Fate/Zero:Act 14 Part 1
When it was almost dusk, it vaguely occurred to Saber that today’s ambush might once again be a waste of effort. The thought frustrated and unsettled her.
Saber arrived at Miyama in accordance to the intelligence gained from the Master of Archer, Tōsaka Tokiomi, and located the residence of Glen Mackenzie and his wife. Upon hearing the doorbell, an old woman appeared before her. According to her, her grandson and his friend had indeed been staying there over the past few days. The old woman seemed to have mistaken Saber for her grandson’s friend as well, and so told the whole truth without reserve.
Saber persuaded the old woman to describe the appearance and clothing of the two people. Undoubtedly, they were Rider and his Master. It was regrettable, however, that she could not feel the presence of any Servant from there. A house of this size—if there was a Servant hiding within, it would have been possible to sense his presence even at the entrance.
According to the old woman, those two had left in the morning and not returned since. It was worth suspecting that they somehow knew of Saber's coming arrival and fled as a result, but it was truly difficult to imagine that the haughty King of Conquerors would actually resort to cowardly tricks like flight. If he intended to seize victory, he would definitely attack head-on.
In the end, Saber came to the conclusion that they had simply missed each other by coincidence. Courteously taking her leave of the old woman, she decided to keep watch from an area slightly away from the house and wait for Rider to return.
Of course, she would conceal the truth from the old woman. Though they had been deceived by Waver Velvet, this family was, in the end, completely ordinary and unrelated to the events surrounding them. Rider must have considered this as well.
Rider had been able to temporarily set aside the fight for the Holy Grail in order to stop Caster’s atrocities and prevent Fuyuki City from falling into crisis. Thus, Saber made this judgment: the King of Conquerors would never act against the pride-worthy deeds of a true Heroic Spirit. After Rider returned and discovered Saber, he would definitely choose a location worthy of a Servants’ battle and have a showdown that was open and aboveboard.
Aware that she was already very conspicuous just walking around, Saber decided to sit on a chair at the closest bus station and wait. Henceforth, she began to keep intent watch, but a few hours passed by without any sign of movement.
Though she could not directly see the Mackenzie house from her position, Rider would definitely sense the presence of a Servant upon his return and seek out Saber. He was not the sort of opponent to ambush her or run away. He would definitely welcome Saber’s intent of challenge and lead her to a suitable location for combat.
As strange as it was to say, Saber professed a hundred percent trust toward this Servant, Rider. Though their respective viewpoints could not be reconciled, it was incontestable that the other Heroic Spirit would take action according to his pride as a king. He would only challenge openly, and would never make secret plans or commit acts of betrayal. That was because Rider would never choose despicable tactics or strategies that would damage his reputation.
It could be said that Saber's unease originated from her allies rather than from her opponents.
Her Master, Emiya Kiritsugu, was eyeing Rider's Master with intentions and combat goals completely opposite to her own. At this very instant, it could even be that he had used Saber as bait to lure Rider out and was now keeping watch from afar—there was nothing wrong in thinking so. Indeed, she had to make such a mental preparation. Kiritsugu probably believed the instant at which Rider went all out to confront Saber to be the optimal opportunity to assassinate his Master.
With this thought in mind, Saber’s heart could not help but feel weighed down.
Kiritsugu might as well carry out a showdown between magi, with the Masters of Berserker and Archer as targets.
That would have been fine. Kiritsugu would only be obtaining victory through strategy and power play rather than by relying on Servant Saber. It was for his own legitimate reasons that Kiritsugu wanted the Grail. It was not unreasonable to desire a victory that could be obtained through more reliable means.
But in this showdown with Rider, Alexander, King of Conquerors, Saber had a deep boundary that she was absolutely unwilling to compromise.
If there could not be a fair showdown between them—not as Servants, tools by which to fight for the Grail, but as Heroic Spirits who possessed great pride—Saber would be forever unable to undo the knot left in her heart by the ‘Grail question-and-answer session’ from several days ago.
Alexander reveled in his tyrannical kingship without restraint; he reveled in the violent way of the Ionian Hetairoi, and took pride in it. If she were not to defeat him with the similar symbol of the King of Knights' ideology, the ‘Sword of Promised Victory’ Excalibur, then Arturia’s way of kingship would be broken and ended.
