Chapter 10: Ambushed (Masters)
Author’s Note: Someone’s about to have a bad night.
An albino girl clad in purple walked the streets at night, one eye closed. She was observing the pair on the motorcycle, riding unaware into a trap that was being arranged by Archer’s Master, through a temporary familiar. Her focus was mostly on the boy who had summoned the same Servant her father had. It left her wondering if he had bequeathed the catalyst to summon it to him before her father’s death.
She cared nothing for the sickly magus accompanying him, or the Tohsaka girl, or either of their Servants. Hers was unbeatable, so they didn’t matter. What mattered was the boy who her father had replaced her with, and how she would take her time in letting him know the suffering she went through.
“Let’s go, Berserker,” she said, a lilt decorating her voice. “We’ll go give him a proper greeting tonight.”
A low, inhuman growl echoed from behind her as the ethereal giant followed after her.
The motorcycle thrummed between their legs as it smoothly and silently sped down the road, turning with a twist and lean around a corner. In the corner of his vision he could make out the distant streaks of light from Archer’s arrows growing ephemeral as they came to an abrupt end upon hitting the invisible layer of air wreathed around Saber’s blade. She was drawing his fire, but Shirou remained vigilant since all it would take is a single shot that he didn’t notice coming upon them to kill Shinji and himself.
It was then they both felt themselves entering a bounded field, like passing through a curtain, and he turned into a brake just as something hit his bike hard enough to send them into a sudden stop. Both of them were thrown off the bike, sent airborne and then coming to a landing on the ground, but neither suffered a severe injury as they tumbled away from his now ruined bike.
That had been a gift.
Three shots were fired in an instant as Shirou rolled out of the way and onto his feet. He protected his head with his arms crossed as more slammed into him from ahead. His coat had been engraved with runes to resist curses after Shinji gave him an overview of what Rin would be capable of, but the force behind them staggered him back a few steps as the barrage battered him.
The air parted as an arrow cut through it, passing over his shoulder and his ear towards their assailant, Rin. A trio of Gandr shots was fired to intercept it. The paper arrow exploded between them in a bloom of fire and force, displacing the follow-up shots from the shockwave.
“Em—Swordsman!” Shinji yelled from behind. Shirou looked to see he’d gotten his bow out and his mirror was circling around him. In his right hand was the bag that held White-Hilt. “Catch!”
Shirou dispelled the projected bag as it sailed for him and grabbed the hilt of the sword as the next series of curses came for him. Bringing down at an angle as his prana surged within the mystic code, white flames emerged in a flare of heat that left a searing arc in front of him. The flames purged the curses made solid, and the horizontal sweep that followed created a wall of fire between him and Rin, buying precious seconds as the flames incinerated the curses that touched it.
Reinforced hearing picked up when Rin clicked her teeth. Then she switched targets, releasing a volley towards Shinji, where his flames didn’t reach. The mirror intercepted them as he nocked three arrows and let them loose. She folded her hand and released a cannonball-sized volley to intercept them as well, shattering the solidified paper with the shots only for them to sink within the mirror.
Shinji rammed his fist into the back of the mirror. It knocked loose a massive centipede that looked the half the size of a person, made of tenebrous mire, dark mud, and liquid muck. The creature slithered through the air and chittered as it lunged for Rin, who shot at it another three times with her entire hand.
The creature consumed the shots and grew even larger. Now that he thought about it, Shriou felt the creature was similar to the curse that came from Rin—a curse of illness. It must’ve worked with the Chinese variation of a Kodoku. Only, instead of insects devouring insects, he crafted a curse that devoured other curses.
The creature born of curses closed the distance and hovered over her. Before it could come down on her and leave her stewing in an amalgamation of pestilence that would bring about a blighted death, she leapt back and flung a ruby. An incantation followed from Rin’s mouth and the jewel ruptured in a wave of fire.
The flames surged forward to incinerate the centipede, purging it entirely, before it could touch her. Then it continued, barreling towards them. There would be nothing but ashes left if it connected.
