Two o'clock A.M. -
The streets fell asleep into a silence deeper and more complete than usual. Even the resident night-owls - perhaps terrified by the repeated cases - obeyed the appeal to self-imposed curfews and were submissively drawn into their homes. Even the shadows of cars disappeared from the road's surface. The asphalt, clearly lit by street lights alone, was frozen by the air of the winter night.
This townscape where human life had completely ceased looked like it belonged in a scene with toys stretched to life-size. If a place beyond the recognition of normal humans was called an 'alien world', then that was, without a doubt, what nighttime Fuyuki was.
A single heroic horse sprinted cross that bizarre landscape as though it ruled over the place. Waver was being carried on its vigorous back, hurrying towards his place of death. Directly behind him was the massive and magnificent chest of the King of Conquerors, so close that even its pounding heartbeats were transmitted.
Even if he were to survive this night, Waver would never forget this tense, silent exaltation. There was a time known in the world as the 'moment of truth'. When the soul, bared and released from all deception and embellishment, took in the sweeping view of the world in its true state, there existed an instant that knew nothing but the shaking of the heart. Surely, that was what he was reflecting upon right now. The instant when any and all of the world's mysteries and paradoxes were comprehended and yet remained unanswered. The instant the meaning of existence and the value of death could be clearly grasped even without words. It was a time of supreme bliss, of release from all of the bewilderment and uncertainty, the hardships of human life.
The warhorse leisurely slipped out of the sleeping city and jumped toward the riverbank, filled with still water in the color of darkness. In the still night, the great bridge they were aiming for was lit in white by the brilliance of hollow mercury lamps.
The King of Conquerors responded to the pointing Waver with a nod.
Standing on the bridge illuminated as if by broad daylight, his brilliantly golden, majestic appearance radiated all the more, as though sneering at such counterfeits as artificial light. The remorseless coldheartedness of his eyes' deep crimson glint froze Waver's entire body with fear even when they were hundreds of meters apart.
Servant Archer, King of Heroes Gilgamesh -
It wasn't that he hadn't prepared himself. From the beginning, he had understood that this was an unavoidable opponent. Even so, now that he was once again facing the real thing, the air of intimidation overcame all of the heart's defenses and came to crush the core of his soul.
"You scared, boy?"
Rider, who felt Waver's shaking, asked quietly. The boy frankly nodded without any pretense of bravery.
"Yeah, I'm scared. Or I guess, to put it your way, 'my heart is jumping with excitement'."
At his tense response, the King of Conquerors' face broke into a pleased smile.
"That's exactly it. When the enemy is mighty, the yearning for the sweet wine of victory becomes utter bliss. Oh ho, looks like you understand it now."
Bucephalus strode majestically, carrying the bravely boasting Rider to the foot of the bridge.
This would be their fourth and doubtless final chance meeting. The primordial King of Heroes and the legendary King of Conquerors. To the two of them, both occupying the wide four-lane road as though they owned it, the only obstacle that could hinder them was each other. The bridge was a one-way road; if one wouldn't back down, then the other wouldn't try to avoid. For a competition of tyranny between these two kingly beings, it was an inevitable, even fated battlefield.
Bucephalus stopped his hooves, having halted after evidently sensing the will of his rider, who rewarded him by scratching his mane.
"Boy, wait here for now."
" - Huh?"
Rider lowered himself from the back of his beloved horse, stood on the ground, and began walking with an air of composure towards the waiting enemy. As though it had been prearranged, Archer also began walking to meet him halfway, his heels ringing out haughtily.
They were not warriors who simply competed with their martial skills alone. Seeing as they would both compete in tyranny in addition to crossing swords, they must also proceed through the proper channels.
"Rider, where is your vaunted chariot?"
As soon as he opened his mouth, Archer questioned him with restless anger.
"Ah, that. Well. Aggravatingly, that Saber has carried it off."
Rider replied with a carefree shrug. Archer stared at him, scrutinizing with his blood-colored eyes.
"...Did you forget what I had decided? You were informed that you would be defeated at your most perfect condition."
"Hm, now that you mention it, that's right."
With no fear for the intimidation, Rider, in an exceedingly bold and ferocious way, bent his lips and smiled.
"True, my weapon has been consumed. But do not take that lightly, King of Heroes. Tonight, Alexander is incomplete, and therefore beyond complete."
It was an incoherent manner of speaking, but Archer did not sneer at his nonsense, and looked over Rider's entire body with sharp eyes that seemed to cut into him.
" - I see. Yes, your is overflowing. It is unusually stalwart. It seems you do not stand before me without some prospects of victory."
It was the truth. While he had lost one of his Noble Phantasms, the amount of prana seething from Rider right now was several times higher than before. The three expended Command Seals that Waver had intended to 'waste away meaninglessly' were unwittingly exercising an effect. When using Command Seals to activate ultimate authority, the more vague the contents, the more reduced the effects will be. On that point, as Waver's earlier orders all lacked concreteness, in terms of using the Command Seals, they were in effect wasted. On the other hand, a Command Seal activated not as an absolute command bending the will of the Servant, but with the consent of both parties, would not only enforce the Servant's actions, but also become a way to support and amplify them. In this case, similar to how Kiritsugu's Saber achieved Spatial Relocation, the Command Seals could at times make possible unprecedented things that overturned the normal methods of magecraft, things on the same level as 'Magic'.
While the method of usage made little impression, since the three Seals conformed to the Servant's own will and furthermore were activated in succession, Rider received a definite effect from Waver's Command Seals. As long as he aspired toward the action of 'victory', Rider would receive an amplified amount of Prana support compared to normal. Frankly, the current Rider was, even more so than in the past, at his 'most perfect'.
"Hey, Archer. Speaking of decisions, wasn't there one more agreement from our banquet before?"
"The conclusion that we would have no choice but to kill one another?"
"Didn't we say we would drink up the rest of the wine before that?"
Rider, with an honest smile unthinkable for one preparing for mortal combat, urged the King of Heroes.
"At that time, some boorish fellows tried to spoil our banquet... but there was still something left in the bottle. You can't fool my eyes."
"As expected of the king of usurpation. You are sharp-sighted when it comes to the belongings of others."
Archer, with a bitter smile, once again called forth a set of drinking vessels from the alternate-world 'vault' to his hand. The bottle was emptied, and the rest of the high-quality wine from the Age of the Gods at its bottom was poured completely into two cups. Like two boxers crossing their gloves, they solemnly knocked their cups together.
"One more thing, King of Babylonia. My last summation to you."
"Permitted. State it."
His goblet still raised, wearing a serious face while some rascally naivete remained in his gaze, Alexander began.
"For example, if my was equipped by your , it would undoubtedly become the most powerful army. Even that President of the West wouldn't be more than a break of wind."
"Once again, will you not be my ally? If we join together, we can surely conquer as far as the ends of the stars."
Hearing this, the King of Heroes, as though he had heard some very satisfying satire, laughed out loud without a care.
"How deeply amusing you are. It has been a long time since I have laughed this much at something other than a jester's foolish nonsense."
Even as he laughed, his ruthless dreadfulness did not weaken in the slightest. Perhaps killing intent and great delight held roughly the same meaning to this golden ruler.
"It is unfortunate, but I do not require a second friend. Past and future, my companion will only be one - and there need not be two kingly ones."
At such a resolute response, the King of Conquerors simply nodded quietly without showing his dejection.
"That is a high and lonely kingship. I shall challenge that unshakable state of affairs with great admiration."
"Good. Display yourself to your heart's desire, King of Conquerors. You are a foe worthy of my judgment."
The two Kings gulped down their last drink together, disposed of the emptied cups, and turned back on their heels. Without turning around again, the two each returned to the bridgehead they came from.
Waver, who had watched over their last toast with a tense expression, went to meet the King's return with a sigh.
"Do you two actually get along?"
"Well, we'll be killing each other now. Or he could be the last opponent in my entire life that I will exchange glances with. I can't be ungrateful."
"... Don't be stupid."
Waver countered Alexander's joking tone with a stifled voice.
"There's no way you can be killed. I won't accept that. Did you forget my Command Seals?"
"That's right - yeah, that's it."
With an intrepid smile, Rider once again straddled the back of the waiting Bucephalus and unsheathed the sword affixed to his hip.
"Gather, my brethren! Tonight, we shall mark our gallant figures into the strongest legend!"
A wind of hot sand blew onto the bridge as though responding to the King's call and scattered the mist from the river.
The thoughts of the Heroic Spirits who had once seen the same dream as the King, drawn from beyond time and space, now came together and wove around the sword of the Cypriots.
A boundless blue sky. A horizon, blurred by the heat haze, that all would gaze at with a single heart in order to ascertain its very end.
The mental images of the brave ones who crossed time to seek the battlefield eroded even reality and turned the uninhabited great bridge into a great plain with a raging whirlwind.
And one by one, the Heroic Spirits hastened to the stage of the decisive battle they were ordered to.
This was the second time Waver had seen the spectacle of the arrayed in their magnificence. Even though it was no longer something to be shocked by, now that he knew the meaning of this ultimate Noble Phantasm which actualized the kingship of Alexander, he was overwhelmed by a sense of awe even greater than the first time.
The shining elites of the cavalry - the bond of lord and servant they had formed with the King of Conquerors once upon a time could overcome even the separation of life and the afterlife.
There was no place where their battlefield, sublimed into eternity, could not be actualized. If the King of Conquerors would again set forth in tyranny, then no matter where he was, his servants would hasten to him.
That was the pride of being together with the King.
The joy of being able to battle together, of their hot surging blood.
"Our enemy is the King of Heroes, mightier than tens of thousands - an opponent lacking in no regard! Come, heroic warriors, show the original Heroic Spirit the way of our tyranny!"
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh - !!!"
At Alexander's roar, the cheers of the arrayed troops rose into the air.
Only the solitary Archer was before them, confronting the great host which boiled like the high seas, but he did not show a speck of dismay and simply stood, imposingly blocking their path. His appearance, painted in gold, was like a single arduous towering peak. The air of intimidation was unmistakably unprecedented, precisely what would come from a demigod Heroic Spirit.
"Come, lord of the vanquishers. Now you shall know the true form of a King......"
At the boldly boasting King of Heroes, the host of Heroic Spirits, led by the heroic horse Bucephalus, finally charged in a wedge formation.
Rider bellowed as he spearheaded the vanguard. Answering his roar, the knights released a battle cry. To the surging waves and harsh thundering songs, Waver added his own small voice with all his might.
At that moment, Saber was wandering aimlessly around eastern Shinto in search of Irisviel. Naturally, she too noticed the smoke signal sent out at Fuyuki Municipal Hall.
Though she did not understand the significance of the signal, it undoubtedly had something to do with the Heaven’s Feel. Like one critically ill who would turn to any doctor, as if grasping a lifeline, Saber immediately turned the vehicle and sped in the direction of the smoke signal's flare.
Saber, who did not need to cross the Mion River to reach her destination, was not attacked by Archer who was guarding the bridge, and arrived first at the Fuyuki Municipal Hall.
Saber drove the V-MAX through the silent night scene; revving the V-type four-cylinder engine, she drove into the front porch, the walls of which still looked new.
There was no sign of the enemy in sight, and neither could she sense any killing intent hidden in the darkness. In that case — was the enemy hiding within the building?
Saber gazed for a moment at the pitch-black area near the outer wall of the Municipal Hall, turning the V-MAX around to the guiding road designated for visitors. She followed the sloping path that extended below the building and entered the underground parking area.
In the underground area where the moonlight could not reach, the white light of the headlights cut through the darkness to shine on the icy cement wall. The wide car park, designed to accommodate more than a hundred cars, had not yet been opened for use; only several cars from the construction company were parked here and there; the rest of the empty space was heavy with dusty air.
The rough roar of the V-MAX’s engine was also swallowed up in an instant by the strange, crypt-like silence. Saber warily glanced at her surroundings. All around her was dense darkness, the shadows of the support pillars that had been built all over the place… Extremely suitable for the enemy to hide his form. More importantly, her instinct felt the murderous intent that almost saturated the air.
From the floor came a resentful sigh; it sounded like the groaning of the dead from a dark abyss.
Saber could not have heard this sound wrongly, for she had many times been its target—
She immediately reacted to the explosion that closely followed the roar.
Saber twisted and retreated quickly. In the spot she had just been, the V-MAX left behind was surrounded by fire that splashed like rain. In just one instant, her beloved steel steed was turned into a shapeless heap of scrap. The gunpowder scent of burning reached Saber’s nose.
“This weapon is—“
Saber had an impression of it. This was the rain of fire that had turned Lancer’s Master and the rest—all who had fallen terribly victim to Emiya Kiritsugu’s calculations—into pitiful corpses. It was the mechanized shooting weapon that had become mainstream in this modern world.
In the depths of the darkness, red lotuses of flame blossomed once more. Under the firelight that shone from the muzzle of the gun, the black shadow of Berserker lengthened to a state of deformity as it gestured threateningly on the walls of the underground parking area. Without the slightest hesitation, Saber leaped into the air, dashing out through a baptism of flying lead bullets. The stray bullets of unimaginably destructive power tore open a large hole in the cement of the ground and walls. That power obviously could not be spoken of in tandem with the weapon that Maiya had used. Saber sensed that even though she was a Servant, if she were hit she would be fatally wounded; she gnashed her teeth in anger.
Of course, she could not have known the process by which Berserker had obtained the small machine guns. Both of the crazed black knight’s hands held a modern firearm that Kotomine Kirei had prepared using the power of his position as Supervisor; Berserker nimbly and freely operated them as if they were extensions of his own hands. The firearms’ structure and holster were all immersed in the hated prana, and had turned into fierce magecraft military equipment that could threaten even Saber.
The two machine guns were not in any way inferior to the black knight’s angry howl; screeching hotly, they attacked Saber. The bullets, faster than the speed of sound, were still unable to surpass the speed of Saber’s sword. Nevertheless, the speed of twenty-odd bullets per second left her only able to parry.
Berserker could confer the properties of a Noble Phantasm on the weapon in his hand, regardless of its origin or time period. Once it had been upgraded to the category of Noble Phantasm, the difference in power between the two weapon types of ‘sword’ and ‘firearm’ forced Saber into a decisively disadvantageous situation.
Because the building's construction was not yet finished, a large number of paint cans were piled in one corner of the parking lot. One of the stray bullets struck them, and the calcined bullet caused the solvent to explode. The underground darkness was dissipated by red lotuses of flame.
Saber was so restricted by the curtain of bullets that she could not close in; she looked around in search of a method by which she could return from certain defeat. Then, she saw a small truck parked in a lot at the corner of the car park.
“— That’s it!”
Accepting the risk that she could be forced into the corner with no route of retreat, Saber dashed toward the vehicle she had set her eyes on. Berserker pursued her as she fled, at the same time shooting at random with the firearms in his hands. Saber made a ferocious step that narrowly preceded the howling bullets, dashing to the back of the truck. She brandished the flat of her blade upward, flinging the structure of the vehicle into the air.
At that point, the rain of bullets targeting Saber crumpled the truck as if it had been a paper model. Saber continued to hide behind the structure of the truck, pieces of which had been scattered all over, using her shoulder to halt the rotating chassis. In this manner, she dashed toward Berserker.
Berserker continued to shoot, using the machine gun to mercilessly smash the structure of the truck to iron chips. Even though the heavy frame of the truck quickly met its disintegrated fate, from Saber’s perspective, as long as the ‘temporary shield’ could close the distance and bring Berserker into proximity of her sword’s attack, it would be enough.
The bullets, which had penetrated the structure of the truck, grazed her face and shoulders. One bullet sent sparks flying in all directions as it impacted the oil tank, combusting the fuel inside. The structure of the vehicle, already unrecognizable, was consigned to the flames. Nevertheless, even this did not stop the pace of Saber’s attack.
When the distance to the adversary had closed to less than ten meters, Saber picked an opportune moment to throw the wreckage of the truck toward Berserker. Facing the flaming iron scrap, Berserker not only declined to dodge, but also brought up a single hand in the attempt to smash it with one fist.
— The time was ripe.
With a great shout, Saber once again pressed in on the burning structure of the truck with the thunderous speed of lightning, using all her strength to drive her attack downward. The precious sword pierced the burning piece of iron that had been used as a distraction; the point of the sword closed in on Berserker on the other side.
Blocked by the obstacle, Berserker was completely unable to see Saber’s actions, and thus had no way of avoiding this attack. In the third clash of blades, Saber finally scored a hit on the enemy in one blow. From the point of her sword, a sense of having scored a direct hit traveled up to her hand.
“— Too shallow!?”
On Saber’s side, because of the blocking shield, she too could not directly see her target. Even though she had indeed scored a hit on the other by relying on her intuition to attack, she had ultimately not been lucky enough to score a critical hit in that blow. The front part of Invisible Air, though it had accurately made contact with the center of the forehead of the black helmet, it had been unable to smash the skull inside.
The outside of the truck was subject to a heavy rain of bullets, and its inside had been pierced by a sword; this time it finally broke into two pieces. Although Berserker had not received a fatal wound, the fierce attack to his face made him stagger backward and left him unable to recover for a short moment. That was time enough for a follow-up attack. Now the scales of victory were tipped toward Saber.
Saber kicked aside the burning vehicle wreckage and lifted her sword high into an upward stance. This time, she would definitely not let him off. She aimed at the top of Berserker’s defenseless head and gambled victory on the following direct attack.
The stance, speed, and timing were all perfect. It was a strike worthy of the name of the sword-wielding Heroic Spirit, enough to make one believe that the outcome had been decided—precisely for this reason, the instant when Saber’s sword was stopped in midair was especially surprising.
Berserker threw away the machine guns, trapping the blade of Invisible Air between his bare hands before her eyes. That consummate skill was unbelievable on two counts: the first was that he had used an impossible stance to respond to Saber’s follow-up killing blow, and the second was that he had done so even though it was impossible to perceive the path of Invisible Air. But the Black Knight had grabbed the white blade with his bare hands to seal Saber’s attack as if he had known every detail of Saber’s sword, from the shape to the length, like the back of his hand.
Saber suddenly realized the fatal danger of having Berserker come into contact with her weapon; she shuddered violently. She banished the astonishment of her heart to the back of her mind and used all her strength to kick out towards the black knight’s chest. Berserker, who could not take the blow and was forced to retreat, released the precious sword, allowing Saber’s beloved weapon to narrowly escape the danger of being corroded by the other’s black magic.
The sprinklers on the ceiling at last reacted to the flames spreading all around; they began to violently spray curtains of water. Even though their bodies were exposed to torrential pour of water, the silver and black knights still did not move in the slightest as they confronted each other.
In Saber’s heart again rushed forth a question that could not be overlooked.
The deceptive illusion of Invisible Air had been ineffective against Berserker. He was obviously very familiar with the sword protected by an invisible sheath. In other words, that meant that he had originally known her before she had become a Heroic Spirit.
At the warehouse district and Mion River, this black knight had shown an abnormal persistence in attacking Saber. If his actions had not been under his Master’s instructions, but this insane Heroic Spirit’s own hatred…
The more she stared at the black fog, the more indistinct the details of the armor became. This indicated that around Berserker’s body was twined a delusive protection similar to Invisible Air, making it impossible to see the true face of this Heroic Spirit. But at this point Saber could not but believe — he was undoubtedly one of the knights who had known her.
