The blaring of klaxons startled Ritsuka out of his thoughts, Fou almost falling off of the bed at his sudden reaction.
Setting aside the magazine he had been reading—a new issue, a very welcome respite after having had to read the same issues for a whole year until now—and kicking off of the bed, he grabbed the furry little creature and set him gently down on the floor. Grabbing his white uniform jacket, he was out the door and moving towards the command center with brisk steps. All around him, Servants and staff were lazily going about their business—the alarm's tone bothering them very little, indicating only little more than a blip in Chaldea's systems.
Everyone had grown much more relaxed after the seven singularities had been righted and Goetia had been defeated. Since then there had only been a few events and irregularities to take care of, but overall everyone seemed of one mind in that the world had already been saved.
It brought a smile to his face if he were honest. Even if not everyone had come through the fight alive, they had still managed to accomplish something amazing. He would be lying if he said he wouldn't be sad to see the friends he had made again, but it couldn't be helped.
In the end, the dead were already dead and only that.
The voice brought an almost instinctive smile to his face as he slowed down and turned to look at the corner he had just zoomed past.
"Heya, Mash. Are you looking for the fire, too?" he asked, joking lightly.
Her eyes shot wide open in reaction, immediately searching left and right. "T-there's a fire? Oh no, if the automatic systems haven't activated yet, then..."
Ritsuka laughed, before reassuring her that there was no fire and together they made for the command center. Mash explained along the way that she had been practicing her cooking with Tamamo Cat and Boudica, hoping to impart as much of their expertise to her as they still could, which he replied he was quite happy to hear.
When he asked when he could try her cooking out, she flushed and helplessly stammered the rest of the way up.
"Hmm, oh if it isn't Ritsuka. And Mash. What brings you two here?" Da Vinci spoke as they entered.
"Heya, we heard something was going on and came up to see what we could do," he cheerfully waved a greeting in return. Mash nodded behind him, her serious mien very much in contrast with his.
Da Vinci nodded, turning back to the computers. "I see, I see. Well, I'm afraid it's not much to get excited about. I'm almost sure it's just a false alarm, even."
"A false alarm?" Mash asked.
The genius nodded again, continuing to tap away on the computer. "CHALDEAS and SHEBA suddenly activated and detailed logging of a previous site began... It almost seems like someone automated it to start doing that, but we can't figure out who or why."
"A previous site? You mean a singularity?"
"That's right," Da Vinci replied and nodded at Ritsuka. "The very first one; Singularity F. But that's why it doesn't make any sense... There's nothing there. With the Grand Order restored, it is now observing a Holy Grail War that occurred there in the past." Shaking her head, she placed a hand on her hip. "But that's all. There's nothing out of the ordinary beyond that, there."
"Could if be a Demon God Pillar?"
She shook her head. "Nothing so far points to that. But I cannot rule the possibility out either."
"Singularity F... that was in Fuyuki, Japan, if I remember correctly?" Mash noted quietly. "We first met Cu Chulainn and Saber Alter there, didn't we?"
"Yeah, we did. Should we call them up here?" he mused.
But Da Vinci shook her head. "From what I've observed from the logs gathered, neither of them is present in the city. Not in those forms, anyhow. I observed a Lancer-class Cu Chulainn and an un-darkened Saber battling one another, however. Perhaps we should consult them and see if they know anything..."
"Alright. Let's do that," he agreed.
"Oh, and Emiya as well," Mash piped up. "He was there as well, wasn't he?"
Ritsuka blinked, remembrance dawning on him in a flash. He had completely forgotten about that, after all the Archer they had fought in the burning city hadn't appeared in Chaldea afterward like so many of the other Servants they had since fought had. When Emiya had first appeared, answering the summons, Ritsuka had been taken aback by how mellow the bowman was in comparison to his incarnation in the first singularity.
And since then, they had also met an Altered version, but none still had the same intensity that the Servant they had fought possessed. He hadn't thought of it since, but it struck him peculiar now somehow. Saber Alter and Caster Cu were as they were, but why had that Emiya been like that? And why hadn't he seen that Alter of Emiya since?
It probably wasn't important, but...
"Was Emiya in the kitchens with you, Mash?" he asked.
She blinked before shaking her head.
That was odd. The Servant had become an almost permanent fixture of the kitchens whenever he wasn't out in the field.
"He was out catering lunch to the Chaldea staff, I think." Mash pointed at one of the bento boxes lying on a table near the back of the command room.
As one of the staff members realized that his lunch was being stared at, he flushed and attempted to surreptitiously clean away the bento box from where he was working the computers.
"Call him too," Ritsuka decided, obeying the strange instinct pulling at him.
If Da Vinci thought his suggestion odd, she did not comment on it.
A minute later, the three Servants appeared through the doorway. Two in blue and one red. That color dissonance making the white-haired Archer stand out further from the other two. It was unusual, Ritsuka thought. Usually, Emiya either discarded his red shroud or wore the upgraded version that his Ascension had provided him with. The one with the lighter red and golden markings.
But now he wore the same dark crimsons he had first appeared in Chaldea in.
"Thank you for coming," Da Vinci spoke, breaking the Master out of his thoughts.
"Of course. How may we be of assistance?" Saber replied immediately, her crisp and dutiful demeanor like a breath of wind as her sonorous voice rang out.
Meanwhile, Lancer was hanging back, keeping distant from the Archer who in turn stood with his arms crossed in silent observation. Their eyes met and for a moment there was something in Emiya's eyes. But an instant later it was gone, as the taller man uncrossed his arms and relaxed his posture.
"I assume it has something to do with the alarm from earlier?"
"Indeed, Emiya," Da Vinci replied and turned to a screen. "Our systems picked up something, which we suspect might be the trail of one of the remaining Demon God Pillars that escaped the battle at the Temple of Time."
The three Servants perked up at that.
"The suspected Singularity is taking place in Fuyuki, but not any version we've visited before. Not exactly, anyhow." Da Vinci continued. "We've observed a small scale conflict taking place there, where Masters have summoned Servants in a bid for a Holy Grail."
"Fuyuki, 2004 then," Emiya commented with a grunt, to which Da Vinci nodded. Saber's enlightened expression of understanding followed while Lancer did not seem particularly enthused by the discussion.
"What do you need of us?" Saber asked.
"We were hoping that you could take a look at the observational data from SHEBA for us. Anything you could tell us would be helpful."
The three Servants agreed and soon enough they were sifting through the lens records, like going through video surveillance footage. It didn't take long for them to find something of interest; what appeared to be a three-way battle between Saber, Emiya and surprisingly enough Heracles in a graveyard.
As the footage showed Saber's Master being injured by Emiya's explosive arrow, Saber seemed to wince and realize she was standing next to the Servant in question. Ritsuka observed quietly from the side as the knight of the sword gave the knight of the bow a reassuring smile, of which the latter did not seem to know what to make of.
There was more to this than could be gleaned from merely the surface, he realized.
Emiya avoided looking at Saber, his eyes distant and unseeing even as the lens record continued. Finally, it was Lancer, unexpectedly enough, who spoke up. "Huh, I don't really remember this... But didn't the warning ring a few hours ago? Wouldn't that have been when Saber was summoned?"
Da Vinci blinked, considering it. "Would that be important?"
"I was the last to be summoned. Perhaps that marked the beginning of the Grail War in some sense. It may well be important to all this."
The universal genius accepted that, turning to address one of the staff in the back of the command center. "Re-adjust SHEBA so that we can observe the events a few hours earlier. Try to pinpoint the location of Saber's summoning."
Her order was promptly executed, as the crew moved as one, months of work has evolved into practiced and well-versed expertise. Fingers danced across keyboards in a steady and pitched rhythm that was only broken by the sudden error beep. First one of them paused. Then, another and a third. There were several more attempts but all were met with the same error sound.
Sheepishly one of them finally turned to Da Vinci.
"Uh, ma'am... It appears that we... can't?" The nervous man tried again. "We can rewind and forward within the plus-minus five-minute frame being observed, but beyond that..."
She immediately walked over, her interest piqued as she tapped away at the keyboard. But it was no good either.
"Have we been hacked? Were there any signs of electronic intrusion in the systems?" she asked, before shaking her head. "No, of course not. Then I'll try the administrative key-card for a manual override..."
She reached the object in question and slipped it through the card reader.
But only another error beep answered her.
Ritsuka blinked, turning to look at Mash to see her reaction. Neither had ever seen Da Vinci so stumped before. Mash too seemed worried now, but the sudden laughter of delight from Da Vinci brought back their attention to her.
"How peculiar. But how was it done...? No matter." She turned around and looked at them with a beaming expression. "It would appear that the near-future observation lens is locked into that time and place. If I didn't know better, I would suggest that we have been sabotaged somehow."
"Oh," was all Ritsuka could think to say, Da Vinci's unexpected good cheer taking him off guard.
"Perhaps we can jump ahead by focusing the lens' refraction directly... Oh, no let's not try that again, then..."
