Chapter 1044: Before The Dawn

After leaving the Church, and its rather zealous Nun behind, Vahn and Rin were walking towards downtown Shinto as he asked, “So, what was that all about?” Rin had been a foul mood ever since she saw the grey-haired woman so it was easy to see there was history between them.

With her expression turning even sourer, at least for a moment, Rin explained, “After the last Holy Grail War, she was selected as the representative of the Holy Church in Fuyuki. It could be the result of the Church’s teachings, but it feels like she has always had it out for me. Before I left for the Clock Tower, we had come into conflict several times…she…” Choosing not to finish her words, Rin instead turned her eyes towards Vahn before furrowing her brows. He didn’t really know what to make of her expression, only that it made him feel an awkward sense of guilt…

Shaking her head, Rin muttered something under her breath that Vahn wasn’t able to hear with her scarf further muffling the sound. Moments later, she had seemingly returned to ‘normal’, showing a resolute expression as she said, “It isn’t important right now. Just…promise me that you won’t start sleeping with any random woman that crosses your path. I don’t really understand what kind of relationship we have right now…and I know there isn’t anything I can do to stop you…but that woman isn’t someone you should try to save…”

Hearing Rin specifically mention ‘saving’ Caren, Vahn’s brows furrowed slightly but, as Rin was supposed to be something of an ‘exception’, he had no qualms about nodding his head. With Rin setting the precedent, he didn’t delude himself into thinking she would be the only exception during his journey through various Records. Even if his feelings didn’t evolve into love, there was a sense of comfort and intimacy that could be experienced when laying with a woman. He would do his best to care for Rin as much as possible but, depending on the situation, Vahn knew their paths may diverge at any moment. This situation may not even be that unique as, depending on the Record and people he interacted with, Vahn’s intuition told him that his weakness for girls with a tragic past would come into play more often than he’d like to admit…

Seeing Rin fall into silence after he nodded, Vahn’s expression softened a bit as he lightly touched Fenrir’s back. Even without words, she understood his intentions so Fenrir moved to his right side, allowing Vahn to grab Rin’s hand. She was surprised by Fenrir’s sudden movement but, having Vahn suddenly grab her hand, Rin’s confusion was quickly replaced by a blush that she quickly tried to hide in her scarf. It didn’t take a system notification to see that Rin had developed tender feelings for him so, even if what he felt might not be comparable to the feelings he had towards those he had left behind, Vahn would make good on his promise to make her feel loved…

Holding the hands of two girls in public drew a lot of attention in normal circumstances but, with the Holy Grail War beginning in just a few hours, the streets were surprisingly empty already. The sun had already descended over the horizon, allowing darkness that seemed ‘deeper’ than normal to cover the city. The vibrant lights advertising a seemingly infinite number of products seemed to have lost a bit of their color as the sounds of ‘life’ within the city were replaced by a silence that seemed to linger around the few people still walking the streets. These were the type of people that treated the night as their most active time of day, making them slightly resistant to the effects of the city-wide formation. This didn’t mean they were immune to it, however, as everyone Vahn passed had a glossed-over look in their eyes as they went about their business without looking towards the group of three…

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Understanding what Vahn must be thinking, Rin put a bit of strength into her linked hand before explaining, “It was like this during the previous war as well. I can still remember how weird it felt seeing all of the after school clubs breaking early as everyone walked back home like zombies…” As she had been in High School during the events of the Fourth Holy Grail War, Rin’s personal trials had been made even more difficult since she was trying to balance her ‘normal’ life with a literal war that could claim her own at any moment. Fortunately, though it made her feel more than a little guilty, she once again had someone to share the burden with…

By the time they reached the location of the apartment where the ‘gas leak’ had occurred, it was already after 11 PM. There were various warning signs present while hazard tape had cordoned off the entire building to outsiders. These weren’t deterrets for Vahn and his group, however, as they quickly made a gap in the tape before stepping into the apartment to conduct their own investigation. At the same time, Vahn was essentially serving the purpose of a ‘radar’, sending pulses through his domain to detect if there were any Magi active within his range. If he found a target, Nobunaga would begin to ghost them in her Spirit form, keeping a fair distance until they could be identified as friend or foe. As an Archer-Class Servant, her effective range was around 4km, while she could ‘guarantee’ a hit at 2.5km.

