The forest around Fuyuki was a relatively average one as far as forests in japan go. It was a temperate forest with most of its fauna being insects, small mammals and birds. There were maybe a few bears wandering about, but even at night Fuyuki Forest was normally a safe place to be.
It also normally didn't have quiet so many exotic, magically frenzied predators either.
Archer ran through the woods, his massive stride carrying the giant of a man at an alarming speed. It wasn't fast enough though, as he could see off to the side a pack of… creatures closing in on him. They were all large, ran on four legs, and were covered in the same cloak of shadows that the first beasts were covered in, but the similarities ended there, even to each other. One looked to be a bear with scales and the head of a ram. Another was some kind of large reptile with too many wings and feathers cresting down its back. A third looked like a wolf with three snakes intertwining where its head should be. Each was its own mess of animalistic traits, seemingly combined at random to make monstrosities.
Though he had never met them in life, Heracles was familiar enough with Chimeras that he knew when he saw one.
Without slowing Archer pointed his bow and fired, three arrows loosed at once towards the encroaching hoard. Two were torn apart by the massive arrows, but the third managed to juke to the side and continue. Archer frowned, both at how he was forced to fire another arrow to finish the job and at how close that one managed to get. That cloak of shadows was empowering them, making them even greater than the Phantasmal Beasts that they were. Illya had told him that Berserker was granting the creatures his Mad Enhancement as well as his Instinct, which had mad even those mundane creatures earlier a possible threat to Servants. This was made more problematic by the fact that the Jagdmeister had summoned dozens of them, and the horde was just one the edge of vision behind them.
Speaking of Illya, he spared a glance at his left shoulder to look at her, still clinging for dear life but fine otherwise. He could hear her muttering curses under her breath though, and he had to agree that the situation was not exactly ideal. Things could potential go very wrong for the both of them if he didn't take this combat seriously. As such he needed to put himself and his master in a more advantageous position, and to do that he need to put some distance between himself and the oncoming horde. Looking back around, he finally spotted what he needed in the form of a large ravine a few dozen meters off to his right.
Archer veered right and speed up, pushing as much force into his legs as he could. His steps became bounds, and in an instant he was at the edge of the gorge. With a great leap he threw himself and his Master into the air, sailing across the gap. Much of the horde slid to a stop at the ravine's edge, but several of the monsters behind him tried to leap after him. Archer twisted in mid-air and raised his bow. "Shooting Hundred Heads!" His arm blurred as he drew arrow after arrow in succession, and in the blink of an eye the air was filled with projectiles.
Not only did the arrows tear through the Chimeras foolish enough to jump after him, but dozens slammed into the other side of the gouge. Some ripped straight into the beasts, but most shattered the rock beneath their feet. A 20 meter edge of the ravine started to crumble and soon the screaming horde was swept up in a rockslide, plummeting to the black depths below.
Archer landed on the other side with a heavy crash, cratering the ground where he landed. He only spared a moment to glance behind him before he started running again, quickly losing sight of his pursuers. He knew that it was far from over however.
"How undignified." He heard his master say, and he turned his head to see her scowling as she gripped his neck tightly. "To think that we would be forced to flee."
"Tactical repositioning." Archer corrected. "Of course I could wade in and crush them, but this is a far more efficient course of action. If you are displease with this-"
"No. It's not you I'm displeased with." Illya said, her expression becoming bitter. She was very much aware how she was the reason for the current tactic. Heracles could stand against the entire hoard with no issue, but if enough tried to go after Illya at once he was not guaranteed to stop them, especially if he was engaged with Berserker.
It was Archer's turn to scowl. It almost seemed like a dramatic twist of sort. There was no hero in history that could hope to stand against him, yet Phahn had summoned one that was several at once, not to mention partly divine. So far he had seen little more than savagery and instinct, but that had been enough to injure him…
An animalistic roar came from beneath the deer helm, and that was all the warning Archer had before Berserker crouched low and hurled himself at the other Servant, pick up his spear and axe along the way. The moment was so fast and sudden that the huntsman didn't even bother to lift his head as he charged, trying to gore into Archer's stomach with his antlers. The much larger man only suffered minor scraps as Berserker slammed into him, but he was shocked as he was pushed back across the ground. He quickly recovered and charged back forward in kind, a massive swing of his club meant to show his opponent how it was done.
Once again though Berserker managed to twist out of the way before bouncing back, lashing out with his spear to kill and striking with his axe to cripple and maim. However, this time he was pushing Archer harder, his blows becoming harder to ignore. He wasn't faster or stronger, but his attacks had more… weight. Now that had embraced his identity of the Jagdmeister, his weapons carried all the viciousness of the Hunt. This kept up for a short while longer, but it became clear to Berserker that even with his new found power this would be a battle of attrition. One that he would surely lose. As such, he felt back on his instincts and did what any predator would do: exploit weakness.
Berserker ducked back and circled around before charging at Archer's side, aiming his axe at Archer's club holding wrist. However, the attack went in a completely different direction at the last moment, and Berserker threw the axe clear past him. Straight at Illya. Archer didn't think, and with speed that belied his massive size he dove towards his Master dropping his club and reaching out to her to grab her. He managed to get his hand between her and the axe, swatting it out of the way before it could reach her.
