Or, Fate/Stay Night in Ten Thousand Words or Less.
"I command thee, thou shalt come forth to my side,"
There are better ways to say good morning, you know.
"Thy sword shalt control my fate, abiding by the Holy Grail's Haven,"
"If thou accedest to this will and reason, then answer me."
"The Oath set forth here, I am the embodiment of good in the eternal world,"
Seriously miss, you're sounding hella pretentious there, and what oath?
"I am the disposer of evil in the eternal world."
"Thee, the seven heavens that bear the great trinity."
No idea what that's supposed to mean.
"Come forth from the circle of constraint."
Um. Defintely feeling something here.
"O guardian of the balance!"
Fuyuki City, December 1991.
I blinked. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of cognitive power to recognize that. Blinking is a semi-autonomic body function; noticing it is not. Well, with awareness of my eyes regained, time for a look through them.
Night sky, framed by remnants of a building, with my hybrid-form snout forming the lower terminus of my vision. Level up blinking on my de-facto HUD. Ears also appear to be working; someone seems to be trying to beat down the rest of the building around me. Fun. Whoops, guess it was just the door. Some gray-haired Japanese girl with gray/black hair came into my field of vision and stared down at me.
"Hello George," I said.
After I recovered from the unexpected backlash from my Summoning spell ritual, I heard and felt a crash from the East wing, and immediately ran to investigate. Judging by the sound and echo patterns, it had originated in the third floor storage room, and when I arrived, I found the door had jammed. A few good kicks dealt with that problem, and I stepped into the room to find a massive... thing sprawled across a now-crushed couch.
It appeared to be some form of Lycanthrope, though unusually large, and it wasn't moving. Checking my wrist to make sure I did, in fact have the command runes, I carefully made my way over to the creature, and looked down into its distended face.
"Hello George," It said in a growling bass voice, that somehow seemed... dazed?
A faint look of confusion crossed the girl's face, and I blinked again, furrowing my brow.
"You're not George," I said matter-of-factly.
"No," She said, looking at me disapprovingly, "I'm not."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I've just been repeatedly mind-raped Sasha, something seems a little off."
And it did. My brain kept trying to stick names to this girl, and random, totally innappropriate ones at that. I think I might have been in some kind of mental shock. Where had I just been?
Ouch. That hurt to think about. Ohhhh pretty colors!
"I'm sorry Bernadette," I said wistfully, "But I think I'll be havng a siesta now."
The creature passed out. Sasha? Bernadette? What kind of servant had I summoned? Whatever this creature was, it certainly was not Saber. Mind-rape? Its diction seemed quite modern, so wherever this Heroic Spirit had originated from, it was almost certainly from some time within the last ten years chronologically. It is rather difficult to discern ethnicity of a furred creature, assuming it is Lycanthrope.
Casting a quick divination spell, I examined both my own and the creature's magical circuits, and discovered the probable reason for it passing out. I had never heard of a Heroic Spirit being summoned directly from its final battle before, but this creature's magical reserves were near utterly exhausted, so I set about restoring them from my own. Hopefully it was not a casting class, I did not wish to exhaust myself before so much as finding my Servant's name and Class.
The creature slept through the night, and while I had not been able to fully restore its magical reserves, I had come close, and that ruled it out as a primary caster. Such a bestial and massive appearance would have been hard to see as a Caster anyways. I, myself, only slept perhaps four hours, but this was acceptable considering the importance of current events. My very life would depend on this creature for the next few weeks. When I went to check on it for the third time, I decided I'd had enough.
"Hey!" I shouted, kicking the thing in the thigh, "Wake up!"
"ACHTUNG!" It screamed, leaping upright and snapping into a salute.
Oh. Oh my. It was at least two and a half meters tall, my head barely came up past its waist, and it was clearly intensely strong. It was also in a stiff, if improper salute, styled like most western militaries.
"Who are you?" I said, taking a couple cautious steps backwards.
"Captain Scrawny reporting for duty, ma'am-sir!" It said, though for some reason the last two words twisted into a blatant Philipino accent.
"What Class?" I demanded, regaining some equilibrium. I had already known that my Servant would be far more powerful than I; this one was simply a little bit more obviously so.
I frowned, that was not one of the seven...
"Swordsage! Psion! Monk!"
What on earth?"
"Cerebramancer! Shadowdancer! Swiftblade!"
That was eight classes, none of them appropriate to the Grail War! What had I summoned? I took a couple steps further back, and was finally in a position to clearly see the creature's eyes. It was clearly dazed, possibly concussed; it was no wonder I was getting such confusing answers. Oh. Maybe it had been serious when it said it had just had its mind raped. I shivered; magical assaults on the mind could be very invasive from what I had learned in my studies; what could possibly have done such a thing to a Heroic Spirit? The only possibility that occured to me was another Heroic Spirit, or those who almost, but not quite qualified as such. If the former, I hope to never face such a Spirit personally.
"Maybe you should sit down," I said.
"Yes dear," The Spirit said, and collapsed onto the ground, trembling violently.
This definitely fit in with what little I know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How am I supposed to fight a war with such a mess? Considering my various options for how to deal with this, I decided that one of the most effective methods to deal with this would be to search for relevant material in the Library, but what to do with the Servant in the meanwhile? I looked at it again, and found it difficult not to feel sorry for the poor creature. It was also essentially impossible for me to move it myself; it clearly weighed integer multiples more than I, and I specialize in combat spells and transformation magic, not spacial manipulation magic. And it would be time to depart for school shortly…
"JOHN IS TRYING TO EVOLVE!" The creature, John apparently, suddenly screamed, rearing back to stand upright again.
Well, a Pokemon reference definitely made 'John' a creature of something approaching the present.
"EVOLVE TO PARAGON JOHN!"
Magic shifted, in ways that I had never seen, felt, or studied before. The creature changed. It was, on the surface, a subtle thing, but my sensitivity to magic made it clear that a great deal more was happening beneath the surface. Then whatever was going on finished, and the Servant's posture stabilized some, and he turned to look at me. His eyes were focused, and he was clearly aware of the world around him.
