Fate/Infinite - Game Thread

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"So I'm giving you one chance. Turn around and leave. If you do, I deign to let you live. You stay... and I can't make that promise."

Sophie narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists a little tighter at Dirk's jibes. This was infuriating; not the boy, though he was too, but the language. Once again she felt that she had said the wrong thing because it was all she knew. Sure, a correspondence course in Japanese may not have been the best way to prepare, but it had been all she had time for and now she was constantly struggling for words she just couldn't find the meaning for.

Dirk of course was another issue. Sophie could not allow her anger to control her; that would be the worst thing to do. And yet, previously she had understood that she needed to defeat this master; now she wanted too.

The fact that his servant wasn't apparent was slightly troublesome, without defeating the spirit Dirk wouldn't truelly be eliminated. But on the other hand it already started to fit the pattern. If Sophie was right the servant would probably be waiting in ambush somewhere, just one more trap. Then again, a trap wasn't worth much if it wasn't secret. Sophie tried to not let her eyes wander to where she had witnessed Dirk digging; it would be best if he didn't know what she knew. Dirks coat on the other hand was a little more difficult; it was so obviously conspicuous on it's own but there was little telling exactly what he was hiding under it.

Then again, that only made speed more important. Dirk couldn't spring a trap if he didn't have time, and that itself gave Sophie and Berserker a kind of advantage.

Sophie shrugged and allowed a smug smile to graze her face. "I gave you the chance to surrender first. If you're done..." Sophie responded to Dirk then glanced over at Berserker. "Forget his toys." She said lazily though it was actually a hidden caution that she gave. "Bring him to me alive."

Berserker let a wide grin spread over his face. Finally; he had waited long enough; it was time. "With pleasure." He replied and then suddenly rushed at Dirk with blazing speed and arms outstretched.

"With pleasure."

Dirk's composure never faltered as Sophie and Berserker discussed what to do with him. It was as if they believed he was already their captive. His mind was ablaze with activity, considering the coming moment. His muscles tensed, invisible beneath the coat.

Backup nowhere in sight. Can't feel her friend, the hag, at all. That leaves just her and the big one. Berserker. Stout, muscled, appears to prefer his fists. Sanity appears intact... Good. He's weaker that way. Less predictable, but not so much less. Plans to take me prisoner. That would allow me to get close... No, not an option, likely to break bones in the process. Will have to dodge, leave the rest of it up to my backup. Hope he's ready...

His eyes were barely peeking out from over his opaque lenses, watching the pair talk. Berserker looked ready to move. His muscles were tensing and his legs were shifting, getting ready for an all-out sprint. Yeah, good. Keep telegraphing. You look just like Seiichi before he charges. Gotta time this just right...

Berserker's feet pushed into the ground, and took off like a cannonball. Dirk threw himself to the left, shouting.

"NOW!"

Saber materialized, clad in armor that had obviously seen use in countless battles, the only part still shining brightly a golden cross over his right breast. A helm obscured the face of the man within, but the light of his eyes could be felt boring into Sophie before turning his attention to the charging Berserker. He stood completely still until the man was within a length of his blade away from him, sidestepping and swinging his great blade at an upwards angle with impossible speed. There was no way to fully avoid the blow. To duck would only leave him open to any kick from the spiked boots of his foe. Jumping would do little more than displace where the sword would cleave.

Berserker's own momentum was the greatest weapon against him. No force could stop him in time. All that could save him now was deft maneuvering and luck.

Orihara's body slammed into the dirt, tumbling along the cold ground. It wasn't pleasant, but it was several orders of magnitude above being crushed by an oncoming locomotive of a man. The world spun around as he went head-under-heels and came up crouching. His eyes took in the battlefield, obscured as they were by darkness. Sophie was alone, her Servant clashing with his own. Heroic legends possessed by power beyond human reckoning? A challenge. One lone girl? He almost felt guilty. His left middle finger tugged as his hand pulled up, level with his eyes. The wire attached to it split off into seven more, in holes strategically placed around the clearing. Sophie was surrounded as flashbang grenades surfaced from shallow graves. Behind, to the sides, in front. Even one at her feet.

"Sophie," Dirk called. He wondered if his voice was loud enough. His earplugs shut out so much noise, he hadn't even heard the Servant rushing by him.

His index finger tugged back, and removed the arming pins. "I read lips."

Dirk averted his eyes. The sunglasses were strong, but he wasn't willing to stake the fight on their quality. The grenades went off, seven blinding flashes of white light. Seven simultaneous eruptions of noise, each checking in at 180 decibels. Blinding, deafening, and disorienting. Orihara rose to his feet, throwing out his right arm to his side and calling an aria. "Educe Arms!"

A flash of light glimmered between his fingers, fading and warping into recognizable form. A wakizashi, simple and efficient. The steel blade glinted in the moonlight as it slashed at Dirk's wires, freeing him from the encumbrance. His legs braced for an instant, and he took off at a run, closing the gap between he and the other magus as he prepared for a charging slash, right in the supple muscle between her shoulder and neck.

Come on, Topfer. You were talking all that big game a second ago. Don't you die on me that quickly!

-withdrawn-

Mordecai put down his phone, he had forgotten that he even gave Brutus his phone number. Mordecai sighed,
'I need a car. And a license. Perhaps a helicopter? Need to talk to Brutus about this... ' Mordecai reached towards his rooms doorknob. He paused for a second, feeling a weird tingle in the back of his neck.
'Why does this feel like a trap?' Mordecai's hand paused, and he stood still. He even stopped breathing, holding his breath and staring at the door. Mordecai slowly, and silently took a step sideways, pulling the doorknob, and pushing the door open. An arrow whizzed by his shoulder, exactly where a man's torso would be, unless he was freakishly short.
"What the hell?!"
"Mordecai, correct?" Mordecai peeked around the corner, a southerner it sounded like in dress slacks, a black shirt, and a camo jacket stood before him, a scoped crossbow held out in front of him, and a sawtooth dagger in his hand, reverse gripped. The man had short hair, and looked of Japanese descent.
"Yeah, my name's Gerald, Gerald Honda."
"Yes, but more importantly, what-"
"Hold on." Gerald pulled his phone out of his pocket, and looked on the screen.
"Sorry, business. We've been checking your credit card history, a crap ton of pizzas were brought here." And with that, he pushed past Mordecai, practically jogging down the stairs.
"... I need new locks." Mordecai muttered to himself, thinking of traps he could set up, eyeing the half empty bottle of hotel water. A piece of paper told him that would cost $5. He simply sighed in frustration.
__________________________________________________________________________
Gerald hopped into his rented car, some silver Toyota, deleting the message sent by the Mages Association.
"Alright then, park, in the bathrooms." He put the phone back in his pocket, pulling his keys out and starting his car. The drive was short, 501 meters he reckoned. Convenient. He got out, whistling, 'Nothing yet...' He smiled, walking to the bathroom. He strolled into the males, finding a folder in the worst possible stall it could've been. There was even a phone number, for a person offering a good time. He'd trust it more if it wasn't written in what looked like feces. Gerald made his way back to the car, and Looked in the folder. It was a strange mix of several letters, including crylic, spanish, japanese, and english.He sighed, uncomprehending of the message, and began heading to the next destination, Shinosuke Orihara's home.
__________________________________________________________________________
"Break-in at the armory... Fuyuki Bridge demolished... Unconfirmed reports of nighttime street racers..."

Shinosuke Orihara slowly sifted through the day's paper in the dim light of his study. Not yet seventy-two hours into the war, and Fuyuki was already beginning to feel the hurt. He'd moved to the city a little under a decade ago with his wife and young son. Mere weeks after the end of the previous Holy Grail War. He'd run out of places to hide in Europe. A trip back to native Japan seemed perfect. To hide right under the Association's nose, in the battleground of one of their most sacred traditions. It had all seemed so perfect until just about six months ago. The day when the phone rang, and a blood red mark etched itself onto the hand of his boy. Shinosuke had been backed into a corner, and now he had no choice but to watch as his only child fought against forces beyond his reckoning.

A knock came at the front door, downstairs. Three quiet raps. Shinosuke folded up the paper and set it down, pushing himself away from the table. He may have been outwitted once, but he wasn't going to let his son fight this war alone. It was high time the playing field leveled out.

He moved downstairs, pulling on a periwinkle robe over his nightclothes. He reached the door, opening it quietly.

"Evening."
Gerald stood, motionless. There was no pretense of friendliness in his stance or eyes, simply the cold stare of a man waiting to do business. The man stood in surly silence for what felt like hours, before finally speaking up, in his gruff, slightly accented voice.

"It's cold, mind if I come in?"

He raised his hand, slowly, revealing the dossier. A slim, manila folder, like any other you'd find. Gerald didn't know of the contents, didn't need to, all he knew was that he was called off his mini-vacation for it. His other hand gripped his dagger, bloodlessly.
Shinosuke paused for a moment, before stepping aside and gesturing into his home. "Come in." Gerald smiling, dispersing his dagger.
'This may not even end in blood...'

The two stepped into the living room, where Mira waited. Shino nodded to her, and directed her upstairs. She left in a hurry, leaving the pair alone in the living room. Shino directed the representative to the Association, whom was glancing about the room, soaking in as much information as he could, to sit on the recently reupholstered couch, and took a seat himself in an armchair opposite the sofa. He folded his hands, quietly waiting.

"She'll be just a moment."

Orihara examined the man in his home carefully. He seemed oddly stoic, even by the Association's standards. His eyes were cold, like those of a killer. Shino wasn't prepared to say this wasn't a setup.

He quietly nodded at the manila folder. "Is that all of it?"

"I've no idea. You'll have to see." Gerald threw the dossiers to him, and spoke.

"I was called out of bed for this. I know as much as you right now, maybe less. The code is pretty heavy-duty anyways... I like your home." Gerald leaned back, spreading his arms out on the couch, crossing his legs, and staring at Shniosuke as he opened the folder.
His fingers rested on the paper as he examined the first page. They began tapping out a slow, even rhythm as he examined a trio of photos attached to the document. Clay Marks, and his two sisters: Maria and Diane. The photos were a touch grainy, likely several years out of date. He lifted up the photos, his eyes scrolling across a long list of information about the family. He turned to the next page, eager to determine that all the information was present before diving into it. Sophie Topfer, Maria Schmidt (whose image was oddly absent), Warren Fraga, Ilene von Einzbern... and Dirk Orihara. Shinosuke nodded, closing the folder and setting it on the coffee table between the two men. He cursed silently. Doesn't look like nearly as much as I'd hoped... but it's a start. As far as they're concerned, I don't exist.

"It checks out."

Gerald raised an eyebrow, but remained silent, watching his prey.

Maria re-entered the room, holding in her hands the ornate little box that Shinosuke had left in the study. She passed it to Gerald and left the room again.

"Check it, if you'd like. I removed the charms your teams wouldn't be able to. I imagine your superiors wish to know they haven't been duped." Gerald nodded, opening it slowly, wary of traps. The old man didn't look the sort, though they didn't have a particular sort. Resting on a bed of green velvet was a silver wring, wrapped in creeping vines of ruby red. Oddly primordial, and elegant all the same.

"Is that really what all this was about?" Gerald slammed it shut, shoving it underneath his armpit.

"There's not a damn thing I get about this war."
'Aidan can speak for his own damn self.'

"You don't have to get it." Shinosuke rested his chin on his left hand, quietly watching the astounded man. "You've got what you were sent for. Just leave Fuyuki and bring that back to your masters. Your role in this war will be complete, and you'll never have to see this city again."

Orihara stood, carefully slipping the folder underneath his arm, and gestured to the door. "If there's nothing else, I believe we're done here." Gerald rubbed his temples, stealing subtle glances at the man's hands. Nothing.

"I'll be damned glad to. This damn town has gone to hell already, with no signs of it ending soon." Gerald got up, walking toward the door. He stopped, and turned around, opening his mouth to say something. Nothing came to him, and he left, in silence.

As Saber appeared before Berserker one might expect him to try and slow down, to falter, but instead he almost seemed to speed up just a little his grin growing even wider. This was it, his real opponent was now before him, now was the time to earn some glory. It had been just as Sophie had said; Target the master to draw out the servant.

Berserker made little effort to change his movement much, Sabers stroke was nearly impossible to dodge; but it was also heavy, prepared, easy to predict. Instead Berserker suddenly drew his pair of fighting daggers in a single clean motion. One of the blades he swung sideways; Berserker couldn't block the strike either, but he could deflect it enough to the side to slip by... Leaving Saber vulnerable as the other blade snaked right for a gap in his armor under the arm.

Meanwhile Sophie wasn't panicking either. The moment she had seen Dirk pull at the strings she knew were there she immediately sprang into action. Seven times Sophie stomped her foot on the ground in a staccato tempo each time releasing a small burst of prana into the earth aimed at each of the hidden grenades. It didn't take much of a spell to shift the dirt around each of the flash bangs, covering each one with a compacted layer of soil blocking the bright flashes of light and dulling their noises to mere dull thuds.

It hadn't been on a whim that Sophie had chosen the park as her battlefield. The earth moving spells that Sophie had used all her life wouldn't be any use on the paved roads and sidewalks of the city, but here...

"Read this." Sophie intoned as she turned to face the charging Dirk. Without the expected light, the sunglasses would only be a great hinder now in the night and Sophie wasn't going to let him recover. Stomping one more time she sent another small shiver of magic at the ground under Dirk's feet, not enough to do any real harm, but a minor tremor enough to unbalance anyone dumb enough to run in it.

Miyamachou Park - Dirk & Saber vs Sophie and Berserker


Metal clashed metal against as the Servants collided, armor and blades slamming into each other with titanic force. Berserker's momentum carried both himself and Saber to the ground, and there was a momentary lull in the fighting as the two warriors struggled to regain their footing.

Berserker hurriedly shoved himself upwards, a dagger clutched in each of his hands. His breathing was heavy, even after only one exchange, and with good reason: Saber's blow hadn't been so easily deflected. Even with his dagger sweeping up to redirect the attack, Berserker had been unable to escape the attack entirely; the knight's blade had just barely clipped his brow, shaving off some of his hair and flesh. Streams of crimson flowed down from the wound, staining his visage and getting into his eyes. Already his vision was tainted red by the blood, and it would probably only get worse the longer this battle lasted... He had to finish this as fast as possible, before he was entirely blinded.

Thankfully, he wasn't the only who had taken some damage. Even with his armor, Saber was by no means invulnerable, and Berserker had been smart enough to aim for his weak point. Cold steel had bitten into his side, tearing through his armor and flesh and sending stream of scarlet trickling down his side. It wasn't nearly enough to kill him, but to slow him and reduce his power?

Still, the knight managed to clamber back his feet just as quickly as his foe. He would not be lain low by a mere dagger, not when-

BLAM


"I read lips."

It really was a shame. A kid as smart as Dirk, falling for that classic blunder. You never try to taunt your foe when they're in the middle of your trap. Not unless you want to give them the chance to bust out of it, anyways.

Those three words cost the lad no more than a second, but it was a second that Sophie was putting to damn good use. Prana flowed from her body, pouring out of her foot and into the earth itself, moving and shaping the soil according to her will. Lines of dirt flew out from beneath her, streaking towards the now surfaced flashbangs at an incredible rate. Their light couldn't exactly blind her if she couldn't see it, after all.

First, the one in front of her.

Then the ones at her 10 and 2 o'clock.

The pair of grenades at her sides were next, buried underneath the dirt an instant before their pins were pulled.

