Faster. Archer had to run faster. Any moment now the savage, wild animal behind her would catch up. She had to make sure that, when it did, she and her Master were in a suitable battlefield, unlike the dense forest that presently surrounded them. The mass of trees made it very difficult for an Archer-class Servant to do battle, especially when those obstacles were themselves of little consequence to the opposing Berserker, who, by the sound of things, was smashing through them as if they were twigs.
How had Berserker found them, anyway? Archer and her Master had been resting in the old shack in the woods south-west of Fuyuki when they were alerted to Berserker’s arrival. Archer’s Master had claimed the shack as her base of operations precisely because it was so out-of-the-way that finding them would be unlikely. Granted, she was an inexperienced magus, but even someone of her rudimentary skill level should have been able to mask her mana trail.
In any case, whatever had given them away had done so to perhaps the most terrifying opponent possible. Archer was nimble, albeit somewhat hampered by having to carry her Master, but Berserker was catching up alarmingly fast. If they didn’t find a way out of the forest soon, then—
A clearing. Dead ahead. The moonlight filtered through the thinning foliage, giving what lay beyond an almost ethereal glow. As Archer burst out from the tree line, she saw that before her was an old castle. Though it was in a state of disrepair, it looked to be structurally sound. That would do.
Archer used the momentum of her running speed to launch into a massive leap that carried her up to a balcony on the fourth floor. She smashed open the glass door and deposited her Master in the room beyond it. There was a four poster bed and an assortment of stuffed animals strewn across the floor. It appeared to have belonged to a little girl at some point in time. Archer noted that it was quite similar to her Master’s abode back home, if a bit more extravagant. She should be safe here.
Satisfied with the situation, Archer turned to jump back outside, but her Master caught her hand before she could.
‘Wait!’ she said. ‘You’re not going to leave me, are you?’
‘I can’t protect you from that monstrous Servant. You’ll be safe up here.’
‘I thought we were going to fight together…’
‘This battlefield is too dangerous for a young girl, even one as magical as you. It is for Servants, and Servants alone.’
‘But you won’t be alone! I’ll be here to support you!’
Archer paused. ‘Do you really want to stand by my side and fight? Do you really want to stay with me?’
‘Yes!’ Quietly, Archer’s Master added, ‘if someone like me will do.’
Deep down, Archer was touched. In life, she had been quite lonely. She’d had no one there by her side, supporting her or caring for her. But now she had her Master. They hadn’t even known each other for two weeks and yet the little pink-haired girl was ready to throw herself into the line of fire for her. How determined her Master was. That made Archer’s decision all the more difficult.
With a flourish, golden ribbons streamed through the air and strung up Archer’s Master between the nearest two posts of the bed. They formed a bow around her chest, from which hung a similarly golden lock that slid into place with a click.
‘A-Archer?’ the pink-haired girl stammered. It was no surprise she’d be confused.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’ll be back for you. Just trust me.’
With her Master’s despairing cry at her back, Archer leapt out the window and landed at the foot of the castle just as Berserker came snarling out of the forest. Quick as a whip, Archer sprang into action. Using the ramparts and turrets of the castle as anchors and her magic ribbons as a rope, Archer swung through the air, taking pot shots at Berserker whenever possible. It was absolutely imperative that Berserker couldn’t reach her. If she did, then it would be over. Archer had no chance of matching her in physical combat.
As if being driven mad by the Berserker class designation wasn’t enough, Berserker was infuriated by Archer’s strategy. While she had the strength and speed to have caught Archer in mid-air, Berserker lacked the mental capacity to plan such a move. Instead, she hefted clumps of earth at the yellow Servant, none of which struck their target for either lack of aim or for being blasted out of the air. So Berserker instead turned her assault on the castle itself, pulverising the bricks in an attempt to collapse the stronghold.
Archer wouldn’t have any of that. If the castle collapsed with her Master inside it, then—no. She dared not think of that. Using her musket fire as a booster, Archer swung around the face of the turret directly at Berserker. Too busy smashing to react, Berserker was collected full-force by Archer’s two-footed kick and sent flying into the trees.
To Archer’s surprise, however, she too went flying, her ribbon severed by Berserker’s clawed hand. As she rolled along the ground, she could hear Berserker approaching by the screams of bloody murder echoing around the clearing. In desperation, Archer shot ribbons out in every direction, hoping to make contact with something—anything—of use.
