Fate/Final Dark (Game Thread)

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"Daria!"

The Master of Rider had hit the ground in a heap, the aggressor cheerfully emerging from the flame and smoke and stepping into the churchyard. The black sky was tinted red by flames, framing the holy man in hellfire. Daria was crouched on the floor, still recovering from the latest head trauma when the priest appeared. She recognized his clothing. An Executor of the church? Bro warned me about these creeps... and the others are all gone, too. Divide and conquer tactics; I guess that means this guy's been picked special to fight against me. Poor bastard.

He spoke. "You have called for me and I, Executor Kyle Solus, have descended from upon high. What sayeth thou now, foolish girl?

Daria pressed on the ground, and pushed herself up. The stench of war was leaking in. Smoke, and burning flesh. Still hunched over, her tongue lapped up the blood dripping down her face. She glanced up at the holy man, and mimicked his grin. "I 'sayeth'... you talk funny."

She straightened her back, and brought herself up to her full height. Not enough to match Solus. She twisted, and felt a wave of pleasure as her spine cracked. Her arms and her neck followed in short order, limbering her body up for a fight. As she bent down, perched on one leg as the other stretched out to her left, she said, "Y'know, I'm glad you're here, Kyle. See, all night I've been stuck up in a stuffy church with a bunch of people I barely know. An' everyone keeps telling me... 'Stop fighting, Daria! Stop trying to pick fights with your team, it's disrespectful!'" She demonstrated her point by using her hand as a puppet, mocking the voices of her critics. Her smile grew just a little larger, a little stranger, as her eyes fixated on him, scanning him up and down.

"But you?" Her face looked almost innocent wen she said, "You blew up a church, Kyle. I don't think anyone will mind if I rough you up a bit!"

She bounced back to her feet, rapidly stamping on the ground, unable to contain her glee; she also noted the firmness of the sod. Good dirt for fighting on. Those were the kind of questions you sought answers to by instinct when you were raised by certain kinds of people.

"Ooh, I can't wait anymore! I'm so fuckin'... pent up! C'mon, let's fight!" She extended her fists and crouched down just a little, waiting to charge.

"Daria, wait."

With a frustrated sigh, her eyes slipped to the right, and caught Rider beside her. "What is it?"

"Haven't you noticed anything strange?" asked her Servant, standing cross-armed and observing the burning church. He spoke in a low whisper that didn't carry to the priest through the white noise of crackling fire. "That Master is the only one here. His Servant's still hidden. This could be a trap."

Daria hissed back, "You thought I didn't notice? Of course it's a trap! Look, I'm just here to fight the Masters. All the crazy superhero Servant stuff, that's your job."

"You're being negligent."

"I'm being a Master. My job is to fight other Masters. Your job is to fight Servants. So just... I dunno, watch my back."

"Daria, your job is to supply me with pra--"

"'Nuff chitchat, it's fight time!"

Daria slashed the air with her arm, cutting off any more protests from her Servant. Her knuckles tightened until they were snow white, and her grin was so wide now it was ready to grow right off of her face. Her eyes rapidly scanned his body, looking for an optimum way to approach. Got it!

After a brief moment's pause she rushed to the left, slyly zipping open a pocket on her jacket as she moved, until she was at the 2:00 position from her opponent's view. She roared as she closed the gap, telegraphing a massive punch, leaning into it with all her might... and missing his body by nearly a foot. She lurched straight past the Executor, wide open from her blunder.

But in her pocket, the lining quietly coalesced, and a small orb or liquidized metal streamed out to fly along the arc of her fist and plow into the other Master's body.

Alexander clenched his fists. Archer quietly sidled away from his Master, sensing that, for the first time he'd seen, the magus was acknowledging his duties. His brilliant, tiny eyes bored into the other man, so odd in his dress, his mannerisms.

There is something odd about this man... yet familiar. What's the connection?

Mustang sauntered forward, gently pushing Archer back when he tried to follow. "Remember our arrangement," he whispered. Paris wasn't insane enough to protest, and did as he was told, letting his Master walk the rest of the lonely march on his own. Alexander stared down both the Master and the Servant, his eyes glancing toward her for a moment. Words formed above her. She was an Archer, like his own. And she was... "My word..."

She was very beautiful. Alexander bit down on his tongue, hard. He caught the metallic taste of blood as he forced his gaze back to the other Master. He pointed an accusatory finger and demanded to know. "You possess the Servant Archer, stranger. Does that make you responsible for what has happened to this church, and the clergy within?" He received no proper response. The young man only chose to mock his elder.

""Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to show up?" the boy teased, shifting his gaze towards his partner who had taken up a flanking position, one hand on her hip and her stance leaning upon that same leg. "Guess this big hunk of man thinks he can take us on? I'd like to see him try. So com'on, whatcha waitin' for? Let's dance!"

"Hrm... petulant child!"

Alexander glared at the young man from beneath his brow, an aura of pure killing intent overwhelming the surrounding air. "You haven't the slightest idea whom you are speaking to, am I correct?"

"HRM! HO!" In grand, sweeping motions his tremendous arms swung into the air, his mighty biceps flexing for all to see.

"I! Am!"

"ALEXANDER JEAN LUC VALJEAN MUSTANG!"

Two mighty stomps rocked the ground as his legs spread to find purchase against the dirt, far too weak to hold his mighty frame. Craters formed around his heels.

"AVERAGE ONE!"

A distinct sound. The sound of tightening muscles, wound up like wires... ready to snap at the slightest provocation.

"AND SUPERVISOR OF CLERMONT-FERRAND! AND YOU WISH TO 'DANCE' WITH ME?!"

His hot blood began to overflow, and the air itself grew in temperature to match his fury... No. Wait. Blood doesn't actually do that. Was it... actually getting hotter?

"Oh-ho, VERY WELL MY GOOD CHUM! IF IT IS A DANCE YOU WANT..."

He flexed again, his muscles gearing up for some grand motion. It was like watching a loaded cannon with the fuse burning away. You weren't sure when, precisely, it would go off. But it was going to be loud, it was going to be explosive, and something was going to get destroyed. And that heat! There's no mistaking it! It was actually getting hotter somehow! But... how?

*KR-THOOM*

It all happened so quickly. It was as one brilliant, beautiful movement. Alexander swung his arms down, crossing them before his chest and flexing his entire torso. It was too much strain. A cascade of fabric shot through the air. His shirt wasn't able to contain the pressure, and exploded. His brilliant, shirtless body was illuminated from behind, as the ground itself split apart. A bright geyser of magma erupted into the air behind him as posed. Pose after pose, he displayed his fabulous body from every angle, displaying the sheer magnitude of his manhood that could not be shared by words, but image alone. He spoke only four, thunderous words to encapsulate this intimidating, incomparable display of power.

"THEN LET US DANCE!!!"

...

Archer watched from afar, tears in his eyes. "This is it then. He's really, truly lost his mind..."

...

Alexander began to glow. Backed by the burning church, the cooling lava, and the night sky his entire body began to glow in brilliant, blue colors such that he was less a human and closer to the Seraphim. He could not tell these poor children of men to fear not, for they had awakened his wrath, and his fires would be brought upon them. His right arm flexed. "HRM!" In a single, powerful motion he thrust it forward, and the ground beneath him answered his plea. "TECTONIC BURST!" The dirt was scattered as pillars of rock thrust forward from beneath the earth's surface, stalagmites aimed to pierce his foes from below.

"I am a Master of the Holy Grail War, and the Servant Archer alike! Come forth, brat, and SHOW ME HOW YOU DANCE!"

The smoke-choked rubble blurred past Saber as she sprinted forward, neatly threading her way through the impromptu obstacle course of debris. Skirting the patch of red-hot embers with millimeters to spare, neatly leaping over the splintered remains of a pew, ducking beneath and around a collapsed support beam, the Servant steadily advanced through the now shockingly silent chaos. Aside from the crackling of flames, the creaking of the desecrated church, and the labored pants of her Master as he steadily fell farther and farther behind, she couldn't hear anything. No battle cries, no clashing blades, no explosions or chanting or ominous organ music. Nothing.

It was wrong.

The attackers had caught them off guard, had had no compunctions about burning a church, sanctioned neutral ground, and its caretakers to the ground, and clearly had all kinds of skill when it came to Magecraft. Had they kept pouring the spells down, they could have reduced the entire building, and the entire faction, to little more than a few centimeters of dust. But they hadn't. They had stopped the assault, without killing any of the Servants or Masters, at least as far as Saber could tell. Why?

She didn't like it. Her instincts were screaming at her, telling her that it was a trap, that there had to be a reason the attackers hadn't seen fit to finish the job. The ideal course of action would be to figure out why, and to try and plan a suitable countermeasure.

But if the groaning of the still-burning, almost skeletal structure was any indication, she didn't have time for the ideal course of action. What she had time for was to head out, find the enemy, and hit them until they retreated, stopped moving, or killed her. Preferably the second.

As she sprinted, Saber noted the locations of her allies. Or ally, rather; the only other person she could hear, see, or smell was her Master, still floundering in his attempts to keep up with her. The other members of Team White were nowhere to be seen. Tch, not that it mattered too much. The front doors (or door, rather. Only one of the great wooden slabs still clung precariously to its hinges; its twin had vanished somewhere) were straight ahead of her, and beyond them lay the outside.

Grunting, the Servant put on one last burst of speed, slid through the doorway, her hand resting on her blade's hilt, and-

"You're late..."

-stared in mild shock and surprise at the nonplussed, almost bored figure standing before her.

He wasn't a Servant. That much she could tell instantly. And it only took her a few milliseconds to make her next guess: Fancy clothes, a strong yet subtle grace, a matching armband and tie clip, his strange, hard expression. The man was here for a reason. Most likely to kill her and her Master. He had predicted where they would exit, and had come here to face them head on when he could've easily targeted them from the shadows. ...He thought that he could beat her, didn't he?

Saber felt a small grin steal across her features. Smug little bastard.

The milliseconds slowly blended into half of a whole one, and Saber's eyes slid off of the well-dressed man and onto the figure standing slightly behind him and to his left. It took her even less time to make a guess at his identity. Her smile grew a little wider.

'Hello, Saber.'


His lungs were burning. The physical exertion alone wouldn't have been enough to make him this short of breath, but when combined with the smoke and blazing hot air... Each inhalation dragged a razor blade down his esophagus, and each exhalation pulled it back up. It hurt. But there was nothing for it; he had to keep moving.

Choking, Matt struggled after Saber, keeping his eyes shut as much as he dared. If the smoke was doing this much damage to his lungs, how much would it hurt his eyes if he left them open? He had to get out here, before he passed from the fumes or before the building collapsed on him. If he stayed here, he was dead. If he went outside... In all honestly, he was still probably dead, but at least he could get out of the smoke.

Hacking thickly through his sleeve, the magus stumbled forward for what felt like a short eternity. Then, faintly, he heard the sound of metal screeching in protest from somewhere in front of him. Door hinges? Wait, the front door? He'd finally made it?

Despite the flares of pain it sent through his chest, Matt charged forward. If Saber had found the exit, then he just had to keep going a little more and...

He was out of the smoke. Past the foundations of the church, outside in the cool, crisp, almost divinely clear night air. Ripping his mouth and nose out of his sleeve, the young man gratefully gulped down sweet, sweet oxygen. He wasn't exactly sure when he fell to his hands and knees, simultaneously coughing a lung up and sucking air in, or when his smoke-stained eyes started blurring up; all he knew was that he could finally breathe again.

God, air tasted good. Why hadn't he ever noticed it before?

DIE

He froze. Despite his burning lungs, despite his quaking muscles, despite his tearing eyes, Matt froze. He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be here.

If he stayed here, he was going to die.

If he moved, he was going to die.

Matt felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand up of their own accord. He felt his body reflexively tighten up, muscles tensing for near-instantaneous movement, bladder clenching so that he didn't piss himself, lungs slowing until barely any oxygen flowed through his blood. His eyes, despite the lingering smoke that still stung them, darted around, searching for anything within his limited sight to focus on.

There. About two yards in front of him and three to his right. Saber's left heel. It wasn't moving. Well, it was, kind of; he could see the muscles in it flexing and unflexing, moving ever so slightly as she shifted her weight. But it was just sitting there, staying still. It wasn't advancing or retreating or stepping to the side or anything; it was just there, not moving. Why wouldn't it be moving? They were in danger, right, so she should be fighting. She had to move if she was going to fight, unless she knew some way to fight standing still. But that didn't make sense; she was a swordsman and a fist fighter. She had to move in order to fight. Well, maybe she knew some other techniques that the book and legends didn't talk about, like a move or style that she'd picked up on some adventure that no one had remembered to talk about. But what were the odds of that; she was a Heroic Spirit, wasn't she, an existence that fell just short of full on godhood. People had talked about her for centuries; she couldn't know any new techniques, that wasn't how things worked. So why wasn't she moving, why was she just standing there, what was she waiting for, was there a signal or a time limit or was she already dead or had she already won and why wasn't she moving or saying anything or-

/music

"Good evening Matthew, Saber."

Those four words were enough to break the spell. Suddenly, Matt could move, could breathe again. His muscles, strung tight as a wire, relaxed, and he almost fell forward as he indulged himself in two more deep, shaky breaths. Then, slowly pushing himself back into a mostly upright position, the magus stared dully forward, his eyes locking onto the speaker who'd been kind enough to break him out of his panic attack.

Immediately, the boy was struck by the differences between himself and the stranger. While his own clothes, nice and well-kept earlier in the evening, were wrinkled and stained with smoke and soot, the stranger's outfit was prim and perfect, each garment precisely pressed and arranged just so. While the stranger was fiddling with his hat, adjusting it even though it had already been perfectly perched atop his head, his own hair was in a horrifying state of disarray. Odds are he'd have to spend a good fifteen minutes trying to tame it back into some semblance of order. While his face was red and puffy, flushed from physical effort and stained by tears, the stranger's visage was set into a carefree, almost friendly expression, as though he was meeting a not-quite-friend on the street.

While the stranger held himself with the utmost confidence and strength, he was hunched forward and shivering in trepidation...

"A lovely evening for a stroll, isn't it? I do hope my compatriots and I didn't startle you and your friends. It would be such a shame if someone had been put off by or little visit. My name is Twenty-One."

The man, Twenty-One, extended his hand. Despite the distance between them, Matt was briefly overcome by the urge to hurry forward and shake the offered limb; surely doing anything less than that wouldn't be proper.

But no, he couldn't do that, could he? He'd make a fool of himself trying to stumble towards Twenty-One, and he'd only manage to stain his immaculate hand with dust and soot. No, no, it would be far more appropriate to simply hang back here, back where he belonged, and just nod back in reply. He didn't want to risk verbally introducing himself; even if he didn't burst into a fit of coughing, he'd just trip and stumble over his own words, as usual. And besides, there was no need for him to announce his name. Twenty-One already knew it, and-

...Twenty-One knew his name.

...Why would Twenty-One need to know his name?

For the first time since he'd looked up, Matt saw where Saber was looking. Following her gaze, he spotted the man standing besides Twenty-One, the one who carried himself with an overwhelming air of grace and power. The hairs on the back of his neck began to rise again, and a series of letters and numerals flashed across the young magus' vision.

...Oh. Oh God.


"A lovely evening for a stroll, isn't it? I do hope my compatriots and I didn't startle you and your friends. It would be such a shame if someone had been put off by or little visit. My name is Twenty-One."

Barely paying heed to her almost immobile Master (at least now he was standing upright), Saber nodded once in greeting to the enemy Master. "Twenty-One?" she called, unable to keep a slight hint of mirth out of her voice. "Do numbers pass for names these days? Jeez, times really have changed, haven't they?"

Slowly, methodically, Saber took a few steps forward, allowing her hand to slide off of her sword's hilt as she walked. "Well, it was certainly nice of you two to come all the way out here and say 'hi' to us," she continued, her tone light and full of friendly cheer. "Had I known you were coming, I would've brought out a trophy or two to brag about. But still, what's done is done, right? No sense in worrying about the past."

Coming to a stop halfway between the ruined church and Twenty-One, Saber stopped and held her ground. Her smile never wavered, not even for a second. "Now, it looks like you two did a pretty bad job of killing my Master and myself. Tell me, would you like to try again?"

For Yi, it wasn't just a matter of appearance, even the mundane matter of a bun had become a ritual of sorts for her.

After the attack, Yi needed to shift her focus from the fire and the flames. Chanting helped, that bit of Magecraft helped, but she didn't need Yi Yu Yuen the Magus at the moment. A businessman had set an offer on the table - a tempting one at that - and so, she required Miss Yuen the Businesswoman. To do anything else would be an insult to the man's offer. He chose not to fire the first shot, but instead decided to open negotiations, even if the deal was a little in his favour. Nevertheless, she appreciated the lull in violence, regardless of the circumstances. Victory was in easy reach for the other team and yet, here the Berserker of Black's Master was, offering Yi anything for her surrender. However, the growling beast next to him made her reassess the sincerity of the man.

He was a somewhat comic figure: overweight, covered in fanciful, but traditional clothing that wasn't exactly the best fit, not to mention the mustache and beard. With somewhat tight clothing and a sizable stomach, the Master of Berserker of Black somewhat resembled an overstuffed piece of dim sum: something which aimed to be elegant, yet hearty, but had overshot and ended up overindulgent. Like the chef had stuffed more than one bite-size portion of inside the little steamed bun. Almost a disappointment given his intimidating entrance. With one snap of his fingers, he had shown Yi her folly. He had shown the Magus she was trapped. Black had responded to White's passive opening move and was ready to capture some pieces. Would White be able to wiggle out of that?

No wonder she felt some relief when she heard those words of parley.

