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re:Birth

Chapter Text

            …This is a story about something that happened ten years ago.
            I was still in training at that time.
            My parents weren’t particularly strict, but instead they were very kind.
            All the same, they wanted the best for me and had high expectations.
            …I believe that that was more pressure than outright strictness.
            If they had been cruel parents, I might have rebelled against their desires and decided to live my life however I wanted.
            But because they were kind and made sure that I wanted for nothing, I wanted to do something to repay them.
            I wanted to please them and make them proud, if that was possible for me.
            Thankfully, I had talent at schoolwork and various other things, so I was able to secure results for them.
            They knew that their hard work to provide for me had paid off, and that I appreciated them, so they thanked me for my efforts and praised me.
            Still, whenever they told me that I could take a break, I ignored it in favor of working harder.
            I guess I just didn’t want to slack off.

            I didn’t know many other children.
            The ones I met were all distant relatives or rivals within the family.
            So I didn’t have any playmates, but instead associated solely with adults.
            It wasn’t a painful childhood, but it certainly wasn’t a normal one.

            …In the end, after my parents became sick, I was entrusted into the charge of my grandparents.
            They took over my education with great strictness and fervor.
            I knew that they weren’t trying to be cruel, but were just expecting a great deal from me as the heir.

            “—You must represent everything of the noble house of Branthèse.”
            That’s what I was always told, and I took those words seriously.
            After all, in the main family, I was the only child.
            The other houses descended from the great magus Valois also poured everything they had into raising a single child.
            Think of it as the normal upbringing for a child of a magus, but on a much greater scale.
            That was the idea.
            When my parents couldn’t take care of me, I was only eleven years old, but I had already completed the transplant of the Magic Crest and was well-learned in the basics and how to use it.
            So even when it was painful, I was capable of shouldering the burden my grandparents and the rest of the family wanted to place on me.

            It was around that time.
            I heard the adults talking about a grand ritual called the Holy Grail War.
            Gradually, I learned the purpose and components of the war.
            They said that someone from the lineage of Valois would probably be chosen to take part in the sixth one.

            …The Holy Grail War took place in a town called Fuyuki or “winter tree” in the far-off land of Japan.
            For European magi like us, that was a great distance, but for the pride of our magic, we couldn’t falter.
            To be chosen for such a thing, there was no way to back out gracefully.
            So I was given a tutor in Japanese and began to learn more and more.
            I was prepared.
            Slowly, I was made ready, and learned more and more about the system of the Einzberns’ ritual, the “Heaven’s Feel”.
            If I wanted to fulfill my family’s expectations, I had to make sure that I was the one most fit to be chosen as a participant.

            …But that is a long story and this is a simple memory.

            “Roswell, do you understand?”
            I was asked that by my father.
            I couldn’t actually go into the room where he and my mother were.
            They had advanced tuberculosis and it was at the point where nothing could be done anymore.
            …Vaguely, I understood it.
            No, at that age I still would have understood it quite well.
            My memories aren’t perfect, but I remember perceiving the air of death.
            I’d also gotten the disease but had recovered thanks to the healers and medicine, and I was being kept away during my recovery to make sure that I wouldn’t relapse.

            “—There’s one chair and only one person can fit in it.”
            Anyway, that was what my father said, and that seemed to be the case.
            I had only known about the Holy Grail War for a short time.
            But my parents told me that if I had the chance, I should take it.
            If I won the war, I would be able to gain honor for our family.
            But more importantly, I would be able to have a wish to myself.
            I didn’t have any wishes.
            But I thought idly that if there was ever something that I couldn’t make come true with my own two hands and my work studying magic, the Holy Grail wouldn’t be a bad thing to have.

            My parents entrusted me with that charge and died not long after.
            I was sad and lonely, but all the same, they had given me something to work toward.
            Something to remember them by.

            —Since then, Roswell Branthèse has been in the running to participate in the Holy Grail War held in Fuyuki—

Chapter Text

            …I awaken slowly.
            The bedroom that was silent only a few moments before is now filled with the swelling strings of a piece of classical music.
            “—”
            To be honest, the sound itself is rather low-fidelity and occasionally filled with static.
            This radio alarm clock is easy to understand and set up, but the cost of that is the low quality of the sound itself.
            I could buy something that could produce better sound, but these days the technology in these clocks is getting more sophisticated.
            As a magus, I train so far outside of technology that I tend to be leery of it.
            …Well, more honestly, I don’t want to buy something and then find out that I have trouble working it.
            I can admit to myself that I would rather deal with the low-fidelity sound of the classical music than needlessly injure my own pride.

            I lie still in bed and listen to Bach until the piece changes.
            …This next one is a Vivaldi piece, I believe.
            I sigh with my eyes closed and complain to no one in particular about how only the most popular of composers tend to make it onto the radio these days.
            Would it really hurt the people at the radio station to play some Franck at this time of morning? Goodness knows I’d love to be awakened by his Symphony in D Minor one of these days…
            Thinking things like that, I push myself up leisurely and wake up slowly.
            I’ve always hated being awakened by loud rings or buzzes, but the radio alarm clock just turns on the radio, as the name implies, and I can get used to thinking gradually while listening to the music.
            Now that I’m more awake, I turn the alarm off and go to wash my face and change clothes.

            Once I’m downstairs, I make myself a cup of Earl Grey tea and a few slices of toast.
            There are other leftover things in the refrigerator that I can heat up if I get too hungry between now and lunch.
            I am the sole resident of this grand house.
            As I began to display signs of the Command Spell, my family bought this place for me, and now I live here in the Western-style district of Miyama in Fuyuki City, Japan.
            Aside from the jet lag, I didn’t have too many problems adapting to the change in environment.
            I contacted the Tohsaka and Fujimura families, introduced myself, and was given a run-down of all the different parts of the city.
            …Incidentally, I don’t actually have a job here.
            I’m not expected to stay in Fuyuki forever, but all the same, I’m here for the Holy Grail War.
            Our family funds ensured that I have more than enough money to stay about a hundred times as long as I have to without being in any kind of financial duress.

            After breakfast, I head into my study.
            Despite the emptiness of the rest of the house, this place alone is rather messy.
            It’s not a very large room, but the far end is occupied by my desk and the walls to the left and right of the entrance are invisible behind the tall bookshelves.
            Learning is important for everyone, especially magi, but I like books.
            Once I settled in here, I spent most of my time in this room with the books I brought along with me and others that I bought in stores down in Shinto.
            I still do.
            Literature is always important, but right now it’s going to be the main defense against anything that I have to face.
            …Because the Holy Grail War is not just fought between magi, but between Servants.
            …Between heroes.
            I don’t know very much about heroic spirits or mythology compared to other subjects, so I’ve taken this opportunity to fill in the holes in my knowledge.
            It’s easy to get lost in the pages of books, and I only snap out of my reverie when I realize that I’m hungry or something like that.

            …Or.
            Because of the sound of the doorbell being rung insistently.

            I set aside the volume on the ancient Greek heroes I had been looking through with a sigh.
            Honestly, there’s only one person who would come to bother me here.
            And I dislike having to deal with her.

            But the doorbell won’t stop ringing.
            And my pride won’t allow me to ignore her invasion in hopes that she might get discouraged and go away.
            —So.

            “—What is it you want?”

            She folds her arms and scowls at me.
            “Hmph. Can’t you come up with a better welcome for a guest who’s here to see you?”

            This woman with long hair and an unpleasant look on her face is my cousin.
            To be precise, she’s more like a cousin several times removed, but at the moment that is neither here nor there.
            Her name is Rosary Esmeralda.
            …The Esmeralda family is another branch of the house of Valois.
            Every branch of the family is filled with powerful magi, and we’re all rival families in a manner of speaking.

            Valois Verlaine was a great archmagus, poet, and scholar.
            He helped to revolutionize magic in France and a lot of his precepts are still in practice in the Magic Association today.
            He’s nowhere near as famous as sorcerers like Zelretch as he was only an ordinary magus, but the magic he performed was still quite extraordinary.
            We are told that Valois came very close to reaching the Origin at the end of his life, but failed and died unfulfilled.
            As his descendants, we must carry on his research and complete what he could not.

            …That’s why the different branches of the family are rivals.
            Each branch is attempting to become the head family of Verlaine.
            …Incidentally, the name Verlaine itself has died out completely, but that doesn’t matter very much to each of the houses.
            The Branthèse and Esmeralda families are the ones with the most power and the most knowledge, and Rosary is their heir.

            …And for that reason, Rosary is my rival.
            We’ve been set to compete since we were small children, and told by our families—in my case, by my grandparents—that “that child is the enemy”.
            Always, our achievements were held over each other’s heads.
            We had a lot of pressure put upon us by our forebears, to sum it up.
            We’ve fought several times, both in arguments and with magic.
            …The latest incident has been over which of the two of us would receive the Command Spell and be chosen for the sixth Grail War.
            We weren’t expecting the Grail War to come so soon after the last one, but as the cycles have been shortening gradually, the signs began to appear recently and I was chosen.
            Despite my “victory”, Rosary followed me to Japan.
            …I believe she intends to find some way to “punish” me for stealing her glory.

            Well, it wasn’t like I did it on purpose.
            The Great Holy Grail that sleeps within the earth of Fuyuki is the one that makes the decision in the end, but you try telling Rosary that it isn’t my fault and see where it gets you.
            Rosary is stubborn.
            She’s already out of the race, but she hasn’t given up yet—it’s that kind of thing.

            …Well.
            I can understand how she feels, but it’s exasperating.
            If she were the one that was chosen, I wouldn’t be harassing her now.
            Because even if it couldn’t be me, a victory by someone in the family would be better than a victory by some other Master.

            Something tells me that Rosary doesn’t agree with that line of thinking, though.

            “—So?
            “I came all this way to visit you, and you can’t even make me some tea?”
            …I sigh.
            Don’t argue back, just obey and try to avoid the conflict as long as possible.
            These are the rules for surviving Rosary’s visits, and so I put the kettle on.
            “I know you don’t like Earl Grey, but my only tea other than that is in bags.”
            She makes a more dissatisfied face than before, but goes ahead and chooses sweet orange tea.
            I get out a bottle of honey before she can start complaining more.
            Rosary likes her tea very sweet.
            I can’t put honey in tea, and the most I can stand in mine is milk.
            …I make enough for two and hand Rosary her tea before I go back to fix my own.

            She spends the whole time glaring at me, or rather at my hand.

            Her glare is so intense that it feels like it’s ripping my clothes and peeling back my skin.

            The red mark that gives me the right to a Command Spell, essentially my proof of being a Master, runs over my right arm, down to the back of my hand.
            There’s nothing that I can say to make her feel better, in the end.
            Maybe it’s soft of me to want to soothe my rival’s feelings, but even so.
            I don’t think Rosary has ever really hated me until I defeated her in the “race” for the Command Spell.

            “Still no Servant yet?”
            Rosary asks this boredly and drinks her tea, glowering around as if I’m hiding one in a cupboard or something idiotic like that.
            “—Of course not.
            “Like I told you yesterday, I won’t be summoning my Servant until tomorrow.”

            Tomorrow in the afternoon, my magical energy will be at its peak, which will help me pour all my strength into reaching and summoning the Servant that will be my partner.
            There’s more work that I’ll have to do today and tomorrow before then, though.

            “Stupid.
            “You’re going to wind up with something bad and shame the family with an attitude like that.”
            Rosary insults me with mixed sadism and arrogance.
            …I really wish that she would hurry up and head out, as the only way she stays happy is by insulting me.
            This is irritating.

            As a matter of fact, I already know that I won’t be summoning a weak Servant.
            It’s not as though I’m about to tell her that, though.

            After eating some of my food and drinking more of my tea, Rosary takes her leave.
            It’s a wonder that she even manages to take off her shoes before entering a building, the way that she always acts.
            …There’s nothing I can do about it, though.
            All I can do is let her be and hope that she’ll return the favor someday.

            …Still.
            Without Rosary here, the house feels empty.

            …It’s a feeling I’ve gotten used to.
            I kind of wish that tomorrow was already here.
            That way, I could summon my Servant and the house wouldn’t be empty aside from me anymore.

            I go into the basement and make a few additions to the glyph.
            After that, there’s dinner to make.
            I’m only cooking for myself, so I do it absentmindedly.
            In the end it’s not anything that means very much if I’m the only one to partake of the food.

            After dinner is over, I spend some time calming down.
            I steady my breathing and calm my mind.
            This will help me sleep, and I need all the rest I can get for tomorrow.
            Today is the last peaceful day I will have.
            I know this.
            After I summon my Servant tomorrow, there is no turning back.
            Once the starting bell rings, then I will always be at the point of kill or be killed.
            …It’s a little sad.

            …Before I finally go to bed.
            I check on the “treasure” I was given before I left for Japan.

            While summoning a Servant, the best policy is to use an artifact to call a specific Servant that you want.
            Like a bone or a piece of their armor, something like that—a priceless treasure that can’t be given modern value.
            This artifact will draw that Servant to you.

            It was something that my grandparents gave me.
            This ancient silver tiara.
            I will use it as a catalyst to cross time and call to the Throne, and have Saber, the most powerful of all the Servant classes, answer me.
            …They say that Saber has the best general statistics of any Servant and remained to the final battle in every Grail War except the fifth, and this tiara belonged to a powerful hero of the past who only responds to the class of Saber.
            …Tomorrow.
            Tomorrow is when the curtains will raise on our battle—

Chapter Text

            …This is a story about something that happened ten years ago.
            Even now, I remember thinking vaguely that she was beautiful.
            Not to say that I never thought other girls or women were beautiful, but it was on a completely different level.
            Her portrait was stored in the main estate that I rarely ever went into except for formal occasions.
            I had never paid much attention to it until the night that Rosary dared me and several of the other children to sneak into the estates, stay there for an hour, and then come back without being caught.

            …At the time it was nothing more than a test of our abilities.
            The adults frowned upon our behavior but tolerated it because such rivalries were the way of things; still, it would have been troublesome to be caught.
            A lot of things were riding on that childish contest for all of us.
            …But that is a long story and this is a simple memory.

            —She was beautiful.
            It was the portrait of a young woman, preserved through the ages with our family’s magical arts, a treasure that connected our family to her blood.
            The portrait was hung opposite a window, and so as I ran down the hall, I was struck by the sight of the moonlight illuminating the paint.
            I thought that she was beautiful.
            Even as important as “winning” was to the eleven-year-old me, I still stopped for a moment, held captive by that beauty.
            It was the beauty of a faraway idol or a great sorcerer, but there was still something human about it.

            At that time.
            Maybe that was the moment that “fate” reached out and connected my life to her—

            The morning starts slowly as I wake up.
            …I say it starts slowly, but there’s a tense air of excitement about the house.
            It may simply be me, but I can feel my Magic Crest tingling vaguely, along with the unformed version of the Command Spell.
            Carefully.
            I take the time to finalize the last touches to the summoning circle, and to pass the time, I rearrange the contents of the room.
            I don’t know how much of a shockwave the summoning will produce, but it would be a bother cleaning everything up if everything isn’t secured properly beforehand.
            …Hmm.
            There isn’t very much to do now except eat something and watch the clock.
            My peak of magical energy will occur just before one o’clock in the afternoon, and there’s still about half an hour left until then.

            …Absently, I return to the kitchen and look through the refrigerator and pantry.
            If I get too wrapped up, I might miss the appointed time, so I can’t actually cook anything fancy or overly rich.
            …Unfortunately. There’s no calming agent like standing in front of the stovetop with the scent of food all throughout the room.
            Sigh.

            After complaining to myself mentally, I pull out the preparations for a simple watercress sandwich.
            I’m not very hungry due to the amount of energy stored in my body, but it would be best to fortify myself so that I don’t pass out due to lack of prana in front of my Servant…
            Thinking things like that, I toast the bread and arrange the ingredients.
            …Hmm.
            Actually, looking at the date of expiration stamped on the package of blackberries, it seems that I should eat those soon.
            I take the carton out of the refrigerator and begin to wash the blackberries.
            …I wonder what I should do about meals for the next two weeks…

            …………
            ………Hold on.
            …That’s definitely the smell of something burning, but—

            “Ah…”
            The bread…

            …Sigh.
            The room is aired out.
            Thankfully the bread itself wasn’t burned too badly, only scorched a bit.
            …Spacing out in the kitchen is dangerous…

            …
            ……
            ………
            …………
            …I shut off my human functionality.
            The summoning itself will be mostly taken care of by the Holy Grail, but I must suppress everything else and call with all my heart.
            The magic circle is completed flawlessly and the catalyst is connected.
            Slowly.
            The blood within my veins turns into thick chunks of ice, flowing sluggishly and tearing my capillaries apart from the inside.
            I breathe in.
            The air scrapes my throat like sandpaper.
            And with words, with prana, I expel the breath again—

            “Ye first, O silver, O iron.
            O stone of the foundation, O archduke of the contract.
            Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Schweinorg.
            Let the descending winds be as a wall.
            Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve.
            Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
            Five perfections for each repetition.
            And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead!”

            …Ahh.
            The sudden inundation of mana is so strong that it makes my stomach contract.
            I feel as though I’ll be sick if this keeps on.
            …No matter.
            My Magic Crest begins to burn as though a hot iron is being pressed directly against my skin.
            The extra power buoys me up even as the pain threatens to overwhelm my sanity.

            It can’t be helped.
            It can’t be helped, as in the end Roswell Branthèse is still human, despite all the magical training he has gone through.
            My body will reject being used as a circuit for all it is worth for as long as I practice magic.
            —But.
            The surging power inside me reaches out and is connected to the circle.

            The feeling of something far, far in the distance perking up its ears at my call.

            …Now.

            “Set!
            Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
            If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail, and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
            I make my oath here.
            I am that person who is to become the virtue of all heaven.
            I am that person who is covered with the evil of all hell.
            Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,
            Come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance—!!”

            In that instant.
            A connection splits the dimensions, running between me and the still-unseen Servant on the other side of the void like a lightning strike.
            The rush of power is so immense and so bright that I am momentarily blinded.
            Rather than a burst of light so bright as to overwhelm the retinas, this is my “eyes” shutting down in the presence of the unseen element for the sake of my “human functionality” being preserved.
            It is not something meant for a lowly being to observe.

            There is a rumble like thunder.
            …And in the midst of everything.

            —The soft, dainty sound of a footstep like a tiny bell being rung.

            The back of my left hand sears as though an icicle is being driven into it.
            This is, the formation of the Command Spell.

            The feeling of everything dissipating.
            Slowly, the energy drains out of my body and I am left standing weakly.

            I open my eyes.

            “—”

            Standing at the center of the summoning circle,
            is a beautiful girl.

            Softly.
            Her golden hair sways delicately, catching the light filtering in through the window.
            Her wide white skirts flutter as though they are no heavier than gauze, and patterns of light dance on the floor, filtering through their lace.
            She steps forward again.
            Her small white shoe rings against the floorboards with that same sound of a bell.
            Her pale skin glimmers as though translucent porcelain.
            Eyes the color of sapphire pierce through me.

            …Ah.
            The back of my hand throbs as though a blade has been pushed into my chest, through my very heart.
            I cannot speak.

            She takes another step forward, then stops, folding her hands at her waist.
            “—I ask of you.
            “Are you my Master?”

            Her clear voice rings out, echoing through the room.

            Somehow.
            I find my voice.

            “—Yes.
            “My name is Roswell Branthèse, and I am the one who summoned you.”

            I raise my right hand.
            A swirling red pattern, the Command Spell, is inscribed upon my flesh.

            She smiles.

            “I, the Servant Saber, have come forth in response to thy summons.
            “From this time forth, mine sword shall be with thee, and thy fate shall be with me.
            “Now, our contract is complete.”

            “—”
            …That smile.
            It feels like I’m being purified down to the bottom of my soul.

            She—Saber lightly grasps her skirts and curtsies.
            “It’s nice to meet you, Master.
            “I hope we’ll be able to work together well in the battle for the Holy Grail.
            “Also—this is probably sudden, but would you prefer me to call you Master or Roswell?”

            I try to smile back.
            I don’t know if my face is cooperating, but Saber is behaving in a very mannerly fashion, and I want to at least reply in kind.

            “Roswell is fine.”

            The girl in white straightens up.
            “It seems that you called for me specifically, but—my name is Yggdra Yuril Artwaltz, and I shall be your Saber in this Holy Grail War.
            “No matter the difficulty, I swear upon my blade that I shall secure our victory.”

            …
            ……
            …I don’t fully understand what it is, but there’s a sensation like conflicted feelings in my chest, and it’s difficult to look at her directly.

            “—There’s probably a lot that the two of us need to talk about now.
            “But I would like to ask you something first.”

            “—Yes?”
            She answers brightly.

            …This is embarrassing.
            Still.
            “—I know how important it is to conceal your identity from our opponents on the field. And I know that even with the conditions, it’s a risk… but referring to you as ‘Saber’ feels too impersonal to me. It seems—well, kind of impolite.”
            …At the very least, it feels like my parents and grandparents would scold me for calling a lovely young girl like this a sword.
            “So, when we’re in private… would it be all right if I call you by your given name instead?”

            —She smiles at me.
            It’s a different sort of smile than the one she wore before, an expression that’s soft and almost motherly.
            “—Yes. If you’re that kind of person, then I think we’ll be able to work together just fine.
            “By all means, call me Yggdra when we’re alone together.”

            …Maybe it’s just the way she phrased it.
            But suddenly it’s a little difficult to breathe.

            …I show Yggdra around the house.
            Naturally, I have a room prepared for her which is close to mine.
            If the boundary field is somehow breached, then it’s best that we be as near to each other as possible to defend each other capably.
            Honestly, in the context of a magus and a familiar, it would be most practical for us to share a room, but…
            A Servant is a special case.
            Servants are “heroes” who have been removed from the cycle of life and placed in the Throne of Heroes in order to be used as guardian spirits of humanity.
            Meaning that even though they have superhuman abilities and strength, they are still human at their core.
            In that context, no matter her appearance and identity, Yggdra is still a young lady.
            It would be discourteous of me to ask a girl I’ve just met to share a room with me.
            Especially when I don’t mean it sexually and we have to work together for the rest of the Grail War.

            I’m a little worried that Yggdra might ask about my motives for giving her this nearby room instead of part of mine, but she doesn’t.
            I’m glad.
            It saves me from talking myself into a hole that I won’t be able to get out of.

            Once I’ve shown her where everything is, we return to the kitchen.
            The morning’s disgrace has been completely washed away and everything is clean.
            “—Yggdra, I know that Heroic Spirits can’t get as much nutritional value out of human food as ordinary humans can.
            “But all the same, I’d be more than happy to cook for you if you’d like to have anything here. Is there anything that you would like to eat, or can’t eat?”

            The golden-haired girl sits down at the table.
            Aside from her clothes, which make her look even more temporally displaced than she must actually be, she appears remarkably at home with her surroundings.
            “I like fruit and sweet things, and I can’t eat mushrooms.
            “…But really, anything is fine. You don’t need to cook for two, so I’ll gladly accept anything that you’re willing to make.”
            She’s still smiling.
            …I hope that even a little bit, she’s able to accept me as a Master who will treat her with kindness.

            I suppose that for tonight, I should start off simple.
            I have enough fruit in the refrigerator that I can make a fruit salad, and I also begin to prepare a spiced chicken for teriyaki.
            The saltier flavor of the chicken will keep the taste of the meal from becoming too similar and boring.

            …While I cook, we discuss our plans.

            “To my knowledge, there are still Master seats open, so the Grail War has not technically begun yet.
            “Until it has, we shouldn’t really do anything other than try to gather information.”

            At the table, Yggdra shifts in her seat and nods, resting her chin on her steepled fingers.
            “—That does seem wise. When should we start?”
            “I was hoping that we would be able to do so tonight. I can show you around the town that way too—at least, if you aren’t worn out or anything because of the summoning.”
            She smiles and shakes her head.
            “If anyone should be worn out because of the summoning, it’s you. I’d be happy to go out as long as you’re sure you have the energy.”
            I try to smile in return, although it feels a little lopsided to me.
            “I’ll be fine. It’s true that the summoning depleted a lot of my prana, but as long as I get enough sleep tonight, it shouldn’t hurt my functionality to walk around tomorrow.”

            “—All right, then. Please escort me, Roswell.”
            There’s something like a mild shock at the center of my chest.
            It may just be her words, but—there’s something about this woman that affects me profoundly.

            “When the battle actually begins…”
            “—Yes, it would be prudent to discuss such things now. Roswell, I can tell that you have a good prana capacity just by the fact that you’re all right now, but… what are your strengths in battle?”
            “—I have some training in the use of High Speed Aria, and my personal element is Shadow. It’s an alignment that’s close to Imaginary Numbers, but not quite at that level, I’m afraid. I belong to the Valois lineage, and my house has always specialized in shadow magic and healing.
            “I don’t expect to be able to defend myself against another Servant, and I only have some self-defense training, though. It’s a bit embarrassing to say so, but I will be depending upon you as my knight.”
            “That’s fine with me. You may already know, but I can’t use magic myself—even when it’s not activated to produce its special technique, my Noble Phantasm enhances itself with holy magic, and my own magical resistance is high.
            “I am confident in my skills as a knight, and I know that I will be able to protect you through any danger.
            “—However, my Noble Phantasm is easily recognizable due to its size and shape. So if it’s unavoidable that we must fight, then I would prefer to try to end things quickly and cleanly.”

            The girl speaks with the quiet assurance of a general, and I let her words sink in slowly.
            …Yggdra Yuril Artwaltz, the legendary conqueror who was the most famed sovereign of the ancient country Fantasinia.
            She has one Noble Phantasm and one only—the massive bastard sword Gran Centurio, a holy weapon passed down through her family.
            It is the one and only Noble Phantasm of the Artwaltz line of heroes.
            As Yggdra says, swords that size are rare, and combined with her stature, any scholar who knows heroes well should be able to discover her identity if she uses it too freely.
            She’s fairly well-recognized as a hero, even if she doesn’t have the popularity of the ancient heroes of Greco-Roman mythology nor the cultural importance of British knight-heroes like King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, and so if she used her Noble Phantasm, it would be easy for someone to realize who she was on the spot, then look up her weaknesses.

            So perhaps more than other Servants, Yggdra’s Noble Phantasm is something that must be used sparingly.
            I am confident that I have enough prana to back up its usage as long as Yggdra supplements it with her own magical energy.
            But if it is used, it must either be a killing shot or close enough to one that the enemy can be finished off directly afterward.
            …Yggdra’s own magical capacity is nothing to sneeze at, but even with her prana added to my own, I don’t think I want to risk her having to use her Noble Phantasm for multiple attacks in a short time period.

            As we consider things like that, I finish preparing the food.
            I take Yggdra’s portion to her before I get my own, and she waits for me to sit down before she raises her utensils.
            …By my own judgment, everything has been well-seasoned.
            There are no mistakes like this afternoon.
            But I still hold my breath and watch from the corner of my eye as she takes her first bite.

            …
            She pauses, her eyes widening slightly and her eyebrows raising.
            …And then she smiles.
            “This is very good.”

            …It’s that inexplicable feeling again.
            Just being acknowledged by this girl, is somehow like I’m being healed.

            “—I’m glad.”

           …Since my performance has been deemed adequate, we prepare for our first-ever patrol in comfortable silence.
            We’re only going outside to observe, so Yggdra will be in spirit form and I will dampen my spiritual presence.

            The sun is going down outside, and the activity in the city is already slowly dying down.
            I show Yggdra around the shopping district of Shinto, and give brief descriptions of the different areas to her as we come across them.
            We take our time.
            I don’t sense the presence of any other magi, and so for now, all there is to do is give her a tour of the vast battleground of Fuyuki.
            —There’s a difference.
            Yggdra is an honest person, and so it’s easy to tell that there’s a difference.
            The places where people gather and the shops are the ones that Yggdra responds to as a person, and the old battle scars from the past wars are the ones that she responds to as a warrior.
            …Well, that may seem something of a given.
            But the difference in her reactions is so great that she might well be two different people.

            …Finally.
            The dyed-red townscape begins to be stained the blue of night, and we head for the bridge.

            It is eight o’clock.
            Already, fewer people are visible outside.
            Especially in Miyama, the residential district we’re heading to, everyone will already be safe inside their homes.
            The scars left upon this land from the past Grail Wars seem to have left a residual instinct upon the people that “it’s dangerous to be outside after dark”.
            …It’s relaxing in that there will be fewer victims, and also that magi such as myself may be active after dark.

            In the gloom, we cross the bridge.
            There’s another park near to here where we can get our bearings. After that, I can point out the landmarks to Yggdra, and we can take a taxi home.
            …It’s getting late.
            It’s getting late, so we should retire early tonight in order to preserve our magical energy.
            …I think that.

            “Well, where do you think you’re going in such a hurry?”

            …And an unfamiliar woman’s voice rings out in the emptiness as we enter the park.

            She’s leaning on the low wall.
            …She is a woman who seems to be older than me.
            She carries a fan in one hand and a thick aura of magic about her body.

            …Hmm.
            Even between fellow magi, it’s not wise to advertise your presence like this.
            …Then.
            The obvious answer would be that she’s here to fight, despite the fact that the starting bell hasn’t been rung.

            …Well, there’s no rule to declare that we have to wait until all seven of the seats are filled before the battles start.
            But it’s ill-mannered.
            The cup to receive the blood spilled might not even be ready yet.
            I say nothing and glare at the woman, thinking things like that.

            “—Playing shy, are we?”
            Her painted lips curl upwards, and she stands upright, closing her fan with a snap.
            “Well, that’s fine too.
            “You seem to have some magical power, so it’s fine to play a little rough with you, right?
            “—You’ll make a good main course.”

            I don’t know what she’s talking about, but I direct my energy to my legs and get ready to move.
            The obvious route of escape is the bridge, but a retreating back is an easy target.
            …We’ll likely have to fight our way out of this situation.

            “I found a good one for you.
            “—Go ahead and feast on him, Avenger.”

            “—”
            …Avenger.
            That’s one of the irregular Servant classes.

 

            …Beside the woman.
            A tall figure in dark armor melts into existence.
            It’s a female knight with a tall, twisted broadsword.
            Her long pale hair sways as she takes a step forward, and her face shows no emotion at all.
            She points her weapon at me with a disinterested expression as though this is simply business as usual.

            “—”
            …I understand.
            That woman, Avenger, is a mass of magical energy that’s far too great for me to handle on my own.
            If I move suddenly, I will die.
            If I stay perfectly still, I will die.
            The only way out of this for me, is—

            “—Saber. It seems we’ve no choice but to engage the enemy here.”
            That soft chime parts the air again.
            Saber puts herself between Avenger and me.
            In her hands—,

            …Is the huge sword larger even than her, the holy sword known as her Noble Phantasm.

            “—Hoh.”
            Avenger’s eyes light up as she sinks into a prepared stance.
            “Looks like maybe tonight’ll actually be interesting after all.”

            “Tch.”
            Avenger’s Master is making a displeased face.
            …Was she really expecting that an enemy Master would roll over and be defeated so easily?
            ……Or was she just hoping to strengthen her Servant by making it eat the souls of hapless passersby?
            In either case, she looks irritated.

            “—Take care of this drivel quickly, Saber.”
            …Yggdra nods.
            In a bright white flash, she leaps forward, swinging her sword in a heavy strike—

            Avenger rushes forward as well, and sparks scatter through the air as their swords collide.
            They move so quickly that my eyes can hardly track them.
            Movements like dancing, blows like poetry.

            Avenger is tall and has a longer sword arm.
            Her longer legs give her more maneuverability.
            …However, Yggdra’s sword is much larger, and she swings it as though unaware of its weight.
            That doesn’t diminish its force, and that means she hits far harder.
            Her small body allows her movements to be much more precise and she’s harder to hit.
            …Just in that, the two swordswomen are quite well-matched.

            “—Heh.
            “You’re pretty cute for a little girl, and there’s no shame in your sword arm either.”
            Avenger grins and banters like she’s having fun.
            Yggdra doesn’t answer with words, but only focuses all her power on striking.
            Shockwaves run through the air like tidal waves.
            Like a gust of wind.
            Like a whirlwind of razors.
            The air explodes over and over as the two swords collide.

            “…Tch.”
            And yet Avenger’s Master continues making a displeased face.
            I risk looking away from the two swordswomen to watch her warily.

            “—Well, I suppose that if we’re going to fight then this is inevitable.
            “But, honestly. She gets too worked-up over the most useless things. What an unmanageable Servant.”
            Complaining, she starts to walk toward me.
            I tense.
            …This isn’t good.
            All of my magical energy is being used to support Yggdra right now, with none to spare for myself as she was after all just summoned.
            …If this were to come down to a fight between me and this enemy Master, I’d lose.
            No exceptions.

 

 

            …But.
            As Avenger’s Master walks towards me,
            …there’s a rain of red light from above, splitting the ground between us.

            Only when Avenger’s Master turns do I spare a glance.
            …There’s a figure standing atop the tall arches of the bridge.

            Rather than my eyes, I sense it strongly through my magic—that creature is the same as Saber and Avenger, a mass of magical energy that can only be a Servant.
            The figure leaps.
            With great grace, it alights on the top of a street lamp.
            It’s a young man.
            He wears clothes of dyed leather, and a matching cap covers his brown hair.
            His green eyes are sharp and honest, and in his hands he carries a large, ornately-carved bow.

            “—The war hasn’t yet begun.”
            He calls out in a stern but youthful voice.
            “It’s bad manners to start the banquet when important guests are missing.”

            “What’s it to you?”
            That’s Avenger’s voice.
            I turn to see that even she and Saber have stopped fighting and are staring at the intruder.
            “If one of us falls here, that’s just one opponent less for you to face, right?”

            Archer shakes his head.
            “That might be true.
            “Still, it’s important to respect the rules of fair play. This is still a competition with an overseer, after all.
            “—Or are you that unconcerned about the possibility that the supervisor dispatched by the Magic Association might take the Holy Grail away from you on a trivial penalty? Ms. Avenger’s Master.”

            Avenger’s Master scowls, but Avenger herself shrugs.
            “—Well, it doesn’t matter too much to me.
            “Are you saying you’re gonna stop us if we don’t go home like good little boys and girls, Archer? That might be kinda interesting.”
            She’s grinning in anticipation of a three-way fight.

            “—Avenger.”
            But.
            “This has gotten boring, so we may as well call it a night.”
            The black knight glares at her Master as though she wants to argue, but the witch has already snapped her fan closed and is stalking away.

            “…Tch.”
            She closes her eyes with a bitter expression and disappears.

            …I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
            That was unbelievably fortuitous.
            …Yggdra was doing all right on her own, but if it had come down to a fight between me and Avenger’s Master, I would have wound up dragging her down.

            “…Roswell, are you all right?”
            Yggdra has returned to my side, and murmurs to me worriedly.
            I smile, but the expression feels absent on my face.
            “—Yes.
            “Although that might not have been the case if not for your intervention, Archer. We should thank you.”
            But Archer shakes his head and smiles.
            “Call it a bad habit, but I don’t like watching people break the rules just to bully others.
            “I’d like to think that my Master and I aren’t the only ones who’d do something like this, so we don’t need to be thanked.”

            So saying, Archer jumps down from the lamppost.
            He turns slightly, and I hear the approaching footsteps of someone who must have been watching from a concealed location nearby.
            …From the prana signature I can feel, this is without doubt Archer’s Master, but…

            …The person who arrives is a young girl.
            She appears to be about the age of a middle school student, and is dressed in black and plaid.
            There’s a bird like a disheveled raven or crow perched on her shoulder that’s probably a conventional familiar.

            “…”
            She clasps her hands behind her back as she comes to a stop beside her Servant and stares at me from behind her hair.
            Archer smiles.
            “You can already tell that I’m Archer, but allow me to present my Master. This is Vienya.”

            “My name is Roswell, and this is Saber.
            “Even if you don’t believe that you deserve thanks, your interference still helped us a great deal, as we would have been at a disadvantage were we to start a fight here and now. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

            The girl Vienya smiles and holds out her hand.
            I reach out and clasp it.
            I don’t sense any ill intent in either of them.
            …And so I consider my options.

            …Releasing her hand, I turn to Yggdra.
            “—Saber.
            “From what I recall, you aren’t the type that likes to fight alone, right?”
            For a moment her eyes ask me what I mean, but then she realizes.
            She tilts her head like she’s thinking about it, pauses, and then nods.

            …If nothing else is clear about these people, it’s that they’re fair-minded.
            If they’d intended to attack us, they already would have done; bringing Archer into close range when his opponent is Saber is an act that gives up any advantage he might have.
            By that logic, it also shows willingness to trust.

            “—So.”
            I turn to Vienya and force myself to disregard her small stature and her age.
            “This will probably seem sudden, but I wonder if you would be willing to consider a temporary alliance with us?”

Chapter Text

            …I wake up feeling well-rested, but with a sense of light fatigue as though I just want to roll back over and sleep some more.
            Something in the back of my head is telling me that I can’t do that, though, and so I don’t reach for the snooze button on the alarm.
            …Ugh.
            Rather than draining Yggdra’s magical energy, it seems that I’m the one last night’s battle took a toll on.
            …Well, I suppose that’s not too unusual as her energy supply does come from me.

            “—”
            Enough.
            I drag my heavy body out of bed and go to wash my face.
            Last night it was all I could do to bathe and actually make it to my bed, but since I got nine hours of sleep, I’m rested enough to function, and my prana should be back to its optimal levels later today if I rest and eat well.
            The cold water helps to wake me up a little bit more, and I’m able to pick out clothes and dress.
            …Still, I feel too sluggish and I don’t like it.
            There’s no call for laziness at a time like this when the Grail War will begin in earnest soon.

            “Good morning, Roswell.”
            Yggdra greets me with a bright smile when we meet downstairs.
            …Unlike me, she seems to be fully awake.
            I’m glad that at least she got her rest.
            If she didn’t sleep in physical form, she must have been able to escape exhaustion by returning to spirit form.

            “…Roswell?”
            “—What? Oh, I’m sorry. Good morning.”
            …I must really be out of it, as I’m even causing the Servant in front of me to make such a distressed face.
            “Are you all right?”
            “…Yes, I’m fine. My prana levels are still a little low, so I’m just a bit dizzy. Think of it like having low blood pressure.”
            Maybe this was an unexpected simile, but Yggdra starts smiling again.
            “All right. Let me know if there’s anything I can do in the kitchen, okay?
            “It would be a little unfair to make you handle everything in this state.”

            …Hmm.
            My pride as a chef wants to refuse, but honestly it would be good not to have to mind the little things right now.
            In the end it would hurt my pride more to make a mistake and have Yggdra witness that, so I agree and we head into the kitchen.
            For the sake of making my head work, today’s breakfast will be Japanese-style with meat, soup, and rice.
            I need the protein right now, and a western breakfast with eggs might be too heavy to start off with.
            I get out the ingredients and Yggdra passes me things, taking care of the secondary tasks.
            …I almost miss it because of how sleepy I am, but…
            Her attention to my directions is fierce and she’s very careful not to make any mistakes.
            My hand is practiced enough that I can go through the motions half-asleep like I am now, but if Yggdra were a little less careful, her mistakes would trip me up.
            In other words, she’s doing her utmost to protect the breakfast and my own mental equilibrium.

            …And her white fingers nimbly move through the ingredients and cooking tools.
            At first her movements are very measured as though she’s not as familiar with them as me, but gradually her confidence builds.
            I have to be careful to watch my own work instead of the soft curve of her hands and wrists, or I’ll be captivated and wind up ruining the breakfast because I’m so intent on her.
            Beautiful girls are dangerous creatures.

            …At any rate, we make a surplus and sit down to eat.
            The caffeine in the tea goes to my head and helps perk me up.
            It should buoy me up until the protein actually kicks in.
            Like last night, Yggdra eats quietly while making a pleased face.
            The rice is very fluffy, and the light teriyaki on the delicate cuts of beef has a pleasing taste and aroma.
            …As a westerner, this feels a little more like lunch than breakfast to me, but the food is warm and filling and I’m glad that I prepared it well.
            I’m glad that this food is going to sustain me and can make Yggdra smile.

            …Once we’ve finished and are cleaning the plates, I hear the doorbell.
            “—I’ll get it.
            “Honestly, I’m a little glad they showed up. I was worrying that our directions weren’t good enough.”
            Yggdra smiles and waves, then goes back to turning a bowl over under the jet of water from the faucet.

            I wipe my hands dry, and then go to welcome our guests.
            …That’s right.
           Standing at the door are the small girl whose face is half-hidden behind her hair, and the green-eyed young man.
            …Archer and Vienya are both wearing street clothes.
            The air around the both of them is relaxed and quite different from last night.
            “—We’ve been waiting.
            “Please, come in. We made extra food if you haven’t had breakfast yet.”
            This news causes Vienya to perk up, and after removing their shoes, Master and Servant come into the living room and sit down at the table.

            It’s easy to arrange the four of us around the sides of the table.
            Rather than each of us taking a single side, we sit facing each other as though over an interview.
            …Well, that may be a strange way to put it as Vienya is simply enjoying the breakfast with no qualms.
            Archer compliments the food politely, but the same as last night, Vienya says nothing.
            She does hand some rice to her bird familiar, though, and her single-minded focus on food that I have cooked is as much of a compliment as I really need.

            Once the meal is over, I clear the table so that we’ll be able to actually speak to one another.

            “—First of all, thank you for agreeing to my offer last night.
            “It must have been quite sudden.”
            Vienya shakes her head and refutes my words.
            Still, it’s Archer that speaks.

            “Actually, if you hadn’t offered, we might have asked.
            “Neither of us focuses in close-range combat, so it would be smartest to team up with someone else who can and support each other. It’s pretty much just common sense.”
            “—Well, in that case, it’s mutual benefit.
            “Saber is the only one here who can fight at close quarters, but especially if we can speak to each other and trade tactical advice, I’m sure we’ll all be of help to each other here.”

            Vienya and Archer both nod their heads.

            “—But there’s something we should tell you.”
            Archer says so while making the first unsure face I’ve seen on him.
            “You’ll have to forgive us if we seem rude.
            “But my Master is unable to speak, and so I or her usual familiar need to stay with her as much as possible so that communication is easier.”

            …Ah.
            I should probably have guessed.

            “—That isn’t a problem. It’s out of everyone’s control, and I’d only be a burden as far as that goes as I’m not particularly skilled in either mind-to-mind communication or sign language.”
            Or, more honestly, I only know a few gestures in the latter.
            Not nearly enough to plan battles, to get to know someone or even to have a basic conversation.

            Vienya smiles and something in her posture relaxes.
            “—Yeah, I’m kind of glad we decided to join up with you.
            “It’d be hard to cooperate with someone that wasn’t willing to work around this.”

            It feels a bit as though the air in the room has grown warmer and friendlier.
            So far Yggdra hasn’t made any complaints, and so as long as it’s all right with her—

            “—Roswell?”
            I turn to face her.
            “It might be a bit bold for me to say so.
            “But this house is more than large enough for the two of us, and so for the sake of being able to cooperate better—”

            …I can’t hold back the smile.
            We were thinking the same thing.

            “I was about to suggest that myself.
            “There’s the issue of communication as well, and it would just be easier to coordinate our movements and get used to each other’s styles if the two of you were to move in here for the time being.
            “Of course, I’ll provide everything you need, and I’d be more than happy to supply food.
            “It just seems as though trying to reach each other over the phone or magically would be rather a pain.”

            The Master and Servant across the table look at each other.
            Vienya’s expression doesn’t change, but she grabs Archer’s sleeve and stares at him intensely, making Archer start to laugh.

            “—It looks like I’d be in trouble if I didn’t agree.
            “So yeah, there are no problems. Of course I can’t tell you in detail right now, but I’m used to team efforts that involve living together, so I’ll be the last one to complain about this setup.
            “Especially when the food’s good. That’s always important.”
            Hm.
            It seems I’m being praised quite a bit lately.
            Of course it makes me happy. It would be a lie to say otherwise.

            “As long as you don’t mind us imposing, we’d be more than happy to move in. You can have us stay wherever you like as long as we’re close, and it shouldn’t take long to get our things.”

            It seems that Archer and Vienya have been staying in a hotel room not far from here, so it will only take one trip.
            …Well, somehow I doubted that this girl was from the Fuyuki area.
            I may not have been here very long myself, but she certainly stands out, especially as she’s still around middle school age.
            For a girl like her to not be in uniform seems as though it would be a little strange in these surroundings.

            There are plenty of rooms upstairs that I’m not particularly using but have made up as guest rooms anyway, and so I go ahead and let the two of them choose when they get back.
            Like Yggdra and I, they wind up in rooms that are directly next to each other.
            …Apparently this isn’t so irregular among Masters who have a good dynamic with their Servants.

            While they’re busy setting themselves up, Yggdra turns to me.
            “—It’s a little nostalgic.
            “In both good ways and bad.
            “The feeling of cooperating with a new ally is something that I missed, but not what that means in and of itself.”

            …I wonder what it is.
            When she turns her face in the direction of the others…
            Something about the way the light catches her profile, perhaps.
            Her expression seems closed-off and severe, as though I’m staring up at someone who is much older than me.
            …I don’t understand it.
            But it’s true that this girl, who appears young and smaller than me, is definitely a different level of being—both in the truth of her being a Servant and in her experiences.
            This is someone from a different time who lived an entirely different style of life, essentially that of the sword.
            Maybe it’s understanding that fact.
            But she seems incredibly distant right now, an existence as far away from me as the stars.

            …As I’m thinking that.
            The doorbell sounds.

            A cacophony like the world is about to end.
            This sound is the harbinger of misery and misfortune.
            —Aaah, go away.
            I don’t want to deal with you right now.

            “—Roswell?”
            Yggdra is looking at me uncertainly, and even Vienya and Archer are staring from the top of the stairs.

            …Hmm.
            I feel like I have to apologize.
            I wonder who that reflects on, the intruder demanding entry to this haven or on me.

            “—I’m sorry.
            “There’s only one person who would try to barge in here uninvited.
            “It’s a cousin of mine named Rosary. She was the other Master candidate from my house.
            “…She’s a nuisance, but she’ll leave on her own soon enough.”

            And with all of their eyes on my back, I go to open the door.
            …There she stands.
            Really, can’t you read the atmosphere any better?
            I try asking her with my eyes and expression, but it doesn’t seem she can read it in my face.

            “—And here I thought you were going to let me stand out there all day.
            “Really, show some courtesy to your family.”
            Complaining, she lets herself in, shoving past me.
            …I’m surprised she even manages to take her shoes off before entering with an attitude like that, but at least she’s willing to grant me that basic courtesy.

            “—”

            But when she enters the main room, she’s silent.
            Rosary is staring at my Servant with an intense but complicated expression on her face.
            …For her part, Yggdra is holding herself with pride and refuses to be cowed by such an unpleasant stare.

            Still, I’d better do something.
            “—Rosary, that’s rather unmannerly.
            “You know what kind of being you’re standing in the presence of, correct?
            “She’s a Heroic Spirit. I know asking for deference is too much when it comes to you, but at least a little respect wouldn’t be out of place.”

            Rosary continues to stare.
            Until, at last.
            “—Huh.
            “I didn’t know you were running a charity house here.”
            …She has turned and is now looking at Vienya.
            …Or rather, she has only contempt in her expression for the Master, but is looking covetously at the Servant.

            I suppose it’s only to be expected.
            Yggdra, the Servant who responded to me, is grouped as an “enemy” alongside me.
            But other Masters are there to be jealous of.
            …Really.
            It’s like a little girl demanding the same toy she sees in her neighbor’s hand.

            “‘There are more things on Heaven and Earth, Horatio.’
            “Rosary, I really don’t have much time to deal with you today.
            “From here on out, it’s the Holy Grail War, do you understand?
            “—You’ll be in danger if you continue at this rate. I’m working for our family’s victory, of course, but you would only bring them pain if you were to be injured or worse.”

            “Hmph.
            “Time for the grownups to work, is that it? You can’t brush me off that easily, Roswell.
            “—Still, I don’t care for the Servant you summoned.
            “You have strange taste in allies, but I’d think you’d at least be able to draw a better card.
            “—I guess that only reflects on you, but I’m not impressed with our chances.”

            “—”
            …
            Yggdra says nothing, but the air is vibrating.
            The only expression on her face is sternness.
            …I suppose it’s too much to question her capabilities and honor as a queen.
            The air swells with the intense presence she gives off.

            …This overwhelming white aura is Yggdra’s honor and pride.

            To her credit, Rosary barely reacts.
            She simply shrugs one shoulder as if irritated.
            “—So I’m not welcome anymore.
            “Well, fine, but don’t expect that you’ll always be able to chase me out with a threat.
            “—You’re boring me, and tea wouldn’t taste good in this company anyway.”

            Pridefully.
            She turns her nose up and walks back out of the house.

            …Even so, it takes another minute or so for Yggdra to relax.

            “—Really.
            “It may be rude of me to say so about your relative, but what a thoroughly unpleasant woman.”
            She complains with a furrowed brow.
            Well, I can only agree.
            It’s simply not for outsiders to spit on the pride of the Heroic Spirits.

            Archer and Vienya are also looking towards the door with disquieted expressions.
            …Sigh.
            It seems I’m going to have to do something about Rosary soon for the sake of this house’s peace…

            …And so.
            After everything, the sun started setting and I decided I had better devote my attention to more important things, such as cooking dinner.
            There are still some leftovers, but what kind of host would I be if I didn’t attempt to welcome the new guests with an appropriate feast?
            …I’ve been making a lot of teriyaki recently, so I decided in the end that I would go with fish and baked some salmon.
            Instead of white rice, I used wild rice as a side and seasoned it with lemon, and steamed some pumpkin and zucchini as a side dish.

            …The food seems to have cheered everyone up, at the very least.
            I worried after setting the dishes down for everyone because I forgot to ask Archer and Vienya if there was anything they couldn’t eat beforehand, but in the end it seems that everything is all right.
            …I’ll ask tonight, I suppose.
            Yggdra’s tastes are easy to understand, but the others might have some difficult problems with food, for all I know.

            “—So then, what should we do tonight?”
            Yggdra asks after we have taken the plates away and washed them.
            Everyone is still reclining at the table with relaxed expressions.

            “The problem is that not all the Servants may be summoned yet.
            “It would be rather ill-mannered to start fighting without the starting bell being rung first, but…”
            I sigh.
            “—There was Avenger.
            “If we go out to get a feel of the city, we should be on guard for her.
            “Her Master most likely won’t have any qualms about fighting other Masters even at a time like this, and she was aiming to feed her Servant souls when she attacked us.
            “—Still, going out to police Avenger is going out looking for a fight. It’s a problem.”

            “We should definitely go out.”
            Archer says so nonchalantly.
            “We definitely need to compare knowledge and get a look at all of Fuyuki.
            “—If we run into any fights in progress, we can stop them, and beyond that I think that whatever happens, happens.
            “This is a war, after all. I wish we could say that wars were always fought fairly, but unfortunately that isn’t the case, and so we need to stay on our guard in case things start a little too early.”
            Archer and Yggdra both sigh.
            …Well, as heroes I’m sure they must have had unhappy experiences along those lines.

            “There’s the war’s supervisor, too.
            “—I haven’t met them myself, but they’re supposed to able to keep track of the summoned Servants, so we should be able to ask them if the war has actually begun.
            “They’re at the church here in Shinto.”