As it would happen, that something was Berserker. Entangled in the mass of ribbon, Berserker screeched and clawed at herself, trying to break free. Archer had an opening. If there was going to be any time to use her Noble Phantasm, now would be it. This battle had to end—now.
Once again flourishing her hand, Archer willed the ribbons wrapped around Berserker to stretch into the air, holding the furious Servant several metres above the ground. With her other hand, she withdrew the biggest weapon in her arsenal: a massive flintlock cannon that was easily several times her size. Propping it up on its stand and pointing it directly at Berserker, Archer called out her Noble Phantasm’s true name, and with a boom that shook the very ground, it fired.
The projectile that emerged did so at such a speed that to anyone watching it would have seemed like nothing but a golden stream of light. It pierced Berserker’s sternum, directly above her heart. The impact blew Berserker’s cloak right off, and strips of her tunic fluttered to the ground alongside a little pouch with some kind of grain spilling out.
Berserker stopped struggling. Archer dispersed her ribbons, allowing the defeated Servant to fall to the ground in a crumpled heap. Just in case, she approached the corpse, musket in hand, to deliver the final blow. Before she could pull the trigger, however, Berserker’s body twitched. Uncontrollably. It seemed like something crawling under Berserker’s skin was about to burst out. Something cracked. Something tore. And in that moment, Archer realised she had made a terrible mistake.
* * *
Up on the fourth floor of the castle, the ribbons binding Archer’s Master unravelled with a click and she fell onto the bed. Someone approached from the interior doorway, so she jumped to her feet in excitement, but the person she saw wasn’t Archer. It was a man dressed in a suit, finger held to his lips as if to say “don’t make a sound”.
The pink-haired girl’s mind raced. What was happening? Just a moment ago, she had felt a strange discomfort, like the kind one experienced on an elevator or a roller coaster. Surely the short drop to the mattress couldn’t have caused it? Or was she feeling this way out of fear; fear of the strange man standing in front of her? Was he a Master? She couldn’t tell. But what she did know was that this man was trouble, and Archer wasn’t here to back her up.
‘Are you unhurt?’ the man asked. When he got no response, he raised his hands in submission and added, ‘I’m not here to fight you. I had come to check on the disturbance outside when I noticed you strung up in here. I thought you might be a prisoner.’
The man’s words seemed sincere. Against her better interests, the pink-haired Master asked, ‘Who are you?’
He smiled gratefully. ‘I’ve been overseeing events here for the last few days. You see, it’s currently my job to take note of how the Holy Grail War transpires and report it to my boss.’
That sounded like the truth. In the back of her mind, the pink-haired Master recalled that there was an overseer dispatched by the church to act as a referee of sorts. This must have been him.
‘I’ll ask again: are you unhurt?’ he said.
‘I’m fine. I’m a Master. My Servant put me up here to protect me.’
The man nodded sagely. ‘A wise decision.’ Withdrawing a leather-bound notebook from his breast pocket, he flipped to a specific page. ‘It seems Archer and Berserker are out there. Which, may I ask, is your Servant?’
‘Ah yes, of course. Your Servant is very powerful.’
He was nice. Too nice. The pink-haired Master still wasn’t sure she could trust him. ‘You’re the overseer, right? What’s your name?’
The man told her his name. It didn’t matter if this girl knew. ‘And yours?’
She told him her name in turn. She thought that, maybe, her family’s reputation could grant her some leverage here.
‘I see,’ the man said, writing something down in his notebook. ‘Thank you, miss. You’ve been very helpful.’ Then he turned and started to walk away.
‘Wait! Where are we going? Archer is still out there!’
‘I’m afraid your Archer is dead,’ the man said, speaking coldly over his shoulder, ‘and in a moment, you will be too.’
‘W-What?’ the pink-haired Master stammered.
That pit in her stomach appeared again.
She raised her hand in front of her, intending to call Archer to her position with one of her Command Spells, only to find that there was none there.
She flooded her magic circuits, feeling for the connection between her body and her Servant’s, only to find that there was none there.
She felt her body grow tense and clutched her hand to her chest, trying to settle her accelerating pulse, only to find that there was none there.
And in that state of fear, the pink-haired Master died.
Fate/Cross features elements originating from Fate/Stay Night by Type-Moon