"My dear Miss Yu Yuen, how are you of the doings, yes?" He asked, making himself look even more comical with his garbled speech, "Farouk is, how you are saying, a man of many business, yes? I am not here for fighting, only the businesses, yes? That is why Farouk offering fair trade for your unconditional and completing surrender, yes yes? I am man of many things, so maybe Farouk and you make deal, yes? What is it you are the wanting and maybe Farouk arranging for that to be happening, yes? Farouk has many, many things and is knowing many more than having, yes?" The tirade of questions ended with, "So what is pretty little thing saying to having agreements, yes?"

Both Master and Servant noted the fact their Black counterparts knew Yi's name.

'So that's the answer to that question, huh?' Berserker thought as he looked over the two.

He allowed himself a smile, not only was Berserker of Black tad shorter but it appeared that he was under the effects of the Mad Enhancement as well. Maybe the Servant would get to claw at the hairy carpet on his chest and make a nice little toupée for the balding Berserker? On the other hand the prospect of a deal intrigued him more. Sure, Berserker had to admit the terms were a little harsh, however they could request anything, couldn't they? As long as it is seen as a 'fair trade'? There were so many options: a surrender for a surrender, coin, clothes, cloaks, women, wine... whatever. Although, as Berserker thought it through, the proposal seemed less and less appealing. Surrendering was no fun! Besides, the man hadn't said anything about their safety and didn't look particularly trustworthy...

Regardless of his thoughts on the matter, his Master showed no signs of hostility - maybe she wanted to go along with the farce? He growled as if imitating the smaller of the Berserkers. He was ready to protect from a foolishness. A deal with the enemy, what was she thinking? To tell the truth, she was just weighing up her options. Yi glanced at the wolf-like Berserker of Black and letters bounced around her vision. Her confidence grew. 'A shock-and-awe approach and Farouk's proposal suggest a desire for an easy victory through coercion, perhaps because they doubt their ability to win the War through honest means?' Yi reflected. It was an interesting line of thought, but one could only get so far with assumptions.

The initial confidence was tempered by doubt and by pain as the effects of the Kuji-in chant became apparent. Yi took a deep breath. What she needed was information and there was a potential source standing right in front of her. It might have been impolite to answer a question with a question, but Yi did it anyway.

"I see that you have laid your terms on the table, Mr. Farouk." Miss Yuen replied, "But are they open to discussion?"

'You imbecile!'

Lancer's Master could hardly believe her eyes. She knew that her counterpart was to be considered impulsive, maybe even a little rash at times, but his actions seemed more suicidal at this point than anything. Without a second thought he had swallowed his own magecraft and started a pain driven barrier against the illusion mystery her employer had constructed. Even further still, it had been brought into existence by their Caster, considered to be the best in her field not only by modern standards, but even amongst the heroes and villains inscribed upon the throne of heroes. Compounded by the fact that they had had near limitless amounts of prana to expend from the leylines and it was a wonder how the duelist thought he could overcome the craft. Small steps seemed to be lost on the man.

As her opponent began to spasm in pain, she could feel her fingers unconsciously rubbing against her thumb, itching to end this. She could see it in his eyes, that gleam of superiority and focus that meant results had been seen but it was insane to think, knowing what she knew, that anything but suffering could be reaped from the exercise. Her fingers felt unusually hot and raw, knowing that just a single snap would release him from his prison. She couldn't let it end like this. That man would rather burn himself alive than be proven insufficient or incorrect.

Snap!

The sound rang out into the quiet night. She hadn't realized that the only sound around them had been the hypnotic crackling of the bonfire the church had become. As the illusion broke, the Lancer of White immediately shifted its (was it a he or a she?) focus towards her own Servant.

Hey, there! Feel like taking your balls out of your purse, pal? Or should I come over there and take 'em out for you?"

Lancer reacted almost immediately, his frown turning into a scowl as his blood began to boil. His master simply placed a calm hand across his chest to halt any advance he would attempt, expecting the gesture to be sufficient. The spirit was immediately calmed, heeding his master's unsaid order with complete obedience. Regardless of what disposition the pair had towards each other, it was certainly clear that the woman had complete control over her spirit.

"Now Lancer, there's no need to rude. I take it you were the one to cast the elemental portion of that display."

Figured.

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. The man didn't need nor want confirmation of the query; he was already dead set in his assumptions of what had happened. For anyone else it may have been a grave error in judgment but not for Clay Marks. His inflated ego was tagged with a semblance of truth -- the duelist was one of the best around. Good enough to defeat a mystery woven by a hero of the Grail? That was debatable but he was certainly enough of a match to make a few incorrect assumptions with even agents of the Clock Tower. The woman simply nodded in response as she slowly walked out from the shadows, her guardian stepping in synch at her side.

What little that had been revealed by the move seemed fruitless at best. The woman's face was well hidden behind quite to opaque mourning veil attached to a quaint flat top hat. Her brown hair flowed down past her shoulders, kept in check with the occasional clip. Her stature was unusually thin, almost sickly, with what skin was showing being a pale white in the moonlight. Her dress only compounded this with a contrast, the gothic lolita inspired attire being either the black body of the piece or the white accents and frills on its edges. Long, lithe legs showed just below the knee, covered in a dark but transparent stocking before slipping into a pair of flats. If her goal was to look as morose as possible, she was certainly a high achiever.

"While showey, I am still rather alive. On top of that, your fire magecraft... well... the only way to put it is that it was quite lacking. Without the leylines and that formalcraft granting stability, it would have blown up in your face."

It was an obvious statement. It took every ounce of her fiber to not roll her eyes in sheer annoyance at the "lesson" the man was giving her. Had her opponent's bark been worse than his bite, he wouldn't have posed a threat to even that Heller boy their benefactor was responsible for. Of course the mysteries had barely held together and would have backfired if not for the extra prana and stability granted by the leylines. They were crafted and casted knowing that they would be given that sort of power, so how was that a pearl of wisdom? For now, the woman would bide her time and bite her tongue. The woman was forced to with her opposite partaking in such a disgusting habit. But she knew the fiery personality that stood before her could only hold out so long and was about to explode into action.

"An outcome I would not mourn. You just made a huge mistake, you know. I don't mind threats and ambushes against myself - comes with the territory of being a Master. But you put my sister in danger. In most circumstances, I would be willing to parlay. But now? You die."

"Lancer, the woman," she stated plainly as her adversary finished his little speech.

Her attention was then drawn to Clay's manifestation. His aria was short but serviceable, forming snaking columns of fire that snapped like dragons' maws. Had it not been such an exhilarating and life threatening situation she would have had to force back rolling her eyes once again. For such a display there wasn't much substance behind the attack. A single line for the aria was more than telling as to how powerful this mystery would end up being. The rest was just flash meant to unnerve his opponent, hoping to instill the sense of being overcome with minimal effort. And so she whispered to herself...

"Heat and flame chill by my touch,
Spread winter's grasp to all who protest."

She could already feel her mind slip into that stream of unconsciousness as the words fell from her mouth. The power within began to stir, small leaks trickling through her circuits. As the final word was spoken, she could vividly see that crystal bauble once more, a violent crack crashing through her mind as it frosted over to its breaking point. Suddenly the chill spread through her entire body, power surging forth from her chest and outwards to the very tips of her fingers. Her hand outstretched towards the oncoming flames, her index finger gently caressing the first head moments before it engulfed her. As her finger pressed itself against the inferno it quickly became chilled, and then solid into a magnificent sculpture of ice. The frost carried itself to the origin of the spell, threatening its owner with the same fate as his conjured beast. As each head of this supposed hydra lashed out, the veiled Master lazily touched them in turn and froze them solid with her mystery. He would easily be able to counter this, she was sure from his reputation, but showing him she wasn't interested in his petty scare tactics was an important point to make.

Lancer, on the other hand, was sprinting towards Diana's position with all the speed he could muster. It wasn't the most tactically sound position to take, yet it wasn't his place to judge. His Master had spoken at great length that the man's weakness was his family, particularly his fondness for his younger sister, and she intended to exploit it. As Lancer of White rushed the Servant down, Lancer of Black could see his victorious path towards the woman. From the ethereal bled in two solid gold spears; both simple shafts that ended in a point, each entwined by a golden snake that ended in forming a pike pole guard. Grasping one in each hand, the Heroic Spirit quickly hefted the spear in his right hand and threw it between the meddling ape and his own intended target. The golden armour spirit then rushed forwards, keeping the soaring weapon to his left as he approached Diana, keeping his remaining tool of war in a defensive position in case the monkey was foolish enough to pursue straight through the hurled projectile.


"Then peace is out of the question? Even for your team's Saber? You wretches, cowards, and traitors both!"

The words hung heavy in the air, clinging to the young man's chest with an almost unbearable weight. The assassin had thought about it many times -- his career, his methodology, and the goal they hopefully led him to. Was it truly as detestable as the woman claimed? His eyes began to grow wider as he fell to his knees, trembling with apprehension and doubt. The words seemed so true now that eh thought about them. What sort of monster had he become!?

"...shut up...Shut up. Shut up! SHUT UP!!!"

Assassin's voice was wracked with pained grief, clutching his head in agony as he shook it vigorously from side to side. That stupid woman was trying to manipulate them, but even more discomforting, she was using the truth to do it. He was a wretch, a man who had been spurned by both his family and his Lord as lesser than him. He was a coward, having used the shadows and unfounded trust to manipulate his brother. He was a traitor, having stabbed his kin in cold blood over such a petty reason. Assassin was a monster beyond compare and it pained him to hear it, especially from a complete stranger. What did she know of these words -- of betrayal most foul? Rage began to bubble to the surface of the Servant's face as it contorted itself into strange and unfitting expressions, still digging his fingers into his scalp with an unimaginable force. Something had gripped his mind and it certainly wasn't Cassius' phantasm.

"I'll kill you! I'll kill you all if it brings forgiveness in His eyes! HOW DARE YOU SAY BROTHER DOESN'T LOVE ME?!"

The words had little time to sink in before Assassin was rushing towards his adversary. His movements were erratic, zigzagging in short bursts as he approached the Assassin of white. In his hands he toyed with his ebony shiv, twirling it playfully through his fingers with a precision only familiarity and practice brought. His upper body was completely slack, arms and head dangling limp with each halt in movement as he continued to throw various questions that made much less sense than the first one had. Assassin was now at the edge of sanity, nearly broken into a permanent gibbering rage and that unpredictable strength was now his to wield against Yuri and his own Assassin. He would make them pay dearly for what they had said and be one step closer into seeing his brother again.

As his Assassin charged forward in a maddened state, his Master was beginning to return to reality from the dizzying state of Cassius' Traitor's Guise. It seemed so obvious before but now that guilt had bled itself away, nothing more than lies upon the wind. He raised himself to only one knee, taking stock of his situation. His senses were still muted from the experience and considering the magic that had been woven upon him it was a miracle that he was still standing at all. Any normal human would have been outright destroyed or left an empty shell of their former selves. He could only thank God that he had been given reprieve from such a fate and continue to move forwards.

'Keep it together, Rolan. Brother would not approve of such weakness...'


Kyle wasn't certain if he was squaring off against a very energetic girl or a complete psychopath but she was proving to be most amusing. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Regardless of his opponent's mental state, the executor was beginning to unclasp his cassock to prepare for the inevitable battle. His was more of a coat than anything else, opening to reveal a similarly coloured shirt, pair of pants and a fairly sizable cross made of silver. Once the man felt a little more comfortable, he turned his attention back towards his adversary, still jabbering away about how hard it was to keep her fists from colliding with another human being's face. Even he felt it was a little much to want to fight all the time. What was this girl's problem anyway?

"But you? You blew up a church, Kyle. I don't think anyone will mind if I rough you up a bit!"

"I've destroyed far grander things than a pitiful church in a back water town," he commented, his vocabulary changing drastically from before. Was the previous account an act, or was this a mockery of her?

Just before the girl could begin her charge, her Servant decided to interject with the most obvious of observations: where was Kyle's Servant? The man chuckled a little to himself, brushing back his cassock and spread his weight around to lean more on his back leg to brace for an oncoming charge. His right hand quickly shot up towards the hilt of his blade, fingers twitching in anticipation to grasp the weapon. His other was busily rummaging around to find something within the coat. Eventually the Master began to act in accordance to her title and stifled anymore protest from her Heroic Spirit with a quick chop to the air. At last, she was ready to throw down.

As predicted, the young woman was off like a rocket, screaming towards him with demonic speed. Her stature was certainly deceptive in this respect, hiding a fighter twice her size in speed and strength. Nevertheless, he was prepared. From within his coat he brought forth a tiny vile of pitch black ichor. It sloshed with a varying viscosity like crude oil when parting its main body; yet reformed as if it was water. With a quick flick of his thumb the vial was sent end over end on a direct path towards the diving girl. It was odd that she was off by such a wide margin with her swing but he wasn't about to complain about a poorly calculated punch. As the vial soared towards its intended target, the executor was already shifting his weight from his back to his front, shifting all the power behind that movement as well. He drew the blade to follow through, extending himself out at a far greater speed with the momentum built. As the blade nearly reached the furthest point of its arc he could feel the weapon buckle slightly as it began to dig into what was in front of him. It felt soft, much like the flesh of another human being, and the executor stopped at the extremity of the swipe, wanting to gloat a little before sending the witch to her final hell. The draw was over in but an instant yet the damage was done -- Executor Solus had struck down Daria.

Or so he thought. As the blur of combat began to come back into focus, Kyle quickly began to realize his stroke was just a hair short. Yes, Daria was the first shape he could make out and she was directly in front of him, but the point of his blade was just scratching the fabric of her shirt near her belly. What he had struck was some odd liquid metal looking magecraft, now mingling with the ichor he had tossed out. The black liquid was already infecting it, the rapid progress far beyond external repair and would simply need to run its course through the mystic code. Contrary to how the black liquid had been performing earlier, now with the added stroke of his blade it seemed to be having difficulty reforming, as though he had destroyed some part of its nature. The worst of it, however, was that Kyle had Daria right where he wanted but couldn't seal her fate. Just a couple of inches and she would be gutted like the sheep she was and yet he had already stretched himself to his limit. With a chuckle he slowly straightened himself, sheathing the blade before needlessly dusting his cassock off for show before addressing his opponent.

"Demon's blood," Executor Solus stated with a wicked grin. "I don't think your code'll be much use now. Black Keys'll make it nothing more than a pile of grey goop." Kyle tapped the hilt of his greatsword as an example to accentuate that point. "I'll be honest, never thought I'd be excited to get down and dirty with a little girl. Suppose it's the priest in me. But a fight's a fight, so whether Heaven or Hell, let's rock!"

The executor quickly dashed towards the girl with the same force she had previously engaged him with. His ferocity was certainly much greater than one would expect at first glance, even from an executor of the church. Each punch was supported with a plethora of power, each kick able to shatter bone. Yet every attack was met with its opposite on the other end, each punch countered with her own fist from the opposite angle, every kick stopped with a matching strike. The two were eagerly engaged, literally blow for blow, in a contest of both strength and endurance. Kyle could feel his knuckles shake with every impact, his grin growing wider as each strike met its partner in this macabre dance of destruction. His eyes were only growing wider, his mind detaching itself from rational thought and focusing in on the euphoria of battle. He even let a small, steady laugh begin to escape his lips as the test continued well beyond what any other had been capable of in his illustrious career. She was a demon that surpassed all his expectations and he relished the thought of making her writhe and cry out in pain and horror.

After about a minute of mirrored counters, Kyle had had just about enough of this practice. Daria was a worthy adversary, but he had bigger fish to fry when it came to this war. With a hefty twist of his body, the man delivered a roundhouse kick that caused a thunderous clap when it struck its opposite thrown by the girl. The force was so great that it sent Kyle's leg flying back, sliding him across the ground as he stamped the grass with his previously lifted foot. It was an impressive blow that created some much needed distance, begrudging as it was ending the fusillade of fists. It couldn't be helped, however, as he'd need time to prepare his next move. His eyes inspected his now raw and bloody knuckles, smirking with satisfaction at their state. He then began...

"I ride upon thunder, to strike swift and true."

As the words were spoken, arcs of electricity began to form from his fingertips, dancing about the ground around him. He could feel the energy coursing through him and begun to weave it into its true purpose. Beneath his feet he forged a dart shaped platform, just wide enough to crouch upon and filled with enough crackling energy to be used as a weapon. Stretching his hands out behind him, he commanded the plasma below to jet forwards once more and rushed towards his adversary at an unthinkable speed.

"Bolt Rider!"


Alexander Jean Luc Valjean Mustang.

If there was one name the boy would remember until his dying breath it'd be his. It wasn't because it was a fanciful name, no. It had nothing to do with lineage within the magus community. It wasn't even the grand display of magecraft with lava flows that burst forth from the very crust of the planet itself. No, it was because Alexander Jean Luc Valjean Mustang was the biggest ponce he would ever have the displeasure of meeting.

Despite the disdain the young man had for the needlessly flashy entrance, the threat of the mystery hurtling towards him was very real. There wasn't time to move out of the way, not by a human's standards. Yet Mr. Valjean Mustang was still facing another magus and fairly talented one at that. Beneath his breath the boy began to mutter the aria that would keep him safe from such a catastrophic attack.

"My steps, so light, they carry me through worlds. Flash Step..."

The magus then took a single step backwards before the stalagmites forming from underneath overtook him. Yet the whispers of his spell still hung in the air, as if expecting their creator to return. It was but a moment until the crafty young man reappeared beside the rock formation that had just threatened to kill him, finishing his small slide backwards. Yet the craft his adversary created was unrelenting in its power, more spikes crafted from the very earth beneath him shooting upwards without warning. Again and again the boy weaved his mystery and disappeared from this existence, only to reappear safely again. By the end of the assault he was balancing himself precariously on the very tip of the tallest stalagmite, one foot gingerly resting upon the other with one hand pointing a sideways finger gun accusingly at Alexander, the other having his elbow pointing towards the sky as he flexed.

