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Fate/Apocrypha - Volume 4 - Chapter 2

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VOLUME 4

Chapter 2

The Masters and Servants of the Black Camp had once more gathered in the castle's conference room.

After much trouble, Assassin of Black had been taken down, thereby getting rid of any lingering worries before they departed. There would be no problem leaving the other Yggdmillennia clan members to deal with and cover up the injuries from the fog. The fact that the children that Assassin had controlled were all alive and well was a silver lining within it all.

’’We'll leave Trifas and head to the capital Bucharest at noon tomorrow. Once there, we'll board an airplane and commence our air-raid against the Hanging Gardens.’’

So Fiore's declaration shouldn't have been surprising, but...

’’Nee-san. An air-raid means attacking the ground from the air, so I don't think that phrasing applies in this case, strictly speaking.’’

’’Muh. I-It doesn't matter. Caules, make sure you finish all your preparations in time.’’

’’Well, I will, but are we really going by air? Using a normal plane?’’

Fiore nodded with a frown.

’’After all, no matter what plans we think up, it's impossible to avoid being intercepted by the enemy, right? In that case, it's more efficient to go there using the cheapest method and disguising ourselves as much as possible.’’

’’Hey, hey! The airplane! I can pilot the airplane!’’

Rider of Black enthusiastically raised his hand but Fiore shook her head.

’’We'll have a golem pilot the plane. We can't have a Servant's hands occupied with piloting it in the middle of battle.’’

’’But I have a rank of A+ in my Riding skill! I wanted to show off how I can ride anything and not just my Hippogriff, you know!?’’

’’Ufufu. Such a shameful motive gives me all the more reason to say no... Besides, if you're not riding your Hippogriff when things turn bad, you won't be able to protect you Master, right?’’

’’Ugh, that's true, but...’’

’’The members going to the Hanging Gardens are Archer of Black, Rider of Black, Ruler, the boy who can become Saber of Black... and me as well.’’

’’But Master ’’

Archer of Black tried to object, but Fiore coldly refused.

’’We've gone over this, Archer. I also have my pride as the head of Yggdmillennia. And we can't risk the possibility of my prana being cut off from you in the midst of battle either.’’

Archer silently withdrew his protest. He appeared to understand from Fiore's obstinate expression that his words wouldn't change her mind. Fiore continued speaking to persuade them everyone else as well.

’’...I must accompany you all in case the worst should happen. I have a duty as the head of Yggdmillennia. Additionally, unlike a normal Holy Grail War, fourteen Servants were summoned this time. It's possible that the Path between Master and Servant is weakened as a result. It's not a good idea to become separated from each other.’’

In a Holy Grail War, the relationship between Master and Servant was, logically, the same as between magus and familiar. There existed a Line connecting the familiar and magus, which was essentially unaffected by distance. However, the prana channel between Master and Servant was a pseudo-version of this Line that was created during the summoning. Prana flowed across the Line, but Fiore conjectured that it might become cut off if they became too distanced from each other. Even more so if they left Romania, the base of Yggdmillennia's magecraft.

In other words, it would be the same as if the Master didn't exist for the Servant. Unless they had the skill [Independent Action], Servants wouldn't be able to last even a day in that condition.

’’Nee-san, me too ’’

Fiore quickly spoke up to cut Caules off.

’’Caules. You must remain here... You are the successor of the Forvedge family. I can't allow you to be exposed to danger.’’

’’ That's wrong.’’

When Caules replied like that, Fiore glared at him with cold eyes. Her eyes weren't those of his older sister, but of a magus.

But, though that would normally be enough to make him withdraw his opinion, Caules glared right back at her without retreating a single step.

’’...Caules. We will talk about this later.’’

As if to shake off the bad atmosphere hanging over the conference, Ruler spoke up to ask a question.

’’An airplane, huh...? I don't think there's anything wrong with it in terms of speed, but have you thought up any countermeasures against making us an easy target for the enemy when we approach them?’’

Fiore frowned and pressed a hand to her head as if very troubled.

’’We have come up with three tentative measures. If you'll all listen, then ’’

Fiore laid out the full details of the strategy she had refined together with Archer. Among the three measures she had devised, two of them were extremely valid and effective plans that anyone could think of.

The problem was the last one.

'It's a bit forceful, but it's not a bad idea' so judged Rider of Black. Sieg also agreed to it, saying, 'It will slightly raise our chances of reaching the Hanging Gardens.' When Archer of Black heard the idea, he was also satisfied, saying, 'It will reduce our disadvantage in the air even if only by a little bit.'

And lastly, Ruler, the only one among them who understood the common sense of regular society, became pale-faced when she heard it.

’’...Ruler, is something wrong?’’

Fiore tilted her head and asked her curiously. Ruler breathed out a sigh and shook her head.

’’No, it's nothing. I just painfully realized the gulf that lies between magi and normal humans.’’

Even with this plan, though, they would only be able to get close to Assassin's enormous Noble Phantasm, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

’’It still isn't enough. I'd like at least one more countermeasure to have in play.’’

Sieg groaned at the difficulty of what Fiore asked.

In the first place, the preconditions were harsh. An impregnable floating fortress, along with Atalanta, Karna, Achilles and Semiramis all of them Servants of the strongest rank.

The problem wasn't a matter of winning or losing, but how to feasibly approach that floating fortress

Ruler raised her hand first. She cleared her throat, gathering everyone's attention towards her.

’’How about preparing a second airplane loaded with explosives and enhanced through consecration and making it dive and crash into the gardens from a high altitude?’’

Ruler, who had run through numerous battlefields, proposed quite an extreme plan.

’’...H-How bold.’’

Fiore stiffened. Archer of Black exclaimed ’’Oh!’’ in admiration and clapped his hands.

’’But the Hanging Gardens is an autonomous moving fortress. It's most likely Assassin of Red's greatest and most prized mystery. Even if you consecrate them, I have doubts about how much damage mere explosives will be able to do...’’

’’However, if we don't manage to damage it at least a little, even infiltrating the gardens will be impossible. The situation is far different from the last battle. This time, they'll definitely counterattack with all their might.’’

Ruler was correct. Back when they were stealing the Greater Grail, the situation hadn't allowed the Red camp to ambush the enemy Servants while the Hanging Gardens was so close to the surface. In the first place, Shirou had intentionally led the Black Servants and Ruler into the Gardens back then.

This time would be different. The Red camp would move to eliminate the Black camp with all their might.

’’Even if we use that plan, it still isn't enough.’’

After Archer of Black stated that, the gathered Servants, Masters and even the homunculi standing by for orders exchanged various ideas, but none of them were worth pursuing.

’’Not a plane, but strategic bombing aircraft... Hmm, either way, we need a weapon with great destructive power... missiles... or a bunker-buster... or, though the name is disrespectful, perhaps the [Rods of God]1...’’

Fiore and most of the others couldn't understand even half of the things that Ruler murmured. Only Gordes trembled in fear, saying, ’’Does this holy woman intend to end the world...?’’

’’Hmm? In that case, how about this homun ’’

The instant Caules tried to point at the homunculus Sieg after suddenly thinking of something, Ruler glared at him. Caules frantically hid his hand.

Sieg then raised his own hand and spoke up.

’’I really don't mind using my Noble Phantasm as Saber of Black... But, if I end up clashing against the Hanging Gardens' defense functions in other words, against Assassin of Red's spells, the Gardens will likely survive the attack even if I don't lose outright.’’

Sieg could accurately calculate the power of that spell attack which Ruler blocked with her holy flag. If that was all there was, he was confident that he could overwhelm and beat it with Saber of Black's Balmung.

However, they had learned from Rider of Black that the Hanging Gardens had eleven interception spells prepared and ready for Assassin of Red to fire at any time. If the spell that Ruler had blocked was a 'one', then it was basically multiplied by eleven when fired in combination.

Even then, Sieg probably wouldn't lose, but he wasn't confident that he could defeat it either. The odds were likely that it would turn into a contest of power clashing against each other with all their might and merely resulting in both of them exhausting themselves.

And, though the Red camp could afford it, that was the worst possible outcome for the Black camp.

’’Turning it into a contest of power is the same as wasting Saber of Black's power. That's a very poor plan.’’

Archer of Black stated that, and Ruler agreed. Sieg also wanted him to use his power as little as possible. But it was also true that he wanted to help them reach the Hanging Gardens if his power was necessary.

If the odds were high that it would end up being a contest of power, then it couldn't be helped.

There were no holes in their plan itself. There weren't, but in order to reach the Gardens, they had to get through Lancer, Rider and Archer of Red's interception attacks. The Gardens also had its own defences, so taking that into account

’’...As I thought, the odds of us surviving are low.’’

At Sieg's intuitive words, a gloomy silence enveloped the conference room. Just as Sieg said, even with all their plans, the odds of success were low. A plane was, in the end, merely a flying lump of metal. It would be easily torn apart by any attack from Archer's bow, Lancer's spear or Rider's chariot.

’’ That's true. The fact that I'm so inept that I can only think of something like this is the problem. However, there aren't many methods for us to oppose the Hanging Gardens.’’

Though it was called a 'garden', it was already on the level of a fortress. Even the Fortress of Millennia, which had required hundreds of years to build, was but a fragile balloon in comparison.

Assassin of Red Semiramis. The legendary empress born from the goddess Derketo and a human man. Famed for her peerless beauty after she grew up, she was sometimes regarded as an incarnation of the goddess Ishtar.

She could probably put up a good match against Lancer of Red, Karna, with the strength of her mysteries. And then there was her Noble Phantasm, the Hanging Gardens. Even if it was a temporary miracle that would only last for the duration of the Great Holy Grail War, airplanes, which were the crystallization of modern science and technology, were nothing when compared to it.

’’It's fine, it's fine! At the very least, I can protect Master and one other person!’’

In order to break the gloomy atmosphere, Rider of Black spoke up in a bright voice. His words weren't a simple show of courage. They were full of confidence, truly the kind of words that only a hero could shout.

’’You mean with your Hippogriff?’’

’’Yeah! I couldn't display its special ability in the previous battle, but this time I'll use it for sure! After all, you're my Master now! Ahaha.’’

Rider laughed while slapping Sieg's back repeatedly. Ruler felt the atmosphere in the conference room flip around and become half-amazed, yet also brighter. Those words were quite carefree, but they were sincere as well. Rider hadn't tried to forcibly cheer them up;he was a warrior who truly thought that way from the bottom of his heart. That was enough for the atmosphere to change.

’’And besides, I'm completely impervious to magecraft! I have a tome that can counter any kind of spell!’’

After all, Rider of Black had an abundance of reliable Noble Phantasms to make up for his own weak abilities.

’’Well, I did forget its true name, so it's can't display its real ability, though.’’

Yes, even if he had forgotten the Noble Phantasm's name and couldn't activate its full power

’’No, please wait a second, Rider. What did you just say?’’

Everyone's gazes, including Sieg, converged on Rider of Black. Rider tilted his head with a puzzled expression

’’Eh, like I said, I have a Noble Phantasm tome. I'm really troubled since I've forgotten its true name.’’

Looking completely untroubled in his demeanor, Rider of Black spoke cheerfully.

Rider of Black took out a book which suddenly materialized of nowhere and placed it on the conference room's table with a thud. All the magi of the group, including Fiore, Caules and Gordes, gulped at the sight of it.

’’This is Astolfo's Noble Phantasm...’’

Unlike Rider's Hippogriff or lance, which had little to do with magecraft, a grimoire like this was a familiar sight to them.

And because they were familiar with grimoires, they could comprehend the enormous magical power hidden within this tome.

’’...I see. So the reason your Magic Resistance is only one rank below mine is because you have this.’’

Ruler nodded in understanding. She had certainly thought it was strange. The Magic Resistance of the Rider class was usually low-ranked, and she had never heard any legend of Astolfo originally having such a trait either.

But there was a legend about a tome that could destroy all spells, which had been given to Astolfo by a good witch. Indeed, if he always had this in his possession, he wouldn't be harmed by most spells.

’’Yeah, it really is convenient. After all, just possessing it protects me from spells.’’

’’...Umm, Rider. May I ask something?’’

While taking a deep breath, Fiore spoke up.

’’This tome can activate its true abilities by speaking its true name. According to legend, this is a grimoire that can destroy all spells, right? ...And you forgot its true name?’’

’’No, actually, it's just on the tip of my tongue ’’

’’Remember it, please remember it! We might be able to take down the Hanging Gardens if you do!’’

Fiore shook Rider's shoulders with her Bronze-Link Manipulators.

’’Wah, wah, wawah, wawawah! Wait, wait! I'll remember! I'll remember it! No, actually, I just remember it! Really, really!’’

’’Truly!?’’

Not only Fiore, but even Archer and Ruler got excited and pressed near him all at once. Even someone like Rider could feel the pressure here, and he took a step back while sweating.

’’Err. Umm. What I remembered isn't its true name, but the requirement for me to remember it, though...’’

’’Requirement...?’’

’’Yeah. The requirement is a moonless night. If it's on a day when there's no moon, I can definitely invoke this grimoire's true name.’’

Everyone exchanged glances at those words.

’’Moonless in other words, a new moon, huh?’’

Fiore wondered aloud, and her Servant Archer of Black voiced his agreement.

’’The moon has been treated as a guide of madness since ancient times. If we consider that the reason that Rider's reason evaporates is due to madness, then it's only on a night when the moon his hidden that Rider's reason returns.’’

’’The next new moon is... five days from now. What will you do, Yggdmillennia?’’

Sieg asked the question. In truth, their plan was to depart tomorrow, but if they waited until the next new moon, Rider would be able to activate his Noble Phantasm.

The longer they waited, the farther the Hanging Gardens would get from them. If the Red Camp managed to leave Romania's borders, the ownership of the Greater Grail would become a contested issue. Even if they managed to take back the Greater Grail outside of Romania, it would be considerably difficult to reconnect it to the land's leylines since it would be outside the territory that served as the base of Yggdmillennia's power.

The head of Yggdmillennia, Darnic, had once used the power of Nazi Germany in order to transport the Greater Grail, but the clan didn't have any such power or connections now.

Yggdmillennia's level of influence was completely different inside and outside of Romania. If they were within Yggdmillennia's territory, they might be able to gather the survivors of their clan and, if necessary, utilize Romania's government to take the Greater Grail back to the Fortress of Millennia.

But, once they took a single step outside of the country, Yggdmillennia's 'power' was weak. It would be impossible for them to transport the Greater Grail back. And it wasn't like the Association of Magi had given up on the Greater Grail after losing in the Great Holy Grail War.

In other words even if they won this war, the Greater Grail wouldn't return to Yggdmillennia's hands.

But, if they didn't wait five days, they would have to shoulder excessive risk in order to get back the Greater Grail.

Fiore was pressed into making a decision.

...As a magus, she should go after the Greater Grail even if it meant ignoring Rider of Black's Noble Phantasm.

To reach the Root. To make Yggdmillennia's power known to the world. For the sake of those objectives, activating the Greater Grail was absolutely necessary.

What would happen if they let the Greater Grail fall out of their grasp without resistance? It would mean the end of Yggdmillennia. At the very least, letting the Greater Grail be stolen would almost certainly mean the end of her life as a magus.

As the head of Yggdmillennia, that alone was

’’...Sorry. Please let me talk with Nee-san for a while. Sieg and all the Servants, please go back to your rooms for tonight and rest. We'll come to a decision by tomorrow.’’

Perhaps sensing that Fiore's thoughts were in a deadlock, Caules raised his hand and spoke up. Gordes merely said, ’’This isn't an issue that I have any say in anyway,’’ and he left before any of the others.

Rider of Black seemed like he wanted to say something to the Forvedge siblings, but Sieg and Ruler grabbed his shoulders and forcibly pulled him out of the room.

Lastly, Archer of Black looked at the conflicted Fiore and then looked at Caules. Caules nodded silently. Seeing that, Archer smiled in relief, and silently left the room.

And then, only the two siblings were left in the conference room.

Fiore moved her wheelchair to look at the pitch-black darkness outside the window as if she were trying to run away.

’’Now then. Nee-san, what will we do?’’

That cold tone was completely unlike the normal Caules;it was the voice of a magus. Fiore replied while still facing the window.

’’We must shoulder the greater risks. We Yggdmillennia must take back the Greater Grail through any means pos ’’

’’I think this is a watershed moment.’’

Without waiting for her to finish speaking, Caules cut in and said that.

’’Watershed... what do you mean?’’

’’This is a turning point deciding whether you'll become a magus or a human, Nee-chan2.’’

Those words sent a horrible chill down Fiore's back.

’’...What are you talking about?’’

’’Based on the movements of the Greater Grail that we heard from Ruler, the Red camp is definitely heading towards the Black Sea. I have no idea where they intend to go from there. Maybe they'll go north or south, or maybe they're heading somewhere specific in any case, if we don't catch up with them by tomorrow, the Greater Grail will fall out of all of our hands.’’

’’I know that.’’

’’Darnic Prestone Yggdmillennia devoted everything for the sake of this rebellion. He put our blood, our magic power, our fortune and property, everything last thing we have on the table. If we lose here, everything will come to nothing. Even if we wait five days and win with better chances, it will all come to nothing.’’

’’I know that.’’

’’So if we want the Greater Grail, we have to leave by tomorrow.’’

’’Like I said, I know all that! Caules, what are you trying to say!?’’

Irritated, Fiore turned around and glared at Caules and her anger immediately vanished like mist.

Caules' eyes were as dark as the depths of the deep sea.

’’However, that is the choice of a magus.’’

’’...Of a magus?’’