"Tohsaka Rin," He said, "Master in the Fifth Grail War?"
"Yes," I said, pleased to see that my Servant had apparently regained his faculties, "And you are?"
"John," He said, "Am I summoned as your Servant?"
"Shit," He said, "I have no idea how I'll stack up compared to the others."
Something seemed odd about what he said.
"You know something," I said, "What?"
Suddenly he was staring down at me with a terrifying intensity, and it took everything I had not to cringe under that gaze.
"Unless my presence has changed more than just who you summon," He said, "I know who every master is, and the identity of each of their servants."
Oh my. That would certainly be a critical strategic advantage.
"What of your own abilities?" I asked.
"Mid level magic and psionics," He said, then suddenly staggered and sat down, "One moment Dorothy, I need to de-frag the hard-drive."
I blinked. That was not expected. Realizing this was probably going to take some time, I located and cleared a large stuffed chair, and seated myself to wait. It was at this point that the idea of calling in a physician occurred to me, but I immediately dismissed it as the absurdity that it was. 'I'm sorry doctor, but my werewolf appears to have brain damage, could you come and have a look?'
"Ah!" John said.
"Yes?" I replied after a brief wait.
"I appear to have reconfigured my build whlie I was moked out on brain-rape, though the base ability set remains the same."
"What are your abilities then?" I asked.
"Mid-level magic and psionics," He said, sitting upright to look at me. Sitting, he was taller than me standing. Rather disconcerting.
"I have multi-layered defenses against magic, and most of my own abilities are centered around augmenting defensive and offensive capabilities of my own and others. I'm extremely strong and resilient physically, what would be considered light damage resistance at the power levels we are dealing with, and am extremely stealthy."
"That's a broad set of abilities," I said, tapping my chin in thought, "What is your offensive focus?"
"I have modest martial capabilities," He said, "I'm primarily oriented around defense and survivability, but as far as offense goes, I have two primary abilities. The first is a low damage psionic power that, if my foe is in the area of effect, cannot be resisted or avoided. The second is getting in their faces and beating the shit out of them."
"How effective is that?"
"Glarble," He said, his eyes gaining a glazed look, and I frowned.
He was certainly more functional than before, but this kind of phasing in and out of focus could very easily get both of us killed.
"Last person I tried it on," He said abruptly, "Was the guy who mind-raped me. Ever hear of Albus Dumbledore?"
I could feel myself going white.
"The head of the International Confederation of Wizards?" I asked, feeling rather numb.
"Yeah," He said, nodding, "We got into a fight, and my magical reserves ran out. Hence the mind-rape. What's the date, by the way?"
"December 2nd, 1991," I said, trying to figure out a way for this not to be very bad.
"Ah. So that means the fight was yesterday. How's security here by the way?"
"Excellent," I said absently, my thoughts elsewhere.
"Well then," He said, "I haven't spent enough time as a human lately, so."
I had never seen a lycanthrope shifting form before; it only took a couple of seconds, but was simultaneously a disturbing and fascinating process. After the process was complete, a remarkably scruffy-looking young man with long hair and oddly discolored and scarred skin was sitting on the crushed couch, wrapped in a cloak that obscured most of the rest of his apparel. Somehow, it was less than I had been expecting. He seemed to notice my disappointment.
"Not what you were expecting?" He grinned.
"No," I replied matter-of-factly.
"Oh," He said, suddenly smiling, "One other thing I can do, create magical items."
"Really," I said, and he nodded. "That has potential."
"You realize you sound like you're insane?" I said, looking down from the roof of the school.
"I've been accused of such before," The voice from my shadow said, "And that was before I hopped dimensions, and before someone started ripping my mind up."
I sighed, and put a hand to my forehead. This was a most unusual Servant.
"Your words do not fill me with confidence," I said.
Somehow, I had the distinct impression the Lycanthrope was smiling, even though I couldn't see him.
"Recommendations?" I asked.
"Lancer should show up here tonight," He said, "He should be looking to scout out you and your Servant's capabilities, he reports to that old priest in the church, who if I remember correctly, already has most of the other Masters and Servants figured out."
"Do you think you can defeat him?" I asked.
"I honestly have no idea, DEE EE AYE!" He suddenly half-shouted, and said nothing for a moment.
I waited out the fit, after a couple seconds, he continued.
"I'm sorry," He said, "I don't know how powerful my abilities are compared to theirs. Lancer isn't terribly powerful as far as Servants go, he's strongest against Sabre, and his spear, Gae Bolg, can instantly slay if he strikes with its special move. He's probably the best opportunity we'll have to see how my abilities stack up."
"Quite opportune," I said, considering for a moment. "Very well," I said, "Engage him, but retreat if you think he is beyond your abilities."
"How's your grip?" He asked.
"What?" I asked and thought, confused by the non-sequitor.
"I'm not going into battle with you sitting around as an easy target," He said, "I've got a couple of spells that can conceal or protect you to some degree, but the most thorough protective option I've got is for you to hang off my back when I fight, so my own protective enchantments apply to you."
That was a disconcerting thought. I bought some time to think about it by shifting and looking down at the archery dojo. There was Shinji, flaunting his pathetic excuse for status and abilities to make a mockery of the freshman. Jerk.
"Let's start with the other options," I said, "I don't feel like making a habit of riding Werewolves into battle."
"Hello Lancer," I said, and the spear-wielding servant immediately whipped around, spear in a defensive guard as he surveyed the schoolyard. Damn. You could tell he was the sort to associate with the Fey, he had a presence. It was slightly otherworldly, intense, and focused. I'm guessing he had no trouble picking up chicks.
"Why can't I see you?" He said immediately, a tinge of Irish on his tongue.
"Assassins do best with stealth, yes?" I replied, then cast True Strike.
