Ritsuka was dazzled by the explosion, both by the light and the sound. It was more crude, powerful, and hypnotic than anything he’d ever seen before, washing away all his sensibilities in the roar of an incandescent detonation. In that split second all the world fell away, and only unnamable dread filled all his being. And the next moment he was bodily hauled against the side of a ruined car parked at the side of the road.
Ritsuka would like to be able to claim that Olga Marie’s words cleared his head, but really it was the pain of the bandaged gash in his arm that Olga Marie had pulled him by in order to get him behind a car, taking cover from the explosive javelin that King Leonidas threw. Immediately, Ritsuka popped back up like a spring loaded toy.
“Mash,” Ritsuka cried out, his shoulder being grabbed by Olga Marie to keep him at least partially under the cover of the back fender of the car.
“To withstand the strike of the King of Sparta,” said the voice that cut through the smoke and shock of the explosion, “Even though I am in this half maddened state… your shield is enough to pique mine interest.”
“Damn it, old man, how long have you had that card up your sleeve,” called out Caster as he produced a wind to clear the smoke of the explosion away. Ritsuka was relieved to see Mash standing, and apparently uninjured. But Mash appeared to be half in shock, and her shoulders were sagging.
“I could do this from the moment of my Summons, Blue Caster. The fact that you did not know about my javelin, the Oath of War, is due to this being the first time you have actually stood before me in my pursuit of you. I have no recrimination for you, though, Blue Caster. Seeking terrain to give you the greatest of advantages in war is an act of wisdom, after all.”
Ritsuka struggled to move up to Mash to see if she’s alright when Caster called out, “Stay down, kid! I hate saying this, but we’re kind of in a corner; this guy still isn’t serious.”
“You can tell, Blue Caster? You must have the soul of a warrior after all, not just that of a tactician. But now that you know, what will you do? Will you fight? Will you retreat? Will I allow you to retreat? While I am known in history for my impenetrable defense, do you really think a Son of Sparta would allow an opponent to withdraw unmolested? What choices stand before you, Unknown Master?”
Ritsuka’s attention was drawn to the figure of King Leonidas, the Bronze Archer. His stance of perfected balance, his shield and javelin held at the perfect angles to use an impenetrable defense and an unopposable offense immediately. Looking at the Heroic Spirit, Ritsuka was beginning to instinctively feel some of his nature. A Heroic Spirit of extremes. Extreme defense. Extreme offence. And everything else was tossed to the wayside for the sake of those two extremes. Even his movement was for the sake of supplementing perfect defense and offense. Of the three attacking Heroic Spirits he’d moved the slowest, the pace of a normal human, slowing the other two down so they could move as a group. But when he moved to defend himself or to throw his javelin his movements surpassed those of an olympic athlete. He only had superior speed and dexterity at the vital moments of attacking and defending.
Which meant that despite his flaws as a Heroic Spirit, he had no openings. And with no openings there were no opportunities to exploit for the sake of retreat. Leaving only…
“Caster,” said Ritsuka, his throat suddenly dry, “Do you have magic that can defeat him?”
Caster made a face as though he’d smelled a rotten egg, made a motion in the air, and then the atmosphere around Olga, Ritsuka, and Caster was subtly altered.
“Don’t go making plans when the enemy can overhear you, kid. This wind ward will keep our conversation private, but we have to be quick. I don’t think the old man will let us talk for long. Short story, no, I got nothing. My Noble Phantasm has a lot of power, but I think he may be sturdy enough to withstand it, and that’s assuming I can hit him with it. Caster is not my preferred Class for combat, for good reason.”
Ritsuka immediately jumped to the next topic instead of trying to figure out what a Noble Phantasm was.
“What about layering your spells, like you did with the lightning? Can you punch through his defenses like that?”
“The lightning was my fastest attack, and he got his guard up in time to survive it even when I surprised him with it. The lightning won’t work a second time, not on a guy like that.”
“So no direct attacks,” said Ritsuka flatly. Ritsuka was beginning to feel a bit of true terror, as he’d been staring at King Leonidas’ visible right eye that poked out from behind the shield. An eye that showed a slowly breaking down tug of war between resilience and insanity in the light that came from it, and there was an aura of slowly bubbling dark power from inside the King of Sparta. If Ritsuka had to put a definition to it… it felt like desecration. “What about indirect attacks, Caster? Can you layer secondary effects, terrain traps, smokescreens, anything to create an opening large enough to deal a single devastating blow?”
