Archer of Red—Atalanta—nocked two arrows on her favorite bow, Tauropolos. She aimed not at the ground far below, but at the night sky which shined in the faint moonlight.
A chilly and dry late-autumn wind shook her hair, and her animal ears twitched.
It was time.
“With my bow and arrows, I respectfully ask for the divine protection of the sun god Apollo and the moon goddess Artemis.”
The arrows started to shine bewitchingly. Her Noble Phantasm wasn’t her bow, nor the arrows shot by her bow. Those were both merely the catalysts for it. Her Noble Phantasm was the technique itself of nocking and shooting arrows with her bow.
“I offer thee this calamity—Phoebus Catastrophe: Complaint Message on the Arrow!”
The two arrows she shot towards the sky pierced through the clouds and disappeared from sight, leaving a glittering trail behind them. This was the starting signal to begin fighting, the first shot.
…Those arrows were a complaint to the gods. The sun god Apollo and the moon goddess Artemis. They were gods deeply connected to the sun and moon respectively. Apollo was the god of the bow and arrow, and Artemis was the goddess of the hunt.
In compensation for Archer requesting divine protection from them, they sought a calamity. In other words, their divine protection equated to—a calamity for the enemy.
A faint light filled the night sky, along with a quiet sound like falling rain. But it wasn’t something as simple as a blessed rain. The malevolent gods sought a sacrifice, and scattered a torrential rain under the name of catastrophe.
Arrows of light rained down incessantly from the sky and homunculi were pierced and killed by the arrows one after another. Even the strong and sturdy golems had their bodies smashed apart one after another by the countless arrows. The Black Servant naturally evaded, blocked and repelled the arrows, but their battle line still fell into disorder.
Watching that dreary scene with an extremely cool expression, Archer of Red looked over her shoulder and spoke.
“—With this, the opening move is over. Time to switch, Rider.”
Rider struck his knees and ran out with an extremely happy expression, jumping off from the Hanging Gardens. He whistled, and a chariot with three steeds appeared tearing through the sky and scooped up the falling Rider.
He grasped the reins in the driver’s stand and whipped them once. The neighs of the strong-muscled horses roared through the sky above the battlefield.
“Now then, the battle is starting! I, Rider of Red, shall cut through the enemy vanguard!”
Saying so, Rider descended his chariot towards the ground below. Homunculi and golems stood in his path. But both the battle-specialized homunculi and the over one-ton golems pulverized in the path of the immortal divine horses gifted to him by the sea god Poseidon.
The huge chariot was as fast as a bullet and scraped off the ground where it passed. Rider of Red’s chariot trampled the battlefield just by riding it.
“Come out, Archer of Black! Show us your power! If you think you can stop this chariot of mine, just try it!”
The ones who answered his provocations weren’t any Servants, but golems.
Three golems stepped in front of the fiercely galloping chariot. Clicking his tongue, Rider of Red chose to run them over as if it were natural.
“Out of my way, small fry!”
At those words, Caster of Black, who was watching the battlefield from afar, muttered.
“—Now then. I wonder how that will go, Rider of Red.”
The instant Rider’s chariot crashed into them, the three golems split apart. Ignoring the surprised Rider, the golems each entwined themselves with the legs of the chariot’s horses and then instantly hardened themselves.
Although it continued its mad charge, Rider of Red’s chariot finally came to a stop. Seeing that, the homunculi swung the halberds in their hands and jumped at him all at once.
“You impudent little—!”
Removing his hands from the reins, Rider of Red took out his sword from the scabbard at his waist with one hand and swung his hero-slaying spear with the other as he jumped out from the driver’s stand.
The confrontation last a single instant. In that moment, Rider took away the lives of every single one of the attacking homunculi. Blood gushed out from them and poured down on the ground like rain.
There’s an opening.
There was a single Servant who saw that moment as an opening. Rider’s body reacted to the killing intent being directed at him then. But the blood of the homunculi was blocking his vision.
Passing through a gap between the corpses, an arrow was shot at the nape of Rider’s neck.
Though his reaction was an instant delayed, Rider of Red’s quick-wittedness and agility allowed him to strike down the arrow with his sword. However, he couldn’t completely knock it away and even with its trajectory change the arrow still grazed his neck.
Vivid red blood dripped down his neck. His surprise at being wounded was turned into joy instead of humiliation for Rider.
That’s right, there was a Servant who could wound him among the Black camp—Archer!
Standing back on the driver’s stand, Rider loudly shouted with a majestic and imposing attitude.
“Where is Archer of Black!? I’ve come to resume our earlier match! Let’s fight and kill each other to our heart’s content this evening!”
In place of an answer, another arrow was fired at him. But it was an easy matter for Rider to strike down an arrow as long as his vision was not blocked.
“Where are you, Archer of Black!?”
“—I’m closer than you think.”
The instant Rider turned around, Archer, who had been hidden behind a golem, fired another arrow while concealing everything but his bow and arrow from sight. Due to having additional prana loaded into it, this arrow was far faster than the ones he shot earlier—!
The arrow was aimed at his face—to be more precise, at his right eye. Rider raised his sword and used its blade to knock away the arrow. But due to that, his vision was momentarily blocked. Taking advantage of that opening, Archer ran and jumped behind a different golem, and then fired another arrow.
Archer never showed himself, and fired arrows one after another at Rider while running around and hiding himself behind golems.
—Archer was baiting him.
Little by little, the golems moved away from the middle of the battlefield. I see, Rider thought in understanding. If Rider of Red and his chariot remained on the battlefield, it would turn into a difficult battle for the Black camp.
