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Carly-Beth
Za Boat, Harbor

In response to her Servant's concern, the homunculus shrugged lazily in reply. "Not from P.P., nah. Looks like we're getting invited to a big meeting. I'll send Mary. They'll all love her. Can't wait for them to throw a party in our honor for getting rid of that tree and stopping it from fucking up everything." She hummed out.

Kneeling down a bit towards the penguin, she offered a warm smile. "Hey, little guy, how'd you like to put on a mas-"

"Don't touch me, motherfucker. Get out."

"..."

...well then.

It seemed that the penguin wasn't very friendly.

Well, regardless, with Strategist's preparations done and her own auxiliaries finished, it was time to turn her attention to something infinitely more pressing.

"Elena, keep building the simulation. Anna, Harvey, Shaytanea, and Phil, come with me. Joseph, start work on what we discussed."

Yes, after all, Carly-Beth was not here to fight for the Holy Grail, to defeat the other Servants, or anything so ridiculous as that. No...

-She just wanted to make cool masks.

And make cool masks she would.



Lucius Tiberius
Red Dragon Round Two, Einzbern Forest
@Cu Chulainn

...it was only reasonable.

Even if they fought differently, even if they were different existences, they were the same sort of being.

A swordsman with the nature of a dragon, a human king who cut down such dragons, a peerless warrior blessed with instinct that entered the realm of precognition.

Was his sight of the man before him overlapping with the vision of that fight? Surely not, but there was something there.

Ah, the mount was getting closer. Not here yet, but closer.

And so, as Dietrich struggled to weather those blows, something was being pulled into Lucius’s form.

Yes, his opponent had assumed that his strikes were random, bestial, tactless. This could not be further from the truth. While the strikes were a flurry of blows that rained down on Dietrich, they were not random. He could not afford to toy with an enemy such as this.

This is a digression, but for one such as Dietrich, whose instincts were equivalent to precognition, defeating him in combat was nearly impossible. One would need to significantly outclass him to do so, a notion that was not a simple one given his abilities.

...however, even instincts could be fooled.

Yes, with eyes that could understand one's abilities and mesh them into a cohesive flow with others, with combat skill that was suited for overwhelming such absurd figures as the one before him, it was already decided.

When Dietrich leapt backwards to slash out, the Sword Emperor only felt dismay. But this was not dismay at the risk of being defeated.

"...not enough."

-Because, after all, Lucius's combat style possessed two tools that were of particular use against an enemy such as Dietrich, who relied on his instincts in order to cope with a stronger enemy.

First, instincts that were not one whit inferior to Dietrich's own.

Check failure: met.

And second...

Against an enemy of superior speed, whose instincts equaled Dietrich's own, had he truly thought he would be able to put distance between them? Surely not, and yet his instincts had told him that this was what he ought to do to take advantage of an opening. This was the natural result, given that bestial nature of his attacks, which Dietrich had no doubt taken into account.

This was the second component. A battle methodology that grasped the flow of battle and induced a check failure for the opponent, carefully calculated to form a momentary chance of victory. Something further augmented by Saber's own instincts and observational talent.

And it was thus that, at the same moment that Dietrich leapt back-

Lucius’s will reached inwards, and imposed on himself.

“Burst.”

There was no time to react. As if propelled by a Command Seal, the Saber shot forwards with a speed that far and away eclipsed even his initial charge. If it was not for his dominion over the land’s spiritual pulse, something like that would have likely killed his Vassal on the spot from exertion.

Even his baseline ability was enough to overwhelm Dietrich in a matter of speed, but this was something else entirely. A calculated opening done by understanding Dietrich’s abilities, slotting them into the ‘whole’ of the battle, using his instinct against him, exploiting the instincts Lucius himself had, and accomplishing a feat that only he had the aptitude for.

Even then, even though Dietrich was occupied with already moving and lacked the capacity to stop this blow, Lucius did not let his guard down for even a moment. He would never assume such things against an Arturus. Perhaps that horse would suddenly become capable of spatial transference. Perhaps Dietrich was hiding his own true speed. Perhaps there was an undetectable Servant with a knife at his throat.

...Nonetheless, that excess caution wouldn’t matter, in the end.

Before Falke had even reached the battlefield, the Rider’s heart would be cut open by Florent.
Lucius Tiberius
Red Dragon Round Two, Einzbern Forest
@Kyuuzen @Cu Chulainn


"Don't presume to order me, Vassal. If I choose to strike him down, I will."

When the dragon-fire came, he felt a tint of confusion.

