Fate/Zero:Act 15 Part 3
The scorching summer heat, unusual for the season, had nothing to do with Kotomine Kirei.
The ice-cold humid air sank into the darkness and was completely isolated from the bustling world outside. His location possessed all the ideal properties that would allow him to wait till night had fallen and then make his move.
The temporary hiding place that Kotomine Kirei, who had left the Fuyuki Church, had chosen was the blood-covered underground cavern that Uryū Ryūnosuke and Servant Caster had once occupied as their headquarters – that is, the water tank deep within the Fuyuki City sewage system. Moreover, this was the fated place where the Assassins he had summoned had been utterly humiliated. It was truly ironic that it was that memory which made Kotomine Kirei choose this hiding place.
The best testimony to the secrecy of this place was the fact that Caster, who had become the target of all Masters after Risei’s command, had managed to stay alive here after the chaotic battle in the Einsbern Forest. Rider and his Master were the only ones who had found and entered this place, but there was longer any reason for them to pay attention to Caster’s workshop.
After ensuring his own safety, Kirei reviewed the current situation of the war.
On top of having eliminated Tōsaka Tokiomi, befriended Matō Kariya, and secured the Vessel of the Grail, he had also managed to keep Saber and Rider in a stalemate whilst his own whereabouts were unknown to all –
All this was achieved within one day after his decision to return to the Heaven’s Feel.
Although luck did play its part, nothing in the world was meant to be perfect. Even Kirei himself was surprised at the fact that he had immediately changed the chaotic and senseless situation of the war.
Kirei had usurped and taken over the advantage Tōsaka Tokiomi had possessed at the beginning of the war. Archer, who had materialized into this world as the most powerful Servant in this Heaven’s Feel, was in Kirei’s hands. Berserker, who was a formidable enemy due to his natural differences with Archer, had also become Kirei’s puppet along with his Master. There was nothing else that could threaten Kotomine Kirei.
It didn’t matter who emerged victorious between Saber and Rider. The battle amongst Servants would end as soon as the victor was eliminated by Archer’s ultimate Noble Phantasm. On the off chance that both the King of Knights and the King of Conquerors managed to survive – or worse, if they came to an agreement and joined forces against him – then there was still the powerful Berserker to stop them. Although Matō Kariya was almost in ruins after the incident with Aoi, Berserker would automatically start attacking Saber and would not require his Master’s command.
Although Kirei knew that having three or four battle plans ready for the potentially unpredictable fight with Rider would be good enough, Archer did not agree to it. This battle did not belong to Kirei, but the King of Heroes. Kirei needed to respect the wish of the warriors if they desired a face-to-face rivalry. This was likely the biggest difference between Kirei and the other magi, who merely used Servants as tools.
He was opposed to using even a single Command Seal on Archer. He would only get the opposite result if he forced a man with such a huge ego to serve another’s will. The best way was not to control this Servant as a pawn, but to use him as if he were an environmental condition, like the weather or the direction of the wind. A sailor could not control the wind, but he could dexterously control his boat using the sail. That was his reasoning.
Archer had left for the moment because he didn’t like being locked up in this underground place. Kirei understood that Archer would rush back when necessary, so he did not feel uneasy in the leasts. Kirei did not regard this King of Heroes as a familiar, but as an accomplice with mutual interests.
In other words, there were more efficient ways to use the Command Seals he had taken from Risei’s hand. Even if Kirei possessed no Magic Crests, there were many ways for him to perform magecraft provided he paid the proper price. His chances of victory were high even if he were to fight an expert magus now.
The final battle tonight between Servants will decide the Holy Grail’s final destination. As an onlooker, all Kirei needed to do was wait for the right opportunity. As a Master, his main concern was actually a battle of strategies beyond that of the Servants’ – Kirei’s greatest enemy would be in that battle.
Emiya Kiritsugu. He would be the only one still capable of taking away the advantage in Kirei’s hands at this stage.
In his heart, Kirei had always looked forward to the duel with him. However, since the opponent was a thorough assassin, the kind of encounter that Kirei wished for would never come about. He would have to frequently consider the situation of the battle and continue to ensure his advantage if he were to create a scenario in which he could fight Emiya Kiritsugu face to face. If Kiritsugu took the upper hand, Kirei would definitely be finished without ever seeing what his opponent looked like. If that were to happen, then all would have been for naught.
Emiya Kiritsugu could not obtain information concerning this water tank. He was reassured of that. Had that not been the case, Uryū Ryūnosuke would have been eliminated even sooner than he had. He would not suffer a sudden attack from Kiritsugu as long as he remained hidden here. For now, all he needed to do was keep his opponent worrying and running around blindly. Kirei would be the one to decide the location of the duel.
Kiritsugu operated strictly according to logic. Kirei would predict his moves and turn that logic against him, misleading him until he had no choice but to voluntarily appear before Kirei – that goal was already finalized. All that was left was to wait for night to fall.