The floor suddenly shook, all in the room on their feet staggering as the thrumming sound of an explosion reverberated through the walls.
"What was that?"
The Servants in the room were suddenly primed and ready, Saber having positioned herself beside him and Mash with her invisible sword in a low guard.
"There," Emiya said and pointed at a display, obviously the only one who had remained unmoved by the sudden sound.
Ritsuka blinked and peered, realizing after a second that it was some sort of security footage of the Chaldea facility. One of the hallways near the base personnel quarters, he thought.
"Is that... Gilgamesh and Ishtar?"
Another deep thrum rocked through the floor and walls, the timing only slightly off from the display showing Gilgamesh launching a volley of swords at the floating goddess.
"That King of Heroes..." Artoria frowned, putting away her sword with a disgusted shake of her head.
Then yet another deep sound echoed, but this time Gilgamesh and Ishtar too seemed surprised, as they paused for a moment and looked around.
"There seems to be more than one disturbance..." Da Vinci spoke, before turning to Ritsuka. "You should go an calm them down—they will listen to you, but don't hesitate to use a command seal if you must."
He nodded. "Right. Come on, guys."
The three Servants followed after him without a word, as Mash sat up to follow, but Da Vinci stopped her. "Mash, try using the intercom and talk them down. Tell them that Ritsuka is on his way."
Blinking and adjusting her glasses hesitantly, the former Demi-Servant obeyed. "R-right!"
He nodded at her with a supportive smile, before making his way out of the command center. "Right, uh, which way is it..."
"Gilgamesh and Ishtar are down that way," Emiya said suddenly, pointing at the access stairs. "Probably on the fourth floor."
"Right! Thanks, Emiya. Let's go!"
The white-haired Servant nodded, but then hesitated for a moment. "Master, I'll go on ahead and find the other disturbance."
"Right, by splitting up we can cover more ground. Good idea. Cu, can you go—"
"That won't be necessary."
Both blue and red Servant objected nearly instantly in perfect unison, causing him to blink. "Err..."
"You should keep Saber and Lancer with you; we don't know whether someone is trying to target you—our only Master—with all of this. I'll just look around and then contact the command center and join up with you."
Ritsuka blinked, before nodding. "Sure, alright. Be careful, Emiya."
The bowman nodded, standing very still for a moment before he replied. "You as well, Ritsuka."
Emiya let out a shuddering breath as the door closed behind him. He hesitated, looking over his shoulder.
Should he sabotage the lock here? Project something inside the door mechanism to lock it in place? No. No. Too obvious a trail and there were Servants here. He could do it down in the base staff sections of Chaldea before, set them on a timer to ensure that he could lock down a large part of the essential personnel to buy himself more time. But any Servant, even a Caster like Da Vinci, could tear through the doors like wet paper.
Getting called up into the command center had been an unfortunate coincidence, setting him back precious minutes, but he hadn't dared to refuse. Someone would have certainly noticed. Now, at least he still had a chance to remain unnoticed before he had accomplished what he must.
His legs started moving, crossing the halfway in three long steps.
Just have to get to the coffins and sneak out. They're still reeling and confused...
Emiya stopped, schooling his face into a neutral mask immediately.
Someone was up ahead as if standing guard in the doorway ahead. A grim gatekeeper, black as night and twice and ruthless. Steely gray eyes met with pale yellow adorned in a sneering visage.
"Going somewhere?" Emiya asked Emiya.
The guardian in red said nothing, staring down the bare-chested self ahead.
"You think I wouldn't recognize my own handiwork, huh?" The Alter mocked him, sneer turning malevolent and crooked. "Or that you plot wouldn't be noticed?"
Emiya sighed, relaxing his shoulders and widening his stance. This, too, was within his contingencies and had been accounted for. Though depending on external back up, he might not be able to beat this twisted reflection of himself.
He couldn't help the smirk that sprouted from shining through his cool mask. "I guess I'm onto something if that feels the need to intervene."
The sneer vanished from Emiya Alter's face for just a moment as blank comprehension won over. Then a snarl erupted from his chest, as a roaring pair of gunblades exploded into his hands.
A pair of black and white swords roared in challenge, meeting them in equal spirit. The battle was on.
"Okay, that's one out of..." he muttered, trying not to think of how many more Servants would be up in arms against one another. He had just barely managed to separate Karna and Arjuna, the two have been an inch away from coming to blows. "Who knows how many, huh..."
He realized now what a powder keg Chaldea really was.
So many legendary feuds, ancient grievances, and bloody oaths, all stuffed into the tiny facility... It was a miracle it hadn't been a problem until now, he thought. But then realized, that that had been because of their uniting goal. Averting the incineration of all of history had been bigger than all of them; they had all understood that and united behind him to right that wrong.
Maybe everyone had just been waiting until the stakes weren't so high so that they could air some old grievances again. And maybe some of them had just been waiting for a chance to let loose properly for once.
"Mash, we're done here!" he spoke out aloud, tension melting out of him as he waited for her reply.
"Good job, senpai!" she answered quickly, though he could hear the tension her voice and the hustle in the background. It seemed as if they still hadn't managed to fix the problem. "Umm, the next closest is... Gilgamesh and Ishtar, and Emiya and Emiya..."
"Wait, you mean he and his Alter?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. The cameras caught a glimpse of it, but there aren't any intercoms down there..."
He scowled, looking up at the entourage of Servants now following him. "Cu, you go."
"Oh, come on!" the Lancer objected loudly.
"You're the fastest here, and you know them both," Ritsuka reasoned.
"No, I really don't. And honestly, I wanna kill them both, you know?"
He shook his head at the Lancer's protests. "But you won't. I trust you."
"Feh, fine. But if I kill them then you can't complain."
"Thanks, you're the best Cu."
Rolling his eyes at the Master's praise, the blue spearman vanished in a blur.
"Okay, Mash, which way to Gilgamesh and Ishtar?"
"Take the service stairs to the left, uh, no my—the other left! Umm, sorry. Right, go two floors down!"
"Right, got it!" he replied and broke out into a run. Following the directions, he quickly found his way down, and then the sound of explosions guided him the rest of the way even before Mash could finish doling out the directions.
Ritsuka barreled through the door into the room, his eyes shooting wide at the sea of rippling gold covering one half of it.
"Whoa, whoa! Everyone let's calm down!" he shouted.
One volley from the King of Heroes could tear half the Chaldea facility apart. There was no way they could afford something like that!
Gilgamesh sneered, arms crossed as he stared down imperiously the goddess before him, though she was in fact floating above him on her boat.
"Arrogant goldy! Don't think I'll let you hide behind Master!" The golden-eyed goddess shouted as her magical energy and hostility effused the whole room. "Apologize!"
The King stood tall, weathering the divine indignation without an ounce of insecurity. "Fool. As if I would stoop so low. Begone, you worthless nuisance not even worth a second of my time."
"If not you, then who?!" Ishtar roared.
"Uh, guys? Can we all calm down for a second?"
Gilgamesh sneered. "It isn't as if this place isn't full of worthless fakers and pretenders. Seek them out if you wish to throw tantrums."
Ritsuka sighed. This was going to be a hard one to manage...
Emiya spun around, not by his own actions but certainly by calculated choice, as the hail of bullets ricocheting off of his sword pushed him back and around his own axis.
The sheer momentum and kinetic energy of the large-caliber bullets being fired from those twin gunblades were enough to rock anyone who tried to take them head-on. So he reflected them off of his swords at an angle, using the spin it gave him to move into the next parry. Just as his Alter was using the recoil of the guns to spin around his own axis and into the next attack. It was necessary. To wound a Servant took immense force; anything less would simply be like flicking paper balls at them.
So the bullets—miniature broken phantasm self-propelling rockets, really, all bullet and nothing extraneous—fired from the gun roared with immense speed and power.
They kept their distance, Emiya coolly maintaining his impeccable defense as Emiya roared out his enraged offense. An endless hail of projectiles, burst after burst, volley after volley.
Even a Servant would be hard-pressed to deal with so many small projectiles at once, the small bullets difficult to catch even individually. They didn't do much damage, so many might forego the trouble and simply shrug them off. But that would be a mistake. The damage would pile up, slowly tilting the balance until the gun-slinging Archer would feel safe to set up his Noble Phantasm or to close in with his blades to finish the job.
But Emiya was familiar with guns and he was familiar with blades. And he was familiar with the fighting style and ideology of this twisted man before him. Slash through the air and pull the trigger, the magazine emptying itself in a diagonal line coming towards you. The bullets were like a cut, traveling through the air, an extension of the continuous swings of the gunblades. Left and right, up and down.
Looking for the bullets would be a mistake, something those used to dealing with arrows would make.
But he was familiar with guns and he was familiar with blades.
Look at the hands, recognize the attack before he does it and then just... The black gunblade roared, sending out a horizontal slash. The bullets lining up one after another in a facsimile of the cut itself. Bakuya in his right hand twisted and he mirrored the cut, throwing it out but with the blade turned sideways.
The sword parted the air like a fan with perfect timing, slapping aside all the bullets in one motion. Just as it and Kanshou had already done four dozen times before.
