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fate/national

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“Japan?” Avenger steps back, a shudder reverberating through his body.

He feels as if he should know that name, and yet he feels the memories struggling towards the surface fade away in an instant as Saber launches forward and nicks Avenger’s side with his katana’s edge. Blood streams forth.

Avenger tries to sidestep the next lunge, but five more wounds open across his torso as if Saber wielded six blades at once. He gasps in pain and stumbles backwards, glock nearly falling from his hand. 

In an instant, Ruler stands before him, hands curled around a golden staff tipped with a lion’s snarling head. Avenger raises his glock and places his finger over the trigger surprised by how easily he and Ruler fall into the positions of protector and protectee. 

“Noble Phantasm: Art of the Eternal Blade,” Ruler declares, voice calculating and authoritative. “Though normally a Noble Phantasm powerful enough to cut through space and time would be a threat to most Servants, you have little hope against me.”

“You should not take sides in this war,” Saber growls, raising his katana over his head. 

Avenger is suddenly struck by how diminutive Saber looks in comparison to his long katana, though the wiry muscle in his exposed forearms belies hidden strength. 

"There is little wrong with fighting in humanity's best interests," Ruler says neutrally. 

Saber sneers. The expression looks foreign on his soft face. “And yet, here you are, the supposed mediator of this Grail War fighting for another Servant as if you yourself hold a wish for the Grail to grant. Does that not violate your rules as a Ruler?” 

“There were no rules to begin with when the future of this world is at stake.” Ruler taps his fingers against the sparkling jewels set into his staff -- a subtle threat. “You must know already that, in the end, all of us fight for our peoples’ glory -- just as we did in life.” 

What happens next seems to happen in slow motion. As Saber shifts his feet into a ready stance, Avenger hears the crashing of ocean waves and looks up to see a clear blue sky stretching overhead. Ruler points his staff at Saber, and a ring of warships rises from the ocean below like a cat’s claws closing around its prey. Avenger and Ruler now stand together at the wheel of the largest ship in the fleet while Saber stands on a small island in the center of the formation, suddenly looking quite insignificant hundreds of meters below. As Avenger watches, awestruck, several squadrons of planes rush overhead into position with smoke trailing behind like ribbons. 

The flag -- a Union Jack, Avenger knows somehow -- tied to the mast flaps heavily in the wind overhead.

Ruler lets out a cry, and the barrage begins. 

Dozens of cannons open fire on the island from the sides of each warship with a deafening roar, each cannonball throwing up a geyser of sand and debris. The planes -- Royal Air Force , Avenger’s brain supplies -- drop their payloads all at once, consuming the island where Sakura Saber once stood in flames and thick smoke. Powerful waves ripple through the ocean after each shockwave, rocking the ship which Avenger and Ruler stand upon. 

By the time the smoke fades away, there isn’t even an island left.

With a quiet gasp, Ruler drops to his knees and the illusion dissipates. Avenger rushes forward and catches Ruler in his arms, paying little heed to his own bleeding wounds or the charred spot where Saber had stood only moments before.

“England!” he cries, the name torn from his chest by instinct. He searches desperately for wounds on his partner’s body until his hands are smacked away insistently. 

“I’m fine, love,” Ruler says, his breaths evening out. He gives Avenger a concerned glance. “Really, you should be more concerned about yourself.”

Avenger frowns at the rather affectionate epithet, but his discomfort quickly fades away when he sees the strange warmth in Ruler's green gaze. Just moments before, those eyes had seen the utter destruction of a seemingly powerful Servant in a blink of an eye -- and yet, there is nothing but affection in Ruler's eyes when they are trained on Avenger. 

“Come -- let me tend to your wounds.” Before Avenger can protest, Ruler places his hands over the open cuts and pours mana through the glowing magic circuits in his arms. He then tears off bits of the ornamentation on his clothing and applies them as makeshift gauze. 

“Don’t we both need mana to manifest in this world?” Avenger pants, feeling warmth pool in his torso as his wounds stitch themselves back together. He frowns, trying to think through the fog surrounding the memories he needs to make an informed judgement. “We aren’t Master and Servant -- we’re both Servants. Can you supply mana to me like this without losing your own power?”

“We both possess the trait Independent Action -- you especially,” Ruler says. Avenger furrows his brow, hearing a subtle joke that he can’t understand. “As a result, we can manifest in this world without a Master. Though, the ley lines supplying environmental mana in this location certainly don’t hurt either. Nothing more to it, love.” 

Once again Avenger feels as if Ruler is deliberately hiding something from him. He has a gut feeling that his partner doesn’t have his best interests in mind -- and yet, Avenger knows all too well that he has no chance without Ruler. After all, he himself only possesses a glock for self-defense, and a modern handgun is little help against Servants with weapons as superhumanly potent as Saber’s katana and Ruler’s military. 

And so, even if only for his own self-preservation, Avenger has no choice but to entrust his fate in Ruler’s hands. 

“There is a city nearby,” Ruler says. He links his fingers with Avenger’s as if that is the natural thing to do. “I sense multiple Spirit Origins there. Let’s go.”

As they trek through blooms of dust, a stray thought enters Avenger’s head.

Why is Ruler’s Noble Phantasm so powerful? The Holy Grail War should've been long won if he can defeat a rival Servant in just seconds, and yet...