Finger alight with magical energy, Shirou acted by risting a rune array onto the asphalt. The ground buckled and raised itself into a wall to intercept the flames. He leapt back with reinforced legs as the bulwark held up until he was by Shinji’s side. Rin leapt over the wall of asphalt as the fire snuffed itself and fired several more Gandr shots that were caught by the mirror.
Shinji threw out three shenfu that were suddenly transmuted into a dense mist. The veil obscured them from sight.”We need to change the battlefield!”
Shirou nodded. Then they both ran and escaped the bounded field that had been erected to mute the sound and keep away prying eyes. That ambush alone made it clear she wasn’t playing around. They couldn’t afford to let her fight them on her terms if they had any chance of surviving.
Rin’s chest rose and fell, her breath visible as it escaped her mouth.
She came to a stop at the top of a hill that overlooked a mass graveyard, hidden behind a tree. She had chased the pair there only to find that the entire thing was coated in a dense fog, her refined sense picking up the feeling of prana behind it. One of them must’ve created it through magecraft, either transmuting their prana into the mist or lowering the temperature of the moisture in the air until it became visible.
She was annoyed that her ambush failed. It was simple in concept: Sneak up on them, use the curses to leave them helpless, and so on. Her Gandr shot was her primary attack spell for the speed and debilitating effect it had, since most people never bothered to guard against curses specifically.
Yet that mirror mystic code only flew towards her curses, and the swordsman wasn’t immediately beset by illness or nausea. Rin couldn’t help but think that they had prepared defenses against curses specifically, even if the swordsman didn’t have something to nullify the kinetic force behind it. They probably worked for the Matou then, forewarned of what she could do to some extent.
It made enough sense. Sakura was their only heir, and her brother couldn’t use magecraft. Rather than risk losing them both and setting back their Art being passed to the next generation, they’d hire someone to do the job for them. In that case, there was no reason to go easy on them.
The question was what to do now. If she wandered into the mist, she’d be playing into their hands. Given that one seemed to use Runes and the other used an eastern art, from the brief glance she caught of the arrow tip before it blew up close to her, it was likely they’d set up traps within miniature bounded fields set to trigger when stepped on or passed by.
She could blow them all away using a wind spell bound to a jewel, but given the size of the graveyard it was likely she’d miss them in the process. That’d be too much of a waste considering the one she burned earlier. It’d leave her with eight more of her finer jewels, and she’d still have four other teams to go against with them gone.
“Archer, how’s it going on your end?” she asked as she fished though her pockets and pulled out her two jades gemstones, which weren’t really as valuable as the ones she had been charging over the years, with tufts of hair wrapped around them, and a folded piece of paper.
“Managing for the moment, Master.” A strained grunt left his mouth, nearly drowned out by the clashing of steel and… the breaking of glass? “I’d suggest hurrying it along though.”
She opened the paper up to reveal a magic circle on it, a revised design to the one that she practiced with as a child with her father, to create simple familiars. Placing the hair-wrapped pieces of jade on in the center, Rin floated her hand over it and channeled magical energy into them. The gemstones reshaped themselves into owl familiars that each had only one eye, brought to life by the hairs implanting circuits into them. A short chant created a pass between them and her, connecting their eyes to hers through a faux optic nerve while she briefly disabled her own, leaving one to act as her left and one to act as her right.
Programming them with a directive to find anything that moved within the graveyard, they took flight and dove into the fog. The one representing her right eye sailed low to the ground, weaving between the graves skillfully and silently, until it came across a talisman on one of the graves it flew past. There was a sudden bloom of heat and force as it ruptured, the familiar having passed a bounded field tied to the talisman.
The explosion destroyed it, snapping Rin’s connection with it. At least it confirmed her suspicions. She pulled out the jewel with wind spells bound into it as the second familiar flew higher to observe without being caught in a trap. It eventually caught sight of them both, hiding behind one of the larger sets of gravestones.
The one with the hood and mask held a container in one hand, an origami effigy of a serpent burning within it. The familiar moved upwards to mark the location when its wings disturbed the fog enough to draw their attention, and he flung a talisman towards it. The owl tried outmaneuvered it but the talisman followed, likely directed by remotely moving the prana within it, until it connected just as the familiar breached the top of the fog and exploded.