He lashed out with a series of strikes, nearly hitting me despite being unable to hear me; I grinned. Images of Ranma Saotome dodging effortlessly ripped through my damaged mind, and I almost forgot to attack back. Right. Let's see if Ruby Nightmare Blade has any better luck than Sapphire Nightmare Blade. Focusing, I tried to find a hole in Lancer's defenses. No luck, so I just stabbed him. He grunted in pain as I stuck him in the thigh, able to see me clearly now, and his spear began to glow red.
Mmm, red like ice cream. I started, Jaunting out of the way of his spear thrust as I tore my focus away from the damaged memory connections, and growled. Let's see about Sapphire Nightmare Blade then, shall we? I tried to focus, tried to jab, but faced my usual success rate, and then Lancer was running, his wounds healing as he fled. I made to follow him, but then he jumped. And by 'jumped,' I mean he did the full-on Anime "I'm jumping integer multiples of stories with a number in the tens digit," style jump. I might be able to keep up with that for distance covered on the ground, but no way I'd be able to keep track of him across the rooftops. Rooftops. Heh, Red Roof Inn can have interesting clerks... I shook my mind from the broken strain of memories again.
Shit. That didn't go very well. +8096 XP. Hm. Maybe not so bad after all. I'd better go check in with Rin.
"So, what did you find?" I asked.
"I'm at least capable of competing," John said, his voice shifting as his body reverted to his scruffy human form, "Striking from stealth, I was at an advantage. I used a teleport effect that I can only manage so many times a day to avoid his special attack, and he fled after that."
"And how would you expect to hold up in open combat?" I asked, looking him in the eye as he sat across the living room from me.
"I don't know," He said, "And I don't intend to find out."
"What?" I said.
"Did you hear about what happened to the Trent Syndicate in Chicago last year?" He asked.
I took a moment to search my memory for things relating to the Americas recently, and came up with only a few details.
"I recall hearing that there was some form of upheaval, removing the crime syndicates that controlled the city," I said.
"I was that upheaval," He said, "With some help from an off-worlder assassin. I killed the head of the Trent syndicate by attacking him in his office while he was completely unprepared. He was down before he had the time to get a single spell off. If I'm going to fight in this war, I intend to defeat the opposing servants before they even know they're being attacked."
"Then why didn't you attempt to kill Lancer immediately?" I asked.
"Needed the intelligence more," He said, "MILITARY!"
I sighed, and waited for his fit to pass.
"Sorry," He said after a moment, "Where were we?"
"Intelligence," I said, "And could you try not to be so loud when that happens."
He was suddenly very still, and very silent.
"That comes out aloud?" He said, and there was a hint of vulnerability I had never detected in him before, even when he blatantly said his mind had been forcibly violated.
Control. It was about control; he had more difficulty dealing with the loss of control than with being injured in the first place. Not at all uncommon for the sort of high-pressure personalities that you find in the higher tiers of power in the magi's world, I suppose, but seeing his posture shift to a mixture between defensive cringing and aggressive tension somehow made such things much more real to me. My perspective suddenly shifted in a deep, intensely imposing way.
My entire life I had been training in the magician's arts, setting my eyes on achieving the Grail War, and winning it, an objective, a purpose, a drive and a reason. But it was impersonal, an abstract, ultimately it had been a mental exercise, much like the academics and magical training I had immersed myself in. Now the war had a face, that of my summoned Servant, who had apparently, no, not 'apparently', obviously sustained deep mental wounds fighting a powerful living legend mere days ago, and was shunting aside his personal struggles to serve my purpose without me so much as asking. It was both shocking and humbling, seeing firsthand just the first signs of how deeply damaged people could be.
I focused my attention back outwards, towards him, and was caught, terrified by the horrifyingly intense, half-mad stare directed straight at me.
"Something in you just changed," His voice low and intense, "You saw something in me, recognized something, and it's changing one or more keystones of either your beliefs about the immediate situation or your worldview as a whole."
Unable to bring myself to look away, I nodded.
"What is it?" He demanded forcefully, leaning forward, muscles in his face tensing and beginning to twitch.
It was terrifying, and I didn't know how to respond, my mind paralyzed in a way I had never known before. No one had ever looked at me with that kind of intensity, that kind of demand before.
"What is it?" He demanded, smashing his fist down into the floor.
Intothe floor; his arm was buried almost to the elbow before he ripped it free, and pulled back. I could see, as he withdrew into himself, something closing off and the frightening intensity and fire faded away.
"What was that?" I asked, scrambling for scattered faculties.
"That," John said, moving around behind one of the couches and sitting behind it so that I could no longer see him directly, "Was why I have been called mad before I ever had my mind invaded, or bridged dimensional boundaries. That's what it looks like when I stop hiding how driven I am, and as per usual, the only result was that I scared someone. I'd like to offer you some comfort that you won't have to see it again anytime soon, but like I've said, my mind was raped, my control is not the best just now."
That was way too far outside of my experience to know how to respond to.
"Back to the matter at hand," He said gruffly, still remaining out of my line of sight, "Tonight Emiya Shirou will unintentionally summon Sabre, probably a ritual powered by his own magic, but set up by his adoptive father before he died. He's more or less a hero in training, I know for a fact that in at least one reality, he becomes a Heroic Spirit himself."
Shirou? Emiya 'I let people talk me into doing their chores for them' Shirou? A HeroicSpirit?
"Because of the mess of an indirect summoning," John continued, "He'll be unable to restore Sabre's magical energy or heal her. I'm pretty sure if you offer to repair that by implanting part of Shirou's circuit in Sabre, you can make a permanent ally out of him for the course of the Grail War."
"Which of us would receive the Grail in such an arrangement?" I asked.
