not a product of thaumaturgy, but definitely modified by it.
It might have been designed as a flashbang, but the impact of the explosion still knocked the air out of the teen's extremely tender stomach, knocking him back and over violently, stopping just a few meters away from the startled Phantasmal Beast.
But that was nothing compared to the effect it had on Rider, who actually did shout in alarm and pain as her normally covered eyes and sensitive ears were assaulted by the armament. Had she been virtually any other Servant, the bomb would have only bought Shirou only a few moments, but with her blindfold off for the first time in who knows how long, and her enhanced hearing, having it go off less than a meter away from her head was devastatingly effective. Unused to being attacked or damaged in such a way, the beautiful Servant collapsed and clenched at her head in unexpected pain she was experiencing.
Rolling to his feet again, Shirou weighed his two options for the briefest of moments. He could either wrap Rider up in Enkidu, using it up in the process, or run away.
The first was very tempting, as it would prevent Rider from fighting back or killing herself if he decided to use Rule Breaker. Most Magi would consider this the obvious choice.
Most Magi were, in his opinion, fucking idiots.
Rider had just gotten the upper hand and was on the verge of victory. There was no way that Caster wouldn't be watching to see his death, meaning if he tried something as obvious as taking back Rider now, Caster would intervene at the last moment with his defenses down and kill him easily.
All things considered, the Witch must be incredibly put out that he managed to shut down Rider like this, even if it was only temporarily. Then again, it wasn't his problem. Quite the opposite really.
He clenched his right hand and flexed his fingers. Four cheap rings made of crystal were on it. Just like the last time he assaulted the temple.
He shattered the ones on his index and middle one without a second thought as he staggered to the center of the rooftop. It had only been a few moments since Rider had landed her two kick combo on him and his body was reeling something fierce. Staying anywhere near the edge was no different than asking to be killed.
The connection between the chains on his body and the ones around the Pegasus vanished as he whipped his right arm back and threw it forward, extending the end of Enkidu sticking out of his sleeve and launching it like a whip. A second later, the golden tip impaled itself in the concrete that made up the roof of the devastated building next to him, all but collapsing thanks to Rider's earlier Hail Mary attempt on his life. It shouldn't have stuck so firmly to the building, but then again it was a Noble Phantasm of the highest quality and Shirou wasn't going to complain about that.
"Ngh." Retracting the chains rapidly to elevate himself to the rooftops of the town, he silently would admit to the jerking agony that putting all his weight and then some into one arm was worth complaining about. Had he not reinforced himself, his arm would no doubt have dislocated already.
Just a little bit longer. That's all he needed.
He grimaced as his feet slammed onto the side of the building as he shot up, sending a jolt into his very much not healed body.
Mysteries were nifty things, but if they weren't designed for certain laws of physics, then said laws would make themselves known quite blatantly. He had started off a dozen or so meters away from the vertical side, and unlike certain comic book heroes who could use grappling hooks, web, magic or whatever to scale buildings, he seemed to be susceptible to gravity, and thus was swung into the damaged wall somewhere between the second and third floors.
He clicked his tongue in annoyance. Because the chain he launched was embedded into the side of the building, simply pulling himself up would only get him to said point and no higher. He'd have to be a bit more creative…
The rattling of chains from below sent a cold chill down his spine.
… Sooner rather than later.
Not caring if he dislocated his arm, he doubled the rate he was being pulled up, making sure to keep his feet between himself and the wall, essentially sliding to the sky. Not even a meter to where his anchor was, he mentally commanded the end to "let go" of the building, launching him up with no connection to the world around him with enough velocity to have him well over four meters above the top of the structure he was scaling.
Wasting no time, he whipped out his left arm, throwing the other end of Enkidu into the rooftop in front of him and pulling him down again onto stable ground and out of the way of the nail that Rider threw at him just moments earlier.
He landed hard. He did roll into it, but the angle he came in at was off due to the pulling of the chain, making it awkward.
"Kah. Hah. Hah." Everything hurt. His chest was on fire. His stomach was a pool of magma. His limbs were made of lead. His head felt like it was perpetually exploding and felt swollen on the right side. His eyes were the same. His heart seemed to do nothing but pump more agony into his system. Every time he breathed, he could feel his insides tear themselves apart.
He wouldn't be able to last much longer. Fighting a Servant head on like that was stupid, but it was the only way to ensure that Caster didn't focus more on Rin and kill the easy target.
"You, are surprisingly difficult to kill, boy." Caster's clearly irritated voice permeated the air. She spoke as though she had trouble deciding what she should be feeling.
Don't reply. She's trying to distract you. His experience took over and he prepared himself to move in a moment's notice. He forced his breathing to steady itself despite how badly he needed oxygen. He forced his heart to pace itself. His eyes never stayed still. His senses reached out as far as they could go.
"That useful chain of yours is something new. Even I can tell it is not a treasure that can simply be overlooked. A trophy from your encounter with the King of Heroes, I take it?" she continued, not expecting him to speak anyways. "You have adequate taste, though I suppose that should be expected. You have long since proven to be more resourceful and adept than most."
Where would Rider be more likely to strike? From the damaged end of the building where there were more footholds? Or from the undamaged side where she would be less likely to make a sound? Had she recovered enough strength to attack him from below, through the roof itself?
"But that chain is all you have left now, isn't it? Save for maybe another copy of my dagger? If that's so, then maybe Rider is no longer needed…" A familiar black miasma covered the rooftop around Shirou, soon accompanied by dozens of skeleton warriors…
He moved on reflex. No, he moved at the guidance of the chain he possessed. His right arm flared out, moving as though he was giving a command more than utilizing a technique. In one grandiose gesture, Enkidu extended without limit, weaving about with a silky metallic rattle.
"Then again, I suppose it was wise that I didn't have my hopes up." The Witch sighed.
Each and every skeleton warrior on the building was ensnared by the single length of golden chain. None of them had been given an opportunity to retaliate, and none of them had the ability or potential to break out of their bonds.
"You're annoying." Shirou grunted. A single twitch later, the chain retracted instantly. Coils that were wrapped around the golems snapped taught, breaking all of his prisoners in one move.
"Oh? There's that dangerous look again. You really are something else, child. One could even say, inhuman." The Witch made a sound as though she was clearly amused with her comment. "Small wonder Rider has held onto that paltry hope that you could "save" her somehow. Just like you did with her Master. A fool that goes out of his way for mistakes and monsters."
On one of the far corners, a black and purple blur shot up into the sky before landing silently on the edge. A familiar feeling clamped down on Shirou's body as jeweled eyes once more bore down on him.
"NGH!?" Shirou turned to ready himself to move, but stopped short as the air stilled around him. The natural kinetic energy within the gasses surrounding his body no longer existed, freezing him in place, barely allowing enough flow for him to breathe.
"Now now. You didn't think that Rider and Assassin were the only ones to lay traps on the rooftops, did you? Of course, I had intended them to be for my fellow Servants, but having you ensnared is just as good. Cutting the head off the snake will make things so much easier, no pun intended, Rider." Caster all but laughed in triumph.
He struggled against the spell. His circuits flared, and he pushed out as much Prana as he could to disrupt the trap, but the best he could do was move a miniscule distance at any given time, and breathe. "You…"
"It really was a good attempt. I had to put in a good deal of effort to hold off Berserker for as long as I did, procrastinating his troubling revival. Keeping tabs on Assassin. Stalling your comrades. And I must applaud you for your maneuver with Lancer." Caster materialized mid-speech, hovering in the air right in front of him with a victorious smirk on her face. "Really, teaching Saber runecraft to preemptively cast that crude curse of his? That was a rather vile and brilliant move of yours, boya. Had I not known better, I might have even offered you a place at my side. It is going to be a shame to waste your devious mind."
She floated confidently towards him, a predatory gaze lingered in her eyes, just barely visible from under her hood. A hand emerged from her robes, holding onto the original Rule Breaker.
"But don't be disappointed. I'll be sure to keep Saber around. Out of all of the Servants, she appears to be the most useful and loyal, wouldn't you agree?"
Shirou grimaced and struggled more in the trap. His right arm, already injured from pulling himself up the building, finally dislocated, though it didn't do him much good.
"And oh the things I'll do with your body," she continued, just a few meters away from him now. "Such a unique resource. I don't think I'll ever be bored playing with it in my utopia."
"I'm too young for you, lady," he managed to grumble out irritably while still trying to break free.
The confident smirk waned a bit at the age comment. "Your mouth on the other hand, I can do without."
The woman paused she felt something suddenly change. It was though something had been severed.
An instant later, a towering pillar of fire erupted a moderate distance away.
"Assassin…?" The Witch's eyes widened in surprise before turning to him in anger. "You surprise me. I thought you wanted to kill only me."
"Kiritsugu Emiya is dead. I was next to him when he passed." Shirou glowered back, his eyes filled with murderous resolution.
"As will be the case with you and I, boy." His body stretched, arms splayed out despite his protests and pain. The dagger rose over his left arm…
… His single Command Seal glowed in the darkness with residual power. He wasn't even making an effort to use it in some way.
It was his eyes that gave him away. There was no desperation in them. Anger, rage, fury, focus, annoyance, yes… but there was also patience and a cold calm. It wasn't the eyes of someone that that stripped of all hope and options, or ones of a person that was still fighting against fate with all their might.
Caster froze. She didn't like his look. She shouldn't dally. Without Assassin, the only things she had left to keep Archer and her counterpart in line were her army of fragile skeleton warriors and a few well-placed bounded fields that would only stall them for a few moments. If she wanted to utilize Bloodfort Andromeda, she would have to do so soon if ever.
She had him. She had him she had him she had him! He was trapped! He couldn't make any weapons! He was separated from everyone! He couldn't summon Saber! He was surrounded by two Servants and he was just a human!
So why?! Why was she suddenly filled with terror as if she was the one that had been cornered?!
It was a bluff. It had to be a bluff! "What did you do, boy?"
Silver eyes looked up at her. It was only then that she noticed how twisted his image had become. A good third of his head was covered in some metallic scale like flesh. The teeth hidden under said flesh did not belong to a human, or any animal, as they shone with a metallic glint that no living being possessed.
"… You, aren't very good at this."
Was it instinct? Maybe her paranoia enhanced her senses. Or perhaps her connection with Rider allowed her to pick it up in time.
All she knew was that her body moved before she realized something was wrong.
And her chest exploded in blood.
o. o. o.
Assassin frowned in the heat. If he had the liberty of time, he might have been able to possibly deconstruct or make a hole in Caster's bounded field, but he had never worked with mysteries from the Age of the Gods before.
He couldn't escape. The bounded field was too powerful, and it extended all the way underground, so he couldn't use the sewers, parking garage, or internal maintenance tunnels to get away.
They were wasting time and resources. The Witch was preoccupied, but not blind. She knew his situation and didn't care. So long as he kept the Princess busy and wasn't needed for another task, she'd keep him there without a care even if she could easily use a Command Seal to save him.
These children were too green. They were trying too hard to keep everyone alive. They were…
His body stilled as the prana in the building spiked. The heat became unbearable. The power was overwhelming. So oppressive that he could barely feel anything…
So that's how this was going to play out.
o. o. o.
Rin liked to think that she was a capable combatant. She liked to think that with her natural abilities, intellect, and training in martial arts, she was able to deal with any adverse situation given enough time and preparation.
Rin would also like to think that she was not, once again, on the receiving end of a brutal beating courtesy of Bazett.
A large explosion shattered anything fragile in the narrow alleyway, forcing the pair away from one another.
No, that wasn't completely accurate. Rin was holding her own better than normal to be sure, but there was still a gap between their combat abilities.
It didn't change the fact that she was perpetually running away from her opponent out of fear of a potential brutal beating.
Zelretch was the key reason for why the fight had lasted so long to begin with. It was Rin's trump card, something on par with a Noble Phantasm. After her display earlier when she killed Kirei, everyone knew it was the strongest option in her arsenal.
As such, she couldn't use it.
Multiple black orbs penetrated one side of the kicked up dust and emerged out the other side in a blind attempt to hit the Enforcer. Said Enforcer in turn charged forward on her magically enhanced bare feet, holding her arms in front of her and pushed through like a bull. The dirty cloak she wore that barely covered her modesty negated the curses as though they were not even there.
The Irishwoman tore through the cloud of ash and grime, and witnessed three precious gems flying right towards her just as she came out the other side.