            “First, though, we need to look at Miyama.”
            Yggdra shakes her head.
            “Last night I got a good idea of the layout of Shinto, but Miyama is still unknown territory for me, so we have to go there if we want to be prepared.”
            “—That seems more than fair.”
            The sun is going down.
            Once night falls, we will step into the world of magi once again—

            …As we walk, I make note of the location of the church to show the others.
            I pointed it out to Yggdra last night, but we didn’t actually go there, of course.
            The bustle of Shinto is already beginning to die down, and Miyama will surely be almost silent, so this is good for us.
            Archer and Yggdra will be able to walk around normally at that time.
            …That’s something to think about, too.
            It might be best to prepare a few more modern outfits for them in case they ever need to go out without being in spirit form, as it seems Archer’s clothes from earlier were the only outfit available to him.

            Thinking about things like that, I direct everyone over towards the bridge.
            If we’re going on foot, it’s the fastest way to head to Miyama.

            …Miyama is filled with suburbs and traditional Japanese religious grounds.
            If my research is correct, at least one of the four directional bases of the Holy Grail War is here somewhere, at a temple lake or some such.
            I might be able to locate it on a map.
            …I believe it was the epicenter of the last war.

            …The last Grail War.
            Apparently it was a messy affair, as something went wrong midway and a number of civilians died in the process.
            However, the Einzbern family finally claimed their victory, and following that, the three families that founded the ritual withdrew their lot.
            It appears that they didn’t close the Grail War down, but instead left it running.
            …In that case you would almost expect for the Tohsaka and Matou families, the traditional participants, to continue striving for the Holy Grail, but…
           The young head of the Tohsaka family, who I of course contacted to arrange my lodging, is studying in London, and for whatever reason the Matou head seems not to be qualified for this war.
            Or something along those lines, anyway.
            …I don’t know any of the fine details, and there isn’t any time to try to find out now that this sixth war is about to begin.

            ……Holding such thoughts to myself, I cross the bridge.
            It’s fairly cold tonight.
            We all walk in silence as the town is bathed in the soft blue of night, becoming a city of shadow pictures.

            We arrive in the park and walk up the hill towards the first large intersection.

            …Wait.
            ……I’m certain I heard the sounds of steel.

            “—Is someone already fighting at a time like this?!”

            Archer turns to look at us and shakes his head.
            “—We’ll get a vantage point and keep in contact. You two approach slowly. Take Vienya’s Moja with you, and we’ll communicate with you through it until we decide what we’re going to do.”

            His clear emerald-colored eyes pierce the night.
            The knight of the bow kneels down.
            The black bird on Vienya’s shoulder takes flight, and lands on my outstretched hand.
            “—”

            Vienya herself settles on Archer’s shoulder.
            His arm wraps around her legs and she puts one arm around the back of his neck.
            —Like that.
            He leaps and vanishes into the night.

            …Her familiar is still with us, and this is a time for work.
            So.
            “—Saber.”
            There is a clarity in her eyes as she nods.
            “Try to suppress your presence as we go.
            “—We don’t want them to notice us first, no matter who they are.”
            She nods again.

            …And we head towards the noise of steel on steel.

            …………
            …Something is definitely strange here.
            The enemies fighting are—

            On the side closest to us, a blond man with black wings and a red mantle.
            He wields a jagged red spear in both hands.
            Two magi stand behind him, a plain-looking boy and a girl dressed in black.
            One of them must be the blond man’s Master.

            …That’s all normal enough.
            It’s the other side of the battle that’s the problem.

            …There are two Servants.
            Both of them are tall, armored women wearing full plate armor, wielding lances like the kind that are meant to be used from horseback.
            And behind the women, two small girls about Vienya’s age, one with reddish-brown hair and one with pink hair.
            …Hmmm.
            No matter how you look at it, this is more than a simple alliance the likes of which Vienya and I share.
            …Those Servants, they…

            “—They’re the same class.”
            Yggdra’s voice is close and feels like she’s murmuring near my ear.
            “The man on his own is probably Lancer, and the two women are both Rider.”

            …But that can’t be right.
            It’s simply absurd for two Servants to be summoned into the same class.
            ……No matter what, something bizarre seems to be going on here.

            Lancer seems to be in trouble, and the enemy Masters are advancing on the two magi supporting him.
            …The prana level of both these magi is weak.
            I see, so Lancer may have been freshly summoned.
            …As such, there’s surely no way for his Master and the other weak magus to defend themselves.
            ……
            …I don’t like it.

            “—Saber.
            “And Vienya.
            “…We ought to stop this if we can.”

            There is no answer from the bird, but it flies away as if in assent.
            —The next moment, red-gold bursts of light like tiny meteors rain down on the scene before us.

            The Masters of the two Riders scurry backwards to avoid it.
            And Lancer and the two armored women stop their battle to look in the direction Archer fired from.

            “Ah—so we’re not the only ones.”
            The Rider with black hair says so.

            …I can make out Archer and Vienya standing on the hill.
            From what I can see, Archer is wearing a stern face.
            “I don’t really want to fight you, but it’s my Master’s order. And besides—shouldn’t it be beneath knights like us to gang up on others?”

            Vaguely, I see the Rider with flowers in her hair smile.
            “We have our orders too—I suppose I should call you Archer, now.”

            …That’s it.
            Their attention has shifted towards Archer.
            Meaning.

            “—Saber, go!”
            As soon as the words leave my lips, she is already running.

            Her footsteps ring on the pavement like a bell choir, and she swings her massive sword with a pure cry, heralding the beginning of the battle.
            Taken aback, the two Riders are easily pushed back when she and the injured Lancer attack them.
            Furthermore, Archer is standing there with his bow at the ready, and can take shots at the Riders at any time.

            “—We can’t stay here now!”
            One of the girls turns to the other.
            Her distressed voice reaches me even where I stand.

            “Hmm, I guess so. Rider, this is boring. Let’s go back home.
            “Onee-chan, Onii-chan, we’ll come back for you guys later.”

            The two armored women disengage and return to the side of the girls.

            Yggdra turns to face me.
            “Do you want me to follow them?”

            “—No, it’s all right. Chasing those four back to their home base would be a bad idea, as we don’t know what they may have planned.”
            The boy and the girl whirl around to face me with shocked expressions as if they didn’t even guess that I might be here.
            Both of them have pale faces and appear to be sweating, shaky with loss of prana.

            “Are you all right?”
            ““Huh?””
            …Both of them say it at the same time.
            They certainly are out of it.
            “…I guess it’s only natural to be confused, since technically we’re opponents.
            “We were walking around town, exploring and making plans, when we sensed the magical energy of your battle and decided to see what was going on, and help if we could. We’re not supposed to start fighting until the supervisor gives his or her word, after all.”

            …The boy relaxes.
            “Uh… actually, the starting bell just got rung an hour or so ago.”
            The girl starts glaring at him like he wasn’t supposed to say that.

            …Hmm.
            So they must have just gotten back from visiting the supervisor and finding this out.
            Given how worn out they seem, they may have just summoned their Servant at any rate.

            “…Hmm. I thought there would be some sort of signal and we would be able to tell when all the Masters were here, but I suppose I was wrong. …Then again, today was supposed to be the last day that summoning a Servant would be possible, after all.”
            Yggdra, who has returned to my side, smiles and rests her hand on my shoulder.
            …What she means by that, I’m not sure, but it feels like I’m being gently made fun of.
            Whatever the case, it’s not with the same amount of malice Rosary has, so I’ll ignore it for now.

            “It’s okay as long as no one got hurt too badly, right? …I see that Lancer was injured, but the wound should heal quickly as long as he rests.”
            As Yggdra says, the winged man’s side is bloodied, but something that shallow is nothing to a Heroic Spirit.

            However, the girl in black folds her arms like she’s not satisfied.
            “Why did you help us? We’re enemies, aren’t we? If the Riders and their Masters had killed us, that would only make it easier for you—we’d be one less fight to face, and you could have attacked those guys when they were worn out. It doesn’t make sense.”
            …What?
            “It wasn’t fair. They deliberately waited for you and attacked you with superior numbers, at a time when your strength and Lancer’s Master’s is low. That kind of cheap victory over an unprepared opponent that never had a chance to compete is dishonorable, even cowardly. And I know that most situations in this war won’t be fair, but we had a chance to help, so we couldn’t pass it up.
            “Vienya didn’t exactly argue with our decision, either.”

            …Quiet footsteps announce Archer’s approach.
            “Those girls and their Servants are headed for the forest. From there it’s gonna be really hard to track them, so we’re giving up finding out where their base might be.”
            “All right, then. We’ve seen each other and gained some information, and no real harm was done here, so I suppose that’s good. Where’s Vienya?”
            Archer smiles.
            “She’s coming. She wanted to get down from the wall by herself, after all.”

            …And as he says, lighter footsteps can be heard, and then Vienya appears at the edge of the road, running towards us.
            The boy whose name we don’t yet know just stares at her with a kind of recognition.

            Rather than joining us where we stand, Vienya walks up closer to him.
            She stares at him from behind her hair and smiles, and the bird on her shoulder opens its beak wide.
            “EVEN NOW! EVEN NOW!”

            …As all of us watch, a kind of understanding crosses the boy’s face.
            A few moments later, he wavers and falls to his knees.

            “Wha—Ein!”
            The girl in black yells, and Lancer takes a wide step forward, reaching as if to support him.
            “Ein—”

            …The boy named Ein seems to have fainted.
            The girl makes a “tch” sound and crosses her arms again.
            “—I guess there’s no helping it with everything that’s happened today.”

            …I see.
            I see, I see.
            “—Then, we should leave you be and give you time to recover.
            “…Actually, will you two be all right carrying him?”

            Lancer lifts the boy easily into his arms as if in response, and looks at us impassively.

            “—All right. Take care going home, and if you run into trouble again, signal us with colored sparks and we’ll come back to help you.”
            Something about the girl’s posture relaxes slightly, and she nods.

            “—Thanks for coming to help us.
          “I don’t really get it, but we appreciate it. We would have been done for if you hadn’t shown up when you did.”

            “It isn’t a problem.”

            …Like that, we bow to each other and go our separate ways.
            The girl and Lancer head into the suburbs, while we return to the bridge.
           …We’ve already seen something significant, and should go before the echoes of our battle attract anything else.

 

            “—There is one thing that I don’t understand, though.”
            In the entrance hall, everyone else turns to look at me as if unsure what to expect.

            “…What did you mean when you said that you were even now?”
            …Oh.
            Vienya has started making quite the face.
            She faces the bird on her shoulder, and then her hands start moving like birds themselves.
            …It doesn’t seem as though she’s signing, but I can’t keep up with what she’s trying to mime to me at all.
            My confusion must be plain on my face, because she turns around and starts gesturing at Archer with an even more frustrated expression.
            He rests his hands on her shoulders lightly and nods along with the movements of her fingers, his face very patient.
            …They look almost like siblings.
            Or maybe that’s not quite it.

            I wouldn’t be able to judge, but at the very least, they seem very close.

            Archer’s smile turns into a quiet laugh.
            The movements of Vienya’s hands halt, and she kicks at his shins half-heartedly as he gestures for her to forgive him.

            “—It sounds like that boy helped my Master out before.
            “Something about a vending machine not behaving or some such.”
            Silently and without any real malice, Vienya growls at her Servant.
            …Well.
            Perhaps I should have expected it to be something along those lines.
            It’s not as though we know each other very well yet, but Vienya has taken meals very seriously today.
            I can imagine her seeing help with getting food as a debt to be repaid.
            ……She’s a young girl, after all.

            “—No, even more importantly.”
            Archer’s expression grows more serious.
            “…Master, if it’s all right?”
            Vienya stares at him for a long moment and then nods.
            “—I don’t know anything about Lancer, but the Riders.
            “I’m sure you could tell that I know them.”

            …Yes, of course.
            But just from realizing that, I also knew that if we were to ask, we would also be asking Archer to expose himself, if not reveal himself entirely.

            “—It’s all right.
            “We’re allies.
            “If we’re going to fight together, then it’s really only right to know each other’s strengths fully, after all.”

            We leave the lobby and go into the living room instead.
            …Rather than sitting down, Archer simply leans against the wall and begins to speak.

            “—They, and I, are from Aventheim.
            “…Yes, from the same time that made it the land of a hundred heroes.”

            Archer narrows his eyes and smiles bitterly.
            “Neither of them was in the same order as me, but I still know them by sight.
            “The woman with black hair’s name is Silvanoier, and her Noble Phantasm is a demonic spear. The other one is Meslieness, and her Noble Phantasm is a holy lance.
            “…I’m sure you can understand that knowing each other, they’ll be able to work together more strongly than a pair of Servants like myself and Saber, who’ve only just met.
            “All the same, I’m sure we can work out a strategy to counter them together.”

 

            …In the end, we all just went to our rooms after that.
            There’s a lot to consider.
            …The land of a hundred heroes…, huh.
            I don’t know much about it, and so it’s not like I can figure out Archer’s identity just from being told that.
            Certainly, looking up legends about the two Riders Silvanoier and Meslieness is now a priority, and it’s probably good that we don’t know Archer’s true name yet.
            It would be unfortunate if the balance of power in this alliance were to be overturned so very easily.

            …After that, there’s still Lancer to think of.
            The winged knight in the red cloak.
            ……Just from his appearance, he must be an old hero indeed.
            Probably, something not “human”, but higher… from the age of the gods, perhaps the same era as Yggdra or before.
            If anything, I ought to ask her about that.

            …But everyone’s tired.
            Today took a lot of energy, and there’s always tomorrow.
            Thinking vaguely like that, I fall into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

(interlude 4-1)

            …In the end, it was simply something that she couldn’t forgive.
            That was right.
            She couldn’t forgive.
            It was foolish even to expect her to allow a farce like this to go on.

            All of it—everything of his.
            She would steal it away.

            In the end, seeing it was simply too much to bear.
            …His arrogance.
            The way that he just brushed her off so easily, as if he thought nothing of her.
            …That girl, as well.
            Just one look said that they were so well-suited that it made her want to throw up.
            ……And if the coin toss had merely gone the other way, then she was the one that would have been able to do what she pleased to such a fine doll.

            …Aaaah, but even so.
            She desired.
            Just that sight had caused the swelling mass of jealousy inside her to burst, and her swirling emotions seethed like a sea of black mud.
            She desired.
            The longing in her heart was akin to lust.
            …By now he’d probably already played with the doll a bit anyway.
            It would have been dirtied by his touch.
            ……It was never as much fun with secondhand goods, right? She almost wanted to giggle with the force of it.

            It would be a different kind of satisfaction than simply destroying him with his own toys.
            —Yes.

 

            …The witch who contemplated her revenge rocked back in her chair and laughed.
            She had already decided upon the perfect method to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

(4-1 interlude-out.)

 

            “—”

            Cold.
            It’s cold.
            It’s very cold.

            …Sigh.
            I get the feeling that if I breathe out very hard I’ll see my breath in the air before me…
            This morning, a cold snap seems to be in progress.
            …Ahh, it would be so good if I could just curl up and stay in bed all morning until the sun melts away this layer of awful cold.
            But that would expose me as a lazy host, and so I cannot.

            “—”
            I pump magical energy into my blood to heat myself up temporarily.
            Ahh, but it’s still cold. It’s definitely cold.
            I’ll need to check the heater before I can actually start on breakfast.
            Trying to cook in this environment could cause unnecessary strain on the kitchen equipment, and besides, it’s cold.

            “—”
            Hmmm.
            Honestly, I’m not very good with mechanical things, but I think this should do it.
            As long as all the windows stay closed, the house should gradually warm up from now.

            I go to wash my face with hot water.
            Today’s breakfast needs to be warm, also.

            …I get out things to prepare for making pancakes.
            There’s still some fruit, so I should heat it up.

            As I work,

            “—Good morning, Roswell—”

            Yggdra calls out to me.

            “I should apologize for how cold it is in here.
            “I wasn’t expecting the weather to shift like this.”
            Well, it is that season, but Fuyuki is supposed to have mild winters, so I suppose I let my guard down a bit.

            It’s too cold just to keep standing here, so I prepare the batter from a mix instead of making it from scratch.
            I put the blueberries, pieces of mandarin, apples, and strawberry slices into the batter and prepare the pan.

            “It’s all right. The house has already warmed up a lot since earlier.”
            “—Hmm, I suppose so. How are Vienya and Archer doing?”
            “They seem to be using the upstairs bathroom and such now, so I’m sure they’ll be down here soon.”

            …The breakfast is finished without incident.
            Vienya and Archer both appear and everyone eats, with a few requests for seconds here and there over the course of the meal.

            “…Roswell, we’re out of milk.”
            Yggdra says so after thoroughly examining the contents of the fridge.

            “—Hmm, that definitely will pose a problem when it’s time to make dinner.”
            I’d wanted to make sausage and potato soup in cream sauce as the main dish…
            I don’t have any mix, and I prefer to make broths from scratch if possible anyway.

            …I wonder why.
            It just strikes me as funny all of a sudden, watching her.
            That a Servant should be concerned over things like this.

            “That reminds me.
            “Since you’re spending most of your time here materialized, I’d just thought…
            “It might be nice to get you your own set of clothes, so that we can go out and be less conspicuous.”

            There’s the sound of a thump, and when I look, it seems that Vienya has elbowed Archer.
            “—What, me too?”
            Archer complains with a smile on his face.
            “All right, what problem do you have with my clothes now? They’re just fine.”
            Vienya is smiling.

            …I see.
            Vaguely, this is familiar scenery.
            ……It’s the kind of place my boyhood home was, whenever my parents weren’t concentrated on my teachings as a magus.

            “—Then, how about this?
            “We’ll go out and shop for food, and on the way back we’ll pick out a few outfits.
            “It has to be on the way back, because after lunch it’s important that we make our strategy for tonight.
            “From today, the war does start for real, after all.”

            “Vienya.”
            Yggdra smiles as she closes the fridge.
            “Is there anything you want us to get?
            “If it’s possible, we can pick it up for you, since it’s not fair that Roswell just keeps making whatever I like.
            “Make a list while we get ready.”

            They’re all smiling.
            Somehow—
            …Yes.
            I’m glad that these two are the ones we decided to ally with.

            Vienya really does write out a list.
            It’s a long list, actually.
            …That shouldn’t be a problem as far as money goes, but I do hope that I’m able to find and carry all of that…
            Her handwriting is neat and slanted and she smiles as she works.
            She’s still a very young girl, but her silence and mature presence give me a premonition of the woman she will one day become.
            …As a human, and as a magus.
            The Command Spell on the back of her hand burns with pride against her pale skin.
            With the familiar on her shoulder, she seems very much caught between the two eras of her life, childhood and adulthood, but at the same time she possesses such surety.

            She hands the list to me and stares hard like she really does expect everything here.
            …Thankfully, most of the things she’s hoping for can be picked up in the usual market.
            I wouldn’t want to let down a houseguest I’m cooking for.

            As we put our shoes on, Vienya slaps at Archer like she’s telling him to go.
            “—Are you sure?”
            Well, the barrier is still protecting the house, so it should be all right.
            And besides, it’s not like we could get outfits for Archer without having him there to check his measurements.
            Somehow I don’t doubt that he wouldn’t fit my clothes.

            And so, it’s decided.
            Both of the Servants go into spirit form and follow me as I leave the house, Vienya waving us on from behind.

            I point out the store we’ll be visiting as we pass it, and then head for the bridge.
            The market in Miyama will be our destination for now.

            On foot, it takes a while to walk.
            Yggdra is silent.
            So is Archer.
            …I wonder a little if Archer really was alright with leaving Vienya behind.
            Next time we might as well bring her along, but it seems foolish to go back for her now…

            Thinking thoughts like that, we cross over to the other town.

            It’s the middle of the day and it’s gotten to be a little bit warmer now that the sun is up.
            …As I expected, it takes a while for us to actually be able to buy everything on that list.
            But in the end, it’s not really anything that can be helped.
            We’ll return with enough food, and maybe an outfit each for Yggdra and Archer.

            “—”
            But somehow something feels a bit off.
            The shopping trip is almost over.
            We’re on our way back to Shinto now.

            …Perhaps it’s the cold.
            Yggdra doesn’t seem all that interested in shopping for clothing anymore, and Archer is silent again.
            ……Yes, perhaps it’s just the cold.
            But the sun is out, and so something is telling me that—

                        ……That there may be another reason for the foreboding in my heart.

(interlude 4-2)

            It’s boring waiting alone, but she supposes that’s her own fault for giving them such a long list and then not insisting to come along.
            …The least she can do is think about what lies ahead.
            There are at least three other Servants that they’ve confirmed—Avenger, the Riders, and Lancer. As long as they’re together, all of these are threats that can easily be overcome.
            …And on top of that, there are at least two more Servants unaccounted for.
            Assassin, Berserker, and Caster.
            Two of those three have definitely been summoned, and if Berserker is among them it’ll be a problem.
            —Still, as allies they can overcome this.
            For a magus and Servant unable to participate in close-range combat like her and Archer, this has been a lucky alliance indeed.
            The only certain thing is that as long as they are working with another Servant they are undefeatable, unless a larger alliance is eventually made. And even in that case, she and Roswell will probably be able to overcome the deficit.

            …She’s interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
            Why at a time like this? Roswell likely would have mentioned it had there been a delivery scheduled.
            …But she recognizes the magical aura outside and realizes the identity of the intruder.
            All she needs is to just ignore her or send her away.

            ……But the doorbell does not stop.
            It’s an incessant ringing that hurts her head.
            —Agh, shut up already.
            …There’s magical force being applied now too, as though a thread has been hooked into her skin and is being tugged at insistently.
            Whatever the woman wants, it seems she’s not going to go away until she’s gotten it.
            And so she sighs and stands up.
            This is going to be a pain; she can already tell.
            She doesn’t know if she can even communicate with someone like this well enough to make them go away, but she has to try or else she’ll eventually be irritated to the point of wanting to attack.

            When she opens the door.
            The woman named Rosary is standing there and smiling.
            “—Finally.”
            …There’s something wrong.
            Instinct alone can tell her that, and there’s something about the dark circles under this woman’s eyes that she doesn’t like.
            She begins to thread prana into her Magic Crest in preparation.
            “—Well, shall we begin then?”
            Rosary giggles.
            She realizes.

                        —It’s already…, too late.

(4-2 interlude out.)

            “—”
            As we walk down the streets that will lead us home, Archer suddenly materializes.
            There is an incredibly intense look on his face as he clutches his chest and stares toward our distant destination.
            “—Archer?”
            …It’s that sense of vague foreboding too, but I cannot help but be uneasy about this.

 

                        “Vienya’s calling for me. There’s something wrong.”

            Leaving only those words,
                        …Archer takes off running so quickly that all I can see of him is a blur.

            “—Yggdra.”
            “Yes.”
            She materializes, and starts to run.
            I put magical energy into my legs to boost my speed and tear after her with the grocery bags still in my hands.

            …When we reach the actual neighborhood.
            The sky is dark and overcast, and a gray fog clings to the ground and the buildings.
            I can feel it tugging at my senses and imploring me to sleep, and I send power through my Magic Crest to shake off its effects.
            —Whoever this is was at least courteous enough to put everyone to sleep so that we can all fight seriously.

            …Damn, carrying these is going to be too much of a problem!
            There’s milk, but I enclose the bags in a pocket of cold air and leave them hidden next to a hedge. We can come back for them after this is over.

            When I get closer to the house, Yggdra and Archer are there.
            They’re fighting—

 

            ……I knew it.
            It feels as though my heart is sinking in my chest with this knowledge.

            Earth and stone golems.
            For the most part they’re well crafted, each seven to eight feet tall.
            …I know that craftsmanship, and I would know it anywhere.
            Rosary’s skill at dollcraft is unmistakable, after all.

            —There.
            Yggdra, a tiny flash of white and gold amidst these great clumsy titans whose steps rock the pavement, slashes at them with her sword again and again.
            She whirls like a dervish with her small white shoes ringing as a carillon against the ground, and every time her sword swings, more and more of the golems are cleaved in half.
            …Well, she is a Heroic Spirit, but all the same, I’m impressed.
            She does not hesitate, but merely focuses her will and charges forward with all her might.
            —Perhaps it’s just because she seems like such an ordinary girl most of the time, but…

            Quite separately from the way I can’t help but notice her beauty, there is a part of me that wants to forget the danger and just be bewitched by her.
            It’s the same as that night ten years ago.
            …All I can do is gaze upon her in amazement.
            Because she’s—this beautiful.
            This valiant.
            ……It’s a sense of wonder that steals away my ability to breathe and tries to spill out from behind my eyes.

                        …But that is not something I can afford to lose myself to now.

            I hear Archer’s voice cursing from nearby.
            “—We don’t have time for this.”

            As I turn, I see him readying his great bow.
            …It’s an immense weapon of deep scarlet, and now it bends the air around it, drinking in mana from the air like a powerful vacuum.
            Yggdra must sense the change in the air, because the next moment she appears at my side.

            Archer pulls the string of his bow back.
            The motion itself seems to generate a great burst of wind, and between his fingers a line of pure light takes shape.
            —I see.
            Before, Archer always must have converted real arrows to power and used them to attack, but this is unmistakably his preparation to use this bow for its true purpose.
            …Basically, to reveal its form as a Noble Phantasm.

            “—I don’t have time for you.
            “You’re in my way when my Master needs me, so die.”

            The single arrow of molten power splits and becomes a multitude.
            Bolts of light and heat radiate out from the vertex of his pinched thumb and forefinger like the ribs of a fan.
            Archer’s green eyes burn into the mass of golems lumbering towards us, and then he braces his stance.

            “—Meteora!

            …It really is…, like a meteor shower.
            Fire rains horizontally as Archer releases the bowstring, a pouring of burning projectiles that wash away the golems in our way like a tidal wave.
            I don’t recognize the name of the bow or its appearance, but I know…
            ……We should be proud to be working alongside this man.

            “—Come on.”
            We may not have that much time before more golems appear, depending on how Rosary has organized her forces.
            The path is clear. We must leave all hesitation aside and go.

            “—”
            When we reach the house, the door is wide open.
            “—It’s in the basement.”
            I can feel it.
            Archer and Yggdra must be able to as well.

            —The air in this place is oppressive.
            It feels like such a violation.
            For a place that I call my own to reject me so harshly sets off every warning, and the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stands on end.

            ……And there she stands.
            There are six golems in front of her.
            Rosary’s white coat is flecked with blood, and there is a sickness in her eyes.

            ……On the floor.
            Vienya’s body, lies at her feet—

            “—”
            Her clothes are soaked with red and her right arm is torn open.
           …In the puddle of blood spreading out from the side of her body lie a number of thin white things like noodles.
            “—, —”
            …Like photographs in an anatomy book.
            From her knuckles to her shoulder, they were torn out.
            “—”
            Nausea forms into a hard ball inside me, and I swallow.
            The entire room, stinks of blood.

            “—”
            But Vienya’s chest is moving sharply.
            …It seems that she’s still alive.
            “—”

            My vision blurs and I bite my lip to steady it.
            …Damn.
            The stench of blood and of impurity is choking and makes me want to retch.

                        And all the while,
                                    …she’s laughing.
                        Rosary is,
                                                …laughing.

            “—”
            “—See, I’ve won.
            “—”
            Rosary holds up her hand.
            Bloody red marks are inscribed on the palm.

            “—You—”
            There’s a hatred in Archer’s words that strengthens the nausea I feel.
            “—That’s right.
            “See, in the human world, if you’re not given what you want from the start, then you can always just take it by force.
            “—You’re my toy now.”

            ……It’s impossible that this twisted logic…, is coming from her.
            I feel like my ears and eyes are lying to me.
            …Only my nausea…, and this stench of blood are able to keep me standing.

            “—Roswell.
            “I won’t kill you that easily though.
            “—I’ll have the little ones crush your limbs and play with you a little bit first.”

            Her eyes are rotten with madness and her smile seems too wide for her face.
            …It’s…, jealousy.
            The parasite called envy has eaten her body out from the inside and wears her skin, leering at me from beneath its disguise.

            “—So, my new toy.
            “Obey me and kill them.”

            A crack and a flash run through the air.
            Archer curses.

            —When I turn to look at him, he is shaking as if in seizure, and pale bolts of red are snaking around his arms.
            …She used, one of the Command Spells.
            She really does, mean this.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra steps in front of me with her sword raised.
            “—I’ll keep Archer from doing anything he’ll regret.
            “You have to save Vienya!”

 

            ……Ah.
                        …She’s.

            She’s standing tall and firm as if the stench of blood…, doesn’t bother her at all.
            “—”

            “—Rosary.”
            …There’s no helping it.
            I have, to face her.

            “—What you’ve done…, is beyond forgiveness.
            “I must stop you, and prevent you from sullying the name of Verlaine any further.”

            She tilts her head to the side as though she doesn’t even know what I mean by the words, or what the words even are.
            …And then,
            ……she laughs.

            Her body slumps and her head tilts back, and she laughs.
            …Her presence is chilling, painful against my skin as a brush of needles being pressed down.
            “—What do you think you can do against me now, cousin?”

            My body locks.
            …I must forget now even what it means to be “human”.
            This is my duty as a Master.

            “—Go ahead and crush him.”

            But before the golems can move toward me at all.
            “—I reject the presence of your familiars in my home.”
            I draw the runes in the air.
            For protection, for purification.
            Around us, the boundary field pounds like a heart.
            The floor rocks as if with an earthquake.
            Her golems’ bodies crumble from the feet upwards, as though they are constructed from pillars of sand.

            “—Tch.”
            She raises both hands, and around her, the air burns.

            …I won’t, let you.

            I lift my right hand and point.

                        “—Ansuz.”

            It’s a very thin line.
            The rune propelled by the Fin shot hits Rosary in the chest with a tiny popping sound.

            …She looks down at her chest with an exaggerated bewildered expression.
            Above her heart, a red stain is spreading.
            ……Faintly.
            The blood drips to the floor.

            And she falls to her knees with her eyes dull.

            “—”
            …I stand still with my hand still outstretched.

            It feels, almost anticlimax.
            …That she would die so easily after all of this.
            “—But that’s different.”
            It can’t be helped.
            Because after all…, no matter how maddened by jealousy, no matter how magically powerful, Rosary was still human.
            …And when killed, humans die. That’s the way it should be.
            This is—the way it should be.

            “—”

            …Inside her body, the rune takes hold and she burns.
            The “corpse” of the magus who attained Mastery through thievery will become white ash.
            And then even that ash will vanish, erasing her entirely.

            ……Still Vienya keeps breathing.
            Her eyes are glassy, but she seems aware.
            …It’s likely that she’s in a lot of pain.
            Well, that’s only obvious.
            That’s a given when all the nerves have been ripped out of her arm.
            Her shoulder where the nerve endings are raw must be screaming so much that she wants to cut it off entirely.
            ……But this small girl cannot make a sound.

            Archer, set free from the Command Spell, walks toward her and kneels at her side.

            “—You’ll be all right.
            “As long as the bleeding is stopped, you can survive this. You’re strong; survival is in your blood. I know that better than anyone.”
            “—”
            She reaches up with her left arm to touch his face.

            “—Yeah.
            “I know it’s already over.
            “—I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to protect you.”

            She shakes her head once and closes her eyes. Archer reaches out and holds her hand tightly.

            “—You were my only Master.
            “—And, Vienya…
                        Heckler was blessed to have been your Servant.”

            He says so and smiles as he closes his eyes.

            Slowly.

            Like petals drifting off of a cherry tree.
            Archer’s body dissipates and vanishes.

Chapter Text

            “—”
            …The hospital room stinks of medicine.
            I know.
            I know that there’s nothing I can do anymore, but all I’ve been able to do is stand here silently and watch.
            This is—Vienya’s injuries are far beyond my limited knowledge of healing.
            “…”

            ……After Archer vanished, we took Vienya to this hospital in the neighboring town.
            These people specialize in helping injured magi.
            …Apparently they’ve treated victims of the Grail War before, as the doctors understood what I meant when I told them that her Command Spells were ripped out.
            It’s obvious by this point, but Command Spells are attached directly to the nerves of our arms, and without special training, the only way for an outsider to remove them is by ripping those nerves out.
            I don’t know if there’s a way to restore movement and feeling to Vienya’s arm or even if she can go without having it amputated.
            I seem to recall that even with the nerves destroyed, there’s a way to retrace their pathways with prana to create artificial nerves, like a Magic Circuit.
            …But the inside of my head just keeps spinning with useless thoughts.
            I want to ask someone how she’s doing, but in the end I’m too exhausted from despair to really remember any of the doctors’ and nurses’ names.
            ……I haven’t slept all night, and the sun is already up. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve lost track of time, just staring at the IV drip for hours.
            All I know is that she will live.
            …
            ……No thanks to my abysmal foolishness, of course.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra’s voice is in my ear again.
            “Roswell, we should really go home.
            “The doctors have your contact information, and they’ll let us know when things change. There’s nothing more you can do here, so you have to rest.”
            …I know.
            In the end, all I can do is obey her words.

            It’s still barely dawning, and no one is around, so as we walk back toward Fuyuki, Yggdra materializes herself to stay at my side.
            “—It’s about Archer, but—”
            All of a sudden she begins to speak.
            I can do nothing but let her words drift in.
            “The Archer class possesses the ability to remain in this world even without a Master, much longer than any other Servant.
            “—It means that he simply chose to give up when the only Master he acknowledged was disqualified.”

            A victory without you is no victory at all.
            …That kind of thing, I suppose.
            You see it all the time in fiction, where it is portrayed as a great and moving thing.
            The reality that there are people who would behave like that is as empty and sad as it is beautiful.
            The unfairness of it rests like stones at the base of my diaphragm as we cross back into Fuyuki, towards the light foresting.
            Once we get closer in to Shinto, we won’t need to take a taxi or any such thing.
            …It’s not really that far to my neighborhood.
            Birds call to each other as the faint light paints the sky in clear ice blue, gold, and rosy tones.

            We simply walk on and on, not saying anything, not looking at each other.
            …My body is leaden with exhaustion and despair.
            I’m going to have to collapse soon, but until then all I can do is continue walking.

 

            …I took a life last night.
            It didn’t solve anything, as in the end no one was saved.
            All it did was “end” the problem of my rivalry with Rosary.
            ……Would things have ended up differently if I had paid more attention to her?
            Or was this conclusion inevitable from the time that I was chosen to become a Master instead of her?
            …I don’t know.

            As humans, everyone has needs.
            …As magi…, we ignore them and continue to strain toward Akasha like this.
            Why?
            The Origin is nothingness.
            The Einzbern magus who won the last war and achieved her family’s dream vanished entirely upon touching it.
            ……We strain all our lives for something that should be beyond human hands, and even if we are able to claim our prize, it means nothing.
            That is what it is to be a magus, a heretic against common sense.
            Fighting for our pride and dying unfulfilled.
            …It’s so painful, and so sad.
            I don’t even need the Holy Grail. All I’m doing is chasing after a directive left by my family.
            If Rosary had become the Master instead—would she still have disappeared, the only difference in how dignified that disappearance would have happened?
            …I don’t know.

            We’re walking through the forest now.
            It’s quiet, and filled with life.
            This simple, sun-dappled natural world around me… somehow makes me want to cry very strongly.

            ……Yggdra stops in the middle of the path, standing still and staring straight into the trees.
            I can hear the snapping of twigs that says a human is walking towards us through there.
            …And there’s a thin pricking on the back of my hand, along the Command Spell.

            “—”

            …There, through the trees.
            The shape of a man is coming towards us.
            He is dressed in black, and has incredibly long scarlet hair.
            ……Like fire.
            He stops slightly before the edge of the trees, and his gaze settles on Yggdra.
            Something like shock or disgust creases his face.

            …And Yggdra…, looks at him with her eyes wide and her gaze hard.

            “—You.”
            Neither of them spoke, so—
            For the first time, I see the person standing in the shadow of the red-haired man.
            …It’s a smaller man dressed all in white.
            The look on his face, in his dark green eyes, is the same as Yggdra’s.

            “—”
            The red-haired man releases a massive burst of killing intent, and heavy red-and-gold plate armor takes shape over his body.
            In his hand is a long-poled scythe decorated in a red scaled pattern.

            …He steps forward.
            Just like that, it’s as though his body blurs and almost disappears.
            He rushes forward, and runs up against the wall of Yggdra’s sword.
            —When did she, materialize her Noble Phantasm—?

            All I know is that the battling intent to kill between the two is enough to warp the air.

            My mind, is blank.
            …I don’t know what’s happening or even how to identify what’s taking place in front of me.
            The only thing that’s certain is that these two before us are a Master and Servant we haven’t yet seen.

            “—”
            The unknown Master’s face is very pale as he stares at Yggdra.
            And then something passes over his expression like resolve.
            “—All right, then. I won’t let it end like before.
            “I’ll back you up.”

            Something bright glows against his body underneath his clothes, and he holds out both hands over a large golden book.
            Rising up on his toes, he calls out in a clear voice.
            —No, I can’t even understand the words he speaks.
            All I know is that each syllable is tied to a musical pitch, and that there is immense power in them that hurts my head to listen to.
            This isn’t orthodox thaumaturgy as I know it.
            This is—

            The Master gestures.
            Fire rains down, spilling over both his Servant and Yggdra’s bodies.
            “—”
            It pounds.
            Pain races up my arm, making me stagger.
            “—It won’t work!”

            A powerful shockwave.
            Yggdra swings her sword and produces a heavy clang that pushes the unknown Servant backwards one step.
            But he simply uses the distance to slash at her, and their weapons lock together again.
            They struggle, Yggdra pushing from an angle and the other Servant using his greater height and weight to bear down on her, glowering at each other.
            …Yggdra’s clothes are slightly singed, but the magic wasn’t all that effective against her, it seems.
            Well, that’s only a given as she’s Saber, one of the classes with natural magic resistance.
            “—Don’t expect this to be the same as the last time.”
            He speaks for the first time in a clear voice.
            Resolve resonates in his words the same way it does in Yggdra’s.
            This must be what they call “personal charisma”.
            I can sense a great nobility in this man that matches Yggdra’s own.
            It’s the type of presence that might induce others to follow you.

            Anyway, he says something similar to his Master and narrows his eyes.
            “—I’ll protect what’s important to me this time.”
            “—”
            Yggdra doesn’t say anything.
            She pumps her arms forward, and by applying a burst of prana she knocks him back again.
            But this time, instead of reengaging with her, he leaps backwards.
            I don’t have time to wonder what they’re planning.
            On instinct alone, I gather up my shattered nerves and cast a barrier in front of her.
            …The next moment, lightning rains down.
            My barrier is weak, and easily broken by the more powerful and foreign magic that the unknown Master uses.
            Absorbing the damage, Yggdra grimaces but does not lose her footing.

            “—And I won’t forgive you if you try to take away what’s important to me!”

            She tries to leap forward, but he swings, catching her and sending her crashing back against the trunk of a tree.

            The Servant advances on her, and before I can move to help, his Master begins to walk toward me slowly, that spellbook balanced in the air above his palm.
            “—I’ll have you leave the stage now, I think.
            “It’s nothing personal, of course. It’s just smarter to deal with a threat like that girl right away; I’m sure that as a fellow Master you understand.”
            —The inside of my head goes blank.
            After all of this, I should have something left in me to defend myself with, but the magic won’t come.

            The man in white speaks a single word, and a number of pages detach from his spellbook, curling and solidifying into the shape of a thin foil. He grips it with his free hand.
            Without my consciously doing so, my hands raise on their own as if to defend against his impending attack, but there’s no way that I’ll be able to actually cast anything to counter him.

            …And then.
            The ground between us erupts in black-red flames.

            “—”
            It misses me by just a little.
            It spreads out past where the enemy Master was standing, and Yggdra is cursing, openly angry for the first time since her summoning.
            —I see.
            The enemy Servant is at the border of the trees, holding his Master to his body in the crook of one arm while brandishing his scythe.

            “—Nessiah, are you all right?”
            Even as he asks this, his attention is on us and the threat in the distance.
            …His Master clings to his arm with a shaken expression.
            “……Yes, for the most part.”
            He sounds breathless.
            …Well, for someone of his size, being grabbed suddenly and pulled out of harm’s way might be enough to knock the wind out of you.
            “—I didn’t sense them.
            “I suppose the aftereffects still haven’t dispersed completely.”
            “—”
            The armored Servant glares as though scrutinizing us. Yggdra readies her sword and holds her ground beside me.

            “—Well, going after easy prey has no point if it’s not easy prey any more. Especially with you like this.
            “…It seems we’ll be settling our score later, Princess. We’ll be taking our leave now.”

            Yggdra bristles, and her rage vibrates the air powerfully enough to make me tremble.
            “Coward! Does the Emperor run from his battles now, Gulcasa?!”

            The Servant smiles bitterly.
            His long hair flutters in the breeze.
            “Both of us have different priorities in this battle. I know mine. Are you aware of yours?”

            I can hear loud footsteps as multiple people crash through the underbrush towards us.
            Nessiah, looking past us and towards the intruders, holds on to his Servant tightly.
            “—Berserker.”
            “Right.”

            The Servant—Berserker lifts his Master into his arms and turns on his heel, dashing into the trees at speeds I can barely follow.
            Yggdra shifts her weight as though she wants to dash after them, but eventually lowers her sword, content to glare in their direction.

            …I turn towards our saviors.
            Oh.
            …We know them.
            It’s Lancer, Ein, and the girl in black.

            …The boy,
                        Vienya saved,
                                    …to fulfill a silly debt.

            …
            ……I can’t, handle this, …right now.

            “—Are you all right?”
            The boy Ein asks.
            He sounds…, happy to have made it in time.
            “—I didn’t get him after all, damn.”
            The girl stares into the woods and then shakes her head as if giving up.
            “Anyhow, I guess that’s that.
            “You don’t look so good. Did he get you with something?”

            …I can’t.
            I can’t, say it.

            “—Please forgive us for being rude.”
            Yggdra speaks for me.
            “A number of things happened yesterday and last night, and my Master is still in shock.
            “…If it’s all right, I think it would be best for us to go straight back.”

            Ein nods with a concerned expression.
            “—Sure, that’s not a problem. Do whatever is best for you, all right?”

            She smiles and bows her head.
            “—Thank you for helping us.”

            With a few trivial partings, we are on our way.
            Yggdra does not dematerialize.
            She rests her hand on my arm and guides me, firmly and steadily but still kindly.

 

            …When we make it back to the entrance of the neighborhood.
            ……By the hedge are the bags filled with groceries I left there.

            “—”
            Just seeing that.
            The nausea rises up and I don’t feel like I can take it any longer.

            ……And yet.
            As I continue to stand here helplessly, Yggdra walks over and picks up the bags.
            It’s as though she wants to protect it.
            …The proof that those two were with us.
            “—”
            I know what she intends.
            …But watching it…, is incredibly painful to me.

 

            …When we go through the door.
            Even though it was purified, a brief memory resurfaces of the stench of blood and burning flesh, and this time I really can’t take it anymore.

            “—…”
            I stand at the sink and let the water run.
            Even vomiting doesn’t make it go away.
            This sickness and this despair.
            I don’t know how much longer my body can hold me up.

            “—Roswell.”
            Her voice is soft.
            “…You should go to bed.
            “I’ll take care of everything, so just go ahead and rest. You need to sleep.”

            …She’s right.
            I’m afraid.
            I’m afraid of what I’ll dream about, but even so, I’m about to stop functioning.
            ……Slowly.
            I make my way back to my room and let myself collapse on the bed.

(interlude 5-1)

            “—Both of us have different priorities in this battle. I know mine. Are you aware of yours?”

            She grits her teeth until it feels like they’ll crack, fists her hands and digs her fingernails into her palms until her skin nearly gives way.
            She hates that that man was the one to tell her that.

            …But at the same time, she feels guilty for not considering it.
            …Seeing him.
            Everything from that time flooded back.
            Her foolishness, her selfishness, the immediacy of the grudge she thought she had long since laid to rest.
            …She could blame it on any number of things, but she won’t.
            She just has to make sure that it doesn’t happen a second time.

            She locks up the house, puts away the groceries the way that she remembers, and cleans up the sink, opening a window to air the scent of bile in the kitchen.

            —Her Master is at his limit.
            He is such a kind man.
            …Her memories and her instincts haven’t betrayed her.
            The long ages have not changed the house of Verlaine overmuch.
            This man, Roswell, is perhaps not fit to be a Master or even a traditional magus.
            …He doesn’t smell of blood.
            Most likely, his defeat of his cousin was the first life he has ever taken.

            ……He’s too kind.
            She knows that type of kindness, understands it.
            …He’ll wear himself out if this goes on.
            When faced with hardship and with the immutable unfairness of life, that kindness curls in on itself, bleeding and festering.
            Her priorities.
            …What she can do.
            All she knows for certain is the pain in her breast.
            …It won’t ease until she eases his pain.
            Not because of their bond as Master and Servant…
            …but simply because it’s so difficult to watch.

            “I know.”
            If all I can do is protect him, then the least I can do is to protect his heart as well as his body.
            The girl thinks this and closes her eyes.

(5-1 interlude out.)

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            ……As though through a connection thinner than a capillary.
            The images and sounds flow into me.

            When she was small, her world was made up of the people around her.
            Her father and mother always smiled at her and gave her kind words and gifts.
            In return for their love, she loved them more than anything.
            The other people around her were also kind.
            …Courtiers, nursemaids, teachers, and knights.
            All of them.
            Everyone.
            Her early years were like the garden of paradise, filled with white light, bordered by the green and gold and pale blue of the family’s colors.
            A palace of white marble, interspersed with gardens and beautiful things.
            A tiny world filled with warmth and kindness directed toward her.

            …It was only her.

            Of course, it wasn’t as though there were no other children at all.
            She sometimes saw the children of the people around her.
            …It was that in the end, she was the sole child of the king and queen.
            …They said.
            Before she was born, the queen gave birth to twin girls.
            But they died almost instantly after they were born because their bodies were too weak.
            ……And the queen could no longer bear children after her.

            So it was only her.
            It wasn’t as though her days were dreamlike and filled with nothing but fun.
            …She was the only one who could become the next sovereign.

            In her country.
            Sovereignty wasn’t something that belonged to men alone.
            Only those of her own family could bear the proof of the sovereign, and so even when she married, she would rule the country and her husband would simply be her consort.
            …But of course, she couldn’t just go unprepared for that day.

            So there were lessons.
            Various things about how to handle a kingdom, understand politics and supervise a treasury.
            She learned about the other countries on the vast continent, and most of all about their allies.
            She met the people of the kingdom firsthand, and her father explained to her human relations as they recognized and accepted the small girl who might someday rule over them.

            ……But even more importantly than that.
            That proof of sovereignty I mentioned before.

            It was said that her family had been chosen by God to rule the world.
            They were descended from angels, and so too had an angel left them their right to continue ruling all in their sight.

            …To put in weapon terms, I suppose you would call it a bastard sword.
            It wasn’t fashioned like an ordinary longsword or scimitar, and beyond that it was immense.
            Stood on its tip, it was the same height as her.
            ……This sword, that could only be wielded by the hands of her family, was the proof.
            It was called a holy weapon, and its weight was impossible for ordinary people to handle.
            Because it was bound to the blood of the royal family, however, she could lift it without feeling its weight.

            …She was told.
            She was told that the sword would one day come to her hands, but beyond that—

            “—Princess.”
            She can’t remember, now, who first gave her those words.
            But she remembers the words themselves.
            “The Holy Sword is justice.
            “Justice lies with it, no matter what.
            “—And so as long as you hold this weapon, justice will be on your side—”

            …Of course, she believed.
            Even if she hadn’t been raised to believe, she would have believed.
            It was the belief that united her country and its allies.

            Her world was filled with light and love.
            Her family had been given heaven’s mandate, as it were.
            …And she had it confirmed to her by people she believed in.
            She was blessed.

            …She, and those days, were surely blessed—

 

            …
            ……
            ………I wake up.
            “—”
            My body feels very heavy and I don’t want to think.
            …How long was I asleep?
            The faint light I can see through the curtains suggests that it’s either early in the morning or already nightfall.
            “—”
            I can’t figure out the date and I really just want to close my eyes again.
            …But.
            I force myself to sit up anyway.
            “…”
            My body feels sluggish and my head hurts.
            …It’s the aftereffects of the shock, most likely.
            I don’t know.
            I can’t tell how long I’ve slept, but it’s been long enough to make me feel sluggish and awful.
            “—”
            And then.
            The door opens.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra is standing there.
            “I could sense that you were awake.
            “…I’m glad. You’ve been sleeping for almost an entire day.”

            She comes into the room with hesitant steps.
            As she does, the light of the rest of the house illuminates her from the side, casting soft light over the side of her face.

            …I can’t answer her.
            I can’t face her, and I can’t say anything at all.

            Yggdra stands at my side.
            She lays her arm across my shoulders and tugs at them lightly as if to pull me against her body. Even like this, I can’t help but be aware of her warmth.
            —I’m, a pathetic man.
            “You should get up and wash your face.
            “Don’t worry about breakfast, I’ll make something for you.”

            …Does she know that more than anything, I need someone to give me direction or I won’t be able to do anything at all?
            Whether or not she does, it’s still true.
            When she disappears back outside the room, I drag myself out of bed and dress.

            …I can hear the sounds of her rattling around in the kitchen downstairs.
            Dully, I wonder if she’s all right.

            The cold water does a little to wake me up, and I look at myself in the bathroom mirror.
            …I need to wash my hair, and even though I slept for so long, there are muted purple bruises under my eyes.
            It’s probably just the way that I’m feeling manifesting in my body.
            No matter how long I sleep, failure and despair will continue to weigh on me.
            I am bone tired.
            …But Yggdra said she wanted me downstairs, and so what choice do I have but to go?
            Making excuses like that, I head down.

            “—”
            There’s actually quite a bit of food there.
            I recognize much of it as various leftovers, but there’s still something to be said for a Servant who’s only been in this world a handful of days figuring out modern kitchen equipment well enough to heat them up.

            …Damn it.
            It’s only when I see the food that I realize that I feel emptied out inside.
            I’m hungry after spending all that time asleep and still giving prana to Yggdra to anchor her here. That’s a matter of course, but I understand what they mean when they say that you still get hungry even in times like this.
            …I wish I could ignore my needs a little more for the sake of my dignity.
            But then again, she went to all this trouble to prepare the food for me, so how am I supposed to refuse it?

            She keeps giving me the excuses of propriety as rungs for me to pull myself up into continuing living, the way my body urges me to.
            …I am human.
            So even if I crave it, I need those excuses.
            …Rather than saying that she knows me, it’s more that she knows human nature very well.
            Perhaps people she knows or she herself has been through a similar experience in life.

            All I really understand is that the food in front of me, while not as good as anything freshly cooked, tastes good.

            “—”
            I listen to the water from the faucet against the basin of the sink.
            It cuts off and leaves my head ringing.
            Yggdra stands in the quiet and dries the dishes.
            …Really, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank her enough for picking up after me the way I am today.

            “—I suppose the first order of business today would be to cleanse the house of negativity, but…”
            …Honestly, even if I really wanted to do that I’m not sure if I could manage it.
            No, if I went back to the place where I killed “her” and those things were done to Vienya, I would probably just throw up again.
            ……For a magus, I really am a late bloomer, aren’t I.

