Ritsuka woke up feeling rather refreshed and energized. He washed his face, put on the cleaned uniform that Archer provided, and sat down to eat breakfast.
Rice porridge, stir fried veggies, yam soup, and sealed lunch breads. Ritsuka gave his thanks for the meal and reached out for one of the bread rolls; then he noticed it.
“Ah, that mark is back.”
“What mark,” asked Archer as he ladled a serving of yam soup out for Caster.
“The one that looks like a canyon,” said Ritsuka holding his hand up for the red insignia to be visible to others. “You called it a Command Seal.”
Caster loudly spat his yam soup all over Archer.
“What the hell, Caster!?”
“Shut it, kitchen hero! Show me those seals, kid!”
Ritsuka initially hesitated, and that was enough time for Caster to grab his arm and pull his hand close to stare at.
“Unhand Fujimaru-sama, Caster,” called Medusa from the other end of the table
“Relax, Rider, I’m just checking to verify the Command Seal. You should understand how important that is, right?”
“It’s alright, Rider, he’s not hurting me, unlike when the Director did it,” said Ritsuka, causing Medusa to give Olga Marie a dirty look that could be felt even through the blindfold. “But I have to say… I don’t understand why people keep manhandling me…”
Caster’s eyes sparkled blue as he looked at the marks on Ritsuka’s hand in ways he was unable to fathom before the blue haired man released the hand and said, “It’s the real thing. Kid, where did you get the replacement Seal from?”
“Get it? I just looked down and it was there. Are they not suppose to, I dunno, just regenerate?”
Caster released a large sigh and said, “I told you those are precious things, right? What I meant was that each Master in a Holy Grail War gets three of them, and once they’re used up the Masters are no longer able to maintain authority over their Servant. Once used, they’re gone for good, unless you steal or receive Command Seals from other Masters. They don’t come back on their own, kid. They’re a finite resource. Or, they’re supposed to be.”
“I knew Senpai was an incredible person,” cried Mash, her eyes lighting up with admiration. Ritsuka decided to gloss Mash’s comment over and asked Caster, “So, where did the new Command Seal come from?”
“I said I dunno, kid! What the hell is up with you anyhow? You got three Servants, auto-recovering Command Seals, and claim you travel through time? How am I supposed to keep up with all that? Ah, whatever. I don’t care anymore! Archer, gimme a refill on my yam soup.”
“People who waste food don’t get second helpings,” said Archer after dematerializing and rematerializing to let the mouth sprayed soup literally fall off of him.
“Tch. Soup nazi.”
The rest of breakfast continued without any incidents that were too wild to handle, but Ritsuka noticed a few bitter looks at his Command Seals from Olga Marie. When he asked the girl about them she just said that Ritsuka was imagining things. After breakfast and clean up the subject of battling Saber bega-
“Wait, weren’t we just a recon group,” cried Ritsuka. “Don’t we just need to find the place Saber has the Grail, mark it on a map or something, and then get out of here so the actual professionals can do something about it?”
“What are you talking about, Fujimaru,” said Olga Marie with disdainful force. “We have four Servants and we know where the likely cause of the Singularity is. Why wouldn’t we strike right away? Do you have any idea the amount of time, money, and greedy politicians we’ll have to deal with to get the second task force ready? It’s better all around to just deal with things right now.”
Caster then chimed in with, “And while I might not know much about time travel, I know about Causality. The longer an unnatural effect remains in place the stronger it will become to maintain its existence. Which means the longer you leave a Singularity alone, the more strongly it will present itself. Best for everyone if you just go for the heart right away.”
“You’re just saying that because you want to win this Holy Grail War, Caster,” stated Archer through narrowed eyes.
“Well, I won’t deny that. But really, it’s not like I was lying either.”
[Caster does have a point. It’s not the ideal option to assault the enemy stronghold with only our current forces, but we still haven’t been able to make contact with the outside world and we have no idea when relief forces will arrive. It may be for the best for us to attempt the attack now instead of waiting for our enemy to prepare countermeasures. Don’t worry though, we’ve been working on repairs through the night and we’ve got three Caskets ready for use. We’ll be able to evacuate the three of you should things take a turn for the worst.]
“Just the three of us,” asked Ritsuka as he took a look at the Servants around him. “What about Archer and Rider? I don’t want to leave them behind.”