“… Your skill says that you are by no means an anonymous knight. Answer me!”
Saber made up her mind and cried out loudly to the enemy she confronted through the mist.
“Since you have recognized that I am the King of Britain Arturia Pendragon and challenged me as such, you should make known your background with the glory befitting a knight! To issue a challenge while hiding your identity is akin to plotting against me!”
The patter of water, like a heavy downpour of rain, was slowly penetrated by a clear clatter — ka-da-ka-da — of metal. Though it was very slight, the sound that permeated the ears chilled her soul; undoubtedly, it came from Berserker — under the cover of the black mist, his full-body armor was trembling.
That was the gentle sound of the armor that completely covered his limbs as the pieces rippled softly and knocked against each other.
Saber finally discovered the source of the strange sound, like a sigh or a groan, crawling across the ground.
That grinding, sobbing noise originated from the depths of the black helmet. Berserker’s entire body shuddered, revealing an emotion that could not be suppressed.
Laughter — when Saber understood it thus, an unspeakable shudder ran through her body.
Lacking sound logic or proof, with only her sixth sense as guidance, she realized one thing: her previous interrogation had been a fatal mistake.
It was a pity that she had realized it too late. The words that would have summoned to her the worst possible curse had long since been spoken through her own lips.
The black fog painting the black knight’s entire body began to swirl and contract. Within the rushing mist, the pitch-black armor finally revealed its true colors.
It was perfect armor that was neither exquisite nor crude, but which perfectly melded magnificence and functionality.
The delicate, nuanced workmanship of a smith who had put in his utmost effort succeeded in granting it an air of formidability and fine construction. The countless marks and scratches etched into it became carvings highlighting the wearer’s illustrious military exploits, adding a touch of valor to the armour. It was an ideal battle outfit that all knights could not help but envy.
Saber recognized the hero that had once worn that armor to ride forth on the battlefield. At the Round Table of Camelot he had been an unrivaled swordsman more radiant than any other; he had been a knight more excellent and a warrior more loyal, more brave than any other.
“You are— how could—“
She wished that she had seen wrongly. He was the ideal incarnation embodying the true face of a ‘knight’. That illustrious appearance could not have become the pitch-black form corroded by the Mad Enhancement curse.
The black knight laughed sinisterly as if mocking Saber’s thoughts, reaching for the hilt of the precious sword in its scabbard. That sword had neither been picked up nor stolen. This Heroic Spirit who had been hiding his name all along was finally revealing his own Noble Phantasm.
Saber could only watch on helplessly as he slowly drew the precious sword from its scabbard.
She could not have been wrong; the design of the sword was the same as that of her own, and the fairy letters carved into it was proof that it had not been forged by mortal hands. The flash of the sharp blade under the moonlight was like the water of the lake as it shone with radiance. That was a limitless sword that would not be damaged regardless of the attack it had received.
Only he who was exalted as ‘the perfect knight’ was worthy of having that sword; its name was also known as ‘Arondight • The Indestructible Light of the Lake’ — that evidence spoke the bearer’s name even more clearly than if he had said it himself.
“… Ar… thur…”
The vengeful cry reverberated within the black helmet. With this one vibration, the mask that had already cracked under Saber’s previous blow now shattered.
From the fractured mask was revealed a blackened face.
Nothing remained of the beautiful visage that had once drawn the admiration of many women. Yesterday’s hatred had made him as gaunt and pallid as a phantom; only his eyes, filled with hatred, gave out light. That was the visage of a living dead man who had lost everything to a curse.
Saber felt her knees weaken. The unyielding King of Knights forgot herself in helplessness; as if unable to bear the weight of water droplets raining upon her shoulders and back, she fell to her knees on the wet floor.
— Even those who are heroes will fall so far as to lose even the most basic sense of honor —
In the past, someone had spoken to her thus.
In that case, had the curse started from then?
“… Do you really…”
Saber looked at the figure before her eyes, who had long since lost the distinguished dignity of yesterday and had been thoroughly changed by his descent into the seat of madness; hot tears rushed forth, and she could only question.
“… Do you really hate me so much, my friend…? Even if you have become as such… Do you hate me so much, Knight of the Lake?!”
In that instant, the young girl who always maintained her glory to the very end, who fought for honor to the very last—
That was the instant in which she was defeated.
In the silence, a repulsive odor of burning assailed his nostrils; it seemed that a fire had broken out somewhere in this large edifice.
Unhurried, Emiya Kiritsugu’s steps were light and decisive as he slowly walked to the center of the empty porch.
He moderately relaxed the muscles of his entire body, not using excessive strength to any area. On the other hand, his nerves reflected the entire situation of the surrounding area, like a mirror more quiet and clear than the surface of a lake sealed in ice, more sensitive than hearing, more distinct than vision, with no blind spots. He had transformed himself into a probe that could instantly sense any slight movement as he strolled through the darkness.
Kotomine Kirei should be somewhere here in the Fuyuki Municipal Hall, awaiting Emiya Kiritsugu’s arrival.
Considering this outcome, the ambush that Kiritsugu had planned had truly been an utter failure. But he felt no regret whatsoever, as he had finally been able to ascertain the true colors of Kotomine Kirei, the enigmatic adversary; this was still considered a large gain. Precisely because Kiritsugu’s many predictions had come to nothing, he had gotten the answer through the process of elimination.
To sum it up, that man had no interest whatsoever in the Grail.
Under ordinary circumstances, all the Masters would battle for the sake of pursuing the Grail. This idea had taken root as a lasting first impression; it had blinded Kiritsugu’s eyes all this time, until today. This was precisely why Kiritsugu had felt uncertainty and a lack of understanding toward Kotomine Kirei’s actions — which had had nothing to do with the Grail.
But tonight, Kiritsugu had clearly seen Kirei’s strategy for the ceremony for the Grail’s descent and discovered that he had been fundamentally wrong.
In using the Fuyuki Municipal Hall as the sacrificial altar, Kirei’s preparation had really not been thorough. This fragile fortress was already lacking as a magecraft stronghold, but he did not take any defensive measures. Even if time had been pressing, he should at least have set up basic traps and protective screens. Furthermore, if there had truly been no time to prepare, then why would he have done something like summoning the other Servants to come forth for a decisive battle? Even taking a hundred steps back, even if he really did know absolutely nothing about defensive magecraft, then why would he choose the one leyline out of the four that was most unsuitable for a defensive battle?
On thinking this, Kiritsugu could only believe — to Kotomine Kirei, the descent of the Grail was of secondary importance. That man had picked the Fuyuki Municipal Hall solely because the chances of being ambushed there were lowest. In comparison to a successful descent of the Grail, he hoped more to gain the most advantageous initiative in the final decisive battle between Masters.
Kotomine Kirei’s goal was not the Grail, but the bloodshed involved in the process of obtaining it. The reason for that could not be investigated, nor did it need investigation. It was enough to have understood who exactly the Executor’s target was.
Kiritsugu slowly gripped the Thompson Contender; feeling the touch of walnut wood under his fingers, he thought of the face he had only ever seen in a photograph.
At this point, even if he tried to pinpoint how and where his path had crossed with that of Kotomine Kirei, it was only a hollow attempt. Kiritsugu’s life had not sailed so smoothly as for him to assert that he had never made an enemy of someone. That he was an outsider who had gatecrashed the Heaven’s Feel solely due to a personal feud with Kiritsugu — this possibility could only be eliminated due to reasons of probability. Though there was only a very small chance that an outsider could have lasted to the very end of the Heaven’s Feel, as well as directed a farce that had changed the direction in which the Grail had progressed—the reality was before his eyes, and Kiritsugu could only accept it as the truth.
Emiya Kiritsugu had never sought the truth nor answer to things. To him, only the ‘situation’ had ever been worthy of concern.
He had merely vowed in his heart that he would save more people. There was no distinction between the lives that were saved. The balance that measured sacrifice and salvation had nothing to do with reason or circumstance. Thus was his existence. He would certainly not be foolish enough to inquire as to the significance of his actions.
Therefore — in Kiritsugu’s heart, none whatsoever remained of the fear and sense of crisis that he had previously felt towards Kotomine Kirei.
From the starting point of knowing what his motives were, that man had fallen to become a simple obstacle that hindered Kiritsugu’s progress. No matter how strong an enemy the other was, as long as Kiritsugu was sure that it was someone he must challenge, that person was no longer one for which he would feel anything. There was no fear, no hatred, neither underestimation nor compassion; he considered only one thing: elimination. That was the only function that Kiritsugu gave himself as a killing machine.
The large auditorium that comprised the first to third floor could be said to be the key area of Fuyuki Municipal Hall. Kirei placed the corpse of the dead homunculus on the stage - which, having been completely renovated, was waiting only for the first performance.
In its soft abdominal cavity, a foreign object could definitely be felt. It was likely that the Grail that had been mixed in with the organs was now regaining its original form. Though Kirei could now cut open the abdominal cavity and remove it, he was not anxious to do so. When one more Servant’s soul was reclaimed, the outer covering should automatically collapse and reveal the Grail. He had only to wait.
Archer was confronting Rider at the bridge; Berserker was blocking Saber at the underground parking garage. Everything was running smoothly. Now there was no one to disturb Kirei.
He left the auditorium and arrived at the corridor. Instantly, the black smoke that suffused the air assailed his nostrils. The origin of the fire should be the underground battlefield. From the density of the smell, the fire had already spread to the different areas of the structure. But all the wire connections to the outside, including the fire alarm, had already been cut off; as long as the fire did not spread outside the structure, it would not be discovered by the nearby residents.
With every step he took, his mood became more passionate; the holy words of benediction could not help but spill from his lips.
“He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me—“
He was here. Now he was sure to meet with him.
Emiya Kiritsugu was nearby. Just as Kirei desired his arrival, so did he search for Kirei.
The flames had dispersed the darkness, flickering and dancing in various areas of the corridor. Warm air caressed Kirei’s face, but he did not care. The tide of blood that roiled in his heart burned even hotter than the flames.
Now, Kirei felt blessed for the first time. The God who had never blessed him before in his life had finally given him a revelation.
What he pursued was this catharsis of hatred, this joy of the fight.
“— Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life—“
The tongues of flame followed the walls up to the ceiling, turning into signposts showing the way to Hell in invitation to the two men.
They advanced silently, high-spiritedly, without hesitation, toward the place of the decisive battle.
Thus, they met one level below ground - the storage space for large props directly beneath the stage.
At the other end which roiled with black smoke, Emiya Kiritsugu saw the slender figure clothed in vestments.
At the other end which roiled with hot air, Kotomine Kirei saw the black overcoat of his mortal enemy.
The radiance of the Black Keys in his hand reflected the brightness of the barrel of the magecraft gun.
They both perceived the killing intent; they had long come to realize that blazing sensation.
So there was no further need for words for communication.
They finally looked directly upon each other with their own eyes; they came to the same conclusion at the same time.
Seven Masters. Seven Servants. All that was merely what could be called the ‘situation’.
To Emiya Kiritsugu, this war was—
To Kotomine Kirei, the entire battlefield of Fuyuki was—
Everything of everything existed for the sake of bringing down the enemy before them.
Within the raging flames, the blades were moving.
Three in his left, three in his right, the Executor pulled out a total of six Black Keys and sprinted forth.
The sight of the assassin’s gun trained on the shadow that closed in with the wind.
At this moment and in this place, the curtains opened soundlessly upon the final showdown.
The earth rumbled and clouds of sand were blown up as approached -
Even before such an overwhelming spectacle, the King of Heroes, Gilgamesh did not move in the slightest.
The only thing dwelling in those red eyes gazing at the magnificence was complete blood-colored joy. It was a feeling beyond the bounds of mundanity, known only to the king who had completely exhausted all the pleasures of this world.
In truth, Archer was pleased.
He was tired of how he would be invited till the end of time, repeatedly, to farces that were battles in name only. And now, he had finally obtained an opponent he could recognize as an 'enemy'.
A challenge from that Rider was worth using his full strength to gain supremacy.
"Lashing dreams together and aspiring for tyranny... I will praise your enthusiasm. But brave soldiers, have any of you discerned it? The truth, that a dream is something you ought to wake up from before long."
Archer, with the key sword in hand, unlocked the vault from thin air. However, he did not deploy Gate of Babylon. What he took out was only a single sword.
"And thus, it was inevitable that I would be the one to block your path, King of Conquerors."
- Could it really be called something as specialized as a 'sword'?
It was a weapon of far too abnormal a shape. There was a grip and a hand guard, and its length was about that of a longsword. But the crucial section where the 'blade' should have been assigned deviated far too much from the form of an edged weapon. It was a dull blade with a pillar made of three sections lined up, and a tip which spun in a spiral shape. The three pillar sections were like querns, slowly continuing to rotate in alternation.
Yes, it was no longer a sword. Something born before the appearance of the concept that this world called a "sword" can't possibly have the shape of a known sword. It was something constructed by a God before humans. It was the actualization of the works of a God recorded at the beginning of the world.
The three quern-like cylinders, acting in concert with the movement of the Heavens, revolved as each creaked with a weight and power equivalent to tectonic movement. The enormous amount of seething and overflowing prana was beyond measurement.
"Now, know the conclusion of your unfulfilled dream. The truth shall be shown by my own hand."
Archer held his hand high above his head, and the sword of the beginning gradually increased the speed of its revolutions. Faster with each rotation, ever faster...
Rider, who perceived the threat simply through instinct, pressed on Bucephalus' reins.
He yielded the first move to Archer. That was fine. Even though he yielded it, it was just one blow. would trample that lonely golden shadow without waiting for the next.
That being the case, he had to devote himself to overcoming that one blow. Archer boasted incomparable Noble Phantasms; this was unmistakably a trump card only for when, in his own way, he believed the time was ripe.
Was it an anti-army Noble Phantasm?
An anti-fortress Noble Phantasm?
Or it could be an anti-personnel Noble Phantasm, and what he truly intended was to shoot only at Rider, at the head of the army, bringing him down with certainty...
It rumbled as a tornado roared, and an enormous amount of prana surged forth from the grip of Archer's sword.
"Now awake, Ea. A stage befitting you has been prepared!"
Ea - the God of earth and water from ancient Mesopotamian mythology who had separated Heaven and Earth.
Called by this name, the Sword of Rupture was the primordial sword present at the creation of the world in the Age of Gods. The role the blade of the beginning accomplished - it was nothing short of that which had cut apart what had been shapeless into Heaven and Earth, what had given a definitive shape to that distinction.
And now, the rotating God sword, haughtily blowing up storm winds, would once again perform that miracle of genesis. The golden King of Heroes triumphantly shouted a declaration.
"Come now and look up - to !"
Heaven screamed, and Earth shook.
An enormous collection of prana was released, grinding at the laws of space.
The sword tip Archer swung down was not aimed at anyone in the first place.
It was no longer a matter of aiming at anyone. What the Sword of Rupture's blade cuts down cannot be contained to simply 'the enemy'.
Rider, driving his horse hard, saw before his eyes the fracturing of the earth, and the opening of an abyss.
He had observed the danger that was slowly occurring at his feet, but the momentum of the charging Bucephalus could no longer be repressed.
"Hii - "
The fate of falling could no longer be avoided; Waver stifled his scream. But of course, the horse and rider carrying him right now were not the kind to be daunted by a danger of this level.
"Haa - !"
Responding to Rider's reins, the heroic horse flew high into the sky with a kick of its splendid hind legs.
It was a bloodcurdling leap and glide. But sure enough, at the end of that single instant which seemed endless to Waver, what Bucephalus landed on was firm ground on the opposite side of the fissure.
However, before he had time to feel relieved, Waver paled at the horrific state of the following cavalry.
The brigade of King's Guards, not having legs as strong as Bucephalus', could not completely cross the rupture in the earth, and fell helplessly into the abyss like an avalanche. The warhorses of the ranks further back braked at the very brink and were saved from the miserable fate of the fall; however, it was yet nothing more than the beginning of the tragedy.
"Boy, hold on!"
Reprimanding him, Rider grabbed onto Waver while clinging to Bucephalus' mane.
In the time it took the heroic horse to sense the danger and jump back to a safe zone, the fissure expanded further in width, swallowing the surrounding earth and the knights.
No - it wasn't only the earth. The cracks stretched out from the surface to empty air, distorting space and sucking in the atmosphere. The entirety of their surroundings were blown into the end of the void by a surging wind.
It was such a scene that even the King of Conquerors was at a loss for words.
The Sword of Rupture commanded by the King of Heroes - what its single strike bore through was not only the earth, but the world itself, stretching to the sky. The attack was not even something to be discussed as a matter of whether it hit, or whether its force was advisable. Soldiers, horses, the dust, the sky - nearly everything that used the cut space as a foundation was swallowed and disappeared into the surging void.
Bucephalus planted his hooves firm with all his strength and resisted the atmospheric pressure of the vacuum; even as this happened, the great plain of hot sand woven by cracked, shattered, and collapsed into the abyss of the void like the ending of an hourglass.
Before that one blade was swung, all things were nothing more than chaos which could not form any meaning -
After that one blade was swung, a new truth divided and distinguished Heaven, Sea, and Earth.
The released tumult of genesis was no longer in the realm of an anti-fortress Noble Phantasm. It was an irregularity that broke down not only that which possessed shape, but all of creation. That was the true form of the anti-world Noble Phantasm that made the King of Heroes transcendent.
Heaven fell, Earth broke; within the darkness where everything returned to nothingness, only Archer's Sword of Rupture shone with brilliance. The dazzling light continued to complete the destruction, like a star of creation, the first thing illuminating the new world.
Rider and Waver could not ascertain all of this to the end. To begin with, the Reality Marble they were in was maintained by the total prana of the summoned Heroic Spirits. Before the world itself disappeared, the bounded field broke apart at the seams once over half of the army had been lost, and the distorted laws of space once again returned to the way they had been.
And so, as though awakening from a dream, Bucephalus, carrying the two of them, landed on the great bridge of nighttime Fuyuki.
On the opposite bridgehead the golden Archer stood, blocking their path with a bewitching smile. The location of the two did not change; it was as though time had rewinded back to the outset of the battle.
The only change that could be seen was the existence of the Sword of Rupture in Archer's hand, which was still twisting and growling even now.
And the fatal change that could not be seen - the disappearance of , Rider's trump card.
The giant Servant, with a serious and dignified face, posed a question to his Master, looking up to him with a pallid expression.
"Come to think of it, there's one thing that I have to ask you."
"Waver Velvet. Would you be a servant, and serve me?"
His entire body shook with violent emotions. Then, like the bursting of a dam, floods of tears poured out.
It was a question that he knew would always be out of his reach, and yet one he had been yearning and anxiously waiting for. There was no need to search for a reply; it was because he had already prepared one, hidden deep in his heart like a treasure.
"You - "
The boy, called by his name for the first time, threw out his chest without wiping away his tears, and replied with a steady voice.
" - You, are my King. I will serve you. I will give my all for you. Please, guide me. Please let me see the same dream."
The king of tyranny smiled at the words of oath. To his servant, that smile was a reward surpassing any prize.
"Hm, very well."
As soon as his heart was enveloped by the uplifting joy - Waver's body was truly lifted into space.
