Fuyuki city, Shinto―
The housing district at the east of the Mion River is a new town reclaimed from a once empty wasteland; it is different from the history the Miyama town originally has, but it is being refined in a large-scale redevelopment project from the government to build a modern business district over the ancient site.
The buildings in the area planned as a business district are only 40% complete, but the maintenance of the park and shopping mall in front of the station is already done; the future plans are already done for the Shinto district to be clean and sterile, pompous and with no individuality. The city hall is also being moved piece by piece to Shinto, revived with modern iron, glass, and mortar, stealing all central municipal functions from Miyama.
It is already crowded even during holidays. In the middle of the crowd going back and forth, cowering from the northern wind, Emiya Kiritsugu disappeared, colorless and odorless without attracting any attention.
His shirt and coat worn for a long time and his lack of baggage give him a slacking appearance that wouldn't make you think of someone who has immigrated. As a matter of fact, he has been like that since he walked in the country up to Shinto in Fuyuki, but Japan still remains his native country. Being used to coming and going, he still felt better in this country.
With a complex feeling, Kiritsugu looked down on the cigarette paper package he had just bought from a vending machine.
It's been 9 years he has stopped smoking. He hasn't been able to find his favorite brand in the far land of the Einzberns, but that was mainly in regard for the mother and child. Just as he came down at the Fuyuki station, prepared for battle, he had thrown a coin in the vending machine out of habit.
Since he has bought a disposable lighter from a convenience store to get back the sensation, he breaks open the cigarette pack. The white of the row of filters is dazzling.
He put one in his mouth and lit it. As if there wasn't a blank of 10 years, he was able to redo the movements naturally. The aroma flowing into his lungs, he got used to the taste as if he had been doing it just the day before.
Kiritsugu looks at the transformed scenery, completely different from the one he vividly remembers in his heart.
He visited Fuyuki in reconnaissance under cover three years earlier, but the face of Shinto has completely changed since then. This isn't unexpected, but this is beyond what he imagined. He needs to confirm the neighborhood again.
Despite the slight difficulty from the transformation of the area, Kiritsugu reached the hotel he wanted.
The lobby and the front have been arranged, but the interior is a fairly cheap business hotel. Families or wanderers, this hotel is a good harbor for quite a wide genre of users.
Acting as if he knew the place, Kiritsugu walks through the lobby up to the elevator, up to the seventh floor. This is where his faithful subordinate has been for three days, in room 73.
In the world of magi, his relation with Hisau Maiya would be that of a pupil and a teacher.
But to Kiritsugu, who saw magecraft as a mere tool he has acquired knowledge in, and not as the object of his quest, there wasn't a single sense of master and pupil. What he has taught to Maiya is merely a "way to fight". This too is only for the purpose of counting her as a "tool". This is from a time when he went through countless desperate battles for a utopia that could never be fulfilled, when he didn't know about the existence of the Grail.
Hence his connection to Maiya is older than the one with Irisviel. Having fought at his side, Maiya knows of the blood-stained side of Kiritsugu that his wife has never seen.
As he knocked at a pre-arranged rhythm on the door of room 73, the door opened immediately as if he had been expected. Skipping unnecessary greetings with a mere glance at each other, Kiritsugu enters the room and closes the door.
Maiya has already been involved for a while. After Kiritsugu retreated, she has arranged the preparations for the Grail War according to the instructions given by Kiritsugu from overseas, and has been busy with returning to the Einzbern castle many times.
Handsome, fair-skinned, she was a beauty who used neither eye-liner nor lipstick. Her long eyes and her gaze seem to be always scrutinizing suspiciously, but she deliberately leaves an impression of indifference. Her jet black, silk-like straight hair catch the glance of many men but her cold, sharp look definitely makes any lady-killer give up.
Anyway, they have known each other for over 10 years. She was still a young girl when they met, but since she isn't a child anymore, she sharpened her sagacity as a characteristic; when with that type of beauty, normal people tire easily, Kiritsugu was the opposite. She is a woman who constantly saw the reality, and could sometimes give out an accurate judgment more merciless than Kiritsugu. With her, Kiritsugu didn't have to be ashamed of his foul plays or detest his cruelty. This could put him to some sort of rest.
"The Tōsaka mansion moved last night."
Maiya started by jumping straight to the point.
"Please watch the records of it. Also, all the equipment has arrived."
"Understood. First, the situation."
Nodding, Maiya switches the decoder of the unpacked television.
Amongst the magecraft Kiritsugu had taught her, Maiya was particularly capable in the management of regular familiars, and Kiritsugu often entrusted her with scouting or reconnaissance missions. This time again, Kiritsugu has assigned her to the surveillance of the Matō and Tōsaka mansions.
The familiars Maiya has pride in are bats, but unlike other magi, her bats have a miniature CCD camera tied on the abdomen. Of course, this is an idea of Kiritsugu. The illusions and camouflaged bounded fields of magi are often based on using suggestions on an observer, but that sort of things often forget about electronic-based counter measures. Video records are also helpful for re-watching, so even considering it slows down the familiar the joint use of cameras is a viable solution.
The whole scene of the previous night is replayed on the 13 inch CTR. The blurred image is enough to understand the whole event. Without raising an eyebrow, Kiritsugu watches the Servant with a skull mask unable to escape annihilation from the golden Servant.
The white mask of the defeated Servant is without a doubt of the Assassin class.
"What do you make of it?"
"I think it is going too well."
Maiya replied immediately to Kiritsugu's question.
"The time lag between Assassin's materialization and the attack of Tōsaka's Servant is too short. He was waiting for him. I could accept he might have detected an intruder in spirit form, but his opponent is an Assassin with the Presence Concealment ability. ... I wonder if Tōsaka wasn't aware of the invasion prior to it."
Kiritsugu nodded. Having been trained by him, Maiya's conclusion was the same as Kiritsugu's.
"The more I think of it, the more it seems like an arrangement. Why did Tōsaka expose his Servant like that if he had such a margin?"
The Tōsaka family has obviously accumulated experience from the second and third Grail fights. There is no way they don't know the other Masters would be observing the Tōsaka mansion.
The Heaven's Feel is a confrontation between heroes who have gained fame. And the legends of these heroes include a lot of information on their fighting patterns and their strong and weak points. This means it is natural that the skills and weaknesses of the Heroic Spirits are known from the beginning.
And so, it has become an ironclad rule to hide the true identity of the Heroic Spirits in the war between Servants. In light of this, Heroic Spirits are all called by their class to avoid revealing their true name.
Last night, Tōsaka has left two clues to the other Masters, being what his Servant looks like, as well as showing a method that looks like a Noble Phantasm. Neither were enough to definitely identify the Servant, but that was a risk that should have been easy to avoid. If he was to bring down Assassin, he could have done so outside of plain view.
"Showing us something he didn't have to show us― that means he wanted to show it to us."
Kiritsugu nods again at Maiya's conclusion.
"Possibly. If there is any merit in doing that, then the explanation is obvious. ... Maiya, what happened to the Master of Assassin?"
"He went to the Church last night and has requested the supervisor's protection. It is the man called Kotomine Kirei."
Hearing that name, Kiritsugu's eye lit with a cold ghastliness.
"Maiya, send a familiar to the Fuyuki Church. One will be fine for now."
"... Is it alright? The Church is an area where aggressions between Masters are prohibited."
"Unless the priest supervisor doesn't find out. Stay at a reasonable distance. Don't overdo it. He doesn't have to know."
Maiya frowned at Kiritsugu’s incomprehensible instructions.
"Must I observe the Church?"
"You can just make it a 'regular patrolling'. What you must concentrate on is being absolutely not-discovered."
"... Yes, understood."
Maiya couldn't understand what Kiritsugu had in mind, but didn't question him. She at once picks one of the three bats observing the Tōsaka mansion and sent it the thought of going to the Fuyuki Church at the end of Shinto.
Kiritsugu turned off the TV, then resumed inspecting the equipment Maiya prepared.
In the various tools lined up on the sheet of the bed, awaiting Kiritsugu's check-up, there was not one a magus could find interesting. Not a single ritualistic catalyst like a dagger, cup, talisman, elixir or spiritual container. They were state-of-art and highly efficient, but apart from that, they were nothing but conventional weapons. Nothing that could store prana.
That was the heresy that earned the magus Emiya Kiritsugu the nickname of "magus killer."
The weak point of the people called magi was usually negligence from arrogance. They believe in their own mysteries and knowledge. They never doubt that the only threat to them beside God cannot be anything other than a magus like them.
That is why, in battle, they are sensitive to nothing but traces of magecraft. To detect any kind of trivial skill. Hence they train their perception of magecraft, and think of counter-measures against those skills as derisive― That's a theory no magus strays from.
As a result, they ignore any attack that is purely physical and void of magecraft as secondary menace. They have no fear of the sharpest knife, the strongest bullet, until the instant they actually pierce the flesh of a magus. And before that happens, the strength of magecraft grants illusions, paralysis methods, or defensive bounded fields, able to completely negate any vulgar attacks.
But they despise technology. What a human who doesn't rely on magecraft can do― a lot of magi cannot recognize that.
The attack the enemy doesn't expect is a shortcut for all battles. Kiritsugu has reached a conclusion from a large number of battles-to-the-death between magi. That is, magi are weak to non-magical attacks.
Applying that conclusion to the circumstances of the Heaven's Feel of Fuyuki, Maiya has prepared a set of equipment. Among them, the rifle lying on the sheet is what gives out the strongest smell of varnish. That was a work of art that was the crystallization of the newest electronic techniques along with a ferocious shape.
The base is a Walther WA2000 semi-automatic sniper rifle. A rifle with a total length a little above 90 centimeters, in a compact size; the bullpup structure with a gas-operated magazine gives the gun barrel a length of 65 centimeters. The .300 Winchester Magnum shell has an effective range of 1000 meters. In the modern world, this is a rifle of the highest class, with the highest performance. The high cost of $12,000 is due to how it was one of the only 154 units produced for this legendary gun.
Instead of the standard sighting device made by Smith & Bender, Kiritsugu had simultaneously installed a pair of lined-up devices as a special scope mount, above the barrel and on the left flank, both extra-large optic devices fixed in parallel.
On the main side was the latest night vision scope, the best of the US armed force, an AN/PVS04. The equipment, some sort of super sensitive video camera, is a simple light electrical amplifier with a lens, raising and displaying a perfect brightness. It is a real electronic "owl eye" that multiplies the range of vision by 3.6, 600 yards under the moonlight or 400 yards in starlight. Essentially, it is the latest equipment used by the US armed force, banned from exportation to prevent technology leaking.
