The holy flag in her hands fluttered violently in the fierce and piercingly cold wind. The young woman stood majestically atop one of the planes.
The superb view around her was a hell in the sky where ordinary humans couldn’t exist.
Most likely, the prana from the Hanging Gardens was interfering and causing the planes to slow down the more they approached, with their current velocity now at a mere three hundred kilometers an hour. However, it was still fast enough that any human would be immediately blown off by the violent headwind. But as a Servant, Ruler was able to concentrate prana into her feet to remain firmly standing on the airplane’s roof.
She was filled with maddening worry, but for this moment alone she concentrated on only what was in front of her. Both now and in the past, her duty was to be the flag bearer—to receive all attacks onto herself.
That was her contract (curse). As long as she stood holding this flag, she wouldn’t lose to any hero from any time or place.
Not conforming to any of these seven classes, she was the aloof, absolute arbitrator.
Ruler—Jeanne d’Arc—stood at the vanguard just as she had in her first life.
In the sky at high altitudes that surpassed human reach, the Black camp at last caught sight of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
“—I see it!”
“Yes, me too.”
“I can see it too! Wow, it’s an amazing sight no matter how many times I see it!”
Inwardly, Ruler agreed with Rider of Black.
Assassin of Red’s Hanging Gardens could be best described as a huge, gold-shining birdcage. Seeing it fly through the sky was a wondrous sight straight out of fantasy.
And that birdcage was protected by not only the Red Servants, but also eleven pure black plates over twenty meters in length floating around the gardens, the Tiamutomu Umu: Eleven Black Coffins1 which had shot Rider of Black down to the ground before.
In contrast, Ruler and the others were riding giant birds of steel flying straight towards the Hanging Gardens at full speed. Fortunately, the trajectory of the planes was extremely stable. Strangely enough, despite having been so nervous inside the plane, Ruler was now the height of calm as she stood on its roof.
It appeared that her basis of fear lay with whether or not she could see the outside scenery.
Ah, how truly like a bumpkin country girl—She even had the composure to think such foolish jokes.
But it was about time for the laughter and smiles to end. What waited ahead was every form of despair that none could laugh at. And that was precisely why she was smiling now while she could.
She smiled humorously as she thought of Rider of Black, she smiled pleasantly at the charming relationship between Archer of Black and his Master, she smiled in admiration at the courage of Fiore’s younger brother—and lastly, she wore a different smile as she thought of him.
Then, she suddenly stopped smiling.
Her gazes narrowed and turned grim. With her holy flag raised in one hand, she shouted out boldly and loudly.
“Amakusa Shirou Tokisada—!”
Ruler yelled out his name—but the one to respond was not him, but his Servant, Assassin of Red.
“What an unsightly howl. My Master is busy accomplishing the ‘salvation of humanity’ with the Greater Grail. Come, you might still make it in time if you hurry, you know?”
The telepathic communication forcefully rang through her mind, annoyingly loud.
But there was more important information there to be concerned with.
“…He seriously intends to save humanity?”
In response to Ruler’s question, Assassin snickered.
“Who knows? Whatever the results of his actions are, it is no concern of mine. If you want to stop my Master, you’ll have to reach him. Though… only if you manage to get past the Red Servants first!”
Suddenly, an intense light flashed through the sky from the Hanging Gardens. That incredible torrent of prana—it was the three-horse chariot ridden by Rider of Red, the steeds neighing as they soared through the sky.
“Come, Archer of Black! It’s the promised time. Let’s enjoy ourselves!”
Soaring through the dark sky in a zigzagging pattern like a huge snake, Rider of Red charged at Archer of Black—!
Archer of Black’s eyesight possessed clairvoyance that could accurately grasp everything even in the midst of a pitch black night, but it was next to impossible even for his eyes to follow Rider of Red’s chariot. Whether it be strength, technique or speed, when one of these abilities in battle reached a level that far surpassed common sense, they became more than mere stat numbers—they were pure ‘weapons’ in their own right.
In that regard, the speed of Rider of Red’s chariot truly was a weapon.
It was impossible to avoid and impossible to defend against, and its charging power was tremendous. It was virtually perfect in both attack and defense—one of the pinnacles of what heroes could accomplish.
Moreover, Rider’s steeds weren’t ordinary horses. Two were the immortal divine hoses Xanthus and Balius, given to him by the sea god Poseidon, and the third was Pedasos, the famous horse he obtained when capturing the city of Eetion.
The chariot’s name was Troias Tragoidia: Tempestuous Immortal Chariot. It was a Noble Phantasm possessing divine speed that could overtake everything in this world.
Who could possibly stop this comet that soared across the sky at light speed? Any living being that touched it would be instantly turned into crimson paste. And the same applied even to giant whale-sized precision machines created by humans.
The chariot soared up and then dropped down towards one of the airplanes like a shooting star. Naturally, he was aiming for the plane Archer of Black was standing on.
“I’ve got you!!”
