It was a good formation.
The Archer was up front acting as the pointman, and clearing away Assassin’s traps. His eyes were sharp and his knowledge was complete, he’d not missed a single one of Assassin’s pressure plates or trip wires. The mines and anti-personnel explosives were being disarmed with surprising speed without ever even coming within range of harming the scrawny Master the other Servants were protecting.
The Caster was on the young man’s right, his staff at the ready and his eyes scanning everywhere with his senses sharpened to their limit. And all while the Caster was floating some sort of illumination spell above him. Assassin didn’t exactly have the qualifications to be a Caster, but he could tell that ball of tinted light was odd and nothing else. Even so, Assassin’s nature caused him to want to avoid it if possible.
On the young man’s left was the purple haired girl, the one that felt off in terms of being a Servant. She was the weak link. She had the power, pride, and skill of a Servant, but she didn’t have the experience to use them. Specifically, she was not yet suited to being a bodyguard outside of combat. Her situation was made worse by the fact that she was also guarding the white haired girl that was directly behind her. The girl with the shield was prioritizing the boy however, and that’s why there had not yet been an exploitable opening, despite the fact that Assassin had relocated three times since the attackers had entered the man made rock tunnel under the mountain, Assassin’s kill field.
The Rider was not worth worrying about, she was in the back as the rear guard. She was blindfolded, so she had to be gathering information from senses other than sight. It was the right move having her cover the rear, she’d react the quickest to a surprise attack from that angle. But not even a Rider could outrun a sniper’s bullet.
The modified automatic assault rifle Assassin was holding had been outfitted with a longer barrel for stability and precision, and a muzzle flash suppressor. A flash suppressor. Not a silencer.
There was the old saying, “You never hear the one with your name on it.” It’s a true saying. The bang of a gun came not only from the gunpowder exploding, but mostly from the bullet breaking the sound barrier. Which meant the bullet will reach its target before the sound does, killing a man before he could hear the gunshot. Silencers exist to slow the muzzle velocity of a bullet so it doesn’t break the sound barrier, lowering the sound output of a weapon, but not silencing it. There’s still the pop of the detonation cap and the explosion of the gunpowder to think about, resulting in a loud pop instead of a bang. Which is still too loud to be used against a target protected by a Servant and not be detected. And since the muzzle velocity drop of a silencer would allow the sound of that pop to reach the Servant’s ears before the bullet reached its target, the Servant could move to intercept the bullet.
Silence was not an option from the beginning. Therefore Assassin created this customized weapon, to suppress the flash of the bullet as much as possible while preserving the muzzle velocity, striking the targeted Master before a Servant could react. But the weapon could only be used at medium range, and not long range. The flash of the muzzle traveled at the speed of light, meaning a Servant could see the light produced by the gunshot and guard their Master before the bullet reached him if Assassin fired from too far away. Servants were sentient weapons that were capable of that kind of feat.
That was why Assassin had moved sniping positions so many times so far. He had to wait for Caster and Archer to be looking the other way at the same time to be certain Assassin’s bullet would strike home. Assassin was running out of chances since the tunnel did not go much further until the King of Knight’s chamber. But then there was Assassin’s final option, so he was not flustered, and just kept his aim on the young man’s head.
The claymore mine made an audible click as Archer finished defusing it, drawing Caster’s eyes ever so slightly to the side. Assassin was also a Servant, meaning his reaction time was fast enough to gently squeeze the trigger in that brief tenth of a second opening without sacrificing accuracy. The feeling of the recoil of the rifle faded into the background as Assassin’s eyes tracked the flight of the bullet, seemingly in slow motion to the man. Assassin instantly knew the bullet would strike true, even when Caster’s eyes slipped back towards where the flash of the gunshot had originated from. The Caster may have found Assassin’s location, but that was within the scope of the man’s plans in the first place. With the Master dead, there was no one left to challenge the King of Knights.
Assassin felt no happiness, no accomplishment in that moment when the bullet struck the young man’s forehead. It was a clean strike just as he anticipated it. The flesh of the forehead rippled slightly from the force and Assassin saw the red underneath- no, that’s a pattern, not blood!
“Ahead,” cried Caster as he stretched his staff outward and a blob of light was fired from the luminescent ball floating in the air. Assassin leapt from his cover to dodge the attack, but he still felt the shockwave of the blast, and felt something adhering to his body. Assassin came out of his diving roll to see that his target, the young man, was nothing more than an illusion that had been cast over the body of the Rider, which meant the Rider was the boy.
