On this chapter, El becomes a little more tolerable.
Chapter 4 Edit
“Why do Spirits battle?” The line which begins the third chapter also marks the point where thethe letter ends, and these messages start treading into diary or report territory. After introducing Spirits, then talking about what they are to humans, the author realizes that at no point it was addressed why all of them are experienced warriors, wizards, knights and such.
“How to put it... Or rather, where to begin... Well, in simple terms, they are 'cursed.' A certain hypothesis says it is the punishment of a cruel god, another says Core itself creates them with such tendencies, but the fact is that they cannot avoid strife. Have you ever met a person who can only solve issues by starting fights? Whether you have or not, that's the example I can give you. Every spirit has the 'gene' to solve everything through overpowering the enemy, force means everything between them.”
“Not to say they can only fight. They live almost like every human being does, they have their jobs, hobbies, daily life and such. But while humans spend weeks thinking about an issue, arguing about laws on a congress, Spirits pick up arms and fight it out. Right and wrong is always decided by who is weaker and who is stronger. That is the reality they live in, have lived in since forever and will continue to live in, probably.”
“There is a certain brand of Spirits that avoids fighting, however. In no way they're unable to fight, they simply choose not to, somehow. That occasionally causes others to think 'ah, they are weak, they can't fight,' and decide to take them out first. It is a pretty big mistake, the Yellow realms always have a brand of fearsome angels and monsters which can bring hell if provoked. They rend the enemy powerless, they dematerialize and strike at the soul, they heal themselves infinitely. Perhaps their absurd power is the very reason they don't like fighting, who knows what exists behind their peaceful image. If we think of the theories which makes them cursed or genetically tend to be violent, yellow spirits are the only ones who can resist their wildest impulses and not succumb to instincts.”
“And those fated to fight will continue to fight, even if they're dragged into another world. Would you say that is a sad fate? I believe it to be...”
“Here,” the girl meant to show the screen of her phone to the boy alone, but his two friends steal a peek before the target himself looks at it. They, better than anyone, know how rare it is for anyone other than them to interact with him, it couldn't be helped that they'd become curious.
“Let's have a picnic this afternoon! Tell El about it, I didn't get his address, sad face,” Illie reads it aloud, one of her eyebrows gradually going up. “Sounds fun, let's go.”
“Huh? You don't even know who's organizing this, what are you talking about?” El panics, he speaks without thinking, in an attempt to kill her interest. He definitely doesn't want to go anywhere with both Fei and Soa.
“I know you and Fei, that's good enough, isn't it?” Illie turns to Fei, hoping she will agree.
“Soa is a really good person, she'd be happy to have more people around,” Fei nods. She didn't expect it to turn out like this, but a picnic with both Soa and Illie sounds awfully fun.
“See? Why don't you want us to go?” She faces El again, an intimidating expression on her face.
“No, that's not it, it's...” He can't get himself to say Fei and Soa are his enemies. That would be too contrived, and Illie would never believe it anyway.
“The truth has poured unto me through the whispers of a fairy... You're embarassed to show the darkness which crawls around you to this girl, aren't you?” David speaks in a dramatic tone as always, but even someone who isn't used to him can tell he's trying to rile El up, his smug expression needs no translator. 'For our El to be embarassed of showing his friends to someone...' would be an adequate translation to what he said.
“No, the thing is...”
“El, if you don't want to become a being that's less than a worm to me, stop making excuses and just say it's okay for all of us to go,” her words whip him severely, he'd slip through the floor if possible.
“O-okay, but... did anyone prepare for a picnic? Isn't it normal for everyone to bring food? Or are you just planning to hog food from a stranger?” Even after losing, he tries one last time, his last attempt at escaping what he believes to be an 'obvious trap.'
“Leave that to me, don't worry. And if she invited us randomly like this, Soa probably doesn't mind,” Fei shrugs. With that, his final hope shatters, El has lost yet another engagement.
Later, Fei writes a small list on a piece of paper and, when nobody is looking, throws it outside the window. A dragonfly catches it and flies away, Assassin's location as its destination. She sends a reply to Soa, saying El 'technically accepted it.' 'What sort of blackmail did you use? S-c-a-r-y. Anyway, here's the place, I'll be waiting,' Soa's reply, which had a map screenshot attached to it, comes almost instantly, almost as if she had prepared that answer a long time ago.
Classes proceed normally for all of them, except Elus, who sees every passing minute as yet another step towards a gruesome fate. Kilometers away from their school, two certain individuals move around a cramped kitchen. If they sorted utensils out properly, they'd no doubt face less problems, but they can't seem to realize that their lack of organization is the reason behind their predicament.