Kirei cast his eyes to a corner of the darkness when he heard a painful moan. The Einsbern homunculus that he had gotten Berserker to kidnap was lying there face-up. She wasn’t lying there naturally; a simple Magic Circle had been drawn around her to allow the surrounding prana to flow in. Although this location was not above a leyline, there was still leftover prana gathered here from when Caster had greedily devoured the souls of those he had sacrificed. Putting aside whether this supply made her comfortable, it was enough to stabilize her condition.
Of course, it would have been easy if he were to simply cut open her abdomen now and take out the ‘Vessel of the Grail’. However, Kirei wished for a chance to speak with her. That was why he was wasting his effort to provide her with prana.
“Can you hear me, woman?”
The homunculus opened her eyes, breathing faintly. Her empty gaze was without focus and her eyesight had evidently diminished, but she still recognized the voice of her nemesis.
“Kotomine… Kirei. Like I thought, you’re the one…”
“The victor of the Heaven’s Feel is about to be decided. Perhaps I will be the one to complete the ancient wish of your Einsbern house.”
Although he was not confident enough to declare absolute victory, such a conclusion was a conservative estimate.
“You still have an attitude and are so uncooperative. Are you so displeased with me?”
“Of course… There’s only one person I will entrust the Holy Grail to… and that would never be you, Executor.”
Although she found it difficult even to speak, the hatred and power in her voice made Kirei furrow his brows.
“I don’t understand. You’re nothing but a doll that carries the Holy Grail. The completion of the ceremony should be your only concern, rather than who may win the war. Why are you so bent on certain Masters in your current condition?”
“Yes, how could you possibly understand?... You’re the kind of person who doesn’t even have a wish to bestow upon the Holy Grail.”
The loathing mockery made Kirei even more baffled – was this woman really just a homunculus? Why did a homunculus, which didn’t even have a soul, possess such emotions?
“Kotomine Kirei… you’re an empty man who doesn’t even understand the meaning of battle. You’ll never win against that man… Be prepared; my knight, my husband will surely destroy you…”
“… Why are you talking about me?”
What made Kirei more baffled was the content of her words. How could this homunculus look into his heart with such accuracy? Tokiomi could not do that, nor could his own father or wife.
“Hah, scared? Fine, I’ll tell you… Emiya Kiritsugu has seen through you. He is alarmed by you and therefore regards you as the greatest enemy … Kiritsugu will fall upon you in a way more cruel and merciless than anyone else. Be prepared…”
So that was why – Kirei nodded with satisfaction.
If it was that man – if those who could understand Kirei truly existed – then that man must be the same kind of person as Kirei.
Emiya Kiritsugu did not let him down. Though the two of them had never met, he had nevertheless made the most appropriate evaluation of Kotomine Kirei.
“Thank you, woman. That is a blessing for me. The man Emiya Kiritsugu is truly just as I had imagined.”
However, a bout of mocking laughter answered Kirei.
“… You’re such a foolish man. You’re saying you understand Emiya Kiritsugu? … Hmph, don’t make me laugh. You aren’t even up to his heel in worth.”
“– What did you say?”
The sudden sound made his entire body shiver. He could not forget that sentence.
“True… Emiya Kiritsugu can see through you, but you’ll never see through him… Kotomine Kirei, you don’t have any of the things that man has in his soul.”
Kirei grasped her slender neck before more mocking words could flow out of her throat. The rage and confusion swirling within Kirei’s heart at that moment was incomparable to what he had felt back in the Einsbern Forest even if the fatal battle there was to be repeated.
“… I admit it. True, I’m an empty man. I have nothing.”
His roaring seemed to be calm at the beginning, or maybe traces of agitation only surfaced later on.
“But what’s the difference between Kiritsugu and me? Between me and that man who only devoted himself to senseless war – a man who never got anything out of it but only repeated his slaughter?! He departed so much from common sense and he got absolutely nothing. What is he, if not a lost soul!?!”
Kirei rebuked her desperately and hoarsely.
His inquiry was like the angry roar of an anguished soul that could not obtain the answer it sought even after having experienced every kind of trial imaginable.
“Homunculus, answer me if you can. Why does Emiya Kiritsugu seek the Holy Grail? What is the wish that man bestowed upon the all-powerful wish-granting vessel!?!”
As if provoking her, Kirei loosened his hands, which were grasped around the homunculus’s neck, and permitted her to breathe so she could answer him. There was an unspoken warning that if he received a vague answer, he would end her breathing forever.
Even so, this woman did not express even a sliver of terror. Kneeling before Kirei’s knees, she weakly gasped for oxygen in such a pitiful manner. But the look that she gave Kirei still contained the derision and superiority reserved for the victor.
It was almost as if Kirei was the one kneeling.
“Alright, I’ll tell you – Emiya Kiritsugu’s lasting hope is to save humanity. It is to end all wars and bloodshed and achieve eternal world peace.”
That only seemed like jestful nonsense for Kirei. After a few seconds, he burst out laughing.
“– What was that?”
“You can’t understand it. That is the difference between you and him. You believe in nothing while he does.”
