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Thread: The Gift ("Fate/Stay Night" one-shot)

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    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    The Gift ("Fate/Stay Night" one-shot)


    “I want to die at your hands.”


    In that castle courtyard which no night-time sound could reach, her words echoed almost as if she had shouted them. It was an outrageous statement, made even more so by the calm, reverent tone of voice she used and the smile on her face. The youth sitting by the campfire, his bone spear resting lazily on his lap, had no response other than to stare, dumbfounded. The woman frowned at him.


    “ ‘Tis no idle request I make, lad, nor a passing fancy of mine. That I am even asking for something should be reason enough to do it.” From the look on his face, she saw she would have to explain things further. With an exasperated sigh, she changed her approach: “You know full well who I am.”


    He nodded. She was Scáthach, Lady of the Fortress of Shadows, the Witch of the Otherworld; warrior, sorceress, slayer of gods, monsters and men. Even the youth felt no shame in admitting she was the foremost warrior of that era.


    So why would...?


    Sensing his question, she cut him off, the harshness in her voice masking the sadness in her heart: “Think, dumb puppy! If you know who I am, you must know what will happen to me. I have walked much farther than any mortal should; I stand on the threshold between existences, and I fear a single step more will take me over the edge.”


    That much he did know. Already, she couldn’t remain for long in the land of living and had to confine herself to this realm of shadows in the isle of Skye, the boundary between worlds; already, she was an endless existence. Endless, but not immortal – at least, not yet.


    And he thought back to the druid’s prophecy from so long ago – that he could become a great hero known throughout the land, at the cost of dying young – and how he didn’t hesitate an instant before taking up arms that very same day, eagerly trading long life for a glorious one; for surely it was better to burn brightly like the lightning of the gods than to slowly wither away like the once-proud oak.


    As she saw understanding dawn on him, she nodded and continued: “Aye, child. What good is life for a warrior who can no longer face death? I want to meet my fate on the blood-soaked fields, as it should be, and I want the pupil whom I favoured over all others to be the one to surpass me. Can I count on you, lad?”


    For a minute, there was only silence, heavy with expectation, as the young man only stared at the fire with a seemingly uncaring expression. Then he took out his pendant – a wolf’s head holding the crescent moon in its mouth, one of her gifts – from under his shirt and looked at it.


    Finally, he looked back at Scáthach and grinned.


    “Idiot. Sure, I’ll do it. But didja have to ramble on like that? Next time, just say ‘I wantcha to kill me ‘fore I can’t die.’ Ain’t that much easier?”


    An outrageous answer, but one appropriate for an outrageous request. Then he snapped the pendant’s cord and threw it to her. As she deftly caught it in the air, he said:


    “There, that’s my pledge. Keep it safe until I come back for it.”


    Scáthach only snorted. “I am not so old that I need a puppy to tell me what to do. Might you already be missing the tender mercies of my training, boy?” But her harsh words were belied by the softness in her eyes and the firm way she held the wolf head amulet. They both laughed – quietly, at first, but then louder and louder, and for a brief moment, the veil of dread covering that desolate fortress was lifted by the sound of their hearts.


    The next morning, Cú Chulainn left the castle.


    ***

    It had been a year since then. His shaggy hair had grown longer and was now tied in a ponytail, but other than that, there was little else which marked the passage of time on him. However, it would be dangerous to assume the same could be said of his battle skills; for someone like Cú Chulainn, who could learn in a day what took others many months, a year was an entire lifetime. Clad in steel, leather and fur and holding his spear at the ready, he stood at one end of Dun Scaith’s courtyard facing his former teacher on the other, wearing an easy smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.


    For her part, Scáthach showed no signs of the excitement she was surely feeling. Even her stance didn’t betray the Godslayer’s legendary bloodlust; instead she just lazily held her own bone spears at the side, one in each hand. But Cú Chulainn knew her well enough to be certain her soul was trembling with eagerness for the game of carnage that was to follow.


    Still, even if he knew it would shame them both, he had to ask:


    “Last chance to back away, master,” he called out to her. “ ‘Ya sure ‘bout this?”