Every swing of a gunblade was mirrored by a swing of a sword. The recoil pushing the gunblade into the next swing, mirrored by the momentum of the bullets pushing the dancing blades into position to slap aside the next magazine-full of projectiles. Black and white, white and black, dancing nearly as one and matching move for move.
It almost feels like a rhythm game.
Alter growled, slamming the gunblade into the wall to halt his own spinning momentum, raising the other straight at Emiya. The trigger was pulled and a straight line of bullets raced at him, just as the one that was embedded in the wall was wrenched loose and joined in the assault, pushing the gunslinger backward with the continuous and massive recoil.
Emiya dodged and weaved, ducked and swayed.
Too heavy. Too long. Too slow.
With arms extended, the heavy and long gunblades made poor handguns. Even at distance, the other wouldn't be able to correct his aim with sufficient precision as he struggled with the recoil. To maintain a decent balance for a cutting weapon, the gunblades had a forward heavy hatchet point. It somewhat also served to dampen the recoil and the tip rise with each shot. But when trying to aim conventionally, it all became dead weight. The Alter had started with this, trying to simply overwhelm Emiya with the sheer volume of bullets before. But that hadn't worked to start and it wasn't working now either.
A rifle would be more efficient for shooting like this...
Emiya banished the unnecessary thoughts as he kicked off the wall and then rolled against the ceiling before kicking off that as well.
Conventionally a corridor was a deathtrap against a rapid-fire gun, but to a Servant, it only gives him more surfaces to continuously change his direction against. He didn't even need his swords to avoid these straight, point-like attacks, given how inefficient as guns those weapons were.
The lines of the cuts had at least forced Emiya to parry with his swords, covering a wider area of the hallway as they did, even as it cut down on the guns' absolute rate of fire.
He still can't close in—this isn't getting either of them anywhere. Not that he can afford to carelessly approach either; while those gunblades aren't dangerous at range, their combination nature makes them dangerous at just beyond sword's measure—in the zone between. Inferior as guns and as swords, they shine at bridging that gap. The closer one gets, the more difficult it becomes to avoid getting hit.
But once blades are crossed, their inherent flaws shine through once more.
As long as he can reach the eye of the storm, it's his victory.
I need to bait him in somehow. Perhaps in a small enough room, where he can't back away, Emiya thought. He would need some kind of trick, to... Hmm?
Emiya stopped, half-turning to look at the other end of the hallway. He barely caught the blue blur before it came to a skidding halt in between the two Archers. Four magazines were dumped at the Lancer, whose spinning red spear deflected all with contemptuous ease before the gunblades were grudgingly lowered.
Cu Chulainn had arrived.
The Lancer spun his crimson shaft once more in his one hand before it came to leisurely rest on his armored shoulder. Red eyes moved from one to the other, weighing silently the two Archers. All around them dusted plaster and broken tiles were strewn about, the wreckage left behind by the collateral-blind gunslinger obvious.
"So..." Lancer began, coolly regarding both. "Who's the one looking for a spear through their heart?"
Emiya dispelled his swords, raising his hands into the air in an almost relaxed manner, even as his heartbeat hard and fast. If he couldn't move on from here, they would figure out and fix his sabotage before he could make it to the spiritron chassis.
But he couldn't afford to antagonize Lancer, either.
"Don't look at me—he's the one that started shooting at me all of a sudden."
The Alter scoffed at his words, raising his gunblades without bothering to say a word in his defense. Gunblades, that were now pointing at Lancer, too. Emiya could barely contain his relief; with Lancer's help, taking out Alter would be a cinch. After that, he could...
"Yeah, figures," Cu Chulainn grumbles, spinning his spear three whole turns before bringing it to bear against him.
Emiya calmly doesn't react beyond a slight furrowing of his brows. Expressing puzzlement, he crosses his arms. I can still turn this around...
"Don't bother talking. I don't even care which one of you's the one at fault. I just know you'd be a lot more troublesome if you turn out to be the bad guy here," Lancer explains, scoffing. "This guy," he continues. "Is a loose cannon. But he's about as predictable as they come as far as his motivations go."
"Tch..." Emiya clicks his tongue, bringing his swords out with a flourish. With anybody else there might still be a chance to convince them, but not with the Child of Light who's never bothered to think things through overmuch. "I guess I should be flattered."
"Heh, I knew it," the Lancer allow before he surges forward. Behind him, the Alter raises his gunblades, a cold sneer of delight engraved on his face.
But Emiya doesn't panic, even as the grim weight settles into his stomach. He knows both fighters; has had time to observe and analyze both over his long stay in Chaldea. He still has tricks up his sleeve and the compatibility between these two should be the absolute worst.
Yet for all that, his chances at victory are...
Minimal to none.
"Heh." Kanshou and Bakuya rise to meet the approaching lance, too fast for even his eyes. Guess I really kicked a hornet's nest this time.
"Huuuuh?!" Ishtar's wide-eyed wonder and bafflement is almost cute. She swallows nervously, before bringing a hand up to hide her face. She can't look any of them in the eye, pink of embarrassment coloring her cheeks. "Well, I, uh... It could have been him!"
Gilgamesh scoffs again, crossing his arms with a sneer.
"Ishtar, please." Ritsuka isn't above pleading, doing his best to look as puny and mortally-helpless as possible, knowing it'll tickle Ishtar's sense of pride.
"H-huh, well. I suppose you're right," she acquiesces while still refusing to look at him in the eye.
He can't help but smile, relieved that he managed to settle things down without Chaldea being blown off the map. He turns to look at the blond king, nodding to show his appreciation. "My thanks, King of Heroes, for your restraint and wisdom."
Gilgamesh only huffs, as if it was a matter of course. Which of course triggers another annoyed glare from the floating goddess whose embarrassment is all but boiling over now.
"W-what? It's as if you think I'm the one at fault here...!" she ejaculates, brows furrowed and eyes burning.
Gilgamesh doesn't say a word, but his roll-of-eyes is enough to send her over the edge again.
"W-well, you just wait! I'll find the guy responsible for this! I'll show both of you that I wasn't in the wrong! Yeah! Just you wait!"
With that, she storms off, almost tearing a door off of its hinges on her way out.
Ritsuka lets out a nervous laugh, grimacing after the goddess as he can still hear her moving further away.
"You see what I had to deal with in Uruk?" Gilgamesh utters, uncrossing his arms with a huff. And for a moment it appears as if even Saber is feeling sympathetic towards the King of Heroes.
"R-right," he says with a nod. "Let's go. There's still work to be done."
It's not so bad, Emiya thinks as he blocks another fifteen stabs in the space of a second and as his back breaks through a wall with the force he was thrown back with.
Lancer is still an utter monster; so swift and vicious that few can match up to him in melee.
But as he had suspected, the two have the worst compatibility he has ever seen. It's almost like he can ignore Alter altogether. Another six magazines are let loose in rapid succession at him as the Servant in question acquires a sight picture of him again. But Lancer is there first, his immortal speed such that even bullets are put to shame.
Kanshou and Bakuya swing and dance to block, parry and strike aside the comprehension-surpassing hail of strikes from the red lance. If this were the first fight he had against Lancer, he might have to take wounds to compensate. But his long stay at Chaldea has given him plenty of opportunities to learn the insides and outs of the various Servants staying here.
Opening here, pretend to be reeling there.
Like a bloodhound on the trail, completely ignoring everything else, Lancer goes for the mortal blows straightforwardly and without any hesitation or deceit. And behind him, the dual-wielding Archer is rendered wholly worthless, as the demigod's Protection from Arrows utterly negates every projectile in his vicinity.
If there was more space here or if they had him pincered, it would be impossible for him to survive more than a handful of seconds. But neither bothers to even acknowledge the other beyond momentarily annoyed glares, all but completely allowing Emiya to dominate the terms of the engagement. If he needs to move, a large opening in the opposite direction nearly guarantees Lancer will send him flying with a wide swing of his spear or a mighty kick.
He can probably keep this up as long as there are hallways and rooms still standing for him to use. But he's still deadlocked and unable to break free. Lancer is still unaware that he's being goaded into pushing towards the coffin room, but Emiya still needs to break free from this situation before he can claim to be home free.
The only way this will end is through a Noble Phantasm breaking the delicate balance. But he doesn't have the luxury of using his, meaning that things are more than likely to end in his demise at this rate.
There's a plan budding in the back of his mind; the tiny part still free to plot and scheme as most of his focus is forced to deal with defense against the overwhelming onslaught of the crimson spear that has already pierced his heart once. If I can get them on opposite sides of me, and distract Lancer at the right moment...
It's a one in a million shot...
But he's hedging everything on it now.
Emiya's thrown through another room and he has just enough presence of mind to roll with the impact to get back on his feet. Alter is lining up his shot; his sight picture clear for now. Emiya ignores it, focusing on Lancer, certain of the spearman's next move as presents the most suitable opening.
The gunblade roars.