Rider of Red’s yell was filled with confidence. Just as he’d said earlier, airplanes were mere scrap iron before him.
The unpleasant sound of metal tearing apart rang through the air. Its fuselage was pierced during impact and the two torn halves of the planes lost control and immediately fell toward the sea below.
Rider didn’t even have to watch to know that it would crash against the sea and shatter into thousands of small pieces. But there was no sign of Archer of Black on the felled plane. Figuring he had moved to one of the other planes next to it, Rider temporarily stopped his chariot and looked around around—but at that instant, one of his steeds neighed.
Rider reflexively turned around—and he saw Archer of Black holding his bow ready and aiming straight at him. No, wrong. He had already fired an arrow!
It was virtually impossible to catch sight of an arrow shot on a night without moonlight and only the faint lights from the Hanging Gardens for illumination.
But Rider detected the swirl of prana and slight disturbance in the air, and he swiftly turned his head to the side.
Suddenly, the sound of grating teeth rang out—Rider of Red smiled fearlessly. Even Archer of Black was left speechless by what he’d done.
Rider had caught and crushed the arrow between his teeth. He had predicted that it was aimed for his forehead and, instead of avoiding it, stopped it head on.
“So there you are!!”
Rider of Red whipped at his steeds and resumed charging his ‘chariot’ that was more like a jackhammer.
His acceleration pierced the sound barrier in a mere instant. He flew in a spiral and ascended—and then did a sudden descent. The plane Archer of Black was standing on was crushed as if by a giant fist from the heavens.
Archer of Black ran and jumped off the crushed plane—and simultaneously fired mores arrows as he did so. He shot three arrows in quick succession, all aimed straight at the nape Rider’s neck as he halted midair for an instant.
But that wasn’t enough to stop the chariot. There was no way it could be stopped.
—Just try and stop me, Archer of Black. Right now, I’m the indisputable fastest in the world!
The chariot charged as it cleaved through the darkness.
Archer of Black softly jumped onto another plane from the destroyed one, acting as if the dozens of meters between them and the whirling winds were nothing to him.
At the same time as he landed, he activated the program that had been installed in the piloting golem beforehand.
Just as Rider of Red moved to chase after him, the whole plane performed a barrel roll. The reversed underside of the plane served as a shield that blocked Archer of Black from Rider’s sight. Archer used that chance to stealthily move to another plane again.
The plane blocking Rider’s vision ascended, but Rider didn’t chase after it.
Achilles wasn’t the type to keep falling for cheap tricks. He saw through it— Archer was no longer on the ascending plane and was now on another plane aiming at him!
Don’t underestimate me. Rider of Red charged and crashed straight into the ascending plane—a three hundred ton lump of metal. Archer of Black, who had drawn his bow in order to shoot Rider down along with the bait plane, was astonished at the sight.
It was one thing he Rider had merely pierced through the plane with his chariot. But… Archer couldn’t believe that he was pushing the whole plane in front of him as he charged…!
However, in reality, this now turned the plane into a huge shield that protected Rider from Archer’s arrows, and he was trying to crash it into Archer…!
Archer immediately leapt back while firing his nocked arrow. He used the enormous prana emitted by it as a form of propulsion, while the arrow itself simultaneously pierced through the plane with the force of a missile and destroyed it.
However, that didn’t stop Rider of Red. He struck the wrecked pieces of the plane with his spear and even used punches and kicks to launch them as projectiles.
They were more like machine gun fire than pellets. Archer of Black was forced to retreat back even further.
—Rider was certain that he was cornering Archer into a corner. His initial hesitation was gone now as well. The only thing that ruled his heart was the unimaginable joy of fighting the man he had once strived to match up to.
Rider wouldn’t kill him. He would beat him. It was merely unavoidable that his opponent would die in the process. If he fought with all his strength and the result was the death of his enemy, then it couldn’t be helped. His opponent was also surely excited at the prospect of beating him in return. They were fighting each other with everything they had. There was no room for sorrow there.
They ran, chased, shot and smashed. The great sage Chiron—Archer of Black—and the great hero Achilles—Rider of Red. The two Servants ‘used up’ yet another two jumbo jets with no hesitation at all.
In just a few short minutes, six planes had already been destroyed. There were four left. At this rate, all the planes would be felled within several minutes, and the Black camp would be forced to retire from the Great Holy Grail War as a result.
Of course, Rider of Red was at full strength, and even if he was reluctant for their battle to end in such a boring manner, he would still accept it as something that couldn’t be helped if it decided the battle.
Archer of Black didn’t wish for such an ending. And he knew that Rider of Red was using all his strength and taking advantage of the situation as well.
And then—at last, Archer’s adjustments were completed.
(1) This isn’t a Noble Phantasm per say, but rather a part of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The name is presumably in either Ancient Sumerian or Akkadian considering Assassin of Red’s identity, but since I have very little knowledge of those languages, I can’t guarantee correct spelling.