Fate/Apocrypha - Volume 4 - Chapter 4
Thus, the day of the final battle arrived with gentle rays of sunlight.
Right after dawn, Fiore, Caules and Archer of Black boarded a limousine along with a homunculus driver.
’’Then, Gordes-oji-sama, please take care of things here while we're gone.’’
The one to see them off was the only remaining magus at the Fortress of Millennia, Gordes Musik Yggdmillennia. He was in charge of looking after the castle in their absence and conducting negotiations with various organizations in order to find a way for Yggdmillennia to survive after this war. It could only be described as the miserable job of dealing with the aftermath of defeat, but oddly enough, Gordes was most skilled in those kinds of negotiations.
’’Yeah... Well, err, you know. Come back alive, all right?’’
Gordes' farewell was quite half-baked. The impression that stood out the most about him was the fact that his stubble and loosely hanging bangs had become frayed and messy in the last few days. However, for some reason, Caules actually felt that that Gordes was more likable like this.
’’Yes, returning alive is the major premise of this mission. Please take care of the homunculi here as well.’’
’’Don't dump these guys on my lap. They're already living quite fine on their own as they please.’’
’’ Fiore-sama, don't worry. No matter what he may say, Gordes-sama is a man with a generous and kind heart who saved us all.’’
Next to Gordes, Tool spoke while emphasizing the ’’sama’’. Gordes turned and glared at Tool bitterly, but she feigned innocence.
’’Ufufu. In that case, we'll be off.’’
’’See ya, Gordes-ossan. Try not to argue with the homunculi too much.’’
’’Fool, who would start an argument they're clearly going to lose? Just go already!’’
Lastly, Archer of Black bowed his head courteously, and then the limousine departed. As Gordes watched it leave, he had a sudden thought.
The Holy Grail War is beyond the means of us magi.
An omnipotent wish-granting device... A parasitic magical tool that connects to the leylines and continuously absorbs vast amounts of mana. However, to put it another way, it was the same as the nuclear weapons made by those who'd been drunk on science. Moreover, it was uncertain whether it could even be properly controlled. It couldn't even be activated without conducting the ritual of the Holy Grail War. And to finish the ritual, you had to take down six pairs of incredibly strong Masters and Servants
The whole setup had too many holes to count. Yet even as he thought that, Gordes was self-aware enough to acknowledge that he lacked talent. Not talent as a magus perhaps it would be better to say he lacked the resourcefulness to fight and win.
He didn't think that he lacked skill as a magus. But he hadn't sincerely tried to deal with things like strategy and tactics.
It was too late for him to regret it now. He knew that. He knew that, but
’’Hey, what are you moping over? We don't have the time to slack off here, remember?’’
’’I know, damn it. I know already.’’
Gordes drowned out those pointless thoughts. That's right, it was already too late. No matter who won or lost next, and regardless of whether or not humanity was saved, none of it had anything to do with Gordes.
Those were things for saints and heroes to think about. Right now, Gordes had several problems that he had to deal with as soon as possible.
The first thing he had to do was notify the entire clan that they had effectively lost in the Great Holy Grail War and then send a message of surrender to the Association in order to try and bring an end to the conflict with minimal sacrifices.
The whole prospect of it was depressing, but he convinced himself by saying it was better than dying. Gordes was used to receiving insults, ridicule and scorn, and he had tasted humiliation several times in just the past few days.
Bowing his head in shame and apologizing to their sworn enemy the Association was practically nothing for him at this point. However, he had far too few advantageous cards to bring to the negotiation table.
This negotiation might drag on for a long while
’’Hey, what are you daydreaming around for? Hurry up, we're starting the castle repairs today.’’
Recalling that particular matter thanks to Tool's words, Gordes changed his plans. First, he would start with the work that was right in front of him... It wasn't like he wanted to push off the unpleasant work for later. Not at all.
It was already past evening by the time Fiore arrived at the safe house Sieg and the others were staying at. After she knocked, Rider swiftly opened the door with Sieg and Ruler in tow.
Fiore sat in her wheelchair before the door with Archer of Black behind her.
’’Ah, it's that time already?’’
’’Sorry for making you wait. Then, shall we get going?’’
Rider of Black tilted his head in puzzlement.
’’Get going where?’’
’’Ah, I still haven't informed you all. We're going to the Henry Coanda International Airport. There, we'll board airplanes and head to the Hanging Gardens. Please come board the car, everyone. I don't mind if you change into your armor now.’’
Fiore guided the three of them to the limousine. Ruler and Rider followed her suggestion and changed into their armor.
’’All right... Are you sure you haven't forgotten anything, Sieg-kun?’’
’’Of course not. This is the only equipment I have, anyway.’’
Sieg patted the sword hanging from his waist. It was the sword that Rider of Black had lent him. He probably wouldn't even have a chance to use it in the final battle. By the time he resorted to using this, the situation would likely be hopelessly bleak.
Even so, Sieg felt reassured when he carried this, like an iron rod supporting his back. Not because having a sword was reassuring, but because it made him remember the warmth of the person who had given it to him.
’’I plan to keep it with me, but is that all right with you, Rider?’’
Rider readily agreed as if it were only natural.
’’Of course. I gave it to you, after all.’’
While feeling slightly reluctant to part with the safe house they had stayed at for a short while, the three of them joined Fiore in the limousine.
’’Wow, it's so spacious inside!’’
’’Umm, is it really okay to wear my armor in here? It's hard to sit here without damaging the seats ’’
’’I don't mind. This car and everything in it are merely appropriated goods,’’ Fiore smoothly replied, as she skillfully sat herself down on the rear seat with her already activated Bronze-Link Manipulators.
’’Now, let's be off! We should arrive...... in about five minutes.’’
It was so close that they wouldn't even have the time to properly enjoy the limousine.
’’...Couldn't we just walk?’’
Fiore firmly denied Ruler's suggestion.
’’We rarely get the chance to use this limousine. This might be the last time we get to ride it.’’
And with that, they arrived at the airport in the blink of an eye.
Unlike Sieg, who was a homunculus born in the Yggdmillennia castle, and Rider, who was a Servant summoned in the castle, Ruler had arrived in this country from France through this airport, and thus she recognized just how abnormal the current situation was.
It wasn't that anything had changed here. There was merely no one else around. The taxies in front of the airport, the customers, even the security guards... They were all gone.
’’Ah, yes. It'd be a problem if we were seen by anyone, so naturally, I reserved the whole place. From the next twelve hours, we'll be the only ones using this airport.’’
’’Reserved, you say...?’’
Ruler was left completely speechless in the face of Fiore's casual words. Sieg and Rider seemed to be thinking 'We can't afford to involve any outsiders, so that's a wise decision' and thought no more of it. In Ruler's eyes, though, reserving an entire international airport went beyond the realm of the ridiculous.
In front of the airport entrance doors, men in suits stood imposingly as watchman in place of the airport's security guards.
When Fiore approached them and swiftly said what seemed to be a password, the men nodded and opened the doors.
’’I've set up a Boundary Field to keep people away around the airport. No one will be able to approach within a several kilometer radius around this area.
’’Wow, it really is completely deserted,’’ murmured Rider of Black in amazement.
Just as Rider had said, there was no one besides themselves in this vast airport. There were no receptionists at the counter, the always-running baggage claim conveyor belt was halted, and even the electronic display boards were off.
’’Even I can't help but be amazed by my own sister...’’ Caules murmured in astonishment, as someone who had the common sense of an ordinary person. ’’Just how much money did you spend on all this?’’
’’It wasn't that much. The price of arranging this was only five times the cost of the Mystic Code I designed. The bigger problem was the money to purchase the airplanes. Really now, I asked for old second-hand planes since they're going to be scrapped anyway, yet why did they cost so much? We truly are lucky to have the fortune that Grandfather Darnic left behind.’’
’’Well, that's... because they're jumbo jets.’’
Sieg looked down at the visible airfield through the window in amazement. There were a total of ten old jumbo jets which Fiore had bought.
Fiore said that they were going to use all of these with their destruction in mind from the start. True, it was a valid decision, since a single plane would be completely annihilated by concentrated attacks. So instead, they would send out several decoy plans to increase their chances of survival... It was quite reasonable, if you didn't take the accompanying cost into account.
’’Then, we'll deploy in the formation I explained in the car... Rider.’’
’’Your tome is our final hope. Have you remembered its true name?’’
Rider awkwardly averted his eyes the faces of everyone else present turned pale.
’’Hey, don't tell me you still don't remember!? After coming all this way, that's ’’
Fiore drew close and pressed Rider, who waved his hands frantically.
’’It'll be fine, it'll fine! Once it's night, I'll remember it! But look, it's still evening right now. Just give me a little more time, okay?’’
’’We can trust you, right?’’
’’Leave it to me!’’
Rider confidently placed his hand over his chest however, dubious stares remained fixed on him.
’’Aha, ahaha... Master, help!’’
Rider ran behind Sieg's back to protect himself from the stares.
’’Rider... I'd like to talk with you about something with just the two of us, is that all right?’’
’’Eh? No, umm ’’
Rider tried to say ’’Wait a minute’’, but Sieg grabbed his arm without bothering to ask for any further permission and moved them both away from everyone else.
’’...What is it?’’
’’A love confession, perhaps?’’
The two siblings present both tilted their head curiously and conversed without any sense of tension.
’’Maybe if it was Rider, but there's no way Sieg would do that.’’
Archer of Black joined their conversation as well, equally unconcerned. Meanwhile, for some reason, Ruler had gone off to follow Sieg and Rider.
’’W-What, what, what?’’
Sieg pushed Rider against the wall next to a paper cup coffee vending machine as if to hide him in its shadow upon which Rider stared at Sieg with open confusion. That's a rare expression for Rider, thought Sieg.
’’Rider. I'm asking this to make sure.’’
’’ Are you scared?’’
The question was blunt and sudden, and that's precisely why it caught Rider off guard. Rider stared at Sieg dumfounded for a short while, but then his shoulders discouragingly drooped.
’’...Yeah. But how did you know?’’
’’You told me before, remember? That you became scared the instant you regained your senses. The brighter and fuller the moon is, the more your sense of reason vanishes. But to put it another way, you regain your reason on dark nights when the moon isn't out, enough that you can remember your tome's true name.’’
’’Despite the situation, I'm still happy that your remembered those casual words of mine... Yeah, it's exactly as you guessed. Master, I'm... scared. I know you're probably disappointed at hearing words completely unsuitable for a Servant, but I'm scared,’’ murmured Rider with a gloomy expression.
’’Do you mean... you're scared of dying?’’
’’Hmm? No, not that. I'm not scared of dying. This much is true. I really don't like pain and dying, but it's not scary.’’
’’Then what are you ?’’
Rider sighed in lamentation.
’’Obviously, I'm scared of you dying. Seeing someone you care about die and understanding that they're dead really takes its toll. When my sanity evaporates, I can forget about it for a while. It's precisely because I forget about it that I can take absurd risks. But when my thoughts become clear like they are now, I keep imagining terrifying outcomes.’’
Even if he released the book's true name, what if the enemy had some means to counteract it?
The only thing the tome could block was magecraft. It couldn't block the physical attacks of Rider and Archer of Red. If one of them managed to land a hit on Rider of Black it would be a fatal blow.
