~New Moon~ Chapter Four
Week 1: Exposed
Remaining Evenings: 3
Myta, Liar, and I were in the empty classroom. I handed him two of the Ofuda I took—the third in my room for further study—and told them about Baltr. It was a bit underhanded, but this was a war and, while I wouldn’t actively sabotage him, I did need a hand up on him. Both he and Myta saw Lancer under Shared Perception, and they know her class and appearance.
“Here,” Myta said, as she handed me a pair of stylish, black shades. I picked them up and inspected him. She played with her own glasses a bit. “These shades can strip apart any magical protection program he’s using to hide his Servant’s identity, as well as pinpoint a weakness in the program to disable it. However, I did not have enough time to refine them, so they’ll only work once.
“This scarf you retrieved is a ‘Phoenix Scarf’, a Formal Wear that heals the Servant,” Myta said, holding up the scarf. “As for what Baltr was doing, I am not very certain. My knowledge of Casters is fairly limited.”
“My family is descended from Onmyoujin, before the loss of magecraft,” Liar spoke up. “Comparing what you’ve said to some of the notes I’ve read in the past, it’s probably a ritual to set you some kind of territory, but I’d need to see it myself.”
“….Why were you reading notes on a dead art?” I asked, curious at the statement.
“Well,” he chuckled and rubbed the back of his head. “When I was little, I always wanted to do magic. I used to imagine myself as a powerful Onmyoujin when I was a kid.”
“That’s nothing for you to be ashamed of,” Myta said. “All of us must’ve dreamed of doing things like that at one point. I’d imagine there’s a great amount of people who entered the Grail War to experience such a feeling.”
“If only the stakes weren’t so high,” I muttered. Both of their faces became solemn at that. Code casts were the closest we could get to external magecraft, and we could fight alongside famous Casters, not to mention this peaceful school life was quite nice, but there could be only one winner.
The rest, they die.
I didn’t go to the Arena today. I wanted to take a break from all the chaotic fighting and explore the school grounds a bit. I have no idea why the war was set in a high school. It almost seems sadistic to me.
I looked out the window and stared at the false moon in the night sky. There were no gunshots ringing the night air, or the need to stay half-awake, hoping to wake up in the morning. The sounds of battle were restricted to the Arena.
I looked over to the tower that surrounded my Servant. Her sleeping form was quite exquisite. And yet, I noticed a sad look on her sleeping face.
“Lancer,” I muttered. I never wanted to lecture her yesterday or this evening, nor did I want for my words to affect her so deeply. It honestly pains me for a proud shieldmaiden like her to be so subservient. Her past life did a number on her.
I could recall the moment we met.
I had broken through the illusion that was created by Moon Cell rather quickly, only after being trapped inside for two days with Rachel’s help. I took my effigy into the first stage, where I fought against a few programs to understand how the battles were conducted, and decimated the final effigy that stood against us. My reward was meeting Lancer for the first time.
And I was instantly entranced by her beauty.
Using one of the effigies I salvaged for a practice dummy, I gained an understanding of her current skill set and her method of fighting. The way she carried herself during battle was magnificent, so elegant and divine, she crossed the battlefield like a blazing red comet. Yet, it was offset by how much she looked to me for approval and praise.
The moment I asked her what her name was I knew I was truly lucky to have her by my side. But when she told me of her past, I understood why she and I became Master and Servant; we were both connected by flames. I was driven to guide her as best I could, never to betray her as she had been by her former master, nor deceive and manipulate her like the witch who led to her to desperation and death.
I understood why she acted the way she did with Myta, the girl’s behavior probably reminded her of someone from her past life that aided in her betrayal. But if she can’t separate the past from the present, then there won’t be a future for us to have together. The future we want, after the end of the quest for the Holy Grail.
I never knew what love was before, and to say I was in love with her after only being with her for a short time period would be an insult to both of us. I admit I am drawn to her for many reasons, both physical and mental, so I want to be there for her to the very end. I am honestly glad our lives are connected as they are.