Location marked, Rin threw it with her reinforced arms and uttered the incantation. The jewel shattered and unleashed windstorm that howled with fury. It blew the mist away and devastated the area they were within with hurricane gale winds, using broken bits of coffin, scattered bones, upturned graveyard soil, splintered pieces of wood, and chunks of the broken headstones as shrapnel that tore everything within it asunder until the windstorm faded.
Rin slid down the slope and came to a stop at the entrance of the graveyard, outside the wrought-iron fence. The location she had targeted was a wind-carved crater that ran almost ten feet deep and had carved out enough of the cemetery that it stretched towards the end. Such a mess to clean up…ah well, Kirei was responsible for that anyway.
She didn’t see any signs of the two. It was possible they had been torn to shreds so utterly that nothing remained, but making assumptions was an easy way to make yourself look stupid from being careless. She connected to her Servant instead. “Archer, has Saber disappeared?”
“She has not.” The sound of wind parting and steel crashing against something else rang out, reaching her ears through her Servant’s. “Her Master must still be active. Be cautious, Rin.”
That meant either they had escaped or were rendered unconscious by the attack, and were buried beneath it. She could wait to see if the circumstances would change. But she didn’t like the thought that they were fleeing while she waiting around.
Not that it mattered as the ground behind her splashed upwards. A giant snake emerged through the concrete like it was mud. Caught by surprise, it slammed into her with its head and the force sent her airborne into the cemetery.
She accessed the Magic Crest on her left arm and uttered the aria to trigger the spell of weight-reduction and gravity control. It eased her landing within the ruined graveyard and she was up on her feet as the two magi emerged from the serpent’s mouth unharmed. Then it lunged for her again, slithering its way towards her while the ground around it turned into a semi-liquid state on contact with its body before solidifying again once no longer touching it.
On reflex, she fired her cannonball-sized Gandr shots at it. The serpent couldn’t be cursed, but the force behind it was enough to blow chunks out of it and reveal that the ‘scales’ were sheets of construction paper lined with that Chinese script. Three more shots followed and she rolled out of the way as the oversized shikigami crashed into the ground, the straightforward lunge turned into a chaotic tumble as it went still. Had she done enough damage to it?
The sound of dirt and rubble being crossed reached her ears and she turned her head to see the swordsman coming for her. The blade was chambered, but the flames were doused. He crossed the space in quick strides like the wind was on his back.
She waited until he made his first swing before her martial arts training was put to work, ducking low under the slash and thrusting her reinforced fist forward like a spear against his chest. It was followed be her foot sweeping his leg, bringing him to his knees for a moment as they buckled. Her empty palm came around next, smashing into his face and breaking his nose as he backed a step away reflexively.
To finish, Rin stepped in as she gathered her magical power into her fist until it shone. She twisted her hips, carrying the momentum into her strike, and planted her fist into his mid-section. He tried to guard at the last second with his free hand, but Rin felt his bones in his arm give way on impact.
“Stoß!” The magical energy was converted into kinetic energy with the word of release to overwhelm whatever defensive enchantments he had on him. The swordsman went flying, spiraling backwards as the strike rocketed him to the other side of the graveyard. The landing impact threw up a cloud of dirt and dust with an audible crash. As bits of earth that were thrown high rained back down, he remained unmoving inside of the crater.
One down. She turned to see the other one had an arrow nocked and let loose. Her feet exploded into movement as she darted to the side, only for the arrow to curve towards her with a gesture and then unraveled into several talismans that were transmuted into metal and then lengthened, becoming a rain of steel spears—some combination of elemental transmutation and alteration spells woven into the script maybe?
She jumped back as they embedded themselves into the ground in front of her, only for another arrow hit one. The moment it did, the arrow and spear both turned into a stream of water that carried the momentum of the arrow. As it slammed into the rest and transmuted them in a split second, the surging water slammed into her like she had been hit full-on in the chest with enough pressure it felt like she was standing in front of a fire hose.