An accumulation of roughly three and a half years' worth of prana from Rin erupted, sending crack all along the plaster, concrete, and metal structures around them. The explosion damaged the infrastructure of the buildings. The women would have to move soon or else risk have everything literally fall down on top of them in the process.
Fragarach was a peculiar Noble Phantasm like that. It would only properly counter the opponent's strongest moves. Anything less than that would turn the weapon into a mere D ranked shot. Still somewhat potent, but ultimately a waste that didn't utilize time altering properties.
Until this fight, Rin's strongest attacks had always been her most powerfully charged jewels and perhaps a ritual or two. As a result, she was unable to use them as she had wished in their earlier confrontations.
With that particular tilted scale rectified, the bout between the pair was far closer than before.
Rin rode the blast wave instead of resisting it, allowing to be pushed to the end of the alleyway and turn the corner to a second path. She didn't assume for a second that the blast had been enough to take out Bazett, and she wasn't going to waste the time she had bought to think she could win an upfront fight. Her opponent may have lost the majority of her enhanced clothing, but Caster clearly had made up for it with enchantments from the Age of the Gods.
… Though it did not appear as if Bazett's performance was any greater or less than it was before. Rin didn't know if it was due to instinctual preference or some sort of compatibility with the spells, but all in all she couldn't really see a difference between how her opponent fought now in comparison to their previous confrontations.
As it stood, the only reason why Rin knew she was still doing damage to her opponent was because after every encounter, more and more of Bazett's dirty coverings was torn or burnt off.
This had been how things had progressed since Rin had killed Kirei. The instant the Priest was gone, all of Rin's attention had been on the Enforcer, falling back into the city and using her magic to keep a distance. The enchantments that Caster placed on Bazett did a tremendous job protecting the woman from Rin's attacks even if her choice of attire left much to be desired.
"Tch. Again? These things are almost as infuriating as Kirei!" Rin snarled as she reached out and fired off several Fin curses to destroy the skeleton warriors that were in her way.
Things weren't that straight forward though. In addition to dealing with Bazett, Rin also had to deal with those annoying golems of Caster's that spawned literally everywhere. The teen was almost killed when she was ambushed by three of them that barged out of a nearby window just as Bazett was getting close.
"Rin. How much longer do we have to wait? Caster's spamming her skeleton warriors everywhere and they keep coming. There are too many of these things coming from every angle to hold off forever. The Witch is making colossal warriors too which Illya and Luvia can't deal with easily." Archer's voice caused her to stumble. He wasn't normally the type to start a conversation.
"I'm a little busy at the moment myself. I'm fighting Bazett again."
"Again?" She could hear him almost groan in exasperation.
"I'm not exactly thrilled about it either, but I can handle myself this time. It's not like we didn't predict this might happen." She almost sighed in agreement. "I'm more worried about Sakura. How is she?"
"I managed to figure out a temporary solution, but she can't fight with us as a result. The best she can do is run and hide while the rest hold our own. On the plus side, Caster's managed to trap Assassin. Unless someone big tries to attack her directly, he won't be escaping anytime soon."
"Good." Rin breathed out slowly. At least something had gone their way for once. Still with the way things are going… "Tell Caster to get ready. We might have to move ahead of schedule."
"Is that you or Shirou Emiya saying this?"
Rin would have made a snappish comment, but her instincts had just kicked in at that moment and she had to duck to avoid being bludgeoned by a trash can flying faster than a speeding vehicle. "Shirou's busy with Rider! I couldn't talk to him even if I wanted to!"
She looked around frantically. Bazett was catching up quick. Wasn't this the right alleyway? Damn it! They all look the same!
She rose her arm and readied another barrage of Fin curses. The dark orb hovered over her fingers, but she flinched as Bazett dodged them all, ran to the edge of the area, literally tore out a portion of the brick building next to her with a bare hand, made a fist and then threw her improvised scattershot straight ahead.
"Gah!" Barely managing to defend her vitals in time with her arms, Rin was stunned by the multiple small projectiles. Her reinforced body and enchanted clothes took a good brunt of the damage, but it still hurt something fierce.
The attack stalled the girl long enough for Bazett to close in rapidly before the former could react properly. Before she knew it, the woman was right in front of her with an arm cocked back, her gloves glowing with the runes that covered them…
The only sign that Rin had that something had changed was the rapid dilation of her attacker's perpetually dulled eyes.
The strike intended to crush a part of her body instead shot to Rin's right, grazing her side painfully…
… And barely deflecting the snakelike strike that had almost impaled Bazett's chest.
She didn't know if she had stumbled or was thrown away from the chaos, but the next thing Rin knew she was on her backside with half her body aching and watching with dazed eyes as her attacker was put on the defensive against the newcomer that had saved her life.
Dressed in a casual suit and tie as though he was ready for another day at the office, Souichirou Kuzuki showed no mercy against the Enforcer as he attacked.
Neck. Collar. Diaphragm. The man's movements were too sudden and unreadable for Bazett to keep up with after showing up so suddenly. His body, enchanted by the Princess' magic, ensured that he was able to hit as fast and hard as his opponent without breaking stride.
He didn't bother to turn around and look at Rin. He didn't bother to talk. They were just distractions for the task at hand.
The man had never returned from dinner with Taiga that day, as the latter had complained about the "workload" that she had brought over in combination with the stairs to the temple enough that they had "decided" to move their operations to her place. Since the man had the personality of a blank canvas, it wasn't too surprising that he went along with her requests.
It was a gamble, keeping Kuzuki so far away from the main group when they approached, but it was needed to keep the Witch from noticing him. He was a secret weapon, much like Kirei had been for Caster. Not to be unleashed unless needed.
Ideally, he wasn't even going to be involved if everything went well. He was just a spare body. A backup plan. Someone to help Rin if she and Shirou were separated and she needed to buy time.
All of this had been explained to the man when they asked him for help. He still agreed to join them without a moment's hesitation.
Many in the group had been skeptical of his ability to contribute initially. That was, until the Princess enchanted his body and he sparred against Saber.
Illya had a few choice words to say to her brother being a magnet for terrifying people after the display.
While Bazett was unable to express herself normally due to Caster's spell, it was blatantly clear that she was completely off guard and alarmed at the sudden change of events as her movements grew increasingly erratic and wild, unable to regain the control needed to fight back properly.
Kuzuki was relentless. He might have "retired" as an assassin, but his instincts and training were nothing short of crippling. All of his strikes were debilitating at the least, and the force behind them were just as ominous. From Rin's perspective it was difficult to tell if he was really trying to kill Bazett or just using lethal means to force her back.
Erratic and uneven strikes came from seemingly every angle at the woman with crushing efficiency. She didn't have any place to move except back if she didn't want to be destroyed, and even that option was restricted due to her unstable balance.
It happened quickly.
Bazett had slipped on something as she dodged at an awkward angle to avoid a jab to her neck. Whether it was on reflex or intentional, Kuzuki followed through with what appeared to be a heavy blow with all his weight behind it.
Suddenly, the world around Rin went white and her ears were ringing with a duet of high pitched tones.
The next thing she knew, she was picking herself up off of the ground in a daze.
"Ugh? What?" Her voice sounded muffled, as though she was hearing it through a filter.
She blinked and looked around. A short distance away, far closer to her than he had been earlier, Kuzuki was already on his feet. Well, on his feet was a bit subjective, seeing as he seemed to have trouble keeping balance.
In the distance though was a peculiar sight. Where there had been one woman, there were now three. Or rather, a woman and two girls.
Wait… there was more than just three.
"Now now. There's no need to be overly rough," a kindly old man in a priest outfit chided from the opposite end of the alleyway, grabbing everyone's attention.
"Uncle!" the two girls cried out in unison. "Help us! The mean lady's done something to mama! We don't want to fight!"
"Uncle?" Rin blinked in genuine confusion as she tried to recall what Merem had told everyone about Bazett's new legs.
"Don't worry, children. Everything will be just fine. Just stay still for a few more moments." The rat in the shape of man strode forward leisurely before looking up. "Tohsaka. While I am not human, I am a part of the Church's Burial Agency. May I trouble you with my aid, and in turn, I for yours?"
She was confused for only a moment before the hidden meaning of his words registered. Merem had been with them during their planning stages, so it was only natural that he and his... limbs, she guessed, knew about the possible ways she and or Shirou had planned on taking down Bazett. "I… r-right!"
Reaching into her pockets again, she took out a single low grade ruby with a fair amount of prana in it and tossed it into the air. The two Banshee girls looked around confused, as they didn't know what was going to happen, but their instincts also told them that there was absolutely no form of death coming from the girl's actions. "Zweite Licht. Zweiter Mond. Echo Dämmerung."
The gem froze in place and emitted a red tinged light almost instantly, bright enough to almost blind everyone there.
The shuffling of robes was heard. The slick grinding sound of metal. The screech of metal on something hard…
"E-eh?!" The girls choked out in confusion. "W-we can't move!"
"Ah. My apologies children. I seem to have accidentally gotten you as well. Your shadows must be overlapped." The King of Rats bowed regretfully, standing next to the three black keys that he had stabbed into the elongated silhouette he was standing on.
Black Keys. Tools of the Church Executors. They were rather weak tools in comparison to more esoteric and exotic ones like Noble Phantasms and specially made Mystic Codes that Magi make, but they did have uses. They were easy to make. They were potent against spiritual entities, and most importantly, they could be used to immobilize the target if they were stabbed into their shadow. The more the better.
Of course, when it comes to the Church Executors, they'd ultimately rather hit the body then the shadow in most cases. Taking their targets alive is a practice they are not particularly known for.
Rin and Kuzuki each had six on person. Shirou oddly enough didn't even have to make them. Rin had them in stock since her family was a part of the Church. Rin and Kuzuki had originally planned to attack her from either side and confuse the woman while Rin set up a light and catch the woman off guard before using their keys. Quick. Simple. And easy.
The King of Rats had only simplified the process even more.
"I thought spiritual existences like you couldn't touch Black Keys." Rin grunted as she picked herself up and gingerly patted herself down to see if anything was broken or her clothes torn. Thankfully, a cursory investigation yielded nothing concerning.
"We are harmed by Keys, much like humans are by firearms. Accessibility to them for those like myself is another issue entirely. So long as I only hold the handle, I might as well be just like any other Executor." The rat took out another blade and jabbed it into the ground. One key was supposedly enough to hold down anyone, but he clearly wasn't taking any chances.
Behind him, the silhouette of a rat trailed down the alleyway due to the light in the distance. A warped figure far larger than what should be possible, yet still possessing a twisted form of nobility in the way it held itself.
"You are not human," Kuzuki noted, already on his feet before anyone else noticed.
"And you are not just a teacher." The Priest smiled, not at all bothered by being found out. "You have done a good job with young Lord Emiya when he was in your care. It is a pleasure to meet you. I have seen why he has kept your existence a secret from everyone until now. His respect for your skills is regarded highly."
The teacher nodded slowly, his face unreadable. It was unknown if the man would still attack this newcomer or not.
"Oi. You kids. Banshees right?" Rin sighed and looked at the terrified children with a dry glare. Normally she'd be against scaring kids, but she had been smacked around too many times to care by this point. Not to mention her ears and head were still ringing form the latest screaming special the kids just gave her. "Why didn't you just come out like this in any of the earlier fights so we could hold, ugh, Mama, down?"
"We couldn't. The mean lady put a spell on Mama." The older redheaded girl shivered warily. "If we came out for any reason other than to stop her from dying, a spell would make Mama's chest explode."
"She used it once on that scary sad man with the empty eyes." The younger blonde one, despite being paralyzed, was perpetually shivering uncontrollably. Had she been able to move, she no doubt would have crawled into a ball. "It hurt just to see it."
"Don't let us go back. Mama can't take much more. She's tired and her body is dying." The red one begged, tears in her eyes. "The scary woman will kill her, but we can't stop it."
Rin sighed. "Don't worry. All of this ends tonight." She turned to the King of Rats. "Not that I'm complaining, but why did you help us? Did Solomon send you?"
"He didn't stop me." The Left Arm chuckled. "I'm certain that you would have managed to pin down Ms. McRemitz sooner or later. However, I was unsure if you'd be able to ensure that Caster would not be able to bring her back regardless. Her magic is old indeed, and powerful. It would be most dissatisfying if you lost a victory for such minor reasons. Regardless, I don't think you would have been adverse to a bit of extra aid, Miss. Tohsaka. If I recall, it is not in anyone's interests for you in particular to be in battle for an extended period of time."