Though Vahn’s senses were far sharper than her’s, Rin pulled out a dowsing crystal and began chanting a short incantation that sent a pulse of magical energy through the surroundings. Vahn chose to let her do as she pleased, as he was supposed to be keeping his capabilities a secret, while Fenrir immediately began checking the perimeter of the building for any signs of a trail. As was to be expected, though Rin still showed a pouting expression, Fenrir picked up the trail a lot faster than her search magic. It hadn’t even taken the latter more than a minute before she entered the building through a window and whispered, “I memorized the scent…”

Deciding that competing against Fenrir would only end in tragedy, Rin nodded her head before turning her attention to Vahn and saying, “We’ll split up from here. If we continue traveling together, other Master’s will probably hole themselves up to avoid being teamed up on. Don’t worry, Lancer and I can handle ourselves…” This sentiment seemed to be shared by Fenrir as, upon hearing Rin’s words, she lightly tapped the pommel of her spear against the floor and said, “I will protect Rin.” in a voice filled with determination. Though she didn’t appreciate the latter speaking on her behalf, Fenrir knew that Rin was supposed to be her ‘Master’ right now so she was playing the part to the utmost of her capabilities.

Nodding his head, Vahn gave Fenrir a few head pats for motivation before seeing the two off into the night. He had tried to give Rin a caress as well but she had swatted his hand away, causing Vahn’s face to form a small smile as he waited for their silhouettes to shrink. They were still well within the range of his domain so Vahn could track them from a fair distance without drawing too much attention. With this being his intent, Vahn donned a [Cloak of Shadows] before blending himself into the surroundings. At the same time, he established a connection with Nobunaga, saying, (“I’ll follow from the West. Stay within my range and update me if you find anything abnormal.”)

In response to his telepathic message, Nobunaga teasingly answered, (“You know, I’ve always been fond of the West, personally…”) Her words seemed to indicate that she wasn’t intending to follow Vahn’s orders but, regardless of how she presented herself to others, Vahn knew Nobunaga wasn’t the type to abandon her duties. Since they had come to an accord earlier, she was just trying to get a rise out of him by pretending to be insubordinate. Knowing this, Vahn shook his head before saying, (“They say the sake in the East is plentiful…are you sure you want to stray away…?”)

Understanding the implication in Vahn’s words, Nobunaga, who was currently standing atop a tall high-rise building, allowed a smile to spread across her face as she answered, (“Though the liquor imported from the West had a rich fragrance, there is nothing quite like the taste of home. I suppose I’ll head East in the hopes of finding the plentiful harvest you’ve promised…”) Since she was a little ‘too’ fond of Sake, Nobunaga was willing to play along with Vahn since she knew he could ‘create’ higher quality stuff than anything she had tasted, both in life and as a Heroic Spirit.

With Nobunaga cooperating, Vahn traveled a parallel path to Rin and Fenrir as they slowly made their way in the direction Fenrir’s nose indicated. Vahn was honestly a little troubled to be walking so slowly but, understanding the need to remain low-key, he matched his pace with Rin’s while using the surrounding buildings as cover. Much like Nobunaga, he was acting as a ranged support class but, instead of using a magical matchlock, Vahn had his [Yoichi’s Bow] in hand. Though it wasn’t nearly as powerful as his [Khryselakatos], Vahn had embarrassedly discovered that he was unable to draw the latter with his current strength. Fortunately, his [Yoichi’s Bow] wasn’t all that dissimilar from a normal bow and, at least against moving targets, he would be able to almost guarantee a hit at even greater ranges than Nobunaga…

While stealthily following after Rin and Fenrir, nearly a full hour had passed by the time they reached their presumed destination. It was now 12:03AM, meaning that the Holy Grail War had officially begun, so all gloves had come off. From this moment onward, Vahn was wrapped up in a ‘game’ that would determine the life and death of numerous Magi. With Fenrir having tracked the scent to an abandoned building near the outskirts of the city, it was looking like the Sixth Holy Grail War would be especially bloody as there was a good chance the first death would occur not even ten minutes into the event…

As this wasn’t her first Holy Grail War, nor was it the first time she had tracked an enemy Magus into their territory, Rin’s expression showed no signs of fear. Her aqua-blue eyes passed over every likely location where traps could be hidden while she was in a constantly state of alertness that would allow her to react in an instant. At her side, Fenrir had her spear at the ready as she sniffed the air before nodding her head. This was all Rin needed to know to understand the target was inside but, not know which Servant they had summoned, she knew better than to charge in directly. Instead, using a much higher tier searching spell, Rin purposely alerted the enemy Magus to their presence in order to lure out their Servant…

For several minutes, silence was the only response to Rin’s activation of magic but, just as she was thinking of her next course of action, Fenrir dropped into a low stance before leaping faster than the eye could follow. Rin wasted no time in pulling out a sapphire infused with Magical Power, jumping back a few steps to get a better vantage of the battlefield as Fenrir’s figure appeared fifteen meters away, followed by a shockwave and an intense clash of magical energy. Seeing the opponent she had collided with, Rin’s mind blanked for a moment before she shouted, “Pull back…!” at the top of her voice.