The King picked up the boy's short body from the back of Bucephalus, and gently lowered him onto the surface of the asphalt road. Having lost the elevation from atop the horse and returned to the vision of his original height, Waver felt nothing but bewilderment at once again savoring his shortness and smallness.
"It is my duty as the King to exemplify the dream. And it is your duty as the servant to ascertain the dream of the King, and pass it down to later generations."
Upon a saddle so very high that his shaking hand could no longer reach it, the King of Conquerors smiled firmly but brightly as he passed down his royal command.
"Live on, Waver. See everything through to the end, live long, and tell it; the nature of your King; the spirit of this Alexander."
Bucephalus neighed, beating his hooves as though in encouragement - but in the end, was it for the King who would now face his death, or the servant who was entrusted with a difficult charge?
Waver hung his head, and did not raise it. Alexander took that as consent. There was no need for words. From this day until the end of time, the servant would be guided by the figure of the King, and the servant would remain loyal to that memory. In the face of the oath, even separation was meaningless; under the command of Alexander, the bond formed between King and servant was eternal and beyond time.
"Now, Bucephalus, to conquest!"
And so, the King of Conquerors kicked the flanks of his beloved horse, and went off to face his last sprint. Aiming for the bitter enemy waiting for him, he let out a screaming war cry.
He was a strategist. He acknowledged fully the indisputable flow of battle. But 'that' was different from 'this'. The King of Conquerors Alexander could not think of any other prescription other than charging toward the golden Heroic Spirit.
There was no resignation. There was no despair. What was there was only the utter excitement bursting full from his heart.
Strong - he was too strong. The hero who tore apart the world itself was undoubtedly the strongest enemy in Heaven and Earth.
In that case, this man was the last enemy.
He was higher than the peak of the Hindu Kush, hotter than the hot sands of the Mackran - he was the last obstacle in this world. And so, how could the King of Conquerors not challenge it? If he can surpass this, what lay beyond was surely the ends of the world. The faraway dream he had always been seeing was waiting to be fulfilled right now, before his eyes.
"" - he challenged it because it was unreachable; he expressed his tyranny, exemplified it, for the sake of the servant who watched over his back.
The King of Heroes, towering over his path, calmly gazed at the challenger, and released the treasures of the vault. Twenty, forty, eighty - a swarm of Noble Phantasms deployed from thin air, shining like so many glittering stars. That light made the King of Conquerors reminiscent of the starry sky of the East far off in the distance that he would look up to.
Bellowing with a delight that shook his heart, he rushed on together with his beloved horse.
With haughty growls, the rain of stars approached. Incessantly, mercilessly, the impacts trampled over their bodies. However, that pain was nothing more than a worthless trifle compared to the excitement of this sprint.
There were times when he had succumbed to that sort of faint-heartedness - and yet was not about to reach 'the furthest end'. How foolish. What a disgrace.
The 'end' he had been seeking was now towering over his path. Having crossed countless hills, forded countless rivers, he finally discovered the ending point.
Thus, he would surpass it.
He would step across that enemy.
One step, and one step further. The only thing he had to do was simply repeat that. If he continued to accumulate it, then even that figure far in the distance would most surely be reached by his blade.
The swarm of stars poured on boisterously. In his fury where even his consciousness was prone to recede, his posture inadvertently and carelessly began to decline.
Then he realized that, at some point, he had started running on his own feet. How far did his beloved horse Bucephalus reach? Where did he end? He wanted to mourn for his friend, who had boldly carried out his duty to the end, but that was why he could not stop now. This step he would now take forward was in itself the mourning for those who were scattered.
His golden rival, as though understanding this, said something with an expression of amazement. But he could not hear him. Not even the flashes of light grazing past his ears, with the sounds of violent winds, could reach his ears.
What he heard, was simply - the sound of the waves.
The sound of the waves breaking onto the remote empty shores - of the sea at the world's end.
Aah, that was it. With a bright feeling, he understood it.
How had he not recognized it during all this time? - This violent throbbing of his heart was the roaring of .
He saw his dream as he ran on the beach. The sensation of the sprays he kicked up felt pleasant on his toes. The bright red soaking his feet might be the blood flowing from his own abdomen, but what of it? Right now, he was watching a dream of the sea. How could there be any greater bliss?
The King of Heroes awaited him, right before his very eyes. One more step - and then, just one more, and his sword, brandished high, could cleave apart the crown of his head.
"Haaaah - !!"
With a ringing victory cry that reached the Heavens, he swung down the sword of the Cypriots.
It was the peak of a moment when he was convinced of his victory. The instant that should have passed in the blink of an eye seemed, for some reason, to stretch into an eternity. It was as though time stood still -
No. In truth, it did stop - not the flow of time, but his own body.
Just before the swung sword could reach, his blade, his limbs, his shoulders, and his abdomen were wrapped around by a tough chain; the King of Conquerors sighed.
Enkidu - the secret among secrets contained in the King of Heroes' vault. The restraint that captured even the Bull of Heaven.
" - Good grief... All these oddities, one after another..."
There was no wonder or regret. He simply derided himself for finally tripping over a small careless mistake. A bitter smile rose from his bloodstained lips.
The sword of the Cypriots could not reach him; however, Gilgamesh's Sword of Rupture pierced through Alexander's chest with its dull tip. He could feel the sensation of the slowly grinding blade inside his vitals. This sword just becomes more and more absurd - the King of Conquerors felt amazement as well as admiration, as though this was the affair of another.
" - Have you awoken from your dream, King of Conquerors?"
"... Hm, yes. I suppose..."
It could not be carried out this time, either. It had ended with the unfulfilled dream remaining as it was - unfulfilled. However, now that he thought about it, that was a one-time dream he had wagered his life for in the past.
The fantastic dream he saw in Asia Minor in the remote past - now, in this Far East land, he was once again seeing the same dream.
Thinking nostalgically on such checkered circumstances, Alexander smiled.
If he could see the same dream for even a second time, then it would not be strange to have a third.
Which would mean -
It was nearly the right time to see the next dream.
"This expedition has, been... exciting, in all respects as well..."
Alexander murmured in satisfaction, narrowing the corners of his eyes which were blurred by a blood haze. Ascertaining his expression of rapture, Gilgamesh solemnly nodded.
"You may challenge it however many times you wish, King of Conquerors."
To his worthy opponent, whose entire body was skewered from head to toe by the rain of Noble Phantasms, yet who did not stop until thwarted by the Chain of Heaven, the King of Heroes gave his greatest reward - he honored him with true feelings of admiration.
"Until the end of time, this world will always be my garden. Thus, I can assure you. You shall never find this world tiresome."
"Ooh...? That's, good to, hear..."
In the end, carelessly giving out the appropriate response, Servant Rider was quietly extinguished.
In terms of time, it was merely a short battle. It was nothing more than an offense and defense that barely filled the few seconds it took for the mounted Heroic Spirit to gallop across to the opposite bridgehead.
However, it was equivalent to a lifetime to Waver, who had it all burned into his eyes without blinking once.
He wouldn't ever forget it. Even if a lid was closed over his heart, he couldn't possibly forget. The scene his eyes caught in the last few seconds had already become a part of his soul and was impossible to detach.
Waver simply stood rooted to the ground, alone where he was left behind on the road, unable to move in the slightest. He repeatedly acknowledged that he must move, but he felt that if he tried to walk a single step he would collapse onto his knees.
However, he absolutely could not kneel down now.
The golden Archer, gazing at Waver with his brutal blood-colored eyes, slowly walked up to him. He must not avert his eyes. Even though his entire body was frozen with terror, he at least understood that. He would not survive if he averted his eyes now.
The boy shook with fear he did not attempt to hide, yet he stubbornly did not avert his eyes; Archer stood before him, and posed a question in a voice completely devoid of emotion.
"Boy, are you Rider's Master?"
He had thought that he couldn't possibly speak from a throat frozen by terror, but just as he was asked about his relationship with 'him', he was released from his stiffness for a short moment. Waver shook his head, and replied in a hoarse voice.
"No. I'm - his servant."
Archer narrowed his eyes, looked all over Waver in his entirety, and finally noticed that no place on his body conveyed the presence of the command seals.
" - I see. But boy, if you truly are a loyal subject, you have a duty to take revenge for your deceased King, do you not?"
Even with the second question, Waver answered with a strangely calm heart.
"... If I challenge you, I would die."
"I can't do that. I was ordered to live."
Yes - he couldn't die. Not now, when the last words entrusted to him by the King were engraved into his heart.
Waver must escape from this dilemma no matter what. He was before an enemy Servant and had no way to defend himself; even though it was a desperate situation where nothing could be done - the one thing he definitely could not do was give up. He could not ignore the way he had made the oath.
And that was perhaps a pain far more cruel than resigning himself to death.
The boy shook helplessly before the death he could not escape from, but his gaze alone made his adamance known. Looking down wordlessly on that too-small stature for a short while, Gilgamesh simply nodded once.
"The path of devotion is a great labor. Do not ever mar it."
He had no reason to raise his hand against a mongrel who was neither Master nor traitor. That was his decision as the King.
Waver watched his departure as the golden Heroic Spirit turned on his heels and calmly walked away. Before long, the figure was gone from his sight, and a cold wind blowing across the river completely scattered the air of battle that had been stretched out the entire time; afterward, the lone boy realized that he had been left behind in the night, and finally understood that everything had ended.
His knees shook again at the miracle that was his survival.
Right before Archer changed his mind, he had truly had the intent to kill Waver. The killing intent he released as naturally as breathing had wordlessly announced that. Had Waver averted his eyes, or collapsed with fear, or choked in his reply, that would have truly happened.
If one was to sneer at how he had only begged for his life, then one simply did not know of the remorselessness of the King of Heroes. Simply being alive after resisting his terror was a conflict, and a victory. It was the first time Waver Velvet had gained a victory in a challenge by himself.
It was an unsightly and very small battle. It was far from brave, or spectacular. No one yielded to him, and he obtained no plunder. The only thing he did was survive and escape from a dilemma.
Even so, Waver was happy. He was proud. Only Waver himself could understand how priceless it was for him to arrive at that impossible conclusion under those circumstances. That honor was in him only. Even if it appeared unsightly to an onlooker, there was no reason to feel ashamed.
He complied with the order of the King. He saw everything through to the end, and lived on.
He wanted to be praised. By that massive, heavy palm. By his rough, unreserved, and thick voice. This time, he wouldn't need to hide his embarrassment. He could have thrown out his chest unreservedly and boasted about his accomplishments to the man.
Yet - in this night sunken in silence, Waver was helplessly alone. No one was beside him. Like the him from eleven days ago, Waver was alone, left behind in a heartless and apathetic corner of the world.
The battle was only for him. No one had noticed what he had surpassed by himself in his loneliness. No one was praising him.
But if one were to call it a cruel treatment - then no, it wasn't.
He had been rewarded with more than enough words of praise just now. The grandest King in the world had recognized and assigned him. He was told that he would be added into the ranks of the servants.
The order of events was simply reversed.
He had now been praised for the far future as well; the only thing to do now was to devote all that remained of his life to accumulate enough accomplishments to match that eulogy.
Yes. Simply because of those words at that point in time - he was not alone.
The moment he understood this, his days as a boy was over.
And then he knew it for the first time; sometimes, tears flowed free from humiliation or regret.
Now, on the empty bridge, looking down on the black surface of the flowing river, Waver Velvet wet his cheeks without any regrets.
They were the warm and crisp tears of a man.
– A woman was crying.
Her beautiful countenance became more ragged by the day with sorrow, and wrinkles of dilemma were etched into the ends of her brows; the woman was silently crying.
She blamed and questioned herself.
She was ashamed beyond measure.
As a sinner who shouldered all the guilt and blame in the world, she could only wet her face day after day with her tears.
Everyone was speaking wicked words of her – an unchaste wife, a traitorous queen.
Those foolish plebeians blinded by the glorious myths did not know the truth, but only surrounded her and reprimanded her all at once.
They did not even know that her husband was not a man.
In this world, only her noble visage made ‘him’ give out his true heart.
However, all ‘he’ could recall were her frustrated and sorrowful tears.
Yes, ‘he’ had hurt her.
Loved her –
Was loved by her –
That was the root of their fall.
Even she must have had discarded everything back then and consigned herself.
An ideal king was needed to save the country ravaged by chaos and war – and a noble and virtuous queen needed to be beside the king. That was the way the monarch was supposed to be in the dreams of the populace.
A woman’s life was so insignificant compared to this grandiose ideal.
Even if the king wasn’t a man, even if this marriage was between two women who hid the true gender of one and could never be consummated, this sacrifice was necessary to protect the country and its greater good.
Even so, ‘he’ still wanted to save her.
The first time ‘he’ had been granted audience in the court, ‘he’ had sworn silently in his heart that ‘he’ would do anything for this woman, and would even give up ‘his’ life for her.
It had been too late when she discovered that it was this thought of ‘his’ that had been tormenting her.
She had fallen hopelessly in love with ‘him’.
She had already discarded the happiness of a woman. Love was the greatest taboo.
Even if this romance was impermissible, there should still have been a path in which they could make their difficult resolution, shoulder their sins, and continue till the end.
What man would not fight against the entire world for the woman he loved?
However – ‘he’ could not do that.
She was not a ‘woman’, nor was she a ‘human’, but a mechanical part called a ‘queen’ that supported the king ruling the world.
'He’ was not a ‘man’, nor was he a ‘human’, but a mechanical part called a ‘knight’ that served the king with absolute loyalty.
'He’ was the man called ‘the Knight of the Lake’ – incomparably brave, courteous and chivalrous, elegant and flamboyant at the same time. ‘He’ was indeed the personification of the essence of chivalry, an existence that all admired.
Not only was this ideal knight worshipped by all, he had even been blessed by the fairies. This title was ‘his’ ultimate glory, and at the same time the greatest curse bestowed upon ‘him’.
The ‘perfect knight’ who served the ‘perfect king’ – this man could only live in this way that others had expected and trusted ‘him’ to, and so give up ‘his’ life for it.
'His’ life did not belong to ‘himself’, but to the people who honored chivalry and gave their lives for it.
And the king that ‘he’ served was truly too perfect, a hero that was absolutely flawless. The ‘Knight of the Lake’ could never harbor any thoughts of betrayal towards this ‘King of Knights’ who had saved ‘his’ home country from the depths of war.
'He’ swore ‘his’ absolute loyalty to the perfect monarch, and made a noble friendship with the monarch.
'He’ also knew that, behind this noble chivalry, there was a tormented and ignored woman who wept by the day.
Just which path had been the correct one? No one could tell now.
Should ‘he’ have been cruel till the end and stayed with ‘his’ ideals, or should ‘he’ have discarded loyalty and lived for love?
While ‘his’ heart was twisting in agony, time was passing mercilessly by. Finally, the worst outcome greeted ‘him’.
Villainous fellows had shattered the king’s prestige to pieces, and the betrayal of the queen was finally revealed to the world. In order to save the queen, who had been given the death sentence, ‘he’ could only go against ‘his’ king in arms – thus, ‘he’ lost everything.
A knight turned traitor –
'His’ disloyalty broke the balance within the Knights of the Round Table. Finally, this incident became the trigger of war and carnage, and the country shattered to pieces in the flames of war.
Men had often called ‘him’ with those mocking tones.
That stained name was carved deeply in the history of the past and would never be washed clean.
Therefore, she fell into a deep self-deprecation for having misguided that ‘perfect knight’, and was crying to this day.
In the end, the only thing ‘he’ had done for the woman ‘he’ loved – was to make her cry forevermore.
Had ‘he’ been born as a sordid man without honor, ‘he’ may have taken away the queen without a moment’s hesitation and destroyed the king’s prestige.
But ‘he’ was a knight, an overly perfect knight.
For the king who was ‘his’ rival in love, for the one who caused the woman ‘he’ loved to step onto that painful and difficult road – 'he’ had never had any feelings of hatred till the end.
Yes, who could possibly depreciate that famous king? That king, whose glorious name was passed down through the eons, was more courageous and noble than anyone else. That king had ended that troubled time.
That king, who had never lost a battle, was uncorrupted and just, honorable but never affected by personal emotions, and had never made a mistake in life.
After all, that king had never blamed ‘him’ throughout life. Even when the king had gone to exchange blows with ‘he’ who had been discarded by the Round Table, it had been a helpless act to make an example out of ‘him’ with the country as their witness, and never the king’s original intention. For ‘him’, who had committed the greatest sin of betrayal, the king had always treated him with a pure and noble friendship even to the very end.
That noble king was so ‘correct’. How could anyone hate or despise that monarch?
However – if that was the case, then to whom should ‘his’ regret and her tears be dumped upon?
The hatred ‘he’ brought to the grave was extracted at the end of time’s long passage, and tormented ‘him’ for an eternity on the Throne of Heroes that had no end… And then ‘he’ finally heard the call from afar.
Come, mad beast.
Come, stubborn vengeful spirit. That sound from the end of time had called.
That sound woke ‘his’ long-held wish.
Had ‘he’ not been a knight.
Had 'he' been a beast knowing no honor and had no reason, had 'he' been a demon fallen into the league of beasts, maybe 'he' could have avenged this hatred and regret.
Yes, madness was the road to salvation.
A beast would not be lost. Therefore, it would not feel pain. No one expected anything of it, no one entrusted anything to it. If ‘he’ could become a beast and direct the movement of ‘his’ limbs with nothing but ‘his’ own desire –
This wish became the connection that linked ‘him’ with the end of time, and placed ‘him’ on this battlefield that ‘he’ cared and knew nothing about.
'He’ had long ago forgotten ‘his’ name, long ago forgotten ‘his’ disciplined vow. ‘His’ body only existed to perform the murderous skills that ‘his’ hands had long been drenched in. The pride that took shame in this no longer existed, and the heart that regretted was lost as well. This was who ‘he’ currently was – the existence called ‘Berserker’.
There were no regrets. To fall, to be freed, that was what ‘he’ had sought.
Moreover, the merciless hand of Fate had even arranged such an ironic rendezvous.
"... Ar… thur…”
The call that slipped out of 'his' lips no longer meant anything.
Even so, this silver swordsman who now knelt in the torrential rain was undoubtedly that person whom 'he' had both loved and hated in the past.
That noble visage and that majestic and solemn face, which innumerable hopes and blessings had been bestowed upon, was now kneeling in front of despair. Now the king knew the truth that had been hidden for so long, knew the hatred that had been buried in eternal darkness. The king forgot the pride of a monarch and mourned.
– Do you hate me so much, my friend? –
Yes, that’s what I wanted to see – the beast in his heart cried, the knight in his heart sobbed. Savor it well. Now you know how many tears we’ve shed for your transient glory, how we have annihilated ourselves, wasted our days, and sat in emptiness waiting for old age.
Now was the time when his buried injustice would be revenged. The fallen black knight lifted his sword of vengeance up high.
– Do you hate me so much, Knight of the Lake?! –
Ah. Yes, that’s right.
At the time, had I not been a knight, but only lived as a man –
Had I not been a loyal subject, but hated you as a human –
Then, perhaps, I could have saved that woman!
The battle tactic analysis concerning Kotomine Kirei had been conducted based on information from Hisau Maiya, who had fought him twice.
