Chapter 8: Rider vs. Assassin
The Church on the Hill
There stood a lone church on a hill, opposite of the Miongawa river, where the air felt stale. Towering over the surroundings, it represented the only absolute neutral grounds for the upcoming war that was to be waged. Within it was a priest who stared at a bible in his hand, standing at the head of the rows of pews, just before an altar upon which a candle burned.
Only the creaking of the doors drew him out of his reading. He closed the book and turned his gaze to a young man with a long case in one hand and a slip of paper in the other. He recognized him as a Matou from the profiles he had done in the past, the nephew of the previous war’s representative from their family. One never did forget the forbidden fruit, and witnessing the man’s fall and misery was what allowed him to acknowledge his own pleasures in life.
“What brings you to this place, lost lamb?” he asked in a voice that seemed placid, yet it resounded in the empty church.
The Matou approached the priest and presented the paper. “I’ve come to be added to the official list to participate in the Holy Grail War.”
“Oh? I must admit that I did not know that you were capable of the Art,” he said with a note of curiosity in his voice. His eyes set themselves on the Command Seals on the boy’s hand, so the grail recognized him as a Master one way or the other. “Though, is it not strange that the Matou would prepare two heirs for their family when the standard practice is to raise only one?”
The young man tensed. The priest could see the muscles in his jaw clamp together as, through gritted teeth, he ground out, “And why do you presume that?”
“I was made aware of certain facts during my time as an apprentice of the Tohsaka Clan.” A blasé means of informing him that he was aware of Sakura’s former status as he reviewed the application. “But I assure you that my neutrality in the war is enforced, regardless of my previous allegiances.”
His words were in doubt. The young man’s eyes made it clear he did not believe such a thing. Not that it mattered. “Everything seems to be in order. However, are you certain you wish to pursue this course of action? The nature of the conflict may prove disastrous for one in your… condition.”
Grey eyes narrowed in offense and suspicion. “And what does that mean?”
“Forgive me,” the priest said, though there was no change in his expression or tone. “I meant no offense. It is merely that I possess a modest amount of talent in spiritual surgery and can see the signs of one afflicted by aliments that would require such treatment. The last participant from the Matou suffered greatly from it before meeting his end, and I thought you should be aware of the risks.”
“The risks don’t matter as long as I accomplish what I set out to do,” was all that the young boy said. His pale fingers grasped the handle of his long case tighter. “Death comes to everything in end.”
“If nothing else your conviction is clear,” the priest said. “Very well. But keep in mind that this place is a safe haven should you decide to seek refuge from the war. Do not hesitate should you find yourself wishing to be withdrawn from the conflict.”
An idle part of the priest wondered, as he watched the young man leave, if the same scenario that once stirred him to accept himself for what he was would somehow play out once more. He would need to pay close attention to the competitors. But first he needed to contact Rin and remind her that the deadline for the war was approaching and there were only two slots left, Archer and Saber.
Outside the Church
“You don’t actually trust that man, do you?” were the first words Rider said as they left the church on the hill. He was in his astral form, invisible to the eyes of all as he spoke through their connection.
“Of course not.” Shinji cracked open the case and took out a small stack of flyers with adhesive strips on them. “I already knew from the Old Worm that he was Rin’s guardian and took appropriate measures ahead of time.”
He set one of the flyers on a telephone pole at the bottom of the hill, continuing what he had been doing prior to arriving at the Church. He had skipped school to set them up over a great deal of the western side of the big bridge already. While the flyers all had meaningless announcements on them about a performance, he had applied a stamp on them in a special blend of invisible ink that acted as a receptor to processed magical energy or large shifts in mana outside the saturation level within the surroundings upon activation.
In other words, they formed a detection system for magical activity. All of the seals were linked to the map he had at home. It would allow him to monitor the track down Servants within the city.
“Anyway, the biggest issue right now that Servant that attacked us last night,” Shinji said as they began a slow walk. As if a filter overlapped his eyes, the information about Lancer appeared due to the contract. A sort of clairvoyance that put both his stats and name on display now that he had made the connection. “He’s an incarnation of Cu Chulainn.”
