Chapter 12 : Pleiades
Dan couldn't see anything. What he remembered last was jumping from the tree and falling to the ground. He didn't want to admit it, but he had lost. The young man dealt a dangerous blow on him, and even when he'd done the same, he knew he didn't have much time left.
He opened his eyes and found himself floating through the sky. Not at a leisurely pace, he was moving at great speed, too tired to even try to figure out how. He was about to close his eyes once again when he landed near a building. It took him a few moments, but he recognized it as the mansion of his faction.
He raised his head and found a smiling Leonardo along with his brother Julius.
"Good to know both of you survived," Leo said.
Dan looked back and found his Archer standing there too with a couple of bullet holes in his clothes.
"You worried, boss? Don't be. I must admit, that Assassin was a tough bastard. First time I found a person I couldn't kill."
Archer tried to sound fine, but everyone could see he was barely able to stand. Besides the first shot in his shoulder, he had another two in his stomach. It was a miracle that he had gotten away and managed to hang on this long. Truth be told, he was really surprised by the Assassin's accuracy. Even his shots weren't as precise. It was like no matter, what he wouldn't miss.
Leo helped Dan stand and took him into the mansion.
"Also, don't worry about the tree. After all, this was just a test to see how it worked, and we got valuable information. Good job Sir Blackmore."
Aldebaran looked at Gilgamesh, not believing his words. He'd always seen humans as a mere source of amusement, and no matter what he refused to recognize them as anything more than what he believed them to be his entire life.
The chains lifted him into the sky and beneath him hundreds of golden portals were opened. He saw Gilgamesh smile.
"I told I would enjoy this, mongrel."
He began to shoot his treasures at him. The first four cut his limbs, one by one, as he expected. The next ones went through him. A continued barrage of Noble Phantasms pierced his form again and again.
Aldebaran felt his body being destroyed, how slowly it turned into a piece of dead meat. Still, his last thoughts lay somewhere else. He began to understand why Situla showed so much interest in humans. Real interest, he was the only one among them who hadn't lost faith in humanity. As he closed his eyes, he started wondering.
Were humans really that strong, he thought. It was a shame he wouldn't find out for himself.
Gilgamesh continued to fire until nothing remained of the Counter Guardian. Once Aldebaran's power faded and he was able to stand on his own, Gilgamesh looked at the coat of the butler that remained in the rubble and placed some rocks over it, as if forming a grave. Even as a person he despised, Aldebaran had given him a good battle, so this was a sign of honor towards an enemy worthy of his respect.
He turned and went on watching the explosions in the sky. He didn't know who they made them and he didn't care, as he could feel they wouldn't lose. A predictable fight was boring, so Gilgamesh decided to return to base, disappearing in a golden flash.
Ginevra smiled as she watched the battle gradually unfold. Those two Masters had surpassed her expectations. But she thought it was fitting, considering their Servants' identities: a hellhound to protect the emperor and a demon for the goddess.
Kirsche, on the other hand, while relieved that they weren't going to lose two Masters, glared at Edward's right arm and couldn't take his words out of her head.
"Avenger… Angra Mainyu," She said in a whisper. "Hellhound, just what are you?" she said as she continue glaring at him, he would need to give her some answers."
She kept glaring at him. He would need to give her some answers.
In that moment, her Berserker appeared behind her. She just sighed, considering why he had shown up.
"Some pests are outside, Berserker will deal with them." she said and Ginevra nodded while retaining her focus on the show
The two Masters looked at the Valkyrie, who continued to smile even though she felt wary of them. Kousuke dashed at her and she shot a stream of light at him. She never expected him to counter with energy of his own. A scarlet beam that negated hers came from his fist. True, she was holding back, but for him to block her attack was more or less a surprise.
Her surprise stopped her from noticing Edward coming up from the back. He threw an uppercut at her with his crimson claw, creating a path of flames as it curved. She managed to block it, but the strength behind the blow sent her reeling skyward. Edward created platforms made from fire for Kousuke to use to follow her up and continue their fight.
Pleiades couldn't believe she was fighting humans anymore. Either way, she wouldn't accept it. No matter what, she wouldn't accept she was fighting on equal ground with humans.