"You look silly doing all of that needless posing, you know," the boy mentioned. "If you had any flair or pnash like myself, maybe you'd stand half a chance to show up the devilishly handsome Isaac Einzburn. Yet you're a chump, a third rate magus from a fourth rate family. Just give it up, you know you can't beat a pedigree like mine. In fact..."

The Master then looked down at his servant, dusting herself off after the calamity of a mystery Alexander had mustered, looking rather peeved about it.

"Hey Archer," the young man yelled out. "Why don't you sit this one out? Go play with that child this gorilla scraped up from the bottom of the Grail."

Isaac didn't retaliate; there was no need to. He just went back to staring straight ahead at the mound of mscle before him, a cocky grin from ear to ear. He knew in his heart of hearts that a magus of Clermont-Ferrand, an Average One at that, was a futile exercise. He couldn't compete mystery for mystery against a powerhouse like that. But maybe if he could wear him out with minimal effort on his own part. Even if half of that speech was the aria for that craft he had used, there was no way Alexander was going to keep it up for any reasonable length of time. Besides, his own Flash Step mystery was more than enough to keep him out of harms way and at a pittance of the prana Alexander was wasting. Yes, time was on his side right now and he needed to goad the oaf into using up what reserves he had before making his own move.

Archer, on the other hand, simply gave a two fingered salute to her Master before jovially skipping across to the other side of the battlefield. She knew her own little plaything was around here somewhere. He had entered their staged encounter with the beefcake, yet now he seemed to have disappeared. Winding her way through the shadows, the spirit eventually found her newest fancy trying to keep himself out of sight, oddly enough more so from Alexander than her own Master. With the beguilery like the brigand she was, Archer crept through the burning church and up behind Paris without so much as a peep. It was only once her soft breath was creeping across his neck that he could tell the vixen was there.

"So, boy'o, when does the real fight start?" she whispered into his ear before walking to his front, purposefully brushing her luscious curves against his arm in passing.

She then spun around quickly, firing off two finger guns with her own pew! noises to accompany each, giggling like a schoolgirl afterwards. The woman then made her way to the left of the boy, wrapping her arms around his and snuggling up to his side as if they had spent a lifetime together. She looked up at the young man, wide eyed and innocent, as if he had been the first man to ever have made her heart skip a beat.

"Your Master really knows how to put on a show, doesn't he?" she asked rhetorically. "I bet the hero that man summoned could show a girl a real good time, hmm?"


"Twenty-One? Do numbers pass for names these days? Jeez, times really have changed, haven't they?"

Twenty-One looked the Servant over from top to bottom with a quick shift of his eyes. If he was impressed or intimidated, he did a superb job in hiding it. The man hadn't even flinched at the remark, keeping his relaxed posture and demeanor unwavering in the face of the boisterous brute. In fact, he seemed a little put off by no one accepting his outstretched hand, placing it back at his side with a momentary sneer at the inhospitality. Yet his jovial attitude came back just as quickly as it had departed, looking Saber straight in the eyes to respond to her rhetorical insult.

"It's suited me fine thus far," he answered, cool as ever. "I've no need for a proper name, as such." If the comment had any impact on the Servant, she didn't show it.

"Well, it was certainly nice of you two to come all the way out here and say 'hi' to us. Had I known you were coming, I would've brought out a trophy or two to brag about. But still, what's done is done, right? No sense in worrying about the past."

It would turn out that her attempts would be misplaced with these particular comments. Saber of Black began to show the faintest etchings of a frown beginning to form on his otherwise expressionless face. While his rather stoic visage didn't betray what exactly about Saber of White's remarks bothered him, it was clear that the Servant was displeased with her general attitude at this point. Almost immediately the spirit placed a hand upon his scabbard, thumb resting just below the guard of his blade as their adversary removed her own, beginning to show his own frustration with this entire scenario. The prim Master stole a glance towards his own Servant, a seemingly nonchalant blink separating each shift in gaze. While he had chosen his specific Saber for his ruthless personal attention and demand for detail, Twenty-One would accept nothing but one hundred percent perfection and could only really trust anything he was personally overseeing. He was, however, satisfied with his Saber's reaction, both with his restraint and in the elevated attention to the potential threat of the exchange ultimately coming to blows. Fortunately, the next round of less than gracious comments would hit their proper mark, less than veiled as they were.

"Now, it looks like you two did a pretty bad job of killing my Master and myself. Tell me, would you like to try again?"

Failed?! How dare she even suggest such a thing. He was an enforcer, a master of High Thaumaturgy unrivaled. Even as a hero from the Age of Gods, she dare suggest that he had failed to kill her, let alone her sniveling cur of a master? Beyond that, the incredulous bitch was goading the magus into beginning an altercation he didn't wish to engage in. Yet despite how hot Saber was getting him under his collar, the man didn't show any of his frustrations. He played the part immaculately, sashaying his way at an even pace to the Servant opposite himself. The only hint the enforcer gave that he had even heard what Saber had claimed was the slight change of his smile becoming a smirk. Saber of Black followed loyally in his Master's wake, keeping his own guard up and his hand steady by his katana in the event that blades were drawn. Though noticeably shorter than his counterpart he was advancing on, the Servant felt like a giant with his gait, a practiced poise and posture creating the illusion. The two were not backing down nor were they about to give into their oppositions attempts at sending them into an insulted rage. As the three figures neared each other, Saber of White stood her ground while the interloping pair continued to advance.

"My sincerest of apologies, Saber," Twenty-One remarked as they approached the former queen, a slight chuckle that bordered insincerity staying behind the words throughout. "I should not have addressed you so formally -- it seems to have caused some confusion. After all, I have no interest in speaking with the hand maiden."

The agent then brushed past the knight as if she were a common servant, leaving his protector with the task of keeping the wench in check to keep his eye upon his true objective. Standing in a hunched and disheveled form was Matthew Heller, failure magus of the not-quite-so famous house Heller. For the first time, Twenty-One was able to inspect the boy properly. He noted the unkempt hair that the boy hadn't even bothered to attempt and fix. He remarked the black and dirtied clothing the boy had refused to straighten or dust off from his encounter with the blaze inside the church. He even caught glimpse of the tiny scar across the boy's left thumb, left from an insignificant scratch by a gear long ago. From the odd length of his recently singed eyebrows to the missing left-hand lace on the boy's right shoe, the enforcer drank it all in like a muddied glass of tap water. Matthew Heller truly was a disgusting failure of a creature.

"Ah, Matthew, there you are," the agent exclaimed, seemingly ignoring his deplorable state of being. "A pleasure to meet you, my boy, I'm certain."

The man then casually reached into his coat to produce a gilded cigarette case that shimmered of pure yellow gold, intricately patterned with spiraling vines and leaves. In the next moment he was holding a similarly treated flask using white gold leaf with an immaculate monogram engraved upon it. With a quick flick of his thumb, the cigarette case was opened to reveal a line of cigarillos, fifteen in total and all lined with care. The strong smell wafted from the case, a good vintage giving a crisp and sharp scent over the sooty background.

"Maybe a small nip or a good smoke?" he suggested as if the calamity around him was non-existent.


"I see that you have laid your terms on the table, Mr. Farouk. But are they open to discussion?"

The girl was playing a dangerous game indeed. For all the pretense of civility the U.A.E. feigned in the name of global image, it was a cut-throat portion of the world. Deals were often brokered with less than savoury individuals from politically unstable countries in the dark corners of the world. Farouk had always rolled with the best of them, making his fortune in the darkest of those corners with the villains that no one else dared to speak with for fear of their own lives. This lifestyle had taught the pudgy merchant that some clients needed a little more coercing than others. Keeping those experiences firmly in mind, with each pause in the gestures he made while speaking the man's right hand casually began to inch closer and closer to his belt line.

"Why, for whatever would you need to be changing our terms of agreements?" he questioned in a jovial manner. "I can give you many, many things of what you are wishing. Eeeh~, what is little grail warring comparing to this, yes? Much safer and many more wishings; no monkey paws business, yes?"

As he posed his final "question", his hand stopped right at his waist, drumming his fingers against his pot belly in a gleeful manner. As each finger tapped, he could feel the image of his pistol's grip form in his mind as its dimensions were defined. His robes were thick enough to keep the small firearm properly hidden; however, he knew that his touching would begin to smooth the creases out and reveal the hidden weapon. The merchant could only hope that the moving fingers, the bulky clothing and the subtlety applied would all be enough to distract her from seeing what he wanted to keep hidden for now.

Rider stood on the sidelines of the battlefield, both hands lightly cradling the heft of his axe. It was a deliberate choice, not gripping it more tightly, or else his nerves might have commanded him to snap it in half just a moment ago. His bright red eyes were wide open, aghast at the inherent deadliness of the very first interaction between his Master and this man called an Executor. At first he had thought that Daria had been run through, and was a moment away from hewing the arm that dared to wound her. But his enhanced vision gave him a completed image of the frozen combatants, and he was impressed by them both. This one named Kyle had been very thorough in countering Daria's first strike, but despite his apparently superior position it was clear that he had lost the first round of the battle. He had intended to slay her immediately, it seemed, but Orihara's attack had been so perfectly suited to survive his methods that Rider briefly wondered if it was merely luck, or prescience that Daria approached in the way she did.

She had swung wide, he could see, and some strange stream of metal had shot from some hidden compartment to lash at Kyle. Her Mystic Code had, by its function, kept her body at the perfect range to avoid any wounds from the sword he had thrust toward her belly. And not only that, but it had served as a shield and mixed with a black ichor meant to mingle into Daria's flesh. She had definitely won this round. Rider curled his lip back and snarled, though, as he took in the full weight of the situation. This was a pyrrhic victory at best.

Neither side was able to approach the other without being gutted or making contact with a very dangerous looking black liquid. And so they disengaged. Kyle withdrew and replaced his sword and began to tidy himself. Daria took a few steps back as well, but she seemed far less composed than her opponent. She was not rattled; no, that would have comforted Rider and confirmed that she was human. But there was a bounce to her step, and the way her chest heaved up and down with little giggling fits troubled him. She had nearly been killed twice-over in the span of seconds, and all she could feel from it was a rush. He stamped his foot, clamping down on his tongue to keep from lashing out at his bloodthirsty companion on the spot. Damn it, Daria! We're not here to have fun; if you get too caught up in the excitement you're going to make a mistake and get yourself killed! You got lucky this once, but if you want to survive you need to start taking your opponent seriously. You need a strategy to beat an opponent like this...

"Demon's blood," Executor Solus stated with a wicked grin. "I don't think your code'll be much use now. Black Keys'll make it nothing more than a pile of grey goop."

Daria shimmied from foot to foot, shaking out her body as she returned the horrible face of the priest. She could see the sorry state of her Prana Drop from the corner of her eye. The gray liquid had disgusting globs of black sifting around through its form, and no matter how much she tried to form a perfect sphere a few imperfections remained. It seemed the Executor knew his stuff; this demon blood had definitely crippled her Mystic Code. If what she remembered was true, then the black goop was supernaturally corrosive. If even a droplet touched her bare skin then she would be in a world of trouble. She opened up a pouch on her side and carefully guided the Prana Drop back in. She sealed the clasp over the pouch and gave a thumbs-up to her opponent, of all people.

"No worries, Kyle! If ya wanted the kiddie gloves off, all ya had to do was ask. Now then..." She took a big wind-up, lifting one leg into the air and slamming down into a sumo stance. Rider wondered if he only imagined the ground shaking. Both Daria and Kyle spoke at once, "Let's rock!"

And faster than the human body should have permitted they closed the distance. Daria and Kyle tore up the turf beneath them until they came together in a violent clash. From the outside, a violent and unpredictable flurry of limbs. But within, a carefully measured dance where every step meant life or death. Every punch that Kyle threw, Daria tossed aside or met head-on with her own fist. Every kick that was launched she sent to the ground with even force. A meaningless, matched exchange of strength that only served to bloody their knuckles and bruise their shins. Exactly as Daria wanted it to be; Kyle's sinful grin was expanding. The dirty old priest was getting off on this fight. Oh, Daria wasn't upset with him. It wasn't like she wasn't doing the same. But while he was reveling in the violence, she was analyzing what she knew about him. She'd been robbed of her Mystic Code, and that was her primary method of combat. This guy probably had some mysteries up his sleeve yet. She needed a way to end the fight before they gave him the advantage.

Everything the dirty old man said is true; Black Keys are perfectly suited for the destruction of demonic spirits, and he's pretty much converted the Prana Drop into one. I could probably work out the imperfections and repair it, but that'd take, like, an hour of concentrated effort. I can't exactly do THAT in the middle of a fight! So that's the gist of it. Pretty lucky for him. He knocked out my best weapon... or, wait... Did he, really? It's harder to manipulate, sure, but it's not like it doesn't work anymore. All he's done is mix in demon's blood. If anything... if anything that makes it even deadlier! Oh jeez, yeah, I'm digging this! I could probably floor him in one hit if I could just make contact with the Drop now. But his Keys... A few good hits of those and my Code will be destroyed. Permanently, I bet.

So I've gotta find a way to tie up his hands. I have to make sure he can't use his Black Keys long enough for me to make that strike. So, first things first! I have to make him draw that sword!

Her time was up. A particularly powerful kick had generated a ton of knockback against both of their bodies, and they were flung apart. The sod was shredded and bits of grass and dirt littered the air as Daria's heel ground into the earth. That was the opening that Kyle had been trying for. He called out an aria and his body filled with power. The holy man placed it all into a board beneath him that crackled to life. "Bolt Rider!" Like he was crouching on a rocket board, the dart-shaped projectile blasted along the ground with its rider, on a beeline heading straight for Orihara. She hopped backward and crouched, letting the pressure build up in her legs. Step one to getting that sword out was getting Kyle off of his board and on the defensive. It would require perfect timing, but...

"Hup!"

An instant before collision Daria leaped. Her powerful muscles unleashed all of their energy and sent her body spinning into the air. Her lithe form twirled and somersaulted until she was upside down, right above the man that had been aiming for her. Two arms snapped out like powerful jaws and grabbed the priest by the cloth above his shoulders. "Let's go for a ride, ya dirty priest!" The energy from her jump wasn't expended yet, and as she continued to flip about Kyle Solus was dragged along with her. As she righted herself vertically the executor was wrenched from his Bolt Rider and flung above her, hanging briefly upside down in vertigo. As he came back down Daria released her hands, and flung his body down to the dirt, letting him tumble along its hard surface.

And then she descended along after him, a falling axe kick coming for the closest part of him that looked crunch-able. With a "KYAA!" she struck, ecstasy written across her face. The sheer pleasure of every muscle in her body firing off at once was too much for her face to hide. She beamed, practically begging Solus to counter her. It would just be too sad if she cracked his skull open this quickly.

The enemy Master responded to his assault with a calm utterance of her own. With a touch, each head in turn struck her hands, and each were transmuted from roiling fire into a pillar of ice. The transmutation snaked its way through the spell, threatening to freeze the mass of flames Clay had conjured to act as its source.

A calm, measured reaction - one that only moved with what was necessary. He wouldn't be able to bully or intimidate this one, but there were still ways to exploit that temperament with enough time to prepare. He'd seen enough.

Dipping his blazing hand into the flames, a surge of prana made its way through the spell, reducing it to mere cinders. A further jet then shot its way through the transmuted ice, and with a shudder steam rose from its surface. It was plain to see it was on the verge of shattering, sending shards of ice into anybody in the immediate area if left unchecked. With that distraction, he began a quick but measured movement backwards, careful to keep his eye on the enemy magus the entire way through.

Lancer, meanwhile, focused on his counterpart. The enemy Servant bounded towards the helpless girl with frightening speed and summoned two golden spears to act as his weapons. Lancer immediately maneuvered to intercede, his own weapon at the ready. A grin split across his simian face as the enemy Lancer threw one of his weapons. He understood the purpose behind this attack - an attempt to keep him from moving towards the girl. It's too bad it wouldn't work in quite the way he expected.

Ducking low, Lancer raised his arm to his mouth and blew. Several hairs fluttered out in front of him, and as they did so a pop and a puff of smoke issued forth. When it cleared, three replicas of Lancer stood at his front, each appearing to be perfect copies of the original. They too grinned in Lancer's impish manner and leaped forward, forming a line in front of the spear. He dashed low to dodge the spear, and as it sailed through the air it connected with the clones, skewering each one, which then promptly dissolved into a puff of smoke. With that obstacle out of the way, Lancer was at the girl's side in an instant. With a howl, he bounded forward, ready to strike...

"Lancer. We're retreating - NOW."

He glanced back to see his Master at the girl's side, his eyes still fixated on the enemy magus. His hands were ablaze, ready to counter anything the woman sent his way. The man's tone left no room for interpretation - this order was absolute and could not be swayed. Lancer stopped with unnatural speed and leapt back, at this Master's side. His grin was gone, replaced by a dissatisfied frown. "What!? You think we can't take them? Or are you a coward too!?"

"We can discuss this later. Take us out."

"But... fine." As much as Lancer hated to admit it, an argument this boring would only kill the fun of such a pitched battle. He grabbed the girl and his Master, and with a bounding leap backwards, disappeared from view.

Cassius held in her smirk at the fallen master, clutching his head in internal agony. The kind of damage a sword could never do, and if done properly could do in an army before they raised their weapons. The only problem was their assassin, she wasn't expecting mental resistances on someone meant to cling to shadows. This was not a good thing to learn, she kept her eyes on his movements, listening to his babbling.

"...shut up...Shut up. Shut up! SHUT UP!!!"

The Team of White glanced at each other, he was fighting what seemed to be a losing mental battle. Was it the phantasm or what she said, was a good question. A better one was how close to the edge was this enemy. His thrashing and screaming rose in intensity and volume, Yuri chose now to rise higher into the air. The master was done, for now, this would be a battle between servants. Still, better safe than sorry, Yuri figured.

