Chapter 29: Scatter
By the time we made it back to Taiyang's house, he was already packing. I Analyzed a long, gold gauntlet that extended all the way up his forearm as he locked it in place. It was vaguely reminiscent of Yang's own Ember Celica, and I could guess who had taught her to fight. He looked up, eyes molten with excitement.
"It seems like I'll have to leave the house for a few days," he explained. "I just got a mission in from Atlas; they need a team of Huntsmen stationed on Unravel to dispatch-" He stopped when Ozpin walked into the room, his cane in his hand once again. "Oh, it's you. Hello, sir."
There was a distinct lack of inflection in his voice, and it was only the way that one of the swooping curves on the gauntlet trembled slightly that I realized he was angry. There was many a reason to be, after all; both Summer Rose and Raven Branwen had been assigned missions that Ozpin knew they couldn't handle. Fighting Goliaths solo wasn't unheard of, but at the time both of them had been rookies, and from what I'd heard, those Goliaths had lived for at least a century without any human contact, growing larger, stronger and more intelligent with time. It wouldn't have surprised me if the one they'd fought, four years apart, was the same one; Grimm were practically immortal, only dying from physical aggravation and immune to all forms of disease and age.
Taiyang was furious with the man, and it looked like Ozpin understood that.
"I'll be watching these ones for a few days, Taiyang," he said. Like Taiyang, there wasn't much emotion in his voice, although a pervading pang of pain and sadness rippled through mine and Myrtenaster's hearts as one. "Do your magic."
"Don't get anything on the countertops," he growled as he shoved past Ozpin and I, his luggage slung over one large shoulder. "I paid a fortune for that granite."
With that, he slammed the door shut, leaving my team, the Servants, and Ozpin in relative silence. Ruby looked absolutely bewildered, while the rest of us were glancing between Ozpin and Taiyang's retreating form, visible only through a chink in a slightly torn curtain. I stepped into the kitchen, trying to focus on something other than Taiyang's family issues.
Well, at least he invested in good countertops. Not as high-quality as some of the leather I'd seen, but I digress.
The moment we were all seated around Taiyang's countertops, I slid my map of the city out for all to see. Lancer and I, over the course of several days, had added to it and marked off locations where either Servants were likely to be located or where battles were likely to take place. There was only one spot marked off: an old, abandoned shopping complex that positively reeked of prana.
"Alright," Lancer began, tapping various locations with his spear and making them glow with ethereal blue light. A rune marked off each of our suspected positions, and a circle of the tiny markings rounded off the shopping complex. "We have a plan of action in effect starting in two hours. Blake, you, Ren and
Ruby are going to finish negotiations with Assassin and her Master. Ozpin, you will subdue Berserker for the time being. If you cannot kill him, then keep him in place long enough for us to get there. Herakles has strength that far surpsasses yours, but you might able to eke him out in speed and stamina. Tabitha and myself will deal with Berserker; he's fast, I love a good challenge to my speed. His Master doesn't seem to be a pushover either, but she's headstrong and overconfident from what I saw at the banquet. As for Archer and Shirou, you will be infiltrating Caster's Territory and gather information. If the opportunity presents itself and you have the ability to do so, kill him. That man is far too dangerous to be left around for the other Servants to ally with. Caster's Territory will create some problems, but..."
"We're familiar with fighting within an opponent's Territory," Archer finished, looking smug. "They're all essentially the same. Just a power boost and a monitoring ground for the Caster, and possibly another side effect if the Servant is particularly weak to help balance their ineptitude out. This'll be easy."
"You said that about Medea," I reminded him. He scowled and furrowed his brow, shooting me the coldest glare he could muster before turning away and fiddling with Kanshou below the table.
"This is no time to get overconfident, Archer," Lancer snapped. It was so strange to see the normally wild hero be the serious one instead of Archer that I momentarily floundered for something to say. When nothing came up, I settled for sitting back, grabbing a back of half-eaten popcorn off the counter from the night before, and set to chomping on the kernels as Lancer berated my Servant. "The last time this happened you were beaten by a human," he continued. That human had been me, but I'd let it slide. "Get your shit together, Archer, because we can't afford to waste time and energy with half-assing it. Go all out from the beginning, or else you will probably die. I mean it,, too; You and Shirou better do whatever reality-defying thing that you do because there's no better way to cancel a Territory than with a Reality Marble."