Hellhound appeared behind her and slashed with his crimson arm. When she tried to block it with her own, he ripped right through the armor and left deep cuts in it, all while pushing her away. She tried to escape using her high speed, but realized she was stuck over a large void.
"Negation zone, Belphegor," she heard Edward say.
Kousuke stepped over the black space and shot a wave of pure heat at her. She retaliated with her own energy beam, creating an explosion. Using its smoke, she tried to run, but then found the two fighters on her back once again. They didn't have such power a few moments ago. She cursed Zelretch, never expecting to encounter humans like that.
Another burst of flames engulfed her, but this time she managed to reach the ground.
"You two aren't human!" she cried as she examined her burning right arm.
The two Masters landed in front of her, both with serious expressions.
"We know we're humans!" Kousuke said.
"We just go beyond the usual limits. Just like you, but we keep our self-respect," Edward continued with a smirk.
Pleiades was beginning to lose her cool. She had been pushed back too far by these creatures she considered insects.
"Enough! Come, my mighty weapon, Trishula!"
A golden trident appeared in her left hand and she looked at the two with an expression full of hate. The Masters didn't flinch, ready as ever.
Once again she moved at the speed of light and cut them with her trident and kicked them toward the rubble. But just like before, they stood immediately and continued to attack her. This only made her angrier. She was stronger than them. Even in those forms, the only thing they could do was put up a fight, but it didn't seem they would give up.
"Gungnir!" she said as her trident glowed, throwing it at them.
Edward put his hands out in front of him and make a gigantic, blazing shield.
The shield managed to stop the trident, but Edward could feel the muscles in his arms being ripped apart. It was good that he could restore them, but it hurt like hell. As he continued to block it, Kousuke ran to his side and slammed his fist against the trident's prongs, sending it flying into the sky. Pleiades, shocked, jumped up to retrieve her weapon.
They followed her, but this time she was ready. She dashed at them, grabbing Kousuke by the skull and throwing him into the wreckage before thrusting her trident into his stomach and shooting a beam toward Edward which cleanly blew off his left arm.
She saw them fall while crying out in pain and began to reassure herself that she wouldn't lose. Then the next moment the auras of the two Masters rose again. Steam came from Kousuke's wound as it cauterized itself. Flames spurted from what remained of Edward's arm, and it regenerated.
"Forgot to tell you," he said. "I am made of flames."
Lance barely dodged the path of the black sword aiming for his neck. He leaned back, a few strands of fringe being hacked off in the process, and jumped away. Saber of Zero didn't seem fazed by anything at all, making the two Servants wonder how this could be possible for her. A monster—that was all they could believe she was.
In Archer's eyes, it didn't make any sense. They'd made a few direct hits, but that didn't slow her down in the slightest. She broke through the barrage of swords he sent at her as if they were nothing. He was also wondered what those explosions in the sky were, feeling something eerily familiar.
Then he remembered the other knights that were at a level similar to Antares. Recalling that flash of light, it came together for him. Pleiades, she was a cunning woman he never get along with. He could never understand how she could feel so peaceful whenever they saw hell. He remembered how Situla cried seeing the destruction, the hate Kaus felt towards humans, even Antares seemed angry, but she was always with a smile.
His mind returned to the fight as he traced the sword Caliburn to stop Saber's slash. The moment the two blades clashed, he swore he sensed some emotion from behind her visor, but it only lasted a second. In the next, Lance's spear came from behind.
She moved her head in time, but it still cut her cheek. After pushing Archer back, she turned and parried Gáe Bolg, getting close enough to grab Lance's face and smash him into the ground.
Archer tried to use the opportunity to attack, but he was met with a black whirlwind of concentrated prana. The Servant in red was sent flying. Just as Saber was about to cut into him, an armored, blue-furred werewolf rose up behind her and slammed her down by the head. Seeing this, Archer jumped over them. After tracing a bow, he notched Caladbolg in it and turned it into an arrow. He looked at Lance, who understood what he needed to do. The now half-man, half-wolf Servant leapt back, barely missing the projectile fired by Archer.
Saber wasn't so lucky. The moment the arrow made impact, she was consumed by flames. The floor beneath her collapsed and the two Servants waited for a second on the edge of the building. They didn't need to fight anymore, since the tree was destroyed and Saber was down for now. Most of all, Archer was worried about those explosions and the identity of those able to fight on par with Pleiades.