"Neither of you will want it anyways," He said, with no small amount of bitterness, "It's a massively cursed item anyways. You remember the explosion and fire in the city ten years ago? That was the Grail, and Shirou lost his entire original family in that blast, which is a large part of why he's determined to be a hero. He'll be determined to get through the War with as few Masters dying as possible, which to him means none. Sabre, with her ability to restore power repaired, can almost certainly defeat every other Servant, the only ones likely to give her any trouble are Berserker and the eighth Servant."
"Eighth?" I said "That's not possible."
"Oh, it's more than possible," John said, "Gilgamesh decided he didn't want to leave after the last Grail War, from what I understand, that's part of why it's taking place now rather than another fifty years down the line. He's unquestionably the most offensively powerful of the Servants, some odd twist on the Archer class. Berserker might be able to take him by sheer durability, he's got twelve lives, but other than that only Sabre has the raw power to stand up to him."
"What about you?" I asked.
"If I can catch him unawares, he's meat," John said, "He fights like an artillery piece. If I can take Lancer, I'm confident I can take Rider or Caster, Berserker is going to be a bitch for whoever tries to fight him. If I can double-team things with Sabre, in all honesty I think this war will be a bit of a cake-walk, barring unforeseen interference. The problem, of course, will be meeting up with Sabre and Shiro without her immediately trying to kill me. She's aggressive."
Two things occurred to me at this point; he knew far too much about the other Servants, and that was the longest I'd seen him go since arriving without having a mental lapse.
"How do you know all of this?" I asked.
He grunted, and stood, coming around from his hiding place behind the couch with a dour expression on his face. It was abundantly clear that he'd thoroughly reasserted control; he sat down on the couch again facing me.
"I've seen one of three predominantly possible outcomes to this timeline," He said, "Since you're not getting it on with Shirou, there are only two possibilities left, and there isn't that much variation between what Servants I'd have to fight in the two anyways."
His entire body went tense, and his jaw clenched so tightly my own ached in sympathy. It seemed he had decided he would contain any further outbursts, now that he was aware of them. I let him struggle with his demons, while I considered our next step in the war. As usual, the fit took only a few moments to pass, but he remained silent afterwards, so I took the time to think.
After a good few minutes of mulling over assorted possibilities, I decided to start in the immediacy.
"So," I said, "Where do we go to attempt alliance with Sabre and Shirou?"
"Shirou-san," A female voice said, and I looked up from the VCR I was repairing to see Tohsaka Rin standing at the entrance of the small warehouse.
What on earth was shedoing here?
"Hello Tohsaka-san," I said, not trying to hide the confusion in my voice, "What brings you to my door?"
"Magic," She said bluntly, "You're about to accidentally summon the most powerful Servant in the currently ongoing Holy Grail War, which you know next to nothing about."
What?My mind drew a blank.
"What?" My mouth followed my mind.
"Archer," She said shrugging, and suddenly there was a Gaijin man standing beside her.
I blinked. He had not been there before. Tall, scruffy, not much besides his head was showing from beneath the large cloak he wore, his eyes measuring me in the low light.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Servant class Archer," He said, "You can call me John though. I'm something of a fighter-mage."
I looked between him and Rin, trying to figure out what his relationship to the girl was.
"He's my Servant for the Grail War," Rin said, easily picking up on the focus of my curiosity, "My life is effectively in his hands until a winner is declared or the Grail is destroyed. Much as yours will shortly be in the hand of the Servant you summon."
"But I'm not even capable of that form of magic," I pointed out, bewildered.
"Oh, we know," Tohsaka said, flipping her hand dismissively, "We think the ritual was probably set up by your adoptive Father before he died, it's not likely to function completely properly as it is."
"Uh," I said intelligently, then after a moment managed to continue, "I think you have the wrong Shirou."
Tohsaka just pointed to the floor of the Warehouse behind me, where glowing lines were beginning to form on the floor, already recognizable as the beginning of a ritual circle. What Rin was saying shifted from 'impossible' to 'unlikely'. I looked back at Rin, who simply raised an eyebrow, and then at 'John,' who smirked in an amused way.
"This is a summoning circle then?" I asked hesistantly.
They both nodded.
"Why are you here then?" I asked somewhat self-consciously.
"We want to ally with you," Rin said, "You want to be a hero, and we want to survive the War. You should be receiving Sabre, easily the most overall dangerous Servant, and my Archer here should compliment her abilities to make an excellent team."
"What is this Grail War anyways?" I asked.
"Supposedly a War for a wish-granting item," Archer said, "But it's actually a deeply cursed item, I don't know who got off with calling it the 'Holy Grail,' It's anything but. It and the war also caused the explosion and fire here in Fuyuki City ten years ago."
My jaw clenched unconsciously, and I stared the man, Archer, in the eyes. There was something disturbing in his eyes, but I didn't see any lie. This, this was something I could not leave be. I decided I was going to try to be a hero a long time ago, and no Hero could do anything less than their best to prevent a repeat of that fire ten years ago. I turned to look at the still-forming summoning circle on the Warehouse floor.
"How did this Grail War cause that?" I asked, my tone harsh with repressed emotion.
"As best I can recall," Archer said, "Gilgamesh, the previous Archer-class Servant went all out in the middle of a fight in the city against Sabre. Those two are easily the most powerful Servants in the war, and when they let loose, things got ugly."
"So these Servants are to blame?" I asked, fighting to keep calm.
A lot of people died that night, including my family.
"No," Archer said, "Gilgamesh was to blame. From what I recall, Sabre, who was your father's Servant at the time, was acting in defense, there really wasn't much else she could have done. Besides, knowing who she is, she would have killed herself before letting something like that happen if she could."
"Who is she?" I asked, slightly confused.
"That's not for me to tell," Archer said, then glanced over my shoulder, "Besides, it looks like the summoning is almost finished. Oh, and please ask her not to try to kill me."
"Also," Tohsaka added, "When she asks if you're her master, the answer is 'yes, and these are my allies.'"
