DISCLAIMER: I do not take credit from the Fate universe and its characters. The rights and credits go to the original authors.
Read the notes in the first chapter if you haven't done it already.
English is not my native language, so please bear with me. I'm confident in my grammar, but if there are any mistakes, then let me know and I'll try to figure out how to fix them as soon as I have time.
Hope you enjoy.
She Rules the Battlefield
Location: Fuyuki City (Japan)
Mion River – Fuyuki Bridge
There was no pause this time. The battle began immediately.
The clash between Archer and Lancer began with a resounding shockwave.
Steel crashed against steel in a shower of sparks. The air hissed and moaned. Heroic Spirit Emiya widened his eyes while Lancer dashed forward, charging at him first with a speed that no living being should ever be allowed to possess. His mind quieted and stilled. His ears rang and twitched. His instinct was screaming at him to run away and hide, and he barely had time to raise his arms into a defensive stance to block the enemy's attack at the last split-second, his body tense and rigid with anxiety.
Kanshou and Bakuya clashed against the red demonic spear with an explosion of wind. The entire bridge beneath their feet seemed to moan and tremble due to the oppressive shockwave. And yet, the two Servants did not falter even for a second, continuing to push forward and trying to pressure the opponent with their strength alone. The man of tempered steel glared at the woman of darkness and shadows, gritting his teeth into a growl as he desperately pushed, and pushed, and pushed in attempt to force the enemy away.
But to no avail. In the end, Emiya could bear the oppressive pressure no longer. The spear-woman – Scathach – was simply too powerful for him. She didn't even move one inch. With a fast and almost invisible movement, in fact, the Lancer class Servant twisted her spear out of the blades' pressure, breaking Archer's stance with but a single push of the arms. Emiya could do nothing but widen his eyes while his defense was completely shattered, and he soon felt the air leave his lungs as soon as a powerful kick slammed against his abdomen, sending him backwards for several meters.
Pure, unmistakable pain blossomed on his chest and body. Archer stumbled backwards with a grunt, his feet dragging against the rails of the bridge in order to maintain his balance and avoid the fall. As soon as he was able to react again, he immediately raised his blades again, only to glimpse Scathach's body dashing towards him again, fast as lightning itself and silent as the moon shining on the above. He barely had time to react this time, and he spun his body into the best position in order to deflect a sudden thrust of the enemy spear, aimed at his heart. Once again, sparks flew into his vision, while Kanshou and Bakuya's combined strength struggled to block and parry the enemy's weapon.
Until, the thrust was followed by another. And then another. And another. It became a full-fledged assault in less than a second, and Emiya narrowed his eyes and hissed in frustration as he moved and twisted and struggled to parry and deflect the attacks to the best of his abilities. The air had become a blur around him, and the movements of the spear were no longer visible to the eyes. If it weren't for his well-developed instincts and his Mind's Eye, he would have been hit countless times.
Still, Scathach's face was morphed into a mask of cold resolve. Not even a glimmer of emotion could be seen in her crimson eyes as she attacked him relentlessly. She moved with grace and elegance, and yet every single thrust of her spear was as fast and dangerous as the deadliest weapon. The more he fought and struggled against her, the more Archer realized that Rider had been right during his previous duel. This woman really was the combination of "beauty" and "danger". There was no way to deny it any longer. Just witnessing to her movements and attacks was something both mesmerizing and appalling to the eyes. Something that would inevitably catch the eye and leave those who saw her astonished, and yet at the same time, it terrified and destroyed any desire to get close to the woman.
Her movements and attacks were not a simple assault. They were a dance.
It was a dance of death, and she was its grim and beautiful dancer.
Once again, Emiya felt the familiar and nostalgic feeling of pain blossom inside his mind as Lancer hit him in the face out of the blue. The woman swung her hand in a horizontal fist while he was still struggling to deflect the spear thrusts, striking his cheek and stealing his sight with blinding pain. Next thing he knew, his instincts screamed at him and Archer recoiled just in time to glimpse the woman's spear whipping towards his side at lightning-fast speed. His eyes widened immediately, and he tried to move his arms to block the attack with his shortswords, but it was too late.
The spear slammed against Kanshou and Bakuya's blades with a powerful snap, shattering them in an instant, and Archer paid the blow in full. The impact with the lance took almost all the air away from his lungs, and he was promptly thrown away like a living missile, sending him flying at least for a hundred meters, hissing in pain all the while. Eventually, however, he recovered fast enough to twist his body in the air, taking advantage of the destruction of his favorite twin blades to summon his bow and fire a volley of red arrows mid-air.
Much to his frustration, Scathach did not move one inch when faced with the sudden counter-attack. She merely bent her legs a little and twirled the spear with her hands, blocking all the incoming darts with ease. The arrows shattered and exploded all around her body as she deflected them all, generating a long series of explosions of wind and prana that enveloped her frame completely. Crimson-red eyes seemed to glow in the dark while the smoke dissolved and the air moaned in pain, and the Witch of Dún Scáith stepped away from the clouds of smoke with a solemn step while Emiya landed on the rails on the opposite side of the bridge.
Silence and tension filled the air. The wind howled all around him as he stared at the enemy walking slowly on the rails to move closer to his position. The woman's face remained cold and expressionless while the wind billowed her purple hair, her red spear twirling in her hands and enveloping her frame in a swirl of red flashes all the while.
Even if he did not show it on the outside, Heroic Spirit Emiya was growing increasingly worried. This fight was clearly turning against him. He knew he was not a powerful Heroic Spirit compared to the average Servants, but he wasn't expecting to be completely overwhelmed so soon. As much as he hated to admit it, he was clearly out-matched against that woman. Fighting her head on in close range was undoubtedly going to be a hard feat. Nearly impossible for him. Even with his Mind's Eye he was struggling to defend himself from her attacks. His instinct could predict – more or less – the feeling of her incoming attacks during their previous clash, but even if it compelled him to move, her movements were too fast for him to deflect them all, even faster than Saber's. Emiya was simply too slow compared to her to be able to defend himself from a direct assault. He was severely out-matched in close combat, and there was no way to deny it.
And yet, that was his only option. He could not use his bow and arrows, for they had already been proved to be useless against her. Nor he could hope to Trace and fire another Broken Phantasm at her.
Emiya was not stupid: he knew that woman would not give him time to project a Noble Phantasm and take aim with accuracy during the battle. She was simply too smart, too fast, for that. The moment she realized what he was about to do, she would simply dash at him and force him to defend himself again. Retreat was not an option either. Therefore: if he wanted to win, he had to find a way to slip past her defense. No matter how hard it was going to be.
Archer took a deep breath and exhaled air from his lips, steeling himself as best as he could.
Yes, there was no way to deny it. This Lancer was extremely dangerous, even more so than Cu Chulainn. And just like the accursed Blue Lancer, an opponent of her caliber was extremely hard to deal with for him. Emiya could see some speck of resemblance with the Blue Lancer's attacks in the woman's movements, but her style, stance and footwork were completely different. Where Cu Chulainn possessed strength and agility, Scathach possessed grace and elegance. Where the dog was brash and brutal, the woman was refined and precise. Her speed was slightly lacking her student's bestial agility, and even the power behind her thrusts was inferior compared to the attacks Emiya had withstood while fighting against the Hound of Culann during his previous Grail Wars. And yet, despite all of that, her attacks were by no means inferior. On the contrary, they were even more dangerous compared to those.
Because for what she lacked in muscle strength and speed, she made up with mana, and efficiency. Her attacks were perfectly balanced, her movements frighteningly fast and precise, and there was not a single opening in her assault and stance. It was an odd combination. A mixture of power and refined skill that was difficult to grasp with the mind, even for an experienced warrior like him. Describing this woman's battle style was easier said than done, let alone understanding it completely. If it weren't for his peculiar existence and his countless experiences, Archer would have failed to understand it as well.
For Emiya, the best way to describe it was one word: paradoxical.
Yes, that was the term. Paradoxical. A style that was not perfect, and yet at the same time it was. A combination of movements and skills that was not hard to read, and yet at the same time almost impossible to match. It was a contrast – an impossible contrast – which would have left every warrior baffled and confused upon witnessing the woman's fighting style. A contrast of opposites and semblances. A union of shortcomings and perfection. Thus, a paradox.
Despite the lack of bestial agility, her attacks were faster than Cu Chulainn's. Although she lacked the muscle strength and stature of her student, her attacks were more powerful than his. She seemed in every way inferior compared to the Blue Lancer; and yet she was much, much stronger and dangerous than him in every aspect. Her speed and style and movements… all of her was superior and far more dangerous than the dog's. Because it wasn't a matter of strength. It wasn't a matter of speed. It wasn't even a matter of bestial agility and skill.
It was a matter of experience. A matter of mindset, and dedication. It was a matter of will.
Cu Chulainn was a direct and straightforward warrior… but Scathach was a cunning and experienced killer.
And that was why he was able to understand it. As much as he loathed to admit it, Heroic Spirit Emiya could not mistake a killer when he saw one. Especially one such as her, who oozed off experience, dedication and will from every pore. Because, sad as it was, he was intimately familiar with those concepts. Extremely so.
For it was thanks to those exact same concepts that he had been able to become what he was today. No matter how he wished that hadn't been the case.
Emiya steeled his mind, observing the spear-woman with a narrowed gaze. There was no way to deny it. Archer could recognize a kindred spirit when he saw one. Just like him, in fact, the woman standing in front of him right now possessed experience, and resolve, and an unbending will. Her power was something that did not come just from her strength and skills – which, on their own, were already indescribably outstanding – but from her mindset and experiences instead. She was a killing machine, literally. An existence entirely aimed and focused on one single concept: killing, and killing, and killing. Just like him. Exactly like him.
The only difference? Lancer was even deadlier than him. Because despite sharing the same mindset and will, Emiya still lacked in skill and talent compared to her. And that was something he could never – EVER – hope to match, no matter how hard he tried.
Upon realizing that, Heroic Spirit Emiya could not quite stop himself from shivering for a moment.
But even though he hesitated only for a split-second, Lancer saw through him all the same. In fact, her eyes literally gleamed in feral trepidation as she saw the glimmer of fear flash inside the grey eyes of her prey. Archer's fingers twitched, and he barely had time to summon his shortswords a second time before the woman leaped at him for the third time, fast as the wind and elegant like the moon. In less than a blink of an eye, she was already on him again, assaulting him once more.
Just like before, their struggle remained unchanged. Archer defended himself, desperately moving and twisting his body in order to deflect and parry the attacks, but Lancer quickly overwhelmed him. His Mind's Eye was useless when faced against the Queen of Shadows herself. Her attacks and movements were easy to predict, but her speed and power were impossible to withstand for too long. The roar of metal clashing against steel echoed for an entire minute.
Emiya inwardly cursed when the enemy's spear managed to open a cut on his right cheek, and then he openly hissed when he barely managed to block a kick with his arm, reacting at the last split-second. He could feel the muscles and bones bending and screaming in pain under the woman's oppressive strength, and he forced himself to counterattack despite the overwhelming bloodlust oozing off from her glare alone. He had never experienced such a full-forced assault before – even taking into account his deployments – and his previous battles against Cu Chulainn were not even comparable to this woman's strength. No matter how absurd it sounded, his experiences and knowledge were useless against her.
Still, he refused to give up. Scathach's eyes narrowed when Emiya roared and increased his own assault all of a sudden, moving her spear with elegant and yet precise movements to parry his sudden slashes with relative ease. She just stared at him as he desperately tried to counterattack to her assault, something cold and unreadable flashing in her expression while she observed her opponent glaring at her with cold, calculating fury.
A pair of grey eyes made of steel and will, against a pair of crimson orbs made of ice and death.
Faster than a mere human eye could follow, they clashed. Again, and again, and again. Sparks flew and the clatter of steel rang out across the bridge, and even though Emiya met each strike to the best of his abilities, he was clearly being pushed back. It was extremely hard for him to keep up against the enemy's spear. There were certain weapons that could keep him at a range unsuited to his smaller blades. Excalibur was one of them. Gáe Bolg and certainly this alternative version of the demonic spear, then, were matters of course. But every kind of defense had gaps. Cu Chulainn fought aggressively and left openings in his armor as tradeoffs, small as they were… but this woman was another story entirely. Her style and movements were refined, and there was no opening at all in her stance even as she attacked or moved to parry. Truly, each of her movements was perfectly balanced, extremely precise and well-aimed in effort in both offensive and defensive power. Combined with Lancer's masterful form and her enormous amount of mana, the current situation left few options indeed.
But there were always options.