“It’s fine, Master,” stated Archer flatly. Arms crossed and eyes closed as usual. “Servants are merely living weapons. You should have been using us as such from the beginning.”
“But I don’t want to treat you guys like that…”
“It’s really unavoidable, Fujimaru-sama. It’s the fate of Servants like us.”
Ritsuka was silent for two seconds after Medusa’s self-deprecating resignation to fate. Then he said, “Dr. Roman, I want our recon team to be recognized as having six members, including the Servants. And that if evacuation is required you collect the three people in the most danger first, then the following three immediately after. That’s my condition for taking part in this assault mission.”
“Who do you think you are, giving orders, Fujimaru!? I’m the director here!”
“And I’m the person responsible for the safety of the people contracted to me. I refuse to go into a fight with the expectation of abandoning them. Once again, that’s my condition for taking part in this mission.”
“Senpai,” said Mash with eyes filled with admiration.
Olga Marie growled audibly for a moment before saying, “Fine, whatever, I agree, let’s just get to planning. It’s not like I’m intending for this mission to be a bust anyway. So you’d better not slack off on it, Fujimaru.”
“Of course not, Director. After all, I want to put an end to all this as much as everyone else.”
And so the planning began. Starting with Archer laying out everything he knew about the King of Knight’s combat style and personality. While he was doing so however, Dr. Roman in Chaldea was listening with only part of his attention. It was theoretically possible to transport a Servant through time, since it was the Servant Summoning process which was the basis for Chaldea’s time travel system. But the Coffins were developed for Humans, for material beings. Servants were immaterial from the beginning. And the Unsummoning part of the time travel process might just expunge everything that a Servant is, effectively killing them or wiping their minds. It was completely untested, meaning it was dangerous and unpredictable.
But Dr. Roman held his tongue on the subject, despite his misgivings on the topic. Or perhaps because of them…
“What do you mean you can’t use your Noble Phantasm, Archer,” asked Rider with an upset voice.
“Simply that. The conditions for the use of my Noble Phantasm are not met. So please do not inquire any more than that. And if you try to force me to use it with a Command Seal, Master… it would certainly do more harm than good.”
“I see,” said Ritsuka, giving up on pushing the topic since Archer went that far. “Then… what if we changed the plan to…”
Eventually the plan to take on the King of Knights was completed, with the various condiment containers on the lunch table forming the chain of actions the plan would require. After the final tuned up run through, with the salt shaker checkmating the soy sauce dispenser, Ritsuka asked, “Does anyone have any more suggestions, or will this work?”
“I see no loopholes,” said Archer.
“I am ready to follow your plan, Fujimaru-sama,” said Rider.
“Why are you making all the plans? Ah, whatever,” complained Olga Marie.
“I’ll do my best, Senpai,” resolved Mash.
“Fou fou,” cried the mascot as though it understood the flow of the conversation.
Then Caster said at length, “It’s a pretty good plan, kid. With the King of Knights getting all his power directly from the Grail we kind of have to do something as outrageous as this. But ironically it’ll be putting the largest burden on you. Are you sure you’re up to it, kid? You did have a rough day yesterday after all.”
Ritsuka looked down in shame for a moment before lifting his head with a cheerful smile on his face and sunnily stated, “It’s the least I can do. After all, I’ll be the only person who isn’t fighting, so I have to do at least this much. Besides, I feel fine already. If anything I’m feeling better than yesterday. After all, I don’t feel like passing out at random anymore…”
“Like you did during my orientation speech,” grumbled Olga Marie.
“But now that we have a plan to use against King Arthur,” said Ritsuka to change the subject, “We should begin coming up with a plan to use against Assassin.”
“Indeed,” said Archer gruffly. “Caster, please tell us everything you know about him.”
“Not much to tell really. Assassin is most likely a man, if he hasn’t altered his build somehow. And he’s most likely a modern era Heroic Spirit.”
[Why do you say that?]
“Because he’s only used guns so far.”
[A Heroic Spirit who’s Noble Phantasm is a gun?]
“Nah. They weren’t Noble Phantasms. Just regular firearms. Seems his Master had some underworld connections and supplied him with a small arsenal.”