"Lance!" called a voice the spearman recognized. The werewolf turned and saw his Master riding on a white lion along with Rin and Kage.
"Well, I see you two have a party here," Leo said with a smile as he suddenly dropped down between the two Servants.
That very moment, Assassin appeared with his body full of cuts.
"Report," Kage managed to say.
"My apologies, Master, he managed to escape. Still, I wounded him."
Kage seemed to think on this for a second before nodding.
"Archer, do you know what those explosions are?" Rin asked, and then froze.
Saber stood from the flames, her body a little burned and the visor over her pale yellow eyes gone.
"Lily…?" Leo said in a whisper, seeing another girl with the face of the Servant he had in his world.
Rin felt troubled as well, recognizing her as a darkened Arturia. She knew her true power, and she couldn't help but shiver when thinking of having her as an enemy.
The swordswoman was about to continue her assault when a chariot pulled by bulls appeared in the sky with Waver Velvet and his Rider driving it.
"Saber, go back. The fight is over for the night."
The swordswoman looked at her allies for a second, like she was considering if she should obey or not. In the end, she chose the former and got on to the chariot. Lance noticed a small smile directed at him. Clearly she wanted a rematch.
Atosaki jumped from Kyrph and landed on Lance's furred back. After petting him a bit, she murmured something in his ear, and he nodded.
"Leo-san, Kage-san, we should go after Edward-san."
"Why? I think Hellhound can take care of himself."
"Those explosions… I think Edward-san is fighting there."
"Not the only one," added Rin. "A samurai is with him. Saw him on my way here."
"Yagami-san…" she whispered as another blast went off in the distance. "Let's go, Lance."
At her words, the blue werewolf jumped from rooftop to rooftop. After the first one, Atosaki turned.
"See you later, Rin-san!" she exclaimed, waving her hand.
"Hey wait!" Leo as he hopped atop Kyrph along with Kage and followed her, Assassin and his own Archer turned back to spirit form, leaving Rin and Emiya on the destroyed roof.
Saber and Caster slowly came to, and the moment they did, they looked around for their Masters. They didn't find them. When Caster saw Kousuke's sword lying near her, she got a bad feeling. They stood up as they heard a bang in the sky. They didn't want to know what it was about or where it came from. They had an idea of what had happened, but they didn't want to accept it.
Eventually they looked up and saw with horror how their Masters fought against Pleiades. They heard the crack of her trident against their fists. The three continued to fight each other, none of them giving an inch. Edward continued to shoot flames at her, following them with great speed to attack her with his claws. She blocked with her trident, but then Kousuke punched her, sending her flying, though it didn't seem to inflict much damage. She just kept going at them as if nothing had happened.
Saber didn't want to believe it. Dirge of Cerberus, it was the power he had obtained during the War in his world. She didn't mind his new appearance, she didn't mind that he could fight on his own without her protection, but there was something she hated. She could see it, how with every minute that passed his body was breaking, his muscles being reduced to shreds, his bones turning into dust. That was the price for a human to pay, entering a forbidden realm. That wasn't all, though. His wounds might have healed, but she couldn't help but be afraid. In her eyes he looked like a flame, and she feared that flame would get snuffed out. The mighty emperor was afraid of losing him.
Caster's thoughts were almost the same. Crimson Red Vermillion, the curse he had inherited from his clan. Part of his blood was the blood of an oni. The first time she had seen him in that state was during a fight against Berserker in their world. That form took his reason, turning him into a berserker himself. That explained why he abandoned his sword. In that form he didn't need it, but being like that was slowly tearing him apart. His body was still human, still mortal, and all that heat and power destroyed him from the inside out. There was a good reason to hate that form. She was afraid that, instead of dying, he wouldn't be the same, that he would stop being himself and become an irretrievable monster.
The three collided again. Flames and their temperatures tried to destroy light unsuccessfully. Pleiades looked at them with the knowledge their situation hadn't changed much. Even when they were able to hurt her, they couldn't beat her. It was just a matter of time until she figured out a way to defeat them. If she had left then, things might have been better, but then she let her pride get the better of her.