He used Black Keys during ranged battle. A single throw, complete with preparatory movements, could be completed in 0.3 seconds. He could perform four separate throws in 0.7 seconds. His accuracy rate was 100% even when striking down unconfirmed targets, such as the illusions in the Einzbern forest. The blades themselves, half-spiritual entities, could penetrate iron.
He used Baji Quan for melee fighting. Specific details were unclear, but he was undoubtedly at the level of an expert. He had seriously injured Maiya, a dagger-wielding opponent, with just one strike, and snapped a fully grown tree in only a few strikes.
The frock he wore had been reinforced with bullet-proof materials, and processed to protect against spells. It would protect him, at the very least, from 9mm Parabellum bullets.
Pre-battle intelligence gathered from other fields:
According to the magecraft teaching result reports obtained from Tōsaka Tokiomi, Kotomine Kirei’s tutelage of magecraft had not progressed beyond the degree of a beginner. His most outstanding skill was spiritual healing. If he were to use any effective magecraft during battle, then the only predictable one would be physical enhancement; his most adept skill, used to exert even greater physical strength.
Lastly, predicting his battle tactics.
Since Emiya Kiritsugu had thoroughly hidden himself, the most information Kotomine Kirei could obtain to analyze Kiritsugu’s tactics would consist of rumors. The only battle in this Heaven’s Feel that had forced Kiritsugu to use his ‘secret weapon’ was the fight against Lord El-Melloi. The bounded field of the Einzbern Castle at that time had still been dense enough to prevent the Assassins from penetrating too deeply. Moreover, Kirei himself had been battling Maiya and Irisivel during that time. It was impossible for Kirei to have found out about Innate Time Control, or the ‘Origin Bullet’. It could safely be assumed that he would not have countermeasures for these.
– That was all the information that Emiya Kiritsugu had gathered concerning the final decisive battle.
Their initial wave of attacks would consist of Black Keys versus bullets. Kirei would, of course, be in an overwhelmingly disadvantageous position. However, if he were to rely on magecraft to compensate for his lack of weaponry, it would be very possible for Kirei to rush forward fearlessly and shorten the distance between them.
The Executor waved the six wing-like Black Keys, and charged directly towards Kiritsugu. He had made some defensive preparations for Kiritsugu’s bullets.
Which was exactly what Kiritsugu had wanted. The success of Kitisugu's killing blow was ensured precisely because Kirei had prepared defensive measures. The magecraft bullet was already loaded into his Mystic Code.
Kiritsugu fired. Kirei should have been able to predict the trajectory of the bullet from Kiritsugu’s killing intent and preparatory actions. As a humanoid Shura, an Executor of the Holy Church, the agility of Kirei’s mind far surpassed that of a bullet.
Kirei initiated a large-scale magecraft.
The Black Keys that he gripped in both hands instantly expanded to more than twice their original size. The half-spiritual blades, which had been woven with magecraft to begin with, had extra prana forced into them. The forceful execution of this spell evidently surpassed the limit of the weapons themselves, but it was enough to handle the single bullet. Kirei crossed the six enormous swords before his chest, holding them in a fan-like formation. The immense destructive power of the .30-06 Springfield assault rifle bullet was neutralized in an instant.
The bullet was deflected, a shower of flying sparks accompanying the clash. The Black Keys, which had been overflowing with prana, could no longer handle the heavy load, and shattered.
This extraordinary skill, which allowed swords to surpass bullets, was the wrong move. It was truly shocking that Kirei, who should not have even had a Magic Crest, could exert such a surprising skill. But more importantly, this would allow the fatal destruction of Kirei’s Magic Circuits, which were currently supplying the Black Keys with energy. Due to Emiya Kiritsugu’s Origin, Kirei’s flesh and circuits would instantly be annihilated due to the massive amounts of prana running rampant in his body – at least, that was what was supposed to happen.
A rapidly approaching figure clad in a black frock appeared within the scattering fragments of the six Black Keys. Kiritsugu couldn’t help but gasp in surprise.
“Time Alter: Double Accel!”
His body reacted whilst his brain reeled from the shock. Kiritsugu cast his spell.
Kiritsugu jumped backward at the last moment. Kirei’s right foot swept ferociously past the tip of Kiritsugu’s nose, and the left foot that followed up the attack didn’t crush Kiritsugu’s throat either. Kirei’s smooth roundhouse kicki completely missed its target, thanks to the confusion caused by Kiritsugu’s double-speed movement.
That had not been within the scope of Kiritsugu's predictions. The Origin round fired from his Contender gun had been nullified – Kiritsugu couldn’t figure out the reason. Even Kirei himself wouldn’t have imagined that the uniqueness of his magecraft had nullified Kiritsugu’s killing blow.
Kirei had never been an orthodox magus. He, whose Magic Circuits had yet to be developed properly, had only obtained a source of prana through utilizing the spare Command Seals he received from Risei. The disposable, single-use Command Seals were all that saved Kirei. The moment the Origin round made contact, the Command Seal that served as his source of prana simply disappeared from Kirei’s arm.
His one-turn-kill plan now aborted, Kiritsugu could only progress onto the next step. He had not expected the opponent to have the opportunity to attack. Kirei’s attacks would only be a waste of effort if he couldn't touch Kiritsugu, but the overwhelming destructive power of his martial arts was evident. The man was a high-level martial artist, and if pulled into melee range, Kiritsugu's chances of victory were slim.
Kiritsugu ignored the pain Innate Time Control inflicted upon him, and maintained the spell, backing out of Kirei’s range. His first step had to be to increase the distance between them. Kiritsugu would be able to deal with Kirei if his only method of attack were the Black Keys, but for the moment, the competition had become an authentic contest of distance. Kiritsugu retreated, and Kirei advanced. Since the ideal distance for them to initiate an attack differed between the two men, now they could now only compete via footspeed.
The mobility that Innate Time Control gave him was Kiritsugu’s most reliable defence. He required a certain distance to fill the Contender. As long as Kiritsugu was close enough to target Kotomine accurately, yet far enough that he was beyond arm's reach, then he could win. Even if the bullet contained no magecraft, the bulletproof clothing the enemy wore could not stop the sheer penetrative power of the .30-06 rounds. Though the continuous activation of Innate Time Control amounted to suicide, there was no other choice.
Even then, however, Kiritsugu still underestimated the man named Kotomine Kirei.
Kiritsugu’s sudden acceleration was a simple miscalculation that caused Kirei’s roundhouse kick to go off the mark. His speed, however, was not so nimble that Kirei was unable to grasp it. Once he realised that Kiritsugu had doubled his speed, Kirei made the appropriate calculations.
Kiritsugu experienced surprise for the second time in a few short seconds.
The space between them was a little over five steps. The tall Executor took a slight step forward, shortening this seemingly safe distance. This step, which sneaked toward the enemy without announcing its speed, was called ‘the moving stance’. It was also one of the dangerous secret skills of Baji Quan.
Kiritsugu shuddered, as the tall, frock-clad figure glided forward. Kirei's reached Baji Quan's optimum distance, and his fist drove toward toward the enemy with the power to reach infinity in all eight directions.
Kirei stepped forward. The concrete floor boomed under the impact, and the heavily planted forward fist slammed into Kiritsugu’s chest like a rock. Using the ‘Eight Postures of the Buddha Guards’ style, the sheer force of Kirei’s strike was like a grenade exploding in Kiritsugu's chest. Kiritsugu’s body, which took the full force of the blow, flew through the air like a strand of hay, and slammed into the support pillars that crowded the room. He never had the chance to defend himself. His thoracic cavity crumpled beneath Kirei’s iron fist, and his lung and heart were pounded into a mash of meat.
Kirei sighed slowly, fist still outstretched, the feel of death on his hand. Even this fight to the death, in which every second mattered, had taken only a moment to decide the victor. He experienced an emptiness that he had never felt before the moment he attained victory. This had originally been an end that he had pursued with a crazed fervor.
This lethargy made Kirei’s focus dull. He could not have realised that the opponent would actually sneak in an attack at this momentary gap. Nor could he have known that he would be the next to experience surprise.
There was a piercing pain between his brows, and a sheet of red covered his field of sight.
Kirei instinctively raise his arms to shield his head before he understood what was going on. A rain of 9mm bullets showered unceasingly upon him. His sleeves, made of Kevlar and covered in protective sigils, barely managed against the force of the bullets. Kirei was stunned.
Kiritsugu was surprised that he was still alive. He had already been prepared to die when Kirei drew near. Kiritsugu’s heart and lungs had indeed been completely destroyed, and all he should have been able to manage was a final, feeble struggle.
But the fatal injury had healed, moments before his oxygen-deprived brain would have begun to die. Kiritsugu, of course, knew of no healing magecraft powerful enough to heal injuries like this. Nonetheless, he immediately understood what was going on.
The Noble Phantasm, Avalon. The holy relic that had summoned Saber; the sheath of the holy sword, which had protected Irisviel’s body for so long. Irisviel had separated the sheath from herself, giving him the miraculous sword sheath that protected its wielder from any harm, and prevented them from aging. Kiritsugu, Saber’s true Master, could obtain prana from Saber, and so exert the sheath's powers as if he were its true wielder.
Kiritsugu had heard of its ability, but had never seen it with his own eyes. He had not expected the sheath to be able to heal fatal injuries. Though still shocked at the power of the sheath, Kiritsugu began to consider battle tactics the moment he realized that he had been revived. He left his eyes closed, and suppressed the urge to cough as his body regained its ability to breathe, and played dead, waiting for the chance to launch a surprise attack.
Unfortunately, the Contender's barrel was still empty. If he wished to attack the other unawares, then he could only use his left hand to draw the short automatic machine gun from his chest holster. However, since Kirei’s protection against bullets were near-perfect, only a direct shot to the head would give Kiritsugu a chance at victory.
The target was small, the angle was awkward, and he could only fire instinctively. Nevertheless, Kiritsugu, an expert gunman, managed a hit. Though he hit his target, the bullet failed to penetrate. The bullet sliced into the skin on his forehead, leaving no more than a gash. Since the skull is made of curves, bullets can easily be deflected by bad angles. Aiming at the head is not encouraged in real combat, for this very reason.
Once he realised his target had not fallen, Kiritsugu switched the machine gun to full automatic mode, sealing Kirei’s movements with a tight wall of suppressive fire. At the same time, his right hand flicked the Contender’s barrel open, expelling the empty shell. Although the machine gun’s kickback inertia was difficult to control, Kiritsugu still managed to fluently carry out a series of movements with his right hand. It was as if he had trained himself into a war machine.
His strength of mind was even more intense than that. Both hands engaged with two completely different tasks, he actually managed to cast his spell with superhuman concentration.
“Time Alter: Double Accel!”
Time dilated. Kiritsugu threw everything to the wind, to maximise the tiny gap he had managed to steal from this powerful enemy.
He drove his accelerated limbs and leapt up from the ground, jumping backwards to further the distance. The machine gun ran out of bullets. Kirei turned to face him. Kiritsugu dropped the machine gun and drew a .30-06 bullet with his now empty left hand. Kirei loomed near. With a near-flight speed, Kiritsugu slid the bullet into the chamber. He closed the barrel half-way, took aim –
A space of three steps separated him from Kirei’s iron fists.
The Contender once again let out a furious roar. Kirei had no time to dodge, nor did he have time to draw his Black Keys.
But Kirei had never intended to dodge.
Kirei once again activated a Command Seal the moment he stepped toward Kiritsugu. He reinforced his physical abilities. Kirei accelerated his reaction time, multiplying the maximum power output of his right flexor, radius muscle, and pronator teres. There was no time to strengthen the sleeve of the bulletproof frock. The rest depended entirely upon his skill.
Kirei threw a right punch a moment before the Contender fired. His arm, having transformed into a lethal magecraft Mystic Code, carved a spiral through the air, and a tornado roared into being.
This movement became a spiral of force. Originally a defensive skill to nullify an opponent’s strike, the martial arts move was performed at a horrific speed after the prana of two Command Seals was infused into it.
The bullet left the barrel at a speed of 2500 inches per second, and was wrapped up in the spiral that moved at a divine speed. Even so, the .30-06 bullet still kept a straight path. It tore apart the Kevlar sleeve, clashing viciously with Kirei’s hardened arm, emitting alien sounds like the clash of two mill stones.
The scattering sparks seemed to distort the laws of physics; a supernatural phenomena where approximately 3000 pound-per-inch kinetic energy was forced to bend to the power of magecraft. A chill ran down Kiritsugu's spine as he watched the second Contender bullet's trajectory change. The bullet flew off at an angle, into the distance.
Monster. There were no other words to describe the man before him. At this moment, Kotomine Kirei’s current combat ability is equal to that of a Dead Apostle. Just what kind of willpower was required for a living man to drill his own body into such a terrifying lethal weapon?
A piercing pain suddenly invaded his entire body. With a moan, Kiritsugu stumbled. His body had reached its limit. The continuous activation of Innate Time Control had ruptured blood vessels all over his body, and the bones in his limbs also began to fracture due to having borne an unimaginable burden.
However, Kirei did not follow up his attack during this pause. He remained where he stood, unmoving, as if observing the opponent’s next move. Large amounts of blood gushed out of his right arm, where the frock sleeve was torn. Possibly because he had used too much prana with his unskilled method- his right arm, which had been overly strengthened by magecraft, was severely wounded as the price for having blocked the attack of the Contender.
The two men kept narrowed eyes on each other, analyzing the situation and attempting to figure out their next move.
According to Kirei’s analysis, Kiritsugu’s strategy consisted of a magecraft that could accelerate his movement, and a healing power that could revive the caster even if his heart was destroyed. This meant Kirei could not win, no matter how heavy a wound he dealt, unless he could destroy Kiritsugu’s brain. His own right arm had been damaged, all the way to the bone, so he could manage only one more blow only if he was prepared to destroy his right arm. On the other hand, although the wound on his forehead wasn’t deep, the blood that seeped out affected the sight of his left eye. The frock's bullet-proofing had also been severely reduced, thanks to Kiritsugu's machine gun and Contender, and only the protective sigils close to his torso remained intact. He had twelve Black Keys and eight Command Seals left.
According to Kiritsugu’s analysis, Kirei’s strategy consisted of an unknown prana source that could nullify his Origin bullets, and his Baji Quan skills. Kiritsugu would be at an extreme disadvantage in melee combat. He had lost his own machine gun, and the Contender needed to be loaded. His remaining weapons consisted of one dagger and two grenades. His chest wound had all but healed, but the damage caused by Innate Time Control–
Kiritsugu finally realised that there was something different when he attempted to tighten the muscles on his arms and legs.
He could move them. His fractured bones were now in perfect condition, as if they had never been damaged. The echo of that pain remained, but the injuries were gone.
“... I see.”
Kiritsugu finally understood the true worth of the trump card within himself. It seemed Avalon could heal injuries caused not only by his enemies, but also the damage his body caused to itself. This discovery gave Kiritsugu, who had at that point had fallen into a desperate situation, against an unimaginably strong enemy, the greatest confidence in the world.
“Time Alter: Triple Accel!”
Kiritsugu leapt toward Kirei as he uttered the forbidden spell. His unpredictable acceleration caught Kirei off-guard. One blow from the hardened walnut wood snapped Kirei’s right radius and ulna. The Executor's right arm was destroyed.
As he struck with his right hand, Kiritsugu drew the dagger by his waist using his left. With one eye and one arm ruined, it didn’t matter how great Kirei’s martial art skills were; victory would belong to Kiritsugu as long as he continued to move at three times his top speed. Using Innate Time Control in this way would ordinarily be suicide, but thanks to the protection of Saber’s sheath, he could now use it to its full potential as a strategic weapon.
Kirei dodged the upward stab as the dagger was removed from its sheath, and used his left arm to block the downward slash and backhand horizontal swing Kiritsugu followed up with. However, with these three attacks, Kiritsugu shifted around to Kirei's left hand side, into Kirei’s blind spot. As long as he stayed on the left side of the enemy, Kiritsugu would have all the chances in the world to strike Kirei down from his blind spot.
Kiritsugu’s sharp blade sliced closer, but Kirei didn’t turn; instead using the left side of the body to block every swing. Turning would have been pointless; his broken right arm could not possibly block Kiritsugu’s dagger. Thus, though it disadvantageous for Kirei to use his left side to defend himself, he had no other choices.
The dagger attacked continuously, flickering through the air with a chilling light. No regular human would have been able to even see Kiritsugu’s movements; only the lighting-like residual images the dagger left in its wake. Kirei, though, blocked every attack using just his left arm. Kirei, who easily defended himself even when faced with attacks made at three times the speed of normal humans, terrified Kiritsugu. There were a few attacks that even Kirei would never have seen coming with his eyes, but the Executor’s left arm defended him, as if it could see every swing.
“Could this be the idea of ‘hearing’ a move?!”
Kiritsugu only had a vague impression of this phrase. Some schools of martial arts thought that when a martial artist had reached a certain state in his skills, he wouldn’t need eyesight to detect the enemy’s movement. He could predict the opponent’s next move purely on the brief moment when his arm blocked that of his opponent.
The attacks from his blind spot had also been rendered pointless, then. Since the attacks were coming from a static location, Kirei could block them even if he couldn’t see them. This man’s skills made him someone who wouldn’t be at a disadvantage even when put under the duress of speed.
Kiritsugu’s arms, legs, and heart let out sad screams of pain with every swing of the dagger. The adverse effect of Innate Time Control mercilessly tore apart Kiritsugu’s flesh, and Avalon fixed the damage, momentarily. Regardless of how Saber herself had used it, the sheath was only ‘healing’ Kiritsugu while in his body- it could not prevent him from taking damage, it was simply healing the damage he took. The excruciating pain of torn tendons and snapped bones tormented Kiritsugu’s nerves every single moment.
Even so, Kiritsugu did not hesitate. There was no need to hesitate. As long as his body could still move, he didn’t need to pay any attention to what he was feeling. Kiritsugu bet everything on the effects of the holy sword's sheath, and continued to accelerate against the agony.
Kiritsugu’s body died and was reborn. He shrieked in agony as he sliced at the enemy before him with the dagger. His blood vessels, endlessly repeating a cycle of rupture and repair, shed sanguineous mists with every movement.
Kirei suddenly changed his feet stance, and rolled forward, towards his opponent. Kiritsugu thought that the enemy’s ability to ‘hear’ a move had been pushed to its limit, but Kirei moved a foot, hooking one of Kiritsugu’s legs from the inside, in a move known as the locking stance. Kiritsugu stumbled backwards. The moment he finally managed to balance himself, he realized that a heavy blow from Kirei was fast approaching. He was still recovering his balance, however, so he could not move.
If so – Kiritsugu grated out a spell, from a throat that was frothing with blood.
“Time Alter: Square Accel!”
The explosive pain boiled into every part of his senses. Kiritsugu leapt up and backwards, turning in mid-air to escape from Kirei’s range, simultaneously hurling the dagger in his left hand, with all the strength in his body. Faced with yet another repeated acceleration, Kirei couldn’t dodge. The dagger ripped through the air and struck into Kirei's thigh, effortlessly slicing through Kevlar and stabbing deep into flesh.
Kiritsugu maintained his four-time acceleration, continuing to leap backwards, as if strapped to a jet engine. Kirei took a moment to draw a Black Key and throw it, but Kiritsugu dodged it with ease, simultaneously reloading the Contender.
He drew the weapon and broke open the barrel.
