“Mine,” called Archer from his position in the lead, pointing a finger which caused the trailing Servants to steer wide of the obstacle without losing speed.
The Servants leapt over the dim thread, and Ritsuka felt the press of a soft resistance from that movement of Medusa’s while being carried in a princess cradle. Being carried by a woman as tall as himself was slightly embarrassing, but the unseen terror of whatever Archer was evacuating them all from was of far greater importance. At least he wasn’t being carried by his Kouhai, Mash. Ritsuka might never live that one down.
Then there was the thunderous roar of chained explosions, followed by the rumble of crumbling rock and dirt. Ritsuka peered over Medusa’s shoulder down the tunnel they came from and saw in the shadows the shifting movements of the entire mountain coming apart behind them, sealing the pathway and moving quickly to try and catch up with them.
“Hurry,” shouted Archer from the lead, and all the dashing Servant’s speed was kicked up a notch, Medusa’s especially. Ritsuka felt his stomach lurch at the speed change. But the cloud of dust and detritus still closed in.
Then there was a dim red light, as though corrupted blood was boiled over to produce illumination, and the dust cloud enveloped the entire Chaldea Expedition.
Ritsuka initially made the mistake of trying to breath in that cloud, and began coughing immediately, then tried to hold his breath without anything in his lungs, which forced him to breath again in a savage cycle. Caster threw some runes around and displaced the dust filled air while setting down Olga Marie, who he’d been carrying over his shoulder to keep his hand carrying his druid staff free. Olga Marie gave Caster a venomous stare as she patted at her skirt as though silently disapproving of the location Caster’s hand had been for the sake of holding her. Mash was behind everyone, holding her Shield between Ritsuka and the mouth of the tunnel they’d all just escaped from, with several large and sharply fractured rocks she’d blocked the path of after they’d been explosively expelled by the crumbling tunnel.
“Is everyone alright,” called Archer, his voice sounding more upset than usual. Everyone called out in turn, including Fou who poked his head out from behind Mash’s shield, with Ritsuka’s voice being a little more weak than usual since he was still expelling the dust from his throat.
“Here, Senpai, drink some water,” worried Mash as she passed a plastic water bottle obtained from a ruined vending machine in the school’s athletic grounds. After clearing his throat with a drink, Ritsuka asked while looking around at the great underground chamber, “Where are we?”
“At the final confrontation,” said Archer solemnly, gazing towards a far wall.
No. It wasn’t a wall, it was a rim. Inside this underground vault that was large enough to hold several city blocks was a stone crevice that was shaped like a natural bowl. The sickening light of this place was produced by the contents of that bowl, a putrid liquid that was forming itself into a dark tower. The progress was slow but visible, with layers being constructed on top of the outside like a liquid masonry version of tree rings. It was a self growing structure, being fueled by poisonous muck falling like a waterfall from a circular distortion in reality. And standing on the rim of that rock chalice of apocalyptic ooze was a single figure, staring down on the Chaldea Expedition.
It was a figure in purple and black armor, highlighted with flowing red lines of power. The figure was somewhere between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and sixty centimeters tall, and looked like it was the same age as a middle schooler. With one glance Ritsuka could tell it was a girl, one with hair the color of spun gold, and eyes the same color to match. Her skin was pale like porcelain and without any flaws. In just a single glance, Ritsuka could see she was beautiful. However, her demeanor was cold and she was looking down on the party from her vantage point so naturally it was as though it was a birthright.
That image was both beautiful and terrifying. So much so that the word, “Incredible” leaked from Ritsuka’s mouth as he was held spellbound. As well he should be, for Ritsuka could see the magical power running through the small girl’s body and feel it against his skin.
“…Unbelievable magical output,” said Mash, a tremble in her voice. “Is that really King Arthur?”
[No question. She seems to have changed somehow but she’s the king of Britain, Arthur, wielder of the Sacred Sword. Her gender’s different than the legend, but she had her reasons for dressing like a man in Camelot. I mean, you can’t assume the throne unless you’re a man, right? She must’ve had to pretend to be a guy for family reasons.]
“Wouldn’t that be for political reasons,” quipped Ritsuka while he studied King Arthur.