As the servant dug his fingers into his head, Cassius couldn't help but feel pity. Sure, the ranting and raving were those of a true lunatic, though she couldn't help but sympathize... It sounded like Brutus, a week after the murder of Caesar. Somewhat.

"I'll kill you! I'll kill you all if it brings forgiveness in His eyes! HOW DARE YOU SAY BROTHER DOESN'T LOVE ME?!"

He began his... charge? He flailed and zagged, making it difficult for Cassius to keep up. Too sporadic and random to plan, Cassius decided another strategy would be best. He was equal in speed to her, and he was likely stronger if what she felt when he slashed her phantasm was any indicator. Cassius moved her dagger behind her, skipping back a few steps to give a wide enough gap between them.

"If you wanted forgiveness, attacking a church is not the way to go!" She began, taunting. "The men you call allies slaughtered an innocent priest! Think of what your actions are doing, stop this madness before it truly begins!" She ended, pleading for him to listen.

Yuri took his moment to subdue the master, snapping to attention and looking at him rise to his feet. He raised his bloodied blade into the air, letting the soft moonlight flash off the bright steel. He almost looked heroic, like a knight of old as the prana swirled and clung to it's edge, as he muttered the aria to himself;

"Slice deep, rend the air as flesh, Wind Scar."

Yuri waited for it to stop, stretching up the length of his sword, before flicking the blade down with all the force he could muster, the prana releasing itself from the blade and launching towards the Scarred man at blinding speed, a wild slash meant to maim. He'd wait to make his kill for now, as he dropped into a samurai's stance, aiming his blade over his shoulder, one hand on the pommel to drive it into his flesh. He jumped off and dove after his attack.

It was the strangest thing. The Tectonic Shift was a mystery that moved faster than a human mind could process. Alexander Valjean Mustang was quite certain of this fact. He had spent months testing every facet of it; recorded it from a hundred different angles and pored over every sliver of film. And yet this bizarre man--this child--had slipped through its cracks with no effort at all. "Remarkable!" he exclaimed, sincerely shocked by his opponent's ability to do so. Shirtless and exposed on the chilly night, it was difficult for the Supervisor of Clemont-Ferrand to tell... was it simply exposure to the cold that gave him such goosebumps, or might it be this Master he faced? With a hand on one bared hip, Alexander slouched as he tried to strategize. This was no simple task, working through the flippant taunts of this hotheaded youth.

"You look silly doing all of that needless posing, you know."

"Hrmph." He did not flatter the foolish boy with a retort made of actual words. A man of true caliber need not resort to petty insults. I can already tell all there is to know about this shallow boy. His talent as a magus is commendable, but he is entirely full of himself. He'll fill up any silence with the sound of his own voice. And if I let him keep talking, he might let something important slip...

And so he did.

"If you had any flair or panache like myself, maybe you'd stand half a chance to show up the devilishly handsome Isaac Einzbern."

So THAT'S who you are... Isaac Einzbern. It makes perfect sense! That unmistakable white hair... such masterful skill in his craft. It could only mean that this boy is a homunculus. Yes, indeed! Then I can consider myself briefed.

"Yet you're a chump, a third rate magus from a fourth rate family. Just give it up, you know you can't beat a pedigree like mine. In fact..."

Isaac called out to his Servant, who had avoided combat until this moment, to seek out Alexander's own companion and kill him. Alexander watched her go, feeling his eyes linger on her form for just a moment too long. With a mental tug he kept his vision focused upon the Master. Isaac, for his part, made no effort to press the attack. The glam-rock boy kept his distance, mocking the magus of lesser blood with his taunting smile. Valjean Mustang hazarded a guess that they'd come to the same conclusion. Alexander would only waste his time pursuing the same manner of attack as before. That Flash Step would leave Isaac quite immune to any direct assault with its mobility.

He is indeed maneuverable, and as a homunculus his reserves of prana must be astronomical... enough even to dwarf my own. He can keep this fight up for far longer than I. But... he presumes too much! I have a thousand ways to press my assault, and his Flash Step will not protect him from a single one of them!

Alexander's rippling tapestry of muscles moved once more, the constricting of his flesh happening so quickly that droplets of sweat were left suspended in the air, glistening in the firelight. A loose, open hand teasingly covered half of his face, his body leaned ever-so-slightly backward as his other arm was in a guarding position, down, forward, and right of his chest. He dug his heel into the ground and left a crack, funneling prana into the wound within the earth.

"You are a talented man, Master Einzbern! Such effortless grace, such beauty of motion is to be commended, even if your attitude does not match the poetry of your body! But even so..."

His hands switched places. The fist rose up beside his face, and the open palm was extended outward. His body began to sparkle, flecks of blue light swirling about his form in the night. "With the heat of my blood I command this space: IGNITE!" His spell was instantaneous, and powerful too. All about the Einzbern's body the oxygen within the air ignited, exploding in lashing tongues of flame that struck in every direction, without a mind to discriminate targets. But the Average One was nowhere near finished. His body spun upon his heels, turning his left side to face the raging flames, Isaac somewhere within. Alexander flexed his mighty arms and swung them back, to the right side of his body. His right leg stepped leftward, and his whole body spun that way to face forward once more. His arms stretched forward as a roar rumbled up from his chest: "BEHOLD THE POWER OF TORRENTIAL WATERS! A CERULEAN WAVE"

The air all about Isaac twisted and melted as its existence was shredded apart, the pieces being stitched together in a new fashion. Where there was once air now was a humongous sphere of water, which broke apart and made contact with the flames. The prana from the spells melded, and as the elemental forces reacted both were eliminated. In its place was a thick, heavy cloud of mist, the Einzbern trapped in its midst. Alexander's eyes blazed with light as roared, "NOW IS THE MOMENT!" He dug his heel back into the crack he had made and triggered its pool of deposited prana. His arms retracted to the sides of his body, clenching with all their might. He threw his head back and yelled into the air.

"THE PRISON IS ALREADY CONSTRUCTED,
AND NOW AWAITS ITS PRISONER!
"

The ground around the Black Master's feet began to split apart. A circle, five meters in diameter, spawned as a trench around him. And from it came sheer rock, its makeup contorted to construct a perfectly smooth dome. From either side the rock rose, and clamped tightly shut above him.

Let us see, young Einzbern, just what kind of man you are!

Alexander pointed toward the scene with one arm as he completed the mystery.

"YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN SENTENCED, AND BEEN FOUND GUILTY!
THE SENTENCE...
"

Einzbern was trapped twofold. There were no sources of light within the dome of rock, and so his vision was all but eliminated. And moreso, even if he had some manner of producing light, the thick mist would leave his eyes starved. And in an enclosed space, there was no way to remove that mist, nowhere to shift its presence to. This mystery, though, was more than a prison. It was the means of carrying out its sentence.

The pointed hand's wrist pivoted, and it produced a thumbs-down.

"IS DEATH!!!"

The prisoner could hear the sounds. Shifting, clinking rocks scraping against one another as something was set in place. What he could not see to explain the noise were the tiny rifle barrels forming upon the interior of the wall. Within them, shards of stone were loaded, to be the bullets. More than a hundred such barrels were formed, and aimed at every inch of the dome's interior. This was not to be a fight. This was an execution. This was the Firing Squad.

The salvo awaited only Alexander's command. Alexander bowed his head in respect to the man he had just doomed. "Godspeed, good sir. OPEN FIRE!"


Off in the shadows of the burning church lurked a single figure, trying not to be noticed. Archer's stuttering breaths were muffled beneath the sound of crackling flames, and the shouts of his Master a distance away. And still he knew he wasn't safe. He had to get further away, before someone realized he'd gone. Before one of them... his eyes peered from behind a fallen chunk of rubble. He counted two heads in the distance. Both Masters, but... where was the--

It was already too late to run. A warm breath tickled his bare neck, and all the hairs on his body stood up. He tried to breathe, but his mouth was locked in place, and his lungs felt constricted. A dangerous serpent lurked behind him, and it slithered up to his ear. A voice dripping in sex and honey licked the air around his ear. "So, boy'o, when does the real fight start?"

"A-ai-haaaaah--" No sane sounds escaped Archer's blustering lips. He could already feel the space between his brows growing numb. Sheer pleasure leaked into his mind. And then she touched him, velvet skin brushing against his own as she stepped past. He couldn't feel that arm anymore save for the titillating rush of warmth that shot straight toward his chest. The beautiful woman stopped in front of him, firing two imaginary shots from her fingers. Both pierced his heart. The world around him grew dim and distant, and all he could focus on was the stunning angel before him. He tried to escape, and mustered all the will he had into his feet. They reluctantly obeyed and took a single, shivering step backward before she moved forward and wrapped herself around his other arm, pulling it toward her chest. The giggling girl smiled up at him. More than his heart moved in excitement, now. The girl asked him, "Your Master really knows how to put on a show, doesn't he?"

"H-he does," Archer agreed. He didn't know that for a fact. Right then he didn't know anything but that soft body drawing ever closer to him. He wanted to agree with it. Whatever she said was true. Anything she didn't say, wasn't. It had to be. Such divine form... could it ever be wrong?

She asked again, "I bet the hero that man summoned could show a girl a real good time, hmm?"

Archer's body trembled, and threatened to collapse in anticipation. Sweat coated every inch of his body, and the pleasing fire in his brain begged for just one more silky word to brush against it. "I... I c--... I coul--..."

"THE SENTENCE... IS DEATH!"

And like a crack of booming thunder, all the magic was gone. His beautiful maiden was replaced in his mind by a hairy, shirtless brute looking down upon Archer with furor and disappointment. His mind briefly restored, Archer wrenched away. With supernatural strength and agility, even he could break away from a woman even smaller than he. He backpedaled away from the woman and hit the stone walls of the church, covering his eyes with one arm and using the other to keep her away with a pushing motion.

"I can't! I won't! Stay away from me, you harlot! Y-you... you poison my mind! The stench of deceit rests in your scented words! Arsenic in the honey you feed me!"

He only dared to look with a single eye from behind his shielding arm, and with that only slightly to Archer's side and not directly into her gorgeous eyes. His bow appeared in a flash of light, and he gripped it tightly. "I will not have you, bitch! And you won't have me!!"

"My sincerest of apologies, Saber."

The swordsman maintained her lax stance as Twenty-One and his Servant approached, but tilted her head in response to the man's words. She had expected some sort of verbal bard in response, not an apolo-

"I should not have addressed you so formally -- it seems to have caused some confusion. After all, I have no interest in speaking with the hand maiden."

"..."

Hmmph. This bastard knew where to throw his punches, she had to give him that much. That, or for some bizarre reason he was sincerely more interested in her Master than herself. Either way, it was quite the insult, and Saber felt her blood begin to seethe. Her smile faded into a neutral line and her hands slowly curled up into half-fists. But she did not attack, not just yet. Not when her enemy had yet to draw his blade.

"Be careful, boy," Saber replied as Twenty-One walked past her, though she did not turn to face him. The brat was most likely a skilled magus, but the more immediate threat was still his Servant. Even if the enemy Saber had yet to speak or attack, it would be foolish of her to take her eyes off him. "It's one thing to insult my skill. But if you mock my station again, I can promise you that there will not be a third time."

Though she kept part of her senses on the bastard as he approached her Master, Saber switched her focus to the shorter knight before her. "You're a quiet one, aren't you? Are you content to just let your Master talk for you, or do you not have-"

"Saber!"

A sudden wave of apprehension, a result of her empathy with her Master, surged down the swordsman's spine, forcing her body to tense itself for action. What, had the coward actually decided to do something?

"Get away from them! We're retreating, now!"


Matt found himself unable to properly think, much less move, as Twenty-One steadily approached. Everything, everything was stacked against him. He wasn't mentally or physically prepared for a fight. He knew nothing about his opponent and barely anything about the enemy Servant. He was separated from the rest of his faction, most of whom were likely dead or engaged in their own battles. If Twenty-One knew his name, what were the odds he knew about his magecraft or Mystic Code?

Victory here was beyond impossible. Retreat was the only viable option if he wanted to stay alive. But if he wanted to retreat, then he'd have to move first. And, judging by his current mental state, that wasn't happening anytime soon.

"Ah, Matthew, there you are. A pleasure to meet you, my boy, I'm certain."

The oddly friendly cheer in Twenty-One's voice did nothing for the cowering magus. If anything, it only served to further muddy Matt's mind; there was no reason for an enemy, one who'd already caught him in an ambush, to act like this. There had to be some angle that the gentleman was playing, but... For the life of him, Matt couldn't see it. All he knew was that this whole farce was horribly wrong.

"Maybe a small nip or a good smoke?"

Stupidly, the young man stared at the proffered cigarettes and flask. Though it was clearly impossible, what with the smoke and ash filling the air, the magus briefly imagined that he could detect the slightest whiff of tobacco drifting past his nose. Twenty-One's offer of refreshments only added to the disconcerting situation. It was simply too much for the boy to process.

It didn't help that the cigarettes clearly weren't his brand. Camel had never splurged on such elaborate packaging, so far as he knew.

Letting out a wordless cry of panic, Matt hurled himself backwards, surging to his feet and leaping away from Twenty-One. It was only after he was in the air and moving that he realized he was retreating back towards the still burning church. Skipping his feet against the ground, he altered his course, angling his retreat to the side so he could increase the distance between himself and the opposing Master without jumping into the literal fire. As he moved, Matt pulled a folding knife out of a pocket and flicked the blade open.

"Saber!" he called, shouting despite his still painful throat and lungs. "Get away from them! We're retreating, now!"

Landing in a half crouch, Matt held his knife close to his chest while extending his clenched left hand out before him as he prepared to leap backwards again. He didn't dare take his eyes off Twenty-One for an instant; the other man clearly had something up his sleeve. Ignoring him would likely mean death.

"I can give you many, many things of what you are wishing. Eeeh~, what is little grail warring comparing to this, yes? Much safer and many more wishings; no monkey paws business, yes?"

Her first answer to that was a sardonic snort and a fold of her arms. Monkey paws? They were playing with enough fire already. It was understandable that such a greasy merchant would belittle the merchant so much. However, belittling him would be a mistake. Right beside the almost comical figure, was a snarling beast. That growling punctuated every word that came out of Farouk's mouth. It made Yi question how long things would remain civil, especially since the merchant was more or less humoring her request to discuss the terms of the hypothetical deal. She was playing for time, but what was he doing? Had she given him time to prepare something?

Berserker was getting impatient, why was his Master being so hesitant? Why did she seem to continue with going along with Master of Black's farce? Certainly, the reason wasn't lack of faith in Berserker of White's abilities? He was no stranger to unkind odds. He had been tied up, broken, blinded and still he had emerged vicious. Well, he probably won't have to resort to that just yet. But still, he clearly was able to take down the hairy shortie. That said, this wasn't the best choice of battlefield, and there was his Master to take into account. It was funny that someone who was only known for destruction, slaughter and skirt-chasing was now in a position where he had to protect a woman from harm. Even if that was bad enough, she was entirely serious about everything. Not that a War was the place or the time to loosen up a bit, of course.

Berserker sighed, he had run out of patience. Time to bring an end to this.

Before Yi could begin her second, or rather her proper answer, a wave of fire expanded outward from Berserker's position, while she almost collapsed from a wave of pain. He was yelling something unintelligible, or perhaps it was something in a language she didn't understand? However, pain she did understand. Was Berserker trying to drain her dry? Damn oaf. But before the Master could add anything to that thought, her Servant snatched her up his in arms and made a hastly retreat. He could only hope that the greasy merchant and his hairy lackey were distracted enough by that little number. Nothing like raging, panicking and outright unreliable fox spirits to cause a bit of a stir. Whether the result was worth revealing one of their cards in their proverbial deck had yet to be seen.

Naturally, Berserker was empty of such thoughts as he retreated to... well, anywhere.

Anywhere where there wasn't Farouk and that short Berserker of his. Destroying the Fuyuki Church and utilizing divide and conquer tatics... They just had to play dirty didn't they? Well, Team White would just have to adapt and from what she saw earlier, all of them probably were more able Magi than her. Hopefully, they all would survive the first round. Hopefully. Still, she and Berseker had to pull their own weight as well - not doing so meant death. Yi couldn't really say that her Servant had taken the right course of action or not. She was too busy dealing with the effects of Berserker's rather casual use of one of his Noble Phantasms. While he was foolishly retreating rather than advancing. It would just result in an excruciating game of cat and mouse. However, her protests were just met with shakes of the head. Did she really think was ready for a fight in this condition?

She sighed.

The air being exhaled crackled with frost as it escaped her lips, bringing with it all the tension built up inside her. Just a moment ago she had been squaring off with one of the world's most formidable pyromancers and now she was watching him and his entourage bound off into the night. Her eyes wandered down to her trembling hands, having been kept still through sheer tenacity and disgust of having her adversary see her quiver with trepidation. Now she was free of that burden and looked as though she were about to break out into tears, just starring mindlessly at her shaking.

Lancer simply seemed put off by the entire exchange. The British man had been so cocksure of his success and then at the first sign of adversity he had decided to retreat, taking along with him his muppet of a Servant. Not Lancer of Black had been denied his opportunity for a fight he had longed for for centuries, but his adversary had been robbed of that privilege as well. The most disappointing factor was that Lancer had not secured his target. The younger sister of their adversary had been secured by Team White up by through the use of some sort of sorcery. Lancer's attempts at diverting the ape's path had been for naught as Lancer of White cloned himself and used the falsehoods as a shield. The toss had been strong enough to skewer three of the Heroic Spirits but as Lancer dug his weapon from out of the ground he felt the pang of failure inform him it was one body too few.

"They have escaped," Lancer stated just loud enough so that his Master could hear, hopeful in his attempt to solidify her focus once again with such an aggravatingly obvious fact.

"Such an astute observation, my Servant," she returned as her eyes rolled, tightening her hands into fists to stop them from shaking. "My faith in your ability was clearly well placed."