    She humphed. “It seems my standards have really fallen when a mere child questions my will. Do not disappoint me now of all times, lad; you wouldnae enjoy the consequences.”


    The cold fury in her gaze sent shivers down his spine. ‘That’s my master, alright’ he thought. “Fine by me, then,” he replied. “Just don’t come haunting me after I kill ya!” Then, drowning all other emotions under his battle-fury, he pounced.


    Crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye, he struck with the speed of lightning and the force of thunder, an unerring blow aimed directly at her guts, but to no avail – even before he jumped, she had already assumed the perfect stance to defend against his attack, crossing the tip of both spears in such a way as to block his own and completely nullify the force of the attack. He chuckled.


    “Damn. Guess I was half a second too late,” he said.


    She merely lifted an eyebrow. “Half a second? What a generous estimate. To me, it felt like the passing of the seasons.”


    Growling like a feral dog, he hopped back and lunged again, this time delivering a flurry of attacks; where before he was lightning, now he was a whirlwind, using his superior speed and strength to overwhelm Scáthach’s defences. But the Warrior Maid of Dun Scaith wouldn’t fall prey to such simple tactics: moving with a grace that belied her speed, she sidestepped in between his attacks, a leaf blowing in the wind, and struck two blows of her own, one with each spear. Cú Chulainn cursed and jumped back, but wasn’t fast enough to prevent the tips from piercing flesh and drawing blood.


    Steadying his breathing and keeping a wary eye on Scáthach, he quickly assessed the damage: both spears had reached muscle, but not bone, the first on his right leg, the other on his left shoulder. Had he been only an instant slower, she would have taken both arm and leg. He was bleeding profusely, but those wounds wouldn’t be enough to hinder him; Scáthach had to know that.


    Why, then, was she grinning like a wolf eyeing a fatted calf?


    She wouldn’t give him time to ponder. Her right-hand spear moving in a blur, Scáthach traced three lines on the air and spoke a single word:


    Ansuz.”


    Immediately, the blood on the spear-tip ignited, flames that could melt steel completely enveloping the weapon without harming Scáthach in any way. She ran to Cú Chulainn, scraping the fiery spear against the cobblestone; then, right before reaching him, she swung it in a wide, upward arc. The flames shot from the spear and rose like a living torrent threatening to engulf him. He jumped back once more, unhurt, but half-blind – the fire burned too bright.


    Scáthach wasn’t finished, however; the spear was no longer wreathed in fire, but it still burned red-hot. Attacking relentlessly, she delivered quick, precise blows aimed at his vitals, each one strong enough to tear a raging bull apart. His vision still blurry, Cú Chulainn was forced entirely on the defensive, blocking her strikes with his own spear-shaft. Had he been using any weapon other than the fearsome Gáe Bolg, carved out of one of the bones of the sea-devil Coinchenn, he would have surely lost both weapon and life.


    However, even in such dire straits he was still Cú Chulainn, the greatest warrior of Ulster, and he would not die cowering against a foe’s assault. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he blocked another strike of the enemy’s spear and pushed back with all his strength, throwing Scáthach off-balance. Taking advantage of the opening, he twirled his weapon into position, tensed his upper body and struck with all the force he could muster. The spear broke through the air, the chariot of the gods trampling the skies - a blow so powerful, so skilful, it could split apart the Stone of Destiny.


    But it couldn’t kill Scáthach of the Shadows, she who had fed well the gods of war for time untold. For even as Cú Chulainn had been gathering his strength to attack, she was already moving out of his reach, like a snake coiling upon itself and evading the hawk’s swift claws. Only the air pressure from the spear-strike had reached her, pushing her back enough to give Cú Chulainn a chance to recover.


    For a moment, neither one moved nor spoke, until Cú Chulainn broke the silence:


    “Damn, I thought for sure I had you this time,” he said, his vision slowly recovering. “Your magic is as strong as ever, master. But I ain’t goin’ down to just that, y’know. This time, I’m gonna—”


    “Nae, lad. ‘Tis over.”


    “—wha...?”


