“No! Bend your legs more! Absorb my attack with your muscles!”
“What the hell is this guy saying, damn it,” shouted Olga Marie in her agitation. It was only at that moment that Ritsuka realized that King Leonidas had been talking in Japanese the entire time so it was natural Olga Marie didn’t know what was happening.
“I think he’s giving Mash a Spartan training course,” said Ritsuka as he prepared himself to help Mash absorb another fiery javelin.
“This is why I hate muscle heads,” screamed Olga Marie as the flaming projectile landed and she used her magic to keep the air breathable.
Ritsuka had lost count of the number of times Mash had received a flaming javelin to her shield. With their combined efforts the three of them had stopped being pushed back by every attack, but they were nearly at the end of their strength..
“Never look away! Never close your eyes in the presence of your enemy!”
Somehow Mash was starting to treat the abuse Leonidas was hurling at them as a real training session. Just how earnest was this girl…?
But the situation was looking more than a little hopeless. Ritsuka had been keeping an eye on King Leonidas and his instincts told him that the Bronze Archer hadn’t used up any of his strength in all the attacks he’d thrown their way. There was some power that was flowing into him as swiftly as the power was flowing out of him. And that power was slowly changing the Bronze Archer. The veins and vessels under the man’s red skin were starting to turn a putrid black and the fiery aura leaking out of the man kept increasing in size and intensity from the encroaching of the tainted power that invaded him. It felt to Ritsuka that the man was working to keep the effects of that strange power at bay even as he used it in his “training” of Mash, where a single mistake would claim all their lives.
The only upside was that the Bronze Archer hadn’t moved from his position nor had he done anything but throw those flaming javelins. It was perfect for buying time until Rider and Archer could finish their battles and for Caster to finish whatever he was doing.
From the flow of mana through his connections to them, Ritsuka felt that Rider was having the easiest time. There was only a minor flow of mana being drawn from him in comparison to how much she’d been drawing during her fight with the black skinned horn headed guy. Conversely, Archer was drawing a larger and more constant stream of mana from Ritsuka, which made him think Archer was facing a battle of exhaustion against that horn head. Caster had been drawing large lumps of mana from Ritsuka for a while now, as the guy doubtlessly was still setting up what he needed to deliver that finishing blow he’d been talking about.
There was a single sharp draw of mana through Rider’s connection and then the draw slacked to almost nothing. It felt like a placid cord echoing after a final cadence to end the piece, so… it felt like Rider was done on her end?
Ritsuka felt an almost immediate and severe drain of his mana through Archer so quick and surprising that Ritsuka’s knees gave out, pitching him forwards as his hands fell from Mash’s shoulder.
“Never show an opening!”
Mash had lost her focus for only a split second and that was all it took for the Bronze Archer to land another strike while the Chaldea teens were unprepared. Mash twisted her body to get her shield to cover Ritsuka, leaving herself off balance. The impact rattled Ritsuka’s body even though he was fully protected. Mash however took the full brunt of the explosion that sent her flying five meters away, smashing into the engine block of a budget sedan that collapsed and enfolded her from the impact. Olga Marie was mostly untouched by the blow as well since Mash had to lean so far forward, but the flying lavender haired girl had knocked Olga Marie on her backside on the asphalt.
Their defensive formation had crumbled completely. Ritsuka was on his hands and knees with a strange dizziness swirling through his head and Olga Marie was just starting to sit up from being knocked down. Mash too was still extricating herself from the wreckage of the car. They were all completely defenseless.
“Seems my fun is over. Farewell, young Master.”
Ritsuka could only stare at the flaming missile as it bore down on him, filling his entire vision as all concept of time slowed. The brief thought that Ritsuka should have flashes of his life run before his eyes struck him, but the whole of his consciousness was focused on the burning death that was headed his way. He didn’t even feel the sharp tug of mana going through his Master-Servant connection.
The world blurred, his ears were filled with the sound of an explosion and the rushing of wind, and Ritsuka realized he was looking at the fluttering hair of Rider directly in front of him. Another half moment and Ritsuka realized he was being held over Rider’s right shoulder like a sack of rice.