“How did you discover his identity?” Rider asked. He didn’t sound as interested as one would expect for learning his enemies’ identity.
“‘Hounds of Ulster’ was the name of one his Noble Phantasms—” A quick cough left Shinji’s lips as he covered his mouth. No blood, but it felt like his lungs were trying to hack themselves up. He’d need medicine once he was done here.
He continued where he left off. “A five-minute Internet search for a lance-wielding hero who used magic, and had a connection to Ulster and hounds, pretty much gave him away. Technology has advanced to the point that communications between different parts of the world have become trivial, while the Holy Grail War was started two-hundred years ago when tales of heroes were spread slower because of the inferior means of communication, making it harder for the identities of foreign Servants to be found. To reinforce that one safeguards of the Grail made it filter out potential Servants from the East.”
“And yet here I stand,” Rider stated. He sounded as if it was something to be proud of.
Misplaced pride, if Shinji had to guess as he set another flyer out of sight, behind a dumpster in an alley. “The war wasn’t supposed to go on for as long as it has, but in every war until now there hasn’t been anyone to claim the prize. As a consequence of that I can only assume that certain aspects of the Grail System have broken down, so to speak. The introduction of figures like Caster, Medea of Colchis, is another example to support that theory.”
“Despite that you still fight for it?” Rider pointed out. “One would call that the actions of a fool, fighting over the contents of a broken cup.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “As long the wish-granting portion works then I really don’t care. What matters now is that we’ve identified two of the Servants and can take the appropriate measures in the future.”
“I care not for their identities. Only that they are strong enough to present to me a challenge,” Rider stated. “There’s no point in bearing the title of the mightiest if there’s no one to test myself against.”
The conversation died there as Shinji continued the repetitive and menial task at hand without pause. Perhaps it was due to the fact that his summoning was done through a catalyst rather than without one, but the two had little connection with one another. Master and Servant, one who wanted to claim the prize to accomplish his goal while the other wished to fight and sate his battle-lust and ego.
Shinji just hoped that the fact that their goals weren’t perfectly aligned wouldn’t bite him in the ass.
And then there was Emiya. He’d have to tell Shirou the same thing, of course. He knew where he would be by the time they finished setting up the flyers, at a place called Copenhagen.
But part of him wondered if he shouldn’t keep the information to himself unless absolutely necessary. Just to have just a few more advantages over Shirou given that he wasn’t sure how much he could trust him after he had hidden the fact that he was a magecraft-user. Even if his doormat, stupid personality was the real thing, and he was inferior to Shinji, there was no telling if he would be willing to surrender the Grail if his Servant desired it and….
Well, even a saint could fall to greed when presented with an item that could grant wishes. He’d probably waste it on world peace or something.
I suppose just informing him of the Servants’ abilities would suffice unless necessary, he reaffirmed in the confines of his mind. Tomorrow, after we have the rest of our measures in place, before we summon his Servant.
At the Matou Manor
The cascading hot water from the showerhead battered against Sakura’s body, a futile effort to cleanse her after spending time undergoing ‘training’ in the catacombs. But no matter how scalding the water, searing her skin and driving heat deep beneath the surface until it became flushed, it could never completely rid her of the phantom sensation that lingered for hours afterwards. Nor could it rid her of those that inhabiting her body, constantly violating her in ways that left a stain on her soul.
Toweling off and dressing for the evening, Sakura stepped through the corridors of the manor. The silence of it was familiar with only three of them living in it, one away and the other in the catacombs. She came to a stop at her brother’s workshop.
Opening the door revealed the light of the evening sun as it dwindled on the horizon. It casted the last of its sobering rays into the room. It was a soothing sight that made her hesitant to smother it out with the artificial lights above. Not much had changed since the time she had entered into his room all those years ago, bearing a fever.
The room still bore with the scent of herbs and medicine, stemming from the fireplace in the room. The table in front of it had medicine that he had recently made, pills of some kind that was supposed to help him. There was even more of the candy that he had given her after coming back from the continent.
Half of his shikigami were gone. Relocated to another hiding place he had established. Since he was determined to keep the fighting as far away from her as possible, it made more sense to have them somewhere more favorable that he could deploy them from.