Kirei charged forward. He paid no attention to the dagger still sticking out of his left leg. Even the fact that the sharp blade was tearing the wound open wider as he ran did not cause him to hesitate.
The expelled cartridge danced in the air; the golden bronze sparkled.
Kirei drew four Black Keys with his left hand; the limit to the number he could wield in one hand.
Kiritsugu placed the new bullet in the barrel. The bullet slid in easily, but the split second it took seemed so long in the quadruple-accelerated time.
Kirei threw his Black Keys- not toward his opponent, but upwards. The four sharp blades danced in the air beneath the tall ceiling of the warehouse. Kirei didn’t plan to use the Black Keys for a normal attack; Kiritsugu didn’t know his intentions. They didn't matter, in either case. There was no time to think.
His arm flick up, the gun barrel closed. The Contender once again became that terrifying weapon of murder.
Kirei drew close. He again used his martial art stances to shorten the distance between him and Kiritsugu, but he would not land a blow. Kiritsugu could dodge his attack and fire at the same time.
The Black Keys fell from above. Kiritsugu finally realised Kirei’s strategy when the four sharp blades surrounded him in all directions like a bird cage.
His movements were sealed. If Kiritsugu wanted to dodge Kirei’s next attack, the sharp blades of the Black Keys would be waiting for him no matter where he moved. Kirei’s intention had been to seal Kiritsugu’s movements from the start, when he threw the Black Keys.
The only way to stay alive was to fire before he was struck.
Kiritsugu aimed the Contender. There was no need to be anxious; no need to fear. All he needed to do was focus on his target.
Kirei drove his right foot viciously into the ground, and leapt forward. This leap equaled to about five normal steps. His left foot would likely be broken the moment he landed, but it didn’t matter- the following blow would decide the victor. There was no need to hold back; his entire body had been fully prepared. His next strike would be one of the Eight Grand Openings – The Standing Upward Cannon. The heavy upper hook would shatter the opponent’s skull.
"I will win." Both men believed.
"I will die." Both men understood.
The fist and the gun; both weapons aiming for the kill exchanged their last strike.
Emiya Kiritsugu and Kotomine Kirei, who were deeply engrossed in battle, did not notice the abnormality above them.
Directly above the big prop warehouse where the two men were, Irisviel’s already-cold corpse was placed upon the raised stage of the music hall.
As the ‘Guardian’, she had almost lost all signs of life. The organs within her body had already reverted to the form of the Vessel of the Grail, and was waiting to recollect the souls of the remaining Servants.
After Archer’s victory, this vessel had finally absorbed the soul of the fourth Servant.
The sealing enchantment had already disappeared. Having gathered enormous amounts of prana, its residual waves brought scorching heat to its surroundings.
The corpse of the beautiful homunculus was completely consumed by the heat in the blink of an eye, and was reduced to ashes. That was not all. The golden cup that had contacted the outside air charred the floor and the curtains, and roaring flames enveloped the completely empty stage.
On the stage where the fire was raging ever wilder, the golden cup floated in the air as if it was upheld by a pair of invisible hands. The ceremony of the descent of the Holy Grail, which the Three Noble Families of the Beginning had desired so much, had begun silently even without the presence of a priest.
Then – a gap no wider than the width of a hair, so minute and almost invisible, appeared on the ‘Gate’ that remained tightly closed. Through this tiny gap, something beyond the Gate silently seeped into the Holy Grail.
That thing seemed very similar to ‘mud’. It was black, simply and only black, a ‘thing’ that seemed like mud.
The thing that seeped into the Holy Grail suddenly overflew by one drop, then another drop. It soon became a thin black line. Like a crack that had appeared on a dam, the black torrents soon completely overflew out of the vessel and drained toward the stage floor.
The strength of the stage floor could not bear that inky black substance at all. The dirty mud seeped into the brand new building materials, eroding them, and flew even deeper like how the water from melted snow seeps into land.
The moment that the trigger of the magecraft gun was pressed –
The moment the floor moaned from the heavy step –
In that moment, Kiritsugu only saw Kirei, and Kirei only saw Kiritsugu.
The two of them did not detect that thing, which dribbled down through the ceiling, even till the end.
At that brief moment between life and death, the two men were drenched with the black dirty mud that descended from above.
Now, pain had become everything to Kariya.
Whether it was the human called Matō Kariya that could feel pain, or that the concept of pain had been stuck into the body of this trash that was called Kariya—there was no longer any difference between the two. He felt that none of this mattered any more.
Which part of him hurt for what reason, why he had to experience this sort of torment—he had never known these causes and effects.
It hurt to breathe. It hurt for his heart to beat. It hurt to think. It hurt to remember.
There was nowhere to run, nothing that could be done. It seemed that he had felt like this before, but he could not remember. Perhaps he had already given up on himself.
The worms were crying within his body. The worms were writhing their bodies in pain. The culprit of his torment was at this moment also making its final struggle.
Berserker. It must be because of that resentful black spirit. At this moment Berserker was fighting; because the prana he required far exceeded that which his Master could provide, he had gone beyond control. The worms were suffering because they had been drained of too much prana, and so they tore at Kariya’s internal organs, ceaselessly struggling.
But that could not be helped; there was no other way.
Berserker must fight—that was what that priest had said. Kariya no longer remembered his name—but they had both made an agreement; he had agreed to let Kariya have the Grail, therefore Berserker must fight.
The Grail—at this moment only it meant everything to Kariya.
As long as he had the Grail, the war could end. As long as he had the Grail, Sakura could be saved.
There seemed to be something else, but remembering was really too painful. Those must be things outside the range of his thoughts.
Kariya did not even know what this place was. At first he had been in icy darkness, but now he felt a strange heat, and even breathing was difficult. He thought he smelled something burning; perhaps it was his own body that had been burned, but that didn’t matter. In any case his body could not move; what was most important now was Berserker’s fight—and— saving Sakura.
Sakura—ah, he would really like to see her one more time. He would really like to see that child.
But not Rin; he couldn’t see her. He mustn’t see her—no, but why was that, again?
Even thinking made him feel pain. His brain, his consciousness and his soul were all being crushed.
There was something strange. It seemed that something important had happened. Something was wrong.
Though he had become aware that something was different, Kariya’s thoughts were quickly caught up once again in endless torment.
There was only pain. And suffering—
For the countless time, she was thrown into the air.
For the countless time, she was effortlessly beaten to the ground. Saber had given up counting, because she could no longer remember.
The strongest sword-wielding Servant? Who had fabricated this? —Now she was like a small boat in a storm. Facing Berserker’s waving black sword, she could only give up resistance and suffer the attack; she could not even make a single decent retaliatory blow. She did not even feel indignant at this. Her heart, immersed in hopelessness, had long since become devoid of all fighting spirit. She was no longer the heroic King of Knights that was named the incarnation of the dragon. This was truly too tragic; it made one sigh.
She should be going to save Irisviel; they had made a vow to hold up the Grail together. She could not lower her head now; she knew this clearly in her heart.
But she could not win. Facing that man, that sword, there was no way to obtain victory.
'Arondight • The Indestructible Light of the Lake’—the counterpart to King Arthur’s ‘Sword of Promised Victory’, the most precious of swords that had been obtained by men from the fairy lands.
That sword had been dyed pitch-black; the prana from his body, filled with resentment, had caused the sword by his side to also fall to become the sword of a mad warrior.
He had been the unrivalled ‘perfect knight’ admired by the masses; he had been a flower that bloomed on the precipitous peak of the way of the knight. His form and his actions had once been the greatest treasure of all who had the ambition of becoming a knight.
And yet he had committed himself to madness. Hatred roiled within the red eyes; at the same time he gave out an animalistic howl.
He roared, I hate you.
He roared, I curse you.
Exactly how was she to avoid the sword that he brandished downward full of hatred?
She could not look at him directly. Her sight blurred in tears, her legs buckled down weakly. At this moment, all Saber could do with all her strength was to protect her body before suffering the fatal impact.
Sir Lancelot, Knight of the Lake.
Now that she thought of it, the clues to his identity were everywhere.
Once he had hidden his name for the sake of a friend’s honor, disguising himself to enter a horse race. Even though he had fallen into a trap, and faced the enemy’s sharp blades with only his bare hands, he had won the victory with his skilled fighting prowess using only an elm branch.
But even though she noticed, Saber would definitely not admit it. That he who had been the subject of people’s admiration would be reduced to a Berserker—how could he be that ‘Knight of the Lake’?
Saber had once believed that they were friends. Even if their armies had clashed because of some unavoidable reasons, their hearts were nevertheless still the same. One was a subject that upheld the way of the knight, the other, a king who upheld the way of the knight.
But was this sort of partnership also only a naïve fantasy of her own?
He had never forgiven, never accepted. Even after his death, he had still cursed with resentment that ending, that tragic fate.
Lancelot and Guinevere had loved each other—yet Arturia had not seen this inescapably unrighteous action as a betrayal; this had all happened because the King had concealed her gender. The one who had to carry the burden of this conflict all her life was Guinevere.
Arturia had understood the severity of this sacrifice, and expressed thankfulness to her (2). There was also guilt in it. But for Lancelot who had fallen in love with her, she had even felt relief. This person who had the same ideals as the King would not cause the country to fall into a dangerous situation; she believed that he would share the burden with her. And in truth, he had indeed done so. Though he had fallen into the dilemma of having stepped onto an unrighteous path, he had supported Guinevere from the dark, supported the King.
That he had been exposed like a piece of ugly news, causing the two to have to stand opposed, was the single-handed plan of the traitors who hated Camelot. Because Lancelot could not sit and watch as the girl he loved was killed, Arturia could not but deal with him in the capacity of a king.
No one was wrong, but precisely because everyone was right, a tragedy had occurred.
In that case, Arturia had always fought upright with the status of a King to the very end.
Therefore, when facing the battlefield on the hill that had been dyed red with blood, she was able to argue with Heaven about the unfairness of fate.
If one carried out all the paths of striving for something, but could not obtain the right result, then it was definitely Heaven who was at fault.
In that case, she could only forever lift her head up high if the Grail that can fulfil miracles existed. Precisely because she believed — therefore she fought.
Before Arondight’s relentless attack, Saber’s holy sword gave out a groan. Her sword of light that promised victory—it had long since become meaningless, in the hands of its owner who had lost the will to fight. Berserker constantly rebuked Saber, who was unable to counterattack and could only defend. At this point he had already completely unleashed his true ability, and his skill with the sword was completely incomparable with his previous level. Even if Saber had been uninjured right now, she might not have been able to withstand that strong momentum.
But in the face of her opponent’s ferocious attack, and the sense of pain in her hands and legs that had long since become numb, Saber remained unmoved. The enemy’s strong prowess that was many times greater than her own, and his merciless attack, were gradually causing her spirit to crumble.
Ahah, my friend… Is this your true intention?
Do you despair thus at fate? Are you truly using hatred to curse the king and country that brought you despair?
Once we had embraced the same dream, and put our lives on the line for the sake of saving the country.
If there was no difference in our ambition, then why do you hate thus? Do you regret now?
—One cannot lead by salvation alone—
No. Tell me it is not like this.
Lancelot. Only you. I hope you can understand, because you truly are the people’s ideal knight.
I hope that you can nod in agreement that our methods are entirely correct…
—Abandoning the people who have lost their way, desiring to become a saint on one’s own—
Relying on the last of her reason, Saber blocked the black sword that fell heavily down; at the same time, she used all her strength to shout.
Within the sound of sobbing, her knees fell weakly to the ground.
She couldn’t move; she had reached her limit. There was no way to defend against the next attack.
Perhaps this was the only salvation.
Since he was thus unwilling, thus filled with hatred—in that case, apart from using her body to receive the sharp sword that he swung, there was no other method of recompense.
At the exact moment that Saber decided to completely abandon resistance—suddenly, Berserker stopped moving.
Saber and Berserker could not have known that about ten seconds ago, the Crest Worms within the body of Kariya — who was hiding in the equipment room of the underground parking area – had ceased their activity. In order to sustain Berserker in the physical reality, the prana in Kariya’s body — which had already been in short supply — was absorbed in great amounts, and this need for prana was multiplied manifold when the final Noble Phantasm was unleashed. Finally, the Crest Worms were exhausted by their too-heavy burden.
And the backup prana, that could originally have sustained the Servant in physical form for several hours in the circumstance that the Master was not around, had also been consumed completely in ten seconds due to Berserker’s outburst (1). In this instant, the prana that drove this killing machine suddenly dried up, causing Berserker to come to an emergency halt as if having malfunctioned.
In the abrupt silence, Saber’s hand could clearly feel Berserker’s gradually fading heartbeat. The hilt of her sword tightly gripped in her hand, the sharp blade of her beloved sword pierced the black armor.
This ending was truly too ironic; who could have foreseen it?
In this fleeting instant, the victory had been decided; a slight feeling of greed made Saber ashamed of herself, and she could not but shed tears.
She knew that she should not have killed him, but had nevertheless struck a killing blow on this person that should not have been killed. Now Saber was only a prisoner to an idea—just like Diarmuid had rebuked her at the last moment, she who had stepped over countless corpses desired only the miracles of the wish-granting machine. This was the truest face of Saber in this moment.
"Even thus, I still want the Grail.”
Tears fell onto trembling gauntlets, mingling with the blood of Berserker which had slid down the blade.
"If I do not do this, my friend… If I do not do this, then I will be unable to give you any sort of recompense at all.”
"—Saddening indeed. Things have come to this, and you still make excuses to fight?”
A voice that inspired nostalgia.
She raised her head to look across. The knight’s gaze was just as it was before, calm as the tranquil surface of a lake as he looked upon the King’s tear-stained face. Having discarded the contract with his Master, in the time before he vanished, he had been released from the spell of madness.
"Yes… Thank you. Perhaps, this is the only way I can convey my longing.”
Looking upon the sword that pierced his body with a gaze filled with compassion, Lancelot smiled wryly as he continued to speak.
"Actually… at that time I had hoped that you would personally punish me. My King… At that time I really wished that you would denounce me out of your own anger…”
The traitor knight, Lancelot who was called the culprit of the split of the Round Table — thus he spoke with sorrow to his only friend, who had never blamed him even until the very end.
"If I could have been punished by you… If you had demanded recompense from me… Then I would definitely believe in redemption… I would definitely believe that one day I can find a way to forgive myself. … The Queen is probably the same…”
This was—the regret of one man and one woman. They embraced the same ideal as the King, but because they had been too weak, they had not been able to carry this ideal through.
And these two people had, even in death, not been able to obtain salvation. They had blamed themselves deeply for having betrayed a most important person, and the burden of this self-blame they had carried for a lifetime.
Pain such as this—to whom could it have been told? Exactly what kind of admonishment, and dealt to whom, could have given them respite?
Sighing deeply, Lancelot relaxed his body, falling into the embrace of the King. The body in her arms was very light; Saber could not but feel a lump in her throat. The Servant’s gradually fading body seemed to be almost weightless.
"Even though it is in this way, in the end I still did borrow your chest…”
As if dreaming during a nap, the Knight of the Lake quietly whispered and sighed.
"To die in the King’s arms, before the King’s eyes… haha, like this it is really… as if I am a loyal knight…”
"You - shouldn't say that - "
Saber anxiously answered. Before he disappeared, there was something that she needed to tell him. She hoped that he would understand.
Not ‘as if’. It was ‘indeed is’.
She wanted to tell him, you are a loyal knight. No one knows better than I—the sincerity you devoted to the country, to the King.
So there was no more need for self-reproach. Even if it had been a mistake that was not allowed to be made—your character is not something that can be overturned by a single mistake.
I don’t want to shame you; I don’t want to lose you. Precisely because I have this wish, I can truly deny this so-called crime that you have committed.
These were Arturia’s true thoughts, but—could not become that knight’s salvation.
The knight closed his eyes as if sleeping soundly; his body was gradually dissipating. Saber saw that he was about to vanish, but nevertheless could not think of what would be the right thing to say.
"Lancelot, actually you…!”
You are not a sinner—but what significance would such words still hold for him?
Even if someone denied his crime, the one most caught up in this wrongdoing was not anyone else, but Lancelot himself.
Why had she been unaware of this lonely thought of his? Why had she been unable to release the noble spirit of this knight from a self-reproach that bordered on madness?
—A King will not understand someone else’s feelings—
These words that she had heard as she left the Round Table—who had spoken them?
The knight’s dead body did not say anything more; alongside the last remaining light, he vanished.
"—wait… wait… Lance—“
Staring at the crook of her arm that had lost its weight and was now empty, Saber began sobbing.
She could not even make a sound. She did not allow herself to make even the slightest sound. In the last moment that she had been facing a loyal knight, she had actually been unable to say even a word of reassurance—then what right had she to cry now?
A King can only be lonely and proud—
This she had said to herself; as she searched for the path to her kingdom’s salvation, exactly how many people’s opinions and troubles had she neglected?
Gawain who had heroically sacrificed himself, Galahad who had lost his life in the line of duty—what did they think of, in their last moment? Did they leave this world with the same regret and unwillingness? Why was she so certain that that was not true?
Saber cried soundlessly, tormented as if countless thorns were piercing her heart.
Could it be that she as a King should never have been high above—
If things had been thus, would it not have brought about a broken end? Could everyone be saved?
"... It isn’t finished.”
From her sobbing throat—that was the determined voice of a constantly victorious King.
"It can be compensated for… It’s not too late… I still have the Grail. I still have the miracle that can overturn fate…”
Leaning upon the sword of victory, Saber stood up.
Even if she was unable to listen to the hearts of people, even if she was rebuked for being a proud and aloof King—none of that mattered at all.
Even thus, as long as she could win the victory for her homeland and her subjects with her own hands, it would be enough—this was what she asked of herself, what she must do as a ‘King’.
As long as she could obtain the Grail, everything could be made up for; all the previous mistakes could be righted.
Now this belief was everything to Saber who had chosen the path of the King.
Covered with wounds, Saber stepped forward.
The killing continued.
With bullets. With knives, with poisons, with explosives.
Piercing. Cutting apart. Burning. Drowning. Crushing.
He never doubted the meaning of it, not even once; he carefully conjectured the worth; the ones on the sunken side of the balance must be saved, and the other side must be emptied, so he killed. He kept killing, and killing, and killing.
Yes, that was correct. The many should be saved, and the sacrifices should be recognized. If the number of joys that were protected can go beyond the increasing number of misfortunes, then hasn't the world moved just a little closer to its salvation?
Even if innumerable corpses were accumulated at his feet.
As long as lives were saved. The ones that were protected were surely priceless.
"- That's right, Kiritsugu. You are correct."
Suddenly, he saw his wife at his side. With a smile filled with gentle kindness, she drew closer to him. Standing next to Kiritsugu, together on top of the mountain of corpses.
"I knew that you would come. I believed in you, knowing that you would arrive here eventually."
"Iri - "
It was a nostalgic and lovely face. Yet there was something that bothered him.
Was it the black dress that he had never seen before? There was that, too. However, he could not stop the feeling that he was overlooking something more important.
That's right; what happened to Saber? What happened to the remaining three teams of enemies? What happened to Kotomine Kirei? There were far too many questions. Which one should he start with?
Helplessly, Kiritsugu asked the question that came to his mind first.
"Where is - this?"
