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    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Song of a Lost Sparrow

    Hey folks.

    In my never ending quest to delay actually putting work into the full-length series I've started, here's a series of short stories. I guess by way of introduction, its a (perhaps somewhat liberal) reinterpretation of (F/SN) Assassin's character. Because I can't be bothered to fit it in with any existing route, I'm just going to go ahead and say let's make it an AU. Illya route or something. Yeah, that sounds good.

    There will be seven parts in total, the clever ones among you may be able to figure out why that is. The main purpose of writing these is to practice characterization in the midst of combat, which you'll notice is distinctly lacking in the first part, but don't worry it'll show up eventually.

    And finally yes I'm aware that sparrows and swallows are different.

    Enjoy reading, and feel free to post any comments/criticisms regarding anything that catches your eye.


    EDIT: Have some quick access.
    Part 2/3/4/5/6/7

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Song of a Lost Sparrow

    Part 1




    The first thing he noticed was the sound of the wind.

    The cool mountain air blew gently past, ruffling his hair and tugging lightly on his clothes. The soft scents of the nearby trees created a sense of peace and gentleness that brought him a strange sense of comfort. The weight of his sword sat heavily on his back, urging him to rise from sleep and fight.

    Opening his eyes, his first instinct was to look up at the sky, and his first thought was that it was terrifyingly dark. A light scattering of clouds dotted the sky, and the moon hung between them, lending a faint glow to his surroundings, but between the moon and clouds was nothing but an empty void.

    What world had he stepped into, that there were no stars?

    That thought drew a wry smile out of him. Who was he to complain? It wasn't like he had ever seen a world with stars. After all, he had only begun to exist a few moments prior.

    A voice much colder than the night air pulled him from his thoughts.

    "This is somewhat...beyond expectations." The words weren't directed at him, but they pulled his attention anyways. Breaking his gaze from the night sky, he looked down to see the speaker, a woman clothed in robes of deep violet, a black hooded cloak overtop obscuring the upper half of her face.

    "No matter how you look at it, he seems like a Saber class Servant. I thought you said that wasn't possible?" A second voice spoke out from behind the woman in violet. While hers had been cold as ice, the second voice sounded more like dead wood. As he turned his gaze to see the source of the second voice, his suspicions were confirmed. Standing behind the woman a few paces back was a man in deep green formal wear. While he carried himself with the poise of a trained fighter, his eyes told a much deeper story. Stone cold eyes, reflecting a heart that had died long ago.

    "I didn't say it was impossible," the woman replied with a huff, "only that it was unlikely. A magus such as myself summoning a Saber class Servant with no catalyst would be nothing more than luck."

    As if contented by her response, the man in green returned to silence.

    As the other two spoke, he looked around the clearing. At a glance, he seemed to be standing in the outer grounds of some sort of Buddhist temple. Torches here and there provided a soft orange glow to the area that somehow made it seem more difficult to see the woman in front of him.

    The short conversation between the two of them over, the woman finally addressed him.

    "Well? What Heroic Spirit are you?" The woman's voice was tinged with impatience. She didn't wear her traumas like a cloak, as the man did, but he could make a good guess on her just by the tone of her voice.

    As he turned his mind over to the question, he found the answer came unexpectedly easily.

    "Servant Assassin, Sasaki Kojiro. At your service." Assassin bowed as he spoke. Enough to be respectful, but not so much as to be subservient.

    Even with her face concealed, Assassin could easily see the woman's expression drop. "Assassin? Why couldn't you have been an Archer? Or at least Berserker?" After scrutinizing him for a few more moments, she spoke again, her voice suddenly much more hostile. "Well, with parameters like yours, you probably wouldn't qualify for any other class, would you? I'm surprised you made it into Assassin in the first place."

    Assassin replied with a helpless shrug. "Sorry to disappoint you. If I had had the choice to be stronger, I'm sure I would have taken it."

    The woman sneered. "If you were going to be this weak, why did you even answer the call of the Grail? You can't possibly have thought someone of your caliber could actually win, could you?"

    Assassin tilted his head to the side as he pondered her question. "Answer the call? I had no say in the matter. You are the one who brought me here, are you not?"

    "Yes, yes, I opened the gate to summon you. But you stepped through it yourself, no?"

    "I'm afraid not," Assassin replied with another grin. "Or if I did, I have no memory of doing so. As far as I can tell, I was only born a few moments ago, you see."

    His declaration was met with a stunned silence. The woman's focus seemed to drift as she contemplated the ramifications of his claim, but before she could reach a conclusion the man behind her spoke again.

    "Caster, I thought you said you were going to summon a Heroic Spirit."

    "I was," the woman - Caster - replied with a frustrated growl. "It seems like something went wrong. You are Sasaki Kojiro, are you not? The Japanese samurai?"

    "Certainly, that was the name I was given," Assassin replied. "But I personally have no memory of being such a person before tonight."

    It was an odd sensation, to be sure. When he thought, 'who am I,' the answer came clear as day - a Japanese samurai, Sasaki Kojiro. Rival to the legend Miyamoto Musashi. He had all sorts of memories of things that Sasaki Kojiro did during his lifetime, from his first day picking up a sword to the day he was slain. But as he looked over those memories...

    ...that was not 'him.'

    So he looked further. And sure enough, there were more memories - memories of a man with no name, who had picked up a sword without purpose and swung it without end. He had never used it to defend himself, never used it to take a human life, but he had persevered in his training for countless days. He had reached the level at which human skill could no longer advance - and he had broken past it. Even as his training brought him to a skill level that to humans seemed like magic, his training never ceased. Eventually, he died an unknown death, without heir or disciple, taking his secrets to the grave.

    ...and yet, that was not 'him.'

    So who was 'he?' As he looked for memories of himself, memories of the individual that he was, he saw only one thing - the cool mountain air, the shining moon overhead, and a sky devoid of stars.

    Caster gave an exasperated sigh. "What a failure. I thought I had understood the Servant system perfectly, but it appears I was mistaken. If nothing else, I suppose we've eliminated the possibility of someone else summoning an Assassin class Servant. That will certainly make your day to day life easier, Master."

    "Wouldn't having an Assassin class Servant of our own be a tremendous advantage?" the man Caster had referred to as her Master spoke. Despite his words, there was no optimism in his voice. It was flat, dead, as if he was asking for information just for information's sake.

    "Unfortunately no," Caster said with another sigh, this time a bit more polite. "As a Servant myself, I have no way to anchor him in the present world. Instead, I used the temple grounds themselves to anchor him...unfortunately, that means he won't be able to go very far beyond them. I suspect he won't be able to maintain his form much beyond the stairs outside the front gate." Turning back to face Assassin, Caster spoke again, this time her voice cold and commanding. "And thus we come to your job. You say you didn't exist prior to tonight? Fine. In thanks for giving you the chance to live, you will guard this temple. As an Assassin, you should at the very least be able to eliminate any Master's that come through it, correct?"

    Assassin gave a light-hearted chuckle. For some reason, any opportunity he got to disappoint this woman made him happy. "Sorry, but I also lack any skills as an assassin. As a samurai, all I know is how to fight head on." It wasn't that he particularly disliked her. No, deep down he suspected there was a bright, cheerful, loyal and devoted girl struggling to make herself heard. When she spoke to the man she called Master, he could faintly see that noble spirit.