Furthermore, in addition a specter IR heat detector scope is installed as a sideways support. This one is also electronically equipped for night vision, although the image display isn't an intensity amplifier, but displays the heat patterns of the subject. It can perceive temperature variations from -5 to 60°C up to 200 meters with an 1.8 magnification.
Having discovered that the operation of Magic Circuits changed the temperature of the practitioner, Kiritsugu had studied and trained so much that he was now able to read, through the thermal output, the current status of the Magic Circuits by viewing the heat distribution. Viewing the clear difference between an ordinary person and a magus, it is possible to seize an opportunity after the release of prana. The joint use of both bulky night vision devices is not just for night time battle, but also a configuration to specifically face against a magus.
Despite the steady progress on miniaturization, year after year, of the non-magical innovations, a night vision device roughly remains at the size of a plastic bottle, and is too bulky to be compared to regular optic devices. On top of the rash, compact design of the gun barrel, the enormous pair of scopes gives a clumsy air of unbalance. The total weight of the gun exceeds 10 kilos. It is already a weapon worthy for a support fire squad more than a sniping weapon. The main equipment was already hindering practical use, but that was a challenge Kiritsugu had calculated at best.
When compared to magecraft, this night-vision sniping gun certainly falls behind. Magecraft can let you see better through the dark, and it is also possible to detect the position of an enemy magus. But with this gun, Kiritsugu is able to shoot down a target without releasing any prana.
In the dark, unable to detect any prana, the possibility of being hit from several hundred meters away― it is a situation a pro soldier wouldn't count as incomprehensible, but a lot of magi are really novices in such conditions. In fact, a self-conscious magus who has stepped into a world of mysteries beyond human intellect cannot relate to the stereotypes of a narrower world.
Kiritsugu picked up the super heavyweight class sniper gun from the bed, checked the smoothness of the breechblock and the weight of the trigger, and made sure it was in the best condition.
"There is no correction up to 500 meters. Do you want to check it?"
"No, it's fine."
He would have wanted to not only check the alignement, but also get a grasp of the shooting, but with the constitutional government of Japan, that was unfortunately not easy. With the Grail War hostilities having already started, he might have to use the gun this very night. Kiritsugu fully trusts Maiya's preparations.
The other rifle that was prepared, in addition to the Walther sniping gun, is for Maiya who will be acting as a vanguard scout, a Steyr AUG assault gun. Its night vision scope has also been replaced, like Kiritsugu's, and surprisingly, the weight is under 5 kg.
Furthermore, a Calico M950 submachine gun is ready as a reserve side arm. The compact size is not different from a large handgun, and the reinforced plastic makes it look more like a toy than the Walther sniping gun; but the unique magazine with a system called helical allows for 50 Parabellum rounds, with a firing rate of 700 shots per minute for a brutal armament.
The rest includes personal hand grenades and stun grenades, smoke grenades, and C2 plastic explosive. Following the instructions Kiritsugu sent from the north, Maiya had arranged to prepare the equipment without allowing any leak. But Kiritsugu's expressionless eyes don't look satisfied yet.
"And the one I entrusted to you?"
"... It is here."
Maiya reverentially pulled a rosewood case with both hands from the bottom of the closet. It seems that this reverence has somehow stiffened even further the beautiful face that never smiles.
Taking the case, Kiritsugu placed it on the side table, unfastening the clasps and opening the lid with an expert hand.
The armament on the bed is all brand new weapons for this day. The assets of the Einzbern family certainly allow the funds and connection necessary to arrange the gathering of brand new, sharp equipment despite its exorbitant cost with much difficulty.
But inside that rosewood case, the handgun sleeping in a long silence isn't something money can buy. This is the weapon Kiritsugu has favored on a lot of battlefields, which he has entrusted to Maiya when he retired 9 years ago, unique in the world, a weapon for Kiritsugu's use only.
The high-tech equipment that can be obtained with money is an armament for Emiya Kiritsugu as the 'Magus Killer'. But there also existed a weapon for the 'magus' Emiya Kiritsugu. That is, a 'Mystic Code'― a weapon through which a magus can use magecraft in battle.
Thompson Center's Contender. A grip and fore end carved in walnut, a gun barrel 14 inch long, reminiscent of a dagger in its scabbard. The handgun parts are only the trigger and the percussion hammer, then the cylinder and slide cannot be found on the simple exterior, which makes it close to a percussion pistol from the last hours of the Middle Ages.
Actually, the Contender is a single shot pistol with a break-open cartridge chamber. This gun is essentially a pistol for target shooting sport; but Kiritsugu's gun barrel has been switched to make use of the hunting specifications of the large caliber, and furthermore, it has been magically modified to make use of "magic bullets" for rifling.
The bullets used are .30-06 Springfield. A cartridge with a bottleneck structure, its size and power level are already different from those of a handgun bullet. The .30-06 is 10% stronger than the .308 Winchester bullet, and even surpasses the hand canon class of a Magnum bullet. Discharged from a handgun, it would have extreme firepower.
But the true menace of this gun is not the destructive power of physical explosives and warheads.
The special bullets installed along with the gun in the case― in the core of the twelve remaining shots are sealed powdered bones from Kiritsugu himself. When Kiritsugu's prana is fired, these "magical bullets" forces into the target the 'origin' of the magus named Kiritsugu. So to speak, one could call it an imitation of a conceptual weapon.
Technology becomes the blind spot of magi who stick to magecraft... In the end, this is only a tendency, and doesn't reverse the generality. Indeed, a lot of magi in the world can be defeated with means like a night vision and a heat sensor scope. Nevertheless, there are exceptions that cannot be measured with rules and experience. The generality against a magus is that there aren't many magi who deviate even further from that generality. Kiritsugu calls these opponents "formidable enemies".
Against a "formidable enemy" for who artifice won't work― Kiritsugu, as a single magus, must stand up when he runs out of secrets. At that time, this Contender becomes Kiritsugu's most powerful fang.
Rewinding the clock in his heart, Kiritsugu picked the Contender from the case. In the past, the walnut gun had absorbed the transpiration of Kiritsugu's hand countless times, and after a blank of 9 years, it still fit perfectly into his hand and fingers.
Whether it's the hand gripping the handle, or the handle gripping the hand, that is an indistinct feeling. With just a little strength in the fingers, the gun might just fuse with the bones of his hand, and become an extension of his arm.
Cautiously pulling the spool with his index finger, the chamber lock is released and collapses soundly. Sliding a bullet from the same case into the opened chamber, he then closes the barrel again with a snap of his wrist. With the added ammunition, the overall weight is now 2.6 kg. Kiritsugu's right hand gives a familiar response.
At the old feeling, Kiritsugu's chest hurt when he thought that he got too used to the touch of a dangerous weapon.
At the end, will his hand remember so perfectly the touch of his wife and daughter?
Their tender cheeks, their slender fingers, how much of it will Kiritsugu remember?
Picking another bullet from the case, Kiritsugu replayed the reloading process that had dyed his hands.
Pulling the rim of the exposed cartridge with his fingertips from the opened chamber, he slides in a second bullet, and immediately slams the gun barrel close―
It took him two seconds. Bad thoughts dull his manipulations.
"... I've gotten rusty."
To Kiritsugu, murmuring in self-derision, Maiya nodded without consideration. She knew the old skills of her partner. Kiritsugu pulled the bullet he had loaded in the gun, picked the other one he had dropped on the floor, and placed everything back in the case with the Contender.
"Ilya's body is even lighter than the Walther here. And she's already 8 years old..."
Letting free his shameful memories on his own, Kiritsugu started loosening alone. Maiya's movement, barging in behind his back, stopped his train of thoughts.
Agile like a snake, her hand rolled around Kiritsugu's neck, seizing the back of his head, blocking his movements, and his mouth― she took his soft, dried lips.
The taste and touch of a different woman from the one in his heart. Breaking off the man's homesickness, but that was too quick to be forgiven.
"... Please only focus of what's necessary for now. Don't think of what you don't need."
In a blurred voice that had traces of her usage of her tongue left, Maiya quietly commanded Kiritsugu.
Without a word, Kiritsugu felt the sensation in his chest calm down. In his heart cooling off, the pain is already vanishing away in a mist.
This is the woman she is. She is the woman into whom Kiritsugu himself has raised a girl once found on a battlefield.
A supporting machine whose actions are even more akin to a machine than those of the machine called Emiya Kiritsugu. This is Hisau Maiya. An indispensable final weapon for Kiritsugu to win this battle... That is none other than that woman.
Just at the time Emiya Kiritsugu and Hisau Maiya were meeting in a cheap hotel of Shinto, the Volare Italia charter coming from Germany was landing on the F lane of the airport neighboring Fuyuki City.
Even under the same frozen wind of winter, the one of Japan can't be compared to the intensity of that of the Einzbern castle. Looking up at the soft sunlight of the early afternoon, Irisviel von Einzbern feels her heart lighten.
"So, this is the country Kiritsugu was born in..."
It is a good place. Although she could get to know the place with pictures and such, Irisviel felt refreshed feeling the air through her body.
Not only her heart lightens. Coming to Japan posing as a passenger, she couldn't bring dresses for the castle, but had to bring more common clothing as much as possible to at least get to know the town. With short heeled boots and a knee-long skirt, her movements felt as light as if she was reborn.
Nonetheless, to an Einzbern who lived a secluded life oblivious of the common sense of the outside world, the dress-up she thought would be fit of common garments was already off. Her silk blouse, her thigh-high long boots, her casual coat with silver fox fur, everything was coming straight out of a high class display window; it was very visible that she was a rare gem from a particular birthplace with a particular tailoring. They were clothes clearly fit for a fashion model, but to Irisviel who grew up with polished jewelry, it seemed intimate enough; even, Irisviel had indeed considered it a camouflage for towns areas, but it was simply impossible for a beauty such as her to disappear in the general public to begin with.
"So, Saber? What did you think of the plane travel?"
One step ahead down the runway, Irisviel asks the Servant with a short stature, who is leaving the lap that continues further.
"Nothing in particular. It was more wearisome than expected."
There is no lie in her words. Her jade green eyes are perfectly serene.
"Oh, too bad, I thought you would be more surprised and interested."
"... Irisviel, you must be thinking of me as a primitive person."
To the frowning Saber, Irisviel replied with a bright laugh void of any ill intention.
"Flying in the sky is nothing surprising for a Heroic Spirit?"