“Why is making a cake so hard!? And the website had this recipe tagged as one star – very easy??” Soa would like to kick around in frustration, but any brutish movement can cause a dozen of bowls to come down, spilling their contents on the floor.
“Maybe it's only very easy for professionals, there's no other answer...” Saber crosses her arms, thinking deeply about the losses they've suffered thus far on this one battle. And it is still far from over, they still have to wash everything they used.
“And what pisses me off the most...” She pauses.
“What is it?”
“Is that we'll have worked so hard and I'm sure El will hesitate to eat it because he'll think it's poisoned or something,” even if her tone comes out as humorful, her eyes are heavy, she's legitimately upset about the suspicions he is guaranteed to show.
“...Are there any additional reasons for your interest on allying yourself with him?” Saber knows the answer is positive, she only hopes that this question will make Soa come clear about it.
“Well, you know... Can't you see just by looking at him that he isn't right?”
“In the head?”
“...Sort of, but I meant... he doesn't believe or trust anyone around him. That's what's wrong. I don't know why he turned out like that, but... I want to show him there's no reason to trust no one.”
“Ah, so it's just you being meddlesome?”
“Pretty much,” the two girls laugh. 'I'm sorry, Soa... but when you show such purity, I can't help but think there must be a thorn somewhere in your heart... Perhaps I'm also like El and can't believe people properly,' Saber lowers her head and apologizes silently.
Once their intense battle against cooking has ended, the two girls set out for the park they agreed to meet with their allies. At around the same time the two head out, the students are done with their classes already, and just happen to be taking a taking a while to rendezvous and depart. Even if it'd obvious to suspect him to be cause of the delay, this time around, Illie is the reason they have to idle, she had a request to take care of and decided to give that closure before leaving school.
“As we wait for the return of The Advisor, I must question: Through which battlefield did the two of you become acquainted?” David asks, looking at Fei and El.
“Ah, we... met the other day, nothing big,” not exactly a lie, but that's clearly not an actual answer.
“Through a meeting you categorize as feeble you developed a connection which could root into going out together? Truly your power as a magician is fantastic then,” David falls for it regardless, nodding as mutters to himself that such feats are exactly what he expects of Elus.
“...I'd rather you didn't put it that way. First because it has almost nothing to do with magic, second because... I'm not her friend or anything.”
“Do you really understand what he's saying without any delay?” Fei ignores El's rude comment and focuses on what's important.
“It is much too soon for a youth such as you to try and understand my speech which has been smithed by decades. Only those with True Roots can become my opponents...” He laughs dramatically, almost like a cliché villain would.
“...El, please,” After keeping an embarased expression for seconds, she bows her head towards El.
“...'Once you're my close friend, you'll understand without any problem, just give it some time,' he said,” she wonders if the reason he hesitated was because he didn't want to talk to her or because he also had trouble understanding it. Unfortunately, it was the former.
'There should have been a chance to escape this, where was it? Even now, maybe, I still...' While his surroundings are giddier than usual, the boy himself has a cloud of darkness around his head, his mind is focused on how to end this farce before it's too late. Without him even realizing, his party arrives at the park and already approaches the waiting pair. Soa waves to Fei, Illie and David comment to each other if that's the girl Elus is conscious about. Everyone is already having fun and giggling, yet El has surrounded himself with walls and doesn't even retort to their misunderstanding.
When he finally sees his surroundings, which is when he faces Soa's general direction, he becomes relieved on the same pace he becomes puzzled. That Soa and Saber would be there isn't outside of his expectations, they are the ones setting the trap, of course. Fei is an accomplice, so it's just as natural for Assassin to be there. The last person of the group which organized the picnic, however, is no one other than Archer. To know his Spirit is there puts him at ease at first, since that would give him means to fight back, but, on second thought, his Spirit, rather than sticking to him, had been with the enemy until now. Needless to say, this realization cranks his alarmness to the limit.
“What are you doing here?!” He asks right away, with his usual dehumanizing treatment.
“Assassin asked for help, so I...” Archer doesn't bother to finish the sentence. He's been with El long enough to know that, even if he just meant 'help to buy food,' El will only hear the 'the enemy asked for help and I helped' part.
“And it was me who asked him to call Archer,” Fei smiles, not as aware of how the gears inside El's mind work.
“...Archer? Assassin?” Illie tilts her head. Fei and Elus momentarily freeze. They completely forgot, they disregarded how weird those 'names' would sound to a normal person.
“W-well.... It's...” Fei's mind tries to find an excuse, but even if it's running at full speed, there's nothing but a blank anywhere it goes. 'Actors? Isn't it normal to say they're actors? But that wouldn't quite...'
