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?”
Chapter 9: The Last Servant Summoned
Leaving her home, Rin Tohsaka felt a myriad of feeling at the moment.
First and foremost was a sense of accomplishment and pride. Like her father before her, she had managed to summon a Servant… albeit not the one she wanted. Still, the summoning in itself was a success and the Command Seals on her hand were proof of that. Now all that was left was to claim the grail that should be hers, even though she didn’t have a wish that needed to be granted.
But not all of her feelings were so pleasant.
Her servant infuriated her. There were some people who could get under her skin, but he was special considering he managed to antagonize her to the point she had wasted a Command Seal on him. Oh, he’d better prove his worth or so help her….
Rin came to a stop partway down the hill leading to the school, looking down at where the Matou Residence was. There was a foreigner there, blond hair and red eyes, muttering words that she couldn’t hear at that distance to her sist—to the Matou heir. As he walked away, she saw that Sakura looked dejected for a moment, her violet eyes clouded with dark thoughts as she reached up to touch the decoration in her hair.
It was odd. Rin thought that she had crushed whatever remained of her storge affection, but now she wanted to say something to soothe whatever had been said to make Sakura look like that. Her hand was already moving to reach out for her and the words were forming in her throat. All that stopped them was when she caught sight of the Command Seals on her hand.
The Holy Grail War was beginning, and there was no way that the Matou didn’t have someone fighting in this war. That meant she was possibly an enemy that had to be defeated. The thought made her hand drop, leaving her to watch as Sakura walked towards the school with her back to Rin.
It was then she made a call, seeking to soothe her curiosity and steel her resolve if necessary. “Archer,” she whispered. “Can you see if that girl has Command Seals on her hands?”
His response was swift and dutiful, contrary to his behavior to this point, leaving her presence for a mere moment to fulfill her request. “She does not.”
Rin let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. “That’s good I suppose.”
“May I ask why you suspected she would have one?” Archer asked.
“Her family is one of the three involved in the creation of the Holy Grail,” Rin said, keeping her distance as she trailed behind Sakura. They were heading in the same direction, but she didn’t dare approach her side as she had when they were children walking with their mother between them. Those days were gone. “She’s the only known Magus of her line, so it seemed like she would be the prime candidate.”
“I see.” She could practically hear the wheels turning in Archer’s head. “The fact that she doesn’t seems strange, in that case.”
“It’s probably because the war is starting earlier than it should have,” Rin guessed. “If I wasn’t contacted, I wouldn’t have known. So either she isn’t entering or….”
Archer finished where she trailed off. “She hasn’t summoned her Servant yet.”
Rin’s lips pursed into a thin line at that thought. There was one Servant left to be summoned: Saber. That was what Rin had hoped to get when she performed the ritual, because they were known for their balanced stats according to the records her family had of the war.
“Master,” Archer said, making Rin realize that they were closer to the school than she thought. The gates were practically upon them. When did she get distracted? “What will you do if she does become a Master?”
That was the question then, wasn’t it? She didn’t know how well-trained Sakura was, meaning that if they got into a conflict she couldn’t predict the odds…No, Rin would win. The real question was would she be able to claim victory without permanently injuring her?
The smart and pragmatic thing to do would be to capture her brother. With a hostage, she could force her to surrender her Command Seals after having her Servant kill itself, removing them both safely from the war. But Shinji would no doubt suspect something if she called him out.
They were never seen remotely near one another after the last time they had met. While most people still suspected it was because she’d rejected him, she knew it was because she had thrown away the chance to reunite with Sakura for the sake of upholding the tradition of the Art. Though, to her surprise, a decent number of those girls who would speak to her actually said they pitied Shinji when the rumors spread of her turning him down.
Honestly, they painted her as the villain—what with how the frail and weak Matou heir, taken by her beauty and grace, put his heart on the line for a confession in private. Yet, he was turned down and crushed by her brutal denial, slinking back to his classroom and looking as though he was ready to keel over. Supposedly he’d been so disheartened that he gently turned down every effort to console him, leaving other women to want to heal his broken and reasonably wealthy heart.
He may not have been a magus, but he was crafty. That was partly why she doubted she’d be able to get him alone to actually capture him. Even if she did, the thought of Sakura looking at her with hatred in her eyes for taking her brother away left the bottom of her stomach feeling as though it was about to drop. It was stupid that she felt this way after so long, but that was something she couldn’t erase.
She came to a conclusion after an elongated pause. “…You should be good enough to deal with whatever Servant she summons if you pick them off at a distance, right?”
“Of course,” Archer said. “I’m an Archer, after all. I wouldn’t be much of one if I couldn’t pick a target off before they realized it.”
How smug he sounded annoyed her, but in this case it also bought some comfort. If he was this confident, then he could probably do it. That made her glad that she had gotten the ranged-specialist in the end.
Stepping through the threshold of the gate, she watched as Sakura met up with the Emiya boy and her brother. The latter of who glared at her when he noticed her standing behind Sakura. He placed a bandaged hand over her shoulder and whispered something in her ear while Emiya looked on confused for a moment. When Sakura shook her head, he guided her inside the building with Emiya following behind.
“Is he still angry about that rejection last year?” Rin heard from behind her. The voice was one she recognized and warranted her attention, leading to her looking over her shoulder to see Ayako there in her uniform. She looked a bit concerned and sheepish. “I don’t think I’ve seen him looking that mad before.”
“Who knows?” Rin shrugged. “That being said, was that a lovelorn gaze I saw coming from you, Mitsuzuri-san?”
“It’s not like that.” Her denial would be more believable if her face wasn’t turning a sanguine hue. Of course, after the moment, passed she stared at the door he went behind wistfully and sighed. “I’m just worried about him since he injured himself while helping Emiya last night.”
Rin raised an eyebrow. “Is that right?”
“You saw the bandages on their hands, right?” She nodded. “Sakura called me last night and told me the three of them were at Emiya’s place cooking when Shinji had a coughing fit while they were handling the ceramic plates. They broke and cut their hands in the process, so Shinji and Emiya weren’t going to attend the club today.”