There was also the futon on the floor. It was fairly comfortable, the comforter thick and the pillow on it soft. There was an allure to it, lying under it while the cold of winter had yet to pass with a warm body beside her.
Yes, he would wrap his toned arms around her legs. His chest would rise and fall, breathing in deeply as he trace his calloused fingers up her thighs. Tempting, teasing her inadvertently with the promise of pleasure until she begged him. Then they would reach her inner thighs and—
Sakura gasped as she tore her eyes away from the futon, before the thoughts and memories could stir the worms up further. Even though Shinji had been more tender than usual last night, on that very spot after the fighting, there was still a desire for more. A wave of disgust rolled over her like a landslide at how incestuous things had gotten between, and how she feared she was starting to look forward to it.
She told herself it was because of the worms. They were insatiable little monsters by their very design. The act of supporting his Servant would mean that the worms nestled inside of her would be even more active than usual for the duration of the war. That meant she would continue to defile him in order to satisfy them, taking a perverse satisfaction herself in the process.
It was a cruel reality that they both had to face. No matter how hard or long she held out between the points where she simply had to have someone acting as her lover for a time, it came down him being the only choice and she was okay with it. In fact, she was more than okay with it.
It was painful because, during moments like these, it made her realize how twisted things were. When she thought about her own feelings for Shirou and the feelings she had for her brother, they overlapped in certain places when they shouldn’t. And then when she thought about how Shinji liked Ayako, someone who she found herself just a bit jealous of but could accept, but would never truly be likely to be with her given the nature of their circumstances….
She silently damned the ones responsible. She damned the Tohsaka name and all that it had entailed. She damned Zouken, a monster that refused to die. She damned magecraft for what it had done to her and her brother. She damned herself for not simply taking the easy way out by throwing herself off the roof of the school, whether because she was too afraid of death or because of the worms within wouldn’t allow her to do so.
And, occasionally, she damned the world itself for allowing her to suffer such an existence.
Either way, she couldn’t keep taking from her brother without giving something in return. She couldn’t fight, she couldn’t really use magecraft either, but she couldn’t sit there and do nothing aside from anchoring the Servant to the world. Not while both of the men she found herself drawn to were fighting for her sake. That was why she had decided to do this, to act as his support during the war.
Sakura took a seat at the desk where the map of Fuyuki was, bordered by the four corner manikins that were luminous in their containers. On one side of it were the flyers he was putting up around the city, next to a custom stamp he made and the ink that he used for his shenfu. The map was active, with nodes of light indicating where he had set up them up round the city.
Shinji didn’t want her in the war at all, but she had begged him to at least let her monitor the map when he wasn’t there to do so. It seemed to be a good call since, after the sun had set, there seemed to be activity in the Shinto part of the city. She pulled out her phone and dialed his number….
“Be careful, Nii-sama,” were the last words Sakura said over the line before Shinji hung up the phone and sighed to himself. He was feeling somewhat tired from the repetitive actions of the day and his walk over a great deal of the city. It didn’t help that the cell phone reception was poor within his current location.
He was within the sewer that had once been the hideaway of the Caster of the last war, courtesy of the memories he had bought. While he really didn’t take solace in what had transpired within the dark chambers that ran beneath the city, it was isolated enough that no one would come looking here without prior knowledge. Not unless they pulled the same stunt Waver had done.
Unlike the last psychopath who came here he had plenty of floodlights up and running, their glow glistening off the once damp and slime-riddled walls. It was by no means glamorous and the dark arts carried out had left a tainted sensation sunken deep into the walls, despite being thoroughly bathed in fire ten years ago. But it was at least kept sanitary and free of any sort of spiritual beings with the fuwen that lined with walls and floor to inscribe a bounded field.
The shikigami he had removed from the house were now here, along with some spare things for his Art. It wasn’t an ideal place to do Chinese Alchemy—in fact Fang Yin would probably kick his ass if he even thought about blemishing her Art by doing it in such a place—but it was the perfect place to set up the focal point for his ritual spell.
