Waver had expected the day to end at the peak of triumph with a successful summoning.
After the previous night spent in a fierce battle with the cackling chickens, he had studied in his bed this night, satisfied with the pleasant weariness of accomplishment.
"... How, did this happen?"
With a dry wind blowing strongly over the public park of the Shinto area, Waver sat on the bench, curling in the lonely coldness. He still couldn't understand, ‘’just how on Earth did my plan go wrong’’?
The summoning was a success. That was a satisfactory response.
Along with the successful summoning, the status of the invited Servant was still imprinted in Waver's consciousness. He was of the Rider class. Although that isn't one of the three major knights, his basic abilities still were at a more than average level. Without a doubt, he was a powerful Servant.
The moment he saw the silhouette of the big frame slowly rising from the summoning circle, behind the white smoke, Waver was so exalted he almost came in his pants.
... Thinking about it, the situation had turned for the worse at around that point.
From Waver's knowledge, a "familiar" is the puppet of its summoner.
An existence that can barely survive in the present world by relying on the prana supplied by the magus.
A wooden doll that can be used as the practitioner pleases. That's what a familiar is, essentially. So he had guessed a Servant would be basically the same, more or less.
But that thing that came out of the summoning circle—
The instant the eye contact was made, he had instinctively sensed that the Servant was a mighty one, and was overwhelmed like a small animal.
Right from the start, Waver's soul was overtaken by the sharpness of the eyes, glowing like a blaze.
The overwhelming presence of the giant blocked his view. From the body odor he picked up, the fragrant of the muscular stature, Waver understood. Never mind the quibble about him being a ghost or a familiar, he sure is a HUGE guy.
Waver knew that the Heroic Spirits invited by the Grail are not only free spirits; they gain a material "body" to exist in the present world. But, the cluster of massive muscles that was the actual entity, not a virtual image or a shadow, the feeling of impending threat, was beyond Waver's imagination.
No matter what, Waver hated the great man.
It's not just that Waver was, still, a bit shorter than an average person. Certainly, his body tended to be frail, because he had done nothing but study in his childhood, and had had little time to forge his body, but he didn’t think it was a weakness. Rather, Waver had pride in polishing up his intellect.
But, the truth of such an obvious thing wouldn't get through the big man's muscles. No matter what, the time lag before such a game with a rock for a soul would lift his fist and swing it down is way too short. There is no time to expand into a discussion however brief, and there is also no future in using magecraft.
That is— once he is approached by the fist of that pack of muscles.
"... So, I'm asking you. You must be my Master, right?"
That was the big man's second question. A booming voice that could shake up the Earth.
He had been overpowered beyond his senses from the first question asked with a voice you couldn't fail to hear.
"Ah— Yes! I-I-I-I'm, I mean, I am! I am your Master, I'm called Wa, Waver Velvet! I mean, that's my name! I'm your Master!!"
Though it really was useless in more than one way, Waver stuck to bluffing with all his might to stand up to the muscles in front of him. ... Even so, he felt dominated already by the physique of the unaware giant.
"Hm, then the contract is complete. So, boy, can you lead me to some archives immediately?"
Waver was blown out of his mind for the second time.
"Some books, I'm saying! Books."
The giant Servant repeated himself gloomily, leaning toward Waver, stretching a strong arm that looked like the root of a pine tree.
I'm going to be killed— Waver immediately thought, feeling like he was floating. The giant had seized his neck and carelessly lifted him. Waver hadn't noticed until then that he had fallen flat on the ground. He realized that was the reason his interlocutor had, mid-way, started looking even more like a giant.
"If you are one of those magi, you should be able to provide some archive? Now, show me around. We need to prepare for war."
"W, war... ?"
Now that the giant mentioned it, Waver simply had totally forgotten about the Holy Grail War.
Having lived as a blatant freeloader in a private house, Waver had no kind of archive, and reluctantly led Rider to the library.
The central library of the city of Fuyuki was in the public park in the Shinto area and was still under construction. Frankly, it felt awkward to walk through the city in the middle of the night —with the recent strange murder case, the police frequently announced a state of emergency— Waver felt that what the big muscles in front of him could do was a bigger crisis than being questioned by the patrolling police.
Fortunately, as soon as they came out of the grove, the giant turned invisible.
That must be an ability the Servants have, to go into spirit form. Waver felt relieved as he wouldn't look suspicious walking along a big man with armored cloth, but he still felt the pressure of being followed by that overbearing presence.
Luckily, they didn't meet anyone when crossing the big bridge of Fuyuki into the Shinto area; reaching the public park, Waver pointed at the modern architecture in the back.
"There should be as many books as you want over there."
Then, the oppression that was weighing on Waver softly went away. Apparently, Rider was entering the building in spirit form.
―And so, it had been 30 minutes since he had been left behind. Released from the threat he didn’t comprehend, he was finally able to calmly sort his thoughts.
"... How, did this happen?"
Waver buried his head in his hands, remembering his shameful behavior from earlier. However powerful, the Servant is his contractor. As the Master, Waver is the one who has to seize leadership.
The Servant Waver had summoned definitely was strong. That was a given, considering the history of the relic he had stolen from Kayneth.
Heroic spirit Alexander. Also known as Iskander or Alexandros.
The reason he was known under several names depending on the pronunciation of the land was that he was the heroic "King of Conquerors". Succeeding to the throne of Macedonia at only 20 years old, leading ancient Greece in an invasion of Persia, then through Egypt, up to western India during the great "eastern campaigns", and reaching the success of a great hero in barely 10 years. He literally is the "great king" who built the era known as the Hellenistic civilization.
Even though he is such a great man amongst great men, once he is summoned as a Servant he cannot oppose his Master. The first reason to this is that in the present world, he depends on Waver. If Waver ever stops supplying him with prana for him to remain in the present era, he will have no choice but to disappear.
There is a reason why all Servants answer the summoning of a Master― that is, why they participate in the Holy Grail War alongside their Master. Namely, just like the Masters, they want the Grail. Hoping to get that wish-granting machine, they also have to fight until only one remains, so that they will obtain the grace of the Grail along with the Master they accompany. In other words, the cooperation between the Master and the Servant is natural.
Furthermore, the Masters also hold the trump cards that are the Command Seals.
All three Seals can be used one by one for 3 absolute orders. That is what defines the relationship between the Servant and the Master. The Servant cannot oppose an order from the Command Seals, even if it is something as unreasonable as an order to self-destruct. That is the central point of the contract system made up by one of the "three families of the beginning", the Makiris.
On the other hand, the Master who uses up all 3 of his Command Seals is exposed to the danger of rebellion from his Servant; but it is a risk that can be avoided if the Master acts carefully.
Yes, as long as the Command Seals are carved on this hand― suppressing the irritation in his stomach, Waver, in a trance, stared at his right hand, chuckling― he might be a huge mass of muscles, but he has no reason to oppose the magus Waver Velvet.
As soon as that Servant comes back, I must tell that inviolable rule to his face...
Suddenly, while Waver was thinking, a breaking sound heartily roared.
Jumping out of surprise, he turned around as the closed shutter of the library hall were being distorted and torn off. The one who was calmly walking there, materialized under the moonlight, was none other than Waver's Servant, Rider.
With how dark the forest had been, this was actually the first time he could clearly see how he looked in this light.
His height easily exceeded 2 meters. His unprotected arms and thighs spread out from his bronze armor, and from the size of the muscles all over his body he looked like he could kill a bear with his bare hands. On his sternly chiseled features there were eyes with a dazzling glow and burning red hair and beard. The thick mantle dyed in a similar red, with fringes like his cuffs, was luxuriously decorated, looking just like a curtain wrapping the stage of a theater.
The magnificent posture of that big man in front of the modern library made a somewhat funny combination, but Waver took no interest in that as the alarms resounding like a shrill got him ready to flee.