Arturus was a dragon-turned-man, but he had never had that ability. Nonetheless, he treated it as though it was an attack from Arturus itself, even if it was a trifling one. While the power behind those flames was at least suitable to be of the dragon-class, the idea that something so halfhearted could truly strike someone with his speed and Instincts was a laughable one at best.

Weaving through the fire, the Saber was unhindered, his focus on his enemy all the sharper even as fire began to blossom in the forest behind him as he ran.

...ah, wait, that could be a problem, couldn't it?

As he ran, his will reached out, and dominated the flames. It wouldn't do if the flames spread to that other section of the forest before it was complete, and so the best recourse was simply to snuff them out. And then he saw him.

"Ah..."

Disappointing. That was the first thought to dawn on him.

The stature was imposing, the spiritual foundation dripped with the nature of a great hero, the sword gleamed with a great light. That resplendent armor, that strength of the dragon, there was no doubt that this man was a hero who could stand among humanity's greatness.

And yet, for all his excitement at facing the enemy before him, someone he could recognize just as easily as he himself was recognized, he felt a tinge of disappointment.

"You're not Arturus, but you'll do nonetheless!"

Just as his eyes finally landed on the Rider, though, that true name was invoked and light colored his sword. He felt the blade in his hands call out in hunger, a grin tearing his face in two. "Fine, fine. Wake up, Florent."

It would have begun the second Dietrich laid eyes on Lucius. A weight, an immaterial weight that nonetheless felt more palpable than anything else, pressed down on him from all sides. For a hero of his stature, that pressure was not crippling, but it was nonetheless significant. His movements were slowed, his strikes were weakened. This was what it meant to oppose the Sword Emperor.

...and at the same time, that almighty will of domination was imposed on the Rider's steed as well.

Lucius's mind whirred to life, taking in what he knew of the capabilities of the Servant before him as he closed the gap between them. Learn their abilities, imagine methods in which they can be used, and then devise countermeasures for each one. His mind could take the forefront, and his combat aptitude would be in charge of the execution.

To start with, that sword was a problem. His armor alone wouldn't be sufficient to cope with its effect; with Flora's protection amplifying it, though, it could possibly handle it. Besides that, if he released the true name then the other's attacks would be meaningless, but that was something against his ideals, so it wasn't even up for consideration. If that was the case, he was best off avoiding getting hit.

The armor was only relevant if he attacked in ways other than with Florent, which could certainly occur. So long as Florent was present, though, he could essentially ignore the defensive capacity of the Noble Phantasm. Well, unless the Rider did that, of course.

The steed was noteworthy, but he had ways of dealing with such things.

With that decided, at the same time as his will came down like a crushing wall on Dietrich, not giving him the chance to adjust to the sensation...

-Lucius burst out at full speed.

With unlikely great speed, Lucius’s figure had caught up to him right from under his nose. This was a speed that far and away exceeded Britain's Red Dragon, a man on par with Dietrich, even when supplemented by that Bounded Field of wind. To Dietrich, who had no such benefit, and was also vulnerable to the pressure of Lucius's will, there was an 'absolute disadvantage' in terms of speed.

Even if he had somehow managed to swing his blade before Lucius had closed the gap between them, that was no matter. A conceptual weapon of cutting only held sway if the object had a status of 'could be cut'. In the face of Florent's mystery and Lucius's own strength, deflecting such a blow was trivial at best. Of course, that didn't mean he was careless; after all, in his eyes, this opponent was a fitting stand-in for Arturus.

And then, laughing like a madman, the offensive began.

"How many blows can you endure?!"

To ordinary people, it could’ve been seen like the sword emperor’s weapon had disappeared. As he was just carving red streaks in the air. One, two, it swelled to an uncountable number in that short pause. Without warning, Dietrich was forced to weather a storm of blows from the other's unmatched strength.

But...

There was an opening. Someone with Dietrich's Instincts could notice it almost immediately, calling it to his attention as a way to survive. Lucius's legs, in spite of his torrential offense, were largely unguarded by his offensive which focused on his sword. If Falke moved to strike there, it would likely be too slow, but for Dietrich there was a chance he could take advantage of it to strike out. If timed properly, given what could be understood about his combat style, he could take the Sword Emperor's legs out from under him, giving him at least some reprieve from that demonic speed.

Of course, whether he would be able to do that was another matter altogether.
It was a cataclysm.

The Fifth Imaginary Element coalesced into place, and from it, a body manifested.

A human body. A body that exceeded humans.

A human hero. A hero who denied humans.

There was little to be said that had not already. After all, to him, there was no need for some grand narration, some understanding of his nature and what he sought. That could be understood on face by any who knew his name.