[Anyway, I have an idea who’s behind that. It’s mentioned in the legends, but Merlin really does have terrible taste.]
Caster started throwing around cautions about the short and slim girl, but Ritsuka was listening with half an ear. He was too busy studying the mana in their opponent. It was a type that he’d never seen before. It was like mana was being taken in and transformed into something more powerful and more savage. Something of primordial might.
“Arthur Pendragon,” muttered Ritsuka. The girl’s mana was Dragonic. No wonder she had such a powerful presence. And it’s no wonder she didn’t feel wrong to Ritsuka like the other enemy Servants he’d encountered in Fuyuki had. Saber was taking in corrupted mana from whatever the Greater Grail had become, but the impurities were somehow being filtered out by her mana conversion process. Like the magical equivalent to a liver. But just like a liver… Ritsuka could feel that the filtering was on the verge of being overburdened. The girl in front of Ritsuka had adapted by turning from a Dragon into a Dark Dragon, but she was in danger of being consumed by the corruption. It was being held in check for now, but who knew for how long…
Then the girl spoke, towards Ritsuka and Mash both.
“I see. You’ve got an interesting Servant with you. I’m curious about that Noble Phantasm. Be ready, strange girl. This sword shall test the truth of your shield.”
Saber lifted her jet black blade, runes of red power glowing from inside and-
Everything stopped in accordance with Ritsuka’s shout. He didn’t hesitate to follow up on his opportunity.
“King Arthur. I can tell, you still have your mind intact. Which means talking is an option.”
The girl lowered her sword slightly without lowering her guard, and her reply was to slightly tilt her head and narrow her eyes. Ritsuka took that as an invitation to present his case.
“Whatever happened to you, the Grail War, and to the city outside is unnatural and devastating. But it’s not too late to correct it.”
Arthur’s eyebrow twitched ever so slightly.
“What happened here, it’s not what really happened in the correct timeline. Whatever power this is that you have, you were not supposed to have it. Which means, if you just relinquish that power, we can end the Holy Grail War and time will correct itself. This tragedy would never have occurred. You’re the legendary King of Brittany, right? I’m sure the last thing you want is for tragedy to befall normal people.”
It was as if everyone was frozen in time, staring at Ritsuka. It was enough for him to start feeling embarrassed. Ritsuka held his earnest gaze on Saber, trying to convey all his sincerity with his eyes as well as with his words. And it looked like Saber was thinking them over. There were minute changes to her facial features, some of which seemed to be inquisitive. But… the moment lasted less time than it felt and the King made her proclamation.
“I cannot make my decisions based on the advice of interlopers. Even if this was not the result I envisioned, this is the path I chose to take; I will not turn back. And as long as I can possess the Grail, I can correct events so that… Besides, you came here with the determination to challenge me. I will not allow that bravery to go to waste. Prepare yourselves.”
“I’d rather have my bravery go to waste, though,” trailed off Ritsuka.
“It was a good effort, Master,” said Archer. “But you failed to anticipate this King’s bullheadedness. There was never a chance that we would not fight.”
“…I understand. Then, just like we planned, everyone.”
With those words of Ritsuka’s, everyone moved. Caster and Olga Marie moved in close with Ritsuka, Olga dropping her portable protection fields around them. Mash, Medusa, and Archer dashed forward to meet Saber as she landed on the ground and took a defensive combat stance, perfectly prepared for her opponents to come to her. Just before entering combat range, Archer called, “Remember Mash, devote yourself to defending. Don’t try to attack, even if you see an opening!”
Just before the Chaldea trio stepped into range to attack, Saber stepped forward and struck first. Her sword struck Mash’s shield with a crash of thunder as her mana rushed into her arms and weapon. It was like a strike from an ogre’s mace that came out of that petite body. Just like Ritsuka thought, the quality of her mana was the cornerstone for that girl’s imposing strength. Every single strike from Saber contained the power of a giant, and extra power from the grail surged into the sword, causing a mass of black energy to expand outward from the sword blade, doubling the cutting edge’s area.