“Isn’t that a bit inconvenient for your club?” Rin pointed out. “They’re both important, aren’t they?”
She could only shrug. “Losing both the Vice-Captain and Substitute Vice-Captain leaves me short-handed, but I’ll manage until then. Sakura said she’d help out, so there’s that. Either way, I should head there now.”
With that, Rin allowed Ayako to walk towards the club without further commentary.
Archer had been summoned once more, as he usually was, only this time he felt somewhat more at peace with himself than the usual bitterness that made up his ethereal existence. He had parted with Rin after saying he would do his best, and hadn’t been subjected to another bout of being a Counter Guardian between the usual lags in the summoning, meaning that for this brief moment he had some measure of relief from his eternal Hell of condemnation.
But, while he was familiar with the how every time he was summoned things were different, he took the time to try and spot differences within the dimension that he was now a part of. Normally there wasn’t much—a misplaced stone, someone new when they hadn’t been before, or Rin actually being a cup size larger than usual. The point being, it was usually something small and inconsequential, making it easy to miss.
Other things were more apparent. Like the fact that Rider’s boundary field was missing. That either meant she hadn’t been summoned, or that Sakura was the one holding her reins instead of Shinji. Given that she didn’t have Command Seals, he found that scenario unlikely and would have to make a note to see what that meant later down the road.
Oddly enough, the minor changes were what seemed to bother him the most. When an assortment of minor changes piled on top of one another they often caused for major changes. And, in this case, they all seemed to stem from Shinji Matou.
Shinji Matou was a prime example of someone who couldn’t be saved, no matter what. In his life as Shirou Emiya, he was arguably Shinji’s only friend and the only one besides his sister who genuinely liked him. At least before what happened with Sakura came to light and the resulting Grail War of his time, which was arguably the first time his idea of saving everyone was proven to be impossible. Every time they had met after his indoctrination into being a Counter Guardian, it had always been simpler to kill him to save more lives.
The fact that Sakura had another hair decoration that she treated fondly, as though drawing comfort from it in the wake of Gilgamesh appearing to tell her to kill herself, meant that she had another pillar to support herself. Given her circumstances, the fact that she had another supporting figure meant that there was another chink in her armor that could be exploited. That was troubling in its own way, and may result in him having to kill Rin’s sister somewhere down the road—which may not be as much of a mercy as it usually would.
And then there was the fact that Ayako had been staring at Shinji Matou with a look that was both fond and concerned. Rin’s teasing, and the subsequent denial, only further hinted at a budding relationship. As she would never consider such a thing given his usual personality, it meant that he most likely wasn’t as vile as he could have been due to some intervention in the past.
That meant he wouldn’t be as likely to lash out at others for the sake of his ego. And because he wasn’t abusive, he and Shirou Emiya wouldn’t have as much animosity between them. That meant that when he summoned Saber—which was another constant, even if the Saber in question could vary from Nero to Mordred to Okita Souji—Shinji would not be an enemy to be defeated by him.
What change this would bring about would depend on what happened next, but Archer was already putting plans into place to ensure the least amount of casualties should the worst case scenario come about.
“We’re going to try this one more time,” Shinji said as he set down the bag he brought with him from his workshop. They were in the shed that Emiya called his own, having left the school-grounds thirty minutes ago to get things done as soon as possible. The walls were lined with runes, meant to prevent prana leaks and sound, leaving it somewhat secure in addition to being within the boundary field of the estate he lived on. “One more time, and then we do the summoning.”
“Shinji, if we didn’t find out the last few times, what will be different this time?” Shirou asked. It was a fair question. Why waste time on something when there was nothing further to gain?
Shinji ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. “My pride demands I make one more attempt.” He set down a towel and two cups that he filled with bottled water. “After this we’ll summon your Servant. Now cast Reinforcement on this.”
Shirou sighed as he grabbed the slip of shenfu paper Shinji handed him. Shinji had a better understanding at magic comprehension and explained that elements acted as a modifier to spells in a subtle sense, such as if someone with an Imaginary Numbers element were to use Reinforcement then the object that was affected would be able to interact with spiritual entities on a more efficient level. They were trying to figure out what his element was through an abstract method, since they didn’t have an exact test to determine what it was because he didn’t correspond with any of the basic ones.
“Trace: On.” The magic circuits in his right hand grew luminous and then slithered up the slip of paper. The shenfu became rigid and took on a metallic sheen. Shirou waved it around to see that it had also lost its flexibility.
Shinji took the paper and examined it. Then he pulled out one of his shenfu with the fuwen for ‘Metal’ on it and channeled his own prana into it. It took on a similar nature to Shirou’s, but he recognized the differences. “It looks like the Metal Eastern Element at a superficial level, but it’s not the same. The texture feels different… maybe metal is too broad and it’s something more constrained, specialized at its core within that frame. We’ll try the water method next.”
Shinji stuck one finger into one cup filled with water and cast Reinforcement on the water itself. The volume of liquid in the cup rose until it overflowed and spilled down the sides onto the towel. He pulled his finger out and the water followed, until he held the finger up with a sphere of water the size of a soft ball loitering there. “I have a Water element, so if I perform Reinforcement in a broad sense, it simply gives the water more volume and makes it easier to manipulate.”
“So if I do the same….” Shirou stuck his finger inside and cast Reinforcement on his water. Like the paper it took on a metallic sheen, but that was all at a glance.
Shinji stuck a finger inside to see if the temperature had changed, such as if the Fire Element had been introduced. He pulled it back after he felt a sharp sensation and watched blood mix into the water. He frowned. “Did you just make the water sharp enough to cut me?”
“I guess?” Shirou shrugged. “It’s not like there’s been a need to cast Reinforcement on water of all things.”
Shinji grumbled under his breath about how it was even more confusing now as he put up the things for the element testing and started drawing the circle for the summoning. “Since we couldn’t get a catalyst we don’t know what Servant you’ll get, but it will definitely be in the Saber class.”