That was obvious. That was the premise behind everything. Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia was a magus, after all.

’’The Greater Grail can't be allowed to be used by someone evil. That's why we have to win. For the sake of that, we'll raise our odds of winning even the slightest bit. We have to lower the risk and increase our chances... even if it means we can't obtain the Greater Grail.’’

Caules calmly said that.

’’I won't change my mind. Yggdmillennia ’’

’’Who cares about Yggdmillennia? Forget the fact that you're the head of our family too. Nee-chan, the issue here is whether or not you'll continue to be a magus.’’

Understanding the meaning of those words, Fiore turned pale and moved back from Caules. Her anger had disappeared, and in its stead, she felt fear, looking at her brother as if he had become a monster.

’’...Are you telling me to stop being a magus?’’

’’That's something for you to decide, Nee-chan.’’

’’The answer is obvious. I ’’

I will continue being a magus. I must continue being a magus. After all, our parents and relatives expect that of me, and I have to unify our clan. I also have to use the Greater Grail to grant my wish to have my legs healed

’’...Do you remember that dog?’’

Fiore's breathing halted. Memories that should have sunk to the bottom of her consciousness suddenly rose to the surface.

The peeled skin of the dog. Its cries of pain. Its black eyes that seemed to ask ’’Why?’’

Just remembering it made her feel like vomiting.

’’...I remember. I could never forget it.’’

Tightly gripping the armrests of her wheelchair, Fiore replied as if spitting out blood. She had thought about forgetting it time and time again. And each time, she had sworn not to forget and continued to endure the flashbacks.

’’I see... In that case, you really aren't suited to be a magus, Nee-chan. It would have better if you just forgot it.’’

Memories of the past were important.

If it was for the sake of living as a magus, then she should hold onto them. But Fiore's memories were merely a form of trauma that gave her no benefit. Even if it raised her chances of communicating with low-level spirits within her specialty magecraft, what good would it do? Her success was natural in the first place, and even if she failed a spell, she could think of a hundred ways of dealing with it. As someone trained thoroughly as a magus, she could reject any trivial spiritual possession just by using her Magic Circuits.

...That's why memories had no value for her. If a memory was so sad, painful and unpleasant that it blinded her, she didn't have any problem with forgetting it.

Except for one. The memory of those peaceful days spent with that dog.

’’There's no way I could forget.’’

’’Why?’’

Caules' voice was calm as he asked that. Fiore forgot about resisting, and simply answered honestly.

’’Because, if I forget that little one, where else would he have to go?’’

In this world, the only ones who remembered that dog were probably only herself and her brother.

If she forgot him, that dog would disappear in that instant. The certain awareness that 'he had existed' would disappear.

People make graves in order not to forget the dead. Each time they saw the graves, they recalled those bygone days.

Proving that 'those people were alive in the past' was just as important as proving 'I'm alive in the present'.

That's why, if she forgot that dog...

He would have nowhere to go

’’Isn't that sentiment completely opposed to the reasoning of magi? ...That's why you're not cut out to be a magus, Nee-chan.’’

Hearing those words, Fiore stopped breathing for an instant and then she nodded.

’’...You're right. I'm not cut out for it. I might have hesitated over it a little too much.’’

She should have forgotten it. But even if she didn't forget it, it didn't impede her that much. She had used her talent to continue dodging the issue between her detestable sentimentality and her life as a magus.

But that was also at an end. Her childhood was long past, and she had to decide whether to take the path forward or backward now.

...She should go forward. She should continue as a magus.

That was the correct choice. That was unmistakably the logical decision.

Ah, but

She had made a grave for that dog. She didn't know whether it had been worn away by the all rain and wind since then. But still, she and her brother had made a grave.

She had grieved for that dog and felt sad over his death. She didn't have the courage to erase those feelings and call herself a magus with a calm face.

Yes, that's right. She had no courage. Cowardly, timid, always worrying and fretting;that was her true self.

Something warm filled her heart.

She thought herself foolish and weak, not for being unable to keep moving forward, but for being unable to change the part of her that didn't want to ever forget that dog but even so, she didn't regret it.

’’ I can't go forward anymore.’’

’’...I see. Yeah, I think that's for the best, Nee-chan.’’

She was at her limit.

Hearing Caules' words, Fiore bent forward and began to sob.

Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia decided to quit. Not the Great Holy Grail War, but her life as a magus.

’’...We'll wait five days. If Rider can utilize that tome's true power, it will decrease the risk of us getting shot down when we attack.’’

’’I see. Then Nee-chan, you'll stand behind here ’’

As Caules patted his chest in relief, Fiore tilted her head curiously and interrupted him.

’’What are you talking about? Of course not. Naturally, I'll also be going.’’

’’Huh!? Didn't you quit!?’’

’’Caules, what on earth are you talking about?’’

As if her tears just now were a lie, she spoke to her brother with a composed expression.

’’I've certainly quit being Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia the magus. But I still have a separate duty as someone chosen as a Master in the Great Holy Grail War.’’

’’Ugh. That's...’’

Caules groaned. Just as she said, regardless of whether or not she was a magus now, she still had her responsibility as a Master.

Furthermore, Archer of Black was still alive and required prana.

And it wasn't like she could give up on the Great Holy Grail War here. She had to fight, not as a magus, but because of her pride as a Master.

’’You listening, Caules? I will also ride the plane. You will remain here with Gordes-ojisama. I will entrust everything to you both should the worst case scenario occur.’’

’’...No, I'll go. I'll go too. I'm the same as you. I also have a duty as a Master.’’

That's right, Caules was still a Master. Though only to a small extent, he was supplying prana for Archer of Black. But that was simply as a backup. In reality, he was merely a Master that had already dropped out of the Great Holy Grail War.

’’Even though Berserker is gone?’’

When Fiore asked that sadly, Caules looked straight at Fiore and responded.

’’Even if Berserker is gone, even if all my Command Spells have vanished, I'm still a Master. And above all, I'm an Yggdmillennia magus. Since I bear that duty, I'll also go.’’

Fiore sucked in a surprised breath when she heard those words.

An Yggdmillennia magus she understood what those words meant. They were a proclamation of their separation, and a kind of decisive declaration.

For a short while, the two of them fell into silence.

’’......I see. You're going that way, Caules.’’

Fiore whispered in a lonely manner, and Caules shrugged calmly.

’’I myself don't care either way. But well, if Nee-chan is going over to that side, I should stay on this side.’’

That wasn't Caules' own desire. He was merely acting in accordance with Fiore's actions. But he had no regrets over it.

In the first place, he had always led an aimless life. He was a completely half-hearted person who didn't care whether he was a human or a magus either way. If that could help his sister settle her own life well, that was fine with me.

’’You won't come with me...?’’

’’Is there a need for me to go with you?’’

Caules unhesitantly rebuked Fiore's imploring words. It's better like this, thought Caules. Fiore would be lonely and lament that he was no longer by her side. But it was still a parting that she would eventually recover from.

She had decided the path she would follow. There was no way to know what lay ahead of her. But she had decided.

She would lose many things that was only natural, since she was throwing away the glory and life of a magus. Even so Fiore wanted to follow that path.

It wasn't about whether it was right or not. It was a decision wrapped in regret.

’’...I'll be lonely.’’

’’I wonder about that. We might both end up dying in five days.’’

’’ Yeah. Naturally, such a future is also possible.’’

Perhaps because she had been absentminded, she had completely forgotten it was far more likely they wouldn't live to see the future and when she realized that, Fiore involuntarily laughed.

Caules also started laughing with her, and from there on, their faces twisted in mirth as they convulsed with laughter.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Caules spoke.

’’It's the final battle. Let's make sure to go all out, Nee-chan.’’

’’It's all right. I have Archer to protect me, after all,’’ Fiore replied.

The sky was filled with dazzling stars.

Though the occasionally blowing wind was cold, it wasn't so bad that it made the body shiver. Seen from the lookout of the Fortress of Millennia, Trifas looked to have finally regained its peace.

Many Yggdmillennia magi were running around, using hypnosis on the people to suppress the panic, acting as doctors to give medical treatment, and acting as policemen to publically announce what happened as a spontaneous outbreak of poison gas. Fiore, who was the acting clan head, had immediately negotiated with the government to bring the state of emergency to a close. Apparently, it had also been announced that the serial killings were resolved.

As he was looking up at the stars, Archer of Black felt a strange sense of disconnection. It wasn't that anything abnormal had occurred, but rather that a certain thought had suddenly come to mind.

’’ The stars haven't changed even after more than two millennia, huh?’’

He had thought that the sky he saw in Greece in the past and the sky he saw now in Trifas would be different, but it hadn't changed that much.

The lives of humans have changed. History continues to advance. But the way the world works hasn't changed that much, thought Archer.

People fight, love, think and give directions Those known as kings may have entirely died out, but the act of ruling itself hadn't changed that much from when Archer was alive.

...It can't be helped, he thought.

People could accumulate wisdom and convey knowledge down the generations. But that didn't mean that their inner instincts changed as well.

If that part of them changed, they would no longer be human, but something else entirely.

Even so should people aim to become something beyond human?

’’...Ridiculous.’’

That whisper he unconsciously muttered was heard by someone behind him.

’’Archer?’’

Archer turned around at the sound of that clear voice.

’’Ah, Sieg. What is it?’’

He looked behind Sieg for the figures of Rider or Ruler, who were the first and second most likely people to be with him. Noticing Archer's gaze, Sieg spoke up in a slightly miffed tone.

’’The two of them are speaking with your Master. I was just told to bring you a message.’’

’’A message?’’

’’Yes... It seems we'll be departing in five days. You should talk with your Master later to hear the full details.’’

’’ Is that so?’’

Archer understood the meaning of those words very well. It meant that his Master, who was both a magus and a normal human, had decided to live as a normal human.

But despite everything, she had chosen that. Though she would lose many things, she had still chosen that path.

No matter how normal they might be, everyone was pressed to make a choice eventually. The choice of what path to take in their life.

There were exceedingly few people who didn't regret or waver. But Archer knew that never wavering was not necessarily correct.

No, he wouldn't mind even if she wavered and made a mistake.

’’Archer. I have a question to ask of you with your wisdom.’’

Archer was a bit surprised to find that Sieg was still there, since he thought the homunculus would leave right away after delivering the message.

’’Yes, what is it?’’

Sieg's handsome, doll-like face was tinged with faint distress.

’’I don't understand.’’

His whisper was faint beneath the starry sky.

’’What don't you understand?’’

’’...Assassin of Black showed me something.’’

Sieg spoke of what he had seen.

There were those who exploited and those who were exploited. And at the end of it all were pure lives that were merely plucked away.

It was complete and perfect as a system;no one was in the wrong, and there was no justice to be found anywhere.

The spectacle he had witnessed was one form of hell.

’’It's true that that might not be all there is to humans... But then, I realized. If humans continue to sacrifice the few for the sake of the whole, simply because it's not very visible... the world might not be that different from that hell.’’

With those faltering words, Sieg denounced the world.

The world isn't beautiful. The world is ugly. Those words contained a grain of truth.

’’...Of course, I don't know anything about the world. So these thoughts of mine might be absurd to you.’’

He said that in a somewhat sulky manner. Archer found that slightly charming.

Now then... it would be simple for Archer to reject what Sieg had said, and putting it into words would be easy for him as well. He could destroy Sieg's conclusion in just ten words, and with a hundred he could easily persuade him otherwise. After all, Sieg himself wanted to deny his own conclusion. He wanted to believe in Ruler's words that 'The world is beautiful'.

But Archer rejected that option.

’’...Perhaps so. Sieg, I walked on the earth more than two thousand years ago. People have multiplied since then. They have continued to overcome disasters and battles and to prosper. In the Earth's long history, the only race to have prospered this much is humanity. But that doesn't mean that humanity has changed much over those two thousand years. They haven't changed in the most fundamental sense.’’

Sieg looked at Archer in surprise. Archer shook his head as if to say how unbearable it all was.

’’I have raised and trained less than a hundred humans. Many of them reached the level where they were called heroes. Of course, that was due to their individual resourcefulness and efforts. I merely gave them a push to support them, but ’’

Even so, he felt pride in the pupils he had taught.

Asclepius, who became revered as a god of medicine;the famous hero Heracles;Castor;and the hero who had been summoned as Rider of Red, Achilles. Both those who left their names in history and those who remained buried in anonymity were splendid humans, one and all.

’’Even though there were once such great heroes, the world still hasn't changed. That's only natural. No human can change their basic instincts.’’

No matter how much people trained themselves, there was no human who never felt hunger in their life. If such a feat were achieved, it would probably be some kind of curse.

Humans possessed both reason and instinct. It was impossible to live by reason alone, and living by instinct alone merely made one a beast.

Reason has developed due to the advancement of knowledge. Techniques to restrain instincts have also increased. But it was impossible to completely negate them.

’’However, everything is washed away before the large river of history. It can't be helped. It can't be helped, but... As I stand here again in the world two thousand years later, I wonder if there was any meaning in my life. I think such foolish thoughts.’’

It truly was foolish.

Archer of Black immediately denied the thoughts that welled up in him. There was no such as a life that had meaning in this world. And there shouldn't be.

Because your life's meaning was something that you had to create yourself by moving forward.

’’...There is meaning in it. You left your name in history. Your life's brilliance became part of the stars in the sky and the name of your constellation remains even two thousand years later. I find that enviable.’’

The way Sieg seemed to pout as he murmured that was quite amusing to Archer.

’’Thank you, Sieg. Now then, I can't answer your question. But I will give you one piece of advice, if you'll allow me. Right now, you don't know what's good and what's bad, but you should think about it while following your heart. Accepting the advice of others is useful, but you mustn't simply obey it.’’

’’...In the end, I guess I have to think for myself.’’

’’Is that troublesome?’’

Sieg should his head silently. He never once thought it was troublesome. But he felt like he shouldn't think so much that he came to a standstill.

’’That's true. Simply thinking will merely make you go around in circles.’’

’’...So I have to act, huh?’’

Archer nodded at Sieg's words.

’’That's right. Act and decide. Right now, you are a living creature that can step firmly upon this earth with your own two feet.’’

’’...I understand. Archer, living is quite difficult, isn't it? If even I'm like this, it must be even harder for heroes like you.’’

Archer shook his head in denial of Sieg's words.

’’It's true that living might be difficult to some extent, but not so much as you imagine... Rather, the place from which you started was much harsher.’’

Sieg gained self-consciousness within a prana supply tank. The fact that he thought of breaking out from there in the first place was abnormal.

He might have despaired once he understood his situation. He might have been at a loss over what to do. But even so, he chose to move forward.

...That wasn't an act that anyone could do. Most heroes possessed power, talent and divine blessings from the moment they were born.

He had none of those. Yet even without them he was continuing to fight in the cruel situation of the Great Holy Grail War. If humans had possibilities hidden within themselves, then an artificial lifeform that was extremely close to humans a homunculus might also have infinite possibilities hidden within himself.

’’...Not really, I think I was just desperate back then.’’

However, it seemed the boy himself wasn't aware of that.

’’As long as you have that desperate urge, I'm sure that your worries will be settled someday.’’

’’I see... Thank you, Archer.’’

Sieg honestly thanked him, and then began walking away with a pondering expression. He seemed to be diligently considering Archer's advice.

’’That's fine, but please do watch your step.’’

’’I know... ah.’’

As soon as he said that, Sieg stumbled. Hearing a muted cry of ’’Kyah’’ at the same time, he saw that he had bumped into Archer's Master as she passed by.

’’Sorry.’’

’’No, it's fine.’’

After that brief exchange, Fiore moved out onto the lookout where Archer stood. Since her wheelchair couldn't ascend the stairs, she was using her Bronze-Link Manipulators.

’’Did you hear the message from that homunculus?’’

’’Yes... I heard about how we'll be leaving in five days.’’

Archer of Black understood very well what that meant.

’’The Greater Grail will be ’’

’’Yes, I know. Archer, there are several things I wish to discuss with you. Will you listen?’’

’’Of course, Master. Shall we go inside?’’

’’...No, I don't mind staying here.’’

After saying that, Fiore looked up at the sky. Archer looked at her face from the side under the faint illumination of the castle's lamps and at the faint traces of tears on her cheeks.

’’It might be able to grant my wish, but it will be difficult to take back the Greater Grail itself. It will most likely be retrieved by the Association of Magi.’’

Though, even leaving that aside, it was difficult to say whether or not the Greater Grail would be able to grant her wish anyway. The Black camp had no idea what state the Greater Grail was in after being stolen. It probably wasn't broken, but that was still merely conjecture on their part.

Besides, the enemy was a minor hero of the Far East who had continued to seek the Greater Grail over the course of six decades. Just what on earth was he planning ?

’’That is extremely disadvantageous to Yggdmillennia.’’

Archer struck at the truth of the matter with a quiet voice. That's right, if they launched their attack in five days, it would effectively mean defeat for them.

Sooner or later, the other clan members would also find out about this. In that case, Fiore would be completely cornered by them.

’’Yes. That's why I will take responsibility... No, rather, because I won't take responsibility, I will give up magecraft.’’

’’...’’

Silence. Even though he had already understood, Archer uneasily kept silent.

For a magus to give up magecraft it meant giving up not only their life, but the entirety of their family's long history as well.

That was unimaginably painful and terrifying. Because she would be destroying something precious that had been gradually accumulated over time.

’’Don't look at me like that, Archer... This is fine. I was finally able to understand. Archer, you realized that I was unsuited to be a magus, right?’’