Rider’s Noble Phantasm had a strength such that even thinking about it would cause one to tremble all over. Even if Saber were to exert the strength of her own Noble Phantasm to the greatest extent, victory was not guaranteed.
The result of a showdown between an anti-army and anti-fortress Noble Phantasm was already beyond the capacity of human imagination. Emiya Kiritsugu would definitely think paying such a large price for victory to be a foolish course of action, and pay it only a perfunctory smile. But to Saber, the Holy Grail should be a thing to be fought for on the premise of sticking to one’s ideals. Since there was someone who threatened the basis of her kingship, it was definitely intolerable for Saber to even consider using methods that sidestepped this problem.
Only by assuring the way of kingship, which was the pride of the King of Knights, would the Holy Grail choose the King of Knights.
Precisely because of this, if Kiritsugu kept interfering as he did in the duel with Lancer, this Heaven’s Feel could be considered completely void for Saber.
Even if those despicable methods saw them through the final battle, Saber would definitely be unwilling to take the fruit of victory, the Grail.
If Rider were to set up a Reality Marble to protect his Master before carrying out battle, then the fight would not be interrupted. But Kiritsugu also understood Rider’s techniques. If he were to play any tricks before the activation of the Ionian Hetairoi…
Curling up, Saber sat on the chair and gritted her teeth. She felt very frustrated for not being able to read Emiya Kiritsugu’s intentions. She was facing a strong adversary and yet could not concentrate her full strength; it made her all the more apprehensive.
The bone-chilling north wind became even colder as she waited uneasily, leaving Saber even more anxious and unsettled.
Just as Saber feared, Emiya Kiritsugu was indeed there.
He was on the rooftop of a six-story apartment of a public housing estate across the street, approximately eight hundred meters from where she was.
Unlike the haphazardly arranged edifices, the rooftop of the apartment was structured somewhat strangely as it was unnecessary to think that residents would ever use it. Though it was somewhat difficult to enter, one could be disturbed only with difficulty once inside. One could not be seen, even from downstairs, after hiding behind the water tower; it was an excellent position for sniping or setting up an ambush.
Even the smoke and smell of tobacco could not be noticed here. To be able to enjoy to his heart’s content the vitality and energy that came with cigarettes—Kiritsugu’s mental burden here was much smaller than Saber’s.
The sniper rifle scope, propped on a tripod, was directed at the front door of the Mackenzie home.
And another specially prepared portable scope could clearly see Saber's every action as she sat in front of the bus stop.
It was fairly difficult to observe with two alternate scopes without break, but it was a situation that could not be helped since he was unable to rely on Maiya’s help. She had not managed to leave in the end because she had been entrusted with the job of guarding Irisviel. From this day on, ‘hunting’ adversaries could only be Kiritsugu's responsibility alone.
Kiritsugu had begun observing the Mackenzie house slightly later than Saber had; he saw that Saber, who could definitely feel the presence of Servants, was doing nothing, which indicated clearly that Rider was not at home at the moment—in which case the Master was definitely not around either. The Master was not bold enough to stay home alone under these circumstances. Once he discovered that the enemy’s Servant was pacing at the door, he would definitely summon Rider at once.
Kiritsugu was different from Saber; he took the situation, in which the targeted prey did not remain at the stronghold, more seriously than she did. They had left home the day after Kiritsugu learned of the existence of Glen Mackenzie's family and not returned since; this timing was too precise to be a coincidence. Though there was no concrete evidence, there was still a relatively high chance that Waver Velvet had discovered the enemy’s attack and fled in a hurry.
Nevertheless, Kiritsugu continued to wait there with a thread of hope, thinking that this was also an issue worthy of thought.
If Waver returned again to the Mackenzie house, it would definitely be necessary to blow up the house with a timed bomb. But if he had already fled, then he must have already found another stronghold, in which case the probability of his returning to this house was very low.
It looked like it would no longer be appropriate to use that old couple to lead Waver into a trap in the same way that he had used Sola as bait to lure Kayneth.
Kiritsugu held high regard for Waver's indifference to the fortress's security and choice in an ordinary household for his stronghold. In comparison to the Three Noble Families of the Beginning and Kayneth, who had built extravagant strongholds where they could easily be found, Waver’s strategy was much better. It was difficult to conclude that a magus who could make this judgment would show sympathy for the household he was temporarily living in. To Waver, the Mackenzie couple was only a pair of pawns to be abandoned.