Dripping wet and on her knees, she forced herself to roll as another arrow planted itself into the wet ground. Then it bloomed into thick ivy that sprouted at a frenzied pace from the water, including that soaking her. The ivy ensnared her body, leaving her tangled within its grasp and anchored to the ground.
Bound as she was, Rin was fairly sure she knew his magecraft now. Metal to water, water to wood, and fire used earlier—shifting seamlessly through elemental conversion within a cycle using talismans—it had to be the five element cycle of the Wu Xing. As long as he followed the cycle, he would be able to shift the prana used into the different elements, multiplying the strength of the next spell. Likewise, if he went in the opposite direction the prana would destabilize and undergo a violent dispersal.
Either way, she didn’t want to be caught by the next one. Rin reached into her pocket and tossed out an emerald as best she could while he nocked the next arrow. She recited the world of release and a translucent emerald shield burst from it and spun in place, blocking the arrow that burst into flames against it.
Next she accessed her Magic Crest for a Galdr to release her from the bindings, the Scandinavian equivalent of a Kotodama. The moment she spoke it, an ancient mystery was realized and the ivy holding fast loosened from her. Freed from her fetters, Rin closed the distance with a burst of magical energy beneath her feet. He swung the bow as a last-resort only to miss, and Rin drove her fist into abdomen as hard as she could.
The blow robbed him of his breath, and pain hard enough to strip his reason away assaulted him as he was thrown backwards like a ragdoll. The bottom half of the mask shattered as his head smashed into the ground several times when he skipped across it, until he came to an abrupt stop at a gravestone that leaned to the side. But that was fortunate, given that bile and blood escaped violently and uncontrollably.
Curling up in pain and vomiting, Shinji had only one thought in mind:
Rin Tohsaka was a monster.
Even working together, even with everything they threw at her, and even with the element of surprise earlier, she was still dominating them. Emiya was down, though that was partially his own fault. He didn’t use the sword’s flames on her, probably because he feared he would kill her. She repaid that kindness by pulverizing his insides with her trained body and hardened fist.
A single hit had messed him up good, protective fuwen and shenfu or not, and she hadn’t even hit him with that same spell that left Emiya lying in a ditch. The pain was so intense he couldn’t move, or even reestablish the connection he had with Bashe and get the case containing his other shikigami from the inside. He couldn’t even have it swallow him so he could escape underground and flee.
He tried to concentrate to numb the pain as she began to approach, but it was no good. Even when the vomiting stopped, he couldn’t breathe either. By the time he could again, it would be too late. Even if he focused on healing himself, it wouldn’t be fast enough for him to escape having his crushed as she approached.
As death neared, he wondered what he could have done differently. The Lightning-in-a-Bottle, so to speak, was still charging back at his base through the sewer. He didn’t think trying to use it against Caster would be a good idea, so he didn’t bring it. He didn’t have the antidote pills he prepared either in the event that they were hit by the Gandr shot either, nor anything else that could help him.
Tears ran from his eyes and rage bubbled into his throat, coming out as a strangled cry at the injustice of it all. He had sworn to save his sister, to avenge what her family had done by sending her over to the Matou. Yet… yet, he couldn’t do anything about it!
He was going to die here without accomplishing anything! On the first night of the Holy Grail war. What was Sakura going to do if both of them died here?
“Get away from him!”
A curtain of white flames erupted in a straight line between them, revealing Emiya had gotten back onto his feet. Ragged breathes left his mouth, and he hardly looked stable on his feet. But he roared as he swung again and the flames rose even higher between them, forcing her to back off as the heat intensified. He darted to Shinji’s side and stood in his defense, sword at the ready.
Rin stood on the opposite side of the flame, her arm extending like she was going to cast a spell… then she flinched, holding a hand up to her ear.
“Wha…ean…ker?” The words were distorted by the flames and his struggles to breathe, so he couldn’t make out what she said until she spoke loud enough to be heard. “If you survive tonight, order your Servants to kill themselves and withdraw from the war. Otherwise, you won’t be so lucky.”
