"Withered Chaplet and Emperor's Bane!"
Clay felt the effect of the Phantasm wash over him like a kick to the gut. With his prana drained, he had next to no recourse to physically resist its effects. Dropping to his knees, he let out a gasp, panting for breath. 'I... I can't move. I can't even feel my legs. What... what's going on?' Even breathing was a laborious task - he had to focus hard, forcing his fatigued lungs to continue their vital work.
He managed to force himself to fall back against the manor wall, albeit with great effort. Was that really it? One big spell, and he'd be out of the fight for good? Even weakened as he was, his expression twisted into one of pained despair... Until he began to feel a familiar thump against his chest. A warm glow he knew all too well.
Looking down, he saw the Shifting Storm begin to... well... shift. Much to his surprise, he could feel a current of prana move through it. Almost as though he had activated it. Almost as though...something were pulling the very lifeforce from his body, moving it through the gem as a result.
'So that's how this little trick works - pulling lifeforce from a victim, then sucking it in to parts unknown. A pity that it's competing with such a... voracious appetite. This may well be the first time this accursed stone's thirst for Od has worked IN my favor.'
He had practiced with it many times in his youth - gaining the ability to manipulate the artifact with no physical effort on his part. Taking in what little breath he could, he centered himself, focusing the entirety of his attention on the beating gemstone. It quickly responded to his mind's touch - and he felt the familiar sensation of insatiable hunger arise from within. It was tasting his Od, however little. It wanted more. It burnt for more. It NEEDED more.
But Clay still had his senses, however battered. This wasn't the first time he'd resisted its influence under duress, and it wouldn't be the last. Pushing aside the gem's will, he continued his work. He may not be able to stop Assassin's Phantasm from rendering him crippled...
But he could give himself a fighting chance, however weak, however slim. He could still assist Rider, and fulfill his duty as a Master.
With a low breath, he incanted. Two words, acknowledging their pact. Two words, to reach the distance. Four in total, he whispered in silence. With a hum, the gem responded, then complied. Clay could feel a small channel between Rider and himself open - then close. Casting his mind's eye to the stone around his neck, he felt the built current of prana disappear, having been sent to someone with more use for it.
'That will likely be the best I can do for a bit, Rider. Keep me alive another minute, and I might even be able to do it again.'
Assassin rose out of the crater he had made slowly. He looked to his right side and while it wasn't burned like he had expected, probably thanks to Clay's anti-fire spell, it was still in bad shape. He cracked a few ribs, his leg was hurting though still usable, and his right arm...well...that was a different story.
It seemed as if every single bone in that arm had been pulverized into a fine powder, though Assassin knew that wasn't the case. He took his arm and twisted it around, large cracks echoing through the manor. This would cut the pain largely, though that arm was out. Assassin wished he had a pizza right now, and Mordecai. Mordecai could heal this. Where was that guy anyway? Assassin shook his head and disappeared into the ground, heading around and popping up in the trees near his car. Looking out at Rider and clay he could see the Emperor's Bane had struck, even if it didn't plant itself. This was fine because the worst part of the bane wasn't that you get stabbed, it was the poison that came with it. Assassin could feel the poison in Rider's veins working its way. He might not know it yet, but Rider was in more trouble than he could imagine.
Assassin contemplated watching and waiting for the bane to take effect, but if Rider started to get a bad feeling he could end up leaving and that would be problematic. No, Assassin had to make it work faster, get Rider's heart beating. He had the way and the will, it was time to make magic happen. The solution was simple.
Brutus's car was still humming. He had left it on for a while and it was ready to get going. Knowing Rider, he doubted the guy would simply let him leave, but if he did, Assassin had a backup plan. Either way, he phased inside, jammed the accelerator so hard it wouldn't pop back up and wheeled it away from the manor. After that, he grabbed a small remote from the passenger's seat and phased out with it and into the ground. He then quickly gathered some distance and was a ways behind the manor, still able to clearly see the car make its getaway. By the time Rider caught up with it, the car would already be a ways out of the field of that blasted spell.
Mordecai, shortly after Gerald left, paced around his apartment, worried about his Brother, his Servant, and the asshole who was apparently living in his place now for whatever reason. Too many damn people for his liking.
'Should've stayed in America. Goddamn safe there. Could've turned down the risk to my life, but noooo, I've got to play hero. Lot of good that's doing.' Mordecai brought his hand to his forehead, trying to rub the beginnings of a head ache out. Ineffective.
Sighing, Mordecai flopped onto his couch, hopefully to sleep this crap off. Fishing into his pocket, he pulled out the Ambien he forgot he put in there.
'Convenient.' Mordecai smirked, downing a few and taking a sip of water. He dozed off quickly enough....
Mord sat up, breathing heavily. Gerald was back, watching TV.
"You alright, man?"
"Yeah, yes, I'll be fine... Aidan back yet?" Gerald shrugged, and Mordecai relaxed slightly, though he was still worried. Mostly over his servant.
"Mind if I borrow your car? I think Assassin's been out too long. Might need to save him." Gerald tossed him the keys, and Mordecai quickly left the room. He'd take a scenic route around the city, listening to big explosions to know where his friend was.
Meanwhile, back at the Park...:
The rotting army shambled forward, their lifeless, soul-wrenching moaning filling the air like a discordant choir. Encircled on all sides by towering walls of flame, their forms were covered in flickering light and shadow, lending their already inhuman appearance even more horror. Their corpses, all in various states of decay, plowed through dirt and clambered to the surface with ease, limbs loosely coated in strands of skin and muscle stretching towards their master's enemies. They wanted to reach them, wanted to grab them, wanted to drag them down. They wanted to slaughter them, and they could not, would not rest until their foes had fallen.
Beneath Archer's hood, a bushy, graying eyebrow flicked upward. "Really? This is what you're going with?"
Chuckling, the Servant strung another arrow to his bow, taking aim at the array of large, slow-moving targets lined up before him. "This is almost insulting," he muttered as he loosed the shaft, grinning in satisfaction as it tore through one of zombies' eyes. "I have been to Hell, and let me tell you, you have got it waaaaaaaay off."
The horde, though likely enough to strike utter horror and despair into any normal human, was slightly less effective against Archer. They couldn't really hurt him if they couldn't touch him, now could they? Unable to repress a laugh, the aged Servant danced around the battlefield, his feet nimbly keeping him out of reach of any foe. As he moved, he fired shot after shot from his bow, some going wide, most tearing into the zombies with lethal accuracy. When taking out their heads and hearts proved to be little more than a minor hindrance to the monsters, he took aim at their legs and knees. Even if it didn't finish them off, it was more than a little satisfying, watching them crawl around with missing legs.
Had he been alone, odds were Archer would have carried on until all the undead had been dealt with. As it was, however, he soon felt somebody, somebody quite alive and human, clutching at his cloak. "Scan the treeline. The enemy's Master is close. I'm certain of it."
"Mmmmmm..." Clicking his tongue, the Servant looked up, trying to decide if there was any merit in the lad's request. "Sorry, little Master," he replied, his sharp eyes trying, and failing, to pierce through the circle of hellfire that surrounded them, "but that's going to be easier said than done. Unless you could, oh I don't know... find some way of taking down this barrier, then odds are I won't be of much help in finding this other Master that you think is out there."
If his playful tone wasn't a dead giveaway, the shifty smile splayed across Archer's face made his unspoken words quite clear. "Let's see exactly what you and your Servant are capable of."
The look of sheer indignation on Dirk's face was like telling the child of a Forbes 500 lister that they'd be receiving a clod of dirt for Christmas. His jaw dropped open, an unconscious attempt to keep from biting his own tongue off as he gaped. "Unless I--what--I meant in the circle you damn--"
Clarity struck a hammerblow to the boy, and he shut off with a vitriolic glare as his only remaining communication with the Servant. Of course. What on earth had he been expecting, from any Servant but his own? He was hardly more trustworthy than the zombies. At least the zombies had no pretenses of friendliness. The one called Archer could turn on them at any moment, Orihara reminded himself. He couldn't afford to forget that. As long as he was on the subject, mentally, he stored away the reminder the clue that the old bowman had given. Whoever he was, he'd been to hell, and presumably back. However hell was defined in this man's culture. He'd have to do research when he got back home. Start with Orpheus. He seemed a likely candidate.
This flash of thought occurred in but a second. The rest of his body was honed in on the rage at Archer's challenge. If Dirk wanted his help, the Master would have to provide an escape in return.
So that's what you want, bastard? Fine. I'll do it. Watch me.
With renewed purpose and vigor in his body he turned back towards the flame... and promptly stumbled on his wrenched knee. Only a lucky save from the lady spirit came between his face and the hard ground. "Watch yourself, Master, you are injured."
He shook her off with a thrust of his arm and returned to his feet. "I'm fine. Focus on the zombies, and I might stay that way. Educe Arms."
A long wooden shaft with a polished black knob at the end mapped itself out, and rested in Dirk's hands. Primarily, it was a cane, though if the Servants failed their job the blade concealed within would do quite nicely at self-defense. Dirk carefully hobbled over a few branches and knotted roots, coming within a dozen feet of the horrifically high wall of flame. He felt roasted just standing near it, and he was desperately wishing he hadn't lost his shades. But he had a job now... No. Not a job. A challenge. A bloody insult, even, and he intended to prove to this Servant that he was no Master to be trifled with.
"All right, Phantasm..." he muttered. "What makes you tick?"
He inched a bit closer, and found the heat overwhelming. He backed away and limped to his right, where the flames seemed a tad cooler. Perhaps there wasn't as great a concentration here. That might be key to their escape. His eyes ceased moving entirely, pupils growing wide as he silently absorbed the information of the flames. Magic or not, fire was fire, data to be analyzed and calculated. Everything has its weakness. What weakness did this wall possess? He considered using Round Table Sundering. One of Saber's most powerful Phantasms, it could surely rend a hold in the ground great enough to wrench the flames apart... But closer investigation led to his heart sinking a distance. Dropping to his knees and planting his cheek against the ground, he had a low enough view to confirm his suspicions: the flames' origins were not on the ground, but a sliver of space above it. Demolishing the earth would have no effect.
Well, perhaps we could sunder the flames themselves?... No, that's STUPID! Flames are fleeting, and aren't atomically connected on a reliable level. Not reliable enough to sunder it properly, anyway. At best, we'd get an inch of free space that will be instantly filled back up. That won't work... but SOMETHING has to. Damn, maybe we could just wait the stupid thing out? But with Caster, that could take all night. Plenty of time for even more Servants to stumble onto our fight, further lowering our chances of escape... Not like I'd let Archer make his challenge unheeded, either.
He clambered back up to his feet, a popping in his knee filling his frayed mind with torment and discomfort. Something had to be done, and soon. If the Sundering couldn't part the flames... it could still part the earth. Saber could construct a tunnel, and they could escape using that. The spark in his mind flared with hope, only to fizzle out almost immediately. These zombies were rising from the earth. There were likely more. Going beneath the ground would be playing directly into Caster's hands. He had no intention to be made a meal of today, which forced Dirk to file that thought away. It was certainly a strategy to remember for future use. But not what he needed.
Dirk scrambled, taking a further step right, avoiding a falling, burning branch. The flames spreading from a part of the wall had engulfed a nearby tree, and the grass was shriveling up into black flecks of spent life. He let out a deep breath, thanking whatever spirit was watching out for him that he wasn't clocked over the head by the thing. He gazed back at the fire, watching its consuming flames spread forward and into the circle. The vegetation crisping over as the oxygen and water it thrived on were denied. He stepped again, neglecting to mimic the motion with his cane. A jolt of pain sent him buckling to his knees, and the pain from that impact put him face down on the ground. Face down and nose caressing a small flower. His eyes slowly opened, jittering with pain as his nostrils neglected the smell of smoke, just for a brief moment, for the fresh scent of a flower. Dirk took a deep breath, body shaking as his body rose back to its feet. One, two, three even breaths before he growled, "I wont stay down. There's a secret to this wall. Everything has a weakness."
He glared at the wall, feeling his entire consciousness take a backseat to his eyes. In a madcap flurry of gathering, they darted across every inch of the wall. Analyzing. Comparing, contrasting, and consuming information. There was a secret, and he would find it.
The two servants decided to tie their fate together in order to flee the ring of fire. Maria stood next to Hansen when they huddled around Caster and watched the fire consume more and more of the park. The ring of fire began to tighten and encroach more on fertile ground, and the lush environment proved fine for the fire. It didn't matter much to the flames as they were mostly moved by Caster and not physics. The two servants will have to face the fire which will burn them to a crisp if they do not find a way out of Caster's trap quickly.
The hot temperature of the air around the two was making them uncomfortable. They could only imagine how the servants and single master felt. Maria was relatively safe underneath her enchanted robes but Hansen was feeling the full force of Caster's phantasm. Maria saw Caster's blue eyes pop out at the sight of ungodly fires surrounding the park. He seemed pleased with the flames and into some sort of a day-dream.
"Caster, we have to improvise. We didn't expect another servant. We have to leave here, but I want you to keep the flames going. I have an idea". Maria spoke eloquently and with that she sealed the fate of the two servants. Caster's dream was burst and he begrudgingly agreed. Something in that park brought memories to his old mind.
The dead holding Sophie burst from beneath the ground and pulled her up besides Caster. He stood over the shaking body of the still-alive girl and stared at Caster for his approval.
"You did well for us, thank you". Caster tilted his head forward in gratitude to the dead body. A semblance of a smile appeared on his face as the spirit inhabiting it rejoiced in the idea of his master thanking him.
"You-", Maria pointed at the dead body, "-I need you to go to the arena and take this". Maria handed the walking dead man a small bag and sent him on his way. She tried to hold Sophie up but couldn't until Hansen helped her carry the girl. Caster made a path through the fire behind him and outside of the ring. He looked at the flames for a few seconds before a cry from his master dragged him away. The four left the scene without much to say. Caster was angry at the remarks of that insolent knight saber, and the surprise arrival of archer ruined their plans. Nonetheless, he trusted his master's ingenuity enough to follow her. She proved herself quite clever when she helped his creatures in the battle and nearly leveled the playing field.
At the middle of the ring, a woman dressed in white eerily resembling Sophie walked through the flames without any disturbance. She stopped when the two servants noticed her and spoke up in a loud yet gentle voice.
"Dear Spirits, you have been chosen to compete for the heart of this fair lady. May the winner of this fight to the death win me, and win life - for you will not be able to leave this inferno until one of you is dead". The pale woman held a handkerchief in her hand and showed it to the two of the spirits before letting it fall to the ground.
While the two servants were fighting Caster's summoned spirits they neglected to notice the rise of the fire around them. The magical flames of Caster's phantasm were consuming the ring and growing the more biological material it ate through. Perhaps the next enemy they will face will not be the zombies or demons of caster - or not even each other, but the fire itself that was all around them, slowly closing in on them at an alarming rate.
"I can hold her on my own". Hansen took the injured Sophie and held her with both of his hands as he proudly marched forward even though his back bothered him. He won't let his fragile sister carry the injured girl by herself, and he couldn't just leave her there or wake her up. He held her tightly and corrected his walk every time he swayed slightly to either side.
"We can't assume them dead". Caster remarked. He was still disturbed by the poisonous words her opponent threw at his face.
Maria was lagging behind the two. She had to pull a cigarette out from her bag and light it before catching up to the two. She inhaled the smoke and gently pushed it out.
"I haven't seen you smoke in years". Hansen said pass the passed out girl on his hands.