The impatience that came with wasting precious time and the taboo of acting with undue haste—these two thoughts crossed swords in Kiritsugu’s heart.
On one hand, he had given up hope of Waver’s return; on the other hand, he was unable to completely abandon the possibility that Waver's departure was only coincidence. The important reason for this was that it was very difficult to imagine that the young magus would actually be one step ahead of Kiritsugu in a battle of information.
From the beginning, Kiritsugu had never treated Waver, Master of Rider, as an opponent. Though he had later learned some of his background through additional investigation, he had only treated Waver Velvet as a novice magus who had become a Master by chance and made the conclusion that he was a layman no different from ordinary people who did not know magic.
Of course, Kiritsugu was not the sort of person that directly correlated ability with experience. Kiritsugu still remembered that he had already been a ruthless assassin when he made his debut, and he did not think himself a rare example.
But he had observed Waver Velvet’s performance on the battlefield several times. Based on that, it was still very difficult to say if he could become a strong opponent capable of surpassing Kiritsugu.
Having never gotten an answer, at the time when he was beginning to feel an inexplicable anxiety…
Suddenly, intense pain burned at the base of Kiritsugu’s little finger; his back stiffened.
When he had truly started treating Hisau Maiya as his assistant, Kiritsugu had put a spell on a strand of her hair and embedded it in the subcutaneous tissue of his little finger. At the same time, Maiya had also embedded a strand of Kiritsugu’s hair in her finger. If the Magic Circuits of one of them entered a state of extreme stagnation—the stage at which one's life force was weak on the verge of impasse with death—the strand of hair given to the other person would burn, warning the other and notifying them of the existence of danger.
That was a measure implemented for a worst-case scenario in which it was already impossible to use a wireless network or familiar to convey information. That is to say, it was only a signal to inform that "it is already too late". For it to activate now, at this moment, what exactly could it mean…?
Before wavering, one must first be caught in a quandary. Kiritsugu mobilized all his neurons and began to ponder the situation at hand as well as to formulate response plans.
Maiya was on the verge of death—in other words, this meant that Irisviel, hidden in the underground storage, was in danger. The sequence of events and its cause could not be determined now.
Now, the absolute priority was to carry out help as soon as possible. The only method that could be chosen was the fastest—a miracle made possible by the Command Seals on his right hand.
“I order my puppet in the name of the Command Seals!”
Kiritsugu clenched his fist, at the same time reciting the spell as quickly as an automatic machine.
“Saber, return to the underground storage quickly! At once!”
The prana sleeping in one of the Command Seals carved on the back of Kiritsugu’s hand woke up and shone with light.
It was not an overstatement to say that Saber was very surprised.
She immediately understood that she had become the subject of some powerful magecraft. In the next instant, she was stripped of all recognition of the surrounding space and sent into the midst of a 'transfer' that did not have an existence or direction.
That was probably the legendary spell specifically meant to 'command Servants'. With an ultimate speed that neared destruction of the laws of cause and effect, she had already overcome the distance of space in a 'moment' of a few milliseconds at a speed close to that of light and completed the instantaneous movement between two different points in space.
Even so, she was indeed a sword-wielding Heroic Spirit of special conditioning. Though she had just been ‘transported’ from a chair beside a bus stop to a completely different place, the familiarity of the underground storage made her understand immediately that the strange phenomenon just now was caused by the activation of one of Kiritsugu’s Command Seals. In addition, some emergency must have occurred here that necessitated her immediate return to guard the headquarters. In the few milliseconds between the completion of the space break and her arrival on the floor of the underground storage, Saber had already completed the transformation from her disguise suit to her silver white armor.
Without question, the situation was clear at a glance.
The metal door had been broken down with brute strength. Irisviel, who should have been lying in the middle of the Magic Circle, had vanished; in her place was the body of Maiya, covered in blood, writhing and discarded.
Saber quickly ran to her side. She could not help but furrow her brow at the depth of her wounds. The injuries sustained in the Einsbern forest could not even begin to compare with this. What she sustained now were injuries that were fatal if not given emergency treatment as soon as possible.