“Are you injured, Master,” asked Rider somberly.
“Hey! Put me down already,” complained Olga Marie where she was being held under the crook of Rider’s left arm.
“Well done! Not even a chariot would have been so swift! But it makes no diff-”
King Leonidas’s throw aimed at Rider was interrupted by him bringing his shield up to block the arrows that were precisely aimed at his eyes and throat as Archer landed on the ground nearby. It seemed he’d finished his battle too… but it seemed there was the scent of burnt ozone about him and most of his hair was standing up from the massive electrical discharges he’d been so close to. …He looked a bit like a porcupine.
“Once again I find myself surrounded and outnumbered, but it matters not!”
King Leonidas threw his fiery javelin faster than Ritsuka’s eyes could catch, partially for the movements of the Bronze Archer and partially from the motion blur of Rider’s own movements. As Ritsuka’s eyes were able to register sight again he saw the place that Rider had been standing was a blasted and fire covered section of shattered rubble. Archer began attacking Leonidas again, but the Spartan King rotated his body by performing contual pivots to have the arrows strike his muscular frame, helmet, and shield. Leonidas also used the rotations to further power up the effectiveness of his javelin, putting the motion of his whole body into each throw. Ritsuka was beginning to hear Rider’s strained breaths as she tried to keep ahead of the flaming projectiles.
Archer moved to attack more ferociously, and fired one of those explosive arrows of his, which King Leonidas backhanded away, causing the power of the detonation to be driven lamely over his shoulder and do little more than open him up to a few arrows that thudded ineffectively against Leonidas’ pectorals before they were immolated by the aura of power swirling around the Spartan. Archer halted for a moment and gathered power in his hand, saying the word “Trace…” before coming to a full halt. Ritsuka could swear that Archer’s eyes had flicked over to look at him in that brief moment of stillness. Then Archer made those twin swords of his and dashed at King Leonidas, looking to bring things to close combat.
King Leonidas struck the ground with the point of his two ended javelin, causing a fiery explosion to shoot directly into the ground, superheating the asphalt around him into liquid rock that would trap and burn anyone trying to engage him up close. Archer was barely able to halt his advance in time to keep from stepping into the sudden boiling tar trap and leapt backwards, only being slightly burnt by a short thrust of Leonidas’ javelin as a means of warding Archer off. On his leaping withdrawal Acher threw his twin short swords which caused Leonidas to duck under them as they passed through the point where his head had been a fraction of a second earlier, preventing the Spartan from pursuing Archer.
But was he really going to pursue…?
King Leonidas’ legs had only been planted solidly on the ground the entire time. He’d shown no signs of chasing after his opponents. Leonidas had already shown he could quickly overwhelm Mash in close combat, so why had he stuck to ranged attacks that she could fend off? Spartan training program aside, of course.
Another bombshell explosion sent shockwaves around Rider and the two teens she was carrying. Olga Marie actually screeched “Stop blowing my skirt around you half-naked pervert” during all the chaos. Rider was still keeping ahead of Leonidas’ attacks that were thrown between deflecting the barrages of attacks from Archer, but the entire field of battle had been turned into a burning hellscape far worse than it had been at the start of the conflict. Almost nothing wasn’t on fire and it was getting hard to breath without gasping through the smoke filling the streets.
Through the heat haze, Ritsuka caught a glimpse of Archer’s thrown swords as their trajectory curved and they looped back around like boomerangs, which would have been physically impossible if they were anything but pure magical constructs in order the strike Leonidas from behind while Archer fired his arrows as a distraction. Leonidas merely used his shield to brush off the arrows, and then swung his javelin like a fan to emanate fire to blast away the airborne swords. In response to Archer’s visible annoyance, King Leonidas said, “Your tenacity is heartening, Red Archer! If only the Thebans had possessed half as much mettel!”
Ritsuka was then struck by an epiphany, as all the bits of information that King Leonidas had dropped, perhaps intentionally, all came together.