Archer looked scandalized, as if there was no way another Servant could match his level of skill. I suppose that was the biggest difference between the two of us; he was proud of his abilities, to an almost disturbing degree. I did indeed take pride in my weapons, but not my skills. The skills all belonged to someone else, someone who worked far harder than I ever would for their right to be called a Hero. That's why I was a Faker: one who fakes fits me perfectly. I supposed being modest was a bit of an overstatement in my case, considering how powerful my skills were in the case of a Grail War, but I was nothing like my Counter Guardian half.
"He's right, Archer," I said after a moment. "We can't afford to underestimate Caster while this battle royale is going on. You saw how easily he snuck up on us earlier, and if he can do that while he's outside his Territory, then his power within the Territory is going to be phenomenal. That doesn't even begin to cover his massive offensive power. If we're going to win this, it's going to take a pair of Excalibur Images to trap him into position, and a Vasavi Shakti to kill him, at the least."
Archer scowled, but didn't say anything. He was at least smart enough to know when he was outmatched which seemed to be a good thing, My team and Ozpin just watched the passes with silent judgment.
"Now that that's over with," Ren began after a pregnant pause. "I think we should get to work right away. If we have to fight, do it after the civilians are gone. Archer, Shirou, am I to assume you'll form a more elaborate plan once you get there?"
Archer and I both nodded, lying through our teeth as we did so. The two of us were better meant for facing enemies head on and completely obliterating whatever stood in our way. Now that I had some serious reserves to back up my powerful weapons, it would be a simple matter to fight Caster into a corner and get a lucky shot. Simple, yes, but probably extremely hard in practice. The old man was fast in addition to being able to apparently teleport.
"That's it then. Let's go." Without even saying goodbye, Ozpin was gone in a flicker of green and the faintest of whirrs, like a multitude of rusted gears had moved him from place to place. Ruby and Ren were the next to go; they'd bonded quite well in their time and had gotten to reading the other's body language to a T. Lancer and Tabitha were next. Lancer leapt up the stairs and gently roused her from her sleep, and it was only then that I realized it was still about noon. The darkness of the War must have made the sun's glow seem muted, because I glared into its burning, egregious depths without feeling even the slightest twinge of pain in my eyes.
Once Lancer was gone and Archer nodded a goodbye to me, Blake and I were the only ones left in the house. She slinked over, distinctly catlike in gait, and pressed her mouth to mine. I pushed back. Something that wasn't quite happiness and wasn't quite infatuation but was most certainly love bloomed in the pit of my stomach during those eternal three seconds.
"Don't you dare die on me," she said the moment we separated. "When we get back, you're taking me on a date, a real date, and then you're going to fuck me until I can't walk. Understood?"
I gave her a mock-salute that didn't fit with the genuine smile I felt spreading across my face. "Understood, Blake."
I darted forward and kissed her again, a little longer this time. "'That goes for you too," I mumbled. "Don't die, and keep our team safe."
Blake only nodded and turned around, gripping Gambol Shroud so tightly I thought the Kevlar and metal grip would shatter. I caught the nervousness in her eyes just before she stepped through the doorway; neither of us wanted to fight in this War, and I think she was just as unhappy with our relationship progressing so fast as I was. That wasn't to say I didn't like her, far from it, but we both needed to slow down and enjoy a relaxing, peaceful evening with dinner and the silence of Vale embracing us. It was the situation with Saber all over again, and provided that Blake didn't die like she had, the something we had would most likely become true, natural love.
I frowned and checked the time. It was still too early for me to grab something to drink without repercussions, and today was a day I wanted to be sober for anyway. There was a chance that this would devolve into a six-way brawl, and I wouldn't want to miss that.
Hold on a minute.
March the eighteenth. That was my- or rather, Jaune's- seventeenth birthday. The day that the Curse of the Dweeb would release and I'd get a strong boost as well as access to a couple of Noble Phantasms that I already suspected.
A tiny smirk played across my lips, and in that moment, even though I hated it with all my being, I couldn't help but feel like Archer. This was going to be a lot easier than I'd originally anticipated. Together, Archer and I could certainly take down the Caster when my Curse shuts off, and then I could round up the others and work with Ozpin to defeat Cinder and Herakles.
Oh, right, Cinder and Herakles.
In all honesty, they were almost perfect for each other, and not just because Cinder probably preferred tall men. Her specialty was long-range combat, although she could easily perform short-range if it came down to it. That meant that while Herakles was slamming away at his opponent, she could shoot bursts of fire and magma that would make a baby dragon jealous. The worst part was that Herakles' innate Magic Resistance probably made him immune to those blasts, so Cinder didn't have to worry about blasting the tar out of her precious Saber in the meantime.