’’No, that's ’’

Fiore's gentle smile didn't allow Archer to lie.

’’...I apologize. After I was summoned, I vaguely became aware of it as I talked with you. Master, you possess excellent and unrivaled talent as a magus. Even now, that is without a doubt true.’’

Archer apologized with a sincere expression. Fiore faintly giggled.

’’Thank you. Those words make me very happy. But I never had any talent as a magus. I wasn't able to think rationally and devote everything to the study of magecraft.’’

’’I think it would have been fine if you were at least only an isolated magus, Master.’’

In that case, she wouldn't have gotten involved in the Great Holy Grail War, and would never have been installed as the head of Yggdmillennia.

In the first place, magi did not fight out of preference. There were simply battles they had to fight as a result of something they couldn't give up. If she were isolated, the danger of that would have been low. She might have made the best use of her ability as a magus and eventually left her work to the next generation without ever noticing the truth about herself all her life.

But those were all empty assumptions.

Fiore had been born as the eldest child of the Forvedge family and was made to shoulder various expectations as the candidate for the next Yggdmillennia clan head. She would have noticed it herself eventually. Or someone else would have noticed.

That would have likely led to an unstoppable and fatal situation. Just as Caules had said, this was definitely a turning point for her.

’’However, though it may be arrogant of me to say that makes me happy.’’

’’Archer...?’’

’’You acted not as a magus, but as an individual human towards me. You regarded me not as the deadly weapon known as a Servant, but as a comrade who fights alongside you. No, perhaps it's precisely because you're such a soft-hearted person that I was summoned by you.’’

Those were extremely unnecessary feelings in a Holy Grail War. She would definitely part with her Servant in the end.

No matter how much they bonded, that alone would not change.

It was a relationship that would eventually end. In that case, it was better to treat each other that way from the start. The Master would treat the Servant as a weapon and the Servant would use the Master as fuel.

Even though it should have been better that way...

’’That's not it at all. I was just afraid of being hated by you, Archer...’’

Archer smiled wryly, finding that to be such a human-like answer.

Perhaps noticing it herself, Fiore became shyly embarrassed.

’’I'd like to ask one more thing. Archer, are you all right... with fighting Rider of Red?’’

’’...What do you mean?’’

’’I saw a dream about you and Achilles. When he was young and you were raising him.’’

Fiore spoke of the dream she had seen. The young Achilles had earnestly revered and respected Chiron. And Chiron had also treated him as his own child and trained him to be a hero.

Family... That truly was the spectacle of a family.

’’Archer, Rider was a beloved pupil to you, wasn't he? I don't think it's right for you to fight him...’’

She gave a human-like response out of human-like emotion.

She really is a good Master, thought Chiron with a broad smile. But she misunderstood. She wasn't wrong but she wasn't right either.

’’Master. It's true that, just as you say, it might be painful to fight him to some extent. But it also brings me great joy that exceeds that pain.’’

’’Joy...?’’

’’Achilles left my tutelage at around the tender age of ten. And just as promised, he acted as a hero, fought as a hero, and remained a hero right until the moment of his death. The fact that I contributed to those great achievements even a little brings me tremendous joy. And ’’

Archer gave a bold smile and clenched his fist.

’’I can't help thinking. His fists were once small and weak, unable to even hit me, but could he beat me now? Has his formerly clumsy skill with the lance become good enough to face my arrows?’’

That was the instinct of a warrior. The selfish and pure desire known as fighting spirit that sprouted in all those who cultivated the art of battle in this world. It was the simple wish to fight someone strong, even if they were family.

’’I want to fight Rider of Red... Those are my honest feelings.’’

’’You mean not as a Servant, but as a warrior?’’

’’...Yes. Of course, it's also true that there's need to eliminate him as a Servant.’’

’’ I see. Hey, Archer. I might be unsuited as a magus, but could it be that you're also unsuited as a Servant?’’

Fiore started giggling.

When she saw Archer think over his own words and then nod meekly, her laughter grew even greater.

’’...Do you have regrets over giving up magecraft?’’

Archer suddenly asked her that. Fiore cast her eyes down with a slightly sad expression and whispered.

’’Of course. It feels painful enough to pierce my heart. Magecraft was something precious to me. So much so that giving it up makes me want to cry in pain and regret.’’

When this conversation ended, Fiore would probably cry.

And when she transferred her Magic Crest to Caules later, she would probably cry again.

She would probably suffer through tearing heartache for a while after the war was over.

’’...That's good, Master.’’

Though Archer's words were extremely inappropriate as a reply, Fiore accepted them.

’’...Yes. My life wasn't a waste. Magecraft was such an important part of my life that I knew joy and the pain of loss from it.’’

That was why.

That was why she had to throw it away in order to walk a different path.

She would feel sad and lament over it. But there weren't many things in life that were held so preciously so she also felt joy over it.

’’Thank you, Archer.’’

’’I didn't do anything. You chose your path by your own will. And Caules-dono gave you a push from behind.’’

Fiore shook her head at those words. If her Servant had been anyone other than Chiron, she would never have been able to make this choice.

It was because this man, who was as gentle and calm as a deep forest, had merely watched over her from behind that she was able to make this choice.

’’I'm truly glad that my Servant was you.’’

’’And having you as my Master was unexpected good fortune for me.’’

’’Five days from now. Don't mind me and fight to your heart's content. That will help in protecting Caules and I.’’

They couldn't break through the obstacles to the Hanging Gardens with just an airplane. Therefore, they had thought up several plans (though there were all brute force strategies).

Having the Master Fiore and the Servant Archer act separately was also one of those plans. The Servant was meant to protect the Master, so Archer's presence in one place would also expose the location of his Master there.

Therefore, Archer would forget about his Master and act freely.

’’Even so, I'll respond to a summons by Command Spell in an emergency. If something happens, make sure to call me. I may be a failure as a Servant but I swear upon the stars of Sagittarius that I will protect you.’’

Archer took Fiore's hand and kneeled. Her cheeks turning slightly red, Fiore let Archer kiss the back of her hand.

’’Courtesy and etiquette didn't exist in my era, so forgive me if I'm ill-mannered.’’

’’Not... at all.’’

As she spoke, Fiore laced her hands together as if having accepted something precious.

Their parting was definitely close at hand. Servants were spirits, and even if Chiron were summoned in another Holy Grail War, it wouldn't be the Archer of Black who was summoned in this Great Holy Grail War.

’’Archer, I pray for your victory.’’

It was already uncertain what victory or defeat was at this point. But even so, Fiore could only pray and entrust those words to him.

Without saying anything, Archer nodded with a gentle smile.

Sieg and Rider of Black had left Trifas to head to Bucharest. Fiore had furnished a safe house in the city and had asked them to head there first.

...Apparently, she was conducting a ritual that couldn't be shown to outsiders. Leaving aside Rider of Black who was a Servant, the homunculus would possibly live past the Great Holy Grail War, and so Fiore had requested that he go to a location as far away from the castle as possible.

Sieg didn't know what kind of ritual it was, but it couldn't be helped if his presence would be in the way, so he agreed. Fiore also offered to provide him with other homunculi to attend him, but Sieg politely declined.

’’I'll catch up with you soon.’’

Ruler said that while clasping her hands together. Her eyes were very serious as she gazed at Sieg. Ruler had to take care of two tasks that Sieg and Fiore had respectively requested of her, so she was staying at the Fortress of Millennia a little while longer. In other words, their group's greatest safety net would be gone from their side.

’’Listen, okay? Please don't let Rider cause any trouble. This is not just my request, it's the request of Archer of Black and all of Yggdmillennia as well.’’

The homunculi behind her nodded in unison.

’’...Understood. I'll somehow keep Rider in check.’’

Sieg clenched his fist as if to show his determination.

’’Heeeey, you guys, I am right here, you know? No, you do know, don't you? You're doing it while aware that I'm here. Damn it, are you all trying to pick a fight with me!?’’

And Rider of Black, who was watching all this from Sieg's side, lost his temper. But their unease wasn't unwarranted. After all, he was Astolfo, who was famed for his reason evaporating in his legend. He had caused lots of trouble both big and small while here in Trifas as well.

’’Now, now, please do calm down. I have faith in you, Rider.’’

Archer of Black spoke gently and patted Rider's shoulder.

’’Archer... *sniff*, you're the only one who believes in me.’’

Rider's eyes grew moist. Caules spoke up while watching the scene with scornful eyes.

’’You were quite troubled over whether you should go to watch Rider, though, Archer.’’

’’Traitor!!’’

Rider of Black repeatedly struck his hands against Archer's chest. Sieg came forward to calm him down. While watching the two of them with a gentle gaze, Fiore spoke to Sieg.

’’Once we rejoin you, we'll immediately head out towards the Hanging Gardens. Perhaps you should say goodbye to the other homunculi here while you have the chance?’’

Goodbye.

Sieg stiffened at that word as if taken by surprise. What Fiore said was natural, but it was only now that he truly realized that he would have to part with his fellow homunculi.

’’All right. Rider, please wait a bit.’’

’’Sure. Say all your farewells until you're satisfied.’’

’’Sieg-kun, partings are a sad thing. Please make sure to engrave them in your memories.’’

Sieg nodded at Ruler's words and then went to bid farewell to the other homunculi.

Most of the homunculi nodded lightly at his words of farewell and replied by tapping his shoulder or patting his head.

Goodbye, do your best, be well, we'll miss you, don't die, don't lose, good luck, take care of your body All of their words were ordinary, yet precious.

Taking in each of their words one after another, Sieg lastly headed to see the homunculus who basically served as their leader, Tool.

’’...You're going?’’

Due to having received great damage during the previous fog incident, she still couldn't get out of bed. Her consciousness was clear, but she didn't seem to have yet regained the strength to get up and work. According to Gordes' diagnosis, she would return to normal in another three days, but

’’Yeah. Whether I win or lose, I probably won't come back here.’’

If he lost, he would probably die. Even if he won or managed to just survive, he wouldn't return to Trifas.

...He didn't know what he would do then. Would he distance himself from the evil of humans, or believe in the goodness of humans?

’’I see. That's fine... Go, then. You have a future, after all.’’

Tool lightly grasped Sieg's hand and softly struck it. Sieg nodded with a humble expression.

’’Truly, thank you very much.’’

’’...Hmm? I think I'm the one who should be saying thanks, though.’’

Tool tilted her head in confusion at Sieg's words. Sieg sighed how should he explain it? He was simply glad that she and the others were alive. That was all.

As he was perplexed over how to express it in words, Tool giggled.

’’Well, saying farewell like that really is like you... You can live and survive anywhere. You're our hope, after all. You'll surely do something amazing. All the homunculi here believe that.’’

Something amazing, huh?

Even now, he was aware that he was an ’’amazing’’ existence. Even so, that was only a transient miracle. Once the Great Holy Grail War ended, he would probably live an ordinary life like anyone else

’’No. You'll surely do something amazing.’’

Tool giggled from the bottom of her heart. It soon changed into a spasm-like cough, so he hurriedly gave her water and decided to leave the room.

Even if he gave the same farewell to everyone, there were slight differences among their reactions. Some were sad, some were happy, some were lonely at the prospect of his departure, and some held expectations for his future

The differences were slight, but that was a result of their individuality, as slight as it might be. Even if they were reared the same way, even if others paid no heed to them, Sieg thought that was something precious.

...He felt reluctant to part with them. But that feeling of reluctance and regret was probably something previous as well.

After bidding farewell to everyone, he joined back up with Rider of Black at the castle gates.

’’You finished your farewells?’’

’’...Yeah, basically.’’

’’I see. Then let's go and do our best!’’

Rider firmly grasped his hand. That strength of his was reliable and made Sieg happy. And at the same time, he had a thought.

Perhaps someday... no, not 'perhaps', I will definitely have to say farewell to Rider as well.

At that time, will I cry or laugh? Or will I not feel anything at all? If possible, I hope I feel something.

After getting on a bus going out of Trifas, Sieg and Rider at last arrived in Bucharest at some point in the evening. They walked through the city following the map they had been given. Along the way, they ended up being surrounded by several men of large build, but fortunately neither of them was injured. They seemed to give up after Rider, using his strength which had once dragged around a giant, bent a nearby light post with his bare hands.

’’Then, let's get going.’’

Rider had walked away with a calm face... Since the situation would have turned out much worse if Rider hadn't displayed his strength like that, Sieg concluded it wasn't a problem.

The building that had been prepared as their safe house was made of brickwork and was closed off from the outside, the perfect example of a 'building for insulating prana within its confines'.

Sieg used the password and key he had been given to unlock the safe house's magically sealed door. It was almost night time. Bucharest was dangerous at night... Though it wasn't really dangerous for Sieg and Rider themselves, it would be a different matter for anyone who tried to pick a fight with them. It would be fine if it merely ended with a few hits, but in the worst case scenarios, Rider might forget to hold back his strength and break their necks, causing corpses to pile up.

They entered the safe house. The first floor consisted of a living room and kitchen. On the second floor there were bedrooms, with a total of four beds prepared including those for guests. As expected of an Yggdmillennia safe house, the furnishings were quite lavish. There were high-quality leather sofas, Persian rugs and a tulip-shaped crystal chandelier and when the energetic Rider immediately broke part of the chandelier upon their arrival, Sieg decided to pretend he didn't see anything.

There was nothing here to serve as a magus' workshop, like a basement or attic room. However, when he paid careful attention to the interior walls, he could tell that there were several alarm spells prepared. It appeared to be a spell that would link with the beds and forcefully wake them up the moment the walls were destroyed or some act of magecraft was detected in the surrounding area.

There was food in the refrigerator, so they decided to not go out of the house any further today. As usual, Rider passed the time merrily without going into spiritual form.

Fortunately, the damage that Rider caused concluded with merely the chandelier he partially bent by swinging from it, a guest bed he completely broke by jumping up and down on it three times, and three broken plates and two cups he smashed when he tried to help with washing the dishes. As long as it wasn't anything outside the safe house, the Yggdmillennia magi surely wouldn't get angry at destruction of the house's furnishings.

Night time came. After taking a quick shower, Rider immediately fell asleep in bed. On the other hand, Sieg gazed at the softly twinkling stars outside the window and recalled Archer and Ruler's words.

Think, and act.

The words were quite simple, but they were in fact quite hard to put into action. After all, even Ruler and Archer, who were respected and revered by the masses, sometimes became troubled and worried. If it was simply about continuing to survive in this world, the answer was simple breath, eat, excrete and sleep. Repeating that cyclical process could be called 'living'.

In that regard, Sieg was also living.

But when other people were added into the mix, it became quite complex. How should he regard and interact with others? Were they evil or good...? And was he himself good or evil?

He didn't think that the city where evil was constantly produced that Assassin showed him was just... But perhaps the men and woman who lived in that city had thought it was.

Then what should he do?

How could the problem be resolved? How could everyone become happy without making any victims and with no one being evil?

’’...I don't know.’’

Most likely, even sages like Archer of Black, innocent heroes like Rider of Black and saints like Ruler can't resolve this problem, Sieg thought.

Sieg's thoughts were correct.

If there was something evil, then heroes were the ones who fought and destroyed that evil with all their might.

But no concrete evil had existed within that city in the first place. What that place needed were salvation from poverty, the restraint of crime and, most of all, happiness for all who lived there.

It wasn't possible to achieve that. Then was it right to leave it alone? No, it wasn't. Then should he choose to save only the people who caught his attention ? But that was impossible for him.

’’The salvation... of humanity, huh?’’

...Speaking of which, the other side's Ruler, Amakusa Shirou Tokisada, had declared he would save humanity.

Sieg honestly thought that was a wonderful thing. Sieg had also done his own research on Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. Though he was never officially recognized as a saint, he had risked his life to accomplish something that anyone could truly call [good].

He had stood up against the tyrannical rule of his time. He had given the pride of being human back to those who weren't treated as humans. That was a splendid thing that Sieg himself could never do.

Even if he was the enemy and his method was likely mistaken... if the salvation of humanity could truly be accomplished, it would be a wonderful thing. And if his method wasn't mistaken, everyone could forget their grudges and work together to help him

’’...Hmm?’’

Sieg tilted his head in puzzlement. He felt something slightly out of place in his thoughts just now.

But no matter how much he thought it over, he couldn't find the source of that out of place feeling. Since the night was growing late, Sieg decided to give up and go to sleep.

The next day, Sieg (reluctantly) went out to eat with Rider, but the chances of them getting dragged into trouble doubled as a result. Rider's excitement had risen further after basking in the sunlight. Having to deal with criminals or mere hoodlums like last night was still better than what happened when they went out.

The worst case was when Rider meddled in a quarrel between spouses.

’’You guys should fight it out and clear away all your pent-up feelings!’’

That was Rider's advice when he tried to mediate between the two, the worst possible conclusion. In the end, it turned into a fist fight while splashing around within a water fountain, and the wife had obtained victory with a right hook to the jaw.

...True, the couple had thanked Rider and gone home while smiling with their arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. But there had been too many sacrifices to reach that point a coffee shop's window was broken, their clothes became soaked from the water fountain, a table was toppled over and smashed, the plate of food that had been sitting on top of it had struck Sieg right in the face, and the sauce of the uneaten pasta on the plate had made Sieg's face sticky and oily.

And, for some reason, the reimbursement for the damages was pushed onto Sieg and Rider, and they ended up being billed more than half of the money that they had received as a budget from Yggdmillennia.

It couldn't be helped, since Rider ended up forcefully dragging Sieg along each time he stopped to look at something. And Rider frequently stopped as they walked. He stopped to watch street performers, he stopped to watch a charming young couple, and he unhesitantly went to help an old man who was taking a long time to cross the street.