    Something had happened that had twisted her nature, made a good person seem evil. As much as that innocent girl struggled to show herself, the fact of the matter was that she was a part of Caster's past - the current Caster, standing here today, was a very different person. And that darker, twisted persona made itself very evident whenever she spoke without addressing the man behind her.

    "Of course you don't," she said. Assassin could practically feel her roll her eyes. "So you are a terribly weak Servant, with none of the skills that define your class. Tell me then, by some miracle, do you at least possess a Noble Phantasm that makes you worth keeping around?"

    "Noble Phantasm? Of course I don't possess such a thing. That would be reserved for the real Sasaki Kojiro," he shrugged. "A fake such as myself wouldn't be able to use a Noble Phantasm if I even had one."

    Caster turned away from Assassin and began walking back towards the temple behind her. "I apologize, Master. It appears this plan was an utter failure. I will make a new strategy, so please do not worry. At the very least, this failure will give us a noisy warning when we are attacked by another Servant."

    As her Master turned to follow her, Assassin tilted his head to the side in confusion. "If I may ask, why would I do such a thing?"

    Caster froze. Turning slowly to face him, Assassin didn't need to see her eyes to recognize the fury in her expression. "Excuse me?"

    "Well, the purpose of Servants like us is to fight for the Holy Grail and receive a wish, no? In this situation, it seems quite obvious I have no chance of winning. So why should I bother helping you?"

    As flippant as it may have sounded, it was an honest question. Even being a fake as he was, he was still summoned by the Grail, and thus still gifted with the necessary knowledge of the Holy Grail War and the common era. It was clear that the purpose of Servants were to fight for their Masters, win them the Holy Grail, and then receive any wish they desired as a reward for success. But the Grail would not appear until six Servants had been slain. Thus, if his Master - who was a Servant herself - was to win the War, she would have to eventually kill Assassin.

    It was evident that Assassin had very little to gain from actually aiding her. And since he didn't need her to anchor him in this world, it seemed actually his best chance of winning the war would be to strike her down now, and hope another Master randomly happened across him before he disappeared.

    His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden, mind-numbing pain. With a sensation like there was a knife in his stomache struggling to dig its way free, Assassin dropped to his knees. Blood poured from his mouth, proving that the pain was not some simple illusion. After a few moments, as he struggled to bring the pain under control, it began to subside, gradually dulling. Spitting out another mouthful of blood, he was able to begin breathing again.

    "First of all," Caster spoke, her passive expression lending extra weight to her ice cold voice, "I am not a Servant like you. Unlike the failure that is yourself, I actually am a true Heroic Spirit. If you equate us ever again, you will be enjoying that pain for the rest of your pitiful existence here."

    Assassin wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand, careful not to dirty his sleeve. "My apologies," he said, the quiver in his voice from the still lingering pain somewhat detracting from his sarcasm.

    "Secondly, you have no choice in the matter." Caster's voice lost some of its edge as she spoke, but still remained icy cool. "As your Master, your free will belongs to me. If you insist on being difficult, then I will simply use a Command Spell to take your obedience by force." Caster raised her right hand, and a faint red glow became visible. "Assassin. You will make every effort to obey my commands at all times." As she finished speaking, the red glow on her hand flared brightly.

    A new sensation suddenly added itself to the fading pain in Assassin's stomache. A sensation of being bound, as if strings were wrapped tightly around every part of his body, pulling him in every direction.

    "Now," Caster continued, lowering her hand. "Go defend the front gate. Any opponent you face will likely be more than enough to kill you, so try and at least delay them as long as possible." With that, Caster turned away and resumed her walk to the temple.

    As she did so, the strings binding Assassin's body pulled him into motion. In short order, he was pulled to his feet, and turning in the opposite direction, he found himself walking outside the front gate of the temple. It seemed she wasn't bluffing - just like that, she was able to overwrite his free will and force him to do anything she wanted. He briefly wondered how many times she could do that, but with that first command, it seemed she probably wouldn't even need to use the Command Spells anymore.

    As she walked to the temple, Caster paused, calling out over her shoulder one last time. "Even so, I have no intention of being needlessly cruel. Perform well, and I will reward you. If you defeat even a single Servant, maybe I will give you a chance at living a life of your own." Without waiting for a response, she entered the building in front of her, followed quickly by her Master.

    As Assassin approached the top of the stairs leading down the mountain, the strings holding his body relaxed, giving him control of his body once more. Though he was long out of earshot, he still replied with a smirk.

    "There's the darkness I thought I saw." As expected, she was as dark and twisted as she looked. Holding even his free will hostage, without a second thought she ordered him around like a dog, and then had the audacity to tag on a promise of freedom at the end.

    It was true he had never really lived before. He had plenty of memories of other people's lives, but none that he could call his own. Even so, he had no real desire to live a life of his own. He wasn't a real person, and seeing glimpses of what it meant to be one, he felt no draw to it. He supposed he had no choice but to act as the guard dog for that woman, but afterwards he would be more than satisfied to return back to the nothingness from which he had come.

    Sitting cross-legged at the top of the steps, Assassin returned his gaze to the sky. Now distanced from the lights of the temple grounds, he could faintly see stars beginning to peak through the veil of the night. A satisfied smile came to his lips as they winked into existence one by one. He felt an odd kinship with them, tiny pricks of light that appeared out of the darkness, only to vanish once anything brighter than the moon shone near them.

    Sooner or later, the sun that was the Holy Grail would rise, and he would disappear forever. There was nothing he could do to stop that, and he had no particular desire to. So, in the end, all he could do was wait.

    It wasn't all bad, though. He didn't have much in the way of hope, nor would he have any idea what to wish for even if by some miracle he did survive until the end of the War. But maybe the world would show him something interesting before his time was up. Judging by his own condition, he should be able to persist for almost three weeks even without any further assistance from his Master. Maybe, just maybe, the world would show him something nice in that time.

    Maybe, just maybe, it would give him a reason to stay.
    Last edited by TwilightsCall; July 23rd, 2016 at 10:20 AM.

  2. #2
    紅魔|吸血鬼 Frostyvale's Avatar
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    Nice one. Kojiro's perspective is rather interesting.

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    Hey, I ainít no lizard! Draconic's Avatar
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    I disagree, having found Assassin to be an insufferable pawn—likely a personal failing of mine—but regardless of my opinion on the character, it is very well written, and the narrative does capture him perfectly. I'm excited to see what you post next.
    Likes attention, shiny objects, and... a ball of yarn?
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    I joined two years too late...
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    That makes me think of Rin as a loan shark.
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    Admittedly, she'd probably be the hottest loan shark you'll ever meet. She'd probably make you smile as she sucked you dry.


    Oh dear, that doesn't sound like yuri at all.
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    Not with that attitude.

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    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments! Unfortunately, if you're not a fan of Assassin, the rest of this story might be a bit difficult to get through, but if you like the rest of the F/SN cast enough maybe you'll find something worth reading in it.

    Anyways, here's part 2. I was really proud of this one up until I wrote the next part...which I sense is going to be a pattern. Hopefully if I just keep posting rapidly enough, I won't have time to second guess myself!







    Assassin drank in the cold mountain air as he sat idly watching the moon. The sound of night birds chirping broke the steady rustling of the leaves in the wind, making the desolate mountaintop seem alive, even in the dead of night.