Suddenly pain lanced through Archer's body as the spear pierced into his side. He continued his forward motion and, moving into a roll as he took hold of Illya, put distance between himself and Berserker. As he rolled to his feet and turned he saw Berserker standing, holding the now bloody spear in front of his helmed face. As Archer looked at his foe he noticed a subtle change about him. Only one of the eyes in the helm glowed red while the other was black, and he stood as if he was lord of this battlefield.
Archer heard a long deep intake of breath from underneath that helm as Berserker held the spear close. The Jagdmeister had his scent now.
In that brief pause, Phahn let out a cruel laugh. "Oh, this is going to be even more fun than I thought. You know, it would be a shame to end this too early. And now is a good time to experience a taste of what is to come for this city. Berserker, Jagen!"
As Berserker stood a deep growl came from his throat. It reverberated and grew till it echoed throughout the woods around them like thunder, and the shadows between the trees started to crawl. Soon monsters started to appear, creatures with mismatched features of various predators, all clad in shadows with burning red eyes. The horde grew and grew until there must have been a hundred of them surrounding the clearing. Finally something different came forth, a massive grey horse that trotted next to Berseker.
The Servant leapt up onto the horse, and as he landed the aura of shadow covered it as well, but something was different about this one. The shadow around it took on a thunder grey hue and formed into extra legs, giving it eight in total. As the horse reared up and screamed, the Jadgmiester pointed his spear at Archer and said the first human word since they met.
Archer looked down at his side and found blood still flowing from the wound, from where the spear hard pieced his flesh like it was nothing. His Battle Continuation insured that it would not slow him down, but it meant that the Hunt would have no trouble finding him once they found a way around the gorge.
The Hunt was another matter altogether. Even he had heard of it in life, though it was only a rumor from the lands far to the north. Still, where his own knowledge failed the Grail held plenty on the legends of the Wild Hunt. It truly was a force to be reckoned with, having destroyed both heroes and even entire nations in the past. And now he was its 'prey'. In spite of himself, in spite of the danger it put his Master in, Archer felt a grin start to creep over his face. Here was something he never thought he could find in the modern era: a Challenge! One rivaling the 12 Labors themselves!
His pace gradually slowed until he came to a stop, glancing around at his current surroundings. Though he had been running in the general direction of the city, he was still far enough away that the forest still surrounded him, even if it was a little thinner. Nearby a hill rose over the landscape around them, not too tall but enough to give a decent view. Archer continued to look around him, taking note of what he had to work with and if it would be enough. As he did, Illya questioned "Archer, why have we stopped? They will catch up to us much faster."
"The Jagdmiester seeks to make us his prey. We must deny him this." Archer said as he walked to the nearest tree. Time was off the essence, so he forwent a more precise method and simply smashed his forearm into the base of it, crushing though the trunk and knocking it over. "In the past, those hounded by the Wild Hunt have two options. They must either outrun the Hunt or join it. The latter is unacceptable for obvious reasons, and the former plays too much into what Berserker expects. The chase is when the Hunt is at its strongest." He bent over to heft up the felled tree and began crudely ripping the branches from it. "I will need to do something else. Something which as far as I know no hero has succeeded at."
"And that is?" Illya asked.
He looked back at her. "I will make my stand against the Hunt instead."
It was only a few minutes before the Hunt found them again. Those few minutes were enough.
From his vantages point on the top of the hill, Archer saw the Hunt coming from some distance off. They were surprisingly quiet and did not disturb the trees around them, but the Servant's eyesight was good enough that he spotted the horde of Chimeras coming at him from the north. In an instant he began letting arrows fly, tearing though both the air and the trees to destroy his foes. Predictably, the beasts broke apart as the first among them dropped, parting both left and right to avoid the assault. Archer followed the ones breaking left, continuing to hound them with arrows. Many fell, but several were fast enough to narrowly dodge.
However, the ones who did found their victory short lived as moments later the ground gave way beneath their feet. A chorus of howls and screams were heard as the plummeted into the pit trap Archer had constructed. Some tried to scramble out of the hole but that only made them easy targets for his arrows. He then pivoted back the other way, turning his attention back to the other group. They were having slightly better progress, a few managing to get around the pitfalls and start making their way up the hill. Which is why Archer then kicked the massive pile of logs he had next to him and stent them tumbling down the slope.
The Chimera's were both strong and fast, but there was little they could do against the avalanche of wood. The few that managed to duck between the logs were expertly sniped by Archer's arrows. The Servant's gaze snapped back around to see more of the beasts moving around to the other side, either dealing with or falling prey to more of his traps in turn. Before he could respond to that however, his attention was drawn upward as a piercing screech filled the air. A massive raptor or some sort, at least three times as large as any eagle he had seen, was diving straight at him claws aimed at his eyes.
Before it reached him though there was a flash of silvery metal, and a slightly smaller hawk woven from metal wires slammed into the side of the bird, deflecting off its course. The eagle screeched and pivoted in midair to tear the construct apart, but it was too late as the momentary distraction gave Archer all the time he needed to line up a shot and turn the bird into so much feathers. Archer spared a glance at the hole near his feet, and found Illya was already weaving her mage craft into another construct. As much as he would have liked to not have his Master in the center of this madness, next to him was still the safest place to be. If she was separated from him the Hunt would easily find and devour her.