And so, as the flow of prana thrummed to a halt, as the light faded and a man crafted of Ether stood before the one who had dared to bind him-

"I ask you..."

...A feral grin split his face, eyes glinting with a manic light as he felt power fill his limbs, a sharp laugh tearing itself from his throat before he resumed.

"Are you my Vassal?"



Lucius Tiberius
City Streets, Commerce District
@Kyuuzen @Cu Chulainn


"Haha, I can't say they're worth making a part of Rome in their current state, but these modern creations are a surprising pleasantry."

Since arrival at Fuyuki in the aftermath of his summoning, Lucius had been in an excellent mood, all things considered. Save for his inherent decision to refer to Prydwyn as 'Vassal', he had been surprisingly amicable as a whole. Granted, that was in the sense of a human to a pet more than anything else.

"Now, Vassal, I'll reiterate this: It would be inconvenient for me if you got yourself killed, so make sure that doesn't come to pass. It would also be inconvenient if you made a nuisance of yourself, so refrain from doing that either. In exchange, you'll be won the Holy Grail you so doggishly chase after."

...well, perhaps 'amicable' was the wrong word.

Regardless, the walk through the commerce district had progressed without incident. At least, that had been the case until he had turned his eyes towards the forest.

"That space there needs time to grow before it merits being taken, but the place that hasn't been taken by its sprawl might be worth examining."

A flight of fancy, a sparkle in the eye of a man who only knew how to take whatever laid before him.

"As I said, do not die, Vassal. It's time that I began moving in earnest."

Without so much as a moment for the magus to process those words, the Servant disappeared from view, darting off into the distance.

His instincts were calling out to him, an attraction that pulled him towards the forest, towards something that called out to his nature beyond what the senses could merely provide.

There was something there, something that merited his attention. He could not deny that magnetic pull that brought him towards the forest any more than he could deny his Origin itself.

And indeed, it wasn't long before he felt that presence in a more direct form, just as that presence felt him. The land beneath him shook as he forced his will into it, dominating it under his name. The piddling Bounded Fields formed here had no meaning to him. No, rather-

"I can feel your weight, Arturus! Come, Red Dragon, let us dance once again!"

A joyous scream leaving him, his words pierced through the air as a dagger to strike at the mind of his target.

How lovely, to feel this again.
Carly-Beth
Za Boat, Harbor


Oh.

Oh.

There was a penguin on the boat.

Why was there a penguin on the boat?

Apparently to inform her of a meeting.

Well then.

Looks like it was time to go to the meeting the only way she knew how.

"Mary~ I've got a job for you~"

She also had to figure out if the penguin would be open to putting a mask on.

She didn't have any penguin masks.




Chiron [Lily] / Dionysus
Pelion’s Pub, Edge of Shinto

The kid's training had completed, and so he had departed as the day had begun.

...however, not long after he had departed, someone else arrived.

A penguin, but the penguin in question was of a different make than those at most of the Master and Servant locations across the city.



"GREETINGS MASTER AND/OR SERVANTS OF THE SECOND HOLY GRAIL WAR IN FUYUKI. DUE TO RECENT ISSUES REGARDING THE MAGES ASSOCIATION, I WOULD LIKE TO HOLD AN EMERGENCY MEETING IN ORDER TO RECTIFY THIS ISSUE. THE LOCATION SHALL BE IN THE DIVINE DESCENDING DENOUEMENT (DDD )HOTSPRINGS. I WOULD ASK THAT YOU ATTEND IN PERSON, HOWEVER INPUT REGARDLESS OF SOURCE WILL BE IMPORTANT. THIS MEETING WILL BE HELD AT SUNDO- wait, shit. Chiron? Donnie? Is that you guys?"

Near the end of its pre-instructed tirade, the deformed penguin cut itself off, looking to the manager and bartender in disbelief. Silence reigned in the bar for several seconds before any of the present parties were able to compose themselves enough to speak up.

"...wait a minute, Pinkheironuínos?"

"Pin? That you?"

"Yeah, it's me." Waddling forwards, the penguin shook his head in disbelief. "God, what has it been, two, three thousand years? Wish the boss told me you guys were here, I would've swung by earlier. And you've got the bar set up too! Emperor Penguin's sake, I've got to tell the rest of the old guard, they'll be excited as hell." Clapping his hands (flippers?) together, he let out a sharp, penguin-like laugh of glee.

"Ha! So the old bastard's still around? Still a slave driver?" The tired facade he'd possessed in the aftermath of Gin's training leaving him, Chiron leapt forwards towards the near arrival, eyes glinting.