After an entire minute of slashes and struggles, the twin blades and the demonic spear clashed against each other in a powerful thrust, generating a roar of metal and mana and creating a shockwave all around the two Servants. Once again, the entire bridge shook and trembled under the oppressive battle unfolding upon its railings, and the concrete itself seemed to crack a little on the street below.
Archer and Lancer glared at each other, both of them pushing forward with their weapons to make pressure on the enemy.
"I sense anxiety in you," Scathach spoke as they clashed a second time. This fact alone was surprising for her, for she wasn't usually one to talk during a battle. On the contrary, she firmly believed that it was useless to exchange words during a duel. However, for some reason she could not quite fathom, she found herself unable to resist her curiosity. "You knew you were out-matched from the beginning. Why did you not flee from me?"
The only answer she received was a glare, followed by a hiss of effort.
"You were baiting me," Lancer realized as she continued to attack. Her voice was cold and commanding at the same time, her face betraying nothing but an empty expression. "You've purposely waited for me here instead of retreating from my wrath. Why?"
Emiya struggled against her lance, his blades slashing in the air to deflect and block the incoming attacks. "There was no need to further endanger the Masters with our battle," he answered through gritted teeth.
Lancer blinked upon realizing what he meant. She could see it in his eyes; in the steeled resolve flashing inside them, and in the unbending will oozing from his body. The only reason behind his actions had been his Master's safety. He had willingly and purposely lured her here in order to keep her away from the girl with golden hair. No ulterior motives, no hidden reason. He just wanted to deal with her alone, in order to keep his Master safe from her wrath. Even if that meant putting himself in danger against a stronger opponent.
He felt anxiety, but he had no fear. He was struggling, and yet would not escape. He knew he had no chance of winning, but he chose not to retreat. He was sincerely and completely determined to fight with her to the death, even if he knew that he was out-matched from the start. All of this for the sake of a single individual. For the sake of a simple girl who could not be older than fifteen.
The woman's lips parted into a feral grin. "You possess courage," she complimented him. "But that won't save you from my spear."
With one powerful thrust, she batted away his blades and moved to slash his chest. Emiya widened his eyes, but he managed to react accordingly this time. Before she could kill him with her attack, in fact, the spear collided with another pair of shortswords summoned in but a single second, and Emiya took advantage of Lancer's moment of surprise to kick her away from him with a fast and well-aimed movement. His foot slammed against the spear's shaft, and he used her own weapon to leap away from her with a dash, escaping from the incessant assault. He knew it was useless to fight Scathach like that. To directly clash against her was suicide, so he needed to think of something different.
However, their previous clash had not been completely useless. Emiya hadn't simply forced himself to fight that woman on close range just because he was out of options. Not at all. On the contrary, he had done it simply because he needed to grasp more of her abilities and story… and there was no better way to learn about the enemy's strength than fighting them directly.
In fact, just like he'd hoped, the more he clashed against her, the more Emiya started to understand.
The woman he was fighting against was not a simple warrior. She was more than a skilled Hero and a figure from legends of old. She was a literal killing machine. A beast inside a human body. Something that could not be considered "human", for that very same notion and definition could no longer contain and describe the entirety of her being.
But it was only when Archer moved to Structurally Analyze Scathach's spear that everything finally snapped into place.
A cursed existence; an immortal body.
A warrior who transcended the laws of the world.
Through his eyes and her weapon, Archer saw it. He saw the woman's past, her legend, her history. Her condition. He saw it all, with a crystalline clarity and a deep sense of repulsion and understanding at the same time. Because the woman he was fighting against right now was someone – no, something would be a much fitting word – to which he could relate in spite of everything. Something that should not be allowed to exist. Something that had long since been cut off from the laws of the common world, becoming an existence that lived on another plane of existence entirely.
Indeed, he could see it. He could see it without a single trace of doubt. Scathach was a cursed existence. A being neither human, nor divine. A life turned halfway between a Divine Spirit and a mortal body, which in turn had caused her to become unaffected by death. A God-Slayer and Gatekeeper of the Land of the Dead, who after slaying those who had been blessed with immortality had become the very same thing that she despised. She had become immortal, for the concept of "life" and "death" could no longer rule her, because they belonged to the world which she had unconsciously left behind. She could not die. She will never die, for throughout her battles, Scathach eventually ceased being human and started to be closed off from the World, leaving her humanity behind and becoming something else entirely.
She was neither a woman, nor a wraith. She wasn't a ghost, and yet that description fit her more than the concept of "human". She could no longer die, forced to simply continue to exist, forever. Forever, and ever, and ever; until the time when the World, the Land of Shadows and its outside would finally disappear. A being who longed for death, desperately and helplessly, despite knowing full well that such a wish was nothing but a foolish delusion. A woman who could not die, no matter how much she desired and longed for it; and who was cursed to exist until the end of days.
The curse of never-ending life, embodied into a human body.
Truly, it was appalling and revolting to witness. Archer could not stand that knowledge upon realizing the truth behind her existence. She truly was a monster, in every sense of the word. Just looking at her was making his bowels twist and churn.
For loathe as he was to admit it, her existence and condition felt extremely familiar to him.
Emiya gritted his teeth, growling in frustration as the woman slammed her spear against his blades. He met her charge head on, parrying her attacks and twisting his body into impossible positions to avoid a slash aimed at his head. The more they clashed, the more he was able to understand her legend, while the red Archer struggled and fought incessantly to resist under the opponent's superior skill and speed. The strength behind her attacks was so powerful that his arms were shaking in attempt to resist and block her charge directly.
Now that he understood who – what – he was fighting against, what could he do? What hope did he possess? Faced with such an existence, with such immortality, what could he do to win?
He could run away, of course, but he doubted that Lancer would let him go after going this far. Moreover, if he chose to retreat, she could decide to target Artoria instead. He could not, could never, allow that. He had to keep his Master as far away as possible from such a dangerous Servant. Scathach was immensely powerful and deadly, after all. She would crush a human being like nothing. No, he had to keep her focus on him. Even if he was completely out-matched in every way, it was his only choice.
As long as he remained calm and focused, he could find a way. No matter the situation, there was always a chance. There was always a way.
Visualize the image of your best self, and make it real. As long as you believe it, nothing is impossible.
Your only enemy is yourself.
Archer emptied his mind. He slashed again, and again, and again; relentless. His attacks became nothing but a blur of wind and movement that was impossible to see with the eyes, but no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to scratch the enemy. He didn't even get close to it. Lancer's spear continued to parry and deflect all his attempts with little to no effort, twirling and slashing in the air while the woman remained unimpressed and cold as ever. Her demonic lance cut through the darkness of the night, and the air itself screamed and moaned as the atmosphere was cut into shreds by her incessant assault. Despite his best efforts, Emiya openly winced when another cut was opened on his right arm, followed by a second one on the armor on his left side.
Then, out of the blue, Lancer disappeared, vanishing from sight in less than a second. Archer tensed, narrowing his gaze in confusion and apprehension, but his instinct compelled him to move all of a sudden. He openly gasped and widened his eyes while his body twisted almost on its own, forcing him to move ahead of sighting, and Emiya threw himself to the right in a roll to avoid a spear thrust that came from his back. Scathach had appeared behind him without a single sound, looking as deadly and beautiful as before, and she had tried to impale him with a speed that was honestly frightening to witness.
Emiya turned and leaped away from her just a moment before the tip of the spear could impale him in the heart. Although his Mind's Eye allowed him to see and predict her attacks, he simply lacked the speed to defend himself accordingly. Fighting her this way was surely going to be detrimental on the long run. He had to change tactics. He had to find a way to end this quickly.
Possibly, with one single strike.
This is it, then, he mused to himself. He steeled his mind as best as he could, mentally preparing himself to begin his strategy. I guess it's time to put my plan into motion. I'll activate my Noble―
"You defend yourself admirably."
Archer widened his eyes, turning to the right with a swift movement.
Lancer had appeared in front of him again, silent as before, glaring at him with her crimson eyes devoid of feels. Emiya openly halted his dash on the rails and cursed, throwing his arms forward in order to block the incoming tip of the spear aimed at his neck. Sparks flew in the dark of the night as the weapons collided, and the man with white hair grunted and hissed as his blades started to crack slightly under the strength of the enemy. His arms and legs where trembling in fatigue under the oppressive pressure.
"But defense will only get you so far," she spoke without an ounce of emotion. She kept pressuring him with one arm alone, blocking his escape route without hesitation. "Allow me to demonstrate it."
Heroic Spirit Emiya felt the hair on his neck stand up. A feeling of overwhelming death and danger began to hover around him…
…while Scathach raised her left arm to the sky, summoning a second spear in her waiting palm with a flash of crimson.
Archer widened his eyes, but this time he had no time to react in full under the enemy's incessant pressure. The only thing he could do was try to disengage and leap away, bringing one arm close to his face in a defensive stance while the second spear slashed against him in a lightning-fast strike, slamming itself against his left forearm with an explosion of wind and prana that shook both heaven and earth.
Then, his world became pain, and Emiya was forcefully thrown away by the impact, flying through the air and leaving the bridge like an arrow shot by his bow. He could feel and see nothing but white as he crashed into the river, generating an explosion of water that could be seen in the distance for miles and miles away. Then, the world quieted, and silence returned to reign once again.
Scathach twirled her spears and stepped on the edge of the rails, staring in direction of his fall with a narrowed stare.
"…he blocked it again," she muttered, increasing her grip on the lances in frustration.
Still, her lips twitched upwards slightly, and her expression soon broke into a smirk of trepidation and amusement as she leaped away and moved to reach her prey a second time.
Lancer and I are staring at each other in silence. As expected, after his previous charge, the enemy Servant has decided to stop wasting his energy. Our eyes betray nothing as we glare at each other's frame with a cold intensity.
"Twenty-seven," he finally breaks the silence, lowering his spear with a scowl on his face. "To think I've disarmed you twenty-seven times, and yet you still have more."
I remain unfazed by his words.
"What's the matter? This wait-and-see approach isn't like you. Where did all your previous spirit go?" I ask back at him, my voice as blank as my face.
"Tch. Trying to provoke me, you sly old man?" he spits with a hiss, shaking his head. "Fine, I'll ask the question: what land's Heroic Spirit are you? I've never heard of a bowman who wields two swords."
"You, on the other hand, are easily identifiable," I answer back. "They say that only the swiftest Heroes are chosen to be spearmen, and you stand head-and-shoulder above them. There aren't even three spearmen of your skill in the world… add in a beast's agility, and that leaves but one."
Lancer grins, his face filled with feral trepidation.
"Oh? You flatter me, Archer!"
Suddenly, the air shifts around us. Lancer assumes a fighting stance, and his entire spear begins to glow with red, flaming energy. It's so bright and luminescent that even the air itself begins to glow around it.
"Then will you face my mightiest blow?" he demands, glaring at me with bestial excitement.
I prepare my own stance, glaring at him with a narrowed stare.
Location: Fuyuki City (Japan)
Fuyuki Port – Harbor
Artoria Pendragon could not believe her eyes.
Now that the previous blast and earthquake had stopped, she was staring at the aftermath of the explosion with her wide, emerald eyes filled with disbelief and slight apprehension. Next to her, Lord El-Melloi II was gaping in disbelief as well, and even the loud, cheerful Rider was wearing a serious scowl as he gazed around the destruction spreading all around them. The silence was deafening around the small group, interrupted only by the hiss of smoke and the crackling of fire and flames every now and then.
As impossible as it sounded, an entire portion of the warehouse district of the port had been destroyed. In its place, a wide, gigantic crater of rubbles and concrete now stood in the middle of the harbor, with countless metal containers scattered all around it, ruined by the explosion and flames. It was like staring at the aftermath of a terroristic attack, or at the devastation caused by a bomb. It was frightening, and sincerely unnerving… and yet, it was oddly impossible for the girl to tear her eyes away from the sight. There was a weird fascination in observing the ruined surroundings that was hard to describe, just like a human being always felt drawn to stare at a gruesome scene; like what happened while witnessing at an incident or a car crash. It was appalling, and yet fascinatingly impossible to stop looking.
Or perhaps, Artoria mused, this weird feeling inside of her was due to the fact that all the destruction around her had been caused by none other than her own Servant.
Because that had been a shock, indeed.
"W-What happened?" Lord El-Melloi II whispered next to her, still struggling to recover from the shock.
Next to the tall Magus from the Clock Tower, Rider eyed the surrounding warily. "It was Archer," he said. His tone was deadly serious for once. "He released a Noble Phantasm on Lancer. It looked like some kind of arrow, but I didn't have time to see it properly."