And so the two fought on, Archer raining spear-like arrows in every direction, Illya's wire constructs harrying those that strayed too far from the horde, and the numerous pit traps, dead falls, and rolling trees took care of the rest. In short order the base of the hill was piling up with dead beasts and monsters. Their number's finally started to dwindle to a few remaining, and Archer screamed out "Is this the best you can do?! Has the Wild Hunt truly become this pitiful?! Face me Master of the Hunt, and prove that-!"
That was as far as he got before he heard the crack of the air behind him and the roar of a horse. He spun and pulled an arrow back in his bow, but by the time he had completed his turn his foe was already on him. Charging through the air down at him the Jagdmiester rode his steed, screaming as he thrust out his spear. Archer loosed his arrow at the same time Servant and steed rammed into him. He was surprised to find himself flying through the air and down the hill, crashing through the few remaining trees in area. After a moment of confusion he managed to get his feet back under him and dig them into the ground, grinding the charge to a halt.
Archer grit his teeth a he found himself gripping the spear in his stomach with one hand and holding back a massive rearing horse with the other. He bellowed as he heaved both away from him. The horse he had grabbed by the neck, and he felt it snap from the shear force as it went tumbling off to the side. As for the spear, it still had Berserker griping it, but he could not hope to beat the superior leverage of Archer's size and bulk. The spear make a wet noise as it slid out of Archer's body, and Berserker was thrown almost comically through the air from the force of Archer's toss, sailing over a smaller hill and landing somewhere out of sight.
Archer growled as he looked down at the wound, even more blood flowing from this one. No doubt this wound would be as stubborn in healing as his previous one. Archer stood at the ready and glanced around, though Berserker had somehow slipped out of sight while his attention was diverted. It seems odd for a Berserker not to simply charge in, but this one acts like a predator. It prefers to attack when it has the upper hand. Before he could think on it further, he felt a subtle change in the air, a presence that he could not quite qualify. He scowled and took off in the direction of where Berserker was thrown. He could not afford to lose momentum and let Berserker dictate the fight. He would meet his enemy and crush him swiftly.
However, as he crested the small hill with bow drawn a massive shadow rose up from the ground before him and leapt clear over heard. He loosed an arrow into the center of it, but that did not stop whatever it was from lashing out at him. He felt something bite into his forearm as he blocked something sharp, and he spun around to face whatever new monstrosity this was.
And a new monstrosity was what he found. "What in the name of Hades?" He said to himself as the creature landed heavy and pulled itself up to its full towering height. It looked to be some sort of massive lizard with wings for its forelimbs that connected to the hind limbs, and a long serpentine neck from its body. His first thought was that it was a wyvern (it was certainly big enough to be one, for standing it was nearly twice as tall as he was), but rather than having a reptilian muzzle it had an almost birdlike beak that was half the length of his neck, and it stood tall with its legs underneath it rather than being cast out to the sides.
More than anything else though, he noticed the stench, the decay he could see even through the aura of shadow around it. He could see the hole in its chest he had bore clean through, which it didn't even acknowledged as it shrieked at him. This creature was clearly already dead. It didn't seem to care though.
Unfortunately, his moment's hesitation was once again a problem, as the creature struck out with its beak, the razor sharp bill managing to slice into his shoulder as he ducked beneath the attack. With surprising speed the thing launched forward at him, jumping up so that its hind legs clamped around his shoulders. At first he thought the creature was trying to bear him to the ground, but it was doing a poor job of it; the thing was surprisingly light for its size, so even with its enhanced strength it could not move him. However, a moment later it became clear that was not its intention, as it spread its massive wings and with a few beats took off into the air with him in tow.
Archer found himself being carried through the air, gripped around the shoulders so that he could not easily reach his quiver or pull back his bow. He was being carried higher and high into the air, and as he was aware, further and further away from his Master. It was at that moment he had enough of this absurdity. He holstered his great bow and, with a roar of anger simply reached up and grabbed the legs, puling himself up towards the body. The claws that gripped him held fast, but as he pulled there was a sickening snap as the leg bent from the force and he reached the main body. The beast started to twist in midair tumbling as it tried to regain control.
Which was when Archer started to pull the thing apart with his bare hands.
His fingers gouged into the dead flesh, tearing out chunks at a time. The creature may not have actually felt the pain of its injuries, but it still needed its body somewhat intact to both attack and fly. As the two fell it tried to bite at him again, but he simply bashed it's skull in with his fist. With the ground approaching fast, Archer twisted the body around, positioning it underneath him just moments before they smashed into the earth with a deafening crash.
As Archer pulled himself from the (now inanimate) corpse, the body started to rot, flesh peeling away from the bones. He didn't pay it much mind as he looked for Illya, but he didn't have to look far as she was already running towards him. He bolted to her as fast as he could, and fortunately nothing else decided to take that chance to strike. "I am sorry for leaving your side Master." He said, glancing back at the corpse. "I did not anticipate facing such a Chimera, if that even is what it is."
There was a long moment of silence before he heard. "…That was a Quetzalcoatlus." He turned to look at Illya, who was kneeling and looking at the body numbly.
