‘That’s not something you see every day,’ Rider said, flatly.
His Master agreed, face pale. The scene before them definitely wasn’t something one saw every day. In fact, it was likely that few people had ever seen something like this, period. Rider’s Master tried to turn away, but Rider caught his shoulder, holding him in place.
‘Don’t. We’re gonna have to fight that thing. I need you to have my back.’
Rider’s Master baulked. ‘Are you crazy? Or just reckless? You saw what that thing did to Archer just now!’
‘Lemme tell you something, Master: I might carry a spear, but I’m not a lancer. My class is Rider, but I’m not a pilot. I’ve always been a brawler, and brawlers are sustained by willpower. Even when mocked as reckless or crazy. We both need to believe in our willpower to beat that thing.’
What Rider and his Master were calling “that thing” was Berserker. Or, more accurately, what was formerly Berserker. When Archer had fired her Noble Phantasm, it spilt not only Berserker’s blood but a small pouch of offerings that had hung around her neck. The combination of blood and offerings was the catalyst needed to activate Berserker’s own Noble Phantasm.
While Archer stood, paralysed, Berserker underwent a startling transformation. The crumpled body of the slender young woman warped, cracked and tore as it shifted into a much more terrifying form: an enormous wolf, sleek and powerful, and standing over twice Archer’s height. It was little wonder the dog-eared Servant was so powerful in her previous fight; she was coursing the strength of this massive beast through her tiny human-shaped form.
Archer could do nothing as the wolf Berserker snapped its mouth around her, devouring her rapidly dissolving body. Were Archer a real person, Berserker’s mouth might now have been wet with her blood. But she wasn’t, and now accompanying Berserker’s inherent madness was a maddening hunger. Her heightened sense of smell told her that there were several targets in the vicinity, two of them directly behind her. So Berserker turned back towards the forest and saw a sight that would have perplexed her, were she sane enough to form such emotions.
Not unlike Berserker, Rider also possessed a more powerful form. In his case, it was not a physical transformation, but the vehicle that granted him his status as a Rider-class Servant. At the edge of the forest stood a bold red suit of armour—the same one Rider had worn against Lancer—but the portion that had previously encased Rider’s entire body now formed the head of a much bigger armour, in the torso of which also sat Rider’s Master. This was his Noble Phantasm: the power to evolve and grow to meet the challenges he faced. And right now, that challenge was Berserker.
Not a single second was wasted. Berserker ran straight for her equally-sized opponent, leaping up at his shoulders, mouth agape and ready to bite into him. Rider was ready for the attack and ducked, catching Berserker’s underside on his shoulder. Not that that stopped Berserker, who, despite hanging vertically, got a claw into the legs of Rider’s armour and used her core strength to pull it forcefully backwards at the “spine”.
Sensing danger, Rider let go of Berserker, allowing her to drop to the ground. Berserker launched from her landing straight into a full-bodied tackle, colliding with Rider’s waist. Rider staggered, struggling to regain balance, while Berserker didn’t let up. Over and over she smashed her hulking wolf body into Rider, finally knocking him face-down onto the ground, whereupon she leapt on top of him and began biting at his neck.
Luckily for Rider, his armour was durable enough to handle the awkwardly angled biting Berserker had to employ to get around its veritable bulk. But there wasn’t much he could do to fight back from this position. Grunting with the effort, Rider managed to get his chest off the ground in what was perhaps the world’s most heavily-weighted push-up. It made no difference to Berserker, who continued biting and clawing at the mysterious armour, until Rider intentionally dropped one of his arms, tilting himself harshly to one side and tipping Berserker off of him as a result.
Quick as a flash, he was standing again, with Berserker mere metres away. She again struck first, raising her front paws at him in attempt to claw out his “eyes”. Rider swatted one paw away with his hand, caught the other on his pauldron, and delivered a bone-crushing punch to Berserker’s snout with his other hand.
Down, but not beaten, Berserker swung her paws at Rider’s legs, again trying to trip him up. She crouched her head low to avoid further punches and threw her shoulder at Rider’s knee. The impact broke the joint backwards, putting Rider onto one knee and giving Berserker a chance to retaliate. She jumped onto the arm Rider had used to prop himself up and began to tear at it; pulling it out of the socket. Against an opponent of flesh and blood this would have been much easier, but the metal behemoth was tenacious.