’’You really do like trouble, don't you?’’

’’Uh-huh! After all, trouble is fun, and I like people too!’’

When Rider said that with a beaming smile, Sieg wasn't able to do anything. It was true that Rider liked people. He smiled joyfully just by walking around and watching ordinary people.

’’Why do you like people?’’

’’Hmm, I don't know. Then let me ask you right back;why should I hate them?’’

When asked that, Sieg became troubled. What Rider watched with a smile were humans who were neither just nor evil, but merely ordinary.

There was neither good nor ill will there. It was just a piece of ordinary backdrop scenery Sieg didn't like that wording, but that was all it was to him.

’’That's right. It's like a piece of backdrop scenery. Those people are surely living lives completely unrelated to us. They probably do both bad things and good things. Which one depends on their choices, but if I step in and influence them, maybe something will change. That's what makes it fun!’’

Rider said that while smiling and laughing. He waved his arms and shouted excitedly.

’’The hoodlums we met last night might think of returning to being upright citizens after having been beat up by me! The quarreling spouses earlier might have a child, and that child might discover something amazing! Or perhaps nothing will change at all! Yeah. That's why I like humans, and why I love 'what if' stories!’’

Rider spun around and danced in the middle of the street. The people passing by avoided the lively Rider half out of annoyance and half out of amusement.

’’I see... Yeah, somehow... I can understand that.’’

Sieg thought as he watched Rider. Whether or not Rider saw that scene of hell, or even if he had seen a worse hell himself in the past, he would surely come to a clear solution by easily saying 'That is that, this is this'.

As long as there were humans, he would continue to interact with them, while hoping that something fun will happen

’’Ah, hey you! You can't steal my wallet like that! Hey, hey, it's dangerous to swing around a knife fine then! *Bang*!’’

Sieg sighed and stepped forward to end this latest round of trouble quietly.

’’I understand that you like people, but please at least avoid making greater trouble.’’

’’Sorry...’’

Even Rider couldn't help but hang his head dejectedly when Sieg rebuked him.

’’Anyway, it's already past noon. Let's eat and hurry home ’’

As Sieg said that, Rider's face suddenly sharpened. Sieg thought for a moment that he was going to make more trouble, but Rider's expression was too grim for that.

’’...Rider?’’

Ignoring Sieg's questioning, Rider abruptly began running.

’’This presence... There's a Servant nearby...!’’

Sieg frantically ran after Rider. They went off the main street into a back alley. The surrounding people made way for them in confusion. People might get dragged into something again thought Sieg for an instant, but it was a needless fear.

As he ran at full speed, Rider was overflowing with the dignity of a gallant knight that he only ever showed at night. Half-hearted people hesitated to even call out to him.

Sieg ran but Rider's feet were swift. He gave up on catching up, and the best he could do was to follow the trail of Rider's prana in order not to lose sight of him. Sieg could only think that the reason for Rider's confusing and disordered route was because he was chasing after another Servant.

’’Rider!’’

’’I've almost caught up...!’’

On his way, Rider jumped over a child playing on the street, ran over a fence to avoid a cat, and even barged into an apartment room and then jumped out its window on the other side.

’’There!’’

Sieg's body tensed as he heard Rider's shout ahead of him. It was true that a Servant was quite close by. Even Sieg could sense it, since he contained Saber of Black in his body. Most likely, the other Servant had already notice their presence as well.

It was thus that Rider turned the corner of a back alley and Sieg followed after him from a little further behind.

In the back alley that was strangely dark even though it was midday, 'she' stood there with her back to them.

’’Ah !?’’ shouted Rider in surprise.

She turned around while letting out a brutal growl

There was no way either Rider or Sieg could forget her face.

There was no way they couldn't recognize her prana signature.

Despite the fact that they were in the middle of town, she was the only one who seemed as if she was on the battlefield even now.

’’Y-You! What are you doing here!?’’

Saber of Red replied while glaring at the two of them with suspicious eyes.

’’...That's my line.’’

It appeared she was seeing a dream.

The family who had taken upon the name of Shishigou had moved to a gloomy land in a Far East island nation where it seemed to rain all-year-round. Fair weather only lasted for a shoot time during summer. On most days, the skies were covered with dark grey clouds.

It was a desolate place, where people had to use up all their will and energy just to survive.

Even if they were magi, they needed food to survive. All the more so for fallen magi like them. They had to start over using worthless spells that couldn't be called proper magecraft and gaining the trust of the native people.

’’We can still make it, we can still make it, we can still make it...’’

What do you mean, 'you can still make it'? They had already reached their end. They had reached an unsolvable impasse;their Magic Crest had decayed and their power wasn't even a tenth of that from their golden age. Their Magic Circuits were becoming more meager with each generation, and they would eventually end up becoming merely people who 'know about magecraft'.

The insult, indignity and humiliation of it all. The end result which all magi wanted to avoid at any cost. The worst possible conclusion, where they didn't lose their lives in a challenge to learn of the abyss or in a gruesome battle between magi, but rather simply became meaningless.

No, I hate that, I hate ending like that, I hate it, hate it...

They whined unreasonably like children and sought help from other magi they were acquainted with out of desperation. Although the family had done so much for them back in their heyday, they all scorned the family and showed nothing but contempt.

’’O pitiful clan. You are all already finished.’’

’’How can we help those whose Magic Circuits are dying out?’’

’’It's sad, but this is also the fate of magi. No matter what you say or do, your wish won't be granted.’’

In the end, the one who granted their wish wasn't any of those other magi. Instead, they made a curse-like contract with a mysterious being that resembled an evil spirit.

’’Well, I shall promise you prosperity.’’

It cackled in amusement.

’’However, this is only a loan, so remember that you're fated to someday have it all end in an instant, understood ?’’

The family said that they didn't care. They would progress their magecraft until that day. They could come up with any number of methods to deal with it. Even if they couldn't, their descendants surely would, someday

They had felt prejudice and contempt towards the branch of mystical techniques in this remote land. Their new magecraft was primitive and vulgar, far removed from their sense of aesthetics.

However, on the other hand, this craft was so simple and sturdy that it was beautiful. How foolish and shallow they once were. The family passed their knowledge down the generations, warned their children and grandchildren the curse and repeatedly ordered them to come up with a measure to deal with it as quickly as possible.

Their time of prosperity was like the account of a dream. Their thesis was recognized and the Clock Tower welcomed the Shishigou family back without hiding their surprise. 'I don't know how you managed to make this comeback, but how wonderful. We welcome you '

And then, their fall once more came in the blink of an eye.

They didn't stumble down a hill, but were pushed off a cliff. Cruel treatment? Not at all. They had prepared themselves for this however, it was a problem that they had forced upon their descendants.

Shishigou Kairi was the beginning of the end. He was the greatest masterpiece among the children the Shishigou family had given birth to until now. Having surpassed his father and attained even greater mysteries of their magecraft, he was the pride of their family.

He was introduced and married to a wife. Having not forgotten about the curse for even a moment, the family first confirmed whether he could conceive children.

And then, they realized that it had finally started.

’’It's no good. Kairi doesn't have the ability to conceive. There are no abnormalities in his body, so this is definitely the work of the curse. Unbelievable, it has finally begun ’’

First, they attempted to make it possible for him to conceive children using every kind of method. They used various medicines, performed every ritual possible and used their connections and a great deal of money to have him examined by magi who specialized in medical magecraft.

Every one of them failed miserably. They did manage to make it possible for him to conceive for an instant. But the children died immediately after being born no matter how many times they repeated it. The children would be born, melt and then fade away.

His wife immediately decided to divorce him. She spoke to him with cold, indifferent eyes.

’’You really are a splendid magus. You even toy with your own children.’’

She's right, thought Kairi. His children always died upon being born due to his duty to his family. They died no matter what he did as if he had killed them himself.

His wife's family also understood at this point how far the Shishigou family had fallen and quickly washed their hands of them.

Kairi and his wife had been the best couple in terms of their qualifications as magi. That's why the Shishigou family had continued to obsess over having them give birth to a child. But at that point, the family decided they had no other choice but to adopt a child as the next successor.

The Shishigou family was desperate. They thought that, since nothing else worked, they should have Kairi pass on the Magic Crest to another child through some means. Even an adopted child would do for them.

...Even after having reached this point, it was hard to say whether they had understood the true meaning of the 'curse'. The condition of the contract they had made was to give up magecraft when Shishigou Kairi was born.

The act itself of producing a magus to be his successor was impossible.

Without realizing that, they somehow discovered a young girl who was a distant relative with good compatibility. When they were introduced to each other, Kairi felt plainly depressed, knowing how scary-looking he was.

In other to further increase the Crest's compatibility with her, Kairi began living together with her.

’’With this, I'll be able to become a magus just like Onii-sama. I'm so happy ’’

She murmured that with a smile. She was a frail and meek young girl. Every time it rained and there was thunder, her condition would worsen. When she heard that her body would also become sturdier once the Magic Crest was transplanted to her, she smiled happily. However, her poor health would continue until it was transplanted. It couldn't be helped, so Kairi would read a book out loud to her when she went to sleep.

’’I feel a bit sad that you won't read any books to me anymore once I become a magus, though ’’

She said that, hanging her head in regret. Kairi muttered back, ’’Once you become healthy, you can read all the books you want.’’ But when she sulked and said, ’’That's not what I mean’’, he finally realized that she wanted him to read to her.

’’It can't be helped then. I'll read books to you until you get tired of it.’’ When he said that, she finally brightened.

Never before or after this

did Kairi experience such gentle, happy days in his entire life.

Those days...

...all suddenly vanished like magic on a certain day.

They cremated her body, which had turned violet after death. Following the customs of this land, and most of all fearing pollution of the soil, they burned her in fire. Kairi didn't cry. There was no way he could.

The one who had turned his eyes away more than anyone else from the possibility that it might turn out like this was Shishigou Kairi himself.

He had hoped that it might work. His father and the rest of the family had told him that it would be fine, so he had held onto the hope that it would all work out.

But it was all lies. He couldn't blame anyone else for what happened.

After all, Kairi had wanted to become her father. He had cruelly crushed her with that dream.

That was the truth;it was all he was left with. Tear, apologies and anything else were far out of his reach.

Shishigou Kairi calmly accepted curse in its entirety. He had searched through books, thought it all over to the point of madness, and in the end he decided to accept that it was over.

After that, he only did things that would throw away his life. Even for a necromancer, modern battlefields were far too dangerous.

He was no longer a magus, but more like a mere user of magecraft no, that's exactly what he was. But inside his heart, he didn't care, like a man who knew death was near and wasted all the wealth he had accumulated over the years.

Perhaps due to having the devil's luck, or perhaps because he, at the very least, refused to choose death by his own hands, Shishigou Kairi somehow managed to continue surviving in a state of being half alive. The other half of him had died when the girl had.

Each time he shed blood and collapsed on the battlefield, he remembered.

’’The next time you wake up, please call me father ’’

That's right. He carried the sin of having wished for her to call him that. It was hard, painful and bitter, and dying would only make it all easier and so he would tightly clench his hands, spit out blood and get back up each time.

Years passed. His once soft husk became hard like steel, and the hands he once used to write thesis papers became marred with countless scars.

He searched for corpses and processed them, thought up spells, and made money and wasted it immediately after.

He carried that sin.

He carried that sin, so he still lived, having yet to find a way of atonement.

At the very least, he felt as if he were dead.

And thus, when he reached the present, Shishigou Kairi encountered the Holy Grail. He was introduced to it.

His knowledge as a magus told him that reviving the dead was impossible.

His experiences of running across battlefields told him that the possibility was equal to zero.

Even so. Even so, he might find something. While half-despairing and suppressing the hope that swelled within him he reached out for the Holy Grail.

The reason he sought the Holy Gail was simply that.

This was a common, childish story that could be found all over the world in a variety of different situations.

But that was precisely why Shishigou Kairi's passionate desire for the Holy Grail was real.

It was a method to satisfy his extremely tiny pride as a magus that he himself wasn't even aware he still had, and at the same time the method of atonement that he had finally found. And in the deepest depths of his instincts, he knew.

He knew that that this was the place where Shishigou Kairi would die.

When she awakened, Saber of Red spoke up.

’’Don't show me such a stupid dream, idiot Master.’’

’’Sorry for showing you a stupid dream, but I'm not an idiot, you know...’’

Perhaps having an idea of what she dreamed about, Shishigou grimaced.

According to the [Spirit Board], the rogue Assassin of Black had been killed. There were no other casualties among the Black camp. As expected, it was likely easy for them to take down Assassin with Rider and Archer on their side.

Shishigou Kairi and Saber of Red had already left Trifas. The Greater Grail was no longer there, and this wasn't the time to leisurely remain in enemy territory.

They went to Romania's capital Bucharest, and there they worked hard to gather information on the Hanging Gardens.

This time, instead of sleeping bags, they rented a hotel room. Yggdmillennia's clout in Romania was quite large, but even their influence vanished in the capital. Still, they rented two suites on the top floor under a pseudonym, and just in case used a suggestion spell to 'peacefully' take over someone else's room.

...Saber, who had enjoyed the view from the top floor suite, couldn't help becoming sulky when she couldn't see anything out of the window of their borrowed room. ’’You can go use the suite room for yourself,’’ Shishigou suggested, but Saber immediately rejected it.

’’No, no. As a Servant, I have to protect my Master.’’

She folded her arms and spoke just like a Servant would.

Shishigou desperately held back from asking, 'Did you eat something bad?', and instead merely said, ’’I see.’’

’’So you should move to the suite room, Master. It's okay, I'll be by your side!’’

However, though Shishigou himself had judged that the suite room was 90% likely to be safe, he couldn't sleep there while thinking of the remaining 10% uncertainty. He was quite prone to worrying.

’’...You were much more desperate in my dream, though, Master.’’

’’I don't know what kind of dream you saw, but as a bounty hunter, I always take precautions. Right down to the little details.’’

Even if he'll eventually die, he should die after having done everything he could. That was Shishigou Kairi's stance towards the world.

Saber of Red seemed dissatisfied, but it appeared she didn't think of leaving her Master's side even so.

After Shishigou had gotten the room and settled in, he decided to make his regular report. Technically, he should probably report to Rocco Belfegan, the one who hired him, but he was an old-fashioned magus who forbade reports by telephone or email he didn't have such devices in the first place.

Since he wasn't going to use a sluggish enchanted communication tool that would take forever, Shishigou decide to make a simple report to El Melloi II, who did have a cellphone, instead of Belfegan.

[Hmm, I understand the situation... It really is quite serious.]

El Melloi curtly summarized the current situation in a cool-headed tone. Just as he said, the situation truly was serious.

Though the Greater Grail being stolen was a serious matter in and of itself, there was also the additional fact that it was stolen not by the Association of Magi, but by a member of the Holy Church and, furthermore, the Ruler of the Third Holy Grail War in [Fuyuki], Amakusa Shirou Tokisada.

Naturally, the Association was already taking action. Though its relationship with the Church had greatly deteriorated and fallen into an all-out stand-off for a short while, the moderate factions of both sides had apparently desperately worked to reconcile and end the conflict without incident.

The Church wasn't going to take action this time. In the first place, the mediating priest Shirou had simply gone mad and betrayed them. Therefore, it was only proper for them to choose to wash their hands of him... Fortunately, the Church hadn't been learned that Shirou was actually Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. Though the possibility was low, it couldn't be dismissed that they might interfere in the Great Holy Grail in order to protect or use him.

’’You got that right. So, how's the request I made last time coming along?’’

El Melloi didn't react at all to Shishigou's presumptuous words and replied indifferently.

[No problem. It's being prepared at the location you designated. I'll send you the password later.]

’’Roger that. Also, there's one more thing I'd like to ask ’’

[Like you thought, I can't sense any prana from the enemy on my end either. Most likely, it's due to Assassin of Red's... Semiramis' personal skill or Noble Phantasm.]

’’As expected, huh?’’ Shishigou clicked his tongue. He had thought that it would be possible to track a Noble Phantasm that used such a large amount of prana anywhere, but it appeared that Semiramis' class of 'Assassin' wasn't just for show.

Most likely, it was a top-class unique Noble Phantasm even among the many Noble Phantasms that Servants had used in past Holy Grail Wars.

A sword that annihilates the enemy by shooting a beam of light, armor that rejects all attacks, a war chariot that flies swiftly through the sky, a book that summons an endless stream of monsters, or something else even more unique and mysterious there existed all different kinds of Noble Phantasms.

However, even among the many Noble Phantasms possessed by heroes, a moving fortress was unheard of. Moreover, it was currently storing the Holy Grail within itself. The situation was nothing but nightmare to the Association.

[Will you be able to pursue it?]

’’No problem, the Yggdmillennia magi are constantly observing it with their familiars. They seem to have an idea where it is.’’

[Do you think the Hanging Gardens might be heading out of Romania?]

Shishigou thought over El Melloi's question for a little while. The chances of it were extremely high. After all, it was a flying fortress. No matter how slow its speed was, they couldn't stop it from leaving the country.

’’Its flight speed is unknown. We can't be certain yet.’’

[I see. We've already sent squads tasked with recovering the Greater Grail to the countries bordering Romania. Depending on the situation, they'll immediately go to recover it.]

’’...Understood.’’

He had expected it, but it seemed the Association was prepared to act at a moment's notice. That was only natural. After all, this was not just a matter of getting a wish granted they might be able to get their hands on the Greater Grail itself. Should the Clock Tower get a hold of it, it was likely that the next Holy Grail War would break forth immediately afterwards.