Then the summoning circle flared, and there was another girl in the room. She was blonde haired and blue-eyed, clearly of western blood, wearing an odd amalgamation of plate-mail and blue clothing, which in no way concealed the fact that she was a small woman, especially by western standards. Her eyes though, were by far the most demanding part of her, intense, piercing, they left no doubt that there was a focused, driven intellect behind them. And they were focused wholly on me.
"Are you my Master?" She asked.
The Ryuudouji temple was, I suppose unsurprisingly, a peaceful- Allwearesaying,isgivepeaceachance...
I clenched my jaw and ground my teeth, forcing my mind back onto track as the unwelcome memory connection dragged over-repeated song lyrics across my conscious mind and tried to force them out of my mouth. It wasn't physically painful, but it was a harsh reminder of how deeply I had been violated, and even coming to understand the effects of that violation, and how to mitigate them, it was deeply emotionally disturbing, especially for someone as compulsive about self-control as me.
Resetting my mind to task, I continued my infiltration of the quiet Shinto shrine. I would be surprised if anyone other than Caster, the servant present here, or Assassin, her summoned servant, were capable of detecting me, especially considering I was magically stealthed twice over, and using a Silence spell to mask any sound I might otherwise have made. A tourist's map of the shrine had eliminated all the public spaces, and I was taking a look-see through the rest with Arcane Sight on, waiting to spot myself a powerful magical aura. If I found Assassin first, I might try to take him out, but without Caster he was unlikely to pick a fight with any of the rest of us anyways. Besides, he was no match for Sabre, and now that we were allied, getting Caster out of the picture was the priority.
Ah. There we have it; that's definitely the aura of a high level caster. Considering it's so much higher than mine, I can't really differentiate it, I'm pretty sure it's Caster. Oh, and what's this? An Alarm spell on the room. Clever little Greek Sorceress. No way I'm making a dispel check against that at my level, so really only one way to do this. Checking to make sure I wouldn't disturb the boundaries of the Alarm spell, I slid the shoji panel that served as her room's door open, and took a look at Caster. Firing up my Sense Motive skill, I took advantage of my silly-high skill modifier to try to discern her alignment. First time I'd tried it on someone unconscious.
Neutral Evil. I still didn't like the idea of 'killing' a woman in her sleep, but in the plot-lines I knew for Fate/Stay Night, she tried to torture at least one or two people into submission, and you don't really 'kill' Servants anyways. Shunting aside the queasy feeling in my stomach, I cast Haste, drew my shortswords, and charged into the room, activating Ruby Nightmare Blade. She snapped awake, lurching upright in her bed as soon as I entered, but I had my sword in her chest before her eyes had finished focusing. She gasped, and I ruthlessly brought around the other blade, Mountain Hammer sweeping through her neck to remove her head before she had the chance to act.
Much to my, and my conscience's, relief, rather than a high-pressure spray of blood and gore, she dissolved into motes of light, and disappeared. Yeah, I'd attacked a woman sleeping in her bed, but I hadn't killed anyone, hey? I immediately Teleported back to Shirou's place, where the others were waiting for me.
John returned with a small 'pop' sound, and everyone's attention was immediately on him.
"How did it go?" I asked immediately.
"Pretty much flawlessly," He said, shrugging his immense shoulders, which began shrinking partway through the gesture as he reverted to human form, then groaned slightly.
"Were you injured?" Shirou asked worriedly.
"Not from this encounter," John answered, then shook his head and refocused, "Just an old wound acting up."
The man was a consummate professional at pretending things were far less serious than they actually were. I could tell from his accent he was American, but wasn't the 'stiff upper lip' supposed to be a British characteristic?
"We move onto the Church now, to fight the pretender, yes?" Sabre said, all business.
"Are you up for it?" I asked, turning to my Servant.
"Yes," He said, grimacing again, "I'm sorry if I start spouting bad music though, still drawing random mental connections to that. What's the plan?"
"I will challenge Gilgamesh," Sabre said authoritatively, "If you are correct, he is already obsessed with me, and obsessed people subconsciously expect others to be obsessed. Once I have his attention, you strike from stealth, and we finish him together."
"Simple enough," John said, "When do we go?"
"Now," Sabre said, "We do not want to risk upsetting our intelligence advantage."
John looked to me, I nodded my assent, and we left.
"GILGAMESH!" Sabre screamed, "COME AND FACE ME!"
I watched silently with Rin, at least I assumed she was still next to me, while we waited to see if Gilgamesh would appear.
"I KNOW YOU'RE HERE GILGAMESH," Sabre screamed, after several minutes went by, "FACE ME, COWARD!"
That got his attention. Slow, clanking footsteps sounded from around the side of the church, and a tall, lean man in brilliant golden armor strode into view.
"Hello Arturia," He said in a clear, commanding voice, "It has been far too long."
"Gilgamesh," Sabre said, "I hear word you think you have fallen in love with me."
Gilgamesh blinked, for a moment showing clear surprise.
"I had thought myself more discreet than that," He said, clearly bemused as he continued to move out to face Sabre, "But truly, are you so surprised that I, the King of heroes, would fall in love with the only other Hero King who can come close to matching my power?"
"Your proud heart is foolish," Sabre said harshly, "You were a cruel and selfish king, and I showed you clearly when last we clashed that I believe in a Kingdom of Justice, not of petty tyranny."
"You were born as a mere human," Gilgamesh said, placing himself to directly face Sabre from perhaps eight meters away from her, "It s your ability to surpass this limitation that has so impressed me, yet it unfortunately keeps you from seeing how beneath you such creature's concerns are."
Archer's deep, guttural voice sounded behind Gilgamesh, and the gold-armored man, spun around, a sword suddenly in his hand, but he was too slow. Archer's massive half-human form loomed over him, one of the man's swords sticking clear through Gilgamesh's chest.
"Is this mere human beneath you?" Archer snarled, and Gilgamesh kicked off the man-beast's chest, ripping himself free of the man's sword, and then heaving back with his own.
"ENUMA ELISH!" He screamed, even as Sabre was lunging, invisible sword extended towards the man's exposed back.