"Come on, humans! You got me for a second, but you aren't any different from those pathetic people." She pointed at the destroyed houses.
The two Masters lost control and said words that made Pleiades curse herself for her bluff and made both Saber and Caster cry out in concern.
"3rd Level 75%!"
They didn't hear the pleas of their Servants.
Edward created a spectral arm and threw Kousuke at her. It happened so fast, faster than the speed of sound, even. Pleiades darted to one side, but he connected with her shoulder, not only breaking her armor but her bones. Edward appeared at her side. She directed an energy beam at him, taking off half his body. She seemed satisfied, but her joy died when she saw him smile and turn his body into flames.
"For moving at the speed of light, you're too slow." He got behind her, both hands holding blades wrapped with black and red flames. "Crimson Damnation!"
The two fires combined and engulfed Pleiades, who screamed in pain, a scream they heard for the first time since the battle began.
The Valkyrie fell to the ground. Edward continued to levitate with his flames and Kousuke stood at his side. At the third level, he had lost most of his logic. He didn't recognize the person at his side, and the only reason he didn't consider him an enemy was that he was too busy concentrating all his strength on destroying Pleiades.
Pleiades stood and glared at them, realizing, angrily, they were looking down on her. They were breathing heavily, unsure how long would they be able to keep those forms.
"You feel it now?! The pain of all the people you killed!" Edward said.
"How dare you!" Her trident began to glow. "I will kill you! GUNGNIR!"
She hurled the trident at them and it seemed as if it became a shooting star. This was it, a final attack against her.
Kousuke concentrated his energy around his arms and shot a scarlet beam as immense as Heracles which clashed with the trident. Edward created two gigantic spectral arms holding a sword that resembled the one his Servant used while himself holding his two blades.
He swung the two weapons in his hands first, and the moment the two intersected, he swung the giant one, making a third slash.
"Crimson Trinity Purgatory!" he shouted as the powers of the two sides met once more.
Rider was a few blocks from the mansion where he stayed. He thought that carrying Breno was a hassle and even considered summoning his chariot, but decided against it since a mere peon didn't deserve to ride on it.
As he continued to walk, he noticed several shadow figures beginning to surround him, at least ten, but probably more.
"Assassin…" he whispered. Normally he wouldn't have a problem; mere assassins wouldn't be able to harm a Pharaoh like him.
But his Master was unconscious over his shoulder, not only making him an easy target for the class that killed Masters as a specialty, but also slowing his Servant down, needing protection.
"Useless peon," he said as five shadows jumped at him.
But the shadows didn't manage to even get close as the next moment they were all reduced to ashes by lightning. The others tried to escape, but a giant with blond hair wielding a hammer blocked their path.
The giant roared and swung his hammer, the mighty Thor smashing the Assassins in front of him so fast they couldn't make a sound. Against him, their numbers meant nothing, and as some others began to flee, he raised his hammer and threw it.
Wrapped in lighting, it searched for its target and destroyed the leader of the Assassins. In the end, none of the thirty Assassins survived, all eliminated in an instant against the wrath of Kirsche's Berserker. The giant turned towards the Pharaoh and nodded and flew away, leaving Rider staring in disbelief and wondering what Master possessed power to command such servant with ease.
Back at the mansion Kirsche wondered how both Edward and Kousuke powers worked. Then in the middle of her thoughts a pillar of flames erupted bigger that any she had saw before and she could swear she saw the figure of both an Oni and a Cerberus on there.
The clash ended in a draw, but that was the worst outcome for the Valkyrie, since she'd lost weapon. Even if it was for a second, in that interval of time the two Masters rushed at her, as if they had predicted this would happen the moment their powers rejected each other. They were already in front of her, catching her by surprise. She tried to move, but noticed, too late, she was over that black space which trapped her like before. Both Masters raised their fists and struck her. She acted on reflex, even knowing that was the worst possible choice at the moment; she tried to stop all that power with her bare hands.
If it were power alone, she might have been able to hold out, but those were fists containing a lot of hatred and anger against her because of her acts. She could feel how they slowly pushed back and brought her death closer.
"Mon… monsters!" she exclaimed as she couldn't stop their attacks.
"Just burn!" they said in unison.
A pillar of scorching flames engulfed the Valkyrie, who shrieked in pain like never before.