Even before she heard Rin’s words, Fenrir already knew her opponent wasn’t someone she would be able to defeat while pretending to be a Lancer-Class Servant. This was because, against all any of their expectations, the woman that just sent her back several meters also wielded a spear. Even though they had only exchanged blows once, Fenrir’s hands felt numb from the exchange while the blood-red glow in her opponent’s eyes seemed to have already marked her for death. Stepping back as quickly as she could, Fenrir barely evaded the follow-up strike of the enemy Servant before creating some distance with [Shundo].

Instead of pursuing, the enemy Servant brandished her spear, spinning it around her body a few times before dropping into a low stance. In a monotonous and detached voice, she softly stated, “Know that I harbor no ill will towards you. If you must blame anyone, blame the people who created this system and the Master who had you pretend to be a Lancer…” With these words leaving her mouth, the woman’s spear flashed with a lethal glimmer as she moved forward at nearly the exact same moment that Fenrir completed another [Shundo]. Her long purple hair trailed behind her, blurring together with her full-body combat suit, complete with metallic shoulder protectors. Though she had a curvaceous body, she had the nimbleness and flexibility of a cat that had been elevated to the level of a god as her red spear pierced towards Fenrir’s heart like a beam of light…

Though it seemed like nothing could stop the Lancer’s attack, she brought it to an end herself before dodging backward, deflecting two arrows that carried enough momentum to force her back several meters. At the same time, a veritable rain of projectiles struck towards the location she had been pushed back to, causing the Lancer to turn her eyes skyward. Instead of any discernible emotions, the only thing reflected in her eyes was an unerring certainty that seemed completely inviolable. Without evading a second time, she began to trace her spear in precise arks that cut down each of the reddish-black beams that struck towards her. It was impossible to even see the trajectory of her spear but, even without knowing ‘where’ it was, seeing each beam of magical energy being deflected, even though there didn’t seem to be any gaps to exploit, made it very apparent that she was accurately knocking them aside…

In the midst of this seemingly impossible feat, the Lancer’s eyes sharpened as her body turned to the side, leaving a distinct trail with her spear as it was temporarily stopped by another heavy projectile. With her stance broken, the remaining projectiles rained down on her, causing large explosions that continued to build atop each other until an 80m wide sphere of death and destruction had formed. Nobunaga’s Noble Phantasm was also her primary form of attack so, while standing atop a building a little more than 2km away, sixty matchlocks hovered in the air behind her as they continually barraged the enemy Lancer without cessation. She had an annoyed expression on her face as, instead of breaking the enemy’s defense on her own, Nobunaga knew it was Vahn’s arrow that had done what she couldn’t…

While Nobunaga continued to pepper the area, Rin had retreated to a ‘safe’ distance while Fenrir had disappeared into the nearby building to deal with the enemy Master. Rin’s spell hadn’t discovered any traps that would be able to threaten Fenrir’s safety so, while using herself as ‘bait’ for the enemy Lancer, she had Fenrir move to deal with the Magus hiding inside the building. They needed only to buy a bit of time, something Nobunaga seemed to be managing on her own, before Fenrir was able to take out the enemy Master and bring the fight to an end…

Just as things seemed to be progressing towards their victory, a much larger shockwave than any of the smaller ones caused by Nobunaga’s attacks spread through the area. The layered explosions were cleared away in an instant as, seemingly having suffered no damage at all, the enemy Lancer directed the tip of her spear towards Rin and uttered two words she never thought she would hear again, “Gae Bolg…” Before those words actually reached Rin’s ears, she already felt a hot sensation in her chest before her body was moved back with an amount of force that even a semi-truck couldn’t manage. She couldn’t even form any words as darkness encroached on her vision from all sides…

Seeing that her attack had struck true, the Lancer Servant gave a small bow towards Rin’s body before muttering, “Forgive me. If it were up to me, I would have preferred to defeat your Servant without having to claim your life…” Since she had determined that Fenrir would be able to reach her Master before the barrage came to an end, the enemy Lancer changed her target to Rin in order to conclude the fight. Since Servants would have no reason to fight after their Master’s death, in most circumstances, she believed this would be the best course of action. Unfortunately, things weren’t going as expected as a ‘phantom’ appeared in front of her that forced her to leap back with her fastest speed…