One of the central arts of the East, at least when it came to Taoism and Onmyoudo, was the ability to manipulate weather. He was able to get his hands on one ritual that would convert a large amount of magical energy into lighting within a vessel and call it forth. Lighting in a bottle in a literal sense, it only needed to store enough mana over time from the different sources he had set up and were drawing in mana constantly.
“Rider, we’re leaving,” he said to his Servant after he dressed himself for combat and grabbed his case. It wasn’t a far trip from where they were. Armed and with Rider by his side in astral form, Shinji approached the building that Sakura had mentioned before on-foot.
The mask rested stiffly against his face while his bow was within its case. His outfit wouldn’t draw the attention of any non-magus due to a number of enchantments inscribed on it. It was basically rendered unremarkable through a mild application of Mental Interference.
The building itself was also unremarkable within the business district, three floors and almost uniform compared to the surroundings. The interior was grim and silent, the lack of sound too unnatural when office workers should still be toiling away at their desks to eke out a living. As if that didn’t set off warning bells, there was a potent stench that caught his nose coming from above.
His footsteps against the tiled floor were louder than he liked as he walked towards the staircase. The elevator was a bad idea, an ideal place for a trap if there ever was one. Cramped quarters in possibly enemy terrain, it was a kill box.
No sooner than he opened the door to the emergency stairwell did he have to duck down. It was either that or the white blur that leapt through the air at where his head was would have taken it off instead of sailing past him. He spun around as it bounded off the wall to claim him from behind, the case coming in an arch to intercept it. The sound of bones being shattered and then clattering across the floor echoed through the corridor.
He grimaced. It had to be Caster’s work. With that in mind he retrieved his shenfu and origami from his case. There would be more of them for certain, and Rider had no intention of helping him in dealing with them. Not when they were beneath him after Shinji told him not to waste revealing himself should they have been the ones attacking the manor last night.
He let an origami butterfly take flight first, using the symbol painted on its wings to act as extra eye. Through a pass he connected it to the sensory input of his left eye so he could scout the stairwell. With it he counted and located the other bone creatures inhabiting the stairwell and dragonflies followed.
The shikigami landed on them and then ruptured. The thunderous explosions echoed throughout the vertical corridor of steel. The force and heat stripped the cheap constructs of the hold they had on themselves and they fell damaged and in pieces.
With the stairwell emptied Shinji climbed upwards to the second floor, where the foreign scent grew stronger. He directed prana to a fuwen that was applied to the interior of the mask, where a set of lenses had been placed over the eyeholes. It applied a form of Alteration so his line of sight could see through the x-ray spectrum without the risk of damaging his eyes.
The immediate threat was three bone constructs in a humanoid form that were on the opposite side of the door, an ambush. He let three of the shenfu he in his hands slip from his grasp, controlling the prana that he saturated the paper with to control how it moved. Telekinesis, basically.
They snaked through the bottom of the door and found their way onto the ribcage of the constructs before detonating. The explosions dented the wall, trying to punch through it and reach him on the opposite side. The construction materials used weren’t that cheap, so they held.
Shinji opened the door, letting the butterfly take flight to continue scouting ahead of him. It was swatted down, cleaved in two by blade of bone, and the connection between it and the eye was severed with a note of pain from the backlash.
It readjusted in time to see them coming from around the corner. They met with the same fate as their predecessors, explosive talismans turning them to smoldering piles of bone fragments. Stepping past them he let another handful go and then slipped them through the grates in the vent leading above to catch the ones spying on him from there.
Using his mask’s x-ray and combing over the building for anymore signs of the creations of Caster, he found none. So instead focused on the still forms of the people in the rooms. All of them were unconscious; leading him to recognize the incense pilfered their inherent mana and siphoned it out.
“What are you doing, Boy?” asked the Servant in astral form as Shinji pulled out the pen that was his Mystic Code.
“I’m going to contain it to,” he explained. “If we need to broker with another Master to ally against Caster, this is proof of her harvesting power and making her a legitimate threat. It’s another advantage and the sooner she’s gone the better. I don’t expect your help but if anything approaches, at least alert me.”