Assassin had fallen for a switcheroo.
Who’d have thought that a group so straightforward as this one in personality would think up such a plan? But then again, the boy disguised as the Rider was in the back without any guards.
Assassin lifted his rifle and switched it to full auto, looking to hose the boy down with bullets before his Servants could intercede.
* * * * *
Rider’s head had jerked unnaturally, Ritsuka was able to tell that from his place in the back. Ritsuka was already moving when he heard the direction called out by Caster.
Ritsuka instantly threw the shard of concrete in his hand into the ground in front of him causing a pale yellow wall of energy to appear before him, Olga Marie’s contribution to the plan. A fraction of a second later, Ritsuka saw the impacts of an entire clip of bullets pelting against the energy shield causing Ritsuka’s heart to literally skip a beat. Ritsuka’s mind burned that close brush with death into his subconscious for emotional scarring at a later time against his will.
Ritsuka looked up and past the shield where he saw the man, Assassin, in baggy black combat fatigues with spare ammo and cylinders secured around his combat harness. There were high tech goggles over his eyes and a breathing mask over his lower face. The rest of his head was covered in a light cloth that wrapped around the neck as well, covering all flesh for concealment but not hampering movement or providing protection. As Ritsuka watched, Assassin’s clothes rippled for a moment and the color changed to pale red camouflage patterns that suited the coloration of the rocks and soil in the cave. But the camo effect was ruined by the bioluminescent dye that resulted from Caster’s attack that was smeared over parts of Assassin’s body. There was no way for the man to run or hide at this point, even if he went into spirit form. Caster made sure of that.
Unfortunately for Ritsuka, Assassin didn’t try to run. Instead the man lifted the barrel of his assault rifle and fiddled with a tube underneath the barrel before pressing what looked like a second trigger. Ritsuka recognized the underhanging weapon from a friend of his that was big into first person shooters. It was called a Grenade Launcher.
A moment after the hollow sound of the propellant reached Ritsuka the sound of the detonation of the self-propelled grenade deafened him as it struck Mash’s shield. As the protective field made by Olga Marie flickered and died from the secondary effects of the grenade detonation, Ritsuka understood that it, and he, wouldn’t have survived a direct hit from that explosion.
As the illusory form of Medusa flickered and broke down around him, Ritsuka forced the words out of his shocked mind, “T-thank you, Mash.”
“You’re welcome, Senpai. I’m really just doing my duty as your Servant, though.”
A moment later, Olga Marie guided by Medusa arrived behind Mash’s shield as well. Medusa’s disguise as Ritsuka was just finishing it’s falling apart into particles when she arrived to help guard over Ritsuka and Olga Marie while Caster and Archer engaged Assassin.
In the original plan Ritsuka had come up with he’d just be made invisible and follow along while an illusory double was guarded. But Archer quickly pointed out that footprints were a thing that existed, and any Assassin worth their salt would notice a lack of them, or some appearing from thin air. Also, having Ritsuka be invisible would leave him cut off from the rest of the group, since no one could see his condition. Which was why Ritsuka and Medusa ended up taking on each other’s images and trading places.
As Olga Marie was deposited behind everyone else, like disposing of a pointless distraction, Medusa asked, “Are you alright, Mas- Fujimaru-sama?”
“Yes, thank you, Rider. Your taking my place really saved me. Thank goodness we have the same height, or I don’t think the plan would have worked.”
Medusa shook ever so slightly and asked, “My height… was helpful?”
“Yeah. If we didn’t match so well I might not have survived Assassin’s attack. You pretty much saved my life there.”
Medusa’s face started showing some complicated feelings.
The sound of tearing metal forced Ritsuka’s mind back from his reverie caused by relief to see that Assassin’s rifle had been cut apart and rendered useless by Archer’s twin swords. Assassin was constantly on his back foot against Archer while using Archer as a shield to force Caster to be highly selective about the attacks he was sending Assassin’s way. At the moment Caster was sticking to manipulating the ground to try and create ropy soil snares to grab Assassin’s feet. None had succeeded in trapping the Assassin, but it was keeping the man on his toes.
Assassin then threw his disfigured rifle at Archer, who cut at it to brush the weapon aside, allowing Assassin to pull a combat knife and a pistol free. Assassin then pushed into Archer’s space, closing tighter than Archer’s preferred combat distance. Archer was then on the defensive against the Assassin who, now that Ritsuka compared them so close to each other, had a similarly tall and broad frame to Ritsuka’s Servant. Assassin used his musculature well, striking the sides of Archer’s swords with his own weapons to bounce them back as though he’d read the man’s trajectory and push into Archer’s chest, where Assassin delivered an elbow directly into Archer’s sternum, forcing him back. Assassin then swiftly withdrew and charged towards Ritsuka and his group. Archer was never a target of Assassin’s in the first place, after all.