Archer. Archer had caused all of this. Such a display of power and strength, caused by a single arrow shot by her Servant. Artoria felt pride and fear swell inside her chest at the same time, along with a feeling of uneasiness that simply would not go away. She had always known deep down her heart that her Servant was by no means weak, but for him to unleash such a powerful attack so suddenly… it was unexpected.
Artoria may know little about her stern and mysterious Archer, but she knew that he wasn't usually one to show his strength so easily. He always preferred to stay safe and assess the situation and the enemy's strength before doing something drastic. And he had always been so obnoxious with keeping her safe and strategizing before taking action, after all. But now… he appeared to have changed approach a little. And she didn't know what to think because of it.
He must have had a reason for releasing such a powerful attack, the girl with golden hair thought, gulping. I did feel something weird coming from him while we were observing Lancer's fight.
"To think that Archer had such a powerful Noble Phantasm under his sleeve… your Servant really knows how to surprise me, Miss Pendragon," Waver mused, dusting himself off as he exited from the ruined metal container they had used as a shelter. "He looks weak, but he's definitely interesting."
Rider deadpanned. "You really like to praise other Servants except your own, huh, Master?" he muttered.
Artoria ignored them both. She steeled her mind as she turned towards her allies with her mind focused on another matter entirely. "What about Lancer?" she demanded, narrowing her eyes. "Is she gone?"
Charlemagne shook his head, much to hers and Waver's disbelief. "Uuuh, not exactly. I saw her leaving the harbor a few minutes ago, and she looked completely unharmed," he answered, his face morphing into an expression that was both confused and worried as he glanced in a distant direction. "To actually be able to withstand an A-Rank Noble Phantasm… that woman is scary. Absolutely scary," he added, shivering a little.
Artoria felt panic begin to form inside her chest. "Leave? Why would she―"
Before she could even finish, Rider had spurred into action. Both Waver and Artoria blinked and tensed when the armored King of Franks suddenly rushed forward, placing himself in front of them with his sword already drawn in his hands. The girl with golden hair and the Lord of the Clock Tower narrowed their eyes as they saw a figure walking slowly in the distance, stepping out of a column of smoke amid the ruined warehouse district of the port.
Bazett Fraga McRemitz revealed herself once more, looking completely unharmed just like them. Her suit and face were a bit ruined and covered in dust, but she looked fine all things considered. If it weren't for the annoyed scowl on her face, Artoria would have believed she was completely unfazed.
"It appears I've severely underestimated your Servant, Miss Pendragon," the woman spoke as she approached them. She was speaking through gritted teeth, looking quite annoyed and frustrated for some reason as she glared at her directly. "I thought that Rider would have been the most troublesome opponent for my Lancer, but it looks like I was mistaken."
Artoria remained silent. Lord El-Melloi II fixed Bazett with a narrowed stare. "You chose to approach us again? Without your Servant?" he questioned, unimpressed.
The woman clenched a fist, and then donned her other hand through her magenta hair. "Lancer has left… the duel is over," she conceded with an annoyed frown. "It's my loss."
Rider blinked while the humans exchanged a silent glance after her declaration.
"So… you're admitting defeat?" Charlemagne asked, perplexed.
Once again, the woman nodded with clear reluctance. The twitching of her eyebrow was really difficult to miss. "…I don't like to admit it, but I have no choice," she hissed, her lips twitching downwards. "That last attack has caught me unprepared, and Lancer was scratched by the blast in attempt to shield me. She has admitted defeat, and we've lost the bet, as well as the duel," she stated with a defeated tone.
That… was weird. They weren't expecting it.
A powerful warrior like Lancer had willingly admitted defeat so easily? Just by a single scratch? Definitely weird. It could not be, because it made no sense. Lancer was undoubtedly the strongest Servant they had met so far. She was even stronger than Rider and Saber, as well. There was no way she could simply admit defeat just because a Servant – Archer, of all Servants – had managed to wound her a bit. It was simply illogical. It made no sense.
Something was off here.
The heir of the Pendragon line felt restless for some reason. "…where is she?" she demanded, narrowing her gaze on the older woman.
Bazett, on her part, ran a hand over her temples.
"Lancer has an… obsession," was her sudden and cryptic reply. Waver and Artoria stared in confusion as the woman with magenta hair assumed a frustrated expression on her face. Even Rider was openly blinking at her weird statement. "She is fixated with her desire to clash against those who she considers strong opponents. Apparently, she has taken an interest in that Archer of yours, and she's left me here while she went off to meet him. I've even attempted to call her back, but she's ignoring our mental bond completely." She shook her head with a weary face, exhaling a very long sigh. "I really feel bad for your Servant, Miss Pendragon."
For some reason, Artoria did not like what she just heard. And the fact that she could no longer feel her mental link with Archer was only increasing her inner concern.
"What do you mean? What is she planning to do?" she demanded, growing increasingly worried by the moment.
Bazett's stare was both annoyed and sympathetic as she stared at the young girl. "When someone picks up her interest, she won't stop no matter what. She will fight them to the death," she answered in all seriousness. "That's what she said to me, at least."
The world stopped in Artoria's mind.
Fight… to the death…?
Waver Velvet, apparently, reached the conclusion behind this matter before she could grasp the situation fully. "She's planning to kill him!" he exclaimed, widening his eyes in shock as he realized what that woman was planning to do.
Artoria felt the air leave her lungs all of a sudden. Faced with Bazett's silent stare of confirmation, sheer and absolute panic started to blossom inside her heart. She could not allow that to happen. She just could not allow it for any reason.
Rage and panic suddenly roared inside her mind.
"RIDER!" she bellowed, making both Waver and Charlemagne startle in surprise. "Summon your mount at once! We need to reach Archer's position right now!"
Lancer is staring at me, his red eyes narrowed in what I assume is a displeased frown.
"I can't figure you out," he says, stopping his attack while I take a deep breath. This is only our second battle, and he's already so much harder to deal with. He really is an annoying dog. "You're this skilled, and yet you chose to side with Caster? Working with that little lady, you probably would have been a match for that witch."
Faced with his question, a rude smirk slowly begins to form on my face. "I was expecting you to mouth off, but you're still going on about that?" I mock him, sarcastic. "I simply chose the option with the higher chance of success, however slight."
Lancer places one hand on his hip. "Is that so? It was stupid of me to even ask," he spits back, sarcastic as well.
"No argument there," I reply, closing my eyes and shaking my head.
"But that isn't a certain path to victory," he continues again, and I open my eyes with a frown. The dog is openly pointing his spear at my chest as he glares at me. "You have a fatal lack of pride in your sword skills."
I smile at his direct statement. "Yes. Unfortunately, I am devoid of pride," I admit without missing a beat, shrugging my shoulders. "But why does that bother you? Does it dishonor all Heroes?"
Despite myself, I cannot stop my lips from scoffing in disdain. "Don't make me laugh, Lancer. Dishonor can be washed away with success. Feed your leftover pride to that dog of yours," I taunt him – her – with a smirk. A fake smirk, and one filled with regret, but the words leave my mouth even though I'm hurting myself as I speak.
Lancer stiffens at my words. His spear trembles as he lowers it. "Did you just call her a dog, Archer?" he asks, his voice lower than usual.
My fake smile doesn't disappear. "It's the truth, Cu Chulainn. If you have a Hero's pride, cast it aside while you still can."
His expression morphs into an enraged snarl.
"Well said… THEN YOU FIRST!"
Location: Fuyuki City (Japan)
Mion River – Unnamed beach near Miyama Town
Despite her better judgment, Scathach felt her thoughts run wild as she moved to reach her target's location.
No matter how hard she attempted to suppress them, no matter how long she tried to ignore them and focus on the battle, it was simply impossible to quell the instinct that was raging and screaming within her bosom. She couldn't help it. She just couldn't help it. After all, she hadn't felt like this in a very long time. She hadn't felt this kind of excitement in… forever, to be honest. It had been an eternity ago since the last time she recalled going through the feeling she was experiencing right now, and she just couldn't stop herself from reveling in this sensation after all this time.
The red Archer she was currently facing was tickling her fighting instinct in every possible way… and that was something she hadn't felt in a long, long while.
I have experienced many things throughout this accursed existence.
But not even this feeling was enough to completely wash away the desolation and pain haunting her heart and mind. Not even this excited sensation was enough to quell the fire raging inside her body.
Truly, I robbed many lives. A man. A wraith. A god.
I've confronted many existences of a countless number, slaughtering all those near me.
The memories of her life would not stop coming back to haunt her. Those thoughts darted inside her head like poisonous whispers despite her focused mind and steeled resolve. They just could not stop plaguing her even here, in this impossible reality. In this one and only moment of respite she had been offered after an eternity of silence, and boredom, and death.
Fight. Fight. Fight. Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. In the end, this body was wet with the blood of many victims, and became immortal. The territory under my rule, the "Land of Shadows", was ultimately forced out to Outside of the World, and I ended up being promoted into an existence no different than that of a Divine Spirit.
The pain was relentless. The feeling of shame and despair was growing stronger with each passing day.
I will not grow old. I will not die.
I've changed into 'that' which is immortal.
Why couldn't it end? Why couldn't she just disappear?
Sure enough, I can no longer remember exactly how much time has passed since the first time I picked up a spear in my hand. It is different from something good. I, who stood on the haunted ground and guarded the "gate", have already since acquired the wisdom of the abyss, so I am able to measure the exact time.
However, I simply do not feel like doing it.
The feeling was growing stronger. It was roaring, and raging, and trashing inside of her like a caged beast, fighting to be released. It simply could not be ignored anymore. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't help it. There was no way to quench it. There was no way to quell it. It was simply impossible to contain its raging fury any longer. Not here, not anymore. Not when a chance had finally appeared after her countless years of despair and solitude. She could no longer contain it even if she so desired.
It is different from melancholy. It is also different from resignation.
I do not understand. I can say that, but I am unable to affirm it.
Yes, that was the feeling. Regret.
Her old friend. Her lonely companion. The one and only constant which remained unchanged during the entirety of her accursed existence. Just like her curse.
It was simply impossible to get rid of it.
At least, during the interval where I slaughtered many things, there is certainly something that exists within the present me, something that did not exist within my feelings around the time where I was conducting my teachings towards the brave warriors of Ulster.
Ah, indeed. Guiding the many brave warriors considerably.
That was her only pride, her single source of joy and fondness amid this world of boredom and despair. The only income of relief amid this cursed existence which allowed no emotion other than pain and regret to exist.
The memories of her time as a teacher, and of the countless students she had taught and trained during her life.
Everything should have faded away at the end of the many passing months and years, but in the middle of my memories that are preserved in a condition that is intentionally kept obscure, one person... There is only one person, a man with his figure displayed clearly to me even up to now.
His pair of eyes. Only in the time where that radiance passes by my mind, what's inside this chest calms down.
Even amid those memories, the image of a man kept wavering inside her mind. It kept coming and coming and coming, over and over again. No matter how many years passed or how hard and long she attempted to dismiss it, it would always come back to her. There was no way to banish that image from her mind. His eyes and face just kept coming back, over and over again, darting through her vision even when she closed her eyes and tried to force herself to sleep.
The eyes of her favorite pupil, and the man whom she had hoped would have been able to free her from the curse.
Warmth dwells within myself, which is immutable for eternity.
A heart wishing for reunion?
No. That is not the way it is. That I can affirm.
That was not love. It was not what she was feeling. That emotion could not be described by the concept of "love". It was something else. Something different. Something entirely different.
If then, what is it there? To say firmly, as thus, to that man—
—I want him to kill me.
The answer, eventually, had come. And once it did, she could no longer deny it.
I want death as a person.
She wished for death. She wanted to die.
That was her only dream. Her only aspiration. Her only hope.
Back then, she had hoped as well. She had hoped, so desperately hoped and begged the heavens for this wish. She had hoped that her favorite student could be able to kill her… but it had been in vain. Although still young and having arrived to the Land of Shadows by the shortest route, the man whom she had favored the most had been ultimately shown to be unable to fulfill her dream. For years she had lamented over her inability to be killed by him since she had already ceased being able to die by the time he came to her… but she just could not accept it. She could never accept it.
After all, what life could ever deserve such fate? Why had she been cursed while everyone she loved had been granted their end? Why was she the only one who had to keep on living and enduring?
It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair at all.
Yet, it was her own fault. And she could not unleash her anger and frustration over the world. She could not let innocent people suffer just because of her selfish dream.
Why? Why am I feeling like this? After all this time― why?
...today, something had changed.
Why do you remind me of him, of all people?
Because, as soon as her eyes had landed on the red Archer's frame, a clear and blurred image had popped inside her head mysteriously.