    It had been a few days since he had been first summoned, and so far every night had passed the same. He hadn't heard so much as a word from Caster since she had tasked him to defend the front gate, but as far as he was concerned, that was probably for the better.

    She hadn't been idle, however. He wasn't sure whether it had just taken him an undue amount of time to notice, or if she had created it after he had been summoned, but after a day or so of watching the gate Assassin had noticed a Boundary Field appear around the temple. Say what he would of the woman herself, she was undoubtedly a skilled magus. The barrier served to repel any and all spiritual entities from entering the temple - including, and especially, Servants. A Servant of his own caliber would be completely unable to enter. A stronger Servant would be able to penetrate it, but as long as they were within it, it would cripple their ability to fight. No doubt anyone crazy enough to try a sneaky entry would find themselves quickly eliminated by Caster's evident prowess in magecraft.

    There was one "weakness" to the barrier, however. One hole through which even the weakest of spirits could slip through, and thus avoid any of the negative effects of the Boundary Field. One tiny gap, about the size of a large doorway...positioned right over the gate which Assassin guarded.

    No doubt if she had wanted to, Caster would have easily been able to patch that weakness up. But it was fairly obvious that the gap was intentional. Sure, Caster's position would be nigh impervious if she were to seal it off, but in that case no one would ever attack her. She would be forced to leave her own domain to hunt down her opponents. But by leaving that one small opening, Caster was inviting her enemies to come to her.

    It was difficult to say what thought process had lead Caster to that particular strategem. By leaving that opening right where she had posted Assassin, it seemed almost like she was using him as the trap, and using herself as the bait. Even though his encounter with her had been fairly brief, he knew her well enough to know that would never fly. Which meant she must have taken it one step further.

    No doubt, the truth of the matter was that he was the bait. She trusted that her enemies would see through her plan far enough to attack her, but be stopped by Assassin himself. Whether they would believe Assassin's Master had set the boundary field - a deception that was ironically true - or that Assassin was in league with another Servant who could set up such a field, they would nonetheless be unable to advance past him and find the truth. If the enemy was weak, either Assassin would dispatch them or Caster could swoop in and wipe them out as she saw fit. If the enemy was too powerful, Caster could simply close the barrier, or in a more desperate situation, flee the temple itself.

    Assassin rose with a sigh. It wasn't so much disappointed. It was more just a slight melancholy at the fate which he had accepted finally catching up with him.

    Caster's plan had evidently worked, as at the bottom of the stairs he could see a figure making their way up. The distance between them was by no means small, but even an ordinary human would be capable of making out the person now approaching.

    A slim yet muscular man, dressed entirely in blue, making a sharp contrast to the blood-red spear slung over his shoulder. The man walked up the stairs at a leisurely pace, his footsteps perhaps a little too heavy. He was clearly making no effort to conceal his presence. Rather, it could be said he was trying to announce himself.

    In response to that announcement, Assassin descended a single level. The staircase itself did not give much room to maneuver, but it did at least pause to create an even landing a few times, granting short respites from the rather steep incline of the mountain. Assassin descended to the first of such landings before the gate. Standing on the edge of the platform, he waited patiently for his opponent to approach.

    And approach he did. Coming within about fifteen feet of Assassin, the man in blue planted the butt of his spear on the stone steps before calling out.

    "Yo. Nice weather tonight, huh?"

    "Really?" Assassin replied with a smirk. "It seems to me like a storm is coming. Though that would be interesting in its own right, I suppose."

    The man in blue bit off a laugh. "A storm's fine by me. In fact, why don't we kick off a little storm of our own?"

    "Right down to business, are we?" Assassin replied with a shrug. "That's a shame. I thought we could have nice little conversation to warm up."

    "Sorry," the spearman said with a wry grin, giving his spear a wide flourish before sinking into a combat stance. "My master gave me pretty explicit instructions. Whether I like it or not, there doesn't seem to be much room for making friends."

    "Ah, trouble with your master as well? Maybe we're more alike than I thought." Assassin lifted his gaze up to the night sky, paying no heed to the mounting bloodlust aimed at him. They had come and gone over the past nights, as the lights in the temple behind him glowed and dimmed, but now the open blackness above him was scattered plentifully with stars. They had been fleeting company while he watched over the gate for the past few nights, but for some reason he felt a little more at ease knowing that they would witness his first fight.

    A familiar twinge in the back of his mind informed him that the stars would not be his only observer, however.

    Lowering his gaze back to his opponent, Assassin finally reach behind him and drew his sword.

    It was his first time drawing the sword since being summoned, and yet it felt almost too familiar. The weight of the sword in his hands, the strange balance rooted in its monstrous length, even its dull silver gleam in the cold moonlight seemed as natural to him as his own breath. Though the sword itself was nothing he recognized, he could feel the mastery of its creator by the sole motion of pulling it from its sheath. As he held the blade loosely at his side, opting against taking a formal stance, he could feel the weight of that unfamiliar steel pulling him forward, towards his opponent.

    Towards battle.

    Meanwhile, his opponent had lost his previous expression of good humour. His casually smiling demeanour had made way for a hard expression, sizing up Assassin's weapon - and indeed Assassin himself. As the spearman shifted his weight ever so slightly, preparing himself for either attacking or being attacked, Assassin couldn't help but feel slightly impressed. Even in that indecision, there was no weakness in the man in blue. No anxiety, no uneasiness, no fear. Just readiness.

    It would no doubt be a difficult battle for the spearman. Normally, the advantage of a spear was the enormous range it afforded you. However, against Assassin, who's blade was of comparable length, he had no such advantage. On top of that, having to fight upwards gave him an additional disadvantage. But even with the terrain against him, and the primary advantage of his weapon nullified, he wasted no time. After determining his opponent was content to cede the first move, the spearman struck.

    The distance between them closed in an instant as the man in blue kicked off the stairs, launching upwards towards Assassin. As the crimson lance reached for Assassin's heart, a blur of silver deflected it, sending it harmlessly above his shoulder. Before the spearman could make a followup attack, he was forced to bring his weapon back to block over his head, narrowly stopping Assassin's blade before it seperated his neck from his shoulders.

    Having brought the sword to a stop, the spearman pushed in, closing the distance between them to the point neither of their weapons would be effective. Yet as he did so, whirling his weapon like a staff to crush his opponent's skull, Assassin also moved, taking a step back and lowering his body. The spear did not stop there, however. As it sliced through the air over Assassin's head, it came back around, delivering a flurry of blows faster than the eye could follow.

    Even without his eyes, Assassin followed the crimson spear with his blade. Thigh, shoulder, stomache, knee, face, as the bloodthirsty spear continued to seek flesh, over and over it met steel instead. As he deflected the last attack towards his face, Assassin returned with a series of his own strikes. Unlike the spearman's attack, Assassin's onslaught aimed all at one point. Gleaming silver arcs raced through the air, reaching within inches of the spearman's throat before being turned away by his quick defense. Yet each time it was blocked, it repeated, finding a new angle, searching for a new window to break through. After four such strikes, seeing the window of opportunity open, a final fifth strike came from above to split the man's skull down the middle.

    Unable to bring his spear to bear in time, the spearman hurled himself backwards, sliding down the stairs back to his original position.