"Idiot! Stupid, stupid, stupid! What were you thinking, kicking the shutters like that! Why aren't you in spirit form like when you entered!?"
Rider strangely smiled out of good humor, holding out two books at the defiant Waver.
"I couldn't pick up this when in spirit form, could I?"
The books were one with a thick hardcover and a thin one. Apparently Rider had taken them from the library. But his Master couldn't afford to disturb public order for something so trivial.
"Don't be slow! Run! We have to run!"
"How unsightly to be that flustered. You look like a thief or something."
"What thief, what's wrong with you!"
Rider was astonished by the threat in Waver's yell.
"You're greatly misunderstood. Those who run away under cover of the night are night burglars. Walking away victoriously is what the King of Conquerors does after looting."
You just can't discuss anything with him, Waver thought, scratching at his head madly. At any rate, Rider apparently wanted to parade through the night with those two books, looking like a suspicious cosplayer, with no intention of turning back to spirit form.
At the end of his wits, Waver rushed to Rider, picking the two books from his hand.
"You're done, now, right!? Now disappear! Disappear right now! Disappear immediately!"
"Ooh, then I'll leave this to you. You don't have to repeat yourself like that."
Satisfied, Rider nodded then became invisible again.
But Waver still couldn't feel relieved. The alarm of the library had to reach some security firm. You wouldn't know how long it would take for security guards to rush in.
Oh, what the heck, who cares.
"Aah, damn― How― did this happen, man!?"
Waver didn't know how many times he had lamented like that this night, but he just ran like hell.
When he reached the promenade on the border of the broad bridge of Fuyuki, he felt he had run enough to be safe.
"Ha―, ha―, ha―, ..."
As someone who usually neglected himself, Waver felt his heart was on the verge of bursting from running such a hellish distance. Without the strength to even stand up, he knelt on the roadside― and took another look at the books Rider took from the library.
"... An anthology of Homer's poetry? And... A world map? Why?"
The luxurious book in a hardcover was from the famous poet of ancient Greece. The other thin book was a color print you would use for school.
From behind a puzzled Waver, a stern arm suddenly stretched out to pick the atlas up by the fingertips.
Once again with a physical body, Rider heavily sat down cross-legged on the road and, in a clatter, started to turn the pages of the atlas taken back from Waver.
"Hey Rider, when you mentioned preparations for war..."
"You can't start a war without a map. Isn't it obvious?"
Apparently pleased, Rider's face lit up in a grin, and he stared at the content of the atlas.
"Apparently the end of the world has been discovered, and it even rolls up in a sphere... I see, that's what we have when we draw the round Earth on paper..."
As far as Waver knows, when a Heroic Spirit is summoned as a Servant by the Grail, they receive minimum information so that their knowledge doesn't conflict with the current era. That means that even this ancient one should understand that the Earth is round. So Waver couldn't quite understand why Rider had acted like a thief to get something like a map.
"So... Hey boy, where are Macedonia and Persia?"
Waver felt discouraged at Rider's usual arrogance in calling his Master "boy" instead of saying his name; still, he pointed his finger at a part of the atlas. At that moment―
Waver was again dumbstruck by Rider's excited burst of laughter.
"Hahahah! That's small! Only that on such a big Earth! Hm, good! I was worried by an era where there is no unknown land anymore... But if it's that big, then I'm fine!"
Suitable for his big frame, Rider's laughing voice was grand. Waver felt he'd rather face an earthquake or a tornado than oppose a man of that size.
"Good, good! I'm excited! ... And us, boy, where are we on this map?"
Nervously, Waver pointed to Japan at the far East. Rider gave a groan of admiration, and,
"Hoho―h, at the opposite of the round Earth... Hm. That too is very pleasing. Our objective is even clearer, then."
Grimly stroking his chin, he gave a satisfied nod.
"First we go halfway around the globe. Westward, straight west. We take over all the countries on the way. Upon my triumphal return in Macedonia, I will make all the people in my land celebrate my revival. Fufhuhu. How do you like that?"
Dumbstruck for a moment, Waver roared, still dizzy from anger.
"What the hell did you come here for! The Holy Grail War, the Grail!"
Rider sighed, bored by Waver's threatening attitude.
"But that’s just the outset. What's the fuss about―"
Rider sounded as if it had only just now occurred to him.
"Right, the Grail, I should have asked about that first. Boy, what would you do of the Grail?"
Unable to read Rider's slow tone, Waver felt a chill he couldn’t describe.
"... Why the change? Why do you ask?"
"I need to make sure of it. In case you too want to conquer the world, then that'll make you my enemy, right? There is no need for two supreme rulers."
It was highly unreasonable of the Servant to say that so carelessly over his shoulder, almost turning his back to the Master and his Command Seals; yet Waver shuddered violently from the hints of cruelty in the big man's audacious voice. The overwhelming fear made him forget his fundamental superiority as a Master.
"Th, that's stupid! The world, I don't..."
Choking until then, Waver suddenly remembers the necessity of keeping his dignity.
"Conquering the world― Fuh, I have no interest in such a vulgar goal!"
Rider’s expression completely changed, staring at Waver with great interest.
"Do you mean that there is an aspiration greater than wanting the world for a young man? That's interesting. Do tell me."
Waver sneered, then, with all his courage, started speaking haughtily.
"I... What I wish for, is only to be judged equitably. To renew the impression of my colleagues at the Clock Tower, who never acknowledged my talent―"
Before he could finish speaking, an unequalled shock hit Waver.
Roughly at the same time, he heard Rider roar in his loud voice "That's small!", but the shock and the roar were so equally strong that Waver couldn't tell the difference.
In fact, Rider hadn't particularly put more strength than for slapping a mosquito; but that was too strong for the short and fragile magus, and Waver spun like a top then collapsed on the ground.
"Small! That's puny! Ridiculous! Is that all the ambition you would risk your life in battle for? And you're my Master? That’s really sad!"
As if he couldn't accept it, Rider proclaimed so to the magus with an amazed expression, far from anger but practically lamenting.
Waver had never been confronted with such straightforwardness and violence. Being hit by the truth struck Waver's pride even more than the pain of his cheek.
Waver's lips shook with rage, the color drained from his face, but Rider didn't give it any consideration at all.
"If you want respect from others so much, right... I'll tell you boy, use the power of the Grail to grow by a good 30 centimeters. When you'll have a higher view over things, yeah, you will be looking at most people from above."
"You... you... u"
That was the greatest humiliation to him. More than rage, Waver felt dizzy as if suffering from anaemia, his whole body trembling.
Unforgivable. That was plainly unforgivable.
That big man, a Servant, nothing more than an attendant, had completely denied Waver's pride and got away with it. Even a god wouldn't forgive such an insult. To Waver's dignity—
On Waver's right hand, clenched so tightly his nails could tear his palm— power flowed into the three Seals carved on the back.
'By these Command Spells — guardian of the order of the Grail — may that man, my Servant —'
May Rider... make him what, exactly?
Of course he hadn't forgotten why he left the Clock Tower, why he came in this remote countryside in the far East.
It was all to gain the Grail. That's why he summoned a Servant. Such a crisis with that Heroic Spirit he bounded with may happen twice. After the third time— the Command Seals are gone. That means a decisive defeat as a Master.
The first of these serious situations could not be right now, could it? Not even one hour after the summoning?
Ashamed, Waver looked downward and breathed deeply several times; then by natural reasoning and calculation, he shut down the irritation in his heart.
Impatience leads nowhere. Certainly, Rider's attitude is hardly forgivable; but the Servant hasn't opposed his Master yet, nor has he disregarded any order.
Waver can brandish his whip only three times to hit this wild beast. Isn't it careless to use it when only barked at?
Having regained his composure, Waver finally looked up again. Rider was still sitting on the ground, disparaging his Master; or rather, having even forgotten his Master's existence, he was reading the atlas. Waver spoke at his incredibly wide back.