Archer frowned. "I am not familiar with that beast. It must be some Phantasmal Creature from another part of the world, though I am not sure why a dead one-"
"That's because it's been extinct for 66 million years…" Illya interrupted, tone still flat. She then giggled, though there was something strained in it. "I had a book about dinosaurs back in Germany. I… how is this even possible?"
He did not know what these 'dinosaurs' were, but it wasn't important at the moment. "I would wager that magic was involved in giving it its false life." Archer commented while he scanned the sky, seeing for there was another of these flying beasts he had to contend with.
"But you can only use fresh corpses with Necromancy!" Illya insisted. "You literally cannot get any older than this! This is impossible!"
"Again I am shown that the minds of magi are far too limited." Archer's head snapped around as Phahn's voice sudden echoed through the broken woods, and he loosed an arrow to where he thought the voice was coming from. The arrow ripped through the few remaining trees, adding to the devastation.
There was a pause as everything was still for a moment before a chuckle was heard and Phahn voice continued. "Though I suppose you are correct after a fashion. I may know much about magecraft, but this is certainly beyond me, even with an ample number of bones borrowed from museums. Now, for him on the other hand…" The sound of footsteps drew Archer's attention, and he saw Berserker slowly walking into view from where he had been thrown. Both his eyes glowed red now, and there was a similar glow from the bones lining his belt. Notably, he also held what looked to be a giant, knife-like tooth in his hand, half as long as his own forearm. "He is capable of much more."
"A Berserker that can perform magecraft?" Illya said incredulously. "Now you are just lying. Besides which, I've seen his skills and magcraft is not one of them."
"Oh, is nothing so involved as mortal magcraft." Came the reply. "The Jagdmeister had command of all predators that have walked the earth. Though normally it would not pertain to the long deceased, Berserker has the essence of all who have held the mantle… including Arawn, Lord of the Dead."
Berserker spread his arms and a haunting tone echoed throughout the woods, shadows becoming longer and deeper. Bones appeared out of that darkness and they around him violently before rushing before him, forming from the ground up into legs that towered over the Servant. Flesh began to grow on the bones before the skeleton even finished forming, with powerful muscles and tendons molding themselves around the three toed feet and powerful thighs. A thick torso formed over it, hunched over and held balanced by a great tail extending behind it. The arms were small, but the head was a massive thing which held a mouth that made up most of it with teeth like the one Berserker had held in his hand. As the scaled, almost pebble like skin started for form, Berserker left atop the great beast, and the cloak of shadow played over its form.
Archer started at the hulking monstrosity that now towered over him. "Well, this is just ridiculous."
Ridiculous or not, the reanimated Tyrant Lizard King let lose a roar that the world had not heard in millions of years.
Archer, having developed a sense of pattern recognition, immediately drew his bow and shouted "Shooting Hundred Heads!", intent on simply shredding the wretched thing. Unfortunately, Berserker's instincts once again proved effective as the instant before the attack launched the massive beast dashed to the side, with such speed that it should have been by all rights physically impossible for a creature of that size. Still, the distance between Archer and the beast was not that great, and it was only able to dodge some of the attack. Arrows ripped through the hindquarters and tail as it moved, but that did not slow it in the slightest.
Berserker and his mount strafed around Archer, and in the moment where his barrage of arrows ceased the dinosaur suddenly switched directions and charged straight at Archer, its mouth opened wide to rip into him. Archer could not easily move when he used his Noble Phantasm, and with Illya still nearby he had only one choice. As it rushed to meet him Archer planted his feet, slipped his bow back and grabbed the creature's jaws with his hands.
Unstoppable force meet unmovable object, and the great beast slammed to a stop. Unfortunately, the ground beneath Archer's feet was not strong enough to withstand the force of the impact, and shattered. His footing lost, the dinosaur simply pushed forward and down with its massive head, and Archer tumbled on to his back. He held his grip as he slammed into the ground, its jaws straining against his arms as it tried to devour him. Archer tried to ignore the decaying breath washing over him in favor of glancing towards its rider, but he found that Berserker wasn't looking at him. Instead he was hefting his spear as if to throw it at something else. Archer's eyes widened. Illya!
Archer's leg lashed up from the ground, smashing into the side of the beast's head with a massive kick. The sheer force of the blow caused its head to snap to the side, twisting its body along with it. Berserker caught himself before his throw could go wide, returning his attention to the other Servant. Archer jumped to his feet, only noticing out the corner of his eye that Illya was running full sprint away from the fight. Normally he would have advised against that, but being too close now was just as dangerous as being too far away. Archer then charged forward, trying to keep the attention on him.
The dinosaur roared again, moving forward in kind to stomp the Servant into the ground with its massive legs. Archer dodged out of the way, dancing underneath it as it repeatedly tried to crush him. When he saw his chance he clasped his fists together and smashed them into thing's joints, causing it to stumble and fall onto its side. Archer moved forward towards the top of its leg, intent on tearing it apart like he with the previous dinosaur.
