Chapter 10: The Tree
The blue and silver swordsmen continued to fight each other. This time, the one in blue seemed to have gained the upper hand, but only by a narrow margin.
"Gawain, as a knight, how can you support a plan than involves the death of innocents?"
The knight gave her a puzzled look.
"Being a knight doesn't mean anything in times of war." He pointed a finger at her. "You should know that more than anyone."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember the invasion of the barbarians." His words made Saber eyes go wide. "We sacrificed villages so we could make them think we were afraid of facing them. That was your strategy!"
"Gawain… you don't understand." She couldn't believe his words.
"It worked! They believed it and didn't expect our surprise attack," he continued. "You did it all to protect our kingdom, and sometimes in order to do what's best for the majority, a king must sacrifice some people. I understood even when the others didn't. I knew that all your actions were for the sake of our people. That was why I never left your side. This is the same; in order to defeat the enemies of my king, we must make some sacrifices."
"I'm so sorry, Gawain. It seems they were right and I failed to lead you."
Gawain didn't understand. She had been a great king, so she had no reason to apologize.
"Gawain, why do you think I was defeated in the battle of Camlann?"
"You were betrayed and I made a mistake when I didn't accept Lancelot's help. In other words, your subjects failed you."
Arturia shook her head in disappointment.
"No Gawain, the fall of our kingdom was my fault, because I failed them."
"Arturia, you were a perfect king in all aspects, so how can you say that?"
"Gawain, something like a perfect king doesn't exist."
Gawain tightened his grip on his sword and ran at Saber, unleashing upon her a barrage of attacks going in many directions, up, down, left, right, all at an incredible speed. Saber still blocked each of them and even counterattacked.
The two separated and each found they had been cut in the shoulder. They rushed at one another, upon passing by gashing their right sides. They ignored the pain and turned for their blades to clash, silver and gold lights trying to consume the other.
Their battle was so fierce that the pressure from this collision alone created a crater around them.
They stood there looking at each other, the silver swordsman driven by the need to fulfill his oath for his king and master while the blue one was driven by the need to make her old friend understand that perfection didn't exist and though searching for it was a good thing, forcing it on others was a mistake.
Finally Arturia managed to push him back. Both knights had used a lot of strength. After all, Gawain had been considered by many the strongest of the Knights of the Round Table. It was a good thing they were fighting at night, as she knew that under the light of the sun he was unbeatable.
On the other side of the battlefield, Leo had been dodging Shirou's flurry of attacks. He'd decided to switch from direct combat to shooting his traced Noble Phantasms at him.
To block them, Leo used a very simple method: instinct. Instantly he knew which of the swords was faster. He dodged most and blocked those remaining with his bare hands, all while enjoying the fight. He felt real interest in Shirou's magic since it was the first he'd seen up close, and it amazed him how it could create so many weapons in a matter of seconds.
"You really are strong!" he said happily as he grabbed one of the swords coming at him and used it to parry the others, closing the distance between them. "But it's not enough."
"I am the bone of my sword," Shirou answered.
Before Leo could touch him, many blades came from underground, slicing into Leo making him roll aside to avoid death.
"I stand corrected. Maybe it is enough."
"Why are you so happy?" Shirou asked, not really understanding his expression.
"Because, you have given me the opportunity to overcome another challenge in becoming a king."
In that moment, two pillars of light appeared in the park.
The two knights faced each other with their strongest weapons.
"Gawain, I will make you see reason!"
The two Masters stopped fighting in order to watch the clash between holy swords. This was the only way it could end. They were evenly matched in skill alone, and both knew the style of the other so well that the only way to end the fight was to pit the strongest attack against the strongest attack.
"...calibur!" Saber of Blue declared as she unleashed a golden beam against her former knight.
"...Galatine!" Gawain yelled, making a horizontal orange slash that erupted into a ball of fire.
Edward and Saber were continuing their fight against Berserker when they saw a pillar of golden light rise up on the horizon.
"Praetor, that light!"
"Yes, it seems she is here."
They jumped, dodging another one of Berserker's charges.
Rin and Archer continued their way to the tree when they felt the light shed by Excalibur behind them.
"Those idiots!" Rin exclaimed.
"Rin, we don't have time. Let's keep going," Archer said, not even bothering to turn.
From afar, Shirou Kotomine viewed the fight.