“It's my first time seeing you two, how are you called?” Soa smiles, looking at Illie and David. Meanwhile, El and Fei still have drops of cold sweat running on their faces, their eyes shake, trying to say 'Will she bite?'
“Ah, that's right. Nice to meet you, I'm Illie,” she shakes hands with Soa. 'Success!' the worried pair sighs, glad that Soa skillfully dodged that bullet. “And these two gentlemen and the other lady are?”
Almost like an orchestra, all of them internally scream 'damn it!' or variations of it. Time moves slowly, the three masters exchange gazes, trying to prompt the other into saying something, almost like throwing a bomb to one another. But, in the end, the explosion will get them all anyway, trying to throw it on someone else is useless.
“Sa...Sei...” Saber scratches the back of her head, suspicously nervous for someone saying their own name.
“Ass,” Assassin says it with a straight face. He's so serious nobody could even retort in any way, they simply accepted a man is called 'Ass.'
“Eric,” Archer says, making the other two spirits figure 'Ah, that was a choice!' For a single moment, El felt Archer actually was a little reliable.
“Save for Eric, those are some quite odd names, aren't they? Sei and Ass,” the edge of her lips contort, she's holding in laughter. While at first it sunk in easily due to his seriousness, when she repeats it, 'Ass' finally hits her.
“They're foreigners! Exchange students!” El had thought of that excuse a while ago, but it wouldn't answer the question at the time.
“Ah, so the linkage comes from the mutuality of contracts?” David nods, connecting fake dots into a line.
“Is that so? You all signed up for this exchange student thing and that's how you met?” 'is that what he meant?!' the two girls without a translator system installed wouldn't guess that was the meaning of it even if they had four likely options to choose from. “You could at least tell your friends you're signing up for stuff like that, El.”
“Haha.. sorry...” 'So far, so good... I guess...' his heart which was in disarray finally settles down.
“What grade are you all in?” 'Please! I beg you!' The three masters are almost crying, whenever they feel it's over, she presses for more answers.
They sit on top of the picnic cloth and chat for a long time, not biting into the food until Illie is satisfied with her questions. While the three pairs of battlers and spirits didn't eat simply because they were being bombarded, the other two didn't eat because the others didn't. The setting ends up as Sei and Eric being third-years and Ass, who'd never pass as anything but an adult, is a college student, taking an entomology course. Sei laughed at that, whispering 'he's so easy to see through...'
After a long questioning which had their lives on the line (it didn't), they finally are set free and can start the actual picnic. 'We baked this cake!' Soa announces, showing the cake to everyone. They all take turns taking a slice, and both bakers pretend they didn't see El hesitate for a moment before biting into it.
While they made up stories to fool the two, they had great teamwork. When they started, it was just throwing bombs at each other, but by the end it was almost like a sports team passing the ball in order to score. Soa wished El would keep his barriers down even after that deception routine ended, but he returns to his usual behavior the very moment it ends.
'Did I ever do this before?' he eventually finds himself making that question. 'Isn't this my first time being with Illie and David outside of school?' it never hit him before. Even if they're his friends, he had never done anything with them. 'If I think about it... didn't I spend most of my life trying to learn magic, instead of...?'
He can't remember his childhood very well, but he feels it has been that say since then. Kids would accept the magician talk with more ease and play along, listening to all the rules and everything made up by El like he was the great master. Even adults would find it cute back then. But as the years passed, it no longer was interesting, it was no longer cute. They couldn't understand that magic was a reality, not just playing around. And that's how he got bent on showing it, he would prove that magic existed, everything so he'd stopped being mocked...
'And while I disregarded everything for that end... I ended up never doing stuff like this. Shouldn't it be fine to enjoy it then? Just this once...' None of them could imagine what was happening within him, but, ever so slowly, like the erosion of a mountain, like the melting of an iceberg, his barrier is vanishing.
Fei also didn't have much experience with such things. She had gone to the movies with classmates, she had gone shopping with others, but this has a different flavor. She can't explain it with words, it's just a feeling she has. It 'feels' different from the other events she had, this gathering seems more 'sincere' to her.
And just as happiness grows, the cruelty of the reality they live in must come to the harvest . Like a pendulum, the farther it swings to one side, it will equally swing to the opposide side. The greater the joy, greater the tragedy of its end. That is the shackle which binds down the fate of humans.
A dome of purple darkness surrounds the eight who peacefully had an enjoyable moment of bonding. The park shifts into a bog, the cloth they stood on and the food vanish, an atmosphere which spells death takes their places. Fortunately or not, this is a familiar place to at least one of them. They're taken with their guards down, but at least they're not thrown into the absolute darkness of the unknown.