With her brows raising, the first discernable expression she had shown thus far, the enemy Lancer plainly stated, “Another false Lancer…please lay down your weapon. There is no meaning in our battle…” As her new enemy didn’t appear to be a Servant, Lancer wanted to avoid having to take more unnecessary lives. This wasn’t a sentiment shared by her opponent, however, as he stabbed forward with a relatively plain-looking spear. She could tell that the movement was extremely precise, indicating her opponent had a commendable mastery over his own body, but their spearmanship itself lacked the quality of a true master…

Having his attack deflected to the side with extreme ease, Vahn’s eyes blazed with fiery blue light as he stepped into the enemy Lancer’s attack range. Her expression didn’t change at all as she muttered, “Please forgive me…” in a monotonous tone of voice. Vahn had forgone defense so the enemy Lancer was intending to end the fight in an instant, only to find that her spear impacted against Vahn’s body before rebounding. To her credit, she immediately stepped back just far enough to evade his spear before stabbing forward with a speed that seemed to be beyond perception. Her spear drew an unbroken trail of red light, much like a laser beam, as it struck accurately at Vahn’s throat and sent him tumbling back several meters before rising to his feet, seemingly uninjured.

Touching the point where the woman’s spear had stuck, Vahn felt an itchy sensation that was quickly filtered out by his body. This seemed to genuinely surprise her as she tilted her head to the side before asking, “You are invulnerable…and immune to curses…?” Though she seemed to find this somewhat interesting, Lancer looked away from Vahn in the next moment before releasing a small sigh. She had just felt the ‘link’ between her and the hateful woman that had become her Master get severed, courtesy of Fenrir’s spear. Her Master had used two of her Command Seals in order to force her to consume the energy from living humans and force obedience. Though she could have used her final Command Spell to forcibly summon her, that would have required her Master to give up the opportunity to have her wish granted by the Greater Grail…

Looking back at Vahn, the Lancer seemed sincere as she softly stated, “I am sorry if that woman was your companion. I am not fond of taking lives unnecessarily…if you have the means, I will not stop you from trying to kill me.” Showing no intent to continue the fight, Lancer’s spear turned into particles of red light as she stood still like a statue and waited for Vahn’s decision. When he saw this, Vahn just shook his head before saying, “I will not blame you for doing your duty, Lancer…besides, you don’t need to worry about Rin. She is a bit shaken but it will take more than a single attack to take her out…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, Lancer looked towards where Rin’s ‘corpse’ was supposed to be, finding that the location lacked even a small amount of blood. This caused her to tilt her head in confusion once again, asking, “How…?” In response to this, Vahn just shook his head again before saying, “Unless you are willing to join us, you can’t expect me to divulge that kind of information. If you ended up coming to serve under another Master, that would be the same as exposing one of our trump cards to the enemy.” Though Vahn hadn’t fully calmed down after seeing Rin stabbed through the heart, he could tell that Lancer wasn’t acting with malicious intent. She seemed to have an honorable nature, bringing into question how a Magus that used human sacrifices was even able to summon her…

Though she found Vahn’s words difficult to believe, Lancer seemed to seriously consider the matter before giving a small nod a few seconds later. Then, placing her hand atop her heart, deforming her rather large breasts in the process, Lancer softly stated, “If you can help grant my wish, I will pledge my spear to your cause…”

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Wondering what kind of wish such a powerful spearwoman could have, Vahn gave an affirming nod before asking, “What is your wish? Though I may lack the means to grant it now, I will do my best to help you achieve it, even without the Greater Grail.” Since he was planning to destroy the Greater Grail and had no intentions of treating any Servants that followed him as ‘disposable tools’, Vahn wanted to be forthright with Lancer from the start. This seemed to get across to Lancer as a smile that seemed to brighten the surroundings spread across her lips, elevating her from beautiful to breathtaking in an instant…

Just as Vahn was beginning to recover from the shock of seeing Lancer’s smile, she sincerely stated, “I am the Lancer-Class Servant, Scáthach, Queen of the Land of Shadows. My only desire is that someone capable of taking my life would appear…in exchange for the promise of death, I will grant you the victory you seek…”

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Nobunaga slowly getting tamed…’,’Gae Bolg never kills anyone…’,’It is nice to meet you. Please kill me.’)

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