"Not exactly, But as a Servant summoned in the present world, I have received information about this era. Also, as a Saber, I possess a skill dedicated to Riding. Presently, I might be able to ride this airplane."
Hearing that, Irisviel's eyes go round from astonishment.
"You could― pilot it?"
"Probably. My riding skill applies to all vehicles. If I can sit on a saddle and seize a bridle, I can manage the rest from instinct."
Irisviel burst into laughter from Saber's expression. She hasn't seen the cockpit. What would she think when seeing one filled with gauges instead of her saddle and bridle?
Be that as it may, she said the truth about skills. The mounting ability of the Saber class allows the use of any vehicle save for phantasmal beasts and divine beasts. If needed, she could definitely handle modern tools like a car or a bike.
"I'm still a little disappointed. You must be the first Servant ever to travel in a plane with a flesh and blood body."
"... I must apologise about that. I am not a good reference."
"Oh, it's fine. ―Don't worry. That isn't what I meant."
Foreign Masters have to travel to Japan one way or another, but Irisviel and her Servant posing together as a party of two must be an exception.
The cause was Saber. Despite being a Heroic Spirit, she had limits other Servants didn't have. The gravest amongst these was that she could not dematerialize. She didn't have the ability to cancel her physical form to move at high speed or cut down the prana consumption from her Master when at rest, something all Servants should be able to do. It's not that there had been a mistake in Kiritsugu's contract or his summoning: the soul of the hero named Artoria functioned differently from the other Heroic Spirits... Apparently. For a reason unknown to even Irisviel.
The most problematic burden was that she was unable to turn invisible and hide her existence to the other people. There was no way she would walk under her armor suit, so Saber had to dress up as a human with a costume of the latest fashion, and accompany Irisviel.
―Although, Irisviel found rather welcome that Saber would follow her in convenient garments.
"I am happy I could travel with you, Saber. I can't get tired of looking at you."
"? Irisviel, why the change?"
"No, It's nothing. Don't mind that."
Hiding a smile, Irisviel turns her head away. Saber finds that reaction suspicious.
"... It means you are holding something when you laugh like that. Tell me frankly what it is."
"It is not a problem if you always remain in physical form, really. I get to have fun choosing your clothes, like that."
How carefree― Saber wanted to reply, but sighed instead. Being unable to dematerialize is essentially a drawback that can't be dealt with for the Master. Enjoying oneself isn't the primary objective, but telling the Master it is no laughing matter would be mistaking the cause for the end.
"Irisviel, are these clothings fit to look around in town?"
"Yes, ... I guess. It is my first time in this country as well, so I am a little anxious."
If a third party with the common sensibility of a Japanese had happened to be present, he would have definitely been able to tell that Irisviel was different.
Irisviel had taken Saber's measurements before their departure and issued orders to get modern clothing at a tailor of the Frankfurt airport for a dark blue dress shirt and necktie with a French continental dark suit. That was perfect to disguise her as a man.
It would sound wild and foolish to dress a young woman of under 155 centimeters like that, but this is suddenly a different matter when speaking about Saber.
This isn't the perverted beauty of having a beautiful woman dressed as a man. The air of Saber's cold and hard face isn't that of a feminine complexion. It was already a given that her disguising as a man was unequalled as a beautiful young man. Along with her thin stature, her face was obviously glamorous and fair-skinned, which could pass as the manly, charming air of a pure young man.
"I chose the clothes to balance with my appearance, maybe you do not like them?"
"Ah, not at all. This costume allows me to move freely, and I am used to posing as a man."
The necessity of slipping out of her armored clothing was obvious, but there was no denying Irisviel had jumped straight into a dressing-up hobby more than it was required.
Entrusting to the two maids who had come with them the luggages coming out from the cargo area, Irisviel and Saber turned to the customs house with empty hands. After the two maids had sent the luggage to the Einzbern villa in the forest on the outskirts of Fuyuki City by a different route, they arranged their return to home. They were not to remain at Irisviel's side for this Heaven's Feel. There is no need to put in danger people who aren't related. On that matter, Irisviel would care for her personal belongings by herself, and the strong-hearted Saber would remain by her side.
Completing without delay the procedure to enter the country, it didn't take much time until they were allowed to get to the airport lobby. But until they could reach it, every single one of the officials on the way got astounded by Irisviel and Saber and rolled their eyes as they passed, quickly making them uneasy.
"As I thought... Is there something wrong with my clothes?"
Sensing the eyes of the people coming and going in the lobby, Saber mutters as if feeling awkward.
"Well, it might be too elegant..."
Irisviel could only smile bitterly, but to tell the truth, she too was the center of attention. At any rate, the two of them are unequalled beauties. Their eccentric clothing, how removed from common sense they are, balances their rash match rather well. The attention from the surroundings was not just odd glances, but already envious ones.
"― Let's go, Saber. Worrying won't change much."
Saying so, Irisviel pulled Saber's hand with a bitter face.
"At last we are in Japan. We must enjoy ourselves as much as possible before the battle begins."
"No, Irisviel, the question isn't about enjoying―"
As Saber stretched her mumbling halfway, Irisviel walked like on springs to find a taxi. Somehow, Saber hadn't noticed until now how lively she was shining.
Soon after the two arrived in Fuyuki City, sunset colored the western sky as it was quite late in the afternoon.
As the hired car was going down the plaza of the park in front of the station, Irisviel's impression lit her eyes as she was exposed to the traffic jam of the evening hours.
But Saber by her side was studying the surroundings just like a commander investigating the topography of a battlefield.
"Kiritsugu has already arrived in this place, hasn't he?"
"Yes. He arranged to arrive half a day before us."
Already inside the country, Kiritsugu was to hide his existence and follow a completely different route from that of Irisviel's group. He was to take a passenger flight to the international airport at Shin-Ōsaka and change for the railroad to Fuyuki City.
"Are we to meet up again?"
"It's alright. He will be the one to come to us."
Saber wouldn't show any of it, but she was quite shocked by Kiritsugu and Irisviel's plans that she didn't quite find satisfactory.
"Then, what is the plan, now?"
"Right... For now, we shall observe the changes in the situation and adapt ourselves accordingly."
"Do you mean we have nothing to do?"
Irisviel gave a childish smile that looked mischievous to the discouraged Saber.
"But what a waste. After finally arriving to this distant country."
Smiling while watching the traffic jam around, Irisviel strolled a little dispirited. At her side, Saber, feeling confused, firmly followed her pace.
"And― what about trying to find an enemy Servant?"
"Hmm. No way."
Refusing blankly, Irisviel turned around, staring expectantly at her partner.
"Say, Saber. Since we have such an opportunity, we could look around the town. It must be interesting."
For an instant, Saber was taken aback by the unexpected proposition, but immediately straightened up with a stern face.
"Irisviel. We cannot be unprepared. We have to consider the land of Fuyuki we are walking in as an enemy territory already. The Heaven's Feel has already started."
"Yes. I depend on you for that, Saber. If we come near a Servant, can you notice it?"
"Well... That is correct."
Dematerialized or not, Servants can perceive the presence of other Servants. Of course, everyone has their own affinity with searching for the enemy, and there are those like Assassin who have the ability to erase their presence.
"In my case, I am able to perceive a presence in a radius of up to roughly 200 meters. Also, an opponent with the proper ability could tamper with that."
"I see... But right here and right now, there is no Servant targeting us, is there?"
"Then let's have a look around over there. We don't have to search anyway."
When seeking a hidden opponent, striding across the town provocatively was certainly an acceptable plan. An audacious one, but since Saber has no ability for searching actively, there is no other way to do a proactive search. Being unable to dematerialize, she also loses the choice of doing covert espionage.
But more than being based on a coherent plan, Saber sensed that Irisviel had a hidden motive. Actually, Saber could only see Irisviel's invitation as a mere sightseeing jaunt.
"Irisviel, we really should establish somewhere and reunite with Kiritsugu to work out a plan. Hasn't the Einzbern family prepared a castle on the outskirts of the town?"
"Well... Yes, we have that."
It was Irisviel's turn to start mumbling. Apparently she was conscious that her behavior wasn't fit for a situation of crisis. Guessing there was a reason, Saber asked again.
"Why do you insist so much on visiting this town?"
"You know... This is my first time."
A little nervous, Irisviel looked down as she replied. Saber sighed from the shock.
"―As you know, by being taken over by the Grail, I have knowledge of this world. Of course I also know about this land that will become a battlefield. Irisviel, this town isn't really a place for sight-seeing. Especially since there are no particularly famous places."
"No, that isn't it. That is not what I―"
Like a child, strongly refusing to give any explanation at first, Irisviel then hesitated a little and finally confessed frankly.
"I― this is the first time I have gone out."
Not understanding at first, Saber kept listening, dumbfounded.
"As I say, like a rebirth― this is the first time I have walked in the outside world."
"Then ever since you were born... You have stayed in that castle all your life?"
Not liking the conclusion, Irisviel hung her head in shame, giving a small nod.
"I am a puppet created only for this Heaven's Feel. The elder has always told me I had no need to go out."
Saber didn't really have a life full of joy as Artoria either.
But she couldn't avoid feeling compassion toward this person who had been like a bird in cage, imprisoned in that frozen castle ever since she was born.
"Of course, It's not like I don't know anything, right? Especially since Kiritsugu came. He taught me a lot of the scenery and the happenings, with movies or pictures. About New York, Paris, and all the people in the world. About Japan too, of course."
Smiling miserably, Irisviel looked at the traffic jam around.
"But... This is the first time I have seen this world with my own eyes. So, maybe I am being a little too happy and merry. I'm sorry."
Saber nodded, quietly turning her eyes, and gently offered her arm wrapped in her dark suit to Irisviel.
"This is my first time walking in this town ― but escort is also the duty of a knight. So I will do my best. Then, if you please."
Her eyes lit with a bright joy, Irisviel entwines her arm around Saber's elbow.
There must be a lot of time left before the night.
Saber and Irisviel easily drew all the attention in the middle of the business district.
The young woman was full of dignity, with her glittering silver hair and cashmere coat, by no mean pompous, but definitely nicely fitting, walking with a good looking young man with a brilliant face, holding her arm. That wasn't a combination you'd see anywhere except outside of a cocktail party filled with movie stars.
Those visions coming straight from the silver screen are now leisurely striding through the road of a Japanese provincial city. Anyone walking down the road would stop to look and forget walking for an instant.