Assassin began firing off rounds from his pistol as he swiftly closed the distance. Ritsuka had been able to hide himself behind Mash’s shield in time so the only effect the full metal jacket rounds produced were pings as they limply bounced off Mash’s shield. Medusa stepped out from behind the shield and threw her chained dagger low, intending to entangle Assassin’s legs and immobilize him, but the large man leapt into the air with surprising nimbleness and a spinning roll that would make an Olympic gymnast blush, before landing both feet on Mash’s shield, giving him the height advantage required to get clear aim directly between Ritsuka’s eyes.
For a fleeting moment, Ritsuka could see straight down the barrel of that gun, could swear he saw the hammer drop as the trigger was pulled. Then a blast of hale with the size of baseballs and the spread of buckshot struck Assassin from Caster’s spell, knocking the man sideways as something whistled past Ritsuka’s ear. The shock of the adrenaline passed through Ritsuka’s brain like a lightning bolt, leaving him paralyzed for a split second, unable to believe he was still alive.
Ritsuka’s eyes moved to follow the path that Assassin had took when he was sent flying, and saw that Archer had closed distance again and shredded Assassin’s pistol and combat knife, rendering them useless. Ritsuka breathed a sigh of half relief tinged with the high tension of knowing he was still far from being out of danger. Assassin had not yet shown a Noble Phantasm yet, after all. And also, Assassin was somehow fighting against Archer on even terms while barehanded.
Assassin was literally slapping Archer’s knuckles with his open hands every time the man swung his swords. Assassin was warding off all of Archer’s attacks by stopping them before they gained lethal force. It was an amazing display of agility that Ritsuka couldn’t fathom, and the fact that Archer almost instantly developed a countermove to it was just as amazing. Archer began to spin his wrists instead of keeping them straight, giving his attacks unpredictable angles while lessening their power. Assassin was no longer stopping Archer’s attacks, and started having to avoid all of them. But Assassin was also able to find a hole in Archer’s adjusted movements quickly, struck Archer’s wrist with a chop, forcing the hand to drop the white bladed sword it was carrying. With that opening, Assassin pulled super tight into Archer’s range, right between his arms, and started punching Archer at point blank range. Four swift strikes impacted, starting at the sternum and moving up so that the fourth punch became an ultra short uppercut to Archer’s jaw, forcing the man to reel backwards from the force.
Archer planted a foot like a boxer being propelled by spirit alone and whipped his body forward again by abusing the muscles in his back just in time to see what Assassin had pulled out next.
The sound of the pin being pulled free from the grenade was audible and the detonation time was so short that it had to have been a customized item. The cylinder exploded in Assassin’s hand that was pointed directly in front of Archer’s face, scattering dense smoke everywhere in a billow of darkness. Assassin was immediately lost to view, luminescent dye on his clothes and all.
“Caster,” called Ritsuka, “Clear the air, hurry!”
“Ou,” came the affirmative reply instantly. But even that swift decision was too late.
Tink tink tink tink
A bunch of smoke grenades with slightly longer detonation times came flying out of the smoke cloud only to impact and detonate, filling the entire wide tunnel with smoke. How was Caster suppose to disperse the smoke when there was no air that wasn’t filled with it?
A sudden realization struck Ritsuka that Assassin could come after him without being seen or stopped struck him, and the fear of death rose once again. But as if sensing that Medusa said, “Don’t worry, Fujimarsu-sama. If Assassin comes close I’ll be able to stop him. After all, I don’t need to see in order to fight.”
Ritsuka felt relief wash over him, when a voice that was deep and distorted by the mask that Assassin wore could be heard echoing in the smoke filled chamber.
I am the bone of my sword.
Ritsuka recognized the meaningful words and the sudden rise in mana in the surroundings as being the beginning of a Noble Phantasm. At the same moment as that realization, Ritsuka heard Archer shout, “Don’t let him finish that chant!”
Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.
“Caster, can you do anything,” called Ritsuka.
“Not before he uses whatever that is, kid!”
I have created over a thousand blades.
The smokescreen has sealed off everyone’s ability to track Assassin. Except for one person. The only person able to protect Ritsuka from Assassin. Archer said Assassin needed to be stopped… Ritsuka decided he would believe that.