"You haven't seen me in years, period." Maria replied with a scathing remark. Hansen looked away from his sister and concentrated on the road ahead.
"We're taking the girl to your apartment, am I correct?". Hansen asked his two companions.
"You are taking Sophie there. Tell her you are my brother, and that you came here to rescue her. We could bring her to the judge later, but now we don't have much time. We have something else to do beforehand". Maria placed her keys on top of Sophie and bid her brother goodbye.
Why is she leaving me with this young girl... damn it sister, is this a test of yours? I should have taken your role myself.
Hansen was sitting in his sister borrowed apartment and nervously tapping his fingers at the dining table as he watched the German girl lay down right in the living room. She was knocked out cold on the sofa and before Hansen could stop his sister she was only gone. He only received some information about the girl so she won't panic when she sees him and not recognize Sophie. He put some water in the kettle and hoped to drink some of the local green tea. Perhaps he could make the best of this trip, even if the trip possibly means the death of his sister.
"Send in a small one". Maria suggested Caster to summon one of his demons for a quick reconnaissance mission. The little devil popped out of thin air and ran straight into the abandoned motel his sibling visited not too long ago. Maria couldn't risk trapping herself into a trap or two, but the demon was disposable. Caster seemed apathetic and detached throughout their entire walk to the boy master's hideout. Maria leaned in closer to Caster and grabbed his robes, then pulled them down a couple of times to get his attention.
"We set up a trap for the boy and finish him. I assume you can still call in one of them, is that correct?". Maria asked curiously. Caster nodded in agreement but didn't respond.
"Good. I want to see Gabriel ready. There are also a few other things I need..."
The last of the zombies fell without too much trouble; the combined efforts of Archer, Saber, and Saber's Kin had proven more than a match for the shambling, albeit tenacious, army. Still, the Servants' troubles weren't over just yet, as evidenced by the ever encroaching walls of flames. They may have bested the summoned creatures, sure, but Caster and his (or possibly her, Archer supposed) Master still posed quite the threat.
However, it seemed as though the ever rising temperatures weren't quite enough to upset the bowman's cool. Resting his weapon against his shoulder, Archer leaned against one of the few unharmed trees left within the ring of fire, a faint smile still splayed across his face as he watched Dirk appraise the flames. Heh, apparently the Master meant to find a way out of the trap using only his head, instead of recklessly charging in or resorting to simple brute force. Not bad, not bad...
The Servant's musings were interrupted, however, by the entrance of a beautiful women, clothed in the purest white.
"Dear Spirits, you have been chosen to compete for the heart of this fair lady. May the winner of this fight to the death win me, and win life - for you will not be able to leave this inferno until one of you is dead".
...It was a solid ten seconds before Archer responded. Unless you counted squeezing his bow until his fingers turned white as a response.
"You know," he began, his voice cool and oddly devoid of its earlier merriment, "this is all starting to get rather bothersome. Sure, it was interesting at first, getting to play around with all of your little friends. But this? Offering yourself up as a prize to whichever one of us is moronic enough to waste their time killing the other? That's nothing short of insulting.
"Oi, Saber." Taking a few steps into the clearing, towards the other Servant and the woman in white, Archer continued to speak. "Do you have any intention of listening to her?"
The knight's reply was strong and sure, his voice tinged by righteous indignation and fury. "I long ago took a vow of purity. Only once have I ever betrayed that vow, and even then, it was under the influence of a powerful spell, and a woman many times this one's beauty. This is not even near that power,little more than a weak shadow. She may appear to be the Master Sophie, but her mind has been poisoned if it is truly her."
Saber turned on his heel, towards where he believed the center of the fire ring to be.
"Caster! You and your Master have played your tricks long enough! You have lost what little power you had to begin with, and I give you one last chance! Leave now, so that I might fight you another night, or die again until the next Holy War!"
"Still offering them mercy?" Archer couldn't quite hide his surprise at the knight's choice. "Hmmph. Each to his own, I suppose.
"But anyway," he continued, striding towards the woman in white, a flash of steel appearing in his left hand. "You've got his answer now." Before the woman even had a chance to react, the bowman thrust a short sword into her chest, twisting the blade to further worsen the wound. "And now you've got mine. I'd advise running as well, by the way. My bow has a very, very long range."
Leaving the blade buried in the girl's chest, Archer turned back to face his new allies. "Hey, little Master," he shouted, making his way over towards the prone lad, "any luck yet? I'd like to get out of here before being burned alive."
Leaving the blade buried in the girl's chest, Archer turned back to face his new allies. "Hey, little Master," he shouted, making his way over towards the prone lad, "any luck yet? I'd like to get out of here before being burned alive."
"Don't waste your energy on that girl," came a call through the burning woods. "She's just another illusion. The real Sophie--and her ally, the master of Caster--left some time ago."
Dirk squinted as the bright orange flames threatened to blind him. "If I can help it, they'll come to regret that."
As the fire roared, the Orihara found himself scrambling for cover. The desperate attempts from Caster to spawn conflict only spurred him on, not to mention the motivation to escape the growing heat directly in front. His skin felt ready to drip right off his bones. And yet he did not blink. His dry eyes felt ready to crisp over. They could be served with tartar sauce at this point. He'd watched the fire. Everything seemed uniform. No faltering flames, no uneven distribution. Not even a damned color swap so he knew the hotspots from the cooler zones. His knee ached terribly in the shifting temperatures, ready to pop like a kernel of corn. Sweat poured down his brow, but it was dwindling fast. He suspected he was simply running out of fluids at this point.
"Keep... looking," came the pained whisper from his dry throat. His body heard the order, but refused to comply. A shaking in his legs preceded the total failure of his muscles, and he collapsed to the ground, begging for respite. His hands reached out, propping himself above the lush green grass. He took in a ragged breath, and prepared to push himself to his feet once more.
Lush grass. His eyes widened and took in the eureka moment in all its glory. His eyes followed the trail from his position back to the roaring wall of fire. A line of clover and green blades went right up to the point where the flames spouted half an inch from the earth. There they sat, unburnt and pristine. On either side where their brethren were wreathed in fire, these were untouched. Dirk almost shoved himself onto his feet as his racing mind creaked back into motion, piecing together the evidence.
Of course. It makes so much sense when I see it... If the Master is an illusionist... then so is the Servant. They do say that Servants are chosen by compatibility, when there is no artifact to catalyze the summoning, don't they? This wall is broken up into segments. Some burn, but others...
He tugged at his scarf, ripping it from his neck and wrapping it around his hand. He leaned back before putting his weight into the swing. The woolen article snapped out from his reach, directly into the flames... and came back unscathed.
Others are as fake as the demons she sent against us. Same concept, more or less. Can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner.
"Archer! Saber!" he called out in a croaking, wretched voice. As the Servants came to his flank, they found a boy whose nerves were steeled even in the blistering heat. He pointed directly at the wall, at a very specific point.
"I've found a gate. We leap through that section of flame, approximately five feet wide. That's the exit."
He found his Servant looking at him uncertainly.
"I'm certain of it," asserted Dirk, his voice rising just a bit in indignation.
Saber nodded, not one to go against the word of the only man who could get them out of this oppressive place. On his command the Servant's daughter scooped Dirk up in a bridal carry, letting him dangle there as they approached the flame. Archer went first. "Up and over, then!"
He took off at a running pace, hopping up into the air and tucking into a somersault. The others bit their lips, save Dirk, as they watched him approach the flames... and pass through unsinged.
"Saber, you're next."
The wounded Servant obeyed and launched himself through the fire, followed immediately by the lady spirit and Dirk. The Master, for a single second, genuinely thought he was going to die. Getting through that place directly between the roaring flames seemed like passing through the gates of hell, into a terrible pit of fire. But in a moment that passed, and came through to the other side refreshed and born anew. The spirit ran after Saber and Archer, who put quite some distance between themselves and the spreading flames, regrouping at the edge of the park.
As Dirk was let down to his feet, he gave a victorious smirk at the man who had challenged him to grasp victory and escape the wretched place. Orihara had delivered. Archer gave him a cocky glare for only a moment before withering into an amused grin. "...Impressive, little Master. You did not disappoint." The man straightened his back out from the hunch he'd been in, feeling the bones pop as he got a chance to really relax. Dirk, however, leaned heavily on his cane and continued to stare right into the soul of this Servant.
"Don't get comfortable yet," Orihara warned. "The enemy Master escaped, with her Servant untouched. Not to mention stealing my prisoner." He gave an accusing glare at Saber after ending that particular complaint. "So we're right about back at square one. Unless you want to go through this ordeal every night, those two must be eliminated immediately. Well, Archer? Care to wring a little more out of this truce and put another notch on your bow? You do owe me, I'd think, for guiding you out of that mess."
The kettle finished boiling the water in it when Hansen first heard Sophie wake up. He took out two cups from the cupboard, placed them on the counter and started looking for any container for dried coffee. In the meanwhile Sophie was trying to get over the shock that she experienced a short time ago. Hansen looked down at her all the way from the kitchen and smirked.
"Do you want coffee?". Hansen asked the girl in German. He found some foreign brand in a metal box and opened it. The smell indicated it was of poor quality but still good enough for this situation. He filled up his own cup with black coffee.
"What happened, wait - where am I!?". Sophie jumped up from the sofa in a single movement. The girl was hit with a throbbing headache which only intensified when she threw herself up to her feet and staggered away from the sofa.
"I helped Maria and rescued you from the battle. That boy master wanted to kill you... not a gentleman, not at all". Hansen put down his cup of coffee and walked quickly to Sophie. He held out his hand and offered it to her.
"Maria was in the park... I can't remember what happened". Sophie tripped and nearly fell when Hansen grabbed her and helped her back on the couch. She held her head and tried to work through the pain of her injuries.
"I'm her brother, Hansen. I'm sorry for your loss". He walked away from Sophie and returned to the kitchen and then repeated himself from earlier, "Do you want coffee?", he asked. The girl didn't respond. Hansen was appalled at the poor excuse of black coffee when he drank a few sips and then returned the foul thing on the counter.
"My loss... No, I can't feel him, I can't feel berserker-". Sophie looked down on her hand and saw its three signals were slowly fading.
"He was killed by Archer, a nasty surprise attack. Listen, girl, I'll drive you to the church tomorrow. Now it's too dangerous to go outside, and I told Maria I'll keep you safe for now". Hansen walked back to the living room and sat next to Sophie. His left hand stroked her right shoulder and he hoped he could calm the girl down. She managed to pull out of the fight and keep her life, a feat not many accomplished in the past. "Coffee?". He whispered.
The girl nodded in agreement. "...with milk and sugar, three... and, err, thank you".
Maria and Caster had reached the place Caster's demon last found the boy master. Maria had hoped to set up an ambush there and wait for the boy so she could seal the deal, assuming he would have successfully escaped Caster's fiery prison. She forced open the front door and walked inside. Suddenly a candle ignited in the darkness.
"They have escaped. I am disabling the phantasm". Caster muttered when he walked behind Maria.
"How did they get away?". Maria asked her servant while she looked at her surroundings.
"-jumped through the flames". He answered even before Maria finished her sentence. She watched the flames for a few seconds before putting on her glasses and noticing the prana coming from it. She looked around and saw another source up above, and curiously three other sources below her.
"Is there something wrong?".
"No. It was just old memories that bothered me".
She weighed her options before turning to Caster with an idea.
"We can't fight them again tonight; it's too risky against two servants. How are you feeling about setting the place on fire?". She asked Caster mischievously.
A wide smile slowly spread across Caster's face.
The Master and Servant were walking away from the motel after Caster set it on fire. Caster knew that since the two Servants were already out they will probably follow them. The burning motel could be something to slow them down or stop them completely while the two make their escape.
In the quiet apartment, the smell of fresh coffee teased the senses of those present. A beautiful aroma that covered the scent of dried blood. Hansen sat next to the dazed lady Master, offering her a cup of coffee.
The girl nodded in agreement. "...with milk and sugar, three... and, err, thank you."
And then the peaceful air was shattered. A chilling voice, disturbingly calm, came from behind them. "You know, that sounds lovely. Mind making me a cup?" The pair turned in their seats to see the man they least wanted to be standing under the arch to the hallway. Dirk Orihara sans coat rested his right shoulder against the wall, hands tightly gripping the stocks of both taser pistols, one aimed at the head of each of his foes. His face was coated in soot, grime, and his hands and side were caked in blood. Yet his eyes were as serene as a summer breeze, and the barest amusement touched his lips. They had been outmaneuvered.
On command, the Heroic Spirit coalesced from his hidden state, reappearing directly in front of the both of them. Grasping his sword, he held it up in a position to swipe, and end both of them with one stroke. Regret and shame plastered his face. "I warn you both, I do not wish to end your lives. Do not force me."
"So... this is her safehouse?" Dirk asked, looking around the apartment. "Not bad, for what a foreigner could scrape together. Not up to my standards, but I suppose it's got merit. At least your friend will take a good blow when I wipe it off the map..."
Some time earlier...
Outside of the park, roaring flames belched smoke into the air as Dirk examined the area. With a wave, Saber dismissed his daughter, to return to the fray at a different time. Archer watched the two curiously, to see what they might do. Dirk held one arm folded onto his other, which pressed down on the cane to keep him balanced. His brow furrowed, he pondered the withdrawing sensation on his hand. His Command Seals.
"So?" asked his Servant. "Any clue what they're up to?"
"They're on the move." Dirk smacked his lips together, trying to get a little moisture within them. "Both of them. But in opposite directions. One I believe must be headed south. And the other..."
He spun on his heel as he understood the motives of Caster and his magus. Off in the distance, a second blooming cloud was rising from the horizon. Smaller than the one adjacent to the trio, but arguably far more damning. "...Shit. The Magus and her Servant are the motel. They're burning it down."
Saber wasted no time in placing his hand upon the pommel of his sword, drawing up beside his little lord and preparing for combat. "Shall we pursue them then? I believe they need a lesson on the sanctity of one's home."
Saber was surprised to be cut off, Dirk throwing up a hand to bar his passage, no hesitation. He shook his head at the knight. "No, Saber. The fight with Caster is already over, tonight. Even if we got there, we wouldn't be in time to save anything of worth. We're going after a different target."
Saber--and Archer as well--looked oddly at the young boy. "You mean?.."
"Yeah," he confirmed, turning back the way he'd been looking before. "I felt at least one Master moving in the direction of the hotel. That means that woman and Caster are there right now, wreaking havoc. What that also means is that whoever's taking Sophie isn't even a Servant. Just a single magus. Taking on that other pair would be a risk... but we can get useful info out of whoever this is."
Saber immediately felt disgust at what Dirk was suggesting. It was a low blow to go after such comparatively defenseless foes. But with the one called Archer present, he held his tongue. No need to show the discord amongst the pair.
The dilemma was solved quickly, with Archer nodding as if coming to a conclusion, and stretching his arms as he took a few steps away. "I see, so that's your plan, little Master? Well, as fun as this has been... I don't think I have the patience to stick around for that. Have fun with your little hunt, but I'm going to be on my way for now."
Dirk cast a betrayed--though not surprised--glare at the gray-haired fellow. "I got you out of that fire. And I don't do charity."
The boisterous man threw out a glorious guffaw, hands on his hips and chest thrust out as his thunderous voice boomed in laughter. "So you don't, little Master, so you don't! In that case, should fate perchance place us as pursuers of a common goal again, consider it a favor owed. But honestly, if I do owe you anything, would you wish to waste it on pursuing a target as below you as this? Save your blessings for when you truly need them."
