The bull headed man had blasted the rubble that confined him to dust with a single surge of his strength and power, not holding back in doing so. For him, there was no such thing as holding back one’s strength. He was a predator who only single mindedly hunted his prey. And he was furious that his prey had been able to bite back at him.
The man looked around quickly to gather his bearings in order to begin the chase again, when there was a sharp movement from the corner of his eye. He was unable to move in time to block the strike, but moved so it struck the metal of his bull head helmet instead of the vital point of his eye. The sound of metal rending metal was heard and part of the black skinned bull man’s helmet was shattered, leaving a quarter of his face and head open to the air.
“So it’s as I thought,” said the Red Archer as he stepped out of the covering darkness behind a half standing wall. The light of fire outside caused his silhouette to flicker as he talked in his low tone, as though giving a stern lecture. “I’d wondered if those horns were part of your helmet. But now I see, they’re not decoration. They’re a part of your body, meaning there is only one person you could be-”
“Minotaur,” said the man with a human face and the horns of a bull. “The Bull… of Minos.”
“You do not hide it?”
“Why should… I hide,” asked the Minotaur, with a voice of a youth that was distorted by anger. “Have pride, what I do. Born hunter, born killer. Born ex…cutioner.”
The Minotaur’s shoulders heaved from the wild breath of excitement, but he seemed calm enough to converse. So the Red Archer kept him talking. Any enemy Servant that was willing to reveal information about themselves so easily was worth pumping.
“I see. While it’s true your Labyrinth was constructed to keep you a prisoner inside… people were also thrown into it for the sake of being killed by you. Executed, one could say. In a way, that would make you the most famous Royal Executioner in history.”
“Yes! Executioner’s pride! Therefore! There is… no need to hide. For I am predator in my Labyrinth. Predator does not hide. Predator hunts, and kills. And for attacking me, you are my prey.”
The Archer prepared his bow with a heavy arrow knocked, ready for a quick draw and release as he said with bravado, “We’re not in your Labyrinth, Executioner of Minos. What makes you think you’re the predator in this situation?”
The Minotaur chuckled, then guffawed, and then spat out ridiculing laughter as the light of the fires outside were warped and reflected by the metal of his helmet.
“Foolish trespasser! This city is my Labyrinth! Given by my new king! And I am his Royal Executioner now!”
“Did you say ’King?’ What is your king’s name, Executioner?”
“HA!” The Minotaur’s condescension was palpable in his one syllable laughter of derision. “You think I… am stupid. Yes? Mind of a beast. Yes? Why would I give knowledge to enemy? To prey?”
A cold chill ran down through Archer’s spine, the kind that only happened when your confidence of being in full control of a situation was turned on its head.
“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing?”
Archer drew his arrow more tightly, an instinct in his soul telling him he’d be using it very soon.
“Only told you… what was already known. Thank you, prey. Gave me time to heal… and prepare.”
The Minotaur blasted forward as though he was fired out of a cannon, obliterating the wall that Archer had used as cover for his sneak attack. Archer had barely been able to avoid the attack, even after having been warned of the man’s charging speed. Dodging out of the way, Archer snapped off his arrow looking to pierce the Minotaur’s flank, but the man’s reactive electrical shield struck at the arrow as it was coming at him. The arrow was blasted to pieces, but the lightning bolt did not pursue archer as he moved to get to middle distance so the next bolt of lightning would not strike him directly.
The Minotaur allowed Archer to get his distance as he rolled along the ground after his charge to get his feet planted in preparation for his next charge. The amber yellow of the Minotaur’s eye flared with brilliant light as he fired himself towards Archer again, obliterating a free standing filing cabinet in his passage while the Archer ducked once more to the side. As the scraps of paper were flung through the room like confetti, Archer released two dozen arrows at his highest speed of firing. The power output for each arrow was negligible compared to his normal firing speed, but like a submachine gun, the volume of shots could do some real damage. The first few shots that were accurately aimed at the recovering Minotaur were blasted and intercepted by the reactive shield, but the next ten or so arrows struck flesh, burying part of the arrow head into the meat of the Minotaur’s arm and flank. There was little damage, but blood was drawn.
The Minotaur howled in pain and outrage, and then launched himself again as the arrows were flung free by his own bodily momentum. Archer simply dodged and released another full auto volley at the Minotaur, making another dozen tiny wounds on the Man Bull’s body. Archer had the timing down by then, and a smug smile appeared on his face. The Minotaur may claim to be such wonderful things, but it seemed he had the fighting method of a beast after all. At this pace Archer would be able to whittle down his enemy’s strength and finish him once blood loss was an issue. Not the most exciting victory, but it was a practical one.