"The king of knights is a young girl… It seems this world is full of surprises."
Assassin appeared behind him.
"Don't underestimate her, Master."
"Never. To realize my dream, all of them will die."
The moment the two powers clashed, the outcome was decided. Even though Galatine was her sister sword, Excalibur wouldn't lose, being the strongest of the holy swords.
At least at present. Had the battle happened in daylight, under which the protection of the sun was stronger on Galatine, the outcome would be different. Gawain saw how the golden beam began to overcome his sphere of fire, and when it broke through he would be reduced to ashes.
In a normal fight that would be the outcome, but as the Masters and Servants were so focused on each other, none noticed Caster of Red watching the show.
"No! This story shall not end so soon!" He made a leather-bound tome appear in front of him and prepared to unleash his Noble Phantasm. "Non Sanz Droic!"
First Folio, the story he as William Shakespeare never finished writing, gave him the ability to modify the outcome of any phenomenon to a certain degree. For example, he could save Gawain from being killed by Saber's Excalibur, but he couldn't make Gawain win. But that was just one of its many uses. This time, he used it to make the clash end in a draw.
He wrote on the pages, and instead of consuming Gawain, Excalibur's golden beam consumed itself along with the sphere of fire.
The smoke created by the clash dissipated, and the pair of the Blue Faction couldn't understand how Gawain was still standing. With his work done, Caster of Red took a bow as if saying goodbye to an audience and disappeared.
Leo seemed unfazed and walked to Gawain.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
Gawain knelt in front of him.
"Sorry for worrying you, my king."
"It's alright. Let's go, they are too weak to intervene."
Leo began to walk away and before following him, Gawain glared at Saber.
"Wait!" She tried to go after him but fell to her knees, exhausted after using Excalibur.
Shirou wasn't in any better condition. They didn't have a choice but to let them get away.
"Next time, Gawain," said Saber, "I will definitely make you realize your mistake."
Her Master looked at her. "Saber…"
"Shirou, my past self may have accepted his words, but I know I have changed, and I wish the same for my nephew."
Shirou smiled at her.
"Yeah, Saber. You will definitely save him from himself."
Kage continued to climb the tree. He really wondered how tall it could be, realizing how far away he was from the ground.
In that moment, he heard the sound of a rifle and jumped toward one of the tree branches, a Calico M960 taken from his coat's inner pocket. Once he dodged the bullet coming at him, he shot in the direction from which it came. He waited a few seconds and decided to keep climbing using the branches, under the impression that the enemy was at the top of the tree.
Dan luckily found himself alive. The leaves and branches of the tree had blocked a good portion of the bullets and even the remaining missed him by a few inches. Like Leo, he had suffered modifications to make him a better soldier, but instead of his entire body, he received enhanced eyesight and reflexes, the two abilities a sniper needed. Still, Kage had been right about his location, at the top of the tree, but instead of being on the end of a branch, he had set up a flat surface, giving him ground to shoot to his heart's content.
The fact that the young man in black coming after him was able to dodge his bullets and even shoot back made him respect his abilities. Dan hated all this. He had become a knight after he retired from life as a soldier, expecting to leave behind those days of being a man who would do anything to destroy his enemies. To face his enemies directly instead of hiding in the shadows was, unbeknownst to Dan, also his Servant's wish, even if he never spoke of it.
He kept changing his location and shot at Kage, who continued to dodge using the branches as he had before. It was just a matter of time before Kage reached the platform, but that was fine. Dan just needed to stall for time and let the poison do its job.
As he continue to think this, he realized the young man had disappeared from sight and turned exactly at the right time to see him appear behind him.
"I found you," Kage said simply.
Both pointed their weapons at each other and pulled the trigger. Both found they had run out of bullets. Before Kage could switch to the dual pistols he had in his belt, Dan ran at him with a rapier and thrust it out.
Kage barely dodged the blade, moving to the left, and saw it pass directly in front of him. Before the second strike, he slid down the knives hidden in his sleeves to block the attack. The fight between two Masters began.
Atosaki arrived at the base of the tree and, with her sight strengthened by Kenaz, saw two people fighting on its top, immediately recognizing one.
"Who are you?!" A voice she recognized very well rang in her ears.
She turned to see Rin looking at her suspiciously, guard up, along with a man clad in red. Even though they seemed different, they couldn't be any more familiar.