"Tch. Keep talking why don't you? I'm certain that Caster didn't hear you the first time. What with another one of her tools gone." The girl grimaced, looking around warily for any sign of them being watched or more golems, only to be somewhat confused when nothing happened.
"There should still be more of those peculiar skeletons about." Kuzuki frowned. He had avoided most of them, using his previous experience to move about undetected, but there had been a few groups that he could not get past without destroying quickly. Thankfully, Caster didn't seem to notice his actions.
"Don't worry. I have that particular issue covered." The priest chuckled and nodded his head to either end of the alleyway, prompting Rin and Kuzuki to look and see multiple rats at either. As guards? As Barriers? They didn't know what, but there was a rolling and skittish tingle on their skins as they registered that they were surrounded.
"I believe you are familiar with the term "out of sight, out of mind" correct?" the Priest elaborated, unalarmed as a small troupe of skeleton warriors walked past the alleyway without noticing them. "A similar concept can be applied to this alleyway, as I have claimed it as the territory of my kin. Unless someone is actively trying to think or look for your existences in particular while in the area, none of you will come to mind to those on the outside, and thus none of you will be found. Even the grand mysteries of Caster would not be successful unless she puts her greatest efforts into the task, which is unlikely. Thus, a haven out in the open. Welcome."
Rin shivered as she looked at the beady little eyes staring at her from every direction. Rats. Why did it have to be rats? She didn't want to be ungrateful, but… there were rats everywhere! What self-respecting female wouldn't be freaking out by now?! Where the hell did they come from?!
"What do you intend to do now?" Kuzuki wasn't perturbed by the situation in the slightest, unlike Rin.
"Nothing that hasn't already been done." The fake priest shrugged. "This is Lord Emiya's performance. I have interfered as much as I am willing to, merely tying up a few stray loose ends. My Master is of the same mind."
"Lord. You keep on referring to him as "Lord". Why?" The teacher's eyes narrowed.
"That I'm afraid is a personal matter, and-" Whatever the rat was going to say was interrupted as two of the gem rings on Rin's hand shattered. "Oh dear."
"Index and middle." Kuzuki glanced at the dispersed remains of stone. "Emiya is requesting aid. In this situation, his next action would be…"
"Archer! We're out of time!" Rin shouted to her Servant. "Shirou needs backup!"
o. o. o.
"Of course he's the first one that gets in over his head." EMIYA relented as he cleared out another rooftop's worth of skeletons. Without bothering to explain or warn Sakura, he rushed to where she was nervously looking around and lifted the surprised girl up with one arm before jumping to his fellow Servant. "Caster! Time's up! We gotta move! Luvia! Illya! Gather to Caster!"
"About time!" Illya yelled in exhaustion. Taking out the skeletons and protecting herself wasn't the issue with her. She was a well of prana that no human could match. It was the constant riding of a bull that weighed over five hundred times more than she did what was wearing her down quickly. Even with thaumaturgy, she had to use literally all her weight and strength for the beast to actually register and understand what she was doing.
"I agree!" While Luvia didn't have the same issue when it came to moving her bull, the mysteries she utilized to protect and attack were nowhere near as elaborate. Her bounded fields did not last long when they were forced to constantly follow her, and her reserves were starting to get a bit too low for her liking as she unleashed another rain of curses onto a group of skeletons.
Caster didn't say anything in particular to acknowledge that she heard him, but she did start chanting faster in the forgotten language, causing the bounded field surrounding the building Assassin was in to grow in power and temperature.
Landing right behind the woman, he lowered Sakura quickly and turned around, unloading several more arrows seamlessly in the process. "I'm leaving Sakura to you. Keep her safe."
Without waiting for a response, he then jumped away once more in a direction that was neither to the girls nor to the mountain.
It looked to be an office building of sorts. It was several floors higher than those around it, so naturally he avoided it like the plague earlier since it was an obvious place to go to for long range fighters and thus rigged with traps. But now with Assassin preoccupied he could be a bit more reckless.
Arrows never stopped spraying from his bow as he leapt towards his destination, clearing out not only his path, but those of Illya and Luvia as well. He had lost track of how many he had unleashed at this point, but he had long since stopped caring.
A colossal skeleton was between him and his target. It was an ugly thing whose head couldn't support life even if the rest of the body could, but it was clearly powerful. The prana and sheen of its bones was of a different quality than the others. It was not something that could easily go down in a single hit.
Less than a second later it had collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. Its joints at the knees, shoulders, and elbows had been hit so hard and fast it appeared from an outside perspective as though they had simultaneously detonated.
"How annoying. Thinking that something like that would actually work. Even the boy is capable of taking that thing out without effort." Archer grunted to himself as he leapt up the distance between the last building and his destination, flipping in the process and unloading an extra dozen or so exploding shots into the giant golem's spine at the base of the neck as a precaution.
He grimaced and braced himself upon landing as a tremendous flash and wave of heat overcame his position. Less than a hundred meters away, Caster had essentially turned the contents of her bounded field into a giant pyre so intense that even her magic couldn't hold back the power inside.
"If that didn't catch the Witch's attention and cause her to panic, nothing will." Blinking out the spots quickly from his vision, he focused on the buildings at the edge of the mountain. Almost instantly he saw what he was looking for.
"There's a good chance that Rin and I are going to be split up in town when things start. If that's the case, we are going to need some way to protect ourselves if things get too heavy. Kuzuki's a good start, and Rin has Zelretch, but those can only get us so far if we are up against Servants. Rin can summon Archer, but I can't do the same for Saber. In her place, I'm going to have to work around this a little. If we start fighting and I have my back against the wall, I'll send the signal to Rin. After that…"
Archer couldn't stop the snort of dry amusement as he saw Shirou standing on one of the buildings wrecked by Rider. He was clearly trapped if the warped air around him was any indication. His arms were spread out and he was facing the city. Facing him.
More importantly though, was the fact that Rider was standing on the corner of the building, and Caster, the fool, was right in front of the boy, out in the open. Not even Shirou had assumed that she'd be foolish enough to leave her seat of power just to gloat.
… No. Not to gloat. She was focused on his left arm and had Rule Breaker out. She was going to try and steal Saber.
In broad daylight. With her back turned to a fight where one of her enemies was an Archer class Servant.
"Stupid woman never bothered to wonder why he ran to the rooftops in the first place." It was a red arrow that was notched and drawn this time. An altered Gae Dearg designed for precision shooting. He'd have to be careful not to hit the boy… for once.
The distance between the two was over a kilometer, but still, Shirou Emiya's eyes met Counter Guardian EMIYA's almost instantly, and for just a moment, despite their animosity for one another, the single thought they had was identical.
"She's not very good at this."
A red streak flashed over the town, through half a dozen bounded fields, an enchanted cloak, and speared through the back of the Witch of Betrayal with negligible resistance.
o. o. o.
He didn't know if he had shit for luck or her luck stat was a blatant lie to trick Masters with, but the woman just wouldn't take a killing blow. At the last moment, Caster had moved to look behind her, making the crimson arrow that Archer had shot that had been intended for her heart to impale and pass through the right side of her body instead.
Shirou didn't run when she was struck and he was freed from her trap. He didn't collapse. He didn't gloat.
Instead, he grabbed the bleeding woman's arm closest to him, the one holding Rule Breaker and held onto it as though it was a lifeline.
With as much strength as he could muster, he jerked it straight out with one arm while spinning around behind her, and smashed her elbow with the other. The entirety of his weight and enhanced strength went behind the blow.
A Servant she may have been, superhuman and protected by many mystic spells, but Caster still possessed some of the most common weaknesses that nearly every mage had. A human body susceptible to physics, lack of training, and the lack of foresight to put the same levels of protection on her limbs as her body.
Servant or not, her arm cracked backwards as easily as a mortal's, and quite loudly at that.
She didn't even notice dropping Rule Breaker.
"AAAAGH!" The woman shouted in agony as she leaned back in response to the second devastating wound she had incurred in the span of three second, blood flying out of her mouth courtesy of the first.
Following the breaking of her arm, the next few steps in the combination to take down his opponent would have involved using his hold on her arm to throw the stunned Servant to the ground on her stomach. After that, he had a myriad of options available to execute, including pinning her down to kicking hard on the back of her head to dislocate her skull and kill her quickly.
Sadly, before he could do any of that, several more arrows from Archer exploded dangerously close by, throwing him and Caster away from one another.
More importantly, it prevented Rider from running him through with her nail.
"Damn it!" Shirou swore as he quickly pushed himself back onto his feet, ignoring the dust, grime, and cuts he incurred from the sudden interruption. That had been a near perfect opportunity to finish everything right then and there!
"Y-you. Monster. Y-you're not... you won't…" Caster on the other hand seemed to be taking things the worst. Bleeding from the chest and her arm at an odd angle, she made for a sorry sight.
Fear. That was the predominant emotion in her eyes as she looked at the boy. It wasn't a matter of power anymore to her. Of superiority. Of desire. Or of even victory. It was one of survival.
She was not capable of killing this boy. This boy is going to kill her.
That was what her instincts were telling her. That out of all the legends and heroes and monsters that were embroiled in this colossal farce of a War, it was this twisted child that would do her in.
She had to escape. She had to run. She was going to die. She didn't want to die. Not again. Not like this.
A new horror was approaching and it was closing in fast. A black giant that she had once trusted back when she was alive. No. She pretended to trust. Trusting was for fools. Only power, strength, and control mattered.
The building shook as it sustained even more damage from Archer's assault. He was too preoccupied with keeping Rider away from Shirou to try and snipe the Witch a second time.
Before Caster had the opportunity to move or regain her thoughts though, a flash of gold caught her eyes just before a painfully tight sensation crushed her arms to her body.
"Enkidu," Shirou ground out with his right arm holding the other end of the chain that had ensnared the Servant and his left grasping Rule Breaker.
It wasn't a copy. It was her dagger. The one she had dropped when he had broken her arm.
She was wrapped in chains. Marched up the platform to her execution for all to see. It offered a wonderful view of the island, but that illusion of freedom only scorned her heart even more. All her hard work. For her children. For her future. For her life. And this was what it boiled down to in the end.
"No." This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be beaten by this boy! She had three Servants under her control! An unlimited amount of Prana at her disposal!
She was jerked forward as the golden links retracted. Her eyes widened in terror as her own Noble Phantasm was going to be used against her. A cruel irony if there was one, to be beaten by her own Dagger of Betrayal.
She had no skill in Divinity, but she was still the granddaughter of the God Helios. The chains' durability, while they were projections, had increased to that of only the strongest materials found on the planet today. Easy enough for Heracles to break through, but more than enough to restrain a physically weak Servant like Caster.
Physically at least.
What she shouted wasn't in Japanese, but was understood as such nonetheless. A word of power that had all of her strength and will behind it, a desperate plea and a frantic command combined with untold amounts of energy fueling the order.
The chains around her shattered under the pressure of the violet wave, breaking the tie between her and her attacker. The roofing collapsed in an ever growing crater that expanded and obliterated the floor below without pause. Despite Shirou stabbing into it with her weapon, it did next to nothing as what he encountered was raw power, not a mystery. Rule Breaker shattered under the stress of the attack faster than its wielder.
His barely mended ribs broke again, along with a few others, and several of his organs were punctured as his chest bent inward. His lungs were punctured, and his heart was momentarily crushed. For a few seconds he genuinely blacked out, unable to deal with the pain and damage that he had sustained so suddenly. The human body wasn't designed for such an intense impact, reinforcement or not.
Shirou was sent flying over the edge of building, several dozen meters above where Rider had almost killed him with her mount. He had a perfect aerial view of the crater made and the bottom half of the stairs to the temple, but he was too stunned to even register that he was even airborne.
The first thing that truly registered to him was the fog in his skull. The next, which was nearly immediately after that, was the crushing pain in his chest. It felt as though he had literally been flattened and everything inside his body was squeezed and crushed as a result.
He tried to breathe, but did so too quickly and ended up shifting his bones even more, making him cough fluids instead of inhale gasses.
His arms slowly began to move against his will, angling slowly up and forward. He felt himself leaning back in his parabolic trip through the air.