He'd die. And everyone else would too. All because he was weak.
’’I wish I were stronger. I wish I could stay a fool who even forgets the fact that he's weak. But on nights of the new moon, it's no good. When my reason returns, I'm ’’
Sieg grasped Rider of Black's hand. He spoke while looking at Rider right in the eye with the same perfectly transparent gaze he'd had when they'd first met.
’’It doesn't matter whether you're strong or weak. I think and believe that you're an amazing person, Rider. After all, you saved me. You would have done the same thing regardless of whether or not you had your sense of reason, right?’’
Though surprised at having his hand held, Rider managed to vaguely nod.
Yes. That's why you're fine the way you are, thought Sieg.
’’Whether we fail and die or succeed and live, nothing would have begun for me in the first place if you hadn't saved me back then. I wouldn't have met Ruler either. The very fact that I'm standing here right now is already miraculous. That's why you're fine the way you are. Just do as you please like always.’’
’’...It's okay if I fail?’’
’’I don't mind.’’
’’You might die, you know?’’
’’But I might not die too. Either way, I won't stop now after everything that's happened. I'm fine as long as you continue to be yourself, Rider. The way I see it, the fact that you're scared of what might happen to me if you fail... is also very much like you, Rider.’’
Rider sighed in relief.
In other words, that was all he wanted to hear. That Sieg wouldn't be disappointed in him for becoming scared after regaining his reason. He absolutely hated the thought of disappointing the Master who he had chosen and who had chosen him in turn.
’’ As long as you continue to be yourself, Rider.’’
Both the way he fears failure and his foolishness that fears no one is just like him. That's what his Master was saying.
In that case, the answer was simple. Rider would just do his best. Whether he succeeded or failed doing his best was truly like him, after all.
’’I see. You're saying that it's fine if I stay the way I am.’’
’’Yeah. That's more than enough.’’
Rider of Black tried to gloss over the tears in his eyes as he frantically wiped them.
’’Yeah, you're right! ...Yeah. Huh, how strange. Even though I was thinking of nothing but failure just now, suddenly I feel all calm. I feel like everything will go well!’’
Sieg smiled happily at Rider, whose depressed expression had completely disappeared.
’’All right, let's depart! Don't worry, I'll protect you, Master! We've made it this far already, so let's charge in boldly and grab our happy ending!’’
In complete reversal from when they'd come here, Rider grabbed Sieg's arm and pulled him along to go back to the rest of the group. Though a bit confused, Sieg understood that his Servant had somehow cheered up, making him feel relieved.
And at the same time, he held an unexplainable, sad conviction that having his arm pulled along again and again like this would soon come to an end.
Even if everything went well in every way Sieg was certain that they couldn't avoid an eternal farewell.
...Ruler wanted to believe that the pain in her heart was just her imagination. But the hot ache spreading in her chest told her that it wasn't.
It wasn't that she was hurt by Sieg and Rider's conversation. The two of them completely understood each other as Master and Servant. That was a good thing. Mutual misunderstandings between Master and Servant could only lead to tragedy.
She wasn't narrow-minded enough to be jealous of that. What pained her was just one thing. The words that Sieg had casually said.
’’The very fact that I'm standing here right now is already miraculous.’’
That's right. It truly was a miracle. Ruler had brought him all the way here. Of course, it was a path that Sieg had chosen himself. She hadn't forced him. She'd even rebuked him for it. But in the end, he had arrived here.
It was both his choice and her choice. And yet, she still couldn't get rid of the feeling that he had arrived here as if intentionally guided here.
Ruler wanted to know the reason for his presence here.
...At the same time, she didn't want to know. If she learned the reason, she felt as if she would be crushed by guilt for bringing him with her this far.
But what pained her most was the thought of what Sieg himself might think.
If he understood that she had intentionally guided him here, he would probably scorn her. He would loathe her. He would probably see her as a reaper who had pushed misfortune unto him
She couldn't bear it.
She was used to being slandered. She'd even experienced people using her and then suddenly coldly abandoning her.
But she couldn't endure the thought of betraying someone who had believed in her with innocent trust. Even more so since he was the boy who the girl insider her, Laeticia, had feelings for.
Aah her heart hurt so much it felt like her very veins were in pain from the blood pumping through her heart to the point of bursting.
She wanted to reveal everything to him. She wanted to confess and ask for his forgiveness. But that would just hurt him instead of her.
Besides, it wasn't certain yet that the worst would happen. Even if it was true that he had reached here due to some higher 'will'... Even if he was chosen to be the 'destroyer' of the Holy Grail, it wouldn't necessarily require his life to accomplish it.
True, he could turn into Saber of Black, but he wasn't Saber of Black himself.
All she could do was hold onto that faint hope.
Those black Command Spells, and the impossible phenomenon of a homunculus turning into a Servant, even if for only three minutes. That was a frightening miracle that chipped away at one's life and had to be sacrificing something in exchange.
Ruler was filled with dread at the thought of what result it would ultimately lead it.
An ending filled with nothing but sorrow she absolutely wouldn't allow it to happen.
’’...It's time. We should get going now.’’
’’Huh? Now that I think about it, what about the pilots? I can pilot a plane, but the remaining nine...’’
’’Don't worry. We've put golems installed with the skill to pilot in all ten planes. They're golems that Roche originally created, so their ability is guaranteed.’’
Being capable of 'expanding' their techniques and abilities after their initial creation according to need was one of the advantages of golems. Fortunately, they still had some humanoid golems that Roche had made left, and it was simple to install abilities that he designed beforehand into them.
’’We'll be boarding this plane, so this is where we part.’’
From this point on, Fiore would be acting independently of her Servant Archer.
Since they would surely clash with Rider of Red, who could fly through the skies, before they reached the Hanging Gardens, it was very likely that Fiore would get caught up in their battle if she stayed with Archer.
As much as it made her feel lonely, having Archer ride a different plane was the correct decision.
’’...Archer. May the fortunes of war be with you.’’
’’Thank you, Fiore. I will obtain victory for you.’’
Fiore shook her head at her Servant's words.
’’There's no need to do it for me. It's you that matters most here. I want you to fight to your heart's content. I permit you to use your Noble Phantasm as you see fit. There's no need to wait for orders from me. If you feel that you should use it, please do so.’’
Archer solemnly nodded. Her words meant that she was abandoning any intention of interfering in his battle and was entrusting everything to him. This wasn't an act of irresponsibility, but rather proof of her absolute trust in her Servant.
’’Then, we should get going.’’
’’Yes... Let's meet again at the Hanging Gardens.’’
They were very curt words of farewell. Fiore stifled the regret at parting inside her and gave him a final smile as she left his side. She thought that bursting into tears would be shameful. Her Servant also understood that, which was why he didn't speak to her more than necessary, in order to protect that resolve of hers.
’’Yes. I wish you luck as well, Caules-dono. And, about my Master ’’
’’No need to even ask... Go beat Rider of Red, Archer.’’
Caules ended his farewell with a last wave of his hand. As if nothing had happened between them at all, he then pushed his sister's wheelchair towards their plane.
’’Don't die, you two!’’
The two siblings couldn't help smiling wryly at Rider of Black's rude farewell. Caules turned around and called out to him with an exasperated expression.
’’Right back at you, Rider. Don't get carried away and die by mistake.’’
’’I-I never get carried away! Stupid, stupid!’’
’’No, you do,’’ murmured Sieg next to Rider. However, it was certainly true that Rider was stronger when he got carried away than not.
’’Caules... Are you really fine with coming?’’
Fiore questioned her younger brother one final time as he pushed her wheelchair. Fiore was going off to a deadly battleground out of her sense of responsibility as a Master. But even if Caules was technically Archer's second Master, it wouldn't pose much impediment to Archer's prana supply if he didn't come.
...That reasoning was correct. It was correct, but Caules still rejected it.
’’I'm your younger brother. Isn't that reason enough?’’
What truly human-like words.
Fiore smiled at that thought. Normally speaking, such upright, human-like words should be avoided by magi. A proper magus wouldn't and shouldn't stick their heads into such an absurd situation.
’’Besides, it's not often that a mere magus gets the change to witness magecraft from the Age of Gods.’’
And in contrast, those were truly words befitting a magus. Magi wouldn't risk their own lives so easily. But it was a different matter when it came to magecraft. And the magecraft used by Assassin of Red Semiramis were truly miracles from the Age of Gods. If magi could get the chance to witness it, risking their lives was a cheap price.
Hearing that, Fiore nodded, feeling slightly relieved.
Compared to the likes of Fiore, Caules seemed to have much greater self-awareness as their family's successor and resolve as a magus, irreplaceably important things to have when walking the path of magecraft
’’Then, I'll be heading off next.’’
After seeing off the two siblings, Archer chose the plane he would ride. To him, any plane besides the one his Master rode was fine with him.
In the first place, the planes were merely footholds to Archer, whose job was to intercept Rider of Red.
Archer turned around at Rider of Black's call. Rider made the victory sign with his hand at him while wearing a beaming smile.
’’Make sure to win! It's embarrassing if the teacher loses to his student!’’
’’ Yes, it's just as you say. I lived a long life, but I've never allowed myself to lose to my students even once, at least. In that case, I have to make sure to win.’’
After replying that in a light tone, Archer boarded his plane.
’’Yeah, in that condition, he'll probably be fine.’’
’’In that case, I'll be going as well.’’
After performing consecrations on the planes loaded with explosives, Ruler would be boarding a different plane.
To her, the one unfortunate aspect of this plan was that she would be acting separately from Sieg from here on.
To act as the flagbearer who led the front charge that was Ruler's duty in their plan to board the Hanging Gardens.
’’Be careful, Ruler.’’
Ruler smiled faintly at Sieg's words. Sieg felt that that smile was oddly sad for some reason.
’’Sieg-kun, please try not to anything excessive. I know it goes without saying at this point, but ’’
’’Transforming a third time is forbidden, right? I know.’’
Ruler had repeatedly told him that at every opportunity over the past several days. The way she said it was always strangely pressing, so even Sieg had to nod in acquiescence.
However, this isn't a situation where I can likely afford not to transform at some point.
Suddenly, Ruler's expression became downcast.
’’...Even I understand, you know. Under these circumstances, there's no way you won't transform, Sieg-kun. You're unmistakably a Master, and you chose to fight. There's no way you won't end up using your power.’’
She spoke as if she'd read his thoughts. Sieg sighed. Just as expected, Ruler also seemed to understand. There was no way to stop him besides making him withdraw from the Great Holy Grail War.
The homunculus Sieg had chosen to fight out of his own will. Even Ruler couldn't stop him with words at this point.
Ruler couldn't say it. She was too scared to say it, and she understood that, even if she did his determination would remain unchanged.
Even if you chose to fight not out of your own will, but because of fate?
What if you've been caught up in a great unstoppable flow and are subject to a destiny that can't be resisted?
And what if what aided that process was none than me due to having received a revelation?
What would you think of me then?
’’It's nothing. Then, Sieg-kun, let's meet again at the Gardens.’’
After bidding farewell to him with a smile, Ruler turned her back on Sieg and Rider of Black. She went to board the plane that Fiore had instructed her to, and Sieg tilted his head in puzzlement as he saw her off.
’’Is it just me, or did she seem like she wanted to say something?’’