“Shouldn’t yours be here too?” Shirou asked.
Shinji scoffed. “I left Rider to his own devices for the day. I didn’t want Rin’s Servant to detect him around one of us and he tends to rub people the wrong way. I’ve checked on him through our shared senses every now and again today, but he’s mostly lingered in astral form around the base of the mountain.”
Shirou’s inquisitive expression asked the unspoken question.
“I’ll explain after you summon your Servant.” Shinji stood up and stretched his back, cracking bones audibly within the shed. “Now, I think you understand how the whole system works when it comes to the Command Seals and Servants, but I want to tell you about it in greater detail since it could mean life or death.”
He unwrapped his hand and showed Shirou his remaining two seals. “Of the three families who worked together to make the system of the war, the Matou were the ones who made the Command Seal system. Because of that we know how to utilize it better than anyone else.”
Each of the three families had, in some form or way, cheated in the previous wars using the advantages they had garnered. The Tohsaka had local allies and laid claim to the nodes where mana gathered since they provided the land, giving them access to the most resources. The Einzbern made the grail itself and were the ones who could use it for the Third Magic, according to the Old Worm’s notes. The Makiri themselves gamed the system through the Command Seals.
“The Command Seals utilize mana gathered over the decades between the wars and compacted them into these markings,” he continued. “Most competitors see it as a means of manipulating a Servant for short-term compliance, or compiling their effects by using more than one to enforce a rule, but with it you can actually interface with the grail system itself.
“For example, let’s say that you summon a Servant into a class but it could have fit in multiple classes at once. With the seal you can install an additional class, reopening the connection between the Throne of Heroes and downloading that class information. A Servant would then be a Double Class.”
“Double Class….” Shirou scratched his head. If it was possible to enter more than once class, then what was the point of constraining them into a single one? It did seem like a cheat being exploited, but the practicality of it was questionable. “When was the last time someone used it?”
“Not since the Second War,” Shinji said. “It requires two seals to enforce the Double Class—one to make the initial change and one to interface with the grail and stop it from auto-correcting the change after a set period of time. And, despite being able to have both sets of Class Skills, their Noble Phantasms and Personal Skills don’t change.”
“And if you’re using a catalyst, then you’re summoning a Servant in what would be an ideal form,” Shirou reasoned, crossing his arms in thought. “So there’s no need for a shift in the class then, since it wouldn’t be worth the cost.”
Shinji nodded his head. “We don’t have a catalyst for you, so if by some chance you get a Saber that was also a renowned spell-caster then you can invoke the Double Class and give them access to skills they wouldn’t otherwise have because of the system constraints. That’s why I’m tell you now.”
Lancer would be a perfect example. If Cu Chulainn had been summoned under the Double Class system as a Lancer-Caster, then his Rune Magecraft would have been more effective. It would have probably plowed straight through Rider’s level of Magic Resistance.
“Another use is as an external battery,” Shinji went on. “You can burn the Command Seals as a power source for magecraft that goes beyond your limits. I don’t think you have any spells that would require that kind of power, and in most cases anything you can do a Servant can do better, but keep it in mind as a last resort.”
“Right…” Shirou didn’t think he would need a Command Seal for that. His Rune Magecraft was limited after all, and Reinforcement didn’t require that much energy itself. Still, he wouldn’t hesitate to burn it if he could use it to save someone else.
With that explanation out of the way, the two began the process of summoning his Servant. Blood was shed for the sake of power as Shirou stood with his hand outstretched and his circuits opened. Shinji stood off to the side to stay out of the way.
He closed his eyes when there was a flash as the fifth element composed itself to take on the form of the Servant. When he opened them again, there was a woman clad in silver armor that glinted in the evening light, with a blue dress beneath it. Matching gauntlets and greaves covered her hands and feet, though she lacked a helmet as one would expect, leaving her blonde-hair and green eyes on display for all to see.
Standing proudly, the Servant spoke to Shirou and asked, “I ask of you: Are you my Master?”
“I am,” Shirou stated, revealing the Command Seals fixed on his wrist as a shriek of surprise left Shinji’s mouth while he pointed to the regal woman. “Shinji, what’s wrong?”
“Arthur Pendragon,” he said, barely above a whisper. “King Arthur.”
“Who are you?” she asked with her invisible blade in her hands. Shinji couldn’t see it, but he knew from the memories of Waver what it was like. The gleaming, golden blade of Promised Victory being raised to slay the monster that once loitered on the bay was something that had been deeply entrenched onto both Waver’s, and subsequently Shinji’s, minds.
“Forgive the rudeness of calling you by name, King of Knights,” Shinji said, putting on a diplomatic face when he gathered himself. “I am the Master of Rider for this war, Shinji Matou. Your Master and I have entered into an alliance for the duration of the war, as we’ve been friends for some time now and there are other matters that must be addressed.”
Shirou held up his hands. “Wait, wasn’t King Arthur….” He trailed off when Saber turned her eyes on him. “I mean, you’re really King Arthur?”
“You were unaware of my identity?” the Servant asked her Master.
Shinji spoke for him. “Your Master didn’t have a catalyst so we were uncertain which Servant would be summoned, and I had recently come across memories of the former Master of Rider, from the last Grail War ten years prior. During that time, a previous template of yourself had been summoned, so I became aware of your identity through those means. It was pure circumstance that these facts aligned.”
The Servant stood silent for a moment, before replying, “If those are the circumstances, then it cannot be helped. However, I ask that you keep silent on my identity from this point onwards.”
“Of course,” he said. “In exchange for any perceived slight, and as a token of goodwill, I will give you the names of Caster, Assassin, and Lancer.”
“You’ve already fought them, Shinji?” Shirou asked. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“Lancer attacked my home after I summoned Rider,” Shinji explained. “He’s an incarnation of Cu Chulainn, an Irish folk-hero. In addition to his speed and the use of a spear, he’s capable of summoning dogs in a limited number, and the use of Rune Magic. More than him though, Caster in herself is the largest problem.”