However, his reflexes caused him to jump back as Berserker's spear lashed out where he had planned on being. The Mad Servant crawled on the beast's side even as it scrambled to right itself, growling in frustration as Archer moved out of range. Berserker did not move to pursue, instead remaining on the dinosaur as it got its feet under it. Impressive as the mount is, Berserker doesn't seem to have a clear idea of how to fight from the top of one, Archer thought. The weapon is valuable, but a real huntsman would know to-
As if reading his mind, at that moment Berserker's arm moved in a blur, hurling the spear at his enemy. Of course, Archer was hardly surprised, and easily managed to jump over the projectile hurled down at him.
And it was at that point, while he was in midair, that the great beast spun with supernatural speed and slammed its tail into his body.
Archer felt a crushing pain before he was treated to the unfamiliar sensation of soaring through the air. He crashed into the ground and tumbled some distance away, quickly putting his legs under him and charging straight back at the Master of the Hunt and his mount. Archer grunted in annoyance as he saw the Servant bend down from his seat to pull his spear out of the ground. I can't give him the chance to go after Illya, so I have to keep him engage at close range. But that renders my bow near useless, and I dropped my club far back. I need- He then noticed that between him and his target were a number of felled trees. Ah, that will do.
A great bellow caught the attention of the Tyrant Lizard King, and as it turned its head it got a glance of Archer hurdling towards it with a 10 meter long tree trunk held in his grasp before said trunk smashed into the side of its body. The tree had been old and thick to its core, so it held under the force and knocked the massive creature back. The dinosaur stumbled again before turning to face Archer, but for a moment it held its ground. Archer swung the huge trunk in front him, gouging a line in the ground as he did so. "What's wrong? Realizing that I am not the easy prey you thought? Do you not have the courage to fight something that doesn't run?!"
Both Berserker and beast roared at that before charging forward, and with a scream Archer responded in kind. They met with a thunderous crash that would have leveled the surrounding trees if that was not already the case. The resulting brawl was just that; brutal and unrefined. Teeth and tail ripped at ever thing they could touch, and the oversized cudgel crushed everything it touched. Gradually, the tide began to turn in Archer's favor, sheer endurance wining out over the undead beast's increasingly shambling body.
Once again, Berserker saw the changing tide and moved to fix it. He suddenly leapt off the great beast and charged Archer on his own, forcing him to dodge out of the way or be caught by the spear. This also caused his next swing to be clumsier, easier for the beast to manage. Berserker picked up speed and skirmished the larger Servant, and suddenly Archer began to have trouble. The relatively slow movements of the cudgel were not enough to ward off Berserker, but were needed to fend off his beast. His movements and attacks grew less coordinated with each swing as he tried to fight on two fronts, until a poor swing was caught in the dinosaur's jaws. The beast clamped down and bit clean through the wood, leaving Archer holding a now much smaller splinter.
Without missing a beat Archer hurled the log at the creature, striking it in the chest with such force that the log smashed halfway into its torso. The thing screamed in frustration as the wood stuck out at an awkward angle, hindering its movements. It clawed at the offending object with its tiny arms, and though it managed to pry it loose there was still a gaping hole in its chest, broken ribs jutting out at odd angles like swords.
Archer did not have time to stare though, as a moment later he was forced to dodge to the side to avoid Berserker's attack. He pulled out his bow once again, but he only had time to use it to block as Berserker lashed out with his hand axe. He knocked the man away and stepped forward, shifting into a better stance to make use of his bow. However, at that moment the great beast took a step towards him, not actually reaching him but striking the ground with such force that it unbalanced his footing slightly. In that same instant Berserker snapped back towards Archer, feinting a slash at his neck but instead ducking underneath Archer's arm and slicing the tendon on his back foot.
To Archer it was a distraction, only enough to slow a Servant like him down for a moment. That moment was enough, as the dinosaur's head shot forward, jaws once again open to consume the Servant in a single bite. Archer pivoted towards the beast to grab it, but the wound in his leg slowed him. He was only able to tilt to the side and face it as the beast's massive jaws snapped shut on his torso. Pain ripped through Archer's body as teeth the size of small swords tore into his flesh, and the crushing pressure made his bones creak. The Servant's sheer size made it impossible for the beast to truly consume him all at once, but it's head was more than big enough to envelop his entire torso from down across his right shoulder, leaving a partially pinned right arm on one side and his head and left arm sticking out the other. Berserker moved and thrust his spear at Archer's exposed left flank, but Archer's Bravery skill would not let him falter to something like mere pain, and he managed to drop his bow and grab the spear before it pierced into his chest.
For a moment they stood straining against one another, growls emanating from all three of them. Then, unfortunately, Phahn's voice once again echoed around him. "Ah, a marvelous attempt I will admit, but all for not. You should have joined me when you had the chance. No man, even a Hero, could hope to stand against the Hunt. You may have been mighty once, but what are you now?"
Through the pain and stress that coursed through Archer, a rage started to build. It was primal and furious, caused not just by the battle but by the contempt in Phahn's words. He dared? He dared question his strength, his will?! Phan may have been right that men and Heroes alike fell before the Wild hunt.
However, Archer was not just a man.
He was not just a Hero.
He was not even just a Servant.
"I!" Archer screamed as he suddenly pulled the spear forward and past him, causing Berserker to stumble forward. Using all the strength and leverage he had, Archer's fist came up and slammed into the other man's center of mass with shattering force. Berserker was lifted clear off the ground and smashed into the dinosaur's chest. The Servant let out a howl of fury and pain as he was impaled on the broken ribs of his own undead mount.
