Fate/Zero:Act 3 Part 5
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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