"If you can just get the Grail, then I have no complaint. I don't care what you will do after that. You can fly wherever you want, Macedonia or the South Pole."
Fu—m. Rider breathed dispiritedly —or indifferently, you couldn't tell with his nasal breathing.
"... Anyway. You're sure you have your priorities right? You will seriously participate in the Grail war?"
"Ah, I got it already, yeah."
Rider lifted his face from the atlas and looked at Waver from over his shoulder with a depressed grumble.
"The first thing is to beat 6 Heroic Spirits, right? That sounds troublesome, but certainly, without the Grail, I can't start anything. Rest assured. I'll get that treasure."
His speech was calm and composed, but Waver was not completely convinced.
Of course, that Heroic Spirit was not a deception. As far as Waver can grasp by being a Master, the Servant he had been granted has outstanding abilities.
But in a conflict, Servants don't only compete on skills. The Holy Grail War isn't something so nice that you can move on with big muscles.
"You seem very confident, but what are your chances of victory?"
With a daring provocation, Waver put forth all his bluff to scowl at Rider. ‘’I'm a Master, of course I can afford a high-handed attitude’’; that's what he is thinking.
"So, you say you want to see my power?"
Catching his glance, Rider changed to a quiet tone that somehow made Waver uneasy.
"Yes, that's right. Isn't it obvious? I need proof that I can trust you."
Laughing from his nose, the giant Servant pulled his sword from the scabbard at his waist. It was a valuable sword splendidly arranged, but it didn't feel like it had the prana of a Noble Phantasm in itself. Yet, when Rider took the sword, the dangerous atmosphere slowly made Waver uneasy. He can't be thinking of murdering me for my loud mouth... ?
Without noticing his Master trembling violently, Rider lifted his naked sword overhead,
"By this one strike, I, Alexander, King of Conquerors, claim for supremacy!"
Having loudly called out to the empty sky, he violently swung down his blade at the empty space.
Just then, a thundering roar and a tremor shook the riverbed at night like a thunderbolt, in a magnificent shock.
His guts turned around, Waver lost balance and tumbled on the ground for the second time. If Rider's blade wasn't striking at anything, just what did it cut―
Waver saw it. The empty space torn apart, like a gaping mouth, and the absurdly powerful thing that appeared there.
And, Waver remembered just what a Servant is.
In the legend of a hero, there is not only the man that was the hero, but the anecdotes about him, his arms and weapons: all of this is the "symbol" of his existence. Those "symbols" are the ultimate mysteries that the Servant, the embodiment of the Heroic Spirit, carries as a trump card. Those are the deadly weapons commonly called "Noble Phantasms".
Thus― there is no mistake. That which appeared at the empty space struck by Rider, that must be, without a doubt, his Noble Phantasm. Hidden in this existence, the density of the outrageous magical power outside of normality: Waver can grasp that. That was a miracle that had transcended humanity, transcended magecraft.
"That's how I struck the shaft and got this. The offering to Zeus from the king Gordias. ... It must be because the reputation of this that I landed the Rider class."
With a smile glowing with pride in front of that weapon, Rider didn't even sound like he was boasting; that must be the proof he has used it regularly, putting an immense faith in it.
"So, that here was only the beginning. The Noble Phantasm I really rely on is yet something else. Well, when the opportunity appears, I'll show you. If I meet a formidable opponent worthy of it, that is."
In awe, Waver viewed Rider in a new light. Precisely because he is a magus, he understands the destructive power of the Noble Phantasm in front of him. Compared to a modern day weapon, that would rival a strategic bomber. He would transform the whole Shinto area into scorched earth if he was left wild for not even an hour.
There is no doubt left. Rider here is the strongest Servant Waver wished for. His might already surpasses Waver's imagination. If there is an enemy this man can not defeat, then it has to be an existence that cannot be taken down even by divine punishment.
"Hey there boy, what's with the pale face, I haven't even begun yet."
Feeling malicious, Rider speaks to the fallen Master.
"If you want the Grail quickly, we should locate one or two Heroic Spirits rapidly. I'll immediately trample them. ... In the meantime, I can look at the atlas to kill boredom, you're fine with that, right?"
His soul having left his face, Waver slowly nodded.
Sealed in ice, the furthermost Einzbern castle.
That day, the old castle deep in the mountains, where people do not go, quietly preserving the lives of ancient magi, was released from the snowstorm.
It can't be reached until the sky cleared up, but it is remarkably brighter than the days when the sky whitens up in snow. There are no flying birds or green plants on the soil of winter, but plenty of light.
On those days, however busy or tired the father is, they go out together in the forest outside the castle. That was the first unwritten rule between Ilyasviel von Einzbern and Emiya Kiritsugu.
"Alright, today, I will not lose!"
Saying so, the exulted Ilyasviel quickly moves into the forest before her father. She is pitiful with her small boots in the thick snow, but her fidgety eyes don't miss anything of the surrounding trees, not careless for one minute. Right now, the girl was in the midst of a fierce battle with her father.
"Oh, here's one. The first for today."
Hearing the triumphing Kiritsugu behind her, the eyes of the surprised Ilyasviel changed into the color of anger as she turned around.
"No way! Where? I can't have missed it!"
Returning a bold smile to his beloved daughter red with vexation, Kiritsugu pointed at a twig above his head. From a frost branch of walnut, a humble winter sprout was sticking out.
"Fuhhuhu, I get the first point. Let's keep that rhythm."
"I won't lose! I swear I won't lose today!"
The open competition between the father and the daughter in the winter forest is the search for the first walnut sprouts in winter. This year's score for Ilya is 12 victories, 9 defeats, one tie. The total count for Ilya is 427, against 374 for Kiritsugu. The champion was under a heavy pressure.
Ilyasviel had to hurry. Watching over her, Kiritsugu couldn't stop smiling bitterly. Checking one by one which winter sprout her father found, the girl can see her impending death for today. Apparently, today is the day she will have to reveal her skills.
"Ah, here. Ilya found one too~"
Kiritsugu giggled wickedly from behind the merry Ilya.
"Fuhuhu, daddy found a second one too."
This time, Ilya sprang like a sprayed cat.
"Show me! Show me!?"
This time, her girlish pride is at stake if she wants to claim she doesn't miss anything. Actually, she didn't miss any. Only the one she is up against is childishly cunning.
Ilya's expected reaction, 10 seconds later, had Kiritsugu suppress his laughter as he pointed at what he said was his "second" winter bud.
"Eh— ? That branch doesn't have walnuts, right?"
What Kiritsugu pointed at is a branch Ilya hadn't considered it to be her target until then.
"No no, Ilya, this branch is a wingnut, a variety of walnut. So that too is the winter bud of a walnut."
As if she had been tricked by a fox, Ilyasviel remained silent for 2 or 3 seconds, then she shouted, her cheeks all red.
"Not fair, not fair not fair not fair! Kiritsugu, that was mean!"
As a matter of fact, he was indeed unfair. Since before the last time, Kiritsugu was counting the wingnuts with the walnuts. Not only was it fake, it was indeed a foul play.
"Oh, but if daddy doesn't do that, he'll never win."
"You can't! It doesn't count if it's a walnut only Kiritsugu knows!"
An extremely angry Ilyasviel starts pounding on her father's knees.
"Hahaha, but, Ilya, isn't it a new opportunity to learn something? In fact, wingnuts aren't edible like walnuts, remember that."
Ilyasviel growls at him, not caring about it at all.
"If you are so unfair, then Ilya won't play with you, Kiritsugu!"
"That bothers me— sorry, sorry, I apologize."
From the ultimatum, Kiritsugu apologized obediently. With that, Ilyasviel gradually regains her good humor.
"You won't cheat again, you promise?"
"I swear, I swear. The wingnuts are gone."
But I still have the field nuts... Kiritsugu snickered silently.