Emiya grits his teeth as the bullets rip through his torso and send him reeling back. Lancer—?
The red eyes are looking behind Emiya, into the large room into which he had just been sent flying into. He can't help himself, turning to stare as well.
A pair of young girls; their familiar appearance enough to rip open old wounds and falter his blades for a second. Alter has no such problem, not even recognizing the two as anything more than moving detritus as the second gunblade lines up to take its shot.
"Oniichan!" Chloe shouts as a pair of swords erupt into her hands and she leaps to his aid. A desperate defense, unsure and guided only by sheer intent they deflect the stream of bullets.
But she blocked them head-on and has not even a fraction of the mass that either of the adult Archers possess, and as a result, is sent flying back from the sheer impact. She cries out, distracting Lancer for just a moment again.
A familiar incantation, the roaring of magical energy a cruel declaration of this fight's ending. He's wide open, eyes turned and facing the completely wrong direction, but he knows it's coming.
The words are spoken, a dark premonition—"I am the bone of my sword..."
Time seems to slow down as his thoughts raced.
The bullet is loaded. If he dodges, Illyasviel behind him will be the one to receive it. That's what he would do to ensure his high-yield payload hits its target. Blocking it is impossible; the chained concept will be released upon the target as soon as it makes contact. Penetration optimizes damage, but unnecessary for actualization.
A cold fire burns through his veins, its name immemorial—anger.
Emiya had made damn sure to keep them out of his plans; to keep them safely out of harm's way. Yet things never go as planned. But that was why plans are made to be abandoned and picked up as the situation changes. Wasn't this exactly the situation he was hoping for?
He can still move; the trigger is just being pressed.
Lancer notices what's going on, his brows furrowed as he realized a Noble Phantasm is being enacted. But he's not worried—it's just a projectile—eyes instead on the two children suddenly in the middle of this fight. He, too, realizes the predicament Emiya is placed in.
Time snaps back into play.
He steps forward, past Lancer to meet his dread-end. Skewering, gored from the inside by nameless loss, amnesiac horror and worthless rust.
"Unlimited Lost Works!"
The roar of the white gunblade is deafening in the enclosed space, but the black blade rises to meet it nonetheless. It's all about... timing!
A projectile won't hit Lancer. But what about a bullet caught with the flat of a blade and slammed into him?
Red eyes shoot wide open; the lance is raised to block the sword and bullet alike. But penetration is not necessary. The origin bullet doesn't as much slam as sink into Lancer, past spear, past Protection from Arrows and past desperate defense.
He doesn't know who of them shouted out in agony—blank, stark white agony paints his senses into a visage of eternity—his own left arm is just as riddled and torn apart by nameless blades that tear through bone and shred through muscle as Lancer's whole body is.
A second passes, and then blood erupts everywhere. His and Lancer's.
But Emiya grits his teeth and forces his self back into the present through sheer force of will, Bakuya rising already to swat aside the hail of bullets from his merciless twin who had not missed a beat. One down, one to go, he thinks even as his limp and gored mess of a left arm dangles uselessly by his side.
The satisfied sneer behind the raised gunblades oozes brutal satisfaction, despite the less-than-perfect shot.
But before another bullet can be fired, a pink translucent barrier in the shape of a star pops into existence between them. They both recognize it, turning to look at Magical Ruby who is now wielding her eponymous magical stick. She flushes and almost falters beneath their gazes, but gathers her courage to speak up.
"N-no more fighting!"
A second later, Chloe is there to back her sister up.
"You heard her! I don't know what's going on, but we're waiting until Master shows up to figure it out!"
There is utter stillness, aside from the blood dripping from the ceiling and walls back onto Lancer's still body, a grisly display which both girls are obviously desperately ignoring. Dark and darker twin regard the dark and lighter twins, catching their breaths and calculating their changed odds anew.
Alter scoffs, eyes brimming with barely restrained murder turning back to regard their prey. But then, as if thinking better of it, he seems to calm down.
Emiya can't help but wonder again at his Master's ability to instill such loyalty, even in the most brutal and heartless of men. Then he too, cannot help but scoff reminded of his own sentimentality and restraint. Cu Chulainn's bloodied and torn body pulls at his gaze but he ignores it, pushing down the urge of his eyes to be drawn to the explosion of red splatters that now mar and drip onto the formerly pristine walls.
I shouldn't have held back. The deaths of a few Heroic Spirits wouldn't have mattered—we were all slated for nothingness soon again anyhow.
He cannot turn back now.
The sword in his hand twitches in response to his tightened resolve, the minuscule movement enough to cause the girls to flinch and for Alter's sneer to return in full force, as the gunblades are raised to meet the blade.
"Heh, looks like he won't live long enough for that," Alter addresses the two girls, even as he dares not look away. "And neither will you if you step in."
He's worried about what they'll do. I can't count on their help, but... Human shields—avoid gunfire long enough to project and arm broken phantasm—collapse the entire southern wing and use confusion to get to the coffin room. The odds fly through his mind's eye. It could work. His ruthless hunter won't care about further casualties, but the girls are tough enough that they could buy just enough time for it to work.
But, just then...
"Where is that guardian! He's going to pay for making me look like a fool!"
A loud shout echoes through from the hallway behind Alter, but he is not the only one who half-cringes and half-braces for what is to come.
They may both be Archer-class Servants, but the difference in their ability is like heaven and earth. He wouldn't feel confident in taking her on even with surprise on his side.
Emiya takes a step back, before realizing that there is no exit behind him. Alter's eyes have not swayed one inch, the unwavering gunblades mercilessly waiting for the first move. Can't astralize through the wall—unable to defend from attack. Can't wait—Ishtar will tip the scales decidedly against him. With Cu gone, there is no one to act as a human shield from the twin barrage the two Archer-class Servants will rain down on him. And if Ilya and Chloe realize that he is not as innocent as he may appear in this, they will turn on him as well.
Chloe eyes him, realization dawning in her expression at his reaction. She has already realized that it is he who is behind everything now. That leaves only Ilya as the undecided party in all of this.
Long odds growing ever longer.
"Ah—haa! I found you!" Ishtar screeches as she makes her entrance, completely bodying Alter out of the way in her rush inside. But the man doesn't even acknowledge her, his eyes locked onto Emiya. A triumphant expression blooms on her face as she stands tall in the air, arms crossed as she stares down at him. "Did you really think you would be able to fool a goddess?"
He shrugs with his one good arm, not seeing another way except to buy himself some time. But the longer he waits, the more Servants will converge on him. The more likely it is that Da Vinci will figure out his sabotage and stop him. The more likely it is... that their Master will arrive.
"Umm, Ishtar-san, umm... What is going on?" Ilya hesitantly asks, staring around the room with wide eyes at everyone, puzzlement obvious at their focus on him.
"Not now, Ilya," Chloe hisses and glances quickly at her sister.
"Oh ho ho! Things are really getting heated here, Ilya-san! What will you do, what will you do~?" The red magical wand's playful and amused voice cuts through the tension in the room like a knife, managing to even distract Ishtar for a moment.
He almost tries to jump but thinks better of it. Alter hasn't moved an inch, his gunblades still patiently waiting.
The goddess shies away from the wand, almost as if recognizing it and instinctively fearing it. Emiya understands that feeling perfectly; merely looking at the wand is bad enough, but previous attempts to analyze it never led to anything good.
Something about that flies past his mind, at the outermost edge of his consciousness.
A recollection and a realization.
There is a broken and battered memory, something beyond his ability to actually remember, scraping past his psyche. Something within himself, so deeply embedded into his soul as to be unlodgeable.
Unlimited Blade Works.
There's something familiar there. Not merely for him, but for Ishtar as well. He had long wondered at that but never dared to approach his fellow Servant and actually voice the question. A mere gut feeling, but if he's right, then... Alter, Chloe, Ishtar. Perhaps even the wand itself?
It's a long shot.
But really, aren't those what he specializes in the first place?
Archer lets go of his sword, ignoring the surprised looks as the sharp tip sinks into the floor, his mind already racing somewhere else deep within himself. At the same time, the question on the top of his mind finally voices itself.
"Who are you?"
Ishtar stares at him, confusion floating past her furrowed brows.
A divine spirit would have no reason to recoil at the wand. Even its true purpose as a focus of True Magics means little before the sheer difference in nature.
"Rather... Which one are you, really?"
She takes in a sharp breath, red eyes widening before burning into smoldering gold with all the fury she can muster. But he can't help but feel it's too familiar; the damnable grin already dominating his face as he tilts his chin up.
He had his answer, a grim smirk marring his visage as he knew what to do.
"Well, then—I am the bone of my sword..."
Alter reacted immediately, having already realized that he hadn't given up. Gunblades already lined up and drawing a bead roared out in twin staccato as two full magazines were dumped in the space of a second.
Unable to dodge at this distance, unarmed and his mind occupied, he took the attack head-on. That was fine—he had resolved to grit through, knowing that the bullets lacked the decisive killing ability necessary to kill him. Much less stop his projection. His mind recoiled at the alien design, his hand grasping the manifesting hilt almost spasming out of control, but the liquid iron in his veins cooled into rigid discipline that forced his limbs to move as he demanded.