“Caster...!” Soa bites her lower lips. 'He's probably got me and Saber tracked, why didn't I think this could happen...'
While he prefers to work on the cover of darkness, it's not a necessity. After his defeat against Berserker, his anger made him want to rush, he needs to obtain one victory at least. That, and he needs to test his new skills. Naturally, he won't get into the frontlines just yet, he isn't that desperate. All he wants is to test drive and see the enemy's power while at it.
He already has a grudge against Saber, the other two are simply a bonus. However, there was a small predicament while creating Tartarus Zone. It is easy to figure out which of them are Spirits, but there was no adequate method to figuring out which ones are masters. So he just brought them all, to be sure. 'Someone unrelated might get involved, but that is in no way a problem to me. As long as nobody comes out of it alive, it won't become a problem,' is basically the logic he follows.
“Should I knock them out?” Assassin immediately asks Fei, seeing David and Illie being taken into the battlefield as well.
“Uh.. Uh.. I... I don't know, wouldn't that be worse?” It's too sudden to make a decision, especially for her, who heard from Soa what sort of battle style Caster fancies. If they're unconscious, they won't get involved on the battle, but if they're unconscious, they'll become easy targets. If Caster brought them into the battlefield, it's certainly because killing them is within the plans.
“What is...?” The two are trying to accept what transpired around them, the sudden transportation to this odd and eerie landscape, but it's too much for a normal mind to process.
“Archer...!” El is confused. What is the proper command to give? Protect the two? Find the enemy? Distance himself from the two other masters? He can't be sure of who's an ally and who's an enemy on this situation.
But there's no need to 'search' or 'find' the enemy, they're coming in great numbers and great killing intent. Just as before, skeletons and decomposed bodies rise from the bog. Some bare claws and fangs, being the bodies of humanoids, yet clearly not of humans, others hold blades, wear armor, nothing but the remains of long dead warriors.
The three spirits surround the humans, entering a circular formation to protect them from all angles. They didn't verbally transmit anything, yet they coordinateed themselves in perfect harmony. That is a facet of the nature of spirits, their instincts move like a hivemind when it concerns the battler's safety. A phantasm sword appears on Saber's hand, a pair of guns on Archer's and a short blade on Assassin's. He holds it in reverse, rather than brandishing it forward, the blade is held sideways, almost like a mantis' scythe.
“El...?” Illie notices their faces have changed. While her own also did, theirs did in a different way. She's scared, surprised, startled, both at the undead and the weapons the 'exchange students' materialized. However, save for the David, while the others also have a just as scared expression, they also have sharp eyes. They're not wondering where they are, they've heightened their guards, almost like bracing themselves for an unavoidable impact.
“...” He can't think of what to say. He can't even dedicate his time to thinking of what to say.
“We'll explain later. For now... just don't panic. We'll protect you two.” Soa taps her shoulder and pushes her deeper into the formation. A circle of three spirits, behind the spirits a second circle, formed by the battlers. At the center, the two confused humans which were dragged into the battlefield.
“...Okay,” the girl which seemed to be nothing but a lighthearted youth now shows great maturity. Her smile was still there, but while before it was simply that of someone having fun, now it is one that wants to say 'keep calm.'
“Elus, I won't pretend not to know you're thinking 'did they set me up,' so I'll say this is unexpected to us as well,” Soa continues, not happy in the slightest to know what he is thinking. “We are your allies. Will you cooperate with us? There's certainly something you want to protect in this battle, right?”
“...Of course. You two aren't smart enough to think up something of this grandeur, so it's no doubt... a third party...” It's nothing but a excuse, he won't let his heart admit he developed a small feeling of trust.
“A second party. Since we're a single one, the enemy is a second party,” Fei butts in, trying to force him into accepting the alliance.
“Then, what is the plan? From experience, we know that their barrage is endless, if we stay on the defensive, it's gonna be our loss. It's pretty much exhausting us and then destroying us once we're on that state,” Saber won't fall on the same pattern twice. Even if she knows she needs to protect the humans, doing nothing other than protecting will end up making it all for nothing, as the humans will be in danger, effects-wise.
“It is purple, after all,” Assassin snickers, that sort of tactic is the least he expects from someone who came from the purple country.
“...Focusing on the pawns won't get us anywhere, will it...? But ignoring them also isn't acceptable...” Archer mutters, trying to find what can be exploited on this situation, where is the way out.
“There's no need to be so black or white, we can just send one spirit to find the mastermind and the other two will protect us, right?” For someone like Fei, such strategy isn't hard to imagine. Sending one unit to scout while the rest continues building and guarding the main base is among the basics.
“Should I go? I have the greatest firepower, so for me to press onward would be...” Saber's logic isn't exactly mistaken, it just, in simple terms, doesn't match Fei's playstyle.