...Was there really any room for him to grant his own wish at this point?

’’ What was that, Master? Are those guys planning to seize the Holy Grail!?’’

Saber yelled loudly behind him. Shishigou froze and even El Melloi on the other end of the phone call was shaken by the shout.

[W-What was that just now?]

’’I'm sorry. My Servant just ’’

Ignoring Shishigou's attempt to smooth things over, Saber quickly grabbed the phone from him and shouted into it.

’’Hey! I'm saying this just in case, but the Holy Grail is ours! I won't let you get guys try to snatch it by sneaking in from behind! Got it!?’’

[......]

While El Melloi was shocked and Shishigou was frantically trying to snatch back the phone, Saber of Red continued talking as she kept Shishigou at bay with one hand.

’’Answer me, magus! We won't hand the Holy Grail over to you until it grants our wishes! Got it!?’’

[...G-Got it.]

Satisfied with that response, Saber of Red threw the phone back to Shishigou.

’’Ah... I'd like it if you'd forgive my Servant's words as just a little joke.’’

Shishigou apologized while preparing himself for the worst. After a long silence, El Melloi surprisingly didn't become indignant, but rather laughed as if slightly amused.

[Pardon my laughter. It seems we've both been troubled by our respective Servants.]

’’...I suppose.’’

[I'll overlook that outburst just now. The recovery team will move in swiftly, so you should grant your wish as quickly as possible.]

The call ended there, and Shishigou let out a sigh.

’’Hey, didn't you say something rude about me just now?’’

’’I didn't. Rather, you were the one who... no, never mind. The situation hasn't changed all that much.’’

In the end, for Shishigou Kairi to survive to the end of the war, his Servant would also have to necessarily remain alive at that point. Shishigou had wanted to keep his Servant's identity a secret for as long as possible and slow the Association's recovery operation should the worst happen but if his Servant died, he didn't think he'd be able to survive in that situation.

’’Right, right! As long as you continue to seek the Holy Grail, I'll be your Servant, Master!’’

’’Don't worry, I haven't given up. Now then, I have to do a little work. You can go and act freely on your own. You can go the hotel's top floor, go sightseeing, or anything else you want.’’

’’Hmm... Is that really all right?’’

’’I'm going to be holed up in this room for a while. Just make sure to return by evening.’’

’’Okay. Then I'll take you up on your offer.’’

When his Servant, who was as boisterous as a poltergeist, left the room, Shishigou sighed in relief.

After that, he took out a conspicuously large bottle from his luggage. It was the young Hydra corpse preserved in formalin that he had received as compensation for this job. He had already processed its heads into a dagger, but he hadn't had the time to use up all of its heads, so he had set it aside in a half-dissected state.

’’Rider of Red is Achilles... In that case, Archer of Black is either Chiron... or maybe Paris?’’

Naturally, Archer of Black's true name was information that hadn't been provided to Shishigou by Yggdmillennia. Even so, based on the way Archer had talked when they were explaining the situation and planning countermeasures, Shishigou could easily tell that there was a connection between Rider of Red and Archer of Black.

Achilles... he was the greatest hero who had participated in the Trojan War, but there were two bowmen who had been deeply connected to him during his life.

The first was Paris. The man who had been the trigger for the Trojan War and who had also dealt the fatal blow to Achilles.

Having learned of Achilles only weakness, his heel, and having been possessed by the sun god Apollo, Paris had splendidly shot Achilles' heel even as Achilles didn't stop moving or rest for an instant on the battlefield.

He was pretty much Achilles' a mortal enemy. And at the same time, Paris had an extraordinary personal grudge against Achilles.

After all, Paris' older brother, the great hero Hector, had been killed by Achilles and then had been submitted to the indignity of having his corpse dragged across the battlefield by Achilles' chariot.

If Paris were Archer of Black... that would mean that he had been talking nostalgically about his brother's killer back when they met.

It wasn't impossible, considering the unique sense of values that heroes often had. However, it was definitely unnatural. But there was one other bowman who was deeply connected to Achilles' life.

It was none other than the man who raised Achilles, the greatest sage among the centaurs, Chiron.

Of course, Archer had a human form and lacked the lower body of a horse that should be the proof of being a centaur. However, that wasn't anything to be surprised by. After all, Chiron was born from a god and a goddess, and was a great sage who was extremely close to being a divine Spirit.

He could probably freely take the form of a half-horse and the form of a human at will.

...Yeah, if Archer was Chiron, then it also made sense how he had wounded Rider of Red who possessed divinity. Also, Archer's great depth of wisdom that seemed to apply to everything was more characteristic of Chiron than Paris.

However if Archer was Chiron, then that meant...

’’...Yeah, it's possible.’’

On the other hand, Shirou, who was of the Ruler class, was on the Red side. After having met face-to-face in the Hanging Gardens' chapel, everyone who had been there knew each other's true names now thanks to Shirou and Ruler.

Chiron had been there, and so had Achilles. And the problem was one of the other Servants who had been there.

Shishigou thought about what result that would bring about and made a decision.

Breaking down the knife he had previously made, he started constructing a new magical tool.

Saber of Red walked idly down the streets of Bucharest during midday. In addition to her excessively exposing outfit, her dignified and beautiful features attracted quite a lot of attention... However, not a single person tried to call out to her.

The public order in Romania's capital of Bucharest was terrible. At the very least, there was a high chance that a girl like her, walking outside alone in such a conspicuous outfit, would be dragged into some kind of trouble.

But there were always exceptions to every case. Whether they were street punks, pickpockets or fake policemen, as long as they were human, they would act according to their instincts.

...In other words, there was no one foolish enough to call out to a grizzly bear in the shape of a young girl.

’’Muu. Like I thought, I should have brought Master along, even if I had to do it by force.’’

Saber yawned in boredom.

The people who passed by her all took notice of her beauty for an instant but then frantically turned to look away from her. Having realized that she was being looked at, Saber wished she would get caught up in some trouble already.

Perhaps because she had seen that depressing dream, she felt like some vague emotion was gathering in her stomach. The best way to clear it away was with violence.

However, not a single person called out to her, leaving her extremely bored. There were various kinds of people, the old, the young, those who seemed good, those who seemed bad and she was cut off and separate from all of them.

Servants were beings that were separate from the world.

Heroic Spirits were summoned to win in the Holy Grail War. Even if they were given a second life, what was asked of them was only battle so it couldn't be helped.

Though Saber thus reasoned in her mind, her thoughts couldn't ignore the truth that she was alone from the start even when she was alive.

Her mother Morgan had only seen her as a tool of revenge against her father. Because her growth had been quickened, there was no one who knew her from childhood either.

Even after she rose up to be a knight in Camelot, she had never interacted with the other knights.

The only thing she had was battle. Exchanging sword blows, cursing and trying to kill one another. That seemed to be the only form of communication that Saber knew.

There was only one person who had been aware of her as 'Mordred' and with whom she had talked with her face unhidden.

Her father Arthur, who didn't hold any interest in her.

Every time she remembered her father, she felt her guts boil. It was impossible to reach an understanding and be on equal ground with that. To be able to converse with that mechanical doll that was extolled as the ideal king, she had to, at the very least, become king herself

’’Ah !?’’

Her thoughts were suddenly cut off by a hysterical shout. Even though she had wished for someone to call out to her just a little earlier, now she felt irritation strong enough to make her want to send the speaker flying without asking any questions first.

’’Be quiet. Just who ’’

’’Y-You! What are you doing here!?’’

When she turned around, Saber of Red couldn't help widening her eyes. Standing there was Rider of Black, wearing modern clothing like her and standing warily to cover the homunculus with him.

’’...’’

’’...’’

Rider of Black and Saber of Red fell into an awkward silence.

They weren't exactly enemies right now. But things weren't reconciled between them either. Still, if there had been any other humans or Servants present, they would have managed to bear it, but right now there was no one to stop them.

’’...That's my line. So, do you wanna pick a fight here?’’

Saber of Red faintly smiled, making Rider of Black lose his temper.

’’I could ask you the same thing. I'm fine either way. If you wanna go at it, then bring it.’’

He really doesn't seem to have learned his lesson after having been so badly beaten down by me before. This is a good opportunity to relieve some stress, I'll smash him down completely one more time here

Just as Saber of Red was going to take a step forward, another character took the stage. He stepped in front of Rider of Black and spoke to him while waving his right hand in greeting.

’’Saber of Red, it's been two days since we last saw each other. There's something I'd like to ask you, so could we talk a little if you have some free time?’’

’’Eh?’’

’’Huh?’’

Talk?

Ignoring the dumfounded reactions of the other two, the boy asked once more.

’’Are you busy right now?’’

’’No, I'm not really busy, but... is it really fine?’’

Saber of Red looked at the boy suspiciously. She couldn't find any anger, hatred or even fear in the boy's calm expression... He'd been killed by her, but it seemed that incident was already treated as a closed matter within the boy.

The boy nodded like a drinking bird1.

’’Yeah, we also have some free time right now.’’

’’Wha, no, wait...’’

’’Are you busy, Rider? Then we can separate and ’’

’’No, no, no, no, no, no! I'll go, I'll go with you!’’

After looking first at the boy and then Rider of Black, Saber of Red frowned and spoke.

’’All right. Where will we go to talk?’’

The three of them began walking down the main street. Although Sieg and Rider had randomly gotten involved with other people when they were walking through the streets earlier (and Sieg had desperately stopped the joyful Rider from going out of control each time), now everyone they passed seemed to avert their faces from them.

It appeared to be because of Saber of Red who walked at their head... Certainly, her brutal presence, which could be clearly felt even from behind her, was unbearable for normal people.

’’So. Just what on earth are you guys doing here?’’

Saber of Red looked over her shoulder and asked them. The sullen-looking Rider had his arms crossed and his face turned away.

’’We have no obligation to ans ’’

’’Rider was insistent on going out, so I was chosen to keep an eye on him. Ruler seemed to judge that he wouldn't do anything too absurd as long as I'm with him.’’

Sieg replied as if to restrain Rider.

’’What's your reason for coming to Bucharest in the first place?’’

’’I don't know, but apparently it's necessary.’’

’’Hmm,’’ said Saber of Red with a shrug. She thought about reporting this to her Master, but since he was in the middle of working, she decided to tell him later.

’’I heard that Assassin of Black died. Is that right?’’

’’...Yeah, she died.’’

Rider was still ignoring Saber, so Sieg answered instead.

’’I see,’’ Saber murmured disinterestedly.

’’So, why are you here in Bucharest, Saber?’’

’’I have no obligation to answer... Well, we thought it wouldn't be good for us to continue staying in Trifas. That's all.’’

Though they had temporarily decided to work together, Trifas was still enemy territory for her and her Master. This answer which Saber's Master, Shishigou Kairi, had given her was extremely valid.

’’So, what did you want to talk about?’’

’’That's right, Sieg. What do you walk to talk about with someone like this?’’

’’...You've been far too grumpy since earlier.’’

Saber of Red murmured in amazement, and Rider of Black vehemently protested.

’’What are you saying!? As if I could forget that you killed him!’’

’’Well, I don't really care about it myself.’’

’’Hey, you should care, you know!?’’

Rider of Black retorted to Sieg's calm words. To Sieg, it wasn't a problem since he was alive now. Of course, it was only natural for a victim to have painful feelings to feel hate towards the perpetrator.

But this wasn't the time for that right now.

They weren't enemies right now, so Sieg had thought he might be able to talk to her a bit. After all, Saber of Red was Mordred the Knight of Rebellion who had ended King Arthur's legend.

She might have her own personal view about human beings.

Sieg wanted to ask her that. He didn't want an answer from her, but an opinion.

’’No, well, if you're okay with it, it's fine, but... All right, I'll forgive you for having survived my Noble Phantasm. There, now we're even.’’

...Does that really make us even? Sieg tilted his head in puzzlement, but Saber of Red seemed to be in a good mood, so he decided not to comment.

’’Here, huh?’’

Seeming to imply without words 'This is the perfect choice', Saber of Red quickly opened the door of a coffee shop. Sieg and Rider followed behind her.

’’Welcome.’’

A grey-mustached shopkeeper greeted the three of them in a somewhat brusque manner. Fortunately, there were no other customers to be seen. Though, since this was the state of the shop at lunchtime, they might not be able to expect good taste from the food here...

’’Sieg, what will you have?’’

’’...A ham sandwich and coffee.’’

’’Then I'll have the same.’’

Saber of Red took a while to think over the menu she had been given before she spoke.

’’I'll have a grilled chicken sandwich, a green apple sundae, a seafood buster and beef steak, and for dessert, umm, three of these muffins. Ah, and a coffee too.’’

Sieg and Rider exchanged glances, and then looked at the shopkeeper.

’’...Miss, can you eat all that?’’

’’I wouldn't order it if I couldn't eat it. Do you have it or not? If not, instead I'll have ’’

When Saber was about to take out the menu again, the shopkeeper frantically stopped her.

’’It's fine, I'll bring out everything you ordered!’’

The shopkeeper headed back to the kitchen in a panic. It appeared he was managing the shop by himself, based on the shop's smallness and old interior design. Fortunately, however, the shop wasn't unsanitary.

’’So, what did you want to talk about?’’

When the shopkeeper was gone, Saber of Red immediately leaned forward.

’’Do you mind if I explain it from the beginning?’’

When Sieg asked her that, Saber of Red made a bitter face, but agreed as long as he kept it short.

Sieg first explained a little about his own origins and then spoke about what kind of Servant Assassin of Black had been.

And by the time he finished briefly explaining the illusion Assassin showed him, their order arrived at their table in large amounts.

’’...Before grumbling about other things, let's eat first, okay?’’

’’All right.’’

’’Good idea.’’

It wasn't that Saber of Red was fixated on eating. Rather, since she had a contract with a first-rate magus, she didn't even need to eat.

But that was that, and this was this. She was capable of eating. Moreover, she was a Servant, a being that existed outside of the world's logic.

80% of the reason she ate wasn't to fill her stomach, but out of pure curiosity.

’’...Muu. I want to make another order, but that wouldn't be nice to the shopkeeper, and my stomach isn't particularly empty. I don't have any money, either.’’

’’Because I'm afraid of what would happen if I gave you money...’’ Sieg murmured seriously. Rider had been making a ruckus saying ’’Let's buy that’’ and ’’Let's buy this’’ ever since they left Trifas.

...There was no meaning in buying a clearly fake platinum ring. Moreover, when Sieg declared it was a fake, the owner of the street stall became angry that was one of the few examples where Sieg made the disturbance worse.

Saber of Red greedily devoured her sandwich at a frightful pace and then moved on to attack her steak.

’’By the way, where's your Master? That rough-looking guy wearing sunglasses.’’

Rider of Black raised a finger to his brow in curiosity.

’’He's in the middle of working in his workshop. My presence there was in the way, so I went out.’’

’’We're going to be using airplanes, but what about you guys?’’

’’I don't know either. But probably something similar? After all, it's those Hanging Gardens we're talking about.’’

’’True,’’ Rider agreed with a nod.

Since they were going to a flying fortress, their means of getting there were limited. It would have to be either an aircraft or flight enabled by magecraft. And whichever method they chose, it didn't change the fact that the fortress would be firmly defended.

It didn't matter how frail their transport was. Even if there was an enchanted flight device that could withstand top-class spells, it would be no different than paper and plywood in the face of EX rank spells.

’’I think we can somehow make it through if my hippogriff seriously goes all out, though.’’

’’ ’’

’’ ’’

Saber of Red became speechless, and Sieg covered his eyes. Seeing their reactions, Rider asked ’’What's wrong?’’ while holding his sandwich.

’’Hippogriff, hippogriff... Ah, could it be that you're that hero? From Charlemagne's something or other, Astolfo?’’

’’Yeah, that's right. Wait, I didn't tell you that, did I?’’

’’You didn't. I know about the guy beside you being Siegfried, though.’’

’’I see,’’ said Rider of Black in a calm and accepting manner.

’’...Well, learning it now doesn't make any difference.’’

Saber of Red didn't show much surprise.

’’Right? I was viciously beaten by you! But I've changed Masters now, so there's no way to know how it will go next time, you know?’’

Saber of Red sneered and shrugged.

’’I'm not going to be defeated to the likes of you. Idiots should think before speaking, idiot.’’

’’Someone who calls someone else an idiot is an idiot!’’

’’Hah?’’

...As the atmosphere was getting somewhat dangerous, Sieg quickly raised his hand.

’’More coffee, please!’’

Because he shouted it so loudly, the two Servants looked at Sieg in surprise.

’’...Well, whatever. I'll also have more coffee.’’

’’Me too!’’

’’That costs extra here.’’

The shopkeeper said that curtly, but Sieg said they didn't mind. He should still have at least that much money left.

’’Now then. You want an answer your question, about whether humans are good or bad, right?’’

When Sieg nodded, Saber of Red sighed as if astounded from the bottom of her heart.

’’Are you an idiot? Humans are humans, beasts that can become either good or bad depending on the situation. In the end, they're merely slightly intelligent animals that lose all manners and virtue when they lack food and clothing. I don't care about others. As long as I myself can continue living as a superior being got it?’’

Saber of Red's opinion was harsh and straightforward. She didn't see humans as either good or bad.

They merely... fell down either path depending on the situation. And they were all foolish. That's why she didn't care about others and only placed importance on herself.

’’Do you hate humans?’’

Saber of Red answered in the affirmative without flinching at Sieg's frank question.