Archer dodged the Minotaur’s charge again, and turned to fire another two dozen arrows for that volley, only to find that the Minotaur was not rolling on the ground to set up another charge but had instead used his hands to do a half flip and plant his feet against a concrete wall. Archer barely had time to Project his twin short swords to block the horns of the Minotaur as his next charge occurred without delay. The force of the impact knocked Archer off his feet and the contact with the Minotaur’s electrified horns sent a bolt of magical lightning through Archer’s body. The combination of the two forces rocketed Archer backwards through a window that he was barely able to grab onto and redirect his flight to give him upward momentum to ascend a floor to the next level of the office building. The Minotaur was bad at corners, so it was the best move Archer could make, forcing the Minotaur to chase him from one floor to another.
In that brief moment of respite, Archer decided that he had no choice but to use stronger attacks. The Caladbolg arrow before had been effective and forced the Minotaur to recuperate. So when the Minotaur followed Archer up he would-
The floor of the office building erupted as the Minotaur charged through it, shattering tile, metal, and wood with an accuracy that forced Archer to drop his half formed Caladbolg arrow and dive for cover. Breathing hard from the pain of the devastating attack he received and the adrenaline of nearly being finished off by the last strike, Archer readied himself for the next charge from the Minotaur. Surprisingly, the Minotaur started talking, his one visible eye partially closed as though the man were smiling.
“I warned you, didn’t I? Am not stupid. Not a beast. But a monster. Monsters can only be killed by heroes. But there were many who wanted to be hero. All thought I was mindless. All were killed. Just as you will be. You will not be leaving my Labyrinth.”
Archer grit his teeth. It was true that he underestimated the Minotaur and became complacent from the repeated timing of the charging attack, which was the Minotaur’s aim. To lure Archer into the Minotaur’s chosen rhythm before switching it up for a one hit kill. If Archer hadn’t barely blocked those horns he’d have been gored and flash fried in an instant. As it was though, he was barely still in fighting condition. And Archer wasn’t going to be given enough time to prepare a Caladbolg arrow.
“Why are you talking to me, Minotaur?”
“Do executioners waste time on lip service before ending their victim? Or do monsters gloat about their prowess before eating their prey? No. You need recovery time to charge your electricity. You said it yourself, talking earlier gave you the chance to recover. And now you’re doing it again instead of finishing me off. You thought you were tricking me, Minotaur, by telling me what I already knew. But in reality, you tipped your hand.”
The sadistically jovial mood the Minotaur had been in disappeared like a wistful dream, to be replaced by a palpable air of aggression and bloodlust. The Minotaur only said one more thing.
“You’re right. No. More. Talk.”
The Minotaur blasted towards Archer again, who was barely able to get out of the way. The Minotaur demonstrated his unexpected nimbleness by using his arms to half turn his body and then land his legs on a load bearing pillar for the office building. The force of his launching himself left cracks in the concrete pillar. The Minotaur began performing this simple but effective rapid fire charge attack where even one light brush with his charging figure would be fatal. And the word “charge” held two meanings, as electricity would spark and strike out towards Archer every time he was close enough to the Minotaur to be able to be targeted by the man shaped monster’s reactive ability.
Archer began to devote himself to defense, and blind counter attacks. He’d load three arrows into his bow and fire them off in the direction that he felt the Minotaur would get hit by them. It was a tactic of calculated desperation, but with Archer’s experience it was at least partially effective. One in five arrows would strike the Minotaur’s body. Most were small knicks and cuts, but it seemed the Minotaur had removed the defensive aspect of his lightning to allow for greater attack frequency, so some of the arrows pierced into the man-bull’s flesh deeply. None of the wounds were debilitating on their own, but damage was piling up on both sides in a strikingly swift rate. The damage to the building was also accumulating quickly as a section of the ceiling of the level the two Servants were battling on collapsed. Archer swiftly moved to the next floor and fired his bow back behind him expecting the Minotaur to chase after.
One of his three fired arrows found its home in the Minotaur’s rib cage, stopped hard by bone and muscle. But the effect heartened Archer while enraging the Minotaur. And the same pattern of battle as on the previous floor played itself out again, but almost like a gamer who’d learned a boss’ attack patterns was able to start utilizing the environment to create larger gaps in the Minotaur’s attacks and give himself some meager amount of breathing room. After all, Archer had a lot of experience in battling enemies that were stronger than himself, and looked only for the opening to deliver a devastating counter strike. As with many in the Archer class, precision was a favored method of this Red Archer.