And in a flash, the Spirit was gone, quickly moving towards wherever he desired to be next. Dirk, frustrated though he was, could see the wisdom in the kook's words. Slowing down his breathing he nodded in the direction, south, that he believed Sophie had gone. "This will be easy enough with or without him. Get to high ground, Saber, and seek them out. From there, we'll pursue them to whatever hideout they're heading for."
I already know they're not heading for the church. They're moving in the wrong direction. So if I'm lucky, they really will just take me to Caster's safehouse.
With the strength and agility of Saber, climbing a nearby building took only seconds. The knight clambered onto the roof and set himself one foot on the raised edge, peering out over the southern half of Miyama. A Servant's senses were sharper than any man's, by great magnitudes, and could perceive details from great distances. And sure enough, hustling down a street, past the bridge, he could see a strange man. And along with him, Sophie. Mission accomplished. He hopped back to the street below, where his Master waited, and pointed in the direction he'd spied them.
"They're over there, Lord Dirk. Past the ruins of the bridge and moving... fairly, considering the state they are in."
"Excellent." Motioning with his hand, Saber knelt to allow to boy to climb upon his shoulders. Saber hoisted him up, and began at a fast trot in their direction. Dirk nodded in approval. "Keep out of sight, but stay on their tail. Once we see where they stop, I'll give you the details on the next step."
Saber acknowledged his order and kicked up the speed a little, jogging after the retreating magus and his precious cargo.
On a rooftop, across from the second story window of an apartment block
Dirk crouched, for the most part out of sight as he quietly waited for his Servant's return. On cue, Saber re-appeared to him, also keeping low to avoid being spotted.
"Well?" the boy asked.
"Neither senses my presence when in Spirit Form, Lord Dirk. Topfer is just beginning to wake. The back of the sofa she is on faces the hall to a bedroom, with a window on this side of the building. That is your likeliest point of entry."
"All right then. We have to hurry, Sophie might be out of it now but she'll notice my presence before too long. Can you make the jump with me on your back?"
Saber just smiled. "You underestimate me, Master." He held up a finger and put it close to the boy's face. "But promise me one thing: Lady Topfer is a non-combatant now. We are simply removing her from a position where she could be used against us. Promise that you shall not harm her."
Dirk's face soured, and he rolled his eyes. "If she doesn't resist, then fine. Let's just get going."
Setting Dirk on his back again, and making sure to time his leap to when neither of the pair in the apartment looked his way, Saber crossed the gap between the two buildings effortlessly. He came down above the window, arms and legs sprawled awkwardly to keep traction as he slid down. When the opportunity arose Dirk moved off of Saber's back and set himself on the windowsill. Saber disappeared once more, moving back into position. Crouched down, body aching, Dirk considered what he could use. The window did not seem to possess any magecraft sealing it. That just left the lock. He almost laughed.
"Gradation Air," he whispered, a crowbar appearing in his hands. With what little leverage he could find, he pulled up on the window, forcing it up an inch. A second pull gave three more, a third five. With a final pull he opened the window as far as it would go, leaving him unhindered in approaching.
Dirk slunk into the room, removing his boots to walk more softly. The door was closed, presumably leading to the hallway Saber had told him of. He approached it, putting his ear to the wood and listening to what was happening outside.
"Maria was in the park... I can't remember what happened." Sophie tripped and nearly fell when Hansen grabbed her and helped her back on the couch. She held her head and tried to work through the pain of her injuries.
In that moment, Dirk hoped that neither was looking his way. He took the scuffle of what was definitely Sophie falling over to twist the knob gently, pulling the door open. To his relief, it was not a loud knock, and the door glided smoothly over the carpeting at his feet. It swung inwards to the bedroom, and when given enough space to comfortably move, he whispered once more. "Gradation Air."
Hiding the shimmer of air and light underneath his heavy coat, he now held in his hand a mirror. Carefully, he put it just so slightly around the corner of the door as to see what was happening.
"My loss... No, I can't feel him, I can't feel Berserker--" Sophie looked down on her hand and saw its three signals were slowly fading.
"He was killed by Archer, a nasty surprise attack. Listen, girl, I'll drive you to the church tomorrow. Now it's too dangerous to go outside, and I told Maria I'll keep you safe for now." Hansen walked back to the living room and sat next to Sophie. His left hand stroked her right shoulder and he hoped he could calm the girl down.
Dirk nodded to himself, dismissing the mirror and retrieving both of his tasers from their spots in his coat. He slipped the knuckles onto his hands as well, but then removed the rest of the coat. It was too bulky to move so stealthily in. Wielding his weapons, he quietly snuck into the hall, moving with even and soft steps on the carpeting as he drew up the hallway and closer to his prey. Only four feet away now, at best, he leaned more comfortably against the wall and held out his weapons, waiting for the cue to begin the fun.
"Coffee?" He whispered.
Hansen and Sophie were surrounded. On the one side stood Saber, ready to strike. And behind them Dirk Orihara, coldly holding a thousand volts of pain in his palms. He moved from the wall, moving a little closer. The tasers were no more than a foot from the heads of them both now. He began speaking in his inappropriately smooth tone.
"Let me lay out the situation for you. It doesn't take much lateral thinking to figure out you," he emphasized as he pressed a taser to the back of Hansen's neck. "were the interloper who thought he'd try and get in my mind. I'll be frank: try any of that again, and I'll know what you're doing. I'll pull this trigger, and you'll be on the floor, foaming at the mouth, wishing you were dead. And then I'll grant your wish. Even if you fool me, you won't fool my Servant. Snicker-snack, off with your head."
"And you," he continued, pressing down on Sophie now. "I remember your tricks at the park. Good ones, too. You can alter the earth beneath someone's feet to screw with their balance and momentum. Powerful stuff. Not so much good on plush carpeting over wood, though, is it? So I'll give you the same deal. Stay still, and do exactly as I tell you, and you don't get the wrath of Zeus on an express ticket down your spine."
The room floated in terrible, mind-fraying silence for a brief moment. Dirk let it linger as long as he could, savoring it.
"Any questions before we begin?"
I might just get out of this alive with Maria and I helped a poor girl... This isn't as bad as I imagined it to be.
It was then that two visitors decided to show up. One of them snuck up behind them and was noticed when it was too late to react and the other appeared out of thin air.
"Let me lay out the situation for you. It doesn't take much lateral thinking to figure out you, were the interloper who thought he'd try and get in my mind. I'll be frank: try any of that again, and I'll know what you're doing. I'll pull this trigger, and you'll be on the floor, foaming at the mouth, wishing you were dead. And then I'll grant your wish. Even if you fool me, you won't fool my Servant. Snicker-snack, off with your head."
The Taser was pressed hard against Hansen neck when the boy spoke up. He couldn't have imagined such a scenario to take place. His heart sank when he heard the boy knew of his main abilities.
"Any questions before we begin?"
Hansen blinked a few times before finally allowing the situation to sink in. The master and servant he fought in the park were here, in his safe-house, speaking complete and utter rubbish.
"Sophie, would you kindly tell me why is this sociopath holding an electroshock weapon at my head?". Hansen calmly asked Sophie who seemed to be still shocked from the sudden appearance of her opponent.
"Y-You don't understand Japanese?". She whispered to Hansen in German.
"Had I known I wouldn't have asked you. I never intended to be in this grail war, I came to save my sister". Hansen stopped himself from going any further about himself and slightly turned his head back at Sophie.
"What did he say?". He asked her more assertively.
"He said not to move and not to use magic, or else he will shock us. Why is he still after me, oh god - he is going to kill me, isn't he!?". Sophie's speech sped up as she fumbled through the words. Her heart was pounding at an ever increasing speed. She started shaking as she hunched over forward and tried to calm herself down, with no success. Hansen moved his hand over to Sophie and grabbed her right thigh, the pain jostling the girl back to the room she was sitting in.
How the hell did he find me... I have to tell Caster... I can't die in this shit country...
"Try and relax, Sophie, please. I promise you Maria will get here, just... just give him a message, ok?". Hansen spoke softly to the poor girl.
"Tell him I don't understand Japanese. I won't use my magic. Just ask him what he wants, if he wanted to kill us he would have done it already... or maybe he just wants to see us beg". Hansen felt the master was getting inpatient with the two hostages exchanging words in German. Sophie nodded slightly.
"He... He doesn't understand you, Dirk. What do you want from us?!". Sophie raised her voice at her kidnapper. She was mad at him for hurting her so badly during the fight, and even trying to kill her later on.
Orihara quietly listened to the both of them speaking in hushed tones, in a language he did not understand. His cold, half-lidded eyes scanned from Sophie, as she explained the language barrier, to Hansen, who seemed both frustrated and rather worried. Dirk slowly nodded. "...All right then."
With a deft motion, Dirk bent his hand buried his knuckle into Hansen's neck. In only a fraction of a second, a devastating bolt of electricity jolted through his nervous system, cut off right at the crescendo as Dirk withdrew, replacing the taser at the back of his neck. He glared at Sophie and instructed her, "Tell him that was for being a bad little hostage, and moving when he didn't have permission. No touching."
And then he did it again, holding it there for a full second this time. Pain and discomfort ravaged his body in that instant. Dirk pulled his knuckles away again. This time, he almost thought he saw smoke rising from the flesh. He pressed the taser a little harder on Sophie again. "And tell him that was for trying to hold a conversation in a language his captor doesn't speak."
Once she'd done so he nodded. "All right then. A language barrier. Normally that would be a problem... but as it happens I possess a Servant. Saber, tell me everything they said. Every word."
Obediently, Saber recited the conversation of Sophie and Hansen back to his Lord, in Japanese, down to the pauses and stutters. Dirk was silent for a moment, savoring the new influx of information. "Well well... a sister, huh? Now that's certainly interesting. Topfer, translate this--and remember, Saber speaks your language, so don't try and sneak anything else in: 'First of all, no help is coming. Right now, Caster and her Master are in the process of burning down a little motel on the far side of Fuyuki City. It will be some time before they're done, I reckon. Besides, it's not like you'd want Maria to walk into this hornet's nest, correct? After all... she's your sister, right?."
Thousands of volts went through Hansen's flesh in lightning speed, nearly turning the back of his neck into a medium done steak. It shocked his entire body and threw it for a spin which he desperately tried to control to avoid even more punishment. He didn't even know why he was hit, he didn't use any magic on the boy and did as Sophie told him. The servant spoke, then the Master, followed by the frightened Sophie who tried to speak with the injured Hansen.
"I'm so sorry he did it to you, Hanse. He said... he said Maria was away and can't help us. He said not to talk in German or t-touch me like you... what you did earlier..." the girl was struggling to keep up the translating work. Hansen tried to breathe deep breaths and relax his muscles as some experienced spontaneous spasms. The two could hear a distant police siren. Hansen was checking to see where his limit was.
"Tell him I can't speak no other language but German!". He nearly snapped, raising his tone and turning his head towards Sophie. The girl was startled and tried to convey his message as quickly as she could, speaking in Japanese and accidentally mispronouncing a few words.
"He said he can't speak anything but German, please don't hurt him! He's not a master... he saved me and was going to give me to the judge!". Sophie frantically tried to explain Hansen and plea Dirk for some mercy. She noticed the electric jolts took a toll on him, a feeling she felt as well not too long ago.
Bastards are speaking Japanese, yet don't know I can understand them. Where the hell are Maria and Caster, I can't end it like this... this crazy kid is going to kill me for nothing
"Ask him what he wants, and tell him... no, just ask him". Hansen considered offering him up on the altar of sacrifice for a mere second but quickly retreated. He wanted to save that girl, but he wanted to be with his family even more. She should die instead of him for all that he cares.
Dirk raised an eyebrow that conveyed an expression that seemed more confused than anything. "I know he's not a Master," he explained. "But he's still a participant in this war. When you enter the Holy Grail War, you're betting on your life. Master, Servant, or otherwise. And I shocked him because he spent more time talking than he needed to to get his point across. I don't need him rambling on and wasting my time. I just want answers."
Sophie felt the taser dig a little deeper into her neck. "Now, go ahead and tell him what I just said. And then I want him to tell me all the details of his Illusion Magecraft. If I think he's lying... this conversation will be over. And so will he."
Sophie stared at the young man with desperate eyes. She understood everything he said, but she worried she might see a man die in front of her today. She swallowed her spit and nodded as Dirk finished speaking.
"He asks you to tell him the details of your, err, how do you say... fake - no, illusion magic. He says not to lie or he-", Sophie paused for a few moments before forcing herself to continue, "-kills y-you".
Hansen felt some hope was still out there. If he could prolong the conversation then surely his sister could find him and stop this mad master, but for now he would have to tell him his secrets. It doesn't matter - he could easily explain it to him as if he explains it to a first year student. The rudimentary knowledge wouldn't serve the boy any purpose in the future against the two sibling's powerful spells.
"I understand. How should I put this, I don't know. The illusions work differently from each other. There are groups that define each kind, and a different way of working with them. They also have different ways to freeing your mind from them... easiest is like waking up from a dream. You can get kicked out of it when someone else snaps you out of it". Hansen spoke quickly and realized Sophie was barely following. He repeated himself again, this time only the last sentence the boy was looking for. Sophie then tried to translate what he said the best she could have.
Dirk was silent as Sophie explained what Hansen was saying. A nod from Saber confirmed that she was being truthful, and a few bursts of speech clarified what she missed. A tone of disappointment was in his words, "So that's how it's going to be. I suppose you did answer my question..."
The knuckles came back. Two full seconds, counted by Dirk, barely audible over his victim's screams. He finally gave Hansen a moment's rest, pulling the weapon back from his searing flesh.
"...Then again, I don't like smartasses who waste my time with a bunch of words that have no meaning. Whatever. It wasn't extremely important anyway."
He probably thinks if he talks enough shit, it will be enough time for Caster and Maria to come and save them. If only he knew how little patience I had left, he'd get that he was never going to leave this room intact.
He glanced at the young woman again, and spoke to her again. This time in a soothing, parental tone. It was thoroughly disturbing to hear it come from the cold young man's mouth.
"Now Sophie, I'm going to have you ask him another question, OK? And make sure he knows that I won't tolerate padding out his speech with drivel. 'Do you have any safehouses besides this one? Any rented rooms, any apartments, even a blanket by the river.' And remember what I do to liars is even worse than what I do to smartasses..."
Saber stood still as a statue, watching the scene unfold. His stomach roiled and begged him to end the madness, but he could not. He knew how poorly things could go if conflict arose between Master and Servant, with two enemies within the room. And he was acutely aware that the survival of Lady Topfer was dependent upon his preventing any altercations. So he kept his hand steady, ready to swing at any who moved out of turn.
Rafael was already in place high above the apartment when he asked his master how to continue. Caster received his message and then asked the wounded Hansen how Rafael should approach this situation.
Down at the apartment the young master had decided to punish Hansen again and shock him for the third time. It seems as if his tactics would lead to his death instead of his salvation. Suddenly he heard Caster speak to him in his mind.
'Yes, yes, please, go now... Saber is inside, strike him and I will deal with the master. Hurry!
Hansen's stomach was about to be emptied on the floor. He tried to focus and prepare himself for what was to come. Sophie tried to translate what the young master said rather poorly, but Hansen understood what she said. He saw through his bluff... but it was enough for the cavalry to arrive.
"Safehouses... There is a hotel-room booked after our family name, and..." Hansen looked up and away towards the coffee table, "...wait, I have the address here". Hansen slowly bent down, hoping the sadistic bastard above him won't strike at him again. He moved a little away from the Taser and stretched his arm out to grab a piece of paper.
Do it, NOW!