Was this woman really talking about the man Emiya Kiritsugu? Kirei had doubts. What kind of man did Emiya Kiritsugu pretend to be while in front of this woman?
“… Woman, what are you to Emiya Kiritsugu?”
“I gave birth to his child as his wife. I’ve looked into his heart and shared his worries for the past nine years… unlike you, who has never seen him.”
Nine years. Perhaps he had passed such a long time in a lie? Kirei had such doubts, but he instinctively felt it would be impossible. What existed in this woman’s heart was undoubtedly her trust toward Emiya Kiritsugu. It would be unimaginable to form such a strong personality within her if she based it on an empty lie. This woman was originally only an ordinary homunculus after all.
The focus of his anger began to shift away from this woman before her. Kirei gave out a melancholic sigh and sat down onto the chair next to him.
“Irisviel von Einsbern, were you always a good wife in those nine years? Did you win Emiya Kiritsugu’s love?”
“… Why do you care?”
“I don’t understand the bond between you two – you took pride in having Emiya Kiritsugu as your husband and trust him as if you’re a real couple. However, if Emiya Kiritsugu is a man who seeks the Holy Grail, you should have been just a tool with which to fulfill his wish. He has no reason to give you something as unnecessary as love.”
“… I won’t forgive you if you laugh at him for being stupid.”
Those were the decisive words spoken by one who had something that could not be violated.
“… I have no parents, and I’m not a product of love. Therefore, I can’t understand what a ‘good wife’ is. Even so… the love he gave me is my entire world. No one can humiliate that.”
“Then, Irisviel, you’re a perfect wife.”
Kirei said as if making a disinterested judgement. It was not praise, nor was it sarcasm.
“But I can’t understand Emiya Kiritsugu because of that. Since he loves you as a wife, then why… why would he want eternal world peace? Why would he sacrifice his loved one for such a pointless aspiration?”
“… Such an odd question. For you, a man who has admitted that he has no reason for existence… You’re mocking others and saying their aspirations are meaningless?”
“Any sensible adult would have laughed at him.”
This was an anger completely different from before. Kirei’s heart swelled up.
“Combat is instinctive of humanity. Eliminating it is no different from eliminating humans. What else could be more pointless? This so-called aspiration of Emiya Kiritsugu’s – it shouldn’t have been called an aspiration to begin with, but the dream of a child!”
“… That is why he could only rely on a miracle…”
Irisviel tried her best to keep her cool and continued speaking.
“He lost everything for the aspiration he sought… He always suffered through his punishments for wanting to save those that could not be saved, and everything around him was robbed… I am also someone taken away from him. He has been forced to discard his loved ones many times…”
Kirei stood up from his chair and gazed at Irisviel with a bottomless and gloomy look.
“You’re saying it’s not just limited to this once – but that this is the way of existence for this man?”
“Yes. Kiritsugu is far too gentle. He doesn’t hold back on his love even though he knows he will lose those around him sooner or later…”
Those answers were enough for Kirei. He completely lost interest in the homunculus before him.
“… I understand.”
He grasped the woman’s neck with his strong fingertips and stopped her blood flow.
Looking at the other’s weak and painful expression, Kirei calmly said.
“I finally understand. So this is Emiya Kiritsugu.”
Kirei threw the woman, who had already fainted, to one side, and gazed emptily into the darkness.
In retrospect, Kirei had been wrong since the start– his question was answered, but his anticipation became disappointment.
Emiya Kiritsugu was not looking for the truth amongst meaningless repetition.
That man had simply consigned all meaningful things into nothingness.
It wasn’t that he had no wishes, but that he had such a ridiculous wish that he fell into a cycle of nothingness. His futile efforts and what he had wasted was so foolish that it was unsalvageable.
Perhaps Kiritsugu could see through Kotomine Kirei’s empty heart, and perhaps he would fear that emptiness and be alarmed. However, he would never be able to imagine the meaning of having such an emptiness. He could never hope to understand the fervent desire that Kirei harbored.
Emiya Kiritsugu’s life could be concluded as having repeatedly discarded everything.
The joy and happiness that man had discarded – even its fragments were important enough in Kirei’s eyes for him to protect with his life or even die for.
For a man like Kirei who continued to be lost and could not find a single piece of such joy and happiness, Kiritsugu’s life only existed in his dreams and his admiration.
His insatiable thirst and unrecoverable loss had been belittled and mocked in such a way – how could he endure this? How could he not hate this?
The dark feelings swelling up in his heart twisted Kirei’s smile.
He finally understood the meaning of this war.
He had absolutely no interest in the Holy Grail. It did not matter if he had no thoughts of fulfilling a wish.
But if he could break the dreams of this man, who had gambled everything upon this miracle, with his own hands – then even the Holy Grail, which was completely meaningless to him, had a use in being obtained.
The excitement of approaching battle made Kirei’s hands tremor. The rising desire of battle burned in his heart, as if he were about to take out his Black Keys right then and pierce through everything in front of him.
In the darkness muddied by the stench of blood, Kotomine Kirei laughed out loud. It was something that had never ceased in all these long years - the throbbing of his soul.
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