“The Battle of Thermopylae,” whispered Ritsuka as he was transported through the air over Rider’s shoulder, an explosion detonating behind them.
Darius’ heir, Xerxes the First of the Persian Empire was the one who carried out the second invasion of Greece, following through on the vendetta his father died having left unfulfilled. The initial battles were a combined land and sea blockade through the narrow passes near Thermopylae where the Spartans and their confederated army which was less than a tenth of the size of the invading land forces were set to hold under the command of King Leonidas the First of Sparta. The week long blockade was ultimately broken through because of the greed of a local who showed the Persians a path through the mountains to assault the tactically impregnable position of the Greeks from behind. Leonidas and his rear guard were annihilated in exchange for allowing the retreating coalition the time to escape and finish the evacuation of several major city states. Leonidas’ battle prowess and final stand became legendary from those acts, even when militarily it was a complete defeat despite killing ten times the number of Persian as opposed to Greek losses.
Somehow, it all fit together. Leonidas’ chant spoke about the reddened earth and the burning seas. The blood of the Persian invaders on the pass and the burning warships on the seas alongside them. And when Leonidas’ chant said “No Immortal shall survive his wrath,” he wasn’t being poetic. The elite infantry of the Persian Army were named “The Immortals,” and the Spartan military slew so many of their number on the second day of battle that it’s believed the remainder of the originally 10,000 strong Immortal battalion was forced to be incorporated into another army to make up for the catastrophic losses they suffered. And the last clue, the Theban allied force chose to remain as part of the rear guard to support Leonidas’ forces and then immediately surrendered to the Persians before they even put up a fight.
Which all added up to this Super Move of Leonidas’ being based entirely off his legend of the Battle of Thermopylae, where he was nearly invincible as long as he maintained his defensive position, causing so much death amongst those who attacked him that he was feared as an incarnation of war itself.
[Yo, Temporary Master.]
[Good, you can hear me. I left a little communication spell on you before I took off. Just calling to let you know my trump card for that shitty old man is ready. You just need to get him inside the building behind him and it’ll all be over, one way or another.]
“H-How,” asked Ritsuka, completely flabbergasted. With the kind of power Leonidas was showing there was no way Ritsuka could conceive of a method of forcing the man to do anything he didn’t want to do.
[Not my problem, kid. Whether you get him inside or not, the other two stooges are taken care of and I have enough info on Leonidas to take him down later, even if the rest of you end up as charcoal. ‘Course I’d prefer you survive this to the end, but that’s on you.]
Uh, was Caster being a jerk, or being supportive there? Ritsuka couldn’t tell.
[Well, I’ve got an eye on the fight. Get Leonidas in that building and I’ll know. Word of warning, you’ll want to take cover afterwards. See ya!]
“Master,” said Rider over her shoulder as she continued trying to keep her pace ahead of the explosive projectiles, “Was that Caster’s voice I heard?”
“Uh, yeah. He’s all set. Rider, are you able to knock Leonidas into that other building behind him?”
Olga Marie shouted another protest at Leonidas after a near miss with his javelins. After the noise passed, Rider said, “I’m sorry Master, I have neither the strength nor the abilities to push that man so far a distance.”
And neither does Archer, thought Ritsuka as he watched as the red coated combatant was forced to dodge a flaming javelin that Leonidas threw to harry the attacker. Olga would almost certainly have suggested an attack of her own before now if she’d had any abilities she had confidence could damage the Bronze Archer. And Ritsuka was well aware of just how pathetic he was while being carried around like dry-goods on Rider’s shoulder.
Ritsuka caught site of Mash, who had extricated herself from the engine block she’d been buried in and was curled up behind her shield without making any move to advance forwards or withdraw backwards. She looked about herself in confusion of purpose and merely began to withdraw in on herself like an abandoned puppy.
If you can’t push, then pull. And if attacks won’t work, use defense.
“Rider, take us over to Mash, we’re going to counter-attack!”
