“There are several dozen magically constructed entities, Master,” said Rider in her matter of fact voice. “And I’m sensing more approaching by the moment. They’re coming toward us from all sides.”
Archer patiently followed up by observing that, “It’s unwise to fight against these numbers in an open area like this. Master, what is your plan?”
“We need to run,” called out Olga Marie. “We should make for the Church in the eastern hills. They’ll protect us, and we can gather information from them about what’s happened. Come on, let’s get moving!”
“Don’t presume to order me around, young lady. Servants only follow the orders of our Master,” said Archer coldly, in a voice full of reproach. Then he looked at Ritsuka and calmly asked again, “Fujimaru Ritsuka. What are your orders?”
It may have been Ritsuka’s imagination, but the look in Archer’s eyes seemed like he was carefully appraising him. Perhaps it was because of that look that Ritsuka’s mind moved past the Imminent Crisis Panic Mode… and started to think.
A decision had to be made immediately, or the park would be overrun by enemies like a shounen anime, but unlike fiction, none of them had plot armor. If it turned into a battle in a scenario like that, the chances of one of them, or all of them, being overrun by the skeleton monsters was too high to risk. Hiding and fighting inside a building was impossible. There was no telling when any of the remaining intact buildings would collapse, and battle would only hasten their destruction, causing a concrete mountain to fall on their heads. And there was a limit to how far Ritsuka could run, he probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the city limits, and there was no guarantee that there were any survivors of the Church located there. No guarantee they would protect them, or that it was a defensible location. There were too many unknowns for Ritsuka to think it was a good idea to gamble upon.
All Ritsuka could go on was his own meager knowledge, and what he’d seen with his own eyes.
“We’re going to break through the encirclement, and use the bridge as a funnel to wipe them all out.”
The bridge was much closer, and was visibly intact with little to no damage, making it a more likely place to be able to handle combat than the cover of a building, and it had the added benefit of forcing all pursuing monsters into approaching from only two possible directions. And the first rule of tower defense was to funnel horde mode enemies through narrow kill zones.
I just wish my knowledge of combat extended further than video games…
“Do you have any suggestions on making that plan work, Archer,” Ritsuka asked with a bit of hesitance. Since, for all he knew, it was a shoddy idea. And if Archer really was appraising Ritsuka, he’d turn down the idea if it wouldn’t actually work.
Instead of refusing or correcting Ritsuka however, Archer said, “Very well. I’ll lead the initial breakthrough and then scout the path ahead. Rider, you’ll be widening the hole I make and escorting the others. Mash, you’ll be staying close to Master and the fifth wheel.”
“Who’re you calling a fifth wheel?!”
Archer turned towards the west and his twin swords, negative images of each other, flashed into existence in his hands. The cries of the skeletons had come much closer, and Ritsuka saw the first of them crossing into the park grounds as Archer said, “Let’s go!”
Archer’s first step was like a rocket taking flight, disturbing the air around him as he moved fast enough to seem like he blurred. In only a couple of movements, Archer was upon the first of the skeletons and bringing his sword down through the skull to crush the rib cage and spine.
“Master, we must hurry,” said Rider in what was a low, but urgent, taciturn voice. With that, everyone began to run, or scamper in the case of Fou, in the direction that Archer led in.
Archer did not stay still for even a moment. His twin blades flashed as he struck through monster after monster, moving a step forward with each strike even as the number of monster trying to jump in his way increased. The creatures howled in rage as they lifted their weapons to attack Archer, but his movements were constantly a step ahead of theirs. Occasionally Archer would step completely past a skeleton monster without even striking it, such was the number of creatures that were crowding into the park. But destroying all of the creatures was not his job in the first place. He just needed to thin them out.
Rider threw her chained daggers at the skeletons that remained in the pathway that Archer had opened, accurately breaking torsos and skulls apart with her aim, and then yanking the projectile weapons in a way that the daggers struck other skeletons as they returned to her hands. Rider was able to throw her daggers three times with each hand before we reached the skeleton blockade that had formed, and then Rider began using her daggers as melee weapons. It was like watching those elves fight in those American fantasy movies. Each of Rider’s movements parried, counter attacked, or just plain destroyed an opponent. Sometimes she cast the blunt middle length of her chain out to impede or bash one of the creatures with blunt force. One creature, Rider wrapped her chain around its neck before pirouetting to strike at another monster, tightening the chain and popping the skull right off the spine.