’’If she had something she wanted to say, Ruler would properly say it. Just now, she probably had something she wanted to say but couldn't.’’
’’Do you know what it is, Rider?’’
’’I don't. Ah, but, well ’’
Rider looked at Sieg with a pleased expression.
’’She cares deeply for you. That much is certain!’’
Rider grinned and hit Sieg on the back, apparently amused by something. The hit didn't hurt, but Sieg coughed from having been taken by surprise.
She cares deeply for you. Sieg repeated those words in his mind. Just the fact that she cared deeply for a homunculus like him made him feel happy somehow.
’’Now then, Master. Let's get going too!’’
’’Yeah... Let's go, Rider.’’
Sieg swore to himself that he would survive this battle. He had to properly ascertain the right timing to use his remaining three transformations no, if he followed Ruler's advice, then it was only two transformations.
When they boarded the plane, the interior was naturally empty of any other people. His curiosity-filled Servant went to peek at the golem in the cockpit, but Sieg wasn't all that interested himself and so just chose a random seat to sit down and wait for their departure.
As he looked around the plane, what caught his eye was an Ouija board that clearly didn't belong in an airplane. The board had old-style alphabet letters and numbers carved into its surface. Attached on top of it was a needle like that of a record player and a cable, and the other end of the cable was attached to an old-fashioned metal pipe. Sieg surmised that it was a wireless communicator used by magi.
Besides the board, there wasn't anything else in the plane that had been added or remodelled. There were no defenses against magecraft installed either... Though, considering the power of their enemy, even if Fiore had spent Yggdmillennia's entire fortune on reinforcing and upgrading the planes, it would only increase the time it took for the planes to be destroyed from ten seconds to fifteen seconds.
Though Sieg had some basic knowledge about airplanes, he hadn't thought the interior would be so big and spacious. A flight spell was so simple that even a novice magus could learn it. But it had taken ordinary humans two thousand years to create this kind of aircraft without magecraft.
Their advancement was slow, but certain. Meanwhile, magecraft kept going further and further beyond humanity's limits but where was that path leading to now?
’’Sorry for making you wait.’’
As Sieg was internally marveling over the differences between science and magecraft, Rider came back from the cockpit. He cheerfully reported that a big stone spider-like golem was in the pilot's seat.
’’It's almost time, Master.’’
Sitting in the seat next to Sieg, Rider waved his legs up and down in unconstrained excitement.
’’Ah, right, it's probably better to summon him now. Come out, Hippogriff!’’
Before Sieg could stop him, Rider summoned his hippogriff. The materialized hippogriff was, as expected, confused by his current surroundings and gazed over the cramped plane interior restlessly.
Seeming to be well trained, the hippogriff sat down, conspicuously destroying several seats in his way in the process.
’’All that's left is the book.’’
Rider materialized his Noble Phantasm Luna Break Manual: Universal Magic Guide (Temporary Name). Both the hippogriff and the time were Noble Phantasms containing enormous power, and as a result they were easy to detect if the Red Servants choose to search for prana signatures.
This was another part of Fiore's plan. Both Archer of Black and Ruler were powerful Servants with strong prana signatures. By having them each protect different planes, it made it harder for the Red camp to concentrate their attacks on a single target.
Archer of Black would intercept Rider of Red and Ruler would intercept Archer and Lancer of Red. And Rider of Black would tackle Assassin of Red's temple Noble Phantasm, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Aerial Gardens of Vanity, as a rematch after his defeat against her last time.
However, he had been shot down completely after a single attack last time. Therefore this time, he had to draw out the tome's true name.
’’...Ah. Looks like we're about to depart.’’
Rider noticed that the plane had begun to move. Sieg, who'd been reading the in-flight manual to kill time, dutifully put on his seat belt.
’’Is there any point in that?’’ asked Rider.
’’Probably not. If the plane falls, it'll be due to a Servant's attack, and even if it falls without being destroyed, you'll save me, right, Rider?’’
’’Ahaha, of course.’’
As they chatted nonchalantly, they felt a slight pressure weigh down on their bodies. The jumbo jet's four giant turbo fan engines began to roar loudly.
Suddenly, the Ouija board's needle began to move. The needle pointed at certain letters and numbers while releasing a creaking sound. After a while, a voice came out of the board.
’’Can you hear me, Rider?’’ said Fiore's voice.
Rider picked up the transmitter to respond.
’’I can hear you. Can you hear me? Testing, testing.’’
’’...Your voice is too loud. Please move your mouth away from the communicator a bit. Ruler has roughly grasped the location of the Hanging Gardens, but she can't say when and where we'll reach it. Make sure to keep on guard, okay?’’
’’I get it, I get it! It'll be fine, don't worry!’’
’’Naturally, you've already remembered the tome's true name, right?’’
’’Wait. What was that long pause for !?’’
Click. Rider flipped off the Ouija board's power and turned his face away in feigned innocence. Then, he seemed to remember Sieg's presence and trembled a little.
’’...It'll be fine, right?’’
’’Don't worry. I believe in you.’’
Sieg neither got angry nor laughed, but merely nodded with a serious and honest expression. Of course, he already knew that this was the most effective way to put pressure on Rider. The hippogriff squawked as if to express agreement with Sieg.
’’Ufufu. As long as my Master understands what kind of Servant I am, everything is good.’’
Rider of Black's smile was clearly stiff as he replied.
Immediately afterwards, the plane lifted off the ground gently. Sieg looked out the window the lump of metal they were riding was soaring through the sky at several hundred kilometers per hour.
Below, Bucharest became tiny in the blink of an eye. The people on the streets weren't even the size of dots at this point. Their forms were indistinguishable amidst the dark town with only the tiny blinking lights from lamps visible.
The plane ascended further. Eventually, nothing could be seen outside the window Sieg guessed that they were above the clouds now. The plane interior was brightly lit by the cabin lights, but the outside was painted completely black.
For the next while, all they could do was wait. Rider began eating treats he apparently got at the airport while sharing one with the hippogriff. The hippogriff scowled after one taste and spit it out, but Rider continued eating with a beaming smile.
After a while, the Ouija board began moving again another communication from someone was coming.
’’...Sieg-kun, are you there?’’
This time, Jeanne's voice came from the communicator. Sieg picked up the receiver.
’’I'm here. What is it?’’
Even though she was the one who had called, Ruler awkwardly sank into silence.
’’Umm why do airplanes fly?’’
Then, without warning, she threw out that fundamental question.
’’Err. They fly due to the flow of air released by the wings, I think. It'd take a while to fully explain, but why do you ask?’’
’’W-What would happen if the wings were torn off?’’
’’The plane would decelerate and fall. Of course, the same thing would happen if the engines stalled.’’
’’Wouldn't that be really serious!?’’
’’...It would. Though, we probably wouldn't have the time to think about that if it actually occurred.’’
More importantly, based on Ruler's stressed tone...
’’Ruler, could it be that you're bad with airplanes?’’
Her reply was quite vigorous.
’’I see... It's unfortunate, but try to endure it. We can't stop at this point, after all.’’
’’Uugh, I know that. I know, but ’’
Even if she understood, scary things were scary and unpleasant things were unpleasant. Sieg pondered a little, and then tried to speak to her reassuringly.
’’It'll be over soon... Though, it'd be a real problem if the Hanging Gardens is also no good for you, considering how it floats in in the sky.’’
’’Ah, that's not an issue for me. The Hanging Gardens is powered by magecraft and prana, after all.’’
From Sieg's perspective, something flying using magecraft was more untrustworthy than an airplane. A machine didn't make mistakes. A machine merely got work out and tired;as long as a proper machine was made properly using the proper procedure, it would merely abide by physical laws.
However, it was true that, from the perspective of someone from the 15th century, machines were probably far more untrustworthy than any kind of mysticism. It was common sense to them that metal cracked and broke. Humans had spent hundreds of years making durable metals and advanced to the point of making materials that could withstand precise flight but its appearance hadn't changed at all.
’’You should trust humans and the science that humans have cultivated a bit more. Well, I might not be in a position to say this as a homunculus myself, though...’’
After Sieg said that, Ruler turned silent, as if his words had caught her off guard somehow.
After a while, she let out a small sigh of admiration.
’’...You're right. There's no point if I don't believe in what humans had cultivated. The fact that airplanes fly is the crystallization of hard work that doesn't rely on magecraft. Making a lump of metal like this fly truly is a miracle!’’
’’Yeah, I get the feeling your trust in it is still a bit shaky, but as long as you understand ’’
Sieg cut off his words as he heard Ruler suddenly draw in a sharp breath.
’’Tell Rider to get ready.’’
The hippogriff growled in apparent warning.
’’ Oops, looks like this is it. We've arrived, Master.’’
Upon hearing Rider's grim tone, Sieg took a moment to take a deep breath. He felt like the air itself was burning. His acute sense of smell as a homunculus detected the huge swirl of prana lying ahead of them.
’’All right, get on, Master!’’
Rider lightly tapped the hippogriff's neck and lightly jumped on its back. Rider held out his hand, and Sieg firmly grabbed it.
The very existence of the temple Noble Phantasm Hanging Gardens of Babylon was miraculous in itself, but the basement room containing the 'altar' that stored the Greater Grail was an especially strange room within the gardens.
First, its size was clearly abnormal. Considering the total size of the Hanging Gardens, there was no way for there to be any space within so huge its wall were out of sight, but even someone with eyes accustomed to darkness couldn't see where this vast room ended. Most likely, space was being distorted here through some form of magecraft.
The floor and walls were all rough and uneven like mortar, except for the area at the center of the room, where the floor was completely smooth. Beyond a series of sun-dried brick stairs that led to the very center, the stolen Fuyuki Greater Grail hovered motionlessness in the air.
It faintly radiated a pale light, looking as if the moon itself had been summoned into this room.
But what was even more astonishing was this room's ceiling... in other words, the part that served as the 'sky' here.
There was 'water' running along the ceiling. It was an upside down lake. Upon its surface floated lotuses of a myriad of vibrant colors it was like looking at rainbow-colored sky.
This phenomenon was brought about by the concept of reversal that ruled over the Hanging Gardens. The water flowed upwards from the ceiling to the space above, and that water went on to fill the ceiling in the throne room.
In other words, the water-filled ceilings of this alter room and the throne room were linked, and it was impossible to tell which one was actually located in the basement of the gardens.
’’Dear me... I feel like my sense of reality turns topsy-turvy every time I come to this place.’’
Caster of Red smiled wryly as he looked at the ceiling. Ripples occasionally spread through the water in the sky due to the mana filling the Greater Grail.
Caster of Red Shakespeare was a man who'd been born in an era where magecraft and mysteries weren't openly exposed to the public. He'd had virtually no opportunity to witness shamans cause a miracle through prayers to their objects of worship or famous magi display impossible phenomena.
Clairvoyant witches and curses were commonplace in his stories but those were merely products of Shakespeare's imagination. The range of his imagination was limitless and could perform terrifyingly huge leaps that could picture anything in detail.
That's why it was rare for him to express amazement and awe like this. However, that was perhaps only natural considering the sheer abnormality of the Hanging Gardens and the Greater Grail.
Shirou Kotomine was standing directly below the Greater Grail in the center of the room.
Upon noticing Caster's arrival, Shirou lightly waved his hand in greeting.