Weary, I closed my eyes for the day, and entered a dreamless sleep.
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Remaining Evenings: 2
As much as I loved taking a break from fighting in the Arena yesterday, I had to retrieve the Cipher Key and expose Baltr’s Servant for what he was today. I could no longer afford to procrastinate, so I sent Lancer to observe the Arena entrance. Once Baltr entered, we’d chase after him.
Before I could plan out my next strategy, the classroom door slid open, and Father Kotomine appeared.
“Young Master,” he said in a tone that somehow drove me to want to strangle him, “I have come to remind you to retrieve your Cipher Key before the final day. A great number of other Masters have yet to retrieve even one, let alone both. While you are ahead of the curve, I’d hate to see a match become nullified because disqualification.”
“…Why do I get the feeling you want to see us fight for the sake of fighting?” I asked.
“Because humans truly shine in combat,” he said. “Unlike us NPCs, you Masters come up with very creative measures in order to emerge victorious.”
With that said, Father Kotomine exited the room. As much as he creeped me out, he had a point. Humanity was suited for combat. We had to be in order to survive against predators of the past, not to mention that most the advancements in medicine came about in war—not that anyone liked the fact that it was necessary with the constant loss of life.
Or at least it did in the past, before the period of stagnation.
“Lancer,” I called, as I stood at the entrance of the Arena. “Has Baltr entered yet?”
“No, Fylkir. I’ve been here since morning, but he hasn’t entered the Arena,” she said, while hidden from plain sight.
“In that case, we’ll enter ourselves and get the Cipher Key. After that, we can wait for him to arrive. You can sense when they arrive, if we’re in the Arena, can’t you?”
She took on her physical form and nodded her head.
First Chimeric Lunar Sea – Second Floor
We exited the teleporter and walked down the slope, making our way deeper into the Arena Floor. First, Lancer cleared out some of the fodder enemy programs, while I used the opportunity to use bomb(16); to blast them from the back. If I were using a stronger bomb(); code cast, I could do more wide spread damage, but for now this had to do. It’s times like this that I wished I was as good as the others were.
Myta, Rachel, and Liar were far more skilled hackers than I was, so they had their own unique code casts. Liar could create his own code casts, Myta was gifted in hacking Moon Cell and creating Formal Wear, and Rachel was gifted in creating items that could be used as traps for the Arena and had the best ability when it came to strategy, while I was a jack-of-all trades—a downgraded version of all three of them. Really, I could’ve easily been replaced by someone else if there were more people available.
There was this girl in Japan, Rin…something or other, who was gifted as a hacker, but she was bogged down by the fighting and wouldn’t make it in time for the competition.
As I cleaned out the normal data folders, occasionally using the liberated goods to keep Lancer’s strength up since I wasn’t allowing her to use any MP until we encountered Baltr, I wondered if I should shift the equipped Formal Wear I was using.
My gloves held bomb(16);, which was offensive and could stun the enemy, and the shades had invalidate_concealment(t);, which could be used once to break through the magic-based concealment on his Servant. The shades were necessary, but against so many enemies I needed more than a small explosion. I needed to do something about Baltr’s loss_str(32); code cast.
Lancer’s current skills covered attack, speed, and defense, but not strength. Hiti Bresta (Flame Break) was a Break attack that did piercing physical damage. Svanr Vaengr (Wings of the Swan) was a speed boosting spell. The last active skill she possessed was Bálkr Lind (Wall of Shields) which was a defensive spell. She had nothing to raise her strength with the exception of her Noble Phantasm, and that exposed her true identity to others, so it was only be used sparingly in the later rounds…or at least that was what I hoped.
When I approached a hidden, red data folder that was beyond the Cipher Key, it was guarded by some program that shouldn’t have been on this level at all. I swear it was physically stronger than some Servants! I had to use Lancer’s Noble Phantasm just to make her fast enough to avoid having her crushed by the sheer strength of it.