Now for the two behind her, and-

BLAM

Seven blasts of noise and a pair of brilliant sparks thundered to life, before fading away just as quickly. It was a bizarre sensation, unlike any that either of the two combatants had felt before. Sensory overload on such an incredible scale, it was a wonder that either of them were even able to stand.

Even with all his preparations, Dirk was more than a little off balance. Although his eyes, shielded, shut tight, and averted, had escaped the burnt of blast, the same couldn't be said for his ears. The plugs may have absorbed most of the sonic barrage, but his eardrums had still taken a bit of a beating. Maybe not enough to deafen him, but it'd certainly be a few hours before his hearing was back up to 100%.

Sophie, meanwhile, was even worse off. Even if the stun grenades had been behind her, even with her eyes clenched shut, the ocular and sonic attacks were absolutely staggering. Her ears rang like a an entire choir of bells, the ground seemed to shift and shake under her feet like the deck of a sinking ship, and her eyes, when they finally fluttered open, were full of stars and shapes that refused to fade. It was a hellish experience, having her eyes and ears taken away so easily; a lesser magus would have already fallen to their knees.

The keyword there being "lesser".

Refusing to fall, the woman managed to keep herself standing. Forcing herself to ignore her body's confused reactions, Sophie focused on the ground beneath her feet, the earth that she knew was solid and stationary. It would take more than some simple fireworks to upset her Foundation.

Still, that only solved one of her problems. Even if she managed to remain upright, there was still Dirk to deal with. And if she couldn't see, then he most certainly had the advantage. Trying to fight him hand to hand was out of the question; there was no way in hell Sophie could have possibly hit him, not with her eyes in such a state. She would have, quite literally, missed the broadside of a barn.

But then again, she wasn't exactly aiming to hit Dirk, now was she? And it was just a little bit harder to miss when your target is the ground...

"Read this."

The resulting quake, though small enough to escape the detection of any seismologists who might have been lingering in the park, was more than enough to upset Dirk's footing. As the dirt stuck up and grabbed at his feet, the lad stumbled forward, waving his arms wildly in an attempt to maintain his balance. It was only thanks to reflexes honed by years of swordplay that he didn't outright topple to the ground.

As he flailed about, barely remaining upright, his blade swung dangerously close to Sophie... And just barely managed to nick her arm.

It wasn't much of an injury, but hey. First blood was first blood.

Dirk's mind was a howling maelstrom of laughter as his body stumbled, slipping past Sophie and barely managing to cut open those first tender layers of cloth and skin. His eyes were sparkling with the remnants of his grenades, and his thoughts were accompanied by a melodic ringing. His left arm extended, propping himself against the ground as he stumbled down at Sophie's side. The pause lasted an instant, only a sliver of a second, but it was all the time Dirk needed to give his kudos. His body shivered with delight as he slammed to the ground, his shades nearly slipping off his face. His left hand clenched down on the dirt.

Yes! That's it! I screwed up with the taunt, didn't I, mon petit? You certainly think faster on your feet than my teammates. Keep it up, girl, keep it up!

He shifted his weight back, spinning back in Sophie's direction and crossing eyes with her own dazed countenance for a brief moment. He had no taunts anymore. Just two disturbingly focused pupils taking in the look on her face, and a gigantic euphoric grin on his own. With a grunt, his left hand released its payload and launched a clump of loose dirt directly in her eyes. He kept swinging, going nearly halfway in the opposite direction that he'd started in, his body now to Sophie's left instead of her right. With not a second's hesitation he swapped his projected blade to the left hand and dug the right in his pocket, slipping his fingers around the handles of a silvery flat weapon.

You knew my first trap like you'd known it all your life. I wonder if you'll know this one?

His body shifted again, his left hand swiping the sword towards Sophie's midsection. But the real blow was coming from his right hand, the less obvious threat, his knuckles slipping in to slam right in her stomach once she'd avoided the sword.



BLAM

Saber had been prepared for this, but the difference between the knowledge of these modern weapons and the experience was as vast as the ocean. However, while Dirk had his defenses against the impact of sound and light, the knight had also invested in earplugs, which along with his helmet, helped with the sudden jarring sensation he felt through every inch,bone, and fold of skin from within his armor.

The light had been another problem however. Although he had averted his eyes to the ground and closed them the moment he'd seen the weapons spring out of the ground like rabbits fleeing their den from a snake, light still crept through the slit of his helmet and through the skin of his eyes, creating the illusion for a just a single heartbeat, that he was in the sun, far away from this War. But memories alone could not help him here, and he had a duty to claim the Grail.

He felt the slow drip of blood beneath his arm before removing it from his mind after feeling that it was only a shallow cut, hardly debilitating anytime soon. He stood guard, sword held before his opponent at a roughly fifty degree angle, one leg forward, the other ready to launch him at the man standing before him.

Not a word was heard from Saber, only the steady breathing of a warrior and a soldier. His armor trembled still as the vibrations slowly subsided and glance in the corner of his eye showed that Dirk had managed his first hit against the young Magus. A true pity that she might die tonight, one that Saber fully intended to keep from happening by defeating the Berserker before him. This Servant had his own desires, just as the knight did, but his cause was by far the greater, and the young woman's life hung in the balance.

He dashed forward suddenly, greatsword before him, slightly unbalanced due to the minor damage done from the sonic attack, but stable for the most part. Leading to impale the tattooed man before him, Saber stopped suddenly as the man attempted to dodge at the last second, the knight spun and leaped into the air, landing to the left and just behind the gold-plated man, blocking him from Sophie, just on the off-chance that she was able to throw spells his way, they would first affect her Servant.

Swinging his sword again, this time at a much lower angle, as he as was aiming for one specific point on Berserker's body, his arms. They were the true danger, and yet so lightly armored. This man believed himself a great warrior by the lack of armor he displayed, but Saber knew that bravery did not come from gold-plated leggings. It would be his undoing. Though he was still a Berserker, a box that once opened, could never be closed.

Votre classe a été appelée les Enfants de Pandora. Espérons que votre puissance terrible est maintenu verrouillé à l'intérieur

The entire world seemed to spin around Sophie as she couldn't see or hear. The crushing blows of the light and sound were an experience totally alien and the stimulus was so strong Sophie almost felt like vomiting. This was not going as Sophie had planned back at the hotel. She had thought that she would have enough time to neutralize all the traps, but clearly she had overestimated the fusses on the grenades.

However Sophie wasn't thinking about any of that at the moment as she felt a stinging pain in her arm. Sophie was no stranger to pain, but her lack of senses seemed to multiply her panic as she stumbled back. A second that felt closer to an eternity later Sophie felt a clod of dirt fly into her face and against her closed eyes. Sophie held little doubt that the direction was where Dirk now was. With that sword still in hand. That biting, cutting, killing sword.

"No! Stay away!" Sophie screamed as she blindly stumbled back again. Sophie's previous earthworks had been minor tricks of spells planned out in advance to conserve prana and achieve great effect with little effort. Now though, fueled by a primal fear, Sophie could feel many more of her magic circuits flooding with energy as she slammed her hands into the ground. The power she unleashed blindly would hopefully raise a solid packed earth wall between her and Dirk, if he was close enough though it might instead catch him a nasty blow on the way up. Of course, the blinded deafened Sophie could only hope she was facing it in the right direction...

---

Berserker meanwhile almost basked in the presence of his opponent. The light, the sound, the rolling ground; it all seemed so familiar to Berserker. Like a battle long ago... a battle he had won. Berserker gave another quick smile as the knight before him maneuvered to prepare for another attack, when he suddenly had a thought; the enemy master wasn't in sight anymore. With a quick glance around he made out the pair of magisus scrambling together... in a direction the knight was suddenly no longer blocking at all.

Berserker snorted cheerfully as he remembered. 'Remove the head of the snake and the body will die.' The swordsman would most likely expect Berserker to counter or dodge his stroke, least of all to abandon the duel; but Berserker did just that as he shifted away from the armored knight with a sudden dash and began once again to run for Dirk. "Let's see what you have planned this time." He taunted behind him as he still kept one eye out for the knight's reaction.

Saber launched his attack, leaving a shallow slice and ripping through half of one of his golden bracers0 as Berserker had already abandoned the duel between the two of them, and that was something unforgivable in the knight's eyes, a betrayal of the sacred, unspoken honor between Servants. It was obvious this foe had none. It was not a Servant's job to interfere in a battle between Masters, just as it was their duty to allow Servants to battle. This War was full of cowards, betrayers, and honorless thugs, giving him further incentive to claim the Grail as his own.

However, the man had also fallen into the trap set for him, though Saber truly wished it had not been triggered.

"Let's see what you have planned this time."

"Too much Churl. You sicken and prove everything that I fear has come to pass."

Although Berserker had sped ahead first, Saber was by far the faster, that he was sure of. He stabilized his footing...and ran, accelerating up behind Berserker and running neck-and-neck. He stopped suddenly, continuing to slide from his momentum, but Berserker was running just as fast, and was not stopping. Saber had laid a two-fold attack on the man, the first simple, being only the sword he held in his hand swinging for his mid-section, the other grasping a hunting knife now plunging for the Berserker's heart.

Miyamachou Park - Dirk & Saber vs Sophie and Berserker


If Sophie hadn't been blind before, then she certainly was now. The handful of dirt only compounded the pain the stun grenade had inflicted on her eyes, and her vision was entirely ruined. She wouldn't be able to make out her hand in front of her face, let alone her foes as they danced across the battlefield.

It made sense that her next spell was one of pure desperation, summoning a wall of earth between herself and where she thought her foe had stood. It may have been last ditch and it may have cost her a decent chunk of power, but there were few things that would be able to penetrate through a solid foot of dirt and rock. Unless Dirk was suddenly able to pull a giant drill out of somewhere, there was no way he was getting through to her.

Assuming he didn't just move around it, anyways.

It may have been far from orthodox, but all of the lad's spinning and leaping about would have left a master swordsman struggling to keep track. When his foe was a blinded girl, Dirk had no trouble at all dodging around her admittedly impressive attempts at a defense. Dashing around Sophie's newly erected wall, the boy lashed out, first with his blade, then with his new toy.

The woman's bizarre movements, induced by her disorientation, allowed her to slip past the wakizashi, even if just barely. But there was nothing she could do to stop the knuckles that Dirk clutched in his right hand, the knuckles that he slammed into her shoulder without the slightest hint of mercy.

And 950,000 volts of pure power lanced through Sophie's body.

Had Dirk and Sophie been the only two combatants, that likely would've been the end of it. The woman, already blinded and deafened, wouldn't have stood a chance against the boy and his blade, not now.

Sadly for the lad, they weren't exactly alone. And there was currently a rather large man rushing towards him, daggers bared and ready to dish out some pain.


Berserker wasn't the only one leaping into the Masters' fray; Saber was dashing towards the battle as well, doing everything he could to ensure his Master's safety. However, despite his greater speed, the knight found himself unable to catch up to the other warrior in time. Berserker's head start, as well as the instant Saber had taken to stabilize his footing, had given the unarmored fighter enough time to clear the distance between himself and Dirk.

Though Saber wasn't far behind, the warrior had enough time to get a good attack in. "Let's see what you have planned this time."

Caster was in the middle of juggling three pitchforks when he heard some concerning reports coming from the sentry he set up to observe the park. The fight between the young German girl and the local boy had commenced, and their servants had already exchanged blows. The demon didn't mind any of the flashes of light or ear bursting noises. He continued to transfer the situation of the ongoing battle as best as he could. Caster put the three pitchforks aside before addressing Maria.

"The two are engaged in combat, what's your command?".

"Start with plan A". Maria peeked behind the corner to see the park in the distance.

"With please".


Hansen shielded his eyes and ears utilizing his illusionary magic. Staying a spectator proved to be a troublesome task, but he promised to aid his sister in ending this battle. It wasn't long until he heard Caster in his mind, telling him what to do. Hansen reluctantly agreed to the old man's demands and hoped that his sister's plan would prove to work in their favor... or it wouldn't end well for the both of them.

Five of the disguised demons wielding swords used the magical items Maria had created to create a shroud of illusion and prana, making them out to be a proper magus both in sight and capabilities. They all surrounded the battleground and slowly closed onto the scene.

Hansen snapped his fingers and concentrated on the boy first. With a strong push into his mind the warlock first broke his concentration easily. Second was the slight shift in the earth, whose sudden change could have still been attributed to the work of the second witch. Third was something else entirely - his ears were met with unconventional dissonant sounds that threw him completely off balance. The sheer magnitude and alien nature of the screeches surprised the poor young boy. Then it was the imposing sense of vertigo that threw him into a spin. It seemed as if he was about to fall in every direction he was in all at once. The last effect proved to topple the boy completely as the earth fell from beneath his feet. The crushing feeling of falling into a bottomless pit hit him, as if he was trapped in an endless nightmare. Hansen kept his concentration to thwart any of the boy's attempts of escape.

The master and servant were already on their way to the park. They were slowly strolling through one of the abandoned streets of the city. Maria was smoking a thin cigarette and Caster was checking up on his disciples.

"Why are you smoking?". The old man asked his master.

"You know the feeling where something bad is about to happen?". Maria commented.

"I know plenty of them". Caster answered curiously.

"Then this helps me forget. Check to see if plan B is ready". Maria ordered her servant.

"Yes, Maria".

Orihara's smile faded as Sophie fell to the ground, crying in pain and fear. The fire in his belly was fading fast. Had her initial success merely been a fluke? Whatever the truth, it made no difference to him now. As quickly as the struggle had begun, it was over, and now he needed to finish her off. And quickly, before her Servant--

"Let's see what you have planned this time."

Holy shit.

Dirk's body wrenched on pure instinct as it desperately tried to spin away from the encroaching behemoth. The magus was fast, but the hero faster. One dagger raked across Dirk's side, the spot just beneath his right arm and dug nearly an inch deep. The second made a wilder slash, nicking his ear just above the lobe. Pain laced up the right side of the Master's body as he was forced back and the Servant came barreling closer. Dirk clenched his blade and tightened his knuckles. So be it. He had fought one Servant and come out on top. He planned to make it two-for-two.

That was when the pains began to wrack his mind. Something like a wall shattering filled up his thoughts as an inexplicable agony encroached. His eyes widened in horror, and he ducked just in time to avoid a beheading from the Berserker's flailing blades. His hair received no such mercy and was cropped a full inch shorter. His shades were hanging loosely from a single ear as he ducked and weaved, keeping a single step ahead of the brute and losing that advantage fast. Matters were made worse by the earth beginning to shift at his feet. When he tried to sweep himself left he instead was lurched right--to his benefit, as the spot he'd planned to move toward was filled with the swinging daggers of Berserker a moment later. Desperate, Dirk slashed out with his wakizashi. His mind was so frayed at the moment that the blade shattered on impact. Baffled, Dirk jumped back once more. At that moment, a sonic shriek filled his ears so terrible that he could think of naught else. Like the baying of the creatures that came from pits deeper than any to be found on Earth, shadow and fire immortal and awful. His heart was filled with fear by the deafening noise.

Then he paused.

...Deafening?

Revelation struck him, and a moment later concentration followed it. He willed his mind to remain intact, drawing the fractured, pained pieces back together as he lashed back against the foreign presence in his head. My hearing is diminished, by earplugs and temporary damage besides. Nothing but the product of the mind could be so loud in my head! Whoever you are, you've made a MISTAKE. Dirk gritted his teeth, standing his ground as he prepared to move on the offensive once more.