Through the air? Oh. That was right. Caster had hit him with some kind of spell. He was probably falling now.
Yes. The tops of the buildings he had just been on passed his view. They weren't skyscrapers, but the height was still something that would almost guarantee that he'd end up a red stain on the hard ground if he dropped the whole way.
But he wasn't that high. He wouldn't drop long. The fact that he actually had to register that he had passed below the roofs of the buildings meant that under most circumstances he was already out of time.
"… Hnnnng." Everything hurt. Just moving his head was agonizing, but forcing his left arm to point to the closest building against the air pressure was nothing short of self-mutilation, the brutalized bones in his shoulder and chest protesting loudly against the action.
The pain itself was a cursed blessing. It flooded him with nothing but unrelenting torture, but it kept him awake. It kept him aware. It gave his mind the focus it needed to survive.
With the last dregs of influence his addled mind could manage, the golden tip of Enkidu shot out from his sleeve and impaled itself into the closest building he could aim at. The moment he felt the chain connect, he reversed the process, retracting it as hard as he could.
*Snap. Pop. Crunch.*
If he wasn't already in so much pain and his chest almost impossible to use, he would have bellowed himself bloody as his arm fractured, broke, and dislocated in multiple areas as gravity did its work. His body had long reached its limits and this last stunt had only made it worse.
He would have blacked out again if it weren't for the fact that due to the direction he had been falling earlier combined with his new tether, his mind barely caught up to the fact that he was about to crash hard into the building he was anchored to.
"Damnit!" His face grew pale, his body curled up as much as it could to brace for impact, and he subconsciously increased the length of his chain just enough for him to change the area he collided into from a hard concrete wall to the glass window of a local electronics store.
His weight and speed were more than enough to propel him through the transparent barrier, and topple three rows of gadgets before he finally came to a stop. The gold chain he had been reliant upon had disconnected with the top of the building almost the instant he had hit the first obstacle, as if reflecting its owner's ability to hold on himself.
Eyes blurred, Shirou feebly looked around without moving any other portion of his body, not that he could even if he wanted to. Every part of him hurt so bad he didn't know what was genuinely wrong with him.
Avalon would heal him, eventually. Being gutted of everything under his ribs took half a night according to the notes. Regenerating his heart was only a matter of seconds. With everything he had now, a full recovery could span from ten minutes to an hour for all he knew. But until then he was a sitting duck. He couldn't move. He couldn't escape. He couldn't use his magic. If Caster came after him now, he was as good as dead.
But… but nothing. He couldn't do anything. Not like this. The best he could do now was simply wait in the pile of crushed VHS players and random devices that were poking in his back at painful angles and hope he wasn't discovered.
Personally he hoped Avalon would work on his ribs first. It was really hard to breathe at the moment.
Honestly. Here he was about to pass out and completely defenseless and he couldn't even enjoy the moon from where he was.
Things were gradually getting more blurry. He thought he saw something move in front of him, but at that point everything was just one big smear in the dark…
o. o. o.
Rider flinched as Archer's arrows prevented her from pursuing Shirou off the building. Personally, she wanted nothing more to help him seeing as he was barely conscious after Caster's blow. Unfortunately, she was shackled with so many orders and Command Seals that she would murder him as soon as she got close.
Enslaved or not, she was getting very tired very quickly of Archer's interference. His absurd accuracy from such a distance was something to marvel and compliment, but that could only go so far when she was the target.
The only reason why he didn't focus on Caster was because the now clearly unstable Servant had dropped into the hole she had subconsciously made during her outburst.
As if the situation wasn't collapsing on Caster's head fast enough, Berserker had just landed on one of the buildings adjacent to the one they were on, and if Rider didn't see it for herself, even she would have trouble believing that he was vastly more enraged than he had been before… and sadly she was very likely the direct reason for it, what with obliterating his body and sending him halfway across town and all.
Thankfully, the Witch's commands did give her enough leeway to back away from the neigh unstoppable juggernaut so she could plan or keep herself alive for a tactical advantage.
Not that Rider could actually do anything to him by this point. He's died to Belleraphon. He's died to her enhanced strength. There was literally NOTHING in her arsenal that could get past God Hand outside of maybe keeping him in Bloodfort Andromeda for an unreasonable amount of time, and even that would only kill him once, if she was disgustingly lucky.
So she'd just wait and see what Berserker did first. If he went after her, so be it… and if he happened to come across Caster in his pursuit, well she didn't really talk much to begin with so she doubted anyone would expect her to complain.
"H-hah! I knew it. You're just like them, aren't you? Heracles!" Rider risked turning her attention off of the enemy to look at the clearly unstable Caster, who had begun to giggle uncontrollably and was cradling her crippled arm. The Gorgon didn't have much experience with reading the facial features of others, but she was fairly certain that Caster's lopsided grin and gleam in her eyes was not a good sign.
Whether it was a rebuttal or a declaration of what he was about to do to Caster, no one save the Black Giant knew, but whatever it was it was clearly aimed at the Witch.
And then, the Witch yelled back.
For the second time that night, Berserker was sent flying back into the sky without any control or say about it. It was almost comical at just how something so disgustingly massive could be thrown about like a ragdoll if it wasn't so unnervingly terrifying.
Even Rider was genuinely surprised and wary of the display. She knew that Caster's power was next to limitless with the setup she had in the temple, but she never saw just what the Witch could actually do with it outside of making a never ending army of incredibly weak golems.
"Rider." Medea's left hand glowed crimson, the remaining Command Seals shining through her clothes effortlessly. "Activate your Noble Phantasm. Trap Berserker and the others inside, and don't let anyone out until they are nothing but sacks of meat and blood."
The Servant vanished before the order was even finished, leaving Caster alone once more on the unstable building. Her last spell had apparently been the final straw for the structure, as she barely registered the progressively growing groans and cracks it was emitting as the long seconds stretched out.
"H-haha. It's fine. It's fine. I'm still in control. I can still kill them all." She laughed through the pain, eyes not focusing on anything, and blood pouring from her mouth. Her grin widened as she felt the twisted and decay-like sensation of Rider's Noble Phantasm activate. Now the enemy forces were truly split off from one another.
Archer's arrow had only barely missed her core. It was a devastating wound to most Servants, but to her it was something that would go away soon enough once she began to heal herself. She had made a few compounds stored inside her workshop that could help accelerate the process. With the near limitless stores of power and the mysteries from the Age of Gods at her disposal, she was capable of healing from almost any wound quickly so long as her head and heart were intact and she didn't take too much damage in the meantime.
The boy was still around. Yes. She had hit him hard. She can kill him now. Wait. No. It was a trap. It had to be a trap. It was always a trap with that bastard. Just like coming up to the rooftops was a trap. But how? Oh, yes, the Vampire. He was probably still around. She didn't expect him to keep to his deal in the first place, only to keep the illusion of it until the boy was ready, so she had tried to get Assassin to get some easy kills off when he had the chance. Useless fool. She was glad he was dead.
It wasn't safe here. It wasn't safe. It was never safe. She had to go back to the Temple. Yes. She'd be safe there. She'd be strongest there. She'd win there. She'd kill the boy there.
She'd finish the Grail there.
o. o. o.
Luvia, Sakura, Illya, and Caster would have managed to get out of range of Bloodfort Andromeda by the time it had enacted…
… Except they had to waste the last few precious moments they needed to get out of the way of the ultimate projectile in the form of Berserker.
"Was that…?" Sakura, on top of a new bull, blinked in surprise as she turned to look back at the thing that they had all just barely missed.
"Berserker!" Illya shouted in alarm as her Servant plowed through the rooftop they were on without slowing down before passing through the edge and crashed into the building behind them. It didn't matter if she and the other Masters were on bulls the size of trucks, they still would have been totaled if they had been in the way of that.
"Wait, if he was sent all the way back here, then that might mean…" Luvia's complexion paled as she came to a vague yet chilling conclusion. "We have to get out of here before Rider… ugk!?"
The blonde choked on her words as her fears were realized in the form of an oppressive and stagnant sensation rolling over everyone there. The world became tinted in crimson, as if they were looking through a thin veil of blood. Veins of indeterminable size and width spanned the night sky around them glowing intensely enough that they had no issue seeing the irregular paths in the dark. It became laborious to breathe, and every movement they made seemed to take far more energy than it should.
But of course, looking at the sky, all of that was ignored in place of the titanic, monstrous eyeball with a square pupil towering above them.
"How?!" Illya grit her teeth in discomfort. Even with Caster's enchantments protecting her, she still felt sick. "Rider should still be at the mountain! We should have seen her!"
"She must have been sent here with a Command Seal!" Luvia was not faring much better. "Sakura!"
"I'm… ok for now." With Rule Breaker still stabbed into her leg, Sakura had none of the Princess' protections, so she was suffering the most of the effects. "We're close to the edge of the field, and you've been weakening it every day, so it's not as bad as it could be. But… I can't last long like this."
It was humiliating. She had come to be of help. To not hold everyone back. Even if she didn't have a Servant, she could have at least dealt with the Skeleton Warriors. But to be reduced to nothing but a person on the sidelines…
The Princess looked around warily for any sign of the enemy or traps but surprisingly found none. There was a subtle tingle going down her spine that wasn't being attributed to the Noble Phantasm… or at least, not directly. Something was off. "Archer! Hold off Rider! I'll set up a field to protect our Masters!"
As soon as the woman began to chant, the rooftop they were on began to glow with a bright hue as though it was alight with burning embers. At the same time, the group spied Archer from his perch firing off a nonstop spray of arrows at an area half a kilo away.
The building that Berserker had crashed into had exploded upwards, revealing an unscathed but next to rabid demigod at the top as though he was the largest piece of debris from an erupting volcano. In place of magma, the only source of red in the cacophony was the burning intensity of his eyes that seemed to make all that looked into them wilt and burn away from the pressure of his rage.
"Berserker!" Illya was the first to notice that the buildings near them were slowly being overpopulated by more skeleton warriors. Much to her dismay, they didn't seem to be at all affected by Rider's trap.
No words were needed. The message had already been passed from Master to Servant, and it would be fulfilled.
It was untold chaos the instant the Giant landed among the first hoard of enemies. Bones flew in every direction at every speed and every size. The supposedly emotionless dolls there did not even have time to pay attention to the distracted girls as they were more preoccupied with stopping Berserker from killing them, a task that was akin to stopping the sun rise. His wrath and level of danger was so overwhelming that even the mindless golems on buildings next to his were distracted by his display of unmatched ferocity.
"Caster, can you open a hole for us to escape?" Luvia looked frantically between Illya's Servant and her own. One could hardly blame her. Berserker's performance was like a train crash. It was utterly terrifying and horrifying, but it was just so hard to turn away from it.
She still had two Command Seals on her… but…
The Princess frowned. "No. My counterpart has altered it since I last examined it. It would take too long to escape, and…"
"And what?" Luvia frowned, not like where this was going.
"The power that's absorbed. It's not going to Rider." Caster relented. "It's being diverted to the Temple."
"The Temple?" Sakura panted slightly, already feeling far weaker than she should. "But the only reason why she'd do that would be if, if…"
"If Caster is trying to trigger activate the Grail as soon as possible." Illya frowned, looking at the mountain.
o. o. o.
Shirou woke up to the sensation of something popping back into place. Painfully.
"Gagh!?" His eyes snapped open and he lurched his body away from whatever was holding his limb, causing more of his nerves to fire off in agony in the process.
"I told you to hold him still," a deep, calm, and familiar voice chided.
"I didn't think he'd be able to push me off! Look at how wrecked he is! I'm surprised he's even awake!" a more feminine one argued back from right next to him.
"Ung. R-Rin?" he rasped out confused, attempting to move his body more to look for her, only to collapse on the mess of trinkets and unknown objects under him as his arms gave way.
They seemed to notice him coming to as they supported his body and positioned him as comfortably as they could.
"Don't move Shirou, you are heavily injured. Especially your arms. We just relocated your left shoulder, but we still have to pop your elbow back into place, in addition to your other shoulder," Kuzuki instructed as his firm hands latched onto said left arm.
"What the hell happened to you?" Rin probed. "I thought you were going to hold off Rider, not fight her head on."
"They're practically the same THING?!" Shirou began to talk, only for the teacher to without warning pop his elbow back into place. He damn near bit his tongue off that time.