“We'll let Assassin go. The objective is to find the enemy swiftly, we need your power for defense. Once we find the enemy, we can have you two exchange places. That would be ideal, I believe...”
“I have no objections. El?” 'We are a team,' she wants to pound that into his head at all costs.
“None. Archer isn't the best at mobility or at raw power, and long range attacks are adequate for this situation... I guess... So I agree with leaving him here.”
“Good. The moment we start moving, the enemy is sure to start pressing on us too, are you all prepared?” Assassin is ready to dash and leap over the encirclmente of undead.
“Why didn't they press right away though, I'm curious about that,” El voices his thought, he wants to know if anyone else wondered about that.
“They probably want to see how we will act and then react to that, it's easier that way. Countering is simpler than being countered...” if the battle savvy Saber is saying it, all of them will take that as the correct answer.
Assassin disappears like a gust of wind. One second he stands next to everyone else, the next he's already in midair, soaring over the horde of undead like a kite. These beings cannot grasp such quick movement nor do they possess anti-air equipment, Caster has no choice but let Assassin proceed freely. But, in exchange, he commands the entire horde to press forward and crush the rest of the enemy forces.
“Rather than my back, I want you to watch over them, okay?” Saber says, a faint smile on her face. He can't imagine how she manages to smile on such a timing, but he won't question it either.
“That was my plan from the start,” he answers instantly.
'Against an enemy like this, I don't have to worry about anything,' Archer charges his guns at full power, his intention is to massively wipe out the field, since they are outnumbered one way or the other. Each individual shot comes out almost like a beam of light, rather than a bullet. It pierces through multiple enemy spirits at once, depending on how close to each other they are, four can be taken down at the same time. Their bones, flesh and even the armored ones get their equipment pierced through and disassembled to a molecular level.
On the other end, Saber swings her phantom blade wildly, leaving a track of flames at each slash. Much like Archer pulverizes the enemies with light, Saber creates piles of ashes one after the other. When an enemy isn't close enough to be cut, she can cause a small explosion to happen, it's her only mid-range attack. Against a powerful enemy, it is nothing but a trick that can surprise them, but against an army of small fry, it actually has some destructive power. But due to the limiting effect of Tartarus Zone, even that basic skill becomes limited to a few uses.
For two people to cover an area of 360º degrees, it is only natural that each of them would be responsible for 180º. However, that is still too wide an area to take care of, especially against these numbers, they can't feel confident that they'll manage to keep every zombie away for too long. A single one getting through is enough for their battle to become a loss, the odds are against them. They can only hope Assassin succeeds in rooting out the enemy before their time runs out.
Assassin is a high-tier martial artist. If he can easily break the bones of a live enemy, it is even easier to break those of an enemy that has their bones exposed. Without even using the blade, only through accurate kicks and punches, the man successfully opens the way through the spawning zombies which attempt to get on his way.
How does he expect to find the enemy? By nothing simpler than looking around for it. If he detects an spirit stronger than these small ones, then he has no doubt found the one responsible for this area. None of them would imagine that Caster is magically concealed. Not in a 'his body can't be seen' sense, but in a... 'he truly won't be found' sense. Or perhaps, he already has been, he's hiding in plain sight. Among the purple mist that covers the entire bog, one particular cloud is Caster. Dispersed into a cloud of small particles, his presence is no different from that of the cheap spirits which he summons. If anything, it's such a faint presence that it becomes harder to track, due to all the other small presences. It is the challenge of finding a flea within an anthill.
He summoned countless dragonflies to spread his field of vision across the entire zone, but to no avail. If it was an enemy hiding behind a veil, he'd be able to see through it, if there was an enemy buried deep into the earth, he'd be able to see it. The fact he couldn't find Caster despite knowing he'd find hay within a needlestack...
“Could Caster just not be here? Or perhaps... is he here but in too different a form?”
Meanwhile, the other two spirits continue their pointless battle. Archer underestimated the enemy, going all out against endlessly spamming enemies is foolish. He exhausted himself absurdly fast, all while not reducing the enemy numbers by even one. Saber knew trying too hard wouldn't have any meaning, but if she tried too little, the humans would be harmed. She certainly contained herself more than Archer, but the result is the same, both reach their limits while the enemy just keeps coming and coming.
“Isn't there something you can do for them?!” Illie screams. She's unaware of the how anything works like in a battle, but to just stand and watch in this way is too cruel, too pointless. “They're gonna die this way!”
“I can't think of anything...” Elus is bitter to find himself unable to move. 'At a time like this, I should be able to make a miracle happen...'