“I thought you said Assassin foiled Lancer’s attempt at kidnapping before. How would he be able to do that with only modern weaponry,” asked Archer. A response that confused Ritsuka so he asked, “Wait, why wouldn’t Assassin be able to beat Lancer with guns?”
Caster and Archer both made faces like they were tired of being disappointed with Ritsuka’s lack of knowledge, while Medusa simply began an explanation.
“Heroic Spirits are not like humans, made of flesh and blood. So weapons designed to fight normal humans are simply ineffective against us, Fujimaru-sama. It’s not that a Heroic Spirit can’t be defeated by this world’s modern armaments… it’s just not practical when magecraft and other Heroic Spirits are so better suited to harming us.”
“So… It’s pointless using a gun against a Heroic Spirit,” asked Fujimaru.
Archer answered with, “It’s pointless to use anything less powerful than an armor piercing anti-tank missile, Master. That’s how incompatible modern weaponry is with battling against Heroic Spirits.”
“And that’s why Assassin didn’t use the guns against Lancer,” interrupted Caster to get the subject back on track. “He used them against the Matou brat, forcing Lancer to retreat to protect her Master and forcing the bastard to use a Command Seal. It was a pretty slick move I have to say, but it drives home a point. He did that without revealing any hints about his identity or showing his Noble Phantasm, and his Presence Concealment is the real thing. While your regular Assassin Servant is geared towards killing Masters instead of Servants, this guy is even more so. We’re gonna have to travel through a tunnel in the mountain to reach the King of Knights, and that’s Assassin’s territory. He’s gonna be going out of his way to target the kid before the rest of us even know he’s there. And since he won’t be using any Noble Phantasms to do it I can’t think of any way to track him before he strikes.”
“…What about after he strikes,” asked Ritsuka hesitantly.
Archer glared down on Ritsuka in disapproval, “You do realize that if you die, Master, then the rest of us will lose our ability to remain materialized in this world? At best we’d lose our ability to fight properly. You falling victim to Assassin would be the complete victory of the King of Knights.”
Ritsuka gave a wry smile and said, “I know that at least. But I’m just saying. If we make it through Assassin’s first strike… would we be able to beat him?”
“That depends, kid,” said Caster with a smirk. “It sounds like you have an idea on how to do that.”
“I actually do…”
As Ritsuka threw out his suggestion, Caster said, “I can set that up. But kid, you really have a bad habit of putting yourself in danger. Kinda refreshing for a Master.”
“Well, I have to do my part after all, don’t I?”
“I disagree with your plan, Fujimaru-sama.”
Medusa’s stern voice followed after Ritsuka’s self-deprecation.
“There is absolutely no point in your placing yourself in such needless risk. A single wrong move and your life will be in danger. Fujimaru-sama. I can only call your plan needlessly reckless and naive. I cannot consent to it.”
The entire room was silent. Some people felt too much had been said while others thought that Rider had said what they were thinking. At length, Ritsuka quietly said, “If I don’t accompany the assault team, Assassin will probably not attack, and instead start hunting for me. Which means we’d either have to split our forces to have someone on hand to defend me against an attacker who can’t be defended against, lessing our chances of defeating King Arthur while giving me no safeguards of surviving Assassin’s attack… or leaving me to hide in a dark hole without a guard, terrified that the next sound I hear is Assassin coming for me…”
“F-Fujimaru-sama,” said Medusa in a whisper that might have been a half apology.
“If I go with the assault team, and surround myself with the strongest defenses possible… then Assassin will do something unthinkable and unpredictable. It would leave us on the defensive and give the momentum to Assassin. And as my Phys Ed teacher liked to say, the first to attack is the one who wins. I’d much rather lure Assassin out and then crush him before he can prepare a plan we can’t create a countermeasure for. So… this plan is less about me putting myself in danger, and more about putting my faith in everyone at this table. So… please try to understand that this is what I want, Rider.”
[Sniff. That was beautiful…]
Despite the mood breaking comment from the Comm Watch, the room was able to remain solemn as Medusa mulled over Ritsuka’s request and his plan. Finally, Medusa said, “I… will go along with your plan. But Fujimaru-sama… I refuse to leave you unprotected.”
“That’s fine. In fact, I was never planning on being defenseless from the start.”
And so Ritsuka laid out his general outline of his plan, which was quickly refined by the input and knowledge of the heroes around the cafeteria table.