    As the song of steel on bone faded into the rustle of the trees, the man in blue clicked his tongue in frustration.

    While it was certainly true that he lost a tremendous advantage thanks to the length of his opponent's weapon, the opposite was also true. Normally, one would have to close to a much more dangerous range to fight against that ridiculous sword. And while it certainly seemed impossible for Assassin to fight with such a weapon at such close quarters, that same characteristic length made it impossible to retreat from him. Thanks to the length of his own spear, which was even greater than Assassin's sword, he could still effectively fight at a distance where retreat was still an option.

    Assassin stepped forward again, reaching the edge of the landing once more. Unfortunately for his opponent, thanks to the terrain, any retreat would be a tremendous loss of ground. Meanwhile, standing on the landing gave Assassin plenty of room to fall back, and a strong foundation to drive his opponent back from. Even if his opponent was able to push upwards onto the platform, the sudden dropoff behind him would be no less dangerous than fighting on the stairs.

    "You've got the speed and the technique, but it seems like the strength just isn't there," the man spoke, grinning once more. "I was worried thinking you were a Saber, but that's not true, is it?"

    "Sorry for disappointing you, Lancer," Assassin replied, resting the back of his sword on his shoulder. "I am naught but a humble Assassin."

    "And what makes you think I'm a Lancer?" the man in blue replied with a laugh. "For all you know, I could be a Rider. Or maybe a really tame Berserker!"

    "Or maybe that big stick is actually a longbow," Assassin smirked. "No, with your skill, summoning you as anything but a Lancer would be a sin."

    "Now, don't say that!" Lancer said as he began climbing the stairs again, this time much slower. "I feel I could really hold my own as a Caster!"

    Lancer punctuated the end of his sentence by reaching out again with his weapon, a seeking thrust aimed at Assassin's ankles. A smooth arc brought Assassin's weapon from his shoulder down to drive the spear from its intended target, causing it to bite hard into the stone steps. Seeing Lancer was attempting to hold his maximum range, Assassin descended the steps after him, closing in with another gleaming crescent aimed to seperate the spearman's head from his shoulders. Pulling his spear from the stone, Lancer lifted the butt end of the weapon to block the incoming sword, and in one smooth motion slid forward into an upward side kick.

    Even with the unexpected kick, Assassin continued his descent, dropping to one knee barely a step above Lancer. Throwing his elbow upwards, he knocked Lancer's kick off course while simultaneously driving the pommel of his sword into the spearman's ribs. Once again, Lancer was forced to retreat a few steps to avoid the impact, a movement he managed to make look rather graceful considering he had only one foot to do it on. As he found his new footing, his spear came back around like a scythe. As if to match Lancer's elegant descent, Assassin rolled back up the steps, causing the spear to once again strike fruitlessly into the stone steps.

    Another flurry of blows prevented Lancer from pressing forward, the silver crescent of Assassin's blade testing his defence from every angle. Unable to approach to a more manageable range, Lancer once again disengaged, returning to his original position.

    "It would really be a shame to lose my spear though," Lancer said, striking the butt of the weapon on the stone steps a couple times.

    "I envy you," Assassin replied, ascending to his home at the edge of the landing. "I've got barely a single trick to my name, but it sounds like you've got plenty of fancy weapons to throw around."

    "If you're interested, I can show you some runes," Lancer spoke with wry smile, sinking back into a guarded stance.

    "You're welcome to try," Assassin replied with a low voice and a smile of his own, taking a step and shifting his weight forward.

    Lancer paused, as if considering his options. Though the sensation of eyes on his back hadn't relented, it seemed much less important now. Instead, the sensation of his weapon - the weight of that sword, pulling him forward, urged him to fight. Every time the two exchanged banter like this, he felt the weapon's pull grow stronger.

    Was it the result of Caster's Command Spell? The call of the Grail? Or was the sword, a weapon with origins as mysterious and unknown to him as his own, driving him onward into combat? Regardless of which it was, something was impatiently begging him to continue the fight. To drive away the intruder before him.

    ...no, that wasn't quite right. This wasn't an urge to drive him away, nor even to win. It didn't care about the results. It was the simple, primal urge only to fight.

    "On second thought, nah," Lancer finally broke the silence with a laugh, once again launching himself up the stairs. "It's much more fun this way!"

    ...fun?

    As Assassin brought his sword around to deflect the impending attack, Lancer's forward motion suddenly stopped. Leaping into the air, he brought his spear down from above, swinging it like a hammer. A quick step to the side avoided the blow, and as Lancer's spear smashed into the stone platform, Assassin's sword arced around to take his head from behind. Lancer avoided the incoming sword by rolling forward. While not enough to get him beyond the reach of the weapon, it bought him the precious second needed to bring his spear up to defend.

    Now firmly on even ground, Lancer's ferocity seemed to double. Barely turning to look where he was going, his spear lashed out, aiming simply to draw blood wherever it could. As Lancer pressed forward to well inside Assassin's preferred range, Assassin found it more and more difficult to repel the incoming strikes, being forced to dodge and weave between each and every parry. Slowly but surely he was driven back towards the steps leading away from the temple gate.

    Seeing his opportunity, Lancer redoubled his efforts once again. His spear no more than a blur even in the eyes of a Servant, it came at Assassin as an arrow, then a sword, then a hammer, then a scythe. Between each breath, the deceptively simple weapon traced the paths of a dozen more. But no matter what angle, no matter what force was behind them, Assassin met each blow with calm repose. Piercing or slashing attacks were all deflected by his own blade, while attacks relying on force or weight were avoided with a single step or duck.

    As a horizontal slash from the spear came to take Assassin in the ribs, he dropped into a crouch, letting the spear pass harmlessly overhead. At the same time, he swung with a horizontal cut of his own, aimed at Lancer's thighs. Unable to dodge under it as Assassin had, Lancer instead opted to jump over, tucking his feet up barely in time to avoid the blade. As he stretched his feet downwards to land again, however, Assassin lunged forward, keeping low so that his shoulder was able to tackle Lancer's legs out of the air.

    Knocked awkwardly out of the air, Lancer twisted his body as he planted his spear into the ground, using it like a pole vault to steady himself in the air and land on his feet still facing Assassin. Having been so close to the edge of the landing, he had no choice but to land several steps down the staircase.

    In short order, Assassin span and released another slash at Lancer's throat, prompting yet another desperate block from Lancer. Unable to stabilize his footing, the onslaught of that silver crescent forced him yet again to retreat down the stairs.

    "Damn you," Lancer said with a laugh, "you just let me up there on purpose, didn't you?"

    Assassin replied only with a smile. Without a word, he stepped forward, mimicking the motion of flicking blood from his weapon as he once again took his favoured position at the edge of the landing.

    No matter how he looked at it, just as Lancer had said, it seemed like he was having...fun. Of course his attacks were meant to kill, each more more ferocious than the last. But despite the fact that Lancer's attack was repeatedly frustrated by Assassin's height advantage, it was still clear that Lancer was enjoying himself. Each strike was fuelled not by bloodthirst, as Assassin had first thought. Nor was it rage, or hatred. No, each attack had a much more positive energy behind it - the excitement brought out by a worthy opponent, the thrill of combat.

    Fun.