It hurt to breathe deeply, but he noticed that he could actually breathe again. His chest no longer felt impaled and pulverized at the same time. It was merely throbbing with a deep and dull ache that indicated that everything in his chest cavity was still rather tender.
"Easy there. I'm just glad you're alive. The last Archer told me, Caster had thrown you off of the building you were all on, which is collapsed now. We were worried that the worst might have happened." Rin sighed, taking note of the coiled indent that was practically embedded into his left arm so deep that she wouldn't be surprised if his bones were imprinted as well. It didn't take much to guess how he had gotten it. "You were down here for a good five to ten minutes before Sensei and I got here and you're still a mess with Avalon healing you."
"I told you what I was going to do was stupid." Shirou gingerly began to test moving his left arm as much as he could. Thankfully his fingers were responsive and he had full control over his wrist, but his arm's mobility would still take a small while to regain. Putting all of his weight onto it when he was swinging with Enkidu had seriously messed up his muscles and bones. He could even feel Avalon gradually work its magic on it, shifting splinters of bone and weaves of muscle fibers back into place. It was an uncomfortable, yet not unpleasant sensation. Truth be told, it still felt like Enkidu was pressed against his very bones all the way up his arm and it was only barely letting go now.
"Oh well if you say it, it must be true then." Rin rolled her eyes. "Sensei, you can do this arm now."
"You're a saint." Shirou grunted as he watched the pair switch places.
Kuzuki moved to his arm, but paused when he noticed something. "You didn't have this purple band earlier."
"Breaker GorgON!?" Shirou half shouted the end as Kuzuki popped his shoulder back into place. "Warn me next time!"
"Breaker… wait Rider used her last Noble Phantasm on you!?" Rin gaped.
"Guess they think I'm worth it." He winced as he slowly rolled his relocated shoulder before examining the seemingly harmless mystery on his wrist. "It's sealed off my world from the outside world. I can't project weapons like this."
"You mean to tell me you held off Caster and Rider without being able to project anything?! How are you alive?!" Rin looked at him incredulously, unable to digest what she was hearing.
"I asked for help, didn't I?" he dryly retorted before slowly and gingerly attempting to push himself back up. Thankfully most of the damage he had incurred had been above the waist, and there seemed to be no spinal damage, so with a little effort he managed to be successful.
"You shouldn't be moving." Kuzuki frowned, but made no gesture to help his student.
"I'll be fine." Shirou brushed off the warning. Carefully, he took a few experimental steps to make sure his balance wasn't shot. It didn't help that he found himself on more debris than actual flooring. "More importantly, what's happened everywhere else? I wasn't in a position to keep tabs on everyone. How's Sakura?"
"You infuriating…" Rin began to build herself for a tirade, but calmed herself down at the last moment. "Archer found a way to stop Caster from influencing her, but everyone back there and Berserker are trapped inside Bloodfort Andromeda now. You can feel it from here if you focus. Our Caster's set up a bounded field to protect them for the worst of the effects but it won't hold out forever. Saber and Lancer are still wailing on one another up and down the mountain, and Bazett's locked into place with a little help from Sensei and the rat."
"Rat?" Shirou looked at her in genuine surprise for a few moments before letting out a brief chuckle. "Hah. So that's how he's decided to contribute."
"I could offer more aid if you ask kindly." A fourth voice spoke up from the doorway, causing everyone to flinch momentarily as Merem Solomon walked out from the shadows. "Your plans certainly don't do you any favors, do they Shirou?"
"So long as I'm not dead, I like to think it means that it's working," Shirou snarked back, taking another, slightly stronger step forward. With every passing moment, he could feel his body growing stronger, recovering more, and functioning easier. "So how have you liked the show so far? Is it to your liking?"
White fanged teeth gleamed in the night. "Oh certainly. That bit with you on the rooftops was quite exhilarating. You almost had Caster a few times there too. A shame. You were so close."
"Yeah well, the night's not over yet." Shirou shrugged, wincing as pain spiked through them since they had just been relocated. "What's up? You wouldn't show up in person before the end unless you had something in mind."
"Just thought I might offer a small pick me up as a reward for making it this far." The vampire took out a small flask from his pockets and tossed it to his junior. "Careful. Strong brands from Ireland tend to have a kick in them."
"Ireland?" Rin blinked in confusion as she watch Shirou barely managed to catch the flask with his aching arms, and stared at it warily.
His nose twitched as he opened the container, and he almost flinched. "Lancer's Blood."
Merem's grin widened. "You certainly managed to pick up on that quickly. You certainly are a spoiled brat. I hope you realize that. Dragon. Monster. Now divine? Most of our kin would be after your head just for hearing about how lavish your diet is."
"Servant blood's already different than anything else, and I can practically taste the alcohol already." Shirou grimaced as he felt his nose hairs practically burn, ignoring Merem's chiding. How much booze did Lancer drink in his previous life to give his blood alcohol level such a naturally high value? "Why doesn't anyone bother to remember that I'm underaged?"
"What does blood have to do with anything?" Kuzuki inquired.
Rin shook her head. "Shirou's a… well just consider him a pseudo failed vampire. It's a long story, but bottom line, that's special blood and he can drink it to get a minor boost and heal slightly faster. I think. Nobody knows how his body works exactly."
"I feel like I won't be able to stand again if I down this." Shirou grumbled, leering at the flask warily. He never liked alcoholic drinks to begin with, and having a literal bloody drink only made it worse.
"I wouldn't dally if I were you. I know you wanted to wait a bit so that useful artifact of yours would heal you more, but time isn't exactly in abundance at the moment," Merem advised casually, but the existence of a hidden warning did not go over their heads.
"Meaning?" Rin had a feeling that Solomon knew more than what they did at the moment, which she was loathe to admit.
"Caster was busier than you thought when you weren't looking." The vampire shrugged. "While you were all focused on Bloodfort Andromeda, she had set up a good slew of bounded fields all over the city that mimics what it does to a lesser scale, all triggering when I assume Rider triggered her Noble Phantasm."
"WHAT?!" Shirou and Rin stiffened in alarm before the latter took a step forward accusingly. "How could that happen?! We have another Caster on our side! She should have been able to detect them!"
"She probably would have if she was allowed to explore the city. But outside of your respective homes and this area, you guys haven't gone out of your way to venture to other locations of note, have you?" Shaking his head as if explaining something obvious to a bunch of children, the Apostle Ancestor didn't seem all that bothered by what the Witch was doing. "From what I can tell, she's accumulating a good deal of power from all over Fuyuki back to the Temple. With that much prana flying all over the place, I couldn't even enjoy watching everything from above anymore. It's annoying."
"Geh." Shirou didn't bother listening to Merem's lamenting as he staggered out of the demolished shop and looked up.
Even though Fuyuki was on the southern end of Japan's main island, the sky appeared as though they were right below the Northern Lights. Streams of Prana from all over the city were silently flowing through the sky and conjoining right at the temple in front of them.
"Even I don't know how much longer she'll need before being able to at least reach the minimum needed to activate the Grail. Of course, it would only get faster if she uses her Command Seals to have Rider and Lancer kill themselves. More so if any of the Servants on your end die as well," Merem continued as though the display wasn't an issue in the slightest. "She was rather unhinged when she returned to the Temple, so who knows what's going through her head by this point… or how much she should have noticed."
"Son of a- Rin. We're going." Shirou grimaced as he pushed himself into the streets.
"We? Now? Shirou, you're a bloody mess! There's no way you can do anything as you are! You can't even project with that thing on your arm!" Rin argued as she followed him out of the building, followed by Kuzuki.
"We'll walk up the stairs. I should be able to be good enough to stay alive for a bit by the time we reach the top." Shirou grimaced as he took another step and a shock went through his ribs. "Besides, I'm not completely unarmed."
Rin watched as he flexed his hands again and allowed a few coils of golden chains to snake out of his sleeves before retracting them again. "Oh! Wonderful! What are you going to do, ask her to stay still while you tie her up? You said it yourself! Enkidu is a supplementary trick! It's not meant for attacking! You'll be a sitting duck!"
"I'll figure something out." Ideas flew through his head as he talked, and more flew out. There were only a handful of options he had left, and most weren't reliable enough to depend on completely.
"Yes. You do that. In that time, I'll do the smart thing and summon Archer," Rin snarked, lifting up her hand to show three Command Seals on it, two of which had been his until just a few hours ago.
"What?" That had his attention. "Wait. Rin. That won't work. Caster's bound to have modified her territory so that Projection doesn't work there just like the field we found earlier. Archer…"
"Will still be more useful than you, dumbass," She cut him off. "Unless you have the physical prowess of a Servant, he's our best shot when we go in there. Or is there another reason why you don't want him here?"
"Ngh." Of course there was a reason why he didn't want to be near Archer. Everyone knew that he couldn't stand Archer's mere existence. It was a miracle and a half he had trusted the bastard enough to supply long range support earlier when he was trapped. But given the situation he didn't have a choice. "Fine! Just wait a bit to call him so that he can keep supporting the others till then."
The girl crossed her arms confident that she had just won the argument and strode past him. "Good. Now let's go to the top. We're running out of time."
"… That's what we were doing before you stopped me," Shirou grumbled as he followed as best as he could. Already in a poor mood, he glanced at the flask still in his hand for a few moments before giving up on the mental war in his head and downed the contents as fast as he could.
"Heh. Its times like that that reminds me that he's really just a kid." Merem chuckled from the shop as Shirou barely stopped himself from throwing up and threw away the container irritably. "Poor brat can't handle the strong stuff. Adorable. Sumire would love playing with him."
"Is this all you intend to do?" Kuzuki walked up beside the vampire, his expression as unreadable as ever.
Merem blinked once, a testament to how surprised he was that he had actually forgotten the man for even a moment. His smile widened, as if finding something quite amusing. "Really. Where does he keep finding all these interesting people?"
The teacher didn't say or do anything other than continue to stare at him.
"Ah, fine. Yes. This is all I intend to do, because I have already done more than what Shirou has expected. Neither of us intended for me to do much in the first place. This isn't my fight. I suppose you could say it's our mutual way of showing respect for one another." Merem sighed. If he was going to talk to someone, couldn't it have been with a person that was more conversational?
"I see." Kuzuki seemed to be content with the reply, but it was hard to tell with the man.
"I assume that the reason you are here with me instead of with them is for a similar reason?"
"No. I was merely curious to see what sort of person you were to have so much of his trust. Emiya is not one to depend on others often." The former assassin looked at the vampire with an unreadable gaze.
"True. He is the type of person that prefers to do things himself when possible. Then again, perhaps that's just puberty taking hold. He does seem like the rebellious sort." Merem laughed merrily. The roads began to flood with black mist, and within it countless bodies began to stir. "It's best you join them, Sensei. They might need your help getting to the top if they have to deal with these numbers."
"And you?" Despite the supposed concern in the question, Kuzuki strode forward to his students without care, making no effort to hide where his priorities were.
"Please don't concern yourself. If there was one label that would accurately describe me for Shirou, it would be something along the lines of a very scary friend."
o. o. o.
Two erratic streaks of blue cut through the night on the mountain.
Where they met, crimson and gold splashed in all directions as though the point of contact birthed a geyser for but an instant.
"Hahahahaha! Great! This is great! You're brilliant! Saber!" Lancer laughed to his heart's content as his spear collided with her sword for who knows how many times that night.
"You are not a lacking opponent yourself, Lancer." Saber, while clearly not as battle-crazed as her opponent, was also enjoying their duel to the death.
It was a bit of a hypocritical match. Both were indeed trying to kill one another, and both were aware of the stakes at hand, yet at the same time, neither one of them were truly fighting all out. Lancer was not utilizing his runes, and Saber had yet to draw on the full potential of her reserves. They were drawing out the fight as much as they wished, yet at the same time…
Sparks flew in every direction. A crimson spear struck straight towards the King of Knight's chest at a speed that was comparable to the definition of instantaneous. The spear was launched up by the invisible tool of Saber with the force of a cannon, sending a quake down the arms of the spearman and forcing him back lest the opening made be exploited. Saber pressed forward, but in the time she had done so, Lancer had already retracted his spear and thrust it forward so fast it was akin to a machine gun discharging the shell of a fired round and firing off the next.
… This was no doubt a fierce battle to the death. There was nothing halfhearted about their exchanges, but they were not truly putting everything into the fight either. They had already sworn to do battle once again, and the warriors within them would not settle for anything less, but this was not what they had promised one another.