Suddenly, there was a sun before me, and I closed my eyes, turning away and covering them with my hands. Rin tapped me, and suddenly the searing pain in my eyes was gone, and I turned back to face the warring Servants.
Gilgamesh's decapitated body was dissolving into motes of light; Sabre was sheathing her sword from the killing stroke, and Archer was glowing as though he'd tried to swallow part of the sun.
"Sugoi," Rin breathed from her invisible position beside me, "He told me he could absorb magic, but I had no idea..."
Maybe it's because I work more with machinery and electronics than magic, but Archer seemed like an electrical circuit trying to carry too much current, the way small arcs of energy were dropping off of him and shattering chunks of sidewalk.
"Are you sure he's alright?" I quietly asked Rin, "He looks a little overloaded."
"Um," Rin began, but was cut off by a primal roar from Archer, a triumphant scream, something bestial in a way I'd never heard before.
"Yes," She finished, "I'm pretty sure he's fine."
Archer and Sabre's attention suddenly whipped around towards the church, and I could hear a faint crunching sound from there myself.
"Lancer and the priest are making a break for it," Archer said.
"We'll take care of them," Sabre said, "Can you handle Berserker?"
"If I can't," Archer said, and I could hear the smirk in his voice, "I certainly can run away."
Sabre nodded, then swept over to my side.
"Master," She said, "I request that we pursue the priest and his Servant, we have the tactical advantage, and should press it."
I thought for a moment, then nodded firmly, and Sabre wrapped an armored arm around me, and leapt towards the back of the church.
Power. Raw, searing, undiluted power. I don't know what kind of caster level Gilgamesh was packing, but it wasn't high enough to get through my spell resistance, and now I had power. It was glorious. Drinking spells before had been heady, but I had never absorbed anything above seventh level. Whatever Gilgamesh had thrown at me, it had to be Epic, but he didn't have the caster level to back up his spell selection. Spellfire coursed through my veins, swamping my memory addled mind to the point where the cross-connections and short-circuits no longer mattered, the distraction was completely overridden by the heady rush.
Gaining another level for beating the crap out of Gilgamesh hadn't hurt either. He hadn't given as much Experience as Caster, but that's probably because I was splitting it with Sabre.
Ah, right on time.
Turning my focus outwards again, I turned to face the widely disparate approaching duo.
"Hello Berserker," I growled, grinning wildly as I did so.
AN: Berserker battle goes for 7 minutes 24 seconds, I ran the whole thing with 3.5 game rules, Berserker being a mid 20's gestalt epic build focused on strength/offense and DR.
I watched as Archer and Berserker beat each other around the street, until Berserker body-slammed Archer into the city.
"Your servant is surprisingly strong!" Said the small albino girl who was also watching the fight.
Illyasviel von Einzbern. Chosen Master of the Einzbern family, one of the three families who had taken part in setting the stage for the each successive Grail War after the first had been such a disaster. She had summoned Heracles. If there was a stronger Heroic Spirit than Sabre, Heracles would be the one. I was, quite frankly, amazed that John had survived the thirty seconds of combat I'd seen. Every time Berserker swung his sword, something was destroyed, even though it was never John.
This was the first time I'd really seen my Servant fight, and I was impressed; when he said he was very strong defensively, he meant it. He had evaded, parried, or deflected every blow that Berserker threw at him, and while the Greek's massive sword had smashed through walls and pavement, it had not drawn my Servant's blood. Berserker, on the other hand had not even bothered to avoid a single blow that my Servant had landed. Archer had placed two careful blows at the start of the battle, and while they had drawn some blood, the wounds were nowhere near mortal, and it seemed as though every other blow Archer had landed was nothing more than a scratch.
Illyasviel had been, and still was giggling about the whole affair, which I found to be frankly creepy, since she appeared to be all of nine or ten years old.
"What's so funny?" I asked, some irritation leaking into my voice.
"Oh," She said, turning to smile up at me cutely, "I'm just happy to see Berserker enjoying himself. He is the strongest servant after all."
"What about Sabre?" I asked, irritated by the little girl's flagrant pride.
"Oh," She said nonchalantly, "I'm sure they'll have fun playing together, she'll probably take a few of his lives, but he'll still win."
"'Lives'?" I asked worriedly.
"Oh yes," She said, "He has twelve. Oh!" She looked surprised for a moment before continuing, "Your Servant actually took one! Good for him!"
Just then Archer came flying back into view, a massive bloody gouge across his chest. He slammed into the church wall, started singing, and charged back around the corner.
"Berserker didn't like that," Illyasviel said, smiling up at me again, "I don't think your servant is going to last much longer."
I have to admit, I felt a little green after seeing the end of Lancer and Sabre's fight. Lancer stabbed her through the heart. Through the freaking heart. She shoved herself further down the spear so that she could take his head off with her sword. Then she pulled his spear out of her chest, and I could feel her siphoning off my magical energy to heal herself. It was a pretty substantial pull, but I could handle it, and if Archer could handle Berserker, I shouldn't have to deal with this kind of trouble again. By the time she finished healing, I reallyhoped I wouldn't have to deal with it again, at least not a chest wound. That was tiring.
"We should return to aid Archer and Rin Tohsaka," Sabre said, staring at me with that intense gaze of hers.
"Yes," I nodded decisively, and then she had swept an armored arm around me, and we were skimming the rooftops again.
Lancer had fled quite a ways; it could take quite a bit of time to reach Archer's battle with Berserker, depending on where their battle had wandered to. I passed the first half minute or so in contemplation before deciding to ask a question.
"You were a king?" I asked somewhat hesitantly.
"Yes," She said bluntly, continuing on. It was somewhat awkward being carried by a smaller woman, who was also considerably stronger than I.
"Um," I said, "Aren't female monarchs usually called Queens?"
"Yes," She said, "But the law mandated that whoever pulled the sword from the stone would be the King of Britain, not the Queen."