The Servant snorted but ignored the slight. Whether she was his Master or not such disrespect wouldn't be tolerated, but he also realized the woman wasn't from an age of constant strife and war. Chances were that the events of this evening were her first taste of true battle and that could be unnerving on the most prepared of souls. Instead he focused his attention upon the ground. Letting the spear he had just recovered vanish into the ether, the Servant began to brush his newly freed hand through the grass in search of something. His eyes flicked to and fro, intent on finding whatever it was that he had lost in the battle.

"Should we give chase?" the Servant questioned as he continued to probe the ground.

"No," the woman said plainly, the uncaring chill returning to her voice. "Let them go. I am certain when we need to, you will find them."

"You are indeed correct, as always, Master."

The Servant nodded in agreement, holding up the prize he had been seeking. Between forefinger and thumb he held three strands of hair. Each had been a part of the glossy coat of the Lancer of White just moments before he had so carelessly used them as catalysts in his mysteries. Now they would be the pair's undoing. As the Servant's gaze bored into the three hairs with unshakable focus, both the hairs and his pupils began to glow a magnificent gold. It was if he was scanning every molecule within the discarded fur, searching for any common threads between them and their owner. At last the Servant stood to his full height, looking off in the direction the three had fled to, his eyes flickering slightly with each movement his quarry made.

"Excellent."

The woman spoke softly, straightening herself out after the ruffling of the small altercation. She knew her Servant now had the scent he needed and could pick it back up at any time they wished. Now she could focus on more pressing matters.

"Come, Lancer, we have work elsewhere before you may have your fun. I'm certain our 'allies' would appreciate some assistance."


"If you wanted forgiveness, attacking a church is not the way to go! The men you call allies slaughtered an innocent priest! Think of what your actions are doing, stop this madness before it truly begins."

Assassin of Black wasn't having any of it. Cassius' words seemed as ineffective as her sword blows in trying to divert the beast from its goal. Flailing like a madman, he continued the assault upon the Heroic Spirit that had stung him so deeply. The distance the woman had put between them was negligible for the sort of being he had become. He dove towards the female Assassin, his arms twirling in the wind as his body spun in a corkscrew motion. While easy enough to step away from, the man simply landed on all fours and continued his awkwardly angled strikes at a breakneck pace.

Though both combatants seemed to be fairly inexperienced, their super human ability leant itself to a display of feigned mastery. Agile kicks and stabs were met with equal finesse, attacks blocked and parried as Assassin slowly drove into the defense of Cassius. She was slowly being driven inwards with Assassin's skirmishing tactics, his seemingly erratic movements keeping her contained within a circle only a few feet in diameter. Her assumption in thinking that her opponent had warmed up to his full speed in his previous advance had proven to be a tactical error. Assassin of Black had proven to be much faster on his feet than first anticipated, especially in rapid, successive bursts. Eventually he would close in like a pack of wolves when Cassius wouldn't be able to afford an inch in any direction and strike a killing blow. She had to think of a plan and fast.

Yet Assassin wouldn't let her have that luxury. With ferocious tenacity, the Servant closed the window of opportunity that Cassius was trying to keep open in order to formulate and effective counter strategy. With a flick of his wrist, the obsidian shiv was flung towards his prey, like a lightning bolt, aimed for the throat. The Servant then dashed past his own projectile, using it as a distraction for his true intension. The glint of an emerald dagger shone distinctly as Assassin drew his prized weapon from within his cloak. It was a curious piece, two narrow blades of green tinted crystal intertwining twice before coming to a deadly point. The hilt was far more ornate than his previous weapon, a solid gold guard in the form of a coiling snake. In the center was inlaid a brilliant round ruby with the snake's mouth firmly wrapped about it as if to swallow the jewel whole. As the phantasm was brought to bear, the murderer took position up behind his victim, crouching low, and awaited his plan to unfold.

Cassius had little recourse, stuck between what looked to be instant incapacitation and the waiting arms of her assailant. Bringing her gladius up to deflect the incoming shiv, she shifted her eyes to look towards her next move. Assassin of Black had already somehow skulked his way behind her, ready to strike like a wretched spider. She couldn't be sure if he was simply a more capable operative of the shadows or if he had hidden his true speed from her. Regardless of the reason, she would need to strike with absolute precision if she hoped to outpace the insane spirit. As the clink of stone hit metal, the woman shifted the weight on her feet from back to front, bringing the blade down behind her in hopes of striking down her opponent in his reckless charge. Yet he was much lower than she had anticipated, moving upwards and forwards at once. The clever savage had even brought his left shoulder up, catching her sword arm before the blade could make a solid connection. He was in her guard and there was nothing she could do about it.

It was then that she felt the searing pain of the emerald blade sink into her gut. Pain immeasurable was undoubtedly coursing through her body now as Assassin dug the blade as far as he could manage, the prongs of the guard beginning to jab into her sides he was pressing so hard. Wrapping his left arm around her back, he embraced the woman in some sick display of compassion, shushing for her silence. He then leaned in and began to placate her fears, as if anything the monster could say would abate the panic. As he spoke the weapon glowed with a brilliant shine, dark tendrils snaking their way from within Assassin's cloak, down his hand and onto the wound to brand it with untold magical horrors.

Yuri, on the other hand, looked to be in a perfect position of power. Rolan was still reeling from the near escape from Cassius' phantasm as the mystery soared its way towards him. He barely had enough time to react, the Wind Scar shearing the very night air itself as it cut through anything in its path. Quick feet kept Rolan ahead of the spell just enough to keep himself in one piece; however, he wasn't fortunate enough to come out completely unscathed. A deep gash in his left side began to squirt copious amounts of blood, along with a few cosmetic scratches that swelled with their first droplets from various other near misses.

The assassin grunted through gritted teeth, forcing himself to hold back anything far more telling of his true condition. One blow and he was already in a bad way. Yet he could sense that his own Servant was having far more success than himself. If this knight-errant could be held back just a few more minutes, Assassin of White would be slain and Rolan the victor of this bout. He just had to keep pace and he was sure to be one step closer to his goal.

Unfortunately for the young assassin, his opponent was not in the business of prolonging his victory. From his position in the night sky he dove towards Rolan like a swooping hawk coming in for the kill. It was almost too perfect to be true and the injured magus almost hesitated at his opportunity to turn this fight around. Ignoring the burning pain in his side, Rolan looked towards his opponent, right arm raised to counter any sword blows that would rain blow upon him. It was only at the very last moment that he stretched out his left arm and pressed in what looked to be the bolt holding the guard in place. Once the button was hit, the blade of the katar shot out with a puff of compressed air and went hurtling into a nearby tree. The thin wire cabling glistened in the moonlight, stretching taut as the trained killer dove in the opposite direction. There was barely any time to react now, but he needed to secure his foothold. Bringing the other punching dagger to bare, the youth fired it off towards his counterpart, hoping to trap him between the two razor sharp filament wires. Like a spider he wove his trap and now he awaited what terrible fate he had wrought for his captive.


She was good, he'd give her that. One moment Kyle Solus had been jetting across the gap that separated himself and Daria, the next he was spinning end over end through the air, hurtling towards the ground. He had to admit, he was impressed by the amount of force she had managed to put behind her toss. Hell, he was impressed that the girl was even able to grab him off such a fast-moving projectile! Yet here the executor was, tumbling across the rough ground, his body being battered and his exposed skin getting rubbed raw. It seemed like forever before his body slid to a halt, lying on his back as he lazily stared up at the night sky.

It wasn't to last for long, however, as the shrieking harpy he had been tussling with was falling straight towards him. Her leg was raised high into the air, ready to shoot down and crash into his chest the very first moment she could. It was an impressive feat of athleticism and for someone who had found issue with battling a "dirty" priest, she seemed quite comfortable taking such provocative positions. Kyle couldn't help but smile at his own smarm, not even trying to move an inch as the kick came down full force into his ribs. He could hear the bones crunch with the impact, his chest becoming a caved in soup of bone fragments and exposed organs. Almost instantly the man doubled up in pain, clutching himself tightly in an uncontrolled reaction. He sounded more like a wounded animal than a man as he tried to stifle his cries of anguish through gritted teeth. It was then that he felt his body beginning to force him onto all fours, and he obeyed without hesitation, just before he began throwing up blood and bile. His stomach pumped itself dry and he could feel his body beginning to grow cold. It was an all too familiar sensation yet one he would never get used to, no matter how many times it would be induced in his lifetime. He his involuntary actions came to a close, the man let himself fall to the ground, fatigued from the experience. He could feel the slick stickiness of the contents within his stomach smeared across his face as he let his eye close for a brief moment of rest. To Daria, it might have seemed he was dead if not for the constant, low groans that kept emanating from the man's lips. Lying in his own puke, the executor could only await the sweet embrace that pain like this brought.


Twetny-One was almost aghast at the behavior of the Heller boy -- almost. The boy certainly had reason to be suspicious of the Enforcer before him. After all, his position within the Clock Tower was to keep other mages in line. Furthermore, he was an opponent in this Holy Grail War, supposedly charged to kill the child with prejudice to obtain a single wish. Yet for all the danger he represented, he assumed the young magus would have treated him with manners befitting one of both their statures. The man simply tutted in disappointment and withdrew a single cigarillo from the case, placing both gifts back into his jacket afterwards. With a simple flick, as if striking a match, Twenty-One brushed the end of his smoke against an ember dancing ever so gently in the wind and lit it with a great puff. Inhaling deeply, he could smell the sweet bitterness of the tobacco before exhaling the smoke into the night air with a satisfied sigh.

"Matthew, Matthew, Matthew... I would have thought your grandfather would have taught you better manners than this."

Twenty-One then began to casually stroll towards the boy, as if he hadn't a care in the world. The small pocket knife was nothing to concern himself with. Matthew wasn't one to take a life needlessly; he was too much of a coward to involve himself with such activities. No, even if the boy acted out of fright the Enforcer would simply stop him with his superior skill and steeled demeanor. It was the tomfoolery of thinking there was a way to escape that grated on Twenty-One's patience. His Servant was already in the appropriate position to halt the Heller boy's retreat, having seized his opportunity in the momentary confusion and slipped into the ether before reappearing in a shine of blackened purple prana. Now the oriental knight was staring at the back of Matthew's head, the boy's back pressed and stopped against Saber of Black's chest. Despite the oddity of his position, the man seemed unusually stoic for the situation. Not even a frown creased his face as the Heroic Spirit looked down upon the pathetic boy, waiting for him to realize the predicament that had befallen him.

"I'd prefer this not to come to blows; you know that, right, Matthew?" Twenty-One mused as he began to close to gap between himself and his supposed enemy, taking a large puff of his smoke before continuing. "I'm no stranger to fighting, I'm sure that much is obvious by my station. Simply put, if I had wanted you dead, Mr. Heller, you would be; it's as simple as that. So could you please stop waving that butter knife about and speak like enlightened individuals that would bring some iota of dignity and grace to our families, hmm?"

The man had stopped himself at arm's length from the Heller boy by the time his little speech ended. While he was confident in his ability to subdue the boy, keeping a reasonable distance would prevent the need to violence. So he waited for a response, having every card in his hand at this point and hoping the child would recognize this. Only someone stupid or desperate would try and make a move now. The problem being, this boy was turning out to be both...


His position had changed so quickly and drastically that Isaac hadn't had time to react. One moment he was comfortably holding the upper hand against the Supervisor, the next he was encased within a rock tomb, surrounded by steamy mist and pitch black darkness. The quick but immaculate crafting of these mysteries gave the Einzburn pause in his next move. It seemed the giant oaf wasn't willing to just continue to throw out the same powerful mystery. No, he was willing to throw out all of his powerful mysteries! As the homunculus brushed his palm across the stone prison, trying to decipher its make, he could only imagine what massive reserves were needed to wield such a magecraft efficiently. It seemed as though his plans would need to become that much more intricate if he had any hope of winning this bout.

Returning to the center of the mysteries that had been unleashed upon him, Isaac exhaled deeply and closed his eyes before beginning to focus his attentions on a plan of action. He could see his hand clearly in his mind, using the image as a focusing point. It was a mantra that had been repeated tens of thousands of time in his short life, yet every time it never changed down to the very last detail. The knife came down as quickly as ever, coming down onto the back of the hand and spraying a crimson shower everywhere. As the blade connected, Isaac could feel his magical circuits light up with the familiar pulse of prana and his eyes opened to the world around him once more as he chanted in a foreign tongue.

"What was one is now two.
Connected by my contract of blood,
Copy the body and share the soul,
To whichever ends I command,
Vessel of my flesh, do my biding.
Doppelgänger!"

As the homunculus completed the aria, he took one slow step backwards. From him, another began to take shape, as if Isaac was stepping out from a second skin. Great globs of blood and sinew turned to stringy tethers as they clung to the mage's body before snapping their tenuous holds and flopping lifelessly to the ground. Yet the newly created creature didn't seem to have any sort of intelligence to it, its visage blank and its pupil less eyes staring aimlessly forwards. The master had only but a moment to grope outwards and inspect the likeness of his creation before his attention needed to be placed elsewhere. A simple straightening of its posture would have to do to try and emulate his silhouette.

The next mystery wouldn't be so easy, which was saying something considering he had just created life, however temporary it was. The boy fished around in his pocket momentarily before withdrawing a simple golden coin, grasping it tightly in his right hand. As his grip tightened, he could feel the warmth of his body slowly transferring itself to the coin, making the metal more malleable. Time was of the essence, yet he needed to focus to ensure that the mystery was performed correctly. One wrong move and he would be nothing more than an inanimate mess of flesh upon the lawn.

"As greed is the base of man,
So shall it be what I become,
Let this metal consume my body,
And protect it from that which would harm,
Let this worthless flesh,
Become something worth saving.
Gift of Midas!"

The boy could already hear the shifting of stone as the barrels formed themselves within his prison as his spell began to take effect. His time was up but he had succeeded in shifting his body from flesh to that of molten gold. As his features melted away, Alexander's mystery began to fire off in full force, hundreds of stone bullets being shot out at near sonic speeds. Yet the homunculus boy would live to see another day, already seeping into the safety of the soil beneath him and leaving his copy to the fate of becoming a pile of hot, sticky meat in a matter of moments.

* * *

Archer of Black could hardly believe her ears as she was so rudely shoved away. At first he had seemed like such a nice boy toy. His young features and innocent manner were just so alluring to the fiery redhead. But now? Now he was protesting her kindness, calling her unspeakable things. A harlot? A bitch?! The boiling anger in Archer's blood was evident as she shook with rage at the insults being slung at her. The child was even foolish enough to believe a weapon would make her reconsider her actions now. No, Paris was not the most knowledgeable or astute when it came to the ways of women.

The petite femme fatale easily brushed away both his weapon and his guard with the grace and finesse one would only expect from such a beauty. She then brought her hand back as far as she could before landing a thunderous, open-palmed slap to the pathetic boy's cheek. Such was the force of the blow that she wouldn't have been surprised if the loud smack could be heard from the other teams. In fact, it was strong enough to land the pitiful boy right onto his backside, staring up at the hellish woman. She then straightened herself out, putting her hands to her hips before leaning forwards once more to vent her anger.

"You-you-you-...Hmph!" she stuttered out, her anger blinding her from her more articulate speech. "Serves me right for giving an incredulous pup a chance. If you're going to act like that, I'll just go find a real man who can appreciate his fortune."

The woman then turned on her heel and left the boy to his own devices. This place was already getting on her nerves. Two boys had already brushed her off like some cheap thrill since she had come back to this world. At least the second had had some difficulty resisting her wiles. Yet there was little conciliation in those thoughts and for a moment she worried that maybe there were no men in this brutish war that she could find warm solace with. But no, those were foolish words, especially for such a vixen as herself. It would take little time to find some brave and righteous man she could lay with and be at peace.

She just needed to start finding the actual men...


Fire everywhere!

One minute, Farouk had been trying to convince the young lady Yi to sign away her life in exchange for helping them win the war, the next a sea of fire and fur had appeared from the surrounding gardens. The Master of Black was certainly taken aback by the sudden change from diplomacy to intimidation but his Servant was more than prepared for this outcome. In fact, by the gleeful smile that had adorned his face, it was as if he had been hoping for this the entire time. No sooner had the orange beasts been unleashed than Berserker had been in front of his master, batting away the spirit foxes with mimicked claws. He was brutal but efficient; stomping, clawing, punching and even biting his way through the furry horde that assailed them. Yet hundreds more beasts poured out and to Farouk it seemed as though they would be overwhelmed by the Phantasm's force.

And then it stopped...

The master looked about, trying to see if he could spot where their adversaries had retreated to, but with no luck. The only thing left were the slowly dissolving corpses of the foxes Berserker had slain and his servant, a wicked grin hidden behind his freshest kill, his jaw still clamped down on the poor fox's broken neck. As the body finally flecked away into a shower of prana, the murderer barred his blood soaked teeth and cackled maniacally at the slaughter that had just occurred.

"Can we do it again, Master?" the brute questioned through heavy breathing, clearly taxed far more than he would have admitted to.

"I am not thinking that is bestest plannings, friend," Farouk responded. The merchant was looking down at his chubby hand, a worried expression on his face as greasy gobs of skin were sloughing off onto the grass. "I am having many ideas of who this large man is being. We must go find homes for now, before people are finding our many, many secrets..."

The hairy servant frowned at the mention of retreat. He had just gotten to the fun part and now his leash was being pulled back in. He wanted to stay, to fight, to slaughter these weaklings and revel in their screams of terror and agony. Yet his master had other plans and he was forced to obey. If he didn't, it would only damage what little report he had with the alchemist and his privileges would be taken away. The only affirmative he gave the merchant was a low growl before slowly making his way towards the front of the church.

He'd get his chance to terrorize, one way or another.


"Master, I think we need to get outta here!"