"Rin! And… Shiro?!" She ran over and hugged them before they could react. "It's so good to see you two!"
The pair was taken by surprise by the gesture, and while Archer didn't mind, Rin couldn't control her embarrassment. She pushed her off while blushing.
"What are you doing?!" Then she turned to Atosaki's blue-haired Servant. "Is that… Lancer?!"
Atosaki remembered that this wasn't the Rin she knew, it wasn't Shiro, and that even when seeing them again made her feel better she couldn't delude herself.
"Ah, right. I'm Atosaki… Atosaki Kurokawa," she said with a smile. "Sorry about that. You just reminded me of someone I know."
"My name is Rin Tohsaka. I'm here to destroy that tree, so will you get in my way?"
"No, but don't worry. A friend is fighting up there with the enemy."
"She is right, Rin," said Archer.
Atosaki suddenly coughed up some red droplets, the poison beginning to affect her. Because of her healing abilities, the effect had been delayed.
"Alright, Atosaki, we'll do this later. Let's help your friend before we're all dead."
Atosaki just nodded and before they took a step, an ominous aura manifested behind them. Both Lance and Archer sensed a presence that made them shiver.
A black-armored swordswoman surrounded by a dark aura emerged with such a killing intent that they knew a fight was unavoidable. Atosaki identified her as the Saber of her world, but she seemed stronger this time, completely focused and lethal. The two Servants stood in front of their Masters as the Saber remained silent, making the group feel more serious.
"Rin, take that girl with you. We will take care of the Servant."
"Lance!" Atosaki yelled, interrupting Rin.
He had dashed at the black swordswoman and thrust his spear at her heart. She blocked it, but it didn't matter. The strength behind the strike was enough to send the two of them into another building. Seeing this, Archer ran after them.
"Let's go!" Rin yelled, knowing there was no time to lose.
They were interrupted once again by a person they knew very well.
"Greetings, young ladies."
The moment Rin turned and saw the owner of that voice, her eyes widened in shock.
"Rin Tohsaka, the daughter of the Master?" Kirei asked, not understanding how the girl he met a couple of years ago had grown up and stood before him as a Master herself.
The same thought came from Rin. She was seeing the young Kirei Kotomine, the one she had met in the last War, when she was just a child.
The first to get over the shock was Kirei. He took out his Black Keys and got ready to fight.
"Wait! We need to get rid of that smoke! If not, we will all die," Atosaki pleaded.
"I don't care. I can kill you two and then leave the area before that happens."
"You're the same as always, aren't you, you fake priest," said Rin, soon realizing that the protection of the jewel she had swallowed would fade in a few moments.
As Kirei ran at the two girls, a fist collided with his right cheek, taking him by surprise and sending him flying a couple of meters.
"Attacking a woman? Some people don't have any shame," Leo Wells said, entering the scene.
"Leo-san!" Atosaki cried happily. "Where is Kousuke-san?"
"Who knows," he said, throwing Kyrph's container at her. "Take this, that bastard Kage is fighting up top. We've got to get him off there before destroying the tree."
Rin didn't understand until Atosaki threw the gem down on the floor. Crimson flames erupted and from them came a white lion.
"Come on, Rin-san," Atosaki said as she patted Kyrph on the head and hopped on.
Rin sighed and went with her.
As the two girls began to fly to where Kage was fighting, Leo smirked and looked at the priest.
"You bring shame to the name of God, 'Father.'"
Kirei didn't say anything as he took the golden cross at his chest and kissed it with a smile. He drew out his Black Keys and took a posture Leo didn't know at all.
Kirei moved and in less than a second crossed the gap between the two, hitting Leo in the chest with enough strength to destroy his heart. The blow sent Leo skidding across the way. Kirei looked at him without a care, as he knew the boy should be dead. He walked over, wanting to see his face in his last moments.
That was a mistake. The moment he came close enough, Leo's legs wrapped around his and made him lose his balance for just a second, but that was all he needed. Leo rapidly stood up and punched the priest with everything he had. The priest tried to block it with his left forearm, but it was futile. The attack passed through his defenses and sent him flying.
"That hurt, you bastard!" Leo said as he coughed up some blood and breathed heavily.