Ritsuka watched the battle unfold without blinking his eyes. The speed of the combatants were so swift he could not afford to. But there was a definable pattern to the movements. Archer and Medusa both had two swift weapons each, and were constantly thrusting and cutting at Saber from both sides. While Saber had a single sword, she was moving faster than all of them, supplementing her body’s strength with the dragonic mana to keep up with her opponents, and to also counter attack them. Saber’s counter attacks were swift, deadly, and precise. She also followed up on them, which forced whoever was counterattacked to step behind Mash’s shield, who was in the center of the Chaldea combat formation to allow for such defensive movements.
The result was that Saber was not giving any ground, and Mash was preventing any ground being lost. It was a stalemate. Which was why Caster was charging up the spells he would be using.
On Caster’s signal, Ritsuka waited for the right moment during the predictable flow of battle and called loud enough for the combatants to hear over the cacophony of metal striking metal, “Volley!”
Chaldea’s combat team pulled ever so slightly back as Caster’s magic bombarded the area Saber was in. Archer had provided the knowledge that Saber possessed unbelievably high magic resistance, so any magecraft attacks would have to be of the highest order, meaning Caster had to take preparation time.
The light coated spells arced slightly overhead of Mash’s shield, detonating between Saber and Mash with all the destructive power directed forwards toward the enemy. Lances of ice laced with electricity exploded out of the spells. Smaller splinters bounced right off of Saber’s body and her armor, but one of the bigger lances was deliberately blocked by Saber.
“The spells are a threat to her after all! Keep it up,” called Ritsuka so everyone could hear.
Saber’s movements changed from defensive to aggressive. She started moving back and forth to try and circle around Mash to put pressure on one of her flankers or the other. Mash however was keeping pace with Saber to remain solidly right in front of the King of Camelot, applying pressure in the form of a defensive wall that could not be penetrated. Saber did not give up on trying to penetrate it, however. More and more of Saber’s attacks were landing on Mash’s shield, trying to forcefully overload the Kouhai’s stamina. If Medusa and Archer had not been striking constantly from the side, Mash would not have lasted. It was a perfect formation to continue holding Saber in place for Caster’s spell strikes.
“Ready,” said Caster, magical energy having palpably formed around him, and the ring on the end of his staff had begun to blaze with contained energy.
Half again more spells than the previous time were launched over Mash’s shield, detonating just on the other side. Saber however was not about to just receive those attacks one sidedly, and cut several of the spells down before they could activate. The majority of the spells were destroyed in that way, with the remaining ones blasting out ice, lightning, and cutting vortexes of wind. One of the attacks slashed Saber’s face and shoulder, drawing blood from each. But both wounds quickly began to heal at a noticeable rate.
“We’ll win as long as we can keep this up,” called Ritsuka, aware at how lame the line sounded. But he still had to shout it out even if he knew it wasn’t true.
The close combatants closed in again, and the flurry of steel range louder and faster. But Saber had lost the feeling of urgency she’d exhibited before. Instead there was a calculated calmness that showed in her movements. Instead of trying to push out, Saber was slowly drawing backwards. At about the moment Ritsuka realized she was trying to draw her opponents in, Ritsuka saw the spray of blood rise into the air.
Medusa’s injured shoulder had lost ever so little strength from the wound, but it was enough once she’d over committed herself to pursuing Saber for the swords-woman to push the spike dagger aside and get a clean strike at Medusa’s torso. Medusa fell away from the fight, with Mash stepping in to provide cover. It was a dangerous wound Medusa had, a slash clear through her already previously injured shoulder, and she’d lost her dagger as it faded to nothingness as a result.
“Volley,” called Ritsuka to make up for the mishap without Caster notifying Ritsuka he was ready.
Saber smiled a little as there were fewer spells cast that time, and almost all of them were intercepted by her sword swing. When the spells were bisected, they detonated in a powerful light that would instantly flash blind a normal person for life. Thankfully Olga Marie’s shields filtered out most of that light, and the other Chaldea combatants were behind Mash’s shield. The scripted injury for Medusa (that was earlier than expected, mind you) was a perfect set up to create this opening, blinding Saber just long enough for Medusa to dash under Mash’s shield.
Medusa’s dagger was seeking Saber’s heart, but the King of Knights was no stranger to fighting blind, and her sword instantly went into position to defend all of her vitals. So Medusa’s target changed to a piercing strike with all of her available mana channeled into it. The armor was successfully punctured, and Medusa’s dagger found itself lodged into the gap in Saber’s armored boots, her greaves. Planting that spike, Medusa increased her speed.