    That being said, while their speed was almost evenly matched, it was clear that Lancer's fighting was restrained in some way. Someone of his speed and strength should have had no trouble pushing upwards to at least take the landing. And while Assassin could simply retreat up the stairs and maintain the height advantage, that would at least buy Lancer a steadier footing while he fought. Instead, the only reason Lancer was able to advance was because Assassin had consciously allowed him to, and it had taken no more than a few seconds to drive him back down once he had.

    Was he holding back on purpose? Did he think that highly of himself that he felt Assassin needed a handicap? That seemed plausible, if he was only fighting here because he found it exciting. For some reason though, he found that explanation...unsatisfactory. It felt more like something external was holding him back. Like invisible threads were pulling at his limbs, forcing him to act against his nature...

    ...like he was under the pressure of a Command Spell, just like Assassin.

    "Why don't you come down here and fight me like a man?" Lancer shouted a taunt up at him, as if to confirm Assassin's suspicions. "This height disadvantage is no fair!"

    Once again, Assassin moved. This time, however, he stepped back. Retreating to the leftmost edge of the platform, he motioned for Lancer to come up beside up.

    "If that's all you want," Assassin spoke with a veiled smile, "then by all means...come up here."

    Lancer's smile immediately dropped into a suspicious glare. For a few moments, the two Servants watched each other, and even the wind was silent.

    Finally, Lancer took a step. Slowly, cautiously, he climbed the steps to the landing, not dropping his guard for an instant, not taking his eyes off of Assassin for a moment. Assassin just watched, holding his sword idly at his side as Lancer reached the platform, taking up a stance across from him.

    They were now on even ground.

    After a few more tense seconds...Lancer burst out laughing, his guard collapsing.

    "Man, I like you," he said in between bouts of laughter, planting the butt of his spear in the ground as he looked at Assassin. "I was worried about you Japanese folk after I met my master, but it looks like there's some good ones out there too. Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, but..." Lancer's voice trailed off as his free hand motioned the question.

    Assassin lifted the sword in his hand, dropping his gaze to its hilt. Even now, the weight of the sword urged him to fight, but it was different from before. When he had the height advantage, it was simply the urge to fight - to do his job, with the certainty that he would accomplish it. Now, however, there was a different character to it. If he focused hard on it, he could almost feel the faint sensation of...quivering. Not with fear, or anxiety. Now that he was fighting his opponent on equal terms, it felt like the blade itself was quivering...

    ...with anticipation.

    Assassin shrugged with a sigh. "My job is to defend this gate, nothing more. I have nothing to gain if I succeed, nor anything to lose if I fail." Returning his gaze to meet Lancer's, he continued. "Meanwhile, you looked like you were enjoying yourself. If you were having so much fun then, wouldn't it be more so if we fought on equal terms?"

    "What, feeling sorry for me?" Lancer said with a wry smile, returning to a guarded stance.

    "Hardly," Assassin replied with a laugh. "I just thought that if you had so much fun fighting at a disadvantage, maybe it would be fun for me to give up my advantage. Maybe if you fought with your full power, it would at least be good entertainment for one night. But I can hardly expect you to do that from down there, now can I?"

    Lancer rolled his eyes with a sigh. "Sorry pal. I'd love to go all out for you, but my master's a bit of a coward." As Lancer paused, he shifted his stance, changing his grip on his spear. "I can at least show you something nice, though!"

    As he finished speaking, the crimson spear erupted with magical energy. An alarm immediately rang in Assassin's head, warning him that what was coming was more dangerous than anything he had seen so far. Even a common human would easily be able to see the waves of vermillion light washing over the spear, announcing the danger that Lancer now held in his hands.

    "A Noble Phantasm? Now I'm even more envious," Assassin replied drily. Lifting his sword from his side, for the first time since the fight began, he took up his own stance. "I don't have a Noble Phantasm of my own to show you, but I can at least show you a little trick. It won't be anything as impressive as yours though, I'm afraid."

    Seeing Assassin take up his stance, the humour dropped from Lancer's face. While he was confident in his own ability, there was no doubt that he regarded Assassin with a kind of respect only afforded to those of tremendous ability. Not only had Assassin casually handed away his advantage of elevation, but he remained unfazed in the face of an unknown Noble Phantasm. On top of that, after casually declaring he lacked one of his own, he just declared he would attempt to meet it with a 'little trick.'

    Assassin could see the thoughts flash behind Lancer's eyes as he tried to figure out what Assassin was hiding. Was he that confident that he could deal with Lancer's Noble Phantasm, despite having no knowledge of what it was? Or was he just stupid?

    ...or was he specifically trying to trick Lancer into using it?

    Assassin, on the other hand, had no such deep thoughts. There was no way he could realistically predict what Lancer's Noble Phantasm would do. From the way he gripped the spear, it was clear the coming attack would be some sort of thrust, which would thus require Lancer to close the distance between them, even if only slightly. As he did so, Assassin would strike. It was all or nothing, but for him, where losing had no real cost, he had no inhibitions with trying his luck.

    Could he cut down Lancer before the Noble Phantasm was unleashed? If not, they would probably both be dead.

    Rejoice, Master, Assassin thought to himself with a wry grin, In just one night, watch how I slay two Servants.

    The sound of mana rushing through Lancer's spear filled the clearing. The birds and the wind had grown silent, as if holding their breath as they watched the contest between the two Servants. The stars glittered overhead, and even the moon had come out from behind the clouds to watch their duel.

    Both combatants took a deep breath, almost in unison, relishing the last moment of tense quiet. Finally, taking a heavy stop forward, Lancer opened his mouth to roar the name of his Noble Phantasm-

    -and was interrupted by the sound of footsteps.

    A split second of stunned silence passed between the two Servants, neither willing to take their eyes off their opponent. But in the next moment, Lancer was moving. The flood of magical energy wrapping his weapon vanished with a hiss, and Lancer quickly leapt out of Assassin's range, back down the stairs.

    "Damn my master and his damn Command Spells," Lancer growled under his breath, his voice carrying a violent hostility far stronger than anything he had turned against Assassin. "Our luck was bad tonight, but I'll be back first chance I get," he called up at Assassin. Then, with his characteristic grin, "Remind me I owe you a spear in the chest next time we meet."

    With that, Lancer bounded off down the stairs once more, reverting to spirit form in mid-air.

    Assassin dropped his stance with a sigh. He wasn't sure if it was a relaxed sigh or a disappointed one, but whichever the case, it seemed that it marked the end of the fight. Turning to his left, he raised his gaze to the temple gate, the source of the footsteps.

    "I underestimated you, Assassin." As if it was the most natural thing in the world, Caster walked through the gate and stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at where Assassin and Lancer had been fighting moments earlier. "You performed far beyond my expectations."

    Sliding his sword back into its sheath with another sigh - this time definitely disappointed - Assassin climbed the stairs to stand alongside his Master. "If you had waited just a moment more, he would have been dead. Or at the very least, you would know the identity of his Noble Phantasm."

    "True," Caster said without turning to face Assassin beside her, "but even if I underestimated you, there are still limits to your power. You could have survived that Noble Phantasm, but the chances were not good."

    "Oh, I'm flattered. You were willing to risk letting the enemy hear your footsteps just to protect me?" Assassin scoffed as he crossed his arms, leaning against the gate into the temple.