As if feeling the Servant’s radiant presence, Maiya slowly opened her eyes.
“Maiya, pull yourself together! I will bind these wound immediately. It’s all right—“
But Maiya pushed away the hand that Saber stretched out to her.
“Quickly… go after him, quickly, outside... Rider, he…”
If the Command Seal-induced voyage here had been surprising, Saber was even more surprised at Maiya’s reaction.
Maiya must already have known the extent of her injuries. She must have fully understood that she was on the verge of death. But compared to her own life, this silent assistant to an assassin cared more for the safety of the kidnapped Irisviel and was urging Saber to consider making Irisviel's safety the priority.
Just as she was about to ask a question in reply, Saber suddenly understood.
This woman was also a knight. Though different from her own proud expressions, this courage to abandon life for the duty she had taken up was precisely the chivalry that Saber so firmly believed in.
I must protect Irisviel in the underground storage until the last moment—Hisau Maiya had certainly already made an oath to Kiritsugu and Irisviel. To entrust Saber with that promise she could not carry out to the end, she was willing to lose her own life.
“I… it’s all right… very soon, Kiritsugu will come… so… you must, quickly…”
Saber gritted her teeth and shut her eyes.
Logically thinking, every minute and every second Saber wasted on worrying about Maiya was time in which the abducted Irisviel could be moving toward a hopeless situation.
The thread of hope that Maiya could be saved by Kiritsugu, who would quickly rush here, still remained. But the fate of Irisviel, who had been taken away, had no guarantee if Saber did not give chase immediately. According to the marks left behind in the underground storage, it was undoubtedly a Servant’s doing. The follow-up attack could only be carried out by another Servant—and that meant Saber.
“—Maiya, you must hold on till Kiritsugu arrives. I will bring Irisviel back safely.”
Maiya nodded, and shut her eyes as if reassured.
Saber made a new vow to continue Maiya’s own—there was no reason to hesitate further.
She ran out of the underground storage like a hurricane, leaping onto the roof in a single bound, and gazed into the darkened, faraway sky in search of the enemy’s figure.
Since it was a godspeed instantaneous transfer caused by a Command Seal, surely the attacker must not have left here very long ago. The enemy had not yet gone far. Even if she was unable to sense his presence, it was still possible to find him by sight alone.
Saber stood on the rooftop and scanned the surroundings with the supernatural vision of a Servant. She effortlessly caught sight of the enemy.
A distance of about half a kilometer… majestically standing on the roof of what looked like an apartment building of the business district.
A robust physique, curly, flame-colored hair, and a crimson mantle; it was undoubtedly Rider, King of Conquerors, Alexander, whom she had met many times before on the battlefield.
“It wouldn’t be—unless it really was Rider?!”
Saber still held a strand of suspicion regarding Maiya’s eyewitness statement.
That the King of Conquerors, whose name had been unyielding all this time, would employ such base methods—it was indeed difficult to believe. But his thickset hands were indeed holding up the unconscious form of Irisviel; the sight left no room for doubt. Though it was yet unknown how they had guessed Saber’s new stronghold, this was undoubtedly the Rider who had just now ambushed Maiya and critically injured her.
Rider showed himself openly as if luring the enemy to venture deep; he immediately turned and vanished to one side of the edifice immediately after meeting Saber’s gaze.
Saber took her stance and intended to continue pursuit, but her adversary was a Heroic Spirit of the Rider class—Saber could not help but purse her lips.
It would be easy to continue like this, leaping through the streets in pursuit. But that was assuming the other party was also traveling on foot like she was. If Rider fled on his Gordius Wheel, Saber would not be able to catch up no matter how fast her pace was.
But Saber also had the skill of Riding. Against a Noble Phantasm that could fly through the air to reach its destination, it was necessary to also utilize a long-distance cruiser that could surpass the mechanical energy of walking.
In the past, Saber would definitely have given up pursuit for lack of a way to catch up. But for better or for worse, the previous day, Maiya had given her a new ‘steed’.
With a deep gratitude to Kiritsugu’s foresight and meticulousness in preparing for every eventuality, Saber leaped to the ‘horse’, removing the prana armor that would only hinder her riding, and mounted the steed parked in the abandoned courtyard.
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