His arm lashed out, sending the short blade flying high into the air as he closed his eyes.
Voices overlapped in confusion and Kaleidoscope turned. As one, everyone sans gasped in shock as their eyes were inescapably drawn to the gem sword, and as one are blinded by the overwhelming incandescence burning forth from beyond.
All but one—desperately prepared to see this through to whatever end.
Ishtar first! He exploded forward, his one remaining useful arm reaching forward before she could shake herself back into control. His fingers curled around her neck and he twisted. Not physically, but through magical energy. Like a flip had been switched, the dark-haired goddess lost consciousness, crumpling on the floor.
The most dangerous piece of the board down, he twisted and spun as he recalled the white blade into his outstretched hand, still moving onto his next target without so much as slowing down.
Fingers clasped hilt and he spun again, noting irritably that his opponent had somehow managed to gather his own wits in the short moment it had taken to down the divine spirit. Black gunblade hastily rose to defend against descending white sword in a powerful block to meet the wide, ferocious swing coming to claim his head.
It's my win—!
The white blade pulled in at the last instant, missing the blocking weapon entirely as the wide slash mutated into a tight thrust so naturally that there was no time for any defense.
The gunblades integrated melee and ranged weapon into one, allowing them to seamlessly bridge the gap and work as either. With that, the distance of engagement didn't matter, allowing it's wielder to relentlessly pressure and chip away any opponent.
But only that.
At range they could not perform as well as pure guns and likewise at striking distance they could not stand up to a nimble and deceptive blade.
The white blade ran Alter through, poking out and shearing its way through the cloth on his back, dripping with his heart's blood. The Archer coughed once, eyes wide with surprise and chagrined realization. The gunblades raised for defense and counter-attack fell to his sides powerlessly as his strength failed him.
With a vicious pull, Emiya drew out his sword and swung it to the side in an arc to cast aside the excess blood. Alter staggered and then toppled, falling over limply.
Emiya let out a breath, turning to regard the last two on their feet.
"Kuro! Wh-what did you do to her?" Ilya was staring at him with wide eyes, wand held before her in a shaking ward, standing between him and her still apparently catatonic twin.
He swallowed thickly, before shaking his head. There was no need for further fighting—rather, he didn't have the luxury of time to waste it here any longer. Turning around he moved to walk over Alter's already fading body when a voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Still trying to kill yourself, eh...?"
Emiya couldn't help turning around to gawk at the gored Cu Chulainn, still clinging to life despite having been torn to shreds from within. One weakly cognizant eye was staring at him, as much curious as resigned to its current state. But more than surprise at the Lancer's survival, what called forth a cold premonition from within Archer was the implication behind that question.
He knew he had been summoned before in the 5th Holy Grail War of Fuyuki. Intellectually, at least. But hearing a fellow Servant acknowledge it and speak of what he must have tried already before left him cold within. It was one thing to have tried and failed. But if even a Servant that should not possess memories from other instances could acknowledge his efforts, then what did that mean for his attempts?
No. Calm down. This is exactly why you went to these lengths.
Letting out a cool breath, Emiya shook his head. "Of course. What else would I do? End up like this piece of trash?" Saying that he kicked lightly at the fallen Alter, spreading the ashes of the vanishing Servant all over the floor as he did. "If I have to choose between oblivion and the madness that comes with forgetting myself, the choice should be obvious."
If Lancer had any answer to that, Emiya had no intention of sticking around to listen to it. He turned to regard Ilya instead. "Keep them safe. But I'd be thankful if you didn't wake up that one just yet."
"Ah, eh, uh?" Red eyes blinked owlishly at him, uncomprehending and wide with innocence so alien to that face from his fragmented memories. Ironically enough, he could claim to know this alien and strange Ilya better now than he could the one that been his own sister—the degradation of his self and corruption of recollection of such severity already
Throwing aside any further thoughts with a shake of his head, he turned and strode purposefully out of the room.
"Are you sure?" Ritsuka asked, frowning slightly.
Mash nodded with pained certainty stealing her voice. He, too, grimaced and had to look away. Excuses and silent hopes warring within to justify the Archer's actions.
But Mash's words hadn't left any room for such wiggling, having come running all the way from the control room to tell him this.
Emiya is the one behind this, he thought quietly, trying to familiarize himself with the conclusion. Da Vinci had stated such with certainty and base surveillance had confirmed that the Servant had been acting oddly, before and after the alarm had sounded.
"It couldn't be..." Saber beside him whispered, with sudden realization overcoming her usual stoic nature.
Ritsuka and Mash both turned to look at the King of Knights, querying her with their eyes. But the blonde shook her head with a pained expression, clearly hesitating for a moment before she spoke.
"We must hurry—to the spirit coffin room. That is where he will be headed."
"Right." Ritsuka nodded, determination surging through him.
If they could get there first, then maybe they could still talk this whole thing out. There were still a few fights breaking out on base, but he had managed to stop over half a dozen already, and so far none had been truly serious. His Servants had been fighting one another, but even the bloodiest of confrontations had had a good-natured competitiveness about it.
Certainly, there had been some damage to the facility structure from some of the more destructive Heroic Spirits, but nothing that couldn't be fixed.
"Let's go!" Ritsuka nodded, a hopeful expectation swelling in his chest. He could still fix this, whatever it was. Saber seemed to know what had caused Emiya to do this; he would let her take the lead and once he knew what to do, he could step in and fix this!
And if nothing else...
He still had his command seals.
Emiya desperately avoided everyone as he hurried.
Even in his spirit form, if he let another Servant notice him they would undoubtedly realize how weak and wounded he was—the bleeding from the bullets on his chest had already subsided, but his mangled and torn arm was still completely beyond hope.
Some might seek to help him or take him to a healer out of a sense of camaraderie and compassion, while others might get curious about his circumstances. Regardless, he couldn't risk it. Time was running out, as he honestly would have preferred and planned to have been long gone from Chaldea by now.
It would be a minor miracle if Da Vinci hadn't figured out his minor bit of sabotage yet and dashed all hopes of success already.
Just a little bit, it's right up ahead... He almost rushes through blindly, only hesitating just at the door as he realizes someone is within. Several people, in fact. Servants and humans alike, the familiar tug at his spiritual core unmistakable. Master.
Emiya halts, a trembling hand extended.
He lowers it, gripping it almost painfully tightly. He has already made an enemy of everyone ahead, made choices that cannot be taken back or changed. Even if he had hoped to avoid a confrontation and sneak below everyone's notice until it was far too late like a coward—perhaps even changing history to such an extent that no one would ever even realize he had existed in the first place or betrayed so many who had trusted him... None of that changed the fact that he had already long ago made his decision.
And he could not do otherwise than to see it through to the end.
Materializing, he pushed through the door into the coffin room.
Their eyes meet and for a moment he almost stops in his tracks. Vivid blue, open and unguarded even with the glimmer of grim realization clear in them. Behind his master, there are several Servants, all familiar and now cognizant of his presence. Too many for any hope of victory to be achieved through forcing his way through.
But at least the systems still seem to be running. Da Vinci must not have found his little trick yet. If he could just get to the coffins, then...
"Emiya. You're hurt," Ritsuka states with a little surprise.
Nodding silently, the Archer looks down at his wreck of an arm. It's still bleeding, pieces of sheared bone and half-coagulated blood dripping down onto the pristine floors.
He looks back up, offering a grim shrug. "I ran into some trouble on the way." There is a slight tension in his Master's shoulders, which Emiya can't help but wish to ease. "No reason to worry." Perhaps it's his lack of resolve in facing him now, or merely a ploy to make them lower their guards, Emiya can't even tell for certain himself. "Emiya Alter's dead, and Cu Chulainn might not make it. But no one else is hurt."
Servants are merely tools that can be freely sacrificed by magi, yet, even so, this Master cannot help but be pained to hear those words. Would this help harden the young man's resolve in facing down a former ally, Emiya wonders with a silent huff, pondering whether he should say something more. Finally, he opts for a joke.
"Honestly, I'm most worried about Ishtar." Several eyes widen at those words, but before any can interrupt, he calmly finishes. "Between the headache and her bruised pride, I'm sure she'll be absolutely insufferable once she wakes up."
Ritsuka and Mash blink, their mouths and eyes forming perfect circles of supreme astonishment at his words.
A barking laugh echoes through the room, the King in Gold nearly doubling over by one side of the room. Emiya knows not what to think of the man's presence or apparent approval. Even if there were nothing else standing in his path now, the merest whim from that one could ruin everything.
Saber shoots the man a reproachful glare, but the King of Heroes heeds it none.
"That's, uh... I mean..." Ritsuka searches for something to say for a moment, before finally deciding to simply blurt it out. "Emiya, why are you doing this? If you're going to go to such lengths, then why...?"
The ruined arm becomes the center of attention again and Emiya almost feels the need to cover it up before the numerous stares.