As a suit of armour, Rider’s pseudo-body did not feel pain, and as such was only crippled by these wounds as far as limiting his movement. Rider clasped his unimpeded hand around Berserker’s neck and allowed himself to drop with her still hanging onto his shoulder. Though she had torn most of the way through his arm, Rider’s pauldron and both of its upper prongs remained intact. So as Rider fell, that pauldron embedded itself into the ground, with Berserker’s neck caught between its two points, trapping her.
False blood oozed from Berserker’s neck. Her throaty screams—which had shifted to throaty growls after her transformation—now became frightened yelps. Rider detached the pauldron from his shoulder and held it in place with his good arm as he crawled on top of Berserker’s prone body.
In the reverse of the position he found himself in at the start of the fight, Rider endured the flailing limbs of the wolf Servant and put all of his weight into driving the pauldron further into the ground. With each inch, the pressure on Berserker’s neck increased. So too did the effort it took to continue. Rider’s breath ran ragged inside the helmet of his massive mechanical armour, while down in its torso, his Master’s did the same. Conjuring a projection of this size took a proportionally massive amount of mana, and they were reaching their limit.
So it became a question of who could outlast the other: Rider, or Berserker? Berserker continued to scratch and claw at her aggressor, eyes bloodshot in a mixture of blind rage and oxygen deprivation. Her own breaths were strangled, raspy and gargling with her blood. She snapped her jaw desperately, but Rider’s face was too far out of range for it to have any effect.
With a roar, Rider heaved one last push, crushing Berserker’s windpipe and shattering her neck with a disturbing crunch. Berserker twitched, twitched again, and then went still. Unlike Archer’s effort, it was unlikely that Berserker could come back from an injury like this. And to prove it, her body took its turn to dissolve. The wolf body evaporated first, revealing once again the slender feminine form Berserker had originally taken; it too evaporated a few seconds later.
Rider’s armour dissolved as well, dropping him and his Master a few short metres to the ground. Both gulped air as if each breath might have been their last. It occurred to neither of them that another party could be watching, deciding whether or not to eliminate them in turn. Considering they themselves had done so for Berserker after she eliminated Archer so horribly, it was a foolish thing to overlook. Ignorant, they lay in the clearing at the foot of the old castle, basking in the thrill of their victory.
* * *
Luckily for them, the one watching was Assassin. Having departed the castle after eliminating Archer’s Master, he lingered to watch the fight between Berserker and Rider in the hope that Berserker’s absent Master might arrive and fall into his clutches. And what a fight it was. History and mythology always spoke of battles between men and beasts, or gods and beasts, or men and gods—the tale of David and Goliath was just one of many such underdog stories—but less often told were the battles with behemoths on both sides. It truly was a spectacle to behold.
That was why Assassin dared not approach the vulnerable pair in the clearing. Such power was not to be trifled with lightly. He had only attacked Archer’s Master because her Servant was defeated and she was no threat herself. His own Master had insisted on both enemy Masters and Servants being eliminated simultaneously, after all. But the two in the clearing were dangerous. Assassin couldn’t tell just how much fight they had left in them, and if they had any at all it would be difficult for him to fight back.
So Assassin left. He walked back into the forest, heading north-east. The winding path through the trees had been somewhat rerouted by Berserker’s rampage. It would still take some time for him to reach the city on this more direct route, but he was in no rush. No one knew he was here. He wasn’t being followed. By his guess, he’d arrive back in Fuyuki proper just in time to watch the sunrise.
But part way there he found something that surprised him. A man with silver hair and a face too young to suit it sat against a tree. He wasn’t breathing. A satchel lay next to him, its contents splayed across the soil. There were a few arcane tomes and related instruments, which meant this man was a magus. Curiously, there was also a bag of wheat and several crimson apples, one half eaten. Assassin inspected it.
‘Poison,’ he muttered to himself.
This was most likely Berserker’s Master, left behind by his uncontrollable Servant. But his being here in this state meant that someone else had gotten to him first; whether recently or not Assassin couldn’t tell. To be safe, Assassin searched the magus’ belongings and inscribed the name he found in his notebook. He could check it with his Master’s list later. Either way, Assassin’s job here was done. He slipped his notebook back inside his breast pocket and continued on his way.
Fate/Cross features elements originating from Fate/Stay Night by Type-Moon