As Ritsuka, Mash, and Olga Marie reached the blockade, Mash struck left and right, pushing back or destroying the creatures as she did so. Both Ritsuka and Olga Marie stayed within arms reach of Mash as they ran through the eight ranks of skeletons blocking their way. After breaking through the skeleton blockade, Ritsuka took a cursory look behind and saw that the skeletons that had been encircling the park on all sides had all started chasing after them. There were at least a hundred of them that had joined the chase. Ritsuka also saw the fuzzy mascot Fou running alongside, easily keeping up the pace that Ritsuka was having a hard time maintaining. Ritsuka was already breathing hard and feeling the stress on his untrained body as he ran at a breakneck pace down a flight of stairs towards the wreck clogged streets of Fuyuki city.
Ritsuka turned his attention back to the front in time to see Archer make a mighty leap and begin to run up the side of a four story building, and then run along the roof before leaping to the adjacent building, before leaping diagonally to the building across the way from it. The wonder of the sight that would normally only appear in a Special FX movie caused Ritsuka to near lose his footing and trip. But true to his word, Archer was scouting the way ahead.
As Ritsuka’s group, being led by Rider, approached a major intersection, they heard Archer call, “Turn left!”
Ritsuka and the street travellers did so, but Ritsuka looked over his shoulder towards the other paths, and saw they were sealed by rubble. And being the slow wit that Ritsuka was starting to realize he was, he understood that Archer had already anticipated that he would need to find a clear path for Ritsuka’s party to travel through. Archer really did know what he was doing.
Rider’s dagger flashed out in front of Ritsuka’s eyes, causing him to stumble and fall. On his way to the ground he saw two skeletons shattered by Rider’s weapon as they charged from a side alley nearby. Ritsuka hit the concrete hard, but rolled his body over the shoulder and over onto his back as he came to a sliding halt, and then desperately scrambled back onto his feet to run again.
“Senpai, are you alright?!”
The most Ritsuka could manage was a nod, and then a motion of his hands to indicate that they should keep running.
“Turn right,” came the call from above. As Ritsuka’s group followed the order, Ritsuka could see what looked like a river facing street several blocks away, and about twenty skeletons charging towards them from that direction with swords raised and monstrous cries ringing in unison. There was a primal urge in Ritsuka’s gut to stop and turn the other way, the same way villagers would run from charging bandits in the 1400’s. But Ritsuka had to trust that the Servants would be able to deal with them the same way they had broken through the previous blockade.
And then skeletons started to shatter.
With nothing to indicate their passing but red flickers of light, projectiles smashed through the charging skeletons one after another. Each flicker being a red arrow fired from a bow that Archer had conjured from somewhere as he sniped the skeletons from the pinnacle of a partially collapsed business office. But the advancing skeletons didn’t seem to care or flinch at the destruction of their fellow monsters, and half a dozen got close to the Ritsuka group intact.
Rider’s twin chained daggers flashed out, each one cleaving through a skeleton and then burying themselves into a surface beyond. Rider then used the immobilized chains like a crossbow string by pulling against them, launching herself at the remaining four skeletons and smashing through two of them with a flying knee any professional wrestler would be proud of. On landing, Ride performed a flying backflip to drop a heel through the body of the third skeleton, and then a low sweeping kick to send the final skeleton flying, only to grab the airborne monster by the skull and push it into the asphalt to shatter under the palm of her hand. Finishing the final skeleton off, Rider was in a crouch so low one of her legs was so far away from her body for stability that she must have had the flexibility of a professional gymnast. With her long hair spread down her back and draping down her sides, Rider looked the image of an exotic warrior right out of legend. The sight caused Ritsuka to slow down on reaching Rider, his breath wheezing through his open mouth leaving him unable to comment on how amazed he was.
“Don’t stop, Master,” said Rider as she stood and pointed behind Ritsuka. Following the finger, Ritsuka saw the mass of skeletons his weariness caused him to forget about chasing from behind. Ritsuka could only call them a horde at this point. Despite having not obtained his second wind, Ritsuka started running again, even faster than before.