I blinked. Did she mean? I blinked again.
"You're KingArthur?" I asked in disbelief.
"Arturia," She corrected, but gave no further response.
My mind felt about as lost as the rest of me, bouncing around the city-scape in the arms of the most beautiful woman I had ever met, who was also probably the most famous King in history.
"That's three lives," She said, "It should not be that difficult," She stared up at me, her gaze and tone serious for the first time since I had met her, "Who is your Servant?"
"His name is John," I said, smirking, "He is a Heroic Spirit from the modern age, and his specialty is defense. A strong enough specialty, apparently, to hold off your Berserker."
A bestial howl echoed down the street the girls were running towards, and as they rounded the corner they saw the two Servants engaged in a brute-force brawl up and down the street. Archer was slashing the hell out of Berserker, fire and lightning licking along the length of his paired blades as they flicked out and grated across the Greek legend's iron-hard skin again and again. Berserker slammed his single massive blade into Archer time after time, but a crackling shield of force deflected it into the surroundings almost every single time. The street and structures surrounding were a mess, half torn-apart by the pair of brutes fighting in their midst.
And Archer was still singing,a mad tune that readily demonstrated his lack of both natural aptitude and training for singing, but to my somewhat decently well-traveled ears, it was definitely an English song, and extremely aggressive. It suited the moment. Then my familiar cast his Haste spell again, and Illyasviel gasped.
"He's a spellcaster!" The girl turned to fix me with a glare, "How is it you summoned an Archer who is both a swordfighter and a spellcaster?"
I just smirked. Let the little brat chew on that. A roar of pain and anger sounded, and we both turned to look at the fighting Servants, just in time to see Archer pull one of his swords from Berserker's neck, and kick the collapsed Servant down the street. Illyasviel gasped.
"Four," She whispered, "Fourlives..."
Archer closed his eyes and stood back in a posture of repose, arms loose at his sides as he was utterly still, save for his mouth continuing to sing, almost independently of the rest of his being. The song he was singing had changed, though my English was not good enough to keep up with the lyrics. Then Berserker roared and leapt to his feet again, and the two Servants charged each other once more.
When Sabre and I found Tohsaka and the pale girl, they both looked very green, and not particularly hostile to each other.
"What happened?" I asked once Sabre set me down, "What's gone wrong?"
Tohsaka pointed in a direction that she was very clearly refusing to look in, and I examined what she was indicating. I threw up, and joined the girls in not looking that way. It was a part of human anatomy, a very large part, and it was no longer attached to the rest of a human. A faint roar from down the street indicated where the combatants were now.
"Ten!" The little blond girl screamed, staring at Tohsaka accusingly, "Ten lives! Who is this Servant of yours?"
"I already told you, Von Einzbern," Tohsaka said, showing a trace of irritation as she did so, "Come on Shirou, Sabre, let's go make sure that my Servant doesn't get himself killed."
I nodded, and we ran down the street, the blond girl quickly following after us. She was already unearthly pale, but as we ran her expression eerily mirrored that which accompanied people of more common complexions going pale, and she seemed to steadily grow in worry. Considering the girl had shown up and ordered her servant to attack with little to no preamble, I figured whatever had her worried most probably was a good thing for us.
When we arrived on the street where the two Servants were fighting, it was just in time to see Berserker hack open Archer from hip to shoulder, intestines spilling onto the street. The were-man growled and ignored the blow, magical shielding blocking Berserker's follow up strikes; I could see the wound healing rapidly even as Archer pushed back onto the offensive, a flurry of blows laying open and bleeding Berserker all across his massive limbs. Several seconds passed, Berserker's powerful blows either missing Archer entirely, or failing to force their way past the magical energies shielding him, while Archer continued to wear down the much more physically powerful Servant.
"Why don't you help him?" Tohsaka demanded, half-glaring at Sabre as she simply stood beside me.
"My assistance is unnecessary," Sabre said flatly, "And it is best to have a guard for the Masters in case Assassin or Rider appear."
Tohsaka opened her mouth to respond, but was cut off by a meaty ripping sound as Berserker managed to penetrate Archer's defenses again. I winced, worried for the smaller Servant momentarily. Then Archer's blades burst into flame, and Archer retaliated for Berserker's blow in a flurry of fire and steel.
Berserker fell, and didn't get up again. The body of the massive Greek hero slowly dissolved into light as we watched, and the little blond girl began to tremble.
"No," She whispered, "Six Servants have fallen, how are there still two of you left?"
"Gilgamesh was a spare," Archer growled as he strode over to us, wiping blood from his swords as he did so, the wounds on his chest still visibly healing over, "Left over from the last Grail War, I don't know how."
The girl seemed panicked, though I had no idea why, we'd hardly threatened her, and if she'd not found Sabre or Berserker imposing, why would she be afraid of Archer? Maybe she was afraid of Wolves?
"You said six," Sabre cut in, "What of Assassin and Rider?"
"I don't know," The girl said, "But I know they're dead, I feel their energy, its..."
She groaned, clutching her arms around her chest.
"You should all move back," Archer said, "Her body is about to become the vessel for the Grail, and it isn't going to be pretty."
I looked at Archer, to ask him a question, but Sabre abruptly swept me off my feet, leaping to a nearby roof, while Archer did the same with Tohsaka. Behind us, the blond began screaming, and power flared on the street. After Sabre set me down, I ducked down and peeked over the edge of the building. It was too bright to see clearly, so I shielded my eyes with my hand, peeking through the cracks between my fingers to try and see.
It took a while, but between my eyes adjusting, and the light dimming considerably, eventually I could see a massive, brilliantly glowing bowl suspended in the air above the street, some sort of foul-looking substance oozing out of it into the air, but dissolving before it struck the street. The blond had collapsed beneath the vessel, and wasn't moving.
"That's the Grail?" Tohsaka breathed from beside me, bewildered.