    For a moment, Cú Chulainn was struck dumb by the sheer certainty in her voice, until he saw—


    ‘Shit! I forgot the other one!’


    For even as Scáthach had attacked him without pause with the right-hand spear, she had used the left-hand spear to carve several more runes on the ground, smearing some of his blood on each one. This wasn’t the rune magic of the people from the frozen north, it was the magic of the land of Eire, ancient and powerful, which had been passed down from druid to druid since the time of Amergin of the White Knees. With a single, terrible utterance, Scáthach brought it to life:


    Crom Cruach.”


    Immediately, an immense pressure fell upon Cú Chulainn, nearly bringing him to his knees as pain throbbed throughout his body. The spear-wounds inflicted by the three sons of Nechtan Scéne, slayers of Ulstermen; the sword-bites of Cochar Cruifne’s jealousy and Aífe’s hatred; even the marks left deep on his flesh by Domnall, Ferdiad and Scáthach herself during training. Scars which told of valour, of friends and enemies, of a warrior’s honour, all violated by the Blood Curse of Crom Cruach as they were forcibly reopened and his blood flowed out freely – a gruesome wine to serve the earth.


    Before he could react, light that was somehow dark cut through the air and pierced the ground at his feet, materialising in the shape of Scáthach’s left spear – the one still stained with his blood. In the same instant, all his remaining strength immediately left his body, and try as he might, he could not move. His body was still standing, but even that wasn’t a conscious act; instead, it was as if it had been frozen in time, neither alive nor dead.


    His senses were still working, however. “You were careless,” he heard Scáthach say. “You cannae look down to see it, but I pierced your shadow with my curse. It shouldnae be this effective, but using your blood greatly increased its potency.” She sighed. “What a pitiful conclusion to this fight. ‘Tis your own fault: you could have defended yourself if you used the magics I taught you. Stubborn lad.”


    She was downcast for a moment, but only for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice had a cold, hard edge. “I would have forgiven you for not killing me, boy, but I cannae forgive you for fighting so miserably. ‘Tis not much compensation for the disappointment I feel, but your head will be my last trophy from this world.”


    The world froze.


    For the briefest of moments, the world froze as Scáthach collected a monstrous amount of magical energy from her surroundings.


    “Goodbye. I will take that life of yours.”


    She jumped high in the air, like a salmon leaping up the river, and yelled:


    Gáe Bolg.”


    As she did so, she threw her remaining spear at him, releasing all the gathered energy in the same instant. The air around the spear distorted, and it split mid-flight into seven spears total, each, in turn, splitting into seven more. Forty-nine spears rained down on her paralysed foe, each swift and powerful enough to break even the bonds of blood and love.


    Cú Chulainn roared.


    No human throat could make such a sound – it was as if ten thousand hellhounds had been unleashed upon the world. He roared, and his whole body burned red-hot; he roared, and his muscles, nerves and veins twisted and bulged inside his skin; he roared, and his eyes deadened as he was overcome with unearthly power.


    Such transformation defied common sense not only in its shape, but also its speed – for all of it took place in less than an instant. Scáthach’s spears collided against his skin and splintered into thousands of pieces, inflicting little more than shallow wounds. Scáthach stared in amazement.


    ‘The warp spasm of legends’ she thought. ‘He’s drawing the magic of the earth directly into his flesh and blood, distorting himself into an existence closer to a beast of the Otherworld. Even his magical energy is rising!’


    As if in confirmation of those thoughts, the cursed spear which held him frozen shattered completely, as if destroyed by an unseen force from within, and the runes of the blood curse were blown away by a wind that could not be felt. The shadow-binding curse could no longer contain Culann’s Hound; the blood-crazed beast pounced once more, putting his earlier speed to shame.


    But Scáthach was far from defenceless. Not only had she mastered all forms of combat – including unarmed fighting – but a long time ago, she had inscribed the runes of the five sacred trees on her very soul. With a single phrase—


    Eó Mughna!”