I am Dirk Orihara, and my mind is not your toy! You've made a terrible mistake, whoever you are. Your LAST mistake.

His mind was his own. Solitary and unimpeded as he shoved his free hand into a pocket, retrieving the second set of knuckles. His eyes met Saber for a brief instant as he began the charge on Berserker. "Saber! Hostile illusionist nearby!"

He swung both fists in an uppercut, aiming to slam them directly into Berserker's chest. His unprotected chest.

"FIND HIM!"

Saber, closing the gap between he and Berserker like a bullet, stretched out his sword as he came. Three twinkling sparks of light spat from the blade and formed into shapes around him. Three knights clad in armor split and formed at Saber's sides. They each chose a direction, nodding to one another once. Then they ran, speeding into the forest and covering every inch of dirt for the one who dared attack the Master of their kin. And when they found the interloper... he would know the sensation, to be struck down by a Knight of the Round.

Saber himself never broke his stride, twisting his blade up over his head and swinging it down in a diagonal arc as he came to Berserker's back. At the same time Dirk was striking into his chest with his tasers, the knight sought to cleave a blow betwixt his vertebrae and split the beast in two.

Aidan woke up, he managed to use one good arm to move to the corner. Pain was unbearable, more than that, it was unlike any other pain he had ever felt. He managed to disconnect himself from his body, his eyes glazing over. He took stock, one working arm, everything else was crispy. His Mask managed to save his face, and his other arm managed to stay out of the jet of fire. He was near a window.

'Last resort.'

Aidan began focusing, recalling projection training. It required blueprints, or imagination. He didn't have one, and couldn't afford to dip into the other. Aidans mind was in hyper drive, he came up with a quick solution. He rubbed his working hand on his charred hand, the pain surfacing again. He could feel it behind his eyes, and they bulged terribly, veins popping out.
"GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" His yell echoed through the home, but his work continued, dropping his hand beside him. He could see the calming sight of his prana around his hand, as his index finger scrolled a barely remembered rune on the ground.
"No. No. Maybe." He got the words out through clenched teeth, the rune he made would maybe save his life. Looking at his arm again he realized that his runes had melted off his body, he was operating under standard human limits.

'Bad.'

"Ath nGabla." He muttered, barely in conscious. He leaned back, banging his head against the wall quietly. He hoped it would be the master that would find him, but chances of a servant doing it was low anyways. He fought the urge to sleep, he needed to be awake to do this. If it worked, he'd have a shot again, otherwise he'd be fighting a servant.
"Your... Move... Marks." His eyes were wide, and unsettling. He'd never been as focused as right now, the pain became secondary.

'Brother will heal me.'

'After Hayley?'

'He did that to himself.'

'And he sees it that way? And what of your death? He won't save you.'

'...'

He exhaled, long and slow, unwilling to let himself blink. He'd just have to survive this, then. A window for escape, a plan in motion, and the chance of healing versus the unknown. He pushed statistics out of his head, he'd need a nice clear one. He steeled himself, his time of reckoning was here. Regrets? Plenty, but not important.

Miyamachou Park - Dirk & Saber vs Sophie and Berserker


The combatants collided in a clash of flashing steel, tearing flesh, and crackling electricity. For a single instant, three bodies were locked in a deadly embrace, their blades and minds all seeking to lay their opponents low.

The next, the trio had separated again. Berserker, sporting a bloody gash across his back, growled as he leaped away from the fray, his feet digging into the ground as he skidded to a stop several yards away. In his right hand, he clutched one of his daggers, dripping with Dirk's blood. His left, however, was grasping the neck of Sophie's clothes. Still, better he lose one of his blades then his Master.

Saber, meanwhile, had stationed himself directly in front of his Master. The knight, though his side still bled freely, refused to leave his ward open to another assault. Steadying himself, he leveled his blade in Berserker's direction, his steely eyes full of determination.

Of the three fighters, Dirk was by far the worst off. Blood seeped from the wounds in his side and his ear, quickly soaking through his clothes and hair, respectively, and dripping to the ground below. And he suffered from more than just physical injuries; his mind was still plagued by a barrage of illusions, throwing his vision and his hearing into horrid disarray. His mind, though it realized it was under the effects of magecraft, was unable to shake it off, and reality and fantasy blended together in the young magus' head. It would be difficult for him to remain standing, let alone fight.

Finally, Saber's summoned allies continued to explore the surrounding area, scouring the forest for any sign of their hidden foe. No matter how hard Hansen tried to hide, he would be hard pressed to escape their notice.

Whatever happened next, the battle was about to take a definitive turn...


Berserker ground his teeth as he tried to figure out exactly what he could do. He was facing a foe stronger than him, his wounds were beginning to whittle down his strength, and his Master was incapacitated. Things were going badly, there was no doubt about that. He had to do something to even the odds... And that was the only thing that came to mind.

It was a shame, really, using it in an area such as this; the trees and scenery here were so beautiful. But, if it meant saving himself and Sophie, then he didn't really have a choice, now did he?

The warrior took a deep breath, safely depositing his unconscious Master on the ground behind him. Then, stretching his hand out, he called out. His cry echoed through time itself, traveling into ages long past: Periods of war and slaughter, when the strong ruled the world and the fires of battle engulfed all.

From the annals of history, he pulled forth his weapon. A massive, curved blade, set atop a shaft taller than most men and blazing with the fires of slaughter, the war scythe radiated enough heat and power to lift the chill from the night air. With a furious roar, Berserker swung his halberd in a display of strength, leaving a trail of pure white flames behind it. "Come, Saber," he challenged, slamming the butt of his weapon into the ground with an earth-shaking crack, "show me what your blade is made of!"

With a wordless battle cry, the warrior charged forward, ready to do everything in his power to crush his foes. He had eyes only for the Servant and Master before him; everything else faded away as his bloodlust began to rise.

It was little wonder he didn't see the arrows until it was too late.

SKKKKKT

A dozen shafts, glowing with unnatural energy, tore through Berserker's chest almost instantaneously. His heart, his lungs, his kidneys, liver, intestines, all were skewered with lethal accuracy. Combined with the twin arrows that lanced through his eyes, the damage was more than enough to finish the Servant off. He was dead before he hit the ground.

As the warrior's body turned to dust and faded away, a cloaked and hooded figure alighted on the branches of a nearby tree, a pitch-black bow clenched in his left hand. "Well, that's one down," he remarked, tilting his head towards Dirk and Saber. "Who wants to be next?"

He sent out three spirits to do the work of true warriors, but it didn't matter to Hansen. A blade will be the same, and death does not discriminate. If he could, he would have nailed the young master at that moment, with his servant away from him and the other one charging at him. Still, his heart pounded when they were sent out to meet him, like three bloodhounds looking for the little boy who dared steal from their master.

The two teams pulled back and regrouped for a moment. The Berserker was ready to bring the fight to a new level when he pulled out his scythe seemingly from thin air. It would have been a glorious skirmish where Hansen could have caught the young master and impaled him before he was found. Yet something didn't allow his plan to succeed.

It was a shock to see Berserker impaled by two dozen arrows, and even more of a shock to see him tumble down to the ground and disintegrate. The first casualty of the war... A Berserker.

"Berserker is dead, Maria". Hansen whispered to the servant Caster in his mind. "They're after me, I need help!".

"Call out plan B". Maria ordered Caster when they were two hundred meters away from the entrance to the park.

Caster called the rest of the demons to action. Equipped with swords and weapons of this century, the little buggers that could sprang into action in their disguises. When the three spirits Saber called into action were revealed, the others had to encounter them and stop them in their tracks.

The first one was a woman, or so she seemed to be. She met with a demon who appeared to be a mage himself. The demon prepared himself for extinction when one of his lovely peers discharged a considerable payloud from his hand-crafted hand-cannon of a shotgun. It awkwardly tried to reload his weapon when three more of his friends came into play holding their swords and shields. Caster had done well to equip them for the next battle, and with Maria's spells in a bag they all seemed to appear like ordinary people who were just out for blood. Two charged her with their weapons while the mage looking one pulled back.

The second spirit was the axe wielding one. He charged forward to try and find the culprit responsible for Dirk's spectacular incompetence, but all he could see was a group of ordinary humans who shouldn't have even been there, unless... from within the group stood out two apparent magi. The group drew their weapons and stood against the spirit. Both mages stepped back and aimed their pistols at the relic of a warrior. Tonight was the time for cunning and ingenuity, not old fashioned values and armor.

The third one was spectacularly close to Hansen when the rest of the demons came into play. Among them was another mage demon, or so he seemed, who didn't mind tossing incendiary bombs at the armed spirit. The rest were all armed to the teeth, ready and willing to die for their master and guide.

Although they would soon come to learn, the magic of Maria would prove to be quite problematic when dealing with those pesky little creatures. With their illusions activated, they would seem to dodge and even parry some of the blows given to them. Their significantly shorter and lighter frame would give any swordsman a headache when they instead see a much taller and bigger adversary.

It was when they reached the park that Maria decided to set the third plan into motion. If only his master will allow themselves to let the Archer jump down to the scene, but then again... there's no need for it to do that. What followed next was an illusion made by Maria herself. She multiplied the number of demons and mage-demons and added them to the fighting, hoping that their smooth movements would confuse and occupy the spirit's attention while the rest go for the kill.

Orihara's body froze as a wave of hostility blasted him. He tried to move his body, only to find it frozen in place. Pain coursed through him as he doubled over and clutched at the wounds at his side. His heartrate skyrocketed as an unforseen variable barged its way into his plans. "Archer?!"

Bad. Bad. Very bad. We're in no condition to fight like this against an unknown enemy. If he can kill Berserker in just a couple of shots like that... no, I can't get caught up in the maybes. We have to escape. NOW.

His eyes drifted to the body of the fallen Master. Sophie Topfer was still dormant on the cold ground of the park. They were much closer to her than Archer. It would be a risk, but...

"Saber!" he called. "Grab the girl, we're leaving!"

With Berserker down and Archer having finished him off before now revealing himself, Saber saw the opportunity, but considering his wound and prana still not completely recovered after the battle the night before, he uttered a swift prayer for his compatriot as he crumbled into dust, quickly being scattered by a sudden breeze.

"Coward and churl you might have been, but I respect you for arriving this night and crossing blades, as any man should."

The knight dismissed the sword, however kept his kin searching for the mysterious Magus in the woods. Someone that had either masked their marks somehow, a chilling thought, or were little more than a bystander in this war, something that betrayed the honor of the Magus. Something that infuriated him. Leaping to Sophie, he set himself between the Archer and the Master. Enough blood had been shed tonight, and he would not allow this man to take a true life.

"You may have started this night an enemy, but you will live through it as a Lady. Understand?"

Not waiting for her to respond, he tucked her under his arm and made for Dirk, who was barely standing as it was. Grabbing him up, he turned to Archer, while still running into the woods.

"Another time Archer, forgive an old man for leaving so abruptly, but I fear for the lives of my charges while in your presence--"

The hairs on the back of his neck stood. Saber could sense something new. His spirits had not found the interloper. Something else.


The lady spirit deflected the shotgun blast with her shield. A piece of the shot nicked her shoulder--and caused pain. The lady smiled as she brandished her blade once more. These "magi" were not what they seemed. Two more came forth with swords and shields, as if they planned to harm her. She scoffed at the notion. These folk clearly did not know her lineage. She would show them through clash of arms. They charged her, unrefined in their tactics. And so she danced between them. Her blade went snicker-snack, and cut through the belly of one and the throat of the next. She came out the other side standing calmly as she waited for them to fall.

But one struck back. A sense of imminent danger allowed her to duck the decapitating blow, but only just. She swerved around to face her foe to see it was the one she had slashed across the throat. They appeared to have suffered no injury from this assault. The lady was confused, but more than that she was worried about the magus she left unattended to behind her. Not daring to turn her back on this crafty one, she charged--backwards. Her back slammed into the other magus and pinned it against a tree, from which she sunk her blade beneath their ribs. She heard the death rattle of her opponent and let it fall. Curious, she thought. The ones she has struck in the belly fall, while the one with a blow above the shoulders yet lives. Time to test a theory. She came forth and brought her blade across the thing's face, and saw it did no damage. She parried a jabbing response from the foe's blade and bashed him away with her shield, then leaped in once more. A swipe of her sword knocked away his shield, leaving the reeling magus fully open to a strike. She chose the abdomen to sink her blade in. The steel disappeared into flesh and elicited a pained groan. The magus fell, and she puled her blade away. Truly dead this time.

With no life to affect any longer, the illusions melted away. The lady saw the demons for what they truly were, as they collapsed to piles of ash, and understood. "Clever..."


The leader of the trio stood just beyond the clearing, axe-wielding compatriot by his side. An odd-twenty magi were against them. He would normally call those odds in his favor, but tonight something was wrong. His blows struck with folly, and where he expected to cleave a foe in two they either stood back up, unharmed, or dissipated entirely. As if they were never there. A Knight of the Round met many oddities in his quests, but this surpassed most with ease. He saw another shape charging from the forest: the lady was leaping back into the fray. A cut across one magus' legs lopped them off entirely, and finished the thing. She called to them, "Comrades! These are no men, but demons! Shorter in stature than their appearance suggests, strike low to kill them!"

"Excellent observation!" the axe-wielder exclaimed. "But tread careful. Some are illusions entirely."

They leapt into the fray, cutting a swathe through the combatants. But it soon became obvious how sorely outnumbered they are. The axeman raised his voice above the clamor of steel on steel, and flesh on flesh. "One of us should get back to our kin and warn him of this trickery!"

"You go!" their leader cried, bringing his blade across the thigh of an enemy that squealed in pain the moment after. "My place is at the front line."

"I will not abandon you," he insisted. The lady spirit added that neither would she. Their leader looked her way and smiled.

"I'm sorry, but you've been outvoted. Get to your father."

The lady did not like the order, but would not question it. She bid her friends farewell, and made for Saber.


"Wait, wait, wait," Archer swiftly replied, his voice stained by disappointment, "you're leaving already? No boasts, no taunts, nothing?"

The Servant sighed as he took a step forward, falling from his perch to the ground below. "I suppose that time truly has changed the ways of war, eh? Still, I never thought I'd see the day when a young soldier would willingly flee from an old man."

Distracted as he was, Saber was nonetheless intrigued. A man that actually called him young? He who had... best to not let himself remember that, though he lived it every day. That was something he had yet to meet in this field or the countless ones before it.

"Ignore him," Dirk warned. His face flinched, his eyes completely shut as they tried to focus through the pain of the wind blustering against his wounds. "Chivalry won't get us anywhere."

His mind, beleaguered as it was, barely managed to concentrate on a single image. Shutting all other thoughts away he honed that one image and brought it to the forefront. "Saber... do you remember the warehouse in Miyama? The one that leads to our tunnels? Get us there. I have a plan."

He was certain this would work. Dirk was just beginning to wonder if he would bleed out before he saw it through. He could feel a deathly chill in his side where Berserker's blade had struck. Only the stinging wind kept it from going numb entirely. Dirk ground his teeth. He would hold on.

"Boasts and taunts are unneeded between true men of honor. War has never, and will never change beyond the weapons used and the armor worn. And would that I could fight you, but these Magus are my responsibility. You are welcome to attempt to follow us Archer, but know that we have plenty of time before our battle approaches. Or perhaps you will fall to Rider? Allow me to leave now, my Master is currently injured, and just as you'd do for yours, I must tend to him."

