‘You’ve been busy, Assassin,’ the girl at the desk said, without looking up.
‘But of course,’ Assassin replied, entering his Master’s quarters. ‘I was instructed not to return until I had gleaned something useful, after all.’
‘You weren’t instructed to get involved. I know about the Master you killed.’
Damn her! How did she know about that? It bothered Assassin that his Master always seemed to have a perfect read on him and the situation, knowing things she should not. It also bothered him that she had such an uncanny sense for when he arrived and departed. No matter how ridiculous it sounded, it was like his Master was everywhere at once, or could see the future. That made it extremely difficult to spy on her. But, being the Servant of deception, no such frustration showed on Assassin’s face.
‘I was merely fulfilling your philosophy, my Master. After killing Archer, Berserker’s distasteful madness made it unlikely that she’d seek out the girl. Rider and his Master had no idea of her presence, and Berserker’s Master was already dead. I dared not let an unencumbered Master escape.’
‘Spare me the excuses.’
‘As you wish.’ Assassin straightened his posture, his demeanour becoming more straightforward to align with his Master’s. ‘Then onto my report: Archer’s, Berserker’s, Caster’s and Saber’s parties are all dead. The only remaining participants are Rider, Lancer, and I—our respective Masters notwithstanding.’
Assassin sighed internally. Stonewalled again. Would it be too much to ask for even the slightest reaction from his Master? Just once?
‘This Holy Grail War will soon reach its conclusion. If I may be so bold, I’d recommend becoming actively involved sooner rather than later.’
‘Naturally. I doubt Rider and Lancer will be so kind as to consider mutual destruction.’
‘Then we should ensure we are both present to eliminate whoever survives and claim the Grail for ourselves.’
‘I expect nothing less. Where are Rider and Lancer now?’
‘Lancer and her Master have claimed the Ryuudou Temple on Mount Enzou as their base of operations. Rider seems to drift from one place to another. He and his Master never spend more than a few hours in the same location.’
‘Follow Lancer. Ensure she meets her opponent as soon as possible.’
‘And what, may I ask, will you be doing?’
Gesturing around her room, Assassin’s Master said, ‘Tying up loose ends. I’ll meet you at the battlefield.’
Assassin was displeased with her answer. It meant that, yet again, he would be doing the dirty work while she did whatever secretive business she did while he was away. If he didn’t know better, Assassin might have called her an Assassin herself, what with how skilfully she hid her true intentions. But, as long as she did show up eventually, it wouldn’t be a problem for him in the end. There was one thing in particular that prickled at the back of Assassin’s mind, however.
‘Since we may not have a chance later, is it not wise to share the identities of the remaining Masters and Servants with me?’
‘There’s no need. It won’t be a problem.’
Ridiculous. How else was Assassin supposed to go about defeating either Rider or Lancer? Certainly not in regular combat. He would need to use his Noble Phantasm if she didn’t tell him. Unless…
‘You do know them, don’t you? Isn’t that what you’ve been doing this whole time?’
Assassin’s Master ran her hand through her hair, flicking it over her shoulder and giving him a cold glare. If the action didn’t convey her displeasure enough, her words did. ‘What I know is none of your concern. I said it wouldn’t be a problem, and it won’t. Now do as I’ve told you—without straying, this time.’
‘Yes, my Master,’ Assassin said, bowing as he left the room.
That choice of words meant to Assassin that his Master did, in fact, know at least some of the remaining teams’ identities, but elected not to make use of them. If that was the case, then she must have some other method of defeating Rider and Lancer. That raised the question of “how?” Did she plan to dispatch them herself? Assassin had considered that possibility before. There simply wasn’t any way for a magus to defeat a Servant without using another Servant.
That chain of thought raised another, more worrisome question. If she wasn’t planning on having Assassin defeat the winner out of Rider and Lancer, was she then planning on having one of them defeat him? Was that what his Master had been doing all this time? Liaising with other Masters or their Servants, intending to betray her own? Assassin was all too aware of the precedent for a Servant to betray an ineffective Master, but the opposite was a foolhardy course of action at best. If it happened, the other Servant would win the Grail for their Master, not her. But if she killed that Master, and contracted with their Servant instead…
Assassin smiled. It was exactly the sort of plan he would come up with, were he a Master. That meant this was a small victory for him. If he was right—and there was little to suggest any other possibilities at this point—then he had finally gotten inside his Master’s head. How appropriate it was that the person he saw in there was so very much like himself. They were both playing the same game in the same way, so it was up to Assassin to plan one step ahead—no, two; with this revelation, he was already at an advantage. And since his Master was most likely planning several steps ahead herself, he’d better make it three steps.
As he headed back towards Lancer’s abode, Assassin almost laughed. This was much more enjoyable than anything he’d done so far. What a terrible shame that his real battle had only begun so near the end. He was certain of which Servant would win the Holy Grail War. But only time would tell who it was won for. The game was on.
* * *
While Assassin schemed, his Master removed every trace of her presence in Fuyuki City these past two weeks. All of the many devices, screens and documents that occupied her apartment were vaporised with her magic. The only thing she kept was a notebook: the one Assassin had left with her earlier. It wasn’t anything special. There were millions of others exactly like it across Japan alone. All it contained was pages and pages of notes about the other Masters and Servants. But it had served exactly two purposes.
The first was to confirm the identities of the Masters. The girl was already quite sure based on her own knowledge, but the visual confirmation was reassuring. The second was to confirm the identities of the Servants. This was somewhat more difficult since they didn’t exist physically before the Holy Grail War began and their spirits could have originated from any place in any time. Careful observation of the Masters’ investments might yield a clue as to which Heroic Spirit’s artefacts they might intend to use as a catalyst. But from all of the girl’s research, she hadn’t been able to find any such clues for any of the current Masters. It was as if none of them had used an artefact catalyst at all.
That made sense for the girl, at least, since the Assassin class used the invocation of its own name as the catalyst. She had been surprised when her Servant appeared to her, since he was nothing like the Assassins summoned in previous Holy Grail Wars, but she simply wrote it off as the Grail’s mechanism selecting an obscure Assassin that happened to suit her. But when the other Servants appeared to be similarly obscure, she knew that something was up. She’d invested a lot of time into trying to find the origins of these mysterious Servants so she could defeat them.
When she did finally discover what was going on, everything became clear. It was no surprise neither she nor Assassin were able to figure out what Heroic Spirits had returned to this world. It was all because of one person’s wish; a wish made at the end of another Holy Grail War. That wish had created the malformed ritual in which the girl was now fighting; the war that had seemed like it had lasted fourteen years instead of fourteen days. And now that she knew how that cycle of suffering came to be, it was up to her to end it. Permanently.
Fate/Cross features elements originating from Fate/Stay Night by Type-Moon