He had been silent for the longest time. Everyone figured he was scared senseless, but he had been thinking. 'What should I do?' he asked himself. But he couldn't find an answer, he did fear these monsters in this situation. But hearing Illie's desperate yell, he figured he couldn't afford to stand still.
Like a fool, David runs forward, towards the hordes. Perhaps because he couldn't grasp the other two weren't humans, perhaps simply out of believing there is something he can do to help. For many reasons which made complete sense to him, he figured he could defeat some of the zombies too.
By the time he is noticed, he's already too far for anyone attempt to hold him back. Saber and Archer have their hands full, they would manage to stop a zombie from coming close, but they have no tricks to make a young man return to where he should be. The closer he gets to the zombies, more scared he feels, but 'if I don't, nothing will change,' makes him ignore the fear.
A complete fool. He no doubt will die for no reason, without even knowing what was it that destroyed the leisure of that afternoon. At that moment... at that moment of extreme despair, a mark appears on Fei's hand. Almost like she's being cut by a heatened blade, her skin rips apart and a red symbol appears. The other two ordered Archer and Saber to do something, but she alone felt she had a chance. Stronger than anyone, she made a wish. 'Assassin, come!' She screamed with her entire body, tears forming on her eyes.
And just as the mark burns itself into her body, space distorts and Assassin appears out of thin air, between the undead and David. Almost like he knows exactly what transpires and heard the scream of her heart, he grabs the boy and swiftly jumps back into the encirclement. For anyone other than Fei and Assassin, it certainly seemed like he just arrived right in time, nothing out of ordinary, even if absurd.
“I'll kill you,” Illie's eyes and voice pierce him like a rain of spears, her threat feels awfully sincere.
“What was the point of saving him then...” Soa sighs. “Seeing as you've returned like that, then certainly you didn't find Caster, right?”
“That is correct. It is shaming to admit, but I failed to sniff an enemy out of their hideout,” Assassin lowers his head in apology. Unnecessary, especially when considering Soa is not his master.
“Then we have no choice but to use the same method as the other day, right?” Saber closes her hand. To use twice in such a short span of time, her stamina might be permanently damaged if this continues happening... and it might just keep happening, as even now, doing this won't really defeat Caster, just allow them to escape.
“Wait a moment. Assassin, can't you do something like the one Saber did? We can't afford to have her tiring herself that much,” Fei hides her burnt hand within her pocket. It hurts terribly, but she can't afford to distract everyone with such a thing, she's sure Assassin will explain it later.
“Converting core energy into emerald core... It's probable that I can, but I can't contain it as well as her, since I have no practice. You know that my nature is wind, so I'll probably... create a huge hurricane if I attempt that.”
“We'll find a way, we have to make the bet,” 'and we'd be risking our lives one way or the other,' she doesn't voice it, but certainly it's a feeling shared by all.
Knowing they have no time to lose, Assassin attempts to copy Saber's skill right away. It'd be easier to repeat it after seeing it at least once, but having heard the concept will have to suffice. 'Just like using magic, I need to convert the neutral core into emerald energy and let it go wild...' It's not a complicated skill, and it's exactly because it is so simple that it is powerful.
But no matter how much he focuses, it doesn't assemble. Almost like trying to grasp water, it slips through his fingers. When it fails, he figures he got a step wrong and tries again, but no matter how many retrials he attempts, it doesn't form, he can't make the conversion happen.
“What is the problem?” Saber asks him, seeing he's taking too long to perform it. 'Even if it's his first time, he should be able to do at least a small conversion.'
“I'm not managing to make the conversion, the core... slips away from my hands.”
“...” Saber says nothing. She feels it through her body, that once she revealed a weakness of Caster's Zone, the sorcerer dedicated himself into countering that. Actually, it was against Berserker that he decided to update the skill, but she wouldn't know such a thing.
She attempts to use her own Heart of Sword, but it doesn't form as well. Almost like the core are actually pulled away from her when she attempts to grasp them, she fails to turn them into ruby core. 'What a fearsome foe,' she can't help but admit it. He has limited the energy they can use for themselves, forbidden them from using that energy without adding it to their bodies. They've been cornered and jailed.
“Is this the end of it...?” She whispers. Even if it might sound that she has given up, in truth, it's the exact opposite. Even despite the unfair ground they stand on, she's still trying to believe there is an answer to let them break out.
“This place is in awful taste, I regret letting my curiosity get the best of me.”
An unknown voice. Right at the center of the circle, standing tall among the teenagers, an unknown man. All three spirits instantly turn around, prepared to attack him, but all of them would also hit someone else while at it, they can't afford that. 'How did he get there?!' is the only thought on their mind, they've completely forgotten about their original predicament.