On reaching a street overlooking the river bank the group could see the arced metal beam bridge on their right, just a half kilometer away. Ritsuka’s legs felt like lead, but it seemed Olga Marie was having a hard time of it as well. Even though her running form seemed markedly better than Ritsuka’s it seemed to give him a sense of greater urgency to keep up, to not fall behind and slow their escape. It was the home stretch, so Ritsuka pulled the last of his reserves to make it.
On reaching the entrance to the bridge however, what awaited them was an army of skeletons blockading the structure, standing on the roadway of the bridge between and on top of the ruined cars. Seeing, and then recognizing that, Ritsuka’s heart sank and he thought he was going to vomit. Because the pursuing horde of skeletons were going to catch them and leave Ritsuka’s group caught between the hammer and the anvil. Which was especially appropriate since it seemed the skeletons on the bridge were not planning to move from their defensive arrangement to attack.
I led everyone into a trap! How did these things even prepare something like this!?
As thoughts of despair crowded Ritsuka’s head and heart, Archer landed in front of the party with his bow and said, “Trace. On.”
A large weapon that looked like a cross between a sword and a drill appeared in Archer’s right hand. A weapon that Archer then knocked on his bowstring like an arrow. And as Archer pulled back on the bowstring, the weapon distorted and narrowed its shape to take on the form of an arrow with a drill shaped arrowhead. Power was palpably wrapped around the arrow that Archer aimed towards the bridge, and as the arrow was released a slap of air pressure struck Ritsuka in the face and body. The effect of the arrow on everything occupying the bridge was more drastic.
The ruined cars on the bridge were pushed to the side from the released pressure wave of the special arrow. The skeletons were either blasted to bits by the arrow’s shock wave itself, or crushed between colliding cars. The arrow traveled the entire distance of the bridge to impact against the side of a building, sending up a large explosion cloud. A moment later the weakened building began to collapse.
“Hurry across, Master. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Being told that by Archer, it felt like every member of the foot race group were knocked out of a reverie of amazement and began to run through the opened pathway down the middle of the bridge. The occasional skeleton reared its head from the now fresh wreckage, but Rider’s daggers quickly finished them off. It was a clean final stretch, and it never occurred to Ritsuka to question what “the rest” was that Archer would be taking care of. Ritsuka just did as he was told.
Reaching the other side, Ritsuka bent over and gripped his knees for support before looking back. There was no Archer on the other side of the bridge, where the horde of skeletons were now setting their bony feet onto the structure’s roadway. Instead, Archer was standing at the peak of the support arc of the bridge with another of those special arrows knocked. As he released it, the flash of white light accompanying it shot downward, crashing into and through the asphalt to detonate at the base of the support columns rising from the river. The road crumbled. The metal girders buckled. The support arc shook, bent, and began to come to pieces. And skeletons began being pressed so hard from their advancing numbers behind them that many were being pushed into the hole in the roadway and falling to the swift flowing river of toxic sludge beneath them. Those skeletons were swiftly washed away, to be carried off into the distance. But they were not alone in that fate.
The entire bridge buckled, shook, and then fell apart from the center on out. As the support column was destroyed and the bridge fell section by section into the river, Archer ran along the length of the support arc, narrowly keeping ahead of the destruction he initiated before reaching solid ground on the western bank, not ten meters from Ritsuka and company. And as the bridge crumpled and fell, the mass of skeletons on the structure fell with it. When the destruction had ended, surprisingly quickly, there were only about a score of skeletons remaining on the other bank of the river, crying out in impotent rage.
Archer brushed a hand through his hair as he sauntered over to everyone else and said, “Well, I’d say that worked out well.”
Olga Marie was bent over grasping her mouth as though she were fighting off some dry heaves. Rider seemed to stare carefully at Archer through her mask. The only one who spoke was Mash, who said, “Incredible.”
Ritsuka allowed all his overtaxed strength to leave his body as he lowered himself to the ground and lay there, spread eagle, gasping for air. When someone asked if he was alright, Ritsuka couldn’t make out who through the pounding of his heart in his ears, all he could do was give a weak thumbs up.