Emiya tries to think of something to say, but only manages a grimace. Just explaining why would take forever and he had already long since concluded that he would find no help here. Even if his Master turned out to be sympathetic to his suffering, the "solution" would no doubt sour any possibility of cooperation.
But it appeared that there was someone who knew what he was trying to do here. If Lancer had known, then it really didn't surprise Emiya that Saber did as well.
"Why must you seek this conclusion again?" she asks, clad in but not baring steel at him. Yet.
Something must have shown on his face, as her expression softened.
"Do you not remember? Your confrontation with Shirou... With yourself? Did you not find the answer there already once before?"
"Tsk," the sheer venom must have shocked her, as she takes a step back at his expression. "It figures I failed at least once already."
"Failed? No, Archer, you..." She tries to interrupt him, but he continues.
"I knew I remembered cutting him down before." He has to look away, jumbled information rising from within the deepest parts of himself. Not memories, but raw knowledge of events. Impersonal and detached. Meaningless. "In the forest—at the mountain temple—outside the church, I know I've cut him down and that he's died by my hands already—Once, at least... Perhaps he could have survived, but I must have succeeded in killing him at least once!"
He's shouting now, his breath coming ragged and hot between clenched teeth.
Saber isn't the only one staring at him with wide eyes now, as his Master and fellow Servants see him in a new light for the first time. In his true form, hiding nothing and baring his frustration and rage for all to see.
"But that's not happened to you, is it? I must have realized it then too and thought better of it. Maybe I thought if I could just tear him down completely it would make a difference somehow. Or perhaps I just wanted to beat him down for the sheer satisfaction of it."
She shook her head, trying to reason with him. "Archer...Then you must know that it will not work. Stand down and you will be given mercy, you know this."
The silence hangs heavy and acrid until finally, Emiya sighs.
"It really doesn't matter. Because whatever answer or conclusion I must have reached then, it's all equally worthless. I am doomed to repeat these realizations and regrets endlessly, forever stuck as a wretched murderer cleaning up for people I've long since lost any admiration for. I'm tired, Saber."
He realizes his throat is dry and shakes his head; he's talking to the wrong one here. She tries to say something but realizes his attention is already elsewhere, following his gaze with her own. His eyes are locked onto his Master's, still staring at him with uncomprehending confusion.
"Master... You've given me a gift more precious than you can possibly understand. I might not have been able to do much to help you, but this..." Emiya gestures around them, his eyes losing their manic gleam for just a moment. "This has been... Something beyond what I could put into words. But I'm sorry. I can't go back."
He takes a step forward.
The only way now is forward. Whatever may lie ahead.
Ritsuka flinches, taking a step back before he collects himself with a shake of his head. "Emiya, no. What, whatever this is... We can work it together. You know we can do it."
But he is beyond words now.
Unfortunately for him, however, it's already too late.
The CHALDEAS model of the world pulsates once, and then the intercom crackles with a familiar cheerful voice. "Hello, hello, everyone~! We have now restored system settings to normal! Shutting down the Near-Future Observation Lens now. Spirit coffins are now offline as well!"
The way to the past has been sealed, the path before him has vanished.
Emiya blinks, swaying on his feet as he realizes this.
Mind a whir with everything he knows about the Chaldea systems and his carefully laid out plans, he tries to deny the inevitable conclusion. He tried... And he failed.
"You were quite clever, Emiya! You really are a perceptive judge of character, to tailor-make this plan of yours so well. I overlooked your sabotage of the id badge reader at least seven times!" she continues, apparently wholly unaware of the mood in the room. "But unfortunately for you, an Uomo Universale such as myself can't be stopped for long!"
"You heard her, Emiya..." Ritsuka says, a small but hopeful smile gracing his face as he continues. "Come on. Let's get you to medical."
But those words fall on deaf ears. Steely eyes look up and the Master cannot help but flinch before his Servant's declaration.
"I can't stop now."
Saber raises her holy blade, resignation heavy in her gaze. The Servants around him all follow suit, even as he tries to think of something to say.
There is only one among those gathered who seems to take this turn with levity. "Hahaha, as expected of a mongrel dog. Even when beaten and lost, you will not be brought to heel."
"Gilgamesh..." Ritsuka interrupts, but the golden king cares none as he continues.
"I had hoped for a more entertaining ending to this farce, but I suppose I will have to content myself with merely putting down this wastrel pup." That declaration was echoed by his person becoming awash with a golden light as his form was clad in his brilliant suit of armor, his mighty steps clinking against the floor like the bell tolling the inevitable execution to come. "Had you merely sought to steal away in the night, you might have even succeeded. But in your arrogance you sought to change history itself? To wield the power of Chaldeas to forcibly inscribe your own suicide into the fabric of history? Hah! Know your place, mongrel!"
The room lit up with the golden glow of a dozen portals, rippling outward along the king's extended arms behind his back. Several of the Servants took nervous steps back, more than familiar with the sheer power at Gilgamesh's grasp and his propensity for collateral damage in battle.
Even Ritsuka worried a moment, forgetting all about Emiya as he tried to predict how much destruction the Chaldea facility could take from the Gate of Babylon, were this to escalate into a serious battle.
There was only one who remained calm in the face of the incoming golden storm conjured forth by Gilgamesh; the man facing it.
Steely eyes seemed to glow with the self-same light that he faced, taking it all in and refusing to be cowed by it for even a second. His posture had straightened and his breathing had calmed from his earlier ranting as if facing absolute death was a much more familiar and comforting matter for him than mere talk.
"You? Oh, that's rich."
Someone gasped, but the Golden King did not react. Or rather, there was a slight narrowing of his eyes. Just enough to forestall the storm for a few more seconds.
"No, no. I guess it makes sense, now that I think about it." Emiya continued, relaxing perceptibly as he shook his head. "You almost became a tool for the powers beyond humanity at the dawn of history yourself. But you chose to stand by humanity—or rather, above humanity—instead of between it and the gods as a keystone. A tool."
The deathly stillness and silence stretched on, as gray eyes rose to meet divine red.
"It's no wonder you can't stand me. It must be like looking into a broken and warped funhouse mirror. To see someone who made the wrong choice and regrets it for all eternity."
Emiya ignored Gilgamesh. "But then again... I would have expected you to have brought it up. But you never have. Not even once. Be it to gloat or to insult. I never thought you above such an easy retort.
"I guess even you can feel sympathy for—"
The world exploded in light and sound. Ritsuka barely had time to comprehend several Servants jumping to shield him, as heaven and earth seemed to shatter around him. The floor shook as the walls and ceiling threatened to crumble on top of them all.
He coughed, realizing that his ears were ringing when he could only hear himself weakly. His vision swam and he tried to look around, only to almost be blinded by the sheer wall of gold burning bright behind Gilgamesh, the billowing and wavering texture of it almost akin to a mirror for the King's indomitable temper at that moment.
Realizing what had happened, Ritsuka tried to search for Emiya even as he already knew it would be useless. No one could possibly come out unharmed from facing Gilgamesh's full wroth. The floor and walls were simply gone, gouged and torn out by a hundred—no, two or three hundred, at least—ancient masterwork weapons.
Pieces of the ceiling fell down, and for moment Ritsuka dreaded that the whole facility would come crashing down on them.
His blood ran cold and he turned around, eyes wide with panic.
Emiya stood behind them all, having somehow managed to get past them in the confusion. Gray eyes were looking directly at him as if communicating something silently. And then Ritsuka realized.
The golden portals were turning. The King of Heroes' anger was far from soothed yet.
He had to be stopped.
"Gilgamesh, stand down!"
The familiar burn of a command seal expended twinged his hand and the effect was instantaneous; the Archer freezing in his tracks as if his entire body had been chained down, even his mighty armory refusing to let loose the final volley despite the King's fury.
Ritsuka would be dealing with that later. One did not easily cross Gilgamesh.
But it had to be done. After all...
Emiya was holding Mash by the throat, wielding her like a shield between himself and the rest of the Servants. Any attempt on him would have to go through Mash first.
"Phew... As expected of the first and greatest tsundere. You really don't hold back, do you...?" Emiya asked rhetorically, his mood apparently quite jolly despite his obvious wounds.
Despite somehow surviving, he hadn't come out unscathed just now. Even half-hidden behind Mash, it was obvious that he had lost his left arm and leg. Blood poured onto the floor freely, no doubt staining the back of Mash's clothing a deep crimson as well.
"Archer, you...!" This time it was Saber whose anger could barely be contained. She stepped forward, holy sword rising in anger at the bowman's tactics.
"Saber!" Ritsuka shouted, hoping he wouldn't have to use another command seal again. Luckily, she was still within reason as she shot back a chastised look and lowered her blade. He turned his gaze back to the man holding Mash hostage. "Archer... Let her go."
"...I will," he answers, meeting his gaze. "As soon as I'm in Fuyuki. Tell Da Vinci to turn everything back on. I'll be taking her with me, to ensure that you don't turn off the Near-Future Observation Lens. We wouldn't want her to get lost in the quantum uncertainty out there, now would we?"