The ceiling gave out again, and Archer moved up another level. This time the Minotaur blasted through the floor directly under Archer’s feet, sending the man careening to the other side of the large communal work room where Archer regained his footing even as he snapped off another three arrow shot. The Minotaur had already snatched up a workstation and thrown it after Archer, allowing the arrows to impact it and tear the material to pieces. As files and particleboard split apart and littered the ground, the Minotaur roared in his human voice in rage and finally spoke in human words again.
“Tired! Tired of chase! Time to finish!”
Electricity crackled around the Minotaur’s body, an opening that Archer did not miss as he snapped off another three arrow shot dead center into the Minotaur’s chest. The Minotaur used an office chair like a club however and smashed the arrows down before throwing the bent chair at Archer, forcing him to dodge. In that opening, the Minotaur blasted himself… up.
The Servants had already reached the top floor of the office building and the Minotaur rocketed out through the building’s roof, and kept going up. Archer hurried over to the hole the Man Bull left behind because he felt what could only be the beginning swirl of power that heralded a Noble Phantasm. The Minotaur was preparing his strongest attack to finish the battle in his favor.
“I see now,” said Archer with respect in his voice. “You truly are not a mindless beast. How terribly cunning you are…”
The Minotaur had brilliantly misdirected Archer when he confirm his name as “The Minotaur.” The legend was so widespread that most everyone had forgotten the name of that tragic figure that had been branded as a monster from birth. The name “Asterios,” which meant “Lightning.”
The black skinned and white haired figure of Asterios was hovering in the air, suspended by electricity and magical power while bolts of lightning struck him from the cloudy sky, adding to his swiftly overflowing power.
“You even used the term ‘executioner’ to confuse your class, trying to make me think you were an Assassin, huh,” said Archer as he prepared a special sword to be used as an arrow. “But in truth, you are a Rider, aren’t you.”
Asterios used a lot of misdirection, but told no lies. The links between his comments were so loose that there was no need for any. Or perhaps the man’s soul was so pure that there was no need for lying in the first place like some of the other monsters that Archer had encountered on his myriad adventures? But the name of “Lightning,” his role as an “Executioner” and his form as that of an “Animal.” It was only a supposition how they all lined up, but Archer was convinced he was correct. Asterios was a Rider, whose body itself was his Mount and the container for his affinity to Lightning, in connection to the Execution method of Electrocution. The Americans had a term for that method, called “Riding the Lightning.” It was one of those oblique and tenuous connections the Throne enjoyed making in it’s summoned Heroic Spirits that gave even the more infamous figures of myth and history further tricks that could be used in the Grail Wars.
And how did all this information help Archer? It told him exactly what form Asterios’ Noble Phantasm would take, even as the man called out the words to activate it from up high in the heavens.
Let my name be my power!
Asterios would supercharge his body and launch himself like a homing missile. The man’s speed was already too much for Archer to avoid with anything like certainty, and a further increase would leave Archer helpless if he chose to try and dodge. The enhanced electrical attack would destroy anything that was nearby, and the magical nature would not guarantee his survival even if Archer tried to hide behind anything that was nonconductive. The only answer Archer could come up with to survive Asterios’ Noble Phantasm was to destroy it head on before it could reach its full destructive power.
Let my power fill my body!
Further, this incarnation of Asterios appeared to have dominion over Earth and Sky. Earth for the Labyrinth of the city he’d claimed as his own, given by his “King.” Sky for his name sake and the source of his destructive power. That meant that unless Archer used an attack that could overcome the empowering effects of these two authorities, he had little to no chance of defeating Asterios in time to avoid being killed himself.
Let my body be my vessel!
Luckily, Archer had encountered a sword with just such a background previously. It wasn’t a weapon he used often because of how much power was required for forming it, and using it always caused Archer to remember that annoyingly straight forward Servant who wielded it. Unflinchingly reliable as an ally, and the worst and most unyielding headache of an enemy. Archer had no good memories of the man.
Let my vessel kill my enemy!
A sword with an unblemished silver blade appeared in Archer’s hand, with a grip and guard of light blue that was the color of the clearest sky that joined directly with the gently curving blade of the peerless sword. It was a sword that held a twin to the sun, a star of its own, within the grip and held its origins in the greatest of Arthurian Legend. Said to be the twin blade to Excalibur. Galatine.