He reached into the bag he brought to produce a smaller box. He removed the lid to showcase the sphere of swirling violet. “Recently there have been a number of people slipping into comas from what is perceived to be gas attacks. In truth, it’s because of this.”
Shirou leaned in and caught the scent of it. “It’s laced with prana.”
“I analyzed it and found that it’s used to steal od from people who aren’t capable of magecraft,” he explained. “It also has the side-effect of rendering men impotent, so even if the victims wake they won’t be able to have children. She’s doing some major damage while amassing power, making her a credible threat the longer it goes on to anyone without sufficient Magic Resistance.”
“Such an act is intolerable,” Saber spoke, more than a note of disdain in her voice.
Shirou nodded in agreement, happy that his Servant shared the same idea. “We have to stop her.”
“Rider and I already attempted to confront her.” Shinji put the sphere back into his bag. “However, the Assassin of this war is a skilled warrior named Kojiro Sasaki. His swordsmanship managed to hold back Rider, and Caster assisted him by binding Rider in place. I had to use a Command Seal to retrieve him before he could be eliminated.”
“So their Masters are in an alliance as well,” Shirou figured. “Do you know where their base is?”
Shinji rubbed his eyes. “The Ryuudouji Temple.”
Shirou tensed. “That’s where Issei stays. If she’s been there for a long time then—”
“He’s probably under her control already,” Shinji stated factually, having already reached the same conclusion. “I was careful talking to him today, since there’s no telling if there’s a trigger on him or anyone else from there. He seemed normal, but we can’t be sure he hasn’t been made a sleeper agent of some kind.”
“And there’s no telling what will happen if we try and check on him in school,” Shirou said through his gritted his teeth. “Damn.”
“That’s why we need to work together.” He looked between Saber and Shirou. “The mountain has a barrier around it that weakens any spiritual entities that try to enter it from anywhere but the front, where Assassin guards the gate. Working together, Rider will deal with Assassin while you bypass them and eliminate Caster. If we do this properly, we can end the threat they pose to the city tonight.”
“Certainly, they must be made to cease this at once,” Saber acknowledged.
“So, do we go there now?” Shirou asked.
“No, you need to go register for the war within the next two hours or so,” he told him. They had decided to hold off on the registration until now because Shinji wanted to operate on the principle it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and doing so belatedly like this prevented Rin from finding out prematurely. “I’ll meet you on the road there afterwards with my Servant—and wear a mask so that you don’t end up being accidentally outed to Tohsaka.”
Shirou nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Okay, we’ll meet you there soon.”
With that said Shinji left the shed and made it halfway across the yard before his face tightened up and he clenched his fist. He couldn’t help but wonder why Emiya got that Servant of all the possible ones? A loyal knight with a blade made to slay evil would be so much better in his hands than Emiya’s.
It just seemed like Shirou kept upstaging him at every turn—first having circuits and then having a better Servant. What next?
Shinji took a deep breath and drove away his reservations and jealousy for the moment. There was work to be done tonight, and he couldn’t let these feelings ruin his chances. For Sakura’s sake, he had to do this right.
Saber found it strange to be riding behind the son of the Magus Killer, her hands wrapped around his waist as they drove near-silently on the streets of Fuyuki. They were still on Shinto side of the Miongawa, having just come from the Church after Shirou completed his registration. Nothing seemed amiss as she waited outside of the Church, but he did come back with a small frown courtesy of whatever discussion he had with the moderator of the war.
In the short time they had known each other, Saber found him to be a strong contrast with his father. Her former Master was a cold man whose betrayal had cost her chance for the grail, yet the boy who bore his last name didn’t seem to have that cold and calculating nature that Kiritsugu did. Rather than stony silence, he offered her food once their discussion had abated.
Unfortunately, her inability to go into astral-form left her with little recourse but to don a cloak to hide her appearance. At least it was night, so they didn’t draw too much attention. The search for clothing could come later, preferably a suit of some kind like the last time she had been summoned.
“I think I see something ahead,” her Master said with his voice slightly muffled. He had a black cloth wrapped around his face, covering his hair and mouth, and his sword was nestled in a bag over his shoulder. He slowed the motorcycle to a crawl as a silhouette came into view ahead, a masked man wearing a Chinese Opera mask.
Next to him, a Chinese General materialized while welding a polearm weapon. He was a Servant, that much was clear. And bloodlust was wafting off of him as he stood there, despite his calm façade.
Saber’s response was to stand in front of her Master as he came to a stop and hold her hidden blade at the ready. The opposing Servant’s grip on the haft of his weapon seemed to tighten, and a challenging smile seemed to etch itself on his face. She could tell he would relish the challenge.
“Enough,” said the masked figure next to the Servant. The voice matched the Master she had met before. “We’re on the same side for now, remember?”
Shirou tilted his head. “Shinji?”
“Idiot, don’t use my name!” Rider’s Master said. “We don’t know if she has familiars listening in. Call me something else!”
“Like what?” her Master asked.
“I don’t know, think of something!” The masked boy shook his head. “We don’t have time for this! We need to act fast if we’re going to take out Caster tonight and—”
The vibrating of his phone cut him off as he pulled it out and looked at the screen. It must’ve been rather important considering how he was the one expressing the severity of their clandestine activities tonight. It certainly made him tense, his fingers wrapping around the handle of the case he carried in his left hand as he listened to the response on the other end.
“Okay, got it.” Rider’s Master hung up the phone and then he opened the case he was carrying and pulled out a bow. “That was a warning that I had set up. There were at least a dozen signals, so it’s a toss-up between Caster’s minions or Lancer’s hounds.”
Her Master reached for the sword slung in the bag hanging over his shoulder, as though he was getting ready to fight. Another contrast to his father, though one that was rather foolhardy. She stopped him.