An image that would forever be embedded in her mind, etched inside her soul until the end of days.
Why do I see his spear piercing my heart every time I gaze upon you?
The woman with purple hair and crimson eyes landed on the river shore with a silent step. Her eyes stared, dull and cold and with an empty gaze, as a powerful explosion suddenly shook the river and created a column of liquid that rose towards the sky for tens of meters, while a figure clad in black armor and red cloth leaped out of the water.
Scathach, Queen of the Land of Shadows and Master of Dún Scáith, observed her opponent landing in front of her on the shore, his body wet with water and blood but his stern expression unchanged from the beginning.
She didn't understand. She could not understand. The grip on her identical spears increased so much that her arms began to tremble slightly in frustration.
Her eyes wavered for only a split-second, and those thoughts returned to plague her in spite of her focused mind.
"Why do I feel like this when I'm being faced by you?"
Much to her slight surprise, the man seemed taken aback for some reason, as if he had been reading her thoughts. Scathach took in a sharp breath. It didn't take her long to realize that she had unconsciously whispered that question out loud. However, for some reason, it did not matter much to her. She merely shook her head, dismissed her emotions, and hardened her expression again. Then, she pointed both her spears to the enemy with a mask of ice on her face, glaring at him with bloodlust and a challenging expression.
She gave him no time to ponder and think. Such notions and thoughts meant nothing during a battle.
The Servant of the Lancer class launched herself at him with an impossible speed. Archer narrowed his eyes and moved to summon his blades again, and Scathach felt her interest in him grow more and more as she jumped on him like a lioness pouncing on its prey. In a flash of black and white, those identical shortswords of his appeared to life with a hiss of metal; and together they parried her attack with swiftness, deflecting her right spear with a jerk-like movement while Archer kicked the left one with a twisting movement.
But that wasn't nearly enough to stop her. With a movement that was both elegant and skillful, Scathach spun her body mid-air and stabbed her left spear on the ground. Then, in a split-second, she used the lance stabbed in the ground as a momentum to increase her balance and spun around a second time with her body, slamming the right spear against her opponent with a spinning movement.
An explosion of wind echoed for miles away. Her demonic spear clashed against the cross guard of the blades with a shockwave, while the power of the blow cracked the ground under Archer's feet. Scathach stared at him intently as the man forced himself to throw her away with a jerk-like movement of his arms, roaring in effort as he struggled to force her to take some distance from him with a lunge to her side. Just when she was already moving to deflect it, the man surprised her by stopping the attack mid-movement, leaping away instead and darting in the opposite direction.
Her eyes flared. She wouldn't allow him to escape.
She leaped forward, again, and in a heart-beat she was already on him. She thrust one spear forward with a movement loaded with mana, meeting the enemy's blades directly and shattering them as soon as the contact was made. However, just as she was about to use the other spear to finish this duel once and for all, Archer had already summoned another pair of blades again, deflecting the attack at the last moment even if he could not block the blow in full. For his effort, he obtained a wide gash on his shoulder instead of a full impalement, and the woman with purple hair remained inwardly fascinated by his ability to defend himself despite his desperate situation.
He tried to disengage again, but she gave him no time. She attacked him once more, relentlessly, her spears slashing and twirling in the air in a flash of red as the two of them continued to exchange blows for a few seconds. All the while, Scathach's gaze was focused on the tanned Archer's eyes while he wielded his swords in all directions, avoiding and parrying her assault with skillful movements and dodging with impressive reflexes. His grey eyes were narrowed and filled with a cold, calculating glint; and they didn't even look worried or scared as he continued to face her assault to the best of his abilities. Despite the dangerous situation he was currently in, Lancer could not see a single trace of fear or doubt inside his gaze. Not even a glimmer of hesitation or worry… and that realization was only making her grow more and more excited.
She could feel it. The more the duel continued, the more she could feel it with every fiber of her being. Her heart was beating madly within her chest. The blood was roaring inside her veins. Even her own mind was starting to forget the despair and regret she was used to constantly feel. Yes, she was truly starting to feel it more and more. And when she realized that, despite her better judgment, the Witch of Dún Scáith could not stop herself from grinning like a madwoman. She bared her teeth in front of Archer's assault, feeling the excitement grow blow after blow.
It was perfect. Simply perfect.
His style was brusque and unrefined, but the movements were skillful and precise. His attacks were powerful and direct, but he was not disdaining feints and tricks in attempt to lower her guard. And despite her thrusts being invisible to the eye, he was purposely leaving fatal openings in his movements, dodging her attacks at the last second and risking an instant death instead of slowly allowing himself to be cut up, which would surely ensure his loss as the fight dragged out. It was a far cry from the proper and disciplined combat style that a Knight like Rider or a renowned Hero of old would use… but it was weirdly fascinating all the same. It was a style developed from experience and calculated openings, which allowed him to match her frontal onslaught without being completely overwhelmed.
Yes, the more she observed him the more her trepidation was soaring within her heart. Whoever he was, Archer's ability to defend himself during a prolonged near-death situation was outstanding. His body and mind were completely devoid of fear, his movements and mindset were skillful and effective, and he was even summoning those blades again and again with little to no effort no matter how many times she had managed to destroy them. He lacked elegance and style, but each of his movement was imbued with purpose, and his survival ability was developed by experience.
In her opinion, even if unrefined, it was a breathtaking combat style. One that she had never – ever – witnessed and seen during her long, eternal life. A combat style made out not of talent and skill, but of necessity, and experience, and will. One that would not disregard putting its user in danger in order to resist and not be overwhelmed by a superior enemy. And much to her surprise… it was working. Although it was foolish and reckless, it was working. Archer was clearly unable to deflect and parry all her blows, but he was successfully managing to avoid the fatal ones. His body was covered by cuts and slashes, but they were all just scratches. He was definitely managing to avoid all the deadly attacks, allowing himself to sustain only the most superficial ones instead. He had managed to avoid death so many times during their battle that it was impressive. Scathach had directly aimed for his heart at least thirty-seven times by now, and yet he was still resisting while struggling. It was mind-blowingly effective… even if extremely reckless.
She could not fully contain her amused smirk as she slammed both of her spears on the ground, twisting her body mid-air and kicking the enemy Archer in the face. The man grunted and stumbled backwards, his feet dragging on the ground as he fought to keep his balance while blood began to drip from his broken nose. He was panting and wheezing like an animal, his entire body covered in cuts, abrasions and slashes. Some of them were drawing blood even now, and yet… he would not fall back. He was still standing on his legs, his blades still grasped in hand while he fixed her with a cold, calculating stare that made the blood roar inside her veins and her lips twitch upwards ever-so-slightly.
Truly, he was driving her mad. In the best way possible.
Just looking at his face was making her itch for a good fight. Staring into his hawk eyes was filling her with a sense of kinship, and familiarity, and sympathy; something that hadn't occurred to her in a long, long time. By the heavens, she hadn't felt like this in years. Hundreds of years. His style and movements were lacking in skill, but he had great potential despite his reckless attempts. He also possessed courage and resolve, so much so that he was willing to corner himself against a superior enemy in order to defend his Master from her. It was incredibly brave, almost foolishingly so.
An Archer fighting like a Saber; able to hold his own in close combat. A warrior who possessed experience, courage and resolve to share, fighting for survival and refusing to escape even if that meant using whatever tactics he could in order to survive.
In all honesty, Scathach could not lie to herself. She could already tell with just a single glance.
Had they met in the Land of Shadows during her life, she would have trained him right away. There was no doubt about it. After witnessing his potential and courage, along with the dedication oozing off from his attacks, she would have gladly taken him as a student during her past.
But now, unfortunately, it was useless to linger on those thoughts.
The woman watched, with distant interest, as yet another thrust of her spear was parried – barely – by the Archer in front of her. She ducked under his slash, and immediately leaped away when the man suddenly tossed his blades at her, using them as boomerangs which eventually returned to him upon missing their target and darting through the air. She straightened herself as the two of them stood a few meters away from each other, twirling one spear with her hand and placing the other one on her shoulder while she stared back at his emotionless gaze with a narrowed one of her own.
He was filled with wounds and cuts, panting in exhaustion and weariness, while she looked completely fine and unfazed by the battle… but his stern eyes had remained unchanged even despite the sorry state of his body. And that alone spoke volumes about him, in Scathach's opinion.
However, there was one, single flaw in Archer's combat style. A flaw that was dangerous. One that she could not overlook, for it was unbefitting of a warrior of his kind.
And as such, it needed immediate correction.
"I'm impressed," she spoke, breaking the silence again in spite of herself. She fixed the man in front of her with a cold stare, showing no emotion in front of his unreadable expression. "To think that a bowman would be able to resist against me for so long… your swordsmanship is quite brusque, but I find it intriguing. I commend you for it, Archer."
Initially, he had no reaction to her praise. Then, slowly, just as she was about to frown at his stubborn silence, the man scoffed and wiped away the blood from his face. "Resist? You think too highly of me, Lancer." His voice was low, and deep, and sarcastic. Completely devoid of the one thing that she was searching in him ever since the battle had begun. "I'm way too weak compared to you. Even now I'm barely able to hold my own against your attacks, and I know that you're still holding yourself back. I appreciate the compliment, but it is not deserved on my part."
Scathach frowned. She clenched her fists around the spears. "I see… then I was right. There really is a fatal flaw in you," she mused, scowling a little under his unimpressed stare. Her crimson eyes glowed with distaste and disappointment as she glared at him. "You have no pride in you."
He stared at her, long and hard, after her statement.
After a few moments, he smirked at her frowning face. "Indeed. You are correct, Lancer. I have no pride in me," he acknowledged with a sarcastic tone. His expression turned sly and amused as he remained completely unfazed by her glare. "I've been reprimanded several times by a certain student of yours because of that. Now I see where he got it from."
He snorted, shaking his head in amusement. "Good grief. Dogs really do take after their owner," he mused to himself, mockingly.
Lancer's eyes narrowed at his taunt. "You claim to have met one of my students?" she demanded, tapping the ground with her spear in warning. There was no way she could miss the meaning behind his words. There was only one person who could match that description, as insulting as it was.
"I wonder about that. You still haven't defeated me, so I'm not obliged to tell you," was his sly and immediate reply.
Normally, his answer would have enraged her. Instead, this time, she let it slide, and her lips openly parted into a smirk. "You lack pride, and yet you possess great confidence… it is not arrogance either. You truly are something else, Servant of the bow," she studied him out loud, her eyes discerning many things thanks to her experience and abilities. The beating of her heart was not slowing down even now that the battle had halted for a moment. "Hm, indeed. Your skills in battle are average, but I sense great potential in you. Your greatest asset is your courage."
"Yet I'm no match against you," he grunted in dismissal, increasing the grip on his twin blades.
"You think too little of yourself," the spear-woman said, appraising him again. "You obviously have great experience."
Emiya smirked. "Then let us see if your praise is deserved."
Scathach grinned, feral and predatory. "Yes, let's see about that!" she hissed, her entire frame oozing off bloodlust like a fog.
Their next clash happened differently than before.
Without a warning, Lancer raised her left spear, twirling it in her hand with an expression morphed into mad, feral trepidation. Then, she leaped in the air, and with a swift and elegant movement she threw the lance at the opponent while the entire spear glowed with a red, flaming energy. But it wasn't over with that. Just as the weapon darted into the air, fast as a missile, something unexpected happened.
In fact, in that exact same moment, the woman released one of the Runes sealed within the spear, and with a mental command, three more copies of the demonic spear immediately appeared around the original one with a flash of red, darting through the air along with the original and aiming at the target with a frighteningly gruesome speed.
Said target who, much to Scathach's interest, remained completely still. Archer did not move upon being targeted by her long-ranged attack. All he did, all he had to do, was utter two single words.
Despite the odds, Lancer felt her eyes widen as she landed on the ground and stared at the red Servant. She could clearly feel something shifting in the air surrounding Archer's frame, something invisible to eye, and yet at the same time loaded with a great amount of mana and power. Then, before she could fully realize what it was, the woman watched in silent fascination while a sudden volley of "arrows" appeared to life around her enemy out of the blue; said arrows composed of swords made of different shapes and sizes.
Just like that, then, in less than a blink of an eye, the swords darted forward as well, and they crashed mid-air against her spear and its magical copies with an explosion of wind, prana and energy that shook the air and made the ground tremble as if an earthquake had begun all of a sudden. Even the water of the river began to agitate and shift, creating small waves that crashed against the shore with a loud crash. Water splashed and rained down on the shore for half of a minute, and Archer dashed out of the column of smoke like a living arrow, aiming his twin blades at her.