Let my enemy be destroyed in my name!
As the form for the sword was completed, Archer felt mana swiftly rush through him from his Master, the boy from Chaldea. As Archer had thought, he didn’t have enough mana in his own body to support the creation of the sword, which required nearly as much power as a true Noble Phantasm to be made despite the fact that it was a forgery that was too brittle to last more than a single strike. It was wasteful, and overly destructive for any but the most exceptional of circumstances. But this occasion called for a destructive authority greater than the Earth and the Sky. What better authority than that of a Sun?
And so I am unleashed!
Archer knocked the grip of the sword and pulled. The grip of the sword extended into the unbreakable shaft of an arrow. The pommel became feathers of purest sky blue that any living bird would be jealous of. The one meter long blade of the sword became the short and keen head of a broad headed arrow, the sides sloping gently in appearance, but in fact would split open the flesh of any target it struck in the most heartless fashion. Archer held his fully drawn arrow, taking aim on his opponent. There would be only one chance to strike true before Archer was reduced to cinders.
Archer only needed one shot, however.
Asterios fired himself from the sky towards the earth in a direct line to strike down Archer and everything around him. It was the most pure and direct form of destruction possible, and thus the fastest and most effective. If his enemy had some trickery based Noble Phantasms then Asterios would never have risked the use of this attack for fear of having it reflected back at him. But Asterios’ judgement had been that the Archer was a direct man who would meet him head on.
Asterios’ judgement was right.
“Become a star in the sky.”
With that cold comment, as though pronouncing judgement, Archer released his arrow. There was a flash of pure light, terribly warm and pure sunlight, as the arrow took flight. The top several floors of the office building were drenched in that harsh kindness, made all the more blinding for the perpetual dusk this world had found itself cloaked in. The arrow flew straight upwards, it’s flight becoming a beam of light that struck Asterios head on.
The arrow itself collided with the magic power that Asterios was cloaked in while the light it produced was diffused all around him and carried on to the heavens. Then past the heavens and into space where stars naturally dwelled. Trapped inside that light Asterios’ cognition sped up so that the following seconds felt like a tiny eternity. In Asterios’ eyes, he could see the arrow flex ever so slightly on impact with his electrical cloak of power, and then push through. Asterios felt that fear of death he’d understood for the first time when Theseus moved to finish off the weakened and defeated Asterios in that enormous prison of his. But more than the fear of death, Asterios felt the gentle warmth of the sunlight that bled from the arrow’s core. The sunlight that Asterios had always wished to know. The gentleness that Asterios had always wished to feel.
There was a stir of the faintest of forgotten memories that held the man’s sanity from truly devolving into that of a beast; and was thus the source of his unquenchable rage. That tiny warmth of being held with love and care before spending the rest of his life being treated as a monster. For when a man is treated as nothing but a monster, what hope does he have in not becoming one.
That same wave of undeniable hopelessness and sadness that he’d felt that first time he died washed over Asterios again. But instead of seeing the cold eyes of Theseus as he stood over him, Asterios’ eyes were closed in resignation while bright sunlight illuminated through his eyelids. And that one question that haunted him his entire life arose in his dwindling consciousness once more.
Mother. This world has no place for a monster. Why couldn’t I have been born a man?
The beam of light pierced through all, leaving nothing of the Servant Asterios behind, rocketing through the overcast clouds that covered the blighted sky The clouds, however, did not part. In that moment of bright release the clouds were drawn towards the light of Galatine instead of being spread apart by it. Therefore no light shone through the clouds afterwards. The only light in that place disappeared with Asterios. But that was enough for Archer, who slouched over as he released a sigh filled with his pent up tension.
“Seriously, why are all my fights so intense? Ah. That’s right, I have to back up that shield girl.”
Archer hurried over to the window facing the intersection where Fujimaru Ritsuka and the other children were fighting with the intention to leap directly into the action. But his body and thoughts halted when he saw with his superior vision that his Master had collapsed onto the road.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the monsters of legend, for in legend anything that was not a man or a godly being in the shape of a man was by default a monster. It was such a narrow minded way of looking at the world, and I can only wonder how many tragedies could have been avoided if, in these legends, someone had said, “I will treat you as a person, and not a monstrosity.”
~Fujimaru Ritsuka, on the subject of Mythology