He didn’t mention that since he had a vested interest in trying to reproduce it somehow. How often was it that you had a chance to sample a product of Witchcraft from the Age of the Gods? Since Caster was limited to the resources of this age, if he could discern the method of creation he could probably advance his own studies in Chinese Alchemy… or, in a last resort, use it.
The Servant made a noncommittal sound as Shinji set to work with crafting the bounded field with his Mystic Code. Every stroke had to be perfect, the foundation of the Art of Fuwen in the words as much as the strokes of the pen or brush. He needed something that could draw it in, contain the gas, compress it, and sustain it, multiple lines….
Once he had the circle drawn up it came to life with a cobalt flare as he provided the prana to be used. The air shifted as it was drawn in, gathering the violet incense that loomed into the bounded field and prevented it from escaping. Soon it appeared to be a column that stretched up to the ceiling and the gas seemed to storm about, yearning to be free.
Once it finished gathering the secondary function took place. The second outer layer altered the air between it and the innermost layer, compressing and congealing until it was a solid. Where there was once a column there was now a sphere the size of a crystal ball, the hue a deep shade of violet that you could sink into.
With a final series of strokes with the pen on the surface of the sphere it was done, a bounded field to contain it while drawing in enough mana to keep the orb it its present state, warding off Gaia’s attempt at returning it to its natural state. By the time he had finished more than ten minutes had passed. He picked it up with one hand and noted it felt heavier than it looked, after which he placed a call to his sister and asked her if she managed to track the flow of the stolen mana taken from the people in the building.
Her answer was unexpected. “Ryuudou Temple?”
“Yes, Nii-sama.” Sakura said over the line. “I’m not mistaken. It’s heading towards the temple.”
He shook his head. “That’s where the major leyline runs. It figures she’d hide there then. That’s… going to be a problem if she can tap it. No, who am I kidding, she’s the Caster class—of course she can.”
“Are you going after her?” A note of worry was in her voice, no doubt recalling her own experiences with the Servant. Shinji had asked her the general details when she had gotten home after that particular debacle.
His answer set her at ease. “No, I’m coming home. Caster is a problem for another day.”
A soft, but audible, exhalation that came with relief could be heard. “I’ll see you then, Nii-sama.”
Shinji put away his phone ad turned to where he thought his Servant was. “Let’s go back to the manor, Rider. We’re done for the night.”
“If you wish to do so then do it on your own,” the Servant stated tersely as he materialized. “This war is not meant for cowards. They have no place amongst us. I intend to get rid of this Caster that slinks in the shadows before the night ends, lest her interference hinders the battles to come.”
“Going after Caster alone is—” Rider leapt out a window before he finished speaking. “—a bad idea….”
He slapped his palms over his eyes and sighed. He had to get to the manor before Caster or Lancer decided to take a shot at him while he was Servant-less. After making a call to the police over the landline in the building he departed with a shikigami’s help.
The Chinese armor that adorned Rider seemed to stand out in the argent moonlight. He stood before the entrance to the mountain with his halberd in hand. It was quiet, almost dead silent with the thick trees on either side of it. Rising up the slope they held within them a power that warded his entry barring this single and narrow passage. It was the ideal place for a trap.
He set foot on the carved stone that constituted steps and found nothing amiss, thus he climbed. It was well before he neared the top, where the temple resided, that he caught sight of the Servant that stood to obstruct his path. A samurai dressed in purple, carrying a long Japanese-style sword on his back.
“I have to ask that you go no further,” the mysterious Servant said. His voice was rather lax given he was in the presence of an opponent who would no doubt try to kill him. His posture was much the same, his hands hiding within the sleeves of his kimono as he stared down from the high ground.
Coming to a stop, more so out curiosity at the lack of a presence he felt from the opposing Servant, Rider’s red-copper eyes stare into the indigo ones of the swordsman. “I came here seeking Caster, but it seems that this hunt bore an unexpected prey. Who are you to stand before my might?”
“Servant Assassin, Sasaki Kojirou,” the Servant clad in purple announced with a smile as he drew his sword. The grey steel seemed sharp enough to cut the moonlight itself as he brought it to his shoulder. “Will you name yourself? Or will my blade simply claim your head namelessly?”