The commands were transmitted and Caster's pawn followed. Rafael flew above at the height of the apartment and made no sound. It was not possible to sense him or predict his arrival, as he was the work of Caster - a fake servant.
Holding two of his spears, his mission was clear. First neutralize the master inside and cause a commotion. The spears were magnificent - its handles made from a mixture of wood and bronze, the tip was the one which seemed the most interesting. Its nature unclear, the metal seems to be of divine quality, or so Rafael assumes. Its light yellow color emits a strong light. The jagged tip gives much trouble for when removing the spear from the body of the fallen.
Rafael held the spear firmly and prepared himself to throw it, tossing it with all of his might and speed at the unaware and unprepared Saber who finds himself vulnerable to a surprise attack.
If successful, the attack would either neutralize Saber or make him concentrate on fighting with the new arrival. Hansen would then exploit the confusion, go forward and use his illusions to combat the arrogant master that had taken him by surprise. With a clever twist of fate, Hansen had caused great pain to strike Dirk. Instead of the steps he took in the park, all of those terrible attacks would hit the boy at once. First his concentration would shatter, the ground beneath him would move, and then there would be the screeches in his head. The floor would fall from beneath his feet and he felt he couldn't stand as the vertigo would nearly overtake him. It seemed as if he would fall in every direction at once.
But he wasn't finished yet. Hansen stood up and grabbed Sophie's hot coffee mug and threw it at the boy. He pulled Sophie and pushed her back the door.
"Run, go - NOW!". He screamed in German. Hansen had to flee the scene before either would go after him. A creepy smile appeared on Hansen's face as he ran out the door.
Outside the angel Rafael was ready to confront Saber. He spoke in two voices at once, only intensifying the alien feeling he gave off.
"How do you call yourself honorable, you wretched slave who lets your master break the codes you vowed for and torture little girls?".
The angel tugged back on the spear he sent at Saber and pulled it back to his right hand.
"You defile this earth with the betrayal of your values, knight!".
Somewhere in Miyama, between a burning hotel and Maria's apartment...
Caster and his charge rushed back to their base, flying along at a truly tremendous pace. Even with such a low ranking in Agility, the Servant still put the swiftest humans to shame, covering entire city blocks in seconds. Even with such a great distance between them and their goal, the Master and Servant would be able to traverse it in mere minutes.
Assuming they were left unimpeded, anyway.
An arrow slammed into the pavement between Caster's feet, splintering the slab of cement and sending shards of rock scattering every which way. "Oi! Caster!"
Archer hadn't exactly made himself hard to find; all the Servant and Master had to do was look up. A mere twenty feet above them, the old man was perched atop a nearby building, still wrapped in his cloak and clutching his bow tightly in his left hand. Even from this distance, both Maria and Caster could see the anger flashing in the bowman's eyes and hear the fury in his voice as he glared down at them, his words falling through the air like knives.
"I'm not done with you yet," the bowman growled, stringing another arrow and taking aim at the robed man in the street below. "Not by a long shot."
Dirk Orihara's mind, for a brief instant, was shredded like rice paper. A dozen attacks of varying strength slammed his psyche from every side. Wriggling blows slipped between his defenses, and overwhelming force smashed through them. Unbearable pain wracked his mind as Hansen tugged away at his very consciousness.
This was a very, very bad idea. Unknown to Hansen, as he'd leaned forward to try and make his escape easier, Dirk had followed him down, keeping one taser on Sophie's neck and the other mere millimeters from the illusionist's. His chest was propped against the sofa when he was struck, allowing him to remaining standing and keep his balance even as his legs turned to jelly. And the pain triggered both the boy's instinct and his reflexes. Yelping in agony, Dirk's hands clenched... squeezing both triggers and launching all three taser shots on each gun at point blank range on both Hansen and the girl.
With all the force of the electricity and her already fragile constitution, Sophie fought a few seconds before collapsing onto the floor. Completely spent, she welcomed the darkness as it crept into her sight. A heartbeat more, and she found herself asleep. There would be no more from Sophie this night.
Saber had heard the whistling of the Lancer, but dismissed it as a part of the sirens. Fortunately, his instincts saved him from the spear thrown and the sword was moved into position in time to send it flying firmly into and halfway through a wall, thanks to his incredible strength. The knight bounded across to Dirk as he saw both hands clench, sending the electricity flying, and helped the boy stand once more.
Running outside and leaving Dirk to deal with the humans, Saber came upon a very peculiar sight in that of the Fake Servant. The spear Saber had deflected was called back and the knight nodded. This foe was not one that concerned the Grail, but was still dangerous. He also seemed to wish to talk before their duel.
"You defile this earth with the betrayal of your values, knight!"
"What does a Servant summoned by this Caster know of values? You were not summoned by the Grail, but by a participant, and one that defies the laws set in place during the First Cycle of Grail Wars as well. In addition, there are no longer innocents once you have committed yourself to the war, there is naught but Masters, their Servants, and the family that chooses to come to their aid. Now ready yourself, I cannot bring myself to strike down a foe who feels they must speak before fighting."
Tapping into his prana, the knight surged forth at a speed unseen from him before. Channeling it into his arms, his sword sang through the night air, a flashing blur as it caught the light of the street, smashing into the meager block erected at the last moment, catching both spears, and with a last burst of strength and speed, tore them from Raphael's hands. Stepping forth one step more, Saber channeled his momentum and prana into a diagonal slash. This winged man would trouble them no more this night.
Retracted. Please ignore.
Each moment passed as though it were an eternity as Rider and Red Hare kept their vigilant guard over the front lawn of the Marks' manor. With the chaplet's full weight already baring itself down upon him the servant was certain that victory would be assured. An assassin was nothing more than a man with a cheap trick as opposed to the raw prowess that a true warrior possessed. The infusion of prana that Clay had given the guardian was simply insurence that he would rise above the challenge that such a pitiful servant such as Assassin could pose. Now he simply awaited the inevitable attack that would come and strike the definitive blow of the battle to finish it once and for all.
But nothing came.
The last sounds of war Rider heard were the screeching of tires as a car pulled away from the manor. Assassin was gone and the threat neutralized. A coward through and through; to not face his end with dignity was only to be expected. The warrior allowed himself to relax and let his bow fade back into the aether in a shower of golden flecks. His fortress was safe and while the thrill of the chase would certainly have been his prefered tactic, he would need to swallow his pride and tend to his wounded summoner. He couldn't afford to let Clay die as long as the boy was feeding him the essence which kept him tethered to this reality.
It was then that the numbness in Rider's left arm began to weigh on him. His teeth ground against eachother as it began to spread through his body, leaving him struggling to keep his balance. It seemed impossible for his own phantasm to have left him so winded yet the fatigue he had experienced was beginning to settle in. Then he remembered the blade Assassin had tossed and inspected the small cut on his arm. It festered with a redness that would have been fatal to a lesser man. The wound had yet to bleed but the spirit knew his body had been infected. He would need to retreat and rest, which suited him fine with his master in worse shape than himself. There was just one thing he wanted to do before retiring for the evening.
The cut had reminded Rider of the blade Assassin had used and how he had foolishly disarmed himself to attempt to render the servant useless. He squuezed his thighs tightly and sunk his knees into the flanks of his horse, urging him forwards towards the weapon. Even in his hampered state, the man looked so natural as he leant to the right side and scooped the blade up with ease. Sheathing it into the sash around his waist, the servant then directed Red hare towards the mansion with the simple guidance of preasure from his knees and calves, the two having synchronized their wills millenia ago so that one could instantly tell what the other wanted. As they neared the entrance, Rider leant over the side of his mount once more and grasped the collar of his master's shirt, a little less fluently now that the poisonous agent had time to settle. He then ducked low, the three dashing through the front door as gallantly as any knight and into the safety of the manor's walls.
Within the walls of the mansion, four maids were already awaiting the party as they strode into the foyer. Two immediately took hold of Clay, ushering him towards the stairs leading to the basement in order to secure him within the panic room and unite the siblings once more. The other two, one of which was unmistakably Alberta, assisted Rider with dismounting Red Hare in his weakened state. The man tried to refuse the help but eventually found himself too weak to dismiss the assistance and focus on fighting the effects of both phantasms at once. The spare maid took Rider into her guard and the two followed closely behind the vanguard towards the basement leaving Alberta to her own devices.
It was then the manor began to show its true nature. The air around it became hazy, as if giving off an immense amount of heat. Splinters began to shift back to support columns, powdered clay back into roofing tiles and gravel back into masonry. Even the surrounding vegetation was flourishing rapidly around the grounds. It was healing, like a body repeling an infectious substance, back to its former glory. The process concluded in mere moments as if none of the chaos of the battle had ever taken place.
Like any body, the manor also had its own leukocytes to combat the infection at the source. Gun barrels began to pop out from every window as shutters flew open to reveal shooters. Dozens of maids were now training sights at every angle towards the manor, regardless of how impossible each approach seemed. The house had learned from Rider's encounter and it knew that Assassin was capable of incorporeal travel. Each squad was led by a familiar face - or faces as the case was - of a blonde haired woman with more determination in her eyes than the heroic spirit that had repelled the first assault. This was their time, what they had been created for and they would not fail their masters. If Assassin decided to continue his attack, then he would meet the cold, calculating furor of the Marks Manor itself.
Brutus deemed this was enough distance, quickly turning the wheel while his other hand reached and pulled the handbrake, causing a disorienting 50 MPH turn. Brutus sat there for a moment, steeling himself for what was to come, fighting the now dull throbbing near his lung.
'The pain has lessened. That damned arrow!' Brutus growled, remembering its' tracing of his movements. A cheaters attack, for those unsure of their aim.
Assassin slammed his foot down on the accelerator, flying towards the tomb of Aidan, the Marks Manor. His knuckles turned white with his grip, crushing the wheel. He relaxed suddenly, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly. He noticed the guns poking out at every angle, the true hazard of the home.
Brutus sat up, hopping to his feet in a crouching position within his Trojan Horse, finally activating his Haunting Guise as the bullets began shredding his vehicle. He quickly dropped below the dirt, on the familiar lower lower level of stone. He began sprinting immediately, not bothering to listen if the explosion happened or not, holding out his hand and calling his blooded blade, but yet not feeling its' weight. He smirked. This would be over fast, even without it. Two crippled opponents within a mansion protected by simple traps and maids was child's play.
When he felt the time was correct, he leapt through the dirt and took to air, inside the home. He made sure to not disturb and traps, though he knew the maids would follow soon. They felt off, but they were mortal. Brutus tore off his toga, revealing his Legate armor, black leather over a crimson silk shirt and skirt, with black spaulders. He looked around the abode, pulling his sidearm pugio, and giving his blade a deft twirl. He began speaking in a voice that echoed through the home,
"Rider, you wish to have honorable battle? Then come, and meet my blade. Or perhaps you would be content, letting your maids finish your battle?"
There was no response from the servant, already deep within the twisting hallways of the basement below. Instead the servant was greeted with one hundred rifles all spinning to train their sights on him. The clattered was cacophonous within the silent foyer, ringing out in an echo as the noise traveled through the manor. Time seemed as though it were standing still, a stand-off between the guardians of the manor and the one who would dare breach its walls.
"Your maids it is, then? Fine." His smirk was replaced with a look of disgust. For one who spoke so highly of honor, he had none when the moment suited him. He activated Haunting Guise, sprinting with blinding speed, though he wouldn't turn his dagger upon them, not yet.
"Your cowardice exceeds my own, Rider!" He shouted, dodging the gunfire and traps strewn about the floor. It seemed more and more were appearing on their own, implying either the mage could hear him... or the house was alive.
Brutus gave a silent curse, as powder was released into the room. Too late, however, as Brutus dropped through the floor again. It seemed he would have no fight, tonight. His opponent was as dishonorable as he, he would simply watch out forr him in the future.
'Next time, there will be daggers instead of stones.' he thought, smirking as he ran into the night.
Mordecai was surprised by the lack of trouble. Though, frustrated with the traffic.
"Why are you out so fucking late? C'mon!" Mordecai hammered on the horn, Gerald leaning out the window flipping the people in front of them the bird. They barely even noticed Assassin stroll up to the car, Haunting Guise still active, and sit down in the seat after phasing through the door.
"So, where are we headed?" Mordecai practically jumped out of his seat, turning around. Assassin looked terrible, and toga-less.
"The armor is badass, but what happened?" Assassin sighed, and recounted the night to his master, leaning against the window as they drove towards home.
"... So, sounds like a bastard. At least we know the name of a phantasm. A job for google later. In the meantime, Gerald, take the wheel while I heal Assassin." a moment and awkward moving and shifting later, Mordecai used his healing spell, healing the wound but not the clothing.
"... We'll need to go back tomorrow, for the body and your blade if nothing else." Mordecai sighed, sitting back down. They were nearing the apartment, and things seemed to be happening in the park.
'Best to stay out of it...'
Caster and Maria vs. Archer
"I'm not done with you yet. Not by a long shot."
As his threat fell towards the ground below, Archer drew and strung another arrow, ready to strike both the Servant and Master down. But, before he could lose the shaft, another voice tore through the chilly night air, its tone and words full of repentance.
"Not now, Archer. I did not intend to include you in my battles, but my fire does not discriminate like I would." Caster raised his head and spoke to Archer slowly, emphasizing each word. He took a step forward and reached for his cross which he cradled in his right hand.
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Caster moved his hand holding his cross and signed a cross over his upper body. He looked down on the ground and began to mumble words in an ever increasing pace.
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
Lord, Cleanse me a sinner, and have mercy upon me.
Lord, who have created me, have mercy upon me.
I have sinned without measure, have mercy upon me.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
And as the Servant prayed, the Master chose to speak as well. Glaring up at Archer, Maria stepped forward, her cry echoing around the deserted streets. "I need to save him, let us go!"
Archer glanced down at the two Magi beneath him, both of them asking for mercy. The only difference was who they were asking it from. Scoffing, the bowman peered down the shaft of his arrow; he would give them no mercy tonight, and he doubted that the gods had any for them either.
"What?" he remarked coolly, his eyes narrowing as he took aim. "You think that I'll let you go, just like that? You think that a few words and a halfhearted apology are enough to earn my forgiveness. Tch. Don't make me laugh."
It was almost funny enough to make him burst out laughing. What, they throw a few dozen zombies at hi, attempt to seduce him, and try to trap him in a deathmatch, and they just expected him to be merciful? And these were contestants in the Holy Grail War? Pathetic.
"Your minions were hardly good for anything other than target practice," Archer continued, as his arrow began to glow with a blinding white light. "Let's see if you fare any better."
'...You have got to be kidding me.'
No. There was no way his Master could possibly be stupid enough to follow after him onto the battlefield like this, especially not after Archer had told him to stay behind! Dammit, did he honestly think he'd be anything other than a liability out here!?
The wailing siren drew closer and closer, and Archer bit back a curse as a police car tore around a distant intersection. Tires screeching against the asphalt, the brightly lit vehicle barreled towards the trio, much to the Knight-class' dismay. It seemed that Sagara was in fact just that stupid.
Stowing his bow and arrow, the Servant leaped down from his perch, landing between Caster, Maria, and his fool of a Master. Even if it wasn't much, the man was still providing him with some amount of power and stability; it wouldn't do to let him get himself killed.
"Archer!" Sagara shouted as he slid out of the still running car, barely remembering to slide it into park. "What are doing!? I thought I told to wai-"
"Now really isn't the time, Master," Archer growled back, not bothering to make eye contact with the police officer. "Kind of in the middle of something here."