’’Caster. My Noble Phantasms are ready.’’
’’Yes, Master. I've also finished preparing my Noble Phantasm.’’
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada's Noble Phantasms Right Hand, Evil Eater: Right Arm, Transgression Consumption and Left Hand, Xanadu Matrix: Left Arm, Foundation of Heaven's Gift.
Caster of Red's Noble Phantasm First Folio: Let the Curtains Rise to Thunderous Applause.
Their respective Noble Phantasms were neither weapons bestowed by the gods nor famous mounts obtained during adventures.
Shirou's Noble Phantasms were the materialization of the miracles he had bestowed onto people in life.
Caster of Red's Noble Phantasm was the [book] he had never managed to write during his lifetime.
Either way, these Noble Phantasms were merely the embodiment of their legends.
Neither one could face an army, let alone destroy a fortress. In terms of Servant rankings, they were both undoubtedly third-rate.
But, only at this very moment only when they combined their Noble Phantasms together was their value completely upturned.
A holy sword or a divine spear could destroy the Greater Grail.
But among the Servants in the Great Holy Grail War, the only ones who could take control of the Greater Grail were these two.
’’I've already connected the 'thread'. It's what supplies the prana to you and the other Servants, after all.’’
The only Servant who Shirou Kotomine actually supplied prana to as a Master was Assassin of Red. The other Red Servants were merely connected to him through the basic Master-Servant contract, while their prana supply was provided from the Greater Grail, which he'd himself linked to after stealing it.
Just creating that link had required significant time. He'd searched for a method to accomplish it for several days after stealing it and had only managed to finally form the prana supply connection through the help of Assassin.
An ordinary mage like Darnic, who wasn't from the great alchemist Einzbern family who had created the Greater Grail, had likely required decades just to touch the Grail's system.
But both the Einzberns and Darnic had merely adjusted its system rather than control the Greater Grails itself. In other words, they had merely activated or slightly improved its original functions.
Basically, their actions had been limited to switching it On and Off. But what Shirou was about to attempt was something fundamentally different.
To put it simply, he was going to create a new switch. He wasn't adjusting the system, but adding in a new system. He was remaking it into a Greater Grail that suited his needs.
Servants were summoned to the present age through the Greater Grail. Therefore, reprogramming the Greater Grail went beyond dangerous and into the realm of sheer insanity for a Servant like Shirou. Even if all his preparations were perfect.
That's why, to Shirou, this was his true battle. All the battles until now had merely been preparations and groundwork. Even if he lost them, he could still make another move.
But this was completely different. If Shirou lost here, he would come to an end. And if he was gone, everything would be brought to naught the salvation of humanity would end in failure.
The light tremble in Shirou's hands wasn't from excitement. It was from the fear of knowing everything would end if he lost.
’’ Even so, you're still here, Master.’’
’’Yes. After thinking and agonizing over the correct choice for sixty years, I chose to be here. Even if I feel fear, I have no regrets. Then Caster, let's begin the preparations but before that.’’
Shirou held out one arm towards Caster. His Command Spells were faintly glowing.
Caster's face immediately stiffened.
’’Caster. I respect and trust you as a writer from the bottom of my heart. And that's precisely why I understand. You surely want to write a tragedy. Therefore, this is a necessary piece of insurance.’’
With a radiant smile, Shirou used up a Command Spell.
’’I order you with a Command Spell. Caster, don't write a tragedy for my story.’’
The expended Command Spell bounded Caster like a chain.
The Command was an order with absolute authority created by the Makiri and capable of firmly binding not only a Servant's body but even their mind. And wording the order not as 'forbidding betrayal', but as 'not writing a tragedy', made it bind Caster of Red even more tightly.
’’Master... Such treatment is too awful. This is cruel, far too cruel.’’
Caster of Red loudly lamented but that was only natural.
’’No, I already told you, remember? I trust you as a writer. You want to write a tragedy. But if I questioned you about it, you would have to lie. So I never once asked you 'Do you want to write a tragedy?' until now... If never questioned, you would have no reason to lie, after all.’’
Despite his groaning, Caster of Red had to acknowledge that. It would be a lie if he said that he didn't intend to write a tragedy. He had thought about not writing one but when the time came to write, his pen would naturally plunge towards writing a tragedy on its own. The only way to prevent that was for him to decide to write a comedy from the start.
Caster loudly sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
’’Very well, I will do as you wish. After all, [Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head].’’
’’Thank you. I thought restricting the genre of a story would be rude towards the most famous writer known today, though.’’
’’Fufu, being called a famous writer is embarrassing. I'd prefer it if you gave me such praise after reading my works ’’
’’Yes, I made sure to read your Four Great Tragedies, at least, before today. That's why I decided to use a Command Spell.’’
What a blunder, thought Caster as he held his head in his hands at the irony. Perhaps I shouldn't have told him to read my works... No, no, having others read one's stories is precisely what makes a writer a writer.
In the first place, this man had already experienced the worst possible tragedy. The thirty-seven thousand people who followed him were massacred and he lost his own life as well. His was a tale of crawling out from the pit of despair and overturning that fate of misfortune.
In that case he had to continue to climb up even now. Even if God allowed him to walk away from his path in this situation, a writer never would.
’’I promise to use all my might to write a happy ending instead of a tragedy, Master.’’
’’Thank you, and sorry for the imposition... Now then, let's begin.’’
’’ You're so slow. I was wondering when you would finally start.’’
Assassin communicated her clear displeasure through telepathy. Her words were heard by Caster of Red as well. Shirou looked up at the water canopy and apologized with a smile.
’’Sorry. We're beginning now.’’
’’Worst comes to worst, I will discard you. Understood?’’
How terrifying, thought Caster with a slight chill down his back. There was not an even the smallest trace of emotion in her words, words which a Servant should never direct at their Master under any circumstances.
’’Of course. That's only natural.’’
...And even more terrifying was Shirou's reply, far too bright in face of such unfeeling and merciless words.
He wasn't unworried because he thought his Servant wouldn't do such a thing. There was no way that Assassin was that naïve. In the worst case scenario, she really would choose to abandon him in order to protect herself.
Which one could be considered madder, a Servant who would unhesitantly betray her Master or a Master who would happily accept that?
’’Good. Then begin, Shirou. And win. Failure is not allowed.’’
Assassin's words remained unfeeling, but Shirou Kotomine expressed gratitude from the bottom of his heart.
’’ Thank you, Assassin.’’
Shirou smoothly took of his stela and mantle. He took off his cassock and undershirt as well, leaving his upper body naked. His tanned skin had countless sword scars and fire burns carved into it. In Caster's eyes, his body expressed great sorrow rather than ugliness.
Shirou then lifted his arms up above him. He opened his palms, as if to make the Greater Grail his by grabbing it.
His arms were filled with a different radiance than that of the faintly shining Command Spells Shirou Kotomine's miracle, his dual Noble Phantasms, were activating.
’’Then I'll start first.’’
Shirou began to walk with graceful footsteps towards the Greater Grail hovering in the air. As Caster watched him, he was suddenly beset by the illusion that Shirou was walking on a staircase made of corpses.
The corpses that served as building material for the stairs were the victims who had been eradicated for believing in a faith different from the native religion and following Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. They didn't feel sadness at being trodden over. In fact, it was clear that they felt joy, even.
They were grateful from the bottom of their hearts that they'd become sacrifices for saving the world . It was an illusion, just an illusion, but if these corpses from the past knew of what was happening now, wouldn't they say the same thing?
That was what Caster of Red believed.
As he walked towards the canopy and the Holy Grail, Shirou thought back on the seventeen years of his first life and the sixty years of his second life.
He had devoted everything for this moment. He had lived with the resolve to sacrifice everything.
Right now, hundreds of millions of lives, and human goodness itself, rested on his shoulders. It was so heavy he felt like was going to be crushed, but there was no sign of agony on his face.
I won't lose.
Shirou took the first step, and connected to the Greater Grail through the 'thread' he'd made while establishing a prana supply connection
Instantly, his world turned upside down.
His existence was instantly fused with it. He was overcome by a comfortable feeling like when one is about to fall asleep, and the sensation continued infinitely. He was engulfed by something soft, and kept sinking without end down, down, down.
Any malice, no matter how strong, would vanish here.
Any desire to kill, no matter how great, would be useless in the face of this.
This entire space, filled with happiness, peace, pleasure, order and purity all mixed together, felt like sweet milk dripping over his entire body.
His brain's functions halted.
His brain's functions became unnecessary.
Thought and instinct are unneeded. So melt away. Melt away and become one with it, until you're reduced to mere sweet, formless milk
’’...You're in my way.’’
Shirou rejected that supreme pleasure with extreme ease. He scrunched his face at the great pain that ran through his arms, but he felt relieved at the same time.
Shirou had touched this several times while linking with the Grail to connect the prana supply. He had clearly understood from those brief touches that he would likely become unable to think of anything and merely dissolve into it if he plunged his entire body into it. To prevent that, he'd made his arms feel pain. The reproduced pain came from the despair which he'd experienced in the past and his black rage which sought to overcome it.
Shirou Kotomine couldn't forgive humans. He couldn't forgive human evil, nor human goodness either. It's precisely because humans possessing contradicting aspects of good and evil, greed and compassion, that they continue to exist as beings that repeat an endless spiral.
...He couldn't forgive that. As long as he had that rage and pain, Shirou could withstand even such comfortable pleasure. The interior of the Greater Grail was still swirling with enormous amounts of prana undyed by anything.
To maintain his 'self' while inside the Greater Grail was the first trial.
Images of various scenes whirled around Shirou like a revolving lantern. It reminded Shirou of a fast-forwarded film.
The images appeared to show the history of the Einzberns. Their origins went back two thousand years, and the start of their quest began one thousand years ago. They were a clan that had repeated a trial-and-error process of every possible method for the sake of their dream of completing the Holy Grail.
They glorified every gruesome sacrifice they made and flung off every setback. Simply calling it 'obsession' wasn't sufficient;in fact, their struggles could even be likened to the journey of a saint.
Endless days without joy, of only battling with despair head on. The span of one thousand years made it seem like madness, but in truth it was merely a simple repetition of the same process.
Trial and failure, setback and restart. Even though it wasn't even clear whether they were moving forward or backwards, they just relentlessly continued to walk on.
Shirou honestly felt respect for them at the sight and smiled wryly at the same time.
Receiving sympathy from someone like him who wasn't even a member of the Einzberns was merely a bother for them.
Even more so since he was the culprit who had stolen their Greater Grail.
It's true that the sight of their history was moving but that's all it was, nothing more and nothing less. He remained silent until the fast-forwarded film ended.
A pale light engulfed the world once more. If he let his attention slip, he would dissolve in it, so he had to keep affirming his own existence every second.
There was no real direction here. Ahead laid the origin point of the Greater Grail. As he reinforced his strong determination to reach there, he began to walk.
Normally, the Greater Grail activated by using the Lesser Grail as fuel after it had absorbed the souls of Heroic Spirits. Once activated, the Greater Grail would create energy from it. Seven Servants were needed to fully activate it but no Servants souls were absorbed into the current Lesser Grail yet.