Despite a momentary pause that Ritsuka had to take as a thought that her master had lost his mind, Rider said, “Hai.” Ritsuka’s vision blurred for a few seconds, and then found himself being set down on the ground behind Mash (while Olga was unceremoniously dropped), who was quite surprised at the appearance of Rider and her burdens.
“Mash, keep up your defense,” called Ritsuka. He needed Mash to buy time as he got everything in place. The first task was handed to Olga Marie, since it was the most time consuming.
“Huh? Why are you giving me orders, Fujimaru?”
“Do as Master orders, girl, or I will throw you at that muscle freak like a dart,” threatened Rider coolly.
“I would,” interrupted Rider without giving Olga Marie even a moment of self-deception.
“No, she won’t,” said Ritsuka to try and smooth the inter-party relations a little, “But I truly need your help, Director, or we’re all doomed.”
“Fine. But don’t think you can give me orders, Fujimaru, cause I’m the one in-”
An explosion blasting off Mash’s shield cut Olga Marie’s defiance short, causing the girl to jump from fright.
“Agh! Intrusive muscle head!”
Olga Marie then bent to her task and began collecting chips of concrete and asphalt for her preparations.
[Archer, we’re getting ready for the deciding blow, but while we’re doing it I’ll need you to harry Leonidas. You don’t need to injure him, in fact, right now I don’t think anything can injure him. Just keep him from throwing those things with his full strength.]
[I can do that, Master, but what do you mean by ‘nothing can injure him?’]
[He’s recreating the Battle of Thermopylae, where as long as he could hold his defensive position he was unbeatable.]
[So if we can displace him from his chosen defensive point then we’ll be able to negate his Noble Phantasm…]
[Negate his what?]
[…We will speak on that later. I will move as you ask when you are ready.]
Ritsuka checked behind him and saw that Olga had three or four slivers of shattered concrete readied with her rune magic on them and moved up to Mash. The lavender haired girl was able to keep from being pushed back by Leonidas’ attacks now that Archer’s efforts had lessened their frequency compared to before Ritsuka’s fainting spell, but fresh sweat still drenched Mash’s forehead. Coming close, Ritsuka started speaking only loud enough for Mash to hear between the thunderous splashes of fire that broke over her shield.
“Mash, we have a way of defeating that guy, but it all comes down to you. I’m going to need you to charge that guy and knock him into the building directly behind him from us with your shield, but without following him in. It’ll be a Shield Charge. Do you understand?”
“Wha-? Senpai, I don’t think I can do something-”
Mash was interrupted before her self-deprecation could finish by another explosion. Ritsuka took that opportunity to continue even as he waved the smoke away to be able to breathe.
“Mash, you’re the only person here who can take his attacks head on. You’ve been doing it since the battle started! You’re not inferior to Leonidas in strength, I’m sure of it.”
“We’re all going to be supporting you Mash, but we’re all counting on you as well. If you can’t do it then we’re all toast!”
“I don’t think I’m-”
“Then don’t think, Mash, believe! Like I do. I believe in you Mash, because I know you can do this.”
Both teenagers flinched from the next explosion. Archer was doing his best to keep Leonidas occupied, but Leonidas was even now choosing his targets at his leisure.
“Master, we’re ready on our end,” called Rider.
“Get ready, Mash. Plow into him and knock him into that office building. Don’t stop for anything; we’ll take care of all the rest. Got it!?”
Ritsuka placed his hand on Mash’s shoulder and pushed as much of his remaining magical power as he could into her, which caused the marks on his hand to flare up with red light. A small aura of power wrapped itself around Mash that seemed to infuse and protect her at the same time. When Ritsuka was satisfied that he’d done everything he could for Mash, his knees feeling weak again, he shouted, “Go!”
Mash took off in a sprint while giving a high pitched and cutely out of place war cry as her hands held up the great shield in front of her. A flaming missile struck Mash’s shield, checking her speed for a moment before she put force back into her legs to return to a sprint. Leonidas obviously felt the change in the situation and prepared a full power throw of his javelin at Mash to destroy her charge, but at the moment of the throw a set of three heavy arrows with Red Archer’s full power behind them impacted against Leonidas’ forearm, checking the release velocity of his javelin and knocking the trajectory slightly off target. This second flaming missile was more easily brushed off by Mash and her charge lost little to no power.