            “There’s no need.
            “I’ve already taken care of it.”
            …Wait, what?
            “I washed the blood off the floor and cleaned away the negative energy yesterday, so you don’t have to do anything about it.”
            Her voice is just a bit too firm for the statement to be casual.
            —Well.
            I’m not sure what to expect now, but at the same time I can’t say that I’m anything but grateful to her.
            It must not have been easy.
            “Then—”
            “No, Roswell.
            “I’m aware that as you’re my Master I can’t really give orders, but all the same you’re in no condition for any of this. So today we’re not going out, and there’ll be no talk of strategy or the war until tomorrow.
            “You need to rest. I’m your Servant, and so it’s up to me to look after you.
            “—Also, there’s no need to apologize or to thank me, because I wouldn’t mind taking a break either.
            “From my perspective, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to fight, and constant conflict is exhausting when you’re not used to it.”

            “—”
            She said not to apologize or to thank her, but all that floats up are apologies and thanks.
            I’m a sorry excuse for a Master indeed.
            ……But all the same, I suppose it’s not altogether unusual for a person such as her to take the lead like this.

            She comes out from behind the counter and smiles at me.
            ……Honestly, I don’t know what to do.

            “—But there is one thing that I should apologize to you for.”
            I turn to her.
            With the breakfast things put away, we’re now sitting side by side on the sofa.
            “It’s about yesterday.
            “I shouldn’t have just gone off and chased that man, no matter what the history behind us.
            “…It was terribly rash of me, and I endangered you. For that, I’m sorry.”

            “…You mean Berserker, correct?”
            She nods.
            Her long golden hair sways as she looks far into the distance.
            “……I’m sure you can guess, but we knew each other in life, before we became Heroic Spirits. His name is Gulcasa, and out of the Servants we’ve seen, I’d say that he’ll be the most formidable enemy we have to face.
            “We were enemies in that war.”
            I don’t really need to ask her what war.
            It was the one that granted her the right to become a hero in the first place, of course.
            ……Naturally, I’ve read the historical records.
            Her kingdom was nearly conquered by a neighboring country, and she repelled the enemy with guerilla tactics, ascended the throne, and fought back and forth for several months before invading the other country and securing victory.
            Yggdra survived that battle, ruled her country in peace, died, and became a Heroic Spirit.
            …Most heroes have tragic deaths, but unlike the rest of them Yggdra lived quite a full life.
            Still.
            It was a war, and so you can’t say that her life was never touched by tragedy at all.

            “—I always wondered what I would feel, and what my first instinct would be, if I saw that man again.
            “I never quite imagined that it would be like this. All the emotions I thought I’d left behind me just rose back up, and there we were attacking each other in a blind rage like the children we were in those days.”
            I feel as though she’s soliloquizing rather than speaking to me.
            Her profile is so distant, and in the end I don’t think there’s anything I can do to reach her.
            …This harsh presence is the same Yggdra who analyzed the town from a general’s perspective, ran down our strengths and weaknesses, and ignored the blood and horror from two days ago to stand tall and proud.
            It’s almost as if she and the Yggdra who smiles at me and made breakfast for me are different people entirely.

            As I think that,
            “…I regretted it from the bottom of my heart.”
            …she looks up and says that with a quiet and untouchable sorrow.

            “He stole what was mine, and I stole what was his.
            “—It was childish, irresponsible, and so much blood was shed over that stupid war.
            “…I think that it might have ended if I’d spoken to him instead of retaliating, but I didn’t realize that or the wisdom in that until it was too late.
            “Even now I can remember the sensation of having killed his people, killed his loved ones, and killed him.
            “……I wondered.
            “If we were to meet again under different circumstances, would anything change? The only line ever between us was a border made of the conceits of man.
            “…But here we are. There we were, and nothing was different at all.
            “Either I’ve grown less than I believed, or it’s just too late by now.”

            I feel as though I’m looking up at her.
            As though she’s a holy saint or priestess or mother, touched by something grave and beautiful, and I am a child who cannot understand.
            She is untouchable.
            In this moment, we are different existences.

            …And yet.
            It connects us.
            That thread of magic thinner than a capillary.

            …I think back to last night’s dream.
            Beyond doubt, those were her memories.
            When Master and Servant share a healthy connection, their memories will reflect in each other’s dreams; if she sleeps she will see my past.
            As a child, she had everything.
            I suppose you would call it being spoiled, but that carries the connotation of not appreciating what was around you, and Yggdra did appreciate it.
            She was naïve and there were a number of things she still took for granted, but at the same time she was still a good person who wished for the well-being of others.

            …She lived as a princess and our lifestyles are quite different.
            Still, understanding that she was once like that makes me feel like I might be able to understand even this side of her if I try.
            Even if she is “untouchable”, the distance between us “can be bridged”.

            Yggdra shakes her head, and the ends of her hair flick against my arm like strands of silk.
            “—Or it may just be that as Servants, we’re doomed to repeat our battle.
            “When the time comes, as long as you give me all your power, I’m confident that I can defeat him again.”
            …She frowns.
            “It’s just that his Master…”

            But her voice trails off and she says nothing.
            When I prompt her to continue,

            “—It’s just that that man reminds me very much of someone, when that can’t be possible.
            “It’s an irrelevant detail, in any case.”

            She says that and smiles bitterly.

            The day goes on like that.
            I read books, and I get out the record player for her.
            She listens to the music with a pleased expression, and when I get to the end of my book I give up on routines and run the bath for myself in the afternoon.
            She cuts fruit for lunch.
            Sometimes she disappears and only the feeling of my magical energy leaking out tells me that she’s still in physical form somewhere, exploring the house.
            …I have the chance to sit and not think about anything.
            ……I don’t think I’ve been able to have a day like this since my parents died.

            But really, the most important thing is being able to watch her.
            Watching her movements, watching her smile for me.
            She’s protecting me, and I know it.
            She’s protecting me with all her heart and I just want to give up and weep into her shoulder.

            I know it.
            She knows it.
            We let the time pass quietly and comfortably.

            “—I think I want to try making dinner.”
            She says that as the sun begins to set.

            “Huh?”
            Yggdra looks over to me with an earnest expression.
            “Well, I’m taking care of you today after all, so I think maybe I should try to make something myself.
            “It’s true I don’t have much experience in the kitchen, but I was able to figure out how all the various appliances work, and as long as I have determination I won’t lose to anyone or anything.”

            …Hmm.
            I have no idea whether to think of this as endearing or terrifying.

            “—By not much experience, what do you mean?”

            Yggdra tilts her head to the side and counts on her fingers.
            “I can cut and prepare fruits and vegetables, and I can dress meat and cook it over a fire.
            “Umm, and as long as I have broth then I can make stew.”

            …
            ……Anyone who can prepare raw materials and has broth can make stew if they can judge time decently.

            “…Unfortunately, we only have materials for making broth from scratch.”

            Yggdra just nods very seriously.
            “If I have instructions, then I can do it! Just leave dinner tonight to me.”

            …Oh, no.
            I can see this disaster coming from miles away.

            “…Instead, how about we do this.
            “I’ll give you instructions personally, and you’ll do most of the work.
            “Does that sound all right?”

            Yggdra makes a very considering face at me.
            As though she’s not sure whether to keep arguing the point or not.
            “—All right.
            “You won’t have to do that much instructing, though. I’m sure I can manage this.”

 

            …
            ……
            ………Well.

            To her credit, I can say that Yggdra certainly has a great deal of enthusiasm.
            She also has a remarkable amount of common sense for someone whose meals were always cooked for her instead of by her own hand.
            ……As a relaxing exercise, this was a complete failure, but after a number of close calls and some nearly-burnt cream broth, the soup has been cooked and isn’t half bad.
            Honestly, the finished product is filled with uneven results, but the texture of the soup itself hides it. And on top of that, she’s not bad at wielding a cooking knife for an amateur.
            When I pointed that out, she looked at me blankly and said that it’s no wonder because she spent a major part of her life cutting meat.
            …Scary.

            I won’t dwell on it, as in the end the meal is saved.

            “—I’m definitely going to continue cooking from now on. It was a lot of fun.”
            Not if I can help it, Yggdra.
            I may just develop tachycardia or palpitations if you keep giving me small heart attacks the way you’ve done today.
            …I keep the words in my head, though.
            She’s smiling at me now.
            “Wasn’t it fun?”

            …Oh.
            I see.
            Maybe…
            Maybe this has gone exactly how she was hoping it would after all.

            “—”
            I’ve already bathed and the dishes are done, so I go back to bed right away.
            In the hallway, she smiled and told me she was glad.

            “—”
            It’s not as though I’ve forgotten about what happened two days ago.
            Honestly, I think it may haunt me all of my life.
            …It’s just.
            Yggdra is very good at this sort of thing.
            Instead of the depression that hung on me like a malaise this morning, I feel at ease now.

            …A gratitude…, that I can’t put into words.
            I don’t know how it is that she does this, whether it’s out of experience or the bond between us allowing her to know me.
            All I know is that… without her, I wouldn’t be able to cope.

            Thinking thoughts like that.
            I rest back into the warmth around me and her presence in the room next to mine, and sink into sleep—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            If the first seventeen years of her life were a summer’s dream, then that night was the abrupt awakening.
            …And that awakening came so quickly.
            There had been murmurs of the mounting tensions, thinking back.
            Three years ago, there had been a coup d’état in the northern empire, and that country became controlled by a fiercely independent young sovereign quite different from his reliant predecessor.
            Murmurs of worry and discontent that trickled down to the ears of a princess.
            To her, those words had had very little meaning then.
            —And by the time the end came, it was more like a landslide than a row of falling dominoes.
            It was all at once and there was no time to try to understand.

            …Later she would understand that her great kingdom in its greatness had become complacent.
            When the border fortress fell, the royal cavalry was too underprepared, and the enemy army had worked long and hard to amount more than enough strength to overcome them.
            —Entire battalions of soldiers fell like wheat being harvested, and the soil of her country was saturated with their blood.
            Before there was even a chance to think, their defenses were completely overwhelmed and the capital city overrun.

            Her father pressed his sword into her hands.
            —He told her to run.

            In the confusion, she managed to escape the hold of her honorary guard.
            Her head was blank, and her only thought was to get help to her father.
            Even the greatest knight she knew of still must have needed the power of their blood.
            He needed justice, because justice did not lose.

            —When she returned to the castle.
            In the midst of the battle, she saw her father fighting with a young man.

            He couldn’t have been more than two or three years older than her.
            It struck her at the same time his fearsome armor and hair like fire soaked her bones with terror for her father, her people, the army.

            It didn’t take long.
            Her father was pushed back by the intruder, and cut open by the enemy’s scythe.

            As the king fell, the usurper stood bathed in her father’s blood.
            With red spray on his face and trickling over his armor, his gaze passed over her by chance, then returned to her, and their eyes locked.
            —Her body registered the danger before her brain, and she ran.

            Fleeing the only home she’d ever known as the knights protecting her fell one by one—

            …
            ……I wake up.
            There’s a distant annoying sound coming from downstairs.
            —The phone?
            There aren’t many people who would call me… it’s probably important.
            “—”
            I’m still not quite awake and I don’t want to get up quite yet, but I’ll miss the call if I just lie around here, so I push myself and get up.
            There’s not time to get dressed, so I don’t bother.

            “—”
            …I reach the kitchen and am able to pick up the phone.
            “—This is the Branthèse residence.”
            The vaguely familiar voice at the other end of the line helps to snap me out of my sleepiness.
            The owner of the voice introduces himself as a doctor and speaks of Vienya’s condition.
            “…”
            For the time being, it seems as though her condition has stabilized.
            ……At least there’s that much comfort to be had.
            I sigh, thank the doctor, and set the receiver back down.

            “—”
            At Yggdra’s suggestion, I make fruit pancakes for breakfast.
            —We eat in the quiet, and there are only the sounds of water running and dishes clinking against each other as we clean up.

            “—Unfortunately, I don’t think that we can take any more time off.”
            She’s right.
            …I may hate to admit it, but she’s definitely right.
            I’ve had time to recuperate, so we should really get back to the Grail War by now.

            “The question is what we want to accomplish from here on out.”
            She steeples her fingers and looks at me seriously.
            “—Right now, including me there’s at most seven Servants left.
            “Lancer, the Riders, Berserker, Avenger, and either Caster or Assassin.
            “—Honestly, I’m not worried about Caster, and Assassin would have to be an especially good Servant to not cause problems in direct conflict.
            “And Avenger is a problem, but definitely not one that can’t be dealt with.
            “Our biggest threats are Berserker and the Riders.”

            “—”
            Certainly, what she says is true.
            The knight classes—Saber, Archer, and Lancer—all possess innate magical resistance, and if I’m remembering correctly, Yggdra’s Magic Resistance stat is at a B+.
            In order to injure her, spells must either be great magic, ritual magic, or possess very high rank due to her vessel being protected with a “rule” that does not allow those things.
            ……Actually, that should be even more cause for concern.
            Berserker’s Master attacked her with magic, and although its effects were lessened due to Yggdra’s innate protection, she was still injured.
            I don’t think that I could cast anything high-level enough to attack most Servants without hitting Yggdra as well, and our elemental affinity is poor.
            Yggdra’s affinity lies with “sanctity”, or in other words ether.
            Mine is, of course, with “shadow”, or imaginary numbers, even if it isn’t perfect-grade.
            ……So, if we go into battle again with Berserker, I have to try to handle his Master somehow to keep him from attacking her.
            He can attack freely, able to cast spells without worrying that it will harm his Servant.
            “Honestly, it would be ideal if we could wait for the Riders or Berserker to be defeated, hopefully one by the other.”
            Yggdra crosses her arms and considers.
            “—In that case, I’d have to guess that Berserker would be the winner.
            “They don’t know what to expect of him, he’s powerful, and he has a strong Master as well.
            “—It really would be ideal.
            “Then we would only have to deal with him.
            “If the last Servant we haven’t seen is somehow strong enough to destroy the Riders and Berserker together, then we definitely have a problem on our hands.”
            “If the last Servant is Assassin, though, we’ll also have to stay on guard for traps.
            “—Our best defense, in the end, is simply that you are Saber.
            “…You’re Saber, and you’re the Servant I summoned, so you are the best.
            “That’s all there is to it.”

            —Yggdra smiles at me.
            “Yes, that’s exactly right.”

            “—So what should we do?”
            In the end, we don’t know where any of the Masters’ bases are, so we’ll have to resume patrolling, but…
            “In Berserker’s case, I think he’ll have enough sense to only want to fight in a place where people won’t be harmed.
            “It’s against his nature and against mine to want to involve any more innocents than strictly necessary, and both of our Noble Phantasms are very destructive.
            “If there’s anyone who’ll come out of the woodwork on their own, then that would be the Riders and Avenger, as Avenger and the Riders’ Masters seem to be the most reckless.
            “—We can’t predict too much about Lancer, but we know that his Master is fair-minded.
            “The biggest problem will be where we run into the enemy Masters, and in what circumstances.
            “……Of course, we do need to be careful of using my Noble Phantasm and leaving survivors, or using it in a place it might be seen.
            “But with my magical energy reserve, I should be able to use it several times in succession. The only setback will be that I’ll have to spend the next day at rest.”
            Basically meaning that if we want to push her boundaries on that, we’ll need to give her an extra power source somehow.
            Obviously, having her consume human souls is out of the question.
            It’s something I’ll have to think about by myself for a while, I suppose.

            We talk about things like that, and discuss what we’re going to do when we actually do go out and patrol, and before we know it it’s already nightfall.
            “—So what shall we do for dinner tonight?”
            Yggdra is smiling, and I know she’s already anticipating tonight’s culinary battle.
            …
            Well, I have to do something to stop this before it gets out of hand.

            “—”
            I stifle the urge to laugh.
            …It seems that in the end, there actually are some things from this age that can surprise and delight even a princess like Yggdra.

            Yggdra the girl was interested in the city when we looked around Shinto, and so I’ve decided to bring her to one of the nicer restaurants.
            This is a place I’ve only been a handful of times, but its delicate decorations and peaceful café-like atmosphere have always made me think that it would be a good place for a date.
            …
            Even if only in my own head, I seem to be incriminating myself somehow.

            We’re taken to a table and given menus.
            The food here is a little expensive, but it’s all very good and I can afford to splurge a little bit.
            Yggdra spends so much time staring in wonder at the delicate decorations and high ceiling that she isn’t ready to order when the waitress comes along, so I suppress my smile and order us a pair of caramel coffees and almond biscotti to give her time to decide what she wants.
            Her face is very bright as she asks me what the different kinds of dishes are, and the different kinds of wine.
            When she finally does decide on fried calamari, she makes me promise both that I’ll share whatever I get and that we’ll buy dessert after this.
            …When all is said and done, I doubt that she’ll actually mind being unable to try cooking today. Well, that’s a relief for me.
            And watching her get this excited over what kinds of food we can get…
            ……It makes me happy.
            Just seeing her face light up makes me happy, but knowing that I’m the reason behind that light is a pleasure that’s difficult to put to words.
            …I’ve been with women before, of course, but even on real dates with them, I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like this just seeing them smile.
            And even though there’s nothing romantic about this dinner, it’s still impossible for me to take my eyes off Yggdra for an instant.
            There really is something special about her.

            …Yggdra insists on sharing her calamari with me, steals spoonfuls of my soup and forks pasta off my plate, and then eats two slices of tiramisu and a corner of my blueberry cheesecake to top it off.
            She smiles, she laughs, she wonders about the recipes behind what she’s eating, and she never stops admiring the restaurant’s décor.
            ……I’m—so glad we’ve done this.

            I place a generous tip on the table as we leave.
            It is getting dark outside.
            Yggdra stretches with a refreshed look on her face, and I almost want to tell her that patrolling can wait, that we should just keep looking around the town, maybe buy her a few new outfits while we’re here.
            ……But at least for tonight, the time for those things is over.

            Outside, the air is crisp and very cold.
            “—Let’s go.”
            Yggdra speaks to me in a self-assured voice.
            …We move on with our breath streaming white in the night sky.

            There’s still quite a lot of activity going on in Shinto, but we may as well cover all our bases and search this city thoroughly before moving on to Miyama.
            I tell Yggdra to stay on the alert for the presence of enemy Servants.
            …It’s a bit of a risk, but I’m having her stay in physical form.
            At the least, this will serve as a beacon to draw other Masters to us.
            The faster we get these things settled, the better, after all.
            ……But there is no trace of enemy Masters throughout the city.
            When we are sure, we go through the residential section… but there’s nothing there either.
            …Well, if we found someone there then it would either mean that they were there to prey on civilians or that they were also patrolling, so I’m still somewhat glad, but all the same it’s troubling.
            And so, we head for the bridge.
            It’s probably nearly ten o’clock by now.
            …There’s a greater chance of meeting the enemy Servants in a place with thick plant growth for cover, or in the quieter subdivisions of Miyama, where the people retreat into their homes early as if to specifically protect themselves from battles between Servants.

            …We walk.
            The light of the lampposts casts an unearthly glow over Yggdra’s hair.
            Her movements are very steady and there’s no sign of concern on her face.
            I can sense her alertness, looking at her steady gaze.
            …She is ready to defend against an attack at any moment.
            ……I can only follow after her.

            And finally, we reach Miyama.
            We head towards the temple.
            …It should have the least number of people, even in this dark town with all the lights turned off in the windows.
            Of course, that will make it the most likely place for enemy Servants to appear.

            “—”
            We’re close to the forest when I sense it.
            A faint prickling sensation in the back of my hand along my Command Spell.

            “…Roswell.”
            “Yes. I can sense it too.”

            Yggdra’s form shimmers faintly, and her modern clothes are exchanged with the white dress and black corset.
            In her hands is her massive holy sword.

            The path is empty.
            The path is empty, and so there will be no one to witness our battle.
            “—”
            I run power into my Magic Crest.
            It’s an irritating feeling like pins and needles when it starts up, but all the better if I’m to have spells ready when our enemy finally appears.

            …At last, I hear footsteps.
            There are multiple sets.
            Yggdra sinks down into a guard-like stance—

            And finally, the two girls we saw facing down Lancer days ago emerge from around the corner.
            Both of the Riders are flanking them as they walk.
            The two women are wearing black tuxedoes like what you would expect a bodyguard in an American film to have as a uniform.
            The two girls are wearing modern clothes, with the red-haired girl in a black shirt and tartan skirt more punk-styled than the clothes Vienya wore and the pink-haired girl in a light pink shirt and ruffled skirt.
            When they approach, it’s the pink-haired girl who calls out, waving.

            “Thanks for waiting, Onii-chan!
            “It’s been a while since we got to have a fight, and we didn’t wanna have to chase you to finally get one.”

            “—No, it’s really to our best interests to fight here after all.
            “This way we won’t have any unnecessary interruptions, correct?”

            …Again, she is the only one to speak.
            “You’re another one like our master, aren’t you? The rules are boring and sometimes we don’t wanna follow ‘em.”

            “—Primea.”
            The red-haired girl says so softly as if making a reprimand.
            Her expression is very worried.

            “Tch, you’re boring too, Nana-chan.
            “—How are we supposed to win at this rate if we can’t make anybody come out and play?”

            “—Regardless of that.”
            The Rider with flowers in her hair, the woman Archer identified as the knight Meslieness, interrupts.
            “We do have an opponent before us now, Primea.”

            “…yeah, I guess so.
            “But still, there’s only one of him and he should be easy enough to beat as long as he’s alone, so it’s still kinda dumb.”
            Nana continues to look at her as though she shouldn’t complain if we’re easy targets.

            …Well, let them think that if they want.
            The problem here is of course that we only have a general idea of their abilities, and we’re still outnumbered two to one.

            “Be that as it may, we won’t allow you to back down either now that you’ve found us.”
            Yggdra says so and holds up her sword.
            “On my honor as Saber, I will claim victory for my Master.”

            In a low voice I murmur to her.
            “—But we do want to conserve your Noble Phantasm all the same.
            “Unless there’s really no other way, you understand, correct? There’s a high chance that we’ll be involving civilians otherwise…”

            We’re far enough away to do battle without worrying about intruders, but from what I know about her Noble Phantasm, it’s far too flashy and destructive for an area like this.
            There’s the possibility of dragging innocent people into our battle, and I don’t want that.

            “I understand.”
            She replies in a near whisper.
            “I feel the same way.
            “—But, Roswell. I won’t lose. I won’t be made a fool of in front of my Master.”
            There is pride and something that is almost playfulness in her voice.

            “Go get her, Rider!”

            Primea gives the order and Rider steps forward, but Yggdra is already rushing to meet her.

            …The almighty crash that resounds through the trees when Yggdra’s sword meets the holy lance is like the sound of hundreds of cymbals going off at once.
            And Yggdra is already wheeling about, pirouetting with her sword to head off the attack of the second Rider, Silvanoier, before it even lands.
            As the two tall knights attempt to gauge their opponent cautiously, Yggdra continues to fend them both off with fierce, sure counterattacks.

            “—”
            …She is definitely worth more than either of them alone.
            The reach of their weapons is against her, but her knowledge of their capabilities levels things out.
            ……If she can gain the offensive, then…

            “—Huh, so she does have some fight in her.”
            Primea sounds pleased.
            “How about you, Onii-chan?”

            ………I can’t hesitate.
            I can’t,
                        think of Rosary,
                                    …and hesitate now.

            “—”
            I gather up my power and prepare to cast a bind on her.
            But—

            “Trace, on!”

            She calls out the incantation to something absurd, and a shining shape like a cardboard cutout of a halberd appears in her hands.

            ……What?

            “—Come on, Nana-chan, you always just sit there and be boring!
            “You’d definitely feel better if you did something too!”

            “Nn.”
            The girl called Nana bows her head as if she’s unhappy about it.
            She lifts her hands slowly as if in pain.
            “Trace—”
            ……In the moonlight.
            It seems almost as if her hair is lit up in shades of gold.
            “—on.”

            She grasps her weapon with hands that tremble, and she stumbles.
            …Her eyes reflect red in the play of blades between Yggdra and the Riders.
            For whatever reason, the magic seems to cost her more dearly than Primea’s.

            “—”
            …This is ridiculous.
            Not only do these two practice projection, which is such a rare branch of magic it’s barely used at all by orthodox magi, but they plan to fight me with things like this?
            Weapons that are so ridiculous my head hurts just looking at them?
            …Please.
            Now I do feel a little sorry for them.

            “—Roswell, you can’t underestimate them!”
            Suddenly.
            Yggdra’s voice shouts out a warning from her own battlefield.
            “Those weapons are similar to Lancer’s spear.
            “They’re ‘conceptually’ higher than ordinary arms—”

            …What does she mean by that?

            I wonder for a moment, stupidly.
            And then I start to sense it.
            …There’s a power in those childish-looking halberds that’s beyond anything I’ve ever touched.
            It’s almost equivalent to the ceremony to summon a Servant, although classing it with a single-purpose ritual isn’t quite right either.
            ……I have no way to defend myself physically.
            Even if I did, I get the feeling that I would be hopelessly outclassed.

            As I gather the prana to shield myself—

            ……There’s another reaction in my Command Spell.

            “—?!”
            …Someone else is coming.
            Another Master is headed this way, and fast.
            This energy is—

            I feel the power building and step back; Yggdra seems to sense it a few moments later and leaps away.
            And then.
            A wave of fire splits the path between us, washing over the two Riders.

            “—I’ll thank you two to keep your hands off of her.”
            From behind us.
            Berserker walks up the path with his scythe held out, long hair fluttering.
            His pale eyes burn in the half-darkness.
            “If you’re knights, then you should know better than to get in between rivals.”

            The dark-haired Rider stands up and stares him down.
            “—A fine thing for an intruder in our battle to say.
          “Stand down. We cannot disobey our Masters, and it would be dishonorable for us to retreat at a time like this.”

            “—Heh.
            “Well said, but don’t say I never gave you the chance to run.”
            Berserker spreads his feet apart and sinks down with an inhuman grin on his face.

            “—”
            Just looking at him makes my skin break out into gooseflesh.

            “What do you think you’re doing?!”
            …Oh.
            Yggdra is standing looking at Berserker indignantly, high spots of color in her cheeks.
            …She’s completely ignoring the Riders, too.

            “—What does it look like I’m doing?
            “You’re not allowed to die, Princess, unless it’s by my hands. If some other Servant kills you first, you won’t be paying for what you did to my people.”
            “—”
            She looks like she wants to protest.
            I can see the struggle on her face.
            ……It makes her look much younger than the way she usually seems.
            As if for once, she actually fits her physical years.

            But instead she grips her sword anew and turns to face the Riders again.
            “—All right then.
            “Just this once, I’ll grant you a reprieve.”

            …I’m not sure what’s going on.
            But the fact that we have backup is certain for now.

            The Rider with roses in her hair runs past us to clash with Berserker,
            and the black-haired Rider continues her battle with Yggdra.
            …I see.
            They’re nothing if not observant.
            A demonic lance for the girl with a holy sword and a Master who can only use dark magic, and a holy lance to fight the demon…

            Still.
            That takes care of the problem of the Servants.
            Berserker’s weapon is a pole arm, so he’s on much more even footing against the Rider Meslieness than Yggdra was against the both of them.
            …Yggdra seems a little less desperate than before, too.

            Now all I have to deal with is—

            “—I do wish he wouldn’t run off like that.
            “So it’s you girls. At least this is a lovely opportunity to deal with the cheaters, then.”

            Berserker’s Master, Nessiah, has finally appeared.
            …He walks past his Servant’s battle towards Primea and Nana, and stops when he’s a few paces ahead of me.

            “Oh, it’s this Onii-chan.”
            Primea sounds displeased.
            “Well, we’ll just have to take care of you.”

            Nessiah’s small back shows no signs of distress.
            He holds up his hands, and prana so thick I can see it unaided boils in the air around them.
            “I assure you, this is quite unwise.”

            “—”
            …Hmm. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job keeping up with all these developments, but at the least, we have backup.
            Our numbers have been evened out.
            Even if Berserker and Nessiah turn on us once we’re done with this battle…
            These are opponents that Yggdra knows how to handle.

            “—Don’t hold back, Saber!
            “Go ahead and take her out with all your might!”

            “Understood!”

            The clang of weapons behind us grows ever more intense.
            The two girls in front of us ready their strange weapons, and Nessiah begins to chant.

            “—Well.
            “This looks pretty interesting.”

            …
            ……I don’t quite know what to say about this.

            Further down the road, behind Primea and Nana.
            …Avenger is standing there.

            She’s alone.
            My Command Spell hasn’t reacted, so her Master, that Yellma woman, must not be nearby.
            For whatever reason, Avenger must have been sent out to do some scouting or to attack civilians or whatnot.

            The tall knight shades her eyes and stares at us appraisingly:
            Berserker and one of the Riders in battle,
            Yggdra fighting the other,
            and Nessiah and myself preparing to engage the Riders’ Masters.
            I can’t imagine what this must look like from any outsider’s point of view, let alone hers.

            She crosses her arms like she’s debating with herself.

            And then she starts to smile.

            ……I really do not like that smile.

            “—Sorry, ladies.
            “I know you two, but I’m not interested in fighting you.
            “So I’m gonna have you leave the stage here.
            “…Saber and Berserker look like they’ll be much more fun to have a go at, and as long as that piece of shit calling herself my Master isn’t here to be a total cockblock…”

            “—”
            It’s the Riders’ turn to give pause.

            Saber and Berserker also hesitate when they see their enemies stop fighting, and then—

            There’s a crack like the sky opening, and suddenly both Riders are sitting astride tall horses.
            …Well, I suppose you can’t really be called Rider without something to ride on.
            “Rider?!”
            Primea is the one to call out as if annoyed.
            “—If we’re already doing battle, she is too dangerous of an opponent to have to deal with at the same time. We must retreat.”

            Yggdra is already raising her sword again indignantly, but when the lady knights charge, she is bowled over.
            The both of them gather up their Masters and crash away into the foliage in a great blur.
            ……If Servants by themselves are fast, the horses those Servants called are especially fast.
            There’s no way we’ll be able to follow them at this rate.

            “Shit fucking god damn cocksucking whoreson on a flaming bike!”
            Avenger snarls and hits the ground petulantly with her sword, turning to glare in the direction the Riders retreated in.
            “I mean, what the fuck does it take to actually get a good goddamn battle going these days? You’d think that getting summoned into the Holy fucking Grail War would involve a neverending clusterfuck of them, but no…”

            She rolls her eyes for good measure.
            …I must admit that her profanity is at least quite creative.

            After a moment’s silence, Avenger turns to look at us.
            “—So now what? If you two still wanna go at it, I’ll fight whoever wins.”
            And she looks almost hopeful by now, but—

            “We’re still too close to the town—at this hour, too much commotion will have the ordinary citizens coming to investigate.”
            …I’m surprised.
            It wasn’t me or Yggdra or even Berserker that said so, but Nessiah.
            “—So unless everyone is willing to relocate, I believe we may as well all call it a night.
            “Even if you don’t mind it, my Berserker has the fault that we call great kindness, and so I’m sure he won’t permit a battle close to here. Saber will probably say the same.”
            “—”
            Nessiah smiles easily at Berserker, who returns it with a glowing look.

            “…You…”
            Yggdra frowns as she looks at the both of them.

            “Yes. We appreciate that line of thought very much.
            “—Honestly, I’d like to avoid innocent casualties if I can.”

            I’m afraid for a moment that Avenger will protest or even attack us to force the issue…
            …but instead, she relaxes.
            Her expression softens and evens out until she looks like any other Heroic Spirit.

            “—You guys are lucky.”

            She says so with something that might be a rueful smile.

            “Both of you have found good Masters.”

            Before anyone can say anything.
            She turns and vanishes, switching over to spirit form.

            “—”
            “—”

            Yggdra and Berserker stare each other down as though neither is willing to be the one to look away first.
            Rather than the vicious mutual intent to kill that passed between them before, this looks more as though they’re small children stubbornly trying to outdo one another.

            …Finally, Yggdra sighs.

            “—You have a reprieve, then.
            “The next time we meet—”

            “Yeah.
            “The next time we meet in battle, you die.”

            Berserker turns in a graceful movement.
            His armor shimmers away as he offers his Master his arm.

            …Nessiah gives us an appraising look, but when I don’t say anything, he places his hand in his Servant’s, and the two of them walk away.

            …
            ……It’s already past midnight.
            That was an eventful enough patrol that we decided to call it a night.

            We returned to the house via taxi, since going by foot would take too long.
            This time I cloaked my magical presence as best I could, and Yggdra went into spirit form so that we could escape notice.
            She only returned to physical form once we were inside.

            It’s time to rest.
            …A lot happened today, after all.

            We both climb the steps.
            For some reason it makes me almost uneasy.

            ……She rests her hand on my arm, briefly.
            And she smiles.

            “—Goodnight, Roswell.”

            …Ah.

            “…Goodnight.”

            She disappears through the door to her room, and I am left standing there in a daze.
            She’s—

            Even when I force myself to change into my bedclothes and lie down.
            …My heart simply won’t stop pounding—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            The city fell.
            Her father the king was dead, her paradise was shattered, and all she was able to do was flee as the soldiers protecting her were killed in battle after battle.
            …Finally.
            She was able to gather sympathetic forces and the remnants of the army, and vowed that she would retake her country and avenge the deaths of her parents.
            ……The usurper would pay for his crimes in red blood.
            She had justice on her side as long as she held the holy sword, after all.
            But, of course, there was no way to defeat the invading army with such a small force, and the cavalry of the kingdom was in ruins.
            …So the princess turned to her family’s allied countries.

            Her father had been a proud and well-liked knight.
            He had had good relations with the country of the Undines, the country of magic, and the Papacy, so it should have been a given that there were people willing to help her avenge him.
            …She didn’t consider until later that in that case, they should have responded to the kingdom’s first pleas for help.

            When she traveled to the country of water, the country was in chaos.

            While the kingdom had been busy with the invasion, a theft in the neighboring country had caused a civil war between the humans of the land and the Undines of the sea.
            …She had turned to her allies in search of help, but was met by the pleas of the terrified human residents who were being attacked by their own countrymen.
            —All she knew was that the assaults of innocent townspeople were wrong.
            So the princess ordered her troops to fight off the Undine attackers and stamp out the rebellion.
            The queen of the Undines said when they met that although she did not condone the massacres, at the same time she must defend and protect her people by any means necessary.
            That it was the duty of a ruler, and that she could not order her soldiers to stop.

            The princess raised her sword.
            …All she knew was that the attacks on innocents were not just.
            The sacking of her city was still in her mind as she ordered the civil war neutralized.

            In the end, she certainly saved many people.
            But at the same time, the “compensation” for their salvation was a stack of corpses.
            …The Undines had attacked humans as retribution for what a human had done to them.
            They had certainly been trying to protect themselves, too.
            There might have been a better way.
            …She thought that as she and her army, with the survivors of that conflict’s neutral party, turned again towards the allies of the kingdom.
            But she didn’t know of anything better, and anyway there was simply no time to waste on diplomacy when people were dying.

            With a troubled heart, she directed her army to move on.

            …It was the same in the country of magic.
            The two prestigious heirs to that land were embroiled in their own quarrel and couldn’t be distracted from it.
            As it was a country of magic after all and the two heirs were great magi, that quarrel threatened the citizens as it escalated.
            ……In her time.
            There was a land nearby where the kingdom had exiled its enemies in generations past.
            That land had been reduced to ruined, barely arable earth by a great magical war similar to the one brewing in the country of her allies.
            …There wasn’t time to think.
            The people of that country were in danger, and still her own kingdom needed her.
            ……It was one of her soldiers who made the suggestion, but she recognized it as the best solution available.
            And the princess gave the order that one of the heirs and her army were to be wiped out.
            …It was a very neat solution.
            It prevented great loss of life, sacrificing a few for the whole.
            And she gained the loyalty of the other heir and his men, who realized their foolishness too late to change anything.
            It was the smartest solution.
            ……Still.
            The only way to create peace was to first lay a foundation of corpses to fertilize it with.

            But she couldn’t think of such things.
            The sword in her hands was justice.
            Her father and her people had promised her that.

            So she would believe.
            Even if it didn’t sit easily with her, her actions must have been just.
            Justice was a cold thing at times.

            …And right now what was most important was that her own people be saved.
            So she gave up on attempting to find more allies and turned her small army towards the kingdom.
            She advanced and tried to ignore the hollow sensation of her past victories—

            …I awake with the images of my dream still in my mind.
            …………
            …I… feel sick.

            “—”
            …I’m glad that Yggdra isn’t around.
            I wash out the sink and use a simple spell to purify the air in the room to erase the traces of vomit, and rest my hands on the bathroom counter to stop them from shaking.
            …I know.
            Those were her memories.
            ……I know about the connection between Master and Servant, and besides, I’ve read about Yggdra’s past before.

            ………Because.
            The houses of Verlaine are the descendants of the ruling body of that country of magic.
            It was part of our history, and so of course as children we all learned of our connection with the great hero who ended the Thousand Years of Strife, so far back into the past as to have been close to the era of gods.
            …There are several portraits of Yggdra at the main house aside from the one I saw that night as a child.
            And, of course, that is how I came into possession of her tiara as my catalyst for summoning her in the first place.

            …But still.
            I knew all of these things from reading them in history books.
            …But the reality was far bloodier than plain words on a page could really communicate.
            “—”
            …Yggdra was… very strong.
            It was her first exposure to that level of carnage, but she still grit her teeth and tried to bear it, reminding herself of her objectives and telling herself it couldn’t be helped.
            …And now, she’s desensitized to it.
            She was introduced to such things in a terribly traumatic way, but still, she learned to cope.
            …I suppose you’d say it’s the opposite of my situation.

            ……I don’t want to let her know that her memories bother me, and so I splash water into my face to shake myself out of it and get dressed.
            I’m not very hungry, but all the same, I should make something to eat.
            …Something mild, because I still feel somewhat shaken.

            When I’m halfway done making the oatmeal, she arrives in the kitchen, sleepy-eyed.
            Her hair is still a little bit mussed and she’s smiling warmly, but her expression changes to one of concern when she sees me.
            …I really can’t hide the way I’m feeling from her, can I?
            “—It’s not that much to be concerned over, I just woke up feeling a little queasy.”
            I don’t want to mention that it was because of a dream in case she also knows of our connection and will see through me even further on the spot.
            But Yggdra does not press the matter further.
            She simply nods and asks if there is anything she can do to help.

            …I wonder how she got to be so good at reading other people’s emotions, at comforting people in distress.
            As the leader of an army in a bloody war, she may have had to bury her own feelings to encourage her soldiers.
            …And as the leader of a country, she would have had to be adept at understanding and manipulating the emotional atmosphere in order to rule.
            Still.
            I wonder how it was that she learned the way of this exactly.

            After the meal, we sit together at the table to talk about what we’re going to do next.
            I know that we have to continue with our hunt of other Masters, no matter how little I like that reality.
            —And that’s why Yggdra’s words surprise me.

            “I think we should take it easy today as well.”

            …Why?
            She didn’t suffer any injuries last night, nor did I.

           But when I protest that any lackluster on my part shouldn’t keep us from doing our duty as Master and Servant, Yggdra simply shakes her head regally.
            Her golden hair catches the light and reflects white in those snatches of sun.
            “I’m thinking of your health, Roswell.
            “—A few days ago, you had a very traumatic experience, and even though you’re coping incredibly well it’s not really good for you to stress yourself with more possible trauma right away.
            “Obviously since this is the Grail War, our options are limited, but it’s probably best to take some days off to relax, and release the amount of strain.
            “…We’re not the only ones who would fight to stop Masters or Servants trying to commit injustices, and even without us on the field, Servants will find one another and fight. There are some times when it’s all right to take a rest.”
            She smiles not with her lips but with her eyes.
            …I feel as though I’m sinking into that truer blue than the ocean.
            “You’re not a burden, and you have no need to feel guilty.
            “This is normal, and I’m more than happy to consider the needs of my Master.
            “—You would do the same for me, after all.”

            …I’m honestly speechless.
            Her consideration almost makes me want to cry.

            “—All right.
            “If you insist, then we won’t push ourselves today.”

            …
            …Still, that leaves the question of what we should do.
            We’ve spent quite a lot of time in the house, and no matter how many books I own, there’s a limit to how interesting that can be for two people trying to kill time.

            When I say so, Yggdra smiles at me.
            “—Well, you’ve shown me the town, but in the end I haven’t been able to take a closer look at it, after all.
            “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d really like that.”

            …My mind freezes for a moment.
            She can’t… really have meant that the way that a woman of this era would.
            …Did she?

            “—If that’s what you’d like, I can hardly refuse you.”
            I make myself smile.
            …Well, I suppose there’s no harm in it.
            There’s more to Yggdra than her persona as a warrior, and if possible, I want her to have fun when she can.
            God only knows that in life, she had to go through enough grim battles already.

            Her entire face lights up.
            Yggdra beams at me like a skylight until I feel as if I’ll go blind with it.
            …I feel like my head is actually getting fuzzy.
            ……So this is the full force of what they call “charisma”……
            What a dangerous talent.

            “I’m so glad!
            “Let’s do everything we can, okay?”

            She grasps my hand like an excited child.
            …She’s so joyful that I can’t help but smile back.

            “—Well, if we’re relaxing, then all we can do is play to our hearts’ content, right?”
            I think about the layout of Shinto.
            “I can take you to the places that I like and then tell you about the other things that there are around town, and we can try out anything you’d like to do.”

            The queen in her gown stands up.
            “—I’ll go get ready, and then we’ll go—is that all right?”

            I nod to show my assent, and she turns in a great whirl of lace and prances off for the stairs.
            I feel as though I’ve done a good deed.

            “—”

            …I am honestly left without words once again.
            Yggdra’s attack has been thorough, well-planned, and it has gone off without a hitch so far.

            After taking half an hour to get ready in the way that girls do, she came down wearing the patterned sweater long enough to be a dress and black leggings.
            Her hair was let down from its braids that always supported her tiara, and was instead pulled back with a black ribbon.
            …She looked so charming and so cute that it honestly stole my breath away for nearly a minute as she declared our plans for the day.

            First of all, she wanted to go shopping.
            She wanted more clothes for times when we had to go out together with her in physical form, and that I understood.
            …Beyond it being more practical to have a few outfits instead of one that continually must be washed, as a girl who cares about her appearance, of course she would have to want a greater variety of clothes to choose from.

            I was ready for that alone to take a great deal of time, but she was done with the department store after an hour.

            She wanted to stop by the bookstore, and we did that as well.
            She wasn’t interested in novels, but bought three different cookbooks filled with recipes and kitchen advice.
            …I shouldn’t have been surprised at all.

            After that we went out to lunch.
            It was a relatively cheap okonomiyaki bar, and we stopped by a stand on the street to buy taiyaki afterward, as Yggdra wanted to try something with red beans in it.
            Apparently she had already read that it was often used in Japanese sweets.
            …At any rate, it got her seal of approval.

            We stopped back by the house to drop off all of our things, and then we ventured back out.
            …I asked Yggdra what we possibly had left to do, and—

            “Now we’re going to play, of course!”

            —she gave me an answer like that as though it was obvious, smiling widely.
            …I just can’t keep up.

            …Well.
            Although Yggdra looked curiously at the arcades in the mall, she vetoed them.
            A girl of her era wouldn’t know how to play video games, so that’s no wonder.
            …Instead.
            She dragged me down to the batting cages.

            “…I wouldn’t have figured.”
            I have no experience playing baseball, of course.
            …I’ve kept my body fit, but that’s because health is important to using magic properly, and simple fitness doesn’t have anything to do with playing sports.
            Besides, baseball is an essentially Japanese and American kind of thing.
            The only sports equipment I know how to handle is a tennis racquet, and that only barely.
            …Yggdra was fine with my sitting things out as long as I still kept her company.
            She asked about the rules and they must have figured her for a foreigner, as the staff explained things to her simply and completely.

            Since then, she’s been hitting every pitch the machine throws at her.

            “—”

            The damndest part is that she’s not even “cheating” by using her superior reflexes and strength as a Servant.
            She has strong hand-eye coordination and apparently quite a bit of upper arm strength, and she is tireless.
            …I certainly wasn’t expecting her to be one of those girls who shies away from the ball with undignified squeaking noises, but even so.
            There’s nothing but the sway of Yggdra’s hair and the steady crack of bat against ball.
            She is elegant and powerful.
            Especially for someone unfamiliar with modern sports, her form is quite good.
            …Even an outsider like myself can tell that much.

            “…An outsider like me, huh.”

            …Well, I understand.
            No matter our relation, and completely setting aside the problem of Master and Servant, Yggdra and I are entirely alien to each other in some ways.
            We were raised in incompatible eras.
            …I’m happy with my books, and here she is doing this to pass the time.
            …I’m a magus who isn’t worth the title, reluctant to soak my hands in blood, and she is a warrior.
            If she is like Atalanta, then I am simply a watcher in the stands.

            It’s like a wall.
            Not solid, not even a paper screen like in a traditional Japanese house.
            …It’s a solid wall of glass.
            We can stare at each other across it all we like.
            We can even communicate, since it doesn’t block sound or anything like that.
            …We’ll just never quite be able to “meet in the middle”.
            That concept doesn’t apply to us.

            …I can’t keep up with her.

            Only by thinking that do I realize that there’s a part of me that wants to.
            …Well, that’s only natural.
            She’s a beautiful girl, she’s strong, and she’s kind.
            She does what she can to look after me.
            …But an important component of relationships is that they really should be between equals.
            There’s no way for a man like me to be an equal to her.

            On the other side of the wire fencing, Yggdra shakes her hair back and sets down the bat.
            She looks refreshed, happy, and confident.
            …Honestly.
            I may as well be a little boy looking at her portrait again.

            But as I think that.
            “How did I do?”
            She comes out from behind the wire and prances up to me like an excitable puppy.
            Her chest is puffed up and her smile spills over.

            ……Was she trying to show off for me?

            “—You shouldn’t be allowed in here.”

            “E-ehh?!”
            She goes exaggeratedly pale with shock and pouts.
            “—And just what do you mean by that?”

            “Hmm, well, it’s not fair, is it?
            “Even professional sports players would put their equipment away, bow their heads, and apologize for sullying the art of baseball after watching what you just did the first time you picked up a bat.
            “—I’m saying you’re something else.”

            She crosses her arms, but she’s smiling up at me.
            “If you say it like that, you’ll make innocent girls cry.
            “—When you want to praise someone, you need to be honest about it.”

            …For now.
            It’s enough for me that I can make her smile.
            She’s my Servant, and I am her Master.
            …This is transient.
            Everything will be over after the war ends.

            And after that, we walk.
            …It was getting towards sundown, and the sky was starting to be stained deep orange.
            Of course, since we’re out, we’ll be eating dinner out as well.
            I’ve told Yggdra about a number of places, and she’ll take her pick.
            She walks ahead of me with her hands clasped behind her back.
            …I can’t tell what she’s thinking, but there’s a smile on her face.

            “Did you enjoy today?”
            I ask her back.

            She looks at me a little curiously.
            “—Well, what about you?”

            …I’m not sure what she means, but I think about it.
            “It’s much better than staying in the house, at least.”
            I smile for her.
            “I’d rather be around you when you’re having fun than just sitting still.
            “If you’re enjoying yourself, that’s enough for me.”

            She shakes her head a little as though my answer was expected but disappointing somehow.
            …I don’t know why.

            “Roswell.
            “You know—we are supposed to be out today to give you a break.
            “I’m here having fun, but it’s important that you do things you like, too.”

            “…Well.
            “I’m really just in this city to participate in the war, after all.
            “—There isn’t much here that I do because it’s fun. So the most fun thing for me is probably watching you enjoy yourself.”
            I answer her honestly.

            Yggdra looks very sad for a moment.
            “—”
            And she sighs.
            “…I suppose that’s always the trouble with this type of thing, isn’t it?
            “I’ll be happy as long as you are, but you say you’ll be happy if I am.
            “I think the name they gave to that type of thing was a moebius loop, and no matter how self-perpetuating it is, the question is how we get into it.”

            She stops still and turns to face me fully.
            “—”
            Her eyes… are so blue.
            It’s an unfathomable color.
            She smiles and reaches up.
            …Something soft and cold touches the sides of my face.

            She holds me in delicate hands that have enough power to crush me.
            “Roswell.
            “I may be fighting for the Grail selfishly, but I’m also fighting to protect your smile.
            “Exploring this place with you is fun, but it would be much more so if you allowed yourself to enjoy it too, you know.”

            And she lets me go.
            …She’s smiling.
            I.
            I don’t know what to say or what to do.

            “You can decide on where to have dinner for yourself.
            “I’m fine with anything, and trying out new things is exciting.”

            …
            ……I think she may be too much for me in more ways than one.
            But all the same.
            …We’re together for now.
            We’re together for now, so even if I admire her so strongly that there’s just no hope for me, I want to live this time with no regrets.

            “—I know a good place.
            “It’s rather simple, but as long as that’s all right—”

            Yggdra smiles at me.
            Her gaze is as bright as the release of any Servant’s Noble Phantasm.

            …
            ……
            It really was a simple place, but Yggdra seems pleased.
            I love the calming atmosphere in this bistro, and we were able to get a booth next to the window, best of all.
            The meal is over, and we both look out the window.

            “—Is it very strange?”
            I can’t help but ask her.
            “Being in a time like this, where everything is so different.”

            “It’s not so different, really.”
            Yggdra says that while balancing her face on the heels of her hands, staring out at the people passing by.
            “—The things that people wear and the transportation has changed, and the lights in my city weren’t so many different colors, but I think most of the important things have stayed the same.
            “Everyone is doing their best, living in the middle of their own stories.
            “Some people are happy, and some are struggling, but every one of them is a distinct and precious life.”

            “—Hmm.”
            Her face is lit by the streetlights from one side and the interior lighting on the other.
            It seems like I’m getting to see many different sides to her today.
            …If thus far I’ve been seeing Yggdra the warrior and Yggdra the ordinary girl, then this must be Yggdra the queen.
            She sounds as though she is very used to thinking of the masses as individuals.

            “What is it?”
            She has noticed me smiling at her.

            “Well, I was just thinking that you really do seem like a queen like this.
            “I don’t think that many people would be considering all these strangers the way that you do.”
            Even I only think of the civilians as possible casualties who can’t become involved, very distantly at that, because it’s the way that I’ve been taught.
            Yggdra looks at them as though they really are each individually humans with worth.
            “I’ve only been handed down the stories of how you ruled, but it seems to me that you really must have been good at it.”

            Yggdra continues to smile, but at the same time she shakes her head.
            “I suppose I was all right.
            “If I had truly been a good ruler…”
            …Her voice trails off and she goes on staring out the window.
            If she’d been truly been a good ruler… then what?
            “—Yggdra?”
            She turns back to me when I call her name with a disoriented expression.
            …Hmm.
            Even if she remembers the topic, she’ll probably try to avoid it.
            So.
             “Did you want to try dessert here before we go home?
            “They have a lot of chocolates and some fruit-based pastries as well.”

            Our fingers brush for just a moment as I hand her the card with the menu on it.
            “—”
            It’s just for a moment, but my skin feels hot from it.
            She smiles at me and examines the list.

            “—Oh, they have strawberry and chocolate cheesecake!
            “I think I do want to try this, if that’s all right.”