Ilyasviel, who didn't know how to distrust people yet, threw out her chest in pride, nodding with satisfaction at her incorrigible father.
"Fine. Then I'll challenge you again. The champion must always accept a challenge."
"Yes. You honor me, princess."
In sign of allegiance, for today's walnut hunt, Kiritsugu then played the horse.
"Ahahah! That's high!"
Riding on her father's shoulders was by far what Ilyasviel liked best. Kiritsugu's long legs can even cross the deep snow Ilyasviel can't walk in. With a higher point of view, she could also hunt walnuts more efficiently.
"He~re we go!"
Kiritsugu comes out of a grove, his daughter straddling on his neck. The thrill makes Ilyasviel kick up and laugh merrily.
Such disdain for her father's shoulders made him sad.
Having no experience in raising children before Ilyasviel, Kiritsugu doesn't know how they grow up. But he understands that it isn't normal for his daughter, who turns 8 this year, to weigh 15 kilos.
Perhaps, the absurd adjustments she received at birth are the reason. To Kiritsugu and Irisviel, it was obvious she would be late in reaching adulthood. Will her body turn into that of an adult as years pass or not?
No, rather, they had no hope. As a magus, Kiritsugu has already closed his ruthless diagnosis. There is 80 to 90% chances that Ilyasviel's growth will stop before her secondary sex characteristic appear.
Even so, rather than seeing her future as bad luck, she must have plenty of happiness— that wish is only the parents' ego. Yet, the pain of that thought drilling his chest was proof of the love of the man named Kiritsugu.
From a window of the castle, a pair of jade eyes were watching over the small figures of the father and daughter playing at the entrance of the forest.
The young woman standing at the window is far from being weak or transient. She has blonde hair visibly light and soft, and wears an old styled dress wrapped around her slender physique; that evidently suited a young woman secluded in her room, but the atmosphere surrounding her stiffened the air in the room by her just standing there with her intense rigor. Although, rather than the coldness of ice, she has the coolness of a clear pure stream. She was one that somehow doesn't fit the winter scenery of the melancholic Einzbern castle.
"What are you looking at, Saber?"
As Irisviel called her from behind, the young woman at the window — Saber turned around.
"... Kiritsugu and your daughter are playing in the forest, outside."
Doubtful, perplexed, frowning a little with a stiff expression, her beautiful look isn't impaired. More than the humor floating on a smile, the slackless serenity of her strained look suited her: she is that sort of rare beauty.
Can you believe that her young and vivacious presence is that of a materialized Heroic Spirit? But she definitely is 'Saber'... She was one of the seven Heroic Spirits invited by the Grail, with the class of the strongest sword, a full-fledged Servant.
At her side, Irisviel looked through the window. That was the moment Kiritsugu rushed into the forest carrying Ilyasviel on his back.
"You are surprised to see Kiritsugu like that, aren't you?"
Saber nodded honestly to the smiling Irisviel.
From her position, after all, she couldn't see the girl's face, and barely saw the silver hair inherited from her mother; but the shrilling voice she heard just before they left her field of vision was, certainly, overflowing with joy. Just that was enough to guess the harmony between the frolicking father and daughter.
"To be honest, I was under the impression that my Master was a more coldhearted person."
At Saber's words, Irisviel gave an embarrassed smile.
"Well, this isn't without reason."
Since her summoning, Saber hadn't received a word from her Master Kiritsugu.
In the end, Servants are only a tool to serve the Masters, and that was definitely how a magus would treat them. Nevertheless, Kiritsugu's attitude toward Saber was too much. Not even speaking to her, ignoring her questions, barely looking at her, Kiritsugu kept pushing away the Heroic Spirit he had summoned himself.
Although she wouldn't show any of it, Saber was definitely highly dissatisfied with the attitude of that man. Obviously, the Kiritsugu she had been attached to was far different from the man playing with his daughter outside the castle.
"If this is Kiritsugu's true face, then I must have fallen in great disgrace with my Master..."
As Saber muttered, Irisviel unintentionally chuckled: her pained face showed her true motives that were normally hidden on a handsome profile. Saber was even more unsettled.
"This isn't so funny, Irisviel."
"... I'm sorry. I was wondering if you were still holding a grudge from when you were summoned."
"A little. ... I understand that my appearance is different from what anyone would expect. But that shouldn't be something that would surprise the both of you so much."
Despite her gallant dignity, Saber truly looked like a girl not even past her teens. When she appeared in the glowing summoning circle, both Kiritsugu and Irisviel had been struck speechless.
That was to be expected. The Heroic Spirit Kiritsugu was summoning had been recorded in history as a man.
The owner of the golden scabbard from Cornwall, that is, the one known as the sole bearer of the holy sword Excalibur; nobody could have guessed the true identity of the Heroic Spirit Arthur Pendragon was a young girl.
"Certainly I have acted as a man, and have wished that that lie was carried over through history... But it is discomforting that one would doubt I am the owner of this scabbard."
"You may say this, but that's inevitable. Your legend is very well known, and it has been dramatized for 1500 years. That's quite a gap with the image we had of the King Arthur."
As Irisviel smiles uncomfortably, Saber gives a dissatisfied sigh.
"Of course you would wonder about my appearance, somehow. The instant I drew the sword of contract from the stone, I stopped aging through its magic, keeping my apparent youth. My people didn't even question my appearance at that time to begin with, as I was king. The only thing I was asked to do is fulfil my duty as a king."
How harsh a youth had that been?
The kingdom of Britain exposed by the invasion of pagans, thrown on the verge of destruction. Following the predictions of a magus, the young king, "incarnation of a dragon", was burdened with the duty of the savior, invincible through ten, twelve years of battling.
In spite of these feats, this was the ill-fated ruler whose throne was finally taken over by his own blood, betrayed, never forgiven for ending their glory.
The truth that such a delicate girl was burdened with a so violent, painful fate, weighed on Irisviel's heart.
"Does Kiritsugu... Hate me for my womanhood? Because I am not worthy of a sword?"
Saber muttered in a dry voice, watching Kiritsugu disappear into the forest afar, touching Irisviel's feelings.
"That's wrong. He understands your power. That man isn't so stupid as to misjudge a Heroic Spirit who was placed into the Saber class. ... There must be another reason, if he got angry."
"To get angry?"
Saber reacted to what she heard.
"Do you mean I made Kiritsugu angry? I cannot understand that. I still haven't spoken to him even once."
"Then it could be something unrelated to you. What he is angry at must be the legend of the King Arthur that was transmitted to us."
If the Heroic Spirit Kiritsugu summoned had been the "grown man" King Arthur that the legend told of, then he probably wouldn't have rejected his Servant so much. Simply, for him who kept his feelings from mixing up, discussions were best kept at the required minimum. Then, in the end, his daring "disregard" was the direct result of a highly emotional response.
The one who pulled the sword stuck in the stone was a young girl; that truth Kiritsugu had just learned was the source of his open indignation at the legend of the King Arthur.
"He must be angry at the people who surrounded you in your era. At the cruelty of those who forced the duty of a king on a small girl."
"That wasn't the case. I was prepared ever since I pulled the sword from the stone."
Saber said so without reserve, her expression still cool and clear. Troubled, Irisviel gave a short nod.
"... The fact that you accepted that fate like that is all the more provoking. Perhaps it is on that point he is angry at you, the girl named Artoria."
Saber briefly lowered her eyes, unable to answer. But when she immediately looked up again, her eyes were still and obstinate.
"This is being too emotional. There was nobody who would complain to those who made the decision, in my era."
"And that's why he remains silent."
With Irisviel's fast answer, Saber can only falter this time.
"Emiya Kiritsugu and the Heroic Spirit Artoria are definitely incompatible— that's what I will leave it at. If we are to talk, we will only deny each other."