Naturally, he could just ignore Rider. The interior of a forest was the ideal field for a bowman. He could hide around everywhere and fire arrows. Conversely, fighting in a forest was a fatal situation for Rider. After all, he wouldn’t be able to use his crucial chariot within it.
…But that was limited to normal Servants of the Rider class. At the very least, doing this was an obvious mistake when it came to Rider of Red.
Certainly, Rider boasted of extraordinary power when he rode his chariot. It was very difficult to stop his chariot, which was firm and rode like lightning. One of his three steeds was simply a fine and famous horse, but the other two were divine horses bestowed upon him by the sea god Poseidon.
Therefore, if his goal was to defeat the enemy on the battlefield and win, the correct decision would be to ignore Archer’s provocations, cut down the golems entangling his chariot, and continue to trample over the enemy battle line.
But that logical plan had a single flaw. Was it right for anyone who called themselves a hero for even an instant to choose the option of running away here?
No, absolutely not. For the sake of the honor of his father who was a great hero, of his mother who was a goddess, and of his eternal friend with whom he shared many joys and sorrows in life, he absolutely could not run away.
While shouting “Wait!”, Rider left the battle following Archer. He returned his chariot to its astralized state and headed into the forest on his own two feet. Rider knew that Archer of Black must be laughing at him. After all, Rider let himself be lured into a terrain advantageous to the enemy and negated his own advantages.
…Yes, even now, Rider did not know who Archer was. That is, he thought he didn’t know Archer. Perhaps he should have been even a little more attentive and considered even the most meager of possibilities.
But it was pointless. There would have been barely any difference whether he wavered before or after it happened.
Rider didn’t fail to hear the sound of a bowstring being drawn back in preparation to fire an arrow, and searched his surrounding with complete concentration. He could definitely feel the presence of a Servant. But he couldn’t pinpoint their exact location. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was in Archer’s attack range.
Rider swore to himself that he wouldn’t experience the same humiliation as last time. While walking about, he suddenly stepped on a dead branch. The instant the sound of it breaking resounded through the far too quiet forest—an arrow was fired.
—I already foresaw something like that.
He struck down the arrow with the butt end of his spear. Rider was already capable of reading through the trajectory of Archer’s arrows. This was the result of calmly repeating the previous battle in his head and thinking over how to match it with his movements.
“Don’t think you can hit me a second or third time, bowman! This time, I’ll be the one… heading to you!”
It only took him an instant. He jumped and advanced forward by kicking off the branches of nearby trees. His physical prowess was abnormal, but it wasn’t an impossible feat for a Servant. But, even taking into account the fact that he was a Servant, his speed still greatly stood out.
With speed equivalent to instant movement and not worrying about any obstacles in his way, Rider raced towards where the arrow was fired from.
There was suddenly a faint noise. It seemed the enemy had moved as well. As usual, Archer hid amongst the trees, preventing Rider from seeing about him or her anything besides a faint outline. If Archer of Red was in his place, she could use the enemy’s scent as one means to track them, but Rider’s sense of smell wasn’t that strong.
Arrows were fired at him one after another… Their trajectories were far too easy to read and were merely aimed haphazardly. Rider laughed scornfully and repelled them with his spear. It was far too easy for him to parry and dodge them. Rider could really feel that he was cornering him.
The next arrow. Immediately after the next arrow was fired, Rider would corner him—or her.
—Shoot, shoot, shoot, hurry up and shoot!
Rider’s wish was granted. He grabbed the next arrow immediately as it was fired and, with a laugh, brought his face close to Archer.
“I got you.”
Archer of Black should have been surprised. No, he had to have been surprised. Archer was completely cornered, had any possible attack sealed, and finally had allowed himself to be approached at a fatal distance for a bowman.
And yet, that man was so calm that it made Rider somewhat uneasy. He even smiled at Rider despite how close he was.
—————I’ve seen this man before.
—————No, I’ve talked with him, learned from him, and shared bed and food with him…
“Yes, that is your weak point.”
Archer of Black said that in a quiet voice and kicked the man in front of him in the solar plexus. Rider’s body went flying back through the air at the strong blow. Landing on the ground, Archer nocked an arrow on his bow with a fluid movement—and fired it.
Rider understood that the arrow’s target was his ‘vital point’, and immediately he frayed the nerves throughout his entire body. He screwed his body and bent his joints to the limit, trying to at least get it away from the arrow’s trajectory.
Instead of his vital point, the arrow pierced through his flank. Vivid pain ran through Rider’s entire body, but he paid it no heed. The man standing below him was a bigger problem.
All the mysteries surrounding Archer of Black had been cleared up. It was only natural that his skill with the bow was equal to that of Archer of Red—Atalanta. After all, he was a teacher to many heroes including Rider himself.
Rider pulled out the arrow from his flank and tossed it away as he stood up. Archer didn’t move even slightly as he held his bow, as if waiting for Rider to speak.
“—Why are you here?”
“What a foolish question. I was summoned as Archer of Black in this Great Holy Grail War. And you were summoned as Rider of Red. We each have wishes and regrets that bind us. That’s why we are here. Both me and you.”
Rider cast his eyes down and remained silent. Archer sighed and chided him.
“You’re truly soft. Has that part of you alone not been cured from your previous life? You’re stern to the end towards those you’ve acknowledged as enemies, but you’re always soft when faced with people who you’ve already acknowledged as ‘good people’ when they temporarily cease to be your allies. That may be a lovable trait as a hero. But this is the Great Holy Grail War—there is no room for feeling anything like mercy or compassion. Even someone who is called a hero like you understands that, right?”
—You understand that, right, Achilles?
Archer spoke Rider of Red’s true name. The young man known as Achilles nodded once with a grave attitude, like a pupil receiving a lesson.