Ritsuka grit his teeth, hesitating as he looked around.
He didn't know what would happen if he let Emiya go through with his plan, whatever it really was, even if he felt that he could trust the man to not harm Mash. But Saber had vehemently opposed it since the beginning and he knew he could trust her judgment.
Therefore, he couldn't allow it.
Therefore, he had to play the one card still left to him.
Ritsuka raised his hand again, pointing it palm down at Emiya. "Archer, let—"
It all happened so fast.
"—Trace, on" Emiya calls out.
"That is—!" Saber called out, recognizing Emiya's creation instantly.
"—Rule Breaker." The jagged purple blade digged into his skin as he speaks, shrieking through even into the Master as something is severed.
"—Mash go!" Ritsuka called out, and then his eyes widened at the pain lancing through his command seal as it disappeared. But it felt off, somehow. As if it had fizzled out instead of working properly. Aimless and directionless. And then a second later he realizes that Emiya hadn't let go of Mash at all. His mind blanking out utterly as he realizes what just had happened. "What, but how—?"
It takes him another few seconds to realize that he can't feel Archer through that connection, which has remained between them, unbroken since he was first summoned. As if his spirit origin had disappeared and the pact between Master and Servant had been undone.
It is Emiya who explains.
"Rule Breaker might be a potent asset in battle as you have wielded it until now... But you really shouldn't have forgotten that above all else, it's a blade of betrayal."
"Ah..." It is only then that he recognizes the Noble Phantasm. Medea's cursed athame—the bitter blade that crystallized her divinity and her legend of retribution and treachery.
Emiya cast it aside, the jagged purple knife clattering against the floor, his hand returning to hold Mash properly even as the arm hadn't curled away from holding her the whole time.
"Now... Somebody really should be getting Da Vinci up to speed," Archer suggested. "Or perhaps we should just skip all the useless talk. Mast—Ritsuka, use a command seal to ensure Da Vinci restores the systems."
"Now," Emiya repeated forcefully, eyes boring into his former Masters.
"Master..." Saber whispered, glancing sideways at him as she asks for his guidance. But he is completely lost, the worry over losing Mash paralyzing his mind and stilling his thoughts entirely.
Archer's eyes jumped to the side, past Ritsuka then. Blinking numbly, he realized that the rogue Servant was now staring at someone behind them with furrowed brows. He turned around, spotting a familiar pair of girls entering the room.
Chloe and Illyasviel looked around, spotting him at the same time and letting out exhales of relief in near-perfect synchronization. The obvious signs of destruction and Archer holding Mash hostage draw their eyes next, but they remain silent, their gazes asking for him to solve this.
As he turned around to look at Emiya again, he realized that everyone was staring at him. They are all expecting him to solve this, long experience in the battle to save humanity. That weight of expectation piles up on his shoulders now, almost crushing in its intensity.
But that is not all.
That expectation and weight is not without cause. That sea of faces, each and all familiar brought about dozens of memories. Difficult battles and bitter pinches. A battle that lasted a whole year with him as the sole living Master of Humanity at the helm.
It steadied his heart and calmed his mind.
Ritsuka took a deep breath and turned to regard Emiya once more. Emiya and Mash. And he realized that there is something she is trying to tell him with her eyes; a feeling or realization she has. Regarding this situation—regarding Archer.
The words came out by themselves as if they had been on the tip of his tongue the whole time.
"You won't hurt her, Emiya."
I'm calling your bluff!
The pregnant silence was broken by everyone turning to look at him, the shuffling of clothes and feet signaling their confusion and then their realization.
Emiya wore a difficult expression, troubled and unbelieving in equal measure mixing with desperate hope that he had heard wrong. "You..."
"You're not going to hurt her, Emiya," Ritsuka repeated, his growing confidence solidifying at Mash's expression then. "So you can just let her go now."
Just a moment of stillness.
The arm fell down limply, releasing Mash. All that remained of the previous ultimatum was the defeated expression on Emiya's face. His eyes, clouded and lost, staring at the ground as if trying to figure out what he should have done differently.
Mash hesitated for a moment, turning to look at the man behind her before frowning and looking at Ritsuka who was already running up to her with several Servants in tow. She looks between them, almost as if she wants to run up to him but then thinks better of it and stays next to Archer.
It is then that Ritsuka realized where Mash's confidence stemmed.
Emiya is barely able to remain standing, his wounds deep and the loss of an arm and a leg more than taking a toll on his spiritual core, especially as he had already cut off the stabilizing anchor of their contract.
"Archer..." Saber is the first to speak up, but the man in question doesn't hear it, too lost in his own regrets.
All around them Servants have relaxed, realizing that with this the incident has come to an end.
And, as if guided by fate it is then that Da Vinci storms the scene. "What's going on? The cameras all cut off and—Whoa!" Almost falling down through the massive hole in the floor where Gilgamesh's wrath lay waste earlier. "Who blow up everything?! The UN will have our hides for this! Who is going to buy the Chaldea facility now, ahh...!"
Ritsuka can't help it—he laughs. Relief and weariness assail him as one as his shoulders droop. Saber's own relieved smile combined with the proud look from Mash cause him to raise a hand to his face, rubbing at the tip of his reddened nose with some embarrassment.
Somehow that brings it home, the realization that it's over.
Or is it?
"Plus-minus five minutes," Emiya suddenly says.
Ritsuka's guts freeze.
The Archer isn't talking to anyone, only thinking aloud. "The lens is still—has already recorded another two minutes."
He still hasn't given up...!
Emiya raises his lone remaining arm, words of power spilling from his lips as his eyes stare beyond this place, unswaying from the Global Environment Model CHALDEAS.
"—I am the bone of my sword," those words echo terribly, dashing any hope of them having heard wrong.
"Mash, get over here!"
"Master, behind me!"
Servants hesitate, even as they take positions. There is nothing this traitor can do; his physical body has been torn apart, his magical energy is weak and his spiritual core is only giving off the flickering last flames of one who refuses to die without a fight.
Has he gone mad?
Is this the last self-destructive spark of someone who has gone past despair?
The crimson Archer is a known quantity, there is nothing he can possibly do to harm their Master, they think. The way forward is shut, the path behind has long been dashed. But those steely eyes never even took note of that; his aim lies far beyond, somewhere far distant and extant from this place and time.
"Archer, you still...!" Saber cries out, raising her sword in desperate challenge.
But he was already long past words.
There are only two among the gathered who recognize what is happening.
"Not again!" Kuro moans as Illyasviel gasps, recognizing the blade in Emiya's hand as one.
Space and time, worlds running parallel, vision doubling and tripling and quadrupling in on itself, a six-fold gem in the shape of a sword, the mind of one who has been running desperately for eons...
A brightness takes them, blinding all senses as something passes and something vanishes.
"Kuh, what was that...!" Ritsuka bemoans as he rubs at his eyes while shaking his head. But that only makes the doubled sensations triple for a second, before it vanishes altogether. The unexpected normalcy almost makes him stumble and fall, but someone catches him with a strong hand.
"Thanks," he bemoans weakly as he looks up and realizes it is Gilgamesh. But the King isn't looking at him, instead, staring ahead with a grim expression.
"To think the mongrel had something like that all this time..."
Not understanding what he is talking about, Ritsuka can only follow the King's gaze. It takes several long seconds, but finally, he realizes what is amiss. Emiya is gone.
"Where is he?"
"Did he die?"
He isn't the only one confused, as many of the Servants voice their thoughts. Only Gilgamesh seems certain of what has happened.
"Whelp," the King speaks, eyes aflame with indignation from afore all but forgotten, much less forgiven. Ritsuka swallows, straightening up nervously before the blond man's glare. "The traitorous mongrel will have already made it to his destination. You'll need to make haste if you wish to punish him. Hesitate now and he will have already turned to dust in the wind before you can reach him—one way or another."
The last Master blinks, realizing that the King has spoken and is already moving to take his leave, already having lost all interest in the matter.
"Uh... Right." Taking a deep breath, he centers himself and takes in his surroundings. Mind set, he speaks out. "Da Vinci, get everything back online! We need to stop Emiya before it's too late. Also, prep the anti-Archer teams for deployment. Mash, go with Illyasviel and Chloe and figure out what happened outside of the cameras. Saber, you know Fuyuki and what Emiya is planning, right? You're with me."
It's only a second of stillness, as everyone processes his commands. But as one they move to make it happen. The results of the past year cannot be denied, as Chaldea has honed itself to become a flawless machine in the numerous battles since his arrival.
Everyone fall into place and it takes less than a minute for everything to be ready. Ritsuka is just hastily putting on his Combat Suit as the call comes through and he steps into the spirit coffin.
His eyes close in darkness and open to behold the cold stars above a calm ocean of shadows in the far horizon. He recognizes this place even if it is no longer on fire; those mountains cutting apart heaven and earth, and the cold moon hanging far above are simply too recognizable.
Emiya is nowhere to be seen, the darkness of the night around them casting long shadows in the empty park around them. The air is still and disturbing as if a great tragedy has befallen this place. Or, as if one is just about to occur.