Irisviel could but agree on that. If Kiritsugu was to spend time with this proud Heroic Spirit, he would always feel like their minds are too different from each other's.
Irisviel could understand each other's complaint, and had as much compassion for each of them. So, the fact that these two would never agree was, again, Irisviel's resigned conclusion.
"... I thank you, Irisviel. Without a woman like you, I might have lost this Grail War without even fighting."
"The same to you. I want my husband to be the one to reach the Grail."
Fearing the incompatibility with the Heroic Spirit Artoria, Kiritsugu had come up with an unthinkable solution to this deadlock.
Servant and Master will act completely apart.
To begin with, there is no range limit for the contract between the two. Whatever the distance, a Command Spell can control the Servant, and prana can still be supplied as well unless the Master faints. But Master and Servant actually staying together is solely a mutual understanding. Prudence dictates that battle decisions aren't just left to the Servant. The Master needs to remain on the battle scene to control the Servant.
If Kiritsugu moves independently without knowing about Saber's actions, of course that doesn't mean he trusts her completely. Kiritsugu entrusts to Irisviel the duty of being his agent to oversee Saber’s actions.
That's not something so reckless at all. For example, if Kiritsugu's Servant were to act rebellious, there is no fear she would want to kill Irisviel as long as she wants the Grail. Without Irisviel, then even if Saber defeats all the other Servants, she won't be able to reach the Grail. The "vessel of the Grail" that Irisviel carries is absolutely necessary for the Grail of Fuyuki to materialize. Therefore, Saber will need to defend Irisviel from the other Masters.
That irregular team formation was solely due to Kiritsugu and Saber's respective battle tactics. The Heroic Spirit of the knight of Saber is a fighter that has Servant abilities and Noble Phantasm properties fully geared toward a "full frontal battle". Her mindset would never consent to any makeshift that doesn't fit with that. On the other hand, her Master Emiya Kiritsugu is essentially a hitman who plans out clever schemes, and there is no possibility for the two of them to arrange for anything more than average.
Rather, as far as affinities go, Kiritsugu evaluated that Irisviel would fit much better as Saber's partner. His wife is definitely a homunculus outcast, but she still is of the noble Einzbern family, and as such, she has a natural elegance and dignity. Irisviel definitely is the kind of lady a knight would devote his loyalty to.
In fact, past a few days of living together after the summoning, Irisviel and Saber have both developed a mutual understanding and respect. The natural air of nobility Irisviel held was similar to that of a "princess" of Saber's own era, and Saber's nobility was a perfect match with Irisviel's well breeding.
Therefore, the contractual Master Kiritsugu proposed that his wife Irisviel acted as a "substitute Master" in his stead, which Saber easily accepted. Her problem really was that she felt uneasiness in cooperating with Kiritsugu, and more than letting her swing her sword freely, Irisviel was indeed more appropriate; that much was agreed on. So, the two of them were under a master and servant relationship in accordance to the oath of a knight, different from the Servant contract; and this is how they are now preparing for the Heaven's Feel.
"Irisviel, what kind of person do you view Kiritsugu as?"
"A guide as well as a husband. The one who gave a meaning to my life. —But that's not what you want to know about, is it?"
Saber nodded. What she wanted to know isn't about Irisviel's subjectivity, but about the side of Emiya Kiritsugu Saber doesn't know.
"To say the truth, he is a kind person. Only, because he was too nice, he couldn't forgive the cruelty of the world. He chose to be even more coldhearted to fight against that."
"I can understand such a determination. With a standpoint any lower, one would have to throw away his human sensitivity."
Saying this, you can't think that Kiritsugu and Saber are any alike. Perhaps Kiritsugu's disgust toward the Heroic Spirit of the king Arthur was of the same kind.
"To save the world with the power of the Grail— is that what you are saying? What your and Kiritsugu's wish is?"
"Yes. Mine is only a reflection of his wish, though. But I do think it is something worth risking your life for."
At Irisviel's words, Saber nodded, her eyes set ablaze as well.
"The wish I have for the Grail is also similar. I want to help the Britain I couldn't save by myself. I think what you and Kiritsugu want is right. It is a path to be proud of."
Smiling, Irisviel replied ambiguously.
Pride— that precisely is the problem.
Her husband's words came back in Irisviel's mind. The true reason why Kiritsugu and Saber behave so differently.
'The two of you will be flowers on the battleground. Never running away or hiding, shine so that nobody will look away from the Servant Saber.
Because those who will look at Saber will be turning their backs to me.'
Kiritsugu has no intention of leaving the battle to Irisviel and Saber. Rather, he intends to actively transform the progress of the war by his own means. He will be an assassin sneaking up from behind the enemy, and Saber has the role of the lure that will make his trap certain; no more than a feint.
Irisviel couldn't say anything, but it was clear what methods Kiritsugu would adopt once the war starts. What will the proud and honest knight think after that... thinking of it, Irisviel is worried about it.
"Irisviel, you have a deep understanding of your husband Kiritsugu, and have much faith in him."
Unaware of Irisviel's melancholy, Saber watched the harmony between the father and daughter through the window.
"Looking at it that way, the two of you appear to be a pretty normal couple looking for happiness.
But if Kiritsugu thinks that I too should have looked for happiness as a person and not as a king the same way... Both are the same wish one can't help having."
"... So, you don't have a grudge against him anymore?"
"Of course, I don't."
With a delicate face, Saber nodded, and Irisviel felt like she was betraying the Servant.
"But— Irisviel, is it alright? To tell me about something like that."
Asking again, Saber's eyes seemed to want to tell more.
"I mean— you will need to accept leaving your daughter, like Kiritsugu. Tomorrow... Won't we fly over to Japan for the Grail?"
"Ah, that. —It's fine. There is no need for me and my child to part."
Irisviel smiled peacefully to show gratitude toward Saber’s anxiety; but somehow, the lonely hollowness of that smile troubled her.
"If I am to cease to exist as Irisviel, it doesn't mean I will disappear. When she grows up, I am sure she will understand. Because she is an Einzbern woman like me."
She couldn't grasp the enigmatic words of Irisviel, but Saber's face stiffened at the sinister omen she could feel hidden inside them.
"Irisviel, you will definitely survive. I will protect you until the end. I swear it on the pride of my sword."
The knight's solemn statement made Irisviel smile brightly.
"Saber, get the Grail. For yourself, and for your Master. Then the Einzberns will reach their 1000 year desire, and me and my daughter will be freed from our destiny. —We rely only on you, Artoria."
Again, Saber couldn't comprehend the meaning of Irisviel's anxious smile. Her hair glittering like snow, and her radiant beauty, that woman filled with a warm kindness, just what fate was she born tied to? —For the knight to know the complete truth is a revelation that has yet to come.
The fair hunt for winter buds of wingnuts ended with Ilyasviel's victory, ending a series of 3 consecutive defeats for the champion. Also, no field nut trees were found in the Einzbern forest.
After the battle, the two casually walk back. Because they walked deep into the forest, the majesty of the Einzbern castle has become a silhouette in the haze.
"The next time will be when you come back from Japan, Kiritsugu."
Having fulfilled her revenge, Ilyasviel looks up with a large smile at her father. Unable to look straight at her, Kiritsugu feigned serenity as best as he could.
"Yes... Next time, daddy won't lose."
"Uhuhu, if you don't do better, we will soon be a hundred points apart, you know?"
The smile of his beloved daughter was becoming too much of a burden for the man.
Just how should he tell her? Until the end, maybe that will be the one thing he will think of.
This is the worst struggle for Kiritsugu. But, by all means, he must win. For that purpose, he can't afford to give up his life.
So― the promise to his daughter to play again in the winter forest is only a small victory.
Save everything. Abandon everything for that.
To the man who swore to do that, love could only be a thorn.
Whenever he loved someone, it was a curse to have to be ready to keep it hidden in his heart.