"You don't say," came the reply, dripping with sarcasm. "You know, there was a reason why I didn't want to just go charging off like that. Namely so we could avoid senseless slaughter, like I see you're trying to commit!"
'Oh for the love of-'
"You do realize, of course," the bowman sighed, "that this is neither the time nor place to discuss the nature of a war, do you? We can talk later."
"Hmmph. I suppose we can."
"Good. Now if you'll just give me a moment to-"
"Stand aside, please."
Archer reached out to hold his Master back, but the cop just brushed his hand aside as he strode forward. "Sorry about Archer here," Sagara said, addressing Caster and Maria, "I don't think we're quite seeing eye to eye."
It was all the Servant could do to hold back a groan as the officer continued. "I assure you, whatever he's said, we're not looking for a fight. We just want to talk, and that's it."
"Oh, that's some-"
"Archer." The bowman found himself cut off as Sagara raised his right hand into the air, displaying the trio of Command Spells, arranged in a diamond formation, emblazoned onto the back of the appendage. "Shut it.
"Look," the cop said, ignoring Archer's blatant irritation, "I just want to resolve this as carefully as possible, alright? I don't want to fight you and, if I heard correctly, you don't want to fight either. So, would you be willing to just talk?"
Archer fumed silently as Maria considered her response. It was unbelievable; how could Sagara threaten to waste strategic resources like Command Spells to make him not fight? The man was going to get them both killed if he kept that kind of attitude up.
Maria's answer cut through his thoughts, however. "...Perhaps. If your Servant promises to stop aggressing us, then we might be willing to talk with you. You could make some useful... allies in the coming fights.
"But we can't bother to speak with you right now! We need to go, now."
"Alright, alright." Archer simply glared at Sagara as the officer tried to calm the furious woman. "If you have to go, then we won't stop you. Just, please: Think about what I said. That's all I ask."
Though it went against every instinct in him, the bowman simply stood back and watched as Maria and Caster took off running again. He yearned to take a few shots at his quickly disappearing prey, but knowing his Master all that would do was waste a Command Spell. A Spell that could be crucial to their victory later on.
It was going to be a long War, if he had to fight alongside this fool.
Saber vs Raphael
"You defile this earth with the betrayal of your values, knight!"
"What does a Servant summoned by this Caster know of values? You were not summoned by the Grail, but by a participant, and one that defies the laws set in place during the First Cycle of Grail Wars as well. In addition, there are no longer innocents once you have committed yourself to the war, there is naught but Masters, their Servants, and the family that chooses to come to their aid. Now ready yourself, I cannot bring myself to strike down a foe who feels they must speak before fighting."
Having exchanged their words, the two warriors lunged towards each other, each ready to give this fight their all. Raphael had been summoned with the express purpose of protecting Hansen and Sophie; he would rather die than see either of them hurt. Saber, likewise, was fighting in defense of his Master. Even if he wasn't honor-bound to protect Dirk, the boy's death would result in his own.
Sword and lance collided in a thunderous clash of metal as the angel and knight slammed into each other in midair, the force of their impact sending a small shock wave emanating outwards. Had either of the fighters been a lesser being, they would have been destroyed in that instant; as it was, neither of them felt anything worse than a slightly numbed arm. Breaking apart, the two separated, Raphael's wings carrying him higher into the air while gravity pulled Saber towards the ground. It would take more than a single exchange of blows to end this battle, it seemed.
Taking advantage of his aerial position, Raphael hurled one of his spears downwards, hoping to pin his foe to the ground. However, all it took was a flash of the knight's blade to knock the lance aside; instead of tearing through Saber's armor and flesh, the javelin thudded into the pavement, ripping through a solid foot of rock and dirt before shuddering to a halt. Growling under his breath, the angel called his weapon back with a flick of his wrist. But the spear wasn't the only thing that soared skyward.
Just because Saber didn't have wings didn't mean he was stuck on the ground. All it took was a burst of strength and speed, and the knight was dashing up the side of the nearby building, each of his footsteps ripping a new hole into the house's exterior. When he had reached an appropriate height, the Servant pushed off, leaping out into the open air, and barreled towards Raphael, a battle-cry spilling from his lips.
Having caught the angel off-guard and with only one of his weapons, Saber unleashed a fearsome barrage of blows, his longsword whipping through the air at a speed no human could hope to match. Raphael, however, managed to do a fairly decent job of keeping up; whirling his single spear about like a pinwheel, he deflected Saber's attacks by a hairsbreadth. Then, when the Servant's own weight began to drag him towards the ground, the angel's leg lashed out, slamming into Saber's gut and sending him rocketing towards the earth at an even faster rate.
Grinning as he caught his other lance in his free hand, Raphael, with a single flap of his powerful wings, hurtled downward like a bullet, closing the distance between himself and Saber in the blink of an eye. Lunging forward with both of his spears, the angel prepared to skewer his foe in midair; he'd like to see the knight avoid this attack!
Saber grimaced as his instincts automatically evaluated the situation. It wasn't looking pretty. Even if he could somehow block both of the pointy sticks, he'd still be stunned, however slightly, when he slammed into the ground. Odds were that would give angel all he needed to finish him off. If he was going to survive this, then Saber needed to find a way to end the fight now, while they were both in the air.
Hmmm... If he couldn't block the blows and win, then maybe...
Raphael's smile spread even further as his spears struck their target. The one clutched in his left hand drew a long, bloody line across Saber's cheek; if the knight hadn't twisted out of the way at the last second, then the lance would've torn straight through his head. The angel's other spear, meanwhile, punched through the Servant's armor, and the summon could feel it rip into Saber's hip. What, did the fool really believe that a single hand was enough to block one of his...
Saber had only used one hand to try to deflect the attack.
So where was his oth-
A furious maelstrom of pain effectively derailed the angel's train of thought. Staring through suddenly hazy eyes, Raphael gaped blankly at the long, deep line that Saber's sword had made from his shoulder to his opposite hip. Cutting diagonally across his torso, the wound didn't bleed so much as it gave off a warm, almost blinding light, and the angel could feel his connection to the world fading away.
"Damn... you..." he muttered as he began to dissolve into a cloud of golden sparks, a cloud that quickly dispersed into the frigid night air. "Damn you... to hell."
Saber couldn't help but grunt in pain as he slammed into the cold, hard ground, pain dancing through the wound in his side. He'd have to get that taken care of soon; didn't want to die because of a petty thing like a blood loss. But, the Servant mused as he forced himself to his feet, that could wait, at least for a few minutes. There was somebody else he needed to check on first.
Charging back into Maria's safe house as fast as he could manage in his injured state (which was still fast enough to set a few human records), the knight quickly took stock of the situation; apparently things hadn't gone particularly well for Dirk either.
The boy was sitting against a wall, pressing his hands (thankfully devoid of tasers) against his forehead as though he was suffering from the mother of all migraines. Saber grimaced as he strode over to his Master; apparently the illusionist hadn't been as cooperative as they had hoped.
A cool breeze poured into the room from the open back door, and there was no sign of Sophie. Odds were she was long gone by now; even if Saber didn't have to tend to both himself and his Master, tracking her down would be a challenging task.
Then again, it didn't look like their efforts had been a total waste. Splayed out on the floor, with a taser needle stuck in his right shoulder and leg, was a certain Magus who'd been pestering them all night. It seemed that a couple thousand volts were enough to put Hansen down after all.
Dawn of the Third Day. Seven Masters and Six Servants remain.
Vision flashed in pulses. The darkness, and above all the ripping pain sat dominant in his throbbing head. Dirk tried to push it all away and found his will spent. He had nothing more to give tonight. It had taken so much to keep him standing as he held the magi at his mercy. He had been certain he was prepared. He was not remotely prepared enough. His head lolled down, sweeping from one side to the other, attempting just look ahead. His Servant was close at hand, watching him warily for signs of life. His vision was restricted to brief bursts of clarity. That would have to be enough. Orihara extended a hand and was lifted to his feet, propped against the wall for balance.
"It's... it's over then." He did not see the nod of his knight, with his head the maelstrom of discomfort that it was. He didn't need to, though. It was ominously quiet in the room. He clutched his forehead again, pointing down the hall he'd first come in from. "Go. Get my coat, my shoes. Need everything before we go."
As Saber departed to the bedroom, Dirk took a tentative step forward. He didn't collapse just yet. His breathing began to slow from the panicked state he'd maintained since the interloper had struck him. His mind attempted to remain cognizant. He'd need a plan now.
This has all gone to shit. The motel's gone, and we're in no condition to fight right now. We have to cut our losses. Torch the whole place, this magus with it. Then we'll take Sophie and...
Take Sophie and...
A slow, rattling breath escaped his lungs, and a deathly chill ran down his spine. He scanned the body on the floor. One solitary, male body. Lines connected to his body led back to the taser he had dropped. And the second gun... was beside it. Its wires embedded against the wall across the room.
"No." He stumbled to the door, already thrown wide open, and stared down the hall. No sign of anyone. Anyone who had ran out here was gone. He quietly stepped back in the room, fists clenched tight. A shadow fell over his face as it began to twitch. His battered mind, stretched to its limit, felt a snap.
He looked down. There was Hansen, just beginning to rouse from his stunned state. Dirk quietly approached the man's side... and raised his foot up in the air, bringing it down in the most powerful kick he could manage. He heard bones snap, muscles twist and a wounded man choke in pain. The magus was flipped straight onto his back, arching up in agony. Just as Dirk had expected. When he reached the peak of his ascent, Dirk was already dropping. His knee smashed into Hansen's abdomen and forced it back to the ground. He felt ribs cracking. Good.
Below him, Maria's brother had a full view of the sickening expression on Dirk's face. A disgusted, spiteful sneer with only a tinge of sadistic joy as he imagined the horror that was to come. A hand like a guillotine wrapped around his throat, gripping tight and cutting off his flow of air.
"You bastard," Orihara hissed, holding his left hand in the air. In a flash of light, a screwdriver materialized in his hand... and drove down between his ribs. The magus tried to scream, but had no air to cry with. Tears bubbled up and flowed down his face as he began to hyperventilate. Dirk's grip only grew tighter as he snarled at the bigger man, who was now helpless.
"Do you realize how far you've set me back?! Because of you, the hostage escaped, your damned sister burned down my safehouse! I'm back at square one because of you! Let me teach you what happens when someone crosses me." This time, he projected a trio of pencils. One, two, three, he inserted them neatly into Hansen's chest. He was very careful with their insertion. He leaned in close to the tearful face of his victim, staring at him with wide, pained eyes. His face was beginning to turn blue.
"I'm sure you felt that, Hansen. That was your liver that was just punctured. Your sister's little minion did the same thing to my uncle. Call it 'justice', you son of a bitch!"
He raised his free hand and balled it into a fist. He rained down blows, smashing every part of Hansen's face. He boxed his ears, jammed his nose up into his skull, knocked every tooth out of his mouth and forced them down his throat. The only thing he left untouched were the eyes. He leaned in close, their foreheads touching as he whispered, "I want you to see this last part before you go."
All the tortured man could respond with was a pitiful, choking whimper, begging for death. Dirk considered it... and decided against the mercy. "Educe Arms," he murmured. A machete rested in his palm now. Orihara lifted it up, bringing the tip to the middle of his prisoner's torso. He pressed down, and watched a fresh stream of tears come flowing as he dragged it down, severing the skin and muscle all the way down to his navel. Dirk threw away the machete and reached into his pocket. He slowly pulled out a lighter.
He could hear Saber pleading with him to stop. Another impulse to ignore. Dirk's eyes met Hansen's for a single, fleeting moment, savoring the last ounce of life the broken man was holding on to. He would enjoy watching it slip away. He flicked his thumb and let a flicker of flame from his lighter. "Looks like you've got a bad case of heartburn."
In a powerful thrusting motion, Dirk released his grip on Hansen's throat and with his other hand slammed the lighter down into his open chest cavity. Hansen's first breath of life since the pain began was instantly spent on a twisted, terrible, unholy scream to the very heavens. Fire roasted his innards as Hansen wailed.
"In a second, Saber!" he snarled back. He lifted his hands above his head, calling his aria once more. This time it was no blade, but a sledgehammer, heavy as sin. With a roar of effort, Dirk brought it up, over his head.
And only as the hammer dropped did Dirk realize: it wasn't Saber calling to him. In a gory mess, the hammer caved Hansen's entire skull in. Blood and worse things splattered across the floor, and Dirk's clothing. He didn't care. He was watching the doorway, and the figure standing within.
Koji was as still as a statue, mouth agape, his face quaking in terror as he watched the culmination of Hansen's brutal execution. Dirk could see tears in the corners of his eyes, and snot inelegantly smearing his upper lip. The murderer was silent, feeling his own hands shake. He looked down at his palms, coated in blood, both his own and his enemy's. He slowly turned back to his friend, an expression matching his.
The boy took a step back. Dirk held out a hand, begging him to stop as he, pained, scrambled to his feet. "Koji, wait, please--"
No matter what he would have said, he was already aware the boy wouldn't listen. Koji backpedaled from the door, a sound of pure horror leaking from his throat. It grew into a sobbing wail of confusion as he turned on his heel, sprinting down the hallway as fast as he could.
"Koji, stop! Wait--" Dirk made it as far as the door, looking out to see an empty hallway for the second time. "Koji..."
And that was all she wrote. Dirk fell flat on his face, the last of his energy spent. He barely managed to speak, even in a whisper, to the Servant who stood watching the scene.
"Saber... burn this place down. I just... I just wanna go home."
Dirk closed his eyes, and his consciousness had slipped away only seconds later. A pained frown tugged on his lips.
"Go. Get my coat, my shoes. Need everything before we go."
Saber nodded, the pain of walking slowing his steps as he reached the door and Dirk's garments. He didn't even notice the silent screams of Hansen over the throbbing going up and down his leg coupled with the rush of adrenaline still coursing through his system and blood pounding in his ears. Reaching down to grab the shoes was a particularly trying experience. Shoes and coat in hand, he walked back to the room in which the Master was currently torturing their captive to death, entering just as Dirk projected the sledgehammer and began bringing it down onto Hansen's head.
He dropped what he carried and attempted to stop the Magus, to no avail. He was already well into his swing, the flat head almost touching the face of their once-enemy. He watched in disgust as the head exploded in a shower of blood,bone,brain, and all the gore that dwelt within a human's body. It was then that Saber looked up, disgust and hate plastered across his face, that he saw one of Dirk's friends from the day before. Dirk tore off after him, reaching the street before collapsing and spouting one last line as Saber stood over him.
"Saber... burn this place down. I just... I just wanna go home."
"And home..."His teeth gnashed together, gone was the pain, all that was left was rage,"...you shall go"
He went back inside quickly, grabbed a nearby curtain, and placed it underneath what was once Hansen. Wrapping him as tightly as he could, using another two curtains to hold the blood in, Saber carried him outside, making sure to pocket the weapons Dirk had used inside. Walking outside once more, Saber placed the body in an alley nearby, hidden just enough so that most would not find it, but considering their enemies, they would surely find it. The family deserved more than the broken and ripped body Saber meant to be returned to them, but Dirk had robbed them of it. The boy from earlier could wait until tomorrow, when the Honoring of the Fallen would take place. He would drag the petulant child to it from his deathbed if he had to, they had a duty to uphold the old Code of Servants, even if no other Servant here followed what they knew.
With it all done, and no Servant or Master within the distance required for Saber to feel them, he meant to follow through on the child's last request before he fell, but in his own way. There were still people living in this area, a fire would certainly spread in this empty city, and many would lose something of value. As much as the cost was, the price of simply setting this place alight would have a much more costly effect on his already damaged soul.