The causal revelation of the name and drawing of the blade bought about a heavy laugh from Rider. It was a merely steel. Well-forged as it was, it wouldn’t hold be able to bear the full brunt of Sky Piercer. “A mere assassin, wielding such a flimsy blade, dares claim it will take the head of Lu Bu Fengxian?”
It was then Shinji’s voice reached the Servant’s ears. He had opened a pass between them once he made it back to the manor, enabling Shared Perception. “You had to tell him your name? That’s supposed to be kept a secret for a reason!”
“I have no need to hide who I am,” Rider stated, unshakable in his tone as he addressed both his Master and his opponent. Raising his halberd so that the moonlight gleamed off the red and gold of the blade, he pointed it towards Assassin. “I am the mightiest of Servants in this war!”
A small chuckle left Assassin’s mouth as he let the blade hang in his grip, taking a single step forward in the process. “That’s a rather bold statement to claim so soon while the madden warrior and ojou-chan are running around. But you should be able to stop my blade from taking your head if that is true.”
“He’s baiting you,” Shinji warned.
Rider didn’t care. The ground beneath him cracked as he lunged for the samurai, his lungs releasing a boisterous battle cry. The air itself seemed to split as he released a straight-downward strike meant to cleave Assassin in two.
A twist of the legs and torso was all it took to dodge. Flowing like water his blade followed and brought the impossibly long sword up to fulfill his promise as it sought out his neck. The rear of the halberd’s shaft came around to intercept it, the blade skimming off the surface as it grated along the slanted slope with sparks.
Brute strength came from Rider’s arms as he brought the point of the halberd up again, seeking to open Assassin up. Once more he was dodged and forced to defend. The sharpened length of steel that came around from the front in a stab was shielded with the neck of the halberd, his hand bracing the flat of the blade in defense.
The point of the sword then circumvented a third exchange, coming up from below on the other side. Rider barely managed to get away, retreating just in time so that the blade bit into the armor that adorned him and carved a bloodless furrow from the lower right hip to the upper-right shoulder.
Assassin followed with a graceful deadliness as his sword turned on a dime many times. Fluid strokes that had a seemingly endless number of patterns that he couldn’t predict, all seeking his neck. Eventually it drew blood, barely stopped from opening up Rider’s throat as he leapt back while his halberd soaked up the rest of it..
“If you had been merely average then you would have already lost your head,” Assassin said as he flicked the miniscule amount of blood on his blade off. “I suppose I should be proud that such a flimsy blade was sullied with the blood of the mightiest, after all.”
Rider’s eyes narrowed as he bared his teeth at the samurai while the wound quickly mended itself. Part of it was in anger at the barb, but excitement bubbled beneath the surface at the face of the challenge before him. That deceptively mundane sword was deadly within the grasp of the purple-clad Assassin, an underestimation that nearly cost him his head.
Twirling the Chinese steel above his head, Rider approached for a second time. He brought it around in a fearsome arch. Wide and sharp, it would take off the samurai’s entire upper body if it connected in truth.
But Assassin’s sword was faster. It came around from the top-left, a diagonal flash that would reach Rider before the halberd, cutting off his head and then his arm as it passed through…
Assassin abandoned the slash and leaned back as intuition spoke to him, Eye of the Mind (False). It was all that saved him as a thin, red line wept at his throat and stained his clothes. Indigo eyes stared down at the weapon in Rider’s hands.
It was no longer a halberd. What had been a pointed blade tipping the long staff was now a curved, half-crescent blade meant to reap lives rather than grain. The interior of it was red, with the trimming of the exterior gold, resembling a grim reaper’s scythe from which blood stained the tip.
“A weapon that switches forms as the user wills it in the midst of battle, huh?” Assassin mused as a wind blew, one eye closed with a smirk on his face as the wound closed. “In that essence, it’s not one opponent I’m facing, but as many as you have at your disposal. Interesting….”
With twist of his wrist the scythe returned to a halberd. He then invaded the samurai’s space as he stepped forward. The point moved with precision as it thrust a number of times, seeking to stab into the kempt kimono and the flesh beneath it.