"This is the place where your wish is to be granted. This is the inside of the Grail you sought."
Irisviel answered with a welcoming smile. Kiritsugu was lost for words, and looked around him.
A pulsating sea of black mud.
Rotten corpses formed sunken mountains here and there.
The sky was crimson. Crimson like blood. In the descending rain of black mud, a jet-black Sun held up the Heavens.
The blowing winds were curses and resentment.
If one had to liken it to a word, then - how can this be anything but Hell?
"You're saying... this is the Holy Grail?"
"That's right. But you don't have to be afraid. This is still something like a shapeless dream. All it is waiting for is to be born."
Look, there - Irisviel pointed to the sky. At the center of this world, there was a swirl of deep black that he originally thought was a Sun, a "hole" that pierced the Heavens. A hole filled to the brim with a bottomless and heavy darkness. An incredible mass that seemed able to crush all.
"That is the Holy Grail. It has yet to obtain a shape, but the vessel has already been sufficiently filled. All that's needed is to announce the prayer. No matter what wish you may ask of it, it will choose to take a form most fitting to realize it. Then, once it obtains form and shape in the modern era, it will be able to go 'outside' for the first time."
"So please. Please hurry and give it a 'figure'. You are a human fit to define its nature. Kiritsugu, announce your wish to the Grail."
Kiritsugu wordlessly gazed at that repulsive "hole".
The thing that was there wasn't something that could possibly be tolerated by any human with proper sensibilities. So why was it that Irisviel can smile so calmly? Yes, more than everything, that smile felt out of place.
After all -
"...Who are you?"
Stifling his sense of dread with anger, Kiritsugu asked his wife who was standing before him.
"If the preparations of the Grail are in order, then Irisviel should already be lost to me. If that's the case, then just who are you?"
"I am Irisviel. There is no problem in thinking that."
The muzzle of the magecraft gun in Kiritsugu's right hand - the Contender that he had been grasping tightly the whole time since the battle with Kirei - was thrust at his opponent.
"Don't dodge the question. Answer me!"
Before the bloodthirsty muzzle, the woman in the black dress simply smiled with loneliness. As though she took pity on Kiritsugu for demanding such things.
"...True. I can't deny that this is a mask. If I don't put on an existing personality as a 'shell', we wouldn't be able to comprehend one another. I had to take this form in order to convey to you my desire.
But the personality of Irisviel which I recorded is unmistakably genuine. Just before she was extinguished, the last thing she touched was me. That is why I inherited Irisviel's last desire; because it is my duty to personify her wish to 'remain this way'."
With that confession, Kiritsugu understood, not as a theory but an instinct.
In this place that had been called the "inside of the Holy Grail", an existence which would call itself "someone who was no one" would be -
" - Are you, the will of the Holy Grail?"
"Yes, that interpretation is not incorrect."
The thing in the form of Irisviel nodded in approval. On the other hand, Kiritsugu further furrowed his brows in restless bewilderment.
"That's ridiculous. The Holy Grail can't be anything more than a colorless 'force'. There's no way it can have a will."
"That might have been so before. But it's different now. I have a will, and a desire. The will to 'be born into this world'."
"That can't be..."
Strange - something was strange.
If this was the truth, then this thing isn't the convenient "wishing machine" that Kiritsugu had sought.
" - If you have a will, then I'll ask you this. How does the Holy Grail plan to grant my desire?"
As though she was asked something incredibly strange, Irisviel tilted her head.
"That? - Isn't that something you, Kiritsugu, know better than anyone else?"
"...What did you say?"
"The nature of a human being like you is infinitely close to mine. That is why you can preserve your rationality even after being connected to me. The mind of a normal human would have collapsed the moment they are washed over by that mud."
Irisviel spoke, cheerfully, brightly, as though in celebration.
For some reason, that smile could not help but disturb Kiritsugu's heart.
"The way to save the world? Haven't you already understood that a long time ago? That is why I, as according to what you have built up, will inherit that nature, and achieve what you had prayed for."
"What are you - talking about?"
Kiritsugu could not understand. He did not want to understand, not even if he was mistaken.
"Answer me. What is the Holy Grail planning to do? What is it going to start if it descends onto the modern era?!"
At this exchange of endless disagreements, Irisviel sighed as though in resignation, and nodded.
" - It can't be helped. From now on, I will have to ask from inside yourself."
She held her white and graceful palm over Kiritsugu's eyes -
And the world blacked out.
Two ships floated on the ocean.
One ship had three hundred people. The other had two hundred people. There were five hundred crew members and passengers in total, as well as Emiya Kiritsugu. For the sake of argument, these five hundred and one are set up as the last survivors of the human race.
Now, Emiya Kiritsugu shall take charge of this role-play, and address the following propositions.
Critically-large holes have opened up in the bilges of both ships at the same time. Only Kiritsugu possesses the skill to repair the ships. In the time it takes to repair one ship, the other will sink. Now then, which ship will you fix?
"...The one with three hundred aboard, of course."
After you make that decision, the two hundred aboard the other ship capture you and make this demand. "Fix this ship first". Now then, what will you do?
Before he could speak his reply, the Calico sub-machine gun appeared in Kiritsugu's hand.
Flames savagely spouted from its muzzle, as though the machine could act automatically; Kiritsugu watched over it, dumbfounded.
A single bullet spat out perforated four people, and in an instant, all two hundred people were massacred.
- Correct. That is what's expected from Emiya Kiritsugu.
Kiritsugu watched in a daze as the ship with a mountain of stacked corpses sunk. He got the feeling that every one of the corpses scattered on the deck had faces that he recognized.
Now then, the surviving three hundred people abandon the damaged ship, split onto two new ships, and continue their voyage. This time, one ship has two hundred people, the other has one hundred people. And yet once again, holes open up in the bilges of both ships at the same time.
The one hundred aboard the smaller ship abduct you, and coerce you to fix this ship first. Now then, what will you do?
With the flash of a naked sword, a bomb burst, and one hundred people disappeared into watery graves. That was the way of Emiya Kiritsugu. As according to what he in the past had built up, he had accomplished the slaughter.
"That's... that's ridiculous!"
What had been correct about this?
Two hundred people survived. Three hundred people died for them - that was the complete opposite of the scales' balance needle.
No, the calculation was not incorrect. You certainly chose the path to save the many and sacrifice the few. Now then, on to the next quest.
Indifferent to Kiritsugu's protests, the Game Master continued.
One hundred twenty and eighty were balanced on the scales. Kiritsugu killed every single one of the eighty.
Next, it was eighty and forty. The Magus Killer ascertained the death throes of the forty. He remembered every face. They were the ones who had been killed by his hands in the past.
Sixty and twenty -
Twenty-five and fifteen - the choices continued. The sacrifices continued. The mountain of corpses accumulated.
"This... is what you wanted to show me?"
Even as Kiritsugu recalled his nausea at the aim of this vile game, he listened intently to the thing that called itself the "will of the Holy Grail".
That's right. This is your truth. The answer within Emiya Kiritsugu. In other words, the acts that should be carried out by the Holy Grail as a wishing machine.
Kiritsugu shouted, with his hands stained by blood.
"I didn't wish for something like this! I wanted some other method... that's why I had no choice but to rely on a miracle..."
A method you yourself are not aware of could not possibly be included into your desire. You wished for the salvation of the world; therefore, it can only be realized by the means you are aware of.
"To hell with that! How is... this a miracle?!"
It is a miracle. What you had once aspired for, the deed that you were unable to achieve alone will finally be carried out on a scope unreachable by the hands of men. This is nothing if not a miracle.
Five remained. They were all valuable to Kiritsugu. However, he was pressed to choose either the three or the two.
Whimpering in despair, he pulled the trigger. The face of Emiya Noritaka was blown away. The gray matter of Natalia Kaminsky was scattered.
"You... you're going to descend onto the modern era, and do... this to the entire human race? This is the realization of my ideal?!"
That's right. Your desire is a suitable form for the Holy Grail. Emiya Kiritsugu, you truly are suited to bear Angra Mainyu.
Three remained. Will he save the two, or choose the one? He grasped the grip of his knife with shaking hands.
He had already run dry of tears; with empty eyes like those of a ghost, Kiritsugu tore apart the body of Hisau Maiya. Again and again, he swung the knife down.
And now, there were only two who survived in the world.
Two equal values which did not need to be weighed on the scales, which could not be measured. The last hope that he protected to the end, exchanged with the lives of four hundred and ninty-eight people.
Everything having been accomplished, Kiritsugu, dazed and husk-like, was embraced by the warmth of a hearth.
In a nostalgic, gentle, warm room, smiles bounced between the faces of his "wife" and "daughter".
In other words, this - is the world of tranquility which he had sought.
There would be no more conflicts, no one will have to be hurt; a perfected utopia.
"Welcome home, Kiritsugu. You're finally back!"
Shining with a face full of joy, Ilyasviel swung her small arms around her father's neck.
The castle enclosed by clouds in the uttermost north; this was the only place of tranquility.
At the end of a bloodstained life, he found a kindness which shouldn't even exist.
If this modest child's room was by itself the entirety of the world, then there would no longer be a need for discord.
" - See? You understand, don't you? This is the Holy Grail's realization of your prayer."
Sharing this moment of utter bliss with her husband, Irisviel smiled.
All that was needed, was to pray for it.
His wife can be awakened. His daughter can be brought back.
Before an amount of prana as good as infinite, it would be a simple miracle.
The only thing left was bliss. As the last remnant of humanity on this planet of death where everything had perished, the family of three can continue to live together in eternal happiness.
"...We, can't go looking for walnuts anymore..."
There was not even a snowy landscape outside the window, but simply a swirling back mud, like the bottom of the sea. At Kiritsugu's absentminded murmur, Ilyasviel shook her head.
"No, it's all right. I'll be fine as long as Kiritsugu and Mother are together with me."
Petting and hugging the head of the daughter he frantically loved, Kiritsugu cried out surging tears.
"Thank you... Daddy loves you too, Ilya. I swear, if nothing else, that that's true..."
Only the hands had moved without faltering. As though they had been mechanically structured that way. Beneath the small chin of his beloved daughter pressed the muzzle of the Contender.
"- Goodbye, Ilya."
The head of the puzzlingly staring little girl exploded with the sound of a gunshot.
On Kiritsugu's tear-stained cheeks landed a piece of meat entangled with silver hair.
Irisviel screamed. Tearing at her eyes, tossing her hair wildly, she cried out in fury, without control.
"Wha - what did you do - ?!"
His wife came reaching out to him with the face of a devil, but it was Kiritsugu who pressed down on her instead, entwining his fingers around that small throat.
"The Holy Grail is something that can't exist..."
No matter "what" was inside this woman, the personality of Irisviel it wore as a shell was real. The despair and lamentation of her daughter's murder; the hatred for the husband who killed her own child; they were unmistakably what the real Irisviel would have bore, her genuine emotions.
Staring at it, accepting it, Kiritsugu put all his strength into his two hands, and squeezed down on the neck of his wife.
"What are, you... why did you, reject the Grail, reject us... my Ilya... no, why?!"
"- Because, I -"
The voice that leaked out from his mouth was simply empty, like a wind blowing in through a crevice from a hollow cave. There was no sorrow. There was no anger. It was obvious. There was no longer anything inside Emiya Kiritsugu. He turned his back on the miracle he had pursued, and relinquished even the compensation for that betrayal. It was impossible for there to be anything inside him now.
"I - will save the world."
The only thing left, persisting to the very end, was the words of his belief. How hollow those ringing words were.
Irisviel stared at Kiritsugu as blood congested on her white face. The crimson eyes that would always look at him with nothing but affection and admiration were now painted by bottomless curses and resentment.
"- curse you -"
The five small fingers that had been so graceful grabbed onto Kiritsugu's shoulder. From the five fingers biting into him flowed in a black mud.
"Curse you... Emiya Kiritsugu... to pain... to regret until death... I will never, forgive you..."
"Yeah, that's fine."
The mud dyed in hatred circulated in his veins, flowing into his heart. It drenched the soul of the man who lost everything. Even so, Kiritsugu did not slacken his hands. Forgetting even the meaning of the tears along his cheeks, strangling the woman in the black dress, he told her.
"That's all right. It's already been said - I, will bear you."
Within his shaking hands, the woman's spine snapped and broke.
And once again, the landscape was altered.
- As the dream that had deeply violated his heart ended, it seemed to have lasted only for an instant.
Before he realized it, Kiritsugu was standing back in the stage warehouse.
In his right hand was the Contender with its firing hammer still raised. Kotomine Kirei was before his eyes, having fallen unconscious while still kneeling.
Kiritsugu looked up to the ceiling and gazed at the black mud that was still dripping down all around him, charring the floor. Probably, it was that both Kiritsugu and, at the same time, Kirei, were washed over by the mud. It was very likely that their eyes saw the same thing.
If that mud was the content pouring out from the Holy Grail - then the vessel had undoubtedly continued the ritual of advent the entire time, on top of the Concert Hall stage on the floor above them.
He needed to hurry.
Kirei regained his consciousness, tried to stand, and was hindered by the muzzle of Kiritsugu's gun pressing on his back.
Immediately understanding the situation, a bitter laugh slipped out from Kirei's mouth at the ironic circumstances. They had been in such a hard-fought, life-and-death struggle; and in the end, what had decided the outcome was nothing more than simply who happened to awaken first by chance.
Or perhaps - it was logical that the one who ended the nightmare with his own will, would be the first to awaken.
"...You are such a fool that I can't understand it. Why did you reject it?"
It was a restrained voice, hiding his anger and hatred. For the first time, Emiya Kiritsugu heard Kotomine Kirei's voice directly.
"...Did that thing look agreeable to you?"
It was a dry and hoarse voice, so worn down it sounded hollow. For the first time, Kotomine Kirei heard Emiya Kiritsugu's voice directly.
They had both touched the thing that was submerged in the Holy Grail and understood its true form. Kiritsugu and the will of the Holy Grail had understood one another; Kirei saw that with his own eyes. And Kiritsugu's choice was, to Kirei, far beyond comprehension or tolerance.
"You... you must have arrived at this place by throwing it all away, sacrificing everything! It's something that you had to do all that to obtain - how can you just make it worthless now?!"
"The things that must be sacrificed for it are more severe than the things it can bring about - that's all there is to it."
"In that case, yield it to me!"
It was then that Kirei drew out the hatred from the bottom of his heart for Emiya Kiritsugu - for the man who he had once thought might bear a resemblance to himself, but who now was so very much his utter opposite.
"Even if it's unnecessary to you, I have a use for it! With that... if that thing is born, it can definitely bring an answer to all my doubts!"
Kirei knew of Kiritsugu's intentions. He understood what this man, who had been so resolute in rejecting the wishing machine that he laid his hands on even his most beloved, would do next. And that, was something he cannot possibly forgive. All of Kotomine Kirei's wanderings up until this day were being put on the line.
"Just don't kill it! It wishes for its own life, to be born!"
Forbidden from even turning around, the priest implored intensely; the assassin looked down at him with an icy gaze.
"Yeah, and you - you're just too much of a fool to understand."
His finger slipped onto the trigger, squeezing it, and the firing hammer punched into the primer of the .30-06 Springfield bullet.
Gunfire and a thunderous roar flashed for an instant.
With a single faultless round, Kiritsugu shot Kotomine Kirei's heart from behind.
Saber walked through the flames that burned like purgatory.
The wounds that Berserker had inflicted on her were beyond that which could be cured by her regenerative abilities. The once shining platinum armor was also stained black in places by Berserker’s countless attacks. Her bloodless skin was white as paper. Her knees were weak, her ankles trembled, her breathing was rapid; with every step, pain wracked her entire body, almost making her lose consciousness.
Even though every step was difficult, Saber nevertheless did not stop walking forward.
She still bore the responsibility, bore the promise that she as a King must fulfill. There was only one way left to fulfill this promise, and that was to obtain the Grail. Therefore it was necessary that she go on; spurring on her wounded body, she gritted her teeth and walked forward.
At last, she reached the first floor. Passing through the entrance, she pushed open the main doors; an empty music hall appeared before her eyes. In the middle of the stage in front of her, the Grail floated encircled by flames, shining with eye-catching golden light.
It was clear at a glance; this was undoubtedly the Grail that she desired so much to obtain.
The flesh body of the homunculus had reverted to the gold vessel that was forged from inorganic material. Saber did not know the process by which this was done, but she could tell, from the scene before her, exactly what had happened.
She was ‘the Guardian of the Vessel’, and had been determined to pass the Grail to Kiritsugu and Saber. If there was a possibility that the ‘Vessel’ could be stolen, then before that happened, she would definitely come forward to defend the Grail unto the death. Now, the ritual setting was missing Irisviel’s form; controlled by an invisible hand, the Grail was about to descend.
Remembering her voice and her smile, Saber bit her lip with a sob.
She had sworn on her sword to protect her, but had been unable to do so. She had reneged on her vow.
Just like she had been unable to save her beloved home country.
Just like she had been unable to resolve the torment of a friend.
Self-reproach and humiliation tore at her heart. Flashing in her mind was the city eternally covered by falling snow, and the words of Irisviel as they had exchanged vows.
—Saber, you must get the Grail. For you, and your Master—
"...Yes, at least this promise I will keep. Only this promise…”
—was supporting everything of Saber now.
In this moment she still held the precious sword in her hand; she still breathed, her heart still beat. All this, for one reason.
Saber stepped forward resolutely. Exactly at this time—
"Too slow, Saber. Even if you were bitten by that domesticated mad dog, you shouldn’t have let me wait this long.”
A devastating golden form was standing in the middle of the aisle in the spectator stand, blocking Saber’s way.
“Heh heh, don’t make that expression. I know you’re envious of my riches, but do show more restraint. That undisguised expression is really tasteless. Like a dog that has gone hungry for too long.”
The enemy’s appearance did not come unexpectedly to Saber.
This municipal hall was the final gathering place for all the Servants that still remained. Even if the other enemies initiated attacks on each other, it would be too naïve to hope that they would perish together. There was still one battle left, and the adversary was undoubtedly one of Archer or Rider.
But—Archer’s intact armor and his leisurely presence, infused with prana, made Saber grit her teeth.
Undoubtedly, not a hair of this golden Servant had come to harm. Beyond unharmed, it could even be said that he was running at full capacity.
Saber had been seriously injured in the battle with Berserker. If she wished to defeat Archer, she could only pin her hopes on her opponent having been drained considerably in a battle with Rider. But at this moment, not even a single scratch from battle could be seen on Archer.
Unexpectedly, the King of Conquerors had been unable to exact his revenge for that one sword blow…Was this Servant, whose identity was still unknown to her, really so strong?
Now, even the last thread of hope had been ground out of existence, but in Saber’s heart still flared a flame of anger.
Chances of victory, or tactics—None of that mattered any more. Saber only thought it unforgivable—she could not forgive that even now, there was still someone who stood between her and the Grail.
"...You, get out of the way…”
Saber’s low voice was filled with hatred. The insane obsession caused her once clear jade eyes to fill with a murky yellow-brown.
"The Grail… is mine… !”
The many wounds on Saber’s body could not stop her; roaring, she swung her sword at Archer. But after having made only a single step, her left leg was immediately pierced through by a Noble Phantasm that shot out of the air.