More swords, summoned during combat, Lancer felt her eyebrows rise in mild stupor. Projection Magecraft. Is he a Magus as well? she mused inside her head, but she had no time to recollect herself.
In fact, just as she readied her stance to meet Archer's charge head on, she suddenly widened her eyes and snapped her head up. There, in the air, another volley of swords had appeared out of nowhere with a flash of light and mana, and they were suddenly hurled at her with a silent hiss and a precise and careful aim. Next thing she knew, they had already reached her position, and she barely had a few split-seconds to react before she could be skewered from head to toe.
But a few split-seconds were more than enough for the immortal Queen of Shadows. In fact, taking advantage of her inhuman speed, she leaped away from the swords' range with a single but powerful jump, and then she twirled her remaining spear to deflect the second volley of projectiles that followed the previous one. The swords shattered and exploded upon making contact with her demonic lance, and the female Lancer side-stepped with an elegant movement when one of Archer's twin blades suddenly threatened to sever her head at the same time, spinning in the air like a boomerang while the man charged at her directly from the other side of the shore.
On his part, upon grabbing his flying blade again, Archer pounced on the enemy like a lion, attacking her relentlessly with slashes and swings aimed in every direction, forcing her to block and deflect his assault with her spear. He knew it was a useless attempt. There was no way he could ever hope to best Lancer in close range, at least not like this. His swordsmanship was in no way comparable to her abilities and skills, and with his mediocre stats he had no hope to match Scathach's strength and speed. It was simply impossible. Her bloodlust alone was so big that it would have made the majority of Servants falter and hesitate, and even a powerful Servant like Saber would have surely struggled against a Top Lancer like her. He knew it. He knew it extremely well.
And yet, if he wanted his plan to work, if he really wished to have a chance, he had to force himself to do it.
Despite what many – himself included – would have said, Archer was by no means reckless. He knew how to recognize a powerful enemy when he saw one. Consequently, he also knew when he had to admit of having no chances of winning against those kind of opponents. It was one of the first things he had come to realize thanks to his experience, and perhaps the most important lesson he had learned in his previous deployments and Grail Wars. To be completely honest, in fact, if he hadn't fought Cu Chulainn so many times before, he probably wouldn't have attempted this now. But now he had taken his lessons to heart thanks to his memories, and he knew that there was no choice. This was his ONE and ONLY chance of winning the duel, and he had to grasp it no matter what for the sake of his Master and his quest.
It was his instinct, after all. Archer always struck when he knew he had the greatest chance of success. He would attack ONLY when he knew he had a real chance of landing a blow. If there was no chance of doing so, or if it was too dangerous, he would avoid fighting completely. That was how he always fought, for his survival instinct and experience had taught him that lesson the hard way thanks to his countless battles and the hell he had been through for the majority of his existence.
And that was exactly why he was doing this right now. This was his one chance to win the duel. It was all according to his plan. He knew he was out-matched against Lancer. He knew he could never – not even in a thousand years – be able to land a direct blow on her, both on close and long range. Not a fatal one, at least.
So, he had to play his cards right. He had one chance, one opportunity. And the only way to make that chance appear was to put himself through this woman's wrath.
Misleading was one of his specialties, after all.
As expected, he had no chance of matching the enemy. Not even three seconds later, Scathach's superior skills overwhelmed him in full. The red demonic spear batted away Kanshou's blade with a powerful and resolute swing, and at the same time the woman landed a solid punch on his ribs, making him double over in excruciating pain and making him lose his grip on Bakuya's hilt. As the white sword fell from his hand, before he could recover, the shaft of the red spear suddenly slammed against his cheek with an invisible slash, opening a second wound on his already bloodied face. The attack was followed by a kick on the right side, which forced him to bend his body into a weird position before he was promptly thrown away like nothing, rolling on the ground for several meters and grunting in pain all the while.
He raised himself up from the ground, forcing the pain away with a hiss and focusing all his efforts on a mental command. Lancer was already dashing towards him, ready to strike and wound once more, but she was suddenly forced to momentarily retreat when a third volley of swords suddenly rained down on her from the above, darting in the air like arrows made of steel and silver. The woman parried a few of them with her spear, but eventually stopped wasting time and efforts and simply decided to step away from their range, making them crash on an empty spot thanks to her inhuman speed.
A roar of effort grabbed her attention all of a sudden. The spear-woman turned to the right, and promptly blocked Archer's assault with ease. Their weapons clashed yet another time, and Lancer was not surprised to see another pair of twin blades grasped into Emiya's hands once more, while the man glared at her with an expression morphed into effort; his face stained with hot, crimson blood and his body filled with abrasions and cuts.
Disappointment began to tamper her beating heart. "So this is your best?" she mused, staring at the sorry state of his body and face while she remained perfectly still even under his unyielding pressure. "You fought splendidly to last this long against me, Archer. But in the end, my hopes were in vain. It seems you are not capable of killing me either."
The only answer she received was a kick. The woman blocked it with her forearm, unfazed, and returned the favor with a lightning-fast punch on his jaw. Archer's head snapped up with a groan, blood splattering on the ground around him, and Scathach swiftly twirled her spear with her hands to slash at his arms and legs while he was still blinded by pain. The spear rotated and moved with a speed that was too fast to be described with words, and the attacks landed on the target in full.
Rendered unable to defend himself, Heroic Spirit Emiya could do nothing but raise his arms over his face to defend himself while the world around him become nothing but a blur of crimson-red slashed and pain, while the tip of the enemy's spear began slashing him incessantly. Cuts and wounds were opened on his forearms, legs, and chest; all of them drawing blood and pain, and the nameless Archer soon found himself covered in wounds from head to toe, completely unable to resist under this woman – no, this monster's overwhelming power. There was simply no way for him to defend himself in an efficient way against her assault. Not anymore.
The spear's shaft slammed itself on his chest, and Archer went flying in the air for a few meters, hissing in pain all the while. He rolled on the ground, pathetically, his armor and clothes completely ruined while the ground beneath his body became stained with a hot, red color. Scathach stared at him with narrowed eyes while he stopped rolling on the shore, observing him with frustration and disappointment while he coughed and spat blood from his mouth, wheezing like a wounded beast.
Her heart clenched in disillusion, her previous excitement slowly beginning to fade upon realizing that the battle was as good as over at this point.
"It appears you have reached your limit," she spoke. Her tone was cold, colder than before. A forced and cursed attempt to mask her frustration and dissatisfaction. "I thought you would be able to scratch me at least one more time… but perhaps I was wrong."
Emiya coughed and struggled to stand on trembling legs, his face dripping with blood as he slowly raised his eyes to meet her face.
And when their eyes met, despite all the odds, Scathach felt her heart stop for a split-second.
Because his face was bloodied and swollen, his body covered in wounds and abrasions… but his expression had remained unchanged.
Yes. His eyes were still cold, emotionless, empty; just like they had been when she'd first reached his position above the bridge before the battle. Nothing had changed about his spirit and will. He was still glaring at her with the same, exact stare as before; his grey eyes filled with an emotion she could not decipher and read completely… but one that felt familiar to her all the same. Oddly familiar. It felt unmistakingly close to her, as if she was staring into a twisted mirror. No matter the pain and the blood and the wounds, Archer's gaze had remained the same.
And Scathach could not miss it for any reason… for she wore the exact, same stare all the time.
"…why?" she hissed.
She stretched her free hand forward, and with a bellowing hiss, the second spear which had been previously tossed away by his swords returned into her palm as if it had a life of its own, flying in the air like an arrow. Lancer dismissed it with a twitch of her fingers upon grasping its shaft, and continued to glare at Archer's bloodied frame as he slowly and pathetically attempted to raise himself from the ground stained with his own blood.
"Surrender," she commanded, her voice cold and commanding. "You have no chance of victory. The duel is over, and it's your loss this time. There is no need to continue this further."
He ignored her words completely. Instead, Emiya stood up on shaky legs and summoned Bakuya in his right hand, his body swaying a little to the side due to the pain and exhaustion.
Lancer's glare soared. "If you won't give up, I'm not going to hold back anymore," she warned him, deadly serious. "I will have your heart with my next attack. You will die if you wish to continue this."
A low, rueful chuckle escaped the bloodied Archer's lips.
"…were it so easy," he whispered in self-mockery, shaking his head with a hopeless expression.
Despite the odds, despite the disappointment, despite the disbelief… she understood. She realized it, with crystal clear clarity and certainty, for the first time. No, perhaps she had always known, ever since her eyes had landed on his eyes and face. Maybe she had always felt it, ever since her heart had begun to beat in excitement when she'd met him earlier. She had always been aware of it, unconsciously, even if she could not fully understand how or why. Not even now.
But still, faced with this Archer's stare and resolve, she finally realized the truth with no shred of doubt. The same truth that Archer himself had realized long ago, upon witnessing her past and legend through her spear.
That being: the two of them were one and the same.
The same, and yet different. Completely opposite, and still equal. One and the same, albeit polar opposites.
A woman born from royalty and egocentric, and a man born humble and altruistic. A warrior overflowing with talent and skill, and a fake and talentless hack who could only really do one thing well. A Queen who was infinitely wise and a good judge of character, and a bowman who was born tragically naïve and helpless. And yet, in spite of all of that… in spite of all their opposite differences… they still were one and the same.
Because at the end of times, at the end of everything… they had both become the exact, same thing.
A cursed, twisted existence who could do nothing but kill.
A woman who could never die, and a man who could not stay dead.
Truly, a sight that was pathetic and depressing to behold. For both of them.
Scathach felt her eyes soften, her grip on the spear loosening slightly. "…you understand," she whispered with a hushed breath, fixing the bloodied man in front of her with a sad face. There was no need for further words. His face alone told her all she needed to know.
Emiya nodded, panting and wheezing like an animal. "…that is why, I cannot yield to you," he whispered, taking one, shaky step forward. His hand was trembling as he grasped the hilt of his shortsword with a desperate grip.
This wasn't a simple duel anymore. It wasn't a battle between Servants. This confrontation went even beyond the Holy Grail War and the duty of a Servant. It had never been just that, for both of them.
It was a matter of principle, and will. For neither of them could ever accept to lose against the other.
Because for these two warriors, staring into each other's eyes felt like staring into a mirror. And they could never accept it no matter what.
"Very well," Lancer steeled herself, raising her spear into a familiar stance. "I will make it quick."
Archer remained silent, parting his lips into a smile that did not quite reach his eyes.
The Nameless Hero and the Queen of the Land of Shadows stared at each other one, last time.
Seconds passed, followed by silence.
Then, Scathach charged forward, faster than the wind and silent as the moon shining over their heads.
Emiya closed his eyes, and prepared himself with a mind of steel.
Just an image. Just a reflection. That was all he could do. Once again, just like he had done before during his previous fight against Saber, he visualized the image of his strongest self and made it real inside his mind. Just an image. Just a fake. But even if it was a fake, it was also real. As long as he believed it, it was as real as it could be.
Lancer appeared before him in a flash, aiming her spear at his uncovered, defenseless heart.
Overcome yourself. Your only enemy is yourself.
As long as you can see it, you can make it real in your mind.
Lancer thrust her spear. Emiya snapped his eyes open.
Now is the moment. This one chance, this one opportunity. The one and only chance I've been waiting for all this time, ever since the fight begun.
It was time to exploit it.
Archer twisted his blade up, clashing against the enemy's spear.
Mind's Eye. A danger-avoidance ability that calmly grasped the enemy's strength as well as his own situation during predicament and deduced the available means of survival on that situation. As long as there was even a 1% chance of comeback, it drew in the chance to put said strategy into motion, no matter how painful and unlikely it was. Although closely similar to the Skill Instinct, it was not a result of talent, but of an overwhelming amount of combat experience. A weapon wielded by none other than a mortal, a fake, gained through tenacious training and countless near-death experiences.
And thanks to that very same ability, he was able to deflect the spear's trajectory, even if just a little.
Lancer widened her eyes, but did not stop her attack, for there was no need to do so. In fact, thanks to her own skill, Wisdom of Dún Scáith, she already knew that the attack was going to land no matter what, and that much was enough for her. Even if its trajectory was changed, even if Archer struggled and tried to evade, she would still land the blow no matter what. There was nothing Archer could try to pull in order to evade it.
And so, just as both of them were expecting, the red demonic spear stabbed Archer in full, piercing his right side of the chest instead of the heart but still impaling him in full; sticking its tip out of his back with a heart-wrenching squelch and a rain of hot-red liquid.
Blood sprayed the grass and dirt. The wind quieted and stilled. The world stopped and listened.