She used up all her MP in the process too. It was a good thing it dropped an Elixir…plus it leveled me up quite a bit. There was also some warning about unleashing a monster that should’ve been sealed away, but I was too relieved that the thing was down for the count to care. Anyway, I opened the data folder.
“Ah, this must be Taiga’s Kendo Shinai,” I said, holding it in my hands…before I felt a pulse of bloodlust coming from it and started to shiver. Just to be sure, I asked Lancer what she thought.
“It seems like a nid—a curse—has been laid on it,” she said, agreeing with me.
“How did a practice sword become so bloodthirsty?” I muttered…until I thought about what would happen if I gave it to Taiga. I could hear the screams of innocent Masters and Servants alike, as they begged for mercy from the merciless Tiger, wielding this cursed weapon, which made them into an eldritch abomination capable of defeating any Servant.
There would be no innocents, only the Tiger and the hunted…
We’d be accomplices in creating a monster…I thought, until Lancer tapped my shoulder to alert me to a new threat. Baltr finally entered the Arena. “It’s time to get to work, Lancer.”
“So, you’ve come…” Baltr said emotionlessly when we confronted him in a wide area. Cyber ghosts appeared and were twisted into abomination after abomination. Soon their numbers were mid-twenties at the very least. “These weak aptergoers will be enough.”
I activated the Shared Perception to send the information to both Myta and Liar, who retrieved their Cipher Keys yesterday after we had our little meeting. Unlike before, when I acted as a sender and she acted as a receiver, it’ll go both ways with Myta this time, while Liar will just be a spare receiver—an observer. Myta and I will be tired as hell tomorrow and probably won’t enter the Arena, but if we do things right, we can spend the next day figuring something out.
“Lancer,” I said with my voice firm, as I gave her my next command, “send them to Niflheim where they belong.”
“Understood, Fylkir!” Lancer said. She tightened the grip on her spear before she dashed into battle. We already discussed this, but she was to create an opening by reducing their numbers and forcing him to use that grimoire to summon more. Once he did, I would activate the code cast on the shades.
I had to wait until Liar identified the chance to strike and signaled Myta, who would inform me when to do it. I instructed Lancer to hold back, using just enough strength to banish the aptergoers, but not enough to brush them aside. Going all out now wouldn’t help us.
Red flashes illuminated the area around Lancer, her spear moving at a level where she felt comfortable, yet restrained, slicing through the abominations at a reasonable pace and multiple hits occasionally. Baltr observed carefully, not using his code cast at all. He probably noticed she’s holding back, which was good. There are few things more insulting than holding back on an enemy who knows you are stronger than you appear.
Lancer was hitting far harder during the last fight, and moving faster. He looked at me and I smirked, adding further to the illusion I was underestimating him. He frowned, as the number of monstrosities fell to five, and to push his buttons a little more, I yawned and covered my mouth, as if I was bored.
I swear I could see a vein appear on his head, despite only having a small frown on his face. It felt as though the atmosphere shifted. Success!
“Look at his grimoire and code cast…Now!” Myta said through our connected hearing. I shifted the shades with my hand and gazed at the book. Through the shades I could see some magical energy appearing. So, gathering my own magical energy, I activated the Formal Wear.
“invalidate_concealment(t);” I casted, magical energy gathered into the lenses and revealed a bunch of data, before beams of light were fired from them and pierced the grimoire. The space around it warped until a burst of dark energy revealed the Servant.
Caster was pale, with black eyes and yellow pupils that were slits. His hair was black, with unnatural strands of gray. He wore a tattered, gray robe with a holster that had the grimoire in it. He scowled at me, seething in anger.
“How annoying,” he said. “It seems as though I can’t use the Gray Leather to conceal myself for some time.”
Baltr looked at me with contempt once again. “A nice trick, but it won’t save you.”
