The world flashed, and my surroundings transformed. The bridge beneath me changed into soft grass -- I was now in a large clearing encircled by squat, bare trees. A moment ago, moonlight shined on us from overhead. Now the sun was just peeking over the horizon. I didn't know if it was dawn or dusk.
The searing pain in my chest, so strong I'd felt like I would pass out, had vanished. The terrifying red eyes in front of me had too.
In place of those eyes, and the murderous specter they were attached to, stood David and Caster. David stared at me open-mouthed. Caster looked calm, and spoke.
"You wanted to know what my noble phantasm was? Well, right now, my noble phantasm is your best friend. My noble phantasm is Isaac."
David walked up to me, addressing Caster as he stared in my eyes. "I don't... understand, sir." He still called Caster "sir", even though he was the servant and David was the master. I smirked. I always smirked when David did something cute.
Caster rubbed the back of his head. "I suppose this is your gift for helping me out. A gift for the kindness you've shown me, David."
What exactly is going on here...?
I spoke. "A moment ago, the enemy Saber..." A moment ago, Saber carved through me with her sword. I felt the blade cut through my shoulder and exit the other side of my body. No matter how many magic circuits I carried in my crest, it was an absolutely, unavoidably fatal attack.
I looked at Caster. "Did you heal me?"
He shook his head.
"So, I died then."
He stood motionlessly for a second, and nodded.
I grabbed both of David's hands in mine, still addressing Caster. "Am I an illusion?"
Caster said nothing for a moment, then spoke reluctantly. "Of a sort. I can see the essence of people. That's my power as a heroic spirit. If I need to, I can project a copy of that essence, for a little while. I was there when you died and saw your essence. That's why you still have all your memories, even though you're a copy."
My hands, solid only a moment ago, suddenly phased through David's. I tried to touch him, his hands, his face, his chest, but I couldn't. I looked over at Caster, and saw blood leaking out the corner of his mouth. He must've been using a tremendous amount of magical energy to maintain his projection. To maintain my continued existence.
"I'm a... soul projection?" I asked.
Caster shrugged. "It's not a very useful trick in battle. You only have access to the magical energy I can supply you, and I'm using up almost all of mine just keeping you here." He looked even grimmer than usual. "A lousy trump card for a lousy servant. It's like I told you both from the beginning: your grail quest was doomed the second you summoned me."
I gave up on trying to caress David and looked at his pained eyes. He was looking between me and Caster.
"Sir, you might be able to use this magic, but are you okay?" he asked Caster. "You should... be careful..." He looked back at me, eyes welling up.
All I wanted was to help him feel better.
Is... that why Caster brought me back?
Caster spoke. "I wanted to give you some better company than myself." He looked at the horizon. "She's healed by now, and I won't be able to pull off another escape. Say your goodbyes. You only have a few minutes."
Was he looking towards the bridge where we fought Saber? "...I see," I said quietly.
David smiled sadly at me. "'I see.' I can guess what you're thinking when your voice gets high like that."
"What am I thinking then?" I asked, honestly curious what he thought.
He looked at the ground. "You're mad that you died, and that Caster brought you back just to die again. You're mad that we couldn't protect you from Saber while you prepared your spell. You're mad that we both failed you."
I laughed. Typical David. "You idiot. That's not it at all." I looked at myself, at my shimmering fading body, and immediately decided to tell him the truth. There wasn't time for anything else.
"I'm not mad about any of that. I knew what I was getting into when I entered the Grail War, that I might end up dying."
I tried to tilt his face towards me, but my fingers phased through his face. He understood what I was doing and looked up anyway. The wind picked up around us and rustled his long hair.
"I'm just sad we don't get to see that movie like we planned. After everything was finished, I mean." I looked away and said the truth. "I liked you David. This week was the most fun I've ever had."
I looked back at him. He smiled broadly. "I liked you too, Isaac." We'd both slipped into the past tense. "I also hated you, y'know. For being part of a rich mage family. For having access to everything I ever wanted, but couldn't have. I knew I'd never be a tenth of the mage you were, and I hated you for that."
I smiled. "Yeah, I knew that. I didn't mind though. I think I liked being hated by you as much as I liked being liked by you."
"You're impossible to understand sometimes," David said with a laugh.
I wrapped my arms around him. It was awkward since I couldn't really touch him. He hugged me back as best as he could. We savored the moment.
"She's almost here," said Caster, sighing. "It's difficult to get used to facing down an evil god."
The three of us watched the sky, watched the red-green pin-point of our death growing on the horizon as Saber flew towards us. Was Caster's soul projection what alerted her to our presence? It was certainly possible. We looked at each other.
I pulled the small knife out of my back-pocket and handed it to David. "Caster, can you maintain your projection of this weapon even after I'm gone?"
He smirked. "Of course I can. It only contains a few magic circuits."
"My magic crest, my heritage, none of it mattered against that monster's barrier. But this knife is her weakness. I don't have time to explain why, but you can fight her with this. You still have a chance."
Caster looked confused. David held the knife reverently.
We looked back towards Saber and the inferno of her swirling barrier. She loomed closer and closer. God she was so fast.
I touched David's face. It connected this time, somehow. He looked at me, still smiling. Caster covered his mouth, trying to hide that he was coughing up blood. It was time to go.
"Let's catch that movie sometime," said David.
My reply was short and quiet. "It's a date."