Bakuya fell to the ground, disappearing into a dust of blue. And Heroic Spirit Emiya gasped and grunted, spitting blood from his mouth with a pained wheeze.
Scathach held the spear firmly with her hands, its shaft completely stuck inside the man's lower chest while the tip exited from his back. She stared at Archer's pained and bloodied face with a distant expression, her crimson eyes made of steel and decision.
"…it is over," she whispered in a soft voice. "You've fought well. Are you satisfied?"
Emiya lowered his head, blood dripping from his nose and lips. His entire body was shaking in pain and agony.
A rough, powerful hand grasped Lancer's arm out of the blue, pulling the woman even closer to him.
Scathach blinked and paused at the sudden gesture, confused; before widening her eyes in sheer disbelief in front of the mad, victorious smirk that Emiya wore on his face.
"…the bone of my sword."
A flash of light. A glimpse of crimson.
And then, blood. Much, much blood.
The Witch of Dún Scáith widened her eyes, lowering her gaze with an incredulous stare.
For the first time ever since she had returned to the mortal world, she could not believe her eyes.
Because now, no matter how impossible it was, no matter how unlikely it seemed…
…a long, crimson spear similar to her own was piercing her chest, stabbing her right above the heart.
And hot, red blood was spewing from the wound.
Scathach gaped and paled, staring at the spear stuck in her heart with a dumbfounded expression.
"I-It cannot be…"
Blood gurgled and rose in her throat. The woman spat and coughed it on Archer's legs.
"G-G-Gáe… Bolg," she hissed in shock, staring at the spear while the feeling of pain and agony blossomed inside her mind. A feeling that she had honestly forgotten, since she hadn't experienced it in a long, long time.
And yet now, she was feeling it again. She was panting in pain and coughing blood from her lips, staring in disbelief as the spear of the Hound of Culann pierced her heart and body completely, leaving her both stunned and unable to understand. The very same spear that she herself had bestowed upon her best student, in a time that now felt like a lifetime ago.
The very same spear she had glimpsed upon landing her gaze on the Archer, piercing her heart just like it was doing right now.
Silence returned to reign once again.
While the woman remained still and stunned, Emiya grunted and exhaled a shaky breath. His left hand, the one with which he had summoned his own spear, suddenly left the newly-traced Noble Phantasm and moved to grab the enemy's lance instead. His whole body trembled and convulsed in pain, and he gritted his teeth and took a deep breath while his fingers curled over Lancer's spear, readying himself as best as he could.
Then, forcing himself to swallow a howl of pain, he tore the spear away from his body and stumbled backwards with a groan, falling on his knees a few meters away from Lancer's unmoving body and coughing blood from his lips. A pool of hot, steaming red had begun to form under the two Servants' feet, staining both their bodies and the ground with their mixed blood, filling the air with its metallic scent. Next to him, Lancer's spear disappeared in a cloud of crimson dust.
Seconds passed, followed by absolute silence.
Even still, Lancer did not move from her stunned position. Her face was morphed into a mask of disbelief and shock as she kept staring at the spear stabbed inside her chest, her face and body dripping wet with blood and sweat in equal measure.
Archer took a shaky breath, putting pressure on the wound on his chest with a hand.
Lancer had stabbed him right through the liver, creating a hole on the lower side of his chest instead of stabbing him straight into the heart like he had done to her. It was a dangerous wound, no doubt, but one from which he could survive compared to the one he had inflicted upon the spear-woman. Indeed, it was a much less serious injury compared to that; one that would not plague him compared to the damage inflicted from the original Gáe Bolg.
Unlike the Blue Lancer's spear which ruined the body of its victims from within with its thousand iron thorns and its curse, in fact, Scathach's spears were different. They were specialized weapons one-step older, and there were many copies of them which Scathach made using the "branches of Tonelico". Due to this peculiar fact and their older and – in a way – lower status, they had no curse on them compared to the younger, much more dangerous Gáe Bolg. Their strikes and stabs hurt and burned like hell, no doubt, but Archer would not suffer from any kind of side-effect and curse because of them. That had been the ONLY reason why he had allowed this fight to happen. He knew he was out-matched from the beginning, but Emiya would never fight a battle he could not survive. He was no longer the fool of his youth, and the only battles he allowed himself to go through were those where he knew he had a chance of winning despite the odds.
Even if he had to fool his opponent all the while.
"A-Archer… curse you!" Lancer's words snapped him out of his thoughts. Emiya's head rose to meet the spear-woman's pained and enraged face with a gaze of steel. "You… was this your plan from the beginning?" she demanded, her lips dripping with blood.
The Counter Guardian kept his expression neutral in spite of the pain. "I only use the means that give me the highest chance of victory," he replied back with a low tone, unfazed. The exact same words he had once said to another troublesome Lancer at the end of their battle. "The Witch of Dún Scáith was an elite warrior, an expert in Magecraft, and slayer of people, wraiths, and gods. As the result of being a human standing too close to the realm of the gods, she incurred the 'reward' of ascending to a plane that is neither part of the current World or the next, left behind in the Outside of the World. Faced against such a powerful opponent, there was no way I could ever hope to win in a direct clash," he merely explained with ease, as if it were a foregone conclusion.
She gritted her teeth, her body shaking in pain as she grasped the spear stabbed in her chest. "So you've been misleading me all the while? Was that your intent all along?" she spat.
Due to his battered state and the pain he was currently in, he forced back a rude smirk from his face. "I knew you would have lowered your guard eventually. Your obsession with fighting strong opponents was extremely easy to read. If I wanted to win, I had to exploit it."
"And so you've baited me until the very end… using your own defeat to avoid death at the last second to deliver a mortal blow on me instead," she finished for him, her face coated in sweat due to the pain she was feeling both on the inside and the outside. Much to Emiya's surprise, however, her lips soon parted into an amused smirk. "Splendid… absolutely splendid! I knew you were more dangerous than you look… but I wasn't expecting you to be a cunning monster, Archer," she praised him with a hiss, her voice both pained and amused as those words left her lips.
He really had no idea if she was taunting him or praising him. In all honesty, he didn't care.
"Stop spouting nonsense, Lancer. You know as well as I do that we're both monsters," he replied back, sarcastic. His grey eyes stared with a narrowed gaze at the woman's crimson orbs while he kept pressuring his wound. "There is no need for minced words anymore. I simply did what I had to do in order to win. Nothing more, nothing less."
He smirked at that point, fixing her with a sly expression. "And I know all too well that this wound won't be enough to kill you… am I right?"
The woman paused at his words, her smirk disappearing immediately. In an instant, her gaze turned cold again, and the woman steeled herself and teared the spear away from her chest with one, single yanking movement. Blood poured from the hole in her heart, but she did not utter a single sound. Her expression remained unchanged as well, no matter the blood and sweat on her face. Archer was inwardly impressed as he stared at her while she studied the spear now firmly grasped in her hand, swallowing a little. To actually remain unfazed while having a literal hole in her heart… good grief. She truly was a monster.
Scathach watched the lance closely for a few moments. "…a projection," she stated, narrowing her eyes. Her face twitched, and a scowl soon marred her beautiful features as she turned to him again. "Archer… who are you, to call upon Setanta's spear with one breath?" she demanded.
He closed his eyes, a rueful smile curving his lips. "Just a simple bowman," he answered.
"Do not think you can fool me. Your ability to trace and project weapons is outstanding. As well as extremely infuriating," she hissed, fixing the man with a powerful glare. If he hadn't been so focused on the pain in his body, he would have surely begun to sweat under the oppressive power of her bloodlust. "You've copied my student's weapon. A full-fledged Noble Phantasm, projected to near perfection… and you did so before as well, when you used your bow to lure me here."
He said nothing, for there was no need. He knew that she was right.
"I can even feel the spear's curse flowing inside my wound," she mused, touching the hole in her chest as if it was no longer painful at all. Despite her pierced heart, she was still able to speak and stand as if it was nothing. "I've never seen or heard of a copy so faithful and close to the original. Not even my Gáe Bolg Alternative possess this curse."
Again, he remained completely silent under her oppressive, inquisitive stare.
Scathach lowered the spear, and with a mental command on Emiya's part, it dissolved into a dust of white. "I know of no bowman who can copy other Heroes' Noble Phantasms. Especially one who has eyes like yours," she finished, fixing his ageless face with a long stare. She was looking at him intently, her expression a mixture of intrigue and irritation while he kept his eyes closed and his lips shut. Her eyebrow twitched. "Tell me the truth, Archer. I wish to know the name of the man who's managed to best me."
He shook his head. Despite the inner surprise, the spear-woman realized that there still was no hint of pride or satisfaction on his face. He was empty, just like she was, completely unfazed by the fact that she, of all people, was admitting defeat right in front of him.
"Sorry to disappoint, but I have no name. And I have no Noble Phantasm either," he spoke with a mirthless tone, his face devoid of feels even as he kept his eyes closed. Then, he chuckled, and shook his head in self-mockery. "No, scratch that― I do have one, but it is not a weapon, and it is not a thing the Queen of Shadows should see."
Her eyes flashed. "Do not insult my honor, Archer," she warned him.
"You're mistaken, Lancer. It is an ugly thing, not fit for your royal presence. But be assured when I say this: I did use it during our battle, unseen. I may have misled you in order to win, but I would not insult such a powerful opponent by giving you less than my all," he swore. And for once, not a single word he had said to her was a lie.
He really had activated his Reality Marble during the battle, after all. He wouldn't have been able to project his swords or even the dog's spear without it.
She stared at him, long and hard. Her face and gaze were inflexible. "Why did you go that far?" she asked him after ten seconds of absolute silence.
He smirked, his face a mixture of sly cunning and subdued pain due to his own wound. "You already know that we wish to form an alliance with your Master. If we want to learn the truth behind this War, we need your strength. Both me and my Master know that all too well," he answered with ease. "And in order to do that, I needed to defeat you. You wouldn't have accepted otherwise… am I wrong?"
Despite her better judgment, her lips twitched a little. "…you really are smarter than you look," she said with a flat tone. He really had no idea if she was amused or annoyed with that statement.
In any case, he ignored it. "So, after witnessing your combat abilities during your clash with Rider, I chose to face you directly, and waited for the one chance I had. I simply chose the option with the higher chance of success, however slight," he explained, opening one eye to stare at her with a smirk.
The two Servants stared at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. A Queen and a mentor cursed with life, and a slave and a fool cursed with death.
Silence fell between them, broken only by the sound of the flowing water in the river next to them.
While the two of them stared at each other in a cold, calculating silence, something happened.
Emiya openly narrowed his eyes as he saw the wound on the spear-woman's chest begin to close all of a sudden, healing on its own and disappearing in but a few seconds. Next thing he knew, the hole had completely disappeared, as if it had never existed, and even the blood on her body and face disappeared, leaving Lancer as perfect and stainless as she had been before.
But contrary to her appearance, however, her face morphed into a sad, twisted expression. "I see… so even that spear was useless against me," she whispered with a disheartened voice, staring at her body with a conflicted expression. It was the first – and only – display of simple humanity she had showed so far.
Archer eyed her warily. "Primordial Existence, a curse of never-ending life," he mused, observing the way her wound closed with a narrowed gaze. "No, it's more than a simple curse: it's a higher elevation of existence. Your body has reached another plane of reality; a higher status which allows you to heal even during combat. I doubt even the original Gáe Bolg would be effective against you. At this point, I don't even know if there is a weapon capable of killing you out there."
Scathach closed her eyes, a distant expression caressing her beautiful face. "It is my personal curse," she admitted, her tone filled with regret. "I shed too much blood in my life. I killed humans, ghosts and gods alike. And so, as punishment, death has denied me," she explained with a solemn voice, clenching her fists slightly.
…trust me, I know that feeling extremely well, Archer thought to himself, even if he wouldn't dare to say those words out loud. There was no need for it, anyway.
"I had a vision, when I first saw you," the woman continued all of a sudden, grabbing his attention. Emiya paused and narrowed his stare as he saw Lancer's crimson eyes fixed on his kneeled frame. "I saw Setanta's spear piercing my heart through the foresight granted to me by my Skills. I instantly knew you were an opponent I had to face… and it seems that you've proved me right. To think that a nameless warrior with no pride would have been the first one to scratch me… you really did surprise me tonight, Archer."
He smiled an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry it had to be me," he spoke with a sympathetic voice. "I'm sure you would have preferred… him, to be the one."
She looked at him for a long while after hearing his words, staring in silence.