The two didn't have the harmony of a couple at a date, nor the admiration of people just sightseeing, only following the flow of their journey, walking aimlessly. Sometimes, they would suddenly stop to happily gaze at the setting sun shining in the windows of the buildings and the show windows, nothing special; they wouldn't enter any shop to make any expense nor sit at a cafe terrace to rest.
Like two understanding outsiders, they would simply slip in the noisy surroundings, watching over the working life of the city from a fixed distance.
Unnoticed, the winter sun had completely sunk behind the mountain range, leaving the curtain of night to reveal a different face of the urban area. Irisviel sighed, entranced by the colorful illuminations of the twinkling scenery.
The world is probably full of towns with a more beautiful night view than that of this Fuyuki city. But Irisviel was deeply moved by the night before her eyes, as if putting her hands on a treasure for the first time.
"It's really beautiful... The life of people alone makes the night dazzling..."
Irisviel's murmur showed her emotion, to which Saber silently nodded. The political world she once lived in was now in a distant space-time from this place, but no emotion sprang from this scene she saw for the first time. Yet, the tranquillity was only on the surface, as inside, her nerves were like a needle.
This place is already an enemy territory― this knowledge remained unchanged.
Saber is definitely not a Servant excelling in searching for the enemy, and depending on the situation, an enemy Servant would likely find her first if she was wandering about. It is hard to think that any enemy could pounce straightforwardly when everyone is looking, but still, right then, a well-timed surprise attack would not be weird.
Even so, without reproving Irisviel, she complied to her hope of fully enjoying herself freely for a brief time; the reason is her unwavering confidence in her sword.
She is the Heroic Spirit summoned as the strongest class of the Grail of Fuyuki, the position of swordsman. There is no Servant that surpasses her in close combat. She is certain that she can clear an escape route from the battlefield under any disadvantageous situation.
Actually, a surprise attack is what she desires. To withstand it fair and square, turn the table and go for the kill. If anyone is enough of a fool to plan on making her their enemy, she may remind them that the Saber class is not about gallantry.
"... Hey, Saber, do you want to see the beach next?"
As Irisviel was unable to hide her excitement, the young woman disguised as a man nodded with a smile. Her tension wasn't picking any opponent.
She had sworn she would protect Irisviel. So she would protect her to the end as she was enjoying herself. That was the strength of her high pride as a knight.
There was a vast seaside park on the opposite shore of the big bridge that crossed the Mion River.
Late at night, two persons were strolling on the lone walkway with nobody around anymore. The north wind from the sea was blowing softly uninterrupted, blowing up Irisviel's long silver hair like the trail of a shooting star. In this place, couples dating hate the chill of winter nights and would only come in summer; but Irisviel, who was seeing the sea for the first time, didn't care about the cold as she had grown accustomed to it, back at her home place.
"We should have come here when it wasn't dark..."
Simply looking at the sea at night filling the bleak darkness, Saber said so in an apologetic tone. But Irisviel was unconcerned, concentrating on the horizon that had sunk in the dark.
"It's fine. The sea at night is beautiful too. It mirrors the night sky."
Listening to the endless roar of the waves, Irisviel's smile was all over her face.
As she had greatly enjoyed today's walk, her fair-skinned cheeks were flushed. She looked more like a young woman of tender years rather than a married woman with a child, with her innocent and naïve smile.
"I really had no idea― that walking through an unknown town as a couple with a gentleman would be such an enjoyable experience."
"Was my imitation of a gentleman satisfying?"
As Irisviel rejoiced, Saber banter with her with a sarcastic tone, unusual from the stubborn Heroic Spirit.
"Plentifully. It was faultless. Saber, today, you were a superb knight."
"You honor me, princess."
The young woman in the dark suit bowed courteously in front of her. Irisviel felt a little embarrassed, turning her head toward the sea.
"Saber, do you like the sea?"
"In my time, in my country... What was beyond the sea was always the enemy.
It was annoying and not very attractive."
At Saber's reply, Irisviel's expression becomes a little clouded.
"... It is tough to forgive. You are a woman like me.
For you who lived as King Arthur, dating gentlemen was not a suitable thing to enjoy."
"Well yes, that it was."
Saber shrugged her shoulders, smiling nonchalantly. She had no regret from casting aside her womanhood. Instead, her small chest was filled with the pride of leading through the battlefield.
"But you, Irisviel, would you not want to walk through the city with Kiritsugu rather than with me?"
This time, it was Irisviel's face that was crossed by a smile.
"He... Cannot do that. He would be pained with mixed feelings."
Not grasping the meaning of her reply, Saber makes a dubious face.
"Can Kiritsugu not enjoy his time spent with you?"
"Not that. He would certainly enjoy it as much as I do. ... That's why he can't. He is one for whom 'happiness' is a pain."
Carefully analysing these words, Saber tries to comprehend the contradiction in the man named Emiya Kiritsugu.
"―He is a man who cannot value his happiness, is that the weakness he bears?"
"Maybe so. That man is always punishing himself deep inside. If he wants to keep chasing his dream, he has to be coldhearted."
With a distant gaze, Irisviel looks at the sea. Thinking of her husband who is hiding somewhere in the city, preparing for the same goal.
Saber reflected for a moment upon those words.
... Today, the discussion has moved on an unexpected topic after the sea. Even though they had intended the day to end on a pleasant mood.
Nonchalantly, Saber held and pulled Irisviel's upper arm. Just by this gesture, Irisviel settled down and exchanged a look with Saber.
"... An enemy Servant?"
The sensation didn't change. From undercover, a hundred meters on the side, he is leaving plain indications like a provocation. He is clearly conscious of Saber's presence, yet doesn't shorten the distance, rather slowly distancing himself―
"He seems to be inviting us."
"Hmm. That is honest. Does he want to choose the battlefield?"
Without a trace of tension in her voice, Irisviel still kept cool as she replied. In this battle situation, that is the proof of her complete faith in Saber. This made Saber revise her inner judgement in favor of her mistress.
"It appears the opponent has the same expectations as us. Making the opponent bite on the indications left for show... He is a Servant looking for a frontal fight, just like you, Saber, isn't he?"
"That would be a Lancer or a Rider class. He makes a straightforward opponent."
At Saber nodding, Irisviel again returns a fearless smile.
"Then, shall we take on the invitation?"
"I wish the same."
It is dangerous to blindly take the bait and follow the enemy to a field at his advantage. But Saber isn't the frail type to fear such tricks, and her mistress doesn't underestimate her Servant either.
The marks of the enemy were getting more distant, and Saber started walking with a quiet self-confidence. Irisviel, following likewise, turned on the switch of a palm-sized device hidden in her pocket. This is a "transmission machine" entrusted by Kiritsugu, a device for him to follow the position of Irisviel's group from a different route. It is a mechanized gadget that works without prana that Kiritsugu intentionally chose.
Irisviel trusted Saber's power. Any enemy of a rank lower than Saber that they would meet shall be killed in a blink of the eye with one sword strike by her proud Servant― that was the easy development she was expecting.
Yes, as much as possible... She wanted her knight to end the fight before Kiritsugu entered the battle.
The broad bridge straddling the widening Mion River spans majestically over 665 meters, arching with a diameter of over three roads.
The top of the arch is over 50 meters high. Anyone standing so high and receiving the full force of the sea wind would miss a step and fall to his end into the river below, unable to go back up without great skills and a lifeline.
Atop that cold steel frame, Waver Velvet had nothing like a lifeline, clinging with only both arms and legs; thus of course he was giving up the dignity and composure he usually always had.
Right next to him, his Servant Rider is sitting cross-legged with his odious dignity.
"Ri, de, r, quick... Let's go down... Now!"
With his teeth continuously clicking from the cold and terror, Waver's complaining voice was like the blowing wind to the giant Servant.
"This place is perfect for a look-out. Well, this isn't the time for fancy sight-seeing in a high place."
With a wine bottle in his hand, sipping from time to time, he rambled while looking down at the west bank of the bridge, toward the wide seaside park hidden from the estuary. Waver can't see it, but what Rider was looking at― were the marks a Servant has been leaving around for 4 hours.
Rider had been wandering in the streets looking for a contact with the enemy, but he noticed that Servant only late in the afternoon.
While thinking whether he should rush down on him immediately, Rider has kept observing him from a distance without moving onward. When Waver asked about it, Rider answered with a snort.
"He's clearly luring us out. For him to not pick up on us, that's strange. And it's not just me anymore, other Servants must be studying his aspect.
An impatient Master would just get tired of waiting at some point, or something. That's what we should be looking forward to."
Rider's plan had no opening that Waver could see. Rather, it was unexpected. This broad-minded giant Servant could actually set up sly tactics.
Indeed, as Rider said, only a helpless fool would take the bait and accept the challenge. Those falling for it would only be eating each other and decrease the count. However self-confident a so provocative Servant is, anyone other than Rider going for a brawl would be good riddance. Whoever gets defeated, Rider can smash the winner. There is definitely a profit in the fight of others.
So, after it is decided so, it becomes a matter of endurance. Remaining at a fixed distance from the traces of the Servant wandering aimlessly in the city, Waver and Rider followed and were still surveying.
Nonetheless― there are obvious reasons behind taking a high point of view, but there are limits. Never mind Servants, Waver with his flesh and blood body would definitely die if he falls. It shouldn't be possible to ignore that, so how come this giant cares so little about Waver's safety?
"Co, come down! No, get the hell down! I, I've, I've had it!"
"Ah, just wait. You're a restless guy. Sitting and waiting is also part of the battle."
Sipping in his wine bottle, Rider didn't even look at Waver's half crying face when answering so gratuitously. "High places are dangerous", such common sense hasn't been acknowledged for yet between the two.
"If you're bored, read the book I entrusted to you. It's a good book."
Hearing that, Waver remembered about the stupid weight in the knapsack hanging on his shoulder. In this situation where they shouldn't afford even one unnecessary gram, the poetry anthology with its thick hard cover really is a dead weight.
That was the one book Rider looted from the library he raided right when he arrived in the present world. The 'Iliad' written by the poet Homer in ancient Greece― the epic poem describing the Trojan war, in which fought gods and humans jumbled together.
The atlas can be okay. Exaggerating about world conquest, Rider takes interest in the geography of the modern world, even if it sounds foolish.
But what's with a poetry anthology? Rider set up a library at home even though he was preparing for war, and yet he still insisted in bringing the Iliad with him. Naturally, if he wants to bring anything that isn't his regular equipment, he would need to remain materialized; if he needs to dematerialize to hide from the other people, then after all, it's Waver who ends up having to carry the luggage.