Illie stares at him with her legs shaking, she's the one closest to him and can feel that a dangerous aura emanates from him. Just like someone walks past a thug and feels scared of being mugged, Illie feels she might get murdered at any moment. But even those who are a few steps away feel it, even if they're distant, they all have imaginary blades around their necks.
“You're... not Caster...” Assassin could track all of the spirits, but only in the sense of discovering their locations. She hadn't ever seen Caster before, nor did she see this individual, but she can tell right away it's a different person.
“Indeed, I'm not.”
“How are you here?” When terrified, she can't help but start talking to distract herself, that's her way of coping.
“Is there a need to be so scared? I didn't do anything yet. You don't even know if I'm ally or enemy,” his expression gives signals of an attempt at being friendly, but the atmosphere around him doesn't feel that way at all, not even for a second. “But when you think about it, taking three down at once would feel better than going for one... But I'm eccentric that way, I guess.”
The man bends his knees and crosses one leg after the other. There is nothing visible behind him, but he certainly just sat down on something. His body is lifted off the ground, and just like when a spirit summons their weapons, a light shines beneath his body. A golden throne has appeared.
The throne also stands on top of something, but it is covered by wind, just like Saber's sword. 'Is it safe to assume this is Rider? He's hiding his mount, isn't he? But that sort of skill should only belong to Saber...' Caster, who had his Zone invaded, tries to analyze the new enemy. Out of everyone there, Caster, even if the man himself wouldn't admit it, is the one most scared of the invader.
Standing tall on his throne, the man looks around. 'Smothering numbers, but no actual power. I personally have to say this type of battle doesn't please me. If you fought like a decent spirit would, I'd have joined your side,' perhaps a petty reason, but for that particular individual, it is justice. The wind surrounding his mount dissipates, a flaming lion becomes visible.
The following happens in around six seconds, and could be split into three main frames. The first frame is the image of lion becoming visible to everyone. The second frame is the lion roaring, almost as if celebrating the fact it is now visible. The third frame and also the most important one, consists of the flaming mane of the lion shaping itself like arrows and shooting in all directions, faster than Archer's bullets, more powerful than Saber's sword. The arrows rain for four seconds, destroying every single zombie present on the Zone.
The man swings one of his hands. As simple as that, a single swing. Yet that movement blows away the mist and opens a path into the bog. That's how much pressure he created with a single arm of his. A single body of mist remained floating on the air, unaffected by his wind pressure.
“That's Caster. I did more than enough, I think, so I'm going,” he casually points to the mist which was almost next to them and, just like that, vanishes from the Zone.
Nobody should be able to act right away. Nobody would accept all that transpired in a single instant, especially Caster, who lost so many zombies at once he couldn't even convert their energy into more zombies. He is paralyzed in fear of the being that simply 'saw, came and conquered' a territory where the sorcerer himself should be the one and only absolute being.
But there is a single being which acts differently from normal people. A being that sees the objective and isn't easily affected by the surroundings, an expert at not reading the mood. His emotional stuntness saved the day, partially. While even Caster tries to understand what just transpired, Archer puts away his guns and summons a bow and arrow.
“This arrow will pursue you even to the depths of hell, there is no point in trying to dodge,” it might sound like flaunting, but it's actually the chant to activate the spell.
He shoots at the cloud of mist the invader said was Caster, and almost as if it could ignore physics, not only the arrow flies an unnatural distance, it also pierces and gets stuck to the mist, almost as if it were a solid. That's what wakes Caster up and brings him back to reality. 'I need to escape right away and... make more improvements, I don't know!'
Like a scared child, Caster opens an exit and escapes the Zone. Before he could fully walk out, another arrow hit him, though. Archer is surprised he could still move after two arrows, these normally auto-aim themselves into the enemy's heart. 'I guess it's because he was in mist form, there is no heart to target...'
And like that, the Zone breaks apart and the eight return to reality. The spirits make their weapons disappear, the humans finally let their nervousness sink in, as they've finally escaped that hellish situation. Once the adrenaline is gone, their entire bodies start hurting. Even if they didn't do anything, their spirits' overexertion affects their bodies.
“I think I owe you an explanation... right?” Soa accepts the blame. If she didn't call everyone for this picnic, then she alone would have been targeted by Caster, that's how she figures it should have been like.
“No. I want to take a shower and cry myself to sleep, I'll ask for an explanation tomorrow,” Illie stands up and walks away, not saying any goodbyes or listening to what anyone says to her. Her legs still shake, her heart is still beating terribly fast, its speed hasn't decreased even in a little since the moment she imagined David losing his life. 'Getting an answer would probably just wreck me more...' the girl tells herself, forcing her body which just wants to give in to continue walking.