Among all the Servants summoned in the War, with the exception of the two Casters, it could be said that Lancer and Saber were the most evenly matched in raw ability and skill. Both were the greatest legends amongst their lands' circles. Both were renowned for their skill and their merit.
Both were enjoying their match far more than they probably should have given the circumstances.
Another flurry of blades tore through the space between them, and they once more skid apart along the side of the beaten and bruised mountain. The dozens of minor wounds they accumulated already vanishing as their Prana healed them quickly.
"Heh. I know we're supposed to be holding back, but it's still kinda annoying to keep up with your sword hidden like that, Saber." Lancer smirked, allowing his body to take a stance that enabled him to relax yet still move at a moment's notice.
"Should I reveal my blade, the battle would end too quickly, Lancer." Saber gave him a small confident smirk of her own.
"Oh? Cocky aren't we? Though I guess that's to be expected from the King of the Brits," Lancer joked.
"And ignoring the obvious outcome of things should be just as anticipated from one of the biggest names from Ireland. I can't tell you how many times I've had to beat your countrymen back. You lot really do have the worst timing," Saber jabbed back.
"Hey. Worst timing. Best timing. Least we have the balls to do what we say we're gonna do in the first place." The man laughed loudly, not at all ashamed of his homeland's occasional sketchy history.
The banter between the two stopped as a dark haze covered the ground and fighting was heard nearby. The pair turned to the commotion to see Shirou, Rin, and Kuzuki making their way up the Mountain at a steady pace with the latter two wiping out any and every golem they came across in an instant.
"Oh? Looks like things are finally reaching an end," Lancer noted. "Unless of course, there's something else happening that I don't know about."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not." Saber shrugged knowingly, though she frowned as she examined Shirou's condition.
"The kid looks like he's seen better days. Looks like Rider messed him up something good. I don't know why he bothered to go to the front lines like that if he can't even deal with those weak things." They could tell right off the bat that Shirou was exhausted and something was wrong with his arms.
"He knows what he's doing." She hoped. She had seen enough of her Master to know that sometimes he didn't go with the path of least resistance, for him at least.
"Hah! I know that look!" Lancer laughed, clearly pointing fun at his opponent.
"You certainly look like you're having fun. Saber. Lancer."
Well, they had been up until then.
"Oi. Nobody likes a third wheel Caster. Go bug someone else," the Irishman grumbled, his grin gone. He probably would have said something else, except suddenly his body stiffened as if he was electrocuted.
"I've had enough of your mouth, Lancer, and I've given you more than enough time to kill Saber on your own. Use your Noble Phantasm and protect me as you are supposed to!"
"Ngh?!" Gae Bolg suddenly radiated with power, causing not only both Servants to be on edge, but the three humans that were running up the mountain a short distance away. It was impossible to ignore the raw killing intent that the spear itself radiated, as it seemed to freeze the air around them with it.
Saber didn't hesitate to jump back quickly and extend the distance between the two. It was a vexing situation, as Lancer's spear was technically two Noble Phantasms in one, and the Witch's order didn't specify which. The thrust was both the easiest and hardest one to defend against. So long as she was out of its range when enacted and its name called, she would have nothing to fear. If not, then she would have to rely on every instinct and skill she had to avoid having her heart pierced.
In contrast, if Lancer threw his spear…?!
Saber looked back with horror in her eyes as she realized her mistake.
Shirou and the others were right behind her. If Lancer threw it, they were as good as dead under the force of the Anti-Army Noble Phantasm specifically designed and cursed to kill as many people as possible.
"Shirou! Run!" Saber didn't hesitate for an instant as she made contact with the ground again and pushed herself forward at Lancer once again, much to the latter's surprise.
Lancer had only just positioned himself into a running start in order to prepare using his spear's full potential when Saber changed directions and it caught him flat footed. Switching between uses wasn't exactly easy for him to do, but more than that, seeing someone run to him as he preparing to use his spear was something he had never seen before. It was insane, even by his standards.
With a quick twirl, his spear and body had switched stances to his more efficient use. If Saber knew what he was going to do, which was likely given how she reacted earlier, then she better have something up her sleeve.
She was closing the distance incredibly fast. The woman would have even less time than his normal opponents to do something to possibly not get killed.
"Hope you know what you're doing Saber," he ground out. It would really suck if she got killed now.
She threw her hand out.
Saber winced as the sensation of her heart was pierced. Through her armor, through her chest. It reminded her of the pain she experienced as a knight…
… But the pain was only there for an instant.
Lancer felt incredibly confused and out of place as he felt his spear and himself seemingly skid countless times around Saber's frame as it shone a familiar golden light. It was almost as though the curse of his spear was circling a drain in an attempt to finally fall down a hole and complete its purpose, but for some reason the "hole" itself did not exist, forcing the process to continue endlessly. It was a slippery, and oily sensation that seemed to strip him of any control over what was happening for the entire duration of his attack…
And then he stopped. His thrust had ended. A chill ran through his spine as a paradox was forcefully corrected.
The laws of cause and effect had been reversed, but in that time, something had been thrown into the process. The spear thrust was a mere formality when compared to the result of the curse but it was a necessary formality nonetheless that needed to be fulfilled in one way or another.
And if it couldn't…
Saber had been stabbed through the heart.
Saber was in the land of the Fae.
The spear had st▄▄bed ▄ab▄r.
Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error. Error.
The cause that was linked to the effect could not be recognized within the time frame given. The cause was an impossibility that transgressed into the laws of Fae, thus the cause transgressed the curse's authority. The effect was an anomaly.
Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct.
"GHAAAAAAAAA!?" Lancer bellowed in pain as his spear contorted on itself and lashed out at him as if it was a wild animal, tearing apart his hands as the incomplete curse and the power he had poured into it revolted wildly.
Saber didn't waste the chance. With Lancer distracted, she canceled her own Noble Phantasm and rushed forward, slashing down and tearing him open from right shoulder to left hip.
It was cruel blow to be sure, lethal to most any other Servant, but Lancer's high rank in Battle Continuation would keep him alive.
"Ngh?!" The man in blue staggered as the damage set in and he realized what had just happened. "Ah. Shit."
Saber breathed out slowly to calm herself. She was of the same mind as he was. She did not expect or appreciate the sudden escalation of things either. "I agree."
"Heh." Blood poured from his mouth before he flinched again and looked at his spear, then to his warped hands. "Never saw it do that before. Most shields just put up a fight against the curse. Mystery vs. Mystery. Must have had something to do with the timing. Not sure I'd want to do it again though. I was getting dizzy there for a moment."
"Mmm." Saber rubbed her chest, right over her heart. There was no wound, but the pain of being stabbed was still there. "I am of the same mind."
"No kidding." Lancer didn't have to guess to figure out why she had made that gesture.
"Lancer! What are you doing!?" the Witch snarled from her progressively less secure location.
"Taking a break. I'm in no position to fight anyone right now, let alone her." Cu Chulainn huffed as he looked around, saw a large upturned stone a few feet from him, and sat on it nonchalantly. "Unless you haven't noticed, your brilliant idea just backfired. If you want Saber to join those brats heading for you know, make me fight again or kill me. Otherwise, keep your fucking dirty nose out of this already. You've messed up enough things as it is."
"Please don't push her. She might actually kill you. I'd rather you not die in such a dishonorable way right in front of me." Saber sighed, somewhat pitying Caster for trying to keep control over Lancer for all this time.
"Ngh! Fine! But once I'm done with the boy, you will be next, Lancer!"
"Yeah. Sure. Whatever." The man waved her threat away as if humoring a small child. "Seriously Saber, she's been all over the place lately. Between you and me, I think it's-"
"Lancer, I want you to think long and hard about what might happen if you finish that sentence." The King of Knights glared at him with a stony expression.
The culprit blinked a couple of times in confusion before coming to a realization. "Oooh. Right. Sorry. Forgot. Bloodloss and all."
Saber sighed and turned to the top of the mountain. She witnessed a brief flash of light, and moments later, there was a red figure standing with the other three. "Hurry up, Shirou. I don't think Lancer will last long if you don't."
"… Oi. What do you mean by that?"
o. o. o.
"You sure you know how to use that?" Archer glanced at Shirou skeptically.
In response, Shirou expertly twirled around the copy of Gae Dearg that his future other produced as though he had been born with it. Out of all the offensive Noble Phantasms that Shirou had used over the years, Gae Dearg was the one he used the most. As a result, he was quite used to handling the spear and downloading the skills of its former owner. In the ten minutes it had taken to get all the way up the stairs, he had recovered enough that his body had regained full motor function and could move without too much trouble. He still needed some more time before he was back to a hundred percent, but it was time he didn't have.
"Showoff." Rin didn't bother to hide her thoughts as she fired off another slew of Fin curses at the never ending army of skeletons. A little bit to the side, Kuzuki was utterly decimating the ones that she couldn't spend time focusing on with little trouble.
"Just checking. Most of the Shirou Emiyas I have to deal with are incompetent twits that don't know what the sharp end of a sword is. I don't want to waste my time doing nothing but keeping you alive." Archer brushed aside the accusing look that Shirou was giving him.
"Don't bother. You'd probably just-"
"Will you two stop your pissing contest and hurry up already!? I can't do this all day!" Rin snapped, sweat starting to gather on her face.
"Yes, Rin," the two answered in tandem before flinching and glancing at one another. Alternate timelines or not, something just didn't change.
"You're the one that's tweaked her off. After you." Archer made a sweeping gesture as if he was bowing to his other, only further annoying the teen.
Rolling his eyes, he walked forward through the main entrance of the Temple…
… And was instantly set upon by a titanic blast of pure Prana curtesy of Caster.
The beam that contained hundreds if not over a thousand units of Prana was dissipated instantly by the spear he carried the second the sharp tip touched it.
"I thought as much. It would have been far too easy if you had fallen just to that, boy," the Witch stated with half annoyance and half resignation as she floated in the air forty meters away.
Shirou was slightly irritated that she thought he might fall for the same trap Berserker did.
"It's over, Caster. Stop this mess that you've set up and we might let you live." Archer walked in as calmly as his counterpart, Kanchou and Bakuya already in hand.
It was a blatant lie and they all knew it. There was no way in hell they were going to let her live the night.
Personally, Shirou wished she'd just jump to fighting again. He was already getting a massive headache from being near Archer for so long.
"Ah. So that's how you managed to get another spear. The older "boy". I take it you are the one that so rudely interrupted me earlier." The woman's smile widened, as if just realizing something delicious.
"From what I've been told, you have a habit of taking it from behind, and the opportunity presented itself. I couldn't help myself." Archer shrugged. "This makes it the third time, right?"
"Really?" Shirou deadpanned, finally breaking his silence and taking a few steps away from the Servant.
Neither of them missed the strained muscles on the woman's mouth as she grinned harder. "Oh dear child. My apologies. It appears as though you don't seem to grow up at all in the future."
Over a dozen magic circles formed around the woman. Her cloak began to extend outward, underneath it was a dark black abyss that seemed to swallow up all light in order to feed the forgotten mysteries underneath.
"He's not me," the teen ground out reflexively as his hold on the spear tightened and his knees bent.
"I agree. I was better looking when I was at that age," Archer quipped, making a note of the younger Emiya's warped facial features.
"You were also an idiot with a stupid dream," Shirou shot back with some venom. The small amused smirk on Archer dropped instantly.
Archer probably would have said something in retaliation. However, he put that aside in order to jump out of the way of a genuine rain of prana that hailed down from above.
"Time Alter. Double Accel." Shirou reinforced and accelerated his body as he made his first moves as well, getting just enough speed to avoid most of the first salvo and using Gae Dearg to cancel out the rest.
"I'm not sure if the customs of this era have changed much, but in my time it was considered rude to ignore the lady of the house when she is addressing you!" Caster shouted above the chaos she bestowed upon them.
It was almost like fighting the weather to Shirou. Caster was far stronger in here than she was on the outside, and she had almost killed him out there easily to begin with. From her vantage point above and her near limitless stores of prana she was bombarding him in a manner almost akin to Gilgamesh.
Caster was not Archer. The accuracy and refinement of her attacks lacked tremendously compared to the King of Heroes. The beams were sent in his general direction, but there was little more than that to it. Plus, all of them could be instantly negated with Gae Dearg so long as he hit them with the spear tip.