    "That sarcasm isn't necessary," Caster replied, finally giving Assassin a disparaging look. "I've honestly revised my opinion of you. You are more worthwhile to us alive. Even were you and Lancer to successfully kill each other, having you here to defend my temple is a greater asset than removing Lancer from the War."

    "Now this time I actually am flattered," Assassin said. "At last, my Master would prefer that I was alive."

    Her expression still hooded, Assassin could only feel the fury in her gaze. "Your unexpected success has put me in a good mood tonight, Assassin," she spoke, her voice icy cold, "but do not expect me to be so forgiving the next time. You have nothing to gain from being my enemy. Even if you were to make a contract with another Master, I could destroy you with a thought." Turning away, Caster made her way back into the temple. "As long as you remain useful, I will sustain you. Even if you fall in battle, it would be child's play to bring you back from within the Grail once it has fallen into my hands. Play your cards correctly, Assassin, and we can win this together."

    Stopping briefly, she turned to look at Assassin through the corner of her eye. "Or don't, and die an inglorious death like the dog you are. Suit yourself." Leaving those words behind, she vanished into the darkness of the night.

    Once again alone at the temple gate, Assassin sat down cross-legged, leaning against the gate behind him. It was a rather anticlimactic ending, but maybe that was for the best. Next time, maybe he would have an opponent who wasn't being restrained.

    Assassin smiled as he looked up at the stars, still keeping watch overhead. For the first time since he was summoned, he had something he wanted. Something he was actually looking forward to. It was small, so insignificant that he wouldn't even mention it if someone were to ask. But it was something.

    Somewhere, deep inside his heart, that desire to fight again. To clash, to have that contest of wit and strength once more.

    If he died before that were to be fulfilled, he wouldn't even be able to call it a regret.

    ...but it would be nice, wouldn't it?

  5. #5
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Assassin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the sounds and smells of nature wash over him.

    Since his battle with Lancer, he had become keenly aware of the limits of a Servant's body. Specifically, that his lifespan was tied directly to the amount of mana remaining for him. Caster had certainly left him ample amounts of mana to get through the coming weeks, so he didn't really have much to worry about.

    Or so he had thought. In reality, the battle against Lancer had consumed a lot more mana then he had predicted. He had figured, since he had no magecraft or Noble Phantasm of any sort, that his mana consumption while fighting would be comparable to that while sitting idle. It was clear now that that wasn't the case. Even that one short fight had shown him that he was vastly overestimating exactly how much mana Caster had provided him with.

    Of course, Caster could always supplement his supply were he to run out early. She certainly had no shortage of the stuff. But Assassin knew better than to rely on her. He was very much on her list of expendable resources, so expecting support from her was naive at best.

    Having come to this conclusion, Assassin had spent the last few days in spirit form. Without materializing a physical body, his mana consumption dropped dramatically, and after a few days he was able to bring it back in line. He figured that if he spent four or five days in spirit form for each battle he participated in, he could probably still reach the three weeks he had originally estimated, but of course that depended on how severe the coming battles were.

    Now, however, Assassin stood at the top of the stairs to the temple, fully materialized. While he would have loved to do so just to enjoy the night air, this time it was for work. He wasn't going to give up the chance to enjoy nature while he could, though.

    Looking back in 'his' memories, it seemed...different. Not that nature itself was different, per se, but more like his perception of it had changed. While the people in his head certainly had a respect for nature, they didn't seem to...experience it in the same way he did. Was that because of his nature as a spiritual entity now? Or was it something else? Either way, as he stood there letting nature wash over him, he felt a connection to it that was beyond anything in his memories.

    The scent of fresh earth.

    The sound of leaves rustling, mixed with the chirping of the night birds.

    The sensation of a light breeze tugging at his hair and clothes.

    And opening his eyes, looking up at the sky, the gazes of the countless stars above looking down at him, waiting for him to start his work.

    Added to those natural sensations though was something new. Something that also hadn't been in his memories, but neither had it been present when he was first summoned into this world. Not until he had fought with Lancer that one night.

    That sensation was the weight of the sword in his hand.

    Of course, it was heavy for a sword. Being more than double the length of the average katana, it was also more than double the weight. But even beyond that, the weapon had an almost spiritual weight to it. It had been there before, urging him onwards, pulling him towards battle, but now it felt much...heavier. Like it was growing impatient.

    Assassin gave himself a derisive smile. It wasn't like him to be so superstitious. One look at the sword made it easy to tell it was nothing special. Aside from its length, there was nothing that set it apart from a normal weapon. Any Servant could tell just by seeing it that it didn't qualify as a Noble Phantasm. It had no special powers, no conceptual might. Yet even so, even knowing logically there was nothing there...that illusion of weight didn't disappear.

    Assassin sighed as he dropped his gaze to the bottom of the stairs. Standing there was the reason he had bothered to materialize in the first place.

    A young boy in a high school uniform, maybe in his mid to late teens. Standing alone, talking to himself.

    His incompetence was almost comical. By the way the boy continued looking up the stairs at him, he definitely knew that Assassin was there. And if he was here at all, at this time of night, talking to the air, he was almost definitely a Master. If Assassin so much as called out to his own Master, Caster could easily annihilate the poor child before his Servant even appeared. Even Assassin, who had no ability for magecraft at all, could tell that the boy had no method to defend himself from even modern magecraft, let alone the tremendous power Caster had shown herself to be capable of.

    But where would the fun in that be?

    No, Caster was preoccupied with schemes of her own at the moment. Without Assassin warning her, she likely wouldn't even notice a battle right at her doorstep. So if Assassin simply waited for the boy to stop arguing with himself, then perhaps he would be able to have an encounter as interesting as the one with Lancer.

    Assassin tilted his head to the side in confusion. It seemed like the boy had stopped talking, but more importantly, he was looking directly at Assassin. While before he had nervously glanced up the stairs to make sure Assassin hadn't moved, now he was full on watching him. And...smiling?

    It was hard to tell with the distance between them, but it certainly looked like the boy was smiling. Then, with a wave of his hand, he turned and walked away.

    Assassin couldn't help but smile in return. This boy was truly an amateur among amateurs. Such an obvious taunt showed his hand far too clearly. Even without the comically transparent feint though, Assassin could easily tell that he was still not alone on the mountain.

    The sound of chains confirmed what he already knew.

    With a nonchalant air, Assassin leaned backwards, allowing the chained dagger to cut harmlessly by his face, disappearing from one edge of the forest into the other. bringing his sword to bear, he thrusted towards the source of the chain, just as a black and violet blur emerged from the trees.

    With a dexterity that was hard to believe even from a Servant, the already airborne attacker twisted her body up and over the blade, soaring over Assassin's head and landing on the ground behind him on all fours. Turning to face her, Assassin immediately brought his sword around in a sweeping arc, deflecting the dagger she had thrown again. With the enemy's weapon safely out of the way, Assassin brought his sword back around for a second time, reaching for the enemy's throat.

    The Servant in black, her dagger out of reach, grabbed the chain attached to it with both hands. Pulling it taut, she held it above her head like a shield, blocking the incoming sword. Without a breath of hesitation, she then twisted her arms, wrapping the chain around Assassin's blade to entrap it. Before she could pull it tight again, however, Assassin pulled the sword free from the chains, bringing it around again in another wide arc. Before the blade could reach her, the black Servant leapt backwards at a tremendous speed, even managing to clear the extended range of Assassin's blade, and disappeared into the forest once more.