Such a dangerous combination was best left for Ozpin, at least until Caster and Berserker were taken care of.
If everything went well, which, in all fairness, it usually didn't, then Assassin would be on our side and we would be down to a single Servant by the end of the day.
Ozpin strolled through the town at a leisurely pace, ignoring the dozen or so people stepping out of their homes with hastily-packed bags and scowls on their faces. His cane tapped jauntily against the smooth concrete, swinging perfectly with his gait. He glanced behind his shoulders and shot off a pulse of emerald Aura, almost unnoticeable in the throng of people that were emerging from their houses and herding in the direction of the only airport on the island. The Aura bounced off of dozens of people, locating their pinpoint positions around him before bouncing back and feeding him terabytes of information in the span of a millisecond. There wasn't anything out of the ordinary- yet.
He casually stopped in the middle of the street and, blanketing his Aura around his form, slowed his perceptions by nearly half. The world blurred into motion around him: families darted through the streets like water striders dancing across a pool's surface, their eyes sliding over his form as if he wasn't even there. Ozpin smirked and waited, first one minute, then five and ten. Finally, when the last of the people left the streets and he felt nothing around for at least a mile, he resumed his body's normal speed.
Sometimes it was good to be a time manipulator. It certainly helped with all the paperwork Beacon inevitably went through.
Ozpin sent out a fourth pulse of Aura, and this time something pinged in his senses. He twirled his cane once, releasing the latch that held the metal sheath to the hilt and tossing it away as if it were no more than an unsightly scrap of trash on the street.
"Prepared as always, Professor," Cinder voiced from behind him. He gave her a small smile and a knowing look before setting the tip of his Crystal Clockwork against the asphalt. The point sunk in as easily as if it were piercing water, the luminous steel looking every bit like a long bar of emerald. Cinder breathed in the smell of wind that accompanied the release of his sword and sighed heavily.
"You know, I can't help but think that in some other world, you and I would have made a fine team. Think of it, Ozpin! A whole horde of Grimm, completely under our command! We could conquer nations, destroy countries, and I could finally get a ride on a goddamn Beowolf!"
Ozpin shook his head, smirking ruefully. "You know Mother would never let you do that, Ms. Fall. I still remember the day I tried to get past the Royal Guard of the First Circle. You wouldn't look good with white hair and soul scarring, now would you?"
"Your mother doesn't scare me!" Cinder snapped, shifting from pleasant to crazed in a fraction of a second. "Your mother did this to me, the bitch! I've waited and trained for fourteen years to kill that psychotic abomination and I will not detained by the likes of you!"
The Servant (Saber, if he remembered correctly) looked curious at the unexpected development, but pushed it no further than what Cinder had already said.
He did, however, notice his Master's raging eyes and slid into a battle stance born from decades of practice. Ozpin pulled Crystal Clockwork up from where it was resting serenely into the ground. The familiar emerald-green silhouette of a gear locked itself into place, burning on the edges of his left temple. The second and third were already beginning to rise to his skin, reflecting the boiling power hidden just underneath the surface.
"This isn't going to be fun," he warned both his sword and his opponents. Crystal Clockwork pulsed with approval. Its inner workings were lost on Ozpin, but the centuries-old device was clearly conscious of the decisions that he made, and possibly even of the outside world.
More of his Mother's work than his own, but that hardly mattered when two great warriors crossed blades.
He tripled his natural time as Saber approached, ready to parry the monstrously fast strike with strength worthy of the Wizard of Beacon Tower.
Lancer smirked, twirling Gae Bolg idly as he shoved past the departing citizens. Tabitha walked steadily beside him. Flickers of worry and confusion stained her prana, and although she had a massive abundance of the stuff, it barely leaked out of her petite form. It was almost always the sign of a strong soul, both physically and emotionally.
"Berserker, Berserker, now where would you be?" he hummed, glancing around for the tall Native American form that signalled his opponent. His Master was a waif of a woman, but that didn't make her any less dangerous either.
Lancer wasn't as stupid as the bossy brat with the red sweater and his Master's talented mentor seemed to believe he was. People tended to forget that while he could be classed as a Berserker and he was best known for his overwhelming speed and power instead of his brains, he still mastered the art of Runes within the span of a month and successfully seduced a New Age goddess. When he wanted to be, Lancer was a very bright individual.
There were too many things off with the current situation for Berserker not to show up in ten minutes, at most. The threat of the Grail disappearing and the planet being shattered by an explosion of superheated gas was too great a threat to ignore, so why hadn't he shown up?