Leonidas struck the street with the tip of his javelin, causing the road to be super heated in a strip in front of him to form a boiling tar trap for Mash, to eliminate her velocity and leave her vulnerable to counter attack when her charge was foiled. Having set the terrain to his advantage Leonidas pulled his shield into a stance to meet Mash’s charge with a clash of his own immovable shield, and then counter with a thrust of his own weapon. At the moment before Mash’s foot entered the asphalt quagmire several slivers of concrete struck the boiling tar with the accuracy of the thrown weapons of the shinobi of legend, having been thrown by Rider as she passed overhead with one of her swift leaps. The runes on the slivers of concrete immediately activated and the ice spells inscribed on them supercooled the heated road, reverting it to its previous solid state. Leonidas’ eyes expanded in surprise to see his tactic so swiftly defeated, but he had no time to recreate it as Mash had gotten to close for him to do anything but prepare for the imminent collision.
Mash’s warcry reached its apex as her shield struck Leonidas’, and for the briefest of instances the two shields were at a standstill. But with the increase in Leonidas’ height he now towered over the already small form of Mash, which allowed Mash to get under the center of Leonidas’s shield and deflect it upwards with her own. Mash penetrated Leonidas’ guard, but at the cost of much of her momentum, leaving her still just long enough for Leonidas to change the grip of his Javelin and then aim for a downward thrust past Mash’s shield which Leonidas had not anticipated being able to overcome his own. Mash on the other hand had nothing else she could do but continue her own charge, and since it was the continuation of her previous movements she able to beat the speed of Leonidas reacting to the change from his expectations.
The recooled asphalt under Mash’s feet buckled and broke as her thin legs found deeper purchase against the more solid layers reinforced by rebar to instantly rebuild her momentum, and Mash put her shoulder right against her shield to lend extra force as she impacted directly against the expanded chest of Leonidas. The downward thrust javelin missed Mash’s body which was curled into the concave hollow of her shield, making her a much smaller target than she already had been, and Leonidas suddenly found that his feet left contact with the ground. Mash’s impact with Leonidas was not one to inflict damage, but one meant to displace. Leonidas found himself hefted upon the surface of Mash’s shield as she kept charging, picking up speed once again as she renewed her desperate yet dainty warcry. Having been moved from his chosen position for the battle, the spot where he initiated his Noble Phantasm, his body began to deflate in size and the fiery aura about him began to disperse.
His Noble Phantasm’s effects, which were wholly supportive to his abilities instead of being some flash offensive attack, had been defeated. But even then Leonidas was not a weak man in life, and was only strengthened further as a Heroic Spirit. He planted an elbow on Mash’s shield with the intention of pushing himself off to roll away before he was slammed between Mash’s shield and some hard surface, as any skilled shield bearer would do with an enemy in a situation such as his. Then he could begin counter attacking again, since he could have full freedom of movement now that his Noble Phantasm was broken. Before he could push himself from Mash’s shield, however, Leonidas found himself airborne.
Mash had already crossed the distance separating Leonidas and the building behind him and had built up enough speed to bodily throw the Bronze Archer through the ruined front safety glass doors and into the lobby of the building. The doors shattered to fragments on impact and Leonidas tumbled and skidded for a good five seconds before he slowed enough for the Spartan to begin trying to get his feet under him.
Ritsuka instantly called to Mash aloud, because he’d already felt that Mash’s connection with his didn’t carry the ability to speak through their entwined mana flow, “Get away, Mash! Hurry!”
Atop a building not too far away, Blue Caster was looking into the murky puddle coiled about a broken rooftop garden sprinkler head that was being used as a scrying pool. Upon seeing the Bronze Archer enter the designated building, Caster chuckled and tapped his staff against the ground where a rune pattern to trigger his magic was waiting. The smirk on Caster’s face widened as the magic emplacements he left behind did their work.