“Am I allowed to get your little purple haired friend caught up in my attacks now, Master of Chaldea?”
There was a slight hint of malice and annoyance in Caster’s voice.
“Don’t you dare-”
“Shut your mouth, girlie,” shouted Caster, cutting Olga Marie’s interjection off and silencing her with a palpable aura of violence around him that Ritsuka had never felt before in his life.
I see. So this is what Killing Intent is…
Ritsuka clenched his muscles to keep himself rigid as he said, “No. Think harder, Caster.”
Caster held Ritsuka in a deadlock stare for a few seconds, and then smirked, the killing intent in his aura disappearing instantly. The Caster took a quick look around and said without looking back at Ritsuka, “I see a way, but it’ll take a bit of time to set up. The girl with the shield probably won’t be able to hold the Old Man off long enough for me to do that, though. She’s going to need back up from the others as quickly as possible. How are they faring, kid?”
“I… How am I supposed to know?”
Ritsuka started looking at the locations where explosions, flashes of light, and crushed concrete splashed into the air. Ritsuka could tell the fighting was continuing, but he had no idea who was winning.
“Don’t you even know how to keep in contact with your Servant, you damn kid? What the hell are you teaching your Master, Chaldea girlie?”
The explosion cut off Olga Marie’s incensed retort as a javelin impacted itself on Mash’s shield. The impact was definitely harder this time as the detonation naturally displaced all the produced smoke of the explosion on it’s own, sweeping soot and ash past even where Ritsuka was in the back of the action. Olga Marie dropped back behind cover while Ritsuka held an arm up to protect his eyes from the wind pressure.
“There are limits to even the most entrenched warrior’s patience, Blue Caster. Don’t keep me waiting any longer.”
“Shitty Old Man!”
It was pretty obvious that Caster’s spell giving them privacy on the battlefield had been blown away.
“Insults can wait, Caster, how do I contact Archer and Rider?!”
Caster clicked his tongue and started talking even as he started forming some rune circles on the ground.
“You’re Japanese, so think of the connections like a string of fate, instead of it being your pinkies that are tied together it’s tied between your Command Seals and your Servants cores. That link is where your mana supplies flows through to keep us going. Pluck that string like a guitar chord, but produce words instead of music. I gotta get going kid. Best of luck.”
Caster melted into the ground and disappeared. Ritsuka lost all sensation of where Caster had gone the moment he sank out of view into the black top of the road. Olga Marie instantly shouted, “He ran off and left us behind.”
Ritsuka decided not to correct Olga Marie. Caster had said it himself, don’t make plans when the enemy can hear you. King Leonidas couldn’t have heard Caster suggest his departure from the field to prepare a devastating strike against him, but he heard Caster give advice on contacting the other Servants. The Bronze Archer would immediately know why Ritsuka was trying to get in contact with them, so it was no secret.
“Mash, help will arrive soon, we just need to hold out until then,” called Ritsuka from his position behind the car fender.
“Yes, Senpai,” responded Mash bravely, her body trembling slightly from fear or exhaustion, or both. Ritsuka instantly felt a pang of deep guilt seeing that, leaving everything on the shoulders of the girl who declared herself Ritsuka’s kouhai.
Another burning javelin, stronger yet, impacted on Mash’s shield. Ritsuka leaned into the wind pressure this time and said, “Come on Olga, we need to join Mash at the front.”
“Are you crazy? It’s not safe up there! And it’s Director to you!”
“The only reason we’re safe right now is because Mash is taking all the hits for us. The danger to our lives is equal no matter where we are on this battlefield. So, doesn’t it make sense that we should stand beside Mash while she’s struggling?”
“…Fujimaru, you’re completely insane.”
Ritsuka leaned his body, shoulder first into the wind pressure of another explosion, the accumulated deafening of his ears making him speak nearly at a shout as he started moving his feet. “You can come with me or stay here, but I’m going to go support my Kouhai.”
The Bronze Archer shouted at the top of his lungs at the three teenagers in a voice filled with battle spirit and bloodlust, “Such a shield! Such a shield! It makes me want to recruit you into my wall, young Servant! You are immature, untested, untempered! Rejoice! For your forging will now begin!”