Leaving no time for the man to reply again, Saber disappeared into the park and back out into the city. Heading for the docks, not the warehouse. The foolish child had spoken it loud enough for the Servant to hear, no doubt he would expect to find them there. As he ran, one of his kin caught up to him. "Saber," she began. "I bring tidings from the battlefield..."

Archer was torn. On the one hand, his enemies were tired and injured; they would be wide open to an attack. On the other, he'd lost the element of surprise, and it'd be difficult keeping up with Saber's desperate flight. Still, it'd be remiss of him to let them go without one last parting shot.

Figuratively, of course. "Fine, fine, be on your way then!" he called after them in a mocking tone. "I suppose I'll just have to find some other foe tonight, now won't I?" At the least, he would not have to wait for long to find his foe.

Saber and his charges barreled for the edge of the park. It wouldn't be far now...


Fuyuki Park was nearly abandoned on this cold and unforgiving night, but that did not mean it went unobserved. Strange sounds, yells, and bits of smoke rising could be seen from quite a distance. In an apartment, high above the street not even a block from the park, a single boy sat on a rickety chair, chin buried in one folded arm on the sill of his open window. He held a pair of binoculars in the other hand, vacant eyes curiously observing the strange happenings below. He could have chosen any spot to observe, but he chose the sprinting figure clutching a close friend in his arms.

Koji set the binoculars down, eyes still fixated on the little dot of Dirk and Saber, even if he couldn't make out their details now. Not even bothering to move his head, his hand awkwardly grasped out and grabbed his woolen hat, pulling it down over his fluffy hair.

In one overly-animated motion he jumped from his chair, whistling a quiet tune as he pulled on his kendo uniform and used a rope belt to secure a bokken to his side. With his parents nor his brother none the wiser, the boy slipped out the door.

"Looks like fun."

Miyamachou Park - Dirk & Saber vs Archer vs Maria and Caster


The demons were coming out in droves, flocking from their hiding places among the trees and out into the clearing. Some clutched artifacts charged with prana, others held simple clubs or blades, all were armed and thirsting for blood.

Saber's allies hadn't fared too well against the disguised monstrosities. Soldiers through and through, they failed to see through their foe's deceptions before it was too late, wasting their strength slashing at false limbs and fake heads. They barely managed to make a dent in the demons' numbers before being overwhelmed, taking down a mere handful of opponents as they were laid low and slaughtered without mercy.

Hansen, though uncomfortably close to the fighting, was safe, at least for now. With the knights occupied, he was free to continue his magecraft, assaulting Dirk's psyche without pause. He would see to it that the lad stayed out of this fight, no matter how much of his power it cost him.

And to top it all off, Maria and Caster finally arrived on the scene, bringing with them a swathe of new illusionary minions. No doubt about it, things were not looking good for Dirk and Saber. It'd take nothing short of a miracle to get them out of this one.

Or, at the very least, the timely arrival of another Servant.

"Hmmm..." Archer mused, slowly twirling around as he took in the sights. "Well, certainly wasn't expecting this little twist." A slight chuckle came from beneath the bowman's hood, and an observant onlooker would have been able to see a pair of wrinkled lips turning up in a smile. "Heh," he continued, raising his bow and nocking an arrow, one that certainly hadn't been there a moment ago, to its string. "Well, I suppose I should deal with the lot of you before my Master shows up, now shouldn't I?"

No longer did he have any eyes for Dirk, Saber, or the unconscious Sophie. They could be easily dealt with at a later date. These new arrivals, however... They ought to make things interesting.

Letting out a satisfied grunt, Archer released his arrow. The shaft buried itself in the one of the demons' chest, throwing the monster back a few paces before reducing it to ash.

"Come on," the Servant muttered under his breath, already stringing another arrow, "show me what you're made of. Give me a challenge, I dare you."

Maria and Caster were about to face against a new foe when Hansen noticed the boy was getting out of reach. They couldn't let him escape, not now... and not with Sophie.

"Caster, STOP THEM!". Maria screamed at the old man. He had to fumble to find something, anything that could halt their advance. His master ordered him to stop those heathens, and so he will follow with great haste. He knew just the right prayer to fix it.

He once again reached for his chain and held the cross in his hands. A loud prayer shook the earth as he made his voice heard through the park. The command was clear. The magic flew through it all. Let all hell break loose.

"FEAR THE FIRES OF OBLIVION, LET THE HELL-FIRE CLEANSE YOUR SOULS!".

It came from the earth, and it surrounded the whole park. Pillars of Fire burst out of thin air and between them flames began to erupt and close down the arena. Inside were Saber and his master, Sophie, and that pesky new arrival. The flames began to flood the arena, some slowly consuming the trees and brush in the park. They could not escape his wrath - NO, the wrath of the almighty. They shall pay for trying to challenge his right for the throne. The fire engulfed the demons who felt no harm from it. Hansen, however, was petrified at the new development. Luckily for him, he was kept alive by Caster's kindness and the flames stayed away from him.

The flames caught onto the tree the archer stood on. The arena was about to change, and transform... into Caster's very own temple.

His very own Hell.

What the hell?

Saber stopped dead in his tracks, his Master staring up in horror at the rising flames. The moon and all the night sky were blotted out by the dread rising flames, and the heat was so intense even the knight felt the need to back away. Dirk's face began to slack as he took in the horror. "We're... we're not jumping through that, are we?"

He looked back at they way they had come. Figures were moving between the trees, shifting and swaying as their forms came back their way. This was definitely the work of Caster. "A Noble Phantasm. So this is the Territory Creation that their class is renowned for." His head was splitting with pain as the mental onslaught continued. But he fought back. He was weary; all he wanted was to lay quietly in his bed for a night. Or two. But his mind was needed once more tonight. He had to find a way to get out of this burning trap. His eyes darted across the flames, quietly taking in their form. An idea began to form. Just a fancy at first. But the longer he thought on it, the more it made sense to him. Fire or not, this is still a construct. And deconstructing is what my Saber does best.

"Saber," he whispered. "Put me down."

His Servant looked oddly at him, but the will in Dirk's eyes insisted. He was let onto the ground, where he almost immediately stumbled. Concentration gave him back his footing. "You'll need your sword arm," he explained. "Educe Arms."

In his right hand a basic longsword formed. Simple, nothing flashy. Much easier to focus on and bring to its greatest height of quality. In his left he gripped a dagger. In both hands he clutched his taser knuckles. He watched as his foes encroached. "I know how to break this Phantasm. But we can't do it yet. First, we have to get to Archer."

"Wait!" cried a voice. The lady spirit, Saber's daughter, came rushing through the woods, skewering a man through the back as she went. The thing crumbled to dust, rather than a corpse as would be expected. She skidded to a halt in front of them and fell to one knee. "My lord, and my father," she panted in an exhausted voice. "These creatures are not what they seem. They are demons, more abominations of whoever has spouted this hellfire. They are smaller than they appear, only up to the halfway point of the ribs. And they crumble to dust when struck. Some are not true combatants at all, merely illusions to distract from the true threat. They are weak, but... many. I am the only one still here."

Saber nodded at her to rise. Dirk watched as some began to approach them more rapidly. "All right then. She's done well. Three against... I'd rather not count their numbers; plus Caster, somewhere. Saber, you lead us. Spirit, bring up the rear. I'll stay in the middle, and try to find a way to tell the hallucinations from the threats."

Saber nodded and conjured the once-sundered sword back into his hands, ready to battle once again. Setting the still-stunned Sophie down, he set her down behind a rock where she would be safe from the demons conjured. They were dealing with a dark man indeed, not a heroic spirit. The Grail should not have allowed him into the fray, but here he was... No time to think about it, they were in Caster's trump card, and Lord Dirk had a plan to destroy this Phantasm. Saber believed he knew what was needed. The wound in his side continued to slowly seep, though the blood had dried and was no longer flowing freely.

"Protect Orihara, Empress," he said, hand grasping his offspring's shoulder. "I am remiss to leave the girl here, but I cannot fight and protect the two of them alone." He released and set himself up in front of Dirk. The boy was foolish still. He barely had the strength to walk, let alone fight well. They were in a place designed by man, not God, and it could easily crumble.

He spun around the "Hell" that the spirit had created, shouting a challenge to the somewhat empty flames, cleaving through three of the demons, sending them tumbling away into the reality.

"CASTER! Your minions are naught but ash, and your world but a lie! Would that you were to face us in single combat you would fall! But you hide as any ruler unworthy of his lineage would!" He spun again, destroying another of the beasts as they came for him, but sensed another behind him and punched out with his elbow, knocking it back and, given the extra time, ran it through.

"You are a coward! A coward that will forever fall to the legions of God! Everything about you is but a lie, just as your Master is. An individual who dares not even reveal their true form for fear of the truth! That you will fall to my blade, or Archer's arrows! And you desecrate the Sacred Site of Berserker's death! That I cannot ever forgive, you know the Code of the Servants! You were summoned with the knowledge! And you consult with the beings of the Pit! You are one that should have been thrown far from the Grail's call!"

He turned again as they were assaulted from the side by another pair of demons, and Saber's sword went straight through them, doing no damage. His eyes widened and the knight dropped to the ground as a trio of swords stabbed at the air where he had stood less than a second before. Swinging his sword around, he cut the three off at the legs before the Lady Knight finished them off.

"Had you truly been to Hell, you would know it to not be as this sham is. A place of suffering indeed, but one unique to each individual. You have failed in your attempt at duplication, you have picked the Pit that exists only in your own mind! Are you not frightened that this entire tournament has been naught but a delusion? A temporary escape that is crumbling at the seams!"

Dirk groaned at the knight's spiel. "Way to tell him exactly where we are..." he mumbled to no one in particular. The train of individuals carved a way through the multitude of demons. Saber led the way and drew the most ire, the Lady coming next in priority. Where her allies had fallen, she still slaughtered. In the middle was Dirk, trudging along as best as his aching legs could move him. How he wished to be behind that rock with Sophie. But I can't rest yet. This plan hinges on me being there. If we don't do this just right, there's no way it will work. I'm not sure it will work now, actually.

A battle cry caught his attention as a trio of demons sprang from the bushes and descended upon them. The Lady had sheathed her blade and swung a hammer's head on the end of a long chain. A pair were caught in their ribcages and flattened against a tree. One more landed in front of Dirk, raring for a fight. Dirk clutched his weapons and stared it down. Cold sweat was trickling down his face. He moved with the dagger first, jabbing forward. The demon lurched back, cackling at him beneath his fleshy disguise. The image of the demon he had last seen was burning very brightly in Orihara's mind. The one that had managed to go toe to toe with his uncle. Not an easy feat. But in a way... didn't that just make it more exciting?

He swung with his sword, and the creature ducked. That was the opening Dirk wanted. He stabbed down with his dagger, moving for the creature's head, approximately. He was baffled when he struck through nothing. It laughed and struck back. Dirk leaned backward, barely avoiding losing his nose from the strike. His sword chopped at the thing's legs, the go-to strike against these pests. Nothing. That's...

He stepped back, and the creature stepped forward after him. Dirk's eyes widened as he watched the thing's feet. They pressed atop the grass, but it did not bend. Something clicked in his mind. How did I miss it?! The illusions aren't capable of manipulating solid matter like a real body would. It's the opposite concept of Assassin's cloak. Even invisible, he can't disguise the pressure his feet place on the floor. These things create no pressure at all. But if this one's an illusion, that means he's...

A distraction. Before Dirk could even think it, a demon crept behind him and brought the barrel of his gun to the back of the young man's head. It didn't bother to make a taunt, just preferring to line up the shot and SPLAT

The hammer of the Empress crushed the little beast's skull, and it slumped to the ground harmless. "Be more careful, Master," she pleaded. He nodded, in a way that said 'Shut up, I have something important to say.'

"The illusions--they have no tangible effect on the ground beneath them. The real demons leave imprints where their feet fall on the grass. The fakes don't. Watch for that, that's how you tell them apart."

Dirk raised his weapons and aligned himself to face the clearing. "No more distractions. To Archer."

Archer, for his part, was having what appeared to be a marvelous time. Considering that he was currently doing his best to skewer little monstrosities through the heart, his behavior was more than a little off-putting.

"Ha-ha!" he cried as another one of his shafts reduced another of his foes to dust. "Found ya, you little sneak." It was oddly satisifying, finding the minions that were more than just mere illusions and laying them low. By his rough estimate, only about one in five of the bastards were real, but at least he could ignore the fake ones. Odds were they posed little, if any threat.

"Ah, Saber, little Master," the Servant acknowledged, noticing the warrior and boy approach, "glad to see you've stuck around! Was afraid I'd have to deal with all of these myself!"

Dirk took to the front of the pack, gritting his teeth and trying as hard as he could to appear no worse for wear from the night dragging on. It wasn't easy. The illusions of the interloper had grown far weaker as the fear of roaring flames fell upon him. They were by no means gone, though. His forehead throbbed with ever-fresh pain. "Archer."

He pointed to the closest demon, suicidally closing in on the bowmen. "Observe that one's feet. It does not bend the blades of grass it touches. That's how you tell the illusions from the real ones."

The lady lashed out, flattening the creature into a fine ashen paste. Dirk admired the carnage for a moment and turned back to the Servant. "Consider that my peace offering. I think I know how to break out of this Phantasm, but I need cover while I analyze the construct. What would you say to a one-night truce?"

"A truce, eh?" The Servant took a moment to consider the offer, as well as loose a few more shafts, keeping a careful eye on his target's feet. The flickering light of Caster's flames illuminated the half-smile that crept across his features as the creatures fell, scattering into clouds of ash. "Heh. Quite observant, young one. Not bad, not bad.

"But anyway, you desire to ally yourselves with me?" Lowering his bow, Archer turned to face Dirk, his tone stained by the slightest hints of laughter. "I can see no reason not to. Only a fool turns down help from a potential friend, after all.

"Still," he continued, staring at the boy from beneath his hood, "don't expect me to turn my back on you, not yet. Go and do your work, little Master, and I will do my part."

"Fine." The young man turned back to the burning forest. Good thing I'm not pyrophobic...

He nodded forward. Saber taking the lead, the lady smashing any that got through, they made their way into the fire. On the far eastern side of their burning prison Dirk came to the edge of the fire. The heat burned like searing waves of hatred, and he kept his distance. He watched the flames closely, studying their flickers and patterns. He mumbled to himself, speaking his thoughts aloud. His mind was no longer a safe or comfortable place to carry out his observations.

"Every structure, no matter its make, must have a weak point. Or else a font, from which the rest flows..."

He began limping through the forest. Moving counter-clockwise he attempted to make a full circuit of the flames. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, not yet. But he was certain he would know it when he saw it. Now was the time to put his faith in his Servant, and though it was not to his tastes the Archer as well. It required all his concentration to keep the wracking of his mind from crippling him entirely. Self defense was beyond him so long as he worked.

Maria glared at the fiery cage in front of her. The sheer volume of the flames impressed the old hag. Having cut off the entire park, those inside were left there, trapped. Maria turned to Caster and glared at the tall servant. She never dreamt to see such a beautiful sight around her. Her right hand caressed his shoulder near her as she stared at the scene before her. She wanted to hug the unholy apparition for his service, but time was of the essence. She only dealt him a compliment before moving along.

"That's a good job, my dear". She whispered.

Caster nodded, but inside he knew it would go bad soon enough. His followers were killed and dispatched from this earth quickly, and such a threat would prove to be nothing to legendary heroes of the grail war. He witnessed Hansen try to make his way back to the two, and he stopped Maria in her place. Caster grabbed her cloth and pulled her back to his lap, looking down at her as she rested there.