Saber’s feet were literally swept out from under her, and she found herself being dragged behind a person traveling faster than a wild horse giving Caster the time to complete the chant for his Noble Phantasm that he’d been performing since before he fired the second volley of spells. Medusa kept running Saber around in circles to keep her disoriented and unable to escape, but despite Medusa’s best efforts, Arthur was not the King of Knights for show.
With a half blind swing that could have easily amputated her own foot, Saber put her full power into chopping at the base of the chain to the dagger spike that was impaled in her leg. The chain broke with a ringing crack, and the end came free. To Saber’s amazed confusion, she continued to be dragged behind Medusa, that confusion only clearing when the invisibility of Medusa’s second chain dagger wore off. To Saber’s utter amazement she saw that the circular ring at the base of the dagger that linked to the chain had been looped over the point of the impaling spike in her leg, making sure that Saber would remain secured even after successfully cutting the first chain. In other words, it was a gambit from the beginning, having Medusa seemingly lose her weapon in order to set up a failsafe snare on Saber, on the assumption that she would be able to cut herself free from the first.
A glowing circle of powerful runes more complex than a piece of art came into being on the ground. Medusa directed and sent Saber skidding directly into its center where the cage like torso emerged beneath her, trapping Saber within. The torso fully emerged from the ground with the cage door locking itself shut and then the torso righted itself ninety degrees while pulling the upper body from the ground. The giant bent forward and back crazily, constantly throwing Saber around inside the cage like a pinball in a pachinko game. After the legs of the wicker giant were freed all four limbs were lit with a powerful flame that gained power and mass, then rushed into the center where Saber was. Inside that cage, the tiny figure was immolated by a fire designed to sacrifice offerings to the gods of nature. It penetrated her armor going straight to her flesh, searing and boiling her alive. Saber released cries of pain for the first time in their fight.
“Mash, quickly,” called Ritsuka, and Mash moved into position immediately.
Vortigern, Hammer of the Vile King,
Saber spun herself while being bounced around inside the constantly moving sacrificial chamber she was in.
Reverse the rising sun.
One of Sabers feet planted itself on the side of the wicker cage, allowing her to stab her other foot into the tangle of thorns at the bottom, giving herself a stable platform.
A surge of power entered the cursed holy sword in Saber’s hands, creating a blade of dark energy the size of a van. With this blade of power, the burned and scarred King of Knights cut through the cage around her, bisecting the Wicker Man and opening her view. With her unobstructed sight, Saber cast her gaze on Caster and the Master of Chaldea. She twisted her position, letting the thorns rend her armor and pierce the flesh of the foot she’d been using for stability to bring her Noble Phantasm down and destroy her enemy’s only weapon that has brought her harm.
Deploy Noble Phantasm,
The waves of power from Saber’s sword fell on them like a tidal wave, but they were as unrelenting as a river. Mash’s Noble Phantasm instantly erected a wall of transparent stone to intercept the attack… and began to crumble. Seeing that, Ritsuka reacted on an instinctive level. One of the strikes of his Command Seals glowed red as Ritsuka grabbed Mash’s shoulder and said, “Don’t let up, Mash! Give it everything we’ve got!”
The power of Ritsuka’s Command Seal penetrated Mash, causing her eyes to light with power as something tucked away in the deepest parts of her was knocked loose. The words, “I see…” came from her mouth the same moment her phantasmal wall was shattered.
It shattered outward, towards the attack.
The lines of power that formed a cross work of bricks like the walls of a castle reconverged to form a larger, thinner, and far more robust and rounded shield with a cross at its center shaped like Mash’s shield. The Holy Wall that was formed was more conceptual than real and protected a far greater area of space.
Caster chuckled and said, “A Fortress-Class Noble Phantasm, huh?”
The waves of power from Saber continued endlessly, breaking on and past Mash’s shield, digging into the stone and the cavern walls alike. The entire chamber was rumbling with the unleashed power and fury of the one who held the endless power conduit known as the Grail. And Saber had no intention of relenting her attack that she poured out on the bearer of that shield, for holding back her strength would be the greatest disrespect. But eventually, Saber was forced to end her assault.