“Rider, go! Set him up for Caster,” said Ritsuka, placing all his fear to one side to trust his companions.
Unknown to death.
Ritsuka cut off Medusa’s complaint, almost certainly about leaving him defenseless against an attack from Assassin. Ritsuka simply repeated with urgency the word, “GO!”
Nor known to life.
Medusa took off like an arrow into the smoke, immediately lost to view.
Have withstood pain to- ARRGH!
The wet sound of the until now invisible dagger in Medusa’s left hand plunging into the body of Assassin sounded along with the man’s cry of pain and the one word telepathic message from Medusa rang in Ritsuka’s ears at the same time.
Caster instantly poured his spell into the formerly invisible chain that he’d been holding onto since long before the group had entered the tunnel, causing lightning to run through the metal like it was a superconductor, directly into the body of Assassin that had the point of the chained dagger inserted somewhere inside his body. The scream of pain from the man was dreadful even through his muffling mask. Unphased by the sound, Caster was tracking where his magic power had gone and shouted, “There!”
A movement of wind parted the smoke cloud like the parting of the Red Sea in Hebrew lore, giving Caster direct line of sight to Assassin, who had Medusa’s dagger in his left thigh. Medusa had paid a price though, as she could be seen on the ground cradling one of her arms at the shoulder. With a clear line of sight, Caster bombarded Assassin with more lightning spells, his fastest casting spells, one after another, preventing the man from trying to make another escape. The spells obviously did a lot of damage, and kept Assassin in place as Archer came out of the smoke like a protagonist in some weekend children’s show, body slamming Assassin while stabbing one of his swords into a vital point. In the end, Archer successfully pinned Assassin into the wall with a blade in the chest and a forearm across the throat.
* * * * *
“Why the hell are you here,” hissed Archer as he took his hand off the black sword Kanshou just long enough to tear off the mask and tactical goggles from Assassin, revealing the face that Archer knew well from looking in the mirror. Except it was a face that was discolored by an encroaching darkness that tainted his veins and left patches of his skin as black as night.
“The same reason as always,” said Assassin, blood trickling from his mouth. “Trying to save the world. Except… I failed. I never expected… the danger to be from Seiba, after all…”
Assassin had a death wound, and Archer was pressing down on all the right parts to leave Assassin fully pinned. The man could not make any attacks, or mold magical power to project any weaponry. So Archer kept grilling him.
“You stopped Matou from kidnapping those girls, right? What happened to the red headed idiot?”
“Nothing… There’s no way a happy kid like that… would turn into us. But why do you care? …Did you find an answer?”
Archer agonized for a moment before saying, “Yes. I did.”
“Heh. Good to know we’ll find one…”
“So you’re the past me. Why don’t I remember this?”
“After I died… after all of us died… we were hijacked by the Grail Seiba used. Do you really think the Throne will accept corrupted data?”
“What the hell are you doing Archer,” called out Caster. “Finish the bastard already!”
“Shut up, Mullet! I’m not done with him yet!”
Archer turned back to Assassin, who had a slim smile on his face. Then looked down to see that Assassin had slipped a small box into his grip and was holding down a button.
“You should know what this is,” muttered Assassin.
“Dead Man’s Switch.”
A remote detonator set up to trigger explosives the moment a button is no longer being pressed down. An ultimate fail safe for the desperate, the insane, or the suicidal. It was one of the most terrifying things a soldier could encounter on the battlefield, especially in civilian occupied areas.
“Why are you fighting us, Assassin? Going this far?”
To Archer’s desperate question, Assassin smiled through teeth grit by pain… and something more.
“I’m under compulsion by that damn Grail. I don’t know… how long I can hold it off. Take your Master and hurry, Archer. Seiba isn’t fully corrupted. You might… be able.. GRRRRRRRR!”
Assassin’s back arched like he was fighting against some internal torment.
“We have to go, now! Deeper into the tunnel, everyone, go, go, go!”
Archer’s emphatic urgency caused everyone to start moving. At the turn of the tunnel, Archer looked back on Assassin, on what he’d apparently once suffered himself, to see that the man was already turning into particles while maintaining a two handed grip on the detonator, refusing to let it fall from his grasp. And then hurried on ahead. A part of Assassin’s mind that wasn’t fully occupied with pain, resistance, and determination wished those warriors luck before his hands faded out of reality and the detonator fell through empty air.
The detonation of dozens of high explosives dug into the roof of the tunnel rang through the underground pathway, and the mountain began to collapse in on it.