’’I hate them. Even though they don't forget grudges, they forget the debts they owe to others. If something will disadvantage them, they'll avoid it even if they have to sacrifice everything around them. Even though they do good deeds when it's convenient, they don't mind overlooking great evil when it's troublesome for them. They act out of selfishness, and if they fail, they use the excuse of saying it's the fault of something besides themselves. They're not worth protecting for even a penny. That's what humans are. How about it, are you disappointed?’’

Having spoken her conclusion, Saber stabbed at her steak with her fork.

’’Hmm... what a sad conclusion.’’

Saber of Red didn't waver even at Rider of Black's words. Sieg went into deep thought for a while, and then asked another question.

’’Then, Saber of Red, is that also the reason you rebelled when you were alive?’’

In an instant, the atmosphere chilled.

’’...No. How I feel about humans had nothing to do with my rebellion. Don't speak of it again.’’

Saber of Red's gaze immediately became filled with killing intent. Most likely, if Sieg said anything further, she really would cut him down. Sieg wondered if she was a moody person. Certainly, just talking with her was a trial in and of itself.

’’But hey, leaving aside the matter of the rebellion itself there were also people you followed you, weren't there?’’

Just when Sieg thought to close this subject, Rider of Black thoughtlessly stepped into the conversation. Perhaps also having thought the subject would end there, Saber of Red widened her eyes at Rider.

’’Weren't there people who adored you and put their life on the line to make you king? Do you despise them too? If so, I think that's sad.’’

Sieg felt as if his heart were being strangled, and he restrained his hand upon which his Command Spells were engraved. If they picked a fight in the middle of this huge city, and at midday at that, it would create a huge panic. But he didn't think that Rider of Black and Saber of Red were the type of people that could use that much self-control.

Even the completely unrelated shopkeeper seemed to notice the abnormal mood as he froze while carrying a coffeepot in hand.

But ignoring the two other people present who were stiff with fear, Saber of Red merely sighed and shrugged. It appeared there was no problem as long as it was a question about the people who followed her and not the facts of the rebellion itself.

’’Not really. They had to bet on me for their own reasons. They needed to rebel against King Arthur. Just as I don't despise those who rebelled against me, I have no intention of viewing those who served me as the same as me.’’

’’So you despise them all equally?’’

’’ I'm someone meant to become king. How can a king view the people the same as himself? Will the people be saved if the king cries and laughs with them? That's not it. That's not what a king should be.’’

Saber of Red quietly said that without any anger or scorn in her voice.

’’You want to become king?’’

’’Basically, yeah. Because during my life I failed.’’

Saber clicked her tongue in annoyance. In other words, that was her wish for the Holy Grail.

Her declaration that she was 'someone meant to become king' was quite far off from reality. But neither Rider nor Sieg raised any eyebrows at it. At the very least, Sieg didn't think he had the right to disparage someone else's wish when he didn't have any wishes of his own.

’’...What's with you two? You suddenly became quiet.’’

’’No, nothing really. I can't refute your words. I never became king and... though I did think about becoming one a little, I only had enough ambition to 'accept it if it were offered to me'.’’

’’Like Rider, I can't refute you either. The position of king is far too distant for me.’’

The only ones who had the right to say that her words were mistaken were those who were once kings... and those who tried to become kings like her.

’’All wishes are equally precious. Well, I would have to object to a wish like humanity's annihilation, though. But your wish belongs to you alone. Finding fault with it would be wrong at least, that's my philosophy.’’

Rider of Black replied with an unusually serious expression, causing Saber of Red to unpleasantly fall silent. Rider then asked her another question as if to take advantage of that opening.

’’But still, even so, there's one thing I'd like to ask. Do you want to become a bad king, or a good king?’’

Rider of Black asked that question not as a king himself, but as a retainer who had served a king.

It was a simple question, but one that couldn't be avoided.

...Saber of Red's expression distorted slightly. She tried to open her mouth, but hesitated slightly and turned her gaze to the side.

And then, she squeezed out a short sentence.

’’ A good king, obviously.’’

Rider of Black merely murmured ’’I see’’ in response. Afterwards, Saber of Red finished her coffee and stood up.

’’You're leaving?’’

’’Our business here is done... Or do you have something else to ask?’’

Sieg shook his head. She had seriously told him her opinion from another point of view, different from that of Ruler, Rider and Archer of Black.

He didn't completely agree with it. But he didn't fully reject it either. Right now, he was still in the stage of thinking about it.

’’No, there's nothing else. Thank you, it was useful as a reference,’’ Sieg replied.

Saber of Red then gave a bold smile and ruffled Sieg's hair roughly.

’’Then the next time I'll see you guys will be at the Hanging Gardens. Make sure to survive until then!’’

With those final words, she gallantly left the shop. Watching her leave, Sieg murmured with a sigh.

’’...She ate that much and yet left without paying her share.’’

’’She really is like a king in that regard,’’ Rider of Black said as he burst into laughter.

While walking through the streets, Saber of Red thought back on the earlier question.

’’What kind of king huh?’’

Saber of Red had answered 'a good king'. That wasn't a lie. At the very least, she had no intention of being a bad king that would be struck down by another hero.

But, in the first place, what should she do to become a good king? She should probably rule not tyrannically, but benevolently. As long as the confrontational relationship with neighboring countries wasn't resolved, she should train and strengthen her nation's soldiers No, that wasn't it.

It wasn't something so obvious. Rider of Black seemed to have been asking a much more fundamental question.

What kind of king do you want to become?

Saber of Red thought it over. Right now, she was fighting in order to become king. If she challenged the Sword of Selection that bestowed the qualifications of a king, she was sure that she would pull it out.

She wanted to become the ideal king. She wanted to become a king that could protect everyone that she should protect, a king that everyone wished for.

Then, should she become the ideal king of the masses like her father?

Or should she become a greedy king who would drag down everyone for the sake of granting her own dream?

An ideal king would surely feel suffocating. A greedy king would surely be despised by the people.

Saber of Red absentmindedly watched the people walking down the streets. According to the knowledge the Holy Grail had given her, this country of Romania still had fresh scars from when it was ruled by a tyrant.

He had ruled tyrannically under twisted delusions and had possessed a gorgeous palace constructed meaninglessly. In the end, the tyrant was struck down by a rebellion.

I won't become that kind of king, thought Saber of Red.

Then, should he become a perfect king that sacrificed herself for her ideals like her father? Even though even her father had been forced to bend down in defeat halfway down that path?

’’...Damn it.’’

Rider had pointed out the very thing she had averted her eyes from.

She had merely yearned to 'become king' while never looking at what lay beyond that goal at all.

Had other kings seen it? Tyrants, wise rulers and even foolish rulers who had left their names in history had they seen what lay beyond the establishment of their rule?

What had her father, Arthur Pendragon, tried to see in the future of the country she ruled?

’’...What future? It was all destroyed by me.’’

Saber of Red gave a self-deprecating smile. King Arthur's rule had gone well. She had certainly guided Britain into peace. The one who spoiled all that was none other than Saber of Red herself.

What was so bad about it ? After all, she hadn't regretted it even once.

Many people had lost their lives in that rebellion, including her and even her father who as a knight had tried to be the sword and shield of the people.

But, if she hadn't rebelled, the soul of the knight known as Mordred would have died.

Not acknowledged by anyone, gaining no interest from anyone, not loved by anyone or loving anyone. A peaceful world was a wonderful thing. The people who wagered their lives for its sake were also wonderful.

But why had the one who had given up everything for the sake of that wonderful dream not received even a little bit of affection?

She didn't even think of asking to be loved. If at least... if at least some interest had been shown towards her, if she had been at least looked at, that alone would have been enough.

What a foolish thing to say. You would never have been satisfied. You would have endlessly sought love, sought compassion and finally sought the right to the throne, until you spoiled that peaceful rule in the end

A whisper came from deep inside her. Though she felt irritated at it, she also agreed with it.

That might be true, Saber of Red thought, reflecting on herself. After all, she didn't even know what affection was. Was it sweet, bitter, sour or bland?

...But all people in this world sought it. It was surely a habitual thing, like a narcotic.

Until evening came, Saber of Red sat on a bench in a small park and stared up at the sky with her head in the clouds. She couldn't laugh at that homunculus. He was struggling and worrying over how to view human beings, but Saber of Red was struggling over what it meant to be king.

From the perspective of others, either worry was probably something people would laugh at as a stupid joke. But if they didn't obsess over these things, neither she nor that boy would be able to live

She passed the time like that for a little while, but in the end, no one appeared to try and talk to her.

When she returned to the hotel, Shishigou appeared to have finished his work and was wiping his sweat off with a towel.

’’Welcome back. Did anything happen?’’

Thinking that there was no particular reason to report what happened at lunch, Saber merely replied, ’’Nope, nothing.’’ Then, just as her Master was heartily drinking some mineral water, Saber made up her mind and asked him.

’’Hey, Master. Have you ever loved someone?’’

Naturally, Shishigou choked badly in response. After desperately coughing, he looked at his Servant reproachfully.

’’What's with this all of a sudden? That's a very odd question ’’

’’It doesn't matter why. Have you, Master?’’

Surmising that she wasn't teasing him, but asking it seriously, Shishigou started to think it over while rubbing his beard.

’’...In what sense do you mean? Like love for one's family, or love for a lover?’’

’’Is there a difference? Then either one is fine. Have you ever loved?’’

Saber of Red leaned forward and stared at Shishigou. She didn't seem like she would retreat a single step until she heard his answer.

’’I haven't.’’

’’Like I thought, that's how magi are.’’

’’Hey, that's prejudice. No, that view of magi isn't exactly mistaken but a magus can also love someone in their own way.’’

Though, that love was probably a little different from the kind of love that Saber of Red was asking about. To be a magus and to attain greatness as a magus was their happiness, so their love was often far from normal love, taking a twisted form. They had their own way of expressing love, in other words.

’’In my case, I've been divorced from my wife since a long time ago. I wasn't able to produce any children, and you already know what happened to my adopted child. My father disowned me the moment I decided to be a bounty hunter.’’

His wife had been a woman who thought the prosperity of her family was everything, as proper for a magus. She divorced him before love or even the appearance of love could form between them. He could only vaguely remember her face at this point.

His father had tried to do whatever it took to make a successor without giving up. But Shishigou Kairi had declared that one sacrifice was enough and left home. His father had been completely opposed to his decision back then. Magi hired by his father had attacked him several times in order to take back his Crest as well.

His mother was someone who he didn't care whether she was there or not. She hadn't been involved in raising him at all;she was simply the woman who gave birth to him.

’’What, so you haven't known love either, Master?’’

’’I do know about it. I just never had any luck with it.’’

And most of all, he had no interest in it. The world of decent and respectable people extolled it loudly. Love is everything, love is life, love is a great thing that conquers all

Shishigou, who lived in the unrespectable world, knew. Love was simply a tense state of mind, and it didn't have any useful impact on the use of magecraft and weapons. Rather, it increased the chances of failure instead of success.

To magi, love was unnecessary even if they understood that it was something precious for humans.

’’...Tch. Like I thought, magi are no good.’’

Saber clicked her tongue annoyingly and Shishigou smiled wryly.

’’Magi are pretty much failures as human beings, Saber.’’

’’Master. I will pull out the Sword of Selection. I must pull it out. And I will become king.’’

Shishigou nodded silently. And then, Saber spoke frustratingly.

’’But that's as far as I can imagine. What should I do in order to become a king that surpasses the King of Knights I don't know what to do at all.’’

Her worry was earnest and poignant.

’’And that made you think of loving someone?’’

’’...I don't understand it. I don't understand it, so I thought I should become a king different from my father.’’

Mordred's father the legendary king whose fame extended across the world, Arthur Pendragon. The great and unequaled hero who had struggled through many wars and succeeded in uniting Britain.

’’My father's reign was absolutely perfect. Perfectly impartial and upright. He understood that ten couldn't be maintained, so he took nine and cast away one. There was neither hesitation nor confusion in his actions. All except in regard to me.’’

As she spoke of her father, Saber of Red's eyes shined blazingly. Saber held both fanatic faith and freezing hatred towards her father.

Both of them were correct feelings and correct views.

’’Master, what ’’

'What should I do?' was the question she couldn't bring herself to ask. She understood enough to know that this wasn't a question Shishigou could answer for her.

Shishigou blew out smoke form the cigar he had lit without her noticing and spoke to his Servant.

’’...Well, I do understand one thing.’’

’’What?’’

’’You have to face your father.’’

’’Face my father ’’

’’I understand you hate him. I also understand how much you admire him as well. But those feelings come from chasing after him. If you're going to surpass him, then analyze. Your father, other people and yourself. Observe, analyze, sort everything out, and reach a conclusion.’’

’’...I don't particularly admire him.’’

Saber of Red turned the other way annoyingly. Shishigou would only be stirring up a hornet's nest if he retorted the wrong way, so he merely murmured, ’’Is that so?’’

’’Well, it served as a good reference. Thanks, Master.’’

’’You're welcome. Now then, we'll remain on stand by for a little while until the Yggdmillennia guys move... My gut is telling me that the next fight is going to be the last battle. Once it's over, I'll get my reward for this job and you'll grant your wish with the Holy Grail and challenge the Sword of Selection. I'd like to see it happen as thanks for our partnership until now, but I suppose that's impossible.’’

It was unclear how she would challenge the Sword of Selection. But if her wish was granted properly by the Holy Grail, it would undoubtedly require jumping beyond the concept of time and space.

He didn't think a mere magus like himself could cross over it to watch.

Even so, he still wished to see the moment she became king. Did he feel that way out of loneliness, or was it simply a selfish whim on his part ?

’’Don't worry about it. You'll also grant your wish at that moment, Master. As if either of us would have the time to think about the other then ’’

Just as she finished saying that, Saber burst into laughter. Shishigou frowned at her sudden mirth.

’’Hey, what is it?’’

’’No... I just remembered your wish. To have descendants, right?’’

’’It's not something to laugh at. I'm serious here.’’

Saber waved her arms while laughing as if to hold him back.

’’No, that's not it. If your wish is granted, that means you'll have children, right? Shishigou Junior...’’

After having managed to say that much, she was unable to hold back and started laughing again. Most likely, she was imagining in her head a baby wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigar.

’’Master's child... kukuku... No good, it's too hilarious to imagine!’’

’’Don't go off and imagine someone else's child and then laugh. Unbelievable ’’

Even as he was astounded by her behavior, Shishigou's lips curved into a smile.

Saber of Red's worries were likely so serious it would affect her continued existence. It wasn't something that Shishigou could speak on any further.

Because he and she weren't partners walking the same path, but merely cooperators joined out of mutual interest. Her path and his path would eventually diverge from each other.

Suddenly, something like a passing demon seized Shishigou's heart.

He opened his mouth, but stopped himself just before he put it into words. Even if he was a magus, Shishigou was the type to worry over omens and jinxes.

Naturally, speaking or even thinking of an impossible future was an ill omen.

’’Now then, Master. What do we do next?’’

Saber of Red leaned forward readily.

’’Next?’’

’’Yeah. You've finished your preparations, right? What do we do now?’’

’’Ah, that's what you mean. Next we wait.’’

’’I see, we wait, huh... Until when?’’

’’Who knows? I said so earlier, but we can't do anything until the others start moving.’’

’’...Could it be that there's nothing to do?’’

’’Of course there is. I have calls to make, reports to write and my mind to sharpen. There's a ton of stuff to do.’’

’’Anything for me to do!?’’

’’None if I said that, would you get angry? Yeah, you'd get angry.’’

’’I won't get angry! But I'll go on a rampage!’’

Saber growled like a mad dog. Shishigou sighed and handed over a DVD he had purchased while she was out in town.

’’What's this?’’

The image of a fighter plane scattering flames and flying through the air was on the package cover. It wasn't an actual photo, but rather seemed to be an extremely realistic drawing.

’’Go watch it. This is what you need to do right now.’’

Shishigou said that while puffing out his chest proudly.

’’This? Really...?’’

Even as she grumbled, she put the DVD in the video player prepared in their hotel room. After three minutes of the movie playing, Saber began to get engrossed in watching it.

When nighttime came, Ruler arrived at the hideout.

’’Sorry I'm late...’’

After Ruler apologized, Sieg replied in a badgering manner.

’’You really are late. It's already deep into the night. This city is extremely dangerous at night. Wouldn't it have been better for you to come tomorrow instead?’’

’’Ahaha. I don't think it makes much difference for me whether it's dangerous or not.’’

Actually, she had gotten involved in various ruckuses on the way to the hideout or rather, she seemed to have willingly gotten herself involved.

When she encountered people who had tried to use violence against others, she thoroughly carved the brutality of violence into them. When she encountered people who tried to cajole others with sweet words, she had smashed them with a pure and sound argument right on the spot.

Thanks to that, she had ended up arriving far later than planned... Ruler thus explained and apologized.

’’Well, you probably won't get injured, let alone die, no matter what trouble you get involved in, But even if it isn't dangerous for you, I don't think you should proactively involve yourself in trouble.’’

’’...Fufu.’’

Ruler giggled as if strangely enjoying herself. ’’What's so funny?’’ Sieg asked as his frown deepened.

’’No, I'm laughing at something to do with me. More importantly, where's Rider? Don't tell me he went out or is rampaging out in the streets or is running naked out in the streets...!?’’

’’Rider isn't that ba no, he might be that bad, but he isn't causing any problems right now. He went into the bath.’’

’’I-Is that so? I dirtied my hands a little, so I'll be borrowing your washroom.’’