"The boss is the same as always, but we got this secretary broad a while back." 'Pin' shook his head, letting out a dull groan. "God, if you think the boss is a board, you have no idea. She's been throwing a fit all week, something about not getting her vacation hours, and she's been taking it out on us."

"Ouch. Tell ya what. Get a drink, on the house. Least ya conceptual origin can do ta help ya. If ya get the othas down here, same for them."

"One glass of penguin wine, coming up."

"You guys are too good to me."
Chiron [Lily]
Invalid Spatial Coordinates
@Cu Chulainn

One hundred trials completed.

The world bent, and for the first time since they began, Gin and Chiron stood opposite each other on that featureless, white plane.

"...well, here we are. The last one."

He turned his head from side to side, cracking his neck with a sharp exhale.

"Never settle. If there's someone above you, even if they'll always be above you, do not roll over and give up. If there's nobody above you, do not become complacent, because there's no rule that you cannot surpass your own legend."

"If you have the gall to call yourself a hero, then you are not allowed to make banal excuses."


Between Chiron and Gin, something formed. The very foundation of Chiron's Noble Phantasm seemed to strain in its attempt to manifest what was appearing.

...No, not something.

Someone.

The greatest obstacle who stood in the way of Gin's chosen path, to become 'the coolest hero'.

An unparalleled titan of a man.

No, that was impossible.

Yes, indeed, it was impossible for Gin to defeat that man.

...However, that did not mean it was not worth trying.

After all of his ordeals, this was the final hurdle. The expression of everything he had sought to accomplish across these trials. And that man, that all-surpassing man, was the wall standing in his way.

From Purpose to Protect, from Protect to Struggle, from Struggle to Deviate, from Deviate to Die, from Die to Aim, and from Aim to-

"Rule number one hundred and one..."

And so, in the final challenge of this internal war...

"Strive."

-Hercules struck a pose.
...

...

...good.

Remember, a hero's death is as much a part of their legend as any of their accomplishments.

It is the last page in their book.

You will die, eventually. Setting aside that all things will eventually die, a hero specifically must die.

Yes, if something never dies, it cannot be called a hero. A hero is a star which glimmers but eventually fades. If a hero was eternal, it would be an unreachable pinnacle.

Shooting for an unattainable ideal. A struggling form, a star of the world. A star can reach neither heaven nor earth, and that is precisely why it is lovely.

Some heroes die cursing the world.

Some heroes die reaching out towards a dream.

Some heroes die with a smile on their face.

It does not matter how you die, so long as you still die as yourself. So long as, to the end, you are the legend that you dared to create, it does not matter if your death is glorious or terrible.

...ah, I apologize for tricking you, there, but you're not dying just yet.

I'm not done with you. Not even close.



Chiron [Lily]
Invalid Spatial Coordinates
@Cu Chulainn

At this point, they had reached the last step of the lessons.

Die had merely been the beginning of that sequence, even if it had been the most jarring of those thus far. Indeed, none of the ones since then had managed to possess the same weight and gravitas as Die had.

This could be considered a calm between storms, in other words. As the end became closer and closer, though, that mounting pressure likely made it hard to enjoy the relative peace.

Once more, the world spun.

"A hero must hit their target, whatever it is. How you do that is up to you. Generate so many attempts that one must surely succeed, stake everything on a single perfect effort, plan or improvise, any option is valid so long as you hit your target."

"Of course, your method will also define your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what you may give rise to."


Against the rationale of recent rules, this time Gin was alone, the city around him devoid of life.

But, not devoid of death.

A swirling sea of spirits manifested before him, most of them passive, simply existing. However, there were some among those spirits that stood steeped in grudges. It was impossible to gauge which ones were of this kind on sight alone, or even with the magical senses, due to the sheer number of spirits infesting the surroundings.

The only indication of their true nature was during those brief moments when they lashed out, their grudges striking at Gin, corroding his own spirit in turn.

"You've made it this far, don't falter here. Rule number ninety-six: Aim."
Ah...

It feels like it's been so long, since I've done this.

It's fun. It really is fun.

So forgive me, but I'll have to indulge myself.



Chiron [Lily]
Invalid Spatial Coordinates
@Cu Chulainn

They were nearing the end, now.

Destroy. Unleash. Receive. Restraint. Redirect. Imbricate. Foresee. Spread. Pierce. Devour. Retaliate. Each and every principle had been drilled through an ordeal all its own. If not for Chiron's voice counting off each of the rules as they came and went, it was unlikely that Gin would even have an idea of how close he was to the end.

This time, though, something immediately felt different.

