[Insert generic disclaimer here]

: : The primary cipher key has been generated. : :

The first of the two cipher keys needed to enter the Coliseum where the elimination battle will take place - and the first of many trials which would determine her worth as a Master. If she couldn't obtain both Triggers before the end of the week then she was automatically disqualified and subsequently deleted. That...would be quite the embarassing death.

Ayaka sighed and put away her terminal, preparing to enter the Arena. She was still more than a little annoyed over Shinji's nonchalant attitude about the whole thing, but after asking around she figured that his confidence was somewhat justifiable since he seemed to be a famous hacker and was supposed to be incredibly strong. Besides, she couldn't let her emotions get to her so strongly if she wanted to do her best and not let Saber down.

As she walked down the stairs, however, a familiar head of blue hair popped into view. Ayaka sighed and briefly wondered if there was a hack - or at least some sort of Formal Wear - that would allow her to become invisible to select people.

"Ayaka!" Shinji said conversationally. "Going to get the Trigger? Well, it sucks to be you. I'm going in right now, too. A total cretin like you won't be able to find it, but good luck anyway!" He burst into laughter and walked off towards the Arena.

As soon as Shinji turned the corner there was a soft whooshing sound and Saber materialized with a strange expression on his face.

"I did not know it was possible to be so...immature," Saber said in a voice that was caught somewhere between amusement and disgust. "As much as I detest deceit even the tiniest dose of insincere chivalry would do wonders for his personality. Let us go, Master, and pay no heed to that blustering fool."

Upon entering the Arena Saber paused and put a hand of Ayaka's shoulder. "Be warned, Master - the boy and his Servant are close by. Perhaps we can use this opportunity to gather information. Shall we follow them?"

Ayaka hesitated. Was she confident enough to face Shinji at the moment? For all of his posturing Shinji still had at least some talent to back him up, whereas Ayaka...

"Yes...I suppose we should," she said haltingly. Even if a battle was unavoidable the SERAPH terminated all unauthorized battles after three turns. She should be able to keep Saber alive until then, and they might gain some crucial information on their opponent's skills.

They moved deeper in, dispatching enemy programs as they went. Ayaka was pleased to find that she was noticeably better at predicting their movements, and as a result Saber was able to deal with them and suffer nothing more than a few scratches in return.

Soon, however, Ayaka came to a halt and stared at the two figures blocking the corridor up ahead. One of them was Shinji, somehow looking even more smug than he normally did. As soon as he saw Ayaka his grin grew even wider.

"Ayaka, you're late. While you were crawling along like the slug you are I obtained the Trigger!"

Ayaka flinched and hastily attempted to remember if there was anything in the rules regarding whether a Master obtained a Trigger after or before their opponent. There wasn't, as far as she could recall...

Shinji, of course, completely misinterpreted her expression and burst out laughing.

"What's with that look? Your skills are pathetic compared to mine, so don't be too harsh on yourself!" He paused and turned to the tall, red-haired woman standing beside him. "And speaking of you losing, let me introduce my Servant. I'm going to win; it's not like it matters to me. If you can't even get your cipher keys you might as well just accept your game over here and now!" He smirked and addressed his Servant. "Seriously, feel free to turn her into a bullet-ridden corpse whenever you feel like it!"

Ayaka's breath caught; was Shinji really going to give out information about his Servant just like that? Not that she was complaining, but how could anyone be so stupid? This was his own life on the line! Under her disbelief there was a slight sliver of annoyance - did she really seem that incompetent, or was it just Shinji being obnoxious again? Either way, he really was beginning to get on her nerves even more than usual.

And did he say 'bullet-ridden corpse'? Ayaka looked at the scarred Servant curiously. Bullets implied guns of some sort, and gun-wielding Legendary Souls were far from common - as opposed to those who wielded swords or magic. She was dressed the part of a female gunslinger from olden times, certainly, in tight white pants and long black boots and a crimson jacket which just barely managed to cover her giant breasts.

"Okay," the Servant said with a smile, "but are you sure you're done gloating? I found myself enjoying your meaningless chatter." She then turned to Ayaka and grinned. "As you can see, when it comes to talking to others, my Master is a complete social retard, right? Seeing him actually having a conversation with you, I thought we could settle this peacefully."

Ayaka stifled a snort at the words 'social retard', then blinked owlishly as the rest of the Servant's words registered. This was what she called a conversation? But then again, maybe it was a conversation where Shinji was concerned.

Shinji wasn't too pleased. "Will you hurry up and maim her already?"

Servant and Master exchanged a few more words, though Ayaka noted with interest the Servant's apparent fondness of evil and her expectation of a reward. Maybe she was a bounty or a treasure hunter of some sort?

"Get ready, Master," Saber said softly as he planted himself in front of her. He wasn't a moment too soon as the woman pulled out a pair of beautifully decorated handguns and fired.

Saber blocked the bullets with the flat of his invisible blade and rushed forward to engage the woman in close combat. The woman grimaced and retreated slightly before fighting back, wielding her pistols like clubs.

Ayaka frowned as she attempted to analyze the enemy's movements and got only a headache for her trouble. After a few moments she gave up - Saber seemed to be doing fine on his own and didn't need her flawed interference anyway - and pressed her hands together. When she opened them there was an Ether Shard lying in her palm, ready for use.

Generally most people might agree that clubs were effective against swords merely because with enough strength behind them they could easily break a well-crafed blade. Swords were on the more delicate side, requiring finesse and skill to wield effectively, whereas clubs were...well, clubs...and anyone could do considerable damage with them even without training. With training...well, Ayaka had a feeling that Saber's sword would've been long broken by now if it wasn't Excaliber.

As it was, she could see the enemy Servant growing slightly frustrated even as Saber slowly retreated from her blows. Thanks to Saber's armor and his personal skill any damage he took was small and ignorable. Still, if this was an extended battle...

Ayaka crushed the Ether Shard into powder and blew gently, watching as every single scratch on her Servant vanished. Saber shot her a quick but grateful smile while the enemy Servant faltered for a split second; taking advantage of that opening Saber pressed forward and managed to force her back again.

Of course, that was when the SERAPH moved to intervene and they had to drop their battle or risk penalties.

Ayaka sagged against the corridor wall as the last bits of adrenaline left her system. Meanwhile Saber leaned on his sword, looking rather odd as he did so, and looked thoughtfully at the place where Shinji and his Servant vanished.

"Interesting..." Saber muttered. "Her weapon of choice is a projectile weapon. Perhaps she is of the Archer class...?" He glanced at Ayaka and smiled sheepishly. "Please don't quote me on that, though, as I am not sure at all."

"Yeah..." Ayaka pulled out her terminal and quickly noted down Saber's theory as well as what she herself had noticed earlier. Then she sighed and stood, giving Saber a quick once-over. "Are you alright?"

"I am fine. Shall we continue?"

"Yeah, let's go..."