    —she reinforced her body with the strength of the oak tree; lines of pure, glowing magic covered her every joint in less time than it took to blink. Immediately, she assumed a defensive stance, crossing both arms in front of her to block Cú Chulainn’s strike—


    —and was thrown back several yards by its sheer power, the mere shockwave crushing the ground where she stood. Such magnificent strength! Where before he was the whirlwind, now he was a hurricane, tearing up everything in its path. Scáthach’s heart sang with the sheer joy of battle even as her muscles and bones cried out in pain. The oaken shield spell had worked, however: even Cú Chulainn’s new demonic strength hadn’t pierced her skin.


    But the blood-crazed beast’s attack wasn’t over yet. Though his fighting techniques had been reduced to their most basic levels, he compensated for it with pure ferocity and overwhelming power. If a single blow had failed to kill his target, he would simply continue to strike until there was nothing left to destroy. Now it was Scáthach’s turn to be forced into the defensive; if not for her magic and skills, she would surely have died, and even those couldn’t withstand such an assault for long.


    Bile Tortan!”


    For a brief moment, it was as if the world had been rent asunder. Cú Chulainn’s spear, a mere instant from fulfilling its cruel duty, pierced only air instead even as he was hit by a blow that could uproot a tree and thrown back through the wall. Scáthach, covered in a thin, translucent energy membrane, stood to the side of where he had been, both arms still outstretched in a punching stance. Bile Tortan, the magic of the ash tree, beloved by druids and magicians. While cloaked in its power, Scáthach could step from one world to the other in between seconds, granting her speed beyond even that of the warped Cú Chulainn.


    However, she could be three times faster that it still wouldn’t be enough to stop his demonic battle-rage – and she knew it. She had cast the spell not to defeat the enemy, but to create an opening during which she could do so.


    “ ‘Tis a shame I don’t have a cauldron of poppy milk ready, lad” she said conversationally, “or I wouldnae have to hurt you this much.” She was lying, of course – Scáthach never chose the easy road, either for friend or foe. Then, right as the debris exploded outward and Cú Chulainn rose, she spoke the remaining three phrases of power: “Éo Ruis! Craeb Uisnig! Craeb Daithi!”


    The spells which were already enhancing Scáthach’s body were simply washed away by the torrent of pure magical energy which surged from the land and sea and air into her. The five sacred trees, whose seeds originally had been brought from the Otherworld; by invoking their names, Scáthach was drawing on the power of that land of gods, giants and spirits. However, her natural affinity – no, the authority she earned as the slayer of ten thousand foes, it wasn’t over the sunlit realms of eternal delight.


    The veil between worlds parted.


    Strong as the passage of time, sharp as the pain of a broken heart, cold as the depths of despair – such was the otherworldly wind storm which fell on Cú Chulainn. He pushed against it, for it never even crossed his maddened mind to retreat, and slowly but surely moved forward, spear in hand, each step bringing him closer to his prey.


    Five more steps. With five more steps, Scáthach would be within range. She couldn’t move – even there, in her place of power, she had to maintain full concentration on the spell, or she would lose control of it.


    One step. He pushed. The cold of eleven winters had been let loose on him, but it broke against the heat of his warrior’s heart.


    Two steps. He faltered. The icy wind started covering him in frost, which melted off almost as fast as it formed


    Three steps. He stumbled. The frost didn’t bother him, but it wasn’t boiling off his skin anymore. His muscles and flesh started trembling.


    Four steps.


    Cú Chulainn roared – but this time it sounded like the wailing of the angry dead, for even he couldn’t fight against death’s raging tempest anymore. His entire body was trapped in ice, a statue fit as a gift for a king. Scáthach, her own body on the verge of breaking apart, released the power and let it gently wash away from her. The natural boundary between worlds – unseen, but felt, by all – was restored.


    Through it all, the warrior-witch never once took her eyes off her former pupil.


    With a final burst of strength, Cú Chulainn broke free from his prison. He was wounded and bleeding and frostbitten all over, and his shape was distorted no more – a clear sign that the battle-madness and its prodigious strength had left him –, but in spite of all that, he still stood tall, an impudent smile on his face.


    “That was a nice trick, master,” he rasped, “but you don’t have to hold back anymore. I’m ready to fight for real.”