Caster had barely gotten out his advice before another clash rang out into the dead of night. Once more the sword blows of the blonde haired woman had met the downturned guard of the aged sword smith. Another fist was thrown from the brown haired girl, straight for his head, but without enough speed before he could duck the attack. His only recourse was to strike back, slashing upwards as he came back to his full height and following up with a strike that was down and away from his center. The strikes had achieved their goal of breaking the swordswoman's guard, but before the Heroic Spirit could take advantage her blade was already in place to block another attack. It was a stalemate, and as the smith turned on the ball of his foot and sprang backwards to gain some distance, it was all too apparent that he was fighting a battle of attrition on two fronts. If they were going to escape to fight another day, they would need a plan of action quickly before he was really backed into a corner.

The problem was Machiko. For the entire engagement, she had taken refuge behind a solitary tree, peeking out to witness the battle unfold but giving no real direction. He was stuck fighting two opponents with no tactical guidance which was proving to be an insurmountable handicap. On the other hand, Caster had two other fighting forms with perfect battlefield insight being fed to them. While he couldn't hear any commands being issued, he could see links of prana connecting the three Casters together. No doubt they were sharing information through some sort of magical means as the two aggressive women seemed to be fighting in a far too unified manner to not be communicating somehow.

There was little time for more contemplation as another assault began, this time with the brown haired woman leading. She mindlessly threw out a powerful kick to the side of Caster of White's head, so predictable that all that was required was to raise his right forearm to protect himself. It was then their women's plan came to bare. The blonde woman dashed forwards, covering the distance between her and Caster of White in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, the brunette was already twisted her right leg over her left to deliver a second, overhead attack, while still digging her left foot into the spirit's forearm. It was a bind that most would have fallen prey to, but the emotionally collected sword smith knew that the smallest of adjustments could topple the greatest of plans. It didn't take much, just raising his guard abruptly and shifting it slightly to his left to deflect the brunette's right foot up and away and block the incoming blade the blonde was wielding with great force.

It was this moment that Machiko poked her head around the trunk of the tree once again to witness the battle. She had been analyzing Caster of Black's movements, watching intently as the trio fought her servant. It was the only thing she could manage with her knees knocking together from shaking so much in fear. Great heroes of ages past, death dealers of the highest caliber, were locking blades right before her very eyes. All she could do to not slide to the ground was hang onto this tree for dear life. But her servant, Caster, was in desperate need of assistance. So she had begun to watch, picking the fight apart bit by bit to find any sort of weakness or inconsistency with their opponents.

It was an odd thing that the girl found when she examined Caster of Black closer. Their movements, their reactions, their power; it all didn't fit. The blonde was so brutish and overbearing, giving even Caster of White a challenge when it came to keeping his guard up. The brunette felt like the exact opposite. She was weak and slow, only meant as a distraction to try and catch her servant off guard. Then it dawned on her, like a light bulb finally sparking to life inside her head. She knew what was going on.

"Caster, the brunette!" she shouted, motioning to slide the breach on a pistol as the Endless Trace morphed into her desired weapon, nestling comfortably in her moving hand as it loaded the first round into the chamber with the finishing of the motion.

The spirit sword smith was almost taken aback by the sudden action his master was taking. She was proving to be a very curious creature, but this wasn't the time for musing. Now was the time for decisive action. His target was already twisting wildly through the air, feebly trying to regain control of her descent. With a small shift in weight, Caster of White then maneuvered his blade in the clash, sliding it down into the guard of the blonde Caster. A strike with his weapon would be impossible, but it didn't stop the Heroic Spirit from bringing his backhand up and into the woman's face with force. As his opponent staggered from the hit, he turned his attention back to the flailing brunette and sent his foot straight into her gut. A loud thud rang out as wood hit flesh and sent the woman tumbling backwards. To her credit, the girl did manage to keep her feet after it all, holding her side with an expression of pain and frustration. She was clearly contemplating how she would make the spirit pay for his transgressions.

Click!

The movement of mechanisms snapped the woman out of her thoughts of revenge and pay attention to the pistol being aimed directly at her temple. It had been a perfect setup by the pairing for White. Brunette Caster was now in the narrowed sights of Machiko Tsukino, ready to pull the trigger and end this conflict. Her hands were clammy and shaking, her breaths were quick and shallow and her mind was racing with the ultimate decision and how it would weigh on her conscience. But she was ready for that.

Her finger tensed and a single shot was fired as the pistol kicked back on the school girl. Everything seemed to slow for a moment and Machiko could have sworn that she had witnessed the very bullet that was fired spiraling towards its intended target through the air. The action of the gun slid backwards with a jolt before pushing the next round forwards and the schoolgirl watched with dreaded anticipation at the girl she had sentenced to an assured death. The brunette's eyes went wide and she saw the flash of the gun, the same realization coming to her mind as they both waited for the inevitability.

Yet these two girls had never fought with great heroes before...

Suddenly the world came back into its regular momentum as the ricochet of metal on metal clanged out. The blonde haired warrior was already standing in front of her ally, shielding the brunette with as much of her body as she could. The bullet struck true, simply against an unintended target, and drilled itself into the blonde woman's forehead with its force. She was taken aback, stumbling onto the woman she was protecting and collapsing to the ground. Everything was barely registering in Machiko's mind as events unfolded to their somewhat unnatural conclusion. Before she could protest or fire a second shot, she could feel her body being swept away with the strength of an elephant. It was her Caster, doing whatever he could to get some distance between them and their adversaries. The girl couldn't have agreed more with that sentiment right now.

"It was a trick," she mentioned, explaining herself to her Servant.

"Hmm? What're you saying?" he replied.

"The true Caster of Black must have been using some sort of illusory magecraft on me. I couldn't tell which the real Caster was because they were all had Servant information around them. It doesn't seem like she could change that information, though, and that was its fatal flaw. The brunette was moving far slower than someone like you, more comparable to speeds of a regular person. The blonde, however, was exceptionally quick, on par with your own skills, so she definitely couldn't have been multiple ranks weaker than you physically. If I had to make assumptions, I'd say the brunette was the master, the green haired woman our mysterious Caster, and the blonde haired woman either Saber or some kind of familiar."

Caster was almost agape at the sheer amount of tactical information his master had been able to gather during such a short duel. Forget that she hadn't given him any sort of guidance, how had she read their opponent's so quickly and under such duress and beguilery? Truly the girl was full of fortuitous surprises.

"So that's how it is then?" he replied.

"I...I think so, yeah."

He could tell she was beginning to doubt herself under his scrutiny.

"Well then, we should regroup with our allies and share tactical information. I'm sure they'll all have a chance to face Caster before this war's done."

Machiko nodded in affirmation at that, glad that someone seemed to be able to trust in her talents. So through the starry night they went, Caster jumping from home to home with the lightest of feet as he carried his master away from the fight. Direct confrontation didn't seem to be either of their styles and if they could join up with their team, both of their genius could be brought to bear upon the villains of Team Black.

* * *

"Dumb fucking bitch, get your fat ass offa me!"

The brunette woman was livid with her Servant's performance, now left in the dust by the Team White pairing. The jobber of a familiar she called her knight was now laying prone on top of her like a ragdoll and preventing her from chasing. The only thing she could manage now was to throw her arms and legs about in futility, screaming and swearing all the while.

After some gentle coaxing, the blonde haired woman finally stirred from her stupor. The warrior sat back up immediately, looking around for the punk girl that had dared to shoot at them. It was a slow realization that the two had retreated and the blonde could only sigh with frustration as she rolled over to allow her partner, now having an absolute fit, to stand up as well. As she stood, her left hand groped about her forehead until it found the wetness it had been searching for, a trickle of blood emanating from the bullet wound on her forehead. The slug was even still lodged into her face and without effort she removed the nuisance with a flick, revealing a small abrasion leaving a blemish.

"Why the hell did you let them go, dumbfuck?!" the brunette yelled out, immediately at the blonde's throat once more.

"And what was I gonna do, Karine? Let you get shot?" she retorted, an equally fiery personality lighting up.

"I told you to call me master, you stupid cunt!"

The two began bickering with the other, like two twin siblings vying to outdo the other. Caster of Black simply smiled to herself, amused at how simple the two could be. With a sylvan grace she began to glide towards the two girls, each step as if stepping upon a cloud. A gentle hand on both shoulders was all it took for them to instantly shush and look to the older woman for guidance. Her chosen appearance made her out to be far sterner than she acted, this much was certain.

"Girls, girls, please," she purred, looking over one and then the other. "My dearest daughters, you should not fight. There will be plenty of persons to show who the two best girls are in the world."

The blonde barely seemed placated by the response, huffing in frustration and turning her back on the two. Karine, however, was still fuming over their supposed defeat to the school girl and her pathetic swordsman.

"I don't give a shit, Caster." she yelled back, pouting in her fit. "Your stupid girl just up and let them get away. Do you know how pissed Twenty-One is going to be?!"

"Yes, I suppose he will be upset," the woman cooed, moving to stand behind her master and lightly brushing and tapping her nails against her arms. "For a while, at least. I am certain he will come about once he has had time to exert his brashness upon you."

Karine was left standing by herself as her Servant whisked away as quickly as she had come. The girl simply watched, chewing on her bottom lip with a soft expression on her face. She could hear the rubbing of corduroy as her legs rubbed with anxiousness. Her eyes were deep in contemplation, glassy as she was looking into her mind rather than at her two Servants.

"Fine, whatever!" she finally said, throwing her hands up in frustration before crossing them across her chest. "Let's just get this over with."

With that order, the three began to walk towards the front of the church. First was Karine as she looked onto their destination with hopeful eyes. Second was the knight as she gawked at her master, unsure of how she was placated so easily. And last was Caster, smiling coyly to herself in victory as the strings of her puppets led her to their next stage.

'Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK-!'

Mistakes had been made. That much was clear as the brutish barbarian sped up his assault, to the point where even SHE couldn't keep up. Cassius was not one to take mistakes, or failure, lightly. One was leading into another too rapidly, it was all she could do back up from every slash, and stop every kick. His minor retreat gave her the split second needed to use her phantasm, things would be easier after that. She barely caught the glint of the dagger as she brought her gladius to bare, the shiv flying at her already.

'Can't dodge.' She adjusted her blade slightly, reverse grip knocking it away. She had noticed the little blighter skulk behind her already, as soon as she blocked she turned on her heel to stab down. Only he wasn't where she was expecting. his shoulder knocked some of the air from her, but she held on to her weapon. As useless as it was this close to him. She barely had time to move her arm before pain shot through her body, the cold metal sliding in farther and farther. She tried to gasp out some form of shocked expletives, but Assassin shushed her. Arrogant prick! He had her wrapped like an anaconda, too. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw some shadowy snakes slink around on her skin. She more felt it, though.

She was panicking. She was aware of this, her body squirming against the brute as he held on tighter and tighter. Still, she had managed something. Freeing her blade arm, she grinned despite herself as she jabbed it into the man's back, bringing it out again quickly. Droplets of blood flew from the blade, splashing the ground behind them. The puddle swirled together, quickly taking the shape of a man. A vague thing, but it wasn't what Cassius saw that was important. It moved quickly, the shape slimming itself as it jumped inbetween the two, expanding to separate them. The golem turned to the Assassin of Black, giving an expression of sadness. It took the form of... some person or another, Cassius didn't know them so it didn't really matter, did it? Still, it did it's job, approaching his brother slowly, his arm shaping into a blade behind his back. Cassius wasn't able to take a breath, the tendrils wrapping around her magnificent brain. She clutched at her head, weaving towards the Assassin of Black in blind assault.

__________________

Yuri cocked an eyebrow as the Wind Scar hit it's target, he wasn't expecting that. Perhaps he was still shrugging off the last phantasm, which left a slight burn in Yuri's lungs. He began chanting as the blue haired assassin worked, creating a web between them. As though Yuri was some mere fly.

"Tch, taikutsu." Yuri announced at the end of an aria, activating his favorite mystery. Grey Haze made his body disappear in the moonlight, his shape becoming simple fog. The Assassin could probably feel a cool breeze as his shape wafted down to the ground, taking shape on the man's right. Just within reach of his sword. He performed a quick slash, aimed just above the soft glow of his opponents Command Symbols.

Yuri took a step back, whether or not that strike hit or not didn't matter. Relentless assault was what he needed to do right now, as the burn of prana use hit him again. He was taxing himself too hard. A few more mysteries would be it for the night, but he could always rely on his Command Symbols if he needed. He raised his sword in kendo stance, sending a quick vertical slash towards the injured master.

The cold night air fluttered through Clay's hair as Lancer deposited them in their destination - a rooftop he identified as being a few miles from the former site of the church, adjacent to Fuyuki Park. In the distance, against the pitch dark sky, he could see a smoldering cloud of embers and smoke in the church's direction. Lancer unceremoniously dumped Clay on the ground, causing him to land hard on his side. As he righted himself and brushed the soot and dirt from his coat, he gave Lancer a frown, before turning in the former church's direction. So much for a neutral ground.

Lancer gently placed Diana on the ground and turned to Clay, his face contorted into a scowl, fangs bared. "WHY," he hissed, not bothering to conceal his anger and contempt, "Dear 'Master', did you order that retreat?" He stomped over, his furious face stopping mere inches from Clay's. After seething for a moment, he continued. "We had that! I'd wipe the floor with that two-bit Servant, then we'd clean up the uppity bitch controlling him! So WHY, pray tell, DID YOU TELL ME NOT TO DO THAT!?"

Clay's own expression remained neutral as his Servant ranted and seethed. Another Servant, another arrogant, spoiled child. With any luck, he'd mellow out a bit like Rider. "I'M THE GLORIOUS SAGE OF HEAVEN, EQUAL OF NONE! EVEN THE GODS TREMBLE AT MY PRESENCE! SO WHY, DEAR MASTER, DID YOU FORCE ME TO RUN LIKE A COWARD!? HM!?" His scowl worsened as he observed Clay's non-reaction, the lack of a response only serving to anger him further. "ANSWER ME, YOU IDIOT!"

No response.

Lancer gave a massive roar, punching the the wall to his side, shattering it like it was made of paper. Shards of concrete bounced off Clay's coat as Lancer's tirade continued. "DON'T YOU IGNORE ME, YOU INSOLENT WHELP! DO YOU COMPREHEND WHO YOU BEHOLD? THE GREATEST WARRIOR AND KING OF ALL TIME, THAT'S WHO!" Again, Clay held his ground, not even bothering to look to the side at his violent handiwork as Lancer threw his tantrum. After another series of colorful threats and ostentatious titles, Lancer seemed to calm, panting and trembling slightly.

"You..." The rage in his voice had finally subsided, replaced by frustration. "Why? We could have won, right there. I thought you said you'd do what it took to win!"

"Perhaps. Now we'll never know."

"PERHAPS!? Don't get me started again, 'Master'."

Clay's eyes narrowed at his Servant at his tone. "We were at a significant tactical disadvantage, Lancer. In the midst of a brutal ambush. Retreat was prudent, and you know it."

"Prudent!?" Lancer balked, his eyes narrowing in return. "If they were going to gang up on us, they would have done it as we left the church - not when we had time to regroup after escaping! No, that woman wanted... to..." A proverbial light bulb lit over Lancer's head, and his eyes came to rest on Diana's still-unconscious form on the ground. His face went from its previous snarl to something altogether different, his mouth open agate and his eyes piercing Diana in outraged realization. "...she's why, isn't she?" Lancer's gaze came to rest on Clay, the scowl from earlier returning. "Why they didn't go all-out on us. Why you ordered us to retreat."

Clay's impassive frown turned to a scowl to mirror Lancer's, his own teeth baring in the moonlight. "You'll drop this line of discussion NOW, Lancer."

"She's holding you back, isn't she?"

"That's an ORDER."

"ANSWER ME!" Lancer, in a flash, grabbed his Master by his coat lapel and hoisted him over the side of the building. "If your dear sister had to die to secure our victory, would you let it happen?"

Clay grunted as Lancer's steel-firm palms bit into his throat. It took a great deal of concentration to both prevent himself from gagging, and to keep his legs from flailing as they dangled over the precipice. "...Point... received..."

"You aren't answering my question."

"I'll..." He gasped a quick breath, Lancer's hands starting to constrict further. "...send her from Japan when she awakens. You're right... I can't let her cloud my judgement."

"I suppose that will do." He released Clay, dumping him back onto the rooftop, before turning to pick up Diana and sling her once again over his shoulder. "So... where to?"

"Huff, huff..." The Orihara girl towered over her conquest, mind still honed towards battle to such an extent that she hadn't yet thought to lower her arms. As her breathing slowed her muscles slacked, knees unbending and arms falling to her sides as she glowered at the pathetic priest. "Shit, Kyle... I thought you would be more fun than that." She took a step backwards to let the priest crawl up to his knees. Her body language showed a girl less than impressed with the holy man spewing his guts out onto the floor before falling right into the slather of wretched substances. Her lip curled down, and she turned away from the groaning man. She might as well have killed the Executor for all she cared right at that moment. Rider watched him by her side, but the edge to his eyes hadn't yet gone away. Daria craned her head around to look at her Servant. "Whassup, Rider?"

His brow furrowed, fixated on the shivering body. "Aren't you going to kill him?" he asked of his Master. "You've clearly won."

"Nah." Daria shrugged her shoulders in indifference to Solus' life or death. "Death is for threats and for good folk who need to stop suffering. Kyle's neither."

The Servant's rigid shoulders didn't droop just yet. "Then do you mind if I kill him? He is still a Master, and his Servant may be deadlier than him."

"Yeah, fair enough I guess. Do what'cha gotta do, R."

"I intend to." Rider's red eyes paid very special attention to the priest named Kyle Solus. He's clearly deadly. Even if Daria's one to forget those kinds of things, he was clearly as tough as her. I don't know if he got cocky and misjudged her--whatever it was, she got a chance hit in and ended it too early. But... she crushed his ribcage with her leg. I saw her make contact. So how... how did Kyle manage to crawl back onto his hands and knees with such a painful injury? And why wouldn't he try to roll back over? It must be terribly painful to lie on so many broken bones. It doesn't make any sense! I think... whether he can heal injuries, or he's resistant to normally fatal wounds, this Mr. Solus isn't hurt as badly as he'd like Daria to believe.