He wove between the pillars of rain, swiping at the violet lights that would obliterate his body to less than a memory if even one connected.
Downloading history and technique. Uploading and refining skill to body. Warning. Body types and structure don't match. Efficiency will suffer as a result.
That was fine. All he needed was enough skill to keep himself alive for now. Just focus on running, dodging, and defending.
Gae Dearg was a crimson flurry, dancing all around him with such speed that for a few moments it really could be perceived as its moniker as the "Crimson Rose of Exorcism". Its two meter length combined with Shirou's speed all but ensured that none of Caster's attacks would be successful in their seemingly endless strive to wipe him out of existence.
There was an ivory blur that shot past the woman, causing her to flinch and momentarily lessen her assault.
"Oi Caster! What gives?! Why are you focusing more on the kid than me?!" Archer shouted with Kanchou held in a reverse grip from the other side of the temple. "Don't tell me you're into that sort of thing!"
It was true, in hindsight. Caster had been focusing more of her attention on Shirou than EMIYA. Of course, she had not neglected the enemy Servant. She had unleashed more than enough power at him to kill him multiple times over, but in a mid to long ranged battle like this, such attacks meant little to the Servant who specialized in this style. He could follow and avoid everything she threw at him with almost pitiful ease. Getting close enough to her to throw his blades accurately was an easy enough task.
"Archer!" [t]he Witch snarled, but flinched and looked back at Shirou as though her momentary lapse had given him the opening needed to kill her.
Despite not liking the woman a single bit, the teen had a sick feeling in his stomach from her reaction. He didn't like people being genuinely terrified of him, acting as if he was the monster there.
… Even if she had been right.
Spirit and Technique. Flawless and Firm.
An ebony blade flew past the Witch, spinning like a buzz saw and melting into the night sky making it almost impossible to see. Just like before she had managed to get out of the way of the attack just in time…
"You annoying brat! You're resorting to throwing weak knives at me like a child now?!" The Witch snarled, what was left of her fake patient persona that she had managed to scrounge up earlier had wilted away. The bulk of her magic circles were all aimed at him again.
Our strength rips the mountains.
… But that in turn gave Archer the opening to throw his Kanchou full force at her, once more forcing the Servant to scream in frustration and seemingly glide a farther distance than before in order to keep both Fakers in her sights.
From her perspective, she saw Archer pull another copy of both blades out from under that peculiar red shawl of his and bolt straight towards her, while the boy chucked a copy of Bakuya this time, aiming at the area she was heading for in order to try to cut her off.
That must have been how the boy had been in possession of his version. The child had simply just stowed them under his coat, just like with that accursed golden chain.
Our swords split the Yellow River.
It was a simple matter for her to sway to the side to avoid the last thrown blade. It had been drifting slightly to her left, so she swayed to the right. It was a simple enough dodge when she knew it had been coming in the first place.
But she couldn't gloat as her attention was drawn to Archer quickly closing in on her, Prana flooding the blades he was holding, elongating and warping them into twisted imitations of an Angel's and a Demon's wings with feathers on the back side and edges of cloud and dusk on the other. Had she not been in such a rush, even she would have paused to marvel at their peculiar designs.
"Too slow!" The circles around her charged with power, lightning cracking about her as a mere aftereffect of the presence of so much active power around her.
Our names reach the Imperial Villa.
Perhaps if they weren't so loud she would have heard the first blade come down on her.
The Bakuya that Archer had thrown had glided in fast from an angle from Caster's left side, tearing into the soft flesh under her right ribs.
"Gh?!" Caster flinched as the pain reached her and fear once more flooded her system. Instincts telling her to run, but her mind still too busy trying to figure out what had just happened and remind her that Archer was closing in fast.
Then Shirou's Kanchou fell like a Peregrine falcon next, an assassin blending in with the night sky, carving into her left shoulder.
It was a perversion of the original technique, spawning from two wielders that wanted nothing to do with one another, but their skills and abilities in this one craft enabled them to enact the improvised version without flaw.
Caster turned to run, only for Archer's Kanchou to cut her off next. It didn't get her this time, but she was forced to stop lest the cruel blade embed itself into her skull.
"Enough!" A pulse of power jut out from the Servant, knocking away the final Bakuya before it met her, allowing her time to turn to Archer who was almost upon her with his own blades drawn. "I've had enough of your games!"
Dozens of magical circles loaded with power all pointed at Archer. Just one was enough to kill a Servant easily. Even Berserker would not be able to escape from such an onslaught unscathed.
"Heh." Despite facing certain death, Archer smirked.
Both of us won't reach Heaven together.
Caster lurched forward. Eyes and mouth wide open in shock, but no words came out. Her back was on fire as two blades embedded themselves into her body.
Shirou stood a good dozen meters behind her, panting heavily and bleeding from every orifice he had, his hands still down from his dual throw. Gae Dearg secured to his back. "Trace off. Square Accel."
It had been next to impossible, catching his and Archer's blades as they fell, more so without Caster noticing. Had Archer not masked Shirou's use of time magic by overpowering his final set of blades and charged straight at her, the woman would have noticed for certain. In fact he had almost been floored by that last blast Caster had used to protect herself from the last blade in their combo.
It hadn't been without sacrifice though. Shirou was certain his arms had just broken again, and something had shifted in one of his legs that definitely didn't feel right. The copies of Kanchou and Bakuya currently flying about were the only ones that Archer had on hand. They didn't have much in the way of trump cards left available.
"Haaaa!" Archer yelled as he swung down his blades hard, cleaving two deep valleys of flesh, bone and blood into the stunned woman, triggering the unstable prana in the blades he wielded to trigger and literally explode as a result. The end product was Caster being sent flying back to the earth and making a half a meter deep trough into the stone flooring all the way back to the temple.
Shirou breathed out slowly as he felt half his body contort on itself from speeding himself up four times his normal speed. He had been nowhere near fully recovered before, and he was pretty certain that he was going to take even longer to heal than he had been when he crashed into the shop earlier.
"Hm. Not bad. For a moment I thought you weren't going to be able to pull it off," Archer mused as he landed without a scratch and looked carefully at the body. The blades that he had used for the final blow had been destroyed from the overexertion. However, conveniently, the final two versions of Kanshou and Bakuya that weren't embedded into the woman's spine were sticking up together just a few feet away from him.
"Oi." Shirou frowned, glaring at the man for just a moment before once more scanning his surroundings.
"I know. You don't have to remind me." Archer sighed...
… Dashing to the side in order to avoid being decimated by a beam of power.
Shirou had barely managed to point Gae Dearg in time to cancel out the one aimed at himself.
"Honestly. You two are terribly stubborn. Forced to rely on limited resources, put into a position with your hands tied behind your back, and still you prove to be greater pains than even Berserker." The sickeningly confident voice of Caster echoed all around them as the corpse that resembled her split apart into countless violet butterflies.
"I don't want to hear it from the woman that's been speared through and slashed apart more than me since the War began," Shirou grumbled under his breath, more annoyed than angered.
"He's got you there, Caster. You really have to try to get that messed up. Or so I've heard." Archer shrugged, clearly amused with the assessment.
"You seem awfully confident despite your efforts resulting in nothing," Caster droned as she reformed above them. In a single instant, the sky above them was littered with magic circles. An absurd number that dwarfed what the pair had been dealing with just moments before. It was almost as though she had replaced the stars in the sky with something far more sinister.
"Oi. Oi. Overkill much?" Archer took a step back in genuine alarm. Even he had never seen the woman go to this length before.
"No. I don't think it is." Her voice dropped several dozen degrees from corrosively sweet to painfully cold. At once all of the circles began to brighten malevolently. Both males doubted anything in the grounds would be able to survive the onslaught they were about to experience firsthand. Even if Shirou was able to move, which he wasn't, it wouldn't be enough.
Thankfully, their part was over.
"I command you, Servant, with my seal!" a new voice broke the silence, causing everyone to stiffen in surprise.
"Cutting it close, isn't she?" Shirou sighed.
"You know better than to ask that." Archer smirked.
"The girl?!" Caster blinked in surprise, tapping into her territory's multiple functions to locate the intruder.
There, off to the side, away from the fighting, the Tohsaka girl was standing at the edge of one of the side buildings. Not near her workshop or anywhere of particular strategic value. She was simply there for cover.
The Witch couldn't help but wonder what the hell the girl was doing or thinking. Archer was already there, and he was next to useless in her territory. Anything accomplished by the Command Seal would be next to worthless when compared to the power accumulated here already.
"Come!" The red symbol on Rin's hand glowed dangerously.
That one word set all sorts of alarms off in the Witch's entire being. Her stomach dropped to the point that it felt as if it should be on the ground over a dozen meters below her.
Archer and the boy had been distractions. The girl. The girl had been the killing blow the entire time!
In a pillar of fire, the Princess of Colchis broke through time and space, through each and every bounded field and defense her counterpart had set up as though they did not exist.
And in her hands, raised up above her head, was a jeweled dagger, its blade twisted, zig zagging erratically to a blunt point.
The Witch's complexion turned ash white. Her skin clammy. Her hands shook. Her spine trembled. "No."
Rule Breaker was a peculiar Noble Phantasm. It could negate almost any form of thaumaturgy and mystical contract out there with just a brush of the tip.
The Princess gripped the tool she despised with all her being. The tool she had once used to slay her brother.
But it had another rather unique property as well. One that could be exploited by those that knew how to use it. By those skilled in magecraft from the Age of the Gods.
"NOOOOOO!" The Witch bellowed with absolutely none of the confidence or control that she had before. If anything it was akin to a death cry saturated in utter terror.
Each and every circle aimed at Shirou and Archer instead pointed at the Princess, the two men completely ignored for the new player in the game.
She had realized her mistake too late as she found herself less than a second later ensnared once more in a golden chain. Her attention drawn to the Princess had left her completely open to being exploited. A cheap shot that neither Emiya was above exploiting.
Yanked off balance, the Witch wildly flared the power she had available to her, shattering her bonds and blasting away Archer who had jumped to slash her apart while she was preoccupied.
She snarled at the interlopers but returned her focus onto the greatest threat of all…
… But it was too late.
"Rule Breaker!" The Princess called out the name of the Noble Phantasm she had abandoned, stabbing into the ground. Into the territory her other had established…
… And stole dominion of it, just as the Witch had stolen Rider. The temple now belonged to the Princess.
Shirou had been nothing more than a distraction from the very beginning. An over glorified, overhyped bodyguard for Rin to hide in the shadow of. Every attack thrown at him was one that Rin didn't have to deal with. Every eye on him was one that Rin didn't have to avoid.
In the grand scheme of things, killing him would not have mattered in the slightest once Rider and Assassin had been separated, all but ensuring that the Princess survived her challenges way back in the city. Where she was out of sight, out of mind, and too far to possibly be of any use.
All so the Rin could be in the right place, at the right time to deal the deciding blow, and steal the Servant's castle from under her.
And Caster had fallen for it completely.
"NO!" The Witch unleashed all the power she had accumulated for attacking at the thief of her territory. Thousands of units of Prana was unloaded at once at a single point. It was more than enough to utterly devastate even Saber's Magic Resistance had she been the target. No mystery in the modern era was even comparable in terms of raw power to it.
But the target was not from this era.
With but a word, a crimson circle etched itself on the ground under the target.
As though a volcano had erupted, a pillar of pure fire over twenty meters across burst from the ground with the Princess in the epicenter. Its heat so intense that Shirou and Archer were slightly burnt from where they were.
Power met power as the two forces clashed, but it was obvious from the get go which was stronger. Both forces stemmed from the same source, but the thousand pinpoint streams could do nothing against the enormous eruption that the Princess had enacted.
It was rather easy to see why from a theoretical point of view. The Witch had merely tapped into the Prana that she had stored here to activate her mysteries. The Princess on the other hand, had essentially opened up a giant converter in the form of a bounded field and was forcing the entire tank that was the temple through it. The pressure and quantity of power between the two was incomparable. A matter of Hundreds of units of power vs. Thousands if not more.
"Enough of this." The woman in the fire didn't raise her voice in the slightest, but it was heard by all there. In an instant the flames turned from volcanic to star like in brightness, blinding everyone there…
And when their eyes cleared up, they were standing on a wide open grassy plain. The temple buildings were there, but there were no forests or mountains at all.
