‘Assassin!’ Rider growled.
‘How astute of you.’
Grunting, Rider struggled to his feet. His time was quickly running out.
Assassin chuckled. ‘Are you going to fight me, Rider? In that state? You can barely stand.’
‘Just who the hell do you think I am?’
‘I’ve no idea. Why don’t you enlighten me?’
As Rider gave his name, Assassin kept a close eye on both his Master and the late Lancer’s Master standing either side of him. If any of them were going to contract with the masterless Rider, now was the time for them to do it. It would ensure certain victory for whichever magus made the vow first, since Assassin had no chance of defeating Rider in a straight fight. In every conceivable way, it was the logical move to make. But neither magus moved.
So be it, Assassin thought, as he inscribed Rider’s true name into his notebook.
Instantly, Rider doubled over. If he wasn’t already fading from this world, he most certainly was now. It pleased Assassin to know that his weapon worked as well on Servants as it did on humans. He was fairly certain it would, but it felt good to be validated.
On the other hand, this also meant that he was not validated in another respect. He was sure his Master planned to betray him by contracting with Rider or Lancer, or by surrendering him to allow another Master to win, but she had done nothing of the sort. The non-action raised a greater fear in him than the action would have. But in light of these developments, it was time to execute his own betrayal.
Lancer’s Master turned towards Assassin’s, raising his arm in readiness to cast some lethal curse on her. ‘Congratulations, girl. Your Servant has won the Holy Grail War. Kindly surrender it to me and you might just live through the night.’
The girl threw him a sidelong glance. Apparently this threat was of so little concern to her that it didn’t require facing her aggressor.
‘And what if I refuse?’ she said.
Taking his cue, Assassin stepped away from his Master and took position next to the bearded man. He presented his notebook towards his Master, showing the name she gave in their contract partly inscribed on the page. ‘Then you won’t get to hold the Grail at all.’
The girl sighed. ‘You’re planning to kill me and contract with this fool to claim the Grail? Oh, Assassin, I’m hurt.’
‘No you’re not. Neither am I.’
‘And you there, magus, you’d rely on the suicide of your own Servant and defection of another’s to weasel your way to victory?’
The bearded Master smiled his unnerving smile. ‘Of course. Magi are known for their pride, not their honour. I will do whatever it takes to win.’
‘A wise decision.’
‘Clearly. Assassin, kill your Master now.’
Assassin completed writing the girl’s name in his deathly notebook. In a moment, it would all be over. He smiled. In contrast to the bearded Master’s smile, Assassin’s was prideful and smug. He had outwitted his sly, cunning Master. The Grail would be his, not hers, and there was nothing she could do about it.
* * *
Several days ago, on the peak of Mount Enzou.
Having observed each of the Masters in great detail, Assassin decided on his target. Most were unworthy; they were meek, or unambitious, or simply not to his liking. Some he eliminated himself, while others perished with their Servants. But one in particular intrigued Assassin.
This Master had little regard for his Servant on a personal level. All he possessed within him was a writhing greed. He coveted power, ultimate power, and the Grail to that end. He was prepared to go to any lengths for his goal, and he had come to realise that his Servant was perhaps unable to fulfil it for him.
He hatched a plan to ally with another Master and Servant to defeat the rest, then stab them in the back. After carefully observing the possible matchups, watching the ones he thought unsuitable be defeated, and even murdering Berserker’s Master himself, he decided on his mark. Saber was a weak Servant, but able to endure strong opponents. He would be perfect bait for the other Servants and easily dispatched once his usefulness expired.
But that plan was soon unravelled when Saber refused his terms. While the bearded Master retreated to the shadows of the Ryuudou Temple, Assassin approached him. Assassin proclaimed himself the ally that the bearded Master was searching for, and laid out a plan that would see both parties freed from their respective contracts to claim the Grail together.
Then, as if they had never spoken, they both left, treacherous thoughts stowed in the backs of their minds. Nothing could disrupt their brilliance.
* * *
As Assassin’s pen inked the final letter of his Master’s name, there was a flash of purple light and several loud bangs! It took a second for Assassin to register that his notebook was no longer in his hand. In fact, his hand was no longer on his arm. Beside him, the bearded Master’s brains no longer occupied his skull. His body collapsed to the ground in a puddle of blood and brain matter.
Assassin was shocked. Truly, honestly, shocked, and it was written all over his face. His body told him he had been shot, but his brain told him that Servants—as spiritual beings—shouldn’t be affected by conventional weaponry. And yet his hand had clearly been detached from his arm, hanging limply by a few strips of flesh.
When he looked up at the source of the gunshot, what he saw baffled him. There stood his Master, the cold, calculating girl, outfitted in some kind of purple and black garb and armed with a high-powered shotgun and a bizarrely shaped targe. In front of her was a dazzling golden chalice, unmistakably the Holy Grail. Her hand reached out for it, and her fingers brushed its polished surface.