Saber fell to the floor, but gritted her teeth to prevent herself from groaning. Looking around, she saw groups of weapons from the Gate of Babylon continually appear in midair, all directed toward her, ready to be launched at any time.
As soon as their owner gave the order, countless primeval Noble Phantasms would shoot in unison toward Saber. She had literally become the target of a thousand arrows (3). As her left leg had been previously pierced through, she could not even dodge.
"Saber… this sight of you crouched on the ground, fallen into this presumptuous obsession, makes you even more beautiful…
Archer’s blood-red eyes held an uncomfortable emotion as he looked at Saber, who despite being mired in a hopeless situation, was still intending to make a final struggle.
"I don’t know why you are so obsessed with some wish-granting Grail. Saber… the fact that a woman like you exists can already be considered a rare miracle, no?”
Archer’s tone was unnaturally calm, as if it was not a dangerous enemy that was before him. This calm made the cornered Saber suspicious.
"What… are you saying—“
"Throw away your sword, and be my wife.”
In this situation, in this circumstance, Archer’s words surprised Saber. She was stunned by the sheer unexpectedness of it.
"... Wh—what did you say… What are you going to do!?”
“Even if you don’t understand, don’t you feel happy to hear such words? It is not anyone else, but I, who have admitted your worth.”
Perhaps only Archer alone would think that such a conclusion was a matter of course. The golden Servant arrogantly lifted his head, looking before him at the first woman he had ever loved.
"Abandon these pointless ideals and vows. These things will only restrict you and bring you misfortune. In future you need only desire me and live under my protection. In that case I vow, on my honor as King of everything, that I will grant you all the happiness in the world.”
His presumptuous tone was enough to re-ignite the flame of anger in Saber’s conflicted heart.
"For this ridiculous motive… you are fighting with me for the Grail?"
A second Noble Phantasm exploded as it flew past Saber’s nose. The force of the impact blew Saber into the air.
"I am not asking your opinion, but informing you of my decision.”
Archer’s face showed a bloodthirsty joy, as if relishing the sight of Saber’s furious resistance.
So this proud Heroic Spirit had never seen his opponent as a competitor of equal standing with himself. The enemy was worthy only of being manipulated and humiliated; he liked to admire the sight of their surrender to him. Saber’s desperate retaliation, on which she had gambled her all, to Archer was only an ordinary entertainment.
"All right, let’s have your response. Although the answer is right in front of you, I am very curious as to what expression you will wear as you say these words yourself.”
"I refuse! I will never—“
Without waiting for her to finish, Archer’s lightning-fast Noble Phantasm once again pierced into Saber’s already injured left leg. Hearing Saber’s groans of intense pain, Archer could not but laugh loudly.
"You can’t say it because you are too shy? It’s all right; I’ll forgive you no matter how many times you get it wrong. First you must learn suffering, and then you will be able to experience the joy I give you.”
The Noble Phantasms floating in midair waved their sharp blades as if to intimidate, gradually pressing closer to Saber.
An uncontrollable anger roiled in Saber’s thoughts. Compared to being killed in humiliation it would be better to try to get back at the enemy, even if it meant her life.
There was no other way. If she concentrated all the strength left in her body, perhaps she could still eke out the prana needed for one last strike of Excalibur. It would not be surprising if a Heroic Spirit of such unfathomable ability could defend against the attack of an anti-fortress Noble Phantasm, but at this moment he completely believed that he would win, and that made him complacent; he had never thought that Saber would still retaliate.
And yet—if Saber launched a counterattack on Archer from this position, the impact would wreck the Grail on the stage. Even if Archer took the full impact and was reduced to charcoal, the Grail would also be inevitably destroyed. In that case, all her efforts would have come to nothing.
"What should I do…!”
Facing this difficult choice, Saber sank into a dilemma; at this time, she noticed that a third figure had appeared in the hall.
On the wall that was approximately two floors high, within the semicircle-shaped box that did not protrude outward. In the light from the fire, appeared a ghostlike silhouette wearing a long windbreaker. He was the true Master who had made the contract with Saber—Emiya Kiritsugu.
From within the hopelessness, appeared a ray of sunlight.
Kiritsugu still held the forceful commanding power of the Command Seals. If he could lend her this magecraft power that he possessed, that had the ability to make the impossible possible, perhaps she would be able to break this stalemate.
As long as Kiritsugu understood Saber’s current situation, it was almost certain that he would use the Command Seals. Fortunately, Archer had not yet realized Kiritsugu’s presence.
Kiritsugu raised his right hand, showing the Command Seals carved on the back.
It was completely up to Kiritsugu what kind of order he would give. But Saber had already made up her mind that no matter how strange the battle tactics he intended to employ, she would do her utmost to carry them out. As long as she could retaliate against Archer, any methods would be fine.
Even if his command was to block the sense of pain and use all her strength, Saber would ignore the pain of her physical body, and exert the greatest strength from within her body until there was nothing left. If he commanded her to undergo instantaneous movement to the side of the Grail, then she would be able to escape this extremely disadvantageous position. Perhaps through precise calibration of Excalibur, she would be able to bring Archer down without harming the Grail. Such is a Command Seal. If the Command Seals were used with the consent of both Master and Servant, then no matter how impossible the task, it could be completed. In this moment, Saber entrusted everything to this last hope, because only it could turn the tables astonishingly on the current situation.
—Emiya Kiritsugu uses the Command Seal to command Saber—
The low words shook her entire body from the depths of her soul. The voice that could not have been more familiar announced, clearly and decisively.
—Use your Noble Phantasm, and destroy the Grail—
How the significance behind these words should be explained, how she should understand them—Saber’s mind went momentarily blank.
The rising hurricane dispelled the surrounding flames. From the heart of the deactivated Invisible Air, the form of the golden sword appeared.
Even if Saber’s brain refused to understand, her physical Servant’s body loyally accepted the command of the Command Seal. The precious sword began to accumulate light, completely independently of its bearer’s intention.
"Wh—what is this—What do you want to do!?”
Even Archer was stunned speechless. He had thought that because he had his back to the Grail, Saber would never execute a counterattack on him.
Saber roared in anger; that was a scream into which she had put all her strength. The golden sword raised high suddenly halted in midair.
As the legendary King of Knights, and as a Servant of the most excellent class, the the outstanding Magic Resistance ability that Saber possessed could actually resist the restraint of the Command Seals, albeit just barely. She used all her strength to halt her action of bringing her sword down. The opposing forces of compulsion and resistance clashed intensely within Saber’s body; her slender form seemed as if it would be torn apart at any time.
This intense pain and unimaginable torment made Saber remember the last moments of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Now she experienced utterly for herself the bitterness and humiliation that the tragic Heroic Spirit had undergone.
At the same time that she opposed the strong magecraft, Saber stared at Kiritsugu who stood in the middle of the box, and shouted.
"Why?! Kiritsugu—Why did it have to be you!?”
Impossible. It was impossible that he had given this order.
Kiritsugu desired so much to obtain the Grail—then in this moment, why did he reject it? Did he want to let the ritual, that his wife had given her life to bring about, go to waste?
After realizing that Saber’s unnatural actions were the doing of the Command Seal, Archer finally realized Emiya Kiritsugu’s presence.
"Are you trying to ruin my wedding, mongrel?!”
The Noble Phantasms that had been aimed at Saber now suddenly turned in unison to target Kiritsugu’s box.
But without waiting for the Noble Phantasms to begin their attack, Kiritsugu again raised his right hand to show the back to Saber below him—there was still one last Command Seal carved there.
—I use the third Command Seal to command again—
Seeing that her pride and hope were about to disintegrate into ashes in the blink of an eye, Saber shrieked out in tears.
—Saber, destroy the Grail—
That was an ultimate might that could not be resisted at all.
The tremendous force of the dual Command Seals ravaged and crushed Saber’s form, at the same time drawing out all the prana that still remained within her body, weaving it into the light of destruction.
The released beam of light made a cross-section of the entire hall, directly impacting the Grail that floated on the stage. Archer nimbly dodged this attack, but because he was in close proximity to the beam of light, its high intensity made him momentarily unable to execute the attack on Kiritsugu.
In the heat of the lightning, the golden Grail that had once been a part of Irisviel’s body now quietly lost its shape, then vanished. Saber closed her eyes, not daring to look directly at this sight—now the last hope had been destroyed. Her fight had ended.
Since things were thus, how could she look upon this tragic scene with open eyes?
In truth, she never did open her eyes again. The Noble Phantasm, that had been forcibly executed in opposition to her own intentions, had already consumed all Saber’s remaining prana; she could not even maintain her physical Servant form any more. Saber had lost the strength and the will to remain in this world. Of course, this was also because her Master, who was also part of the contract, did not intend to let her stay.
Maintaining her stance of bringing her sword down, Saber started to leave this world; soon, her physical body also vanished.
In the moment in which she gradually lost contact with the real world, the riddle of this character Kiritsugu was the last consideration that flashed in Saber’s mind.
The adoring father that doted on his daughter, the warrior that hoped to save the world, the killer that had lost all hope in justice; it was various conflicting pieces of humanity that he showed, but in the end he had betrayed everything, denied everything.
Until the end, Saber could be sure only of the callousness and ruthlessness of this man’s heart.
Until the end, he and she had never been able to understand each other and build up a relationship of trust—no, perhaps it should be said that only at the final moment had she realized that she had never understood his true thoughts.
And yet, that was also not altogether unjustifiable—
Within her gradually vanishing awareness, Saber mocked herself.
How was she to understand this man who had not crossed paths with her beyond having given her three orders? She had once been unable to understand even the hearts of those at her side.
Perhaps all of this was the long and euphemistic punishment that tormented the ‘King who did not understand others’ hearts’.
Even though Saber left the world carrying many injuries, without having realized the burden in her heart, perhaps not having to personally witness the tragedy that came after was also a sort of recompense to her.
The beam of light from Excalibur that had destroyed the Grail had blown away the ceiling of the stage, and sheared the entire municipal hall into two. The building, that had already been burned beyond recognition, could not withstand the blow. The structure of the upper levels had been destroyed; the roof, having lost its support, now dropped into the hall like an avalanche.
Following which, through the fragments of debris, Kiritsugu saw ‘it’ in the revealed night sky.
A black sun — that which he had seen when he had touched the black mud. The sign of the end of the world.
At that time Kiritsugu had not seen clearly that its physical form was actually a true ‘hole’. It is a space tunnel that connected with the Magic Circle of the Greater Grail, which had been hidden beneath the altar of the ritual of descent, deep underground in Mount Enzō to the east of Miyama. The insides of the Greater Grail, which had drawn energy from the leylines for sixty years and now had obtained the souls of six Heroic Spirits, had been filled to the brim and turned into an enormous prana whirlpool. That was the true form of that black ‘hole’.
The ‘Vessel’ that had been removed from the Einsberns’ homunculus was only the key to open that ‘hole’, and also the control that sustained the stability of the hole. Kiritsugu, who did not know anything about this secret, had made a fatal mistake; he should not have commanded Saber to destroy the Grail, but instead should have made her use Excalibur to burn down the hole in the sky. No longer controlled by the ‘vessel’, the black sun began to melt; the hole gradually shrunk, but before it closed completely, it was already completely impossible to prevent the black mud from flowing out from within the hole.
That was a neutral energy that had been used only to create an opening to the ‘outside world’, but due to Kiritsugu’s previous mistake, it was stained with the pitch-black color of the curse.
This cursed mud that was full of ‘Angra Mainyu • All the Evil in the World'. The destructive power could burn away all the life in the world—at this moment it descended like a great waterfall from above the Municipal Hall.
Archer, standing in the spectator stands on the first floor, could not find a way of retreat to escape this baptism.
"This… this is…!?”
The turbulent black waves carried away the helpless golden Servant. No, he was not simply carried away; the moment he had touched the black mud, he had vanished. Archer’s body had been broken down and absorbed by the black mud in the blink of an eye; he had become one with the tempestuous flow of mud.
The black mud consumed the first-floor spectator stand like a tsunami; Kiritsugu, who was standing in the box and had thus escaped misfortune, stared blankly at all this. The cursed waterfall that descended from midair did not show any signs of stopping; the black mud became a river as it passed through the entrance of the municipal hall, flowing out of the building and spreading out toward the surrounding districts.
Thus, the massacre began.
The people were all sleeping soundly; the mud of death sensed the presence of human life, and became a burning curse that attacked at their pillow-side.
It burned the houses, burned the courtyards. No matter if they slept, or woke and tried to escape, all the people burned without exception—that which had waited within the Grail for sixty years now mercilessly seized all the life it touched, as if celebrating its fleeting freedom.
After the event it was found that there were more than 500 casualties, and 134 buildings had burned down. This great calamity of unknown cause left a mark in the hearts of the citizens of Fuyuki that was difficult to erase.
After a while, the hole in the sky disappeared, and the black mud no longer poured forth. But the mud had brought a fire of enormous proportions; the people who had been unable to escape turned one by one into burnt black corpses. A magnificent red lotus of fire bloomed in the night sky; on the ground was staged an endless banquet of death.
Having escaped the gradually collapsing municipal hall, Emiya Kiritsugu personally witnessed the entire process.
The life that tended toward destruction—was so much like the scene that had tormented him in nightmares. But that before him now was undoubtedly real.
She dreamed a dream, and in the dream, the world was burning.
The young girl, wrapped in a duvet and trembling from fear, opened her eyes.
The bedroom, guarded by the warm firelight from the fireplace, was still as calm and peaceful as before. The chilly night outside the window could not be of any threat to the girl who lay on the bed.
Even through the thick glass, she could hear the howling of the icy wind outside the window; the wind crept quietly into the house through the gap between the window and the frame. It was surely this sound that made her think mistakenly that she heard the tormented cries of people as they burned and died.
— What's wrong, Illyasviel?—
This her mother spoke, gently caressing her face. Her mother’s voice and touch, which stayed at all times by the girl’s side, at once set her heart to rest.
The girl and her mother were both existences that had been designed in the image of the magus who was called the ‘Lady of Winter’. Thus, in the girl’s heart there was her mother, and her aunt. Even if one were to pursue all the way to the very earliest ‘Primeval Justicia’, it was recorded in the girl’s heart.
Thus, even if it was a night during which she was alone, sleeping soundly wrapped in a duvet, the girl would never be lonely. She need only call out, and she could hear her mother’s voice any time, see her mother’s form any time.
“Mommy… I had a scary dream. In the dream, Illya became a cup.”
Gazing relieved at her mother’s soft silver hair and gentle eyes, the girl continued to recount her nightmare.
“Seven very, very big things were put into Illya. Illya almost broke, she was scared but also could not run away… then I heard Justicia’s voice, and above my head appeared a big black hole… then, the world started to burn. Kiritsugu looked at the world, and cried.”
Yes, she dreamed of him too. The father that she had heard say was in a faraway foreign land, dealing with some troublesome work.
Having thought of this, the girl suddenly realized that her nightmare just now seemed to represent something bad; she became uneasy again.
"Mommy… Kiritsugu will be okay, right? He won’t be alone and scared?”
Looking at the girl worried for her father, the mother smiled gently.
– It’s okay. That person will definitely strive, for Illya’s sake. So that Illya will not have that sort of scary memories again, he will definitely realize his dream, for us —
"...Nn, that’s right, that’s right.”
She knows that that person is one who has a strong desire to win. So, once he has finished that important work, he will definitely come back here immediately. The girl spread her fingers, counting the days till that day came. Though it was cold sleeping alone, even thus, her mother was still by her side. She wouldn’t be lonely—until the day she could correctly understand this contradiction.
The girl waited from within the city eternally sealed within falling snow. The promise that she had exchanged with her father, was the treasure that she valued the most.
The sky at sunset was the color of blood.
The ground before her eyes was also the color of blood.
The corpses slumped on the ground were the people who had once believed in a young girl and supported her as King, offering up to her the songs of victory.
Due to traitors sowing discord, they had divided into two factions; each had seen the other as an enemy and carried out slaughter, and then, they had fallen together on this battlefield. King Arthur’s final resting place, the foot of Camlann Hill.
Waking from a dream of the other side of space and time, kneeling dejectedly once more atop the bloodstained hill, Arturia blankly gazed at the desolate scene.
In order to change this ending, she had entrusted her soul after death to the ‘World’; and started a journey in search of a miracle.
She had initially decided not to return here; she had initially believed that she would never see this scene again. But at this moment, the young girl still knelt on this piece of land.
But this was not the ending. This was only one point on the endlessly cyclic path.
After being released from her contract, the Heroic Spirit named Arturia had not set forth for the ‘Throne of Heroes’, but had been brought back to this place Camlann, because she had not come to the end of her fate’s path; It was necessary that she meets her final end here.
In other words, before she had been summoned to be a Servant, she was not a standard Heroic Spirit who had become one after dying in reality.
At the last moment she had exchanged vows with the ‘World’, hoping to obtain the Grail, and the price was to turn her soul after death into a guardian—this was the truth about the Servant named Arturia.
The contract could only be fulfilled only under the condition that the Grail had been obtained. In other words, if Arturia did not obtain the Grail, then time would forever stop on this land; forever, where even death cannot be achieved. Before obtaining the Grail, she could only continue to participate in the fight for the Grail on the other side of time.
Therefore, Arturia’s time had been frozen in the moment before her death. Unless she obtained the Grail, she could only return again and again to Camlann. Over and over again, this scene would eternally reproach her, torment her.
On the slope of death, she still held the stance with which she had established the contract.
Her face covered with tears, gauntlets stained through with the blood of enemies, the lance in her hand piercing the heart of her own flesh and blood.
The traitor who had also inherited her own bloodline, the child of tragedy, Mordred. The entanglement of love and hate had caused her to lose everything, and the scene to be fixed at the instant when she killed her own flesh and blood with her own hands—
The instant in which the awareness of the ‘World’ had come, summoned by wretched and tormented cries, and established the contract with the hero who searched for a miracle—
This was the prison that forever bound Arturia, who had lost her time.
Within time that had lost its meaning, within an instant that was equivalent to eternity, she gazed upon the battlefield under the light of dusk, and waited for the next summoning.
She was always right; this she firmly believed in. Even thus, she had still overlooked the spark that had caused the tragedy before her eyes, just like she had overlooked Lancelot and Guinevere’s pain.
She could not figure it out, and she did not understand why she could not figure it out—this was the limit of the king Arturia.
In that case, could it be that the terrible scene on Camlann was not any trick of fate, but the necessary result of the king Arturia’s rule?
Unable to stop herself, she began to sob.
She remembered those long and distant days. She remembered the girl who had never paid attention to the men as they contested each other in the noisy arena, and had instead faced, alone, the sword stuck in the stone.
At that time, what had she been thinking of?
With what kind of resolution had she extended her arm to grip the hilt?
The memories had long since blurred; even though the tears obscured her sight, she could not remember.
In that case—her mistake must have been made that day.
She let the tears run freely down her face. In this place where time did not run, no matter what she thought or what she did, it would not be recorded in history. Here, she did not need to place on herself the title of King. In that case, it mattered not if she showed weakness; it mattered not if she showed shame.
With these thoughts, she faced the ideals that had not been fulfilled; she faced the people who had not been saved.
She faced everything that had vanished because she was king.