This was the fate that burdened Emiya Kiritsugu in exchange for his ideal. Love was a torture that could not be healed.
Then why―he was questioning himself when he looks at the frozen white sky and earth.
Why did he love so much the one woman and the child he shares his blood with.
"Kiritsugu, how long will your work with mother last? When will you be back?"
Unaware of her father’s suffering, Ilyasviel asked with a lively voice.
"Daddy will come back in a couple of weeks, probably. ―For mom, that should be, much longer, I think..."
"Yeah. Mother told Ilya. That we will part forever."
Hearing her reply without a shadow on her face was the finishing blow for Kiritsugu. His knees lost the strength to push through the snow-covered path.
His wife was ready. His daughter was prepared.
For the truth was that Emiya Kiritsugu was snatching her mother away from this young girl.
"Mother told me that even if we wouldn't see each other anymore, she will always be by my side. I don't have to be sad, she has been telling me, before going to bed. So Ilya will always be with mother."
"... I see..."
At that point, Kiritsugu became aware of the blood dyeing his hands crimson red.
He didn't know how many people he had killed, how impure his arms were. For you to hold a child as a father, that is definitely unforgivable― he told himself.
But wasn't that warning the same as running away?
This child will never be embraced by her mother ever again already. And if her father Kiritsugu abandons that duty as well... Who will be holding Ilyasviel again?
Kiritsugu stopped his daughter walking beside him, dropped down and wrapped his arms around the girl.
In 8 years, every time he held that small body in his arms, Kiritsugu doubted his fatherhood, deep inside. Disgusted by his acting as a father, he could only scorn at himself for being unable to do otherwise.
But this too is reaching an end. As this child's only father, he must hold her in the warmth of his arms. Without running away, without lying.
"Will you wait for me, Ilya? Can you stand to be alone until daddy comes back?"
"Yes! I will bear it. I'll wait for you with mother, Kiritsugu."
Memories of this day will probably fill Ilyasviel with joy until the end. Her cheerful voice holds no grief.
"... Then daddy will promise you something too. I won't make you wait. Daddy will definitely come back quickly."
Emiya Kiritsugu took on another heavy burden.
Enduring the thorn that is love that pierced his whole body, he tightly embraced his child for an eternity.
Uryū Ryūnosuke disliked splatter movies. He did understand the necessity for that kind of amusement in itself, though.
Not just horror, but war movies, panic movies, and all the way to adventure movies and dramas; why does fiction keep painting man's death tirelessly?
That may be, because the spectators can minimize their fear of death by observing a fictitious imitation of "death".
Humans find pride in "wisdom" and dread in "ignorance". Hence if they can "experience" and "comprehend" a given fear, then it is a victory that resembles the overcoming of that fear.
However, "death" is merely... something that you can't experience while you live. Therefore it is impossible to understand its true meaning. That's why humans can only guess the essence of death by observing other people's death, and make up a virtual experience.
Indeed, for the civilized society to respect human life, this virtual experience cannot but rely on fiction. Yet, where war makes your neighbor minced meat with bombing and land mines, nobody watches horror movies.
Similarly, it is important to be entertained by fictional physical pain, mental stress or any kind of sorrow. When experiencing bodily sensations by yourself becomes too risky, you can overcome and remove uneasiness by observing those who do taste those sensations. ―That's why a silver screen or a cathode-ray tube bring tears of screams, grief and anguish.
That is good. That's understandable. Once, Ryūnosuke feared "death" like any ordinary person. He could have been an amateur of horror movies, if death could have been minimized and fear conquered by looking at the special make-ups of slaughtered bodies, the red ink of blood splashes and the realist acting reproducing a screaming "stale death".
Depiction of cruelty in fiction has a bad influence on young people, that much can be said; but to Uryū Ryūnosuke, this is highly ridiculous nonsense. Because if blood and screams in splatter horror had been at least a little more realistic, he wouldn't have become a homicidal maniac.
This is, really, nothing but the result of an earnest curiosity. Ryūnosuke just had to know what "death" was. The vivid red of the haemorrhagic artery, the touch and the warmth of what was inside the abdominal cavity. The agony of the victim getting these pulled out until death, the musical tone of the screams. There really was nothing that could beat that.
People say murder is a crime. But let's think about it. Aren't there 5 billions of humans crowding on this Earth? Ryūnosuke knows well how outrageous a number that is. Because he counted the gravels in the park when he was a kid. Of course he got discouraged after ten thousand, but he didn't forget the frustration he felt that time. There are five hundred thousand times that many humans. Furthermore, it is said that the number of births and deaths everyday can be counted by the tens of thousands. What weight can Ryūnosuke have by becoming a murderer? Beside, by killing people one by one, Ryūnosuke can perfect each of their death thoroughly. Occasionally, he enjoys making sure the "process of death" takes up to half a day. With this incentive and experience, the information volume brought by one death can be much more important compared to what you can get by living a too short life. From Uryū Ryūnosuke's reasoning, can't you say that homicide is a more productive action?
With that creed, Ryūnosuke wandered around in various places, accumulating murders. He didn't fear the law. The feeling of being imprisoned and handcuffed ―however many men it would actually require for that― was something he definitely "understood" to the point of not fearing it; he had "observed" enough deaths by hanging or on the electric chair for that. But his reason for escaping the law was, simply, because there is nothing to gain from being taken away from freedom and life in prison; hence he considered that living a life seeking everyday pleasure was better, that it was the right choice for a healthy man.
He is satisfied by squeezing the best out of the life force of those he kills, of feelings such as the attachment for human life, anger and affection. To let his victims know the exact time and circumstances of their death, that in itself had a deep meaning as rich as a miniaturized life.
When on the verge of death, very common people will behave strangely, and on the other hand, people seen as exceptional will die in an extremely banal way― observing such patterns in humans, Ryūnosuke pursued death; and while being an expert in death, he greatly studied its complete opposite, life. The more he killed people, the more he understood the lives he took.
That knowledge, that discernment in itself was a kind of dignity, a style.
Although Ryūnosuke couldn't find the words to accurately explain why he had that power― if he really had to sum it up, it would be all with the expression "be cool".
To make a comparison, it's like sprinkles in a bar or crags spraying around. Unable to get used to such a playground, loosening without knowing one's place, and not understanding one's amusement. But if it is about accumulating experience and adopting a rule of conduct, then he is a welcome regular customer in a place where he can control the mood into intimacy. That's what it is to be cool as a way of life.
So to speak, Ryūnosuke was a genuine player when it comes to be familiar with the comfort of the stool that is human life. Like that, he could look for victims savoring a cocktail of new methods, appreciating the taste of satisfaction.
This isn't some sort of metaphor; in the town, at night, Ryūnosuke's pleasure was his excellency in attracting victims like light traps for insects, with a certain interest in the opposite sex. Moreover, women were, certainly, charmed by the composure and dignity that emerged from his enigmatic posture. After seduction, he would always enjoy some alcohol, and the girls he really got into always ended as a blood-stained piece of meat.
The town at night would always be Ryūnosuke's hunting ground, and the prey would never notice the menace that is Ryūnosuke.
Once, he saw a leopard in some animal program, and was enchanted by its elegance. He felt a connection with the brilliant modus operandi of the hunt. The leopard was the beast with a cool way of life that became his model, literally.
Since then, Ryūnosuke ended up being self-conscious of his image of a leopard. He was always wearing clothes with something from a leopard. Jacket or pants, shoes or hat, or if that was too showy, he even had socks or underwear, handkerchief or gloves. He had an amber-colored cat's-eye ring, always in his pocket even when he couldn't slip it on his middle finger, and he would always carry on himself a pendant made with a real fang.
So, this murderer named Uryū Ryūnosuke has just recently started feeling down with a serious loss of motivation.
After some 30 victims, his methods for execution and torture has started losing its freshness as they all look the same. Testing all the techniques he can come up with, even when Ryūnosuke witnesses their dying agony, teasing his preys has already lost the taste of excitement and stimulation.