He casts aside such tumultuous thoughts.
"Saber. Where is he going?"
"This way, Master," the knight answers seriously, taking the lead with apprehensive energy. They all move to follow, Ritsuka being carried to save time.
The cross a river in a single bound, moving through achingly familiar streets that call back to times long before he had even heard of Chaldea before he had spent a year embroiled in battle to save humanity. This neighborhood and the next, and the next again, are all so reminiscent of his own hometown he can't help but wonder what this place means to Emiya. But he ignores those thoughts, desperately keeping his eyes open as the tears from the whipping wind streak down his face.
Street lights blur and become as one, the bitter cold gnawing at his exposed skin as they fly over houses and walls.
Finally, they come to a stop abruptly inside the yard of an old-style mansion surrounded by a tall outer wall, reminding him of old samurai movies somehow. Before Ritsuka's feet even hit the ground, Saber is already rushing inside. He doesn't wait, barging past the door and not even bothering to take off his shoes. The shine of old cabinets and polished hardwood floor is unmistakable even in the dark, catching his eye for scant few moments before they make it to a living room.
"Shirou's bedroom is this way...!" Saber shouts as she barrels through a living room, but Ritsuka falters in his following. The cold breeze catches his attention and he turns to stare with furrowed brows.
There is a small veranda overlooking the inner yard, the outer wall, and a shed visible through the living room. The door leading outside lies open as if someone had forgotten to close it for the night, explaining the source of the breeze.
Up ahead he hears Saber's voice, and a second later her voice again.
Belatedly he realizes that Saber must be confronting herself of this Grail War—neatly explaining her familiarity with this place and with whomever Emiya was targeting here. But somehow that seems secondary, as the strangeness of the open veranda door tugs at him.
He doesn't react at the question, trusting the Servants around him and Saber to handle things for the moment. Walking over the threshold, he ignores the shiver that runs down his spine. The lawn shines black and silver under the bare light of the waxing moon, its near fullness outshining all the stars in the sky.
Another gust blows from behind him, the two open doors creating a wind tunnel that funnels out the warmer air along with the confused shouts and turmoil inside.
Emiya isn't here. He's already gone...
Somehow he knows that for a fact. He looks down, as the panels behind him rattle with the wind. And as he does a small swirling pile of ash at his feet catches his attention.
And it is gone without a trace.
The last remains of that man, or a trick of the eye?
He shakes his head.
It's enough to confirm his gut instinct. There was no need to come here, for whatever reason Emiya has already vanished. The now-not-only-extant-Master frowns and turns around, giving the cold winter moon on high one last look. Whatever it was that his rogue Servant sought to accomplish has obviously not come to pass—though he doesn't know why or how—but he can't deny the feeling of unease that it creates.
"Ah, Master...!" Saber calls out, relief obvious at his appearance. Her apprehension and nervous energy before another incarnation of herself—a past self, even—and the apparent disappearance of Emiya rendering her hesitant and lost.
Even now, her eyes roam the house as if looking for that tall figure, wondering where and why he has gone. He too, understands that feeling well, even though he cannot claim familiarity with the man. With Solomon's defeat and the eradication of all the demon pillar gods, somehow he had felt that it was all over.
But with this...
It somehow feels like the prologue of something worse yet to come.
As a painfully familiar yet obviously foreign redhead trudges out behind the other Saber with confused apprehension in his eyes, Ritsuka calls forth his best smile. Whatever his mistakes, whatever his errors, whatever his sins he supposes... the only thing he can do is to keep walking.
"Hello, sorry about this. My name is Fujimura Ritsuka—I'm a Master, like you, I guess."
Author note about general stuff and less about this story:
Sorry about being gone for so long.
I always say that, don't I? Well, this time I have even poorer excuses :V. School has kicked into overdrive and my interest hasn't really been in it, so motivation has been lacking in just about everything recently. I've also been hard at work with swordstuff, so that's been a huge timesink, too. And then the worst drain on my free time... Well, I'll explain it from the "beginning": After I posted that HPxSkyrim story last decade(wow, time sure flies!), Half-Life: Alyx was announced and as a result the Oculus Rift CV1 prices crashed. So, I of course had to buy a used one because I knew they would be cheap as fuck. Got one for like a third of the price of a new one, in perfect condition with three sensors. I told myself "I'm just gonna try out Skyrim VR and refresh my memory a little..." and then I'd write a few more chapters of that to brush up on my writing and then get right back into MotM.
Well, uh... Another 100+ hours of Skyrim later...
So that didn't quite work out as expected. Though in my defense, I last played it before Special Edition came out, so I had a pretty huge backlog of interesting mods to try out. And then I bought more VR games, because I'd already known I have iron VR legs. As in, I simply don't get motion sickness in VR, no matter what. So of course I had to try everything I had been looking at for years out for myself now. And it's kind of hard to bother writing anything, when I can literally just play that stuff in VR. Like it's one thing to imagine how a Servant can run at the speed of sound over alien terrain and write about that... And it's another thing entirely to just PLAY that shit. Like holy shit, JET ISLAND is so fucking good.
Oh my god, it's just the Perfect Game.
And then, like all the cool, crazy fight scenes from MotM? Sairento VR. Ninjaflips, wallrunning, super slow-mo teleporting,, dual wielding a shotgun and an assault rifle, trickshots with a bow and throwing weapons and deflecting bullets with twin katanas etc. etc. It's all fucking there. It's pretty hard to dredge up the motivation to write, when I literally have the craziness that is Beat Saber or the infinite horrors and wonders of vrchat at my fingertips.
So uh, how did this thing I just posted factor into all of that? Well, I'm kind of getting tired of FGO and figured I should write about that. Try to write something that mirrors my frustrations with that game, while also doing something interesting with Emiya and getting back into his mindset for writing MotM. So this thing came to mind. Literally. Like I wrote down the plot outline in one hour.
But that was like three months ago...? And I've written it pretty piecemeal in between hundreds of hours of Beat Saber, Jet Island and vrchat... So it kind of sucks. I mean as in how its written. The tense is all over the places, a lot of the scenes could use touching up and I didn't use half the characters I could have. A few times there's dozens of Servants in the scene, but I just wrote them as one lump, because I couldn't be arsed to write individual reactions tailored for all of them.
So like I said. Half-assed, kind of sucky.
But WHATEVER. MOVING ON! GET BACK TO WRITING MOTM YOU LAZY FUCK!
I hear, I hear! And I'll obey. I have been thinking about MotM a lot, so wrapping the final chapter of the arc it's been on should be relatively easy now.
Author note about this story:
I wanted to try something a little different for Chaldea to handle. Not a big, super-powerful threat that's about to end the world, or silly battles alongside new allies. Rather a familiar face shown in a new light; a weak, but clever and determined and careful opponent. But someone who is still limited in what they're willing to do.
Enter Archer. He's been kind of... Schizophrenic since in recent years. FSN made it clear that he's still stuck in hell, but then Extra came along and retconned that, and then Nasu had to double-talk whether or not Nameless and Emiya are the same person(they are) and how to write him in the future etc. Which has lead to the "Mamamiya" treatment in FGO where he's way mellow compared to his original appearance. Which is really odd, since FSN made it clear that nothing should have changed. Even with his answer from UBW, he wouldn't remember that shit, so he should be pretty stand-offish even if he agrees with Chaldea's mission statement. His FGO profile in the Grand Order materials even high-light this (untranslated, but it is there).
But do we see any of it? Naah, hahaha :V
This also allowed me to do some fairly interesting (for me, anyhow) scenes. For one, I got to dab all over Demiya. God, I hate that fuck so much. Originally I had an even bigger dab in mind for him, where I'd insert a "hey reader start playing EMIYA ost now" as Demiya is about to get up-scene, but then Emiya would just deflate Demiya like a balloon by going "Dude, what the fuck are you doing? Why are you fighting? Dude, you literally don't even remember putting on your pants this morning. Sit the fuck down and stay out of my way." at which point the EMIYA music would just stop. Anyhow, decided to forego that for something simpler.
But for another, I got to have some fun with Gilgamesh. Like looking at the interactions between Emiya and Gil in FSN, FHA and FUC there's a pretty interesting story there imho. They're quite alike, even discounting the parts where Emiya has wholesale stole stuff from Gil haha. But no one at Type Moon cares or knows how to write that kind of stuff, which is kind of sad. I mean, look at Extella Link, where Archer suddenly becomes UBW Shirou when he's dealing with Gil, rather than himself. Like the author didn't remember any of Archer's and Gil's actual interactions in the past, instead going with the much more obvious stuff with Shirou that was front and center in UBW.
I'm kind of tempted to write a buddy cop story with Gil and Archer. Maybe something in the vein of Elf's interactions between the two in The Blacksmith and the Hound, or something. Maybe have some fun with the potions of youth with one or both...? Whatever, ideas for another time.
Alright, time to get to that one MotM chapter that's been sitting at 10k for half a year :V