“Identify yourself right now, or I’ll destroy your line of communication,” said Archer as he pointed his bow at the potted plant that looked like it hadn’t been watered in days.
“How blunt,” said the distorted male voice coming through the plant in a playful tone. “Wasn’t it a custom in Japan to introduce oneself before asking for another’s name?”
“You know all our names already,” answered Archer. “And if we’re talking about manners, then wouldn’t eavesdropping be far more rude?”
“Haaa, I suppose you have a point,” claimed the voice. The remaining leaves on the plant seemed to flutter slightly when the voice sighed. “Well, ‘Archer.’ You can call me ‘Caster.’ I am a survivor of the Holy Grail War, or what semblance remains of it, at least.”
“‘Caster,’ you say?”
Archer repeated the voice’s name with a grimace, as though displeasure had been met with confusion. Ritsuka thought he’d ask about that later, but Archer seemed like he was going to keep being confrontational, so Ritsuka jumped in.
“Caster, you could have just continued to listen to us, but you chose to talk to us. May I ask why?”
“Oh, so there’s one of us who actually does have manners,” said the amused voice. “Well, the short version would be that we probably have a common enemy. If you want to know more, I propose that we meet. And it would be in your best interests for us to meet sooner rather than later. The ones who have not survived are already on the move, after all.”
“What do you mean by that,” demanded Rider.
“Now, now, I’ll properly inform your investigating party of what I know as soon as it is appropriate, but talking to you though this method is not the most efficient use of my power.”
“A Caster that is conserving their Mana,” said Archer with a smirk on his face that was reflected through his tone. “Seems like you need us far more than we need you.”
Caster was silent for a moment longer than his previous replies had taken before he said, slightly annoyed, “I have never needed anyone to fight my battles for me and never will; but this occasion is a little unusual. And if we’re talking about ‘needs’ then the knowledge I have of recent events is far more important than anything else your party is interested in. Archer said that he’d fought in Fuyuki before. I’m sure you know the park next to the shopping district? I want you all to meet me there in one hour.”
The potted plant fell silent and didn’t speak up again. Ritsuka started to ask, “So should we-”
Archer swiftly hushed Ritsuka and proceeded to grab the potted plant and throw it over the side of the railing to the ground below, soon followed by the three others in immediate visual range. Then Archer said, “Now we can speak, Master.”
Ritsuka kind of just made a random noise before saying, “I was just wondering if we should meet with Caster, is all.”
“Of course we should,” exclaimed Olga Marie. “If there’s someone who’s offering to tell us what we need to know we should let him! The sooner we find the source of this Singularity the sooner we can all go home!”
“But Director,” said Mash trying to calm the impassioned Olga Marie who’d seen a glimpse of her professional and political salvation. “We don’t know anything about this man. It might be a trap for Senpai!”
Ritsuka decided to pre-empt Olga Marie’s response by directly asking Archer, “You have memories of this war, right Archer? Is Caster someone we can trust?”
Looking dour with his arms crossed, which seemed like a pose Archer was very accustomed to making, he said, “The Caster in the war I fought in was a selfish and calculating woman with a cruel character. She was known in history primarily for betraying people, after all. However…”
“The voice was that of a man’s,” said Ritsuka, as if to complete Archer’s thought.
“Yes. It could have been altered by Caster to have her voice sound like a man’s… but speaking to someone through a plant also feels contrary to how that woman would have done things. It’s less… impactful than I would think she’d prefer to do it.”
“Which increases the likelihood that it’s a Caster you don’t know,” concluded Ritsuka.
“Yes,” stated Archer clearly. “So all we know is that it’s a person who’s confident enough that we’ll take his bait to the point of intentionally revealing his method of listening in on us.”
“Yeah, yeah, meaning the fastest way for us to figure everything out is to go meet the guy,” said Olga Marie, her annoyance getting the better of her. “Look, I don’t know what you’re all doing spending so much time talking about this. We should get going already. Archer, lead the way.”
“Once again, missy, we don’t take orders from you,” admonished Archer with narrowed eyes and a voice with a low growl of malice in it. Then he turned his attention towards Ritsuka and asked, “What are your orders, Master?”
Ritsuka thought for a minute while ignoring Olga Marie’s loud pouting. Various plots of light novels, tv shows, and video games played out in his mind. The potential that it was a trap was there. Or that Caster was a masked informant. Or that it would devolve into a duel at the drop of a hat. It took some time for Ritsuka to realize that thinking about the current events as though they were works of fiction would get him nowhere. And all he knew about the person on the other end of the plant phone call was what he himself had heard. And what he knew was…
“…He didn’t seem like a bad person,” was the answer that Ritsuka came to at length. “I think we should risk meeting him.”