    Assassin smiled, returning to a casual stance. "My my, not even a word of greeting?"

    "My Master's greeting was greeting enough," a calm yet cool voice called from the darkness. Despite her sneak attack being a complete failure, the Servant's voice carried no hint of frustration or anger. She was either very level-headed, or was great at masking her emotions.

    As Assassin opened his mouth to continue the conversation, the enemy Servant emerged from the forest a good ten meters below him on the staircase. Once again, without a word of warning she hurled her chained dagger at him and leapt after it.

    Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Assassin cleanly deflected the incoming dagger with his sword, watching idly as the enemy soared over his head, turning to land feet first on the front of the gate's arch behind him. Once again pulling the chain of her weapon taut in her hands, she kicked off the arch in a straight line towards Assassin. Seeing through the obvious bait, Assassin sidestepped the charge, opting only to attack once she impacted into the ground beside him.

    As expected, the sound of metal on metal filled the air as the chain interrupted the sword's path, but from this angle and range, the black Servant didn't have time to try and wrap the blade again. Instead, she spun low, dodging Assassin's next attack, pulling her chain dagger back into her hand, and sweeping with a low kick all at the same time. In the time it took Assassin to hop over the kick, she had come back around and lunged with her dagger, using it as a melee weapon for the first time. His footing unstable from his jump, Assassin was forced to step sideways, putting his back to the stairs as he turned the incoming blade away with his own. In one smooth motion, the enemy Servant turned the follow-through of her failed stab into a counterweight for a spinning kick, hitting Assassin directly in the chest.

    Assassin's attempt to throw himself backwards away from the kick was only somewhat successful. His footing still unsteady, he had difficulty finding purchase to kick back, and he could feel his ribcage scream in protest as it absorbed the majority of the kick. He was prepared enough for it that he was able to turn his backwards momentum into a roll, coming up on his feet just in time to bring his sword to bear as the enemy Servant rushed him once more.

    As she charged in a straight line towards him once more, dagger once again thrown as a lethal distraction, Assassin brought his blade up as if to thrust at his enemy's face. As expected, the Servant began to twist herself up and away from the blade, preemptively avoiding the thrust.

    -but he didn't thrust.

    In the space of a single heartbeat, Assassin exhaled softly as his blade moved. First, it flickered downwards, knocking the incoming dagger off its path. Almost instantaneously, it flickered back upwards, catching the chain of the weapon and throwing it over Assassin's head, while simultaneously reaching for the Servant soaring over his head.

    Another heartbeat, and the moment passed. As the sharp cry of metal on metal faded into the night air once again, the soft sound of flesh on stone replaced it.

    "I must say," Assassin said over his shoulder with a playful grin as he flicked the traces of blood from his sword, "your technique is much closer to an assassin's than mine. Would you be interested in trading classes, by any chance?"

    Rising from one knee, the enemy Servant - now a dozen or so meters below him on the stairs - didn't even inspect her injuries as she replied. "Unfortunately, I don't think someone like you, without a single Noble Phantasm, would be welcome in the Rider class." On her right arm, slightly below her shoulder, was a bloody gash. While serious by human standards, for a Heroic Spirit is was closer to a mark of shame than an actual injury.

    Turning to face Rider, Assassin chuckled. "I suppose you're right. I guess I'll just have to make do with what I've got."

    As he got his first good look at her, he had to commend her ability to discern his lack of Noble Phantasms even with her eyes blindfolded. Unfortunately, he didn't find much else to be impressed with. Though they had only clashed twice, it was already rather evident that his opponent was, once again, being held back.

    It seemed different than the situation with Lancer. While he had the aura of being restrained, Rider had a different air...as if she was struggling against her own limits. Perhaps her Class container was significantly more restrictive than she was used to? If that was the case, she was most certainly a terrifying opponent - if the gap between her true power and a Servant container was so large as to impact her ability to perform, she must have been on an entirely different level even compared to Lancer.

    But what was really disconcerting was the potential of her Noble Phantasm. Whatever it was, the chance of it being as highly restricted as her Servant body was remarkably slim. He didn't know what type of Noble Phantasm she possessed, but whatever it was, he suspected it was more than enough to take him down.

    Even if that was the case though, the fact of the matter was that she wasn't using her Noble Phantasm. Was her Servant body so weak it couldn't materialize? Or maybe their location prevented her from using it? Did it require more magical energy than her Master could provide? All of these possibilities flickered through Assassin's head as he tried to figure out the source of her weakness, but in the end none of them were testable hypotheses - and frankly, the reason wasn't really all that important.

    What mattered was that she wasn't using it. And as long as that remained the case, Assassin was going to win.

    It was almost a little frustrating. Even his sword's lust for combat had dulled during their short fight. If she had been at full strength, he might have found the fight more interesting. He would most definitely have been at a disadvantage, but even that would be more interesting than the one-sided affair he was dealing with now. But as it was, he found himself more looking forward to the fight being over than the excitement of combat.

    Assassin gave a wry grin. That was pretty big talk for someone who had just been kicked down a flight of stairs.

    "I think you probably already know this," Assassin spoke down to his opponent as he lifted his sword to rest on his shoulders, "but if you don't start using your Noble Phantasm, you're not going to win."

    Rider visibly tensed at the taunt, but her voice as she replied was as calm as ever. "You think you could survive my Noble Phantasm? You must think awfully highly of yourself." As she spoke she slowly began ascending the stairs towards him.

    "Oh, not especially. I'm sure your Noble Phantasm would be more than enough to kill me," Assassin replied with a laugh and a shrug. "I just figured I'd warn you, since if you don't use it..." Lowering his sword to point its tip toward the approaching Rider, "...you'll die next time you come up here."

    Once again, he could see Rider visibly tense at his threat. It seemed despite the cold, collected exterior, she was actually quite vulnerable to simple taunts.

    Not that he was intentionally taunting her. It was a disservice to both of them to end the fight before they both fought seriously. Assassin himself had nothing left to gain from this encounter, so he no longer had any desire to hold back. As weak as she was, whether being held back by something or just being weaker than Assassin had anticipated, there was no more excitement to be held in fending off her acrobatics. So from now on, it would be her that was on the defensive.

    That being said, he had no particular desire to kill her before she showed him her full strength. He had no investment in winning the battle, Caster's promises of reward being about as appealing as chewing glass, so it would be a shame to cut Rider down if it would mean she was going to die with regrets. So it was an honest warning - if she didn't do something drastic, he wasn't going to be held responsible for any regrets she felt afterwards.

    Approaching within her lunging distance, still half a dozen meters away from Assassin, Rider came to a stop.

    "I appreciate your warning," she said, sinking her weight low, "but I can't afford to use my Noble Phantasm against a ghost like you."

    As Assassin raised his eyebrows at that comment, Rider leapt into action - sideways, disappearing back into the forest. She was certainly quite sharp, seeing right through his true nature when even Caster was unable to do so. Unfortunately, whether she was stubborn or just not very smart, deciding not to use her Noble Phantasm had sealed her fate.

    In short order, the chain dagger once again flew from the darkness between the trees. As he raised his weapon to deflect it, Assassin froze, confused. Without any action on his part, the dagger went far wide, flying by his left side. A moment after he realized the dagger had missed, Rider also emerged from the cover of the forest, but her charge also was going wide.