“I’d be more concerned with myself if I were you,” I said, pointing to Lancer, who was getting ready to pounce at the chance of skewering Caster. “I don’t want to be saddled with a penalty right after we’ve exposed you, and I doubt your Servant can last until the SE.RA.PH interferes.”
Baltr thought about it and closed his eyes. “Fine, we’re done setting things up here anyway. The Elimination round will spell your end.”
“I’ve not felt such shame since trying to obtain Red Leather,” Caster muttered. “Next time we meet, you’ll pray that you could enter the Lands of Mist.”
They both logged out of the Arena.
Looking at Lancer, she seemed a bit tired from all the effort we went through today, and I’m beat as well. We already cleared the map of all the data folders and obtained the Cipher Key. There was no need to stay here,
So I cut Shared Perception off and crushed a Return Crystal. We were pulled out of the Arena.
Exhausted from the battle both Lancer and I fell asleep in our respective places, never stirring until the next day.
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Remaining Evenings: 1
Our endeavors yesterday were successful, and as a result, we exposed Caster’s form.
As I was heading down to the Commissary for food, I passed Taiga. She was yelling at a few other Masters and looked as though she wanted to throttle them. It seemed like she was getting ready to pounce like a…well, like a tiger, until she suddenly stopped and looked at me.
The shinai was pulsating, and she walked over like she was drawn to it.
“Would you please hand that over?” Taiga said in an eerie voice, with empty eyes that filled me with dread. Terrified at the thought of her using it on me if I didn’t comply, I forked over her demonic tool…and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees in an instant.
“Thank you,” she said in an even creepier voice and stared at the Masters who pissed her off, the sword in her hand wrapped in eldritch energy crafted by the blood of the many victims of the sword in the past. Their survival instincts kicked in and they ran out of the building screaming, with Taiga chasing after them past the Schoolyard.
“Taiga-Sensei! You can’t maim them so close to the Elimination Round!” Sakura Matou, the school nurse, said as she ran after them with a large first aid kit.
“Interesting,” Father Kotomine said, standing next to me. “That item should have been sealed away and guarded by a powerful program, one that hasn’t been used in many wars because of its high strength. Either you’re Servant was skilled or fast…” a small smile appeared on his face. “It has been some time since I’ve seen the demonic Tiger unleashed. It will amuse me.”
He walked after them and as soon as he left, I breathed a sigh of relief at the rising temperature. I walked down the stairs and into the Commissary. When I got here and bought some food, Myta approached me and sat down to eat with me.
Lancer was still in my private room, sleeping after the two intense fights yesterday, so I didn’t have to worry about her being tempted to stab the girl. Not that she would after our discussion, but still, it’s best to remove the temptation altogether and I’d rather not have to use a Command Seal on it.
After finishing the small meal she had, Myta told me about the meeting in the Library and left. I was about to leave too, when I heard horrible screams of terror. As soon as evening rolled around, I was going to meet with the others in the Library.
The Library had roughly two dozen other Masters, the ones who actually took this seriously, researching various materials in order to get the drop on their opponents. Some were actually doing a bit of trading around with items and Formal Wear they bought with them or got in the Arena. It seemed like not everyone received the same items in the data folders, which were probably randomized in a certain criteria, along with each individual Arena.
One of the male Masters came up to me and wanted to trade for my Phoenix Scarf, saying he didn’t get one from the Arena and his opponent had some Servant that could use a skill that increased all their stats if the opponent used a healing item instead of a code cast.
Ignoring that such a troublesome enemy existed; I traded him for an “Exorcism Baton”, which held the code cast reduce_loss(16);, which was inferior to Baltr’s code cast, but it could at least reduce the effect of the code cast by half considering it was only a single level above.
Liar and Myta were sitting at a table, waiting for me. There was a device on the table that looked like a pyramid paper weight, but once I got near the table I realized a difference in the air density; it was actually a sound proof barrier to prevent the conversation from being overheard.