The samurai avoided the thrusts, until one particularly deep stab invited the counterattack. The katana guided the point of the halberd aside before skating along the top end before arching for his neck like a demonic wind. Even if he used the scythe as he did before, it wouldn’t be able to retract fast enough to do fatal damage….
Yet metal rang out as the blade was deflected by the bracers that now adorned his forearms. Even if the katana could cut steel, the bracers themselves were unbreakable against such a flimsy weapon. Rider’s hand set out and snared Assassin’s sword while his other came down. The bracers were gone, instead replaced with Noble Phantasm in its axe form.
Assassin slammed his palm against the butt of his sword and angled up so that it sliced Rider’s hand open. Earth and stone erupted in a plume of dust as the ax smashed down, but before the dust cloud even had time to clear Assassin broke out of it as the scythe blade came out of it and reaped the space where he had been. The samurai fell back to regain the high ground.
Three arrows followed after him, half the size of the halberd but the same design. One shot sequentially after the other. Assassin slapped the first two away with the flat of his blade and leaned to avoid the third as it passed where his torso had been an impaled itself into a higher stair. Then he readied himself as prana surged and a gale dispelled the remains of the dust cloud to reveal Rider standing there in an archer’s poise with his bow, Cannon Force, nocked.
Rider wasn’t able to read the path of the sword no matter how many times they had clashed. And no matter the weapon, Assassin’s swordsmanship, position, and reach made all but one of his weapon forms useless. And while he could dodge the base arrows, a charged shot would encompass the entirety of the mountain pass—
—foreign words left distant lips and echoed throughout the mountain. Divine Words that had space itself distorted at her command, sealed within a sphere as a portion of the atmosphere that made up the world compressed down into it. Everything nestled tightly within it was frozen in place.
Rider couldn’t move. He was helpless as the gathered prana that illuminated the tip of his arrow evaporated in an instant, snuffed out as an ebony haze washed over the dome. He could only watch as it then congealed into a solid form, the Witch of Betrayal herself.
“I have seen enough,” she said, the cowl of her hood hiding her eyes while her lips painted themselves into a smile.
“Don’t interfere, Vixen,” Assassin stated.
“Silence dog.” She didn’t even turn to face him as she pulled out an iridescent and faced Rider. “Berserker can be bought down a number of times with his Noble Phantasm if the weapons themselves can count as individuals. If not, then having another dog leashed will make it easier to catch a more useful Servant.”
“Andddd, we’re done here,” Shinji spoke through the pass, having been silent until now. Whatever Caster was planning as she approached Rider, he wasn’t going to risk losing his Servant to her like that. “By the Power of the Command Seal! Rider, I order you to return to my side this instant!”
At the expense of a crystallized miracle, the Forced Summoning took hold and Rider was pulled from the battlefield.
No sooner than his Servant had arrived back in the woodlands behind the Matou Manor, behind the bounded fields that had been established by the Old Worm over the centuries, did Shinji find the halberd at his throat. All it would take was a muscle twitch really, and the blade would open up the carotid artery at the very least if it didn’t take his head off. It was safe to say Rider was upset.
Oddly enough, Shinji felt rather calm due to the fact that he flat-out knew that Rider would probably betray him at some point. His rank in Nature of a Rebellious Spirit all but ensured it would happen eventually. Not even a king could keep him loyal for a long period of time.
But, if Rider managed to kill him, then his sister would inherit the Command Seals that were on his hand upon his death because of the modified Shared Mastership. And he’d told her that if that happened she was to have Rider promptly kill himself and then seek out Shirou to make sure he kept his word. Sure, he’d be dead, but considering his Servant’s acts in life it felt appropriate that it would at least be a mutual kill. Still, he preferred living to death if he could help it.
“I could have called you back at any time,” Shinji stated after a few more seconds had passed and the blade didn’t move to decapitate him. “The moment you left my side I could have ordered you to break off rather than let that fight start, especially knowing now that Caster was in an alliance with Assassin’s Master to guard her. But I didn’t interfere while you and Assassin fought because I respected that you wanted a one-on-one fight. The strongest would have prevailed.”
“Then why did you interfere, Boy?” Rider growled through clinched teeth. “Do you think her dagger could have felled me?”