Certainly, Rider insisted that the book was "preparation for war". But how on Earth can a book that isn't even about war strategy be helpful on the battlefield?
"Rider... Why, did you, bring this book?"
At Waver's bitter question, the Heroic Spirit answered with a grave expression.
"The Iliad is very profound. At the height of battle, I would suddenly get the urge to read a verse of poetry. At a time like that, I feel bad when I can't reread something immediately."
He feels like his interlocutor just gave him a bullshit answer, but fear stops him from arguing back.
"At a time like that, you mean... In battle?"
Rider nods nonchalantly as if his reply was perfectly normal.
"... But how?"
"With my left hand, when I hold my sword in my right hand. If I need to hold the bridle with my left hand, I get a page to read it aloud."
Waver felt at loss for words at the unimaginable answer.
"It isn't that surprising. The warriors of my era all lived a life of battle. Battling while drinking and eating, embracing women while battling, battling even while sleeping. Anyone can do that."
Just ask him and he won't stop. This man does seem like he could do all that, but...
"You're kidding, right?"
"Of course. You fool."
He sniggered and gave an exploding flinch on Waver's forehead.
He didn't have the time to worry, let alone dodge. At any rate, there he was, clinging on the steel frame with all his might with both arms and legs. Waver couldn't even rub his pained forehead, as he could only howl with an unbecoming shriek.
"Hey, kid, anyone would laugh at a joke like that. When your face turns blue like that, it's because you have no guts."
Ignoring Rider's frank laugh, the magus strongly regretted choosing this Heroic Spirit as he shed tears from the pain on his forehead.
"I wanna go back... Go back to England..."
"I told you not to rush like that. Here, things are moving up at last."
Rider points at the seaside park with a stern chin.
"Even I, the King of Conquerors, noticed only just now, but― yes, it seems there was one more Servant in this park. This guy isn't hiding anything either. On the contrary, he's nearing the other one who arrived after us."
"The two seem to be going toward the port. That's a provocation. That's it― We'll study their fight."
Before one knows, his eyes start to hold the sharp gleam of a beast as he gave a threatening laugh. He was yet only a spectator, but the soul of the Heroic Spirit Alexander was already on the battlefield.
In Waver's heart, unable to move on the steel frame, Waver's misery was winning over the sense of reliability he should have from Rider. ―Moreover, he was mostly thinking that nothing mattered if he were to fall down anyway.
The west bank of the seaside park is prolonged by a row of boring storehouses. The block, which contains harbor facilities, also plays the role of a wall that separates the eastern industrial area from Shinto. At night, the pedestrian traffic ceases, and the street lights shine uselessly on the asphalt, but it makes the scenery even more empty. Unmanned derrick cranes were turned toward the dark sea, like an eerie flock of huge fossilized dinosaurs.
Indeed, this is a suitable place for Servants who must confront hidden from public view.
Saber and Irisviel walked up, magnificent as duellists going to the place of agreement, on the four lane road for the large vehicles that are meant to drive on it. The enemy as well was already showing himself, without running or hiding. The tall shadow standing in the middle of the empty street emits an extraordinary amount of prana even more outrageous than his odd outfit, clearly showing that he was much more than human.
The two Servants stop, facing each other from about 10 meters apart.
Finally, they met the first Servant. Saber carefully observed the enemy she will be battling to death with.
He was a handsome man, with quirky long hair combed roughly backward. He charmed the eyes pretty well on the first glance. His main pole, over two meters and taller than himself, is obviously his weapon. Amongst the seven classes, he is one of the three “knight” classes― Saber, Archer, and with them, the Heroic Spirit of the lance. Undoubtedly, he is the Servant Lancer.
The strange thing is that he does not have just that one long spear.
Along with the spear Lancer was holding loose in his right hand, the head resting on his shoulder, he was also carrying in his left hand a shorter spear that was one third the length of the right one.
To handle a spear with ease, the obvious stance is of course to hold one with both hands. Whatever you can do with swords, one can't imagine that holding two spears is common.
The two spears are tightly wrapped from the handle to the tip with a cloth that looks like an amulet, hiding the shaft. This is probably a counter-measure to avoid revealing the true name of the Noble Phantasm.
"How nice of you to come. All of those who were parading around today in the town have only cowered away. ... You are the only one of valor who answered my invitation."
With a humble, cheerful praising voice, the man― the Heroic Spirit Lancer asked Saber carelessly, without standing on guard.
"That pure fighting spirit... Am I correct in thinking you are Saber?"
"You are. Surely you must be Lancer?"
"Indeed. ―Hm, it is unusual to exchange names with the opponent in a deadly fight. That was a pleasure that is not obligatory."
In agreement, Saber loosens her feigned impudence a little.
"Certainly it isn't. Our battle isn't one for honor to begin with. You yourself are raising your spear for your master of this era, are you not?"
With a strange expression, Lancer answered in a cool, bitter tone, not reminding of someone who wished a deadly exchange. Looking more closely, he is a remarkably handsome and beautiful man.
His intrepid features are a high bridge of the nose and a valiant eyebrow. Despite his hard cut mouth denoting a stoic air, his eyes seemed to hide a quiet grief, yet a strong, manly scent rises from him. Below his left eye, he has a beauty spot like a grain of tear. That gives his gaze an even more impressive brilliance.
Truly, his features were those that could sweep a woman's heart at a glance. ―No, actually, does his elegant air of beauty only come from his features?
Holding back behind Saber, Irisviel shortened her breathing a little as she frowned.
"... A charm magecraft. It is impolite to use on a married woman, spearman."
Clearly, Lancer was emitting a spiritual power that could marvel a woman. As Irisviel's body is a homunculus, it is specialized in the usage of magecraft, and her magic resistance is higher than normal, but an average woman would be enslaved by this man at a glance.
Lancer shrugged with a bitter smile at Irisviel's remark.
"Sorry, that's some sort of a curse I've had since I was born. This is all you will get. Blame my birth, or your womanhood."
An example of a charm curse is a "Mystic Eye", but the only one Lancer has been looking straight at since the beginning is Saber, he hasn't looked at Irisviel behind her. The charm probably activated as soon as Irisviel looked at his face. That would make it a "Mystic Face" instead of a Mystic Eye.
Chuckling, Saber observed Lancer.
"You were not expecting my sword to grow dull with that fine look, were you, spear user?"
"That would be such a kill-joy, but indeed, the anti-magic ability of the Saber class is not vain. ... Excellent. It wouldn't suit my reputation to murder a woman weakened by my only face. I am glad my first opponent has such backbone."
"Hoh, you were wishing for a fair fight. It is my honor to face such a proud Heroic Spirit."
Exaggerating, Saber replied with a quiet smile. It was a smile that is only for those who wish for a perfectly straightforward life-and-death exchange.
Picking up the long spear on his right shoulder by spinning it once, Lancer raised the tip of the short spear in his left hand. His stance, spreading both spears like wings, really was an unreadable style.
Saber's fighting spirit boiled as well, and exploded. The prana surge enveloped the girl's slender dark suit in a swirl like a tornado― and the next instant, her body was wrapped in a silver and azure armor. The armor and gauntlets created as by magic was the true form of the beautiful King of Knights, as a Heroic Spirit.
Swallowing nervously, Irisviel called from behind. She could feel the fighting spirit released by both Servants, as well as the atmosphere strained by that tension. ―There was no room to disrupt this battle.
And yet, she couldn't just stand and watch. She was only a substitute Master for Saber.
"... Take care. I can support you with healing magecraft, but no more..."
Without a word, Saber nodded.
"Leave Lancer to me. But it worries me that the enemy Master is nowhere to be seen."
As Saber said, just remaining invisible, Lancer's Master was a danger. Usually, a Master would stand by the Servant and instruct him as the battle develops, as well as providing magical support. As long as Lancer's Master doesn't have full faith in him, he has to be lurking nearby to watch over Lancer's battle.
"He might be preparing an odd trick. Please be cautious. ―Irisviel, I entrust you to watch my back."
Her jade eyes spoke calmly. Fearlessly.
Trust the Heroic Spirit of the sword.
As the one this Heroic Spirit recognized as her master, trust yourself likewise, Irisviel. —Said her eyes.
"... Understood. Saber, bring me victory."
"Yes. I will."
Nodding resolutely, Saber takes a step forward.
Toward the space of the long spear, where Lancer was standing on guard...
After receiving the signal sent by Irisviel, Emiya Kiritsugu and Hisau Maiya raced towards the factories according to its direction. They were welcomed by a soundless stretch of silence.
There was only the howling of the sea wind by their ears, and an atmosphere as quiet and stagnant as death. The night was so serene.
“…It has already begun.”
Just by the traces of prana from the surroundings, Kiritsugu was able to accurately judge the situation.
Someone had formed a barrier. It should be the work of the enemy Servant’s Master. The goal was to segregate ordinary humans from the Heaven’s Feel, concealing the true battlefield of the war. It is a compulsory rule for magi to prevent their activities from being exposed to other mortals.
Kiritsugu began to contemplate as he held the ten-or-so kilograms heavy sniper rifle. He had already estimated Irisviel’s position according to the transmitter. However, questions remain as to how to approach the location, and where to observe once they reach it.
He did not think about joining the battle at all; that was why he brought the sniper rifle along. He wanted to inspect the battle at a suitable place, attacking with the rifle only when needed. Servants are not humans, thus only a Servant can wound another Servant. No matter how powerful Kiritsugu and Maiya’s firearms are they would not work on Servants. It was Saber’s job to battle the opposing Servant. As long as the enemy can devote himself to the battle and does not pay attention to the well-being of his Master, then it is possible to win this fight.
“Up there, that looks like that’s a good place to observe the fight.”
Maiya pointed in front of them as she spoke. It is a derrick crane that towered high into the night. Judging by sight, the control cabin hovered about 30 meters above the ground; it would be the best observation point possible if one can contrive to silently climb up there.
Kiritsugu had no objections to Maiya’s suggestion, but because of that, he shook his head.
“Yes, that is the ideal place to survey the battle. So it shouldn’t be only us that came up with the idea.”
Without further explanations on Kiritsugu’s part, Maiya had already understood his intentions.
“Maiya, slip in through the eastern bank, I’ll go through the west… Find an observation point that can overlook both Saber’s battle and the crane.”
Maiya disappeared in the shadows of the factories with a jog, holding the AUG assault gun in her hands. Kiristugu checked the input from the transmitter as he cautiously moved in the opposite direction.
All Irisviel could do was to stare at the battle in front of her in astonishment.