The Lesser Grail, which had a hole gouged into it, was sealed in a small room within the gardens, where the concept of 'up and down' didn't exist, and was continuously leaking out prana. No matter how many times the souls of Servant entered it, they would keep leaking out from the hole. But the leaked souls were unable to follow gravity in the room, and so they continued to be absorbed into the Lesser Grail and leak out again from the hole in an endless cycle.
Currently, Saber of Black, Lancer of Black, Berserker of Black, Caster of Black, Assassin of Black and Berserker of Red had all been killed, so the Greater Grail would automatically activate using the Lesser Grail as fuel after one more Servant was killed. This setup with the Lesser Grail was meant to prevent that.
If the Lesser Grail was destroyed, the Greater Grail might sense the abnormality and malfunction in some way. But if Shirou left it to operate normally, the Greater Grail would activate before he could finish changing its system.
Even he wouldn't be able to touch the Greater Grail once it fully activated. He couldn't let it activate not yet, at least.
Shirou Kotomine wasn't a magus. But still, he'd had sixty years to work on his objective. At this point, he was pretty much as knowledgeable as possible on the Holy Grail War and the magecraft connected to it.
With what he'd learned, he had to agree that the Greater Grail truly was the ultimate wish-granting device whose almighty power reached God's domain. Its system, having been designed minutely and elaborately to an abnormally high degree, definitely had the power to grant any Master's wish and even reach the ****.
But no matter how enormous, divine and almighty it was, what lay at the core of this Greater Grail was a single woman.
Her name was Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern. The head of the Einzberns who had become the nucleus of the Greater Grail.
The Saint of Winter who had sacrificed her own life and given up everything for the sake of realizing a miracle (Sorcery) that was Shirou Kotomine's goal and destination. She held all of the grail's functions under her control.
There are stories of weapons that were made by sacrificing human lives, enchanted into true cursed swords by throwing a maiden into the hot molten iron.
But the Greater Grail was different from those. The Justeaze wasn't sacrificed to the Greater Grail. First, Justeaze existed, and then she became the Greater Grail.
Yes. The Greater Grail was both an almighty wish-granting device and also a giant pipeline (Magic Circuits) for the sake of reproducing the lost miracle of the Einzberns.
Normally, three things were necessary for a magus to perform magecraft. A spell foundation, Magic Circuits and prana. A spell foundation was the foundational system needed for any form of magecraft. Magi produced prana through the inner pathways known as Magic Circuits and performed spells based on a specific foundation.
And it was no different from the Greater Grail. This enormous Holy Grail was basically a cluster of Magic Circuits, and it could produce any miracle by using prana it absorbed from leylines.
The title almighty wish-granting device wasn't just for show. The Greater Grail was a meticulously-made and extremely precise device that contained an enormous store of prana worthy of being called 'almighty'.
But Amakusa Shirou Tokisada knew. The Greater Grail was impartial. Justeaze's personality was already gone only her Magic Circuits still lived.
No matter what wish it was asked from the outside, the Holy Grail would grant it all. Then, if Shirou asked it to 'save humanity' from outside of it, would the Greater Grail bring about that salvation?
Of course, the answer is no.
The Greater Grail can't do what's impossible. That's why Shirou was risking his very life to invade the Greater Grail. He had a wish that was impossible for even the Greater Grail in that case, he merely had to overwrite its system from the inside and forcefully make the Greater Grail grant it.
He was attempting to adjust and reprogram the Greater Grail itself, something that would never be allowed in a normal Holy Grail War.
If it wouldn't grant his wish, then the Holy Grail was the one that was mistaken. So he would merely correct it.
Shirou walked towards what he had long sought which surely lay beyond this expanse.
Several hours had already passed since Shirou had dived into the Greater Grail. He would probably require an even more considerable amount of time to complete his task. The Greater Grail was a work of art on the level of the divine, and Shirou was trying to modify it from its very foundation. There was no way he would finish quickly.
For the time being, Caster had returned to his study and resumed writing. It was then that he received a telepathic message from Assassin of Red.
’’Caster, has Master already dived in?’’
’’Yes. Have there been any changes to his prana?’’
’’No. There've been no changes to the prana being supplied to us and the prana accumulating in the Hanging Gardens from him. I suppose this means that, even if the interior of the Greater Grail is another world entirely, the Line connecting Master and Servant can't be severed so easily.’’
Shirou had been most concerned about the moment he dived into the Greater Grail.
If his link to the rest of the world was cut off, everything would immediately fall apart.
’’In that case, I shall continue with my writing.’’
’’Wait, Caster... There's one thing I want to ask you. Is the end that you wish for my Master glory, or failure?’’
Caster just barely managed to stop himself from doing a spit take at those words.
’’Glory, of course.’’
’’I know, but I'm making sure just in case. If things go wrong and this plan is setback because of you, I'll have you take responsibility quite painfully so.’’
’’O Empress, have no fear. Our Master took precautions against that just earlier with a Command Spell. To my bitter disappointment... Ah, no, I of course didn't have any intention of writing a tragedy from the start, though!’’
’’...Hmph. As if I could trust the words of a clown like you. Listen well, Caster. Your value as a writer lies only in the books you write. And the moment I judge that your books are not beneficial to us, I will lose any reason to keep you alive.’’
Caster felt as if he'd been captured by a viscous carnivorous plant though of course he kept that thought to himself.
If he said the wrong answer, he would be melted and digested in an instant. Assassin of Red was most likely the most skilled Servant in terms of cruelty in the Great Holy Grail War.
From what Caster saw, Assassin of Red was likely always evaluating whether to stealthily kill anyone and everyone in this world, including even her own Master. Even if someone had no killing intent and only the slightest ill will towards her if she judged from their every word and attitude that they would cause harm to her, she would unhesitantly move to assassinate them.
This was the greatest reason why Rider and Archer kept their distance from Assassin. Of course, the fact that she was a figure of authority with the position of empress was part of it, but more importantly, she was always planning to kill them from the start. Telling them to get along with her was the height of difficulty.
That's why the two of them detested her. The neutral Lancer should have noticed the empress' nature as well. However, he merely thought 'That's just how she is' and accepted it without reproach.
And to Caster, it was only natural that she be that way.
She was an empress who reigned far above others. She definitely wasn't a weakling, but she was better described as a person of undisputable and absolute authority than a strong warrior. And as a woman who had tricked and deceived everyone throughout her life, it was only self-evident that she wouldn't let her guard down even the slightest bit in the presence of others.
’’I'd like to fervently advocate my existential worth as a court jester. I assure you that, while my books and writings are always imperfect, that is precisely what makes them beautiful stories.’’
’’Imperfect? Not perfect?’’
’’That is only natural, O Empress of Assyria. A perfect existence, a perfect human being, and a perfect story constructed through only order and logic are completely shitty and boring! [My salad days, when I was greenin judgement, cold in blood!] My stories are imperfect and therefore beautiful, are imperfect and therefore genuinely entertaining. Failures means death? I don't mind! There's a chance of failure, and we will have to pay the price if that happens! And that's precisely why I can rouse myself to excitement and write a masterpiece.’’
’’Enough! Even through telepathy, your voice is loud and grating! I'll repeat myself one more time: failure is not allowed. Make sure to write Shirou's Amakusa Shirou Tokisada's story right until the end.’’
Caster coolly smiled at those words, and chose that moment to pose a question he'd wanted to ask for a while now.
After all, their Master wasn't present right now. This was his best chance to hear her true feelings.
’’Then allow me to ask you in return. O Empress, which do you want? Would you rather our Master's dearest wish be realized, or would you enjoy trampling over his wish more?’’
For a brief instant, Assassin's breathing stopped as she was caught completely off guard by the question.
’’The realization of his wish, obviously. A Servant serves their Master, after all.’’
Though silent, Assassin was clearly dissatisfied by Caster's response.
He was definitely the weakest of the remaining Servants that currently survived, and yet he feared no one.
’’Such a perfunctory answer! Assassin, I'm asking if you want to see his destruction or not. Now, answer me!’’
Pierced by the Caster's words, Assassin realized that this was actually a serious question for a clown like him.
In that case, she also had to answer sincerely as an empress. If she spoke falsely, that would make her an even worse fool than a clown.
There were no retainers of hers present, so she had no choice but to reveal her true feelings. But, strangely enough, that seemed like an act of tremendous courage to her. But she had no one to rely on. Caster wouldn't overlook her answer if she tried fawning upon him.
Focusing her nerves like never before, Assassin stripped away her many layers of falsehood and spoke the truth.
’’ I won't deny that part of me wants to see him fail. I'm a woman who has no interest in virtue and generosity and enjoys the destruction and despair of others, after all. I've seen kings proud of their power fall into unsightliness and brave generals despair and run away in fear. But I've yet to see the despair of a saint. So I will admit that I want to see it.’’
Assassin chuckled. Caster urged her to continue by remaining silent. A clown sometimes had to be patient and listen to a king's words.
’’But there's something else I want to see. The scene that that man wishes to witness from the bottom of his heart. The salvation of humanity. A possibility that no one seriously considers, and that even heroes and saints have given up on. The same goes for me too. As someone who stands above others, I have witnessed various things, like untimely death, dazzling beauty, ugliness, pure integrity but that is the one thing I have never seen. It might be boring. It's possible that it might be a dull and dreary ending. But I'll never know unless I see it first.’’
’’I see. In other words, you mean to say that you want to see that ending not out of loyalty to your Master, but out of pure curiosity.’’
’’Exactly. Of course, I also have my own wish to 'rule'. But, more than anything else right now, I'm looking forwarding to seeing how far that man will go.’’
Just like a child playing with a toy Caster just barely stopped himself from saying that out loud. Most likely, he'd be killed if he did.
’’It seems you were about to say something insolent, but you did well to hold back for a man like you. As a reward for your silence, I'll forgive you.’’
Suddenly, Caster felt like a line was cut in his mind as Assassin closed the telepathic communication. But it was then that Caster remembered that he'd forgotten to ask one last question.
’’What a blunder. I should have asked her if I could add in the love story of an empress. Now then, what to do well, I'll just write it anyway. This will be well-received by readers, for sure.’’
Shakespeare took out a paper from his breast pocket and scribbled a note on it.
The empress fell in love.
And thus, he went to resume writing the main plot.
Since he was linked to Amakusa Shirou Tokisada as a Servant, he was able to record what happened around Shirou and Shirou's own mental state in great detail with his Master's permission.
This meant that his Master's thoughts and feelings were all laid bare to him, something a normal Master would never allow.
And of course, Shirou Kotomine was far from ordinary.
Shakespeare was indisputably the most famous playwright in the world. Anyone who made him their Servant would be forced to make the ultimate choice.
Would they allow him to write down their story, encompassing their thoughts, habits and entire life, or not?
If they allowed it, Shakespeare would recount and extol their extraordinary life as far as his voice could carry.
And that story would sublimate into a Noble Phantasm. Shakespeare's pen could affect even events and phenomena, no matter how absurd or preposterous it may be. The only thing he couldn't write were uninteresting events. If he believed something was interesting as a writer, fate itself would be overturned to make it happen.
He wrote, wrote, and wrote.
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada was encountering various hardships and trials within the Greater Grail.
His dead father, his dead mother, and the comrades who had sworn to stand by his side.
All of them were appealing to him.
Take up a sword in your hand and use it. We have that right. You have the responsibility to avenge us
Even while beset by anguish, he continued onward.
Then, if his comrades failed, what about his enemies?