Then, she shook her head and stepped forward. Emiya blinked in confusion when Scathach leaned towards him and placed a hand on his chest, without uttering a single word. Before he could open his mouth to speak, however, a glow of crimson light suddenly shone between her fingers, and the red Archer stared in silent fascination while an ancient and shining red symbol suddenly appeared on his chest, glowing in the dark.
This is… Runic Magecraft, he realized, widening his eyes in disbelief when he saw – and felt – the wound on his chest begin to heal and close on its own, along with a warm, relaxing feeling flowing through his whole body. In less than five seconds, the hole in his chest was completely healed, even if the cuts and abrasions remained on his arms, legs and face.
"I won't heal you in full, but at least I can do this much," Lancer said with blank tone, offering him a sharp nod of the head. "Consider it my thanks, in regards for your skills and the battle you've offered me. You are the first warrior who's managed to wound me twice in a long time. I commend you for it."
He snorted, but accepted the praise with a sigh. "I wouldn't ca―"
Emiya widened his eyes, but he didn't have time to react.
Before he could even blink, in fact, Scathach had grabbed him by collar of his armor, lifting him slightly from the ground and pulling him close with a jerk-like movement of her arm. Emiya stared with eyes slightly widened in confusion while the woman pulled his face close to hers, staring straight into his grey eyes with her crimson orbs filled with a solemn, commanding gaze. Their faces where so close to each other that he could feel her breath on his nose, and for a moment Archer's mind completely blanked in front of the intense stare of the Lancer class Servant.
Scathach glared at him, like a stern teacher dealing with a child. "You said you wanted an alliance with me? In that case, listen well and mark my words," she spoke, authoritative and commanding like never before. "From this moment henceforth, you are mine."
Heroic Spirit Emiya blinked, his face and gaze betraying nothing.
The woman kept glaring at him, unfazed. "I may not know your True Name, Archer, but I know what you are," she continued with her solemn voice, oppressive. "You're similar to me, and I can sense some potential in you. I don't know why, but I'm certain of it. You have the capability to kill me… and for that reason: you will now belong to me," she decided, without an ounce of hesitation.
The man with white hair narrowed his eyes in front of her gaze.
"As the Queen of the Land of Shadows, I bestow upon you the most important task you will ever receive: to bring an end to me and my cursed existence," she commanded, unbending like the most unyielding metal and absolutely certain of what she was saying. "I will not allow you to escape. I will not let you die. You will have no peace until you've found a way to bring an end to my life, and I swear it on my name, Scathach!"
Her grip on his collar tightened until it was almost suffocating. Emiya felt a trickle of sweat dripping from his temple.
"From this day forward, I shall abandon my desire for the Grail… and instead bestow my greatest wish upon your shoulders. And I won't let you go until you'll have fulfilled this task, no matter what will happen in the future. Is that clear?" she asked him, glaring straight into his eyes, deadly serious.
The man stared at her, long and hard. His brows furrowed together. "…that is a rather arduous task for a weak bowman like me," was all he said.
The woman's grip increased even more. Archer began to choke a little, but he did not react. "You will not fool me, Monster of Alaya. There is no Hero in the entirety of the Throne who could ever possess the same eyes as me," she spat with a solemn tone, making his face twitch in a sharp scowl. The air dropped several degrees around the Servants. "You've managed to best me today, so you will do it again. I don't care how long and hard it shall be for you to do so: You. Will. Make. It. Happen. Or I will trap you in the Land of Shadows, and curse you with the same fate as me."
Yep. It was official.
"I am the Queen of the Land of Shadows. Master of Dún Scáith, and Lord of the Spirits. I have no equal on this world, and I shall not be denied," she declared, deadly serious.
Be it Scottish, Irish, Welsh or English…
"Is that understood, Archer?"
…every Hero coming from Great Britain was nothing but a pain in the ass.
Heroic Spirit Emiya smirked, wide and sarcastic.
"No," was his immediate and swift reply. He didn't even blink under the woman's hardened, enraged stare. "Sorry to break it to you, but you're no lord of mine. I already have someone I serve, and I'm not going to break my oath."
Not anymore, he inwardly added, recalling his previous experiences with Rin.
His smirk widened under her expression frozen in stunned silence. "Besides, I think you're misunderstanding something, Lancer," he continued, grabbing the hand that was grasping his collar with his own and twisting it with all the strength he had left. Despite his best efforts, the woman didn't even flinch. "The duel is over, but you still haven't defeated me. I have no reason to answer your questions, nor to do as you say. You have no power over me."
The woman's glare soared. Emiya's smirk widened.
"My one and only priority is to bring victory to my Master. In order to do that, I will do what I must. No matter what," he stated, staring straight into her eyes with a resolute expression.
The will of the two monsters clashed against each other in a silent standoff that made the atmosphere grow dense with prana and the air itself turn as cold as ice.
Grey eyes of steel glared at crimson eyes of death.
Until, after what seemed to be an eternity, something happened.
Scathach smiled, and a soft chuckle escaped from her lips. Emiya stared in silent wonder.
"Your courage and loyalty are commendable," she released him from her grip, and Archer nearly grunted when he was finally able to breath freely again. The spear-woman was looking at him in approval while he donned a hand over his neck, massaging his aching muscles. "And I do favor those who are courageous. Very well, then. I have never considered allying myself with anyone before, but for this one instance I will make an exception. This duel was my loss, and thus I shall hold my selfish desires back for now," she relented.
Emiya scoffed. "It was a draw at best. I'm not nearly as strong as you are," he tried to deflect, shaking his head in amusement while he slowly – and sorely – moved to stand up again. "Besides, I―"
In that moment, something happened.
Scathach and Emiya snapped their heads up, turning their eyes in direction of the voice. The sight of Rider's Hippogriff flying in the sky greeted their vision, while Artoria Pendragon's shrill cry echoed from an entire mile away. The two Servant did not take long to realize that the girl was steadily getting closer and closer to their position thanks to it. In fact, she was currently seated on the back of the Hippogriff along with Bazett, Lord El-Melloi II and his Servant Rider, flying through the sky with subdued speed due to the excessive weight on its back.
Not even ten seconds later, they had already reached their position. Artoria leaped away from the Hippogriff, dashing towards Archer with a speed enhanced by her enormous amount mana and drawing her katana at the same time while Rider and Waver hurried to follow her with a slower pace, escorting a wary-looking Bazett who wore an expression of silent defeat.
"Archer!" Artoria exclaimed, widening her eyes as soon as her gaze landed on him. "Thank goodness!"
The girl with golden hair wasted no time. She ran towards him at maximum speed, and Scathach took a step away from Archer as the small human almost threw herself on the taller Servant, her eyes taking in his bloodied body filled with cuts, abrasions and wounds with a horrified expression. "Oh my god, you're wounded!" she cried. "And bleeding! And exhausted! My god, you're covered in blood-are you ok? What happened? Did you―"
"Master, relax. I'm fine," he reassured her with a tired voice, smiling at her and raising a hand in a reassuring gesture while she grasped his other arm in worry. "I won't die just from this, don't worry. I'm ok, I promise."
She grabbed his hands, frantic, immediately starting to infuse mana in his body through contact. Her face looked so sad and scared that it was honestly surprising to see. "I-I was so worried," she blurted out, prompting Emiya to look at her with wide eyes. "I tried to reach out to you through our bond, but you wouldn't answer!"
"…my apologies. I was too focused on the battle to notice," he apologized, smiling with a regretful expression as he patted her head a little. He really did not like to see her sad. Emiya inwardly cursed himself.
She heard his words, but her horrified face did not relax at all. Instead, as soon as she finished healing him, the girl rounded on the female Lancer in a swift motion, pointing her katana at her with an enraged expression. Her emerald eyes were filled with so much hatred and rage that it was honestly surprising to see. Archer had never seen Artoria so angry before.
"Lancer, this is your doing, isn't it? What have you done to him?" she snarled, hissing like a kitten whose mother had just been wounded right in front of it.
Scathach eyed her, her eyes blank and emotionless, completely unimpressed by the fact that a human was openly threatening a Servant. Until, slowly, she smiled and shot an amused glance at Emiya. "She certainly has fire in her… I almost feel jealous, Archer. No wonder you like her so much," she mused with a sly tone.
The only answer she received from him was a narrowed stare.
"Um… why do I feel like we're interrupting something?"
Charlemagne stepped in between them with a confused face, unsure if he had to draw his sword or not at this point. Next to him, for once, even Lord El-Melloi II seemed to be as lost as he was.
A few seconds of silence passed.
Finally, Bazett stepped forward and walked towards her Servant with a solemn step. "Lancer, what happened? You left so suddenly before that I was starting to grow worried…" she asked her, uncertain.
Her Servant turned to her, exhaling a soft breath. "My apologies, Master. By leaving you in such a hurry, I put you in danger without meaning to," she apologized with a small dip of the head, closing her eyes for a moment. "As you know, strong enemies always attract me, and I was drawn by the enemy Archer out of my desire to face a powerful opponent in battle. Next time, do not hesitate to call me back with a Command Seal."
"Even though I doubt it shall happen again," she quickly added at that point, shooting an amused glance at Emiya.
"Y-You mean you've settled things with him?" the woman with magenta hair widened her eyes, feeling something weird happening with her Servant through their mental bond. "What happened?"
Scathach's following words surprised everyone.
"I lost," Lancer admitted without an ounce of shame or hesitation. She didn't even blink under her Master's stunned expression, and openly ignored the others who were looking at her with mouths agape.
Bazett, plus the others, could not believe what she had just heard. "W-What?!" she exclaimed, dumbfounded. "You've lost? You?!" she exclaimed, dumbfounded.
Everyone – and I do mean everyone – widened their eyes in disbelief.
"Whaaaat?! You mean that you've bested an opponent not even I could defeat?" Rider exclaimed in excitement, staring at Archer with wide eyes gleaming with admiration. From this day forward, he would forever look at Emiya in a new light. "That's amazing!"
Lord-El Melloi II donned a hand over his face. "I knew it… I've really summoned a frivolous Servant compared to the others," he muttered.
"M-Master, you don't have to go that far…"
Still, Bazett was having trouble digesting the news. "Lancer, are you serious? Have you really lost against him?" she asked again, unable to believe it.
But Scathach just closed her eyes, lowering her head a bit in confirmation. "I apologize."
The other woman sighed, running a hand through her hair. "…damn it. I knew that obsession of yours was going to become troublesome sooner or later!"
"One could call me obsessed, or perhaps high strung. But the truth is, the stronger the enemy, the more I focus, and everything else disappears. That is the only thing that gives me peace, Master," Lancer countered without batting an eye, her face showing not even a tiny bit of shame or remorse as she admitted how things worked for her. "I cannot change my own nature. And today, I've finally paid the price for that."
"Of course you have! MY Archer is the best Servant, after all!" Artoria proudly boasted, puffing her chest out while she smiled in glee, shooting a stare filled with admiration and elation to her Servant. She looked completely dazed as she stared at him. "I've trained him well!"
Lancer smirked. "Indeed, he is really… fascinating," she mused with a sly tone, her eyes still fixed on the man's impassive face while the blonde girl rounded on her with wide eyes, stunned by the gaze she was sending to her Servant.
"W-W-Wha…? What's this? Get away from him right now, Lancer!"
On his part, Heroic Spirit Emiya quelled his impulse to don a hand over his face. He did shy away from both Artoria and Lancer, though. "It was a draw at best, Master," he stressed with irritation, closing his eyes while his body started to feel more and more tired while his current exhaustion finally began to catch up with him. He blatantly ignored the girl who placed herself between him and Lancer with her sword aimed at the older woman's neck, and opted to explain the situation instead. "She had me bested for the entirety of the duel. I ended up turning the tables in the end just because she lowered her guard."
The female Lancer looked like she wanted to add something to that, but decided to remain silent in the end. Instead, the Lord of the Clock Tower stepped forward at that moment.
"Does that mean we can finally reach an agreement?" he demanded, fixing Bazett with a stern stare. "A peaceful agreement?" he stressed.
Faced with her Servant's silent nod, the woman with magenta hair clenched her fists and sighed. Her shoulders dropped in resignation. "Very well. A deal is a deal. We'll hear you out and listen to what you have to say," she agreed, nodding in turn to the black-haired Magus with a solemn stare.
Just like that, the previous tension slowly began to disappear from the air.
"Aaaalright! We've got ourselves a new pair of cool allies!" Charlemagne cheered out loud, pumping a fist in the air.
Slowly but surely, everyone exhaled a sigh of relief and allowed themselves to relax. Then, as the minutes passed and everything began to be sorted out, the three Master of the group slowly moved to join together, starting to discuss things among themselves and trying to reach an agreement that could be considered satisfying for everyone. Artoria and Waver explained their doubts about the Grail and the War to Bazett, and the woman listened in silence, occasionally interrupting them to ask some questions or express her own doubts.