    Scáthach, too, was smiling. Her body was feeling the cumulative effects of fighting Cú Chulainn’s demonic form and invoking the most powerful magic at her disposal, and she had almost completely exhausted her own magical energy, but such was her nature – she had no other feeling in her heart as pure as her love for battle, and this had been the greatest fight of her long life. For a moment, she felt only pride in her student’s growth, but she quashed it mercilessly.


    “Oh, so you want more? Dinnae worry, lad, it never crossed my mind to stop now.” Using her last reserves of magical energy, she closed her eyes and intoned once more: “Éo Ruis”. As with the oaken shield spell, her body was filled with magic, only this time it was her veins which glowed.


    Éo Ruis was the charm of the yew tree, which brought healing to the magician by enhancing the body’s natural recuperative abilities a hundredfold. That wasn’t the reason why Scáthach cast the spell, however: the yew also brought death to enemies. In a reversal of its blessing, the charm greatly increased the harmful consequences of all wounds inflicted, so that even a glancing blow could cause serious injury.


    Even unarmed as she was, Scáthach wouldn’t have any difficulty in taking Cú Chulainn’s head with this spell.


    “We will never meet on the other side,” she said in a calm, serious voice, “so let me say it now: Thank you for this gift, Setanta. I will always treasure it. May the Morrígan treat you kindly in your passage.”


    “No, master,” he replied with saddened eyes, all traces of his former levity gone. “I haven’t given you my gift yet.” Energy blazed along his spear, distorting the very air around it, and he leapt.


    It was useless. That he could stand at all, much less raise his weapon, was already a miracle. While his attack would have certainly killed any lesser warrior, against the likes of Scáthach, it was little more than spitting on the executioner’s face. Even as he closed on her, she was positioning herself to dodge and counter-


    Gáe— ”


    Her eyes widened.


    “—Bolg!”


    The spear shot through her heart. Dozens of barbs sprouted all throughout her body, tearing her from the inside out.


    What happened was a violation of common sense, a defiance of the natural order. She had evaded his attack, that was an undisputable fact; and yet, his spear was now embedded deep in her heart. It was as if fate itself had bowed to Cú Chulainn’s spear-strike. The result – Scáthach’s death – had already been declared, and so reality could only follow suit.


    “This was the technique I spent a year developing specially to kill ya,” he said, his voice trembling slightly. “I just had to make sure you didn’t have enough power left to protect yourself.” He wasn’t crying. He wouldn’t cry. But he also wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Goodbye, master. Seems like a pitiful thing to say, but thanks for everything.”


    “Aye, lad. ‘Tis goodbye, but not for the reasons you think.”


    He looked up, eyes widening in disbelief. There she stood – her heart destroyed, her body torn from within in a grotesque mockery of what had once been a human figure – and yet, she spoke effortlessly, seemingly without feeling any pain.


    She gave a sad smile at his incredulity, even as green flames gently – like a lover’s caress – spread from within and burned the barbs inside her body to less than ashes, her flesh reknitting itself as if it had never been touched. When she saw she could move again, she bit her right index finger until it bled, then she drew the Odinic rune of healing on his forehead, berkana. The wounds still open slowly closed, and some strength returned to his body.


    “I’m sorry, child. I dared hope you could kill the existence I have become, but it seems that was too much even for you. Truly, one cannot come back from a boundary already crossed.” She chuckled hollowly. “Your technique was excellent; it would surely have killed me not long ago. Perhaps if you had been born only a little earlier...”


    Both stood still as if time had been shattered, not daring to move. It was only a moment, but it felt heavy like the passing of the years.


    Then, a sad smile on her face, Scáthach took the wolf head pendant – his wolf pendant – she had under her shirt and put it around his neck. “Goodbye, my lad. I’m glad we could have this last visit, and I thank you again for your gift. Now go and live well; I dinnae want to see your pitiful face again.” And she laughed, pouring all her spirit into it, one final, brief burst of light amidst the shadows of that place.


    And then she was gone, and Cú Chulainn stood alone in the courtyard of what had once been Dun Scaith, his spear clattering on the floor. The fortress was still there, but without Scáthach’s magic, it was nothing more than dead stone.