... Or maybe he had.
Berserkers were just random classes with the ability to trade their sanity for power, after all. The Native American looked a lot like one of the shamans he'd met from the druidic clans of Ireland, and those guys were crazy powerful when it came to the ritual arts. Was the Berserker a Caster, or some other class that just looked like one?
"Now what's all this racket? A girl needs her beauty sleep, y'know, and you're interrupting mine."
Lancer smiled thinly, tapping Gae Bolg's butt against the ground. A sharp line of prana followed, tracing its way all the way to the dainty voice.
"Berserker, Brat," he greeted smoothly. As one, he and Tabitha acted: Lancer leveled Gae Bolg at Berserker's heart, while Tabitha materialized a glinting knife that shone with an inner rainbow. In retaliation, Berserker's teeth bared in a feral snarl. They were an off-white color that seemed stained with blood instead of plaque.
"Oh, spare me the semantics," the brat grumbled. "Berserker, show that Servant what we've got while I warm my baby up."
She slid a package from behind her back. He took a split second to recognize the shape of a briefcase, but that was as far as he got before Berserker let out a hair-raising howl.
Lancer's eyes snapped to the steaming and boiling form of Berserker. The faint stench of burning flesh filled the air along with a piercing, grinding sounded. He could see bones shifting underneath Berserker's skin, fur sprouting all over his body, clothes gradually tearing away as his chest barrelled out, his arms stretched, his legs snapped backwards.
In moments, Lancer was facing the snarling form of a creature not unlike a wolf, only about seven feet tall, nearly furless except for a tiny, tangled layer that protected its skin, and a loping, two-legged gait.
"Werewolf?" Lancer asked, whistling. Those things hadn't been seen in ages, not since he was three. Scathach should have hunted the last of them down on behalf of the Tuatha de Danaan more than six centuries before even that, but apparently more than one escaped.
"Skinwalker," the beast managed to spit out. "Change.. shhaaapes."
"Got it." Lancer smirked. "I'll keep him busy, Tabitha. Go after the Master and tear her weapon to pieces!"
Ren felt around with his Aura, extending the barrier as far as he could and taking note of all the life inside it. It was a rare skill, one that was only learned through intense martial training and discipline far beyond what the average civilian, and even the average Huntsman, would learn in six decades. What people didn't seem to realize was that plants had Aura too- and so did livestock, natural predators, and even the planet itself.
That wasn't what worried Ren at the moment.
The moment team SRBR had broken through the forest cover, they'd come across Assassin and her Master fending off a ridiculously large horde of Grimm. Ruby immediately jumped into the fray, a glint in her eye, and Blake was soon to follow.
Ren sighed and dredged up his Aura before chasing after them, blasting holes in the wall of darkness like it was paper being decimated by a bullet. The Aura in him moved sluggishly, like a syrup, while he felt the rushing tides of planetary Aura beneath him and the smooth, air-like flow of Ruby's and Blake's Auras within their lithe frames. He had always been special, but it was only after he'd developed his skills that he had found out why. People didn't seem to think that he had as much Aura as most others, but they couldn't have been further from the truth. His soul was smaller, yes, but the soul merely acted like a container to the Aura; what the soul produced and then stored, like a byproduct of its continued existence. To compensate for his tiny container and his advanced production rate, his Aura had become thicker, denser, more potent.
And that potency might as well have been fire to the creatures known as Grimm.
His first palm strike blasted a clear shockwave of Grimm away from his team. He stepped over the half-decomposed bodies and fluidly dipped into a spinning kick, followed by a series of katas that released more than a hundred punches in the span of twenty seconds. Each one found some sort of target, whether it had been Grimm, a boulder that shot up from the earth to create a wall, or a spear of powerful claws from a Beowolf. He spun around and shot off a current of Aura towards the tiniest Nevermore he'd ever seen, disintegrating it completely in the wake of glowing pink destruction.
He passed Blake carving an arc of death with her cleaver, meeting her eyes for a scant second and then jabbing a hand over her shoulder. The blanket of Aura around his finger sliced an inch or so off of her hair, but it also sliced a foot-long gouge straight into the bony growth on an Ursa's face. They separated, leaving the body to rot as they continued their missions.