    To the right.

    Ah, Assassin gave a knowing smile to himself, I see your game now.

    As Rider's dagger soared by his left, and Rider herself jumped past his right, the chain connecting the two of them approached him rapidly at chest height. It was a clever gambit - with only one end of the chain anchored, the end with the dagger would wrap around him. With Rider's speed, it would be no difficulty to catch the dagger from the air once it had done so, and then Assassin - along with his sword - would be wrapped nice and snugly, immobile and ready for a good stabbing.

    It probably would have worked too, if she had been a little faster. But as it was, Assassin had seen through the trick too early, ducking low and flicking his sword forward, once again throwing the chain harmlessly over his head.

    Rider wasted no time on her failed strategy, pulling in her dagger with one hand as she kicked off the floor and lunged at Assassin with a jump kick. As Assassin sidestepped the kick, he brought his sword down in a clean arc aiming for Rider's neck, only to be deflected at the last possible moment by the returned dagger. Following up with another slash, the dagger once again caused his blade to ricochet away, this time accompanied by another kick. His blade still coming around from being deflected, Assassin was forced to dodge backwards, falling two steps down the stairs.

    And the pattern repeated. Every time sword clashed with dagger, Rider would throw in a punch or a kick, forcing Assassin to dodge backwards. With the added advantage being above him on the stairs - an amusing development from Assassin's viewpoint - Rider slowly but surely forced Assassin backwards.

    As it was though, that was all she could do. She was fast, but in her current state, no faster than Assassin was. On top of that, being forced to focus the majority of her attention on deflecting Assassin's sword, since failure to do so would result in her instant death, there was no way she could expect to actually land a blow while Assassin could move freely. It was an interesting dynamic, having Assassin being forced to fall backwards despite being on the offensive. It was doubly interesting, because whether she realized it or not, if she could continue as they were going, she might actually win simply by pushing Assassin past the range of the temple gate to which he was anchored.

    Unfortunately, she would not be able to continue as she was going. Taking one more step back, Assassin was standing on even ground.

    Having reached the landing that marked the central focus of his fight with Lancer, Assassin raised his sword with a vertical slash, converting the momentum from his easily deflected swing into a roll as he kicked off the bottom step into the clearing. Rolling smoothly back to his feet, Assassin brought his sword up into the one stance he knew.

    Time seemed to slow to a stop. There was almost exactly one sword's length - specifically, his sword's length - between him and Rider. Seeing his attempt to create distance, Rider had leapt after him, leaving her fatally vulnerable. Not so much because she was in the air - she had already shown amply that she could perform all sorts of acrobatics. No, her vulnerability lay in the fact that her only escape from what was coming next was to move away from him.

    Hidden Sword:

    As time was stopped around him, Assassin felt a sudden...rush. As if the thrill of combat that had been missing for his entire encounter had just been saved up, and was being unleashed on him with full force all in this one instant.

    The moon peaked out from behind the clouds, and even the glow of the stars seemed to intensify as they watched him bring the battle to a close.

    But Assassin had eyes only for his opponent. His opponent, muscles already tense and twisting, as she realized her own mistake...

    ...just a moment too late.

    Tsubame Gaeshi!

    The sickeningly satisfying sound of steel slicing through flesh finally broke the illusion of stopped time, Assassin not even turning to watch as Rider's body flew past him, tumbling down the stairs to the next landing below. He didn't need to see. The feedback from the hilt in his hands told him everything he had needed to know.

    With a flick of the wrist, Assassin threw the blood from his sword before returning it to its sheath, sighing with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment.

    "I must admit I'm impressed," Assassin said, turning at last to see off his opponent. "Even in your weakened state, you somehow managed to pull through. I've never seen moves quite like that before."

    It may not have meant much, coming from someone who was barely a week old, but her movements had really been incredible. Faced with three blades, each seeking an equally vital point, she had reacted with unparalleled dexterity. With one hand, she intercepted an incoming blade with her dagger. The other grabbed the chain attached to it, pulling taut just in time to interrupt a second cut.

    Unfortunately, with that, she had run out of hands. If she had been a bit more prepared, she might have been able to figure out a solution with the extra length of chain and one of her feet, but as it was, all she could do was twist her body out of the way, causing the final slash to miss its intended target. Still, it had managed to sink deep into her side, and though it was not a fatal wound for a Servant, it was certainly a crippling one.

    The sound of blood pouring onto stone answered his praise, as the crippled Rider struggled to raise her body off the ground. "Why...do you sheathe...your sword?" Rider struggled to speak as she slowly rose up onto her hands and knees, weapon forgotten at her side, spitting blood between her words.

    Assassin hummed thoughtfully as he sat on the edge of the landing he was still on, the distance between them well beyond either of their ranges. "Consider it a reward. You survived my most precious trick, even in your terribly limited state. Even so, it will take you at least a day to recover from that wound, and you won't even be able to stand up like that. Continuing this fight has no meaning."

    Though her eyes were covered, she still looked up at him. "No meaning? Not even...to get closer to the Grail?"

    Assassin gazed wistfully up at the moon overhead. "Sadly," he said with a self-derisive chuckle, "the Grail was out of my reach from the very beginning. Not that I have much interest in it to begin with. Sorry, but I serve only to stand here as an obstacle."

    Spitting out one last mouthful of blood, Rider finally managed to sit back on her knees. "I warn you...I will not repay this mercy in kind."

    Assassin dropped his gaze back to the Servant in black, now soaked in red. "Go on," he said, a wry smile on his lips. "Come back when you're strong enough to back up that threat."

    A few seconds passed in silence before Rider finally dropped her head, returning to spirit form and disappearing into the night.

    Lifting his eyes back to the sky, Assassin was met with the disappointed gazes of countless stars. The moon had disappeared again, hidden behind clouds. Were they disappointed, or was that just him projecting his own feelings onto them?

    He supposed it was more or less the same thing.

    The fight had not been without value to him, as it had at least killed his boredom. But with an opponent so weakened by outside forces, he found it difficult to take pleasure in his victory. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure he would have lost in a fair fight, but even that would have been more interesting than the farce he had been shown.

    Even that would have been more...fun.

    "Sorry, my friends," Assassin whispered with an apologetic smile at the stars far above. "Maybe next time."

  6. #6
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Asunder's Avatar
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    This reminds me of that Medusa could have just turned Sasaki into a nice garden ornament and gone on to wreck Caster with B MR but for some reason didn't bother.

  7. #7
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    That was something I was wondering about when I wrote this part actually. It seems like Shinji would have actually had a really solid chance at winning the War if Rider had just taken her blindfold off. Certainly the other Servants wouldn't turn to stone so frighteningly quickly, and Saber and Berserker probably would have been no more than mildly inconvenienced by her eyes, but its not like Shirou and Illya hid themselves all that often. With the way Rider was already using guerrilla tactics, it seemed to me like everything would have been a lot easier if she just made some Master Statues and then waited for the Servants to disappear.

    My only conclusion as to why she didn't just do this is that she was somehow unable to use them while Shinji was her Master. Maybe their mana consumption was too much to handle when she was relying almost exclusively on feeding off of the odd high school student. I presumed that was the case when writing this, but I'm not sure I'm convinced of how plausible that is :/

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