    Wordlessly, staring into the empty space before him, Cú Chulainn violently ripped the pendant Scáthach had returned from his neck. He looked at it for some long seconds before speaking to the air:


    “Idiot. I didn’t give ya anything.”


    He dropped the amulet to the ground, picked up his spear and walked away, tears streaming down his face.


    It would be a long time before he cried again.
    Last edited by SpoonyViking; May 9th, 2017 at 04:16 PM.

  2. #2
    A very well-crafted fight. The flow of combat, the use of magic, the back-and-forth between the two warriors - they're all present in just the right amounts to pad out the fic to a satisfying length without dragging it for too long. Character-wise, apart from a general comment that they "feel right", framing the event as a pledge marked by the gift of the pendant and the departure and return to the castle after a year gives it the air of a small episode of myth alike to the scenes about the heroes' pasts in Hollow Ataraxia (this is another way of giving the vaunted TM fanfic praise of "I could readily believe this happened in canon"). Also, previous Cú fanfickery had me convinced this prompt would be executed in some sort of desperate one-against-all battle that he fits in so well, so a more poignant piece was a nice surprise.

    Nicely done.

  3. #3
    TATARI Heiress ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    Thought this was good when I beta'd it, and I still think it's a super solid entry, with creative rune use, tight action, and colorful use of dialect. It was a true pleasure to be part of this!
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  4. #4
    Climb The Tower Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    I was the one who made the prompt and I still stand by everything I've said previously, I couldn't be happier with it.

    Also the last few lines kill me.

    Quote Originally Posted by SpoonyViking View Post
    He dropped the amulet to the ground, picked up his spear and walked away, tears streaming down his face.

    It would be a long time before he cried again.

  5. #5
    Drunk Anime Is The True Path. Mattias's Avatar
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    Really fun stuff. Good ending, feels good but bittersweet.
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  6. #6
    Inactive Wolfshadow's Avatar
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    I remember beta reading this. It's just as good as I remember it being the first time I read it.

    I love the interaction here between Scáthach and Cú, and the fight manages to surprise the reader several times despite the seemingly obvious outcome.

    And of course, Scáthach's accent is great.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by ItsaRandomUsername View Post
    Thought this was good when I beta'd it, and I still think it's a super solid entry, with creative rune use, tight action, and colorful use of dialect. It was a true pleasure to be part of this!
    Seems we both played a part in this. It was just so well done even before doing any editing. It was really quite something.
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  7. #7
    I happen to be an expert on this topic Pata Hikari's Avatar
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    Yeah this is great.

    Excellent action, great ending. Overall my favorite story from that contest.
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  8. #8
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bird of Hermes View Post
    I was the one who made the prompt and I still stand by everything I've said previously, I couldn't be happier with it.
    Oh, so it was you! Well, I'm glad you enjoyed your gift. :-)

    Thanks everyone for the kind words, and especially to IRUn and Draconic for the beta reading! Oh, and regarding dialect, I owe it to both mirrormoon (for Cú Chulainn's occasional slip into a rougher speech pattern, which inspired me to write younger Cú Chulainn speaking more like a "young punk") and Mew, CanonRap or both for translating Scáthach's Trial Quest's prologue, which inspired me to add a light brogue to Scáthach's speech (very light, because a proper Scottish brogue can be tiresome to read).

  9. #9
    Climb The Tower Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SpoonyViking View Post
    Oh, so it was you! Well, I'm glad you enjoyed your gift. :-)
    I certainly enjoyed it more than Cu did

  10. #10
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    Awesome fight scene! I enjoyed this fanfic so much! Also, the way you write Cu's characterization is good. The vivid battle scene is also great.

  11. #11
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    Thanks! :-D
    My fanfics:
    The Gift (a Fate/Stay Night one-shot)
    - A duel between Cú Chulainn and Scáthach.
    Passion Acknowledged (a Fate/Stay Night one-shot) (Lemon) - Shirou and Shinji finally acknowledge their feelings.
    He Was a Good King (a Fate/Stay Night one-shot) - A short exploration of Beowulf's character as a hero and a king.

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