Assassin tried to process the scene before him: in a single instant—as if time itself had stopped—his Master had wounded him and killed the bearded man. She had also summoned the Holy Grail to her position. The look in her eyes was unknown to Assassin; was it obsession? Desire?
The girl spoke. Her voice was terrifying. As if crooning to the magical vessel, she whispered, ‘You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this. Now… I’ve got you.’
And then the grail worked its magic. Everything surrounding Assassin and his Master disappeared, sucked into a mysterious black void. All that remained was the two of them and the Grail. A kaleidoscope of colour flitted at the edge of Assassin’s vision, but no matter where he looked, he couldn’t identify its source. Nor could he identify where this place was, or how he was standing within it.
‘What is this?’ he asked, voice shaking.
His Master turned to him, a dead expression in her eyes. ‘This is the second time I’ve been here.’
‘What have you done? What did you wish for?!’
The girl ignored him. ‘All these times I repeated the Holy Grail War… All these times I struggled and failed…’
‘I told you I have studied a great many Holy Grail Wars. To be precise, I have lived and studied this Holy Grail War over one hundred times.’
Assassin’s eyes bulged. ‘How? What are you?’
‘As I am now, I am a Master. But before that I was a Servant. I fought and won alongside my Master and she wished for a world where no human, living or dead, would ever again be conscripted into this despicable farce. But the Holy Grail is a cruel god. It took me back to the day I was summoned and gave me a mortal body, then made my Master disappear instead.’
This was too much to process. Assassin’s Master was a Servant herself? And she’d survived hundreds of variations of the same Holy Grail War? All of a sudden it became clear to Assassin why his Master was so bold about threatening him. She was, in fact, more powerful. She didn’t need to have another Servant kill him, or have him kill them. She could do it herself.
‘Then why summon me? If you’re a Servant yourself, what good am I to you?’
‘What good?’ The girl turned her eyes on her cowering Servant. ‘I can’t lay claim to the Holy Grail if I’m not a Master, and I can’t be a Master without summoning a Servant.’
Bringing her finger to her chin in thought, she added, ‘Do you want to know something about the Servants and Masters in this iteration of the Holy Grail War? Why you couldn’t identify any of them?’
‘Why don’t you enlighten me?’
‘You’re not real—you’re fictional Heroic Spirits.’
Assassin snorted. “Pull the other one,” he wanted to say. He knew what life he had lived. But when he thought about it, if he had lived that life, then this world should be one shaped by it. As far as he could tell, his legacy did not exist.
‘Then what about you? Are you not also fictional?’
‘Perhaps I was. But who I was before doesn’t matter. I am real now, and I will have my revenge on the Holy Grail. As a Servant of vengeance, I suppose I could be called Avenger.’
Avenger. That was the identity of the girl in front of Assassin now. This girl, who was a Servant, and then a Master, was now something even more dangerous. He had to do something.
Assassin used his Noble Phantasm. His eyes saw the true name of Avenger. As he suspected, it wasn’t the name he already knew. That name burned itself into the pages of his discarded notebook. It never finished etching, however, as the cost of Assassin’s Noble Phantasm took effect. His already-short remaining lifespan was cut in half, and he expired without accomplishing anything.
Now filled with the souls of all seven Heroic Spirits, the Holy Grail was ready to grant its champion’s wish. Avenger gave it her command: ‘I wish for every Holy Grail to be erased from this world, for all of history and for the infinite future!’
Silence. Darkness. Then a burst of ethereal light.
* * *
A chill settled over Fuyuki City. It was to be expected, given it was the middle of winter. Shivering slightly, a boy wandered the streets in the mild midday sun, with no particular goal in mind. His pace was slow, and his eyes leisurely took in the sights around him. He was in the Shinto district, so for the most part the scenery was large corporate buildings and apartment blocks; a stark contrast to the more traditional and open Miyama district.
As he turned a corner, he came across some kind of pop-up store. It was rather small, and not at all busy, but it made the boy smile. It was a marketplace that sold a variety of merchandise for various TV shows and video games. On each shelf he saw figures, and comic books, and posters of the characters he used to love.
There was an albino girl in a sleek body suit holding a twin-pronged spear; a confident looking man with spiky hair and a trench coat emblazoned with a distinctive logo; a pallid boy in uniform holding a longsword with no handle; a young woman in a cloak that disguised her animal ears and tail; an elegantly dressed blonde girl with glittering muskets; a timid schoolgirl with glasses, face hidden behind a novel; and a young man in a suit holding an unusual black notebook.
The boy remembered how he used to play pretend, taking on the personas of those characters and acting out scenes with his friends. How he used to write stories about them and their adventures. He always wondered what it would be like if he ever met one of them, or if they met each other. But it was impossible, he thought, and put it out of his mind.
There was no way those characters could ever come to life like that. There was no way for them to interact, and no way for them to live a life of their own. They were fictional characters. They were born onto a page or a screen, and that was where they remained—such would always be their fate.
Fate/Cross features elements originating from Fate/Stay Night by Type-Moon