            “Of course.”
            …There are so many different sides to this girl.
            I don’t know if I’ll ever know the “real” her.
            …Honestly, even just as Master and Servant, I still don’t think I deserve her.
            But all the same.
            I want to stay with her.
            …Because I want her to keep smiling, and because I want to uncover more and more about who she is underneath everything else.
            …Because in the end, being around her makes it easier to breathe.
            It makes bearing my duty as a magus more bearable.

            It’s inevitable that this will end.
            She is my Servant, and no matter what happens, she will disappear after this war is over.
            …Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t think I would be enough to keep her here.
            I can’t lie to myself and say that I’m not attracted to her, that I’m not charmed by her.
            ……But a woman is not something that a man can lay claim to.
            All I can do is appreciate that she is here now.
            All I can do is support her to the best of my ability in return for the way she cares about me.

            …And so I buy Yggdra the cheesecake.
            She seems to have really enjoyed herself today and I try not to think too hard about the bliss on her face as she finishes off the strawberries, as I might embarrass myself here in public if I do.
            She is genuinely pleased, and I am pleased that she is pleased.
            …I think Yggdra was a little bit wrong about today.
            This isn’t a self-perpetuating, inaccessible loop joining her happiness to mine.
            Yggdra is a girl who can find enjoyment in a lot of different things, and it’s fun and relaxing for me just to be with her.
            If I can keep her entertained, then I’m happy.

            We walk home together.
            …I’ve learned a lot today about her.
            I’ve learned about the kinds of clothes she likes, and that she actually is serious about learning how to cook.
            I’ve learned that even without her abilities as a Servant, she is strong and athletic.
            I’ve learned that there is even more to her that I may never be able to see.

            …Certainly, none of this is relevant to the war.
            But Servants are people despite being heroes, and if we’re working and living together it’s to our benefit to know as much about each other as we can.

            ……I have also learned that…

                        She really is just how I always thought she would be.

            “Thank you.”
            Yggdra says so as we reenter the house and I close the boundary field behind us.
            “—I know this was just my idea and I dragged you along, but I had fun and I hope that you did as well.”
            “—I did have fun.
            “And I should be thanking you.”

            She smiles at me.
            Yggdra smiles up at me with a little bit of mischief on her face.
            …I almost want to touch her face and stroke the stray strands of hair out of her eyes.
            But I restrain myself.

            “—It’s been a while since I’ve been on a date.
            “This one was pretty enjoyable, so I should thank you, Roswell—”

            “—”
            My mind freezes.
            Before my frozen thoughts can react, Yggdra is already making her way across the house with prancing steps, disappearing toward the stairs as if she doesn’t have a care in the world.

            All at once.
            I barely know who I am and what’s happening to me.
            All that’s left is the vague impression of her, and my bewildered sense of wonder at the words she left me—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            Finally.
            She crossed back over the border into her own country.
            …Even though she had found help in a number of places, her army was small, and couldn’t possibly compete with the enemy army head-on.
            For those reasons, they decided to sneak in through the back of the city, at a point where defenses were sure to be weak.
            The enemy didn’t know the terrain or the climate, and they slipped back into the city under cover of fog.

            …She had been paralyzed emotionally by a number of concerns.
            This would allow her army to regain the city, but then what?
            And what of the people?
            If the townsfolk had been injured or killed along with the army and the men of the court…

            But her worries were for nothing.
            The enemy guard was broken through, the few of the empire’s divisions that remained in the castle town were routed, and she was able to look around and see with her own eyes that none of the common folk had been harmed.

            —Finally.
            The time came.
            As it transpired, the usurper himself had been close by, and soon mounted an attack on the city in an attempt to take it back from her.
            No matter how powerful he happened to be, she was not afraid.
            Her people were safe.
            She had justice on her side, and justice couldn’t lose to evil.
            …And even more than that.

            This was the man who had killed her father and mother.
            This was the man who had shattered her idyllic life like it had been an illusion.
            …For the first time.
            She knew hatred and rage.
            The princess knew an overwhelming desire to kill.
            …In this battle, there was no need to hesitate or to worry about what was right and wrong.
            She already knew.

            …From the thin connection like a capillary, I watch.
            It had been a closely fought battle.
            …At last, her forces were able to seize a narrow victory.
            The army of the empire was forced into a retreat, and her country was freed.

            All around the princess, soldiers were cheering, celebrating, giddy with success.
            …She couldn’t understand what they were doing.
            It wasn’t over yet.
            …It wasn’t going to be over until that man was dead for what he had done.

            What he had done to her country, to her parents, and to her.

            While her men went on with their partying, she dispatched scouts and paced and waited.
            She could justify it with any number of sensible reasons, but the truth was simply and plainly that she wanted revenge.
            “Wanted” may be too mild a word for the emotions she was feeling.
            …She hungered for it.
            …She couldn’t rest without it.
            Even though she had freed her castle, her parents would never come back.
            Her innocent belief that she could live happily without knowing pain or fear would never come back.
            …So she hated him and cursed him in her heart, believing she could only stanch her own pain by striking him down.

            Finally, a messenger returned to her and she left amidst the celebrations.
            The man who had killed her father was badly wounded and retreating slowly under heavy guard, with none of his captains to aid him.
            She still had a chance if he hadn’t met up with his troops yet.
            So she took her sword and set out.

            …She caught up with him easily enough, and chased after him on the sheer force of her rage alone.
            His men threw themselves before him to shield him from her, and she pushed them each aside, leaving bodies in her wake.
            And again, they fought.
            He seemed more intent on getting away, and protected himself rather than trying to strike at her, which made her even more furious.
            She wanted to duel him as her father had dueled him, and win.
            There could be no greater justice.

            —But.
            Once she had chased him over the river, there was a great explosion and the bridge they had crossed crumbled, falling into the water.
            Soldiers in the empire’s colors of red and black, along with the imperial captains who slew her guards during her flight from the capital, emerged from the trees.
            She could hear the trumpet calls of her own forces in the distance, but she knew that with the bridge down they would not make it in time.
            …The usurper, the emperor, her father’s killer, spoke to her.
            He called her a fool for letting her thirst for revenge control her, and told her as his soldiers began to encircle her that she was going to pay for it.

            Still she swung her sword.
            If she was going to die in this place, then she would take as many of them with her as possible.
            …And she didn’t make it easy on them.
            Fueled by her rage and her fear, tall piles of corpses were formed at her feet.
            She was given hope by the fact that at least one part of the ruse to lure her out had been true—namely, that the emperor had been injured in the battle for the capital, and injured badly.
            As long as he wasn’t fighting at top form, then she had a chance.
            She truly believed that.
            …And yet.

            When there was finally a gap in the soldiers all trying to pin her down, she lunged.
            It was her only chance.
            If she failed to strike that man down, she would likely be restrained and killed, and even if she killed him her chance of escaping was slim.
            …But at that moment, even then, she desired revenge more than she cared about her own life, and so she lunged.

            Right as her sword was about to pierce the emperor’s unprotected side—

            —one of his generals interrupted the blow, protecting her parents’ killer with his own body.

            The man she ran through there was a magus.
            …Much like the witch she had killed to prevent a holocaust in the country of magic, he had no way to defend himself in close-range combat.
            He had known that should he do this it would cost his life, but without hesitation he had thrown himself before the emperor anyway.

            When his blood hit her face and arms, it was warm.
            It splattered on either side of the wound and once again, her mortal enemy stood with blood spattering his face and running down his armor.
            …But.
            This time that man’s face was white and his eyes were wide with shock.

            The princess pulled her blade back and the magus who had leapt in the way fell.
            The emperor knelt beside him immediately, as if he had forgotten their battle entirely, and she realized the meaning of his expression as he began to plead with the man in his arms to stay alive.
            …This was someone important to him.
            Her emotions tore in two directions.
            …With this, he would feel the same pain as her, and that was most definitely justice.
            …The other thing she felt was something akin to shock and remorse.
            She remembered the massacres that had been wrought by her hands, the massacres that had turned the wheels of justice with rivers of spilt blood, and for a moment she couldn’t move.

            —They bound her there.
            They took advantage of her shock to fight her back and capture her, all while her own troops couldn’t reach her.
            She was alone and close to defenseless, and she’d lost her one chance to break free.
            …But all through that.
            The last thing she saw as she lost consciousness was the young emperor kneeling in the dirt of the road, cradling his dying loved one in both arms—

            …
            ……I wake.

            Through the drawn curtains, I can tell that I’ve overslept, as it’s lighter than usual outside.
            …Hmm, I suppose I was flustered enough last night that I forgot to set my alarm.

            I get dressed and wash my face with a muzzy head.
            …I can’t get the images from that dream out of my mind.
            Apparently, Yggdra used to be a very hot-blooded person.
            I can tell a distinct difference between the girl in my dreams and the one I interact with now.
            Well, there are lots of different factors.
            Yggdra as I know her is older and more experienced, and I’m seeing her memories when she had just become a warrior and was going through a number of traumatic things.
            She fought ruthlessly then as well, but wasn’t used to killing.
            Things troubled her back then that I don’t think would bother her quite as much now.
            …I think I’ll keep that to myself as I don’t know how she would take a thought like that.

            …Well, she starts acting obstinate like she does in my dreams whenever she faces off with Berserker.
            It’s probably like she said, and that her old feelings of resentment and her rivalry are revived so powerfully she can’t act as mature anymore.
            Even though she’s a hero, she’s not completely infallible.
            …I’m glad.
            It’s selfish to even think so, but she already outclasses me so much as it is, I don’t think I could keep up with her at all if she were a real saint.

            ……But there was something else.
            It was the man with Berserker in the dream.
            Somehow he seemed familiar, as though I’d seen him somewhere before.

            “—I must be imagining it.”
            If that person were related to Yggdra’s army or my ancestors, I would have seen portraits of him before, since we have a number of historical records at the family estates.
            So I’ll ignore that feeling for now.
            If there’s some meaning behind it, I’m sure I’ll realize it eventually.

            Thinking about things like that, I head downstairs.

            “—Good morning.”
            “Good morning! Were you able to sleep well?”

            —Hmm.
            I get the feeling I’m seeing something a little strange.

            …Yggdra is in the kitchen.
            She’s wearing an apron and holding a whisk.

            On top of which, there are dishes in the drainer as though they’ve been used and washed, and the books that Yggdra bought are open on the counter.

            …Hmm.
            I’m a little afraid to check the trash, as I get the feeling that a lot of her failed experiments will be in there.

            “You can leave the food to me today, I’ve been practicing!”

            …She says so with a cheerful expression.
            ……Hmm.
            I’m a little bit worried.
            …That’s a lie, this is definitely scary.

            Well.
            I don’t think I can discourage her when she’s looking at me wish such a shining face.

            …It’s a little after noon.
            I did sleep very late, and I took the time to put dishes away while Yggdra went on cooking today’s lunch.
            …She wasn’t so bad, but apparently she did practice extensively as nearly all the food in the fridge is gone…
            I’m going to have to go out to replenish our stores tomorrow.

            Anyway, she makes a simple lunch with sausage and egg drop soup and we sit down to discuss what to do from here.

            “—Well, there’s no helping that we’ll have to go out and fight tonight.”
            I sigh.
            …Yesterday was a lot of fun, but we have to get back to business now.
            We can’t just play forever, as that’s both dangerous and will dull our senses for when a real battle happens.

            “That’s certainly true.”
            Yggdra puts the plates away with a delicate clinking sound.
            “—It’s the eighth day since I was summoned, and so far we only know of one defeated Servant.
            “We still have to defeat or at least discover the condition of Lancer, Avenger, the Riders, Berserker, and the last Servant, either Caster or Assassin.”

            …Well.
            “Avenger’s Master was loitering around the bridge area.
            “If we have to go after someone, we should probably go there late at night and examine the territory just in case.
            “—We may be able to track them even if they aren’t there.”
            Well, I’m just being hopeful in this case, I suppose.
            “If we could find out where the Riders are…”
            We’d have to track them from places we’ve seen them.
            ……Honestly.
            I think sadly of Vienya and Archer.
            …Even if we’d just been able to save Vienya, her familiar could have done us a lot of good for scouting purposes.
            I can create familiars, of course, but mine are much more conspicuous than a bird, about on the same level as Rosary’s golems.
            …I don’t want to think about this too hard.

            “Certainly, if we want to go about removing the elements that would mean the most trouble for civilians, we should go after either Avenger or the Riders.”
            Yggdra nods to me like I have a point.
            “Lancer’s Master, when we saw him, seemed to be kind enough.
            “And I know Berserker well enough to know that his morals won’t allow him involving innocents.”
            She scowls as though she hates to admit it, and I remember from her dream that when that man conquered her country, he left the civilians alone.
            …And since his Master was the one who protested our location two days ago, it seems that the two of them are in accord well enough that they wouldn’t force a battle in an especially populated area.
            “—So, the bridge.”
            Yggdra nods.
            “We’ll go there after sundown—whatever time you think that it would be least populated, since that is when it’s most likely to be the site of battles.”

            …We actually have a concrete plan tonight, which is good.
            …It’s a little more reassuring to be heading out with a plan than to just wander aimlessly and hope that we strike lucky.

            So we spend the rest of the day getting ready.
            Yggdra stays in spiritual form for the hours leading up to dinner to conserve energy.
            And I…

            I sit down with the books that I have regarding Aventheim.
            I want to read up on the capabilities of the two Riders Meslieness and Silvanoier while I have the chance.
            And on top of that, the Riders seemed to recognize Avenger.
            So I may be able to find something on another knight from the Land of a Hundred Heroes who resembles her if I search.

            …Well, in the end, nothing comes up.
            Most of the female knights in that kingdom who wielded swords were all fencers, and I’m sure that a knight with a personality that eccentric would have been considered notable by someone or other.
            You couldn’t whitewash someone like that out of history.

            Perhaps the Riders and their Masters just deduced her identity from something else.

            Yggdra and I prepare dinner together.
            …It’s definitely more fun to be in the kitchen with someone else when they have some idea of what they’re doing, and she had a recipe for fried dumplings that she wanted to try out.
            It was even a success.
            We’ll just definitely need to schedule a shopping trip for tomorrow.

            …And even though we had dinner late, we wait then.
            I play classical music again, Franck instead of Beethoven to see what Yggdra thinks.
            She seems to approve.
            …I wonder what she would think about popular music nowadays.
            I can’t really daydream about taking her down to a karaoke booth, though, as that’s the pastime of high school students and salarymen.
            …Not to mention that neither of us know any of the songs.
            But if I can let her hear the radio someday, maybe I should pick her up an album of something she likes.
            ……Well, that’s a foolish thought.
            She’ll be gone at the end of this war, and so no matter how much money I have, it’s all spending it on frivolous things to make her stay more comfortable, and I have to draw the line somewhere in my own mind.
            Yggdra wouldn’t ask for such a thing on her own, so I shouldn’t think of it either.
            It’s very simple.

            …And so we leave the house at around ten o’clock at night.
            The city has already started to quiet down somewhat, and with Yggdra in spiritual form, I make my way quietly towards the bridge.
            …The Shinto side seems to be calm, and I cannot sense the energy of Masters in the city.

            Time passes.
            It is close to eleven o’clock, and the cars have stopped coming.
            “—I guess we should go.”

            So we walk in the cold starlit night towards the bridge.

            …As we make our way.
            “—Oh.”
            It’s faint, but there’s still a reaction in my Command Spell.

            “It seems as though there’s already a battle under way.”
            Yggdra says so quietly in a self-assured voice.
            …I can’t honestly tell anything other than the fact that a Master’s presence is there, but then as a Servant, Yggdra likely has better senses than mine.

            “—I see.
            “Well, we should go and observe.
            “We’ll be able to see the enemy’s strength that way, and if the winner is worn out I suppose we can always attack them then.”
            It’s a distasteful tactic, but it might be the only thing that could save us from the Riders unless another Servant came to back us up like the incident with Berserker and Avenger.

            “—You’re certainly right about that.
            “Let us go.”

            Yggdra agrees in an emotionless voice as we keep walking.
            …I’m sure that this is a distasteful tactic for her too.
            But even so.
            We can’t lose.

            …As we draw in closer, I can see it.
            Great bolts of light are flashing about as the Servants do battle.
            There are two attacking one, and so this must be the Riders fighting against a single other Servant.
            …I can make out the two Masters Primea and Nana standing on one side of the road, and the figure of a woman on the other.
            …Meaning that they’re either battling Avenger or the Master we haven’t seen yet.

            Closer.
            …The woman in her gaudy dress with the long silver hair is clearly Avenger’s Master.

            Well.

            I cast a spell to help conceal my own presence as I move forward.
            But even so, they’re so intent on their battle that I doubt they would notice me unless I got within the range that they could make out my distinct Command Spell’s presence, or unless Yggdra materialized her body.
            “—All there is to worry about is if their attacks shoot off energy in our direction.
            “I’m counting on you if that happens.”

            She does not reply aloud, but I sense her nod.

            …Closer.
            I hide by one of the supports of the bridge and watch their fight.

            None of the magi are doing anything, apparently content to watch their Servants do battle without moving to help.

            The two Riders rain down their attacks upon Avenger as though they are shortswords wielded in the two hands of a single warrior.
            …The amount of energy being given out is very great.
            I worry a little bit that if their attacks go astray, they could severely damage or even destroy the bridge itself, sending us all into the water.
            “—That won’t work, so you don’t have to worry.
            “There’s a boundary field underneath the asphalt.”
            …Ah.
            Now that Yggdra says so, I do see.
            It’s a fine mesh, but it will give out before the bridge does, and when it gives out all there is to do is reform it.
            It’s not a thing that could hold up to battle, where your opponent might strike in between reloads of the spell, but for a preventative measure to keep all the combatants from falling and drowning, it’s ideal.

            Avenger stands in the middle of that rain of energy.
            Holy energies from one side and demonic from the other.
            The two Riders concentrate their energies in tandem, in a well-established order that only comes from having trained together.
            …In truth, these two knights weren’t in the same platoons, but they all still trained using the same techniques, and must know down to their very bones when to take each kind of action.
            They do not speak except to shout out when they strike blows, and so all of their attacks must be coordinated via eye contact and body language.

            …This kind of attack truly is death against a single Servant.
            The only way to thwart them should be to separate them and deal with them individually, where they would not be so overwhelming.

            …And yet.

            Avenger moves in the middle of the storm as though dancing.

            “—”
            …My breath is taken away.
            Her technique and style are all different from Yggdra’s.
            Yggdra’s weapon is used as a bludgeoning tool and something to pierce and slice.
            Avenger’s sword is covered in spikes, and she uses it to stab and tear.
            She twirls on tiptoe.
            Even though she’s already in stiletto heels as part of her armor, she twirls like a prima ballerina on the stage and pivots her body perfectly to push away the attacks of both Riders.

            …Blood flies and none of it is hers.
            She continues to strike glancing blows and even injure her opponents by blocking them.
            When her sword isn’t available to meet the enemy’s strike, she leaps off the ground and pivots, striking out with both legs in something like a windmill made up of roundhouse kicks.

            …It is elegant and beautiful, and it is bloodthirsty.
            If I had to compare it to a flower, it would be a poinsettia or a nightshade, as both have proud blooms and are highly toxic.
            No matter where they attack from, she is able to counter it almost immediately.

            …And she is only on the defensive, spinning and spinning and attacking effortlessly.
            …I understand what the two Riders meant.
            She sees right through them no matter what they do, and so they have no possible chance of victory.

            —Avenger’s Master knows her victory.
            She smiles.
            It’s a very unpleasant smile.

            Nana and Primea do not move.
            Apparently they cannot do anything to actually help their Servants, and the battle blocks the way to Avenger’s Master.
            …Considering that, the bizarre magic of projection might be the only tool the Masters themselves have for times like this.

            Avenger’s Master seems content to simply watch them.
            Maybe she can’t attack them either, but the look on her face makes me think of some predatory animal playing with its food before eating it.
            …I’m sure she’s just being lazy.
            She’s complacent in watching her Servant.
            …Avenger seemed to find her Master distasteful.
            …And watching this… I too cannot help but feel as though this pair is unsuited somehow.

            …As if a signal has been given, both the Riders leap away.
            They hold identical stances with their weapons outstretched, and I get the feeling that they’re about to unleash their Noble Phantasms in tandem.
            …But.

            “—This is boring.”

            Avenger flutters to the ground like a large violet butterfly.
            Her legs are stretched out elegantly and she raises her sword, holding her free arm out.
            She is poised and deadly, and the lace flying about her body comes to a rest draped around the shape of her legs, only rustling as the wind blows her hair.

            “I’m not like Yellma.
            “Playing with your food like that is stupid once you get bored.”

            She swings her sword in a lazy arc, and both her enemies rush her—

            “EXHAUST NOTE—!!”

            There’s a flash and a crack and shadow energy so powerful as to appear purplish white spins out in a spiral as she swings her blade.

            It tears both Riders apart, and their bodies explode into dust like tiny flower petals.

            …Her Master grins and raises her hand.
            “I’ll have you take care of the little girls as well, shall I?”

            “—”
            Avenger does not move.
            …Obviously she doesn’t agree with what her Master wants her to do.

            The girl named Nana is shaking.
            Instead of just being fearful, it looks as though she literally cannot control her limbs.
            Like a robot short-circuiting in a movie with bad special effects.
            …The other girl, Primea, stands in front of her.

            “Trace—on.”
            The shape like a halberd appears in her hands as she prepares to face down the enemy.

            …But.

            There is a crack like lightning.

            …It really is like lightning.
            A bolt of white light shot down from the sky.

            “—…”
            Avenger’s eyes widen, and she staggers, propping herself up with her sword.
            …I am close enough to see blood run from between her lips to drip towards the ground.

            …There’s a hole.
            There’s a great yawning cavity that the surprise attack opened in her ribcage, and from the inside of the injury out, she is turning into pale-colored ash.

            Her body sags slightly and her eyes go unseeing as she vanishes.

            “—”
            I can’t think.
            …I can’t even process what’s just happened in front of me, let alone think.

            “—Assassin!”

            An unknown female voice calls out, and everyone turns towards the direction of that voice.
            Then.
            …Another bolt of power rains down and strikes Yellma.

            There’s a small explosion of blood,
                        and her body crumples with an ugly wet sound.

            “—”

            I.
                        …I can’t.

 

            There’s a woman.
            There’s a woman in a white coat with long dark hair walking up towards ups from the Miyama side of the bridge.
            …And then there’s a flicker, and a younger girl with short pale hair walking towards her.
            That girl.
            I don’t need my Command Spell vibrating to tell me that that girl is Assassin and the young woman is her Master.
            I only need my eyes to tell me that they’re responsible for this.

            “Assassin.
            “It may be distasteful to ask for this, but at the same time, we can’t take the risk of letting Masters with Command Spells run around.”

            In a cold, quiet voice, she orders her Servant to kill the helpless Nana and Primea as well.

            “—Yes, Master.”
            The girl with blue hair nods and walks forward.

            Nana’s body is still shaking.
            Primea shields her, holding out her weapon with the other girl to her back as she faces down the advancing Servant.
            …I know.
            ……I know how this is going to end.

            “—We can’t let this go on.”

            I shed the spell hiding me and break into a run.

            …But Yggdra is faster.
            By the time I’ve come within a few feet of the two small former Masters, she has already crashed against Assassin with her sword out and a blazing aura of righteousness rippling the air where she went.

            “—No matter the cause, there’s no need to kill a pair of children, is there?”
            I call out to Assassin’s Master, who looks at me with impassive eyes.

            “—Onii-chan.”
            Primea’s voice comes from behind me, but I don’t look back at her.

            “There is need.
            “These two have already cheated, so who’s to say that they won’t make a contract with another Servant if its Master is killed and it still has enough prana to look for a new one?
            “—We don’t have the same luxuries as you do, Master of Saber.”

            Yggdra staggers briefly as Assassin vanishes from before her.

            “Or would you prefer to simply remove their Command Spells and leave them alive?
            “That seems even more cruel to me.”

            —

            I remember the ruin of Vienya’s nerves and have to struggle to stay conscious.
            …I want to vomit, but I have to block out the images.

            “You two.
            “—If you run now, you might be able to make it to the supervisor’s church, and whoever they are, they’re bound to help you—”

            “I won’t let you.”

            A soft voice.

            I whirl around, and Assassin is walking towards us from the end of the bridge we arrived by, a crossbow in one hand and a set of red claws on the back of the other.

            …I suppose it’s only to be expected when this is the Servant who’s oriented towards stealth, but still, a situation like this…

            …And.
            As I wonder to myself how we’re getting out of this alive and with both of these kids safe—
            “—What’s going on?!”

            A fresh pain in my Command Spell and running footsteps.
            …There.
            From behind Assassin’s Master, two familiar people are running towards us.

            …That’s definitely Lancer’s Master and the magus who’s always with him.
            Meaning—

            —In the sky.
            High above us, silhouetted against the clouds and the moon—
            …is the knight dressed all in red.
            He holds his brightly colored lance and hangs in midair with wings spread.

            “—Assassin.”
            He speaks in a nearly toneless voice.
            “You have lost the advantage.
            “—If you do not desire to die…”

            The girl summoned as Assassin stops in her tracks.
            …She looks toward her Master as if asking what to do.

            “—Tch.”
            The dark-haired woman narrows her eyes.
            “Then let’s get out of here for now, Assassin.”

            “Wait, you’re not—”
            But although Yggdra moves as if to intercept them, Assassin seems to melt into the air, and the next moment she is standing beside her Master, taking her arm.
            …The both of them appear to twist into the air and vanish.
            It must be Assassin’s presence concealment.
            …At any rate, there’s no hope in chasing them now.

            “—”
            “—”

            Yggdra sighs and allows her Noble Phantasm to disappear, and Lancer sets down on the asphalt.
            …Now that I get a good look at it, his Noble Phantasm appears awfully similar to the kind of weapons that the former Masters of the Riders project, but this isn’t the time.

            “—I can tell that there was a battle here, but—”
            Lancer’s Master begins, looking at us all as if asking for an explanation.

            …No one else speaks, so I gather myself.
            “—These two battled Avenger and lost. Both their Servants were killed. Avenger and her Master were both killed when Assassin arrived, and Saber and I intervened in order to keep these children alive.
            “That should be everything, up until when you arrived.”

            Lancer’s Master nods with a troubled expression.

            “—Are you guys okay?”
            …Saber and I aren’t hurt, so he’s probably talking to Nana and Primea.
            ……And neither of them answer.
            …Well, they lost their Servants like that.
            And they saw someone die in front of them—a human, not a Servant.
            If that’s enough to shake an adult, then it’s certainly a traumatic experience for a child.

            “Listen.
            “You should go straight to the church and retire from the Grail War.
            “Or if you don’t think that that’s safe enough, hurry and leave Fuyuki as soon as you can.
            “—Avenger’s Master is gone now, but there’s still Assassin’s, and right now your lives are what’s most important.”

            …Lancer’s Master explains so in a kind voice, and I don’t know if the two girls are even listening, but they leave after he’s done talking, walking aimlessly towards Shinto.

            “—I hope they’ll be all right.”

            The magus with him gives him a dirty look.
            “Well, now that we’re finished wasting our time.
            “—We’d all better go home.”

            “You’re right.”
            Lancer’s Master smiles.
            “—Anyway, I guess now we’re even for the first day of the Grail War.”

            …Oh.
            ……This boy was still thinking of repaying something like that?
            Even though his intervention in our first battle with Berserker definitely saved our lives as well, he still…

            “There’s no need to worry about things like that.
            “Three Servants died here tonight.
            “—That’s a lot to think about and a lot to make plans around.
            “Still, I’m grateful that we’ve been able to support each other on the battlefield this many times already.”
            He seems to be a good boy, after all, and the presence rising from him as a magus isn’t bloodstained at all.

            He bows his head and smiles.
            “—Yeah. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to fight.
            “Come on, Lancer, Rose. Let’s go home.”

            With a few waves and bows, we part ways for the night.

            “—”
            …When we return to the house, I lean against the door after closing it.
            Only pride is keeping me from sagging all the way down to the floor.

            “…”
            Yggdra is staring off into the distance with an expressionless face.

            Well, that’s only natural, I suppose.
            …Before now, the only defeated Servant was Archer, and yet right now half of the summoned Servants are gone.
            Out of the four remaining Servants—Yggdra, Berserker, Lancer, and Assassin herself—Assassin and her Master seem to be the ones that would be the most ruthless.
            …If they’re targeting Masters who’ve already lost the right to participate, then that’s not forgivable, and they must be neutralized.
            And besides.
            Once we get rid of the Servant and Master that deal in subterfuge, the rest of the war will be based in honest battles that won’t endanger anyone.
            Ein and Rose, the magi with Lancer.
            And Nessiah.
            And myself.
            None of us have lost sight of the “rules” of humanity.
            ……And even though we are magi, I think that those things are important.
            We are searching for a path to the Origin, but even so—
            The least we can do is protect our morality so that we don’t injure the uninvolved with our own selfishness.

            I don’t want to let myself be twisted the way Rosary was.
            …I don’t… want to be like Avenger’s Master or like Assassin’s.
            We are the descendants of Valois Verlaine.
            With a history like our family’s, we should really know the weight of an innocent life.

            …I do feel a little bit bad that all we could do was leave Avenger’s Master on the bridge.
            Still.
            If we interfered with her body, then the police would cause problems.
            ……If she had any family anywhere, then they at least deserve to know that she died instead of being left wondering forever.

            “—We’ll do what we can.”
            I force myself to stand upright.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra looks at me as if in surprise.

            “We’ll go after Assassin starting tomorrow night.
            “—If we have to, I suppose we can even enlist the masters of Lancer and Berserker. I can’t forgive her, and even if it’s difficult to fight alongside our rivals, all we can really do is ensure a fair battle for the rest of the war.
            “Maybe it’s naïve of me, but I’ll accept the consequences if that’s the case.
            “—I don’t want to accept attacks on Masters who have already lost their Servants.”

            …I’m a little worried that she’ll laugh me off, but instead Yggdra smiles at me.
            “—That’s right.
            “Let’s rest for tonight. We can plan tomorrow.”

            We go upstairs and into our separate rooms.
            ……All in one night, the flow of the Holy Grail War has changed.
            Even know, I am assured that we can win.
            …This… is more important than victory.

            …I could see Vienya’s silhouette in those girls.
            And because I mixed them together for a moment, I can’t forgive anyone trying to attack them—
            It’s a simple feeling like that.
            …I’m sure Yggdra knows already.

            But because she accepts the me that’s like that.
            I can put my faith in her.
            We shall settle this all tomorrow night—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            …She had been captured, but the enemy didn’t seem to have any plans to execute her, and she didn’t know what was happening anymore.
            While the soldiers of the empire bustled back and forth, she was carted from fortress to fortress and tucked away into guarded cells in old jails that seemed empty but for her.
            For the first few days, she tried to refuse food as much as possible.
            The guards pleaded with her, saying that she would be of no use to them dead, but that only increased her resolve.
            …She’d starve herself out of spite if she couldn’t kill them with her own hands.
            And besides.
            Even if there was no intent to kill her, there were a number of poisons that only weakened the body.
            It could be drugged to keep her compliant no matter what they did to her, or it could include a potion to force her to tell the truth if they wanted to interrogate her.
            This was the empire, and there was no limit to how low they would stoop.

            …Eventually, as they moved farther towards a goal that she couldn’t fathom…
            ……the emperor himself heard about it.
            He came down to her cell in a temper to order her to eat.

            ……Against her will, she noticed that he looked wan.
            It was probably grief over the man she’d killed, the man whose name she hadn’t even known, although she’d certainly seen glimpses of him in the battle where her father had been killed.
            …Her enemy’s pain seemed to sit heavily on him, and no matter how vehemently she thought that he deserved it, the little changes in his countenance seemed so painfully obvious now that she was actually looking at him.
            He was her enemy.
            …He was her enemy and he had no business being a human with a heart.

            At any rate, he came down to order her to eat.
            …When she told him that she wasn’t stupid, he said he would prove that the food was safe.
            They would eat the same food in full view of each other.
            …It went about as well as you would expect.
            Of course she was suspicious, and he lost his temper with her easily and had to threaten her to make her eat anything.
            ……The food was seasoned oddly, and sometimes it had things in it that she couldn’t stand.
            But aside from that…
                        …It was actually good.

            Eventually, they left the fortresses and she was dragged through a forest and then a great wasteland.
            …She knew now where they were, but not where they were going.
            They wanted to use her for “something”.
            And her army was in pursuit, trying to get her back.

            That was all she knew.

            Eventually they reached a place that felt like the end of the world.
            There was a great building like and yet unlike a fortress, and near it was a great tomb made of stone.

            …There was an air around the place that smelled of ashes.

            She was chained there, and the usurper left for that building.
            …She was chained there for so long that her consciousness became hazy.
            …Some time after that.
            Her army arrived.

            Those days that had passed like a confused dream ended, and she tried to put them out of her mind as much as possible.
            If she thought about them too much.
            …She knew, deep down, that she would lose the ability to look at that man solely as her “enemy”—

            …And I wake.
            My head feels dull.
            …Whether it’s the remnant of Yggdra’s confusion in the memories I dreamed about or simply the recoil from all the events of last night, I’m not sure.

            Anyhow, I can’t simply sit around, so I force myself up.
            I wash off my face and my body and put on clean clothes, then head downstairs in a daze.
            …This is the second day running that I’ve forgotten the alarm…
            I’d better be careful not to turn this into a habit.

            “—”
            …Well.
            It’s about as I feared.
            We’ve almost run out of food completely after Yggdra’s enthusiasm yesterday morning.
            It’s not so bad that we won’t be able to eat today, but before anything else I need to replenish our stock.
            ……I suppose it can’t be helped, but the most difficult part will be convincing her not to go overboard again anytime soon.

            “Roswell, good morning!”
            While I make a simple breakfast from fried toast, spices, and jam, I hear her calling out to me from around the counter.
            She’s smiling broadly, and is wearing one of the outfits she bought two days ago.
            …It looks good on her.
            It’s a dangerous thing for a man to be presented with early in the morning, but I concentrate on the food so that I won’t let my head heat up.
            Any male will have myriad objects of desire placed in front of him and react to them, but you can’t call yourself a man until you’re able to master your own desires.
            So even though the low neckline of Yggdra’s shirt makes me want to set my fingers to the fabric and push it down to bare her chest and shoulders, I bear down on my concentration and think of calming, purifying things.
            …There’s no helping this attraction, but given our relationship it would be rather rude to try to act on it like this.

            “—We’re only having toast?”
            She sounds dumbfounded.
            …I don’t know whether to be irritated or amused, so I despair instead.
            “Yggdra.
            “It’s good to give things your all, but restraint is a virtue too.”

            “—Eh?”
            She looks at me with a frozen smile as if she doesn’t know who the culprit is.
            …Yggdra.
            I’m not that weak of a man.

            “I see. I’ll say it more plainly.
            “Please don’t get carried away with cooking lessons from now on unless you tell me beforehand, as this is all we have left to use today.”

            “Ahahaha…”
            She laughs and averts her eyes cheerfully, and her cheeks turn red.
            …So she really was just playing innocent.

            We eat the toast together with a relaxed atmosphere.
            “—Anyhow, I’ll head out this morning to shop for food, and then after I come home we can talk about our plan of attack.
            “Getting rid of Assassin and her Master is important.”

            Yggdra nods.
          “There’s something that I actually want to discuss about Assassin, but we’ll leave it until our strategy meeting.”
            “—I see. That’s reassuring.”
            Both that she has information and that she’s unconcerned enough to be this worried about food, even if it is out of guilt.

            “—Anyhow.”
            We wash the plates, and I put on my jacket.
            “If anything comes up, I’ll call for you.”
            “—Understood. I’ll see you later, Roswell.”

            Yggdra smiles at me as I close the door.

            The air of the early day is very brisk, and I can just barely see my breath as I walk.
            …Let’s see.
            Some of what we need can probably be picked up here in Shinto, but in order to keep from having to do this again later, I really ought to cross into Miyama and visit their market.
            I run down the checklist in my head.
            Even if it’s a boring talent, I’ve always been good at things like this.

            “—Well now.
            “What should I get first?”

            Seeing Yggdra get so enthusiastic made me want to try out a few Japanese-style dishes, so I suppose I’ll get some wraps and minced meat.
            If I go through with my plans and make pot stickers, I’ll need Japanese vegetables as well.
            On top of that, my usual selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and bread.
            It might have been easier to just bring Yggdra along and have her help carry things, despite the affront to my pride.
            …At the same time, the magic to make things lighter is very discreet, so all I’ll have to worry about is the bulk of the bags.

            I think about ordinary things like that and stare around, charting out a course through the various small shops in the marketplace.
            Calculating the things that are cold and can be carried ordinarily, and the things that are warm that will have to be hurried back.

            “—Excuse me.”
            And then a voice calls out to me.
            …It’s a woman’s voice, and it seems familiar somehow.

            “Yes, who’s there?”

            “Over here.”
            I turn.
            There’s a woman in a long white coat with black clothes and a black hat.
            Her skin is clear, her hair is long and sways in the faint breeze, and her eyes are a deep gray that’s almost purple.
            Plain gold jewelry hangs at her wrists and her throat, and the sleeves of her shirt are very long and cover the backs of her hands.

            “—”
            …I recognize her.
            Of course I recognize her.
            It would be foolish for me not to.

            “—You’re.”

            Assassin’s Master smiles at me and walks closer to me.
            …What is she doing here?
            What is she doing out in the open like this?
            …She only appeared last night out of the entire Grail War, and her Servant is best in subterfuge, so why would she approach me in broad daylight?
            …Does she want to negotiate?
            ……No.
            I don’t know what this is, but it smells like a trap.
            …But I can’t call Yggdra in the middle of a place like this.
            The most I can do is contact her so that she heads out normally—

            I think that.
            And then Assassin’s Master draws close to me.

            Something red flickers in her eyes.

            “—”
            Suddenly.
            I feel my consciousness and my body detach.
            …I don’t faint or otherwise collapse.
            I simply can no longer make my limbs work.
            Even my Magic Crest is no longer responding to my will.

            “It’s a little bit too crowded here, so let’s go back to someplace more convenient, okay?”
            She smiles at me without a bit of visible malice.
            Warmly.
            Like any woman would to any man.
            …But it sends chills through me.
            I cannot even nod or shake my head.
            When she starts to walk, my body follows along with her without a by-your-leave.

            Assassin’s Master makes small talk about the weather as we walk.
            …Our destination appears to be the bridge.
            But instead of crossing it, she leads me down towards the structure underneath it.
            The storage and control rooms underneath the bridge itself.

            “—”
            I want to scream out, but my voice will not obey me.
            I can’t stand it.
            …I can tell now that we’re standing here at the door.
            This is her workshop as a magus.
            It’s her home base, and I don’t know what she wants of me, let alone what will happen if I go inside.
            …I most likely won’t ever be able to leave.

            But I cannot move.
            …“Mystic Eyes” of binding.
            She seems to have replicated that art with enough strength to take my will away.

            Ordinarily, any magus would be able to at least resist, but she caught me with my guard down…
            And since they’re strong Mystic Eyes regardless of whether they’re real or simulated, I won’t be able to escape as easily as if it were a spell poisoning my body.
            Then I could just force her power out of me by activating my Magic Circuit.

            …I could call her.
            I could get Yggdra to come and save me—

            But I cannot reach my Command Spell.

            I can’t… call her.
            All I can do is follow Assassin’s Master blindly as she beckons for me to follow her inside—

(interlude 10-1)

            She waits in the large empty house for his return.

            It’s not that she’s bored, as there are a number of things for her to do to pass the time.
            She examines the radio in his room, the strange instrument that produces different kinds of sound, and looks at his vast collection of books.
            She looks through her own books to see what recipes she might want to try when they have the new supplies for it.
            She listens to the news and hears that the body of Avenger’s Master was found and recovered by the police.

            …There are a number of things to do.
            It’s just that the house is a lonely place with only one person in it.

            She wonders a little what life was like for her Master before she came here.
            …He’s a fragile person, and if there wasn’t anyone to interact with him—
            How sad it must have been.
            She has read that in this country, there is a story that rabbits can die of loneliness.
            …Her Master is a person a little like a Japanese rabbit, then.

            At the end of the war, if she is able to achieve the Grail, she will return to the Throne.
            …She wonders a little how he will cope with living alone then.
            Something about her doesn’t like it.
            …She is naturally suspect of that something.
            She’s well aware that she mustn’t superimpose the feelings of her old life upon this one.
            And.
            As kind as her Master is, her wish should be more important.

            She tells herself this and roams throughout the house.
            …She feels restless.
            Honestly, it isn’t just the boredom.
            ……She does want to go out and get the fights over with.
            The end of the war is not far off.
            As a Servant, her natural desire is to continue doing battle, even though she suppresses that out of knowledge of and concern for her Master’s weakness.
            It’s not that he’s holding her back, rather that she’s holding herself back for him.

            So this boredom, and this restlessness.
            She has knowledge that will make the next battle much easier to overcome, and honestly she knows that she needs to share it.
            …It will have to wait, and her instincts are telling her that it cannot.

            And thus she gradually realizes that her restlessness is actually wariness.
            She can sense vaguely that something is wrong.

            “—”
            Where?
            Along the sense of the Command Spell, her bond with her Master, there isn’t the sense that his life is in great danger, but rather the sense that something is amiss.
            He said that he would be in the market in Miyama, so wherever he is when this happened must be somewhere between here and that point.
            …The bridge.
            She cannot be certain, but she feels that it must be so.

            “—”
            She erases her form and leaves the house.
            Her speed is very great, and she can cover that ground in little time, searching for the traces of magecraft.
            …Out of the remaining Servants, she is aware that the only one who would attempt something of this nature would be Assassin.
            In searching for her Master, she may be searching for Assassin’s nest itself.
            …That is a dangerous place for her.
            As a Saber-class Servant and as herself, she is a warrior meant to do battle head on.
            All of her knowledge of tactics deals with how to arrange an advantageous battle, and how to assail the enemy’s weak point.
            And so she is at a disadvantage.
            …If her Master is in danger as she senses vaguely, then that is unacceptable.

            Then.
            Her only option is to find a way to level the playing field.

            “—”
            She runs, invisible.
            To where her Master is.

(10-1 interlude out.)

            The inside of this place is very dark.
            There are few windows, and those are small, letting in very little light.
            Assassin’s Master takes me deep into the warren, forces me to sit down, and ties my hands behind me.
            …As if I could do anything even if they weren’t bound.

            “—”
            It’s hard to breathe in this place.
            The air is heavy and tastes of blood and bone marrow.
            …It’s very musty, but aside from that this area itself has been made hostile to foreign magi.
            Assassin’s nest has something very like an intent to kill festering like mist, clinging to the walls and floor.

            As I think so.
            Assassin herself materializes out of the darkness.

            She is a young girl.
            About Yggdra’s age or younger.
            She is dressed in partial armor over thick twill clothing, and her shoulder-length hair is held back with a headband.
            …I can see a crossbow holstered at her back, and a large armored claw over her arm.
            As both are her weapons, they have an immense presence about them, but—
            Avenger was killed with a crossbow shot, and no name of a weapon was called.
            So does that mean that the claw is her Noble Phantasm?

            “—Master Soala, are you all right?”

            Now that she says so.
            The witch who ensnared me is moving in weaving steps.
            “I’m fine for now.
            “—It was difficult to maintain the magical energy necessary to get him here, but that should all change now that we have him.”

            …I’m not sure what she means.
            But… if her prana stores are low from such a thing, then is she an amateur magus or magic user with a low amount of actual talent?

            “As I thought, should I stay in spiritual form a little longer?”
            Assassin asks meekly like a child waiting to be reprimanded.
            Her Master smiles.
            “—No. It’s all right. None of this is a problem anymore.
            “I can’t bear to keep bothering my sempai, but now that we actually have an external source of prana, we’ll be able to compete evenly without any problems.”

            An external—source.
            It’s painfully obvious what they mean.

            …Back on the day that I summoned Yggdra, we were attacked by Avenger and her Master, who were looking for souls to feed to Avenger to make her stronger.
            Servants can consume human food, but their real form of sustenance is “spirit”.
            Humans eat flesh to grow stronger, and so Servants consume souls.
            Ordinarily, Servants are Heroic Spirits who are opposed to stooping to such tactics, but since the inclusion of antiheroes in the third war, there are always a few who are willing to do such things.
            And.
            There are Servants who would be more willing in the case of a “fairly captured enemy”, someone aware of the Grail War instead of a bystander being drawn into the conflict based on the selfishness of higher beings.

            Assassin is usually a Servant closer to the lines of the antihero, simply based on the fact that they are assassins.
            …Usually, the Assassins summoned are those from the Middle East, those who served under the name Hassan-i-Sabbah.
            In fact, this girl may be the first who isn’t one of the old men of the mountain.
            Regardless, they are a type of hero who rely upon trickery and subterfuge instead of brute strength, in order to make up for their own shortcomings.
            So of course they require the will to depend on such things.

            …One of two fates awaits me.
            Either my soul will be consumed by Assassin and used as an artificial amplifier for her power in such a way that it will take the pressure of supplying prana off her Master,
            …or I’ll be used as a battery to give prana to one or the other of them when they run low.
            Paralyzed and unable to manipulate my body as I am, they could easily control me for that purpose.
            Even though my senses are dulled with the effect of the Mystic Eyes, I still feel very cold.
            ……Well, the effects of fear are psychological as much as physical.

            It goes without saying if you’re a magus, but if you’ve trained in the ways of magecraft and opened your body to your Magic Circuits, your bodily fluids become saturated with your own prana.
            …Mainly, this refers to blood, semen, and vaginal fluid.
            Blood-drinking Servants who are close to the existence of a Dead Apostle must exist, as I have heard that at least Vlad the Impaler counts as a Heroic Spirit, but…
            In my case they would almost certainly mean to extract my prana by means of sex.

            Any magus worth his or her basic training knows how to give or take prana through sexual intercourse.
            …It’s an emergency measure that’s always taught to children when they go through puberty.
            I have heard that poor magi are sometimes reduced to selling their semen to the Magic Association as a donation or research sample.
            And as beings summoned into this age, Servants should instinctively know about such a thing as well.

            “—”
            So I’m either to be used as a meal for Assassin or as a doll for them to take their pleasure of.
            “—, …”
            It’s distant.
            But I can feel sweat running down the side of my face.

            “—Oh, your color looks pretty bad all of a sudden.”
            The magus Soala is addressing me now.
            “I’m sure you’ve started to realize what position you’re in.
            “—Don’t worry, though, you won’t be killed unless we have no other choice.
            “If Saber becomes a problem, I’ll have Assassin eat you, but it really has been too much of a bother capturing just you.
            “Trying to find another man after we’ve used you up would be a pain.”

            She informs me that she means to rape me in an unconcerned voice.
            It doesn’t feel real.
            …Give me a break, I’m supposed to be shopping and going home to Yggdra.
            Like that.
            My mind attempts to reject such a notion.

            Soala continues to smile.
            Her expression is filled with derision and maybe a little pity.
            “—Well, someone like you wouldn’t know how it feels.
            “I can sense how powerful you are, now that you can’t suppress your presence as a magus.
            “—If we want to be active, I’ve had to take the prana from other people on a regular basis.”
            She complains in a vague way as her Servant stands by silently, watching me with cold impassive eyes.
            “I’m lucky to have a helpful sempai, but all the same, I have my own pride. I can’t keep coming back to him over and over like an addict or like a whore.
            “—He would get tired of me behaving like that.
            “Well, he’s had pity on me because of my situation, but in the end I’d rather do something about it myself.
            “—I was chosen as a Master.”

            …I think I’m beginning to understand.
            This woman, Soala, doesn’t have an extraordinary magical presence.
            …Lancer’s Master was like that as well, but he had an assistant magus as well as great internal stores of od.
            But Soala is different.
            She is a weak magus, and with her fully functional connection to her Servant, her choices are to either seek outside sources of prana to supplement the flow between them or to burn out like a normal magus would when attempting to control a Berserker.
            …This is the eighth day of the Holy Grail War.
            So she must have been lucky or smart up until now, but having an active Servant is inevitably too much of a strain.
            …And so.

            “—Yes, that’s right.
            “I will win this war by whatever means necessary.”

            She looks at me impassively.
            She runs a hand through her dark hair and then unbuttons her white coat with long, pale fingers while she stares at me as though I am merely an object.
            “—I will defend Assassin’s pride as well as my own.
            “And you will become the keystone of our victory.”

            …I am paralyzed and cannot attempt to fight back.
            When she tries to stimulate my body, it will react.
                         “The body gives because the body can.”
            ……A phrase written by some American author flashes into my head unwelcomely.
            And I will, be forced to watch, as she and Assassin do as they please with me.

            A part of me is still protesting in revulsion and fear that this has to be some kind of a bad joke, but the rest of me has realized.
            If I cannot call Yggdra to save me, then I really will—

            Then.
            There’s a crash so loud it shakes the entire room and makes my eardrums pop.

            “—Intruders?”

            “Stand back, Master—”
            Assassin leaps around us as if to make for the intruders.
            I hear it.
            …I can hear the clear, high sound of a girl’s voice roaring.
            ……I could weep with relief.

            —Yggdra.

            I don’t know how, but it is definitely her.
            She is definitely here to rescue me.

            There’s a great cloud of dust rising up from the entrance, along with light that spills in and hurts my eyes.
            The cold rolls in and stirs up the stale bloody air.
            …It makes my body shiver, but at the same time, it’s invigorating.
            I still cannot break the hold of Soala’s Mystic Eyes.
            But I have hope now.

            In the darkness, there is a great arc of green so pale it is almost white, and shockwaves erupt after it.
            …Yggdra comes barreling into the warren like a Berserker.
            Beside her.
            There is a great red heat.
            —It’s Lancer.
            My confused mind is given pause.
            …Why Lancer?

            But all the same.

            “—Tch.”
            Soala lifts both her arms and begins to chant.
            Her jewelry lights up, and I can tell that the metal has extra energy for spells stored inside it.
            …Even if she may be weak, she is definitely well-prepared.
            And she is ruthless.
            This is most certainly the iron will of one who has determined to win “no matter how”.

            She fires cold white bolts like gunshots.
            I cannot see Assassin anywhere, but Soala wades into the fray unafraid.
            So her Servant must be nearby.

            …Then.
            There are running footsteps.

            “—So here you are.”
            It’s a boy’s quiet voice.
            “Rose—”

            “—The bonds are ordinary enough. You can cut them without worrying, Ein.”
            The girl in her black clothes steps into view.
            She stands before me, very close, and her green eyes travel the length of my body as if staring through my skin to the nerves.
            “—Yeah, I can break this.
            “It’s gonna hurt a bit, but you’ll just have to bear with it for now.”

            Her Magic Crest lights up as she lays her hands on my face and begins to speak.
            …It’s a language a little like Greek, but the sound is more similar to Gaelic.
            …Whatever the case, I don’t recognize it.
            It seems to be a similar pattern of language to whatever Nessiah casts spells in, but no matter how ancient the words, the ones Rose uses do not hurt my head the same way.

            There’s a faint sound of sawing, and my hands come free.
            The moment after that, there’s a brilliant pain through my entire body like pins and needles.

            “—, —”
            I cannot support myself and slide down to the floor.
            My muscles are twitching.