Ren sent out another pulse of Aura. There was something strange about this recent horde, but he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Ruby's and Blake's Aura signatures were clearly visible in his extrasensory range, as were Assassin's Master and the plant life that was slowly being snuffed out as collateral from the fighting. Assassin herself felt stranger, like the Aura inside wasn't really hers. There was another pulsing power inside her, faster and lighter than Aura, and far more potent. It shot out of her at random intervals, always seeming to coincide with the swift decapitation of a Grimm but being a second or two off in reality. Shirou's was similar, although his was more of a blindingly bright light in the form of his swords and arrows than anything else.
Throughout the ten minute battle, Ren still felt like something wasn't adding up. For every Grimm he blasted apart, there were two to take its place, but that was how Grimm battles normally went; the things seemed to have some small modicum of intelligence behind them, because only the weaker ones would attack en masse while the older, far more powerful ones would swoop in while the enemy was whittled down and exhausted from facing hundreds of small fry. To be truthful, it wasn't really all that tiring, either. It was the limit of the human body, enhanced by Aura, but still limited. The Grimm didn't have that problem. They flickered with darkness, like a black candle draping darkness across its room instead of light.
Ren paused, thinking over his words. 'Candles-'
Then the reality of the situation struck him like a shot from Nora's Magnhild, and he visibly flinched before continuing his decapitating motion. As he did so, he felt out the Aura of the creatures around him.
Deeply implanted into every Grimm, so deeply that he could barely feel it, there was a tiny shard of Aura. It pulsed in time with the motions of the Grimm pack, beating as one for a brief moment before becoming an erratic staccato and aligning once more.
Grimm. With Aura.
What a horrifying thought.
A spark was the first thing I saw when Archer and I entered Caster's domain. The barrier that separated he Territory from the outside world was transparent to both sight and senses, and it was only the abundance of prana that it couldn't fully suppress that indicated Caster was still there.
The bubble of space washed over us like water, and instantly the world changed. Colors grew brighter, shadows tinted with red, and a multitude of multicolored crystals that definitely hadn't been there before shimmered into existence, swaying gently as a heat wave would. Archer switched into battle mode, summoning Kanshou and Bakuya.
The steady walk towards the abandoned shopping mall that Caster had claimed as his own was fraught with tenseness, and several times I nearly summoned my own swords only to run through mere illusions. A snapping sound accompanied every step, along with the smell of something acrid burning and the taste of gasoline riddling the air and the inside of my mouth.
The doors opened by themselves as we approached, revealing Caster sitting cross-legged in the middle of a hallway. He sipped wine from a jar and looked up at us.
"You could have taken longer," he told us, setting aside his wine. "I'm only half done with this concentrated wine you moderners drink. So bitter, too."
"Let's get down to it,"Archer snapped irritably. "I just wanna get this over with and kill Saber."
Caster sighed again. This time he slipped a pair of rings onto his fingers and stood, giving us a stink eye. "And I was going to spend the rest of the day in peace, too. Fine, if you're so insistent, then I'll kill you quickly and be done with this matter entirely. I'm sure you two would be fine experiments indeed."
The only warning I had before a wall of fire slammed into me was the subtle draft of wind that blew from behind my back, gathering all the oxygen it could towards Caster's outstretched finger. Archer and I threw ourselves to the side, both of us clad in our own armor and a copy of the Shroud of Saint Martin. Archer was quick to throw his blades, while I took to a more discrete position and nocked an arrow onto his bow. I may have been a fantastic short-range fighter, but Archer had centuries more experience in it than I did, and at least my talent in Archery made me equal to him with anything less than a Noble Phantasm.
The first exchange between my alter and Caster lasted only two seconds,but it opened a dozen wounds in both of them. Archer moved like a panther, striking with fluid grace and dancing around the vast majority of strikes. Caster, on the other hand, had no martial prowess whatsoever. He compensated by creating an innumerable number of barriers with just the flick of a wrist, almost completely blocking mine and Archer's first salvo. It was Archer that finally blasted through and scored a light slash on Caster's ribs, tearing the emerald dobes he was wearing. In a flash, the few drops of blood that spurted forth became a torrent of water, throwing aside Archer. It would have given Caster enough time to recover had I not launched my next flurry of arrows at him. He once again created the barrier, but this one had a countable number of layers- twelve, each one strong enough to withstand any normal attack. A pole on the ground grabbed my attention, and I smirked.
Will of a Penniless Swordsman gave me the power to turn any straight object into an E ranked Noble Phantasm. The thin shavings of rubble and various poles around served those purposes perfectly.
When I picked up the pole, it glowed briefly before returning to the rusty length it was before. I could feel it, though- somehow my ability had changed its definition from "pole" to "sword". Rather, its name was no longer "pole", but "sword".