The ones who had violated, trampled and thoroughly disgraced his comrades while laughing, manifestations of this world's malignant cancer. They were more than enough to make someone give up and despair at humans.
In the face of them, Amakusa Shirou
Caster stopped his pen at the sudden tremor that rocked the gardens. The time was midnight. For a sudden tremor to occur in this situation there could only be one reason.
’’So you've come, holy maiden!’’
Heartily laughing, Caster stood up and ran out of his study.
’’It's a battle against time now. But our Master is ignoring sleep and hurrying to speed up time as much as possible. Even if they make it in time, we're protected by invincible swords and indomitable shields, and are encased in fortress as hard as a diamond. Now, what shall happen next!?’’
At almost exactly the same time, Assassin of Red opened her eyes as she sat upon her throne.
’’ Hmm, so they've come.’’
She'd anticipated the enemies to come eventually, but they were slightly later than she'd predicted. Did their preparations take more time than expected, or was there another reason for their late arrival?
Either way, it didn't change what had to be done.
’’Archer, Rider... They've arrived. Intercept them. I don't know what means of flight they used to get here, but there's nothing that can withstand your attacks. Rider, crush them with your flying chariot.’’
’’Ah, I plan to, but it'll probably take some time to take them all down.’’
’’...What? Did they use such a large-scale spell?’’
’’You'll understand if you see.’’
Assassin projected an image of the outside world onto the throne room's ceiling and was dumbfounded by what she saw.
’’What is this ?’’
From the knowledge she'd been given by the Holy Grail, Assassin knew what an airplane was. A mechanical bird that petty humans had put together somehow or other to fly through the sky.
They were heading towards the gardens using that. That much was fine. It was a far more rational choice than using an enchanted tool that could go malfunction. But there were far, far too many of them.
There were a total of ten large jumbo jets, approaching the Hanging Gardens like a flock of ravens. The prana signatures coming from them were vague and ambiguous, making it impossible to precisely detect who and what was on each plane.
’’Those damn Black Servants...!!’’
Archer of Black was standing on the roof of one of the planes. His preparations for battle were already complete and he was searching through the surrounding skies with eyes that overlooked nothing.
Rider of Black was riding on top of the plane next to Archer's. He was atop his hippogriff, with the homunculus who was his new Master sitting behind him.
And standing atop the center plane was the arbitrator of the Great Holy Grail War and the absolute enemy of the Red camp. The young woman who was acknowledged as a true saint and who opposed the young man who never managed to become a saint.
Class Ruler Jeanne d'Arc.
’’Relying on pure numbers... Hmph, what a foolish plan. But that's precisely what makes it hard to deal with.’’
The ten planes were approaching fast, so close they were almost on the verge of colliding with the Hanging Gardens. But conversely, felling one plane wouldn't be enough to destroy their foothold. With Archer and Ruler's physical abilities, they could jump to the next plane before the one they stood on fell.
’’However... even that's not enough to approach my Hanging Gardens.’’
It was true that Assassin would have some difficulty dealing with this. But that was all. She could destroy all those lumps of iron merely by activating the garden's defense functions.
However that wouldn't be tasteful. Proudly displaying her great power was soothing in its own way, but the other heroes of the Red camp wouldn't agree to just slaughtering the enemy like that.
’’Rider. I don't intend to attack until the enemy reaches a certain distance near the gardens. However ’’
’’Hey, Miss Empress, is that supposed to mean that I'll also get caught in the crossfire if I get close too?’’
’’Precisely. Does that dissatisfy you?’’ Assassin of Red replied calmly.
Rider of Red happily accepted that provocation.
’’No, no problem at all... I'll kill Archer of Black, and while I'm at it, I'll take apart those flying pieces of scrap iron too.’’
Rider's voice, like that of a ferocious beast, caused a chill to run down Assassin's back.
A demi-god born from a hero and a goddess, the great hero of the Trojan War but if you peeled those titles away, he was actually a monster who devoted everything to battle.
’’Very well, I'll leave it to you.’’
However, that was an indispensable component for a hero. Cruelty, arrogance and a sense of pride that asserted that one's strength was absolute were what made heroes truly heroes.
’’Archer. I'll leave the rear support to you. Make sure to shoot down each one of those planes.’’
’’...No. I'm going to kill that annoying girl first.’’
Archer of Red's voice sounded as if it rang out from the very depths of the earth. Rider's voice had been that of a beast excited in a blazing frenzy, filled with only joy the pure delight at fighting someone strong.
But Archer of Red's voice was different. It was clearly filled with hatred, decisively different from the cruel cheerfulness that most heroes possessed.
It was only natural that Assassin furrowed her brow suspiciously. From her point of view, Archer of Red was the type of hero who was easy to understand.
She enjoyed fighting the strong, had no dislike for battle in and of itself, and had no interest in good and evil or government. She treasured invisible things like honor and pride
If she hated someone, it would only be the killer of her loved ones. However Ruler the holy maiden of Orleans, Jeanne d'Arc was far from being a person who would do such a thing. In the first place, Archer of Red shouldn't have had anyone she cared about enough to love in this world.
’’I'll kill that woman! I have to kill that filthy murderer who pretends to be a saint. Don't get in my way, Assassin...!’’
And yet Archer's voice was filled with rage.
Assassin understood. This kind of hatred couldn't be controlled. It was the kind that took precedence over anything, most likely making Archer deem not only the Red camp but even her own life meaningless in comparison.
Such hatred always caused chaos on the battlefield. Of course, if she could successfully defeat Ruler, then it wasn't a problem.
’’Let her be, Miss Empress. Either way, my own opponent remains Archer of Black.’’
Rider interjected into the telepathic conversation. Just as he said, Rider's pride made him desire to fight his former teacher.
’’...Very well. Rider of Black likely intends to try and invade the gardens with that meager monster of his. I'll take care of him.’’
In her eyes, Rider of Black was no more a threat than a fly.
’’Lancer, you are to remain on standby until any of them manage to board. I'm busy with controlling the gardens, and it goes without saying that Caster cannot be relied upon. You're entrusted with the final defense line.’’
Hearing that quiet reply made Assassin feel relieved. Even if one of the three Red Servants in charge of intercepting the enemy were defeated in the worst case scenario, as long as he was here the enemy wouldn't be able to take even a single step near the Greater Grail.
’’In that case slaughter them. The Greater Grail is ours!!’’
’’Aye!’’ Rider and Archer replied affirmatively.
The Black camp would win this battle if they reached the gardens.
And the Red camp would win if they prevented them from reaching the gardens.
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada aimed to save humanity, while Jeanne d'Arc was trying to prevent him from doing so. The final battle between the two sides began in a magnificent manner at the dead of night, seven thousand and five hundred meters above the Black Sea.
The holy flag in her hands fluttered violently in the fierce and piercingly cold wind. The young woman stood majestically atop one of the planes.
The superb view around her was a hell in the sky where ordinary humans couldn't exist.
Most likely, the prana from the Hanging Gardens was interfering and causing the planes to slow down the more they approached, with their current velocity now at a mere three hundred kilometers an hour. However, it was still fast enough that any human would be immediately blown off by the violent headwind. But as a Servant, Ruler was able to concentrate prana into her feet to remain firmly standing on the airplane's roof.
She was filled with maddening worry, but for this moment alone she concentrated on only what was in front of her. Both now and in the past, her duty was to be the flag bearer to receive all attacks onto herself.
That was her contract (curse). As long as she stood holding this flag, she wouldn't lose to any hero from any time or place.
Not conforming to any of these seven classes, she was the aloof, absolute arbitrator.
Ruler Jeanne d'Arc stood at the vanguard just as she had in her first life.
In the sky at high altitudes that surpassed human reach, the Black camp at last caught sight of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
’’ I see it!’’
’’Yes, me too.’’
’’I can see it too! Wow, it's an amazing sight no matter how many times I see it!’’
Inwardly, Ruler agreed with Rider of Black.
Assassin of Red's Hanging Gardens could be best described as a huge, gold-shining birdcage. Seeing it fly through the sky was a wondrous sight straight out of fantasy.
And that birdcage was protected by not only the Red Servants, but also eleven pure black plates over twenty meters in length floating around the gardens, the Tiamutomu Umu: Eleven Black Coffins1 which had shot Rider of Black down to the ground before.
In contrast, Ruler and the others were riding giant birds of steel flying straight towards the Hanging Gardens at full speed. Fortunately, the trajectory of the planes was extremely stable. Strangely enough, despite having been so nervous inside the plane, Ruler was now the height of calm as she stood on its roof.
It appeared that her basis of fear lay with whether or not she could see the outside scenery.
Ah, how truly like a bumpkin country girl She even had the composure to think such foolish jokes.
But it was about time for the laughter and smiles to end. What waited ahead was every form of despair that none could laugh at. And that was precisely why she was smiling now while she could.
She smiled humorously as she thought of Rider of Black, she smiled pleasantly at the charming relationship between Archer of Black and his Master, she smiled in admiration at the courage of Fiore's younger brother and lastly, she wore a different smile as she thought of him.
Then, she suddenly stopped smiling.
Her gazes narrowed and turned grim. With her holy flag raised in one hand, she shouted out boldly and loudly.
’’Amakusa Shirou Tokisada !’’
Ruler yelled out his name but the one to respond was not him, but his Servant, Assassin of Red.
’’What an unsightly howl. My Master is busy accomplishing the 'salvation of humanity' with the Greater Grail. Come, you might still make it in time if you hurry, you know?’’
The telepathic communication forcefully rang through her mind, annoyingly loud.
But there was more important information there to be concerned with.
’’...He seriously intends to save humanity?’’
In response to Ruler's question, Assassin snickered.
’’Who knows? Whatever the results of his actions are, it is no concern of mine. If you want to stop my Master, you'll have to reach him. Though... only if you manage to get past the Red Servants first!’’
Suddenly, an intense light flashed through the sky from the Hanging Gardens. That incredible torrent of prana it was the three-horse chariot ridden by Rider of Red, the steeds neighing as they soared through the sky.
’’Come, Archer of Black! It's the promised time. Let's enjoy ourselves!’’
Soaring through the dark sky in a zigzagging pattern like a huge snake, Rider of Red charged at Archer of Black !
Archer of Black's eyesight possessed clairvoyance that could accurately grasp everything even in the midst of a pitch black night, but it was next to impossible even for his eyes to follow Rider of Red's chariot. Whether it be strength, technique or speed, when one of these abilities in battle reached a level that far surpassed common sense, they became more than mere stat numbers they were pure 'weapons' in their own right.
In that regard, the speed of Rider of Red's chariot truly was a weapon.
It was impossible to avoid and impossible to defend against, and its charging power was tremendous. It was virtually perfect in both attack and defense one of the pinnacles of what heroes could accomplish.
Moreover, Rider's steeds weren't ordinary horses. Two were the immortal divine hoses Xanthus and Balius, given to him by the sea god Poseidon, and the third was Pedasos, the famous horse he obtained when capturing the city of Eetion.
The chariot's name was Troias Tragoidia: Tempestuous Immortal Chariot. It was a Noble Phantasm possessing divine speed that could overtake everything in this world.
Who could possibly stop this comet that soared across the sky at light speed? Any living being that touched it would be instantly turned into crimson paste. And the same applied even to giant whale-sized precision machines created by humans.