Deciding to return to the place of his origin, Ryūnosuke came home after some 5 years, breaking into the backyard storehouse as his parents had fallen asleep in this late night. It was in this storehouse that he had taken his first victim, and it was now crumbling, abandoned.
Meeting again after 5 years, his sister's body had completely changed, but she waited for her brother at the place Ryūnosuke had hidden it. The silent meeting with his sister gave him no particularly strong emotion, and Ryūnosuke was disappointed that he had come for nothing; but at that moment, he found a rotten old book from the mountain of junk crammed in the warehouse.
The thin worm-eaten book was not a printed copy but an individual note. The postscript says ninth year of the Keiō era. This writing is more than a hundred year old, dating back to the end of the Bakumatsu.
Having occasionally tapped into Chinese books during his student days, Ryūnosuke could actually read the notes without much difficulty. But the problem was the content itself. The incoherent writing of thin characters was preposterous nonsense about some kind of dark magic. Moreover, the inscriptions involved Christianity and Satan; apparently it was about some western occults. Offering human sacrifices to otherworldly demons to invoke spirits; that was definitely fiction.
In the dying hours of the era of Edo, studying western knowledge was a genre of heresy. While a book about the occult, the most heretic of heresy, could only be a prank, Ryūnosuke had some admiration for it, and he cared little about its authenticity. It was already quite cool and funky to keep just the old book on the occult from the storehouse. That was enough of a stimulus to renew his inspiration as a homicidal maniac.
At once, Ryūnosuke made the place a "spiritual ground" as described in the notes, then resumed his night time reading. He didn't know just what meaning the land now called the town of Fuyuki had, but Ryūnosuke was setting up the important points of the mood for new killings; he followed the instructions of the old book as faithfully as possible.
When he first sacrificed a girl who had run off to play at night in an abandoned factory, the stimulus was more interesting than expected. The style of the sacrificial ritual totally captivated Ryūnosuke despite his inexperience. He became infatuated with the method, and after three failed attempts, the peaceful provincial city was struck with fear.
Like that, Uryū Ryūnosuke broke into the house of a four person family for the fourth crime; he was by then completely intoxicated with ecstasy in the midst of the crime, and of course he started cooling off after repeating the same crime for the fourth time. The voice of reason in his head started whispering in his ears.
Ryūnosuke had accumulated crimes as he wandered all over the country. He never killed twice on the same spot, and always disposed scrupulously of the body. Most of Ryūnosuke's victims are, even now, being searched as missing persons.
But this time, a series of crimes without hiding the remains would warn people quickly; this definitely was folly. Obsessed with the method, he had completely forgotten about his usual prudence. This one was particularly bad. For the three previous ones, he had tried to draw the magic circle with blood, and mistakes made him go short on blood. So this time, to draw a perfect circle, he had decided to kill a little more than usual; but really, slaughtering a whole sleeping family might be a little too sensational. The police will be in a frenzy and everyone in the region will be increasingly wary. Going into hiding is definitely not the style of a ‘leopard’.
Ryūnosuke finally decided ― for the time being, let's leave the city of Fuyuki quiet. He will stick with the black mass as he quite liked the result, but he would have to reduce the number from 3 to 1 at a time for safety purpose.
After sorting up his feelings, a renewed Ryūnosuke decided to concentrate on the ritual again.
"♪ Fill, fill, filling, fill. With each repetition, four times― eh, five times? Err, only when it's full, break it up... Is it? Yeah."
Reciting the summoning chant, Ryūnosuke drew on the wooden floor of the living room with his bloody brush. The ceremony really is some serious business; that ambiance isn't Ryūnosuke's style at all. The serious mood was for his personal satisfaction; after all, what's important is the feeling.
Having practiced the magic circle all night, he finished it in one go. There was no need for reserves anymore, then. Even though he had killed the parents and the eldest daughter to draw their blood.
"♪ Fill, fill, filling, filling, fill, there. That's five times alright. Okay?"
The leftover blood seemed suitable for some fine art on the walls of the room. Waiting for a reaction, he turned toward the last survivor rolled up in the corner― a grade school boy gagged with a rope. The young kid was crying, his eyes swollen, looking at his torn up sister and parents.
"Say― boy, do you believe in demons?"
Asking the shivering kid, Ryūnosuke tilted his head in a dramatic act. Obviously, he wasn't expecting a reply: with his mouth gagged, all the kid could do was tremble in fear.
"You know, newspapers and magazines keep calling me a demon. But ain't it weird? A single stick of dynamite would do more victims at once than me."
Kids are nice. Ryūnosuke liked kids. Frightened adults cry and scream, so on that part, kids really are better. You can just laugh it off when they get incontinent.
"Nah, it’s fine. I'm kind of a demon. But if there were real demons beside me, I'd like to try to talk a little with them. Now that'd be nice. " 'Sup, name's Uryū Ryūnosuke, I'm a demon!" how does that sound for an introduction? That should be a good opportunity to make sure of it. If real demons exist or not..."
His good humor improving, Ryūnosuke tested his charm on the trembling kid. Normally, talking was annoying, but looking at blood― and standing in front of someone on the verge of death, he seemed to change and started getting loquacious.
The blood of 3 people was enough, and that was his only reason for letting the youngest child live. Though he did think he'd take the time to enjoy killing him later, after the completion of the ceremony―
"Anyway. If by any chance, a demon really comes out, wouldn't it be stupid to not have anything to drink and chat? So, boy... If Mr. Demon here does pay me a visit, how about a little killing?"
The young kid could understand well enough Ryūnosuke's idea. Ryūnosuke beamed when the kid, his eyes wide open, started twisting and struggling around without a scream.
"I wonder how it is to be killed by a demon. Will it go zip or splash, that gotta be some fun to watch. Not something you see everyday― ah ouch!"
The unexpected sting was like a cold shower on Ryūnosuke's frenzy.
That was the back of his right hand. He felt an intense pain as if he had bathed his hand in a powerful poison. As soon as the pain started, the swelling calmed down and stuck on the surface of his skin.
"... What the, hell? This..."
Somehow, a pattern like a tattoo was there on his pained right hand, and he had no idea why.
Rather than feeling anxious, Ryūnosuke reacted dandily. That incomprehensible pattern of three intertwined snakes resembled some tribal tattoo, which didn’t look half bad.
But his foppishness lasted only a moment; Ryūnosuke turned around in surprise when he felt the air move behind him.
The air grows hot. A current that shouldn't be possible indoors. Soon, the breeze changed into a whirlwind blowing in the living room.
Ryūnosuke stared at the magic circle drawn on the floor with fresh blood as it unbelievably started emitting a phosphorescent light.
He did expect some sort of abnormality to occur, but― such a blatant phenomenon was beyond his anticipation. Something big, just like in the horror movies Ryūnosuke despised. These childish effects were so laughable it wasn't funny, but it was definitely real.
The violent gust was now trampling the room, blowing off the TV, the flower vase and other furniture. In the center of the magic circle, a mist started rising, and sparks scatter. The scene was otherworldly, but Uryū Ryūnosuke was definitely not scared. He was he child staring at a magic trick, his chest dancing from expectation.
Fascination for the unknown―
The enchantment once discovered in the marvel called "death". The radiance that disappeared unnoticed when he grew tired of accumulating murder, right now―
A flash. Then a roaring sound like a thunderbolt.
The impact ran past Ryūnosuke's body. The feeling was like being fried by a high-tension current.
The strange power once passed through the Uryū family. Now forgotten by its descendants, but still carried through their blood uninterrupted, the 'Magic Circuits' had been sleeping until this day inside Ryūnosuke; that inherited mystery was now unleashed like a tidal wave. And that "alien power" flowing in Ryūnosuke has just now started running in him, then streaming back outside to the thing invited from the underworld.