Though she was choked to the point where she almost could not speak, she still could not control the impulse to apologize. Though she understood that her apology could not be conveyed to anyone’s heart, the girl nevertheless repeated her regret.
"I’m sorry… sorry… I, someone like me…”
One day, after stepping over endless battles, she would finally obtain the Grail. A that time, all the mistakes that she had made, could be erased through a miracle.
As she was now—she should not be called a king.
Before the next time she was summoned, the girl would always— within the instant that was called forever, within the censure that was called eternal rest—weep and regret.
Enduring torment in eternal punishment. Feeling cowardice toward sins that could not be repaid.
— A vortex started up.
Sin, the evil in this world, circulated and multiplied and chained and changed as it whirled into a vortex.
Gluttony lust greed depression wrath sloth hypocrisy pride envy, over and over again encroaching and sprouting, whirling into the vortex.
The crime of rebellion the crime of intimidation the crime of adultery the crime of destruction the seven cardinal sins the crime of coercion the crime of theft the crime of desertion the crime of slander the crime of arson the crime of insulting the crime of disrespect the crime of sowing discord the crime of abduction the crime of bribery the crime of abortion the crime of assisting suicide the crime of gambling the crime of abandoning a corpse the crime of mobbing the crime of abandonment the crime of bearing false witness the crime of possessing stolen goods the crime of kidnapping the crime of violence, all crimes should be assessed and sentenced to capital punishment or severe punishment refuse and deny all hatred kill kill kill it is absolutely forbidden kill kill kill he will absolutely not agree kill kill kill very good just like that kill kill kill right that’s right kill kill kill promise kill kill kill but no but no what kill kill kill ah it is really boring to have only this one thought——
The vortex of sound that was the curse was circling. There existed something here that should not exist; from within the barrage of denying curses, a voice cried out, ‘yes!”
Impossible. Affirmations and correctness did not exist within this cursed vortex of hatred. Because everything had determined that everything was ugly and hateful so this word could not appear here—
—But that voice announced again clearly, ‘that is right.’
That is right. The world was originally already like this. Since the truth has been put before your eyes, then why do you sigh? Why are you surprised?
The voice of the curse asked.
What was right?
Who was there to acknowledge it? Who was there to permit it? And who was to bear the burden of sin?
Facing the bombshell tossed from the darkness— in reply, a resounding and concrete sneer.
A foolish question. That goes without asking.
The King will acknowledge it; the King will permit it. The King will bear the burden of the entire world.
The mud asked, what is a king?
But at the same time that it asked the question, it realized that it had contradicted itself.
In this place that strictly did not allow the existence of ‘entities’, the mud had admitted that there was someone else within it. Some strange foreign object, that could not exist, had appeared here.
That was — King — a presence that was an absolute controller, as well as one that had no equal.
His name was — King of Heroes, Gilgamesh.
"That is I!”
Along with flying droplets, the black mud cracked and dispersed away. The foreign object that it could not digest even with having mobilized all its hatred appeared from within the black mud.
Within the burning ruins, he once again stood upon the ground.
The perfect, Golden-proportioned body was no longer the spirit form that it had taken during its time as a Servant, but a true flesh body. The black mud that denied all life crystallized the impurity within itself and then abandoned it, but the result had been that a certain Heroic Spirit had realized his wish of obtaining a corporeal body and returning to this world.
Even standing in the exact middle of a burning hell, the majesty emanating from the body of the king made the surrounding flames afraid to come close. Gilgamesh generously bared his naked body that was like a statue, at the same time sneering impatiently.
"—People would actually treat that sort of thing as a wish-granting machine and fight to the death for it. This time, the entertainment has really been frustrating.”
But it was not bad like this either—touching the new flesh body that he had accidentally received, the King of Heroes felt immensely satisfied.
“Is it Heaven’s will that lets me descend like a sovereign upon this time to unite the world again … Humph, the previous tribulations were really silly. But that’s okay too; dissatisfaction is dissatisfaction, I’ll just accept reality.
Even though he felt it to be very troublesome, he could not refuse to meet battle since this was the challenge issued to him by the gods. Gilgamesh began to laugh wryly again at his status as the King of Heroes.
Passing through the deep darkness, Kotomine Kirei regained consciousness.
He felt the hot air first of all. Then, he smelt the scent of burning human fat. He opened his eyes to look around at the surroundings; the blazing inferno before his eyes seemed to be grilling the sky.
"This place is…”
He had thought that he had touched that mud and entered the inner world of the Grail again. But as he saw the naked man at his side, he immediately denied this possibility.
"Gilgamesh… what happened?”
"You really are a troublesome man. It took me a lot of effort to dig you out from under the rubble.”
Kirei diligently operated his dazed brain and began to think, intending to understand how the entire event had happened. His last memory was of the Municipal Hall’s large props storage space; he had been kneeling on the ground, and had been shot from behind and killed by Kiritsugu. – No matter how he thought about it, he should have lost his life instantly.
He tore open the vestments at his chest, checking the spot that should have been shot through.
Suddenly, the image of the black mud surfaced before his eyes.
An illusion. There was no scar on his chest. He pressed his hand atop his heart to check.
"...Did you perform healing on me? Gilgamesh.”
"That… ah. You did look dead, but you and I are linked by the contract. I got this flesh body because of that mud, so maybe there is also some reason that you are alive again.”
The black mud that in the end had been unable to corrode Archer completely — had followed the path of the prana supply that had formerly linked Archer to his Master, and arrived at Kotomine Kirei’s physical body, becoming the source of a life-force supply that could substitute for a heart. Only thus had Kirei revived.
In other words, now Kirei relied on the prana provided by “Angra Mainyu” in order to live.
"All the Servants have been eliminated; I am the only one left. Do you know what this mean? Kirei.”
Kirei, whose mind had still not completely sobered, looked intently into Gilgamesh’s red eyes.
"It is we who have obtained the Grail, so you only need to open your eyes wide and watch. If the Grail can really make the victor’s wish come true, then this scene before you — Kotomine Kirei, it is exactly what you desire.”
A crimson hell. The tortured screams that the wind carried to his ears. Dancing tongues of flame. Kirei stared blankly at this scene.
"This is… my wish?”
Exactly. If this thing that was filling the emptiness in his heart at this moment could be called ‘satisfaction’.
"Destruction and sighs… can make me happy?”
Exactly. If the emotion that roiled within his heart at this moment could be called ‘joy’.
At this moment, Kotomine Kirei finally understood the true form of his own soul.
The collapse of everything was so beautiful.
People who were tormented were so lovable.
Tortured screams by his ears were so satisfying.
Burnt corpses were so laughable.
Unable to control the emotion that had reached boiling point, Kirei laughed hopelessly.
What kind of sin was this? What a cruel demon he was.
A world like this, cast aside by God, could actually be filled with vivid joy.
"What am I? Hahaha, what am I?!”
Even the feeling of hopelessness that tugged at his heart was so sweet. Kirei’s body trembled from his manic laughter. He could feel everything from his fingertips to the top of his head, clearly and distinctly.
Ahah, now I am alive —
I truly exist, right here —
For the first time he was aware of, and for the first time he truly felt, the fetters between him and the world.
"Why so twisted? Why so filthy? Am I really the descendant of Kotomine Risei? Hahahaha, impossible! Impossible! What is this?! Could my father really have sired a dog?!”
From a place that was completely opposite to his own faith, Kirei had found the truth. This ironic end was actually so satisfying.
He had circled so many winding roads. Had he been dreaming all along?
He had praised the preciousness of kindness, sang hymns to the beauty of holiness. Kirei had wasted twenty-odd years of his life precisely because he believed utterly in this sort of truth. He had never realized that his nature was completely contrary to this sort of truth.
The priest clutched his stomach, exhausted and breathing rapidly from his laughter; Gilgamesh asked in a calm voice.
"No, not enough. Just this is not enough.”
Kirei wiped away the tears from his maniacal laughter, and shook his head.
"True — I have finally found my answer in this life that is full of question marks. This is a very great improvement. However, this doesn’t solve any problems. I only bypassed the process and method of solving the question to arrive directly at the answer. Just like that, how will you have me acknowledge it, and even then what is there for me to acknowledge?”
If God is the Creator of All Things, then to all souls, ‘happiness’ is truth.
But now, there truly existed a soul that had turned its back on morality and yet obtained happiness. Kirei had also only just begun to believe that this soul was no one else but himself.
In that case, the definition of good and evil, as well as the very existence of truth, had created a contradiction. This contradiction could not be overlooked.
"Within the equation from which this strange answer is derived, there should exist a reason that is simple and easily understood. No, there is definitely one. Then what exactly is it… I must clarify it, I must find it. Even if it takes my whole life, I want to understand.”
After having had enough of laughing insanely, a smile remained on his mournful face as if it was the residue of his previous manic laughter. Perhaps from today on, he would always keep this expression. The leisurely smile that meant that he had accepted the truth of himself and the world, and was able to honestly face everything. Facing Kotomine Kirei’s completely new bearing, Gilgamesh nodded and said.
"You really don’t feel fed up… That’s alright too. I, Gilgamesh, will see how you will carry through your fearless faith in the pursuit of your way.”
Kirei looked around at the surroundings again, savoring the exquisitely beautiful scenery that the Grail had brought to him.
The quantity of the black mud that had caused the entire block to go up in flames should be nothing compared to the quantity which remained in the Great Grail. When that mud was all released, what kind of hellish picture would unfold before his eyes?
Yes — its existence was like Kirei’s own; they were both things that ran contrary to ethics. Now that Kirei thought about it, there had already been anticipation in his heart from the time that he had seen that dream world. If that kind of ‘thing’ was really born and proved its existence, then perhaps it could even derive some other explanation that was unrelated to morals and ethics.
"Angra, Mainyu —“
Thinking somewhat anxiously, Kirei spat out this name.
He must find it again; he must witness it again with his own eyes, its birth, and the value of its existence.
— Suddenly, Kirei discovered that another silhouette had appeared on the other side of the wavering tongues of flames.
His cloak, fanned out by the hot air, was tattered in many places. It was stained black in many places. That person walked as unsteadily as a sleepwalker, and wandered on the burning street.
He was Emiya Kiritsugu. The details were not clear but judging from his current appearance, it seemed he had lost Saber and had luckily survived the big fire.
What did not match with the steps that had no majesty left was the terrifying manner with which he surveyed the surroundings, like that of the vengeful dead who wailed as they wandered in burning hell. He was clearly looking for something, and in order to find it he was not afraid to even die within the sea of flame.
Could it be that he had discovered that he had not been able to kill Kirei, and so pursued him here —
Just as he was thinking this, their eyes met. Kirei unflinchingly received his empty gaze.
"Then I shall meet battle—“
Although the injury to his right hand and left leg were still the same, at this moment Kirei did not think that he would lose. He remembered again the dissatisfaction when the outcome of the previous battle had been decided. He would not let the matter drop until he taught the other man a lesson.
But things did not progress as Kirei had expected. It was as if Kirei was transparent in Kiritsugu’s eyes; as if nothing had happened, Kiritsugu moved his gaze away and continued to size up the surroundings, leaving aimlessly and without a destination.
All his fighting spirit had been drenched in a bucket of cold water; coming back to himself, Kirei discovered that there was an unspeakable gloominess in his heart.
“Nn? What is it, Kirei?”
It looked as if Gilgamesh had not noticed Kiritsugu’s form at all. Kirei silently shook his head, and considered it his answer to the King of Heroes.
Emiya Kiritsugu’s expression was clearly very strange. His once sharp gaze had vanished; his eyes just now were like empty caves, devoid of expression. The distracted impression he gave — he would not have recognized even things that were right before his eyes. Therefore, perhaps he had not even noticed Kirei watching him.
That man had become a walking corpse; it was not worth treating him as an enemy any more. Kiritsugu, who had wanted to save others but instead brought about disaster, was the loser in the true meaning of the word. He must be searching for survivors that could give him some comfort. It was really just absolute foolishness. In his current state, he would very quickly vanish in this sea of fire. There was no need to think about it anymore; this person no longer held any meaning for Kirei now.
Kirei explained to himself thus in his heart; at the same time, he cast aside the gloominess in his heart.
Even if he had really become a walking zombie, even if he was only a corpse.
Even then, Emiya Kiritsugu had actually ignored Kotomine Kirei and walked away on his own. This fact made him feel utterly humiliated.
Sometimes, a broken machine did not simply and silently give up functioning. On rare occasions, it could surprisingly continue working.
The fact that Kariya was able to crawl back to the Matō mansion in Miyama was one of these very rare examples.
In fact, Kariya’s physical body itself had been in a very dangerous state for the past few months. Had he not been driven forcibly by the prana that had been concentrated by the Crest Worms, he would not have been able to move. Moreover, in the condition that the Crest Worms had died under the heavy burden of Berserker’s rampage, Kariya should have only been able to quietly wait for death to come.
But even so, Kariya had stood up from the ground of the basement, and escaped the City Hall that was close to collapsing. Then he crossed the burning streets and walked the long night road that traversed Fuyuki City. This was a miracle fulfilled with no thanks to the Holy Grail.
However, right now Kariya could never realize how rare such cases were, and was also unable to give thanks for the pity that God had shown him.
He had long forgotten what time it was, and his mind had become muddled a long time ago. He couldn’t even recall properly how he had escaped tonight. The heavily damaged body could fall down any minute, and even his psyche had been eroded to its limits. Only the conviction of ‘save Sakura’ enabled Kariya to force himself to arrive here.
Standing before that familiar stairwell, full of a rancid and rotten stench, Kariya finally relaxed as he faced the mass of darkness below.
Sakura was locked beneath those stairs, deep in the darkness of the basement. A little bit more, just a little bit more to go.
Just like he had expected; no one hindered his movements. Zōken, who had been monitoring Kariya’s actions through the Crest Worms, must have thought that Kariya had died on the battlefield in Shinto a long time ago. For Kariya, who had lain in wait for an opportunity, this was a chance that couldn’t be missed. The Worms within Kariya had died; they were killed by Berserker. They had admitted defeat before Kariya; Kariya had defeated the Worms.
So this time – this time he must be able to rescue Sakura, who was imprisoned, and run away with her.
Kariya walked down the stairs. Although he couldn’t determine whether he was walking or crawling – or even just rolling down the stairs – he knew he was advancing downwards. The ruckus of the Worms sounded by his ears; they were angry for having an intruder. He must hurry, must finish his work before Zōken discovered it.
The young and small silhouette of a girl appeared deep within the darkness. Like always, Sakura had been violated and consumed by the Worms tonight. Her lost and empty gaze suddenly focused upon Kariya, who was approaching her.
“… Uncle …?”
“Sakura – I’m here to save you. It’s, alright – ”
He finally voiced this confession. He had waited far too long for this moment.
You don’t need to despair anymore, you don’t need to give anything up anymore. The nightmare had finished, and it won’t return.
He took off the handcuffs and shackles that tightly bound the young girl’s soft skin. Go, Sakura, go and take back the future that you should have.
Kariya took Sakura’s hand and left the worm storage room, then they silently and inconspicuously crossed the Miyama district at night. Aoi and Rin were waiting for them in the next town. The mother was finally reunited with her daughter in that memorable courtyard in the Zenjō mansion. Kariya would take all three of them to go travelling, to a place that no one knows about, a place where no one would disturb them. There, they would pass every day in happiness. Everyone would happily play games like they had once promised. Aoi watched her two daughters running in a field of flowers with a smile on her face. Sakura plucked clovers, and Rin wove them into garlands. They fought for the chance to place the garland on Kariya’s head while simultaneously saying they want to give the garland to ‘Daddy’ as a gift. Aoi, who wore two garlands, grasped Kariya’s hand tightly as she smiled. Ahh, thank you. Kariya laughed and cried at the same time, and took his beloved wife and daughters into a tight embrace. Daddy is so happy to have such a wife and such daughters. He was the happiest person in the world. Therefore, there was nothing to regret about. All this was worthy to risk his life for. There would be rewards for all the pain he had suffered, and all that he had wanted were all within his hands –
Sakura stared at the corpse of the man who had fallen before her in the icy-cold darkness of the worm storage. This man was muttering to himself even till the end, and a satisfied smile was on his face even as he died.
How odd. Why would this man return here? Why did he still want to live when he was in such a despicable state?
Although Sakura couldn’t understand why, she clearly knew why he was in anguish, and why he was dead.
– You must not disobey Grandfather.
Everyone in the Makiri house knew that, but why wouldn’t this man obey that rule? He was an adult, but he was helplessly stupid.
Why, why would this man choose such a meaningless death?
After a brief consideration – ahh, that was why. Sakura suddenly understood it.
This must be her lesson tonight.
A lesson to teach her what would happen to those who disobeyed Grandfather’s will. This man died here so Sakura could see a real example with her own eyes.
Yes, I understood, Grandfather.
The girl nodded obediently. She burned this scene deep into her memory while she stared, unmoving, at the corpse surrounded by worms which was gradually becoming smaller and smaller.
- Before he realized it, he was on a burnt field.
Some kind of large fire had occurred.
The cityscape he was familiar with had turned to ruins, like the scars of battlefields that you see in films.
When dawn broke, the course of the fire weakened.
The wall of flame that had been so high now sunk, and the buildings had mostly crumbled down.
......It was a wondrous feeling to be the only thing within all this to remain in his original form.
He was the only living thing around.
Was he very lucky, or was his house built in a very lucky place?
He couldn't tell which it was, but in any case, he was the only one alive.
I lived on, so I have to keep living - was what he thought.
It would be dangerous to stay here indefinitely - and so he walked on aimlessly.
But it wasn't because he couldn't stand being burnt black like the people who had collapsed around him.
...Most likely, more so than the feeling of not wanting to be like them,
there was a stronger feeling that bound his heart.
Even so, he held nothing like hope.
It was a wonder that he had lived up to this point, so he did not think that he would be saved now.
To start with, he cannot be saved.
No matter what he did, he cannot possibly leave this crimson world.
It was so absolute a hell that even a young child was able to comprehend it.
And so he fell.
Perhaps there was no oxygen; perhaps he had already lost the function of taking in oxygen.
At any rate, he fell, gazing at the sky which was beginning to cloud over.
There were the human figures around him, burnt black and quite shrunken.
Dark clouds covered the sky, telling him that rain will fall soon.
...That would be good. The fire would end if rain fell.
At the end, with a deep breath, he looked up at the rainclouds.
Even though he could no longer breath. Just - it's so, painful.
For the people who can no longer even complain, he spoke with frank emotions.
It was just so painful. Living was painful. So much so that he even thought he might as well just disappear now and be at ease.
With a hazy consciousness, he meaninglessly stretched out his hand.
He did not stretch out his hand to seek salvation.
Just - the sky was so, far.
He simply thought that in his final moment.
And so his consciousness disappeared, and the raised hand suddenly fell onto the ground.
It should have fallen.
The powerless sinking hand was grasped by a large hand.
......He remembered that face.
The figure of the man who was joyous from the bottom of his heart at finding a living human being, with tears amassing in his eyes.
- Because, he looked so very delighted.
So much so that, it was as though the one who was saved was not me, but the man.
In such a way that he could feel envy for the him who was directly before death - the man said, thank you, as though he was expressing gratitude for something.
Thank you, for letting me find this.
As though he was expressing gratitude to someone for letting him help and save just one person - he showed a smile that could not be surpassed.
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