"AM!" Archer bellowed as he brought his arms around to grab at the head that was biting into him, his fingers gouging into flesh to grip its skull.
"HERACLES!" He roared before he dropped low and lifted.
Were this any other situation, it would not have worked. The physics of leverage would not have allowed it. But mere physics meant nothing to the son of Zeus, and with the might of a god the Tyrant Lizard King was lifted straight into the air, its body moving in an arc around its head. Still screaming, Archer completed the motion of arching backwards, and finished the suplex as the great beast smashed into the ground. It was stunned by the impact and finally loosened its jaw to where Archer could slip free, and he did so as the thing thrashed about on the ground. He got to his feet at the same time the thing, and it swung around to smash him with its tail again. He didn't try to dodge it this time, though. Instead he caught it.
Archer grit his teeth as he held the tail, and with great effort he pulled the creature towards him. It gave a cry of surprise as it found itself being moved, but he didn't stop. He started to pivot and drag the massive beast around him. Even as it struggled the spin slowly picked up speed. Faster and faster Archer spun the beast around him like a discus, until its body was clear of the ground. Then, just when he thought that its tail could take no more and snap under the force, he let it go.
The beast screamed as it sailed into the air, higher and higher. It grew smaller in Archer's vision even as it still climbed into the sky away from him. Eventfully, what must have been miles away, it reached the top of its arc and started to fall back to earth. The distance was so great that Archer didn't even hear it land as it dropped out of sight into a distant part of the forest.
Archer panted as he stood along amid the desolated flora. Don't have anything smart to say now, do you? He thought to himself, and sure enough Phahn was silent. Another voice spoke up though. "Archer!" He turned his head to see Illya walking towards him, her eyes wide. "That… that was…"
He fell to a knee in front of her, a little more heavily than he intended. "I apologize for how long that took. I got a little carried away."
She gaped him like a fish for a few moments before a nervous giggle came from her lips. "Are… you alright?" She said looking at the numerous wounds covering his body.
Archer sighed. As much as he wanted to put on a strong front, it would not do at the moment. "I am afraid I am dying. The loss of blood is becoming too much for even I to bear."
Illya grunted, the death of her Servant meaning far less to her than it would to other Masters. "Did you kill that mad dog, at least?"
"I… am not certain." He replied. "Most other Servant would most certainly be dead from that. This one though… well, I do not think we should make assumptions."
The white haired girl let out a sigh. "This evening did not go like I wanted it to." She paused for a moment before she said. "Archer, I want to go home now. If we get there fast enough, I may be able to heal you before I have to waste more time waiting for you to regenerate another life."
The Servant nodded, understanding his Master's intentions. "Yes Mistress." He said, holding out his hand to her.
She took it and chanted "Archer, by the power of this Command Seal I order you to bring us to my estate immediately."
There was a flash of red from a tattoo on her person, a flash of light from the bending of space around them, and in a blink the pair was gone.
Deep underneath the Matou manor, inside of an ancient and almost cavernous basement, worms slithered in the darkness. The basement was almost like catacombs of old, with numerous inlets in the walls that could have contained bodies at one point or another. However, there was nothing but the worms down there, fat and purple with age. This was a place of perpetual decay.
The creatures stirred as the door at the top of the stairs opened, light pouring into the dark pit. The worms had no eyes and could not see as such, but the presence of Assassin was unmistakable. As she moved down the stairs the worms that permeated the place started to slither out of their holes, following the Servant as she descended. They all kept their distance however, as when one of their number got closer than she cared for she gave a small flick of her wrist, and a tiny ball of dark liquid shot out of the air around her and struck the vermin. The worm started to spasm and turn grey before its body stilled.
Assassin made her way down to the base level, standing in the middle of the room and staring around expectantly. "Well? You were the one who requested my presence."
The movement of the worms around stilled, and when they moved again they did so as one. "No need to be anxious my dear," The voice of Zouken Matou echoed through the chamber, a raspy whisper that seemed to come from everyone at once. "I merely wanted to know how my grandchildren were fairing in this War thus far."
Assassin arched an eyebrow, unimpressed by the disembodied voice. "That strikes me as rather redundant. While I could point out that you are very much capable of asking your kin themselves, a have a feeling that one such as you has his own means of keeping an eye on such things."
"Perhaps…" the voice said slowly. "But my grandchildren are not quiet suited to the rigors of the War, and I would prefer a more professional opinion." He paused for a moment, and the tide of worms around the room rippled as his voice took on a slightly harder cadence. "Besides which, it would seem that my own means have proven inadequate as of late. Why, I even had to ask my granddaughter to ask you for an audience."
Though he had no eyes at the moment (human eyes in any case), he felt more than saw the displeasure radiating off the woman. Of course he didn't care one bit about her indignation as both knew the situation perfectly well; Assassin had been killing his worm familiars which he had sent to spy on her, and even had the foresight to keep Sakura from seeing too much of what she had been doing. She likely would have ignored him entirely if he hadn't excited the worm familiars in Sakura to get his point across. "Yes, and you've made your point." She said. "I would think that you would have chosen a different method considering how… unpleasant it was for her."