Striding to the front door, Saber closed it, and summoned forth his weapon. Slamming it through until it was embedded within the door, he conjured forth the prana within himself to begin the Phantasm. Round Table Sundering was destructive, but able to be controlled, unlike the fire that Dirk had so nonchalantly demanded, and that Caster and his Master had so callously done to the motel. There would be no forgiveness. They had gambled with the lives of those not involved in this war, and every single thing they did had brought attention to the outside world of their existence. If they were to know, the entire world would soon live in fear of the Magi, or fight back, neither would be good for the fate of Man. The bloodlines had already begun dwindling in Saber's lifetime, and had continued to down through the ages he had been summoned back to fight, until a measly handful remained compared to the multitudes that had walked openly. Those two threatened the very lives of hundreds, if not thousands, and that was completely unforgivable.
Saber bowed his head and uttered a quick prayer before he began to speak to himself.
"I invoke the Proclamation, Caster and his Master will not survive this War,"He whispered to himself,"At any cost to myself they will be eliminated, even if it means the loss of the Grail...."
With that, he let loose the Phantasm, the thirteen cracks formed and rotated, creating the circle, before breaking out once again. Wood,stone,plaster, and paint roared a moment before the house and everything in it crumbled inwards. There would be little, if any salvaging of the items inside. His expression coupled with the blood splashed across it made for a truly terrifying experience indeed. His eyes blank, jaw set, and mouth curled in derision as he looked at his Master splayed across the pavement. Perhaps he had been wrong, the soul of this boy did not carry the valor of Launcelot, no, that much was certain. This boy carried with him something much darker, something that Saber did not believe he could find anything worth rescuing in this boy. But he had made the promises to his family, those he would keep to his dying breath.
Picking the Magus up, Saber dismissed the sword from his grasp and began making way for the Orihara residence, they were close enough he believed, and made sure they were not being followed.
Shinosuke Orihara stood in the doorway of his home, staring blankly at his own son in the arms of his battered Servant. An expression straddling terror and despair came upon him, and he moved aside to let Saber in. "Bring him in, please, hurry."
"Mira!" he called. His wife came barreling into the room, pure determination on her face.
"Give him to me," she demanded. Saber handed her over, and watched in surprise as she hefted her child like he was no bigger than a kitten. She gently turned and scurried her feet along as fast as she could up the stairs and out of sight. The Servant considered following, but found himself being quietly guided into the living room by Shinosuke. He sat the knight down on a sofa, while he took an armchair across from him. The man leaned forward in his seat, clasping his hands together.
"My wife will tend to your wounds after Dirk's been taken care of. In the meantime, tell me everything that's happened. Everything."
Light cracked through the gap in the blinds. Dirk's eyes fluttered open, and to his surprise recognized his own room. He was tucked into his bed, a wet cloth on his forehead, and a small table at the side of the bed held a glass of water and a bowl of steaming soup. His hand jostled, preparing to reach for the simple meal, but became still. He looked away from the bowl as his stomach roiled.
He didn't have an appetite.
Mordecai was the first to wake up, of course. He was restless, he had plans and spells to try out. His role in the war so far was passive, master of an aggressive assassin... That'd simply have to change.
There were several items on the agenda, and they simply couldn't wait. Assassin could rest, he'd need to anyways. Without his sword, he was of little use anyways. That'd come later, for now, he shook Gerald awake. The couch looked less than comfortable, but he seemed to enjoy it.
"Rise and shine, we got a long days work ahead of us." Gerald shot him a glare, before sighing, "Ya know, I didn't want to get involved in this shit. Still don't. Fuck off me boy-o." and with that he plopped his head down on the pillow.
"... I'm on my own, then. Asshole" Mordecai looked to Assassin, sleeping surprisingly. Or at least he liked like he was... Mordecai sighed, quietly, walking towards the desk. He made sure to leave a note, a small job he could do while Mordecai went out.
Assassin, find a new place to stay, think populated and hard to destroy. Mord put down the pen, opening the safe below the desk. His assault rifle was in three pieces, in a briefcase. 'Perfect.' Mordecai was grinning as he walked over to his bed,k pulling his briefcase full of clothes out. The realization that he hadn't actually changed in three days worried him. He pulled out today's apparel, a black t-shirt and dark blue jeans. And his white doctors coat. He changed quickly, in the bathroom, and began heading out, deciding to take Gerald's car.
His drive over was fast, a lot of noise was coming from the park. Mordecai decided to check it out. A quick glance told him what it was. A crowd of people, onlookers mostly, with a policeman standing in the center of what Mord assumed was a crowd of reporters. There was also a loud man, standing on a box. He was yelling loudly, something about foreigners or something. A few people stood about him, one laughing and rebuking him. The ones who looked annoyed by the comedian worried Mordecai, somewhat.
'Probably won't amount to much.' Mordecai sped away shaking his head, he needed to focus on the mission, getting the sword back. If not, he'd probably not live to see the next day.
Who's Assassin going to pick a fight with tonight? Archer? Perhaps he'll go whole hog and punch the Ruler. Mordecai chuckled to himself a bit, and turned the radio on. Luckily, music. He couldn't understand the lyrics, but he didn't care, it was great to have something keeping him company. The idea he could die sprang to mind, but he dismissed it. Though he felt sure Aidan was either dead or defected. He'd have to change his home again, later, if things went peacefully. He hoped it would.
The silhouette of the house appeared over the horizon, a bit daunting he realized. Mordecai felt the butterflies in his stomach flutter around, faster. He was here to commit murder, so far his only attempt wound up with him in handcuffs. Though, now he had an assault rifle, and his secret weapon... the Uamharr łtrais, Marbh Pobull. That caused the butterflies to settle, as he rolled up to the Manor, he stared at the gate for a moment. He wouldn't leave, but he didn't exactly want to confront the Rider, apparently he was powerful. He cursed himself, for leaving assassin behind, and for not forcing Gerald to come with.
"Fuck it." he got out of the car, approaching the intercom slowly. He pressed the button, and spoke into it as clearly as possible, holding his crested hand to his heart, in case he needed to cast.
"Hello, I come in peace? If this thing shoots fire I'll shoot myself..."
Darkness; it was the only thing he could see. He had awoken in this void between life and death. He had failed to uphold his duty and promise to his brother, paying the ultimate price for naught. As his lifeblood slowly drained away he had seen the futility in the struggle. They were not human; they couldn't be killed. Like a hydra, as one fell two more would take its place. Now he was alone, left with only his thoughts in an all encompassing darkness. He closed his eyes feeling comforted by the gesture and lay still in the void. Was this his final peace? No, it was nothing like the priests had foretold. Perhaps it was a carefully crafted illusion? It didn't seem to matter. The only thing he could focus on was the sweet bliss of silence and the weightless comfort of floating in this nothingness that surrounded him after the night he had experienced.
It wasn't long before his focus was broken. A slow methodical series of clicks and clacks resounded in the otherwise silent space, disrupting the peace like a ripple in a still pond. He could tell the sound was approaching him, a strange concept in this otherwise directionless existence. Suddenly a light shone down from what could only be classified as this place's sky, looking more like a spotlight than anything. Within it stood a far too familiar face, the maid that had commanded her executioners at the Mark's Manor some few hours ago.
She had nothing of the coy smile that hid her true intentions now, her stoic expression more indicative of a business transaction. The time for smart remarks and sadistic playfulness was over at this point. Now all she wanted was the strict co-operation of their unlikely ally. He had secrets that would be useful, however all attempts at prying them from his mind had proven difficult. A different approach seemed to be needed; one of gentle coercing rather than meticulous despoiling. So there they were, inside the void that was the consciousness of the manor, the magus exerting little control over his environment and the maid having perfect poise in this nonsensical existence.
"Mr. Fraga," she began, bowing deeply in greeting as was customary, "I am sorry for the abruptness of this situation however time is of the essence. As you are most likely aware, you are no longer amongst the living. Not technically. We have kept your soul within the mortal coil though this will not last forever. You have particular talents that could prove useful to the Marks family and I am sure the prospect of death is not an attractive one."
She let the words hang in the air and let them have a chance to sink in before positioning the one request that would make or break their intentions.
"To be perfectly blunt, Mr. Fraga, we have an alternative. We would like to make a proposition..."
Maria, Diana and Rider all abruptly turned their heads from the unconscious master and looked towards the entrance to their home. The manor had piqued their attentions with an implacable sensation that instantly registered as the mana detection field sensing the presence of a magus. It had been a long and listless night already within the mansion and to say that they were eager to have another intruder so soon would be a gross fallacy. The servant looked over the other two women, ravaged with the fatigue that insomnia brings. While Rider had taken his lumps the previous evening, the others were doing no better to be able to inspect the commotion outside. He had to be thinking more critically now that the planner of the two was indisposed of and marching outside as the first contact to a potential master or another spy was not a very good idea. He would have much rather given the impression that the manor was in no part involved in the Grail War to keep the master of the home safe but with the condition all three were in he had little other recourse.
"I will go," he stated flatly to the two, standing up and stretching his back.
"Rider..." Diana tried to protest but slowly let her words fall to silence as she had no legitimate argument to make. Maria could only look away, trying to control the hesitation of letting their protector not be within view.
"I will not be long." It was the only comfort he could give them before disappearing in a sparkle of golden prana.
The servant worked swiftly, traveling through the ethereal to keep a straight path towards their uninvited guest. It was mere moments before he zeroed in on their intruder. A man was standing in front of the manor's gate and was now requesting an audience with someone from the home. With a pistol in hand, no less. The audacity of this magus was astounding, though a warrior such as Rider knew he commanded some respect for his bravery - or stupidity. The servant made his move, wisping up behind the man before slipping back into the corporeal world. He placed his hand firmly on the intruder's shoulder and gripped it like a steel vice. There was no escape for him now.
"What is it you want, magus?" he demanded, clearly not pleased with the intrusion onto the property.
'Where... where am I?'
He was... on something hard. Flat. The ground? Why was he there? What happened? Why...
Then memories of the fight flooded back to him. A spell. Rider fighting a cloaked figure. Weakness... he had collapsed. Why did he...
Clay fluttered back to consciousness, laying prone in the vault as Rider had left him. He had expected to feel pain - overworking a Circuit usually leads to agony - but he simply felt... numb. Like somebody had applied a localized painkiller to every square inch of his body. That didn't make any sense, though - it would take a careful application of magic to cause such a sensation in an overloaded magus... he brushed the difficult thought aside, too dazed to consider it further.
Where was he? How could he not tell? He slowly came to realize his eyes were still shut. With some effort, he forced them open, to see him laying in a strange vault with his sisters sitting next to him. He tried to call out to them, but only managed a pained groan.
"Clay!" Diana bolted to her brother's side, producing some potions as she moved. "Are you alright? What happened up there?"
He looked up at his little sister, still confused. "Where... where am I?" He tried to move, but quickly came to realize the effort was futile. No matter the effort, his limbs simply didn't have the strength to do much else but sustain themselves.
It was Maria to answer his question, as Diana fretted over the bottles in her hands. "We're in an orichalcum vault in the basement." Seeing her brother's growing look of confusion, she rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement. "I know, I know. The maids came to get us. Told us to stay here until they gave us the all-clear. Said we were in danger."
Her voice started to betray her fear - or at least, Clay was now cognizant enough to pick up on it. "Clay, what the hell happened out there? A few hours ago, Rider bolted in here and dumped you on the floor. Now he's gone to fight... something."
"Fought another Servant. Assassin. Pushed myself, then it did... something. Sucked the Od right out of me." He managed each sentence through a pained breath, recalling the fight in more vivid detail with each passing second. He gasped as Diana pricked him with a syringe, a strange blue potion contained within. "Clay, you need to rest. Whatever that thing did to you, it really made sure you aren't going anywhere until you recover." She injected the contents of the syringe into his arm, removing it and tying a bandage over the puncture. "This vault had some medicine in it, including that prana essence. It won't get you back in fighting shape right away, but you should be walking come morning."
He wanted to protest, but even bullheaded as he was, he couldn't deny he wasn't in any shape to stand, let alone fight. Rider was going to have to finish his business on his own.
"What is it you want, magus?"
"Originally, my servants blade, perhaps an alliance, now I simply want a not broken arm, if you please. I was very loud with the come in peace bit!" Mord tried not to squirm, but he did find the most comfortable position for this conversation. Still frigging hurt, and was annoying, but hey he was getting man handled by a long dead ghost.
"If you don't really mind, I'd like to be let go. Makes this a bit more fair and just. I'll drop the gun, if we do this amicably." He hoped to be dropped soon, he was pretty sure he was older than his master and this was goddamn humiliating.
"To be perfectly blunt, Mr. Fraga, we have an alternative. We would like to make a proposition..."
"Polite, for a girl who I killed. And the fact I haven't done so again shows I'm trying hard as well." He sighed, and stared into her eyes.
"However... This offer interests me somewhat. More than the prospect of dying with barely a mark on the world... I suppose I accept. I can scribble runes and am quite adept with lances." He leaned forward, speaking quietly, "So, when do we get started?"
The woman's mouth curled into a wicked smile, anticipation oozing from her every word.
"Very well. Let's begin..."
"Originally, my servant's blade, perhaps an alliance; now I simply want a not broken arm, if you please. I was very loud with the come in peace bit!"
Rider sneered at the feeble attempts the man made to try and placate him. He was in no mood for negotiations this morning, especially when it came to the safety of those within the manor. Obviously Assassin's master was about as tactful as the servant himself with the demands he was placing. The grip only became more encompassing at the last remark, the warrior not appreciating being told what to do by a complete and utter stranger.
"Obey and that may be able to be arranged," the servant growled in response, not terribly pleased with the orders this man believed he could give.
"If you don't really mind, I'd like to be let go. Makes this a bit more fair and just. I'll drop the gun, if we do this amicably."
There were lines you simply did not cross when dealing with a six and a half foot mountain of rage incarnate. Making ultimatums that compromised the safety of said being's master and kin was one of them. The servant, however, was barely teetering on the brink of letting his inhibitions get the better of him. The nerve of this man was grating on what little patience Rider had left after what had transpired the night before. The only action the spirit dared take was to hold out his hand expectantly, trembling with a deep seeded anger boiling to the surface.
"Your weapons," he stated through gritted teeth. "All of them."
"Your weapons, all of them."
"Pistol." Mordecai pulled it out of his back pocket, and pulled out the full magazine, laying both next to the servant.
"Scalpel." He pulled the shiny, sharp instrument out of his breast pocket, spinning it between his fingers before lying it next to the pistol.
"And the briefcase. Containing an assault rifle. Dealing with servants can be a bit... iffy." He laid the briefcase next to the three items, opening the briefcase to show Rider before closing it again.
"And last but not least, my solemn promise to not cast spells. It probably doesn't mean much, coming from a master of deception and a healer, but at least you have it." Mordecai shrugged, looking around the premises. Seemed rather nice, honestly, though there was a noticeable lack of rocks... He couldn't help but crack a small smile.
"Well, that's all of them unless you consider car keys or a wallet a threat, they aren't by the way so long as I stay away from my car and credit card activated kill-bot. In the meantime, you lead and I obey, (despite our respective titles)."