I fired one after another, scavenging the few I could from the ground before Tracing them into existence. Each one cracked a barrier, and by the twelfth, the poles began sailing through three at a time. Obviously the outer shell was the strongest, and judging by the way the last six shattered from a single shot, the last layer wouldn't have been able to stop a normal snowball.
One of the poles caught Caster in the arm, another in the head, but while both bruised him, neither actually managed to pierce. I sighed; it was to be expected, after all. Caster wasn't just some old man, he was a Servant. Servant tended to be able to take mach-1 metal rods without much more than a scratch.
Thankfully, Caster was caught off guard for long enough that Archer managed to get a flashing strike in towards Caster's hand. It missed, but not by much, only slicing off one of Caster's fingers instead of the entire wrist. The man simply created another flood of water with the stream of red that came out. The water was ankle deep when it froze completely, trapping everything it touched in its grasp: Archer's swords, my feet, even small pockets of light that suddenly appeared as black voids, the photons unable to reach my eyes in time for me to perceive them.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?!" Archer snapped, dragging me out of the ice by the scruff of my neck. It twinged, but the far more noticeable sensation was the sudden warmth that returned to my feet. I hadn't even felt them go numb...
The moment I landed back on the ice, this time with thick golden sabatons from one of Iskander's lieutenants, I fired off another quarrel and summoned Caladbolg. It wasn't much good for causing anything but widespread destruction, yes, but that was exactly what we needed to clear the shopping center out and give Archer some room to launch the heavy hitters.
"Light's Forbear!" I called, feeling the prana tugging from my body like someone was siphoning my own blood out through my pores. The mass of energy surged into the empty blueprint that had formed in my mind, following the steps of Tracing until a perfect replica laid in the air before me. The sword-arrow took considerably less time to Trace than the first time I'd done it, although whether that was the Curse beginning to unravel or just my newfound experience I couldn't tell. I had it nocked, primed and collecting vast amounts of mana from Caster's Territory in the span of four seconds.
Unfortunately, it looked like that was all I had time for.
The trademarks Breaking cracks appeared around the corkscrewed tip just as Caster reappeared, sporting two new cuts and a splotchy yellow bruise on his wrist. He pointed at me, chanted a few words in what sounded like Greek, and flicked his finger downwards.
It started slowly at first, like a gradual increase of weight on my body. The process sped up soon, though, and by the time the Caladbolg I was holding had completely Broken, my body was moving at about a third the speed it should have been.
It only took a small twitch to decide that first stage of the battle. That twitch was me separating my fingers and allowing the bowstring of EMIYA's bow to propel Caladbolg forwards.
Then I saw white, pulled back, and waited for Caster to show himself.
Ren snapped to attention once more, lashing out with the blades attached to his guns. They caught a Grimm each and bored through skull and flesh alike. The glint in the corner of his eye told him that Ruby's scythe was swinging straight over his head, and he turned in time to see a small Nevermore become a mass of flesh and blood, sailing through the air with the grace of a manatee.
He glanced over to Assassin and her Master. They appeared to have the least trouble with fending off their attackers, although that might have been solely due to Assassin's ridiculously outlandish abilities. She kicked Grimm away with the ease of tossing a pillow out of the way, and her range of flexibility made him wonder whether or not she actually had any bones in her body. She released herself from a backflip that had the back of her head touching her feet, then bent smoothly forward and sliced through an Ursa's jugular vein.
Ren was torn away from her mesmerizing style of fighting when an Ursa of his own charged at him, nearly blindsiding him. He swore and spun, sheathing his StormFlower as he did so.
'Now or never, I guess.'
Ren smirked at the Ursa that was now watching him inquisitively. Its hide was scarred in the way that only Grimm could inflict on each other, probably making it a half-century old at least. The entirely red mask was a worrying matter, but not overly so- while it was rare for Grimm to have masks that denoted such battle experience and age, it wasn't unheard of, and if he timed his actions just right, he could kill it with a few well-placed blows.
Ren dredged the Aura rippling through his soul, forcing it to flow throughout his body with sheer willpower. Concentrating it wasn't too hard, and within five seconds he had an acceptable amount sloshing in his system. He fed a small line of his soul into each finger, just as the Grimm charged again, a glint of intelligence shining in its burning blue eyes.
Eight jets of pinkish energy, looking not unlike the flame of a blowtorch, hovered above his fingers, expelled by near-invisible pores that he'd carved into his body for two years just for this technique. The Ursa roared as it approached. Ren closed his eyes and smiled; he would not be intimidated by such pathetic attempts at a challenge.
