The Director’s magic bullet completely blew away the skeleton on Mash’s left. Thank goodness the Director was fast at adapting to a changing situation. With that opening in the press of oncoming skeletons Mash was also able to show some of her quickly increasing ability.
Mash flicked the edge of her shield to deflect the skeleton’s sword, and then with a backhanded motion she crushed the creature between her shield and the concrete wall. The wall gave briefly before the skeleton’s head was crushed and the body started dissolving into nothing. Mash then took a step left to blockade the alley again before the Director showed that she was ready for another attack.
In accordance to Ritsuka’s call, Mash stepped left and the Director blasted the skeleton on Mash’s right. Mash then drove the lower prong, or fin, or whatever the longer downward facing part of the cross design part of her shield was down through the shins of the skeleton she was in front of. The bones snapped like cheap chopsticks and the creature fell to the ground, clacking angrily. Mash followed up by planting her high heeled boot through the creature’s rib cage to annihilate the spine as she moved a step forward to press the skeleton assault back.
Those high heels were still bugging Ritsuka; there was no reason someone would be able to fight better wearing high heels than not. But Ritsuka couldn’t spare second thoughts in the tension he was feeling and the air of calm he was forcing himself to project. Mash had already made it clear she was able to stay calm because Ritsuka “knew what he was doing,” so he needed to keep up that illusion. Even as he clenched his hands into fists to keep them from shaking.
Ritsuka changed up his commands in order to not let the skeletons learn the timing of their combat plan; forming a bottleneck in the alleyway to prevent the skeletons from using the power of their numbers while keeping them from flanking Mash, and then annihilating the skeletons one at a time. There was no guarantee the skeletons were as mindless as they seemed, and if they possessed even a little instinct they’d probably catch the timing of Mash’s movements if they weren’t changed up a little now and then. It seemed like the plan was still working as Director Olga Marie’s blast of magic atomized another skeleton and Mash… caught the head of another in her left hand, and gripped it until it shattered.
What the hell had happened to the girl that claimed she couldn’t even do a pull up? Thoughts for later, damn it, thoughts for later!
“Right,” called Ritsuka, cutting out Mash’s name from the command as another precaution against the skeleton’s learning Mash’s timing.
As Olga Marie’s spell struck and disintegrated the right half of the torso and arm of a skeleton the recoil sent it into the concrete wall, but it was still standing. An icy spike of terror jetted through Ritsuka’s mind as he wondered if the only combat formation they had available to them was going to crumble right there. But Mash used the opening of the stunned skeleton on her left to swing her shield upwards, and hook the head of the undamaged skeleton under a horizontal limb of the cross on her shield, and then pulled it downwards to connect with her knee. The skull shattered instantly like an egg caught between the hammer and the anvil, and Mash thrust her shield forwards while turning her knee strike into an advancing step, while swinging her left fist downwards through the pelvis of the damaged skeleton, breaking the bone into pieces. Mash stepped forwards past her mangled opponent, three of it’s limbs now missing, and pressed her advantage.
But the skeleton wasn’t dead, or redead, or whatever the right term would be, it was still scrabbling about trying to move itself with the remaining arm towards it’s fallen sword. Ritsuka moved fast seeing that, the adrenalin that hadn’t left his body since he’d started walking through the ruined cityscape causing him to stupidly cross in front of Olga Marie’s line of fire.
“What are you-”
Mash started turning back to look over her shoulder when Ritsuka snapped, “Stay focused, Mash!”
Ritsuka snatched up the large deformed sword the mangled skeleton had dropped in both hands while calling out, “Left!”
Mash took a step to her left as Olga Marie fired into a skeleton, and Ritsuka lifted the heavy bone colored sword over his head to bring it down onto the head of the scrabbling skeleton. There was a sickening crack as the blade cut into the creature, leaving a deep fissure in the skull before the monster and the blade that had been born from it dissolved into air once more. All tactile sensation of the weapon disappeared from Ritsuka’s grasp, but the lingering feedback of the strike still clung to Ritsuka’s senses. The sensation of bone giving way to his strike. It felt wholly and completely wrong.
It was about time that Olga Marie had another attack readied up… but Ritsuka didn’t seem to be able to move his legs.
Mash once again shifted to her left, and a bolt of magic passed Ritsuka on his right, destroying a skeleton, and Mash ended another with her shield combat skills. A part of Ritsuka’s mind that wasn’t numb was marvelling at how quickly Mash’s skills in combat were increasing in this onrush of moving targets… that may have once been normal human beings. That they were killing.
Olga Marie was next to Ritsuka now, ready to fire and seeming wholly focused on the battle. Ritsuka couldn’t afford to drag them down. Ritsuka gripped his hands into fists again, feeling a warm wetness from his palms, as he said, “Right!”
* * * * *
With a three sixty spinning uppercut, Mash destroyed the last skeleton. As the bones came rattling to the ground Mash relaxed her posture, dismissed her shield and said, “The battle is over. Are you hurt, Director?”
“…What’s going on,” asked Olga Marie in a cold and even tone that caused Mash and Ritsuka to be slightly flustered. After all, the usual response to being saved by someone was gratitude, wasn’t it?
“Director? About my situation. I know it’s hard to believe, but the truth is-”
“A Demi-Servant, right? It’s pretty obvious that you fused with a Servant.” Director Olga Marie’s voice was upset and slightly… petulant? “What I want to know is why it’s successful now all of a sudden! Enough of that. You! The civilian who showed up late to my speech!”
“Me?” Ritsuka’s response had just a hint of a yelp to it.
“How did you become a Master? Only first-class Mages can enter contracts with Servants! There’s no way you could ever become a Master! What did you do to her to have her do your bidding?”
Olga Marie’s voice became more and more demanding, and the insinuation that Ritsuka had “done something” to Mash was very pronounced. And unjustified! Mash was pretty and all, but there was no way Ritsuka had the nerve to make a move on a girl in a ruined and burning cityscape!
“Whoa, there,” cried Ritsuka in self defense, fanning his hands in front of him as an additional layer of denial to the accusation of being a sexual predator. “I haven’t done anything to Mash. In fact, I’m probably the most confused person here…”
That was when Ritsuka noticed the strange red marks on the back of his right hand. What the hell…?
“There’s a misunderstanding, Director. I’m actually the one who forced the contract.”
The shape, or rather, three complex shapes, on the back of Ritsuka’s right hand seemed almost like tribal tattoos in a deep scarlet hue. The forms combined looked somewhat like a hawk in flight through the valley between two mountains.
Olga Marie folded her arms in front of her while asking Mash, “What did you say?”
But it couldn’t be a tattoo, Ritsuka had never even been inside a tattoo parlor in his life. That was stuff that delinquents did. Game centers were more Ritsuka’s speed. Ritsuka decided to try wiping off the mark to see what happened. Maybe Mash had painted on Ritsuka’s body while he was asleep, like people did at New Year’s celebrations. Ita!
“I’ll explain how it happened. That way we can understand each other’s situation better.”
Ritsuka moved his left palm that had stung so sharply when he tried using it to rub the mark on the back of his right hand, and found a smear of blood over the red mark. Flipping his hands over, Ritsuka muttered loud enough for the other two to hear, “Uh oh.”
“I… think I’m bleeding.”