One by one Mordecai handed over the implements of his trade, both as a death dealer and a life giver. The weapons were familiar, having encountered several pistols when raiding the Yakuza storage facilities and the assault rifle just being a larger version of the small firearm. The scalpel, however, held his attention much longer than the rest. It was the smallest blade Rider had ever encountered yet was one of the sharpest a man had ever created to his recollection. He turned it about in his hand, inspecting every inch before sheathing it within his purple sash. He could appreciate a master crafted blade such as this "scalpel" not wanting it to be damaged and felt it would be best to keep it safe on his person. After securing the tiny blade, he gathered the rest of the commoner garbage and compacted it all into an incomprehensible ball of scrap before casually tossing it back into the lawn.
"And last but not least, my solemn promise to not cast spells. It probably doesn't mean much, coming from a master of deception and a healer, but at least you have it."
The servant grunted with indifference. Deception was not his preferred method of combat but it did have its uses. Even a man of medicine, as this one claimed to be, could benefit from gentle lies to his patients to ease their suffering. It was an odd statement to claim that his disposition was one of subterfuge, even in his situation. Could it have been a hint at the possibility that Assassin was also on the premises? The servant reaffirmed his death grip upon the man's shoulder, keeping his eyes out for any suspicious movement in the foliage.
"I do not fear your sorcery, peasant," the servant spat, "though if your whelp of a death dealer should show his face, I can assure him the lesson in swift execution and psychological brutality that he so sorely lacks, courtesy of yourself."
"In the meantime, you lead and I obey, despite our respective titles..."
"If you were ever to accrue the titles men have inferred upon me to appease my wrath, it would be at the end of all other men. Now march!"
A satisfied smirk curled up onto the servant's lips before jostling his captured mage into motion. It was a small walk to the entrance of the manor, Rider guiding the man with an ever firm hand clamped to his shoulder. As the massive wood stained doors swung open for them, two maids flanked the entrance, awaiting their master and guest. Before passing through the threshold, a small bracelet was placed upon the wrist of the doctor made of a sparkling white stone. While odd, the jewelry seemed relatively harmless apart from giving off a faint signature of prana, most likely for tracking. Without a second glance back the door were then closed and Mordecai was trapped within the Marks' manor, for better or worse...
Tick, tock... Tick, tock...
The clock was the only audible sound within the study at the Marks' abode. Rider and Mordecai had been sitting across from each other for the better part of a half hour, not a word passing between the two. The spirit had exchanged his armour for more relaxing apparel, a long sleeve red silk shirt and a pair of dockers being his preferred style. The room was plush, even by the standards of the warlord that sat across from the mere mortal, over-extravagant apparently not being a word the Marks' used often. The fireplace was glowing with a crackling fire, ornate in construction much like everything else within the room. It almost felt stuffy with how upscale it was compared to the man sitting across from the Heroic Spirit.
As the two exchanged glances, the warrior's constant gaze was beginning to bore into the mage's soul, radiating a very uncomfortable feeling as if they were going to simply execute him on the spot. That might have been an exaggeration if the four maids in the room, two to each body, hadn't been cradling sub-machine guns and rifles. It was an intimidating scene to say the least. The spirit then shifted, uncrossing his legs before re-crossing them and resting his chin on top of his interwoven fingers.
If things continued like this, it would prove to be a trying day...
Mordecai bit the side of his cheek, and felt his eye twitching. He had gone to great lengths to steal and maintain the weapons which were just reduced to mere scrap before his very eyes. He let the scream of pure rage out in a drawn out sigh.
"If you were ever to accrue the titles men have inferred upon me to appease my wrath, it would be at the end of all other men. Now march!"
And the feeling of a vice grip around his shoulder came back as the Doctor was lead to the very nice looking mansion. His vision got a little blurry, from sleep deprivation and rage. He barely noticed or felt the new accessory added to his person. He came to his senses as the door shut behind him, encasing him in a dark, hostile mansion...
Mord had learned quickly enough that tapping his fingers on the table was met only with hostility, so he had taken to the occasional staring match with the large Servant, and studying his new bracelet. It felt a bit tight, and uncomfortable, but that had summed up this whole visit. Mord had tried to move the bracelet under his sleeve, rather than on it. That ended with a sub machine gun pointed at his nose.
He barely took stock of the place, it looked nice as a mansion should. It reminded him a tad of his Fathers old house, minus all the grey and gloom. The fireplace seemed almost airlifted out. Although there was no blood on that one...
Tick, tock... Tick, tock Mord grunted, finally breaking the silence. He turned to his host, and spoke as clearly as he could, though he spoke perhaps a tad too fast. A nervous habit he wish he didn't have, as showing fear to this guy was like cutting yourself in front of a shark.
"So, mister Rider. You know why I came, now I figure is the time to work out what I can do for you in return for getting the blade back. I can heal, have a servant who has built up an encyclopedic knowledge of the cities complete with knowledge of hiding places, and I'm not afraid to get in the front lines, despite what the last night might've told you..." Mordecai took a breath, and looked back down at his tracking bracelet, waiting for a response.
Clay grunted as he felt the potion take effect. The sensation of energy creeping back into his exhausted limbs was an uncomfortable one, like feeling a current run up the length of his bones. But he could move them again, albeit with a great deal of effort. Forcing himself to his feet, he took a deep breath. "Rider should have dealt with whatever's out there by now. I'll come to get you in a moment." His sisters gave an uneasy nod and stepped aside, allowing him to open the vault's door.
He stumbled into the basement, his sense of balance still a bit of kilter. Brushing himself off to try and keep his appearance neat - he was still a british gentleman, after all - he strode(or, as much of a stride as his legs could muster) up the stairs to the upper level. He heard Rider's voice emanating from... the parlor? And he was speaking with someone. Curious, he walked in and froze, a cold glare leveled at a thirty-something man sitting in one of the armchairs. He could feel it - this man was not only a magus, but a Master.
His face twisted into a snarl, his gaze not leaving the intruder. "Rider, who is this... guest? Is there a reason you haven't killed him?"
Mordecai felt his hand tingle, the universal sign of approaching masters. Granted, he had felt it for awhile now, but it was stronger now and approaching him. He turned around slowly as it got more powerful.
"Rider, who is this... guest? Is there a reason you haven't killed him?"
"Good morning to you too. I like to think there's enough hostility already, what with the death maids," the maids raised their guns in perfect sync, aiming at Mord's head,
"That is, lovely armed house keepers. I think we would all appreciate a lighter tone, as I do come with an olive branch. I'm a healer by trade, and would like to offer my services in return for my servants blade. And, no offense, but judging by your walk you look like you can use it." Mord looked at the kid with a bit of worry. He hadn't actually seen any of the other contestants, but he hoped they wouldn't ALL be young people. He hated the idea of having to harm his fellow man for the genie cup, but he wouldn't hurt a damned kid.
The night, at least what was left of it, had not passed quickly for Saber. After regaling Dirk's family of his actions that night, he had tended to his wounds, minor scratches and cuts except for the fake Lancer's spear that had gone through his hip. That he had wrapped in gauze and cleaned it up the best he could. The remainder, he watched the door, hands clasped over one another, the anger he had felt earlier no longer the raging bonfire of the night, now more akin to a candle, if you could call a single candle hot enough to melt steel cooling off.
The sun crept over the city, slowly but surely, expelling the darkness and the danger the moon brought with it. The golden rays eventually shown in through the window, revealing dust motes and a rainbow on the floor as it shown through a crystal. Finally standing, the chair beneath him creaking after the many hours of sitting it had endured from the man. Heading once again for the bathroom, he looked at his face in the mirror, and sighed. His facial hair had begun to grow back already, his scar even more enhanced by his haggard face despite his status of Spirit, but his eyes...his eyes were like ice, pain,hate,confusion,and a touch of bewilderment. Dirk had pushed him to his mental limit just a few scant hours before, and he had yet to fully recover from his physical battles. He stood there at the sink a long while, just staring. But he was broken out of his trance by the sound of the rest of the house fully awakening, and pulled the door closed behind him as he went back to his seat in the front room.
More time passed and the family went about their - somewhat - daily lives. Saber paid no mind to them, instead keeping his eye on the sun and nearby clock, though he moved so that they could get by should they need to. The time for them to leave was coming soon. The clock hit 1100, which prompted Saber to stand up and make his way to the door that opened into Dirk's room. He knocked three times and spoke for the first time since Hansen's death.
"Lord Dirk, awaken, we have duties we cannot afford to forget today."
What Saber saw was a disconcerting sight. The boy was resting, tucked into his bed carefully from the night before. A wet rag on his forehead kept him cool, and a meal was prepared for him at the side of his bed, on a simple table. But the true source of discomfort came from his young Lord's face. Eyes wide open, unblinking, and deeply sunken, quietly staring at the ceiling. He made no acknowledgment of his Servant's presence. Saber couldn't even see him breathing beneath the covers.
"Dirk Orihara, wake up. You have things that must be done today, and soon, if we are to acknowledge them properly."
He sat on the edge of the bed, and snapped his fingers before Dirk's eyes, and seeing that that too failed to knock him out of his trance, grabbed his shoulder and lightly shook him.
"Please take your hands off of my son."
Mira Orihara stood in the doorway, still dressed in a nightshirt and sweats, watching the Servant with an expression he couldn't quite read. She held a plate of toast and a glass of orange juice in her hands, but quietly set them on the dresser by the door. The woman folded her arms, subtly showing off her broad shoulders. It wasn't something a Heroic Spirit would think of often, but she was significantly stronger built than her husband--than most men, even.
"He needs to rest, and shaking him like a rag doll won't help."
"I do not disagree that he needs to rest. But what he must do now is what his duties as a Master require of him."
"And what exactly would be so important that you'd drag him out of bed like this to do it?"
"Something that involves the Grail War and the combatants within it. Something that only the Seven Masters have any right,need,or business knowing."
Mira's tone never changed from the level-headed, earnest tone she'd had the moment she stepped into her son's room, but nonetheless she raised a wary eyebrow at that last comment, which said everything Saber needed to know about her reaction. This was truly the boy's mother, it seemed.
"That so? Well, considering one of those 'Seven Masters' is my little boy, I think you can make an exception."
"I'm afraid that I cannot. Even though he is your son, there are many things that he learned from the Church when they came for him, as well as certain things that only Servants are privy to, which may only be told to their Masters should they wish even they to know of it."
Mira stood for a moment, lips jostling in an odd tic as she pondered his stance. She nodded very slightly. "All right. Fine. As a Sevant, there are certain privileges you hold, and they must be respected."
She pulled a chair from Dirk's desk, sitting down and leaning forward, hands clasped together. Deadly serious, she added, "And much the same as a mother, there are certain privileges that I hold and demand be respected. He's not leaving this house."
"I believe you are confused about what responsibilities Dirk holds as a Master in this War. He is your son, but he is first and foremost a competitor now. And he will respect the laws, one way or another,"His voice changed to a much more menacing tone,"If I am forced, I will drag him from this house. Your duty and supremacy as mother to this man is suspended for the duration of the war, whether you care for it or not."
He sighed before continuing, "I know very well what it is you are feeling right now, but know that he fully committed himself to this the moment he attacked another Master and killed the family of another. With that commitment comes both the benefits and detriments of the title of Master, and if he will not follow the laws set down long ago, then it is my duty as his Servant to instruct him and if need be, discipline him to follow them. Your family is not my concern." He gestured to Dirk, "He is."
A brief flash of contempt passed Mira's eyes as Saber asserted his intent. She stood, roughly slapping the Servant on the shoulder and standing him up. "Come out here a moment."
She led him into the dining room and sat Saber down in a chair. She took the one opposite him. Her eyes narrowed, fixated on the knight across from her as she chose her next words. Saber could see clearly now. Shinosuke had given the boy his magic circuits. But Mira had given him his mind.
"Listen closely, Bors." Her tone was still level, but on her face, more and more evidently she showed the sort of fury a mother only restrained for the well-being of their child. "I don't honestly give a damn what 'responsibilities' Dirk has right now. Do you know much about why Dirk joined this war? I doubt he's told you; he probably doesn't even care about the why. Too caught up in the thrill of it to care much about that."
"We have a patron family, you know. The Orihara family is only five generations deep. My husband, their ancestors--they're not crafters of homunculi, or lords over any Magic. They only have two gifts: the gift of the wind. Complete control over the air from things as minute as changing the direction of airflow to mask their scent, or as violent as forming a blade of it and slicing apart even stone. The second, and most important, is the gift of the eyes. They pick up on the little things, that no one else sees. It may sound like a lot to someone with little knowledge of magecraft... but the truth is, the Orihara are nothing compared to someone like a Tohsaka or Einzbern. An Orihara only holds the advantage when the shadows are his ally. But, those skills are what made Shinosuke such an excellent fugitive, all those years running from the Association. But he was only able to run for so long. The Matou family came to us, made us an offer: fulfill the obligation we'd failed in the Fourth Holy Grail War, and put our newest magi, my son, into the war in their stead, as their crop of heirs has run dry. In return we'd be pardoned for our failure. They would stop chasing us. He--Dirk, I mean--would have a chance at a peaceful life, never afraid of an Enforcer coming for his head."
She bowed her head, and ended in a somewhat quieter tone. "We were blackmailed. No one else in this War is following the laws you're talking about. And my son is in no condition to go outside. I won't let you traumatize him further by making him play fair in a war full of cheaters."
"There is no fair," He started, looking down at his clenched hands before him on the table. "In this War. And we do not play. He has just as much chance of dying now in his bed as he does out there. You may have been blackmailed, but that does not give you the right to disregard what was put in place long before this generation was found by the Grail. You believe this to be the Sixth Holy Grail War? This is simply the Sixth generation since your Association was found by it and you began sending your sacrifices to its willing maw."
"Do not presume you know what is best for a Master. I have been summoned countless times, and fought more battles than I wish to remember. The Grail and I are connected in a way that only a precious, and cursed some would say, few can ever be. I hold Dirk to the laws even more closely than I would normally. He tortured and killed a man in the most painful way possible, and thought nothing of it, ordered I burn a house to the ground in the middle of a district, and would have refused to allow the man's family to claim what was left of his body had he not fallen unconscious." His hands were gripping the table hard enough to begin to splinter it, his voice dripping with contempt. "I believed I had been summoned by a man possessing a spirit akin to the greatest of us all, but it has been proven to me that he is a whelp who knows nothing of honoring your opponents. A child who would sooner kill a man in the coldest of blood than giving him an honourable death. A child," He looked up, eyes icy,voice somehow whispering so quietly it filled the room the same as a great shout could. "you still believe can be traumatized by this War, when he is second to none the most morally dangerous of all out there."
Mira wasted not an instant in snapping her hand across the table and snatching up a handful of Saber's clothing, pulling him closer to her scowling face.
"You think I don't know what he's done? You think I don't know the son I raised?! Damn it, I've known since the day he was born! No one can match him, and he thinks that makes him different. So, no one can connect to him, and now he's so screwed up he's a step away from being the magi he's fighting."
She released the Servant, pushing him back into his seat. Though she was incredibly strong for a mortal, it was only a symbolic gesture against Saber. She took a breath, ragged and halting to try and calm herself. She re-focused again, her face screwed on into a determined frown.
"But you think you're better than him, and you're wrong. Don't think I didn't do my research before entrusting you with his life. You left your own brother to die, Saber. But Dirk loves his family. Whatever you say about the things he's done, he's always done us proud, or tried his hardest to. As far as I'm concerned that makes him a better man than you."
She put a finger to his forehead, pressing it back and up. "A better man. He's not a monster. Neither are you. There's no such thing. No twisted creatures, just men that try to be good, and stumble when they don't know how. My child made a horrible mistake last night, but that doesn't change who he is and what he can become. You saw him in there. If you try to tell me he doesn't realize what he's done, I'll call you a liar."