"Like I said," Archer said, and I turned to look at him, "Cursed. I don't know who or what got off calling it a 'holy' Grail, but it's anything but. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an ancient evil artifact to destroy."
The Werewolf took a flying leap at the thing, the sort of leap it seemed all Servants could make, wrapping both hands around one of his swords, and smashing it down onto the Grail. The thing rang like a massive, misformed bell as he struck it from above, landing on top of it after his blow slammed in. He took a moment on top of it to wind up for another swing, then slammed his sword down into it again, and another ring, this one mixed with a sick cracking sound resounded across the street.
"MOUNTAIN HAMMER!" He screamed, winding up one more time, and this time the entire thing shattered under the blow.
Suddenly Sabre was between me and the Grail, twisting Tohsaka around to take shelter behind her diminutive form as well. I was expecting some sort of massive explosion, but instead there was just some 'thump' and 'clank' sounds, so I peeked around Sabre's armored shoulder. Two halves of the grail were rolling loosely on their curved sides on the street, and Archer was picking up the blond girl's unconscious body. Huh. I was expecting something more spectacular than that.
Then the Dragon arrived.
Shit. Forgot about that little detail; 95% chance that destroying an artifact will draw the attention of a powerful being related to it. Epic Force Dragon certainly counts as powerful. It teleported in while I was standing between the two separated halves of the massive urn, leaving little doubt as to who had done the deed. It was immense, probably Colossal+ by D'n'D standards, its head was the size of van, its jaws could have swallowed a compact, and it was lowering its head down to glare directly into my face. Crap.
"YOU DARE TO DESTROY MY GRAIL, HUMAN?" It growled out, its blazing eyes burning into me.
I'll admit it, I was intimidated. Made me very aware of the fact that yes, there were still things out there bigger and more dangerous than me, even if I'd just reached ninth level spells. I wasn't quite Epic yet, a 'mere' level 19, but if I remember right, that thing was something like challenge rating/level 65?
Yeah, definitely screwed.
"Cursed, wasn't it?" I managed to squeak out, though fortunately for my dignity's sake, a Dire Werewolf squeaking doesn't sound at all like squeaking to a human.
"OF COURSE," The Dragon roared, "WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RITE OF THE GRAIL WAS FOR? TO PURIFY IT!"
"Oops?" I said faintly, and it's eyes narrowed at me.
Crap. I'd pissed it off. I tried to cast a Haste and make a run for it, but its jaws came crashing down on me, and I lost control of the spell, barely managing to protect Ilya from the Dragon's massive teeth. Judging by the deep wounds in my back and shins, and, you know, the pain, the thing had probably taken a fifth of my absurd total of hit points in the one hit.
Then it spit me out and cast a pair of spells, the first a teleportation blocker, the second Forcecage. Suck. It knew how to stop me; grapple or hold spells couldn't do jack to me, but this... Much more dangerous. It had me cornered but good now, and poor Ilya too. Girl really got a raw deal, trained to be a weapon, then disposed of, and now she was stuck under the gaze of a wrathful Force Dragon. Well, at least she was unconscious and didn't have to deal with it directly. The Dragon started some sort of imperious monologue about mortals meddling where it was not their place; sounded a lot like Gilgamesh in all, but my mind was racing elsewhere.
What could I do? Jaunt, Teleport, Dimension door, they were all out, and I only knew of one way to get out of a Forcecage without teleportation. I silently cast Antimagic Field, and the cage winked out. I immediately leapt away, but the Dragon had been waiting, and pinned me in place.
"FOOLISH HUMAN," It boomed, "DID YOU THINK YOU COULD ESCAPE SO EASILY?"
Well, I'd hoped so anyways... I struggled futilely against the creature's overwhelming grip, but for all the strength I had, it had what seemed like infinitely more. It cast Mordenkainen's Disjunction once, obliterating my Antimagic Field, and pinned my arms in place to prevent me from casting Spells. I tried to Jaunt, but somehow it already had another Anti-teleport ward up, and I was trapped.
"NOW," It said, "LET US REMOVE YOUR TRINKET'S PROTECTION."
Mordenkainen's again, and suppressed the hell out of my various pieces of magical Equipment. Shit.
"NOW FOR PUNISHMENT," It said, and I felt a chill go down my spine.
Then it cast an Epic spell, and it was one hell of an epic spell; it was some sort of compulsion, something I did not like the looks of, especially after the pair of Geas Dumbledore had already put me under. My hyper-powered mind flicked through ways out of this trap, and failing to come up with any, looked for ways to mitigate whatever was going on. Shit. Nothing came to mind. Then the Dragon finished the spell, and I felt a compulsion settle into my mind, restrictive, forceful, overwhelming. I'm pretty sure that's when I started screaming, as I realized it had barred my access to my magical abilities, allofthem, but it wasn't finished yet.
Another Epic spell was cast, this one some form of Polymorph spell, and I desperately tried to struggle free, but its grip was harder than iron, and it finished the spell. Desperately, I struggled against the imposing weight of the spell, and managed to shrug it off, panting as my Spell Resistance absorbed it. I gasped in relief for a moment, before the Dragon's voice demanded my attention again.
"IMPRESSIVE," The Dragon growled, "FOR A HUMAN."
And then cast the spell again. This time, the spell overwhelmed me, and my body changed. I shrank swiftly, body reducing rapidly from my large Were-form, down to something much smaller, though still four-limbed, and furry. I could feel power and strength draining from my body, supernatural as well as natural, as I shrank, my clothes and equipment falling to the street around me as my body shrank down to a tiny, tiny form.
I was a cat.
"MUCH MORE APPROPRIATE," The Dragon boomed, pulling its claw back off of me, "NOW BEGONE."
Scrambling, I clutched around with my unfamiliar body parts, seeking to grab some useful bit of equipment before the Dragon finished casting its latest spell, snagging a ring with one of my claws. Then the Dragon finished its latest spell combo, Gate and Telekinesis.
I'm really starting to hate that combination.