“And you?” Soa turns to David, pretending to not have felt injured by Illie's action.
“The outlines of the painting are already evident to me, do not force yourself,” seeing Illie's bravado, he feels he should try to act a little cool too.
“He means he pretty much got it. I guess it's easy for you to see something like that and not feel surprised,” El attempts to lighten the mood with a friendly joke. If David doesn't notice the reason El is on his knees isn't plain relief, but in truth because his legs gave in and now don't respond, he will be satisfied enough.
“...The impact is nevertheless titanical, I fear that the Sandman won't properly visit me for some moons.”
“Ah, I see. I'm sorry to put it like this, but the three of us need to discuss some stuff, so could you please get angry like Illie and decide to go home?” Being good with words isn't exactly one of his talents, even with this, he tried his best at casually asking David to go home.
“...Your request has been acknowledged. Will you come to school tomorrow?” 'Didn't that sound awfully normal?!' the two girls comment to each other.
“Probably. Don't worry. Sorry,” Elus lowers his head, only lifting his gaze again when David is already gone. “Can you two move? My legs don't work.”
“My arms are sore, I wouldn't manage to lift a fork,” Soa figured his legs were feeling just like her arms, the heavy fashion in which he collapsed was too unnatural.
“I'm... fine,” Fei still hides her burnt hand within her pocket. But since Assassin didn't do much fighting, she certainly is faring better than the other two.
“You two don't live close to this place, right?” Soa asks. The two consider the distance from this place to their school, then from school to their homes, and shake their heads. “Wanna sleep over? Especially you, El.”
“...” He looks away, trying to make his legs move so he can refuse.
“Don't be stubborn, I won't kill you in your sleep. Archer, would you carry him? And Saber carries the basket with the stuff I brought, please...”
“Master, are you fine with sleeping over?” Archer kneels in front of Elus, extending his hands backwards.
“...I have no choice, I guess,” the embarassed boy puts his arms around Archer's neck and lets the spirit give him a piggyback ride.
“I... think I'll pass, since I'm alright. Assassin can just carry me home, we'll be there right away,” she won't manage to hide that hand for the rest of the day, she doesn't want to let them see it until she hears what it is.
“...Bummer. Are you sure?”
“There's... something we're avoiding, right?” Just thinking about it, El feels chills around his spine, but pretending it didn't happen is just as bad, it will come back to bother him later. “What was that? Is that even the power a spirit can show?”
“Are you trying to say a human could do that? It could only be a spirit.”
“Not really... There is another 'species' that inhabits our world... And if it's one of those, it could easily do that much,” says Assassin, who holds Fei on his arms like a princess.
“So you thought the same, didn't you? That was no doubt an Ultimate...” Archer might not show it on his face, but to consider one of their enemies is an Ultimate disrupts some of his inner peace.
“Ultimates?” The three masters tilt their heads.
“We'll explain later, for now let's get away from this place. You three need to rest,” Saber would rather have ended this war without having the three worry over Ultimates, but that won't be possible anymore, it seems.
Agreeing that it's something best heard on the comfort of their homes, the group splits into two, Soa and El heading to Soa's home, Fei being carried to her home at high speed. By this moment, far away from their location, Caster doesn't even have the energy to beat up his master. His heart is shattered by fear, there are arrows stuck on his right wrist and shoulder. He tried pulling them off, but they don't budge an inch. A lethal skill of Archer's, arrows which are sure-hit and unremovable. As long as Archer has his eyes on the target, they won't fail. The cost is high, however. If he hadn't used them, El would have been able to use his legs after they got out. He decided to bet everything on that moment, even if El would pay for it, as long as he could kill Caster... But it failed due to the enemy's irregular form.
On their way back, Assassin gets distracted for a moment and bumps on a couple which walked on the opposite direction he did. What caught his attention was the mark on Fei's hand, and he was so distraught that he didn't even pay any mind to the person he hit, instead just focuses on asking her about it.
“Did you see that? That guy was clearly way older than her, what are highschool girls up to nowadays? And princess-carry in public? That sort of people is so disgusting,” the guy who was bumped on doesn't stop insulting the two for an instant. The woman calmly listens, waiting for him to end his rant.
“All that coming from the guy who said 'let's walk around with our arms linked to upset some loners'? Since you don't even know what was going on there, I'm sure you're the worst one here.”
“I don't like it when you're that brutal to me, Rider. Which, by the way, is pretty often.”
“I'm only brutal when you're being trash. Which, by the way, is pretty often.”
“This count as domestic violence, you know? I can't believe my wife is so abusive!”
“Please never call me your wife again, otherwise you'll know what truly is violence, Master.”