This battle in front of her was proceeding with extraordinary intensity.
She knew it to be a merciless duel that could only have taken place in that remote era.
Warriors clad in armor, in single combat battling with all the strength in their bodies amid the light reflecting off sword and spear and the shadow of swinging blades.
But the amount of escaping prana and the intense heat were different.
If it was merely a clash between cold steel, what would be the mighty torrent of air that accompanied it and threatened to destroy all within sight?
The foot that landed crushed the ground.
The wind that followed the swinging of weapons crudely severed the lamp post in half.
Irisviel could no longer see the movements carried out at such high speeds. She was only feeling the after-shock of the conflict between the two.
The peeling sheet iron on the outer walls of the warehouses was ripped away by the wind from Irisviel’s side as if it was a piece of coiled tin foil. She could not comprehend how the iron can be torn away. Perhaps it was Saber’s sword or Lancer’s spear that brushed against its adjacent hollow space. Apart from that, she could not come up with any other explanation.
The wind was moaning.
Faced with a dimension that is completely at odds with the physical laws of this world, the air emitted paranoid wails.
A chaotic storm raged on the empty shopping street, destroying, trampling all things within.
Just hand-to-hand combat between the two would be enough to ruin an entire street.
Heaven’s Feel —
Irisviel was experiencing the awe and wonder told only in stories. The world where myths and legends dwelled came alive vividly before her eyes.
This could be the legends reborn.
Shafts of thunder tore the sky apart, knolls of roaring waves shattered the earth. The imaginary realm was miraculously materialized with astonishing clarity.
This is… the war between Servants…
Faced with a world that she had hitherto not thought possible, all Irisviel could do was stare as if transfixed.
At the same time, Saber was experiencing a similar wonder.
Slaughter at war was truly a piece of cake for her. As a knight that braved her life through countless battles, she fought with her enemies as smoothly as she would yield a knife and a fork.
In her comprehension a ‘spear’ should be a weapon that is wielded with both hands. It is common knowledge.
So she thought that for Lancer, using two spears is just a means to confuse the enemy.
As the Heroic Spirit of the Lance, the spear in his hands should be his Noble Phantasm. Whereas, revealing the true name of the Noble Phantasm in the Heaven’s Feel equates to exposing one’s true identity.
Therefore, the amulets bound onto Lancer’s spears must be for the purpose of concealing the spear’s real name. Looks like his Master and him were very prudent on the matter of hiding identities.
If that was the case, it would not be hard to explain why he was using two spears.
Because Saber does not know which spear is the true Noble Phantasm, she had to fend off the attacks made by both of them.
Even so, the long spear on the right, the short spear on the left — one of them must be Lancer's 'true weapon.'
Between one’s habitual weapon and the weapon used to dazzle the enemy, ‘feint' and ‘solid’ moves can be distinguished. So Saber paid close attention to each of his attacks. She believed that if she can recognise the true lance, her chances of winning would be improved immensely.
Her own attack was deflected for the third time. Saber had to step back to wait for a better opportunity.
“What’s wrong, Saber? Your attacks are not really working.”
She could not argue back to Lancer’s taunts. After about thirty exchanges, she still had not managed to hit her opponent even once.
Lancer swung the lance in his right hand and approached her in a straight run. The swinging shaft covered a wide area, its strength and speed equal to what would be achieved with both hands. No, precisely because it was used with one hand, there were many moves not capable when a spear is used conventionally with two hands. The lance was thrust towards Saber from an unexpected angle.
Nevertheless a lance has its own limitations. Because of its extended length, a gap would inevitably show up between two attacks. During that time, the shorter spear from the left can follow in and continue to hassle Saber.
Saber’s attack just then was broken by the short spear’s immaculate defence.
Simultaneously using two lances, yet making no feint moves. This Heroic Spirit, Lancer, merged the lances in his left and right hands in a seamless choreography. Just what kind of devotion and practice was needed to obtain such a strong fighting style?
… This man is good!
Saber was still quivering with having a strong opponent in her first battle until then. But now Saber had suddenly escaped from that shadow of fear.
Despite that, according to observers, Lancer would appear to have an advantage with his incessant attacks, the truth was not so.
Lancer was as good as exhausted from fending off Saber’s attacks since they first engaged. Despite his taunts he was also powerless to change the situation.
For Lancer, who is capable of using his lance with just one hand, dual-wielding two spears, long and short, at the same time would enable him to attack both long-range and close-range. Taking account of the supremacy in weaponry, he should not have been forced into his current predicament by Saber and her single sword.
How did the sword…
Lancer complained silently in his heart. It was not only the observing Irisviel that could not see the movement of the high-speed sword. Even Lancer, a Servant himself, could not discern the trajectory of the sword in Saber’s hands.
Lancer had no way of knowing. This too is one of Heroic Spirit Artoria's Noble Phantasms, the threat of Invisible Air • Barrier of the Wind King.
The air surrounding the sword was compacted together with immense amounts of prana, creating impossible refractions of light, rendering the sword invisible. Although it is not too much a support for the Noble Phantasm, its result was however very obvious in melee combat.
Saber’s opponent is attacked with an invisible sword, and the countering attack is similarly blocked by an invisible sword. Lancer’s worry was understandable. Even though he could decipher Saber’s attacks by her movement, he could not make surprise attacks on her due to the inability to see the length of her blade.
Therefore Lancer can only approximate things and keep himself outside of Saber’s range. Also, only then can his magnificent continuous attacks be used to their full extent. Despite him being able to block all of Saber’s attacks, he had yet to find an opportunity to deal her a lethal blow.
This woman, is quite good…!
Facing the enemy that he had just met, knowing the time had come for him fight with his life, a sad smile emerged on Lancer’s face.
The two Heroic Spirits devoted their entire selves to the fight, sparing no thoughts to the world surrounding them.
No, even if they had stayed on guard, in their current state they might still be oblivious to the fact that someone was slipping into the terrain...
The reason was that, not only is the newcomer a considerable distance from the sparks flying off the deadly dance of blade and spear, he moved soundlessly in the shadows, and also had the ability of "Presence Concealment" that can bypass a Servant’s detection.
A gust of wind from the sea fluttered the black robe; the sliver of a satisfactory smile emerged on the countenance beneath the white skull mask.
No one could have thought that the Servant "Assassin," eliminated in front of many witnesses last night, now stood in the evening shopping street.
Assassin hid in the perfect spot to observe the straightforward battle — the crane that loomed beside the cliff. The location was about 500 meters away from the site of the skirmish. As a Servant with eyesight surpassing that of a human he could clearly discern the two’s conflict, even spotting their expressions with accuracy. Meanwhile, the two combatants barely had time to consider if they were being spied upon.
He could have remained in spiritual form and obtain information from a much closer distance. But while he is in spiritual form, his senses would have turned into spiritual detection; and the job that his Master gave him tonight was to ‘observe with your eyes.'
Assassin, who understood his Master’s intentions, silently gazed at the battle in the distance according to his order.
Fifteen kilometers away from the warehouse area where the deadly struggle continued.
Someone was sitting in the darkness within the basement of the Fuyuki Church, encased by the silence of the night.
While his eyes were closed, he was not resting but sitting in silence with his nerves on edge. The jet-black figure was Kotomine Kirei's priest's frock.
From his profile, one might think that he was contemplating about certain matters. Who would have thought that he was listening to the crooning of the sea breeze, and seeing before his eyes a battle scene full of the sparks from the clashing of steel.
What he was seeing and hearing was an unknown battle between Servants taking place in the distant warehouses… the contents identical to those seen by his Servant Assassin.
He was using the result of his past three years of study. An ability called Shared Perception that was taught to him by Tōsaka Tokiomi.
Using only a prana connection, he was able to share senses with the one that made a contract with him. In the Heaven's Feel, the ability to completely monitor a Servant's actions from long-distance is very useful. If one's Servant is Assassin, who is especially skilled in reconnaissance, then the ability is peerless.
The only difficulty lies in that if the contractor does not agree to it, the ability can not be used. For Tokiomi, who taught this magecraft to Kirei himself, his suggestions were immediately rejected by Archer. For the haughty King of Heroes, even if it were his Master, to allow another to look through his eyes seems highly unlikely.
Therefore, the only ones who can achieve this are Kirei and Assassin.
“— Something is happening around the warehouses beside the estuary of the Mion River. It appears that the initial battle has begun.”
Kirei spoke, but there is no one in the darkness. Instead, there was an aged phonograph upon a table, its brass horn tilted towards Kirei. As was expected, the ordinary antique phonograph replied to his words in a human voice.
“Not the initial; officially, it is the 'second' battle, Kirei.”
Although the sound was rather distorted, the unconstrained tone filled with composure could only be the voice of Tōsaka Tokiomi.
A closer inspection of this antiquity showed that, while it could be mistaken for a phonograph with an old-style bell-type horn, beneath the apparatus there was neither a turntable nor stylus. In its place, the end of the horn was connected to a large jewel with a metal wire.
This contraption is a prana conductor that is passed down in the Tōsaka family, and which Tokiomi lent to Kirei. A similar prana conductor was placed in the workshop of the Tōsaka residence. It appears that Tokiomi was also currently sitting in front of the device. Through sympathetic vibration the jewels on the two contraptions can pass to each other the vibrations of the air inside their horns. This is the Tōsaka family using the ‘communication device’ of their jewel magecraft.
As soon as the Church of Fuyuki was put into Father Kotomine Risei’s hands, Tokiomi had placed the jewel communicator into the church. Father Risei was Tokiomi’s secret supporter, while his son Kotomine Kirei was sent into the Church for protection in the beginning of the Heaven’s Feel as the first person to be defeated. Logically, Tokiomi’s goal was to communicate discreetly with these two people.
Everything appeared to be completely normal on the outside; no one would think that Kirei could manage to contact the outside world. At the same time Kirei, who was not a magus, also thought that rather than using this strange machine, radios might just as well do the trick.
But the difference between radios and Tōsaka’s jewel communicator is that conversations on the latter cannot be eavesdropped. Upon consideration, Tokiomi’s prudent behaviour was actually more beneficial for Kirei.
No matter what, right now Assassin and Kirei have replaced Archer as Tokiomi’s scouts. Kirei used his own eyes to see what Assassin sees, and also employed the clairvoyance that came with being a Master to capture every minute detail.
“It... appears to be a battle between Saber and Lancer. The level of Saber's abilities is extremely high, mostly likely with the majority of parameters near A rank.”