Ginevra saw this, barely able to contain her excitement. She never expected these Masters to bring her such a spectacle. But more than that, she was happy they had managed to beat the World, even if the Counter Guardian lost only because she underestimated them. Had she killed them swiftly and mercilessly, it wouldn't have gotten to this. Still, a win was a win.
"Hellhound and Yagami, you two have become Masters worthy of my interest," she said. After all, it was weird to find people with such resolve and levels of idiocy on par with her sister's lover.
The flames died and as the Masters returned to their normal appearance, they saw Pleiades lying on the floor.
Edward's right arm went back to normal and his hair back to black. With Kousuke, the crimson aura around him began to dissipate.
They fell to their knees and coughed blood, far beyond exhausted. Pleiades couldn't believe she had been reduced to such a pitiful state, unable to move. It was just a matter of time, but good thing she had a final skill for a situation like this.
"Bi…Bifrost," she barely managed to say as she disappeared in a flash of iridescent light.
The two Servants ran to their Masters who looked about to fade away.
They had pushed themselves too far. They not only dueled with a Servant earlier but also endured Pleiades' attacks until they'd almost reached the edge. But they won, they survived and they defeated her, but their faces didn't show any happiness.
"Edward, what's wrong?"
"Kousuke, you won, be happier."
"I'm sorry, Nero, but…"
"Tamamo, this can't be considered a victory."
The rest of the mist around Kousuke dissolved, and his eyes and hair returned to normal. Edward's left arm changed back into a black one, with red lines coursing through it. The other Master-Servant pair was surprised. Caster noted that those red lines were slowly fading.
"I'm mad, Praetor," Saber said as she pulled him close to her chest.
"You don't seem so mad…" He tried to joke but decided against it. "Sorry."
She hugged him tightly.
"Stupid Praetor, you promised."
Caster was doing the same, hugging her Master, who was too exhausted to fight back.
"You need to be more careful, Kousuke."
"After all, you promised to spend your entire life with me," she said with a forced grin.
Kousuke could see through her façade. She usually said and did things like that when she was really worried about something. He really hated when he made her sad, even if it wasn't on purpose.
"Caster, what do you mean by that?" Saber asked.
"What? Obviously, Master is my dear husband," she replied.
Saber's eyes widened, making Caster laugh.
"Praetor! We can't let that fox beat us! How come you haven't asked me to marry you?"
Edward looked at Kousuke as if asking, "Is it true?"
With only his gaze he answered, "Don't ask."
"Saber… can't we talk about this later?"
Saber was about to answer back when she saw Kyrph coming toward them along with a blue werewolf that shifted into the Lance she knew.
"I must admit, Hellhound," said Leo when they landed, "you need to hold back a little. We only have one city."
He teased a bit, but after looking at them, he realized it was something they didn't want to talk about.
"Saber, help me stand."
"Edward-san, you need to rest," Atosaki said.
"Sorry, not much time left," he replied, leaving her confused.
The three Masters noted his strange left arm. They had seen it transform before, but something seemed off, though they didn't say anything about it.
He created a couple of ghost fires to search about the rubble for anyone still alive. After a couple of tense minutes he noticed two presences.
"Atosaki, Leo, there are survivors over there," he said pointing to a mound of bricks which used to be a house.
Leo moved fast and along with Lance moved the debris, finding a pair of children under the dead body of what seemed to be their mother. They pulled the kids out and decided to take them along with them.
Then, before the last line on his arm disappeared, Edward began to burn the entire place. He got the feeling the others would ask questions, so he decided to speak.
"There aren't any official people to take care of the dead bodies. The Counter Guardians would probably clean this up, but after what happened here, I don't trust them. I won't let them do as they please. I'd rather set the pyre alight and let them have some peace."
Atosaki felt so sad for all the people who died that she couldn't stop her tears. Leo took his silver cross in hand and recited a short prayer. Kage just looked at the hell his teammates had raised, but still thought it was better than letting some unnatural force take care of it.
This didn't seem like a victory at all. The enemy had been defeated, but at the cost of many lives, innocent ones at that. As they left to return to their so-called home, the second night came to a close.
Masters remaining: 37
Servants remaining: 41
Counter Guardians Remaining : 4