“Master, there’s no need for you to fight,” she told him, removing her cloak. Her armor glinted in the moonlight. “This War is for the Servants to clash with one another. The Masters need only to concern themselves with the other Masters. You and Rider’s Master should take shelter somewhere safe.”
“I mean no disrespect, Your Majesty,” Rider’s Master told her. “The closest safe-house that I’ve established will take ten minutes to reach, and if we split up we’ll risk being overwhelmed after separating, or picked off by the Servant.”
“Take Rider with you then,” she said. “If we’re in an alliance, then he should be able to keep you both safe.”
“I do not coddle those who seek to ride into battle,” the Servant spoke for the first time that night. The tone was heated, as if he found her suggestion reprehensible. “Only those who resolved to fight under their own strength and die have any right to stand on the battlefield. If the boy cannot do so, then he doesn’t have the right to call himself my Master.”
“… It’s exactly as he said,” the masked boy said bluntly, looking towards his Servant. “His strength is for fighting other Servants, not on enemies beneath him. I wouldn’t ask him to, nor would I expect him to defend me.”
Saber spared the Servant a glance, as if rebuking his words. It was clear that the dynamic between the two was not the same as the previous war’s pair. Though their Masters had entered into an alliance, she felt that she couldn’t trust hers to his care. Then there was no more time to talk as snarls reached their ears.
Clad in a hunter’s garb, Lancer appeared at the top of a lamp post with his spear on his shoulder. “Well, tonight is turning out to be productive,” he said, half-amused. “First a sword-wielding Archer, now a woman clad in armor masking herself as a Saber without a sword. I hope you’ll put up a better fight than he did?”
And, with that, she determined that he was nothing like the Lancer of the war prior. “We shall see if your tongue is so brazen after I’ve cut you in twain, Lancer.”
She didn’t get the chance. Rider had already lunged for the Servant, his halberd now an axe. With a war-cry, he cleaved the light pole in two and forced the lance-wielding hero to abandon his perch.
“Well, that was rude, don’t you think?” Lancer said, the hounds circling him in a defensive manner. “My business tonight is with Saber.”
“You fled from our last encounter,” Rider stated, baring teeth in a feral smile. “I will not be denied my battle a second time! Even if I have to cut through her to do it.”
Her grip on her sword tightened at the admission. Rider’s Master placed his hand to his mask and shook his head.
“It’s a bit rude to deny the woman her due in battle,” Lancer mused, “but since you insist then let’s take this somewhere private. I’ll be back for her once I’ve dealt with you.”
He whistled and snapped his fingers. The hounds moved to follow him as he took up his spear and jaunted over the concrete wall towards the south were there were woodlands to be found for their duel. Naturally, Rider chased after him.
That left the three of them to their own devices. There was an unnatural silence to be found for a moment as they processed what happened. Then, the remaining Servant spoke.
“Forgive me for speaking out of turn, Master,” Saber said to Shirou, her tone restrained while carrying an underlying fury in it. “But I do not think this alliance will be very successful if he cannot rein in his Servant’s behavior.”
“I… I’m sorry about him,” he said. “He’s… well, I’m not going to make any excuses. But the Command Seals can’t—”
She moved before he finished, leaping into the air as Hero’s Instinct spoke to her and swinging the invisible blade in her hand. It clashed with a red streak that suddenly appeared, roaring as the steel met with the sheath of churning wind, only to shatter in the wake of her blade. The shockwave of the impact rustled the Masters behind her, sending her own a step back and Rider’s to his knees.
“What was that?” he asked, slowly rising to his feet and reaching into his case for something out of her view.
Pressed for time, she summed it up in one word. “Archer.”
Then she brought the blade around to deflect another shot.
Standing on top of a building closer to the bridge, Archer fired another sword-turned-arrow at Saber. He knew she could block it, but his objective wasn’t to kill her expressly. Not that he could with the arrows he was using, since they were in the middle of the street and an arrow that could do so would level the surrounding area.
“Master,” he said. “I believe I have Saber’s attention.”
“So what happened to not being much of an Archer if you couldn’t pick off a target before they realized it,” Rin said through their shared sense of hearing, throwing his earlier words back in his face. “Lancer was forgivable given you couldn’t get the distance, but I’m starting to question if you’re really worthy of your class.”
“Your words wound me, Master,” Archer said, his tone lacking sincerity in it. Even if circumstances changed, Rin would still be Rin. “If it’s any conciliation, Rider will probably deal with him… or the other way around. Besides, isn’t this why you came up with such a reckless plan?”
“Just lure her away!” Rin demanded. “I’ll deal with the Masters.”
“As you wish.” He nocked his bow and drew back the string, taking aim at his younger counterpart’s Servant. He let go, and the arrow flew across the distance uncontested until it met the invisible sword. When she moved, leaving the two Masters at a calculated distance to see whether or not he would prioritize her or them, he fired at her again.
She smashed it as prana-laced fog was conjured to blanket the area while the two Masters stealthily disappeared behind an alley on the enchanted motorbike. She burst out of it then and advanced at inhuman speeds, no doubt having learned the trajectory of his arrows and coming to attack him. He gave her three seconds before he fired again.
“Their Servant has left them,” he said. “Proceed with your plan, Rin.”
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.”
Chapter 7: Rider Vs Lancer
Within the Catacombs beneath the Matou Residence
Sakura let a tense and long breath she didn’t know she had held out as the Servant they called forth relaxed his halberd-arm and the tension seemed to fade. She had been so worried that she would have lost her brother…
But now that they had a Servant they were actually in the Holy Grail War as active combatants. Well, more like her brother. He was the one taking to the field as a Master, along with her Senpai and her… her sister….
They were going to be trying to kill one another.
Sakura couldn’t help fear that they would end up like her uncle Kariya, dying to try and save her. Between Shinji and her Senpai… even if they had strong Servants, would they be able to fight and defeat Rin’s? Even if they managed to defeat whatever Servant she summoned, she would keep fighting to win the grail for the sake of the Tohsaka name.
She would keep pressing them, maybe even attacking them to get rid of them directly. Would they actually kill her in the attempt? Would she succeed in killing one of them?