            “—Huh.
            “That’s quite the contamination.
            “—I’ll say one thing for this enemy Master, she may have crap for power, but she knows what she’s doing.”

            ……I can’t even imagine what her training must have been like to utilize magic at this level despite her low level of prana.
            Or perhaps the ability to create Mystic Eyes was simply ingrained in her Magic Crest.
            …Either way, I can barely move.

            “—You’ve got to stand up.”
            The boy Ein’s voice is kind.
            A firm hand tries to pull me to my feet, but I’m still not sure of my ability to stand.
            “It’s dangerous here, especially when they’re fighting.”

            …I see that in his free hand, he’s carrying what looks like an iron sword.
            Rose appears to be in the process of reinforcing her arms, as I can sense a great amount of prana packed into them.

            “—”
            And then.
            Through the smoke, Assassin emerges, and makes her way towards us with her long scarf streaming out behind her.

            “—Ein, get him out of here!”

            Rose yells as she spreads her feet wide, sinking down into what I recognize as some form of martial arts stance.

            “Okay!
            “Come on, we’re not safe until we get outside.”
            He takes me by the wrist and begins to pull me in the direction of the door.
            But—
            I don’t want to just leave Yggdra to do the fighting on her own.
            It may be nonsensical, but we’re supposed to be a team—

            Assassin dives for Rose, who stops her with a solid roundhouse kick.
            The impact seems to make the air waver and the ground beneath us rock.

            “—It’s really not safe.”
            We’re on a bridge, and I don’t think that anyone has reinforced this place the way it was when Avenger fought against the Riders.
            …So we should get out.

            I am unwilling and my body does not want to work properly, but Ein still drags me over to the entrance.
            “—Lancer, hurry up and let’s get out!”

            The next moment.
            Rose is running towards us, and when Assassin tries to follow her she is cut off by the winged knight.
            The two of them arrive beside us, and they are followed by Yggdra, who is dusty but otherwise unscathed.

            Ein releases me, and Yggdra reaches out to support me instead.
            —And we emerge into daylight.

            Lancer erases his form quickly, but Yggdra stays materialized as we put distance between ourselves and the bridge.

            …Eventually.
            Once we reach the playground, I am unable to hold myself up and collapse.

            Yggdra kneels with me and steadies me with firm hands.
            There are streaks of dust across her white clothes and in her hair, but she pays them no mind and focuses on me.
            “—Roswell, are you all right?”

            ……I can’t answer.
            Maybe because only now is it sinking in what’s happened to me, and what could have happened if not for her interruption.
            But my body is shaking and words won’t come.

            “—This is my fault.
            “I shouldn’t have let you go out alone when I knew who we were facing.
            “—From now on, I’m coming with you if you have to go into town, just in case.”

            I want to correct her.
            I want to tell her that she’s wrong and this was my own fault for letting my guard down.
            But she puts her arms around me, and again I cannot speak.

            “—Rose, will it be too dangerous to cross the bridge now?”
            Distantly.
            Ein asks the girl in black clothes.
            “No, attacking the people going back and forth on the bridge is too obvious.
            “—On top of which, she’ll probably abandon her hideout now that she knows someone’s found it. It’s what I’d do if I were her.”

            …Certainly, that might be right.
            Especially when so much of their advantage was made up of that place, and that will disappear now that we know how to counter it.

            “—Letting Assassin choose the battleground means our loss.”
            Yggdra says so firmly, releasing me to look up at the other Master and his partner.
            “I know who that girl is, so I can say so with certainty.
            “—Now that they’ve been found, they will either choose a place to make a stand and wait for us to walk into the trap, or try to take us unawares.
            “And I don’t put it past that Master to make her Servant eat souls to strengthen her before that battle.”

            ……I can agree with that.
            The woman named Soala had very cold eyes when she proclaimed that she would do anything to win this war.

            “She can simulate Mystic Eyes of binding.”
            I force myself to speak.
            “…That’s how she captured me, so stay on your guard.”

            “…Mystic Eyes, huh.”
            Rose folds her arms as if considering.
            “—Well, that’s not as much of a problem now that we know about it.
            “But the question is still what we’re going to do.”

            As long as she can choose the place, Assassin will have the advantage.
            And it’s always bad to give someone like that class of Servant the advantage.

            “Roswell.
            “If it’s all right—I’d like to propose an alliance.”
            Plainly.
            Yggdra says so, getting to her feet and staring at the two magi.

            “—”
            “—”
            They both stare as if they weren’t expecting this.
            …Well, I’m not going to protest.
            Especially as it seems Yggdra has an idea.

            “Aside from my asking you for aid here, we’ve helped each other a number of times already, and that should make it the natural course of action.
            “And this is the best way to eliminate the enemy Servants until things can come down to a fair duel between us, which both sides should be able to accept the outcome of.
            “—What do you think?”

            Rose is silent, looking to Ein.
            As if to say “you’re the Master, so act like it”.
            This time it’s Ein’s turn to pause and ponder, but at last he nods.
            “—Yeah, all right.
            “We’ve run into each other a lot, after all.”

            “Then all that’s left is to decide on our plan.”
            Rose looks at us with folded arms.

            “About that.”
            I should really stand up.
            But I’m not sure if I can support my own weight, and so I remain kneeling for now.
            “—The safest place to discuss strategy is inside a boundary field, so I would welcome you back to my home.
            “It’s in Shinto, and it should be large enough for our purposes.
            “—When we were allied with Vienya, she stayed there as well.”

            …I think this is the first time I’ve been able to say her name since what happened.
            It feels painful, but at the same time empty.

            As both Ein and Rose are staring at me as if they want to ask a question, I realize that they never realized what happened to her and to Archer.
            …I don’t know if I can explain.

            “—They were attacked by a rogue magus who wanted to steal her seat as a Master.
            “Archer relinquished his chance, and Vienya was relocated to a hospital for magi in the next town over.”

            “—”
            Ein nods with a serious expression.

            “…Oh, but.”
            There is the matter of food.
            “—I was interrupted shopping, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that now.
            “So when you do come down, will you bring extra supplies?”

            “—That seems fair enough.”
            And Ein smiles.
            “You’re providing the lodgings, after all.”

            …In the end, I’m able to stand up.
            We give them the address, and it’s agreed that they will come tomorrow morning so that we may discuss our strategy.

            …And Lancer’s team leaves.
            Apparently they live here in Miyama, as they don’t head back towards the bridge.
            …I’m not sure if I want to cross it myself.

            “—”
            But Yggdra puts her arm around me.
            “—I’ll carry you.
            “I can move with enough speed that we won’t be seen, and I’ll get us back to the house.
            “Roswell, you’re in shock, so you need to rest.”

            Saying that, she lifts me easily.
            …This girl smaller than me lifts me easily as if to confirm the great power in her body that I personally lack.
            “—Close your eyes.”

            It’s because of the wind, I know.
            If debris is carried on the air, it would be foolish to risk getting hit in the face and being injured, after all.
            …So I listen to what she says.
            But at the same time.
            …Doing so immerses me in the feel of her body and her scent.

            …Her arms are as warm as they are strong, and the curve of her breast is pushed against my own chest.
            ……I don’t know if it’s her natural scent or that she was using shampoo, but her hair is sweet against the brisk chill of the air and the smell of the water.

            “—Hold on to me.”
            She says so quietly, the words self-assured.
            And then she leaps forward and any other sound is lost to the roar of the wind.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            …She didn’t know why she hadn’t considered the inevitability.
            The king and the queen were both gone, and with the war at a temporary standstill, the country she had freed could not be led by a princess forever.
            Although any of her family could wield it, the sword that was their heirloom only relinquished its true power to the sovereign bearing the crown.
            …And there was no way that the war would not recommence soon.
            A local fortuneteller had pointed out to her signs and portents that disaster would envelop the land if she did not take action.
            The red star of the dragon had reappeared in the sky.
            ……Well, there was only so far that superstitions went, but in the end she knew what she had to do.

            She knew what she had to do, it was just that—
            She was still a young girl, and she wasn’t quite prepared.
            She knew from all her lessons as a child, from all the things that her father had told her, that the crown would be an extremely heavy burden, a terrible responsibility.
            …She knew that she might not be worthy of it.
            In the end, it hadn’t been smart to chase after that man and try to get revenge.
            It had been a selfish decision based on her own personal feelings and needs.
            Someone who did such things could not be worthy of the crown.

            A sovereign was a person who, on some level, ceased to be a person.
            The sovereign was the guidepost of the nation.
            She must always set herself aside for the sake of those in need.
            She must cast away the part of herself that still wept for her parents and ignore her own need for revenge, her grudge.
            Yggdra Yuril Artwaltz would transcend humanity in the moment the crown was laid upon her head.
            She had trained for this since birth.
            …And yet.

            In truth, maybe there was still a corner of her that wanted to push those responsibilities away and be herself a little longer.
            …But mostly, she was worried that somehow she would be insufficient.
            That she would fail her people.
            This was all much bigger than her, and somewhere deep down she had thought that her parents would live long enough that she might never have to bear the crown at all, her training aside.
            …A girl like that might not be ready to become an adult in such a manner.

            But there was no one else.
            She was the last of her blood.
            Her parents had lost the children born before her, and hadn’t been able to have another child after her.
            …She must do this.

            So.

            While holding her worries, while thinking of how best she should proceed—
            She walked the traditional path to the traditional place of coronation.
            At least.
            She wanted to get there with her head held high.

            …Well.
            Of course the empire knew what it would mean for her to be crowned.
            And of course they didn’t want to allow such a thing.
            Soldiers were sent after her, and she was forced to leave her army holding the passage.

            She was told that trials would await her, and trials certainly did.
            She was faced with the specters that resulted from the way she had solved the civil wars in the country of the Undines, the country of magic.
            …They stared at her in condemnation, and all she could do was swing her sword.
            The priests accompanying her said that this was surely the work of heaven.
            …Her failures must be pointed out if she was to overcome them.

            …And at last.
           She hoped that somehow, she would be given some kind of surety along with the crown, but there was nothing.
            All there was—was the sense that she must act.
            Her people’s safety depended upon it.
            …She had accepted the crown, and thus she was no longer human.

            She must move forward.
            She must seek strength from the “justice” she had been promised, and protect her people no matter what—

            …I wake to the faint sound of music.
            It’s Beethoven.
            …Popular composers again.
            Really, would it hurt them so much to play some Franck or Bertali? I wouldn’t say no to some Ann Valentine either—
            I complain to myself and roll over under the covers, letting the sound of strings gradually wash away my exhaustion.
            I should wake up.
            I should get up already, but I am so sorely tempted to just stay here in bed where I don’t have to worry about anything.

            …Yesterday.
            It was still the middle of the day when we returned, and I immediately succumbed to chills so great I could barely move.
            Yggdra helped me brew the medicinal tea, and I bathed and went directly to sleep.
            I tried to do what I could to keep my body in the proper position, as there were more than enough blankets here to keep me warm.

            ……I know I must get up, but I cannot bring myself to do so.
            I want to return to sleep and forget what happened yesterday.
            …I want to hurry up and forget that woman’s expression, and the way her Servant looked at me like an object—
            “—”
            …This isn’t going to work, I can already tell.

            Tentatively, I get up.
            “…Right, Lancer’s group should be coming soon.”
            I shut off the alarm and get dressed.

            …My face in the mirror is still pale.
            But I will have the rest of my life after this war to shed my burdens.
            At this rate, I’ll only wind up holding Yggdra back.
            ……She’s never complained about playing hooky with me, but I know that this is true.
            We should be fighting for her victory, for her wish.

            I sigh and go downstairs.
            Well, there’s really nothing to cook with and our allies will be arriving soon anyway.
            “—Good morning.”
            …Yggdra is sitting there waiting for me.

            When I don’t reply immediately, she stands up and comes over to me in quick steps.
            She puts her hands on both sides of my face and stares up at me.
            ……It’s close enough to make my heart pound.
            Trying to hide that, I smile at her to reassure her.
            Her hands are cool and even though their palms are callused, they are smooth, and her touch is very gentle.
            She touches me like I am something precious and breakable.

            “—I’m not perfectly all right, but I can still do this.”
            I tell her before she can ask.
            …And she smiles at me.

            She lowers her hands and smiles.
            “—I’m glad.
            “They should be here soon.”

            I busy myself around the house with a few last chores to make sure that things are clean for our guests.
            And at last, the doorbell rings.

            When I answer it, the high-school-age girl and boy are standing there waiting for us.
            “Good morning.
            “Please excuse us.”

            “There’s no need, come in.”
            I relax the boundary field so that they will be able to enter the house, and close it again once they’re inside.

            Ein and Rose make their way to the living room, and Lancer materializes as well.
            The Servant in red is silent, but looks around with an impassive gaze as if assessing this house for something.

            Ein places two full bags on the kitchen table, and Rose places two more full bags there as well, taking up most of the space.
            “—Well, here’s everything we could bring and some stuff we picked up at the market too.
            “Hopefully it’ll be enough.”
            Rose dusts off her hands with a bit of loftiness.

            “—I’ll put this all away, I know where it goes.”
            Yggdra volunteers immediately.
            “Hmm.
            “If I’m cooking breakfast, I should probably do that, but…”
            “You have to give them their rooms, though, correct?
            “—This isn’t my house, so it would be too presumptuous of me.”
            She’s right, but…
            Why do I feel as though she’s just waiting for the opportunity to try out her cooking on our guests now that we have them……?
            “Since we brought the food and we’re imposing, Ein will be cooking today.”
            Rose announces so with authority.
            Lancer’s Master, who was watching the proceedings with a confused face, turns to her as if groaning silently.
            “—Well, come on, it was going to be your turn today anyway.”
            Hmm.
            “I don’t mind setting up a cooking schedule for all of us, especially since we’re cooking for so many now.
            “We can draw it up after the meal.”
            They seem to be riding on the atmosphere, so I’ll let them be, and it truly will be helpful as long as they have at least some skill.
            “In any case, please follow me.”

            And so I have a Servant, a Master, and another magus following me upstairs.

            “This is where the bathroom is, and there should be at least two water closets on this floor.
            “It’s a large house, after all, and there are a lot of rooms that we don’t normally use.
            “I cleared up the guest rooms this morning, so they shouldn’t be dusty. You can choose any that you’d like on this floor.”
            There are about five possible guest rooms, although they all have very minimal furnishings.
            …It was a natural feature of this house when I was given it, so I just chose a room for myself with little complaint when I got here and didn’t mind the rest.

            “—It sure is a nice house.”
            Ein says so politely as he and Rose choose their rooms.
            Apparently Lancer will either be guarding them in the hallway or will be in Ein’s room, but there’s enough space for him to have his own room if he wants.
            “The furniture’s really damn ritzy.
            “—Jeez, with the way Hector-sama is I bet we could’ve gotten a place like this too.”
            And Rose complains wholeheartedly as if oblivious to the fact that I am standing here.
            Lancer does not say anything.
            …I think it’s more that he’s taciturn than that he’s shy.
            Well, the other two aren’t uneasy around him, so he’s probably usually like this.

            ……If nothing else, they certainly are lively.

            “—So we’ll draw up the schedule like this.”
            “Ahh, wait! You’re forgetting someone!”
            While Ein washes dishes, Yggdra leans over Rose’s shoulder to scowl at me.
            “…………”
            “Are you saying you’re going to cook?”
            Rose’s expression looks like she’s resisting the urge to tease.
            “Well, it’s fun. It’s not something I had the chance to do while I was alive, so I’ve been learning in my free time.”
            Yggdra announces that proudly, but…
            ……Is that all right?
            Well, I guess there’s a limit to stupidity and that in the end her clothes are enough of a giveaway that she was nobility while alive, but…

            …I admit to myself that it’s only my pride in the way and rearrange the schedule.
            I almost write her given name, but force myself to write “Saber” at the last moment.
            …I’m going to have to be careful about this in the future.

            Well, in the end we all sit around the table.
            They seem settled in, so it’s time to get down to business.

            “—About Assassin’s Master—”
            I explain everything that I noticed about her yesterday, even the things we touched on when we spoke.
            About her low prana level and her ruthlessness, about her skill level and even her magical jewelry.
            Rose watches me with her arms crossed and Ein looks thoughtful.
            Lancer still has no expression, but he narrows his eyes as I speak.

            “And then there’s Assassin herself.
            “—I know who she is.”
            Yggdra announces this, reminds us of this, right after I am finished speaking.
            “—”
            Four pairs of eyes, mine included, swivel around to bear on her when she says those words.

            “She was attached to my army at one time and we worked together closely, so even if I hadn’t recognized her looks I would have known her style.”
            Yggdra goes on casually as if not realizing that we are amazed.
            “If you could get me a map of the town…”

            I find one after some searching and spread it out across the table.

            “Assassin uses a special technique that utilizes both her crossbow and her claw to execute.
            “As she’s now a Servant, I’m almost certain that it will be elevated to the level of a phenomenon and used as her Noble Phantasm.
            “…Once attacked, you won’t be able to escape without extremely high luck.”

            …Yggdra’s own Luck score is only average, and I believe that Lancer’s should be similar.

            “Now that they can’t use the bridge anymore, I expect that Assassin will retreat to this area or this one, as they would be most advantageous to her.
            “—The problem is that if we go in from the front, we will be struck down by her special technique Bloody Claw before we have a chance to really begin fighting her; she’ll be even more dangerous because her Master will probably have bolstered her with human souls.
            “That girl had a peaceful personality, but she was a true assassin trained to set her personal feelings aside for the sake of victory, so she’ll be able to do it.”
            …In that case, they truly are well-suited.
            “—So.
            “We’ll choose one of these locations tonight and go there, and if that’s not it, we’ll go to the next one.
            “If that’s not it, we’ll return home for the night and try again tomorrow until we find her.
            “—Actually, it would be best to leave some form of magical trace in the places we check in case they change their hideout from day to day.
            “How does that sound?”
            She looks up from the map to speak to us with a serious expression.
            …I’m impressed.
            Yggdra is a general who led her army in wars, after all.
            “—It does sound like a good way of checking, but what do we do once we find her?”
            Rose frowns and looks at the map with considering eyes.
            …She appears to be the brains of their team, so I expect her approval is what counts most of all.
            “—That’s where this gets difficult.
            “If we attack straight on, we’ll be killed, of course.
            “So the only chance we have is to catch her unawares.”

            And Yggdra tells us her plan.
            …Well, I have faith in her, but this requires everyone’s cooperation.
            “—Well, no glory without danger.”
            Rose says so flippantly and recrosses her legs.
            “But then I’m not Lancer’s Master. What do you guys think?”
            “—We should do it.”
            Ein says so immediately, and his face is serious.
            “Because…
            “She’ll be gathering more strength by killing innocents.
            “I can’t forgive that no matter what.
            “We were dispatched by the supervisor to keep evil magi from getting their hands on the Holy Grail, and we can’t allow Assassin’s Master to touch it with the way she fights.”
            …Now that’s interesting.
            “What about you, Lancer?”

            The knight in red closes his eyes.
            “—If it is my Master’s order, then that is what I will do.
            “The plan makes sense. And I have confidence.”

            …Confidence that even if we double-cross him he can win… huh.

            Yggdra smiles.
            “—Thank you.
            “I’m sure that we can make this work if we fight together.”

            She stands up.
            “We still have several hours before we should set out, so we should use this time to get ready.
            “I wish to speak with my Master alone for a while, but it should be all right for us to lend you this space to do what you need to, as long as you don’t damage anything.
            “—Right, Roswell?”

            …Hmm.
            I’m a little distracted by her saying she wants to talk to me, but it shouldn’t be a problem and I say so to our allies.

            “—Okay, thanks.
            “We’ll need to meditate and Ein needs time to prepare since he’s new at using mana.”
            Rose nods in thanks and the three of them leave for the sitting room.

            …Yggdra turns and heads up the stairs, and I follow.
           Honestly, I have some idea of what we need to talk about, because I’ve seen the problem with her plan as well.

            But neither of us say anything until we are in my room.
            …Yggdra closes the door behind us, and she turns the lock.
            Just in case, I suppose.

            “—As I’m sure you’ve realized, this plan is going to be dangerous for me.”
            Yggdra faces me and says so unflinchingly.
            …I know.
            Even with her magical energy capacity, in the worst case scenario she will have to expend extraordinary amounts of prana.
            Perhaps more than she has to spare.
            …I can’t regret allowing her to stay in human form, as our bond is such that that shouldn’t be a problem.
            And she couldn’t enjoy herself if she were to stay incorporeal forever.
            It’s important that she be able to relax.

            “I think it’s certain we need to do this if we’re going to win, and I know that it won’t work if Lancer and I change roles.
            “—She’ll suspect if she faces me directly.”

            “I know that what you’re saying makes sense.”
            But what does she plan to do about it?

            “—Roswell, I trust you.”
            She says it simply, and there’s no response I can make.
            “More importantly, I like you.
            “I wouldn’t ask this of just anyone, but I think it’s all right with you.”

            And.
            While I am still rendered stunned by those words.

            “—If it’s all right, can I ask you to give me extra energy?”

            She says so simply and without shame.
            She asks me that after blindsiding me with sweet words.

            “…Yggdra.”
            I can’t say that the possibility never crossed my mind when I summoned her.
            …I can’t say that I was ever averse to this.
            It’s just that although I could have done this easily if my own feelings weren’t involved…
            …I’m smarter than to pretend that I’m not attracted to her.
            So I don’t know if I’m just willing to help her as her Master or if I’m taking advantage of the situation.
            I don’t know if I can trust myself.

            …She giggles lightly.
            Her pose is relaxed and carefree.
            “You’re turning red.”
            ……She doesn’t need to say that for me to be able to tell.

            “I know you’re too classically trained a magus for you to refuse to do this without love.”
            She steps closer to me, smiling coyly.
            “And I won’t ask you to do this if you really don’t want to.
            “I do want to know why, though, if you refuse.”

            “—It’s not like I’m opposed to the idea.”
            We’re in my room and she’s smiling at me after asking for such a thing.
            Any man with an interest in women would have to be insane not to be aroused by such a possibility.
            “And I know that it’s strategically advantageous, but…        
            “It’s just that… I don’t trust myself.”

            Yggdra tilts her head to the side.
            “—You won’t hurt me. It’s not my first time.”

            That’s not quite what I meant, but all the same.
            “—I’ll only do it if you’re sure you want to.”

            Yggdra looks me up and down and smiles.
            It’s a more wicked expression than what she usually shows me.
            “Roswell.
            “Even amongst kind magi I get along with… I think I mind doing this with you the very least, and for more reasons than one.”
            Her expression is desirous.
            …It’s very different from the cold, impassive look of the women whose only interest in sex was for prana, and so I know.
            I know that Yggdra has at least some form of attraction to me.
            …And I know that she cares about me.

            It’s… myself that I doubt.
            Even so.
            If she’s willing… and if she’s willing to do this for more reasons than just receiving the requisite amount of energy…

            “—All right.
            “I’ll give you the energy you need.”
            Her smile widens.
            At once, she looks grateful and wicked and perhaps a bit eager.

            “—I thank you, Master.”
            And she steps forward.

            For the second time today, she takes my face in both hands.
            …But she leans in this time.
            I can feel her body heat through my clothing.
            …I can’t help it, and close my eyes.

            It’s… already useless.
            If we go any further I won’t be able to turn back.
            I know this and so does she.

            But Yggdra kisses me boldly.
            Her lips are like silk against mine, and I can feel their angle shift a moment before she licks at me teasingly.
            …I am helpless against her.
            I let my lips part for her, and the tip of her tongue glides inside.
            …A deep kiss like she’s drinking me in.
            “—”
            She makes a faint sound of exertion against me, and I am lost.
            …I’ve been with women before.
            But I feel as clumsy as if this is my first time.

            …I.
            It’s because I was never really emotionally involved.
            Pursuing sex for my studies, or pursuing it casually—
            It’s not the same as this.
            That is why I feel helpless.
            …I desire her.
            I desire her so much I don’t know what to do with myself.
            …Yggdra lets one hand leave the side of my face and reaches between us.
            “—…, ah—”
            She strokes the front of my pants.
            “—, —”
            My erection throbs, and my consciousness feels like it’s fading.

            I want to bury myself in her.
            I want to drink in the sweet scent of her hair and lose my sanity inside her.

            “—Ah, hah.”
            Yggdra breaks the kiss and I struggle to breathe.
            …I open my eyes again, carefully.

            Oh.
            …That was a mistake.
            Her face is inches from mine, and her eyes are hazy and unfocused.
            Her lips are flushed.

            “—Roswell, take these off.”
            She murmurs my name and strokes me once more through my clothes.
            I can’t…, breathe.

            …She steps back and slips her white fingers under the waistband of her skirt.
            Without ceremony.
            She slides it down her legs.
            “—”
            …She must have taken her panties off at the same time.
            I can…, see her.
            Her pubic hair is pale and thin, and I can see that she is red between her legs already.
            …There’s wetness shining on the insides of her thighs.

            …My head boils up, and I can barely think.

            Yggdra sits on the edge of the bed.
            Even through her sweater, I can see that her nipples are standing erect.
            Her legs are still encased in her dark stockings, which go all the way past her knees.
            “—”
            Her face is flushed and she is watching me intently.
            If I watch the way her chest rises and falls I will lose the ability to think straight.

            …Her gaze is telling me that I need to take off my clothes.
            I suppose that’s only fair.
            I’m staring at her so much when she can’t see me.
            …But I’m really not much to look at in comparison to her pale skin and the perfect shape of her hips.
            …………
            …I…, strip from the waist down.

            “—”
            …Yggdra’s gaze is intent, and she’s staring at my erection.
            …………Honestly, this is embarrassing.
            Her eyes have gone hazy again and she stares at me absently.

            ……Her, hand.

            I don’t… know if she realizes it or not.
            But the right hand that had been resting on the mattress is now tucked between her legs.
            …At the angle I’m standing, I can see as her middle finger sinks down and disappears inside her—and even the thick shine on it when it emerges.

            “Hah—ah.”
            Her breathing heats up.
            She does not speak, but her gaze implores me to come closer, and I walk to the bed in unsteady steps as if gravitated to her.

            …When we’re standing less than arm’s length apart, she lifts up the right hand that she was using to pleasure herself.
            Her fingers are glossy with her own fluids.
            The white fingertips stretch out and come to rest along the length of me.

            “—”
            I swallow my breath and force myself not to ejaculate.
            “…Roswell.”
            She looks up at me.
            …I could drown… in the blue of her eyes.
            “…Roswell, touch me.”
            Her voice settles between a command and a plea.
            She wraps her white fingers around my shaft, and I tuck my right hand between her legs.

            “Ah—ah.”
            Her face relaxes aside from the tension between her eyebrows.
            She’s—so soft.
            The lips themselves are soft and slippery, beating faintly with her pulse.
            Has anyone else—ever been this soft?
            I can’t remember.
            It feels like a sin to even try to compare right now.

            …Deliberately.
            I push my middle finger inside her.
            “Ahh.”
            Her swollen lips part as her eyes flutter closed.
            Her eyelashes are dark against her red cheeks as the inside of her pussy contracts around my finger.
            …This feels…, …unreal.

            She starts to move her hand.
            Yggdra does not tighten her fingers, but runs her hand up and down the length of my cock as if she’s dreaming.
            “—”
            I have to tell her to stop.
            …I have to tell her to stop, because I don’t have any control.
            I’m going to come in her hands if she doesn’t stop.

            But I can’t make my voice come out.
            So I start to move my finger.
            I press the rest of my hand against the lips of her vagina and knead softly as I thrust my middle finger into her and crook it close again.
            She moans.
            She lets out a sweet voice as the pad of my finger brushes the inside of her folds.
            …So.
            I keep stroking, trying to find where it feels good.
            “Ahh—hah.”
            Absently.
            She thrusts her hips against my hand and plays her wet fingertips over the head of my penis.
            …Just that small amount of wetness and stickiness isn’t enough.
            But I force myself to be patient.

            —Suddenly.
            She presses her lips together and twists her body.
            I can sense that she is close.
            …Firmly, I stroke the inside of her.
            I can feel the small hot bulge of her clitoris brushing the heel of my hand.
            …I press down with my palm as she starts to shake.
            The grip of her right hand tightens, and I can hear a strange voice.
            …It isn’t hers.

            It’s—mine.
            My voice warps on the edge of my rough breathing, and my stomach hurts from holding it in so long.

            “Ah—”
            Yggdra’s head tilts back, and the soft folds of her clamp down.
            She shudders for a moment, and her body finally relaxes.
            …Her hand slips away from me and she sits limp on the side of the mattress.

            I have to swallow to get control of myself.
            …When I pull my hand away from her, the fingers are sticky.

            “—Lie back.”

            Maybe my words make her come to her senses, but the girl who couldn’t move a moment ago scoots backwards until she is fully on the mattress.
            She allows herself to fall backwards.

            “—”
            She is so beautiful in disarray like this that I can barely think.

            Long golden hair.
            The strands of gold are scattered across the sheets like they are blown back by the wind.
            Her arms are useless at her sides, raised as if to grip at the sheets.
            …Underneath her shirt, her breasts shake when she breathes, and her legs are spread.
            …The lips of her are spread wide, and I can see that the mouth of her vagina is wet and open.
            She is ready.

            “—”
            Awkwardly, I climb onto the mattress.
            …Yggdra looks up at me through sleepy eyes.
            Her sultry gaze is telling me to take her.

            “—”
            Still.
            Kneeling before her, I hesitate.
            “…Ygg…dra.”

            And.
            She smiles at me.
            She reaches up and her fingers brush at the back of my head, pulling me down.
            …She kisses me.
            She kisses me with her mouth open and moans loud and low when I taste her thoroughly.

            When I come up to breathe—

            “It’s all right.”

            —she is smiling at me.

            I cannot even think.
            …I grip the base of myself in my hand and press the head of myself into her.

            Tension flickers through her body, and her eyes close.
            …I nearly black out for just an instant.

            “Hot…”

            She’s the one who says so in a sleepy voice,
            but the inside of her is so warm and wet that my mind has shorted out.
            …I’m still only about two inches inside of her.
            Our faces are close in this position, and so I can take in her delirium entirely.
            …I have not penetrated her fully and of course I have not moved.
            Still, I am on the verge of coming.

            “Roswell—you’re burning—”
            She moves her hips awkwardly, and I shake.
            …I cannot bear it and plunge into her all at once.

            “Ahh—”
            I cannot help it.
            She wraps around me tightly and my voice rises on its own.
            “Roswell, you’re loud—”
            Yggdra murmurs in my ear.
            Our bodies are pressed together heavily.
            I am inside her almost to the root.
            Even the small bit of my length that I cannot push into her like this is wet.
            I can feel her heart beating all through her vagina and my balls are throbbing in counterpoint to that rhythm.
            …I want to touch all of her at once.
            I want to get my hands on her breasts, I want to push her sweater up and touch her bare skin, I want to hold her ass in both hands.
            But I can’t move.
            I’m the one pinning her to the mattress, but I feel like she’s crushing me instead.
            “If you’re too loud, they’ll hear you downstairs.”

            —

            Yggdra giggles at whatever panicked expression I must be making.
            It makes the inside of her move in a strange, ticklish way that makes me groan.
            “—Roswell.”
            She pushes herself up to kiss me.
            …The movements of her lips are messy and our saliva mixes wantonly.
            She runs her tongue along my lips until I want to suck on it.
            At last she falls to the mattress and giggles again.
            “I don’t care if they do hear us, though.”

            …That’s it.
            Whatever sanity was left in me is gone now.
            …I move.
            I thrust so powerfully that Yggdra cries out.

            “Roswell—”
            Tight.
            “Ah—hah, ah—”
            Her legs are tight around my waist.
            “Nn—ah, hah, ah—”
            The only thing tighter is her vagina.
            “Ah—ahah, ahh—”

            Cries so loud they almost hurt my ears.
            Yggdra lies back against the mattress and moans sweetly.
            …She was the one who brought up the possibility of being overheard, and then she calls out for me to go harder, to go deeper.
            If I try to capture her mouth with mine, that can only last for so long.
            I can’t breathe and kiss her and fuck her at the same time.
            …The heat feels like we’ll meld together.
            I know that the muscles of my legs are going to ache after this, but that knowledge is pale next to the throbbing of my cock.
            Yggdra squeezes me tightly and sobs out encouragement when I thrust against somewhere sensitive.
            Lewd, liquid sounds rise as I stir her insides with my erection.
            …She is red-faced and her groin is sticky to the point where our fluids slosh when I thrust especially quickly.
            Her nipples stand out tall and I cover her right breast with my left hand.
            Her lips are parted wide as she moans in a high voice.
            ……She is…, the most beautiful thing I have seen.

            “Roswell—Roswell—”
            She is starting to tear up.
            I think I’m probably leaking precome into her.
            ……I can’t… hold back.

            I can feel it.
            I can feel my penis swelling up one last time as I am about to ejaculate.

            “Ahh—”
            Yggdra’s voice reaches an urgent pitch, and her legs squeeze around my waist.
            I can feel her starting to clamp down on me.

            —I stop thrusting.
            I grit my teeth and grind into her until she cries out, her voice nearly a squeal—

            And I—let go.

            My back arches up, my hips straining to press as close to hers as they can.
            Yggdra’s body goes slack the moment before it ends, and I collapse atop her.
            ……I become aware that we are both sticky with sweat.
            She doesn’t try to move me.
            …I cannot get up.

            We lie there for almost half an hour, simply breathing.

            ……When I’m finally able to rise, to attempt to clean myself—
            She lies there,
            covered in sweat and sticky with fluid,
            with my semen pooled in her entrance—
                        …and she smiles at me almost secretively.

            …
            ……
            ………
            …………So.
            In the end, Rose makes dinner tonight.
            She makes chili and uses small rolls to make chili bread, and steams a variety of vegetables.
            The food is rather spicy, but it’s still quite good.

            There isn’t much talk over the table.
            …If we were overheard, the only one who might mention it is Rose, and none of them seem particularly embarrassed when they look at us, so I suppose we escaped their notice.
            Yggdra seems perfectly calm and unashamed, so I suppose it’s simply a matter of my feelings.
            …Whatever they happen to be.

            The problem is that I don’t know if I can put a lid on the way I feel anymore.
            ……It’s what they call tasting the forbidden fruit, if I can use the obvious metaphor.
            Well, that’s the case… is what I’d like to say.
            But I’m so aware of her that even the slightest smile on her face makes my heart skip.

            —At least.
            I have to keep myself in check until tonight’s battle is over.
            This is a matter of life and death, and I can’t hold the others back.

            Dinner ends and we leave the house.
            I lock up behind us, and Yggdra and Lancer erase their forms.
            …We’re going to head to the closest location Yggdra pointed out, and if we can’t sense Soala or at least a disturbance, then we will have to mark that location and move on to the next one.

            Honestly, it’s deep enough into the woods that we will not be seen or overheard, making it an excellent place for battle.
            And.
            …The detritus of dead plants and fallen sticks will make it difficult to sneak about unless we muffle our steps magically.
            It’s not as far away as the Einzbern castle, but all the same, this is problematic terrain to try to invade, just as Yggdra expected it would be.

            …And we reach the forest.
            I can tell right away that something is strange about this place, and I suppress my magical presence as much as I can as we walk into the spaces between the dark trees.

            “—There’s no doubt about it, there’s a Master here.”
            Ein says so before I can.
            His eyes are alert as he stares ahead of him.

            “…So we’re being invited in, huh.”
            Rose narrows her eyes.
            “—Okay, we’ve got this from here. There’s no point if we don’t walk into her web.”
            You’re only allowed to be a fool if you’re a brave fool—
            As if saying that, she walks boldly ahead with her black clothes swishing.
            …Ein follows, a step behind her.

            …All right then.
            My part in this hinges on being undetected, and so I draw up the “shadows” around us to dull my presence as a human as well as a magus.
            It’s not as though I’ve become invisible.
            I will just appear to blend into the scenery unless you specifically know I’m there.
            It’s that type of spell.
            I can’t cloak myself in darkness like someone with a pure “imaginary numbers” element could, but this much I can manage.

            …And we walk in.
            Eventually, we reach a clearing.
            …I’m fairly sure I have my bearings, and when we’re done I can simply ask the earth what the cardinal directions are to leave if we’ve lost our way.
            From there on it’s easy to get out of a forest if you walk in a relatively straight line.

            There’s signs of human activity here.
            Ein and Rose walk out from under the cover of the trees.
            The sun has set and it’s dark.
            Moonlight and a vast carpet of stars give enough light to see by now that we are out of the shadows and have a clear view of the sky.

            “—I didn’t think anyone would actually be stupid enough to come.”
            …I see her, and there is coldness at the base of my ribs as I notice.

            In the moonlight, she appears.
            Long dark hair like the dusk.
            White skin and a white coat, with dark clothes and hair and eyes.

            Soala speaks with absolute confidence, and so I know that Assassin must be near.
            I scarcely dare to breathe.
            If they sense me it will all be over.

            “—Well, we couldn’t leave you alone.”
            Rose speaks scathingly.
            “You sure seem fine today, so how many humans did you have Assassin rape and eat before we caught up to you?
            “—Even for Assassin, that’s behavior unfitting of a Holy Spirit.”

            Across the clearing, Soala smiles coldly.
            “—Not all of us can be natural geniuses.
            “In the real world, people will protect their lives when the chips are down.”

            “That’s the excuse of a weakling.
            “If you put enough hard work into things, then you’ll find your own talents buried somewhere. Getting to success off the backs of others is sloth and cowardice.”
            With her back straight, Rose insults the enemy Master.

            “—Well, I’ll take that in stride as I’ll be making you eat your words shortly.
            “A genius doesn’t know what it is to struggle.
            “……But I don’t think that really matters, does it? I was chosen as a Master and so was the boy, but you weren’t.
            “—The Holy Grail has made it clear who deserves it, don’t you think?”

            “Don’t talk to Rose like that.”
            Ein speaks for the first time, and his words are cold.

            “—Well, let her run her mouth if it makes her happy.”
            The magus in black tosses her hair while glaring at the witch wrapped in white.
            “I’m willing to forgive it in your case because it was a coin toss between us, and you can’t help bad luck, but any Holy Grail that thinks that thing is a worthy Master has got to be defective.”
            She talks snidely like a cat, but I can sense the anger underneath her words.

            “—Lancer.”
            The knight in red materializes at Ein’s side.

            …As if in answer.
            The shape of the girl with her long scarf and empty eyes appears behind Soala.

            ……All right.
            It’s time for me to start moving.
            She can’t lead, so I must decide the proper place.

            “To answer your question—”
            Soala smiles.
            “As many as we could manage.
            “—Their bones will rot and be swallowed up by the forest without anyone ever knowing.”

            “—”
            Lancer sinks into a deep stance, raising his great red spear.

            And then he moves forward in a great rush of light.
            …He moves forward, but in the end Assassin is not there to receive the blow.
            Well, it’s only natural.
            She is meant for stealth and evasion, so she would be a shame to her class if she could not even avoid such an obvious blow.

            Lancer moves like a storm.
            …He has the advantage of flight, and wherever he strikes, his Noble Phantasm scores the ground in great flashes of bright red that light up the forest.
            He is silent, but he tracks Assassin with the advantage of experience and his movements are so blurred that they hurt my head.

            All the same, it is difficult for him to touch her.
            …Assassin has had more time to familiarize herself with the terrain, and the dark night makes it easier for her to almost disappear.
            It’s like trying to hold smoke, or like the fairy tales about animals trying to catch the moon in the water.

            Lancer does not give in.
            This is the task that he has been set, and so he continues to pursue the elusive target.
            …If anything, he is adapting to the pace of the battle, and I can tell that his actions are meant to keep Assassin in the general sphere of their clash.
            I don’t know if Assassin can tell, but with Lancer’s movements predictable enough, she does not seem to be going for her bow.
            …Thus far, she still appears comfortable with fighting at close range.

            Soala does not move to attack.
            No matter what she did to prepare Assassin, I’d guess that she doesn’t want to risk the possibility of running out of prana in the middle of the battle—
            Something like that, anyway.
            …If it gets to be a problem, I am sure that Rose or Ein will be more than happy to step up and keep her busy.

            ……The pace of the battle before us is speeding up.
            When he settles for a spring, I can tell that Lancer is accumulating slight wounds, but his movements do not falter in the slightest.

            …The two Servants orbit each other with heavy sounds of colliding metal.
            They are a blur and a play of colored lights against the night sky.

            —Here.
            I am standing at the far end of the clearing from the battle itself.
            …Now all I can do is regulate my breathing and wait.

            “—”
            Assassin does not speak as she attacks, and Lancer’s expression never changes.
            Neither of them seems to be winded, and in the end this appears to be a battle where Assassin must whittle Lancer down slowly, unless—

            The sparks when Assassin’s claw collides with Lancer’s spear light up Soala’s face.
            Her expression is very tense.

            “—Ein, we should finish this ourselves if she won’t.
            “Right now it’s either wait until she runs out of prana or go chop off her hand now.”
            Rose states so coldly, and her voice carries across the clearing, amplified over the clashing of steel so that I can hear her words perfectly.
            …Of course, I can see from where I am that the battle isn’t nearly so one-sided.
            There’s also the option that Assassin might wear Lancer down first, but—

            “—Tch.
            “Assassin.”
            Soala grits her teeth and calls out to her Servant, and Assassin leaps away from the battle to alight at the center of the clearing, her back to me.

            “—I will not permit attacks upon my Master.”
            The girl says this in a voice like cool water.
            “We will finish this now.”

            Lancer stands still.
            His expression is alert as though waiting for orders.
            …A faint mist appears around everyone’s feet, and the moonlight shines down.

            A wind blows.
            Assassin’s small frame begins to emit power as the energy spiraling out from the claw on her arm makes the air spin powerfully.

            “Bloody—”

            —I can feel the firing hammer go down in my head.
            “Now.”

            And in that moment, the trees in front of me explode as Yggdra charges into the clearing, her sword as bright as the sun in her hands.

            “Gran—

            There is a moment when everyone turns, and all eyes are on her.

            “—Centurio—!!

            She swings the sword swollen with light, and an energy wave so massive I cannot even see envelops the clearing.
            —When that light dies down.
            Yggdra is standing with her feet spread wider than her shoulders, her sword still shimmering faintly in her hands.
            Steam is rising from the distant trees on the other side of the clearing, and it appears that Ein’s group has retreated into cover.
            Soala stands shielding her face, crouched slightly.
            And—

            “—”

            Assassin is hovering high in the air, mid-leap, having avoided Yggdra’s slash just in time.

            Yggdra looks upward and narrows her eyes, lifting her sword once more.

            “Gran Centurio—!!”

            …And then.
            The entire clearing explodes with light once again.

            Standing at the center of the clearing, Yggdra is capable of moving as she pleases, like a pitcher in the middle of a baseball field throwing balls all across the stadium.
            As long as she has strength in her arms, she can strike again and again with her Noble Phantasm as soon as she “winds up” again after releasing the last one.
            Assassin continues to evade the blows, but she must continue to move and dodge, whereas Yggdra has a small and limited cycle of movements which do not inhibit her.

            Soala remains huddled, watching the battle out of incredulous eyes.
            —This is an “impossible” spectacle.
            Assassin cannot even erase her presence or activate her own Noble Phantasm for as long as Yggdra continues to attack, and the attacks go on without pause.
            But this is her Noble Phantasm, and such a thing demands huge amounts of prana.
            …Any ordinary Servant would have run out by now.

                        …That is, any ordinary Servant who had been patrolling every day,
                        and hadn’t been allotted extra prana immediately before the battle by its Master.

            Assassin continues to dodge narrowly, but—

            “—…”

            At last.
            One strike grazes the side of her leg, and she is left robbed of her speed—!

            As a Servant,
            of course the wound will heal quickly,
            but that is not enough.

            Yggdra’s shout rings out powerfully, and the final string of light takes away most of Assassin’s body.

            …As the enemy Servant stands with her body disappearing.
            She smiles bitterly and closes her eyes in acceptance.

            “—I should have known that I would never be able to match Your Majesty.”

            Yggdra lowers her sword and smiles.
            “You did well, Elena.
            “—Go to your rest.”

            …Without a word.
            Assassin’s body vanishes into smoke and ash.

            Distantly.
            There’s the sound of a thump like something heavy hitting the ground.
            …Oh.
            Apparently Soala has collapsed to her knees.

            The battle is over, and so I cautiously leave the shelter of the fortress to stand behind Yggdra, and on the far side of the clearing I can see Ein, Lancer, and Rose emerging as well.
            Even though the battle between Servants may be over, there’s still the matter of what to do with Soala now.

            “—”
            The witch with her dark hair narrows her eyes bitterly as if trying to resign herself to her defeat.

            “Go to the church and resign.”
            Ein speaks first.
            “—You know the rules, right? Hector-sama will shield you there until the end of the war since you’ve lost your Servant.”

            “No thanks.”
            Soala gets to her feet slowly and brushes herself off.
            Her motions seem pained, but all the same I suppose she must be trying to protect her pride.
            “You’ll never get me to go to a place like that.
            “—It stinks of blood and death, anyone with instincts should know better than to set foot in there if they don’t want to get killed.”

            Stinks of blood…?
            …Well, I’ve never been to the overseer’s church, but all the same that’s quite a thing to say.
            If anything, it seems to disturb Ein the most.

            “Nevertheless, you should go there.
            “If you don’t retire by choice, we’re going to have to either kill you or cut off your hand.”
            Rose’s voice is heavy with the threat.

            “—No.
            “I’m not going there no matter what.
            “—But all the same, I’m willing to accept my own loss and I’m not going to try to keep fighting.
            “If you want to follow me to make sure I leave town, then go ahead.”

            I can feel the air relax a bit as she announces her intentions.
            “—Well, as long as you’re leaving.
            “Unlike you, we find killing helpless opponents to be distasteful.”
            …I know what the others are probably thinking.
            None of us wants to be the one to kill her, but at this point if another Master kills her it’s not really our business anymore.
            Besides.
            With the low number of Servants left, there’s no way that any of them would contract with a Master like this unless they were desperate.

            Soala looks for a moment as if she wants to speak in distaste, but she swallows whatever remark it is down.
            …She runs her fingers through her long hair, turns, and walks away.

            I let out my breath after she disappears from view.

            “—I cannot believe that seriously worked.”
            Rose shakes her head as if she doesn’t know whether to be amused or not.

            Yggdra sighs and puts away her Noble Phantasm.
            “—I’m tired.”

            “…We should go back and let these two rest.”
            Despite all our planning, this has put a significant strain on Yggdra’s store of magical energy, and I’m sure she’ll need at least a day to recover.
            Ein nods to me, and then turns to Lancer.
            He is facing away from me and I can’t see his expression, but Lancer inclines his head and disappears.
            Yggdra erases her form as well.

            It is nearly midnight.
            …The curtains close on the battle that turned this forest into the scene of a fireworks display, and we leave as it falls into silence.
            There are only three Servants remaining now.
            …Soon.
            It will be time to put an end to everything—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            Even in all her uncertainty, one thing was still clear.
            —The newly crowned queen raised her sword and turned her army toward the empire.
            …They would attack again, even without all the people’s talk of portents, and she could not allow the danger to her country.
            So she must strike first.

            …She didn’t have absolute confidence that she could win, but she believed wholeheartedly in the justice she had been promised, and she gathered her forces to strike.
            The borderline between their countries was bottlenecked so that she must get through the empire’s great fortress to so much as touch its land.
            It took a great campaign and weeks’ worth of battle, but eventually a successful plan was put in motion and the fortress gates breached.
            …In that battle, a number of powerful enemies were killed.
            In the end a plan was put into motion to flood the fortress, and amidst the chaos she led her troops to a resounding victory that made her feel as though for the first time she and her army truly had the advantage in the war.
            Her men cheered as she rallied her forces before the empire’s gates, buoyed up as she was by the feeling that as long as they had her sword and her power and her justice on their side then they could never lose.
            …But.
            At that time, one of her warriors stepped forward.
            —She was told that this was good enough.
            —She was told clearly that this was the point of no return, and that moving forward would be an action that was unforgivable.

            The one that said so was not formally attached to her army, but a friend of one of her allies who often came to their aid in times of need.
            …She was a warrior who had grown up in the barren land resulting from an ancient war.
            She was a descendant of the people the queen’s ancestors had exiled to that land, and had never thought much of the kingdom, but over the course of their journeys something like respect had been born between the two.
            Even so.
            The girl who had never hesitated to say unpleasant things to the queen condemned her.
            …That this was as far as she could go.
            …That if she moved forward through the enemy’s gate, the kingdom would become exactly the same as the empire.

            She spoke cold words that reduced the queen’s promised justice to a mere fairy tale.

            …She was confused.
            Of course the queen was confused.
            …Such a thing couldn’t be, and she could not understand it.
            She had learned to control her desire for vengeance, and she only sought to protect her people, not to hurt innocents or tear families apart.

            She had once been told that a sovereign must protect her kingdom, whatever the cost.
            …She finally understood those words.
            This was her duty, as someone who loved and wished to protect her homeland—

            And so.
            She argued back calmly, asking what then she should do.
            …Of course, there was no answer.
            The warrior standing across from her only repeated that what she planned to do was mistaken.
            …She didn’t believe so, but even if it was a mistake, someone had to make it.
            She could not risk her people.
            …The queen closed her eyes and remembered the night her capital fell, let her heart fill with the agony of her citizens—
            —and she opened her eyes and walked through the gate without hesitation.

            She walked through the gate,
            and passed into hell.

            They hadn’t realized it at the time.
            No, perhaps they had not wanted to realize it.
            …It was just that over the course of the war, while no important generals in the queen’s army had lost their lives, they had killed a number of the empire’s most prominent leaders.
            The magus the queen had killed personally in her struggle against kidnap, the knights who had died when her army fought to take her back, and now the defensive leaders of the imperial army who had died attempting to protect the country’s gates—
            The enemy’s numbers were not infinite, despite the size of the country.
            …No, to the contrary, most of the enemy army had already been destroyed.
            The few platoons the emperor had at his disposal were most likely attempting to fortify the capital city, which was only a few days’ march from the great fortress of the border.
            …And the emperor himself had been wounded in battle when trying to prevent her coronation and couldn’t ride forth personally.

            They hadn’t realized it at the time.
            …But when their march through the empire’s territory was interrupted by an armed force, perhaps she begun to understand.
            It wasn’t an army.
            …It was a group of farmers holding weapons they obviously weren’t familiar with, led by a pair of spirited youths.
            The civilian militia called for her to retreat.
            She and her forces were called invaders and thieves.
            The people of the empire swore that if it took all their lives they would keep their precious homeland and the leader they loved safe.

            …She had not been prepared.
            There had been times that the young queen had experienced uncertainty before, but it was nothing compared to this.
            She could not retreat, especially after what she had said to her ally, but she did not want to harm civilians with no sins to their name.
            For the sake of her country, she must move forward without hesitation.
            …Probably, she thought, these people had been inspired by propaganda and were not truly prepared to do battle.
            If her forces engaged them, they should scatter—

            What resulted,
            was the greatest massacre the war had ever seen.

            When the battle ended, she stood atop a hill of corpses.
            It was not the first time she had done so, but this time she was bewildered by the extent of the bloodshed.
            —Why?
            She wanted to ask them why they were willing to go so far for that man, but somewhere deep down she had already begun to understand.
            …It was, because they had something they desired to protect.
            The young girl who had led her people into battle was much the same as she had once been.