We compared notes on what information we retrieved. First, we noticed that the Caster used cyber ghosts and twisted them, calling them “aptergoers”, which is a term from Norse culture. Second, we learned he mentioned something about Gray Leather and Red Leather. Lastly, Liar noticed the way the atmosphere shifted before we exposed them suggest that he is capable of creating a high level “Territory” to work in.
After that, we took a break from guessing the enemy’s identity, since I could ask Lancer or do more research after they left. However, I realized that I didn’t really know anything about how their matches are going and if they needed help on anything.
“My opponent?” Lair mumbled. “It’s this guy…um, I forgot his name, but his Servant is a monk named Gennou, who has control over three fox spirits. He doesn’t stand a chance against my Servant.”
“As for my opponent,” Myta chuckled, “they didn’t earn their Cipher Key in time. So I win by default.”
“That’s convenient,” I muttered. “It’s a luxury that’s normally available because of the lack of motivation in the first round.”
Myta only smiled at the statement, before we parted ways.
First Floor Hallway
Before I got ready to turn in for the night, as the sun was setting, Taiga approached me. She had a smile on her face, no doubt happy at retrieving her sword. I shuddered when I thought about what I heard and the other Masters’ gossiping.
A few witnesses say that she cornered them on the Archery Range and they called out their Servants to defend themselves, while they fought back using code casts that took even the SE.RA.PH a few minutes to repair the damage to the area. She was a merciless tiger, hunting prey with her sword, and beat both the Servants and Masters to an inch of their lives within 3 minutes, until the SE.RA.PH interfered. But what was worse was the fact that it only took a few blows to drop them at their current levels, and they should have been eliminated within 30 seconds.
That was when they discovered the horror the sword…it could never reduce their health past 1 HP, meaning she could keep beating them over and over. Their screams made even the hardest of men flinch, and women screamed in terror as they saw the look on Tiger’s face—sadistic joy to the highest level, only matched by the smirk on Father Kotomine’s face as he watched. I know our avatars act like real bodies, but I never thought they could bleed like that!
Not to mention, she got to use the thing to punish people under the guise of a training boss. Luckily, no one seemed to realize that I was the one who handed the sword back to her. Plus the NPCs were keeping their lips sealed; otherwise I’d have a ton of attempted murders aimed towards me for unleashing a bonus boss of such a level.
“Yo!” Taiga said innocently. “Thanks for retrieving my sword. Take this as compensation,” she said, handing me a set of female pajamas aptly named “Taiga’s Pajamas…?” and taking off.
They felt like silk in my hands and were blood red…with tiger paw prints on them…
I wondered how they’d look on Lancer…
No, I’d never force my Servant to wear such a thing…
“Fylkir,” Lancer muttered, stepping out of the tower of desks. “This is a little different than what was typical of my time…but it feels very nice against my skin. Thank you.”
…Thump. “Ow.” Thump. “Ow.” Thump. “Ow.”
“Why are you hitting your head against a desk?” she asked. I stopped my self-inflicted torture and looked at her. The pajamas fit her fine, which led me to think Taiga got her measurements somehow…but for some reason the cut in the shirt was so low, it left enough skin—in very appealing places—exposed.
Taiga couldn’t pull that look off, which brought up a whole other set of questions as to where she even got these…
“Just punishing myself for being so weak-willed,” I wept comically. “I shouldn’t have asked you to see if it would fit, since you’d wear it out of obligation rather than desire.”
“No,” she said, her blushing face as red as her hair. “Well, yes. I would’ve worn it out of obligation, but I liked it and I wanted to wear it…and I got it from you, so…” she trailed off.
“In that case, you can wear it, or your kirtle, whenever you want at night,” I said, rubbing my aching head. “Back to business. Did the information I give you ring any bells about Caster’s identity.”
“Yes…” she said, sitting across from me on another desk. “I believe it is a man whose obsession led to his death. His name was Galdra-Louptr, the owner and author of Grdskinni.”
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