She seemed to have dirtied her hands with blood while saving and treating a victim. She couldn't leave it like that forever, but she also felt awkward over washing off the blood in the kitchen sink, so Ruler tried to go into the washroom.

’’...Ah, is that all right?’’

’’What's all right?’’

’’No, I mean, Rider is in the bath...’’

Most homes had the washroom and bath adjoined to each other. There was a possibility that Rider would come out from the bath while she was in there.

’’Ah, there's no problem. Neither I nor Rider are that bashful.’’

After all

’’We're the same gender.’’

After saying that, she stepped into the washroom and shut the door. Sieg stood there dumbfounded at her words for a little while.

’’Wai ’’

Somehow managing to reorganize his chaotic thoughts, Sieg finally realized that Ruler was under a fatal misunderstanding, and he hurriedly tried to call her back... but by then it was too late.

As Ruler was scrupulously washing the blood off her hands with soap in the washroom, the door to the bath opened and a voice said ’’Huh?’’ in surprise. Ruler turned around with a smile.

’’Ah, Rider. If you're getting out, could you let me go in next ’’

The next instant.

The world stood still. (Or perhaps history shook.)

Having received, through Assassin of Red, a notice from their Master Shirou to convene together, the Red Servants gathered in the throne room.

’’ According to my doves, the Black camp has finally begun to move. Though it's later than expected, they will likely arrive here in around four days through some means.’’

The Red Servants accepted this news without surprise.

’’...You didn't call us all here just for that, right?’’

At Lancer of Red's question, Shirou nodded and raised his right arm. The countless Command Spells engraved on it shined with a dull light.

’’I'm sorry, but I won't be able to command you all on the front lines. However, that will make it difficult for me to immediately react if Ruler uses her Command Spells. Therefore, I will use two Command Spells on each of you and raise your resistance to any Command Spells from her.’’

Both their Master's Command Spells and Ruler's Command Spells had equal power of compulsion. Therefore, by limiting the activation conditions and using two Command Spells to do it, Shirou could repulse Ruler's Command Spells with almost no time loss.

’’That's quite excessive of you.’’

When Rider of Red murmured that, Shirou smiled boldly.

’’Then do you all need extra assistance from a Command Spell in battle at this point?’’

’’ No.’’

Lancer and Archer, who were also going to fight on the front lines, didn't voice any objections either. If possible, they also wanted to avoid the pitiful end of being forced to kill themselves by Ruler's Command Spells.

’’Then I wish you all luck in battle.’’

The Command Spells on his arm gradually shined brighter.

’’I order my Servants with my Command Spells ’’

Rider and the other Servants then left, leaving only Shirou, Assassin and Caster in the throne room.

Shirou spoke up.

’’Assassin, Caster. With this, my role in the coming battle is finished. I'll leave the rest to you all.’’

’’Do you have a chance at succeeding?’’

’’I do. The Fuyuki Greater Grail doesn't have anything that can be called a will. It is an automated machine that lacks the will of a master. If I can reach the core without opposing it or coming into contact with it ’’

’’Your wish will be granted.’’

Assassin of Red smiled. But Shirou shook his head and corrected her.

’’This isn't my wish, but the wish of everyone in this world Assassin.’’

The happy conclusion that everyone desired and continued to wish for in the depths of their heart.

’’In other words, a brilliant summer shall arrive! And thus I will have written another masterpiece as well.’’

’’Exactly. Though we have to take down the members of the Black camp to do that.’’

’’Oh my, you're not confident of our odds?’’

’’As if.’’

Assassin of Red's lips twisted into a smile. Though it would be a different story anywhere else, there wasn't any need to doubt their victory if they fought in these Hanging Gardens.

’’Also, we have Caster's Noble Phantasm, right? However I still have doubts. It's true that Noble Phantasms are objects that embody and realize miracles, but... Can it really do such a thing?’’

’’Well... who knows?’’

Assassin glared in response to Shirou's vague words.

’’If it works just as Caster says, it only manifests possibilities. In theory, it should be possible. We don't need to worry about prana either. Though I'm somewhat uneasy about it, I will be defenceless until I completely bring the Holy Grail under my control. And if Lancer ends up being killed, you'll have to make a last stand here. But most of all it seems fun.’’

Assassin could only stare dumbfounded at hearing those final words. On the other hand, Caster nodded elatedly as if he understood and agreed.

’’Yes, the insatiable pursuit of amusement itself is essential. Then, using all the power of my treasured Noble Phantasm, I will show you the power of the written word, which not even swords, magecraft, fire, or lightning can match!’’

Watching Caster and Shirou swell with excitement, Assassin gave a small sigh of exasperation.

Now then.

Naturally, there were good reasons for why Ruler left to go to the hideout in Bucharest later than the other two. One was to have a negotiation session with Fiore, who had asked Sieg to help their side.

’’You want me to write a contract?’’

’’Yes. A contract that guarantees the safety and well-being of the homunculi. Currently, you've only made a verbal promise, and there will be no one to protect them after we leave.’’

’’They're stronger than I am, though ’’

Gordes, who had earnestly been taking care of the homunculi's tuning and adjustments, had been spewing nothing but idle complaints lately. Perhaps because he was always being dragged away by the homunculi whenever an abnormality occurred among them regardless of the time of day, even when he was eating or sleeping, the glint in his eyes had started to shine blazingly like those of an emergency hospital doctor. He had no vigor left, but he was uplifted by a half self-destructive desperation.

’’But you're right. It's impossible to believe the words of a magus without any form of guarantee.’’

’’Yes, so I'd like to ask you to enter into a security guarantee contract with the homunculi. Once that's been confirmed, we'll move on to the agreement we made earlier.’’

Fiore thought it over for a while, and then nodded, stating it wasn't a bad deal. Either way, if they won, she and the rest of Yggdmillennia would no longer have any jobs to give them. They would only be able to do maintenance on the castle ramparts at most.

’’Then, I'll make the contract with the homunculi ’’

’’Nee-san, you're going to make a contract with these homunculi? I think their self of sense has developed too much for that, though.’’

At Caules' words, Fiore covered her mouth and said, ’’Oh my.’’ Just as he said, in a contract between magi, one's full name was had a lot of importance attached to it. A name was like an address that every being had.

When using curses, the target's true name was indispensable information as well. If the curse wasn't restrained to a specific existence like a name, it would disperse without any effect.

And these homunculi had started to develop a sense of self the moment they chose not to obey orders. In other words, there was ample reason to fear that simply referring to them all as [homunculi] as they had up until now could create an obstacle in forming a contract.

’’Have no fear. Gordes-dono has given us all names,’’ stated Tool as she and the rest of the gathered homunculi nodded.

’’I don't know whether or not it will work with the contract. I don't think there will be a problem, though.’’

Gordes looked away in a sulky manner. He couldn't be embarrassed, could he? Caules thought, but judging from his expression, he really did seem to be sulking.

’’My, how serious and diligent of you, Gordes-oji-sama.’’

And Fiore praised Gordes without minding his behavior at all. When he was praised, Gordes became even sulkier. What a difficult old man, Caules thought with a sigh.

’’Then there should be no obstacles to the contract. We'll make it by slightly adjusting the regular content of a contract between magi. Basically, in exchange for allowing your residence in this castle, I'd merely like for you to help with routine chores and the maintenance of the castle ramparts. I don't have any problem with you leaving either. However, please refrain from acts that will be scowled upon by the Association of Magi.’’

’’There aren't that many homunculi among us who want to leave. But there are some problems with legal identification and such ’’

’’Hmm... we can provide that much at least.’’

Fiore added in several modifications to the contract content that Caules suggested, and then presented it to the leader of the homunculi, Tool. When she accepted it, she frowned.

’’What's wrong?’’

’’No, it's just that this whole deal went more smoothly than I thought. I wondered if you might have added in a trap somewhere or not.’’

’’You're quite distrustful, aren't you?’’

Gordes goggled at her in shock.

’’If you think about how we've been treated until now, isn't it only right to think that way?’’ Tool responded coolly.

’’Now, now,’’ Fiore said as she soothed the two of them. ’’Please calm down. It's precisely because I thought I might be doubted that I asked the judge of the Great Holy Grail War to arbitrate these negotiations.’’

Ruler received the contract and seriously read it over.

Incidentally, Ruler Jeanne d'Arc didn't truly understand contract stipulations. She was simply more sensitive to deceptions of this kind than others by nature.

Her final year before her death in particular was a battle of words and sentences. Clergymen had tried to trip her up with various questions. In order to overcome that, Jeanne had faced them with the same seriousness she had on the battlefield.

While passing her eyes over the contract, she sometimes glanced at Fiore who had written it and Caules and Gordes who had helped in doing so. There was no deceit or malice in their eyes. Gordes' somewhat rude attitude was simple sulking on his part and didn't seem to be anything else.

She thought of the merits and demerits of lying in this situation the merits were too few and the demerits were too big. It was fine to conclude that there weren't any lies in concern to this contract.

’’There doesn't seem to be any problem. Just in case, I'd like for everyone to look at it as well.’’

After saying that, Ruler passed the contract to Tool. Tool and the surrounding homunculi then began to carefully read it with serious expressions on their faces. Normally, homunculi were only dolls that obeyed the orders of their creator. But now they were seriously gazing at a contract that had been written in regards to them.

In other words, that was proof of their developing ego. However, that couldn't be called unilaterally good. The ego included thoughts to increase personal gain as much as possible. That could also lead to committing crimes as a result.

It could lead them to step over others for personal gain However, at the same time, Ruler optimistically thought that it wouldn't be a problem for them.

They were beings created for the profit of others. They probably would never forgive the act of stepping over others for personal gain and never do so themselves either.

At the very least, Sieg believed in them. So she would believe in them as well.

’’...There doesn't seem to be any problem. Then we just need to sign this contract?’’

’’Yes, please sign it with a drop of your blood as well.’’

By combining one's name and the blood from one's body, it greatly strengthened the contract. There were also contracts that enforced binding even onto one's descendants, but this one wasn't that strong. But that wouldn't be a problem. The chances that Yggdmillennia would be involved with them for generations were extremely low.

When the gathered homunculi finished signing the contract, Fiore turned to Ruler.

’’Now then, may we take care of the matter I mentioned earlier?’’

’’I don't mind. Should we start right away?’’

’’...Yes. I have to do it now, or my resolution will wane later.’’

Fiore smiled bitterly and Caules' face became grave. Gordes silently left his seat. Even if they were part of the same clan, he wasn't a magus of the Forvedge family. If he tried to watch what happened next, they would have to kill him.

What Fiore had requested of Ruler was her help in transplanting the Forvedge family's Magic Crest.

The Magic Crest would be gradually transplanted from Fiore to Caules. Fortunately, Caules had been born as Fiore's spare. His body had been adjusted since birth so that he could have it transplanted to him at any time should the situation require it.

The problem was that, because the magus whose job it normally was to do the transplant procedure wasn't present, Fiore had to do the transplant while making necessary adjustments on her own. Moreover, in order for Caules to be acknowledged as the family successor, she had to transplant a very large portion of the Crest to him.

At the very least half of it, or if possible, 70% of it. Naturally, the cost of doing so was great. By halving the Crest she had, Fiore's prana stores would drop sharply, and Caules wouldn't be able to handle it satisfactorily for a while after it was transplanted.

But the situation had already surpassed what a Master could singlehandedly deal with. Since the Red camp's only Master was Amakusa Shirou Tokisada, this Holy Grail War now consisted of battle between Servants alone. Therefore, the two siblings were completely meaningless in terms of fighting power.

However, normally a Magic Crest was gradually transplanted from a young age. No matter how much her younger brother Caules' body had been adjusted for the transplant, doing such a large transplant at once naturally came with danger.

Therefore, they had requested that Archer, who was deeply knowledgeable about magecraft, and Ruler, who could use healing to a certain extent, be present during the transplantation.

’’...I truly am lucky to be attended by two Servants.’’

Fiore giggled. Caules sighed and grumbled.

’’I didn't think I would suddenly get 70% of it at once...’’

’’Are you nervous?’’

Caules shrugged at Archer's question.

’’I only have meager Magic Circuits, after all.’’

He answered lightly but from another magus' perspective, it was an event worthy of fainting over. If their parents heard about it, they'd probably be prepared to kill Caules over it.

Frankly speaking, this act was effectively a crime in the eyes of magi. They were going to transfer the family's inheritance to the inferior sibling rather than the superior sibling, after all.

Moreover, it wasn't because the superior sibling was particularly inconvenienced or impaired by something. This was simply in order for her to go from a magus to a normal human.

They used Fiore's room for the Crest transplant ritual. The two siblings lay down together on the bed, closed their eyes, and synchronized their minds. The human mind was tougher and stiffer than people thought. So first they had to start by fusing them.

Ice wouldn't fuse together no matter how much time passed. It had to become water and melt together and then freeze once more. Naturally, if they failed even one step, two broken down people would be created due to their personalities fusing together.

’’Then, please begin the sympathizing process.’’

Archer of Black spoke quietly.

Even so, Fiore had chosen this. She neither hated the life of a magus that was always adjoined with death, nor did she fear battle, but she had understood that it was impossible for her.

She would never have the kind resolve her younger brother did. No matter how far she strived, she was just a normal person deep down.

They melted.

They mingled

’’Caules. You're going a little too fast. Please calm down.’’

’’I know, but this sensation is just ’’

The crystallization of everything their family had cultivated through desperate struggle and battle was suddenly divided in half.

They were instantly attacked by a terrifying feeling of nothingness. Their ancestors whom they had never met severely condemned them with dark faces. What are you doing!? You siblings have done something unforgivable!

The older sister cowered, but the younger brother spurred her on.

So what? he spat out. The one to take responsibility for this is me, not my sister, he shouted.

It's true this might throw us back by a hundred or two hundred years. So what? I am Forvedge, I am Yggdmillennia.

I won't acknowledge any objections.

’’Oh no, his body is reacting to the foreign sensation of the Magic Crest... Ruler, please calm down Caules-dono!’’

’’Yes, understood! Listen, Caules. Can you hear me? Listen to my words...!’’

Hundreds of years' worth of obsession attacked the youngster who brazenly didn't know his place. He saw a ghastly miracle that resembled hell and he succumbed and fell in love as he witnessed his family's founder who had tried to change from a human into a magus.

He had yearned for magecraft, had loved magecraft and had become inhuman with little effort.

Like a sword, the founder's tenacity pierced the heart of the boy who claimed he would be the next successor. If he let himself throw it up, it would mean exposing his own soul.

But it still felt terribly revolting. His entrails were crushed inside his body as he rode a merry-go-round that endlessly sped up. It rose in his throat would he feel better if he threw it up?

Just let it out and ease yourself, someone whispered. He thrust his hand into his mouth and tried to drag out the thing in his throat along with his entrails.

’’It's all right. You're all right.’’

Suddenly, the voice of a holy maiden came down from the heavens.

Instantly, the desert was overturned and became green tracts of land. The refreshing smell of grass immediately caused his urge to vomit to disappear. The boy kicked his feet off the ground and lightly began to walk.

’’...All right. He seems to have calmed down. It's almost done. Just hold on a little while longer, Master.’’

He heard someone's... gentle voice. He thought its calm tone was appropriate for these grassy plains.

He walked, walked, walked and arrived.

This was the final part of the Crest. There was nothing new about this place for him, which lay in the memories of his older sister who had been with him since he was young. This was the place where the two siblings had used to play in the past. A perfectly ordinary flower garden near their home.

They had always been together. He had been aware that she would sometimes turn around to confirm his presence. As if to say that being by herself was lonely, that she hated solitude.

That's why he kept saying ’’It can't be helped’’ to himself and always followed after her.

It was the younger brother's duty to follow after his older sister, after all.

He had thought they might be together forever.

He had also thought that they couldn't be together forever.

When he had gotten dragged into the Great Holy Grail War, he had merely sighed at himself as a magus but he had thought it was still better than if they were in a normal Holy Grail War.

He had thought they would survive and be together again but as expected, the girl had ended up having to face herself in this Great Holy Grail War.

Having grown up, she made a choice. It was a cruel choice that no one else would ever understand.

But the younger brother was happy just by the fact that she had made a choice.

So it was fine.

’’...Hmm?’’

It was a scene he was familiar with, but there was one irregularity within it.

The girl noticed her younger brother, and walked up to him while waving her hand. In her hand was a leash, and attached to it was a sluggish dog.

The dog wagged its tail and went to greet the boy... I see, the boy thought as he suddenly understood. The reason the girl had never given up magecraft lay there.

She couldn't let it be in vain. She didn't want to let it be in vain. She had to at least scoop up and make up for the life that had been used and discarded

That's why Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia had continued to live as a magus.

’’...But that's also over now.’’

She gave a lonely smile and hesitated to let go of the leash. Picking up on her actions, the old dog began to leisurely chew the leash.

’’It isn't over, Nee-chan. I'm inheriting it.’’

In the blink of an eye, he took the leash from her. As the girl watched him in surprise, the boy spoke.

’’I'm inheriting it, so I'll also inherent this guy too. He won't be forgotten. I was there back then too. I also saw and watched.’’

He had known. He had been resolved. He had known that his father would use the dog back then.

And while knowing that, he had watched and let it happen. He had tried not to feel anything for the dog as much as possible and did his best to ignore its existence.

But even if he ignored the dog, he couldn't ignore his sister. That day, he had watched the dog wagging its tail at his sister. As neither his sister nor the dog had any suspicions about what lay in the future all he'd been able to do was shed tears at that scene.

So the boy had a responsibility to take charge of this leash.

’’You'll take responsibility and keep hold of it?’’