The chariot soared up and then dropped down towards one of the airplanes like a shooting star. Naturally, he was aiming for the plane Archer of Black was standing on.
’’I've got you!!’’
Rider of Red's yell was filled with confidence. Just as he'd said earlier, airplanes were mere scrap iron before him.
The unpleasant sound of metal tearing apart rang through the air. Its fuselage was pierced during impact and the two torn halves of the planes lost control and immediately fell toward the sea below.
Rider didn't even have to watch to know that it would crash against the sea and shatter into thousands of small pieces. But there was no sign of Archer of Black on the felled plane. Figuring he had moved to one of the other planes next to it, Rider temporarily stopped his chariot and looked around around but at that instant, one of his steeds neighed.
Rider reflexively turned around and he saw Archer of Black holding his bow ready and aiming straight at him. No, wrong. He had already fired an arrow!
It was virtually impossible to catch sight of an arrow shot on a night without moonlight and only the faint lights from the Hanging Gardens for illumination.
But Rider detected the swirl of prana and slight disturbance in the air, and he swiftly turned his head to the side.
Suddenly, the sound of grating teeth rang out Rider of Red smiled fearlessly. Even Archer of Black was left speechless by what he'd done.
Rider had caught and crushed the arrow between his teeth. He had predicted that it was aimed for his forehead and, instead of avoiding it, stopped it head on.
’’So there you are!!’’
Rider of Red whipped at his steeds and resumed charging his 'chariot' that was more like a jackhammer.
His acceleration pierced the sound barrier in a mere instant. He flew in a spiral and ascended and then did a sudden descent. The plane Archer of Black was standing on was crushed as if by a giant fist from the heavens.
Archer of Black ran and jumped off the crushed plane and simultaneously fired mores arrows as he did so. He shot three arrows in quick succession, all aimed straight at the nape Rider's neck as he halted midair for an instant.
But that wasn't enough to stop the chariot. There was no way it could be stopped.
Just try and stop me, Archer of Black. Right now, I'm the indisputable fastest in the world!
The chariot charged as it cleaved through the darkness.
Archer of Black softly jumped onto another plane from the destroyed one, acting as if the dozens of meters between them and the whirling winds were nothing to him.
At the same time as he landed, he activated the program that had been installed in the piloting golem beforehand.
Just as Rider of Red moved to chase after him, the whole plane performed a barrel roll. The reversed underside of the plane served as a shield that blocked Archer of Black from Rider's sight. Archer used that chance to stealthily move to another plane again.
The plane blocking Rider's vision ascended, but Rider didn't chase after it.
Achilles wasn't the type to keep falling for cheap tricks. He saw through it Archer was no longer on the ascending plane and was now on another plane aiming at him!
Don't underestimate me. Rider of Red charged and crashed straight into the ascending plane a three hundred ton lump of metal. Archer of Black, who had drawn his bow in order to shoot Rider down along with the bait plane, was astonished at the sight.
It was one thing he Rider had merely pierced through the plane with his chariot. But... Archer couldn't believe that he was pushing the whole plane in front of him as he charged...!
However, in reality, this now turned the plane into a huge shield that protected Rider from Archer's arrows, and he was trying to crash it into Archer...!
Archer immediately leapt back while firing his nocked arrow. He used the enormous prana emitted by it as a form of propulsion, while the arrow itself simultaneously pierced through the plane with the force of a missile and destroyed it.
However, that didn't stop Rider of Red. He struck the wrecked pieces of the plane with his spear and even used punches and kicks to launch them as projectiles.
They were more like machine gun fire than pellets. Archer of Black was forced to retreat back even further.
Rider was certain that he was cornering Archer into a corner. His initial hesitation was gone now as well. The only thing that ruled his heart was the unimaginable joy of fighting the man he had once strived to match up to.
Rider wouldn't kill him. He would beat him. It was merely unavoidable that his opponent would die in the process. If he fought with all his strength and the result was the death of his enemy, then it couldn't be helped. His opponent was also surely excited at the prospect of beating him in return. They were fighting each other with everything they had. There was no room for sorrow there.
They ran, chased, shot and smashed. The great sage Chiron Archer of Black and the great hero Achilles Rider of Red. The two Servants 'used up' yet another two jumbo jets with no hesitation at all.
In just a few short minutes, six planes had already been destroyed. There were four left. At this rate, all the planes would be felled within several minutes, and the Black camp would be forced to retire from the Great Holy Grail War as a result.
Of course, Rider of Red was at full strength, and even if he was reluctant for their battle to end in such a boring manner, he would still accept it as something that couldn't be helped if it decided the battle.
Archer of Black didn't wish for such an ending. And he knew that Rider of Red was using all his strength and taking advantage of the situation as well.
And then at last, Archer's adjustments were completed.
’’That hateful woman has come.’’
’’That woman who killed those children has come.’’
Someone whispered those words. In response to that voice, Archer of Red grabbed her bow. She still hadn't realized that the whispers of the evil spirits had turned into her own words.
Low level evil spirits could only repeat the same whispers. They shouldn't have even have had the intelligence to change their words according to the situation.
So this was her own wish.
’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’ ’’Kill.’’
Archer of Red smiled gently at the whispers and kissed her blackened right arm.
’’Don't worry. I'll definitely kill that woman, that fraud of a saint.’’
Her killing intent had already become as sharp as a blade. Servants possessed strength and abilities that far surpassed humans, but at the same time, they were extremely human in nature.
Love strengthens people, and hatred grants even more power. Of course, both emotions could also lead to self-destruction at their most extreme but the power they granted was more than worth it to Archer of Red, even if it came at the price of her own destruction.
Atalanta laughed and knocked an arrow on her bow. Even in the pitch-black darkness of night, her eyes accurately locked onto Ruler.
Ruler was holding up her holy flag on top of an airplane in a fearless and majestic manner. Naturally, Assassin of Red activated the defense functions of the Hanging Gardens in response.
A barrage of EX rank of orbs of light was fired from the black plates in quick succession. Each one was as devastating as a meteor falling from the sky. Its pure destructive power which carved through the sky was worthy of being called [Anti-Army].
However, to put it another way, it was merely an interception spell that ’’had no merits besides its destructive power’’.
Ruler swung her flag at the flood of light orbs and just that was enough to make the concentrated prana disperse. Her EX rank Magic Resistance skill was part of it, but as expected Ruler's worst ability lay in that holy flag.
As long as the holy maiden continues to swing her flag, we will know no defeat.
The pure and simple faith of the soldiers who had followed her. That faith had spread across the world along with Jeanne d'Arc's fame and had taken form as a Noble Phantasm unique to the holy maiden.
It didn't matter that the length of her history was shallow compared to Rider, Archer and Assassin of Red. Jeanne d'Arc was a saint who was, without exaggeration, known by everyone in the world.
In that case, the flag she now held was capable of brushing aside any and all harm no matter where she was.
Archer of Red figured that Assassin of Red was surely furious right now. After all, even if the Hanging Gardens was 'vain', it was still her pride.
An unrivaled and invincible floating fortress that could crush all enemies. Heroes could win against a chariot. They could win against a flying horse, or maybe even a dragon.
But they couldn't win against a fortress. In the first place, the terms 'victory' and 'defeat' were meaningless in the face of a fortress.
A fortress was something to be invaded and interception attacks were meant to be dodged;smashing an interception attack head-on shouldn't be possible.
In concert with that angry shout, more blasts of light danced hysterically through the air. They were completely in Archer of Red's way. The barrage wasn't pointless, but it was too wasteful.
...However, though it was wasteful, it wasn't pointless.
Ruler was a top-class Servant, but she wasn't all powerful. Even without her Command Spells, she exceeded the average Servant, but she still had her limits.
That was why Ruler had chosen to run away back when she first confronted Shirou Kotomine. Even excluding Archer and Rider of Red whose allegiance hadn't been decided back then, if Shirou attacked her in concert with Lancer, Assassin and the yet-unseen Caster of Red, it was extremely likely she would have lost even if she used her Command Spells.
Even her holy flag Noble Phantasm wasn't invincible.
Archer of Red could see that, while it was very gradual, her flag was starting to crack and tear. It was likely the cost of preventing all attacks from coming near her.
Jeanne d'Arc wasn't invincible in her legend. Though there had been various tricks and evil schemes involved, she had been turned into a prisoner at the end of her life.
In that case, Archer would keep firing arrows until Ruler's body could no longer endure it and she finally died.
’’ Here I come, Ruler. I'll feed your corpse to the bears.’’
She drew back the bowstring and concentrated an enormous amount of prana into the arrowhead. Her beast eyes precisely grasped the instant when Ruler looked at her.
She released her fingers and the arrow instantly shot out with the arrow gushing huge waves of prana. It looked just like a swift, hungry wolf attacking its prey.
A direct hit from that would wound Lancer of Red, who boasted the greatest physical defense in the Greater Holy Grail War.
However, Ruler's holy flag expertly crushed the arrow in a swing so fast it looked like a flash and used the momentum to repel some of Assassin of Red's spell blasts while she was at it. She likely had consciously chosen the direction to scatter the blasts in, as the plane beneath her remained unharmed at least.
However, there was no way Archer of Red's attack would finish with just a single shot. The instant after she fired the arrow, she nocked another one and filled it with prana.
’’Second and third shots ready. Set Subjugate, Twin Stars.’’
She fired two arrows at the same time. If the previous shot was like a wolf, these twin shots, whose trajectories Archer freely controlled with prana, attacked Ruler just like wriggling, poisonous snakes !
There's nothing she can do to defend, thought the ultimate huntress.
There's one thing I can do to defend, thought the arbitrator.
There were two enchanted arrows coming at her, and more light orbs had been fired from the Hanging Garden's defense mechanism Tiamutomu Umu as well.
At this point, it was impossible for Ruler to take conscious action. It was impossible to calculate which of the two arrows were flying at her faster.
Therefore, she partly cut off her thoughts and simply followed her instincts.
She swung her holy flag in a side sweep and she repelled the light orbs which were shot from a shorter distance. However, now she couldn't block the arrows which were falling straight at her from above.
However, even if she couldn't block them, she could guide the course of events.
It was only natural for Archer of Red to be shocked. Her arrows, which she was certain couldn't be avoided, had been intercepted by light orbs from the gardens.
Immediately after Ruler had intercepted the light orbs, she'd shifted direction and reflected them above her head. It was an unsightly display of intersecting fire by allies Archer of Red became enraged.
With that roar, Archer jumped out. Her fastest sprint using her divine feet, which no one had ever been able to catch up to during her lifetime, resembled the running of a beast with her body bent forward at an extreme angle.
In a single breath, Archer of Red crossed a vast distance that was impossible for humans to cross even with all their diligent research and training. At her approach, Ruler held her flag ready and the two of them glared at each other.
’’I'm going, to kill you.’’
That repulsive, hate-filled voice belonged to Archer of Red.
’’ Unfortunately, that's impossible.’’
And Ruler replied with a great solemnness, as if to stamp out that hatred.
This was how the fight between the two female Servants began.
’’You have your back to the wall now, Archer of Black!’’
As Rider of Red's booming words echoed through the sky, Archer of Black smiled coolly and shot an arrow. However, Rider's chariot closed in on Archer faster than the arrow could reach him.