"It's not over, Maria. Never forget that". He spoke softly. She stared at his eyes - those dead, black, soulless holes that stared back at her with great passion. The juxtaposition only made the scene a tense one. She smiled back at Caster, raising her right hand to stroke his cheek.

Maria pulled back from him when she heard the others speak through the inferno. It wasn't over yet, so he said.


It was Saber who made his voice heard through the fire. His speech only served to infuriate Caster. With every one of his accusations, his resolve to end the knight grew tenfold. How dared he accuse him of such foul and dastardly things? He was no soldier not knight, but a good-hearted man of the cloth. It was with his prayer and his convictions that he came to this day and age and fought for the right to call his holiness down from the heavens.

Caster greeted his teeth as Saber continued to speak. Hansen already reunited with his sister and the two spoke briefly, but Caster couldn't ever hear them speak. His attention was set on Saber's words. He wouldn't have someone insult him that way and live through the night.

The two humans shook him back into earth. Maria and Hansen both had to speak with him, so they could continue with a new plan.

"They found their weakness, Caster. I will pull away the illusions, but the demons are getting massacred. We have to initiate plan three. Go and get the girl, and surround the archer. Call them up". Maria explained herself to the bewildered Caster. It took him a few seconds to gather the concentration to do what was next.

"Understood, Master". He said.

Archer and Saber seemed to have concocted a plan together. The group went to the side of the fiery cage, as if they were trying to find some breach in the wall. No, they couldn't be allowed to leave. Not now. Not ever.

Many eyes opened wide at the whisper of one word. Their bodies awakened for this last mission, the followers sprang into action, and so... They climbed. Pushing down dirt, earth and grime, their hands moved back and forth as their body was pushed up to the air above. With great eagerness, they climbed up and left their eternal shallow graves. Their master called, and so they would obey. There was no need for the air above. There was no need for any sustenance or cause. Only their master commanded, and they shall obey.

The dead rose from their graves at the Park and the sound of mighty trumpets from paradise echoed through. It was the return of the dead, as it was foretold in the good book. Caster was sure of it. God had let him give those people their lives back, only for his disposal, for his divine goal - so that he will truly bring the lord back into the world.

They cried out in eagerness. They would do as he commands, and nothing will stop them - definitely not death. Out of the many that were risen, only one acted differently from the others. Moving up from the dirt to find Sophie, the dead man pulled her back to him and brought her down and back to the ground below. Holding the human close to him, he kept her away from harm underground, as he tunneled his way underneath to find his Master and follow his commands.
The others held no such cause. They numbered by the dozens, moving in groups to find and destroy. Their inhuman strength and endurance made them a formidable foe, even if they held no tools to aid them in their battle.

Some of them were nearly skeletons, with the barest of muscle and tendrils connecting their bodies together. Others were behemoths of flesh that walked like titans through the dirt. Nothing would stop them - not losing a limb or their heads, not being hit in the chest or any other silly injury. With their terrifying teeth and claws brandished in the night air, they knew what had to be done. They knew they had to kill - kill for god.

The dead marched forward, unwilling to falter even as their front ranks were cut down. And behind them all, Dirk fought hard against a single one that had slipped past. His body ached and begged for respite. He couldn't stop. This thing had to die, or else it would be the Master's life instead. He swiped down with his blade, and it passed through the zed's thick flesh as if it were jello. Like a limp noodle the creature's left arm plopped to the ground, still squirming. The beast roared in an inhuman voice and staggered forward, swinging again. Dirk ducked down and felt immense pain. He'd maneuvered incorrectly, his knee twisting in protest. He fell to the ground, fresh agony re-igniting the faltering adrenaline. In an instant it passed, and was replaced by the furious need to get back up. To keep fighting. He scrambled for safety, grabbing hold of a tree trunk by sinking a blade into its roasting flesh and pulled his body to stand once more. He lashed out with his left arm, the knuckle smashing into its chest and pumping in as much juice as possible. The creature groaned as its flesh sizzled and its nervous system took a few too many pumps. It twitched and stuttered, but the prana in its gut still fueled its pursuit. Dirk pushed with his remaining good leg, using the tree as balance to shove the thrall back and gain a little breathing room. His mind was beginning to crack.

I don't understand! Even Berserker flinched when I used these. This thing's nervous system should be flash fried! This magecraft's beyond any mortal level, if it's still moving.

"Saber!"

He called for his Servant, who did not respond. The swordsman was laying into the rest of the hordes, cutting them down as they came. Even as his eyes turned back and saw his Master, he was cut off by the throng. He could not reach the boy, and he had no illusions of Archer risking himself to come to his aid. He was on his own for this battle.

Damn. If only I could think clearly, but this headache... but... wait.

Something in his mind felt different. The constant bombardment, peeling away at his layers of defense. It was gone. The interloper that had been assaulting him through the night had dropped off the radar, so to speak. And yet these creatures still advances. And Dirk was certain that the pressure in his hand could only come from one source. A Master. Orihara reasoned two things from this. One: whoever was assaulting him was forced or chose to flee when the Wall went up. Either he was cut off, or Caster and his magus had assaulted him. Second, Caster's Master was very close. Potentially even... within sight?

The zombie charged again. It wrapped its arms around Dirk, and the pair fell to the ground. Orihara came out on top and backed away from the creature. He looked up at what was behind the ghoul. A massive, roaring wall of fire. He had a job to do, but it was proving difficult. With another magus coming in, he was low on time to search the fires for a way out. He had to end this quickly.

He stared at the creature, slowly flopping back up to its feet. He gripped his blade. Bring it on.

With it single good arm, the zombie lurched forward and swung. Dirk braced himself against the tree trunk and swung the blade. The zombie's right arm was caught by the parrying blow, and then it was gone. With no limbs left to strike with, the zombie simply stuck its neck out and tried to bite him. Dirk sidestepped the clumsy creature and let it smack face first into the bark. As it turned around, mouth still agape, he plunged the blade into his maw. The creature groaned, once, before Dirk pulled the blade down. Through the throat, the ribcage, and out from the bottom of the pelvis. The stroke took much of his strength to accomplish, but it worked well. A mess of green and red slop sank from the body of the abomination, and it fell to the ground split almost entirely in half and lifeless.

He smiled. If that was the extent of Caster's power... he wasn't impressed. Dirk turned away from the creature and to the battle proper, moving towards the one called Archer. He grabbed his cloak, ensuring he'd grabbed the Servant's attention. He pointed into the woods.

"Scan the treeline. The enemy's Master is close. I'm certain of it."

The Orihara boy had hastened his pace with a quick glance back. He had almost cursed to himself, knowing that it would have been better to try and hide. His rage had blinded him and now he would pay the price. He could feel his own pace hasten as adrenaline began to pump through his system, giving a keen edge to his senses and tightening his muscular frame. He chanced a glance back at his charge, wide eyed and stumbling from an absolute terror gripping her. It felt as though she were lost, unable to wrest control of the situation from him, the behemoth that had taken it. As he broke his gaze his steely resolve felt cracked like poorly tempered armour. The battlefield was no place for pity, however, and he pressed forward to keep his target within sight.

The crowds parted as he hurried through, like a sea to a prophet, not wishing to challenge the giant as he barreled through downtown Miyama. It was difficult to miss the commotion of an awkwardly tall man doing his best to push through a willing but ultimately unprepared mass of people. His obscene height did give him one advantage, however, which was the ability to keep track of where the Orihara boy was moving. As a throng of strangely dressed children began brushing past both servant and master, he felt himself hesitate for just a moment when he spied who Dirk had run into. The boy was conspiring with Einzburn, undoubtedly against their efforts to tail the mischievous smart mouth. He could feel his teeth grinding themselves into dust with the tension between them as he stewed in the thought. His muscles were already becoming taught, coiling up to be ready for the inevitable.

"Be ready, girl" he stated plainly, never taking his eyes off his target.

"What!? Rider, no. Please!"

The desperate plea coming from behind him was a distant whisper in his ear as his focus was pinpointed on the pairing of Dirk and Saber rushing into a nearby alleyway. Without any further delay he shot through a pair of twins and an elegantly dressed blond before breaking past the wandering cosplayers. He could feel his pulse begin to race with the anticipation of a long awaited chase to which would culminate a fine duel against one of the great heroes he had been promised. There was but two obstructions barricading the pathway to his desired outcome and they were Ilene and her lapdog Lancer. His eyes narrowed, staring beyond them to the passageway he desired, the fiery rage deep within fueling his every movement. The smirk that curled up across the young woman's face only served to further his fury as she mockingly pointed towards him, stifling a laugh with the back of her other hand.

"Well well, if it isn't the useless master and her ape. Could you make it any easier for us? If you care to run any faster, I can just have Lancer stand here and let you impale yourself on his-" Ilene began before being interrupted by a swift backhand he delivered with furious retribution.

"Out of my way, Einzburn!" he counter as he bounded past the two nemeses. "I have no time for the inane yapping of an uncooth bitch!"

The image of Ilene being knocked onto her backside, desperately clutching her swollen cheek and battered nose filled his head, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as he sped off into the alleyway. It was a pity he couldn't turn to witness the scene itself nor toy with the notion anymore than a few seconds as his mind began to turn back towards his true objective. He pumped his legs that much harder, the battle lust at the forefront of his mind driving him onwards. He navigated the maze of cars with ease, kicking off of vehicles to keep his turns tight and controlled. He could feel Maria's grip begin to slacken with each step, an obvious sign of fatigue from the stress he was placing upon her simply by forcing her to keep pace. It was a difficult prospect to consider, however he began to question whether he should continue the chase until he spotted his quarries at a full stop, gazing out at a gated lot.

He could feel his killing edge sharpen once more from the sight of his adversaries after being blunted by the worry for his new master. Now, more than ever, was the time to strike. His feet moved naturally, adjusting his stance to heft his mighty halberd as it filtered through from the incorporeal. Feeling the weight of the familiar weapon in his hand was invigourating, his muscles bulging in preparation for the strike. He reached his arm back as far as it could stretch and poised himself to hurl the halberd with all the force he could muster. The savoury tension of the moment was almost overwhelming, reaching the full extension of his arm before hurtling it back towards his intended targets with halberd following. His moment was finally here.

Unfortunately that moment was cut short before it even began. As his arm reached the apex of the throw he felt the most miniscule amount of resistance pull itself against his bicep. His entire body ground to an immediate halt at the obstruction to his perfect throw. He was almost certain he could adjust the toss seamlessly however the risk of possible humiliation was far too daunting if his calculations and instinct were off by even a fraction. He quickly inspected the position he had stopped himself in, looking more like one of the terracotta than a living warrior. His gaze then focus upon the tiny hand wrapped around his bicep, gripping its nails into his skin and tugging with all the might it could muster. His eyes trailed up the appendage until they centered on poor Maria, lip quivering, eyes watering and body shaking, literally on the verge of a total and complete breakdown.

"Please, Rider, stop," she pleaded, her voice wavering with exhaustion and desperation. "I just want to go home now..."

His muscles slackened as his humanity melted the tension from them. Slowly he turned himself to face the young woman, tossing his halberd aside casually to disappear back into the ether from which it came. Now he could see her disheveled appearance in full as she looked t be fighting back tears to keep what little of her pride she had left with the warrior. A frown creased across his face, disappointed in his own actions for forgetting himself in front of his charge. While Maria was certainly a strong willed individual she was still a lady and deserved to be treated much better than he would a man like Clay.

"Of course, Lady Maria," he said, bowing deeply, "my deepest and sincerest of apologies."

He watched attentively as young lady smirked to herself, her armour of composure slowly reforging itself. The subtlety of the transformation may have been lost on him any other time, but his concern had forced him to focus on her intently. As casually as ever she waved off his comment, attempting to put up a brave front but ultimately looking shaken to him. The skepticism didn't seem to escape the woman's own awareness and she immediately looked away from him, shame reddening her cheeks before turning on her heels and beginning the short journey back to the car.

"Spare me the apologizes, Rider," she affirmed, her conviction now sounding as unbending as steel. "You were simply doing what is expected of you. Now, if we could get going?"

He could only shrug as a response, placing his hands in his pockets and beginning to follow his newly attained master as she led the both of them back to where they had begun this entire escapade...

It was a long and silent walk back to the car. He couldn't blame the woman for not wanting to be very talkative after what had transpired between them. Such a strong figure had been broken down by the mere thought of conflict. He couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had he been able to engage with Saber. It was a question that his pride wouldn't let him consider and that bothered him. His eyes slowly trained themselves upon the woman once more, still reeling with questions that he couldn't answer. Of all the doubts he possessed, only one weighed down upon his soul: could he handle the blood of another on his hands once more?

"You're nothing like I expected, you know?"

The phrase shattered his meditation like a hammer. He had scarcely noticed their arrival at the convertible as Maria gingerly closed the door to the driver's side after sliding in. His look of surprise must not have been apparent as his charge didn't seem to change her expression. It was unsurprising with how quickly the moment was passing before him. The words had barely enough time to register in his mind before his lips were already forming his response.

"And what might that be?" he questioned back, his curiosity being piqued once more by the oddity of the statement the question alluded to.

"I suppose we all thought you'd be difficult and stubborn," she began sheepishly, "yet you've been quite understanding, despite your brash manner. Your manner is far from what we've read of... that's all."

Again the history of his legend had been questioned by those around him. It was as if he the entire world viewed him differently than who he truly was. It couldn't be possible, no matter how convinced those around him were. The Grail had chosen him, a hero of the ages, to fight in this war. Had he not been a virtuous warrior, a great leader of people or a figure of pure perfection he would not be having this conversation to begin with. Yet the doubt crept further into his mind, planting the seed of doubt firmly into the back of his thoughts. His eyes then refocused on Maria, seeing the guilt of sharing such concerns, most likely brought upon the bewildered look he could only imagine was on his own face.

"You should travel homeward before it becomes dark..." he stated flatly, his expression becoming a cool unreadable mask as he handed the woman the keys to the car. "I have matters to which I must attend to."

Maria returned his stoicism with a worried look, unsure of how to take his comment. He could see she wished to press the matter but ended up deciding to leave it be.

"My brother is never to know of this, understand?"

The only response that he could evoke was a curt nod to the request and she seemed slightly more at ease with the affirmative. He watched as his new master solemnly nodded, started the car and then slowly drove off into the horizon. He knew it wasn't the most pleasant or reassuring way to end their conversation, however he was at a loss for words. There were too many questions that kept clouding his mind for him to have the unshakable confidence and resolve he normally carried with him. It was of no consequence at the moment as he did have to check in with the true master of this entire operation. Retrieving his phone from his pocket, the servant quickly scrolled through various menus before speed dialing the top contact on his list.

"Rider?" The voice of the man who had summoned him sounded as cocksure as ever on the other side.

"It is I, boy. Our meeting has come to its conclusion and I have sent Maria back to the manor."

There was a long pause, his partner's displeasure of leaving his sister unprotected clear without ever needing to see his expression.

"Fine. I want you to perform some reconnaissance. Find out what you can."

"I fully intend to. I believe a Mr. Orihara and Saber let one crucial detail escape them when they cared to pay us a visit at the restaurant this afternoon..."

Another expected pause. He could almost hear Clay's lips part as they curled into a wicked grin.

"I see. Maybe you should go return the favour, Rider. It would be terribly inhospitable of us not to return the gesture, don't you think?"

"Indeed..."