Everything came with a price, in this case mana. To heal a cut or a broken bone was easy, but for a destroyed heart in a matter of seconds he needed to use more energy. He probably wouldn't be able to heal his heart that fast again, so he couldn't afford to receive a second fatal strike.
"So, a priest using Chinese kenpo. Just how bizarre can you be?"
Kirei just stood up, not answering Leo, wiping the blood coming from his mouth and spitting out a tooth. Leo smirked, though surprised. The last blow should have broken his arm, and he was still moving.
At the top of the tree, the two Masters continued their fight to the death. Kage was genuinely astonished. The old soldier moved so fast that no one would see him as that, and he could only shiver imagining him at his peak. They had been fighting only for a few minutes and he had many cuts all over his body. The old man was smart. His first swing was aimed at Kage's gas mask, and now, without it, he was at the mercy of the poison.
"You are strong, young man, but tell me, why do you fight?" Dan asked him.
"You look really calm for being in a death match."
"Because I know I will win, boy. I'm not so old to lose to some youngster."
Kage blocked another blow and kicked Dan in the gut, making him retreat a few steps.
"I fight for simple reasons: survival and stopping this damn war," he said, voice emotionless.
Dan didn't attack and just observed him.
"I can't believe magi used to be so simple."
"And I used to think soldiers were more than murderers."
"Don't talk about what you don't know. I seek to meet a person dear to me, someone I failed to protect, the only one who could bring peace to my soul."
"So that's why you're willing to kill people using poison? How noble!" he exclaimed.
At this stab, Dan ran at him, aiming to end his life. Kage couldn't deny the old man was fast, he could barely keep up. The poison had begun to affect him and Gaia sought retribution for accelerating. He could barely endure the pain he felt in addition to dodging and blocking Dan's lunges.
"I hate people who don't understand the real meaning of life," Dan stated blatantly as he sent another strike against Kage.
"I don't have a choice," he said, parrying Dan's last swipe. "Time Alter, Double Accel."
Kage disappeared from Dan's sight and moved behind him, pointing the knife in his left hand at back of the old man's head.
"And I hate people who use others as an excuse for their actions."
It was a shame he couldn't stop time, his magic only allowed him to move faster than everything else. Normally that would suffice to end any person's life, but in this case, against a soldier whose reflexes had been enhanced, it wasn't enough.
As the knife was about to pierce its target, Dan sidestepped. The attack still left him with a deep cut on the left side of his neck.
Kage moved to finish the old man, but the moment he walked forward, he felt a sharp pain coming from his left side and realized before falling to his knees that Dan had stabbed him with the rapier.
He was found in that state by Atosaki and Rin when they reached the top of the tree.
"Kage-san!" Atosaki yelled, worried to see him sitting in a pool of blood, and then looked at the old man lying on the floor. "W… what did you do?!"
Kage didn't answer and just tried to stand, but the wound was deep and she didn't seem willing to help him until he said something.
"He's not dead," he managed to tell her.
Atosaki placed her hands on Kage's side and healed him enough so he could move. When she turned to Dan, the old soldier was already standing, much to their surprise. Blood dripped from his wound and his green suit had turned crimson. He was breathing heavily and as he looked around, he realized he was at a disadvantage.
He smiled to himself and jumped from the tree, much to Atosaki and Rin's horror. When they went to see what happened to him, they found he had disappeared. Still, the tree remained, so they couldn't keep looking for him.
Breno was about to die, though not alone. At least Kayneth was at his limit, the poison affecting him too. But the poison was decreasing his time of reaction as well, so he wasn't able to keep dodging the attacks of Volumen Hydrargyrum. The best he could do was to make sure they wouldn't be fatal. His entire body was covered in blood. He could barely breathe, and he realized that he could withstand at best two more attacks, one if he wanted to counter attack.
Even intoxicated, Kayneth insisted on killing him, while anyone else would leave the area after wounding him and leave the poison to do the rest.
"Now you know your place."
Breno couldn't understand him very well, his vision was fading, but he wouldn't lose. He wouldn't because he had grown from his past defeats. He wouldn't lose again.
He shot a torrent of flames towards Kayneth, who in his arrogance didn't try to dodge, deciding to block it with his Mystic Code because he knew Breno needed to get closer to use stronger natural flames.