From the start, it was a battle Archer had no chance of winning. There was no way a bowman who had to fight at long range could stand up to a mounted warrior who could close the distance between them to point blank range in an instant.
However, Archer of Black wasn't a bowman who was limited to fighting at long range.
Even if one possessed the fastest speed, there was a drawback that accompanied it.
’’The proper time, the proper coordinates, and the proper speed those are the only things I need.’’
Archer knew the speed of his arrows.
He could calculate the time it took to reach its target.
And he could predict the coordinates it would pass through.
Then, if he could figure out the speed of the chariot as well, the rest would be simple. No matter how overwhelming fast the enemy was, he just had to fire his arrow before Rider moved.
This was a form of future sight, but it wasn't a particularly special skill. It was simply a technique naturally gained from accumulated training over time without being discouraged by setbacks and thorough calculation that predicted what would happen next.
However, from Rider of Red's perspective, it was just as if the arrow had suddenly appeared before his eyes. Right after Archer had shot the previous arrow, he'd shot another arrow at the coordinates Rider would definitely pass through. It truly was a nightmarish situation for Rider.
The arrow hadn't been fired after Rider moved.
Rather, Rider had moved to the coordinates that the arrow passed through
There was no way for him to dodge. It was as if Rider had moved to stand in the bull's eye himself.
Blood gushed out as the arrow pierced his shoulder. The arrow penetrated down to his bone.
Rider of Red pulled out the arrow and glared at Archer of Black, who had already swiftly moved to a different plane. He steered his horses to chase after him and immediately after, the head of his horse Pedasos jolted.
Two of Rider's three steeds were immortal divine horses. However the third one Pedasos was a famous horse who was legendary for his swift feet, but was not immortal. A single arrow had pierced Pedasos' head, where his spiritual core was located. Even if the horse was a Noble Phantasm, this killing blow forced him to vanish and die.
Gritting his teeth, Rider of Red glared at Archer of Black.
His options were limited now. If he continued to destroy the airplanes with his now two-steed chariot, he could easily force the enemies to withdraw. Most likely, Rider of Black alone would remain with his hippogriff, but Archer of Red could probably shoot him down without much trouble.
However this was only if Rider of Red was able to destroy all the planes.
His actions were anticipated. After the battles in the open field, in the forest and now in the air, Archer of Black could predict what he would do with virtually perfect accuracy.
That presented a much bigger problem. However was it really best to discard this current situation in the air that was overwhelmingly advantageous for him?
As his thoughts pondered over his options in the span of an instant, his instincts as a warrior whispered to him.
You don't need to ride your chariot. You're a warrior stronger than anyone else.
’’ Xanthus, Balius. You've done enough. Leave.’’
He lightly tapped the heads of his horses. The horse called Xanthus turned to face his master and opened his mouth.
’’That's a wide decision, my master. If you continue to fly through the air in this chariot, you will eventually end up facing the same fate as back then.’’
Xanthus had been given the ability to understand and even speak human language by a certain goddess. However
’’Hmph. Then you mean to say that what I'm about to do is the right choice?’’
’’Who knows? I don't know such things. I only know which choice will lead to your death if you do nothing.’’
However, his personality was completely rotten.
As Xanthus let out a laughing neigh, Rider hit him with the butt end of his spear. After letting out a shriek, Xanthus vanished along with Balius in a clearly exaggerated manner. And that was it. Having discarded his overwhelming advantage in the air, Rider of Red jumped down to the plane where Archer of Black was with only his spear in hand.
The jumbo jet was at an altitude that would make any normal human lose consciousness, but the two heroes stood on it unperturbed as they finally faced each other directly for the second time in this war.
The two Servants slowly began to walk over the steel roof to approach each other. Then, Rider of Red let out a hearty laugh that seemed to blow away the wind itself and asked a question.
’’Now then. Did you already predict that I would come stand here, sensei? Or is this outside of your calculations?’’
In response, Archer of Black smiled calmly. However, he already had an arrow nocked on his bow. If Rider tried to leap at him, he would instantly sense it and shoot the arrow. Meanwhile, Rider was waiting for an opening to attack. Depending on the situation, he would leap forward in an instant.
They were at a stalemate but it wouldn't last long. There was no way they would be able to hold themselves back from the feast before their eyes after they had waited so long for this moment. Keeping his ferocious and eager fangs at bay for the time being, Rider of Red waited for the answer to his question.
Archer of Black spoke up.
’’Hmm, who knows? Though I did think it might come to this.’’
’’If possible, I hope that this was outside your calculations. I'm tired of having my path decided by the gods. This time, it doesn't matter whether my side is right or not. I'm fighting because I want to fight.’’
’’So that's why you sided with Shirou Kotomine... no, Amakusa Shirou Tokisada? And chose to help accomplish that absurd, delusional dream?’’
Archer of Black's gaze was stern. Amakusa Shirou had spoken of the pipe dream of 'saving humanity' and yet Rider had overlooked the absurdity of it and chosen to help him. Before he had his showdown with Rider of Red, Archer had to question him on this matter at least as his teacher.
But Rider refuted his words in a firm tone.
’’It's true that it's an absurd dream. But it can be done. At the very least, we were convinced so after hearing our Master's explanation.’’
’’Don't be foolish. Something like saving humanity ’’
’’With his method, it's possible... It really is a plan that's worthy of the word 'salvation'. He doesn't intend to annihilate humanity, select the chosen from the unchosen, or destroy anything. It truly is a method you'd expect from a saint.’’
Unlike his usual calm attitude, Archer's voice turn heated.
’’There's no way such a method exists! It's something many sages, heroes and saints have continued to search for and piled up various thoughts and actions to achieve without any success! Even if he's a saint, Amakusa Shirou Tokisada shouldn't be able to achieve it either!’’
Rider of Red waved his spear and pointed straight at the Hanging Gardens.
’’It's possible using the Fuyuki Greater Grail, sensei.’’
When summoned to this world, each Servant had been granted some general knowledge about the Holy Grail besides common knowledge about the current era. Archer of Black in particular had managed to figure out the Greater Grail's original purpose with his great discernment.
Using his vast knowledge, Archer dissected Rider's words, connected the information and constructed a conclusion.
The Holy Grail War, and its origin and source.
The three familiars who had created the Holy Grail, the Einzberns, Tohsaka and Makiri. Their true objective.
The Greater Grail... and its true power.
Seven Servants, and the true meaning behind that number.
And the five Outsiders1 who still existed even in the modern era
Archer turned speechless.
Everything led to one conclusion. It was impossible. Impossible, but...
That might actually bring about the salvation of humanity
’’...It, can't be...’’
Archer of Black involuntarily let those words slip out while Rider of Red laughed.
Perhaps swimming would be a better analogy for what he was doing than walking. In any case, Shirou Kotomine determinedly advanced while feeling as if his skin was being peeled off and his flesh was meting away.
This place wasn't within the Hanging Gardens. The interior of the Greater Grail was a space separate from the real world. Physical laws, the laws of magecraft and even himself were mixed and churned together to form something else entirely.
However, his arms hurt to the point of grating that alone allowed him to maintain his awareness of himself as Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. Shirou felt relieved that he'd been right to connect to the Greater Grail beforehand for the sake of obtaining the Grail's prana supply. If he had plunged into this abnormal space with no countermeasures, he would have dissolved away in an instant.
His arms continued to cry out in pain. But that pain was what connected his sense of self to reality.
The world was still filled with pain and anguish.
To indulge in pleasure all by himself was truly the act of a fool.
Shirou Kotomine desperately focused on maintaining his self-awareness. He remained conscious of the fact that he was within the Greater Grail, which had no sense of place or direction, and kept walking towards the other side of this space.
By establishing a landmark, a path was created. Shirou believed that that path would lead to his destination.
The path was long and far, with no end in sight.
He felt like he could hear whispers that kept saying ’’Give up and break’’ but he withstood the temptation. In the end, it didn't matter whether you were a Servant or human in this place.
Even if he had all the power possible for a human to possess, it made no difference. Even if he could cut through dimensions and jump across space, there was no way to progress down this path except by walking.
And merely walking wasn't enough either.
He was the one who determined the destination, and he was also the one who determined where the goal was.
He believed he would definitely reach it, and he had a wish that he would definitely accomplish, so he walked.
It was an extraordinary distance. A distance that might even be infinite. And there was even the fear that he might be walking in the opposite direction without realizing it.
But he threw all those feelings away like garbage.
’’I'll walk, no matter where the destination may be, and no matter how long it takes.’’
He took one step. He took a second step. He took a third step without hesitation. He didn't care if he had to walk a hundred thousand leagues, walk up a ninety degree slope, or walk a path of thorns.
He had already resolved himself for all that long ago.
His father, mother, older sister and his massacred thirty-seven thousand followers tried to stop him.
’’Listen to us,’’ they said. Their voices called out to Shirou from behind.
You'll feel a bit better if you stop. So stop. And please listen to us.
He rejected those words of sympathy. He denied the invitation to halt and come to a standstill. He blocked his hears so as not to hear them.
He had assumed that such voices temptation would bombard him. If I waver here, your deaths will be for nothing. With that thought, he shook them off.
There was no way that it wasn't painful and sorrowful for him.
Next, in place of the massacred behind him, their killers appeared before him. The strong who devoured the weak countless times throughout history. Using the shaky reason that we and they are different, they continued to kill other people.
They whispered to him with faint smiles.
’’What's wrong? We killed them, you know? Your father, mother, comrades;we killed, killed and killed them all. Don't you hate us?’’
The people behind him shouted out in sorrow and anger.
’’They killed us. So please, kill them in retribution! Avenge us so that our souls can rest!’’
Shirou remained silent. He didn't open his clenched fists. If he did he felt like he would spit out something at the same time.
Of course he hated them. Of course he felt anger. He wanted to rip those smiles off their faces, stop their breathing and crush their hearts.
But he had thrown away his sorrow and rage. He had decided that he wouldn't fight to give peace to the souls of his comrades, but to save everything instead.
He had thrown away forgiveness, compassion and love!
’’You're in my way!’’
His heart hurt as if it was being torn out. From the bottom of his heart, he wanted to hate himself for lending a hand to evil despite not being dyed in evil himself.
Even so. He wouldn't change his decision. The dice couldn't be taken back after being thrown.
There exists a method to save everything in this world. So I want you all to believe in me. It doesn't matter whether you're enemy or ally. Let's all head to that paradise which should lay beyond the horizon.
...However, he needed its power in order to save everything.
As long as humans remained the way they currently were, saving them was impossible. If ten people constructed a world, at least two people would be expelled from that world. A world made by ten people couldn't support all ten people.
By sacrificing two, eight received happiness. And that was the minimum limit;in reality, there were even times when nine people went through a path of hardship for the sake of one person's happiness.
This was the system of the human world, which should continue unchanged for eternity.
He was going to destroy that system. He would save the two sacrifices and the eight happy people alike. He would save both the one happy person and the nine people who struggled through hardship. In order to embark towards the heavens, a special power, a miracle was needed. And that is
’’That is the Cup of Heaven Heaven's Feel. The final and ultimate Mystery for universally saving all of humanity. In other words, the Third Sorcery.’’
Shirou Kotomine at last laid hands upon humanity's salvation.
CHAPTER 4 END