* * *

Rider's mind slowly sharpened from the haze of his memory to the reality before him. It seemed as thought barely any time had passed yet the job was almost complete. The servant let his arm relax a little from its taut position, knowing full well that the pistol he held was far less intimidating to his captive than what had transpired in the room. His eyes shifted about, surveying his handiwork with a sick sense of pride. Bodies were plentiful from the struggle that had transpired as he entered the warehouse. Each body had been an effortless and unsporting act of aggression that had left Rider unsatisfied. Blood had been splattered freely in as careless a manner as one would expect from an unruly killer. In all, at least a score of former yakuza were strew from end to end of the interior.

Now the warrior was awaiting upon the handiwork of the only survivor. He was currently pouring gasoline across the warehouse haphazardly at gunpoint. The giant could only imagine how much of the putrid chemical had been wasted from spilling it onto the criminal's own clothes. The wait had been excruciatingly painful, knowing that in his day it would have taken a man a quarter of the time to complete such a menial task if he was aware his life was at risk. Good lackeys seemed to be in short supply these days.

After what seemed like an eternity the diminutive and cowardly man scurried back to face Rider, groveling at his feet with how far he was bowing down. "I've finished everything you wanted, boss," he sniveled out. The twice tall servant nodded in approval before slowly beginning to walk towards the exit. The puny man followed close behind, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette. His nerves looked far more shot than a simple puff would fix but it would make a decent star to calming himself down. As the two stood at the doorway, Rider slowly turned on his heel and looked the man over as he lit his cigarette.

"Very good," Rider said calmly. "It is a shame you shall not be able to leave."

The crony froze, his face stricken with a horrified expression. As his mouth began to hang open the unlit cigarette dropped and rolled across the floor. His hands trembled, the flame from the lighter quivering in the now starlit sky, the only light available at the pier. His eyes began to water as the expression worsened, choked up by the sweet thought of safety and freedom having been wrested from him and crushed with those few words.

"B-b-b-b-but you said I could go," the man began to protest. "Y-y-you said if I did what you wanted, I could go home. I've got a wife and kids, man! You can't do this!"

"If I had any choice in the matter, I assure you, you would be free," Rider began as he raised the handgun to his captive's head once more. "However, I do not." The mere thought of his final words then made the servant unconsciously flash his pearly white teeth behind the most devious smile one could ever imagine. "I am sure it is a policy you can relate with."

Before his victim could begin flailing about in futile retaliation, Rider swiftly kicked out and sent him flying back into the warehouse. The body crashed into a pile of creates and just as quickly the entire room burst into flames as the deadly lighter kissed the floor with a single bounce before being engulfed in the ensuing inferno. The tortured screams of his would-be squire were barely audible over the fierce crackling of burning wood and metal. It didn't even take a full minute for the full breadth of his plan to come to bare upon the docks as the fire maliciously flickered down the various trails of gasoline that had been fed to other warehouses, each a storehouse of illegal goods and weapons for the Japanese gang that Rider had raided that early evening. Now the servant could only hear himself cackling with joy at the display of pure destruction he had wrought upon his enemies. Tossing the pistol into the blazing scene to melt away with what little evidence there was, he turned to make his way back into the city to meet with his master for this evening's activities.

As if on cue with his thoughts, he could feel his phone vibrate and promptly answered it. He didn't even have time to greet Clay before he was screaming into his ear.

"Rider, drop whatever you're doing and return to the manor immediately. An intruder has breached the premises."

The words had barely been spoken before Rider was racing back towards the manor at a breakneck pace. He could barely hear the stressed implications of urgency that were being screamed over the phone by Clay as the wind rushed past him at deafening volumes. The servant could scarcely believe the speeds he was attaining himself, far more accustomed to traveling swiftly upon his mount. There were certainly advantages to the power the Grail granted to ones body and it invigourated his spirit to wonder at what other feats he could accomplish.

There was no time for daydreaming, however, with the impending threat of interlopers within the manor. With the deftness of a tweenage girl, Rider sifted through his phone's menus before locating a GPS function to triangulate Clay's location. Within seconds he had reached his partner's location and slowed his pace just enough to pick him up with his spare arm without endangering him. As the pass and grab was made he sped up once more, changing his path once more to head in a straight line towards the manor. The servant surged forwards with all the power he could muster, screaming through the city streets like a rocket. In less than half a minute from when Rider had started from the pier, the pair were already treading through the familiar treeline surrounding the manor and slowing their pace considerably. Once he felt it was safe, the warrior unceremoniously dumped his summoner onto the grounds and came to a full stop not five feet from him.

Rider was feeling a bit worse for wear once the rush of the moment caught up with him. While he had expended very little energy to achieve the feat of running halfway across town, it had been so sudden that he was now breathing heavily from the exertion. What was even more troubling is that he had spotted a shadowy figuring rushing behind the trees to relative safety just after he had halted his sprint. The servant was in no shape to give chase, needing to calm himself from the adrenaline rush and catch his breath. His mind quickly raced with his possible options to engage the intruder, wanting to ensure he had a solid plan before rushing into things. What struck him as odd was that Clay had not mentioned any presence of a master on the premises and neither of them had sensed the usual hint of a powerful force of prana that a servant gave off. Given that the only way to trigger the manor's defenses was to be able to use prana in the first place, there was truly only one possibility in Rider's mind as to who could have snuck their way onto the manor grounds.

"Come out of your shadows, Assassin!" he bellowed, slowly stepping away from his charge and towards where he had seen the shadow. He had no plans of rushing off like a madman towards the trees, he did want to lull Assassin into a false sense of ease by making his magus a target. Fifteen feet could easily be covered in a single strike and with Clay casting some sort of spell he would be the perfect bait. "Do you not have any honour as a warrior that we would face eachother before our duel commences?"

* * *

The interior of the manor had been abuzz the moment Aiden had burst through the rooftop. Both Diana and Maria had been woken with a start at the havoc that had been caused. Everything was happening so quickly, one moment blurring into the next. It was as if they had just been asleep before they could recollect being whisked away by a pair of heavy armed maids and racing downwards in floors through the mansion. Each of their would be protectors cradled a C8 Carbine expertly as if they had been with them their whole lives. It was a strange sight to see two women dressed in frilly uniforms barrel down a hallway armed with deadly assault weapons but neither Marks sister was going to complain with the imminent signs of an attack on the manor.

"Where are we going?" Diana inquired while yawning to one of the maids with brown hair cut into a neat bob.

"To the safe room in the basement," she replied in a cold and lifeless voice. "You two will be safer there."

Diana could feel her temper slowly begin to flare, feeling slighted by being considered a liability. It then dawned on her that it could have just been a testament to whomever was invading their home. She bit her lower lip nervously, wondering if her brother would be alright fighting someone that powerful. The girl exchanged a glance with her sister, seeing the tell-tale cracks in her poised manner to know that this war had just gotten serious. She quickened her pace at that thought, wanting to get to their hiding place and dig in while Rider did his job and took care of whoever or whatever was trying to hurt them.

The quartet of women eventually made their way through the basement to a massive bronzed metallic door. Etched in the middle of the door was a singular rune. At the touch of one of their protectors it lit up to a sky blue, filling the darkened hallway with light. The hiss of an air tight seal sounded as the door gently swung open to allow the four entry behind its shell. Diana couldn't help but pause as she passed the door, getting a good look at the strangely tinted metal. She recognized it almost immediately and made a small gasp at her findings before she was prodded to enter the safety of the chamber.

"What are we doing with an orihalcum vault!?" she demanded, looking at the brown haired maid as her compatriot quickly turned a giant wheel lock shut.

"This safe room is comprised of six, one foot thick orihalcum walls with reinforcement runes to further its resistance to both physical and magical threats," the maid began, rapping the door with her knuckles to accentuation her explanation. "This facility also has food and water, a self-contained air supply, water purifier and toiletry facilities with septic tank to comfortably inhabit six personnel for up to two months. This panic room is of the highest quality by both mortal and magus standards, as any Marks would expect."

The maid then marched over and uncoupled an M61 vulcan cannon from the wall, hefting the monstrous gun with ease before revving the barrels into rotation for a few seconds to test if they functioned properly.

"Sufficed to say, Master Diana, Master Maria, you are in the best of care."

* * *

Up on the third floor of the mansion, a group of similarly armed maids were making their way towards the attic and ultimately the threat to the premises. The unit was a literal British armoury with two maids armed with 870 Remmingtons, two with C8 Carbines, one with an ARWEN 37 launcher and one with an HK417. The six were led by Alberta herself, sporting what could only be described as an anti-tank recoilless cannon, box fed with larger than normal anti-material rounds. The seven were rushing as quickly as their formation would safely allow to the doorway to the attic itself. Their formation was crisp as it went up the stairway, moving like a well oiled machine. It was apparent that these women were well practiced as if they had been doing such maneuvers all their life. Stacking up behind the entry point, the seven waited for but a moment before Alberta motioned them to breach and secure the room.

The entire maneuver lasted less than a minute but those precious seconds were filled with utter chaos. The door almost flew off its hinges as the seven maids barreled through the doorway. They moved with a ruthless efficiency that only a trained soldier could mimic. Not a detail was left, checking corners and covering blind spots so that each woman could move seamlessly through the entire floor. As they reached the opposite end of the floor they spotted their target curled up into a corner defensively, barely moving at all. It seemed as though the traps had dispatched whatever motivation the man had had and left him as a broken soul writhing on the floor.

The trained protectors were on him in a flash, the muzzles of four guns jabbing him from different angles with the rifle and grenade launcher bearers covering any angles for escape. Alberta was the last to arrive, leisurely strolling up to their captive with a laisse-faire attitude. She inspected the area closely, however, spotting the runes etched upon the floor instantly. A smile crept across her face, realizing the bluff the man was trying to make. Their traps had certainly weakened him but even he still had an ace in the hole. She tutted gently, almost cooing as she did so before brushing her foot across the ashen symbols with her foot.

"We wouldn't want to have any nasty accidents, now would we?"

Clay brushed himself off as he stood up, regaining his composure from being so unceremoniously dumped on the ground by his Servant. He held no grudge towards Rider for this, however - time was of the essence. He swept his vision across the manor grounds and caught a figure swiftly leaving the premises from the corner of his eye. He snapped around to face the fleeing shadow, alarmed at its speed - something that fast had to be a Servant. Had they already stooped to attacking family and bystanders?

He didn't need to call out an order - Rider had already moved to defend his Master, standing at the ready with a careful eye to the direction the shadow had fled. But something bit at the edge of Clay's mind - an unease that something was seriously wrong. 'Why run? They've already triggered most of my traps, and they aren't going to outpace a Rider. Something isn't right...'

Casting his vision about a second time, he looked for any obvious abnormalities. This was clearly a calculated attack with a set purpose - if they merely intended to bait a fight, there were better, safer places to do it than the home of a powerful magus. Sweeping his attention along the base of the manor, his eyes came to rest upon a small package lodged near one of the support beams...

Clay felt his heart skip a beat. With his eyes upon the device, he could feel the fire packed within. Tightly coiled, awaiting release.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl... then to a stop. He could feel the fear creep into his throat, threatening to choke his voice. The bomb wasn't large enough to level the manor on its own, and it was placed opposite to the direction the shadow fled - so there had to be more. Lots more. More than he could hope to disarm manually.

He'd been here before.

***

"Get up." The man stood over Clay, his face twisted into a sneer. A young Clay lay prone at his feet, covered in soot and coughing like he'd just taken in a deep breath of smoke. The boy pushed away from the man, tears starting to gather in his eyes. "I... I can't do it." His attempt at talking aggravated his tortured lungs, launching another round of hacks and coughs.

"Can't..." The man reached down and grabbed Clay by the collar, forcing him to his knees. "...or won't?" He knelt down to look Clay in the eye, the sneer never leaving his face. Clay could still remember those eyes, even today. They were burned into his memory, a festering scar that refused to heal. Black as coal, totally devoid of any compassion or kindness. The eyes of a true magus.

The eyes of his father - Anthony Marks.

"I can't do it. I'm not strong enough." He tried to look away, but his father forced his face back to meet his own. He was getting angry - or, angrier than usual, at least - and that never bade well.

"Bullshit. You're a Marks, and a Marks can use any magic they set their mind to. It seems you need to be properly motivated..." Anthony tossed the child back, and Clay let out a yelp as he hit the stone floor. He scrambled to his feet to see his father produce a small bag from his pocket and dump the contents into his hand. To the untrained eye, it looked like ordinary ash, but Clay knew better. He could feel the power radiate from the dust, a torrential heat looking for an excuse to consume everything in its path.

"Adapt or die, boy."

He overturned the bag, the contents spilling out onto the floor, an ominous whisper on his breath. As the powder struck the floor, it ignited, a fierce red flame bursting forth. The fire stood for a brief moment, burning in place, before Anthony leveled his gaze to meet Clay. In an instant, the flame rushed forth, heading straight for the disheveled child.

Clay's world crawled to a slow... then a stop. He could feel the fire. Tightly coiled, awaiting release. He could feel it spread. He could feel it grow. He could feel it burn.

It was pure instinct. He flung his arms out in front of him, and with a low breath... uttered a single word.

"Stillflame."

***

Clay's senses returned to the present, his arms extended out in front of him and panting like he'd just sprinted a half-kilometer. He wasn't sure how much prana he'd thrown into that casting - it wasn't all of it, but a good portion - but it was worth it. Even the air itself seemed to freeze in place, as though afraid it would violate the new order the spell had placed. He could feel it stretch out several hundred meters in each direction, encompassing the manor and most of the grounds.

'If you mean to fight me with fire, regardless of its form, I think you will be rather disappointed with the results. Your move, Assassin.'

"Rider - there are explosives set at the base of the manor. I've cast a spell to prevent them from detonating. Tread carefully - our guest may not be happy to find his plan foiled."

Aidan simply sat, staring intently at the group of women who charged into the room with trained efficiency. They were well armed, but luckily they didn't just shoot him on sight. Whether this was due to them underestimating him, or honor he couldn't be sure. He waited patiently, luckily they were quick. The one with cropped brown hair crept closer to him, eyeing his traps and tutting. She either had no idea what they did, or was testing him. He waited till she put her foot right over it.

"We wouldn't want to have any nasty accidents, now would we?"

"Ath nGabla" He muttered simply, the world instantly became grayer, the other maids included. Aidan used the few seconds of shock to summon his favored weapon, Gae Bolg in looks only. He became infatuated with it when he met his cousins servant, and spent so much time studying it. Right now, only the cane part was needed though. Aidan hoisted himself up with a grunt, eye level with the girl.

"Neither of us are leaving until one of us drops dead" Aidan found it easier to move now that he was on his feet, adrenaline was kicking in he figured. His right arm still wasn't working, which ruined most options for his ambidextrous fighting style.

Aidan rushed the maid, holding his spear behind him. He made sure to serpentine, but they were close enough that it didn't matter as he closed the distance quickly. He brought his lance up, knocking her gun into the air before giving his spear a nice little twirl and bringing the sharp end of the stick down into hopefully her vitals.

"Please forgive me."

Assassin had done it, the explosives were primed, they would explode upon impact! Rider and his master had arrived too late to save the day! It was all coming together when...

There wasn't a kaboom. Assassin peered over at the house and instead of it being rubble, it instead had twenty large holes that probably messed up the supports. The manor wasn't safe anymore, that's for sure but it was still standing and Assassin mumbled under his breath.

"Every single damned time, messed up the mixture or something. Damn these humans, explosives just aren't what they used to be."