There was no chaos in the air. There was no scent of smoke. There was no monster, no riot, no tower stretching into the sky, no god descending onto the earth. It was peaceful. It was tranquil.

Ah...

...wait.

Wait. Wait, wait, wait.

No, that was wrong. Something was wrong.

The handful of people surrounding him, some of the closest companions he had, were not looking at him as they usually would. They were looking to him with shock, with horror, with fear.

It was then that he would feel the pain in his chest.

It was then that he would feel the heat of his own blood as it streaked down his skin.

It was then that he would notice the blade that was embedded into his chest.

Ordinarily, at this point, there would be an explanation. A problem had been introduced, and so Chiron would state what it meant, how it had resulted from his previous choices, and what options there were available to him.

This time, there was none of that.

There was no applause.

There was no applause.

His hands grew cold, and then that same iciness began to spread through his body.

He could still move, but the life was certainly leaving him, his mind slowing as though it was trying to sift through a dense fog.

The encroaching hand of the reaper. The end of a story. There was no reason, no cause, no basis. There was merely that, that inescapable end.

The words were barely audible when he finally heard them.

"...rule number eighty-nine: Die."
Chiron [Lily]
Invalid Spatial Coordinates
@Cu Chulainn

It came and went. Each of the trials came and went, but that wasn't to say they were simple. Some, such as Struggle's, ended after a certain period of time. Some required completing an action. Some required simply surviving. Each of them, though, dredged something new out, forced Gin to define something else about himself.

And so time ticked on.

The setting, which had initially been fluctuating a fair amount, seemed to gradually be stabilizing. The most common location Gin found himself in was a recreation of Fuyuki, or of another part of Japan.

"I'll admit, you're moving along well. But, there will be a time when everything you've done before, all of your old methods, will invariably falter."

Riots raged in the city streets. This was not the result of a cursed fire or a great evil, there was no great target to attack this time. Each of the other trials, when there was something to stop, there had been a target that Gin could take aim at, and indeed he had. He struck out at the fire, at the invaders, at the monsters. He faced all things head-on.

Of course, this time it was different. This time, there was no grand enemy to strike down, there was merely primal chaos. People robbing for selfish gain, people robbing for survival, people killing in a panic, people killing on mere accident. The tragedies of man were on full display.

"You've attempted to be an icon so far, but all of your attempts to be one have been based off of 'personal power'. So, when that power doesn't have a target to aim itself at, what do you do? What kind of icon do you take the form of? How do you stand against an enemy that does not have a form?"

Chiron's physical form had long since vanished. There was merely Gin and the chaos, even as the voice echoed.

"This is rule number thirty-one: Deviate."
Using your magecraft and your men. Good, you haven't spread yourself too thinly or too thickly.

Attempting to solve all problems. Admirable, but it makes the road ahead harder.

Let us continue.

Move.

Slay.

Triumph.

Find.

Innovate.



Chiron [Lily]
Invalid Spatial Coordinates
@Cu Chulainn


The living hell continued without pause, without cessation. The scenes shifted with each passage of a handful of seconds, the challenges came as quickly as they went, the sword of Damocles dangling over their participants head with each instance.

This time, a figure appeared in the ashen ruins of Fuyuki.

Its face was an overlapping mess of the faces Gin had opposed thus far. The mangled visage of the monster. The smirking grin of the foreign organization's leader.

The people of Fuyuki watched on, frozen in terror as they watched the one who had rescued their city as he opposed something undoubtedly beyond him.

“A hero cannot stop, regardless of the obstacle they face. If they pierce your limbs, tear them free. If they gouge out your heart, move until you have no blood left. If they cut off your head, drag yourself forwards."

As Chiron's words died down, the enemy spoke, speaking in a language that appealed more to the brain than mere words did. The primal language from the Age of Gods. Before Gin had even a chance to respond, the word was already completed.

Air disappeared. Around the magus, an icy blackness spread out, engulfing him. Pressure crushed against him from all sides, restraining his movement. Just a bit closer and he could lash out at the monster. Just a bit further away and he would be free of its assault. But, for the time being, he was trapped.

No air, no light, no hope. Fuyuki's denizens watched in horror as their hero was brought low.

"It doesn't matter if you move backwards to think, stay still to survive, or move forwards to fight. It doesn't matter if you act by yourself or with others. That is your decision to make, the only requirement is that, whatever you do, you don't stop doing it.”

Strive endlessly towards the horizon. You will not surpass him, but you will be the one who gives rise to that possibility. So, you cannot disappoint me. You must not stop. You must not break. You must-

“Rule number sixteen: Struggle.”
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