She leaned back, folding her arms and daring him with a glare. "So now the ball's in your court, Knight of Arthur. You could take him and drag him around town until he drops dead from exhaustion, or shock. Physically, you're my superior by leagues. I can't stop you if I tried. Or you can start teaching him what it means to be the better man. Teach him mercy. Teach him forgiveness. Teach him that just because he's started on that dark path, it doesn't mean he can't turn back. That he won't be hated for what he's done, but loved for what he'll do from now on. If anyone could have used that lesson, it certainly would have been that cousin you idolized so much."
"I have my own share of regrets,that is true, but that still does not excuse your son's wrong-doings. Until he has proven to me that he can do better,be better, he will not be loved, he will not be held by the hand and told everything will be all right, and he will not be taught forgiveness. He will come with me, one way or another. He has long since been overdue an apprenticeship."
Saber shook his head and stood, knuckles still white as he clenched his fists behind his back, and stared at the wall.
"Do you wish to know why I left my brother behind? Because it was the right thing to do. I had the choice, an innocent, or a Knight of the Round. Who would you have chosen? Family that trained with the best and fought for their lives a dozen-dozen times," he turned back from the wall, "Or a child barely out of her infancy?"
"I do not believe myself better than your son. I simply refuse to stray from the path I chose to follow. Dirk has shown that while he has remorse, of that I am sure, he still killed in a gruesome manner in a fit of rage. He has no control over himself and beneath his exterior, lies a soul fully capable of sadism. And that could well prove to be his downfall. I mean to show him how his actions have affected others, as he seems to have forgotten - nay - never had the gift of empathy, except for a select few. There is no turning back, he can either accept that he did what he did, and continue on, or he can lay in his bed and allow you to care for him for the remainder of his days, which will be very few in number at the rate this War is progressing. I intend for him to choose the former, by force if necessary. There are things that need to be put right if this Generation of Magi is to continue the Grail Wars."
Mira wasn't happy with what he said, but she seemed calmer now. Whether or not she agreed, Saber could not say, but she seemed to at the least understand him now. After a long pause, she pleaded.
"Give him one day. He can barely move as he is, and with the wound in your hip, and the prana you've used up, you'll both be helpless if you're ambushed. One day, then do whatever you want."
"No. It is either today, or never. And I refuse to allow this to pass a day, when he can regain his composure. He needs to know this now, while the memories are still fresh in his mind. I am sure that as many of the Servants refuse the rules, they will follow this new one if they follow none of the others. Your world is fast shrinking, and the less the uninitiated know of your existence, the less trouble it is for us to fight in the streets during the night."
Mira stood, turning her back on Saber as she left. He heard her coldly call back at him before getting out of earshot: "If anything happens to my son, then I swear you won't escape the fate that follows you even in death."
"My fate is far more than simple death Lady Orihara, one does not simply anger the Grail as I have and expect to get away from it fully."
He stood, and straightened his suit to a degree, pulled on his gloves so they were tight, and walked back to Dirk's room. Grabbing him by the shoulders, he pulled him into a sitting position on his bed and snapped his fingers before his face.
"Dirk, snap out of it. You aren't getting out of this by being a child about what's happened."
Saber's attempts to rouse the boy were failures. Dirk's eyes stared past his snapping fingers and into space. A faint but very disturbing frown tugged down the corners of his lips. He was clearly awake, though it was difficult for the Servant to tell if he could truly be called conscious.
I hurt him. I hurt him.
With the apparent inactive state Dirk was in, Saber sighed, both perturbed and understanding of the young man's plight. Killing for the first time had that effect, but killing in such a manner...and for his first kill ever...it was unheard of, in his lifetime, and even more rare in the present, if what the Grail had implanted into his head this time around was to be trusted.
It seemed a more...violent approach may be necessary in order to pull the child out of his shocked state. Hoisting him over his shoulder, body mostly limp, he took a few steps back and set the boy on his feet, placing the fork near the plate of food in his hand and wrapping it closed before leading him to the table which held the platter.
"Eat, now. The Grail waits for no one, and you will need your strength to survive the coming night, as well as the duties you are to perform today."
Dirk was slow to respond, though he was able to remain standing. His eyes seemed glazed, not really there in the present as he stared at the plate of food. A disgusting roiling could be heard in his belly just looking at it, and in the first conscious move Saber had seen him make since he passed out the night before, he set the fork down, shaking his head.
Why did I hurt him? His eyes, right before...
"Not hungry," he said quietly. For a brief moment, the boy glanced at Saber, just a bit of the spark that was once in his eyes coming through. "Just take me wherever we're going. You're trying to knock a lesson into me, right? Thinking you're telling me something I don't know."
His words carried the usual bite, but none of the heart. He was soft-spoken, barely above a tired whisper as he snapped at the Servant.
"A lesson? Aye, you could call it that,"He said as he walked to the door and closed it, softening his voice somewhat as he walked back to the boy,"It could also simply be called paying your respects to the dead. Berserker's body and spirit are gone to join the Grail again, but that doesn't allow us to forget to honor the Servant's Passing. We were there when he died, and that does not preclude us from saying our goodbyes to their struggles, both in life and within the War. That is the short version of one thing we will be doing."
Picking up a piece of bread or whatever it was that was on Dirk's platter, he sat down in the chair next to where he had previously been in the clearest terms...coo-koo, just a few moments before. Throwing it into his mouth, he patted the bed, to which Dirk responded by walking to where his Servant indicated, and leaned against the wall, either refusing to sit or too weary to do so.
Quickly rolling his eyes, Saber leaned back and looked Dirk in the eye,"The other thing we must do today is pay a visit to the sister of the man that died last night. He was a participant in this war as much as any, though he lacked the seals that officially marked him as Master. We are going to be sure that Caster and his Master, scum though they may be, have retrieved his body. The family deserves the bodies of their children,"He averted his eyes on the last one, not quite sure he believed himself when he said it,"When next we see them, it will be the last time we allow them to escape with their lives,"His voice deepened in pitch,"I have invoked a Proclamation, an ancient rite of Servants from long before my time. They will not survive this war, they have gone too far, exposed this war too much for no other reason than because they are sloppy and care for nothing but their own gain. The burning of the hotel, the fire at the park, the recklessness of the two of them, they have exposed more of your world than any Servant in the last four millenniums, the last one being a man who set himself up as a god to his people long after his death."
So much pain in his eyes.
"That's not a good idea," Dirk told him in that same quiet voice so unlike him. "The police will have sealed off the park to investigate. They will see us as suspicious if we try to get in. And Maria will be out for... blood. You're not in a condition to fight another Servant."
Though the words presented the folly of Saber's logic, the spirit was lacking. Dirk spoke as he always did, but Saber could easily see the lack of strength behind the words. He had no intention of forcing the issue, and would likely follow the Servant wherever he was taken. Hell, he'd probably fall flat on his back if Saber poked his forehead right then. But his concerns on the knight's readiness for combat disturbingly toed around the real issue: he seemed sickly enough that he could barely stand, let alone stir up the mental fortitude required against an illusionist like Maria.
He looked at me, crying like he'd seen a devil. Hurt him so much...
"Of course she will be out for blood. Family is one of the few things many Masters allow themselves once they've been marked. But if she is blind enough that she does not find her brother's body, what do you think her reaction will be then? She will come for family soon enough, I guarantee you, she'll attempt to hit you where it hurts most, and if she does not find the body, neither will you. This is a War in heart, soul, body, mind, and scent, and they are the thugs hired to keep the followers in line.
He put his hands over his face and rubbed his cheeks. "I fear I know the Grail's game this war, judging from what we know of Assassin and what I suspect of Caster. And it is a very sick joke indeed, but one that it has played similarly before. It likes to play with the few of us who have gained its ire, you see? Seems it is back around to myself who is deserving of play-time. Now let's go, we only have..." He looked around the room for a clock. "At most half an hour. We will not enter the park, simply pass by it, all that is needed and can be done, can be done fairly quickly."
Why couldn't I stop hurting him?
As it was, Dirk was already wearing serviceable attire to take outdoors. All it took was a jacket and he was ready to brave the fairly warm streets of Fuyuki. A strange city, it didn't grow particularly chilly even in the deepest recesse of winter. And yet the boy certainly seemed cold with how sluggishly he moved. After a moment he was ready in a light windbreaker, notably lacking the one-man arsenal he'd carried the night before.
"Let's get this over with."
He waited by the door, letting his Servant lead the way before quietly following him out onto the street. And as they left, out the window stared Mira Orihara, feeling a shadow pass over the house as a wraith tailed the two of them, unseen and undetected. As she watched the back of her boy's Servant, a question lingered in her mind.
"Do you wish to know why I left my brother behind? Because it was the right thing to do."
Do you really believe that, Saber? Or is that just what you tell yourself, so you don't have to admit that there's not always a right choice you can make?
"So, mister Rider. You know why I came, now I figure is the time to work out what I can do for you in return for getting the blade back. I can heal, have a servant who has built up an encyclopedic knowledge of the cities complete with knowledge of hiding places, and I'm not afraid to get in the front lines, despite what the last night might've told you..."
The man was panicking. It was the first and only thought that came to Rider's mind as he listened to him ramble. If the master believed Rider would willingly return Mordecai's trump card he was a dumber man than the servant had first considered. The Heroic Spirit had been under the impression the man had some sort of cunning plan or clever negotiation tactics. Now he just realized the Irishman was an idiot wandering into a minefield. Regardless of intelligence, he had still given Rider a poor deal and the spirit wasn't about to play dumb when he knew he held most of the cards.
"Traditionally," he began with a cold edge to his tone, "an offer of allegiance is precluded with some sort of tactical asset, if not at the very least a gift, to the disadvantaged party. I do not recall where that leverage was within your proposal and it would be in poor taste to simply let you cower behind my glory."
"Rider, who is this... guest? Is there a reason you haven't killed him?"
Before Rider could continue his negotiations with the other master, his own had burst into the room unannounced. While most individuals would have seen this as a travesty, Rider's eyes simply sparkled with possibility. While it may have been amusing to tear into the young man opposite him alone, it would be far more entertaining to see Clay's reaction to the situation at hand. A grinchy grin began to curl up both sides of the spirit's mouth, relishing the thought of the amusement this would bring. He didn't even try to hide it from their guest, hoping the fear would sink in slowly but surely.
"Good morning to you too. I like to think there's enough hostility already, what with the death maids... That is, lovely armed house keepers. I think we would all appreciate a lighter tone, as I do come with an olive branch. I'm a healer by trade, and would like to offer my services in return for my servant's blade. And, no offense, but judging by your walk you look like you can use it."
The Irishman kept trying to talk his way out of the situation, now backpedaling with a fervor most unbecoming. It only served to further stretch that mad grin of the servant as we watched the events unfold. Unfortunately the man was a shade vague in explaining who he was and so Rider would help alleviate any confusion to whom his master was speaking to. After all, it was a servant's duty to assist his master in any way possible, right?
"Indeed, master Marks," Rider said, still staring down the man opposite him. "The good doctor has seen it fit to come and make pitiful offers in hopes of reacquiring an exquisite relic his servant so graciously tossed to us the evening past. I do hope my bringing him inside for you was to your desires."
That grin finally reached its apex at that sentence, knowing full well how close to the brink his master was. Now all he would need to do is sit back and enjoy the manslaughter.
"That is, lovely armed house keepers. I think we would all appreciate a lighter tone, as I do come with an olive branch. I'm a healer by trade, and would like to offer my services in return for my servants blade. And, no offense, but judging by your walk you look like you can use it."
Clay scoffed at this so-called goodwill. Did Mordecai really expect him to be an utter fool? "I'm going to have to respectfully decline. My family can take care of it." His glare intensified, smoldering with barely restrained anger. "Yes, my family. The people you put at risk when your Servant assaulted my home. So you'll have to excuse me if I'm not in the mood to pretend I can stand you." He turned to leave, not interested in playing games with an enemy - one that clearly had an ulterior motive, at that. Rider could have his fun for all he cared, but had more important things to attend to - like planning for the coming night.
He had almost left the parlor - just one step left - but Rider's words stopped him dead in his tracks. "The good doctor has seen it fit to come and make pitiful offers in hopes of reacquiring an exquisite relic his servant so graciously tossed to us the evening past. I do hope my bringing him inside for you was to your desires."
Clay could feel his hands ball up into fists. His concentration was focusing almost entirely on keeping him from trembling in rage. His glare was now affixed on his Servant. "You're certainly a cheeky one today, Rider." He was sure to punctuate his address with an appropriate amount of venom - he was in no mood for Rider's games either. "If you're going to negotiate, get it done. Kill him if he's of no use to us."
With that, he strolled out of the parlor, a pale of barely restrained rage following his steps.
"The good doctor has seen it fit to come and make pitiful offers in hopes of reacquiring an exquisite relic his servant so graciously tossed to us the evening past. I do hope my bringing him inside for you was to your desires."
"Tch." Mord glared at the servant, if he wanted to kill him, he should simply do it outright. It was all he could do to not pull his draw card right then and there. His ace in the hole would come later...
"If you're going to negotiate, get it done. Kill him if he's of no use to us."
"Sensible, if nothing else." Mordecai sighed, before turning to the servant. Mordecai felt tired again, probably from Brutus' constant use of his abilities, and never dematerializing. Mordedcai took off his glasses slowly, putting them in his breast pocket. He had gotten surgery a few months ago to improve his eyesight, but wearing the glasses made everything clearer, and he felt he could see farther. Neither of these were useful now, however, as he stared the servant dead in the eye, no fear in his heart.
"If you expect me to beg, forget it. I offer my services as a first class healer, in return for my servants blade. I have the barest shred of dignity to retain here." Mordecai got up from his chair, holding eye contact with Rider.
"If you believe your maids to be better healers, if you believe yourself to know the city and its' nooks and crannies better, if you think you two alone can take the other spirits and mages in the shadows, then I shall take my leave." Mordecai started towards the exit, the scalpel flying from Riders sash into Mordecai's outstretched hand.
Mordecai had gotten up. Now was the time.
Assassin had indeed been following Rider and Mordecai, although not in the location one would expect. In fact, Assassin was a good six feet below the two walking up to the house and then managed to stay a floor below everyone, avoiding traps and staying entirely unseen. It was a particularly easy chore when he could see all of the mansion's magical traps in a crimson glow, not too unlike the glow of his own weapon which he had come back to retrieve. On top of that, since he could detect everyone in the mansion, but they could not detect him, it was not only possible, but easy for him to position himself accordingly. As per the plan, Mordecai had the servant sit down with his phantasm in hand, now that negotiations seemed to have failed, it was time for a bit of an underhanded trick.
Assassin had already positioned himself directly under Rider and there weren't any traps to prevent him from what he was about to do, so he did it. Assassin jumped straight up in the air, silent as a ghost, passing through the floor and right into Rider's sash. Assassin's ghostly hand touched his blade and soon the blade had become one with him yet again, invisible and ethereal. All Rider would have felt, is a slight loss of weight, but the scalpel that just flew out of his satchel would throw him off of that for now.
Assassin then moved himself to his master's position. Rider would eventually notice the missing artifact and might retaliate. Assassin was ready for it. He re-materialized in a fog of smoke and his voice echoed through the room. "Consider yesterday a test, Rider. I purposefully avoided harming your servants, but if you wish to continue this, then so be it. Though it will not be today, nor tonight."
This RP ended, so I'll just post whatever plans I had for my Irish bastard.
Might as well do the same for Dirk.