Rider produced his Noble Phantasm: a mighty golden chain that coiled around his arm many times over. He loosened the metal serpent and let it loose towards Kyle. A noose slipped around his neck and tightened, further and further until Solus' neck was visibly squashed beneath its pressure. Rider hummed a few satisfied tones as he pulled the chain up, letting it tug even more heavily against the Master's windpipe. Whatever your secret is, Mr. Solus, I don't think it will save you from having the life choked straight out. I should probably decapitate you after this, too. Just to be sure..."

The chain pulled harder and harder, writhing more furiously against the chafing flesh of the priest. It only took a few brief moments for his skin to turn blue around the face, and then the hands, Rider had so thoroughly cut him off from air. All that was left now was... Rider dug his heels in and yanked the chain. It cut into Kyle's flesh and wrenched his head up and around with a disgusting crack. His head sat at an unnatural angle upon his shoulders now, no breath left to escape his corpse. Daria sat on a rock watching the carnage, her Prana Drop suspended in front of her. The operation she performed was delicate and time-consuming, but necessary, working out every imperfection in the metal that Kyle's ichor had introduced. "Man, Rider. That was brutal. You done here?"

Her Servant drew his axe. "In a moment." He stepped closer, just within distance of the body as he raised his weapon high. He didn't say anything or make a boast of any sort. Rider's intention was to be quickly rid of this grisly business. The axe came down fast and hard.

Saber had tolerated it when the talkative bastard had walked past her, ignoring her in favor of her Master. Striking down the Black Master before she even got a measure on his Servant would've been a terrible waste, after all. She wanted to take on her counterpart when he was in his prime; there was no way anything short of that could possibly be satisfying. So if that meant letting this impudent brat insult her and her Master and act like her, then so be it. Saber allowed Twenty-One to continue, keeping her eyes locked instead on the mute figure of his Servant.

Needless to say, when the Black Saber disappeared into the night, seemingly without moving a muscle, the swordswoman was more than a little surprised. Luckily, it hardly took her a moment to detect the enemy knight's new location; her instincts, finally tuned by decades of raw and bloody battles, placed him squarely behind her, behind Twenty-One... Directly behind the whining boy, in fact. That couldn't be good.

"Matthew, Matthew, Ma-"

Saber moved.

Her body blurred as she pushed herself to her limits, muscles creaking and groaning in protest as she spun about on her heel and slammed her open palm around the hilt of the blade sheathed at her waist. Her mouth set itself in a fierce grin as her body tilted forward, her feet kicking against the ground to propel her forward at speeds no modern human could hope to match. The sounds of shattering earth and rasping steel filled the cold night air as the ground beneath Saber's feet cracked beneath her, and as her sword began to leave its scabbard.

Less than a fraction of a second passed before the Servant was next to Twenty-One. From this position, unfortunately, she wouldn't be able to get a good attack off, not with her blade only half-drawn and her body tilted so drastically forward. However, that didn't mean that couldn't "nudge" the arrogant Master aside as she passed. After all, her elbow was in prime position to bump into the side of his chest, and anything that knocked him off-balance was bound to help. And something as light as that was unlikely to kill him, so that was also a plus.

So, as she continued drawing her blade, Saber slid her elbow into the man's ribs, a few centimeters below his armpit. The blow carried enough strength to knock a car out of her way.

And then she was past Twenty-One, the distance between herself and her Master disappearing in under a second. Her sword, finally sliding free of its sheath, shone in the moonlight, the crimson steel appearing to reflect the silver brightness back even stronger. Letting out a roar of joy, defiance, and battle-lust, Saber hefted the blade back, wrapping both of her hands around its hilt. And then, with her momentum almost carrying her straight into Black's silent swordsman, she swung her weapon down, moving it in a line that would strike Saber in his shoulder, cleave through his armor and chest, and exit out at his opposite hip.

Some part of the Servant's mind idly noted that her Master, his eyes spread wide with shock and adrenaline, had begun throwing himself out of the path of her blow. Though he wasn't moving nearly as fast as she could, he was making decent time; he'd probably land quite uncomfortably upon the ground, but he'd be alright. At least he wouldn't be bisected.

"If you're going to act like that, I'll just go find a real man who can appreciate his fortune."

"W-what did you say..?" Archer's words were quiet, so much so as to be unheard by the marvelous figure slinking away from him, stung by his words but not so humble as to take them lying down. The stinging red mark on his cheek attested to that. Hot tears streaked from the afflicted side's eye, and the other was squinted into a glare that so desperately wished death it might have been truly frightening on someone with the countenance of, say, his brother. He stepped out from the wall, staggering and full of nervous twitches that poked his body around in awkward ways. As bizarre and pathetic he looked, a bow in the hands of a Servant was still a deadly weapon. Even to other Servants. Archer brandished his weapon with flourish, his arms the only part of his body not shaking with indignation as he shut one eye, ground his teeth, and picked the spot, right on the small of her back, where the Archer of Black would be pierced by the arrow meant to snuff out her life. Under his breath he murmured curses to her name. "How dare you? What right does a woman of perfumes and oils have? What right has she to question my manhood? You whore... I'll pierce you and remind you of your place!" He pulled back the bowstring, just behind his ear... and ceased. He lowered his arrow and let the tension in the gut string go. Furious tears trickled off of his shamed, reddened face as he walked in the opposite direction, back to his Master.

Alexander was roughly where Archer had left him, standing shirtless and tall on the cold night, the cooling remnants of lava pooled behind him as he basked in the glory of his tremendous craft. The giant's arms were crossed--his expression was cross, too, staring daggers at his latest monstrosity. How in the hell had Archer missed this one? A dome of solid rock that stretched some dozen meters into the air. The tiny Servant's body drooped, gone limp just in the presence of such power. "By the gods, what sin against nature have you committed now?"

"Impressive, isn't it!" Mustang said in commendation of his own skills. Paris gave him a shifty leer. It's like you're having an entirely different conversation with me in your head... The magus stepped forward, letting the tattered remains of his shirt waft in the brisk evening breeze. "I believe the prisoner's sentence has been fulfilled! We'll lower the walls, and see if there's enough of this homunculus left to fight." His booted foot rose to waist level, and met with the ground in a mighty collision. That must have been some signal, as the walls of the Firing Squad dropped in response. The mist, pierced by so many bullets, dispersed with the breeze's contact. Left behind was a ruined landscape, the turf left a pocked and brown wasteland. In its center was a pile of steaming meat and tattered thread that may once have been a man. Archer stomach turned, but his manner improved all but immediately.

"You tore him to shreds... that means we won, right?" he asked with the beginnings of a cheer on his lips. But Archer was confused, as Alexander did not seem quite so happy, his tiny sharp eyes fixated upon what was left over of Isaac Einzbern.

Could I have miscalculated? I was certain that an Einzbern homunculus would be a match for me--moreso, even. Is it possible I applied too much force for even he to repel? Perhaps he lacked a means to defend against a physical assault? Possibly true, but why does it feel me feeling so unsatisfied? There is something I don't understand here.

"Boy!" Alexander barked, clapping a hand upon Archer's curly locks. "Attend to those remains. Find a hefty piece, above the size of your head, and toss it back to me!"

The Servant blanched. "C-come again, Master?" You want me to do WHAT, you bloodthirsty psychopath?!

Archer was wrong to question him, as he was so firmly reminded by the magus' steely glare, like two blazing stars in the shadow under his brow. "WAS I MISTAKEN, OR DO YOUR DUTIES NOT INCLUDE THE QUESTIONING OF YOUR SUPERIOR? Do as I say, and quickly! There is no time to waste!" His mighty hand drew back and slapped Archer in the back, stinging him greatly and propelling him forward with the greatest motivator of all: pain, intermingled with a tinge of fear. The stumbling boy in the tunic raggedly stumbled towards the pile of blood and guts, and with regret jammed his hands into the slurry. He recovered a slab about the size Alexander requested, and as quickly as he could get it out of his hands he chucked it his Master's way. Alexander caught it with ease, and let the raw flesh rest against his arm. His free hand worked over it, his fingers rubbing deep into it, splitting the sinew and stringy bits that held it together. Archer felt like he was about to be ill, yet the human showed no signs of acknowledging his grotesque behavior. Finally satisfied, the Supervisor dropped the hunk and stooped down to wipe the blood into the grass at his feet.

"W-well?" Archer asked indignantly. "What was the point of that?"

"The meat," Alexander declared. "it was hot."

The Servant's eyebrow twitched imperceptibly. "Of course it was. The human body is warm, and reduced it to a bloody pulp... why wouldn't it be hot?"

Alexander scoffed. "You've misunderstood me, boy, as is to be expected. Of course the body is hot, the matter at hand is that the body was too hot." He held up a finger. "The human body has a certain level of heat naturally, but the time since the activation since my spell's activation is significant enough that it should have cooled off by a degree or two, particularly in this weather. But this flesh is notably hotter than is normal. This implies that some manner of exothermic reaction occurred, something that used a great deal of energy. Being an Einzbern, it's likely this was some form of magecraft."

Archer shook his head. "I don't get it. Explain it simply."

"I am explaining simply, the problem is that you're simple!" the Master boomed. "What I am saying is that this Master we have here has duped us. I cannot say for certain how, but he escaped my prison. And he left a duplicate behind to attempt to convince me that he had died. His trick has failed; I've seen through it. But now I'm left to ponder how he did it..." He began to stroke his chin. "And where he's gone. Boy! Where is the Servant you engaged?"

"O-oh!" Archer rubbed his arm, avoiding eye contact. "She, erm, got away in the chaos."

"Hmph. I see. I should have expected her to survive. This is fine, though, your failure's given us a chance to track down the enemy Master!"

"Buh? Huh?" Archer was shocked by the sudden arrival of Alexander's arm around his back, and was pulled closer to receive his orders.

"If she has left the battlefield, the chances of her rendezvousing with her Master, Isaac Einzbern, are all but certain! Reconnaissance is your task, if you'll recall, boy. Go into spirit form and track them down. Return to me with their location, their current plan of action, and any allies they might have with them!"

Bewildered, Archer asked, "And what'll YOU do?"

"I shall reconvene with our allies," he boldly declared. "and formulate a plan of action. Hopefully one supplemented by the intelligence you provide. Are we clear, soldier?"

Archer saluted with a limp wrist. "Yessir." The magus nodded to him and turned back to the church, heading that way as Archer struck out on the path the Archer of Black had followed. His body began to disperse in feathered flecks of prana, his sullen eyes invisible to the boorish man who commanded him. O Captain, my Captain... how brave of you to send your only soldier into certain death while you sit safely behind the lines. Bastard.

He disappeared, and sprinted off towards the maiden he had shunned...

Rolan realized he was in a tight spot. Yuri looked as though he had barely made an effort to avoid the razor thin cables attached to the assassin's katar. In fact, the Matou's form had dissipated into a chilling mist that began to wrap itself around the young master of Black. The action was both disturbing and worrying, not knowing when or where his opponent would strike from. Yet the boy still had an answer; it was what made him such a feared shadow in the dark.

As the vapour that was Yuri began to surround Rolan, the boy's nerves began to settle from their panicked state from just moments before. His eyes began to glaze over, looking into a distance far beyond reality. His limbs began to heat up, the surge of power flowing through him once more that these mages called prana. In his mind he recited the mantra, over and over again until it was the only thing he could believe. Then, he saw the flame flicker to life in the darkness, a single candle burning in a sea of pitch black. He then whispered something barely audible to himself, trying to grab hold of that burning focus.

"...Engage trace..."

It was then that his body felt as though it was on fire, alight with energy from deep within that spread throughout his battered form. He could already feel his skin bubbling as it shifted, cells multiplying and joining, making his body much more dense than before. He was being reconstructed, greater and more powerful than any magus could imagine. They had mocked his simplicity, finding elegance in such a "feeble" mystery. Yet now, with the vast knowledge of the Einzburn family, he could sculpt his body into a tool of destruction. Or, in this case, a tool of invulnerability.

"...AND STEEL THE SOUL!"

His timing couldn't have been more serendipitous as Yuri's blade struck the youth directly onto his wrist. The clang of metal on metal chimed through the air as the sword was violently deflected off, his skin as solid as diamond. He then began to tug with his left arm, straining under the great weight of the tree he had lodged his blade into, though success was inevitable as he was now. With sickening creeks and cracks, it was only a moment before the massive plant was ripped from the ground from its roots and hurtled towards Yuri in his stupor of regaining his footing after his failed attack. Even if this particular swing failed, Rolan knew he still had an upper hand with such a gargantuan weapon in his hands. If he gave the superior mage no pause, there wouldn't be time to bring out any of those other pesky mysteries.

* * *

Assassin of Black could hardly believe that the woman still had any fight left in her. It was a pleasant surprise, to be sure; he hadn't wanted his fun to end just yet. It was more so that he had never encountered such a stalwart foe in centuries and now he had been presented with seven. Seven luscious targets to tease out and pick apart, gob by bloody gob, until he was satisfied with the results. And then? Then he would be reunited with the one he had hurt those many years ago. His soul could finally be at rest for the crimes he had committed and he would atone for his sins in His glorious eyes to walk amongst man once more.

Though he was getting ahead of himself. First this whore would have to pay for her transgressions. As the sword slid out of his back wound, he could hardly feel the pain that most would have been agonizing over. The blades of a thousand mortals had dug themselves deep into his back before and had failed to realize their goal. What difference would this one make? It was then that the Heroic Spirit noticed the treachery of the move. Her goal wasn't to murder her assailant outright. As the droplets of crimson vitae splattered across the lawn, a figured formed from it that surprised even Assassin of Black.

It was himself.

An exact replica of his visage stared back at the sinful spirit. At least, that's how it would appear to the ignorant Assassin that had created this puppet of lifeblood. It was a disturbing effect, to be certain, and the shadow killer barely held back a shiver down his spine. Clearly this creature was meant to disturb his calm and, to his dismay, it was proving effective. Yet he could turn this around. He could use this beguilery against the woman by using some deceit of his own. The spirit would need to act quickly, however, to ensure the plan came to fruition as best he could devise.

The puppet wasted no time in its attack, charging forwards with a small stone crafted shiv in hand. Taking hold of his captive more firmly, Assassin of Black flipped over the spirit he had just infected, keeping hold of the woman's shoulders. Using the momentum of the maneuver, he tossed Cassius with everything he could muster towards the ground some ten feet away. Whether she recovered or not was irrelevant, the murderer simply needed her distracted for but a moment. It was then the puppet caught up with Assassin of Black and stabbed out with the intention of ending this fight in one strike. The spirit was more than a match, however, as he broke into the blood golem's guard, brushing the attack aside and driving his shoulder into the monstrosity's chest.

The two went tumbling to the ground, wheeling about in a grapple as the other struggled for control. It was then that Assassin put the next step of his plan into effect. As the pair scuffled about on the grass, the Heroic Spirit began to shift from his cloaked figure to something else. His form stayed roughly similar, but his cloak stuck to his body like a second skin. The pigment of it changed from a midnight black to a crimson red, as if to compliment his opponent's colouring. His wound slowly filled in with cloth and within moments, the spirit had transformed into an exact duplicate of the golem he was tussling with. As his form completed its transformation, he kicked the copy away from himself and gained some separation. Yet at this point, it would be all but impossible to tell the two figures apart, having shuffled their position numerous times. Would Assassin of White take the risk of destroying her own creation and leaving herself open to attack, or would she try to let her weaker, less capable golem fight her villainous counter part and hope that whoever emerged victorious would be obvious? It was certainly the conundrum Assassin of black had hoped to put her in.



So much pain. His body was in so much pain. So much so that Kyle was almost grinning like a mad man. He couldn't believe that the hot headed girl was stupid enough to not wonder why it had been so easy. Had his ribs not felt like they were going to jab themselves further into his lungs, he would have been cackling maniacal right about now. For the moment, he would need to suffice with his inner glee.

For Rider, however, it wasn't over yet. A golden chain, clearly some sort of Conceptual Weapon, wrapped itself around Kyle's neck with ease. The executor looked at it with that foolish grin, relishing what was coming next. The chain then tightened, cutting off what little air he could manage to gasp into his damaged lungs. It was almost too perfect. As the chains began to strangle the priest, all he could wonder was how much more these fools could help. In his mind he ran through each word, each simple word as if they were the only things that mattered. He tried to vocalize them, but he found his voice was simply a rasping drone. Had the golden links wrapped around his throat not been clanking violently as they tightened, he might have been found out. No, these idiots had given him his golden opportunity with their inattentiveness.

It was around a full minute before Kyle's skin began to turn a stomach churning shade of blue and the Servant finally showed some pity. The chain was yanked as tightly as possible and the church of a broken wind pipe emanated from the man. But it was't enough. Rider was walking towards the executor with axe in hand, intent on finishing the job as thoroughly as possible. Had he suspected, or was he just as much a butcher as the girl? Whatever the case, it didn't matter at this point. The priest was prepared to take to the offensive and end both of these plebes with a simple stroke. The final words were thought as the brute leveled his axe, a flood of prana streaming from his fingers into the blood that had pooled around his body. He could already see the thick, red liquid begin to trickle outwards to surround the man above him.

As the axe came down, Kyle put his plan into motion. There was no grand gesture but the one his mystery made, sending a massive tendril of blood up to bat away Rider's axe from a possible finishing blow. The pool of blood then snaked its way around the Heroic Spirit's feet, binding him to his place before the executor rolled away from his aggressor. The now animate liquid kept its assault constant, not aiming to finish the largely more powerful spirit but rather to distract it. With some effort, Kyle regained his feet. With some sickening twists and cracks, the man adjusted his head back into its proper fitting after having it disjointed by Rider. He then began to tug at his neck, making noises akin to a hacking cough as he fiddled with his wind pipe. After a moment, he seemed satisfied and with a final clearing of his throat, looked at the girl who had dared walk away from their contest.