’’...Yeah, I will.’’

The girl smiled and entrusted the rest to the boy. The old dog wagged its tail in a very slow-witted manner.

He would receive and inherit it.

He would inherit her magecraft, this discarded life and her pride. The divided Magic Crest might be too much for the boy's hands. But he would never fear or regret it.

That scene all those years ago. As long as he kept it carved in his mind he would discipline himself as a magus of the Forvedge family and Yggdmillennia.

The illusion ended, and Caules groaned at the sensation of something cold having been inserted in his brain.

’’Are you all right?’’

Ruler peered down at him anxiously. Caules calmed down his heated and cloudy thoughts and nodded at the question.

’’Ye Yeah, I think I'm fine.’’

His awareness of reality was gradually being restored. He moved his limbs, and felt the strong sensation of something foreign in his body. His movements were slow and dull as if his joints were clogged with mud.

’’Are you all right, Caules-dono? ...Let alone 70%, you received a full 80% of the Magic Crest from my Master. Your sister might feel more comfortable as the one who gave it away, but it must be painful for you as the one who received it.’’

’’...Not really. It isn't all that much.’’

Well, it was, but when he thought that his older sister had endured this kind of pain for such a long time, he felt he had to put up with it at any cost.

’’Magus-kun. Please use this.’’

After saying that, Ruler tightly wrapped a cloth around his chest. That alone immediately eased the pain. Moving was still troublesome, but he had recovered enough to get off the bed and walk.

’’It's a holy shroud. I prepared it just in case, but it's better for you to use it now. It will also grant you resistance against impurities such as curses or poison, so I don't mind if you keep it on for a while.’’

’’...The pain has gone down a lot. Thank you, Ruler.’’

Ruler smiled slightly at those words.

’’You did splendidly, Caules Forvedge Yggdmillennia. And you as well, Fiore.’’

As Archer helped her sit up, Fiore shook her head and smiled feebly.

’’No, not at all. All the praise should go to Caules right now. He's my younger brother who I'm very proud of, after all.’’

Caules turned red at those words and put his hand over mouth as his lips reflexively slackened into a smile.

’’Hmm, so that's why you left later than us.’’

Having changed into pajamas he had shrewdly bought before coming here, Rider of Black grinned at Ruler who was laying her head on a desk.

’’...’’

Ruler remained silent. Looks like she still hasn't recovered from the shock, Sieg judged. Well, that was understandable. It was understandable, but

’’...Couldn't you tell by looking at him normally when clothed?’’

Ruler jumped up at Sieg's question. Her eyes were slightly teary and she was red from her cheeks to her ears.

’’I couldn't tell!!’’

She was already embarrassed from seeing Rider naked, but her shame seemed to be worsened by the fact that she was the one who stepped into that situation herself.

’’But can't you confirm the true names and stats of other Servants as Ruler?’’

While gripping her head, Ruler pointed at the helplessly laughing Rider.

’’Sieg-kun... Try confirming Rider of Black's stats. As a Master, you should be able to grasp to a certain extent the abilities of the Servants you have met until now just by concentrating a little.’’

’’...Hmm.’’

Having been told that, Sieg tried confirming Rider's stats. A book appeared in his mind. He turned the pages, and the stats of the Servants he had met appeared vaguely one after another.

Saber, Archer, Lancer and finally Rider...

’’...What the heck is this?’’

Sieg turned to look at Rider sitting next to him and Rider waved his hand with a wide smile.

Rider's stats page was a mess. All of his skill names and ranks were properly recorded, but there were little jokes added everywhere.

In particular, his gender entry was completely painted over and impossible to read. Sieg frantically checked the stats of the other Servants, but fortunately there wasn't anything particularly strange about them.

’’...It's true that there are Servants who possesses techniques or Noble Phantasms to hide their skills. But adding in little jokes is unheard of... Just how on earth is he doing this...? No, leaving aside the means, normally people wouldn't do something that like... geez...’’

That's true, Sieg thought in agreement. As they both looked at Rider, the Servant in question answered while smiling embarrassedly.

’’Hmm, it's probably that. You know, the tome I have! The ability to check stats is technically a kind of spell, right? It's a spell that conforms with the fundamental rules of the Holy Grail War, so it can't be blocked completely, but the book might be able to interfere with it a little.’’

’’How half-hearted and irresponsible... Really now...’’

Ruler gripped her head. That's understandable, Sieg thought. Though he decided to leave it be, since it didn't do any great harm.

’’So, are you still unable to remember the book's true name?’’

’’Hmm... it's starting to trickle back into my head a little, I think.’’

What a careless answer. But Sieg didn't particularly think to scold him. Because he believed that his Servant, Rider, would always come through when push came to shove.

’’Will you remember in three days?’’

’’It'll, probably, be fine, I'd like to think... I think.’’

Rider averted his eyes to Ruler's question.

’’Rider. The enemy will actively attack us as we approach the Hanging Gardens. Assassin will attack with her spells from the Hanging Gardens, Rider will fly through the air with his chariot and Archer will naturally shoot us with her arrows. Even if we fall at high speed, we Servants might not die, but ’’

It didn't need saying, but Sieg would definitely die if he fell from that height.

’’I get it! It'll be fine, leave it to me!’’

’’...I feel uneasy.’’

’’Ruler. You don't have to worry about Rider.’’

’’Haah...’’

Though she seemed somewhat uneasy at Sieg's words, Ruler consented.

’’So, are you okay, Sieg-kun?’’

Silence. Rider, who didn't know about the case with Assassin of Black, stared at his Master's face curiously. He tilted his head in puzzlement at Sieg's expression. His face was wracked by unbelievable distress.

’’Master...?’’

’’...There's no problem. I chose to fight.’’

Sieg somehow managed to reply. Yes, he wasn't fighting for someone else. He had chosen. He had willingly thrown himself into this battle he got dragged into.

He was fighting for himself. Not for humans.

’’I'm going to take a bath, then go to sleep.’’

After saying that, Sieg got up from his chair. Rider and Ruler silently watched and once they confirmed he had entered the washroom, they looked at each other.

’’He seems to be smoldering over something. Do you know anything, Rider?’’

’’...Yeah. Actually, at lunch, we ran into Saber of Red. But I didn't hear anything concrete about the hell my Master spoke of.’’

Ruler explained in detail about the illusion that Assassin of Black had shown them. The fixed system of a city where humans killed humans and stole everything there was to be had. A hell reproduced by humans where no one was evil and no one was good.

’’I see...’’

Rider of Black looked down with a sad expression. Naturally, as a hero who had wandered the world, Rider knew that such things inevitably existed in the world and he accepted it.

That was the inevitably disillusioned viewpoint of a hero. Those who couldn't be saved just couldn't be saved, and the weak would bare their fangs as the weak. The malignancy of systems established by various circumstances such as social position and wealth couldn't be taken down no matter how great a hero one was.

’’But he would have to learn about it eventually. Besides, it's not like Master wants to become human, right?’’

’’Yes. Even so, don't you think he felt longing towards humans?’’

Rider crossed his arms and shook his head fervently.

’’I wonder about that... Master wished to live. And that wish was granted in a slightly strange and twisted form. Even so, I don't think... he feels longing towards humans. In the first place, has Master met any humans besides magi?’’

’’He was treated to lunch by an old man named Serge. He was a very good person.’’

’’Enough that Master would feeling longing?’’

’’...We didn't meet him for that long. It might have made him aware that there are a good people out there, though.’’

There was no clue as to how he felt. Sieg himself probably still didn't know how he felt yet.

’’It'd be nice if he came to like them, though.’’

’’You mean humans?’’

’’Yes... Otherwise, it'd be troubling for me.’’

Suddenly, she muttered in a tone filled with an unusual emotion. Picking up on it with his sharp ears, Rider leaned forward over the desk with plain curiosity and wariness.

’’Mu, mu, mu... And why would that trouble you?’’

’’Eh? Ah, no, err, sorry. It's nothing!’’

Ruler covered her mouth and quite obviously fell into a panic. Becoming even more suspicious, Rider brought his face close to her and Ruler hurriedly averted her eyes.

’’Are you hiding something?’’

’’I-I'm not hiding anything. Really.’’

She wouldn't look him in the eye.

’’You would you swear it by God?’’

’’I-It'd be rude to swear on the Lord for such a trivial thing...’’

Her earlier gallantness had disappeared, and Ruler blushed shyly like a normal girl her age. Conceding that touching upon this subject any further would be pitiful for her, Rider shrugged and changed the topic.

’’...Well, I also agree that I want him to like humans, though. After all, Master has a future!’’

’’That's... right. I think it'd be nice if he had a happy future ahead of him.’’

Ruler spoke happily and smiled innocently. Rider also nodded cheerily.

Suddenly, Ruler, while making sure that Sieg still wasn't coming back yet, whispered to Rider.

’’...U-Umm. Rider-san, do you like Sieg-san?’’

’’How about you?’’

Having the question immediately turned back to her, Ruler widened her eyes and stiffened her back straight.

’’T-That's. Umm, err, that is, no ’’

Rider sighed. He stood up and patted Ruler's head as if she were a child.

’’Hyah!?’’

Rider smiled and whispered in her ear.

’’ Well, do your best, though I won't be supporting you, Miss someone else who isn't Ruler.’’

’’...!’’

As the girl turned around, Rider waved his hand and went up to the bedroom on the second floor.

’’...Uuugh. He noticed.’’

She sighed and pressed a hand to her cheek. Sieg then came out of the washroom with a bath towel covering his head and noticed Ruler looking red-faced and laying her head on the desk, so he called out to her.

’’Ruler, did something happen?’’

’’Ah, no, no, no! Nothing happened, nothing ’’

She stiffened once again. While looking at her curiously, Sieg pointed at the washroom.

’’We changed the order, but you can go in the bath next.’’

Ruler stiffened and stared at Sieg's body. A shirt was hanging off his right arm. He probably intended to sleep wearing it. In other words, right now, Sieg was completely naked above his waist.

’’...Y-Yes! Under! Stood!’’

Moving jerkily just like a mechanical doll, she passed by Sieg to go to the washroom.

As he watched her go, Sieg found her behavior odd, but he just shrugged and decided to go up to the second floor bedroom. It'd be nice if Rider doesn't barge in like last time, he thought. After all, Rider stayed in physical form and tossed and turned while he slept, which caused Sieg to be often kicked off the narrow bed.

I pray in the morning, I pray at noon, I pray at night, I pray before eating and I pray before I go to sleep.

In other words, my way of life is simple. Every day is suffocating.

My friends at the school dormitory take things easy in their lives. I have no intention of condemning that, and I myself have thought that it might be better to take it easy sometimes. The reason I could never do that despite thinking that way is probably because I was afraid of agitating my heart.

Every day was like living at the bottom of the ocean. With neither great joy nor sorrow, I simply went through the days dispassionately.

The school I attend has nothing noteworthy about it. My friends idly grumble that it's like a prison. Still, it's not like it's completely cut off from the outside world, so it's easy to both fall into depravity and repent for it.

Amidst that environment, I was often told that I strictly disciplined myself.

I didn't have relationships outside or fall into depraved behavior, but neither did I try to change others out of excessive pride. My teachers and friends praised me, for some reason.

Everyone said that this way of life was beautiful, that this way of life was correct. I always accepted those praises with a vague smile, while feeling troubled inside my heart. It isn't anything that great.

I'm simply afraid to change.

I understand my personality very well. My self-control is weak and my brakes are easily broken, so if I start running, I would just keep speeding up, unable to stop.

Even if there was a cliff ahead, I would just jump off it. I wouldn't stop until I fell and died.

That's why I didn't concern myself with the outside world, but also didn't feel any great joy in that prison. Furthermore, I couldn't sever my connection to the outside completely as long as I had my parents.

It makes me want to deride myself for how half-baked I am.

I didn't intend to become someone extremely commonplace, someone who was connected with others and dyed by the earthly world.

And I didn't have the courage to devote myself to a world cut off from the outside and where taboos are strictly controlled.

Frankly, I didn't know where I should aim to go. I couldn't find the path I should take. I just walked uncertainly and helplessly down the path I could vaguely manage to see.

Screw it, if it's like this, who cares anymore? I half-despaired as I walked.

I didn't know what lay ahead, so I had no other choice. Even if I fell and degenerated, even if I my body became a captive, even if I regretted it... I had no other choice, or so I told myself.

At that time I saw a dream, and I saw a path.

The holy maiden Jeanne d'Arc asked for my help. I understood everything from the knowledge that had been inserted into me, and accepted it. Naturally, I was afraid. A mortal battle between heroes over the Holy Grail wasn't something someone commonplace like me should involve myself in.

But I agreed. I also politely refused the holy maiden's advice to simply sleep, and I continued to watch everything through her eyes.

Grand battles that surpassed my imagination, gruesome scenes that filled me with such disgust I wanted to throw up, all of it.

I probably felt mentally protected by the thought I was in a place of safety. I watched events that no one else would ever see in their whole lifetime.

I saw heroes who dashed across the battlefield, heroes who could smash giant stone statues with mystical tools, magi who used mysterious magecraft, divine-looking giants and even a massive fortress floating in the sky.

But what captivated my eyes the most was was...

How is such a pure and beautiful being alive and breathing? That person was so beautiful it made me think that.

The boy who was a homunculus, an artificially-created life form.

I understood from the knowledge the holy maiden had given me. Most of them were short-lived, loyal servants who were created in human form and obeyed the will of humans.

But he had defied death and overcome despair, obtaining irreplaceable freedom. Even the moment where I thought Thank goodness and sighed in relief was only brief, as he sought to return to the battlefield.

I couldn't understand. After all, that meant throwing away the freedom he had obtained.

If it were me, I would definitely hold onto what I had obtained I would never let it go. He had risked his life to get it.

But he said this.

My comrades want to be saved. I can't just leave and abandon them.

Even I could understand. This person probably can't do anything. Certainly, he might regret leaving them. He might feel guilty over abandoning them.

But he would surely forget it eventually. He should live happily this person had to live happily. The world was huge and filled with tons of beautiful things, after all.

If he could do something, then it would be understandable. But he knew better than anyone else that he 'couldn't do anything'. He knew full well that it was a foolish, reckless and futile choice that wouldn't amount to anything.

But this person had chosen to go back.

To me, as someone who lived half-heartedly, his way of life was overwhelmingly dazzling.

A jewel that was polished not to boast of its beauty nor make others look at it, but simply for the sake of doing so. A person who would never change his way of life no matter how he was scorned as foolish for not taking pride in his beauty.

Even though he's close enough for me to touch if I just reach out my hand.

To me, he's the person who was the furthest away.

Soaking in the warm bath water made her weariness disappear as if it was melting away. The girl known as Laeticia heaved a huge sigh. She felt like it had been a while since she had soaked in the bath like this.

’’ Umm. I'm sorry.’’

The girl who had come to the surface apologized to the holy maiden within her.

’’I don't think there's any need for you to apologize, though.’’

’’...No, umm... I don't really understand it myself either... these feelings of mine.’’

These feelings are so strange, she thought with a sigh.

Shame and joy were mixed together. And a large spoonful of sorrow was mixed into it as well.

’’Isn't that because he hasn't noticed you?

That was naturally part of it. But there was something else subtly mixed into it. Something slightly bitter, sweet and painful.

’’Laeticia. You know there's nothing stopping you from letting him know when you come out, right?’’

’’...No. I'll refrain from doing that.’’

She moved her hand through the bath water. She felt sad over not revealing her name to him, and she also felt sad that he wasn't looking at her. But this subtle emotion surely came from something else.

Ah, how sinful I am.

’’I'm already fine with this... My feelings are vague and ambiguous, after all.’’

’’But ’’

’’Thank you, o great holy maiden. It made me happy.’’

She closed her eyes and then reopened them. The girl known as Jeanne confirmed that Laeticia had gone to sleep inside her.

’’So that's enough for you... huh?’’

They had two days remaining due to Fiore's choice. As long as there was no emergency situation, Ruler had thought it would be fine to lend her body back to Laeticia.

Laeticia had done that much for her. She had loaned Jeanne this body. Even when they got involved in bloody battles, she continued to accompany Jeanne. Even if she was technically safe, merely continuing to watch battles from inside Jeanne should have mentally exhausted her.

Jeanne couldn't thank her enough. After all, this state where she was close to being human had from the start been far more astounding than she had expected.

She felt hunger and felt joy in eating. She felt weariness and wished for sleep. The overwhelming euphoria just from having basic, human instincts. She was once more experiencing the magnificence of being alive.

If it weren't for Laeticia, she wouldn't have been able to feel this... Though naturally, she wouldn't have suffered from hunger, either.

That's right. That's why Jeanne felt an everlasting debt of gratitude to her. And most of all, she felt it was only natural that she was charmed by the boy beside her, even if they had only known each other for a few days. So why not change places and give her the chance to form and bond with him even a little that's what she had thought, but...

’’How... unfortunate.’’

Perhaps because of the steam, her vision was hazy and the world was so vague and unclear. Yes, it was unfortunate. Sieg still hadn't noticed Laeticia. Jeanne felt it was unfortunate and sad, but also just a little

’’...No, I...’’

Ever so slightly, completely different feelings were mixed in. They were feelings that were superfluous and absolutely unneeded, which she should discard right away.

But she couldn't throw these feelings away no matter how hard she tried. Even though they were so tiny and should have been unnecessary.

’’I don't understand... anything.’’

Whiling hoping her feelings would dissolve into steam and disappear Ruler looked up at the ceiling and heaved a huge sigh.

CHAPTER 2 END



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