            As they continued, still more civilians stood up with weapons in hand.
            …A single deployment of the imperial army, led by the final great general left to the enemy, had also appeared to try to defend the people.
            And she cut them all down.
            The farmers and the blacksmiths, the trappers and tanners, the husbands and wives and children and parents.
            The tired soldiers who had fought at the fortress, fought in the villages, and fought here in the marshes that were the only obstacle left in the way of the capital city.
            The enemy general, a girl younger than herself whose body was covered in wounds.
            …All of them fell beneath the sword her people had promised her was justice.

            …But with every swing of her sword, she also cut away at her own certainty.
            Perhaps she was retaliating for the pain that had been inflicted upon her own country, but it couldn’t possibly be justice or the right thing to do to end so many innocent lives.
            Could this, truly be called justice?
            …Still, she had to believe.
            If she let her belief crumble now, she would collapse under the weight of her own despair, remembering her past uncertainties.

            At last her army stood before the gates of the capital.
            Her will to fight had dwindled so much that she was willing to attempt negotiation, something she had never before considered trying with her enemy.

            —But.

            As she stood across the wide road from the young emperor, he did not believe her offerings of peace, and was deaf to her demands for his surrender.
            He held his head high and condemned her, telling her that after how badly each had wounded the other, this could only end in his death or her own.
            …She who had often heard his voice in her days of captivity realized it.
            His words were heavy with grief even as he protected his country’s pride.
            …The general she had killed in the previous battle had been his sister, a small girl who was still years away from adulthood.
            He had taken her parents away from her and forced her to learn fear and pain and suffering.
            …And in return, she had killed his lover, his friends, and his family one by one.

            The wheels of destiny were as ever turned by great rivers of blood.
            …By now, it was blood that she and this man had personally spilled with the edge of the sword.
            Truly, they were no different.

            She had become the murderer, and he the tragic hero casting his own life between her sword and his people.
            —But still, she could not turn back.
            Certainly, if she turned back here he would simply amount his forces once more and strike for her country yet again in time.
            ……And so the young queen fought the bloodiest battle of the war while suppressing the urge to cry.

            Through the connection thinner than a capillary, I watch.
            Her heart was in the right place, but there were so many things she hadn’t been taught.
            She learned them all the hard way, ran through the battlefield, and cradled her regrets.
            She was still a young woman who had not yet turned eighteen, but she could not be called anything but an adult.
            At the same time, she is both greater than humanity and very much an ordinary girl.
            This is…, her memory.

            …In the end.
            Just as the battle had come to a deadlock, one of her allies—
            The very girl who had spoken out against this invasion stood up.
            She called for the army of the kingdom not to lose heart.
            …And as the queen watched numbly, she broke the enemy’s gates with her own life.

            ……At last it had come to this.

            She must move forward.
            …No matter how painful it became, there were lives that had been given to forge her path and the hopes of many resting on her shoulders.
            …The queen lifted the sword she was losing her faith in.
            She lifted her sword and charged forward into the final battle—

            …
            ……I wake.
            I awaken with a dizzy head after an unbelievable dream.
            …I feel almost as though someone has wrapped my head in cotton, and my senses are muddled.
            …Well, this much is probably just because of how much energy Yggdra used last night.
            Just as I observed the morning after I summoned her, that energy has to come from somewhere.
            Music is playing faintly and it appears I’ve slept through when my alarm originally went off, so I must have been sleeping quite deeply.
            Either that, or when Yggdra’s memories take hold of me in my dreams they must just hate to let go of my consciousness.
            I space out in bed with heavy limbs and a head that isn’t working right and listen to Handel.
            I listen until the very end of the symphony and then drag myself up, forcing myself to shut the music off.

            I’m in charge of breakfast today, Yggdra is in charge of lunch, and Ein will be cooking dinner according to our schedule.
            …I’ll have to make something with a lot of calories and sugar to give us the energy to think.
            Thinking that, I wash my face and get dressed, and go downstairs.
            It appears that I’m the first one, and so I have time to get cooking equipment and materials out slowly without losing face.
            …For the main dish, pancakes with nuts and fruit mixed in.
            This will be a healthy western-style breakfast with all the stops pulled out.
            On the side, fried bacon and scrambled eggs seasoned with herbs and sea salt, and finally crepes, as a real dessert.

            Most of the other things will be easy to do quickly, and so I give all of my attention to the pancake mix.
            …The house slowly starts to stir as the smell of the ingredients wakes up my guests.

            Rose is the first one down.
            She seems more awake than me, and I allow myself to be privately envious as she greets me and sits down in the living room with a book.
            …Yggdra is next, and she definitely isn’t fully awake.
            She’s dressed, but she hasn’t tied her hair and her eyes are lidded.
            She is so beautiful that I want to pull her into a side room right now, but—
            Well, sex when one participant isn’t fully awake is something that should wait until you’re in a relationship with that person and know that they won’t mind it.
            I wait for Yggdra to nod off against the high back of a chair and force my attention back to making breakfast.

            It takes another half hour or so until Ein appears, and by then I’m almost ready to actually cook the pancakes.
            Rose and Ein are quite animated and I can hear Yggdra replying to them at times, and so I expect she’s actually more awake by now.
            …It is half past ten in the morning.
            Since we’re usually up much earlier, I would call this a lazy day, especially since breakfast won’t actually be finished until noon.

            I start wondering what we should do about Lancer and then he walks past the kitchen looking disoriented.
            He apologizes to his Master for sleeping late and says that it must be the unfamiliar location.
            …Does that mean he was kept up late because he couldn’t get comfortable, or that it was too comfortable and he slept longer than he intended…?
            I think to myself as the others tease him about it fruitlessly.

            …Finally, I’m able to put food on the table and the five of us, three magi and two Servants, eat a large and sumptuous breakfast full of calories and protein to help stabilize us after our hard fight yesterday.

            “—So.
            “I guess the worst part is over now.”
            Ein sighs and leans back.
            Everyone had seconds of everything and we completely exhausted the materials for all the food, so we’re simply reclining around the table and waiting for the amount of food we ate to start digesting.
            “If it comes down to a fight between us we’ll be able to fight fairly, so all we have to worry about is Berserker and Caster.”

            “—Eh?”

            …I must be making a strange face.
            I know that Yggdra is staring blankly as well.
            But that really can’t be helped as something absurd was just said.

            “But battles in the Holy Grail War are fought between seven Servants.
            “This time there is the irregularity of the Riders, with one class shared between two heroes, but that’s only bringing the total up to eight artificially.
            “Avenger was summoned instead of Caster, so…”

            Ein’s party is also staring at me with blank faces.

            “—No, we haven’t seen it yet, but Caster was definitely summoned.
            “We were deployed into this war by the supervisor, and he’s told us that including the two Riders there were definitely nine Servants in this war.
            “—Well, he didn’t actually tell us about the two Riders and Avenger, he just guaranteed that Caster had been summoned, because the Riders and Avenger were summoned through cheating, but it all amounts to the same thing.”

            So.
            So all this time, the battle of seven Servants was actually an escalated battle between nine.
            …That is fundamentally very strange.

            “—Now, I have been preparing for the Holy Grail War for a long time, since it was always foretold that someone from my family would receive the proof of Mastership.
            “And even summoning seven Servants into the prepared vessels is supposed to be as much as the Great Grail can handle.
            “—The anomaly of twinned Servants has been brought out purposefully twice as a form of cheating, but nine Servants at once is just too much.”
            I complain.

            “From what we understand, it’s because the Fourth and Fifth wars were very odd.
            “The ritual was incomplete in the fourth cycle and it was overtaken by outside factors in the fifth war, and so there was an excess of prana left behind.
            “Apparently the top brass of the Magic Association even investigated it.”
            Rose explains with a curious expression.
            “—Well, in the end there’s nothing we can do even after explaining it, but this is the explanation for the shortening cycles too.
            “Normally it takes forty years or so, but there was only a gap of ten years between the fourth and fifth wars and it hasn’t even been five years since the last war, after all.”

            …Hmm, well, I suppose all I can really do is accept it.
            But I had really thought that things would be as good as settled once we had defeated Berserker…

            “—At any rate, there’s no use worrying about it now.
            “There’s no way we can go out like this when Roswell and Saber are both exhausted.”
            Ein declares so with authority, and because it’s the case nobody disputes it.

            “I’ll take care of the dishes, so I guess we can just take it easy today.”

            The boy shrugs and says that, and so the rest of the day begins.
            …Leisure.
            This is a pattern that has repeated since I entered the Grail War.
            Fight, and then rest.
            Even with extra allies in the house, it’s only natural to fall back into that pattern.

            Anyhow, I let myself doze off lightly to conserve energy until Yggdra makes a light lunch mostly based around vegetables.
            Ein and Rose bicker to themselves in the distance, even though it sounds more like Ein is simply being picked on mercilessly.
            There’s affection behind Rose’s gestures, and it feels as though the two of them have worked together for a long time, so there’s no uneasiness in it.

            The day goes on.
            Lancer simply sits Japanese-style and watches as Ein and Rose talk, and Yggdra retreats upstairs.
            …I go to read some old classic literature to pass the time.
            No matter what, I should refrain from strenuous activity so that my energy can slowly regenerate.
            It feels good to have the house fill up with voices, and even when things get rowdy downstairs I don’t mind it.

            …Yggdra is most likely sleeping to conserve her power.
            When you put a cup under the faucet, you have to wait for it to fill up, and since we almost drained the cup with the battle last night it’s going to take time for the cup that’s the prana stored inside her body to fill up again.
            After today she should be capable of battle once again, so I am not worried.
            I should be coming up with some vague ideas to fight Caster, since I know that Berserker and Yggdra are on even footing.
            Instead, I muse on the figure of the girl I saw in my dreams and picture Yggdra sleeping.
            …I should try not to picture her sleeping.
            Because—the very idea of it is tempting, and I should know better than to do that.
            We aren’t in a relationship like that and so we can’t set limits for each other.
            ……Well, and there’s the matter of everyone downstairs.

            …The kind girl who has sheltered me these past days.
            The girl who has had fun playing around with different pastimes in this era.
            …Her younger self reflected in my dreams, in all her heartache and bravery—
            I honestly admire her.
            This goes beyond being charmed by her portrait as a child.
            My youthful admiration has been changed into something that is much more like “real” affection.
            …I’m not worthy of a person like that, I know.
            But we are “bound” together, and she has not rejected me yet, so I must still have some worth in her eyes.
            Even if that’s just giving me false hope—
            I remember her body.
            I remember the act of having sex with her and try to suppress arousal.
            …I desire her.
            I trust her and believe in her, and knowing her as I do in my waking hours and in my dreams, I know what I feel for her.
            —The Grail War is almost over.
            We will inevitably be separated soon.

            We will win, and she will claim her wish, and she will disappear—

            …At that moment.
            My mind snags on something I had not thought about until now.

            “—”
            It’s such a simple thing, but I can’t believe that I hadn’t considered it.
            Well, I suppose we’ll simply have to discuss such a thing eventually—

            Vaguely,
            I make my plans as the day goes on.

            …And at last, we arrive at dinnertime.

            Ein is in charge of the kitchen, and he makes a dinner mostly based around meat and potatoes.
            There isn’t quite the volume of the breakfast I made, but it is still a hearty meal even if it is plain, and means to restore energy to us.
            We relax after the meal, around the table.
            —And.
            That means it’s time to launch my attack.

            “—Now, I’m just curious.
            “But now that we’re allies, I was wondering what each of us would do with the Holy Grail if we won it.
            “We never have talked about that before.”

            Four faces turn towards me, two bemused, one curious, and one blank.
            “Personally, I never had a wish for the Holy Grail.
            “For the most part, I’m competing for my family’s honor, and there’s nothing specifically that I would want to wish for.
            “If I win, it would be for winning’s sake itself, and I would want to let Saber use the Grail for her wish.”

            “—Well, it’s pretty much the same for me.”
            Ein says so, nonplussed.
            “Hector-sama ordered us to fight and we can’t back down now that we’ve been chosen.
            “I don’t have any wishes and I’d just let Lancer have the Grail.”

            “I don’t think I have a right to the Grail since I’m not a participant, but I don’t need it.
            “…I’m not like you two, I actually have wishes.
            “But it’d be more meaningful to accomplish them myself since I can do that. I don’t need the help of some defective magical artifact for that.”

            …As if naturally, everyone turns to Lancer, who simply shakes his head.
            “…I do not have a conscious wish.
            “However, the act of the summoning itself does not fulfill me, and so there must be something.
            “—I believe I will know when the time comes.”

            …That’s an interesting answer to make.
            But all the same, it doesn’t seem too unusual for someone so quiet and repressed as Lancer to not know the reality of his own wish.

            And.
            Everyone turns to Yggdra, who is making a smile as if she’s troubled.
            “—I do, have a wish.”
            She says so with a faraway gaze.
            “But I’m sure that at least some people here would find it foolish, so I won’t say.”

            The day ends like that.
            We sit around talking about possible plans of attack and searching to locate Berserker and the elusive Caster, everyone fully aware that this may come down to a battle between us if both of our Servants survive that long.
            …Everyone prefers a fair fight to other means of combat, and so we are prepared.
            I get out some frozen fruit for dessert and then Ein, Rose, and Lancer retreat upstairs when I tell them that I will take care of washing up.
            …Yggdra and I are left alone in the quiet house.

            “—About earlier.”
            I don’t really know how to begin, but I do feel that I should talk about it.
            …Our chances are running out, and whatever my flaws I don’t believe we should leave this unaddressed.
            “I mean, about your wish…
            “If it’s something that you’re fighting for, that you believe is worth being in this war for after everything… then I wouldn’t find it foolish.”
            I try to say to her that it’s all right to tell me.

            …Yggdra gives me a look like she’s thinking hard, and then smiles bitterly.
            “—It is foolish.
            “Even I can recognize that what I’m asking for may even be more than the Holy Grail can fulfill.
            “It’s a small… and very foolish wish.”

            “Even so, Yggdra.”
            …A small wish that even the Holy Grail cannot grant.
            I wonder.
            What did the girl who ran through the battlefield to the very end wish for—?

            “—It’s because I am a Heroic Spirit that I know.
            “…Of course I had regrets when I died, but it was becoming a Heroic Spirit and knowing my experiences as a cleaner that made me realize.
            “Everything I worked for was useless.”
            She smiles and says so as if it’s a matter of course.
            “If I were a better sovereign, then it would have all ended with that war.
            “…The things that I learned were lessons that I hoped would be passed on down the generations, but even just looking at the world today I know I that those hopes were empty.
            “—If I can, I want to fix that.”

            My heart stumbles as she speaks those words.
            “By—fixing that, do you mean—”

            Yggdra shakes her head slowly.
            “I don’t mean that I want to go back and redo my life or anything like that.
            “—No, that may also be a thing that the Holy Grail cannot grant, and it would be foolish to take back what has already happened.
            “I just want to wish for the Holy Grail to change the world from this war onward.
            “—I want there to be peace.”

            …And she gives me an answer befitting the girl who stood at the end of that bloodstained road and reflected upon how she had arrived there.
            How could I…, have thought she would want anything else?

            All the same, I know that she is right.
            Human nature itself is against her, and even if it is very powerful I don’t know how much influence the Holy Grail would have over the entire world.
            Going beyond true “magic”, what Yggdra asks for is closer to a “miracle”.

            “Roswell?”
            …I notice when I look that Yggdra is staring at me with concern.
            “—Is something wrong?”

            …I force myself to stand.
            Even so.
            …Even if this is… what she has decided to wish for…
            I can’t put the lid back on my feelings.

            “…Yggdra.
            “—There’s something I should tell you.”

            Her eyes follow me intently.
            Her expression is blank, but I think she knows what I’m trying to say.

            “I—
            “I care about you very much. I…”

            …And yet.
            As I try to speak the words, Yggdra comes closer to me and touches my face softly as if to silence me.
            And when I hesitate,

            “—”

            …she kisses me.

            “—, —”

            It is not a gentle kiss.
            Firmly, she parts my lips with her tongue and presses her body against mine.
           …Her warmth…, makes me remember yesterday, and I can feel my heartbeat speeding up as my arousal grows.
            She is telling me.
            She is saying that we mustn’t speak of such things.
            …I know that as well as she does, but still, I love her.
            I love her so much there’s no help for me.

            “—Roswell.”
            She says my name quietly.
            “Roswell.”
            She speaks so close to me that her lips brush against my own when they move.
            “I want you to touch me, I want to feel you.”
            Already my arms are around her, but when I try to let go so that we can go upstairs to the bedroom she shakes her head stubbornly.

            “It has to be here, it has to be right now.
            “Beyond needing prana for tomorrow, I just want you inside me as fast as possible—”
            She begs for sex in a husky voice, and there is a fever in my body that knows no reason.

            Step by step.
            She pulls me along with her as she walks backwards and collides with the wall.
            “—”
            Many of the lights are off, and it’s just the kitchen lights illuminating her body from one side.
            …With the blinds all closed, it really feels as though we are alone in the house.
            Or even alone in the world.

            I run my hands carefully through her soft hair.
            She has determined that for now we must put reality aside, and I cannot possibly refuse her.
            Her body is heated through her clothes, and I can feel that her nipples are standing up.
            …I pull back from the kiss to drag her shirt up over her head, and she holds her arms up so as not to fight me.
            She is wearing a black bra with faint patterns across the fabric like antique chinaware.
            Her shirt drops to the floor as she unfastens the buttons of my own shirt and pushes it off my shoulders.
            Her fingers start drifting down to where my erection strains against the fabric of my pants, and I try to hold my breath as she touches at me.
            Her skirt—is next, and once the fastener at the waistline is undone it rolls down her hips like rain.
            “—”
            I catch my breath.
            The sight awaiting me is a pair of bikini-cut panties that are worn overtop a garter belt.
            They are black and match with her bra, and the soft swell of her erect clitoris stands out against the fabric.
            …I run a finger over it and then stroke up and down the cleft of her covered pussy, and she moans wholeheartedly, not even trying to keep her voice down.
            She pushes her hips up against my hand insistently, spreading her legs.
            The fabric along the cleft is damp.

            “—”
            Yggdra’s nimble fingers are already undoing the front of my pants.
            …I let her, as I don’t think I could withstand the strain for much longer.

            She smiles with an absent, wicked look on her face as she takes my penis into her hand.
            “This has already been inside me once.”
            Her voice has a dreamy quality as if she’s not aware she’s saying so out loud.
            She traces the length of me with her white fingertips.

            “Mm.”
            I try to keep my voice down.
            …If we’re loud, it will carry upstairs.
            Being overheard…, would be pretty embarrassing—
            But Yggdra strokes me, reaches to push my pants further down so she can touch at my balls, and then rubs her fingertips across the head.
            …I feel feverish.
            She giggles and lifts her hand away.

            “Roswell—”
            She calls out in a singsong way and thrusts her hips up again.
            “Roswell, touch me more—”

            “—”
            Carefully.
            I slide her panties down so that they won’t get caught on the fastenings of her garters.
            And as they fall, I kneel down as well.
            —I am staring directly at her.
            The last time I was too confused and aroused to really look at her, but I can see now that the folds of her pussy are delicate and neat.
            In the light from the kitchen, they glisten with her wetness.
            …I, lean forward and kiss her directly.

            “Roswell—”
            She calls my name as though sighing.
            I hold on to her hips and taste her.
            …She smells faintly of sweat and her fluids are sweet.
            “Ya—ah.”
            I run my tongue along her entrance, and she moans.
            I feel Yggdra’s hand come to rest at the back of my head.

            Her body arches against the wall, and I explore her sex with my lips.
            When I use my tongue on or around her clitoris, she cries out sweetly.
            When I kiss the faintly twitching mouth of her vagina, she moans and shakes.
            …I feel dizzy and drunk.
            I swallow her fluids as she gets wetter, and her fingers clutch into my hair.

            The sound of her voice is seductive, and she is not ashamed of raising it in pleasure.
            I can feel the muscles on the insides of her thighs trembling as her moans get higher.

            “Roswell—ah, ah—”
            She twists her hips as though her body is not sure whether it wants to escape or welcome my tongue, even as she holds me firmly in place.
            Her cries are becoming more urgent.
            …She keeps getting wetter, and I can feel her twitching lightly against my lips.
            When I slip my tongue inside her, the folds of her inner walls are contracting slightly.
            She must…, be close.
            “Ah—ah, hah—”

            Yggdra wriggles under my hands even as I hold her hips still.
            She must want to thrust.
            I suck on her clitoris.
            …I can feel the blood beating against my tongue.
            As I push the hood down with my lips—

            “Ah—ah, ahh—!!”

            —she comes with her body in an arch and her head thrown back.

            When I sit up, she’s gazing down at me hazily.
            Yggdra pants shamelessly with the tip of her tongue visible against her swollen lower lip.
            —The insides of her thighs are wet.
            Some of the dampness is sweat, but a little bit of her pussyjuice has started to run down her thighs.
            …I wonder if it’s right to call her perverted when she’s completely unashamed of her desire.
            Even the movements of her body when she simply pants are exquisite and sensual.

            …She steps around me.
            Facing away from me, she braces herself with her forearms against the table, and spreads her legs apart.
            Yggdra looks over her shoulder at me.
            The lips of her vagina are open wide, and her unfocused gaze is plainly begging.
            Her breasts are pendulous, as if to emphasize that her bra and garters are all that she’s wearing.
            The black, satiny fabric suits her pale skin so well.

            “Roswell…”
            She shakes her hips slightly as if presenting herself to me.
            …I stand, naked.
            Even though I vaguely recognize this room as the same place central to our everyday lives, the low lighting and Yggdra’s exposed body make it feel like a closed-off world.
            This is a place where ordinary common sense…, doesn’t have to apply.
            If I think about the reality that she’s asking me to fuck her from behind against the table where we eat, I won’t be able to function.
            My erection…, aches for her.
            She wants me.
            So… I guide the head of myself to line up with her, then shift my grip to her hips and thrust into her as deeply as I can in one swift stroke.

            “Ahh.”
            I feel Yggdra shudder around me.
            She’s—so wet.
            I’m going to lose my mind.

            I lean forward and reach around to cover her lower belly with my right hand.
            Pressing myself to her back, I rock my hips shallowly and roll my fingertips over her clitoris, which is still wet with my own saliva.
            —She lets out a hot moan and wiggles her rear up and down.
            The firm…, and voluptuous curves of her ass press against me and excite me.
            Her folds are pulsing quickly as if in eagerness.
            “Roswell…”
            Yggdra rocks as if delirious.
            I can’t take her deeply in this position, but her body grips me tightly and her moans are very wild, as if she cannot hold herself back.
            I could swear that her breath is steaming white in the air.
            “Ahh, ahn—ah—”
            She squirms beneath me.
            I rub the very tip of her clit with the pad of my index finger, and she shudders.
            Her vagina clamps down on me once, so tightly my vision whites out, and then relaxes.

            “Hah—ah, ha—ah.”
            She hangs supported against the table with cloudy eyes.
            She is so wet that I can hear slick, obscene sounds between us whenever I move.
            —It appears…, that she came lightly.

            “More—”
            Yggdra rolls her hips so that my penis presses against the front and then the back of her vagina, and the texture of her walls makes me moan.
            “Roswell, more—”

            I straighten up.
            She is turned just a bit as if to look up at me.
            The white slope of her back—, is so beautiful.
            I want to kiss and touch every part of her.
            The cheeks of her ass are parted in this position, and I can even see the parts of her body that she cannot see.
            The rim of her vulva is deep pink and shining.
            I want…, to devour her and love and worship her inch by inch.
            But.
            The pressure building up inside me is unbearable.

            So I hold onto her tightly and thrust as hard as I dare.
            Immediately her voice rises in cries of pleasure.
            Distantly I think that we’ll be overheard, but I don’t remember why that might matter anymore.
            Pumping into her so that our mixed-up fluids slosh and her body shakes.
            Yggdra thrusts her ass up against me hungrily.

            “Ros—, well—”

            Her long golden hair sways.
            Her eyes are hazy pits of a blue deep enough to drown in.
            Her cheeks are flushed and her tongue is hanging out.
            In this disheveled state…, she is again so beautiful that I cannot breathe.
            The walls and folds of her squeeze against me rhythmically, and the head of my arousal continues to press against a rough section of her body.
            Yggdra cries out “there, there” and squirms in ecstasy.

            “Ah—ah, Roswell—I’m—”

            I want to call out and encourage her to come, but I cannot make my voice work—

            “Fuck me—harder—”
            “—”

            She calls out in a high-pitched voice when she comes.
            She squeezes down on me so heavily that I cannot think, and I ejaculate into her without hesitation, thrusting into her until my vision goes white—

            …And.
            When we part.
            She remains hunched over the table, covered in sweat, with thin ribbons of semen slowly dripping down her vulva and beading at the head of her clitoris, pattering faintly against the floor.

            “—”
            She stands there with a look of dazed contentment on her face.
            And I—

            “……”
            I…,
            I love and desire her so much that my heart just aches with the strength of my own emotions.
            Even if this won’t last, I still—

            For as long… as this war lasts.
            I will fight alongside her.
            For my honor and for her wish as well, but mostly—
            It’s simply because I love her.
            …Even if…, she is reluctant to let me admit that.
            My feelings will not change—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            When she was small, her world was made up of the people around her.
            Her father and mother always smiled at her and gave her kind words and gifts.
            In return for their love, she loved them more than anything.
            The other people around her were also kind.
            …Courtiers, nursemaids, teachers, and knights.
            All of them.
            Everyone.
            Her early years were like the garden of paradise, filled with white light, bordered by the green and gold and pale blue of the family’s colors.
            A palace of white marble, interspersed with gardens and beautiful things.
            A tiny world filled with warmth and kindness directed toward her.

            …It was only her.

            Of course, it wasn’t as though there were no other children at all.
            She sometimes saw the children of the people around her.
            …It was that in the end, she was the sole child of the king and queen.
            …They said.
            Before she was born, the queen gave birth to twin girls.
            But they died almost instantly after they were born because their bodies were too weak.
            ……And the queen could no longer bear children after her.

            When she was a small child, still dreaming in the embrace of a kind world—
            She knew well that she had had sisters before she was born.
            Their bodies were buried across the lake in a small tomb, avoided by everyone.
            …Because she was a princess and she didn’t know fear, she snuck out sometimes to visit it.
            It was a peaceful and quiet place, overgrown as the superstition of the people kept them from drawing near even to clean a royal tomb.
            She liked having the attention of both her parents, but all the same she wondered what it would have been like to have siblings.
            She daydreamed to herself sometimes that her sisters’ ghosts would become her playmates, or that the twins she had never met had actually escaped and survived somehow, ignorant to their heritage and waiting for their sister to find them.
            Eventually, she grew out of those games, but her curiosity about the path that had been closed before her birth was not something she could forget.

            In the kingdom’s war with the empire, one of the enemy generals was a girl slightly older than her.
            That girl was a fearsome valkyrie who fought with the fires of a personal grudge against the princess’ country, a great and terrible hatred of unknown origin.
            Several times on the battlefield, the princess asked why.
            The only response she got was that the enemy would never forgive her.

            The valkyrie was famed for being able to attack from any direction like a phantom, and so she was one of the most feared generals at the enemy’s disposal.
            And there were many feared generals at the enemy’s disposal.
            A knight like a god of protection and another knight whose power was matched by his bloodlust, the small girl who was the usurper’s own sister, the magus who even in the age of gods performed feats that were “impossible” by orthodox magecraft—
            Among them all, the one who fought with the most venom and resolve was that valkyrie.

            In one battle, after her troops had rescued her from the enemy’s imprisonment, that valkyrie was sniped in the face by one of the princess’ soldiers.
            The enemy was badly injured and even lost an eye.
            But the next time she appeared, she was perfectly fine.

            The princess had killed the magus who bent the laws of the world with his thaumaturgy.
            There should have been no way for that wound to heal.
            …In addition to which, the valkyrie followed her even into the holy land that should have been sealed off to all but the priesthood and the royal family, in an attempt to interfere with the coronation.
            When she demanded to know what sorcery the enemy had used to break into such a hallowed place, she was scoffed at.
            …The newly-crowned queen was not stupid.
            But the only answer she arrived at should have been “impossible”.

            She thought about it.
            In the back of her mind, she held her theories, and considered them over and over at night when her army made camp.
            All throughout the rest of the war and the start of her invasion into the empire’s territory, she thought about it deep inside her heart.

            —And finally.
            Through her ally’s sacrifice, she and her men were able to enter the imperial capital.
            Waiting for them in the streets…, were two girls.
            The armor that they wore was almost identical, and at a glance the only way to differentiate them was that one of the girls was missing an eye.
            The girls spoke of a “great sin” that the kingdom had committed, the root of their deep grudge.
            As her people panicked, the young queen explained to them that she had suspected for a long time that this enemy might be a pair of twins alternating their attacks.
            She did not tell them why.

            Those girls looked very much like her.
            They looked at her hatefully out of eyes the same color as hers, and under their armor they had tied back blond hair almost the same shade as hers.
            The names they addressed each other by were the same as the ones the queen remembered on the tomb.
            —Still.
            There was still a chance that this was a coincidence.
            She didn’t know whether she was clinging to that possibility foolishly or not.
            She could not believe it of her father to do what those girls seemed to silently accuse.
            She could not…, believe that her childhood had been that much of a lie.

            There was no justice in it.
            There was no justice…, anywhere.

            The capital city of the empire was in flames.
            The citizens who could not fight cowered, shielded by the two valkyries’ soldiers.
            In the distance, the queen could hear the voice of the usurper calling out orders, carrying out a last-minute evacuation to the north of the people who had not yet been able to escape.
            The two girls were simply buying time.

            Still.
            Two platoons could never hold against an entire army.
            One of the valkyries, the girl with one eye, fell in battle.

            —The other girl,
            ……cried in despair and swore vengeance upon her sister’s name.

            But.
            The emperor’s voice split the air and ordered that girl to retreat.
            As the queen reorganized her forces, the two argued briefly.
            …But the valkyrie submitted when her leader mentioned a “last resort”.

            So the tattered remains of the army that had nearly crushed the queen’s country pulled back to the great black castle that stood against the mountains.
            And the queen gave chase with her mind spinning.

            —Inside the obsidian halls, the battle continued.
            For a moment she nearly cornered her enemy, but her army was flanked by the remaining valkyrie’s troops and the usurper escaped.
            Still.
            There was no way that either of them would survive for long.

            The queen pursued the valkyrie throughout the great hall of the castle.
            Even if it was an answer she didn’t want to hear, she had to know.
            But there was no way to truly ask now.
            The hands of both girls were stained with too much blood for anyone’s words to reach.

            And so at the end of a fierce battle, the queen struck a fatal wound upon her enemy.
            …The girl only a year older than her called out to her leader.
            She thanked the emperor for his kindness and support, for saving her life and sheltering her.
            She asked with her last breath that he crush the kingdom that had abandoned the two valkyries for political ends.

            Certainty—settled in her heart.
            There was no way to deny it any longer.

            The queen watched as her older sister, her last surviving family member, died from the wounds that the queen herself had inflicted.
            She was tired.
            There was no room left in her heart to hold all the grief.
            She stared down at the freshest corpse she had made to pave her path to justice knowing that she should at least honor her lost sister with tears but unable to shed even one.
            —In the distance, she heard the voice of the emperor raise in mourning.
            Even as she herself was too emotionally spent to do anything more than keep fighting, the man whose family she continued to kill one after another grieved.

            She had always wanted to live with the sisters she had been told had died.
            —Perhaps.
            If the world had been kinder.
            That simple wish could have been granted.

            Thinking that, she lifted her sword and pointed it at the only enemy left alive.

            …
            ……
            ………I wake.
            I awaken with the long-ago echoes of Yggdra’s pain still weighing on my heart.
            I awaken with her memories rising to suffocate me, even as I turn off my alarm and get dressed.
            “—”
            I know her legend, of course.
            …Of course.
            I wouldn’t have the right to summon her as a Servant otherwise.
            I couldn’t call myself a descendant of the man who fought at her side otherwise.
            …It’s just that there’s such a great difference between reading someone’s exploits in a history book and actually experiencing them watching over that person’s shoulder in their memories.
            Still.
            I try to accept this as the natural order of things as I am Yggdra’s Master and go downstairs.

            Rose is already there, apparently in the middle of making some form of dish.
            It doesn’t appear to be any kind of Western breakfast, but rather a meal that one would expect to have in the daytime.
            The ingredients seem to be noodles, spices, and grilled shrimp.

            “—Oh hey, good morning. It’s my turn, so I went ahead and started using the kitchen.”
            “Good morning. It’s all right.”

            I sit down at the table as we wait for the others to awaken.

            “We’re going to have to get back to work today, since we can’t just wait for the last two Servants to kill each other if we want to win the war.
            “So I’m making something to give us the energy to keep going.”
            Ah, I see.
            That does make sense.
            My energy levels are about back to normal even after having been drained by Yggdra last night, so I should be all right for support magic today.
            …And Yggdra, who drained that prana in the first place, should be doing even better.

            “Hey Roswell, is there some reason your face is all red?”
            Rose asks with a grin like she knows exactly why.
            …I don’t answer.
            Well, we were doing that right here, so it’s natural to be a bit embarrassed thinking about it.
            I’ve never done that kind of thing with anyone else.
            ……Then again, most of my prior relationships were casual or professional in nature.
            Yggdra is the only one that I’ve loved enough to indulge like that, even if indulging her does mean avoiding her giving my feelings a real answer.
            Once I think “I like her”, it’s hopeless—it’s that kind of thing.

            Anyway, Ein comes down next, and nearly falls asleep again on the table until Rose starts to pick on him over the counter as she cooks.
            ……Lancer is next, and he simply waits in the next room over.
            That priest’s robe of his doesn’t stick out amidst the old-fashioned furniture, and only his brightly colored cloak clashes with his surroundings.
            Yggdra arrives last.
            She is dressed and perfectly awake, and acts seamlessly as if none of last night had actually happened, sitting down in time to be served.

            We talk as we eat.
            We discuss various places that we might start searching for Caster or Berserker as everyone goes back to help themselves to more of Rose’s pot of pasta and shrimp.
            Ein says that he believes Berserker’s hideout is somewhere in Miyama, and that seems to hold with where we tend to have found them.
            And it’s more practical to go after the known element rather than the unknown anyway, so our discussion turns to sweep patterns and whether or not we should split up and how we should communicate if that were the case.

            We continue to talk even as we do our dishes and put them away, and rearrange ourselves around the table with our map to keep talking strategy.
            Yggdra comes into conflict with Ein and Rose at some points because all of us have different styles of attack, and Yggdra believes that her own experience with Berserker should give her words more weight than they’re accepted with.
            Even Lancer joins in the discussion at times.

            …In the middle of all that, the doorbell rings.
            The discussion pauses as I stare, trying to imagine who might come to this place when the boundary field should have a repelling effect on mundanes.

            “That presence—”
            Rose is frowning.
            “I’m sure that’s Hector-sama, but what would he be doing here?”

            …Hector.
            I’ve heard them mention that name before.
            That is the name of the supervisor of this war, the man who dispatched them to keep the Holy Grail out of the hands of those who would use it for evil.
            To achieve the status of supervisor, he must have been approved by both the Magic Association and the Church.
            On top of which, he must be powerful, as there’s been a problem in the past few wars involving the supervisor getting killed either by a combatant or in the maelstrom of the war itself.
            …Now that Rose mentions it, I can feel a dense magical presence outside the boundary field of the house.

            The doorbell rings again.
            “—Roswell, I don’t know what he wants, but we should answer.
            “He is the supervisor.”
            Ein sounds uneasy.

            …Everyone gradually leaves the table and stands facing the door.
            I go to answer it.

            …There is a man of indeterminate age standing outside.
            He wears dark hooded robes that hide his features.
            All I can see is the ends of dark hair and the unlined lower half of his face.
            He is just slightly taller than me, and his magical presence is extremely weighty.
            ……He’s undoubtedly much more powerful than me or any other magus in this house.
            The odd presence around him is very dissimilar to Nessiah’s, but I still cannot help but compare them.
            The air about them has a similar sense of deadliness.
            Nessiah’s was less—
            “Stale” isn’t quite the way to put it, but even though I could sense that that man’s hands were bloody, there was something more alert and vital about his aura.
            Breathing the air around this man called Hector is like breathing in bloody smoke.
            Its weight makes me feel dizzy.

            “—Master of Saber.
            “I hear that you have formed an alliance with my protégé.
            “—I will have you let me in, as I have a matter to discuss with you.”

            I step aside and gesture for him to enter the house.
            …As he’s the supervisor, I cannot question him.

            “—”
            As compared to the tension among the rest of us, Lancer is staring at the man in dark robes with open distrust and dislike.

            “Hoh.”
            The supervisor, Hector, smiles at this reaction.
            “—The Holy Grail must indeed have a sense of irony for one such as this to be summoned as your Servant.”

            “—You.
            “What are you doing in a place such as this?”
            Lancer asks in cold tones that are nothing like the language he uses to address the rest of us.
            But Ein reaches out to rest a hand on his arm as if to silence him.
            Like a warning.
            …I can understand.
            My awe of this man is telling me that fighting him would be dangerous, perhaps even with the aid of our Servants.
            We cannot afford to curry his displeasure.

            “—Hector-sama, please.
            “What did you wish to tell us?”
            Ein’s voice is cautious.
            Still, he speaks where I am still not able to.

            “It is about the direction of the war, as you have surmised.
            “—You have done well to make it this far.
            “Yes, better than I might have expected.”

            There’s something about his words that I don’t like.
            Call it instinct, but his demeanor doesn’t seem to line up with what Ein and Rose have said of him……

            “There are only four Servants remaining.
            “And Berserker’s Master is enough of a liability that the two of them are not and could never be a threat at this late stage.
            “—So it is time for you to resign.”

            A chill runs through the room.
            “—Hector…sama?”

            A mirthless smile.
            The man in his dark robes makes a coldly pleased expression.
            “I am saying that I no longer have need of you to act as my proxy.
            “This war has already been won.”

            “—”
            At that moment, Lancer flings Ein behind him, and his Noble Phantasm appears.
            He glares at Hector with his wings spread wide.

            Still, Hector shows no concern.

            “Caster.”

            “—”
            The sound of many people simultaneously swallowing their breath in disbelief and fear.

            In the middle of the room,
            …a great form begins to appear.
            Long white limbs, and a bare body encircled by pieces of heavy white armor.
            Long golden hair and cold eyes of the same color.
            The angel with great orange wings gazes at us silently, a tall staff in her hand.

            —At that instant, I am shoved hard to the side.

            Yggdra, the one who pushed me, kicks off against the floor with her sword raised.
            At the same time, Lancer stretches out to shield Ein and Rose behind him, holding his weapon ready to attack the Master before him.

            On hands and knees, I watch from behind the furniture, trying to get my breath back.
            “—”
            That Servant, Caster, is bad news.
            I can tell just by looking at her that she is extremely powerful.
            This enclosed space is no good if we want to fight her.
            …On top of which, her Master…

            The only way to survive is to get out of here, regroup, and attack strategically as they pursue us; staying in this house is death.
            …So.
            The only way to win is to make sure we all get out of here.
            That is easier for me than for the others.
            I have been sent flying in the direction of the door so that it’s only a few meters’ run.
            But Ein and Rose are still in an area where there is no exit except to try to stop and break a window.
            The boundary field is also still up, so it would be best to head for the door.

            Knowing this, I push myself into a partial standing position.

            There’s a sharp clash of steel as Caster repels Yggdra with her staff.
            A simple attack like that will not be able to wound her.
            She has a great “protection” that nullifies attacks below a certain rank, a defensive Noble Phantasm of great power.
            To defeat Caster, we must use all our strength and attack her with our Noble Phantasms in return; this is only common sense.
            But in a small area like this, using Yggdra’s Noble Phantasm—and probably this goes for Lancer’s as well—would be fatal for us.
            We’re not such storybook magi as to be able to protect ourselves from enemy attacks, friendly fire, and the house falling down.
            So we need open space to be able to do anything in this battle at all.

            Yggdra is keeping Caster busy.
            So I—
            I must distract Caster’s Master in order to give Ein and Rose an opening to escape.

            —Now.

            I dash to a space of cover close to the door, and while shielding myself behind a high-backed chair, I light up my Magic Crest and instantly fire a barrage of Fin shots at Hector.
            Even if they do nothing but roll off, I must at least draw his attention to me only for a few moments.
            Just a few moments would be enough—

            “—”
            “Oh—”

            Hector lifts a hand, and my attacks simply dissipate without even taking up a second of his concentration.
            —I bite my lip in frustration.
            I straighten up and try to prepare a stronger magic.
            No matter what, I’ll definitely—

            “Ah—!”
            But at that moment, Yggdra lets out a pained voice.
            She is blown back and crashes against the coffee table, which bends under her weight and nearly splinters down the middle.
            There is blood all over her shoulder and the right side of her chest, and she breathes painfully as she struggles to stand up.

            “—”
            Still.
            She stands, shaking her head as if to clear it of dizziness and raising her sword.

            At the same moment she rushes back forward—
            Lancer also kicks off the ground, striking for Hector’s body.

            And it’s then.
            Rose grasps Ein by the arm and drags him towards the door at a run.
            I make to follow them, but—
            As they slip through the door and out into the open, there’s a great explosion of electrical power between me and the door, leaving a wide scorch mark and keeping me from being able to follow.

            “—”
            There is a sound of flesh being pierced and a great splatter.
            I turn back to the battle.
            Lancer is staggering, and just like Yggdra, his clothes are soaked with blood.
            All the same, he lifts his weapon as if to keep fighting.

            “Tch.”
            Hector clicks his tongue and holds out his hand.
            “You remain as worthless as ever.
            “Tools should remain obedient tools.”

            “Be that as it may.”
            Lancer retorts in an even tone of voice.
            “I have been summoned into this war.
            “—I am no longer your tool, traitor to Asgard.”

            Hector speaks.
            …It’s again extremely similar to the kind of magic Nessiah uses.
            But it seems to be structured more like orthodox thaumaturgy.
            I can sense the connect and triggering of a magic circuit as he continues to fire bolts of energy like solid spears of ether at Lancer.
            …The holy spear in his hands deflects some as he advances, but at the same time—

            “—”
            Lancer’s wings are steadily pierced and his limbs are grazed.
            The clothes that are so red still betray the bloodstain spreading.
            The injury must be serious if it still hasn’t closed.

            And Yggdra is just barely blocking Caster from attacking me.
            Caster’s lesser magics roll off of Yggdra’s body because of her protection, but there’s still that staff and the way that Caster continues to block attacks with her own protection to the point of reflecting them.
            —This is not a situation where we can win.
            Lancer is too closed in to maneuver.
            Yggdra doesn’t have full range of movement with her injury.

            The path outside is about three meters away.
            —And what then?
            All we can be sure of is that we must retreat.

            “—Tch.”
            I can’t simply stand here.
            Staying here would mean death.
            I draw up my power to shield me and run.

            “—!!”
            Instantly.
            Spells so powerful I can feel them in my bones rock my makeshift shield and push me closer to the wall.
            But it’s too late—!!

            “Saber, follow it up—!!”

            I shout with all my might, and my hand burns as one of the Command Spells goes off.
            “Right—!!”
            Without a second’s pause, Yggdra appears at my side and propels me out the door with her arm around my waist.

            “Lancer!!”

            In the blur of color that is too much for my senses to handle, I hear Ein’s voice rise to the pitch of a scream, and there is another crack as Lancer appears.

            “—Right, we can’t win this way!
            “Stay close!”

            As if signaling to the others, Rose shouts with magical power burning in her limbs.

            Lancer takes hold of Ein and moves immediately, too fast to be seen. Rose follows them with the spell she has cast increasing her speed to the point where she is only a blur.
            And Saber grasps hold of me and follows.
            I squint my eyes instinctively as we charge.
            All I can take in are vague flashes of the city and the bridge and the town beyond until we come to a stop before an unassuming house that has been reinforced with a boundary field.
            Rose ushers us in and closes the boundary field behind us.

            “—”
            …It’s bad.

            We are given no time to rest.
            It’s not as though we were pursued.
            …No, because our enemy probably already knows this.

            “—”
            The great sound of Lancer’s lungs working has taken on a thin wheeze like air escaping from a balloon.
            That is because his body has been punctured repeatedly.
            I can tell.
            As someone who knows the basics of healing, I can tell.
           His lung has been pierced through, his wings are broken, and most of his internal organs have been sliced apart.
            And because no immediate treatment could be given, he also lost a lot of blood during our escape, and these wounds are too serious to be healed by Lancer’s own internal mechanisms as a Servant.
            —He is emptied out inside.
            It is not so bad that he will immediately disappear from this world, but as we do not have the means to repair such extensive damage, that time will surely be soon.

            And Yggdra—
            She is not so badly wounded as Lancer, but her injury will certainly take far too long to repair.
            …Her arm is broken from the shoulder, her ribs are crushed, and her skin is burnt where it has not been torn.
            She is breathing painfully with a grim expression and a white face.
            …I can help her just a little bit, and she won’t die, but she will not be able to fight for the last few days of this Grail War.

            “—”
            Ein grits his teeth.
            “—Lancer, I’m sorry.”

            Lancer simply closes his eyes.
            “It is no fault of yours.
            “—I only respect the Master who will order me to do what must be done.”
            …He will wait for the order.
            He says that he will not do so unless specifically told.

            Ein takes a deep breath and raises his arm.
            “—Lancer.
            “Give the rest of your energy to Saber.”

            …I brace myself.
            I feel a hand tap against my shoulder and turn to see Rose standing there.

            “—Come on.
            “The boundary field isn’t anywhere near strong enough to keep them out right now, you and I need to power it up.”

            I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to stay either.
            …In the end I let Rose drag me outside the house.

            As we leave, Ein sits down with no expression on his face.
            His gaze seems very tired.

            I do exactly as Rose tells me, copying her spells so finely that sweat breaks out on my skin at every important point around the house.
            I exert all the power I can stand and give myself a headache as if to drown out the very faint reactions from my Command Spell.
            ……All of us understand.
            There’s no other way for any of us to survive.
            Neither of them are “willing” in any sense but that.
            …To give us a chance at “victory”.
            In Lancer’s case, to ensure the continued protection of his Master.
            I can sense Yggdra’s desperation and bitterness through my Command Spell, and I know how detached she actually feels.
            “—”
            One of our Servants must survive, and only one of them can.
            Yggdra is our best bet if we want to fight again, if we want to face Caster.
            …Maybe you can argue that there is no way we could have foreseen such a thing.
            But still, our complacence and incompetence led to this.
            …Lancer has to sacrifice himself like this, Yggdra has to go through this discomfort, because we were lacking as Masters.

            Honestly.
            …I understand emotionally and mentally, but it still hurts.
            It hurts because I want to keep her to myself, almost as much as it hurts that we messed up so badly and that this is costing us a life.
            But what I feel is nothing compared to the others.
            ……So I’ll swallow and accept my own selfish emotions.

            It takes us the better part of half an hour, and only when the boundary field is reinforced to Rose’s liking does she allow me to go back inside.
            She does not come along, saying that she’s going to double-check everything once more.
            …I think to myself as I walk back in the front door that perhaps I could have at least stayed to make things easier for Yggdra.
            But then, just like this moment is one that Ein and I must bear as Masters,
            ……that was a private exchange between the two Servants, a burden that they had to bear because of what they are.

            In the middle of the bloody living room.
            Yggdra, whose breathing has evened, is holding Lancer in both arms.
            Ein is kneeling beside the sofa, holding Lancer’s hand.
            …There’s a transparency about him, and even without the way that his tattered wings are drifting off into dust, I know that he is about to disappear.
            There is almost no magical energy left in his body.

            “—”

            I sit down beside Yggdra and rest a hand on her back to support her.
            Something in her posture eases at my touch, if only slightly.
            …I want her to know that at least I am here.

            Slowly.
            Lancer disappears in total silence.
            Ein sits still with his eyes red until Rose arrives to take him back to his own room.

            This place is a mess.
            …But we sit quietly in the middle of all the blood Lancer shed.
            I begin the strongest healing I can to help convince Yggdra’s wound to knit.
            It has already stopped worsening because of Lancer’s help and will heal on its own if given time, but we don’t have that much time to spare.
            …If I can mostly heal this injury, then after a day of rest Yggdra will be able to do battle once again.
            I give her all my concentration.
            I don’t just want to heal Yggdra physically.
            I want her to know that I am here, and I want to transmit my own warmth in a way other than holding her.
            …I don’t know just how uncomfortable that must have been for her, even though she was willing to protect all of our survival, but if she is in any way in need of comfort I want to give it.

            It is still the middle of the day.
            “—”
            It takes another half an hour until I have done all I can, and by that time I am dizzy with the amount of prana I have spent.

            Rose arrives in the room after that.
            “There’s a bedroom that you guys can use.
            “—I can tell you need rest, and I’m going to take care of this place once you guys are upstairs, so follow me.”

            She takes us to a plain guest room with little ornamentation.
            “—”
            Yggdra erases her form, and I collapse onto the bed.
            I should honestly go bathe, but I have no energy for that.
            In the end I can’t even thank Rose for giving us this place.
            I simply close my eyes, and my consciousness leaves me—

Chapter Text

            ……I wake from a dreamless sleep.
            I wake in this unfamiliar white room.

            As I sit up, Yggdra appears.
            …She must have been in the room all night as well.
            She makes as if to speak, then falls silent and turns away, biting her lip.

            “—Yggdra.
            “Are you all right?”

            “Eh?”
            She looks at me for a moment as if she doesn’t even know what I’m saying.

            “—Well, there’s the issue of your injuries as well, but they should be nearly healed.
            “I mean emotionally. Even if it was our only choice if we wanted you to live, what happened yesterday was still asking a great deal of you.”

            Yggdra stands and stares blankly at me like a doll.
            “…I’ll be all right.
            “I understand everything mentally, I just don’t like that my life had to be prioritized.
            “—And for it to be like that.”

            She sighs and shakes her head, touching at her temples like she has a headache.
            I stand up and place my hand lightly on her shoulder.
            Whatever else is paining her, I don’t want her to think that my feelings have changed at all because she did something she would never have consented to if there weren’t any other choice.
            …I mean, I know.
            Even though I wasn’t there, we are connected, and so I know it was very awkward for her.

            But Yggdra is silent, staring at the floor with narrowed eyes.
            …And I don’t know what to say.

            After several minutes spent awkwardly like that, there’s a knock on the door and it is opened from the outside.
            Rose is standing there.

            “Oh good, you guys are awake.
            “Everybody pretty much crashed without being able to do anything last night, so I got a bath running.
            “Roswell, it’s your turn to go. I went back and got some of our stuff from your house when the coast was clear, so you’ve got clothes to change into.”

            “…Right.”
            I’m disoriented, but I do need to bathe.
            I need to clear my head and think.

            “Thank you.”
            I make as if to leave the room, but Rose stops me with a hand on my arm.
            She leans in and speaks in a low voice while looking in Yggdra’s direction.

            “—Look, I know what she’s going through the best out of everyone in this house.
            “I’ve had to do mana transfers when I didn’t really want to before, and it took me a while to learn how to deal with that, so I should be able to help her at least a little.
            “I want you to look after Ein when you’re done with the bath though, make him some tea or something. He’s just sitting around being miserable right now.”