He sighed and glared up at what was clearly a Rider with his Master. Clay casted a few spells, probably worried about the explosives, they would still go off if a match hit them or something caught on fire, which now that assassin thought about it, probably could happen anyway what with the property damage and all.

Still, there always was the car bomb, that thing was ready to go whenever he pushed the button. With the Manor out of the picture for most of the remaining war however, Assassin's plan B had a new use.

"Do you not have any honour as a warrior that we would face eachother before our duel commences?"

Rider was of honor then? Interesting to know but Assassin had lost it a long time ago. He still could picture Caesar's face, surprise, grief, anguish and most of all betrayal all because of him. There wasn't any honor anymore, there was only this. His search for a final rest, to be done with it all. No more blood, fighting or death. Just peace. He knew how to accomplish it. The Rider would have to go.

Without a word, Assassin picked up a few rocks surrounding him. While they certainly varied in size, the lot of them fit into his hands snugly and felt nice to the touch. Assassin almost hated to part with them. He was still invisible and the rocks quickly camouflaged themselves along with him. Being invisible had its perks, but people could still see him walk around on the grass. Unless he was ethereal anyway, but that posed its own problems right now. A distraction could do some wonders right now he figured. Assassin figured the rocks to number about ten or so. Just enough to make this work.

The greatest trick as a general he had learned, was to make the enemy believe you are in one location, while actually being in another. Then you make your strike. A quick death blow would serve every purpose here and remove another obstacle in the way of the ultimate goal.

The first five he threw straight up in a cluster, causing the tree's leaves to go flying into the air. To anybody looking, it appeared he had jumped out of the tree and was headed right at Clay. The next part of the strategy was moving straight to the right towards the car. While Rider would move to protect Clay from a dive, Assassin moved directly to their sides and threw the other five rocks directly at Clay. They moved with lightning speed and intensity. Would they do the young master in? Probably not, so Assassin went ethereal before landing and blended in with the grass. He was still a few hundred feet away from the duo.

The battlefield was unnervingly quiet as the pair waited for their assailant to make his move. Surprisingly, this didn't bother Rider as much as one would think. He actually enjoyed the tension that was crackling through the stiff breeze that blew across the grounds. If anything, it reminded him of his life long ago, standing atop the scores of foes he had vanquished to obtain victory. A smirk crept across his face, licking his lips in excitement for what was about to transpire.

It was then the rustling of branches caught his attention, the rock clattering across the hard wood trees. His mind raced through battle strategy, prepared to engage his adversary the moment he showed his face. His right foot slid forwards, leading his body as his halberd appeared from the ether into his diagonally resting hands. It was brought to bare in a defensive position that crossed in front of his body, held with his palms outwards for an easy upwards motion. It was the perfect position for someone who would undoubtedly be attacking from above with the directions the sound shad been coming from. The servant would only need to wait for the foolish Assassin to fall into his hands.

Seconds crawled by like minutes as Rider waited for the inevitable attack to commence. Yet it never came. At least, not from the direction the servant had expected to be bombarded from. He could hear the barrage before he even saw the diminutive, smoothed projectiles whistling through the air at high speeds like arrows. He had fractions of a second to react and without hesitation he flung himself into action. The movement was blindingly quick, almost imperceptible to the human eye, traveling the space to juxtapose himself between Clay and the stones in a mere instant. As the warrior was grounded himself in a wide stance his halberd was already spinning out in front of him. Hand over hand he spun the weapon with force to repel the attack. To any untrained eye it would look simply like a flashy move, mimicking a great martial arts movie. To those who were more observant, the skill and precision that Rider executed the maneuver with would not be lost. Each rotation had been perfectly timed with just a momentary glance to knock away each stone. The force and speed behind the defense, as well as the martial flourish at the end, were pure pageantry. By the end of it he had the haft of the halberd resting behind his back, the blade pointed towards the ground and his left hand outstretched towards the direction the attack had come from.

"You should consider taking refuge inside the manor, boy," the servant whispered to the mage. "It may not be safe to be in the open once our assassin decides he wishes to make this a true battle."

* * *

Meanwhile, inside the attic of the manor, Alberta and her squad were running into their own problems. The moment the head maid had attempted to brush out the runes upon the ground, Aiden had activated it. The world around her began to slowly phase out of existence, a bland gray becoming the backdrop for her final moments. She knew the spell well. It was a favoured set of runes used by many magi in the Marks family considering their chosen methods in combat; the dreaded Ath nGabla - the curse of the Knights of the Red Branch. It was a spell that no one used lightly as it carried the direst of consequences, the ultimate price a man or woman could give. It was a duel to the death and Alberta would need to take Aiden's life if she planned to release herself from the gray prison.

Aiden was much quicker to react, however, summoning a replica of the legendary Gae Bolg, if only in appearance. The maid tried to keep a bead on her adversary but he was moving too erratically for her to get a proper lock. Within seconds he had closed the gap between them, thrusting upwards into her cannon with the fake phantasm. It threw her center of balance upwards, firing wildly into the colourless void above. Without the recoilless cannon she was wide open for a finish blow and the wounded magus obliged. With a deft twist of his spear he changed the direction of his attack and stabbed downwards with all the force he could muster. Alberta's eyes went wide with shock, a small gurgling sound crawling up her throat before it was overtaken with blood. As the life fluid slowly leaked across her lips and down ehr chin she looked down to she the weapon plunged deep into her chest, straight through her heart. The Gae Bulg had stuck true once again.

As the spell slowly faded and reality began to set back in the troupe of maids shifted their formation to accommodate the repositioning of their captive. In one fluid motion, one particular woman with star white hair shifted the stock of her shotgun snugly into her shoulder and rushed forwards to have the barrel of her weapon almost touching Aiden's left hand. As his body finally phased back into existence she fired a single shot that rang through the attic, severing the appendage with brutal force. No one divided their attention to pay any notice to their leader as she collapsed onto the floor, still slowly dying with the spear stuck into her chest cavity. It was if they knew something that Aiden didn't.

"You should consider taking refuge inside the manor, boy. It may not be safe to be in the open once our assassin decides he wishes to make this a true battle."

"It's an Assassin, Rider. He has little interest in making this a true battle. Separating myself from you against such an elusive foe would be unwise. Besides..." Clay reached into his bag, producing a small white stone as he did. It felt chalky to the touch, the alchemical symbols for air and earth inscribed on its surface. "...I'm far from useless in a fight, even with my fire magic truncated."

He crushed the stone in his hand, reducing it to a fine powder. He could feel a discharge of prana emit from the pulverized stone as he did so - a signal to begin casting his next spell. "Shorn from the earth, come now to my grasp - Gale of Dust!" He released the shimmering white powder from his hands, a cloud of fine dust issuing forth. It billowed out in all directions, covering the surrounding area. It was fine enough to stick to most everything it touched, but thin enough to permit easy vision - in short, perfect for foiling invisible enemies.

'A simple trick like Concealment won't help you, Assassin. I've had 15 years to prepare for this war - no such obvious angle has been overlooked.' Once the cloud had finished spreading out, he took a braced position and took in a deep breath, centering himself. 'Come and fight, coward. I think you'll find me much more of a threat than your usual target.' Drawing deep within himself, he seized what prana he had left and began to forge it - willing it into the shape of lightning.

Electricity arced from his fingertips before exploding forth in full force, wreathing him in lightning. He was as ready to fight as he would ever be.

Stones flung in all directions, one passing right through Assassin, he watched it whiz through what would have been his appendix, though his current state made all physical matter worthless. It was a tight line some things crossed, Assassin had worked to make his one weakness in this form, elemental magic, almost nil. It did damage sure, and in large doses could harm the nerves, but it wouldn't kill him now.

"You should consider taking refuge inside the manor, boy," the servant whispered to the mage. "

Assassin cocked his head, if Rider was dumb enough to do that, it might not even be a fair fight. This was getting dull. It seemed his opponent was underestimating him yet again. Just like Saber. In fact, once Rider was down, Assassin figured he would pay Saber a final visit. That would leave Berserker, Lancer, Caster and Archer in his way. All of which could be dealt with. This one battle would decide everything as far as Assassin was concerned.

It seemed however, that Marks had other plans up his sleeve. They weren't fans of invisible people it seemed. The mage scattered what Assassin could register as Prana Sensitive dust everywhere around him. Assassin watched it for a few seconds, saw it hang in the air. It was actually quite beautiful. Small sparks of electricity going through the hyper-charged particles.

The robed figure saw this as his opportunity not only to use his car filled with bombs, but also to screw with the duo even more. He would lure them out of their hidey hole and let the mage waste even more of his precious Prana. Weakening his servant in the process.

Assassin noticed the primed lightning bolt. The one thing he really didn't want to touch from Marks. Assassin casually strolled over to a nearby tree. Brutus had learned from his fight with Saber, to make himself walk through not only air, but grass too. He felt the dirt under him, solid as could be. He was still ethereal so the grass didn't move while he did it. He jumped into the leafy top and made himself solid again, landing softly in between several branches.

After some inspection, a loose and soon to be dead piece of wood caught the killer's attention. He quietly gathered it and let himself fall behind the tree. His still invisible head poking out to the side, watching Rider and Clay, he broke the branch into multiple foot-long sections and marked his landing spot. The back of another nearby tree. Assassin lept out from the left of his hiding spot and threw the branches like spears at Clay and Rider. He landed safely behind the tree and went ethereal again. Assassin was clearly anticipating something to come at him now.

Aidan's ears began ringing, and moving his hand produced no results, Aidan turned to look. An opportunistic maid had used his inattentiveness to remove his hand. He noticed his wedding ring on the wall in front of him, buckshot ruining its' gaelic inscription. His eyes widened, and all he could see was red.

"You..."

Aidan quickly attempted to grab her with his right hand, resulting in more of a throat jab, using his left to create Gae Bolg again, pushing it into the maid. He used his bad hand to grip it, moving it to put her in front of the other maids. The back of his mind told him there was something wrong here, that this wouldn't work. But one thought took presidence

"I'M GOING TO KILL ALL OF YOU!"

He kicked up the body of Alberta up, taking a shot in the gut. They had already begun shooting him, despite the body of their friend being held in front of them. Alberta took a few shots, but his shin was shot out from under him, completely removing it from the middle. He used his nub to catch himself, dropping the spell, the maid who no longer could be said to have a torso no longer protecting him he took a shot to a lung and the kidneys. He raised his nub again, throwing anothe Gae Bolg, going wide but still managing to hit a maid in the shoulder. Buckshot entered his cheek, and tore some flesh off his temple, revealing bone.

'They're terrible shots.'

The thought entered his brain for no reason, and he laughed wildly, taking several more rounds, though the sounds became muted beneath the ringing, he knew he had gone deaf. Pain was as lost as his hearing, and he tossed another Gae Bolg, hitting a maid in the jaw. Aidan stopped paying attention to his many bullet holes. He knew he was nearly out of Prana, however, and he decided to give in, and die, but first.

"Uck. Off." He raised his middle finger and dropped, noticing he had killed four or five, yet 6 remained.

'Str'

Rider could already feel his impatience grow as Assassin continued to play his little game of hide-and-seek. He wanted to go out and hunt down the impertinent little wretch but he knew it would leave Clay relatively defenseless. While large quantities of lightning seemed like a good deterrent, they had no clue how strong their opponent's magic resistance was. The situation was like a cage - not particularly harmful but restricting enough that he had to wait for Assassin to make his move. Unfortunately for him, degrading tricks were all the opposing spirit had to offer.

A few large stakes were launched at a similarly high speed as the stones, though moving that much slower due to their size. It was pitiful to think that this is what the Holy Grail War had been lowered to a simple contest of hurling random projectiles. Rider sneered at the distasteful tactic, becoming agitated with this cowardice. His movements flowed with an expertise beyond anything one could imagine. He had barely had a chance to measure up the speed and distance of the looming projectiles before he was majestically weaving a deadly dance with halberd and martial arts to knock each spear out of the air with ease. The wooden stakes exploded into splinters as his strikes connected, using his superior strength to keep his unparalleled boredom in check to some degree. However, these foolish blunted attacks were unsatisfying.

"I was hoping for a spirit who could muster more than a childish offensive," Rider exclaimed, driving the haft of his halberd firmly into the ground to accentuation his point. "It seems I shall be forced to find a decent challenge elsewhere."

Clay could only smirk to himself as he listened to Rider's masked frustration. It must have been disappointing to have waited such a long time only to face an utter coward and of the weakest class no less. His servant had been sorely mistaken to believe any of the other spirits could hold a candle to the sheer power he possessed. It was the entire reason he had summoned him, of course. The strength of such a powerful spirit was only befitting the strength of such a powerful mage. In any case, Clay decided that hurling a few insults himself would most likely be enjoyable and make this little trip not a complete waste of their time.

"What's wrong, Assassin? Have you seen I'm not a little girl and decided to strike out like a petulant child? Pathetic."

The two men looked disgusted with the utter lack of a test placed before them. Rider then looked over to his counter part, disdain filling his expression.

"I tire of these petty games. We may as well seek far more entertaining pastimes within our home rather than continuously be insulted by the sheer audacity of sending such a whelp to harm us. Fighting him would not so much as be befitting of a warrior such as myself if he chooses to piss himself scared behind those trees."

Clay nodded back in agreement. "Quite. I could be putting my time to much better use, like watching Jersey Shore with Diana." The look of disgust that was conjured by the thoughts of that program were telltale enough of the magnitude of the insult. "Let's be off, then."

The two then strode confidently back towards their battered but structurally sound home. If Assassin wished to follow they would have no qualms in it. In fact, it proved to be quite the amusing thought for the young magus. How he would love to see their assailant jumping through traps just to find his own servant ready to strike a brutal blow.

Assassin was learning quite a bit about his opponent. Mainly in the speed and strength areas, where he was clearly even or outmatched. This guy was for sure going to require strategy and even a bit of manipulation to kill. Still, he looked like he had less honor and more arrogance, something Assassin could easily exploit.

His throwing rocks earlier had another purpose. They were now coming down at near terminal velocity aimed right at where Rider and Clay stood. Had they spent less time making noise and taunting, they might have heard the low whistle through the air, but now it was too late.

Brutus held in a laugh as he counted time in his head. A few more rocks were scooped up. Five...four...three...two...one! Assassin dashed out from his tree with rocks in hand throwing them in perfect sync. On top of the four rocks he had thrown, two of the other five were about to land directly on Clay, with the others falling somewhere near him, moving from his current location would only cause more rocks to hit him.

The rocks he had just thrown came at a lower angle than the earlier ones. Assassin wanted to see a phantasm from Rider. That, or he could hit Rider, or kill his master. There were plenty of great outcomes, but Assassin had determined off of Rider's speed earlier that there wasn't much of a way to block these. It didn't help the spirit or his master that he turned his back on an Assassin.

To Assassin, honor was just a term used to force people who would normally lose in direct combat to give up any tactical advantage they could have gained. It also seemed Rider shared his opinion and was only going to use it as long as it suited him. Killing Rider would be nice.

It could be seen as both fortunate and unfortunate for the would-be killer that Rider and Clay had made their way back towards the manor at a leisurely pace. If the pair had been traveling any faster they would have easily overshot the intricate trap he had set for them. Luckily they had spent most of their time insulting the opposing servant's prowess as a combatant in this Holy Grail War. Assassin's multilayered strategy would come to fruition within moments and crush both Rider and his master with a hail of stone. All too soon rocks would fall and the two fools would die!