"Reality Marble?" Shirou looked around warily before correcting himself. Luvia had told him about this earlier. It was similar, but not quite. This was merely an echo of Circe's island. A place in Caster's heart and memories, but one that still existed and she had a bond to.
"No! I won't have it!" the Witch roared at the top of her lungs, her voice mad with rage and insanity. She had lost the temple, but she still had the building that was her workshop. She still had the Grail that was her Master. She still had power. "I won't lose! Not when I'm so close to getting what I deserve!"
Hundreds of circles appeared around her. There were no specific targets this time, rather, she manifested them with the purpose of destroying everything rather than something.
All those times she was used, shunned, and thrown away. All those times she had tried desperately to live happily, to have a family, only for it to fall apart around her. All the times she had been forced to betray and was betrayed by those she thought she loved. All those times she burned while the world remained unmarred and beautiful…
She had had enough. She wanted her due. She wanted to be the one that was happy. She wanted to be the one who was unmarred and unconcerned while everyone else screamed.
She wanted to have the ideal life, watching with a casual yet satisfied smile as the rest of the world burned, envying her existence and her happiness.
From the other side of the property, a reflection stared back at her in pity. A woman that had not suffered as she did, but suffered none the less. A woman that had also cried. A woman that yearned. A woman that had lost.
The Witch didn't even notice the fact that in her hysteria, she had slowly been backing away from the sight that haunted her mind.
A woman that had run when she had not.
"No." The gentle reflection lamented, a hand reaching for the clasp around her neck. "You have lost your chance to run this time."
Countless beams flashed towards them, all supersaturated in raw power and capable of eviscerating almost anything in their path.
A golden fire erupted from the Princess, swirling like a whirlwind around herself and those that fought with her that night. It gained size and form rapidly like a starving wildfire in front of a feast, roaring, consuming like a sentient force of nature.
Violet light burned brightly as though it was radioactive.
And met with its metaphorical lead in the form of a magic resistant Dragon.
"Ngh?!" Shirou stumbled step back in genuine alarm and surprise as the tail end of a Dragon manifested in front of him, solidifying from live flames, defending him and everyone else from the deafening onslaught with little issue.
A shiver ran down his spine as he registered the green and black scaled surface in front of him. Dragon. This was what Saber had in her? Absurd. Impossible…
… But his nose and instincts told him otherwise. The blood in this creature was far too similar to that of his Servant's.
"RIDER! PROTECT ME!" The Witch's voice grew more and more frantic as she once more relied upon her unwilling slaves to work for her.
Her hysteria was warranted. In one move, she had lost her territory, a good deal of power, and the home field advantage, and in turn was suddenly up against two Servants and the very dragon she had once cared for when she was small.
"Archer!" the Princess shouted in kind, weaving and unraveling untold magics with a swipe of her hand. "Fight back!"
The Servant in Red felt the change in the bounded field around them immediately and smirked, his circuits began to warm up. "Yes ma'am."
The instant Rider had materialized, she was beset by dozens of arrows. None were lethal, but all forced her away from her opponents.
"Useless! All of you! In that case I Command Lancer to GAAAAAAH!?" The Witch was cut off as she was almost burned alive from the Dragon's fire bathing the area she was in. The woman barely managed to escape, but not unscathed. Her clothes were a sundering mess and her face was now completely visible. Her eyes were wide and dilated to mere pinpricks. Her mouth into an ugly sneer and her entire visage contorted to one of insanity and wrath.
"I said ENOUGH!" In contrast, the Princess was nothing but power and righteous fury, wielding nearly everything her other had gathered in the temple as though she was Karma incarnate. Above her, giant orbs that shone like the sun radiated as intensely as she did, much like the violet circles that resembled stars did for the Witch.
She was outnumbered. She was outgunned. Overpowered. Exhausted. Wounded. Afraid. Again. Again again again again again AGAIN!
Her eyes darted around frantically, looking for something to exploit.
Archer was keeping Rider away from the others, the latter too exhausted and wounded to do anything about it.
Rule Breaker was destroyed.
Lancer was locked in a curse.
Assassin was dead.
Archer's Master, now Caster's as well, was standing far back and well out of reach.
The Sleeping Dragon was glaring at her with primal fury, enraged from being attacked earlier. It didn't recognize her. It wouldn't hesitate.
There was pity in the Princess' eyes. Her reflection was committed to her end.
And the boy…
Was just standing there. Staring at her from behind the dragon. Leaning against that blasted spear to keep himself standing. Just waiting. Completely at ease with a completely neutral expression. Not doing anything but watching.
No hate. No anger. No glee. No hope. No happiness. No fear. No concern. No trepidation. No calculation. No expectation.
He didn't have to do anything anymore. The relaxed, unremorseful look in his eyes said all that needed to be said.
The game was decided. She had lost everything. Again.
"Ha. Hahaha. AhahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!" she laughed. She couldn't do anything at that moment but laugh.
"She's gone mad," Rin voiced everyone's thoughts.
"Caster. Kill her now," Shirou ordered. His voice held no heat or emotion to them. No power or weakness. Just a dead even instruction.
"I was going to." The infernal orbs around the Princess grew brighter and more intense as she prepared her attack.
A bright light flashed at the Witch's command, blinding and stunning everyone in her final gambit.
Instead of attacking though, the woman turned and fled.
She could not win now. It was impossible to win. She had lost after all. Those who had lost everything could never emerge victorious. It was a truth older than even the King of Heroes.
But they could still lose too. She still had a card to play. Her Master. Her Grail. Her Wish could still be partially granted.
There, right in front of her was the main storage building that held her main workshop. Less than fifty meters away. The power and mysteries around it still strong and under her control. The Temple was lost, but it was still hers. She couldn't teleport inside casually due to the power her Master contained and the temple's fields no longer being hers, but once she touched the building, she would have the last laugh.
There was shouting behind her. She flinched as an arrow grazed her burnt cloak. Her defenses were only a shade of what they had been before.
She flinched as the Sleeping Dragon bellowed in rage. She felt its flames fall upon her, forcing her to conjure a shield to keep her alive for just a few moments.
Her insane smile widened. She let herself get pushed back by the blast. Her shield slammed into her body. It hurt, but she didn't stop smiling. It had worked. She was almost there.
She heard someone shouting. She felt more fire come her way. An arrow pierced her right shoulder and left hand…
… But her right hit the doorway of the building hard enough to crush her bones. And she vanished.
Had she looked back, past Archer, her other, and the Dragon… she would have seen the boy, staring right at her, still with an impassive and unreadable look.
o. o. o.
In the room where Marjatta was held. In the room that Sakura had only been inside for the grand total of thirty seconds, was a magic circle specifically designed for the Witch to teleport to. The power radiating from the trapped girl was so intense that it was next to impossible for any spatial transportation to take place otherwise.
So, it stood to reason, that if someone were to try and escape to that room quickly, it would have to be through that circle.
And very likely, facing the giant container that was Marjatta Edelfelt.
The Witch manifested there and collapsed onto her knees. Tears fell down her face. Mad laughter escaped her bleeding mouth.
The Command Seals on her injured right hand glowed.
First Lancer would die.
Then Rider would die.
Then she would die.
And as she did so, the souls of the three Servants mixed with what she had accumulated and Assassin's soul would be enough to trigger the Grail.
She would imprint her Wish on the system with her dying breath.
And the World would burn.
Or, at least. That was what would have happened.
Had her head not been blown off from behind by a .30-06 Springfield bullet before she had the chance to utter a single word.
Her body collapsed lifelessly onto the floor. Blood, brain, and bone dirtying everything in front of it.
There was a slight, almost inaudible shuffle behind the body.
One to the head.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Three to the chest.
A professional double tap.
o. o. o.
Thanks again Wayfarer for all your help. You really cleaned this up.
And that is how you fucking do it.
48k words in a month. BOW! Bow to greatness! Bow as if your spines were curved! And if your spine is curved… you have my most humble apologies and I hope your condition is improved in some way soon.
But seriously, holy shit. I don't think I've ever pumped out this much this quickly before. (insert self-depreciating sex joke here). You guys better be grateful.
This fight guys, this fight has gone through my head so many bloody times. I knew how it started and ended, but getting everyone to act and move in the middle while keeping things paced was a PAIN.
Yeah. Kirei had five seconds in the spotlight. And then got one shotted. It was ALWAYS going to happen as a way of just showing just how rushed the situation itself was an how little he mattered anymore. Originally I had planned for Shirou to turn his right arm into a pseudo Gae Bolg arm and activate on him for a moment of awesome, but I couldn't get it to work once Rider dive bombed the area and was a factor, so I had Rin take it, which, let's be honest, she does deserve the rights to.
The entire fight wasn't planned by Shirou. Most of the epic moments and the fighting was actually just backup plans that he had set up. Originally, his plan went something like this:
Archer and Princess fight Rider and Assassin inside the bloodfort.
Princess traps Assassin and blocks him from the Witch's detection, masking his death and teleporting him close to the temple.
Assassin sneaks in while everything else happens.
Saber locks Lancer in Ath nGabla.
Berserker charges forward to the temple, clearing the way and triggering anything that might kill Shirou and Rin.
Shirou and Rin follow Berserker, who is distracting Caster. Shirou joins Berserker, and probably is forced to hold off Bazett.
Rin Summons Princess, takes over the temple. Summons Dragon.
That was the original plan, designed to worm in a next to certain kill win without Caster knowing it while still keeping the field in a state that gave her the impression that she could still have turned things around with a little extra luck and power. It was a stupid thing to do under most circumstances, but due to her hand perpetually over a big red button that could kill everyone, they had to take the risk.
Kuzuki. The Jeweled Sword. Archer sniping the Witch. Avalon. Enkidu. Hell, even Assassin at the very end. Those were all backup plans. At best Shirou had maybe one or two last gambits left in stock that probably wouldn't have even worked by the end there. Has the Witch bothered to come out onto the field since the very beginning, targeted Rin from the beginning, or timed her appearance better, she would have won easily.
I had to stretch a few pieces of lore for this fight too. Enkidu… well, it was only fitting that it made its appearance here. True, Shirou's essentially using it like Spider Man's web, but his body sure as hell isn't built for that kind of use. He can't use it like Gil can, but that doesn't mean he can't use it well. Plus, I like the idea that Shirou has something other than swords and shields that could be of genuine use to him, but still fits into the theme of things.
Breaker Gorgon was probably one of the biggest stretches I've made, and I admit that without shame. It's a colossal pain in the ass NP to write for and its uses and effects are just all over the fucking place. But still, the fact that it "cancels out magic" and "locks the user's mind away from the world" screamed at me when I first read about it way back, and I can't help but thing that Nasu originally intended it specifically to lock away Shirou's or Archer's RM powers. Even then, I did adjust the effects so that "Shirou could still use magic on himself", just not on the rest of the world, seeing as "his body was made of blades" and thus his body was part of his world.
Like I said, I'm stretching that interpretation shamelessly.
As for Gae Bolg and Avalon? Yeah. Basically, Lancer couldn't stab fast enough to beat Avalon's activation, so the spear had literally no way of being able to stab her, even though it technically did, causing a paradox.
A paradox involving his spear trying to invade the land of the Fae.
… You don't fuck with the Fae. Nuff said.
Seriously though. Thank you. Everyone. Thank all of you that have stuck around and kept on reading and reviewing and inflating the twisted abomination that is my ego for all these years. I couldn't and probably wouldn't have done nearly as much without your support. I've made mistakes in some parts. I probably should have gotten a beta reader far earlier into writing this. But even so, this casual brainstormed monster has turned out better than I thought.
The story isn't done yet, there's still loads to happen, but for the moment, the Fifth Grail War is done, and so am I. It's been far too long since I worked on my original fic, and people are getting jumpy for me to return to it. I probably won't get back onto this till at least late next year. Plus I want to try a few more small ideas before starting my own original story that I've been dwelling on for a while.
That is, so long as I live through the reign of Trump. Ugh. Seriously, this election was like being forced to choose between being infected with aids or cancer.
With that being said. Ladies and gentlemen, and apostles, I'm…
(Puts on aviator sunglasses).
(Blast some ACDC in the background, complete with fireworks and pyrotechnics.)
SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! THANK YOU ALL FOR READING FROM FAKE DREAMS! AND REVIEW AGAIN!