"Pardon my brief reprise, little missy," Kyle said, withdrawing a cloth to wipe his face and dusting his shoulder off. "Now where were we with your execution?"

The man feigned a moment of pondering, cupping his chin within one hand. Despite his injuries, he seemed almost rejuvenated compared to moments ago. Whatever had sparked this second wind, it was now burning bright in Father Solus' eyes.

"Oh yeah. Pretty sure I was gonna finally do you a favour and end your miserable little existence. Now hold still and it'll all be over before you know it..."

With his intentions made clear, the man let his right hand hang lack in front of his body. Holding his shoulder with the left, he closed his eyes and began to chant an aria under his breath. As the whispers flowed out, his right arm began to spasm violently as if reacting to them. He could feel his flesh bubbling beneath his cossack, gobs of skin and sinew beginning to heat up and melt away. As the pain of the process enveloped him, he could hear a small laugh rise in his words, enjoying the familiar sensation as a hunter would the feel of his rifle. It was their end he could sense and he relished it so deeply with this pathetic soul. Then behind sweat and dirt soiled locks of blonde hair, two eyes flickered to life with a fire most foul; one red, the other gold.


They had made their decision. To be more accurate, Saber had made the decision for the pairing. Before Twenty-One could engage in any more dull pleasantries, the Heroic Spirit was bounding towards her master, tearing up the ground beneath her feet with each stride in a mad dash to rescue him. Even the prodigal Enforcer had barely time to react as the Servant brushed past him, trying to deliver a knockout blow to his ribs. Without a moment to spare, the man pushed out with his left hand, placing it gently on the woman's elbow and redirected the momentum she created to launch himself backwards and out of harms way. Yet there was a problem. The desired effect of the attack had still been achieved. Saber of White had put herself between Matthew and himself, cutting off any chance at further parlay. The man sneered with discontent, knowing that his wishes would not be filled this evening.

Saber of Black, on the other hand, had been suspiciously prepared for this outcome. It was as if he had intended to get his adversary hot under the collar by posing a clear threat to the defenseless boy. As his counterpart raised her blade and brought it down to meet his shoulder, the eastern knight drew his own blade and brought it up to deflect the blow. It was a magnificent piece of craftsmanship, a full thirty inches of steel attached to an eleven inch handle. The deadly weapon glistened in the moonlight, revealing expertly crafted caricatures of various heroes and demons battling under the same moon that had been darkened down its entire length. The cross guard was elaborately shaped as a mokkou, obviously more decorative than functional. Yet it was the power the blade brought to bare, the strong of Saber of Black's blade clashing against the demon dog of the west. Its ferocity was made readily apparently, knocking aside Saber of White's blow with ease despite their massive difference in strength.

The samurai followed up quickly with and upwards slash, fixing his grip to use both hands now as he struck. It was a testament to the woman's finesse and swordsmanship that she was easily able to stab downwards at the rising blade, catching both crossguards together to hold the weapons at a stand still. Try as he might, the eastern warrior couldn't come close to matching the brute strength of the White warrior, stuck in a vulnerable position. It was a position the female Saber intended to take full advantage of, winding her left arm back before throwing an unstoppable punch. Trying to gain the upper hand, the asian warrior crouched down, shifting his weight to gain more leverage and strength in pressing his blade upwards, giving the man enough birth to duck down and sweep his left leg and try to trip the behemoth. As his leg swung about, he felt the blow connect but without purchase, the inhumanly sturdy calf barely ducking under the blow, even despite her balance having been thrown off by her own failed strike. The man's brow furrowed, both in frustration and respect for the woman's prowess, which was returning by a vicious and mocking smile. The woman wasted no time in bringing up her free leg, aiming to stomp out her pitifully weak opponent with one grand gesture. Swiping her sword away and catching Saber of Black's in the process, she removed any obstructions and brought her heel down with all her might. As seemed to be a growing trend, the asian knight narrowly escaped the coup de grace with an expertly timed backwards roll, coming back up to one knee a few feet from the giant that had just made a crater in the ground with her attack.

The two then shared a brief moment of reprieve, sizing the other up from the small altercation and judging their next move accordingly. The woman was far stronger than Saber of Black had anticipated. He was no match in a pure contest of strength, that had been made frustratingly apparent. Yet her style was wild and untamed, one fueled by instinct rather than reason. While she made appropriate maneuvers, they were filled with weakness in form, which gave the more tactically minded samurai a distinct advantage. It wasn't how hard he placed his blow, but where. He could easily match her power with leverage, striking at the weakest point. What bothered him was that it only made them even and this fight would drag on for an eternity if they were to keep dueling at this pace. He would need to bring to bear one of his skills if he were to stand a chance against she foreign devil.

After the moment's respite, Saber of White pressed her attack once more, utilizing her superior bulk to try and muscle her opponent around the front lawn. Strangely enough, Saber of Black seemed fine with this, not bothering to stand to his full height and remaining perfectly still. As the great king bore down upon him, night black blade cutting through light itself, the warrior made his move by thrusting his arm outwards, sword perfectly horizontal, and pushing away the woman's attack to his left, one palm pushing against his own weapon. With her right hand guard open, the ferocious woman threw a vicious uppercut, hoping to catch her opponent off guard himself. The Black Saber took his opportunity to duck about the woman's guard once more, extending his foot and using the force and momentum of the punch to launch himself up and over the woman. Instinctually, Saber of White went to protect her backside with a spinning downward back fist, attempting to crush the pesky fly that was dancing about her. But again the man used his knowledge of combat against her, ducking low as he landed to avoid the blow and drew his sword outward to his left, looking to come in quick on her right side. It gave her little time to contemplate the next move. A trained warrior would guard to soften the blow, possibly affording them enough time to dodge the rest of the blow. Yet this is what he drew her in for. A wicked purple sheen glossed the blade of his katana and the man knew full well that her strength would mean nothing against his blows now.

Their blades collided in a flash of crimson and violet sparks, the sound of screeching metal splitting the air around the two Servants. The exchange, like those that had preceded it, was all but instantaneous, the two swords connecting for only the merest fraction of a second. Unlike its predecessors, however, this particular clash stank of sorcery. The purple gleam that shone along Saber of Black's katana, the subtle, tingling sensation of prana leaking through the air; this battle had finally ceased being one of pure strength and swordsmanship. And it was one that Saber of White couldn't possibly win.

For the first time in their duel, the silent swordsman overpowered her. To the outside observer, the difference would have been all but impossible to spot, but to the two warriors it was clear as day. Whereas the Black knight had previously only parried and dodged his foe's attacks, his strength insufficient for fully blocking them, his slash stopped her blow in its tracks. Despite the incredible force behind the woman's strike, it was actually forced back by two centimeters. As the female swordsman struggled to retain her balance, the Eastern warrior's blade slid down along her own, kicking up a trail of sparks as it flew towards her wrists. Only by surrendering to her enemy's strength, using the force of his blow to spin her arms and body down and away from the katana, did Saber avoid losing her hands to the attack.

There was a half-instant reprieve between this and their next exchange. Though there was not enough time for Saber to change her expression, the knight's instincts still managed to come to terms with the new situation. Her advantage in this fight, her overwhelming strength that had never once been matched, had been surpassed. The opposing swordsman possessed superior force and technique with a blade now; she could not hope to best him in this fight, not with the means readily available to her. She was going to lose. She understood, and accepted the inevitability.

Five blows.

The female Saber launched her next attack, both hands wrapped loosely around the hilt of her sword. It was not a particularly exceptional strike; even without his new strength, Saber of Black should have had no trouble dealing with it. Indeed, when his violet katana nimbly knocked the tip of her short sword aside on its way to open up her throat, Saber knew that she would've lost the exchange without fail. So, even as she ducked forward, making to dodge her foe's attack by a matter of millimeters, she loosened her grip even further, allowing her sword to be knocked from her hands and sent skittering along the ground behind her. The shortsword dug furrows into the dirt as it spun away, before finally jolting to a halt a couple of meters in front of her Master, a few inches of its blade stabbed into the earth.

Four.

The battle had changed again. Saber of White had stepped in close, ducking under the Asian soldier's blade, to a range suited for hand-to-hand combat. Unarmed and bringing her full, monstrous strength to bear, this was where she could best function, in the space where the Black Saber's katana would only awkwardly be able to reach. But even that would not be enough. Were she against an Archer, Assassin, Caster, Berserker, Rider, or possibly even a Lancer, she would undoubtedly be able to crush them with her bare hands. But against another Saber, the Servant hailed as the strongest, renowned for their abilities in close quarters? Even if it was unwieldy, the Black warrior's blade, especially when coupled with his techniques, would provide him a distinct advantage. Even now, he was already correcting the course of his katana, aiming to rip a bloody gash across Saber's back.

However, simply because his sword gave him an advantage, it didn't mean that the Black Saber would be able to win without a fight. The woman's right elbow swung up, knocking into her foe's wrists and throwing his attack off course, as her left fist aimed to smash his teeth in. The man wasn't using his mouth, after all; surely he wouldn't mind if she turned it into a heap of useless bone and muscle.

Three.

Alas, he apparently did, and jerked his neck to the side, allowing Saber's fist to harmlessly graze past his cheek. The silent swordsman spun his blade around in his palms, reversing his grip into a blow that, enhanced by his supernatural strength, would rip his opponent in half. However, gritting her teeth into something that was neither a smile nor a scowl, Saber slammed her open arm into the naked blade with truly tremendous force. Though she couldn't hope to stop the blow, she could deflect it, and though the katana slid painfully along her arm, slicing off a thin strip of flesh as it went, it failed to deal any crippling damage. Her arm would sting like hell for a while, granted, but it was still functional.

Two.

The White Saber brought her hands back, clenching her fingers into fists, while the Black struggled to correct his stance. A fierce grin split the woman's lips apart. Granted, she couldn't possibly win this fight, but that didn't mean she couldn't do some damage first. The silent soldier's armor would undoubtedly provide him with some amount of protection, but against her sheer, blunt might, there was only so much such protection could do. Two punches, one to his kidneys, one to his heart. They wouldn't deal lethal damage, but anything that-

Saber of Black slammed the hilt of his sword into her gut. The metal links that covered her torso screeched in protest at the blunt trauma, but were overpowered by the telltale crack of breaking bone. Spittle, clear and vicious, flew from Saber's lips as the air was driven from her lungs, and the soldier herself was sent flying backwards, eyes widening in shock and pain. She'd guessed wrong, apparently. The Black Saber was even faster to adapt than she had believed.

Saber's heels bounced off the ground once, sending the Servant into a painfully controlled roll. She hadn't planned for this situation exactly, but a retreat was a retreat. Growling, the female swordsman put her own strength into her movement, putting even more space between her and her opponent. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her blade, still stuck in the ground, and behind it the quivering form of her Master. With an almost annoyed air, Saber finally pushed herself back to her feet, continuing to skid backwards for a few more meters. Along the way, she pulled her short sword from the dirt with her left hand, and with her right grabbed the boy by his jacket and slung him over her shoulder, ignoring the startled yelp that stole from his throat. They'd need to make a quick getaway, and there was no way the magus could move fast enough on his own.

Eventually, Saber finally slid to a halt, about fourteen meters away from the Eastern swordsman. Blood ran freely from her right arm, though the wound was already beginning to stitch itself shut. It wasn't particularly deep, after all. Of more concern was the burning pain in her abdomen. One of her ribs was almost certainly cracked. It'd probably take a minute or two to heal on its own. "Jeez," she muttered, more to the night sky than anyone in particular, "I'm just getting my ass kicked tonight, aren't I?

"But yeah, yeah, those were some good hits you got in there, Saber," she continued, switching her focus to her opponent. "Christ, both you and Ruler got me good... Hey, do you know what happened to that guy, anyway? I don't think he'd just go and die on us like that, even if that ambush did catch him off guard." Pausing for a moment, the swordsman waited for the other warrior's response. When none came, however, she allowed herself a small, slightly pained grin. "Yeah, you're right. Not a whole lot of sense in talking about things that don't matter, eh?" Briefly, Saber considered addressing the other Master, Twenty-One. In the end, however, she decided against it, choosing to give him the same attention that he had given her. Treat other people how you want to be treated and all that, right?

Instead, she twisted her head slightly, so that she could see her own Master out of the corner of her eye. "Hey, kid," she began, "I don't suppose you've got any healing magecraft on hand, do ya? Saber managed to crack one of my ribs; it's not that big a deal, but if you could speed up the recovery process, that'd be great."

The boy, instead of delivering a coherent response, simply gibbered something and fidgeted around. Saber failed to resist rolling her eyes. Though, to be fair, she hadn't exactly tried real hard. "Never mind, should've figured. Just stay there then, and hold on tight. If you fall off, it's going to hurt like hell."

It seemed that her Master could follow basic instructions, at the very least, as he wrapped his arms around her neck and freed up her right hand. Breathing deeply, Saber clutched her blade with both hands, bringing the short sword up to a middle guard. "You know," she said, addressing the Black Servant and Master, "I hadn't really planned on the fight going this badly. But damn, if you guys weren't able to pull out a few surprises, ha!" The Servant's chuckles died off after a moment, however, replaced by an abnormally calm, tranquil tone. "I really want to keep fighting, you know. But at this rate, I'll end up dead in... Hell. You could probably just kill right now, if you decided to go all out, right? And that isn't fun at all. There's no way I can let myself die this early in the War. I haven't even gotten to kill anyone yet. So, even if I don't like it, I'm going to show you one of my cards first. You've earned that much.

"This sword is named Hrunting," she said. "And you had better be able to block it. Because if something like this kills you, I don't think I could live with the shame of being injured by you."

Hrunting's crimson steel began to pulse with a violent light, a scarlet glow that spoke of bloodlust and slaughter. Prana formed and festered around the blade, tainting the cool night air with its mad presence. As Saber squeezed the hilt tighter and tighter, the magical energy began to circulate, racing along the the edge of the sword at speeds too fast for the eye to follow. A whirring roar exploded from the Phantasm, reminiscent of a barely restrained hunting dog. It was a sword that was meant to kill, to slaughter its targets absolutely with neither mercy nor regret. A second passed, then two, then three.

Then Hrunting was raised above Saber's head, churning with its foul power, as a battle cry tore from its wielder's vicious smile. "Into the red plains, SCARLET HOUND," she roared, sweeping her Phantasm down in a great arc, "AND HUNT!" As she did, the crimson aura that had engulfed the blade suddenly flew free, sliding out into a far broader arc, and shot towards Saber of Black like a demonic bullet, howling all the while. The distance to its target would be covered in a heartbeat.

The pain in her chest all but forgotten, Saber pushed her feet against the ground and sailed backwards, throwing herself into a great leap that would carry her and her Master off of the hillside and down to the city streets below. From there, they would be able to retreat, and hopefully find the rest of the White faction. They would need to regroup, natuarlly, and decide a plan of attack. But for now, for this one instant, the swordsman was happy to do nothing more than watch her counterpart deal with her attack, or die. And though she could not see his terrified face, she somehow knew that the boy with his arms wrapped helplessly around her was watching as well.

Come on, Saber. Show me what you can do.

"...AND STEEL THE SOUL!"

Yuri felt the tide of battle shift, the hair standing up on the back of his neck. The blade bounced off, leaving Yuri far too open. Luckily, Rolan decided he was better off with weapons, but he was still too fast, Yuri found at the same time as his footing. Yuri quickly jumped up, and up, and up again on swift appearing Air Stairs, making a big one underneath him to cushion a counterattack. All the while, he chanted his aria, disappearing again from a crouching position.

It was time to run.

Cassius barely even took a second of time before beginning to charge, in tandem with her golem of blood. The telepathic link told her which one to go for anyways, as it shifted it's hand into a blade and dove forward. Cassius barely had time to take a second step before Yuri appeared next to her, grabbing her wrist and blinking off again. The golem coiled it's form, aiming directly for the legs, covering their retreat quite obviously.

Yuri and the mad Cassius appeared in an alley, The master quickly throwing her. He was testing the range of the obvious curse the other assassin had put on her, a strange phantasm or a skill? Cassius was luckily able to tell the difference between him and an enemy, simply growling instead of immediately striking him with the dagger. She tried to get her bearings, wanting to get back to combat. Yuri pointed towards the park, a good landmark that he could set fire to in case he needed a second retreat. She bounded off, Yuri forced to follow. She hopped along rooftops, Yuri doing his best to follow on foot. Cassius slowly regained her wits with range, eventually stopping for the huffing, aching Yuri.

"What happened?" She asked, simply and a bit angrily.

"Their master pulled a mystery, made his skin hard and made him strong enough to pick up a tree." Yuri's plain tone almost distracted Cassius from how stupid that sounded. She sat down, exhausted as her master. "You think the rest made it out?"

"... Probably, yes." Yuri shrugged, looking around. Close to the park. "Keep going," He ordered, walking off and straightening his coat out, sheathing his sword. Cassius switched back to her suit, changing to her spirit form. They walked in silence, silently reviewing their respective fights as they went. They debriefed each other as they got closer, thinking about it all.

Eventually, it turned from cold hard facts, to analysis, then simple guessing on the identity of their rival assassin. Cassius thought he looked a bit familiar, but hardly a Roman. None of them were that mad. Perhaps a legend from a passing Jew, or a demigod, or some other hero or villain of history. Older than hers, anyways. Maybe they'd get it eventually. After awhile, they lapsed into silence, nearing the park. They thought themselves in the clear.

Yuri enjoyed the cool night air, flexing his armored hand around, almost used to the weight of it. Cassius sulked. And together, they walked on.

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