"It is not your place to tell me what I do with my family." The man replied flatly. "Besides which, you have no reason to care."
Assassin shifted a little. "I care about the wellbeing of my Summoner for a number of reasons, not in the least of which being she still has two command seals on her."
"My Master, not my Summoner. And while we're on the subject, just what were you thinking telling her to hand control of myself over to that incompetent little troll?" Assassin remarked, dropping all pretense of politeness.
Zouken paused for a moment before he answered. "Though you are correct that I would prefer a more capable Master in this war, I must work with what I have. While he may have no skill, Shinji has ambition and the will to kill, and while I would prefer the former I will take the latter in its absence." A small amount of condescension entered his tone. "Sakura has neither, so she is useless as a Master."
Assassin snorted. "You are mistaking pettiness for something greater. Besides which, I have no doubt who the real 'Master' is."
The worms shifted, as if to mimic a head tilting. "Oh? If you wish to drop this charade, that if fine by me. This will go much smoother if we can see eye to eye." He chuckled at that. It was a horrifying sound.
Assassin hummed. "I suppose I could benefit from this. You clearly are very knowledgeable and skilled…"
"Flattery will get you nowhere," he remarked.
Still, she continued. "...Experience gained from age no doubt, for you are even older than you look. And no doubt you have great will, as it must be all that has sustained you till now." He voice became a touch softer. "It must be agony to have your soul stretched so thin in so many pieces, to have a body that constantly rots. You must desire something very important from the Grail."
"I desire what all magi want: to reach the Root." He lied. In truth Zouken desired an end to the state she just described, a perfect immortal body that would last the ages. Of course, she didn't need to know such things.
Yet she said "No, no, the greater drives of men are never anything so high or intellectual. It's the baser things. Love, hate, greed, grief, dominance are what truly drive men to such lengths. I wonder what has kept you going all this time, what you have left behind along the way. Perhaps it was something you lost?" He voice lowered to little more than a whisper. "Was it her you lost?"
The worms stilled, and Zouken suddenly felt overcome by… something. An image drifted up from the dark corners of his mind, a woman in white. This feeling, this phantasm plagued him for a moment before he managed to shake it away. What was that? Some kind of enchantment? True she is effectively a Caster but I would have thought that my worm body would provide some resistance to such metal effects, he thought. He hadn't even felt the magic trying to work his will on him, just a… feeling, or memory. One he thought he should remember, but it was already fading from him.
Anger quickly replaced the emotion, annoyance that the Servant had managed to affect him in such a manner. When he spoke next a sharp tension filled the air. "You will stop killing my familiars. You will let me observe your preparations for gaining prana. And you will not presume my past ever again. Are we clear?"
She bowed her head, not giving any sign that she noticed his change in temperament. "Of course. I look forward to getting you what you desire most."
Zouken's worms let out something vaguely close to a human hum as Assassin strode out of the basement, the man letting himself calm down. This one is more problematic than I anticipated, he thought to himself. Though he had insured that Sakura would summon a Servant that was suitable to her… darker nature, he had also hoped that it would be relatively easy to control. Unfortunately, Assassin was very intelligent, cunning, and clearly hard her own plans which didn't involve him. She seemed to have a fondness for Sakura for whatever reason, so he could use that as a lever, but he had to be careful. The woman was an expert lair and manipulator, and he wouldn't have been surprise if she was already planning for his demise.
Still, he wasn't wholly unprepared for this. Part of the reason he had summoned her to his place of power, the reason he spoke to her while dispersed, was to deny her advantage. She knew how to gauge a human body, how to set the environment to her advantage in a conversation. He at first wondered if he was being a bit too dramatic, but now he felt he made the right choice.
Still, though he did not like to admit it, there were doubts forming in the back of his mind. Though there were gaps in his knowledge, he did in fact know a great deal of what was happening in the War. Partly because of his familiars, but partly because he knew the Grail System like no one else alive. He knew its secrets, its hidden rules, and also how to read it. He knew that all the Servants had been summoned, what their classes were, and a few of their identities. Because of this, he knew things that were starting to concern him.
This War… had more potential for destruction than any he had ever seen. There had only been a handful of skirmishes thus far, with no deaths, and yet the collateral was already starting to mirror the previous war. Of particular note was Berserker, who was a perversion of the rules he wished he had thought of first. As well, more of the Masters seemed to be combat willing as well, though that was more interesting than anything else. No, what concerned him the most was something he thought he's never see again: Avenger had been summoned.
To be sure, it was not the same Avenger that had been summoned during the Third War, and that was both a good and bad thing. It was good because the effect of the last Avenger had changed much about the Wars that followed it (even if no one beside him truly knew). If that man were somehow to appear again, well, he could say for certain that nothing would survive should he reached the Grail, no matter how he got there. Still, it was also a bad thing because this new Avenger seemed incredibly chaotic. From what little he observed of him through his familiars, he was violent, destructive, and disobedient. And unlike the previous Avenger, this one was still a threat while he was alive.
Even all that aside, Zouken still only vaguely understood what the class truly was. Its true capabilities and history were a mystery to him, and the magus did not like mysteries when he was this close to achieving his goal. As such, given all the possible unknowns that had been popping up as of late, he felt that he should take some precautions to insure he had more control when the time came. He would need a more loyal agent than Assassin to do his will, and the only thing that would do would be a Servant of his own.