Ritsuka saw Mash’s hair blown madly in the wind as the smoke blasted past them both. Ritsuka was having to push bodily against the displaced wind to advance forwards. Unwilling to waste any time in this dire situation, Ritsuka started feeling for the Servant he was more worried for, the instincts of his mana control pulling his attention to the more obvious drain on his mana supply. Mentally, Ritsuka took hold of that connection and… plucking, strumming, flicking the chord like a guitar felt meaningless to him. He’d never played a stringed instrument in his life.
But if I treat it like a piano wire…
Mentally, Ritsuka lightly struck the link between him and Rider to get her attention. Low soft strikes that would blend into the background if you weren’t paying attention so as not to distract Rider at a critical moment. Ritsuka started up that signal for Rider, trying to get her to respond to him, because Ritsuka had no idea how to do anything more than make noise on the connection between him and the Servants, if that.
Ritsuka kept the signal to Rider going even as he reached Mash and put his right hand on her left shoulder.
“Senpai,” asked Mash, startled by the contact. Her eyes round with a myriad of emotions.
“You’re not fighting alone, Mash. I’m right here with you.”
“So- so am I,” said Olga Marie as she clumsily put her left hand on Mash’s remaining shoulder. “So you’d better not lose, alright?”
With the two sided reassurance, Mash smiled as what seemed like small tears gathered at the corner of her eyes and said “Yes” quietly before returning to a full guard stance, her previous trembling now gone.
“Excellent,” cried King Leonidas. “Such an excellent Shield Wall you show me!”
[Master, what is it? Are you alright?]
Ah! So that was how it felt to talk through a Master – Servant Link!
[Rider, the fight against the Greek Soldier, against this Bronze Archer, is going badly. We’re going to need back up before long. How is your battle going?]
“It is not muscle, nor training, nor metal that forms a true Shield Wall, but Spirit!”
[I… am sorry, Master. I am at a standstill with this opponent. He uses lightning as a weapon, I cannot approach him. The best I can do is buy time for Archer to finish his-]
Waiting for Archer was not an option. Ritsuka didn’t know exactly what was happening with Archer’s battle, but the mana flow through the Command Seals sure as heck didn’t feel like Archer was going to get a quick victory.
[Rider, tell me everything you can about that Servant’s abilities, quickly!]
There was a flash of lightning that blasted through the side of a building and into the side of another building. A chunk of flaming wreckage was dislodged, and fell to the ground.
“And your Spirit has ignited mine!”
[…My opponent has exceedingly swift forward charging ability, but he does not turn corners well. It’s how I’ve been staying away from him, from necessity. Every time I attack him a bolt of lightning strikes whatever I attack with, including my body. My weapons are attached to chains, if I throw them I’ll only be struck by the electrical feedback through my own weapons, and anything else is too weak to be a proper projectile weapon. I’m sorry Master, the current me is unable to do anything to damage him.]
King Leonidas lifted his javelin towards the heavens and began to shout with determined purpose.
Let my soul burn with courage as I walk the field of battle
beside the ghosts of my brethren!
Let their courage fuel my own!
[It’s alright, Rider. For now concentrate on not getting hurt by that guy, but stay close to my position.]
Let the lands be dyed red with blood!
Let the seas be dyed red with fire!
[Archer, what is your situation?]
[Master? Hmph, it seems that blue guy has taught you something unnecessary. I have everything-]
[Archer, please just tell me!]
Ignite my soul, and I shall be thy bonfire!
[…The aura of her weapon, it’s very obviously a cursed blade. I can’t afford to be cut by it without knowing the effects. I’m using hit and run tactics to chip away at her. It’s going to take some time for me to finish this Lancer.]
For as long as I burn no Man will defeat me!
No Immortal shall survive my Wrath!
[We don’t have that time, Archer. Lead her back to where I am and switch opponents with Rider, we need your arrows to deal with his lightning shield. You’ll be switching with Rider in twenty seconds]
[…Very well, Master.]
So let the covenant be sealed,
and reduce everything to ash!
[Rider, you’re going to swap opponents with Archer. Lead your opponent past my position in 15 seconds for the switch. The Lancer has a cursed blade, so be careful.]