Saber flicked her eyes downward and saw a figure she’d lost track of during the chaos. His red coat was severely burnt in many places as he was standing directly in a place lit on fire by the Wicker Man, literally having walked through fire to reach that position where he was holding a bow with three strange arrows fitted into it. Saber clicked her tongue for having misjudged the man’s weapon, not counting on him having a bow at his disposal.
The Servant in red showed a contained smirk at having gotten the drop on Saber, and released his triad of arrows. Saber immediately discontinued her attack on the shield carrying girl and moved to block the arrows. Saber could not dodge because her foot was stuck in the Wicker Man and instead blocked two of the arrows with the flat of her sword and the third with the forearm protector of her gauntlet. The strange drill headed arrows kept spinning, allowing the third arrow to bury itself into the metal of her gauntlet and chew into her flesh. Then, when the arrows seemed to have spent their momentum, they exploded in unison. Saber’s left hand was ruined by the explosion of the third arrow, and the combined power of all three of the strange arrows lifted Saber into the air.
A white light of divine purity flooded the chamber as the winged horse, Pegasus, began its charge with Medusa on its back, bridle in hand. This was the strategized final attack should all the other strategies that Ritsuka and the Chaldea Expedition had come up with failed. The winged horse of myth was called from Medusa’s blood that had come from her pierced shoulder, and the creation of such a creature had pulled all the remaining strength from Ritsuka. Ritsuka’s vision went out of focus for a brief moment as he felt his mana sweep out from the depths of his body to power the horse’s divine charge.
With bridle in hand, Medusa had never looked more compelling as a heroine, leaving Ritsuka with no doubt that she deserved a place as a Heroic Spirit. But Ritsuka also noticed that Saber had pointed her blade towards the charging Bellerophon while tumbling in mid-air. Ritsuka’s instincts screamed at him that his team’s final pre-laid plan was about to be crushed by overwhelming force just because Saber had possession of a Grail. Ritsuka shouted a desperate cry of encouragement towards Medusa and her mount, the word, “Pierce!”
The second stroke of Ritsuka’s Command Seal dissipated, the power surging through his link to Medusa. Amongst the aura of power that had formed around Bellerophon, a new tinge of red swirled around it. Then the Pegasus was engulfed by the blast of power from Saber’s holy sword.
* * * * *
Medusa had grit her teeth in frustration when she noticed Saber’s blade was in position to intercept her before Bellerophon could complete his charge, but she wasn’t about to give up on her Master’s plan. If it failed, it would not be because she did not commit herself to her task, even if it was her final act. Fujimaru-sama was definitely a Master to dedicate herself to, there was no question.
The instant acceleration distorted the world for a brief instant, and then Medusa felt it. The surge of power through and around her, it bonded with her mount and it’s aura, reinforcing and changing it. The original form of Bellerophon’s strike was that of a mass of energy hurling at it’s target at an unstoppable speed, but the mass of energy was unrefined. It was like striking with a ram, or a cannonball. The new form of Bellerophon’s energy was pointed and given a spin, like a bullet. And like a bullet cutting through the air, Bellerophon penetrated through the mass of energy that Saber’s sword was expelling, only coming into contact with the bare minimum and letting the rest pass her by. At the time the rotatory skin was atomized by the sheer power of Saber’s assault, the tip of Bellerophon’s attack penetrated through the torrent of mana, and coming through it, penetrated the body of Saber.
Like a cork that had been pulled from from a bottle, Bellerophon gained an instant acceleration, tearing through Saber and onward to impact against the far wall of the cavern. The Pegasus dissipated on impact and Medusa was horribly battered, but she was able to survive thanks to the Pegasus shielding her with it’s own body. Truly, it was a gentle creature that was unsuited to combat…
Letting that brief moment of remorse wash over her, Medusa picked herself up from the ground and took in the scene that a part of her was unwilling to believe possible. Saber, lying on the ground, defeated. By Medusa’s hand.
A strange and refreshing feeling wafted over Medusa, as though a long endured weight had been lifted from her shoulders. And then she hurriedly hobbled over to where Fujimaru-sama was. For he was making the mistake of approaching a fallen enemy Servant, and Medusa needed to be beside him.