“… I see. No wonder it is the strongest class. Can you see the Master?”
“I can only see one more person… a silver-haired woman standing behind Saber.”
“Hm… seems that Lancer’s Master knows he should conceal himself. Not an amateur; he understands the rule of this Heaven’s Feel… Wait, did you say Saber’s Master is a silver-haired woman?”
“Yes. A young Caucasian girl. Silver-haired with red eyes; doesn’t look quite human.”
The other side of the brass horn seemed to be silently contemplating.
“… An Einzbern homunculus? Could it be that they are still making homunculi Masters… though it is not impossible…”
“Are you saying, this woman is the Master of the Einzberns?”
“So Jubstacheit’s pawns are not just limited to Emiya Kiritsugu… It’s hard to believe that I actually predicted it wrong.”
For the first time in his life a curious agitation surged up in Kirei’s chest; within moments he realized that it was actually the emotion named disappointment.
“All in all, that woman is the key to grasping the flow of the Heaven's Feel. Kirei, you must pay close attention.”
“… I understand. I’ll send someone to follow her at all times.”
Immediately after receiving those mysterious words, Kirei continued to watch the two Heroic Spirits intently.
But be it the sparkling collision of blades or the leaping prana bursts, in Kirei’s eyes they were no longer as bright as they seemed moments ago.
Kiritsugu silently set up the Walther on the mountainous shipping containers piled on the container port beside the seaside cliffs. He took in the situation of the fight using the electronic sights that penetrated the cover of night.
Firstly, the thermographic scope… he spotted it. On the screen that displayed cool shades of black and blue, red and orange images emerged conspicuously. The heat diagram representing the two of them fused together, as if it was a giant flare.
Further in the distance two smaller heat patterns appeared. One of them was standing in the middle of the street witnessing this battle — the other was concealed on the warehouse roofs of a remoter locale.
It was very easy to decide which one of them was to be the target of assassination.
It was indeed Irisviel who stood on the road. She was almost stating that, as the partner of an excellent Saber, she should not hide away but fight a fair battle bravely and in the open. Then the heat signature on the roof would be the enemy Master… the one controlling Lancer, who was facing Kiritsugu's Saber with dual spears.
Submerged in the darkness, Kiritsugu donned a coldhearted smile. It was the best starting condition he could hope for. Lancer's Master probably relied on illusions or such presence-concealing magecraft to hide his position and thought it enough; he did not consider that this would be countered with mechanical cameras. Like all other magi who died by Kiritsugu’s hand, he would walk the same road as them to his destruction.
Kiritsugu contacted Maiya, positioned on the other side of the battlefield, with his radio.
“Maiya, Lancer’s Master is hiding on top of the warehouses, northeast to where Saber is. Can you see him?”
“… No. From my position it’s a blind spot.”
If possible, Kiritsugu wanted to cooperate with Maiya to ensure the accuracy of the attack with a crossfire. Unfortunately, only Kiritsugu himself can fire at the moment. But it would not be a problem as it was a distance of barely three hundred meters. Kiritsugu’s skills would have taken his target’s life with just one bullet. As long as he remains unaware of the presence of the sniper, no magus can defend himself from a .300 Winchester Magnum round.
Setting up the bipod, Kiritsugu had just started to get into the mood — Suddenly, with a start, he turned the Walther towards the derrick crane.
In that moment he felt that all his plans were ruined.
Keeping his disapproval inside his heart, he whispered into the radio again.
“Maiya, up on the crane…”
“… Yes, affirmative here as well; it’s just like what you thought.”
It seems that the figure seen by Kiritsugu through the night vision scope was captured in the scope of Maiya’s AUG assault rifle as well.
Meanwhile, the third party that was scrutinizing the battle between Saber and Lancer also discovered the silhouette atop the crane.
It was a completely unpredicted event. In the Holy Grail War, one would logically rather stay on the sidelines than to eagerly join in the battle. A clever Master would not step in even if other Servants jump into the fray, but would choose to keep on observing a fight. Picking on the aftermath of a conflict would also be quite a good idea. Even if one is not that fortunate, it would at least get one to know about the enemy’s conditions.
Kiritsugu, who arrived first at the battle scene, never thought that this fight would have only one team of observers. He had therefore given up the best position on the crane and chose a place that can pay attention to both it and the battlefield. The newcomer appeared to be oblivious to the fact that his location was already under surveillance, and occupied the ideal spot to observe the fight. Consequentially, he was exposed to Kiritsugu’s line of sight.
However, one important factor escaped his calculations.
Kiritsugu once again gazed upon the pale green shape within the scope. It was an observer that he had never seen before… Completely covered by a pure black robe, a skull mask over his face. Though hard to believe, it is definitely Assassin, the one who was annihilated last night at the Tōsaka residence.
Kiritsugu, who wasn't satisfied by the images recorded by Maiya's familiars, was not entirely surprised by the reappearance of the supposedly-dead Assassin. The problem, putting aside the strangeness of the situation, was that the one currently on top of the derrick crane is a Servant.
If Kiritsugu sniped Lancer's Master now, the opponent would be dead instantly, but at the same time it would also exposed the shooter’s location. Although Assassin is not a class with decisive combat strength, he is nevertheless a supernatural being, a Servant. As a magus Kiritsugu would never manage to win in such a fight.
He could not expect Saber to help him. In regard to the distance between Saber and he, Assassin was far closer to him. Besides, Saber was not even aware that Kiritsugu was at the scene; he can not hope for her to come to his aid.
Saber was also devoted to the battle with Lancer. Even though a Servant would lose his prana supply when his Master is killed, the Servant can still remain materialized in this plane with his own strength. Defeating Lancer’s Master does not mean that he had defeated Lancer.
There was only one thing left — the Command Seals.
The authority of the Command Seals is not limited to the scope of the powers of the Servant. When the Servant agrees with the Master's order without resistance, the Command Seal can have effects outside of the Servant's potential and accomplish a miracle. It would not be impossible to instantly transport Saber to Kiritsugu's location to hold off Assassin. But that would leave the defenseless Irisviel directly in front of Lancer.
— Kiritsugu thought, incessantly, combining many elements and finally came to a conclusion. Although it was the ideal opportunity to finish off Lancer’s Master, it would have to pass for the night.
Since that was decided, it would not do to have doubts on anything else.
“Maiya, you keep an eye on Assassin, I’ll observe Lancer.”
Kiritsugu sighed soundlessly, lowered the bipod of the Walther, and continued to calmly observe the scene within the scope.
Since he had decided to abandon this opportunity, Saber’s effort tonight was as good as wasted. If she could restrain from showing her Noble Phantasm, or to escape immediately with Irisviel, then he would have to extend his thanks to her — But she was a haughty and proud Heroic Spirit, and those possibilities were only his conjectures.
However, it would not be a bad idea to see just once how capable his subordinate actually is.
“… That will depend on you, my lovely King of Knights".
The confrontation between Saber and Lancer was still more like a competition.
Rather, as each was measuring the other's power thoroughly in a preliminary test, it had started to look like a display of strength.
Of course, even for a test, it's Servants we are talking about. The avenue was a miserable wreck from the scars carved in as a result. Two storehouses had already collapsed, and a hundred square meters of asphalt were torn up. Turned into a battlefield, it was almost as if an earthquake has just came and gone.
In the middle of that disaster, still without a single scratch, Saber and Lancer are glaring at each other, preparing their next move. Neither showed any sign of exhaustion.
"There's no honor in battling unannounced, but—"
Lancer starts speaking with Saber, a killing intent flowing into the tip of both of his spears, only his gaze keeping its freshness.
"Anyhow, I give you credit. Coming so far without a sweat, you're one heck of a woman."
"That's unnecessary modesty, Lancer."
Holding her invisible sword, Saber put a smile on her lips once more.
"Although I do not know your name, your spear play and your compliments... You honor me. I am thankful of that."
Neither knew the other's history, with no connection, from a different country, but the heart of the two of them surely was connected.
Both had pride in their trained skills and strength, and meeting an equal opponent, they freely pay respect to each other— They both have the pride of a warrior hidden in their heart, the two Heroic Spirits understood that much.
"'Enough of this playtime, Lancer.'"
Both Saber and Irisviel are surprised by the cold voice resounding out of nowhere.
Stiffening, Irisviel took a look around her, but there was no human form to be seen. With the unnatural echo of the voice, she couldn't make out whether it was a man's or a woman's, or where it came from. Perhaps there was a camouflage like an illusion. The enemy doesn't seem to be close to showing up in front of Irisviel anytime.
"'Don't drag the fight any more. This Saber is a formidable enemy. Make it quick. —You may unveil your Noble Phantasm.'"
Saber's face stiffens at the words of the unseen magus.
Noble Phantasm— He is urging his Servant to bare his fangs seriously.
"Understood, my master."
Contrary to what he had showed of his character up to now, Lancer dropped his voice quietly, and changed his weapons grip.
Without hesitation, he dropped the short spear in his left hand at his feet.
“Then... Is it that long spear!?”
In front of Saber, Lancer peeled off the amulet tightly bound around the long spear in his right hand.
It was a deep crimson spear. Totally different from before, prana starts rising from the tip of the spear like an ominous mirage.
"—That's about it. From here on, I'm out to do you in."
Lancer muttered with a low voice, changing his stance to hold with both hands his lethal weapon finally exposed.
Saber as well lowered her sword, measuring the distance between her and Lancer with greater caution.
Exposing one's Noble Phantasm can have two different kinds of effects.
One type is the demonstration of the large power of one's deadliest move as they announce its true name. Take Saber's ultimate secret move. She has "Excalibur • the Sword of Promised Victory" currently protected behind a bounded field of invisibility, but if she throws away the camouflage and shouts its true name, her sacred sword would shoot a stream of light that can mow down a thousand soldiers. As it truly is an anti-fortress Noble Phantasm that can turn the ground into scorched earth, it cannot be used just like that but as a last step.
Along with that, there can also be how the weapon already carries the nature of a Noble Phantasm. In Saber's case, her "Invisible Air • Barrier of the Wind King" is an example. That alone doesn't have the capacity to annihilate the enemy; it is more a Noble Phantasm suitable in battle as a "sharp tool". It isn't particularly used for strength, but to put it differently it is easier to use, and a trump card that can bring victory if used well.
And so, Lancer's red spear is—
Probably, the latter. So said Saber's intuition. Lancer will keep exchanging continuous blows with Saber. She doesn't suspect the next strike to be decisive for the fight.
The two closed the distance by sliding their feet, silently but with the tension doubling.