While most magi would think this impossible as all seven Servants had already been summoned, Zouken knew better. The Grail System was complicated and robust, but not without its exploits. The fake Servant of the mad priest was proof of that. Incidentally, it was also that fake Servant that would allow him entry into the War. Since Berserker was a fake, it technically didn't count as having been summoned for the War. The Grail recognized that there were seven Servants active, but only recognized that six had been summoned. If it died and its power went to the Grail, he could use his knowledge of the System to summon a real Berserker in its place under his control. And the Grail itself would be none the wiser.
It was not perfect, as he had to make his summoning very quickly after the Servant fell, and he would have preferred a Servant other than Berserker. Still, it would do, and all he had to do was observe and wait for the right moment before he could set his plan in motion.
Hopefully, nothing would go too catastrophically wrong before then.
Kirei walked down the hall of the church, his posture stiffer than usual as he carried the offending item in his hands. The war had been had been… interesting so far; Both his son and Rin had survived their first respective battles, even if the collateral had been extensive. Not that he exactly cared about that, it just meant it would mean more work to keep things covered up. He had seen the signs of another battle happening out towards the Einzbern's estate as well, and it looked to be an impressive one even from where he was.
Still, as much as he enjoyed the chaos, it was unwise to let thing slip to far out of control, at least so early in the War. He was just starting to put his own plan together, to ensure that his son played out the role Kirei had planned all those years ago. He would have guide things to keep his plans feasible though, and that meant dealing with… unexpected problems. Addressing one such problem carried him to the back of the church and into the recreational room.
Gilgamesh looked up for where he lazed on the couch, a goblet of wine in his hand like always. "Why do you interrupt the King while he is relaxing?" He said, his tone making it clear that he expected Kirei to explain himself or that were would be an issue. And the First King handles issues very… directly.
"There is a problem." The priest said simply. He lifted the object in his hands for Gilgamesh to see. "A package arrived at the church today."
Red eyes narrowed at him. "I fail to see how this concerns me. Why have you wasted my time?"
"Because the package is addressed to you."
This got the Servant's attention, and for good reason. "I thought you told me that there were no witnesses." The man said with an air of displeasure. No one other than Kirei was supposed to know that Gilgamesh had survived the previous War, not in the least of which because everyone assumed that the final Servants were killed in the explosion that created the Fuyuki City Fire. And even if a magi knew that Gilgamesh had survived, he would have assumed that the Servant had faded away after the war finished, as the Grail would no longer support his existence. The reason Gilgamesh was still existed in the world was… related to another secret the priest held close.
And yet, here the package was plain as day, addressed to none other than 'Gilgamesh, First King of Urk'. It was almost comical if it didn't raise so many questions. One of which being just what would someone send the Servant? Kirei could only give a shrug. "I am sure my king, but I know as little about this situation as you do. The package arrived today and has no return address. There may still be ways of tracking down its origin, but that will take time."
Gilgamesh grunted in annoyance but remained silent for a few moments. He then looked at the priest expectantly. "Well, what are you waiting for? Open it already."
Kirei paused before he said "I could not presume the right, oh King. If this is in fact a gift for you, it would be unbecoming to sully it with my hands." Of course, while he may have said that, Kirei was far more concerned with the possibility that the package was actually some kind of trap meant to kill Gilgamesh. He doubted such a thing would work on the Servant (he was known as the most powerful Servant for a reason), but the priest was far less certain on how well he himself would fair if such was the case.
In response Gilgamesh huffed, but he took the package from Kirei. "Very well. I suppose I cannot berate you for such a reason." Gilgamesh ripped off the outer wrapping to reveal a plain box. As he moved to open it, the priest tensed slightly, ready for whatever might happen.
Kirei had been prepared for a number of scenarios. He had been prepared for an explosion, for a curse, for a cloud of poisonous, corrosive gas to envelop the room.
What he had not been prepared for was for a pie to launch itself out of the box immediately on opening and hit Gilgamesh square in the face.
The room was completely silent and still, neither of the men present knowing how to deal with what just happened. Kirei stared at the Servant nonplussed, or rather stared that the bottom of the pie tin that was sticking to his face. Distracted as he was by the flaky bits of crust that were now falling to the floor, it took the priest a moment to realize that there was a sticky note attached to the bottom.
He read it. 'By the way, the pie is also incendiary.'
And now the First King's head was on fire.
Gilgamesh ripped the burning pie from his face, knocking it to the ground as he swiped at his head to get rid of all the flaming pieces of pastry. He was perfectly undamaged as the fire was mundane and he was a Servant, but his eyes were wide with rage. "How… how dare someone humiliate the king like this!"
Gilgamesh arched his back and roared. "That's it! Everyone dies!"
A/N: My love of a particular book series is probably showing in this chapter…
That said, I can hear some you out there saying "But Satire Swift, why would you ever have Archer Heracles fight the Jagdmeister riding a zombie T-Rex? That is far too silly for the Nasuverse!" First of all my hypothetical reader, you clearly don't understand why I write. And secondly you are a sad person and I have no interest in speaking to you.
Till next time.