Then she ran as fast as she could out of the graveyard.
They were saved, but it was a bitter feeling. It was by her mercy that they were spared, his enemy’s mercy. The very thought made him want to pull out his own hair as Emiya came over and tried to lift him into his feet.
“Shinji, are you okay?” he asked. Shinji couldn’t speak, the last bits of his meal beforehand spilling out onto someone’s grave. “Hold on, I’m going to see use Structural Analysis to see how badly you’re hurt, and—”
His words died as a sudden, looming, unspeakable dread fell upon them like the sky was falling. Shinji felt a weight upon his head, keeping it held low to protect himself from whatever it was that were there—a primal instinct that told him not to look if he wanted to maintain the illusion of safety. But, with a wet, strained groan, he forced himself to look up…
He found himself laughing and crying softly at the same time, realizing that Tohsaka hadn’t spared them at all. She’d just decided not to dirty her own hands. Instead, she left it to what could only be described as Death incarnate—a nightmare made of flesh and stone, a behemoth loomed ahead of them, standing just outside the graveyard.
There was no fucking way that thing was a Servant.
At the base of it, standing there with no fear at all, was a little albino girl. She didn’t even seem to acknowledge it as anything possibly threatening. Instead, her eyes were fixated on Shirou as she curtsied. “Good Evening, Onii-chan.”
Shirou strained his voice to speak. “Are you… Illyasviel?”
“So you know who I am?” she asked. A soft, cruel smile appeared on her face when he nodded once. “Then you know I’ve come to kill you, right?”
Right, so let’s talk about Blindsprings. I’m going to be upfront and say that this review will have some spoilers up to the present point, which around 250 or so chapters. I’ll cover the premise, the characters, and what I like about it. If you’re still interested after that, go read it. The only thing it will cost you is a time, because it’s free and better than anything Marvel’s put out in the last few years.
Blindsprings tells the story a young girl named Tamaura that lived in the forest alone for three hundred years without aging due to a contract with the spirits that inhabited it. One day, a young boy named Harris finds her and they get along well. However, he leaves to go study magic only to return several years later, as an adult, and frees her from the spirits against her will. Thus she learns that the world around her has changed drastically and ends up being the cornerstone in a conflict between two factions: the Orphics, the spirit-allied former rulers of the city who are now an oppressed minority; and the Academist, “scientific” wizards who have instituted a dystopian police state in their zeal to wipe them out.’
We see early on that the Orphics are seen as second-class citizens and can be seen as treated horribly, not unlike Germany during a certain time that history will not let us forget. Worse, flashes to the past show that the Academist uprising began because Orphics treated those who weren’t like them as second-class citizens, meaning that they became as bad as the very order they were rebelling against. Not to mention things get more complex when the spirits get involved, and we find out they’ve been pulling a lot of strings as the story continues… And I mean that literally.
The story primarily focuses on Tammy, a proper and sweet princess who is three-hundred years behind on the times and fears elevators, but will put her duties above her personal desires, and Harris, a well-meaning Academist who is working to solve the magic crisis his home is currently facing and wants equality for everyone. They bonded as children, but fast-forward a couple of years and we see that they are forced down different roads due to his aspirations to help her involving joining the very descendants of the people who killed her family, and you can see how guilty they both feel since she drove him to it and he could think of nothing else. Then we learn that the spirits had a hand in it too, ultimately manipulating him for their own good.
The story also goes into the lives of the side-characters, such as Imogen and Street. They all have rich development, and even the antagonists like Asher Thorne appear to have both layers of growth, evident in both the past and the present. Another thing Kadi does well is the exploration of same-sex couples or non-binary characters, such as Harris with Evan and Ember with Irelia. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll like this part of the comic.
Other Things to note
The world-building itself is amazing, with a detailed insight into things like how the Academist came into power and how there was an early attempt at assimilation between Orphics and non-Orphics. The art is gorgeous, with some panels being downright breathtaking. Tell me this doesn’t look amazing.
And it updates three times a week, with very few interruptions. You can read it: Here