—Lancer made the first move.
Compared to the acrobatic freedom of his spear up to now, this was a much simpler stab in a straight line. A stabbing thrust that was guessing the length of Saber's blade hidden under Invisible Air, or rather, renouncing to watch out for it.
As a natural reaction, Saber repelled Lancer's spear with the arm that held the sword, ignoring the pain. Really, that was neither too serious nor sharp, just a common strike. But...
The disaster came like a squall.
Between the entangled spear and sword, an abrupt, unexpected gale rolled in and blew around.
Letting out a shocked voice, Saber took three steps away from Lancer's spear. Lancer calmly resumed his stance without chasing her. Watching over the scene, Irisviel can't understand just what is happening.
The gust of wind just now lasted only an instant, but it wasn't particularly gushing out prana. The origin of that wind was an enigma, but that definitely wasn't a threat from Lancer.
Nevertheless, Saber was the only one who was shocked. Lancer is smiling boldly at her astonishment.
"I exposed it. Your precious sword."
Silent, Saber didn't comprehend Lancer's victorious mutter. They both understand the reason behind this mysterious phenomenon.
The wind had come from Saber's sword. ... More specifically, that was Invisible Air's doing.
The bounded field of condensed pressure that could refract light had leaked out in just an instant. The instant it had clashed with Lancer's spear— the prana controlling the wind around the sword had become loose.
And at that moment, Lancer had caught a glimpse of the shape of the "true sword" inside the torn bounded field. Lancer's murmur from before was the proof that it was definitely his spear that had exposed Invisible Air.
"I got the length of your blade. You won't get me with that invisible interval again."
Whether it was exaggeration or not, Lancer started flinging thrusts.
Just as he had said, the spear strikes suddenly gained in vigor, the attacks more severe and not vain anymore. Having certified the distance Saber's blade could go, he made no mistake in his aiming. Letting just one thrust pass meant a fatal wound— understanding that much, Saber kept moving her body and parried every single spear strike with her blade.
Flickering, there showed the afterimage of the shape of her golden sword.
There was still pressure coming out of Invisible Air, but it was a continuous, random gale violently blowing Saber's blond hair in waves. There was no doubt left. Lancer's red spear is draining Invisible Air. Each time it comes with the tip of the spear, the golden blade is showing like a stroboscope.
'But... With that spear...'
There's still a way— Saber encouraged herself. Using a spear with both hands, that is a style Saber can deal with.
In the middle of the uninterrupted series of strikes, Saber looked for just one attack with a weak aiming. With just that, she can twist her body instead of parrying and rely on the hardness of her armor. A well-placed counter in a near-death situation can be a perfect opportunity.
In a swift movement, Saber struck at Lancer's shoulder. She ignored the tip of the red spear grazing her flank. It should be superficial on her armor, and meanwhile, she will be splitting her enemy from the shoulder—
Saber foresaw the pain, her intuition saving her from a lost cause.
Her sword dropping in mid-air, Saber turned over and threw herself on the side. It was hard to say if it had been a close call. Lancer's howling spear definitely seemed to have spilled blood.
There's no need to say whose blood it is.
Rolling on the ground, Saber escaped from Lancer pursuing her, and stood up immediately to keep track of her opponent. Her eyes betrayed her pain.
Seeing that something had happened, Irisviel started sending out prana to heal Saber's flank.
"—Thank you, Irisviel, I'm fine, the healing is working."
Even saying so, Saber is still holding her side, as if there were still traces of pain left.
"It does seem like victory will not be gained that easily..."
Muttering, Lancer didn't seem too discouraged, and rather spoke with an amused voice.
Visibly, this man greatly enjoyed competing against a formidable enemy.
Grinding her teeth, Saber calmly assembled the puzzle in her mind, and the series of hardly believable circumstances pieced themselves together.
Her armor should have blocked Lancer's spear. Nevertheless, the tip of the spear had Saber's blood on it.
And— right now, Saber's armor is the same as ever, without a scratch.
To make a practical guess, just with the spear coming in contact, the blade passed through the armor as if it had vanished.
Saber cannot dematerialize, but she can materialize her battle outfit and then cancel it. In other words, Saber's armor is knit out of prana, and it is not material in the present reality like the clothes Irisviel bought.
Furthermore, it was incomprehensible that Invisible Air could be cracked... The contact with Lancer's spear had created a fissure in the bounded field that generated the wind.
"... I see. I figured out the mystery of your spear, Lancer."
Saber murmured with a low voice. She reflected once more upon the toughness of her formidable enemy.
That red spear can cut off prana.
Nevertheless, it's not so powerful that it could break or cancel the source of the magecraft. Saber's armor is still fine, and Invisible Air is still functioning correctly. The spear is effective only the instant it hits the blade.
Apparently, at that instant, it cuts off the flow of prana, and renders it powerless.
Indeed it is not a Noble Phantasm one could be proud of its destructive power, but it has an ability that can be quite a threat. It is not an exaggeration to say the quality of a Servant's weapon is determined on the prana or the magical abilities it carries. But in the hands of this Lancer, it can be predominant against a Servant who finds pride in the power of his armament.
"You'll have to give up on the protection of your armor, Saber. In front of my spear, you're as good as naked."
Saber snorted at Lancer's bantering words.
"It's a bother to see you triumph over just peeling off my armor."
Recognizing the threat of Lancer's spear, Saber still had no fear in her heart. The situation still hasn't been decided.
That moment, the silver armor covering Saber's entire body scattered in every direction in a splash.
Irisviel gulped in surprise. Lancer observed.
The chest plate, the gauntlets, the long tassets shaped like a skirt that protected the legs; nothing was left. Saber had removed her armor by herself. The fragments of the armor scattering in a metallic dust immediately disappeared like a mist as Saber cut off her prana.
"If I cannot defend against your spear, I only have to strike instead. Prepare yourself, Lancer."
With a blue light dress, Saber resumed her stance. Lower, with her sword behind, she confronted Lancer one leg forward and the other behind. Without consideration for defense, this stance was made for a lethal strike that would slice from one shoulder to the other.
It was clearly visible to anyone that Saber intended to finish the battle with the next strike at the risk of her life.
"That's brave. All or nothing, is it?"
Lancer somehow seemed satisfied by finding again what he missed, but the tension was clearly noticeable in the tone of his voice.
Having taken off her armor, Saber didn't gain just agility. The prana needed to form and maintain her armor was now available for use in her offensive. This means a lot for the skill of "prana burst" that Saber possessed.
A "prana burst" is the accumulation of prana in her weapon and her entire body, momentarily injecting an arbitrary vector for an exceptional boost of her abilities. So to speak, it is a jet blast of prana for her movements. She only had the thin body of a small girl, but this was the secret that allowed her to brandish her big sword with the combat style of a power fighter.
The surplus of prana can be converted into mobility power for a close-range combat, but when Saber uses up to the prana needed for her armor in a "prana burst" it could grant her six times that bonus in power and speed... This is perfect for the destructive power of a one-hit-kill attack.
The handicap of losing the armor was overturned by the advantage of throwing away her armor. This was Saber's conclusion to deal with the "spear of exorcism" of Lancer.
"That heroism. This is a brave decision. I definitely don't hate that..."
Like a matador facing a mad bull, he kept provoking her by lightly shifting from side to side in a low position.
"If I dare say, that was my plan, Saber."
Not perplexed by those words, Saber replied with a bold smile.
"How about it. How will you feel after receiving this?"
Lancer understood. Saber's next charge will render the advantage of range of the long spear meaningless. If he can't grasp Saber's speed, he will meet his end when she will split him in two.
Calmly studying the opponent's light footwork, Saber measured the timing of her strike. Lancer too was probably estimating the speed of her charge with the density of prana she put in her body. But she still has one more secret ready for that...
By a little, just by a little, Lancer's movement weakens.
The asphalt torn up into gravels created many obstacles for a good foothold. Lancer's movement stagnates a little when he puts strength into his legs.
Saber didn't miss it.
A loud bang roars in the atmosphere. The golden sword that was invisible until then turned over the darkness of the night with its brilliance.
The Invisible Air that compresses the air and refracts light in an illusion can be used in another way. The instant the bounded field is released it can blow the opponent with a single long distance strike with a gale made out of the super high pressure of the condensed air.
And this was the application of Saber's plan. The point of holding the sword backward in a wide stance was for that― to accelerate the air strike even more.
Released from the golden sword, a jet of air comes out from behind Saber. By releasing her armor to increase her prana burst further, her body changes into a supersonic bullet.
At this point, Saber's speed is three times higher than normal. It's already too late for an ambush attack or an evasion the instant she steps forward. Even if Lancer's spear can deal a serious wound to Saber, he will receive a lethal strike the same instant. That is certainly a strike made to risk one's life for a certain victory, ready to even have her flesh cut or her bones severed. Breaking through the wall of air at several times the speed of sound, the shockwave of the rush blew the surrounding rubbles like leaves.
Lancer didn't move. Having already given up on an ambush attack, the tip of the red spear didn't flinch.
What moved instead was― his legs.
With an extremely focused mind, the flow of time, even shorter than an instant, stretches and grows slower.
That moment, Saber knew. The opening in Lancer was a bluff. It wasn't a coincidence that Lancer missed a step; he had placed himself to stop at the right position.
In other words, the position Lancer had chosen for his victory― was the spot where he had switched from two spears to one, dropping the short spear in his left hand.
Lancer's words were resurrected in her mind. "That was my plan."
Saber saw it at that time: Lancer’s threatening smile when he was sure of his victory. The glint in his eyes had spoken more than his words. "I will strike through your imprudence..."
Instead of picking the spear with his arm, Lancer kicked the gravels at his feet. It's not just gravels that flying in the air. The short spear that Lancer dropped earlier; it's tip is accurately springing up through the air in Saber's direction. The amulet wrapped around the whole spear, just like the long one, was already unfastened, reveals the yellow metal under it.
Saber's sixth sense can theoretically surpass thought for a natural talent for battle decision, but it didn't predict her blunder.
One normally wields one spear with both hands― that was the trap of the misconception. She could only regard as bluff the capacity to have a spear in each arm.
If that was Lancer's way with the spear.
If that Servant was the Heroic Spirit known as the bearer of "the two demonic spears".
Yes, a Noble Phantasm― is definitely not limited to one.
The short spear that Lancer had kicked up, its tip was swirling with a prana just as sinister as the long red one, glaring at Saber. It was already predicting the instant it would pierce Saber's throat, as she could only charge forward, too late to brake...
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