He thrust forward in a motion that could only be described like a river would be. In the same instant, he ducked underneath the Ursa's thundering swipe, shot forwards, expelled one hand into its gut, and pushed the other straight through its lower jaw and into its brain. The pink fires of his Aura carved through its shadowy flesh like it was air, and before anyone had a chance to even begin comprehending what had just occurred, the Ursa exploded in a mess of darkness and gore. Blake and Ruby gaped, and even Assassin glanced at him with a slightly impressed eye before turning back to her battalion of opponents.
Ren wasn't where he was a moment ago, though. He hadn't stopped in his motions, and in seconds he was upon a second red-masked Ursa, bursting its head from the inside out. At the same time, a third Grimm, this time a Larva-stage Colossus, thought it would be a good idea to try and squish him under its gigantic, vaguely humanoid feet. The monstrous being didn't even manage to raise its foot when it felt something searingly hot enter its stomach and rip out of its back. It looked around dumbly, catching sight of a single flash of green before the same heat enveloped its eyeballs. It died how it lived: shortly and in pain, and that was just the way Ren Lie liked it.
Ren smirked and, after dispatching his fifteenth enemy in as many seconds, released the last dregs of Aura that were actively pulsing in his hands. His stiff-as-boards fingers released heat and Aura for a second more before being hidden from view; Ren had killed his final Grimm with the simplest jab to the skull. It ripped the Beowolf in front of him apart, starting at the neck and ending at the tail. He smirked, although the intention was dulled slightly by the blood and gore that was rapidly evaporating off of his clothes and face.
As Ren finished releasing what Aura was left in his active body, he looked back at the battlefield. The rest of the Grimm had gone, with Blake, Ruby and the newcoming Master gaping at him in full-blown awe. Assassin was walking towards him, and although he felt especially powerful at the moment, he couldn't help but hesitate for the slightest instant at the emotionless, flat planes that were the Servant's eyes. He was being watched, and very closely at that.
Assassin walked up to him and jabbed her knives into the ground, missing his feet by millimeters. To his credit, Ren didn't even blink that time, wholly focused on keeping Assassin's gaze.
"..." She was silent for an entire minute, merely searching his eyes with her own dull ones. Then, her lips formed the beginnings of a single word, an extremely tiny and otherwise unnoticeable smile hidden in their depths. "...Allies."
At that moment, Ren found that he wouldn't have cared whether or not Archer had died, because at least now he would have gotten a much more tolerable replacement.
Lancer's cry erupted through the cacophony of snarls and howls that Berserker was emitting as the two tried to overpower the other. A rune carved into Lancer's leather armor flashed with violet light before shutting off just as suddenly.
With a roar and a smirk, Lancer threw Berserker off of him and clear into the air. The Explode was useful, but only when it could be prepared beforehand. It was unmatchable, even by the Prana Burst inherent to Saber classes, but its only downside was that the rune had to be carved by hand, and only Scathach had the precision and smarts required to use them effectively in the middle of a fight. Lancer was good, but he wasn't that good; rather, he couldn't be that good. There were certain limitations that no mortal could exceed, not even a demigod. Herakles pushed the limits as far as he could with his Strength, this Berserker was looking more and more like an Endurance god in the form of a werewolf, but he would always be the Invisible Hound of Ulster.
You just couldn't match Lancer's speed, in the end, and that was that.
His runes, however, held a lot of room for improvement. The Explode only lasted for three seconds maximum, and unlike the constant Strength and Endurance that Berserker seemed to be emitting, his abilities would shrink back down to normal after that period had passed.
He did have his own advantages, however. The werewolf thing clearly had its mind ravaged and torn by the Mad Enhancement, even if it still seemed like it had a shred of intelligence left. It attacked wildly, only coordinating its strikes to the point that it could recognize weak points.
Behind them, Coco Adel and Tabitha were engaged in a fierce struggle. Tabitha was proving to be every bit the prana battery that he expected her to be, having been Reinforcing herself close to her physical limit for almost ten minutes and Tracing three new daggers after the other ones dissipated. Despite that, her opponent was a Huntress-in-training, and she showed it. Without her weapon, Coco couldn't do much real damage against Tabitha, but she easily evaded every strike save for one surprise attack that came from Tabitha throwing one of her daggers. The line of clotting blood on her face wouldn't even scar, but it had marked a huge improvement in Tabitha's struggles against the girl. His Master may not have been a trained fighter, but she made up for it with sheer tenacity and willpower.