And while the Masters discussed among each other, before Emiya could return in spirit form in order to rest and regain his energies, Lancer moved to stand next to him with a silent step, shooting him a side-long stare while everyone was too distracted to notice their discussion.
"Archer, are you seriously going to ignore a Queen's request?" she asked him, glancing at his stern face sideways.
Emiya knew she was serious with her question. Therefore, he decided to take it seriously as well.
He thought about it, long and hard. He really did. He pondered about it for two minutes straight. But in the end, no matter how long he thought, there was only one answer he could offer her.
"I mean no disrespect, but I honestly don't know if I could be able to fulfill it," he answered, crossing his arms with a sigh. "You already know what I am, Lancer. While I sympathize with you, I'm not exactly in the best condition myself. Both you and I know all too well that some things are nothing but foolish delusions, no matter how much we wish this was not the case."
That was perhaps the sincerest thing he could say to her. And she knew it as well. Words were not really necessary between them, since they both understood each other fairly enough now thanks to their previous battle and exchange. And that was the only truth that Heroic Spirit Emiya could share with the Queen of the Land of Shadows.
Monster to monster. Killing machine to killing machine. Undying man to immortal woman.
There were things that just weren't meant to be. No matter how sad and painful it was.
"…I see," was all she said, lowering her eyes in silent disappointment.
Emiya glanced at her sideways, studying the woman's emotionless face in silence for a few seconds. He didn't know what compelled him to do it, but despite himself, he decided not to drop that discussion for now. He mentally cursed as he realized what he was about to say. Maybe Rin's parting words to him had really started to rub off on him, somehow.
He really was slipping, wasn't he?
"I know it won't be easy… but perhaps it is time you start broaden your horizons," he spoke to her with a serious tone. Lancer glanced at him, surprised by his sudden words, but he refused to meet her gaze. He kept his tired eyes focused on Artoria's frame, and he inwardly smiled as he saw the pout his Master was sending him for standing too close to Lancer. "Even if it's just temporary, you don't need to be alone for now. The best way to improve yourself is learning to enjoy what is in front of you right now."
And – oh boy – how he wished he could have learned that lesson during his life.
"Alone, huh?" Scathach mused, mulling over his words in her head for a long while.
In the end, she sighed. "I've always been like that," the woman spoke, lowering her gaze to the ground with an empty, distant expression. "I walk the Land of Shadows alone, for none but I can brave it," she whispered, her voice soft yet cold at the same time.
She turned to stare at him again, and this time, a small smile began to blossom on her beautiful face as he stared right back at her. "Perhaps… with that courage in your heart, you might be able to walk in this War with me," she said to him with a sincere tone, flashing an amused grin to the taller man.
Emiya snorted, but his lips curved into a rueful smile.
"It would be an honor."
(I know it's long, but please read it)
…Is it me or there is something weird going on between Emiya and Scathach towards the end of the chapter? Something like, well. I don't know… tension? Yes, is it perhaps some sort of sexual ten―
No! Bad Gavius! BAD! Stop with this foolish thinking! Stop it! STOOOP!
By the way, I was sincerely overwhelmed by your reactions for Scathach's inclusion in the story. I had no idea she was such a beloved character, and I just wanted two cool and badass Servants to meet in my fic. I wasn't expecting such an uproar for it…
Oh, and let's be clear: do not expect to see some romance blossoming between them. It's not gonna happen, so be content to know that we'll see some light flirting and a bit of teasing in the future, but nothing beyond that. In the first place, a romance between those two is HIGHLY UNLIKELY. While their situation is quite similar, Emiya and Scathach don't exactly like themselves, you know. Loving another person and being loved back is NOT something that they would be able to do and enjoy easily. It would take a LOT of time for two broken and twisted warriors like them to start accepting and dealing with those kind of emotions due to their peculiar condition and lives, but many people tend to ignore that.
Emiya especially: loving someone and being loved back would be very hard for him, even with Artoria. It's gonna be a major story point in the future, and we'll see it sooner or later. In the canon works, if Saber Artoria Pendragon were to somehow confess her love for him (lol, as if) Emiya would flat out reject her (respectfully) and then curse his entire existence all over again. Just because that woman won't leave his mind, it doesn't mean that his feelings are the same of the boy he once was. Many people tend to forget about that. He is NOT Shirou. Not anymore.
Scathach is the same, in a way. Personally, I think there's a reason why she and Emiya avoid each other in FGO: they cannot stand each other. Not because they have something against the other, but simply because they would constantly be remembered of their own condition if they were to stay together for too long. They would be friendly with each other, yes, but that's that. Even in Fate/EXTELLA Link, the only thing that Emiya says about Scathach is "she's a troublesome opponent…" and nothing more. So, it wouldn't really work between them (sad as it is). Besides, Scathach is fond of Cu Chulainn; and Emiya would try to avoid everything related to that man at any cost XD.
I honestly have no idea how you guys are going to react to this fight. I tried for so long – for months – to think and imagine how a battle between Emiya and Scathach would unfold in a realistic way. I even went as far as research everything about those two characters during the past four months while I was planning this moment. All their canon appearances, all their fighting scenes, their powers, mentality, dialogues, everything. In the end, this was the only scenario I could come up with while trying to stay "true" to canon.
Emiya could never win in close combat against her. Due to her immortal existence, Scathach has become much more powerful than Cu Chulainn, and unlike his fights against him, Archer would not be able to defend himself from her spear. Against Cu, he was out-matched but still managed to avoid being directly hit by Gae Bolg. That would not happen against Scathach. She's just too fast and strong for him to react accordingly. He probably would be able to have some chance if he were fighting against her in long range (I'll say more about this at the end of the notes, so please check it out) but I wanted to avoid that scenario since it would have been too much, and it's far too soon to see such a destructive power in this story. It will happen, but not now.
So let's face it, Archer had no chance of winning this fight fairly. No Servant can deal with Scathach except for those who are very, very powerful and mighty (and, maybe, for Cu Chulainn as well; but only because he's familiar with her style and because she would lower her guard and strength against him since she's fond of him.) In life, Cu Chulainn had reached Scathach's same level of strength and skills, but then he died, while she continued to exist and improve in everything. It is reasonable to believe she has become extremely more powerful than she already was in life because of that.
This is just my opinion – and remember: I'm NOT Nasu and I'm still a NEWBIE about Fate, so please go easy on me – but if Emiya were to be forced to fight Scathach in close range, the only way he could afford to "win" is to allow himself to be hit, avoid a fatal injury at the last split-second, and then strike back at her while he keeps her still. That was the only thing I could realistically come up with for this battle. Even with his Reality Marble, I don't believe he would stand a chance.
I already know that some of you won't agree with the unfolding of this fight. Some people are just so fixated with the canon works and their idea of how battles "should" be that it's scary (you have no idea of what I've been told in private about this story. And let's not even talk about Fate: Oppression) but I'm not. I'm not fixated with canon, even in this story where I'm actually trying to stay true to the characters and the original universe. This is a fanfiction, and I'm just trying to write something that I enjoy. I'm not a great author, I'm not even a native speaker, so I know I won't be able to satisfy everyone since it's impossible. I do appreciate hearing other people's opinions, of course, but please keep this in mind. This scenario is sincerely the best one I could come up with, and I can only hope that some of you can enjoy it as I did writing it.
Now, I apologize for what I'm about to write here… but please allow me to rant a little. I really need to. What you're about to read is not directly aimed to all of you readers, but only to the small minority of people who wrote to me in private during the last week, assaulting me with insults for childish reasons or simply because they don't like what they've read in the story.
I'm tired – EXTREMELY TIRED – of people telling me on PMs or on the reviews things like "Archer should really start fighting like an Archer"; or "Emiya should begin to use Broken Phantasms more often"; or "Why don't you make him fire Noble Phantasms again and again like he did in Hollow/Ataraxia?"; and also "He should really stop fighting on close range since he can only get so far while using unorthodox methods."
I'm gonna be honest with you guys… it's tiring and frustrating. It's not that I don't appreciate your tips, suggestions and criticisms; far from it. But some people have been very insistent on this matter in private, and it's becoming quite frustrating for me. So, since many readers seem to have trouble understanding it, I want to make it extremely clear once and for all.
Do you seriously not get it? Archer's ability to use the bow and trace his Noble Phantasms depends on the CONTEXT of the fights! He will not – and he CANNOT – use them as he pleases! Not because he's limited or unable to do so, but because that option is NOT always the most optimal one for him! For example: if he's forced to fight a superior opponent in close range (like what happened with Arthur and Scathach) then he cannot use the bow, because he wouldn't have time to TAKE AIM correctly, TRACE his most powerful weapons according to the situation, and FIRE THEM accurately. Saber and Lancer would simply rush on him and cut him in half before he could even begin to take aim. We DID see him use the bow against Scathach, but if he had decided to rely on that alone, he would have lost the fight as soon as Lancer managed to reach him. That is EXACTLY how he lost against Artoria in Hollow Ataraxia. He did not have time to trace his swords because he chose to use the bow instead, and he was consequently unable to defend himself at the last second from Saber's attack.
According to the VN and the Wiki, Archer needs at least 10-15 seconds to fire Broken Phantasms consecutively. Do you not realize that this is impossible to do when he's forced to fight on close range? Both Saber and Lancer would have killed him in less than 5 seconds if he'd tried to do that in this story! It's not a matter of skill, it's a matter of speed of reaction and timing. Is it really so hard to understand?
Also, one thing that some of you tend to forget: Archer is doing his best to keep his identity SECRET from Artoria and the rest of the gang. He does NOT want to attract attention to himself (despite what fate has in store for him). What do you think would happen if he were to simply unleash all his powers during a fight, trace all the Phantasms he could against the enemy, and fire them at the same time? That's right: he would ATTRACT attention. He would bring suspicions and questions on himself, both from Artoria and the other factions' side. That is pretty much the OPPOSITE of what he's aiming for. It's one thing to trace a FEW Broken Phantasm and use them… but unleashing UBW fully and raining down hellfire? That is another thing entirely. Misleading is his best tactic, and he will ALWAYS use it unless he's forced to reveal his hand.
That is also why he did not activate his Reality Marble fully against Lancer: HE DOES NOT WANT TO ATTRACT ATTENTION AND SHOW HIS TRUE POWER UNLESS HE'S FORCED TO! Please try to understand that, even if some of you will find it unreasonable or forced.
I mean… it's pretty obvious. Why didn't we see Archer unleash his full strength from the beginning in the canon works, then? The majority of other Servants have no problem unleashing their might as soon as it is necessary, but he does NOT. He will only do so when it is absolutely unavoidable. Is it really so hard to understand? Even the Wiki clearly stated as much. The only times he activated UBW fully in the canon works is when he, eventually, was close to die or had nothing left to lose. Hence: at the end of the stories, where he was betting everything on the battle against Heracles and Shirou. It is clearly showed in the main Routes. Good grief…
Also, you may think: "But why does Emiya need to be so secretive and mysterious all the time?" or "Why doesn't he just tell the truth and reveal everything and get over with it? His behavior seems forced." Well, the answer is found in the Wiki: THAT IS JUST THE WAY EMIYA IS. He does not lie, but he cannot easily be honest with himself and others unless he's forced to, or it is absolutely necessary, or it is more advantageous. This is also another reason why he unconsciously prefers to keep his abilities and weapons hidden until the very end. He did trace Gae Bolg in front of Scathach, and she WILL question him about it in the future; but that doesn't mean that he wants to reveal the truth about himself to the enemy… or even to his allies. That is NOT the way he is. Keeping secrets, answering with half-truths and trying to constantly create walls between himself and others is in Archer's NATURE. It's his character, because of his role and existence which has made him bitter, cynical and wary of everything. Therefore, he will ALWAYS try to put some distance from other people, unless he's forced to give up. The Wiki states as much as well, so please get over it. If you don't like it, you're free to write your own story and do better than me.
I hope it is clear now.
Sorry for the rant, but I really needed to get this out of my chest. Some people were really bothering me in private with these arguments and it was immensely frustrating. Everyone is free to have a personal opinion, preference, and idea of how things should and should not go according to canon (just complaining about this matter makes no sense to me since we're not the original authors and thus it is pointless to discuss what would and would not happen, but this is just my opinion) but some people take it too far. That is no reason to foment hate and discord. It really makes them look like kids. Good grief.
As always, please forgive me for any eventual misspellings and grammar mistakes. If you point them out to me, I will gladly correct them as soon as I can.
See you next time.