Her chest tightened at the thought. No matter what she would lose someone close to her. No matter what she would turn one or more of them into killers. How could she let it get this far?
She had to call it off somehow, but when she turned towards where the elderly magus had been Sakura noticed the amalgam of worms she called a Grandfather was missing. Then again, even if he was here, what would it have mattered?
Zouken made it clear that he didn’t consider her human. Her feelings and thoughts never mattered, only her body and its use for his sake. Her wishes were her own. They never mattered to anyone else in the end… No, that wasn’t right.
Shinji heard her wishes and was doing his damndest to grant them, even putting so much strain on his body and facing their grandfather. Yes, her loving and strong brother who knew just how to hold her and comfort her after they—
Her breathing tensed and her body shuddered as she banished the thoughts. The Servant’s presence was already starting to tire her out after what was spent for the summoning and so the worms fed and her lust grew. She need time to adjust before the carnal impulses grew and she became driven to sate it, defiling her brother once more. She had already done so too many times.
There was a flutter in the corner of her eyes that caught her attention. She turned towards the exit of the catacombs, atop the flight of stairs that hugged the wall, where she spotted paper cranes fluttering towards her brother, origami keyed to his magecraft. “Nii-sama, why are they…”
“We’re under attack,” Shinji explaining the unfinished question. “I set up a small ward system of my own using a few shenfu after the debacle with Caster. It reacts to the presence of foreign magical energy and sends out one of my battle shikigami to deal with the threat while alerting me. ”
He looked around to see that Zouken was gone as well. “Then again, it probably tripped the main boundary field before it reached my array. The fact that we’re just finding out means from this point on we’re on our own.”
“A challenger appears already,” the Servant mused. A grin etched itself across his face at the thought and his halberd-arm tensed. He was ready for combat, eager for a chance to prove himself the strongest of the summoned warriors.
“Wait,” Shinji said, before Rider went gallivanting off. “You should return to your astral form so we can assess the threat first. We shouldn’t reveal you until we can be certain the enemy is worth your might.”
“You think you understand my might?” Lu Bu asked in a low tone, his steed turning its burning gaze once more towards Shinji.
Shinji silently shook his head. “Not the full extent. We have yet to take to the battlefield so I can observe it for myself. However, I do know that only another Servant would provide an adequate challenge for a warrior such as yourself and I know that the Caster of this war is capable of summoning minions who would not be worth your time and would only allow her to observe your abilities. Giving up an advantage isn’t pragmatic if we are to take the prize, especially if the battle that follows won’t prove you as the strongest out of all the summoned Servants.”
“…Very well,” Lu Bu consented after a moment. Then both he and his steed vanished, as though turning into motes of light and then fading away. Despite being in astral form, Sakura and Shinji could feel the warrior’s presence about them through the contract.
“Sakura,” Shinji called, keeping his voice level as he pulled the opera mask he had from beneath the clothing he wore. “From this point on it’s my fight, not yours. Grandfather won’t help, he’s made that clear.”
“But…” she trailed off, unable to say what she wanted to after they came this far. I don’t want you to get hurt for my sake.
“Just go to my workshop and stay safe,” Shinji stated as he ran up the stairs to get back into the mansion, heading out to the first battlefield and leaving her by herself.
Sakura felt the weight in her heart of being useless once he was out of sight, only serving as an anchor of the Servant they called forth. But it was all she could do, tie Rider down to Earth and hope for the best.
That and try to curb the growing lust she felt courtesy of those damnable worms inside of her.
Outskirts of Matou Residence
The blades of grass barely sounded as they crunched beneath argent steel boots and soft paws. Thick roots jutting out of the ground failed to hinder the hunter or his hounds as they advanced through the woodlands for the manor that rested between them. They noticed when the crossed the first and secondary boundary fields and were prepared to expect opposition.
Still, there was a brief moment of pause when countless sheets of paper followed some invisible current only to take the form of a humanoid giant.
The hunter whistled at the sight, his four hounds baring their fangs and tensing their muscles to pounce. The giant moved without grace, merely brute strength backing it as it swung its arms and fists around like clubs to mow the blue-haired hunter down. The trees hindered it more than the hunter and his hounds, all of whom avoided the hammer strike that knocked over the nearest tree and scattered thick splinters that failed to penetrate his bandage-wrapped greaves and the gauntlet on his left arm.
A short and high whistle left the hunters mouth, a trained command to yield the hounds while he stood up the shikigami that bore down on him. Vicious blows were unleashed, empowered by the source deep within the construct that acted as a battery to keep it moving for a short but effective time. But the hunter avoided them with a smile on his face, every movement sharp and crisp while he enjoyed the brief interlude before getting serious.
When the shikigami, Fangfeng, sought to deliver a crushing overhead strike it met with the sharpened edge of a blade and was severed. The tanned giant stumbled back a step in response and glared at the hunter, now wielding a weapon. The long shaft was deep green in color, tipped by a sharp blade that looked like a wolf’s head if you squinted. Fangfeng let out a low growl from its throat as strings of prana connected from the severed limb and darted to the undamaged sigils on the sheets that were severed, dragging them back into place to reclaim its arm.
The spear-wielding hunter pressed his attack, striking with sharp thrusts into the giant and severing its limbs over and over.
Fangfeng reconnected the severed parts that could be salvaged, but it slowed down at a steady pace. Reattaching what was lost cost the power source, The Seal of False Life, even more of its reserves of prana. To compensate for the loss, it became sluggish and its strength lessened.
The hunter noticed that and decided the brief distraction needed to come to an end. Setting the forefinger of his gauntlet-covered finger aflame with prana, the blue-haired hunter crossed the distance between them in the span of a heartbeat and risted the rune of flames onto the shikigami.
Fire was born from the rune, a gluttonous blaze that swallowed up the giant and ate through whatever defensive enchantment it had bestowed upon it against the flames of one who knew the Original 18 Runes. Fangfeng took another step forward, trying to fulfill its duty, but the flames devoured it and left ashes behind.