            “All right.”
            I agree and leave, heading down the hall to where Rose directs me.
            …I do have to admit that I’m surprised to hear that out of her.
            Rose can’t be more than fifteen or sixteen years old, and yet she speaks as if she’s had years of experience.
            …Well.
           She’s a professional magus at her age, and I don’t have the right to pry into her personal history, so I won’t ask.
            I don’t think she would have told me that way if she were willing to discuss it with me.
            …I will just be grateful that she might be able to help Yggdra.

            It’s cold.
            The bath water is warm, and I wash off yesterday’s sweat and clean my hair carefully.
            There really are spare sets of clothes, so I’m impressed with Rose for going back into what I’m sure must have been something of a wreck for them.
            ……
            …I shouldn’t think about that.

            Anyway, I make my way downstairs and find Ein sitting at the table.
            He’s making a frustrated face at the wood with clenched fists.
            …Apparently it will be useless to talk to him right now.

            So I let myself into the kitchen.
            Hmm, there’s actually still plenty of food left.
            How many days has it been since these two moved into my household—?
            They brought food with them then, so either they left some here still or Rose also went out to shop before I awakened.
            …Even after the incident with Assassin’s Master in the marketplace.
            Well, Nessiah’s will to not involve civilians for Berserker’s sake and Hector’s status as a magus mean that they wouldn’t have been likely to target her there, but even so, that girl is fearless.
            I don’t think I could return to that place without someone with me and still feel safe, even after this war ends.

            I manage to get out materials to make tea with.
            …Well, it’s mostly tea bags, but there’s a lot of variety.
            I make chamomile and stand in the kitchen to wait while the water heats up.

            “—”
            I had never gone to the supervisor’s church, but that Soala must have sensed it there.
            She said that it was a place that stank of blood.
            …I worry a little for what happened to the Riders’ Masters after going there.
            I don’t know if Hector would have respected his duties as a supervisor and spared them, or if he would have killed them to eliminate the possibility of defeated Masters contracting with new Servants.

            But still, I don’t say anything.
            With the tea finished, I carry a cup down to Ein and put it on the table in front of him before I retrieve my own and sit next to him.
            It’s a low Japanese-style table, so we’re sitting on cushions on the floor.
            Ein continues to stare at the table with tired red eyes.
            ……There’s no helping it.
            There’s no helping it, as he lost his Servant, and Lancer was not just a tool to him.
            I move to the side so that we are almost touching, and Ein sighs and leans so that his forehead is touching my shoulder.
            …I keep still.
            Out of respect for the first time this pure boy has experienced such loss and frustration, I stay silent and wait.

            And the day passes slowly.
            When Yggdra and Rose appear, Yggdra seems to be doing better, so Rose was probably able to help her somehow.
            …Thank god.
            It’s a very helpless feeling when you can’t do anything for the person you love.

            “—So we’re out.”
            Rose says so bluntly as we all sit listlessly around the table.
            “Roswell, you guys are more than welcome to stay here until the end of the war, since it’s safer than your own place.
            “And Ein and I are more than happy to help you with planning.
            “But neither of us are strong enough to fight Hector, so the rest of the war is up to you two.
            “On top of that, you shouldn’t go out again until tonight. Saber’s wounds are still healing, so if you go out and force her to heal all at once you’ll only be draining her energy.”

            Both of us sigh.
            Rose is right, of course.
            “—Thank you.
            “We’re in your debt.”

            The only question is what we’re going to do now.

            “There are only three Servants left.
            “That Caster is very powerful, so it’s going to take a lot to be able to defeat her as we are now, even if I do hate to admit it.”
            …In the case of a battle with her, it would be most appropriate to go after her Master and cut her off from support first.
            And then through the battle, we would merely have to make sure that she exhausts her energy through fighting fiercely.

            Yggdra bites at her nails.
            “—I know what our best option is, but I don’t like it.”
            She complains futilely, and I nod my head in agreement as I stare at the table.

            Honestly.
            Our best possible chance would be to contact Nessiah and Berserker and work with them.
            …Or at least to call a cease-fire with them until Caster is dealt with.
            I don’t know if Yggdra and Berserker could actually stand to work together for very long, and they certainly wouldn’t be happy about it.
            But survival is the most important thing.
            …And if those two were to do battle as they did in the past, then that battle would probably end with Yggdra’s victory.

            Still, the problem with this plan, beyond getting Yggdra and Berserker to cooperate, is finding those two.
            …Whenever we ran across them it was by chance.
            Even if their hideout is somewhere here in Miyama, that would take a great deal of searching, and those two might even be out searching for us and Caster instead, meaning we would wind up missing each other.
            I wish there was some way to actually contact them.
            …Well, somehow I doubt that it would be as easy as just trying to look someone up in a phone directory, as much as I wish it could be settled like that.

            “Dammit.”
            Ein punches at the floor idly.
            “—I just wish that we could actually do something to be of use.”

            “You are of use.
            “Saber and I have a set way of thinking, and you can provide us with alternate ideas to keep our tactics from becoming stale.
            “And more than anything else, you’re giving us a safe place to stay. That can’t be downplayed for any reason.”

            “Beyond that, you can tell us about the enemy.
            “—It won’t be an easy fight no matter what, but the better informed we are, the better our chances.”
            Yggdra, who is still unhappy with the prospect of having to team up with a man she hates, points out while turning in Ein’s direction.

            Ein doesn’t respond.
            …Well, there’s not much help for it.
            Ein and Rose are both combat mages, but all of Ein’s skills depend on projection, and Rose would only be of use in a battle against Nessiah without Berserker getting in the way, as her magecraft is used either in imprecise destructive magic or close-range combat.
            Without Lancer’s protection, there is no longer anything they can do but support us, and they really are “out of the race” as it were.
            As they’re still supporting Yggdra and myself, I suppose you could still call it the support of the neutral party that wants only for the Holy Grail to stay out of the hands of evil.
            That aspect at least is not a disheartening thing.

            Still, Yggdra bites at her nails as if she wants to protest our inaction.
            …There is no helping it.
            Her body is in the middle of recovering and she cannot fight until her wound is completely healed, so we cannot go out until sunset.

            “—”
            She has not even bothered to put on the clothes that Rose got for her.
            She sits in her white gown rigidly, as if she is unwilling to return to her usual self until this has come to an end.

            …And time passes like that.
            Yggdra remains tense, phasing in and out of physical form as if to make her injury heal even faster.
            I’m not really hungry, but even so Rose quotes at us that we must eat before battle or be eaten by battle, and cooks us a light meal.
            As soon as we’re done, Yggdra presents herself to me impatiently, waiting for my acknowledgement that she has healed enough to go out.
            …As if I could stop her even if she was that little bit underprepared.

            Night has fallen.
            We go to the door, and Ein and Rose follow us to see us off.

            “—Be really careful.”
            Ein looks at us seriously and says so.
            “It’s that Hector, so you know you’re going to be in trouble unless you take care not to confront him head-on.”

            “—Roswell, we have to go.”
            Yggdra urges me on insistently, and looking out at the town, I can wait no longer.
            …It’s not just that Yggdra is like this.
            I can sense it too.
            …Something brooding and ominous in the air.

            This is the twelfth day of the Holy Grail War.
            In two days, the Holy Grail will appear in the Tohsaka workshop.
            The air in Fuyuki City has already begun to change.
            …But in this war, the one poised to steal away the prize cannot have good intentions for it.
            Even if at great cost, we must stop him, or everything that’s happened up until now will have been for nothing—

            We walk the empty streets, side by side.
            “—”
            “—”
            …I don’t like it.
            This crawling sense of power underneath our feet.
            While it’s certainly a wonderful power and nothing like an evil mud or clinging mist, it still feels as though a giant boundary field has been set up to cut us off from ordinary humans.
            And the boundary field truly is immense.
            In this great town, I cannot sense where exactly the two enemy Masters are.

            “—I’m relying on you.”
            I say that to Yggdra, who is invisible at my side.
            …If anyone is going to be of help tracking the enemy, it’s her.
            She’ll sense Caster before I can as a fellow Servant, and she will sense Berserker because of their shared past.

            “Roswell, I really don’t like this.
            “Something’s happening.”

            She says that as though whispering in my ear.
            …Well, I’ll trust her.

            “All right. Then I’ll follow you, let’s hurry.”

            A sense like she’s nodding, and I cloak myself in shadow.
            She’ll direct me to where we need to go—

(interlude 14-1)

            The two of them walk down the empty streets.
            Side by side, they walk easily with their paces matched as if by long years of familiarity.

            “—”
            It is a patrol.
            …It is getting toward the end, but there are still two enemies remaining, and they cannot rest until those enemies have been defeated.
            ……But all the same, the Servant in red armor continues to stare at the small form of his Master in worry.
            His Master’s steps occasionally weave.
            There is a tremor like a faint palsy in the delicate limbs.
            The breath is ragged, and his Master’s chest rises sharply and stutters underneath the unfamiliar clothing of this age.

            “—Shouldn’t we at least wait, after all? At least until the effects have worn off…”

            But to his Servant’s soft query, the Master dressed in white simply shakes his head.

            “It’s no use. It’s not going to get any easier, Gulcasa, not from here on out. I feel crowded, as if there’s no room for me in my own body, but—from here on it will simply get worse.
            “I will bear it. I have known greater torment.”

            Even so, that Master’s hands that reach up to push his hair out of his face idly also wipe away sweat.
            Berserker teeters on the edge of reprimanding him.
            …It is like he told the girl, days ago.
            His priorities in this battle are different from before.
            —If they wait, the Holy Grail will inevitably be theirs.
            He must protect his Master until that time.

            And with his Master’s health failing, it is inevitable that Berserker should be anxious.
            He is a man best suited to charging forth and conquering.
            …Defensive battles are not his forte.
            There is a great deal riding on this battle, and no matter what his Master says, he knows that the frail magus cannot withstand it for much longer.
            —Two days.
            They must survive for two days more.

            “—It’s a pity.
            “You almost would have made it.”

                        “—Ah.”

            It isn’t the presence of the enemy magus that makes him freeze.
            …It is his Master’s reaction to that presence.

            The footsteps beside him stop with a sound of stumbling, the pale limbs go rigid, and the green eyes widen and lose their light.
            …Berserker knows that look.
            It’s the look that young animals unexposed to humans wear when they have become game.

            “—”
            He puts himself between his Master and the threat.
            The enemy Servant, Caster, stands with an impassive expression beside the enemy magus in dark robes.
            …Berserker does not like the look on the enemy’s face.
            That sneer.
            In the dreams that he has shared with his Master, that sneer always seems to hover at the edges of the worst memories.

            “—”
            So he puts himself between his Master and the enemy.
            He does not fear her.
            …If it’s a matter of Noble Phantasms, then he will never lose.
            He is simply the strongest, and that is what he always has to rely on.
            …There is always Mad Enhancement as an option, as well.

            “Ah.”
            —His Master is still frozen behind him.
            A terror that he has never before seen on that beloved face.
            It’s an expression he could have lived without seeing Nessiah make.
            And he won’t forgive the one who put it there.

            The enemy Master laughs.
            “—It’s good that you’re so pleased to see me.
            “This will not take long unless you struggle.”

            “—”
            There’s a reaction behind him.
            The muscles that locked up in terror jerk, and Nessiah staggers.
            He is breathing quickly, but even if he is responding sluggishly, he is still responding.
            “Nessiah.
            “Get it together.”
            …He says so very quietly as he sizes up the woman, his opponent.
            He has little experience with her ilk, but his blood tells him that she is his natural enemy.
            Knowing that, he stands his ground and waits for his Master to recover the presence of mind to do battle.

            There is also the path of retreat, but at a time like this retreating would be counterintuitive.
            …No, against enemies such as these there is no retreat at all to begin with.
            They will surely be followed and this battle will only be postponed.
            It is best to confront them now, while they are both ready.

            “—Nessiah.
            “Come on.”
            That’s right, there’s nothing left to fear.

            He senses his Master taking a deep breath behind him.

            “—Too slow.”
            And the enemy magus raises his hand and begins to incant a spell.

            “—”
            In that moment, Berserker lunges.
            If the enemy is a magus, all he has to do is cut off that magus’ head.
            Even if it nearly kills him, he has magical energy to spare.

            —But.
            Caster steps in the way, blocking him heavily with her staff.

            He curses.
            He must get past her and at that man.
            …But even if his opponent is Caster, she is still physically quite powerful.
            No matter what kind of blow he strikes, she parries it impassively.
            She does not make to attack, but simply forms a defensive wall for her Master.

            If he could get her to attack in response, and if the circumstances were different, this might have been a battle he could enjoy.
            But that is not the case.
            Berserker steps back in frustration and prepares to use the Noble Phantasm of his scythe.
            If simple attacks will not work, then he will waste no time in blowing them away in the flames of Prominence.

            As he does, the enemy walks calmly around them towards his Master.

            “—!”
            Berserker turns to strike at the man.
            But Caster swings her staff hard enough that the air rings and Berserker staggers backward.
            She is truly first-rate as a defense mechanism.
            …That is what granted her the name of “Guardian Angel”.

            That is enough.
            In the distance, his Master is reacting slowly to the approaching threat and weaving destructive spells to protect himself.
            …But Berserker knows his Master, and so he is not going to be able to rest until he puts himself between the two of them.
            Caster is just in the way.
            Berserker tries again and again to circumvent her.
            …She is between him and his Master now.
            He cannot use Prominence unless he is certain that his Master is out of the way, but of course he cannot simply call out for Nessiah to flee.
            …A retreating back is an easy target, and that would simply serve to warn the enemy of what kind of attack is coming for him.
            —Fine.
            He draws back once again.
            He does not care if he is injured in the process.
            He will use “that” trump card.

            But as he lowers his scythe and evens out his stance, a shrill cry interrupts his thoughts.

            His reason vanishes into steam like boiled water when he hears his Master’s voice rise in something like a scream.

            —The enemy.
            That magus has simply walked up while the spell was being prepared and gripped his Master’s arms.
            …Briefly.
            There is a struggle, if one could call it that.
            “—”

            His Master.
            …Nessiah is thrown violently to the ground and the enemy stomps his heel into the unprotected back.
            All the while, he is smiling viciously.
            “—”
            A wet choking sound.
            But still, Nessiah flings magic upwards, using the narrow amount of time in which the enemy nullifies the attack to regain his feet.

            It is not a battle.

            Nessiah is in bad physical condition to start with, and the enemy who knew that went out of his way to strike further blows and take away his ability to balance.
            The long-ingrained fear robs Nessiah of the reason needed to connect his Magic Circuits and do combat.
            And.
            ……The enemy who knows this continues to advance on him, brushing away the easily-blocked spells and striking out with feet and fists.
            Nessiah is thrown to the ground numerous times.
            He is pushed against walls and only gets away by tearing himself back.
            His composure is ruined and his body covered in bruises in only a few minutes’ time.
            Where he was shaking a little bit before, his entire body trembles now.
            His body sways like he’s drunk, and his ragged breathing is broken by wet coughing.

            Seeing that.
            Berserker’s mind boils up and his reason disappears, even without the activation of Mad Enhancement.
            …It is as though the wall of Caster does not even exist.

            …He simply weaves around her range and runs without a single rational thought to destroy the one making his Master suffer.

            “—”

            And then.
            There’s a sound like a thud, and his legs collapse.
            …He does not at first realize why.

            But when he tries to move, Berserker cannot.
            There is a hideous pain in his chest and his right lung feels as though it is flooding with heavy water.
            Such a thing wouldn’t kill one with “battle continuation” such as his.
            …He is not human.
            His body is superior to that of a human Heroic Spirit, even as his body was superior to those of humans when he was alive.
            He can endure greater hardships and survive “fatal” things for longer.
            It is partly his demon’s blood, and it is partly his own training and determination.

            …So being pierced through the lung is painful, but it should not keep him from protecting the Master that he loves.
            But that is not all.
            ……The “thing” that pierced him is still holding him there.
            The wound would close if the “weapon” were not in the wound.
            It would close almost immediately.
            But the healing that would normally activate cannot, and so his lung is filling up with the blood that is not pooling on the ground beneath him.
            …The magical energy is also leaking away.

            Then the most obvious course would be to remove the “weapon”.
            But when Berserker tries to get up on hands and knees to remove it, there is a sudden blow to the small of his back that sends him sliding back down the “pole” embedded in his chest.

            ……Caster, who speared him through the chest with the butt of her staff, needs expend no more force than this.
            She knows that if he is held like this he will eventually die.
            If not from the injury itself, then from the loss of his Master, once her own stops playing with his prey.

            Berserker attempts again to get up.
            And again he is shoved hard to the asphalt beneath him.
            …But he does not stop trying.
            If he were to be asked why…

            …it is because his Master’s cries of pain have increased in urgency and are louder.
            Something is very wrong.
            He can barely lift his body, cannot lift his head, but he knows that he must go to Nessiah and protect him—

            —Finally.
            When he tries painfully to breathe and coughs up even more blood that burns his face—

            As if through a haze.
            He sees something that will be burned into his mind forever.

            Nessiah.
            —His Master.
            The one he was born into this world to love and protect—

            ……has been pinned down by the enemy on all fours.
            His face and chest are pressed painfully against the ground with his arm twisted up behind his back.
            His clothes are torn.
            …His breathing is very painful.
            And crouched over him—

            That…,
                        …man.

            At first.
            …Nessiah struggles.
            His body is racked with fever and is shutting down, losing its ability to function.
            ……The beating that he took further limits his range of movement, and he is pinned so that he cannot fight back.
            …Even so, he struggles.
            He fights to shake off the greater weight and strength of the enemy who holds him to the ground and thrusts into him until he bleeds.
            He is pale with the fear and the pain, and there are bitter tears on his face.

            The reason in Berserker’s mind again boils up.
            He is in too much pain to attempt to shift his body into spirit form, but he surges up with all his strength—

            —and he is crushed and held to the ground by Caster’s foot on his back.

 

            It is only when he realizes that his throat hurts that he realizes he has been screaming.
            …It is only when he realizes that his vision is blurry that he recognizes the tears of rage and shame burning his cheeks.
            Caster has pinned him like a stuffed bird, and he cannot move.
            His blood is draining away along with his power.
            Still.
            He strains forward with everything he has.

            ……After ten minutes, Nessiah has ceased resisting.
            He lies still as a doll, dead-eyed and soundless.

            The only sound other than Berserker’s own cries—

            —are the faint noises of pleasure and exertion that the enemy makes.

 

                        ……Raping the one he loves in front of him and acting like it’s masturbation.

            Berserker knows…, that this is a calculated action to hurt them both.
            And Nessiah—
            His body is already shutting down.
            The Servant connected to him can sense it.

            “—”

            Berserker summons up the very last of his strength.
            This is all of him.
            This is his own self.
            To use “this” with his wounds and his magical energy gradually leaking away will probably be the death of him.
            And that does not matter.
            The only thing that has ever mattered and ever will—

            —He closes his eyes against the fake supervisor rolling his hips violently into the unresponsive body of his Master.
            He closes his eyes, dives into his own heart, and finds the fire there.
            And he prays.

            With barely enough breath to speak the words—he prays.

            “Hm?”
            Caster senses it a moment too late.

            Berserker pushes himself up, draws a deep breath and fights the reflex to choke—

            “—become my blood!”

            The world—explodes.

            “Ah—”

            The surprised voice comes from Caster.
            …Well, there’s no helping that she’s surprised.
            Her Noble Phantasms, the staff and her armor, have both been completely and perfectly dispelled.
            And the world is warped.
            The empty street they were fighting on—
            …has become a barren wasteland.

            Smoke chokes the sky and flame runs along the naked ground.
            And Berserker is standing.
            …Covered in his own blood, the knight with a solid hole through his chest stands and walks in heavy steps.
            His Master is about six meters away.
            Her own Master has retreated, knowing better than to continue taking his pleasure of the defeated enemy in this place.

            When Caster attempts to connect her Magic Circuit for the instant incantation of her own great magic—
            There is no response.
            She stares dumbly at the man who ignores her completely for the sake of his Master.
            …With just that, he has reduced her and himself to nothing.

            And the burning field dissipates like a mirage.

            Berserker kneels.
            …That was beyond him.
            But that does not matter to him.
            “—Nessiah.”
            Softly.
            …As his armor threatens to melt away from his body, he carefully lifts his Master’s trampled body into his arms.

            The body that was already ceasing to function is a ruin.
            Most of the bones are broken or cracked, and there is blood at Nessiah’s nose and lips, at the corners of his eyes.
            ……His breathing is faint and his heartbeat is thready.
            With injuries like this and the condition he was already in, he doesn’t have much time.
            Still.
            …He should at least have a moment of peace.
            Berserker is more than strong enough to grant him at least that.

            Still.
            The white eyelashes flutter.
            “—Gul..casa.”
            “Yeah. I’m here.”
            “—”
            And.
            …Pitifully, Nessiah smiles.
            “You—came for me…, just like always.”

            “—I’m here.
            “You can rest now.”

            Nessiah’s eyes close.
            …But that smile does not disappear.
            “…Thank you.”

            His breath stops.
            …Berserker, kneeling still and unable to stand, continues to support his Master.
            Until the very end, he must hold his form for Nessiah’s sake.
            That is all that he can accomplish now.

            —But.
            The enemy Master—, Hector.

            ……That man’s footsteps echo on the asphalt.
            Berserker looks up.
            That man is standing there with a satisfied-looking sneer.

            He bends down—

                        And with a terrible sound of snapping, he rips something like a lump of meat from inside Nessiah’s chest.

(14-1 interlude out.)

            “—”

            I—cannot move.

            …Following Yggdra’s instincts, we came to this place with the high wall framing the road.
            And under the streetlights—,
            —is a spectacle like something out of a nightmare.

            Great amounts of blood are splattered across the ground and wall like it’s the scene of a massacre.
            In the center of it all, the great Servant in red and gold armor is kneeling.
            —His breastplate is broken as though it was stabbed or pierced through, and a great amount of blood stains his body and face.
            The quantity and the wounds he has means that it must be his own blood.
            “—”
            In his arms is the body of his Master.
            Like the Servant, this body too has been “opened” at the chest.
            It is covered in bruises and many of the limbs are twisted at slightly unnatural angles.
            The clothes are ripped and bloody, and there are stains of what looks like semen along the inside of his thighs.
            …Following Yggdra’s instincts, we came here in time to see Berserker reach his fallen Master, and to see Hector approach the defenseless pair and rip out Nessiah’s heart.

            Even when Hector and Caster disappeared moments after.
            …I feel as though my legs are frozen, and my eyes cannot really comprehend what I’m seeing in front of me.

            …But Yggdra walks forward in slow steps.
            She approaches the dead Master and dying Servant and I trail along behind her as if pulled magnetically.

            “—”
            “—”

            I think that the only thing holding that man’s body together must be pride.
            …The fighting form that was magnificent in Yggdra’s memories and in our battles has been reduced to tatters and badly crumpled steel.
            But.
           ……With the trailing edge of the torn cloak beginning to evaporate, Berserker stubbornly remains in this world.

            Yggdra stops a few paces away from them.
            …Her white shoes have stepped in the pooling blood and carry dainty splatters of red.
            She does not speak, and her expression shows that she is suppressing her horror with all her might.

            “—”
            Berserker looks up at us slowly.
            His gaze settles heavily on Yggdra as his breath rattles.
            “—”
            The golden eyes are very dim, and heavy marks like bruises beneath them further mar the pallid, bloodstained face.
            Still, he looks at her.
            …In desperation, in despair, he will not let go of his pride.

            “—Avenge us.”
            His voice is very hoarse.
            …We heard him when we were two blocks away, after all.
            Still, he says so with strength.
            …It is his last plea, made to the enemy who came to understand him too late on the battlefield.

            Yggdra—
            …nods.

            “I swear to you that I shall.”
            “—”

            Her voice is clear and does not shake.

            I watch from the outside of the circle.
            …There are tears on Berserker’s bloody face that were not there before.

            As if relieved,
            …the demon emperor of the long-lost country lets his head bow and closes his eyes.

            Yggdra stands motionless and watches.
            Berserker’s body dissolves slowly into dust.
            …Shimmering…, white and red sand like volcanic ash.

 

            It is late and the date has not yet changed.

            …But we simply stand in the street as Berserker’s form dissipates, leaving his Master’s violated body behind.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            “I won’t accept an end like this.”

            She certainly heard those words in the moment before the castle burst into flame.
            —The battle should have been almost over.
            The emperor himself was the single enemy remaining, and all that was left was to defeat him or force his surrender.
            ……But instead, the enemy gathered all his resolve and declared that he would never give up, and the castle was transformed into something like a hell.
            Through the fire, she saw him.
            …He looked nothing like the man whose appearance had become familiar to her across the battlefield.

            The young queen remembered what she had been told by her country’s fortune-tellers and the priests who had crowned her.
            She remembered the portents that had been described to her, which signified the end of the era and the revival of the great demon slain in this land a thousand years ago.
            —That demon had been worshipped as a god by the people of the empire.
            What her enemy was trying to do… finally fell into place.

            She swung her sword against him.
            The enemy’s body that should have been exhausted from many battles and recovering from numerous injuries was filled with terrible, inhuman strength.
            Even alone against her entire army, he fought like a beast, as though his pride itself had become his power.
            —And still, she managed to triumph, wearing that man down with her superior numbers.

            But.
            …Even so, the battle still would not end.

            The enemy’s body was covered in blood and numerous fatal wounds.
            His armor was broken, he had been run through numerous times, and he was still losing blood at a rate that should have been enough to immobilize him, and he could barely stand.
            …Still, he slipped through a door that had been concealed in the wall behind him.

            The chamber beyond him was even more like hell.
            It was a burning altar carved into a volcano, and past the dais there was a great narrow chasm that could have gone to the very heart of the earth.
            In a room filled with pressure that could have killed the weak of will, the emperor stubbornly dragged his failing body to that place.
            …If he reached that altar, it seemed as though he would offer himself as a sacrifice to that demon and resurrect it to defend his people and destroy all others.
            But even if he did so.
            …The queen knew that the world after his death would not be the world that he wished for.

            That demon, the great dragon he called his ancestor, knew not pity or love.
            It would destroy the empire and the kingdom and all countries alike, and subjugate all life in this world.
            …If she allowed her enemy to do as he planned to…, the entire world would burn.

            So she grasped her sword and followed him into that place alone.
            In the room where she could barely even move her body, she chased him as he dragged himself towards the dais where he surely intended to kill himself.
            …She bore the great pressure and the heat and accepted her enemy’s great despair.
            It was for the sake of the world.
            For the sake of what she had fought to protect.
            …So that the numerous deaths, ally and enemy, would not go to waste—
            She continued to wield her sword, telling herself it was for that purpose.

            He still had his great power and the strength born of desperation, but he was already dying.
            …It was not so much of a battle.

            “—”
            Eventually.
            His body collapsed, leaving him on his knees before her, unable to move.

            And for just a moment.
            …The two of them spoke as equals.

            For some reason.
            …She didn’t know why, but as the madness of his blood faded from him, he smiled bitterly.
            If he had regrets, he did not speak them to her, and when she brandished her ideals all he did was smile gently as if suppressing tears.
            —When she said that she only wished to use her power to protect, he laughed at her.
            Not in scorn, but as if there was some irony in her words that she could not understand.

            …And.
            As if setting down some great burden, the young emperor died with a smile on his face.

            The castle was collapsing around them.
            …As she retreated from that place, the young queen wondered just what he had thought and felt all this time.
            As he himself had told her, she would probably never understand him.

            —After that.
            The war was finally over.
            …There was still a great deal of conflict left, of course.
            Many of her allied countries’ governments had collapsed as a result of their civil wars, and the empire itself had been left in dire straits from her army’s genocide of its people alone.
            But.
            She had a responsibility to the world.
            …As a contributor to the mess, all she could do was try to support the people who only had her to depend on.

            The queen knew now.
            …She knew that what she had been told since childhood was a lie.
            A fairy tale passed down through the kingdom as justification for its actions.
            How… truly arrogant they had all been.
            She set aside her sword and refused to let it be passed down.
            …If nothing else, she could at least prevent her people from going down the same road.

            She lived her life carrying various regrets.
            …She was known amongst her people as a sovereign who was strict but very kind.
            She was beloved by many, and even those who could not forgive what she had done in the war came to begrudgingly respect her.
            She tried to help the poor and to reduce discrimination against those who had once been the kingdom’s enemies, and she took firm charge of government.
            ……Still, she could not help but feel as though it was not good enough.

            The queen eventually married and had many children.
            …She taught her daughters about the war, and she taught them to live and rule the way that she herself tried to.
            She sealed the sword she had been told was justice away, and while watching over her country and all other countries, she grew old.
            …Her people idolized her as a great hero.

            Finally.
            …As an old, old woman.
            Still carrying her regrets, still remembering those who had died by her hands and died in her name—
            The queen went to sleep.
            …Hoping that even if she had not been able to compensate for the wrong she had done…, she had laid the foundations for the prevention of further war.

            I, who have watched silently as she worked all her life—
            …I cannot speak for what she might have felt at that time.
            But she told me.
            She said that even now, she regrets it.
            Even becoming a Heroic Spirit, she has not run away from her burdens even when it seems she might collapse beneath them.
            Even now—she would sacrifice her own happiness in hopes that peace will one day arrive.

            Perhaps it is foolish.
            …But she believes in justice, and so she wants to accept the weight of her sins.
            She wants what she has always grown up believing not to be a lie anymore.

            But.
            No matter how you try and try to save all the people in your sight, no matter how hard you fight for them to be able to smile forever—
            There’s one person you will never be able to save.
            That one person is “yourself”, who will not enter your sight in a mindset like that.
            …At this rate, Yggdra will fall into the same trap as her enemy.
            By continuing to sacrifice yourself for the happiness of others without considering yourself equally important, everything will slip through your fingers until you are left with nothing but pain.
            I mean…
            Even after everything she did to make her people happy and all of her successes…, Yggdra is still tormented by her regrets.

            In that case.
            …I don’t think it’s so terrible a thing to want to live for others.
            But in that case, you need someone who will also consider your own happiness to be important.
            …Yggdra has always taken care of me.
            And I’m not so selfless a man that I have no desires.
            But I also wish for her happiness and peace of mind.
            If she won’t consider herself, she needs to have someone by her side to do it for her.
            Because at this rate, Yggdra herself will never be saved—

            …I open my eyes with my thoughts still clear in my mind.
            “—”

            …When I go downstairs after washing my face and dressing, Yggdra is already awake and standing where she can look out the window with an intense look on her face.
            She still has not bothered to change into the clothes brought here for her, and stands in the gown she wore when she was alive.
            “—”
            She stands.
            …She stares out the window as though searching for prey.

            “—I won’t forgive them.”
            She says so.
            In a clear voice, she says so.
            “—I will never forgive Caster and that man.”

            Because I agree with her, I walk to stand beside her.
            …Yggdra is far more agitated than she was yesterday.
            I think that since we came back from our patrol, she probably hasn’t slept.

            The magus in white had no one.
            …Looking at him like that, I knew.
            Berserker was all.
            …So I burned his body using magic and we gathered up the ashes of the two.
            In the end, that was all we could do for either of them.

            Yggdra is very tense.
            …I know that no matter her habitual reaction to Berserker, she cannot forgive harm done to him by outside parties.
            As mortal enemies, they tried to destroy each other.
            …And even so, her regrets mean that she would have moved to protect him if she could have, rather than seeing him harmed again.

            She has seen that man die twice.
            …She did not even want to see him die once.

            So even beyond the fight for the Holy Grail, this has become a personal battle for her.

            …Even so.
            Even as I know and fully understand what she feels and why.
            It’s no good to go out chasing them now.
            We don’t know where Hector’s hideout will be, and just charging in without a plan is stupid.
            If he returns to the church, attacking him in his own workshop will be suicidal.
            —So.

            “I cannot forgive them, either.
            “So when we go tonight to battle them over who shall claim the Holy Grail—we mustn’t lose.”

            Yggdra turns to me, and her angry expression evens out.
            Like she’s a curious child being told something she never even considered.
            …I nod to her, and we both turn to look at the early morning sky.

            It’s overcast and gray outside.
            …Still, there is light on the horizon as the sun rises.

            I reach out and take Yggdra’s hand as we stand side by side, and she does not pull away.

(interlude 15-1)

            “—”

            Her consciousness is hazy.
            …That’s really only to be expected.
            The treatment that she is undergoing is very painful.
            Because the doctors treating her are not doing their job to cause others pain, that pain is dulled with a number of drugs.
            …It’s the first time in her life she’s had so many drugs in her system, and it weighs her mind down even when the drugs are not supposed to.
            …Where she is from, there is no money to spend on drugs, and so problematic diseases and infections were always burned out of her body using magic.
            Money that could be spent on food and water had no business being wasted on drugs.

            “—”
            …Well, she can’t complain.

            The days and hours blur together as she drifts.
            …When she sleeps, she feels vaguely lonely as her Servant’s memories are no longer transmitted to her.

            “……”

            The girl in the hospital bed does not know where her familiar is.
            The spirit in the bird she has imbued with her power and trained for years must either have escaped or been killed, as it is not in this building.
            …That has cut off her ability to communicate, as she is right-handed.
            It will still be some time before she is capable of writing, even if the doctors’ treatment of replacing her nerves with Magic Circuits works.

            She sighs around the tube hooked to her face.
            …Her condition has stabilized.
            But her nerve endings cannot be deadened if this treatment is to work, and her arm must be kept from dying in the process.
            ……So she is stuck here.
            She honestly wishes that the doctors would just put her to sleep in that case, as there is nothing to do and nothing she can do.

            “………”

            She does not know how many days it has been.
            …She only notices that there is something off about the hospital in one of her more lucid moments.
            …It’s the presence of magical energy that does not belong.
            If she were to describe it, she would say that it’s as though long feelers of gray have been sliding around the floor of the place that should be colorless.
            She is especially sensitive to the irregularity because of her elemental alignment and the drugs in her system, which skew her perspective.

            But she cannot tell anyone, even if there were anyone to tell.

            She simply watches, drifting between sleep and wakefulness.

            …When the man in dark robes appears in the door to her room, she just stares at him through eyes too dizzied to make out details.

            “Yes, you are indeed the perfect candidate.
            “—I have a task for you.”

(15-1 interlude out.)

            The four of us, three magi and one Servant, sit around the table together.
            Ein and Rose, who accepted our return without making a fuss last night, now discuss with us everything that they know about Hector.
            …Some of the things that Rose has to say surprise even Ein, as apparently their upbringing was quite different even though they both were raised in the same environment, Hector’s territory.
            Well, the gap between their abilities and experience made that much obvious to begin with.

            “—Basically the problem is that Hector is really old.
            “Much, much older than he looks.
            “The technique he practices is directly inherited from the age of gods, so he’s going to be using stronger spells than you, much faster than you can use them.”
            Rose, who is at about the same skill level as me, pronounces this with a sigh.
            …On top of which, she can perform in close combat, whereas I must fight from a distance as I’m no good at strengthening my own body or at using basic martial arts.
            My family are traditionalists, so…
            Even if I said so, though, it would just feel like I’m trying to make excuses, so I don’t.

            “That’s only a problem for Roswell.
            “—My magic resistance should be sufficient to deal with most of what the Master can do; the problem is Caster herself.”

            It’s Ein’s turn to sigh.
            “Well, as you can tell, she’s a guardian angel.
            “—Her armor is a defensive Noble Phantasm that nullifies attacks beyond a certain rank, and she can use both very powerful magic and that staff should amplify her other abilities.”

            …Well.
            I’m definitely impressed that he can rattle off this kind of information at will.

            Rose shrugs with a lopsided smile.
            “—This guy’s hobby is heroes.
            “I’m sure that if we had a few days to research, we could come up with her identity, but right now we’ve just got to give you a broad guess and send you off.
            “The Holy Grail is going to open tonight at midnight, so you’ve got to be off toward the Tohsaka residence by then.”

            She’s right.
            Seven out of nine Servants are dead, and that should be enough to complete the Holy Grail.
            “Then, please tell us everything that you can.”

            “She’s especially troublesome because of that staff.”
            Ein says so as if explaining carefully to an amateur.
            “…Well, most guardian angels have some kind of immensely powerful spell that they can use, right? And they wouldn’t be guardians unless they could act as a wall between the enemy and Asgard.
            “But the problem here is that her staff gives her even greater power.
            “So taking too many hits from her magic is going to shave off your life bit by bit no matter how great a Servant you are.”

            “How to overwhelm the defense without succumbing to the offense in the meantime—huh.”
            It’s certainly quite a task.
            “Caster will have to be left up to Saber’s Noble Phantasm, but I don’t think we have enough magical energy to use the same strategy we did on Assassin.”
            Especially not coming in from the front.
            Even if I ended the discussion here and spent most of the rest of the day supplying Yggdra with more energy, I’d just be tiring myself out in an effort to give the cannon that is her Noble Phantasm a handful of extra shots.
            It would be ideal if I could find some way to dispatch Caster’s Master and thus put a limit on her ability to fight offensively, but we shouldn’t count on a miracle like that.

            …No matter what, it’s going to be a difficult battle.
            But Yggdra sighs and narrows her eyes.
            “—Even if it’s close to impossible.
            “As long as there’s a chance for victory, then we can’t give up.”

            It’s the enemy that was even able to defeat Berserker and Nessiah.
            …Well, I had confidence that Yggdra would have been able to do the same, given her history, but the enemy defeated those two so easily.
            So it’s clear that we’ll be at a disadvantage.

            But it’s true.
            Even if we can’t think of a plan to even out our chances, we still have to go.
            We can’t allow a man like that to take the Holy Grail.

            After that, Yggdra and I just go back upstairs.
            …Logically, I know that I should at least give her some energy anyhow, but whether we decide to do that or not, I want to talk to her for a while.
            …Just about whatever.
            Because no matter how this fight ends, this will probably be the last of our time together.

 

            …It isn’t really fair.
            Yggdra already enjoys this age.
            There are a lot of things that she had fun with.
            ……She shouldn’t have to sacrifice that just for the chance that it might be impetus for humanity to change.
            …It’s not just altruism that makes me say that, of course.
            I love her, after all.
            So it’s natural for me to not want her to go.

            “…Yggdra, you know.”
            I’m not sure how to begin.
            “They say that the Holy Grail emits that much energy, so if you take in the contents I think you could probably remain in this world in physical form without needing a Master.”
            We are sitting together on the side of the bed.
            I made it up haphazardly this morning, but it seems as though someone else came and straightened it out a bit.

            “It’s reasonable to think that’s possible.”
            Yggdra answers me in a neutral tone, although her expression suggests that she’s not paying too much attention.

            “You said that you want there to be peace, not just now but for as long as possible.”
            I hesitate, as I really don’t know how to say this.
            “…And that’s a really admirable thing to wish for.
            “It’s true that it may not be plausible, but I don’t think it’s a foolish thing to want.”

            Yggdra continues to space out next to me.
            “But no matter how hard you work to save people, that only means that there are some people who aren’t going to be saved.
            “Like yourself, and the people whose happiness depends on you being saved.”
            “Hmm.”
            …Is she actually listening?
            If she’s ignoring me, then that’s even more disheartening, since these are things that are nearly impossible for me to say.

            “You interrupted me the last time I tried to tell you this.
            “But, Yggdra, I love—”

            …Next to me.
            ……She is shaking her head.

            “—Roswell.
            “We can’t stay together, and you know that.”

            …I know.
            There’s hardly any chance that Yggdra would choose to remain here when she could use this opportunity to have her wish granted.
            It’s foolish of me to even suggest it.

            “……I know.
            “But we still have one more night together.
            “…As long as we’re here, in the same space, then I’m going to love you.
            “Even after you disappear, I’m still going to love you.
            “I’m still never going to forget what you’ve done for me or the time that we’ve spent side by side, the things that we did together and what made you laugh and smile.”

            Yggdra closes her eyes.
            “…All of this is unfair to you.
            “I may just be blending your image with the man I loved when I was alive.
            “……You’re very much like him, after all, and the ways that you differ are dear to me, but… just that means that I can’t answer your feelings.”

            “—”
            She’s still worrying more about me than about herself.

            “Well, if you’re going to use that argument.”
            I try to keep my voice lighthearted.
            “I’ve been enchanted by you ever since I first saw your portrait.
            “—Doesn’t that mean that I might just be pushing all my childish ideals and illusions onto you one-sidedly?”

            It’s normal for that kind of thing to occur.
            …For two people to have unrealistic images of each other, to compare their past and present lovers.
            That is never a reason not to love someone.

            Yggdra shakes her head and smiles.

            “And the truth is that even so, I love you.
            “—I want you to be happy. Even when I want to keep you here selfishly, if it would make you happier to let you go and use your wish on making peace come faster, then I still want to keep loving you with no regrets.”

            …She shakes her head again.
            Her long golden hair sways softly.
            “…And here all I want is for you to be happy, as well.
            “That’s why I was hoping that this wasn’t going to happen, because I know that saying goodbye is going to hurt you.”

            …Well, I know that, which is why I’m being underhanded and suggesting such things as Yggdra finding a way to stay at my side.
            But even so, even if this devastates me, I don’t want to regret having loved her.

            For as long as we have time.
            Then I want to use that time so that we have no regrets.

            “—”
            I touch her face and gently pull her into a kiss.
            Yggdra’s hands move down my body and get my blood running.
            “—”

            I’ve tasted her like this twice already, but having her mouth on mine still makes my head go blank of everything but her.
            …I want to push her down on the bed already, but we’re both fully clothed, and my will to go further is battling with my will to continue the kiss.

            “Hm—”
            She makes a noise like she’s humming against my lips and slips her tongue into my mouth.
            …Somehow it always winds up this way.
            But I do trust her, so I don’t mind so much that she always takes the lead.
            ……Technically, she probably has more experience than I do, too.

            That thought is troubling in a lot of ways.

            Yggdra’s hands touch me over my clothing.
            They run from my shoulders down my chest to rub over my erection through my pants, and then move back up to my chest.
            …Ahh, all these clothes are just in the way.

            I pull back to take a breath.
            “—I want to undress.”
            …And I just blurt it out without thinking.

            “Hmm, all right.”
            Yggdra says so absently.
            …Well.
            It’s harder to turn away from her when she’s acting like that, but since my ultimate priority is to be inside her, it mitigates the resistance since this is the first step.
            …I slide off the edge of the mattress and take off my shirt and pants while facing the opposite wall, and when I turn back—

            “—?!!”

            …I am frankly stunned.
            Yggdra is sitting there nonchalantly.
            Her body is completely bare, and she sits on the mattress with her legs folded, running her hand through her golden hair as she stares at me.

            …Um, despite having had sex with her twice already… this is the first time I’ve actually seen her completely naked.
            There’s nothing but soft skin no matter where I look.
            And she’s smiling at me like she knows exactly what I’m thinking.
            “—”

            “You can come back up here, Roswell.”
            “—”

            …I cannot disobey that smile.
            It’s a very unfair expression.

            What’s even more unfair is that as soon as I do sit down, she leans in to kiss me again, exerting energy so that I am soon leaning back.
            Her breasts brush against me, and the sensation of her nipples is like silk on my skin.
            …Just that single detail makes all the strength go out of my spine, and I collapse backwards onto the mattress.
            The pillow is underneath my shoulders and neck as I land.
            “—”
            My penis stands up perpendicular from my body.
            Yggdra wraps her hand around the shaft and stares at it with a mischievous look on her face…
            And then she gets up on her knees and swings one leg over my hips.

            “—”
            Ahh.
            …It’s not the same as looking at her bent over the table, begging me to fuck her from behind…
            ……but I can still see her vagina perfectly from this angle.
            There is already wetness shining about it, and the dark pink lips are open and eager.
            She isn’t ashamed of her desire at all, and there’s an awful lot of it.
            I couldn’t be happier.
            …I’m sure that if we had twenty-four hours to devote to whatever we wanted, Yggdra would be just as likely to devote them all to sex as I would be.
            …Maybe even more likely.

            “Ah—ahn.”
            Yggdra lowers her hips so that the head is touching her vulva.
            She rolls her hips once as if to make sure it’s in the right place, then releases my cock to pull the folds of her pussy wider apart.
            …And then she lets her legs fold slowly.
            My penis sinks inside her in one even motion.

            “—, —”
            Ahh.
            …It’s only logical given that we’re in this position, but unlike the other two times, my entire penis fits inside of Yggdra now.
            Her eyes have gone unfocused, and she strokes her stomach as she breathes in a way that makes her breasts shake.
            She’s still smiling as though she’s won.
            …The walls of her vagina pulse slightly, and the folds ripple a little as if with arousal.
            She’s even wetter than last time, if that’s possible.
            I feel like she’s going to make really perverse wet sounds if she thrusts too hard.
            …Yggdra rolls her hips slightly, and I grit my teeth to bear it.

            “Hmhm, you’re in so deep that you’re hitting the top.”
            Yggdra murmurs that and closes her eyes.
            She spreads her legs a little further apart, which causes the muscles of her vagina to narrow.
            “Ah—ahh.”
            My voice comes out on its own as she squeezes my cock mercilessly, which makes her giggle.
            “—It tickles when you twitch.
            “I like it, it’s a really exciting feeling.
            “—Your penis is really sensitive.”

            …Of course it’s sensitive.
            It’s buried up to the root in the pussy of the woman I love, and it’s so drenched in her fluid that I think it’s going to trickle down over my testes—
            She giggles again.
            ……Did I space out and say that out loud?

            “Roswell, you’re so cute.”
            Yggdra leans down, which creates extra pressure against my penis.
            She lifts her hips as she does so, and I make an effort to push myself up on my elbows.
            …She cups my shoulders with her hands and kisses me.
            I push the tip of my tongue past her lips and run it against her tongue as she presses our mouths together.
            As she’s above me, when I swallow, I think some of her saliva might be mixed in.
            …I can’t tell the difference, but the thought of that makes my cock throb.

            Yggdra moans and then sits back up abruptly.
            Her hips shake like she really wants to thrust them against mine hard enough to slap, but she just rocks.
            …My cock is stirring the inside of her vagina.
            Her fluids are very thick, so that’s really what it feels like.
            Like moving my penis through a narrow, pliable jar of honey.

            “Hah—ahh.”
            Yggdra stares down at me with lidded eyes.
            “—You’re big. You keep pressing as far as you can go—”
            It’s true, as the movements Yggdra keeps making are rolling the head of my penis against her cervix, and the texture is driving me crazy.
            If I ejaculate like this, the semen is going to go straight into her uterus, and even though I don’t think Servants can get pregnant, the thought still makes my face burn and drives me crazy.
            “It feels really nice. I can’t reach this deep when I masturbate, so it’s been a really long time.”

            Ahh.
            …Now the mental image of Yggdra touching herself is making me crazier.
            Not just absentmindedly teasing herself during foreplay, but really trying to push herself to orgasm with all her might—
            Idle questions of whether she penetrates herself with her fingers or plays with her clitoris and breasts explode in my brain.
            ……I wonder if they had things like dildos in her era.
            I don’t imagine a sheltered princess would have had access to such a thing, but then again, if she had enough influence I’m sure she could get hold of whatever she wanted…… I don’t think her people would have wanted to refuse her even if it was for something embarrassing like that.
            …I really ought to stop thinking.
            My face is dangerously red, and I can feel precome leaking out of me already.
            I have to pant for breath and struggle for control of my imagination, and Yggdra’s naked body is in front of me for the first time and the stimulus of her warm pussy wrapped around my cock is eroding away at my ability to think straight.
            Ahhhh.
            …I don’t think I can do this.

            Yggdra is smiling as she takes my hand and places it against her breast.
            “—Touch me.”
            She says so coyly.
            “I could use my own hands, but it feels better when it’s someone else.”

            I run my fingertip over her soft nipple, and the skin puckers and hardens beneath my touch.
            “Ahh.”
            Yggdra sighs.
            I move my left hand, as well, and rest it over her pubes where our bodies join.
            My fingertips brush against my own groin and make my skin jump a little as I roll them over her clitoris.
            …It’s swollen, and she moans thoroughly when I touch it gently.
            It’s throbbing in an even faster rhythm than my penis, which is only a few millimeters away from it.
            “Ahh—hm.”
            Yggdra’s body quakes and tenses a little, and her fluids seep out of her and dirty my fingers and her clit.
            “Roswell—I’m going to start now.”

            She takes my hands in hers and holds them as if to balance herself, and starts to thrust her hips.
            She lifts herself smoothly off my cock and then engulfs it again, and in this position I can see the movements perfectly, right down to the trickle of her liquid and my precome against my own penis, rolling over the veins that stand out.
            Yggdra seems to intend to move slowly, but in no time at all she’s thrusting very quickly.
            Her groin slaps wetly against mine.
            Her folds flutter against the shaft of my penis and I choke back the urge to ejaculate immediately.
           As she puts strength into her hips, her pussy tightens naturally, and my vision starts to tunnel from the pleasure.
            …I feel feverish.

            “Yggdra—I’m already…”
            “Ah—ah, Roswell, you’re getting bigger—”

            Her voice is slurred slightly.
            …I try to bear it with all my might.
            “Roswell—”
            Yggdra calls out urgently.
            Her hair scatters in the air, and incredibly lewd wet noises are rising from where we join.
            “Ah—ah, Roswell—”
            Her breasts sway as she moves, but it’s her expression that really gets to me.
            “—I’m going to—”
            Her face is red and her mouth is open wide as she pants.

            “Ah—ah, ah—!!”
            Suddenly.
            She clamps down mightily and instead of thrusting in broad motions, her hips jerk back and forth like a convulsion.
            Her tightening pussy swallows my penis to the root and she grinds her hips against me, pushing her clitoris against my skin as she comes.

            “—”
            I come.
            …Semen explodes out of me with intense force, and Yggdra cries out again as my fluids fill her.
            Our movements slow, and my penis slips out of her vagina as it returns to closer to its usual size, trailed by ribbons of mixed clear and white fluid.
            …Our fluids make patterns on Yggdra’s thighs, my groin, and the sheets, and continue to drip out of her opened pussy.

            She sits down as if to catch her breath, and I push myself back up.

            “—It really does feel much better to have you inside me than to have to take care of everything myself.”
            Yggdra announces this as her breathing returns to normal.
            She reaches out and runs the pad of her forefinger over my mostly-flaccid penis, which makes me shudder.

            “You really know how to use this, and the way it’s sensitive like that is so cute.”
            ……It’s not the first time I’ve been told that.
            W-well, I do try to make sure to keep my whole body clean, and it’s not like I have an overabundance of pubic hair anyway, but I don’t think any man ever knows what to do with himself when told that his arousal is “cute”.

            “…You don’t seem to want to stop.”
            Yggdra is still staring at me as though she wants to play with me, when usually she would be trying to clean herself up by now.
            “We have time.
            “—I think you’ll have time enough to get back in the mood.”

            …Well, if I could, I’d still be fucking her right now, but obviously I have to wait.
            Too much stimulation at a point like this when I’ve just ejaculated might be a little painful.
            …Yggdra lies down, still staring at me between my legs and touching me with just her fingertips.
            This is getting to be a little embarrassing, but I’m at least glad that she knows better than to just grab when I’m still recovering.