Every internal support structure of the office building had it’s beams and pillars blasted apart by Caster’s magic circles in the same instant. Every floor of the six story office building instantly felt the pull of gravity and began to collapse. But if it was only that, the Bronze Archer would definitely have time to react and keep himself safe. So, Caster had added another effect.
Starting with the top floor another battery of rune magics activated, sending force into the materials they were laid on to force that level of the building downwards at an explosive rate of speed. With the support pillars gone there was nothing to impede the top floor impacting directly into the second to top floor, where the runes inscribed in that second to top floor activated to produce the same effect. The top two floors combined into one slab that struck the next floor, where more runes activated and so on until the entire building formed one giant sheet of concrete, metal, and stone coming down on Leonidas with the swiftness of a hammer blow.
Leonidas had only enough time to look up while he was propping himself up on a knee in preparation of standing again to see his impending fate. A smile of satisfaction spread across Leonidas’s features in that final split second, as a final thought crossed his mind.
It’s just as I told you King of Knights. I really can’t shine as a warrior without something to protect.
The building-turned-sledgehammer struck Leonidas first in the face, then forced down onto his body, atomizing the man into golden particles immediately. The force of the building’s aided implosion did not end with just the destruction of Leonidas, however, as all the swiftly falling materials had need of somewhere to go after striking the ground floor. And for much of those materials, that direction was outward.
Mash wasn’t able to react to Ritsuka’s call before the building dropped, and she was lost to view as the structure shattered itself against its own force. Mash was instantly swept into a swiftly expanding cloud of pulverized concrete and flying wreckage.
Ritsuka called out Mash’s name and moved to rush into the cloud, but Archer’s voice called out, “Stop him,” and Ritsuka felt an arm grab him at the shoulder, preventing him from moving forward. Ritsuka looked back to see Rider holding him, her face was unreadable under her mask, but her eyebrows and mouth suggested her worry. Ritsuka called for Rider to let him go, but Archer landed in front of Ritsuka and shouted, “Calm yourself, Master! There is nothing you can do by rushing into danger like that!”
Olga Marie was already ignoring the others present and was just calling Mash’s name over and over again. Ritsuka however was in a struggle to move forward against the wishes of his allies.
“Archer, Mash is in there! I can’t just do nothing while she may be hurt, or dying!”
“I’m not suggesting you do, Master,” said Archer with great solemnity, dropping the hint that he knew those sentiments all too well. “Check your link with the girl. If she’s in danger, or worse, you should be able to feel it, like how you have been communicating with us.”
Ritsuka looked behind him, saw Rider nod her head once, and then he closed his eyes and concentrated. After a few searching seconds, Ritsuka opened his eyes and said, “Director, it’s alright. I think Mash is fine.” Then Ritsuka glared at Archer and said, “I’m still going in there for her.”
Archer smirked and said, “As long as you take proper precautions, I have no reason to stop you.”
Using Olga Marie’s magic to sweep the dust cloud and detritus from the air, the party advanced to where they last saw Mash. Ritsuka was now the one calling out. On the sixth repetition the search party heard, “O-over here.”
Rushing over, Ritsuka and the group found Mash at the steps to the former office building’s front entrance with her shield propped against an embankment of wreckage, holding it up so that it wouldn’t fall on top of her.
“I don’t think I can move from here, Senpai. Can you help me?”
“Archer, can you-”
Archer moved up to Mash, wrapped his arms around her waist, and on the count of three Mash released her stance against the debris while Archer jumped away from the ruined building, outpacing the falling wreckage. Archer landed on the ground near the others and prompley let go of Mash who planted her shield once more to support herself. Ritsuka and the others immediately rushed over with the boy asking, “Are you alright, Mash?”
“Yes, Senpai. Somehow. Is that… Did we win?”
“Yes, Mash, we won. Thanks to you.”
Mash’s face split into a weary smile as the strength left her legs and she sat down on the spot.