With that out of the way, the hunter motioned towards the manor with two fingers and whistled for the hounds to advance.
The four moved to do so. Their legs crossed the distance with their master following, only to be intercepted by a streaking flash that cleaved through the four hounds in a single stroke as a second figured appeared.
Now impeding the way of the hunter was the warrior adorned in the armor of an ancient Chinese general. Twirling his halberd into a fighting position, red copper pupils were fixed on the similar set that were the hunter’s and something unspoken passed between them. It was a challenge.
The hunter took up a fighting stance. His legs spread out, muscles tensed, and the spear-head pointed down so that it could ascend with ease to pierce the heart from below. A grin stretched across his face in acceptance of the challenge.
The two sped forth and clashed.
Shinji stood atop the tree limbs that rested beneath the canopy, watching through the emblem of an eye on a shikigami as prana forged a connection from his left eye’s optic nerve to it. He couldn’t hear anything that would be said between the two, but he doubt he would be able to hear anything anyway as the two weapons continued to clash in the storm of steel.
His first thoughts when he observed the Servant was that it was a Lancer. The deftness of its speed and the use of a spear made that much clear. Although he didn’t expect to see the Servant utilize a rune to burn Fangfeng to ashes, so he would expect it to use Magecraft as well and compensate for it later.
He would be more upset about that, but ultimately that was Fangfeng’s role in the grand scheme of things. For ground transportation he had Baihu, for aerial he had Zhuque, Genbu was for pure defense, Qinglong and Bashe had more esoteric uses, but Fangfeng was made to hit hard and fast to wipe out minions like Caster made in droves. It was never meant to be used against a Servant, not even for an adequate distraction.
Shinji had to admit that he would have preferred to observe the fight from his workshop, so he could note the effects the fighting was having on Sakura. She was already tired from the initial summoning. The fighting wouldn’t help her at all.
But he had to come out and witness this for himself for two reasons. The first was to observe the battle between Servants with his own eyes and possibly kill the enemy Master. The second was to keep Lu Bu’s respect.
The Servant was a warrior and, for the time being, they needed to work together. Hiding away with his sister while his Servant fought wouldn’t send a positive message and, considering the Servant tried to kill him once already, he needed to show he wasn’t a coward. Although he wouldn’t interfere in Lu Bu’s fight unless he deemed it necessary enough to use a Command Seal.
Turning his attention back to the fight, he watched as Lancer and Rider tried to kill one another.
With Lancer and Rider
The air reverberated with the clashing of steel against steel as the two pole weapons smashed against one another. In a single session more than a dozen lethal attacks were released between the two warriors as they fought in one of the first battles of the Holy Grail War.
Letting out a roaring battle cry, Rider twirled his halberd around in arches as he tried to take off the hunter’s head. The powerful swipes of the halberd were followed by spinning motions of the body that added to the momentum. Like a raging inferno, the fierce motions were deadly to both the opponent and the surroundings.
Lancer avoided the swipes with sharp and direct motions that brought him just outside his opponent’s range, looking for an opportunity to strike. When he found it his spear was sent forward, stabbing with fierce thrusts that punctured to inflict death by a thousand cuts should he fail to pierce the core of his opponent. Like lightning he struck with unparalleled accuracy, only to be thwarted by mere centimeters as the armor of the Chinese general was scraped and scarred from the sudden twists that preluded the incoming halberd smashing down.
The initial session consisted over twenty exchanges, both assessing their opponents. Then they changed it up, Rider switching from a swipe to planting his feet on the ground with his legs spread as he began a barrage of thrusts. Lancer avoided the thrusts with narrow twists of the body, following up with his own attacks all aimed at the fatal spots that Rider’s halberd deflected.
“Not bad,” Lancer said. Then he poured on the speed of his thrusts, increasing the number of attacks to overwhelm the opposing spearman. “But challenging me to a fight with spears was suicidal!”
The influx of the attacks soon overtook Rider’s defense, his war paint marred by blood as the blade of Lancer’s spear grazed his cheek. The arms and legs follows, the armor chipping as the strikes that were meant to kill were the only ones that could be blocked successfully. With no other choice, Rider leapt back.
“Not a chance!” Lancer advance, using his speed to close the distance and sending forth a thrust aimed for the heart. Rider’s halberd was coming around to guard, but it wouldn’t be nearly fast enough…
Which is why he was he surprised to find that his spear was deflected, Rider sliding in with a fist chambered. Halting his advance and bringing his spear around he used the shaft to guard against the impending strike. The fist snaked past the shaft and grabbed his collar, lifting him up and throwing him around with it enough force to send Lancer skating off his feet as he touched down. Following the motion he leapt back and noted that his opponent was now missing his halberd, a set of bracers now taking its place.
Of all the classes, Lancers were the fastest. There was no doubt about that. Utilizing their speed they could strike down their opponents with precision attacks faster than most other classes could defend against as long as they were in range.
However, Riders were known for their Noble Phantasms and their versatility. Lu Bu’s God Force was no exception. Possessing multiple forms that he could exchange on the fly, Rider could approach combat from multiple angles and catch his opponent at a disadvantage.
Exchanging Thrust Force for Blunt Strike Force, now Rider closed the distance while intent on invading the range of the spear, the point where it would lose its effectiveness. Facing the storm of demon-like thrusts, the bracers caught and deflected the majority as he moved his arms to block them until he passed the effective range of the spear. The bracers vanished in an instant, replaced by a Jian that had appeared in the left hand, and the sword was thrust forward like a viper’s strike, aiming to pierce the skull.
Lancer tilted his head to the side and then spun his spear around to knock the shaft against the blade before it could come around in a follow-up swipe. Pain flared in his stomach and the hunter was sent back, skidding along the ground once more as the right fist of the general smashed into his unprotected gut.