Then the Berserker charged him again, and he moved, pushing off from the ground and flipping in the air to aim Gae Bolg's point at its heart. The beast moved almost as quickly, shooting after him and crashing into him in midair. Sadly, the edge of Gae Bolg, gently dragging on Berserker's hide, didn't even scratch. It would most undoubtedly pierce if he stabbed hard enough or usd its signature heart-tracer ability, but the chances of getting a shot like that in were too low for his liking.
The crack of bone on wood sounded anyway as Lancer twirled Gae Bolg, rearing the haft towards Berserker's lupine muzzle. He snarled and crashed into its chest, throwing the both of them back more than a dozen feet. Berserker was strong, but it wasn't anything he couldn't keep up with.
"Gotcha, you little snot!"
Lancer was whirling before he even comprehended the voice behind them. Coco was holding Tabitha in a chokehold, slowly draining the oxygen out of her lungs. Lancer made to intercept the girl, but Coco merely held up the dagger that Tabitha had Traced earlier and held it to her heart.
"Keep whittling him down," Coco instructed, keeping her eyes on Berserker instead of the struggling child she was currently strangling. "He'll run out of Aura eventually, and then the girl won't be able to supply him any more when she's unconscious."
Lancer froze for the briefest of seconds, but it was enough for Berserker to get the drop on him. The werewolf ripped the praying beads from his neck and tossed them in the air, howling to the sun as he did so. The beads rippled with light until, one by one, they morphed into tiny nails, each one made of wood and no longer than two inches. Despite that, Lancer wouldn't help but feel that they were almost as dangerous as his Gae Bolg.
He met his Master's eyes for a single second, and he saw the mark on her wrist begin to shine with bloody light. The command slipped through his defenses like water around a boulder: Win.
A surge of prana crackled to life around him, and he could detect the faintest traces of Rider's prana on it. The energy from the Command Seal must have come from the Servant that already resided in the Grail. His stats jumped before his eyes, going from solid Bs all around to hovering just above the A range.
His Agility doubled, rising to A+++.
He smirked, and with a bang, he was off and slamming Berserker's face into a nearby building. This was going to be fun.
Ozpin casually dodged out of the way of an overhead strike that most certainly would have bisected him had he not sped up the time around his body by a factor of two. His ability was taxing, and it was only living to the age of one hundred and twenty through complex use of keeping his Semblance active at all times and enduring extremely intense Aura Enlargers that allowed him to pull his style of combat off with any efficiency. Of course, being one of three sons of the Queen helped immensely as well.
Cinder scowled and pulled her hands up, lodging a chunk of Dust into the space he'd been a moment prior. Her attacks weren't doing much more than make the old man dance, and that was saying something since the average Huntsman would be slaughtered by the first of her signature techniques, never mind the fourteenth and final one. That, she was saving for special occasions.
It was entirely coincidental that this situation was turning out to be pretty special in its own right.
"Saber," she commanded. There was no need for her Servant to hear anything else; the two of them were at such a deep wavelength that one could usually tell what the other's foremost thoughts were, as well as the intentions behind them. Herakles had proven to be unexpectedly chivalrous and modest in the beginning, but she soon rid him of that needless habit. It only got in the way of fighting, after all.
Saber, to his credit, knew exactly where she wanted him to go. He slammed into Ozpin again, making the man stumble back a bit this time, and while his guard was down he pulled the bronze form of his Nine Lives out of the stone and unleashed a second strike that had her enemy flying into a nearby building.
"Dance for me," she hissed. Embers began springing up, one after another, inside the depths of the building- until a radiant plume of magma sprouted and cooked everything within it to a crisp.
She smirked and pulled the lava to her side, utilizing what little she had left of the power given to her by the Queen- it had been far too long since she'd had any real control of her flames, but the Grail was proving to be a very interesting artifact when it came to operating outside the bounds of time and space. It also meant that her grandmother's laws were completely moot in the area known as Patch.
She piled another pool onto Ozpin's presumably charred form, just in case, before having Saber end it with a single swing. His bronze sword flashed in the raging fires that sprung up from the sheer heat suffusing the street they had been fighting on.
"My, you're certainly angry today, aren't you?" he voice from behind her. She gritted her slightly pointed teeth; of course it wouldn't have been so easy.
"Of course, the collateral damage won't be all that hard to fix," she slipped out smoothly. Her eyes narrowed in triumph. "It was you who taught me how to control this, after all. Isn't that right, Uncle Oz?"