            “You’re good with your hands, your penis, and your mouth.
            “—I thought I was going to melt and die from the pleasure when your tongue was inside me and you took my reason away completely.
            “You just made me feel so good and so cherished, like you thought my pussy was that worthy of being loved. …You really drove me crazy then, I wanted to keep coming until my head stopped working completely.”

            Saying embarrassing things in a casual voice, Yggdra kisses at the shaft of my penis very lightly, and all the blood in my body thuds.

            “—, —, —”
            “Can I try this?”
            She looks up at me as she asks.
            Um. …Um.
            “S-sure, if you really want to.”
            …Like I could refuse her when she’s offering to do that!
            I-I’ve always… kind of wanted her to use her mouth on me, too.
            It’s… like a fantasy of mine.

            She smiles.
            “—I’ve heard that this is the way you’re supposed to prepare a man for the second time.
            “I’ve always wanted to try this, too.
            “—I only sort of know what I’m doing, so tell me if I start to do something wrong—”

            And she kisses my throbbing shaft more firmly.
            …I can feel the press of her lips against the side.
            Yggdra’s hands are very careful, and she uses her lips and tongue to venture around the circumference of my penis and trace patterns along the shaft.
            Ahh.
            …Just the way that she’s touching me with love and tenderness makes me crazy.

            “Oh, it’s getting bigger already.”
            Yggdra announces that in a pleased tone.
            As if that’s given her confidence, she starts making bigger licks.
            Everywhere her tongue moves, the skin burns.
            “You taste like me.”
            …That’s because she saturated my penis with her fluids when it was inside her.
            Still, the implications of Yggdra’s words turn me on even more helplessly.

            …My erection is not quite to its full size, but it is standing up without her help.
            Yggdra stares at it from inches away, her brow knit as if considering.
            “…How do I do this?
            “I don’t think I could fit very much of it in my mouth…”

            “That’s—that’s all right.
            “If you try, just be careful with your teeth.”

            She nods as if fascinated and kisses the head directly.

            “—”
            I bear it frantically as blood starts to pound in my penis.
            …Physically, I don’t think I can ejaculate yet, but even so I think she’ll be angry if I come on her face.
            She wants to have sex again, and if I get come in her hair or her eyes she definitely won’t forgive me.
            Even as I think so, she licks experimentally and then opens her mouth.
            …She takes just the tip between her lips as her tongue kneads the head.
            “Nn—”
            Pleasure is exploding through my sensitive cock, and I can feel my balls cramping as if they want to let go.
            I bite my lip to try to compensate for the pleasure, and then Yggdra leans in further, so that the whole head is inside her mouth.
            …Her lips are hooked around the rim, and her tongue moves against the bottom, the most sensitive spot, like it’s exploring.
            She sucks experimentally and then bobs her head slightly, but quickly gives up and lifts her mouth back off of my penis.
            …I sigh a little.
            Thank god.
            Any more of that and I definitely would have come in her mouth.

            “It’s different from when it’s inside me.”
            She brushes the fingers of one hand against her pussy as if she has to specify where.
            “I can feel the shape a lot more clearly.”
            And then Yggdra kisses the head firmly, so that I almost expect to hear a smacking sound.
            I squirm and precome starts to bead underneath her lips.

            Yggdra giggles and sits up, licking her lips instead of wiping them on her hand.
            “I can’t watch you twitch and not want you inside me.”
            I can’t say anything.
            Yggdra takes my face in both hands and kisses me fully.
            ……I can taste traces of her own fluids in her mouth from the fellatio, as well as the lingering taste of my own semen.
            Still.
            I—still can’t stop.

            Yggdra lifts her face away from mine and makes to lie down on her side, smiling at me.
            “Do it from behind?
            “I want you really badly, and—I think you might come earlier, so this is just in case.
            “You hit sensitive places from behind, so I’ll come faster this way too.”

            “All right.”
            I lie down behind her so that my chin is level with her shoulders.
            The length of my cock rubs against her soaking vulva, and both of us moan.
            Yggdra turns halfway around to kiss me, and we entangle our throbbing lips as we rub our pulsing genitals together.
            …Because we’ll just come like this if we keep going, I pull back.
            I push myself up on my elbow, and Yggdra lifts her leg slightly so that I can work the head of my penis into the open mouth of her pussy like this.

            “—Ahh.”
            Her body welcomes me easily now, as we’re getting used to sex with each other.
            She’s still open from the last time, so I sink into her naturally.
            Her fluids have built up and combined stickily with my last release, as the way she’s been lying has kept it from flowing out of her vagina naturally.
            “—”
            I imagine our mixed come flowing out of her if I thrust especially hard, and the inside of my head goes white.
            Only about half of my cock can fit inside of Yggdra in this position, but the head rubs against the rough spot inside her pussy that feels especially good for both of us.

            She shivers and moans, which shakes her entire body from her hair to her breasts to her trim thighs.
            …I reach down and get my hand between her legs, and lift up her thigh, holding it tightly.
            “Ah—eh?”
            She sounds confused.
            …I see, she must not have ever tried this particular position before.
            Holding her leg up like this forces the muscles of her pussy to squeeze inward.
            We’ll both feel more intense pleasure this way, and since we both want to come so badly, it might be a good idea.
            “—Does it feel any different?”
            Yggdra moans.
            “Your penis—your penis…, it’s—getting really big…”
            Well, it’s reaching its last engorgement, stimulated by the contraction of her vagina…
            …But I’m sure it feels especially like that to Yggdra, whose pussy just narrowed deeply.

            “Ah—ah, ah.”
            She moans freely in a heated voice.
            “Roswell—Roswell.”
            I move my hips, starting at a leisurely pace so that I can get used to thrusting with the friction of the comforter slowing me down.
            “Roswell—”
            Yggdra twists her body like she’s begging.
            I kiss her shoulder and the nape of her neck, the base of her jaw and her earlobe—everything I can reach.
            My other arm is being used to cushion my head, and so I can’t do much else to pleasure her.
            “Ah—ah, ah—I want…”
            As if realizing that I don’t have any hands free, Yggdra tucks one hand between her legs and touches her breasts with the other.
            She stimulates the edges and outside of her labia with her two forefingers so that her clitoris keeps pushing against the cleft of her fingers.
            Sometimes her knuckles brush against my cock and make me want to sob.
            Her other hand just cups her breast so that the pad of her index finger rolls over the very point of the nipple over and over.

            “Ah—ah, ah, ah—ah…”

            Some sort of flash from the other side of the room distracts me for a moment.
            …Oh.
            I didn’t realize before, but there’s a small mirror on top of the dresser against the wall.
            From this angle, I can just see Yggdra’s expression reflected in the lower half.
            Her mouth is open as she pants, and her deep blue eyes are blind.

            “Roswell—Roswell—”
            Her pussy, already so tight that I can barely breathe, grips down on me once, and the movements of her hands slow.

            “Did you come a little—?”
            Yggdra shakes her head and moans.
            “More—Roswell, I want more—ah, hah, it’s—not enough—”
            She wiggles her hips greedily.
            “—All right—”

            And I tighten my hold on her leg as I thrust as hard as I can.

            “Ahh—yah, ah—ahh!”

            Immediately, Yggdra’s cries become much more urgent.
            A wash of liquid is spilling against my cock the more I thrust.
            Her ass is pressed up against my lower belly like she’s sitting in my lap and I’m thrusting into her from below.
            Yggdra grips at the sheets with one hand and reaches between our legs with the other to stroke at the root of my penis and my balls.
            “Ah—Yggdra, if you do that…”
            “Roswell—Roswell, I want—I want you, come inside me again, Roswell—!”
            Her body has heated up unbelievably.
            Her pussy is so tight that I don’t know how this isn’t hurting her, and still she’s crying for me to move harder, to give her more.
            She’s tight enough that my confused mind could mistake her for a virgin, the world’s most demanding and perverted maiden.
            I love her.
            …I love her so much, my head’s already completely broken.

            “Yggdra, I’m going to—”
            I try to warn her in advance, but I am cut off as she screams out.
            Her entire body is quivering, her eyes squeezed shut and saliva trickling from the side of her mouth as she forgets to swallow and her hands go slack in the most intense orgasm I have seen her have.
            Her vagina clamps down on me viciously, and I press my face into her hair and moan as I ejaculate all my built-up come into her waiting body—

            Like that.
            …I lose myself inside her completely and desperately on the eve of our farewell—

(interlude 15-2)

            “—”

            Caster gazes up at the slowly dilating gate of the Holy Grail.
            …Right now, if the gate were to be compared to an eye, that eye would only be open a tiny slit, and is just a single line of colorless light.
            The naked body of the small girl hung before it as though crucified seems to want to struggle, and her thin chest is rising and falling painfully.
            And Caster’s Master simply looks on with a smile.

            She has remained silent all through the war and never questioned orders.
            She has quietly watched all the other battles come to an end and saved up her strength for the time that she herself would eventually have to set out.
            She has never questioned her orders even once.
            …If there was anything she had learned from her life and from her end, it was that going against what her superiors wished was never a good idea.
            That way lays only dishonor and madness.

            …Still, the events of the past two days did make her wonder about her Master’s taste.
            Tormenting the enemy Master and Servant had become somewhat excessive, but she was prepared to overlook it in their case, as a fallen one and a demon.
            But now, this abduction of a disqualified Master to use as a vessel.
            The look on her Master’s face when he had implanted the core of the Grail.
            …Anywhere should have been fine as long as it could connect to that Master’s Magic Circuit, which formed the basis for the Grail.
            As a Caster, she had access to rudimentary knowledge of artifacts, and so she knew the principle of the thing.
            Her Master had smiled and smiled and planted the heart inside the girl’s uterus.
            …It was the most suitable place, he had said with the same grin and dark laughter while placing her to open the Grail.
            Much more suitable than the heart’s original owner.

 

            …Her Master was a great and famous magus of Asgard.
            She should not doubt him.
            She must not doubt him.
            ……All the same.
            Lately, she could only sense ill intent from this man, who had always been so opaque to her.

            “—Master.”
            So she spoke.
            “Please excuse me for asking such a thing at a time like this, but I am curious now that the time is upon us.
            “—What is my Master’s wish?”

            Her Master, Hector, turns toward her dismissively.
            “You know the state of our world.
            “—With the seat of absolute power empty, the order that should be perfect is in disarray.
            “I have come the furthest among my brethren. I have done the most, and so it is time for me to be rewarded, Servant.
            “This world needs the guidance of a god.”

            She looks at the man before her.
            “—I see.
            “I had not known it was something like that.”

            “The Holy Grail is a gate to the Origin, you know.
            “After our victory over that pitiful Saber, the Grail will be saturated with the prana of eight Servants, a never-before-imagined windfall.
            “That prana is the belonging of any magus who seeks to claim it.
            “—All I lack is the power itself.
            “Asgard will be reorganized, reborn in my image.
            “As a Guardian Angel, you must surely understand the necessity.”

            His tone of voice has only boredom for her, as all his attention is on the Grail itself.

            Caster observes his back for another moment.
            …The Magi as she remembers them were always vaguely like this.
            Her people were distrusted, and the Magi were arrogant, seeking their own gain.
            Still, the angels obeyed them.
            Be it for the sake of Asgard, they would fulfill their duty no matter whence the orders came.

            “—I see.”
            In a completely neutral tone of voice, Caster holds her staff.
            “It cannot be helped, then.”

            “—?”
            He must have sensed the danger in her words, as he is already turning around.
            …They are from the same age of gods.
            So it is only natural that whoever has the advantage of time shall strike first.

            …He falls in a single bolt of divine lightning.
            Even though her Master has all three of his Command Spells remaining, Caster strikes him dead in a single blow after taking him by surprise.

            She stares down at the body of her Master.
            …And the angel strokes her hand through her long hair, tossing it over her shoulder.
            Even if he had intended to become god, she might have accepted it of someone not of that character.
            …But even one as lowly and dishonorable as she can understand.
            A god like that would be no better than letting the demons have their run of the world.

            She turns.
            It is dark, and only the moonlight and the faint shimmer of the Grail illuminate the underground Tohsaka workshop.

            …Caster has work to do yet.

(15-2 interlude out.)

Chapter Text

(interlude 16-1)

            The magus stands on her apartment terrace, gazing out into the night.
            …The Grail War that she was disqualified from should be about to end right now.
            She grits her teeth bitterly.
            …In truth…, she had not wanted to give up.
            The Command Spells still remain on her arm, as proof of her will to fight.
            But with her level of power, her chances of contracting with another Servant were slim, and no Master-less ones have attempted to approach her.

            She can sense the Grail opening.
            …Yes, even she can sense it.
            The great spiral of possibility in the earth and the slow connection to Akasha.
            …The magus breathes in the night wind that blows back her long hair.

            “—”
            And then.
            …An “angel” appears in the air before her.

            “—”
            Her breath disappears.
            …The breath in her lungs literally feels as though it has evaporated.
            She can tell.
            The creature before her is, beyond doubt, a Servant—

            “Magus.
            “You retain Command Spells.”
            It is not a question, but rather this Servant says so as though confirming something that is a matter of fact.
            …She nods.
            There is no way that she could lie to such a grand being as this.

            “—The battle is near.”
            The Servant says so.
            “I am one of two Servants remaining, and I require a contract.”

            “—What of your original Master?”
            She isn’t a fool.
            She knows whose Servant this is.
            She, and she alone, commanded the Servant most suited to espionage, Assassin.
            …And so she alone was able to discover the secret of the supervisor’s involvement.

            The Servant shakes her head regally.
            Her golden hair spills over her shoulders.
            “My former Master was unsuitable.
            “—Most unsuitable, and I could not allow the Holy Grail to fall into his hands.”
            She says so in a toneless voice.

            “—”
            The magus suppresses the urge to swallow and give away her fear.
            The Servant before her has admitted that she has just killed her own Master.

            “If I am to do battle with my enemy, I require an anchor should my own prana run out.”
            She says so dully.
            “—I will not give you the Holy Grail.
            “But do you at least wish to avenge the defeat of your own Servant?”

            …Oh.
            So…, the enemy is “that” magus.

            …The magus named Soala grits her teeth and extends her hand.

            “—Set.
            “Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade—”

 

            …And the Servant.
            ……Caster smiles.

(16-1 interlude out.)

            …It is very early.
            When I look at the clock, it is about four in the morning.
            We can’t afford to waste any more time, and we have to go on.

            Yggdra has already disappeared from the room, leaving me the time to try to settle my heart.
            …I would probably feel more at ease going into battle like this if I were in my own home, but this is how it has to be.
            “—”
            I look around the guest room.
            It doesn’t have much to show for me being here for the past few days.

            When I head downstairs, Ein and Rose are there with Yggdra.
            …The three turn to face me when I arrive.

            “—Good luck.”
            Rose is the first to speak.

            “…I’m sorry that we can’t be of help, but… get him back for us, for Lancer.”
            Ein says so very quietly with intense eyes.

            …I can’t speak, so I just nod my head in assent.
            Yggdra bows her head as well.

            “I will definitely make it so that Roswell comes back here.
            “—You don’t need to worry.”

            …Without exchanging anymore words…
            Like that, we depart the household.
            Lingering in the air… is the knowledge that even if I return, Yggdra most likely will not.
            …Whether we win this battle or lose it.

            We walk down the streets beneath which ether writhes as if in excitement.
            …Yggdra does not assume physical form.
            Every drop of prana in her body is precious if we’re going to defeat that Caster.

            It’s not far to the Tohsaka residence.
            The walk is short, and even without prior knowledge of where the building is I would still be able to find it.
            …It’s a large, proud mansion that rejects the presence of outsiders, currently uninhabited as the sole resident is a student at the Clock Tower.
            A trace of divine mystery lingered about it before as it was the summoning place of the second war’s Grail, but that is nothing compared to what this place is like now.
            ……The deep basement.
            The stone arena.
            …That is where our enemies, Caster and Hector, will be waiting for us—

            …Slowly.
            I make my way down the steps with Yggdra’s presence nearby.
            Of course our enemies are going to be able to tell that we’re here.
            Magi like them will know no matter how I try to conceal myself.
            So all there is to do is go on ahead and hope that I won’t be killed immediately—

            —It’s bright.
            The vast cellar, this underground stadium, is illuminated faintly by light fixtures ringing the walls…
            ……And by the wide eye of the Holy Grail, the circular “gate” that is filled by immensely bright white light.
            It is blinding and I do not wish to stare too intensely into the light that is formed by “colorless” energy that is not meant to be perceived by my own human eyes.

            …There is a naked figure held suspended before the Grail.
            A young girl.
            And there is a faint glow emitting from beneath the skin of her lower abdomen.

            Beneath and to the side of the Grail, there is a great gelatinous glob of what almost looks like orange-colored jelly.
            Like a cartoonist’s rendering of translucent slime.
            …It’s vaguely oblong as though it was a sphere made oblong by the pressure of the ground it lies on.
            Inside it is the silhouette of a woman.
            I recognize her.
            …Beyond doubt—that dark hair.
            Her black and white clothes.
            That is beyond doubt the figure of the magus Soala, Assassin’s Master—

            …And.
            On the steps leading up to where the Grail has appeared…
            ……there is a corpse.
            Even at my distance, I can easily tell that it’s a corpse.
            There is no life energy, no prana and no breath.
            …From the dark robes, it appears to be the body of the fake supervisor, Hector.

 

            And finally, in the middle of the room—
            The proud figure of the Servant Caster stands.
            She is perfectly still with her staff in her hand and a neutral expression on her face.
            …It’s odd, but—
            She seems to be somehow diminished from when we saw her last.
            It may just be the distance, but something is surely very strange.

            “—”
            …Just what is going on here?
            I daren’t ask Yggdra.
            If Caster moves to attack me, she will defend, but until then or until I approach close enough, she will remain in spiritual form as a last safety precaution.

            We draw closer.
            ……Still, there is no movement from Caster, who appears to be standing still as if she were ordered to maintain guard duty.
            Closer.
            …My odd premonition about her presence continues to hold.

            And finally, still several meters away from Caster, I stop.

            It’s not because I intend to start the battle now.
            …No, it is because I can now clearly see the body that’s suspended like a Christian symbol before the Holy Grail—

            …If I strain my eyes, I can see that her skin is beaded with sweat.
            She bites her lips as if to bear it and her chest is moving painfully.
            As if it’s a joke, her hair is still tied even though she’s been stripped naked.
            “—”
            What is she doing here?
            …This isn’t…
                        …where that girl is supposed to be—

            “Just what—”
            …is the meaning of all this?

            Caster stares at me impassively.
            “—The process has already begun.
            “The Holy Grail will not open without the vessel my former Master chose.”
            She says so like there’s nothing wrong with it.
            ………My head is pounding.
            Instead of horror…, this is closer to “rage”.

            “—Why her?”
            I cannot stop myself.
            I can barely think over the pounding of my own blood.

            Caster continues to gaze at me without any expression.
            “—What do you mean, magus?
            “I certainly cannot speak for the dead.
            “My former Master made the choice as to which host should be the best.”

            Her voice is unadorned with emotion.
            …Callously, the angel stands as if declaring that she cares not what sacrifices were made if they were not made by her hands.
            “—”
            I can feel my own body preparing for combat instinctively.
            My knees bend and my hips sink.
            …My senses sharpen as if a razor edge has been brought close to my skin.

            “—So.
            “This is just for confirmation, but Caster, you killed your Master, didn’t you—?”

            The eyes the color of amber gaze through me.
            “Why ask if you are already certain, magus?
            “Yes, I killed him.
            “—Ordinarily, I must not disobey one of his station, but this is a special circumstance.
            “A mortal that seizes that power could, with the proper preparation, even become a god, and my Master was unworthy of such a thing.
            “For the glory and protection of Asgard I slew him, and obtained a more suitable anchor.”

            …My gaze slides past Caster and focuses on Soala, encapsulated in that jelly-like substance.
            How foolish.
            I don’t know why she was still in Fuyuki or how she was tempted into a contract with this being, but this is the inevitable result.
            Master to a superior magus, she has become a “puppet” solely devised to supply Caster with enough magical energy to fight to her heart’s content.
            I can feel my skin crawl.
            Caster is not like other Servants.
            …Of course, she isn’t the only inhuman Servant to have been summoned.
            But Berserker was raised as a human with human values despite his identity as a demon.
            He did not desire unnecessary sacrifice.
            And Lancer was always quiet and obedient.
            By contrast, Caster looks down at me through alien eyes as if I am an inferior being.
            …She has always looked at us like that.

            And that is why she ignores Vienya’s suffering as if oblivious.
            …It is a matter of course that she, an angel higher on the food chain, should have her path supported by the suffering of lower creatures, we “humans”.
            But I cannot forgive that.
            ……I cannot accept that.

            “Saber.”

            Instantly.
            My Servant, the great queen whom I love, appears at my side and lifts her holy sword to point it at Caster.

            “—It’s true that your Master was not worthy to receive the Holy Grail.
            “And perhaps we should thank you for dispatching one so evil.
            “But we cannot forgive you.
            “And we’ll be taking the Holy Grail for ourselves.”

            “—I see.”
            Caster says so idly.
            “Then learn your place, foolish mortals—!!”

            And.
            …Great magical power gathers in the staff she holds aloft.

            “—”

            I leap backwards, and Yggdra charges forward, holding her sword level beside her and putting strength into her arms to strike.

            “—A.S. Shield.”

            Caster murmurs that phrase, and something like a bubble appears around her.
            …The base of that “shield” is the armor covering her body, and the power of that “shield” is amplified by the staff in her hand.
            It is a very elegant principle.
            …For instance, if that armor were to reject all attacks below the level of A rank, that staff should give her the power to repel everything but the most powerful of ranks, such as A++ or EX.

            Yggdra’s strength is only at A rank.
            She collides with the barrier with all her force, well aware that in the worst case scenario she may be repelled again, like she was in the battle at my house.
            …But.
            Today is different.
            She comes up against the barrier, which slows her motions—
            —and against her attack, the barrier seems to bend somewhat.

            Yggdra grits her teeth and puts power into her movements.
            She seems to be struggling to move past the barrier, but she is definitely going to be able to get through—
            …But even so.
            Caster simply bats her away with the staff, clashing it against Yggdra’s great sword.

            “—”
            Yggdra lands in a ready stance with her sword held up.
            …And I watch tensely.
            If I apply a Command Spell, Yggdra might be able to use the extra power to carve through the barrier like wet paper and strike Caster directly.
            But that is an inefficient strategy.
            …I only have two Command Spells remaining, and if I try once and fail—

            No, even if I try once and succeed.
            …Caster will be aware of the attack and will be able to fight back against it.
            So the single attack needs to be fatal.

            That is no good as a strategy, I don’t even need to be told that.
            …No.
            Caster’s barrier is weaker than it should be.
            …That is undoubtedly the way we can win.
            But simply powering through it with the Command Spell would be stupid and probably fatal if there is a single mistake.

            …I can’t match Caster at all, and so all I can do is stay to the back and plan.
            If I could use projection like Ein or reinforcement like Rose, I could back Yggdra up physically and we could both apply force to a single weak point.
            …But I know very few precise spells, and can’t guarantee that simple magic in its purest form will have the same kind of effect as Yggdra’s attacks.

            “—”
            Right now, I am little but an “anchor” that cannot do anything in Yggdra’s battle, like Soala.

            Honestly, I just want to run past them and try to get Vienya down.
            …Maybe that would be detrimental to the Holy Grail and its summoning ritual, but I don’t care, as the life of an ally is more important than such things.
            Even Yggdra, as the one who actually has a wish, would probably agree.

            But without a plan, I would surely be cut down uselessly if I separate myself from Yggdra.

            “—”
            I grit my teeth over my own helplessness.

            But I can’t do that.
            Right now, I need to think—

            Before me, the battle continues.
            Yggdra attacks Caster’s barrier again and again, and she seems to be denting it deeper and deeper before Caster is able to knock her away.
            “—”
            When Yggdra ducks backwards, Caster attacks her with magic.
            Like Hector and Nessiah, her magic is born from the age of gods and is on a completely different level from my own.
            …Like the quality is higher, not to mention that the method of production is entirely different.
            The way Caster’s Magic Circuits work is different, and instead of having to forcibly connect herself to the world every time in a way that violates her own body, she instead is already connected.
            The world’s power is right there for her when she needs it, so the process of conversion is considerably different from a modern magus.
            So her casting is much faster.
            Instead of setting up an electrical circuit, she just needs to flip a switch and the power is there.
            While flipping the switch, she routes the power using the “incantation” that bends my brain in ways that keep me from understanding it.

            The principle of her magecraft is so different from my own that we modern magi must seem hopelessly clumsy to her.
            …I don’t know how Hector and Nessiah managed to preserve the techniques passed down from the age of gods directly, but they certainly are able in ways that we personally are not.

            They have that kind of elegance.

            Sometimes Caster’s magic is not strong enough to make it through Yggdra’s protection, and sometimes it is.
            I know the difference in smoke rising from Yggdra’s raiment and in irregular sparks of discomfort in my Command Spell.

            The pain is duller along the faded mark and sharp along the two that are still active.

            Yggdra dances through the magical assault and continues to advance on Caster.
            …She seems tireless, but all the same, it’s a problem.
            Caster has not yet moved from her spot, and Yggdra has to continually dodge and advance, which consumes more energy.

            …I can’t attack.
            Everything strong enough to hit Caster will consume Yggdra as well.
            They have the same alignment with ether, and I with my attachment to “imaginary numbers” as my sorcery trait will damage both of them.

            “…”
            I bite my lip and shift my weight.

            …But.
            There’s definitely a clue that’s come up so far.
            …That clue is—

            “…Ah.”

            I straighten up and hold out my hand as Yggdra rebounds from another failed attack.
            And as she charges.

            “—Yggdra, strike with all your might!”
            There is a great crack through the air as I shout, and Yggdra’s footsteps speed up preternaturally.
            Her advanced movements will give her sword more weight.

            And I—
            Without waiting to see how this will turn out, I run—!!

            “—Gran—”

            I run wide to put myself out of the range of Yggdra’s Noble Phantasm.
            I put prana into my legs clumsily and force more speed—

            “—Centurio—!!”

            There is a great rush and explosion of light.

            “Haaah—!!”
            “—”

            And there is a great crash.

 

            …I turn slightly to keep them in view as I continue to run.

            Caster has staggered back.
            There is blood on the ground, so she must be injured, but even so Caster’s stance is very strong.
            Yggdra, who has swung her giant sword, is still recovering from delivering the blow.
            Into that moment of “windup”—

            “Revellion—”
            A forest’s worth of thin lightning bolts descends.

            “Kh, gh—”

            Yggdra is blown back, the heels of her shoes dragging against the floor as she shields her body with her sword.
            …Even so, her body has been hit.
            She staggers slightly as she resumes her stance, and when she coughs as if to clear her throat, her lips are flecked with blood.
            …I want to call out and praise her for how well she withstood the enemy’s Noble Phantasm, but there is no time—

            If she knows what I’m doing, she will keep Caster distracted.
            …Even if she hasn’t yet grasped my idea, I know that she will continue to fight believing in me, because that is what our partnership is about.

            So I put strength into my limbs and continue to run for the dais.
            …I want to check to make sure that Hector is dead.
            I’ll cut off his head myself if I need to.
            ……But before even that comes securing our victory.

            I pass even Vienya.
            My objective is—

            —Yes.
            The woman trapped in the globe of slime like a doll encased in amber.

            “Scatter—!”

            I expel the word on my breath and hold out my hand, slashing my fingers through the air.
            My Magic Crest starts up and expels power that ruptures the bubble.
            …Liquid starts to spill from within it.
            It smells bloody like amniotic fluid, but at the same clean like soap.
            It is filled with oxygen and will not allow those trapped within it to die.
            This woman is Caster’s precious “anchor”.

            And—
            She is the wedge we will be able to drive home to secure victory.

            I continue to blow the bubble apart.
            If Caster has caught on to what I am doing, she still isn’t trying to attack me.
            I can hear the clashing of weapons in the distance, and it seems that Yggdra is continuing the battle with all her might.

            In terms of strength, Yggdra was far inferior to Caster as a Servant the first time that we fought her.
            It is more the fact that Caster is simply a higher rank of being and a perfect defensive wall that even the great holy sword cannot break through.
            But now they are more evenly matched.

            The reason for that is because of Caster’s mistake.
            …Servants’ statistics and capabilities are in part dependent upon their Masters.
            With a great magus like Hector as her bulwark, Caster was a powerful fortress.
            …But Soala is just your average magus and has a low capacity of prana to boot.
            To compensate for the difference, almost all of Caster’s capabilities have been lowered by at least one rank.

            As if to prove it, the “wall” surrounding Caster’s body is something that Yggdra can now break if she exerts all her power.
            Caster can bleed.
            She was always able to.
            It is just that a high wall must be overcome for that to happen.

            To put it more simply, the only way to defeat Caster is to be such an offensively-oriented Servant, and to have such a great Master, that one can overcome her barrier all by oneself.
            …Either that, or to have a trump card that can neutralize her defense and give the attacker a chance to do battle without having to deal with it at all.

            The change of Masters has “lowered” Caster’s walls.
            Where before we would have had no chance, this is now a battle up a slope that is steep but not completely sheer.
            …We do have a small chance of winning naturally.

            But that isn’t necessarily enough.
            We can’t simply depend on luck when such a power isn’t within our grasp.
            …Instead…
            We have to get together all the power we have and create an opening, even artificially.

            The bubble like an amphibious creature’s egg slowly sloughs away.
            Even though there’s half of it remaining, Soala flounders and collapses onto the hard tile amidst the sloshing mess, her limbs moving feebly as if she is a baby bird.
            She coughs and vomits out the gel, and the amber jelly dribbles from her mouth and nose.
            …Even so, she can move.
            She can see and hear and speak, even if she is too weak to do much else.

            “—”
            Caster immobilized her.
            Caster intended to simply back herself up in this battle and make sure that she would not reach the end of the prana that makes up her body if she really went all out against us.
            …But aside from just limiting her capabilities, there is another mistake in Caster’s choice.

            A Master isn’t just a backup battery for the Servant whose activities cost prana.

            —A Master is the force that “commands” a Servant.

            I look down at Soala where she writhes on the floor.
            …I don’t want to touch her.
            Just the thought of coming into contact with her after what she wanted to do to me sends an ugly sensation crawling over my skin, and I feel as though I’m going to vomit.
            …But.
            I don’t know how Caster tricked her into forming the contract, but…
            ……Just because she almost did that to me…, doesn’t mean that she should deserve to be sucked dry in Caster’s battle.
            And if she is here for us to make use of, we should.

            “—Do you know where you are and what’s happening?”

            Soala coughs and shivers.
            The magus in her stained clothes hugs herself with cold and blinks like a fish, taking in the surroundings.
            She loses color when she looks at the Servant that somehow became hers.
            Her reaction is definitely fearful.
            …This can work.

            It may be cruel.
            But I’ll manipulate her a little anyway as compensation for her attempt to rape me.
            …I’m selfish.
            I prioritize Yggdra’s and my own self-preservation over this woman’s state of mind, and as far as payback goes this is petty.

            “I don’t know what she told you.
            “But that Servant of yours is going to drain you until you die for the sake of winning this battle, as compensation for her parameters being lowered.”

            Soala shivers.
            “I—know.”
            Her dark eyes are pearlescent with tears.
            She quivers on the floor as if to protest that she is helpless.

            “—Stand up and stop complaining.
            “You’re not powerless.
            “—If you don’t want to meet that fate, then help us.
            “The Grail War will end, and because we don’t believe in killing other Masters, we’ll let you live, the same as we did before. You have my word.”

            She continues to look at me.
            …I don’t want her to touch me but stand firm.
            Even if she reaches a hand out to me, I resolve myself not to flinch away.

            “Quickly.
            “—How many Command Spells do you still have?”

            Realization seems to come over her.
            As if regaining a bit of her dignity, she pulls herself into a crouch.
            “—I have all of them.
            “Elena—Assassin was a good Servant.
            “If I could convince her with words, I had no need to use something so vulgar.”

            …Vulgar, she says, as if her relationship with her Servant is something completely different from the way she treats people outside of that contract.
            Well, in the end I suppose we’re all a little like that.

            “—Good.
            “Now is the time to use them then.”

            “You mean for me to break my contract with her—?”
            Soala stares at me in wonder.
            …I can understand.
            If I were to ask that and our attack failed to get rid of Caster’s energy, then all of us including Soala would likely be killed.

            “—No.
            “Will you give the commands that I ask of you?
            “The contract will remain intact, and you’ll be protected from her.”

            Soala bites her lip.
            “—I have no choice.”
            …And she sighs.
            “…I don’t mind so much.
            “The contract might exist, but my only Servant was Assassin.
            “I don’t feel so bad about ordering around a malevolent ghost that would kill me to suit its own needs.”

            …She stands up by herself and holds out her arm with determination.
            “—I’ll trust you for my own sake.”

            She says so and stands as though not wanting to depend on anyone.
            Beside her, I face the battlefield.
            …The Command Spell is the only magic she can use in her condition.
            If I can’t trust her words, I can trust that reality.

            Yggdra is still fighting.
            …Her body is scraped in many places and her clothes look burnt, but she still continues to swing her holy sword.
            Caster, with her back to us, moves tirelessly to repel her, pivoting in the same spot.

            …I murmur the first command.

            “Disable your defensive Noble Phantasm!”

            Soala’s voice calls out.
            It is a voice with no elegance or surety, but still there is the ringing crack of a Command Spell activating.

            “Wh—at?”
            Caster staggers and turns towards us.
            …I can sense it even though I can’t see it.
            The “bubble” that has surrounded her body is gone.

            “—You are not to harm any human!”
            Caster’s arm that was reaching for us jerks in midair and falters, and her face is contorted with a snarl as her attack on the ones about to bind her is cut off by the order.

            And.
            …Finally.

            It’s not enough to simply order her to kill herself.
            Caster would resist that order now that she knows what we’re doing, and she might even suspect it.
            “—And.
            “Cast away that staff—!”

            “—!!”

            Caster’s body moves.

            The amplifier that has been boosting her abilities flies through the air and clatters against the distant ground.
            …If she were to chase it…
            ……Yggdra would surely arrive in the way to block her.

            The contract is still in place.
            Her abilities have still been hobbled.
            And with her Master’s orders crippling her power—

            Caster swivels back towards Yggdra, who has already begun to focus her power, and lifts her empty hands into the air as if calling upon the aid of a god.

            “Revellion—!”

            At her shout.
            Great amounts of thunder, enough to purge the world of life, crash throughout the stadium before her.
            The ground rumbles, and I nearly fall.

            —But.
            Like a divine wind,
            Yggdra rushes through the rain of lightning bolts towards her target.

            Caster continues to summon great magic.
            …And Yggdra, whose protection now exceeds Caster’s capabilities, rushes forward with all that magic rolling off her body like water off of oil—

            “Gran—”

            She pulls her sword back.
            Her legs have stopped moving, but her momentum slides her inwards, her white shoes pushing past the mounds of gravel created by their battle as she winds up the sword like a batter about to swing—

            And.
            Once she has gotten into range.
            …She puts all of her weight onto her feet and lunges forward—!!

            “—Centurio—!!!”

            “—!!”

            There is the sound of a strike as the peal of the holy sword sounds like a gong.
            Scattered orange feathers float through the air.
            …There is a great amount of dust kicked up by Yggdra’s charge.

            …And as it disperses—

            “—”
            Yggdra draws herself up to her full height.
            She still holds her sword strong in both hands.
            …Rather than a queen—
                        She looks like the triumphant silhouette of King Arthur overseeing a victorious battle, and her long hair streams out behind her beautifully.

            Peerless.
            She stands there.

            …For a brief moment, the nearly-bisected form of her enemy is visible through the smoke…
                        ……And then Caster’s body vanishes.

            “—”
            Soala collapses, maybe from the release of tension.

            And there’s a gasp.
            Above me, Vienya gasps as if in pain, and the gate that was teeming begins to spill over with colorless energy.

            …That’s no surprise.
            This “gate” is meant to be constructed from the energy of six Servants or maybe seven, not eight all at once.
            So the substance that was inside begins to spill out.
            …It’s a beautiful sight.
            A little messy, but it still takes my breath away like a rainbow has been turned into liquid and is streaming down in imitation of a molten waterfall.

            “—”
            Well, I can’t just sit here.
            All the Servants that will be delivered into the chalice have been delivered, so there’s no need for Vienya to keep sitting there like a filter.

            I reach out as if to draw her down just as her body wavers and falls.

            “—”
            …She is naked and breathing painfully.
            Her eyes are closed.
            Inside her body—

            “—How crude.”
            The “thing” that forced the Grail open has been placed into her uterus itself.
            Symbolically this is the place for such a thing, but there’s a limit to perversion as Vienya is still such a young girl.

            The Grail is already open and should remain open for a while even if its focus is taken away, so I rest my hand on her skin and focus my power.

            “—”
            She twitches.
            Her body arches up and she breathes in fiercely as if to reject the magic being worked inside her body, making her hair scatter and her thin, still-forming breasts shake slightly as the muscles in her limbs go tense.

            …I destroy it.
            The lump of dying muscle inside her body liquefies, and as Vienya squirms beneath my hands, something that looks similar to but isn’t menstrual blood is running from between her legs when I open my eyes.
            …The foreign element is being expelled from her body, and she will be all right.

            As I kneel near the rumbling Grail…
                        …Yggdra approaches the stream of energy in slow steps.

            Her eyes are searching as if she’s trying to decide on what exactly she should do.

            …I can’t speak.
            I can barely even breathe.

            Yggdra looks briefly at me from the corner of her eye and smiles.

            …And as her holy sword disappears from her hands, she mounts the steps to the dais, approaching the Grail while it is still open.

Chapter Text

            There is a moment.
            …There is a moment when I want to call out to her, but my voice does not work.
            Yggdra does not look back.
            She reaches out to the energy pouring from the Grail, and I can feel it connect to her will.
            It will answer her if it is able.

            Before I can do anything.
            There is a great light that takes my vision away, and the ground rumbles ceaselessly beneath me as if to steal my senses—

 

 

            …
            ……
            ………

            …I open my eyes and look upwards.

            Well, I’m saying it at a time like this, but Fuyuki is certainly very different in the spring.

            It is the middle of April.
            Students head to school now that the new year of classes has begun, all the trees are in bloom, and cherry blossom petals waft through the air.
            It’s a purely Japanese tradition to appreciate the spring thus and it’s been refreshing to experience such a thing in the country of origin.
            …On top of which, there are still festival booths set up here and there throughout Fuyuki, giving it a bright and hopeful atmosphere.

            “—”
            There is a tug on my sleeve, and I suppress a smile.
            …It seems my companion would rather gorge herself on sakuramochi and other sweets than contemplate the cherry blossoms themselves.

            —It has been over a year since then, and I am still in Fuyuki.

            …There was a time when I returned to France.
            It was temporary, over the time that I couldn’t bear to be here, and it was mostly to let my family know that we had indeed won.
            …I never needed the Holy Grail myself, and neither did they.
            The honor was in knowing that I had secured victory for them.
            My grandfather smiled at me.
            …He’s very old now, and his presence has softened over the years.
            His hands were knobbled with age as he stroked my hair and praised me.
            It is the only time I can remember his doing such a thing.

 

            …It was very shortly after the Grail War that I fell ill.
            A lot of things were happening that time, and most of the burden fell to Ein and Rose as the contacts of the supervisor.
            I did what I could, but in the end I couldn’t take the stress very well.

            About a month after that ordeal, the Tohsaka family head came home from London.
            She had graduated from her schooling at the Clock Tower and came home dragging Lord El-Melloi of the Magic Association.
            The young lady Tohsaka complained a lot about us messing up her house, and Lord El-Melloi complained a lot about people messing up his handiwork.
            Since they arrived, things got settled.
            …And then they spent a great deal of time sitting together with all of us and complaining all at once over cups of barley tea and video games, of all things.
            We would sit and have informal conferences about how to handle the aftereffects in the residence of Tohsaka Rin’s relatives, the Emiya family.
            Ein and Rose were given permission to continue living in Fuyuki, as were the rest of us.

            …Once the stress vanished, so did my ability to keep everything at bay.
            My physical condition crumbled.
            I developed ulcers and my strength disappeared.
            …Apparently it was from the depression.
            But there was no helping that.

            …Without even anything but that single look of shining farewell, the girl I loved disappeared from this world.
            At the same time, a number of wars across the world were settled with cease-fires and treaties, and looming world conflicts smoothed over.
            Diplomacy has continued to reign in the year since Yggdra made her prayer to the Holy Grail, and I don’t think that her wish is something that should be regretted.
            What weighs heavily on my heart is that the loss of her tore me in two.

            My family cared for me when I couldn’t care for myself.
            Messages of support came to me from Ein and Rose in Japan.
            …Slowly.
            It’s not as though the grief lessened, it’s more as though I got used to it.

            …It’s not as though we can’t meet again.
            It will be extremely difficult and I’m not sure that she will remember me, since the “Yggdra” that appeared in this place was just a copy of her, a record that will be transmitted to herself within the Throne of Heroes.
            ……But it will be many, many years until that can happen.

            And.
            …With that possibility faint in my mind, I want to focus on the things that I can do.

            I doubt that this peace can be held together by the Holy Grail alone.
            …No.
            Humanity is too stubborn a creature to be influenced forever.
            If we really wish for peace, then humans have to work to maintain it.

            …So I want to join in for that effort.
            It’s the dream of the girl I love, the dream I too want to believe in.
            …I want a world where even she can be saved.

            It took several months for that urge to awaken in me.
            I’m not strong or sure like Yggdra.
           …I’m no match for her, so it took a while for the waves of my selfishness to abate on the shore that’s my heart.

            But.
            …I started to get in touch with my connections to see what I can do.
            Apparently the Tohsaka head’s brother-in-law specializes in that type of thing as his second priority in life, so here I am again.

            …And.
            Vienya is with me now too.
            She’s acting as my apprentice.

            …What I want to do isn’t to become a hero or something grand.
            There are other people, more heroic people like Yggdra, who will stand at the vanguard and protect peace.
            …Those are people like Ein and Rose, and like Tohsaka and her family.
            As for me.
            I’ve always had a gift to heal.
            …I’ve neglected it until now to train to my family’s specifications, but now that the Grail War is over I have more freedom.
            So.
            I contacted the hospital outside of Fuyuki.
            …I asked to help with Vienya’s treatment as we knew each other.

            It all started from there.
            I’ve been studying anatomy as well as musty old tomes by great sorcerers who were past my time, and even the works of a great magus who has gone underground after receiving a Sealing Designation.
            …At first I was given a lot of basic tasks.
            Some of them weren’t even connected with healing at all, like tracking down her lost familiar, which makes me sigh even now.

            But.
            …Eventually I was able to become of use.
            Vienya herself has regained most of the use of her right arm.
            We were able to regenerate her nerves to some extent, and the rest of the use is simulated by creating a special Magic Circuit that can manipulate her body to nearly the same extent as her nerves would normally.
            …And after that, since she’d heard the whole story, she volunteered herself as my assistant immediately.

            We contacted and got the permission of her guardian, an incredibly old man with sharp eyes.
            …Vienya’s body is still small, but surprisingly she doesn’t have that much longer until she is actually an adult in the eyes of society.
            She is enrolled in the same high school as Ein and Rose right now, and apparently her rivalry with Rose is the main form of entertainment among the tiny group of young magi studying in that place.

            It’s been over a year, and it’s April now.
            Yggdra’s absence is like a physical pain in my chest.
            …But because I love her.
            Because I want to be able to hold my head up if we meet again—

            I will continue in my own way down the path that she wished for me to walk.

            It’s April.
            The cherry trees are in bloom.
            Vienya and I walk down the streets of Miyama side by side.
            …For every three sakuramochi she eats, she offers one to me or to the ragged bird on her shoulder.

            We’re going to meet up with the head of the Emiya household soon.
            We’re going to talk to him, to decide our cooperation in the days from now on.
            …With the pride of the Branthèse family behind me and my love for Yggdra still overpowering me, I will run through the days ahead of me.
            I will run without looking back, and I will carry my regrets until I can accept their burden more easily.

            …So as not to lose out to the girl beside me, who is still carrying a few more boxes of food to be polite.
            There is a rose so purple as to almost be black pinned to my lapel.
            …And in my hand…,
                        …a bouquet comprised of tiger lilies.

            They’re not a gift for our hosts.
            …They’re more of what you would call an offering.

            Well, as participants in the previous war, I’m sure they will understand—

            I look up towards the distant sky.
            It is pale blue.
            …This sky will eventually darken, and almost reach the color of her eyes.

            —If it takes my entire life.
            I will chase after that color.
            I will show her my resolve, and present to her the “something” that the two of us made together, the future I will build from today onward—

Chapter Text

            “Yggdra—”

            …Oh.
            I call out to her.
            I call out her given name in a pitiful voice without meaning to.

            She stops for just a moment, and then smiles.
            “—It’s all right, Roswell.”

            With those words.
            She reaches out to the energy pouring from the Grail, and I can feel it connect to her will.
            It will answer her if it is able.

            Before I can do anything.
            There is a great light that takes my vision away, and the ground rumbles ceaselessly beneath me as if to steal my senses—

 

            …
            ……
            ………

            “Hm—ah.”

            …My head is muddled.
            My head is filled with mist and not working properly.
            Distant events jumble in my mind and keep me confused even as I wake up.

            …When I open my eyes.
            There’s a troublesome girl giggling at me from the other side of the bed.

            “—”
            Ahh.
            …There’s an overwhelming kind of relief that I wasn’t merely dreaming.
            An ache that feels like being stabbed through the chest.

            To make her shut up, I reach for her.
            I cover up her smiling mouth with my own in a good-morning kiss.
            She makes soft contented noises against me and reaches out to play her hands along my naked back, tugging insistently.
            She could pull me with her own strength if she really wanted to, but she’s content just to invite, and I’m glad.
            …It wasn’t too long ago that those things happened, and I’m undergoing what a certain magus like an uppity cat calls “trauma therapy for idiots”.
            The main part of it that the people around me are supposed to take part in is to be especially careful about my consent for a while.

            Well, she’s pulling at me.
            It’s not like she won’t take no for an answer, but the movements of her hands are like a child whining, and I’m not opposed.
            I move over and cover her body with mine, and she winds white limbs around me and sighs as our bodies link and combine.

            My anxiety vanishes quickly.
            …I can feel her with my entire body.
            It feels good when we touch, it hurts when she scratches or bites, and my muscles ache when I strain them.
            This is real.
            We take our time and love each other for hours, unwilling to leave the bed.

            “—”
            Well, we can’t just do that forever.

            Still, it’s already about noon when I get up to go shower off my sweat, and when I return to the bedroom, the large bed is vacant.
            She left it unmade for me, and the sheets are not only still warm with her body heat but are damp with our sweat.
            I sigh and undo the coverings of the bed.
            We must always consider body soil when it comes to health.

            When I get downstairs, she’s already in the kitchen.
            “—”
            As usual.
            She knows how to distract me and by now she almost always makes breakfast by herself.
            She recently learned various ways to prepare eggs and tries out different ones every morning.
            Today’s seem to be baked rather than fried, and the popping oil on the stove comes from French toast in a frying pan.

            …Yggdra is so beautiful bustling around the kitchen that I just want to walk into the room to wrap my arms around her and cry.

            It’s pleasantly warm in the house, as we have the air conditioner working just slightly.
            The sky outside the window is gray and I have only just recognized the pattering outside as the sound of rain.

            It is July.
            It has been several months since then.

            In that place, the world shook and became so bright that I nearly lost consciousness.

            And when the rumbling stopped, I was so afraid that Yggdra would be gone when I opened my eyes that I couldn’t lift my head.
            …I couldn’t even move until she embraced me.

            …Yes.
            Yggdra is here.
            Not as my familiar, but as a complete being granted physical form by bathing in the energy of the Holy Grail.
            Her body is filled with power, and as long as she rests well she is even still capable of using her Noble Phantasm from time to time.

            …I don’t know why she chose to remain here instead of having her wish fulfilled.
            I don’t know why, but…

            These days.
            These days that are filled with myself and Yggdra, Vienya and Ein and Rose all living in the same town and cooperating with each other under the direction of the young lady Tohsaka who owns this land—

            These days are so filled with joy that I can still hardly believe in them.

            In the kitchen, Yggdra seems to be finished with breakfast.
            She places eggs, toast, hash browns, and bacon onto two plates and carries them to the table with a proud expression.
            …The pile of plates and pans in the sink will likely be my task later, but I’m weak against her and can’t really complain even when she causes trouble for me.

            “Thank you for the food.”
            Everything has been cooked wonderfully.
            …After everything ended, Yggdra attacked cookbooks with a slightly terrifying fervor.
            She is really serious about this.
            It’s the most fun when we do things together.
            And even though we work every day with the other magi of this town to protect it and to promote peace, that still leaves at least half the day to live together and do whatever we want.

            So Yggdra has accumulated albums, leaves my room a mess when we wake up, makes me wash dishes and buy things for her and ambushes me in the bath for sex.
            And I’m bewildered by it all, but I can’t complain.
            There’s no way I could possibly complain.

            …This is a dream that I was too afraid to even pray for during the war.

            I finish off the perfectly fluffy eggs and sit back.
            Yggdra is looking at me with a smile like she wants me to praise her.

            “—Yggdra.”
            …I’ve been wanting to ask why for all this time.
            But.
            I always lose courage at the last moment and falter.

            “—”
            She stands up.
            …Yggdra stands up and walks over to me.
            I push my chair back as if to meet her halfway, but she just sits down on my lap.

            “—”
            She’s close.
            …I still haven’t completely gotten used to her presence, and she’s really close.

            Quietly.
            Yggdra wraps her arms around me like she knows what I’m thinking.
            “—”
            I just hold her.
            …Maybe I’m still afraid that she’s going to disappear somewhere.
            She’s too much for me, and I couldn’t stop her if she wanted to leave.
            I guess I’m just anxious.
            …These days are too happy and I worry that they’re going to vanish.

            “—Roswell.
            “When you called out to me that time, I thought of something.”
            Yggdra says so as she holds me tightly.
            She says so in a very calm and gentle voice.
            “I want peace.
            “More than anything, I want a peaceful world.
            “—But I do want it to come about by my own hands.
            “And if I’m going to work for that personally instead of just wishing—then I want to do that with you at my side.”

            Simple, very kind words.
            …It’s a rainy summer day like any other.
            Yggdra continues to hold me, and I’ll hold her.

            Tomorrow will surely be sunny.
            And we’ll have work to do when this weather clears up.
            So for as long as the rain falls, all there is to do is enjoy each other’s company.
            We can play together, love each other, and argue about chores.
            …Yggdra’s will is very strong.
            She ran through the battlefield, and so she will surely run through her new life with equal fervor, and I’ll wind up pulled along behind her as she goes.
            …But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
            It’s the future that I’ve desired more than anything else.

            In a moment.
            …In a moment we’ll let go of each other and then bicker about who’s going to do the dishes this morning.
            But for now—
            For now I hold the girl that I love tightly.
            As long as she’ll have me, I’ll never let go of her.
            So we sit together, and I comfort myself by breathing in her scent.

            There’s a faint scent of flowers in her hair.
            I think that this is her shampoo, as her perfume is scented like butterfly flower.
            Faintly, the air of lilies and a brightness like the smell of summer suffuses her.

            …Together.
            I can face anything as long as I have her.
            And so we’ll race into the future awaiting us, together—