It was true, real fire wouldn't have much reach in that space full of poison, so he needed to use magic fire in order to fight. The attack was deflected, but in there lay another one of Kayneth's weakness. Volumen Hydrargyrum had an absolute defense, but only because it adapted to the type of attack. If a second, stronger attack came the moment it blocked the first, it was actually possible to break through.
Breno only had enough strength for one last shot, so he needed to make it count. He used flames to dash at Kayneth. After the first pillar of flames was deflected, he punched with everything he had and got through, breaking the sphere of mercury. He had to admit, seeing that face full of shock was priceless. He grabbed both of Kayneth's arms and set them alight. The heir of the Archibalds had lost his Command Seals.
Kayneth yelled in pain as he stepped back, seeing his flesh burn. Hearing his screams, Lancer of Zero moved to his side and took him to safety. Breno finally passed out.
Rider saw him collapse and decided to let Lancer get away. After all, without a Master, he would disappear. He looked at his Master and smirked.
"You did well. For a peon, that is," he said as he lifted him up and decided to leave the area. Even as a Servant, he was beginning to be affected by the poison.
On the other side of the city, Berserker of Red was standing in a very hideous state, with cuts and burns all over his body and his left arm barely attached.
"Why won't this guy die?"
It was hard to keep fighting him without destroying the nearby houses, and because of that, Edward and Saber couldn't go all out, and against a Berserker like this it only meant doom.
Their attacks, even though they seemed to do damage, weren't working. He continued to move as if nothing had happened, and after each strike his attacks seemed stronger, as if each wound only powered him up. The worst part was that all his attacks were directed at Saber. He ignored the Master, probably because in his mind the only goal was to kill the oppressor.
He ran at them like a mad dog. Edward tried to stop him with a spectral arm, but Berserker smashed through it and punched him in the side, making him crash into one of the house's walls.
She couldn't worry too much about him, since the next moment she had her crimson blade raised to stop the gladiator's fist. It was heavy, forcing her to use all her strength just to stop it. The surface beneath her feet cracked and she felt herself sink.
Her Master then came to her aid. A crimson chain was wrapped around Berserker's neck and brought him to a halt. Edward appeared behind him and grabbed his head, smashing it against the ground. But this only stopped him for a second. He immediately stood up and, taking advantage of Edward being on his back, jumped into the air and fell backward, slamming Edward down. He got up with a smile.
Saber looked at her Master lying there and anger filled her entirely.
"You bastard!" She raised her sword, wrapping it in flames, and drew a circle in front of her.
"Fax Caelis!" she yelled as she thrust her sword into Berserker's chest at amazing speed, not giving the gladiator any time to react.
She passed the gladiator, grabbed her Master and ran a few steps before the gladiator was engulfed in flames.
"I won't forgive anyone who hurts him."
"So you got him?" Edward asked weakly, looking at the pillar of fire behind them.
"I don't know."
A roar was heard, and they knew he wasn't dead.
"Then I don't have a choice," he said as he stood on his own. "Black Seal…"
Saber grabbed his hand with worry.
"Please don't, we don't need to use it yet."
Berserker came from the flames with his usual smile as if nothing had happened. Instead of looking at Saber, he looked at her Master.
"Why do you protect the Oppressor?"
"She is important to me!"
"The Oppressor is evil," he said, not hearing his answer. "The oppressor must die for the oppressed to be happy."
"She is evil?!" Flames began to surround him. "Don't talk as if you know anything about her! Black Seal 40% Unleashed!"
His hair turned crimson and the head of a red-furred dog appeared on his left shoulder.
"Come, I will send you back to Hell!"
Berserker just smiled and ran at them, only to be stopped by a golden lightning bolt that struck him with such power that he was knocked away.
"Raikōhō," said a voice they knew well.
The pair turned and saw Kousuke approaching along with Caster.
"It seemed you needed help," Kousuke greeted with a smile.
"What took you so long?" Saber complained.
"So rude! Goshujin-sama and I came to help such a useless Saber as you."
"What did you just say?"
The Masters didn't try to stop them.
"Thanks for coming," said Edward.
"Don't worry. Nice hair by the way."
"Well, it comes with the arm," he replied, showing his matching crimson claw.
A roar stopped all conversation and they turned to Berserker, who continued talking about killing the oppressor. Kousuke drew his sword and Edward created two crimson blades in his hands, and so the battle continued.