* * * * *
It had been decided that Ritsuka would be carrying the spare Padoru Sweat cans in the granny bag with the remaining first aid supplies. Mostly it was Ritsuka that decided it since he was the only person who couldn’t fight, and it made more sense for him to be the one with his hands full. But it also slowed the progress of the exploration party since Ritsuka was still too worn down to run. It took most of the one hour time limit for the group to arrive in the shopping district. When they did, the party waited at the bus stop for Archer to return from his forward scouting. Once again landing directly in front of everyone without making a sound as he did so.
“I’ve searched the entire park, Master. It would appear he has not yet arrived.”
“Oh. Then I guess we should wait.”
“No need,” came a voice in response to Ritsuka’s comment.
A figure emerged from the trunk of a nearby burnt up tree as though he were emerging from a pool of water. He was a very tall man, almost as tall as Archer, and had strikingly blue hair that seemed to have been coiffed into something like a mullet, short in front and on top, but long and loose in the back. He was pale and his lips seemed like they were either frosted or lightly suffering the blue of frostbite. As he emerged from the wood, his clothing reformed into what seemed like magician robes that were brand new and without a stain, but tattered at the ends as though to suggest a naturally rough character. There were even some glowing lines of power running through the fabric.
“You,” said Archer with a voice dripping in aggression.
“Were you trying to ambush us, Caster,” asked Rider who’d taken up a low stance combat position already.
“Not at all,” said the man flippantly as he meandered closer, using a casting staff like a hiking stick. “Archers have the Independant Action skill, so I’d assumed he’d come looking for me before your arrival. And I’d hate if he chose to interpret ‘Independent Action’ to mean fighting me before you even arrived, Master of Chaldea. Since you’re the one I needed to speak to.”
“Oh… what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Obviously about the Singularity,” jumped in Olga Marie.
“No, that’ll come later. Ah, we should be walking while we’re talking. There’s not enough cover in this location…”
Caster began a brisk walking pace without listening to anyone asking what he was doing. Instead, Caster just said, “Come on, come on. Just over here.”
Ritsuka naturally started jogging after Caster while his Servants made displeased faces and Mash and Olga Marie showed how they were just as confused about the situation as Ritsuka. Ritsuka thought he caught a mumble from Archer about a “Headstrong jerk.”
Ritsuka called out after Caster by saying, “You said we needed cover. Why is that?”
“I should have already mentioned it, right? The ones who ‘did not survive?’ Well, now that you lot have proven yourselves superior to the skeletons our common enemy has no other recourse but to send them after you. Which works out quite well since I want to be rid of ’em myself.”
The party was led past some smaller stores towards a more urban environment just a few streets over, where businesses sprang up because of the commercial zoning and larger buildings dominated the streets. Archer demanded, “Who are the ones who did not survive?”
Caster came to a halt at a major intersection and lifted his staff into the air. The metallic hanging decorations embedded in the nearly golf club shaped head shone lightly and struck each other like wind chimes, though there was not enough wind to produce their movement. Caster offhandedly said, “Only Saber and I remain of the pieces that were used in this game. The others were all killed. Those are the ones that come for us now.”
“Hold on,” cried Olga Marie. “If they were killed they should have disappeared! How can they be our enemies if they’re dead?”
“How indeed,” said Caster with a self amused smirk as he lowered his staff. “They’ll be coming from the west, down the road. If the Master of Chaldea truly is one, he should be able to understand something of their twisted nature when he sees them. But that’s for later. Right now, I would like to extend an offer. Fujimaru, the Master of Chaldea, I would like to ask you to become my temporary Master.”
Ritsuka’s confusion was the loudest of everyone present. Archer demanded that Caster explained himself before Ritsuka could form any kind of coherent reaction to the request. After all, was a “Temporary Master” even something that existed?
Caster lightly shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I guess we have a minute before our adversaries show up,” there was the audible sound of metal being crushed in the distance to the west. “So, Archer, you were correct that I’ve been conserving my Mana. I’ve been fighting a one versus three battle for a while now. But I got something of a reprieve when you lot were summoned across the river. Now, I’m no longer that trio’s primary target; you are.”
Caster spun his staff between his hands and then pointed it at Ritsuka in dramatic showmanship. There was a howl in the distance that echoed off the walls of the office buildings.
“And so that was why I scried on your group, to see if you were worth teaming up with towards a common goal. Well, a first common goal at least. Disposing of those twisted Heroic Spirits. Because I much prefer a four versus three battle any day of the week. Ah, there they are now…”
Three figures could be seen moving swiftly down the road. One had the figure of a long haired woman with a polearm, leaping nimbly between cars that littered the road. The second jumped from lamp post to lamp post, his figure more like a beast that had been formed into a human. The third was apparently a man with a pole arm and a shield, who struck against the cars in his path, smashing them out of his way to remain unimpeded.
At the reveal of those approaching figures, Caster reached out his hand as though to offer a handshake and said, “So, what will it be, Master of Chaldea? With you become my temporary master? Or will I depart and leave you to fight three on three?”