“Caster interfered first,” he said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “She took advantage of the situation and had you pinned down, with your neck exposed for Assassin to take if he didn’t seem to follow Bushido. Plus, I had no idea what that dagger would have done unless I let her use it, which would have been a betrayal considering I was in a position to act. I played it safe so that you could remain in the war rather than be eliminated or brought to heel before it officially begins because of a cheap trick by a coward that hid in the shadows.”
Red-copper eyes narrowed. “And yet you weren’t there either.”
“Because you left me behind,” he pointed out. Steel entered into his voice as he gritted his teeth. “Leaving aside the fact that Caster probably could have mind-controlled me into using a Command Seal to order you into obedience, you abandoned me! I asked you if you would ride alongside me as an ally and didn’t use a Command Seal when we first met and you attacked me because I respected you too much to simply order you to follow me. Is it too much to ask that it be returned?”
Betrayal and Respect, two words that summed up the entirety of Lu Bu’s history beyond the blood-soaked battlefield, were the words he stressed. In the end, they were the ones that reached the Servant. The tension that lingered in the air dissipated as the halberd left his throat and was perched on Rider’s shoulders.
Shinji rubbed where the blade had been and felt a nick where blood had been drawn. He frowned, but spoke in a more relaxed tone. “We need allies before we try to take the mountain again, someone to deal with Caster while you and Assassin have your bout to the death. Whether Archer or Saber, as long as they have decent enough Magic Resistance then that’ll suffice.”
“… I am not patient, Boy,” Rider stated. “I was not satisfied with the outcome of that battle. Nor that of the one with Lancer.”
“One night,” Shinji told him. “I’ll have his Servant summoned tomorrow, get him registered, and then you can storm the mountain, have your great battle, and not worry about the witch pulling a stunt like this again. After that we work with them until you and that Servant are the only ones left to fight and you can prove yourself the strongest.”
Yeah, so this fight was a bit hard to write because reasonably speaking, Assassin is not someone Rider can defeat all that easy or even fight to a draw. I mean, look at the freaking Personal Skills he has in addition to the high ground advantage. Not only can you never learn to read his attack patterns, but he gets an innate sixth sense that lets him adapt over time.
Even in canon it was him luring Saber into flat ground that cost him dearly. So basically only at a long range can you beat him, unless you’re freaking Hercules. Or with Gae Bolg since he has no resistance to curses, luck be damned.
Actually, you know what would be awesome? A fanfic where Shirou has Rule Breaker traced and uses it after Caster’s death to free Sasaki from the mountain and make an alliance with him. I don’t know the mechanics needed to make it work, but fanfiction lives off that sort of thing.
Servant Stats: Assassin
Spirit: Sasaki Kojirou
Alignment: Lawful Evil
N. Phantasm: ?
Class Skill – Presence Concealment (Rank: D): is the capacity to hide one’s presence as a Servant. It is a common skill to the Assassin class.
* Eye of the Mind (False) (Rank: A): is a natural talent to avoid danger on the basis of an innate 6th sense, intuition, or prescience, where accuracy of instinct has been augmented by experience – somewhat overcoming the problem of visual obstructions that appear in the course of combat. The difference between Eye of the Mind (True) and Eye of the Mind (False) lies in that the former is an ability that humans can obtain through accumulation of experience. The ‘False’ version is superficially similar, but in fact represents a natural instinct that cannot be obtained regardless of effort or experience – even though experience can refine its accuracy.
* Knowledge of Respect and Harmony (Rank: B): prevents any decrease in the effectiveness of a technique, regardless of how many times it is used against the same opponent.
* Vitrification (Rank: B+): is a serene state of mind. A mental protection that nullifies mental interference.
* Tsubame Gaeshi: The fabled technique of the legendary swordsman Sasaki Kojirou, who was said to be able to cut down a swallow in mid-flight. It is not something recognized as a Noble Phantasm under the Servant system, but rather an intrinsic skill of the anonymous swordsman representing the legend of Kojirou. This demonic sword technique, the utmost and sole technique used by Assassin, is not a Noble Phantasm or a magical phenomenon, but it has reached a level comparable to one out of pure godlike skill that “surpasses even Servants.”