Rider was the first to react, hearing the high pitched whistle of a projectile streaking through the calm night air. He had just enough time to tilt his head upwards before the first rock came crashing down onto the bridge of its nose. It instantly shattered on contact, the magical construct of his body far more resilient than that of mere stone. The slivers slid down the sides of his face as his eyes narrowed and his body shook from rage. This foolish trickery was becoming nothing more than a child's game and it was insulting that Assassin would treat this clash of heroes so lightly. The grip on his spear became that much tighter as he tracked the other stones by sound alone. He closed his eyes to picture the small rocks hurtling down to the earth below, his brow furrowing with both concentration and seething ire. As the rest of the stones neared their intended targets, Rider's spear shot out above Clay's head, striking with the speed and finesse of a master. Three pebbles shattered into a fine shower of dust that sprinkled down onto the mage below, the rest of the hazards clunking harmlessly off the giant's armour.

That had been the final straw. While Rider knew he had never been a terribly virtuous man, there were some lines he dared not cross. The rules of engagement of a proper warrior was one of the lines. By attacking Clay, Assassin had proven himself far beneath Rider and the rest of the servants within this war. He had given him his chance at a proper battle. He would have talked, found out what wish Assassin planned to make, offered conjecture and negotiated; he had wanted to parley with the man. If had come to a duel, it would have been far more enjoyable if his opponent had proven himself an honourable combatant. Now his soul was only filled with the white hot rage of a thousand suns, burning brightly into a fighting spirit that could not be stopped. That energy transferred to his spear, causing it to glow the same hot white his spirit now burned with. If Rider had been considering leaving the battlefield at any point it was no longer visible in the way he carried himself. His stance was firm as his muscles tightened underneath his armour, ready to perform a strike that would shake the heavens themselves.

"I tire of this game, you petulant child!" Rider cried out, the energy in his spear coming to an apex, glowing hot and bright like phosphorus. "This ends here. Heaven Force: Sky Divider!"

Rider pivoted his entire body on his left leg, arcing the slash of his halberd blade from his right to his left. It seemed to cut the air itself, a massive wave of razor edged pressure firing out from in front of the warrior. He had not even noticed the stones that his foe had hurled towards them, the invisible wave slicing them to powder as they passed through it. The low trajectory of the Sky Divider was also kicking up a rolling wave of dust, growing larger and taller with each moment that passed. It swept up the glittering cloud of prana particles, dispersing it throughout the rolling cloud in the back draft of the attack. As the wave dispersed the cloud only grew, bursting forwards in a gust over the entire front lawn before the servant and master.

As the blast of dust surged forwards, Rider took the time to hone his focus and search out his adversary on the battlefield. Vision was deceptive with an invisible opponent and so he concentrated on the sounds, smells and feelings he was receiving from his surroundings. His ears quickly filtered out the loud rustling of branches from his man made squall, searching out anything amiss amongst the sounds of the scenery. Though he felt strained at first, he could clearly hear the low pattering of footsteps padding across the lawn, the fluttering of fabric and the sounds of the wind breezing past a person in motion. Most distinct of all, he could smell the unpleasant odour of grease from overcooked cheese. His eyes then opened quickly, centered upon the strange disturbance in the distance. His houtengeki then morphed into golden mana, changing its shape from a large halberd to that of an ornate compound bow. Without a second thought he brought the bow level with himself, quickly notching an arrow and drawing it back. The missile flared into life, transforming from physical to a lance of pure blue energy. As the servant took aim, he smirked to himself, knowing this would soon be over.

"Time to end this. Gate~. Halberd-"

"Rider, wait!" The cry of his charge snapped his attention from his task but didn't force him to take his focus off his target.

Clay was wreathed in lightning, still energized from earlier. His face was bright with a wicked grin as the energy grew larger in scope, more electrical arcs bursting forth from his body. His mystic code began to glow a shimmering yellow, the energy from the elements flowing through it. Each bolt that traversed its path grew larger as it exited, as if it were feeding upon the ancient power inside. Clay felt liberated to finally flex some of his innate power instead of bottling it up inside himself. It was an eventuality, however, there was nothing like reaching out and torching something in there here and now, even if it was only a scorching bolt of electricity.

"Rider, aim your arrow towards the heavens!" he boomed out, the power coursing through him dizzying.

He could already smell the ozone forming around him from the massive build up of plasma around him. He watched as his servant did as he was commanded, obviously sensing the queue in his tone. The colossal warrior even braced his stance, expecting something larger than life itself to come crashing down upon them. Clay aimed to not disappoint. He arced his back so that as he tilted his head it would face the sky. His arms became stiff as they stretched out to his sides, palms up and fingers curling as they twitched with energy unknown to the common man. His legs slid apart to brace himself, for he knew what was to come might knock everyone off their feet. The sheer monumental energy he was about to call forth would be difficult to match even by the standards of the other mages that had been groomed and chosen for this war.

"And let the wrath of the High God strike swift judgement down upon those who dare stand before us!"

From the sky rained great bolts of lightning with seemingly no end. They ravaged the grounds around the two partners, trapped within an electric cage of heavenly rage. The bolts then began to close in on Rider, drawing closer and closer as they encircled him. Yet the servant stayed focused, ready for whatever it was Clay had planned, the muscles in his legs so tense he didn't think he could move even if he had wished it. As the electrical cage finally licked his armour plating it fused into one massive charge of plasma and struck down upon the arrow notched on Rider's bow with such force he felt his knees buckle for just a moment before he recovered. The energy flared outwards from the tip into a cone, barely containing itself within the phantasm as the servant struggled to level the bow upon his target once more.

"Heaven's~..."

Again Rider focused upon the slightest of sounds, pin pointing his target with ease within the gritty storm he had caused. He could feel his muscles scream with pain as he tried to keep the rumbling bow steady. His knew his aim needed to be near perfect for the phantasm to work and the surging energies Clay had added to his already powerful strike was proving troublesome. He drew the string back as far as his strength could muster to keep the bow taut and steady, knowing he could only afford but a few seconds with his power in his arms stretched to their limits.

"...Gate~..."

His legs inched farther apart as he began to feel his frame shake with stress. His entire body felt as though it were going to literally fall to pieces with the backwash of force he was getting from his spell infused phantasm. He had one shot to make this count. He closed his left eye as the tip of the arrow became trained upon his target. Now was the moment of truth...

"...SHOT~!!!

As Rider loosed the arrow from its barely contained state the backwash of force that resonated from the spell blew his entire left side backwards, spinning his body to change his facing, his right shoulder now being forwards. After skidding across the ground for five feet, his body ground to halt, dust lingering in the air that he had kicked back up. His left arm felt numb and the rest of his left side tingled with both the impact of the backwash and from his prana having had such a potent magic coursing through it. The servant afforded his poor opponent the flash of his wicked grin, matching Clay's tooth for tooth, as he gazed upon the monstrous weapon they had created.

The arrow shot forth through the cloud of dust and prana towards its intended target, fate itself tying the two to eachother so that they would inevitably connect. It tore across the lawn creating a trench at least a foot wide as deadly arcs of plasma flung from its sides and blasted divots farther out. It was a wake of destruction the likes of which neither of them had ever witnessed before. What was even more hauntingly beautiful was the effect the lightning had on the prana fleck inside the cloud. Their sensitivity to magic had caused them to conduct, forming a massive ionic storm within the cloud that would intensify the spell throughout its field, which at this point had encompassed most of the front lawn and the surrounding treeline.

The two just had to sit and wait for the end to come...

"This ends here. Heaven Force: Sky Divider!"

"It's about time..." Assassin muttered to himself as Rider readied his strike. Assassin wanted to see a phantasm but also let Rider put up a weak point. Wasting valuable prana along with revealing some of his moves. Assassin quickly became ethereal and sunk underground, leaving the very top of his head exposed to watch what was coming.

While most would think phasing through the ground would cause him to go through all of it, layers of sediment and the varying rock patterns allow Brutus to pick and choose what he wants to go through. It is at this point mostly a reflex.

When the razor-like gust of wind came carrying dust from earlier, Assassin rapidly sunk down and began moving through the dirt more than disappointed. Rider said he was going to kill him and that was the best he could come up with? People had been underestimating Assassin this entire time and now this? First Saber doesn't even try in his fight, then Rider half heartedly sends a halberd? No. This man was going to pay for his arrogance right now.

Assassin began bolting towards Rider and Clay. The phantasm passing over he raised his head to see Rider prepping his next phantasm. It would be his last. As the duo was so close to the manor and had actively avoided damaging it, Assassin popped behind them as they gave off their show and gripped his chaplet and gladius.

Not only would they miss again with their phantasm, but this time, Assassin was going to take Rider out of the equation. Still ethereal, he threw the chaplet and landed it behind Rider and Clay. He then became solid again, tightening his grip on Emperor's Bane. As Rider pointed his Arrow and prepared to release it, Assassin yelled with extraordinary passion and anger, "Withered Chaplet and Emperor's Bane!"

Immediately, the Chaplet began working. The surrounding area was covered in a highly electric field of purple and black darkness. It seemed to be actively devouring the light around it, but that wasn't the only effect. Assassin's Chaplet would do immeasurable damage against a human exhausted to the point Clay had to be after using a spell like that.

But that was only part one of his assault. Immediately after his chaplet activated, Assassin tossed Emperor's Bane diretly at Rider's spine. Despite the energy surrounding it, Emperor's bane still managed to glow a sanguine blood red hue and while Rider normally would have been able to avoid it, the combination of the Chaplet and his own pre-occupation with his Arrow made it all but impossible to even move slightly out of the way.

Even compounding this however, was that the Bane, despite being from a servant, was still steel and started conducting the lightning arcing everywhere, shielding Assassin from the now intense arc of lightning and turning it into a lightning rod against anything it planted itself in. Rider then released his arrow.

While Assassin figured this would be a powerful phantasm, he did not expect it to be as powerful as it was. The blast from it's release caused him to lose his footing a bit and while the Emperor's Bane would remain unhindered in its course, Assassin almost fell on his back, stumbling a bit, he jumped on top of the Manor and got behind it in order to let the Bane work its effects.

Something unexpected happened, however. The arrow didn't just go straight, it made a wide angle turn and started heading directly for Brutus. It wasn't stopping. It had locked onto him somehow and was headed directly for him! The size of the arrow did not help and while it was physical in nature, it was carrying all of the energy Clay had put into it. Assassin began running in the opposite direction to buy himself some time, he saw the arrow pass by Rider, a large amount of energy being aimed directly at where the Emperor's bane was from the arrow.

Assassin smirked a bit. The Emperor's bane was acting again as his own personal lightning rod and Rider would be the victim, compounding his own phantasm's electricity to what Assassin figured his current wound was. Still, the arrow was entirely unimpeded and came directly at assassin who activated his guise.

The arrow was mostly magical in nature, but Assassin himself was more than a little bit resistant to it. It came crashing into his right side, electricity burning hot, but the spell cast earlier by clay putting out any fires that could have started. It seared his flesh and Asssassin fell to the ground like a meteor leaving a gigantic hole in the turf. The now spent spear sized arrow falling close by. The only thing comforting Assassin from the intense pain was his knowledge Rider was probably in worse shape right about now.

Rider could barely move. It felt as though the weight of the world had been placed upon his shoulders, yet as broad as they were he still felt his legs shake under the pressure. His brow furrowed with frustration, struggling to gain footing against the Phantasm as it leeched upon his very being. That withered tree branch had certainly made a mess of things. The warrior's eyes shifted over to where his arrow had impacted something which he assumed was Assassin, yet nothing remained. So why did the phantasm persist? His mind was becoming clouded as it tried to piece together the exact chain of events that had placed him in the predicament...

"Withered Chaplet and Emperor's Bane!"

The ground had erupted into a pit of murky prana. The small, lifeless twig hadn't caught his attention until it had been too late. It crackled with an energy most foul, the stench of death and decay emanating from the area surrounding him and his master. As the aura of purple lightning and black sludge enveloped their position, Rider knew their only chance was for him to complete his attack. So he focused intently on his target, seeking him out within the chaos to obtain the link he would need for the shot to strike true.

Just before he loosed the arrow his eyes picked up the tiniest of glints that reflected the light his own arrow had created amongst the darkness of the Withering Chaplet. A blade was soaring through the air straight at him, red as the blood it sought to shed. With a near uncontrollable phantasm, bursting with energy in his clutches, the servant was well aware that he had no chance to move out of the way in time. There was one option, however. He kept his aim true and released the arrow, sending it on its path of retribution for the two phantasms Assassin had unleashed upon them. The backwash of force that bled from the arrow was intense, blowing Rider back as he had expected it to. The sword flew by, kissing his left bicep ever so cleanly as his body was spun around and sent hurtling backwards. The lightning from both phantasms were attracted to the blade, making it sing with reverberation as each new bolt was redirected to a different target. Luckily for Rider and Clay, it had caused them little consternation with the speed it was flying through the air at. If anything, Assassin was now disarmed of what one could only assume was his most potent weapons with his sword now firmly placed behind his two adversaries. As the giant ground to a halt his legs finally gave out and he dropped to one knee, breathing hard and trying to sort out his thoughts...

He could already feel the fogginess being cleared from his mind like a light had shone down upon it. The magical defenses Clay had invoked upon him the previous evening were beginning to work their magic, fending off the harmful effects of the two phantasms. The servant slowly rose to his feet, his body aching against the pull of the chaplet's spell. While Rider was aware it was foolish to strain himself after such a short amount of time since using a phantasm of that magnitude, he needed to keep on his feet and fighting in case Assassin tried another one of his tricks. However, he knew just who could assist him with such a task.

Bringing his left hand up to his mouth with thumb and forefinger pressed together, he whistling loudly into the night. The high pitched shout burst through the surrounding area, causing the creatures of the night to scatter about in fear of predators prowling about. Within those same surroundings came a blur of red that shot towards Rider in the blink of an eye. As the beast came to a full stop not inches before its master, it winded onto its hind legs, displaying its graceful but powerful beauty to all who beheld it. Not a hair was on its body was blemished with a colour other than its deep red coat and even deeper red mane that flowed like stalks of silk. Its whinny rang through the night before slamming its hooves into the ground, causing a small tremour of sheer power before snorting menacingly. He too was prepared for battle and Rider couldn't help but smile at his companion's eagerness.

"It seems I have kept you reigned in far too long for your liking, Red Hare," Rider cooed affectionately between strained gasps. "However, it is time we showed these peasants what a true warrior and his steed are capable of!"

The horse nodded excitedly before taking his master's queue as if it were only natural. Red Hare fluidly kneeled before his master and scooped him up onto his back before standing back up in one motion. The mounting was performed as though it had been practiced a thousand times, though in reality it was their bond as rider and mount that let them anticipate eachother's motions flawlessly in a completely improvised maneuver. Immediately Rider could feel the weight the chaplet had forced upon him suddenly become bearable. While his own movements still felt stiff it was muted compared to the lofty feeling his warhorse granted him. He felt more complete then ever astride Red Hare and it showed as his disposition went from agonized recovery to acute awareness. He had faced worse conditions than fatigue on the battlefield and with Red Hare assisting him he would persevere.

"We must be wary, brother. Our quarry can appear from the wind itself without warning. We must be vigilant."

Red Hare confirmed his understanding with a powerful neigh and began scanning the field with his master. The two worked in tandem with an efficiency that felt both drilled and natural. It was the perfect blend of practice and instinct that enabled them to cover all angles of the field at once. Each shifted with the other, transitioning positions with a grace so divine one would swear they were a two headed creature. It would prove difficult for Assassin to get by the two sentries rather than simply the one.

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