“Tricky, huh?” Lancer mused as the general advanced, before setting the tip of his spear alight with prana and risting a set of runes on the ground. Calling upon his knowledge of runes, taught to him by the witch, Lancer brought the earth now under the runes to life. It rose up to form a defensive bulwark, hardening to be unyielding stone that stood between the two.
God Force shifted once more. Parry Force was replaced by Slash Force. Bringing his full strength to bear and twisting with all his might, Rider cleaved the bulwark in half with the war ax now in his hands. But Lancer was nowhere to be found…
The sound of parting air reached Rider’s ear before the ominous glow that radiated from above. He looked up to find the hunter in air, his spear twirling in his hands above his hands. Lining the head of the spear was a set of runes that left a luminous trail of prana as he began to fall to Earth with the intention of using it like one would a hammer. The war ax was replaced with the bracers once more and guarded against the strike with both arms as the prana-wrapped spear head was brought down.
A thunderous roar filled the woodlands on impact. The shockwave that was unleashed as the rune-enhanced blade smashed down against the bracers, the force alone caving in the earth surrounding them, stripped trees bare and their branches torn asunder. There was nothing that could be heard over the howling of magical energy as the two forces continued to push one another, until finally the sound of shattering steel rang out.
Lancer disengaged, retreating to safety and sparing the broken weapon in his hand a single glance. It couldn’t be helped that the spear broke under the force of the battle. It wasn’t the real Gáe Bolg after all; his new ‘Master’ had sealed his original one away and replaced it with this facsimile.
“We’ll call this one even,” Lancer said bitterly, the displeasure in his voice apparent as he reverted to astral form at the beckoning of his Master through their shared perception. “Next time, we finish this…”
Shinji made his way back into the Manor once it had been confirmed that the enemy Servant had left. Rider was obviously displeased at his battle being cut short and had gone off to see if he could pick up the trail while in astral form or find another Servant to do battle with. Shinji thought it to be pointless, but didn’t argue with the Servant on the grounds of not wanting to stress their newly formed alliance as long as he stated in astral form to avoid stressing his sister.
However, the moment he entered his workshop he found Sakura already collapsed on the floor. Her breathing was heavy, hard and hoarse. Sweat had laden her body to the extent that her gown was soaked enough to be seen through. Her fair skin was feverish red as she burned from the inside out with desire and pain as the worms were the most active they’d been in so long from both the summoning and the combat.
Tossing the bow and mask aside, Shinji kneeled onto the floor and took her into his arms. “Sakura! Are you okay?”
“Nii-sama…” she whispered, reaching up and touching his face. “I’m sorry, but I can’t hold out anymore…”
“I know,” he said as he lifted her up and carried her onto the bed. “I… I’ll take care of you…”
“I’m sorry,” she said again, knowing once more she was going to defile him for her own sake.
Shinji said nothing, merely steeling himself to do what was necessary. He simply told himself it would be just a little while longer. Once the war was over and they had the Holy Grail, he could do something to rid her of the worms once and for all. It could grant any wish, right?
Then, after that, he would kill Zouken for everything he had done…
Well, that’s the first fight of the Holy Grail War between the Servants. Now, as you can imagine, this was mostly a scouting battle as Lancer had been sent by Kotomine to assess each Servant.
You’ll also notice that this Lancer is a different version of Cu Chulainn, a younger version like the one in Fate/Prototype, and as such he has a different set of Noble Phantasms and stats. The biggest change is that Lancer no longer has Gáe Bolg’s heart-killing, instant-death curse. One of the main reasons I did this was I would have to have a legitimate reason not to use it in combat.
Besides, despite having personal skills in Runes, it seems a shame he rarely used them.
Servant Stats: Lancer
Spirit: Cu Chulainn
Master: Kotomine Kirei
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Strength: B – ((A) while under Warp Spasm)
Endurance: C ((B+) while under Warp Spasm)
Luck: E ((B-) due to the protective amulet that he carries his luck is raised.)
Agility: B ((A++) while under Warp Spasm)
N. Phantasm: A
Magic Resistance C (B+): This version of Cu Chulainn carries on him a protective amulet that further enhances his Magic Resistance beyond his class skill.
Rune Magic (B ): capacity to use the 18 original runes.
Battle Continuation (A ): The strength of vitality for predicaments. Also, the ability to withdraw from combat and reach allied territory alive after being defeated. At this rank it makes possible to fight even with deadly injuries and can remain alive so long as one does not receive a decisive fatal wound.
Battle Frenzy (A ): The flaw of losing oneself in the midst of battle. During combat, when damaged a Luck Check is performed. Because of the protective amulet the Luck check keeps the Battle Frenzy from activating with a 1/10 chance. Should the amulet be lost, the chance becomes 1/4 and should it fail Warp Spasm is activated.
Protection from Arrows (B ): An inborn ability of Cu Chulainn; as long as the shooter is within his line of sight, he can track down ranged weapons with his eyes and defend against them. Does not apply for attacks made from super-long-range or with a great area-of –effect.
Disengage (C ): The ability to break away from combat. At this rank it has the bonus effect of returning battle conditions to what they were at the beginning of the match.
Warp Spasm: Last Riastrad (Anti-Unit) – The berserker state that he was renowned for, it is not manually accessed, but done via Battle Frenzy. Once it reaches a tipping point, all his stats become enhanced but he loses the use of any other Noble Phantasm to enter a state similar to Mad Enhancement.
Hounds of Ulster (Anti-Squad) – The ability to summon hound familiar based on the legend of rearing the replacement hound of Chulainn. He can only summon up to twenty per night with the amount of mana available to him, in groups of four.
Gáe Bolg: Soaring Spear that Strikes with Death (Anti-Army) – The true use of Gáe Bolg, is the largest and most powerful attack delivered using the spear. It is the “attack that unleashes countless darts at the enemy” that is spoken of in the legends. It is the attack that made him a hero which utilizes the full potential of the lance’s curse, converting all of Lancer’s prana into energy and releasing the accumulated power after the spear is hurled, detonating on impact with enough power to blow away a multitude of enemies.