―So to speak, this was an exception amongst exceptions.
To begin with, the Grail of Fuyuki itself requires seven Servants. It isn't the capable ones who summon Servants and try to become Masters. The Grail will pick appropriate persons until the count reaches seven.
The summoning of a Servant is also fundamental for the Grail. The hard work magi put into the ritual is only a precaution to create a bond with a perfect, reliable Servant. Even with an unskilled summoning circle and without chanting the spell, if a human has a catalyst, the requirements for the Grail can be met...
"―I ask of you"
From inside the enveloping haze, a soft yet strangely carrying voice called out.
The wind had stopped unnoticed. The light had left the magic circle, the radiance was disappearing, and the circle drawn on the floor with fresh blood was blackened as if burned up. And from inside the fading mist, the owner of the voice earlier suddenly showed his figure to Ryūnosuke.
A young face without a single crease yet. A pair of large, hulling eyes and greasy cheeks. Along with the deathly pallor of his face, he reminded Ryūnosuke of a painting from Munch.
His garments too were quite odd. His figure, tall enough to reach the clouds, was wrapped in a much-folded robe, decorated with luxurious latches made of precious metals; his whole style looks exactly like some "evil magician" from a manga.
"You who called me, you who requested for me, summoning the spirit of the Caster class... I ask for your name. Who are you?"
Ryūnosuke gave a small response. The one who had come out of the summoning circle with great flashes and smokes― was an ordinary human. That was definitely not what he had expected. No exaggerated monster, just a perfectly normal human? Ryūnosuke was puzzled. His clothes were definitely queer, but did that mean this man was a real demon?
Scratching his head for a moment, Ryūnosuke took his decision.
"Uh, name's Uryū Ryūnosuke. I'm a freelancer. My hobby is murder in general. I like kids and young women. Recently I'm back to sharpening my basis again."
The man in robe nodded. Apparently he had ignored everything beside the name.
"Very well. The contract is complete. Your desire for the Holy Grail is my desire as well. We shall make the cauldron of heaven ours."
"Holy― Grail ?"
On the moment, Ryūnosuke didn't get what it was about. Right, thinking again, didn't the old book found in the storehouse mention something like that? And he had skipped it because the passage was dull.
"... Yeah well, let's save the troublesome talk for later."
Ryūnosuke waved his hand lightly, before pointing with his chin at the kid rolled up in the corner.
"For now, let's talk over a drink. Won't you eat that?"
The other man, with a face as expressionless as a mask, gauged the tied kid and Ryūnosuke. Feeling anxious, Ryūnosuke couldn't tell by the silence if his words and intentions had hit home. Maybe that was asking for too much. After all, who decided that demons eat children?
Silently, the man picked a book from a pocket of his robe. The bulky book appeared to be an antique treasure from an ancient era. No doubt it was some gadget of the demon.
Ryūnosuke noticed in one glance what hide the cover was made of.
"Ah, cool! That's human skin, right?"
Ryūnosuke can recognize it because he once tried to put up a lamp shade with human skin pelt off a victim. Eventually, he got discouraged at his poor handicraft midway, but he can't help but respect an elder who has achieved a similar work through the end.
The man, casting only a glance at Ryūnosuke, ignored his compliment and gently opened the book, his hand rapidly flipping through the pages; he then muttered one or two words that made no sense, and as if it was enough, closed the book before putting it back in his pocket.
Leaving the helpless Ryūnosuke, the man walked toward the boy rolled up on the floor. At the strange events that had kept happening, the boy winced harder as if death was inevitable, trying to crawl away from the man.
Looking at the child in such a state, the man seemed suddenly full of compassion and kindness, which startled Ryūnosuke. What does that mean?
"― You have nothing to be afraid of, my boy."
Unlike what his odd appearance suggested, the strange man gently spoke to the boy. The imprisoned kid gradually notices his warmth, and looks at the man questioningly.
As a reply, the man gives a smiling nod, bending toward the boy and extending his hand at him― gently untying his ropes and gag.
"Can you stand?"
As an encouragement, the man patted the boy on the back, helping him up.
Of course, Ryūnosuke had no doubt the man was a devil, but he was really dissatisfied with how he was treating the child. Is he actually going to let him live?
Anyway, no matter how you looked at him, the man is queer. When silent, his features would look dreadful like the face of a corpse, but when smiling without any apparent maliciousness, he would seem as pure as a saint.
"Now, my boy, the door over there will lead you out of this room. Don't look around, walk straight forward by yourself. Can you do that by yourself?"
At the boy's brave nod, the man responded with a bright smile, softly pushing his back.
The boy started running lightly across the bloodstained living room, as he avoided looking at the corpses of both his parents and his sister as instructed.
Of course Ryūnosuke couldn't ignore it all and spoke, but the man quickly interrupted him with a hand sign. Overpowered, Ryūnosuke helplessly watched the kid escape.
The boy opened the door and stepped into the corridor. In front of him was the entranceway. His eyes drowned in fear until then were now shinning again in hope and relief.
The climax came the next instant.
The boy was leaving the stairs behind him, facing the entranceway. From the second floor, invisible from the living room, something suddenly fell down in an avalanche on the young boy. A bundle of heavy ropes ― no, a flock of countless snakes ― an indescribable life form, or rather, a living creature twined around the boy's whole body, and with an otherworldly force, took away the young body up to the second floor.
Then― a soul-rending scream. The clicking tongues of an infinite number of creatures, and the echo of small bones crushed. The rashness of whatever was happening on the upper floor easily stimulated imagination even without witnessing it.
The strange man closed his eyes and raised his face, listening to the nightmarish sound, drunk it in attentively. His hand shivered. Apparently he was deeply moved.
But the emotion was just as great for Ryūnosuke... No, as he didn't expect something like that to happen; the catharsis was far more intense for him.
"There is a certain freshness in fear."
The lingering memory of the horror he had himself planned out hadn't drawn out yet ―there now was no remaining doubt he was a devil― when he started speaking, and his voice sounded like he was entranced in a dream.
"Fright is about the feeling that you will die. The true meaning of terror doesn't lie in a static condition, but in a change― this is the instant when hope is turned into despair.
How was it? The smell of fresh fear and death."
"― Kh ―"
Ryūnosuke was at loss of words.
The 'thing' that was feasting on the kid's remains upstairs was, apparently, the man's doing. He was the one who had appeared from the bloody magic circle, after all. There was no possible doubt something had happened when he had opened his book with the binding made out of human skin.
The method was nerve-racking, but that is what is splendid in this philosophy. Ryūnosuke was no match for the creativity and perfect aesthetics of such evilness. Him who held such a vivid and moving "aesthetics of death" deserved the greatest praises.
"Cool! That's wicked! Man, that was super cool!"
Feeling like dancing with joy, Ryūnosuke grabbed the man's hand and shook it. Making friends with this strange man was no less moving than meeting a celebrity. The mass murderer Uryū Ryūnosuke finally felt adoration and respect from the depth of his heart for someone in this boring world.
"Okay! I don't know about this Grail thing, but I'll follow you! I'll help you in whatever you want. We'll kill more. There are plenty of sacrifices. Show me more of your cool killings!"
"You are a pleasant fellow."
Understanding of Ryūnosuke's emotion, the man replied gently to his violent handshake with a pure smile.
"Ryūnosuke, was it? It is a good omen I got a Master as understanding as you. This is developing more and more into an ideal situation for my aspirations."
When a summoning is made without a catalyst, the Heroic Spirit will be one that has a similar mindset as the Master. The one summoned by the vicious murderer was one who had left his name on extremely cruel acts; he was a Heroic Spirit with a taste for true tyranny. Or rather, based on that nature, it would be more suitable to call him a vengeful spirit instead of a heroic spirit.
"Ah―, right, I didn't get to hear your name."
Remembering about the important parts, Ryūnosuke started acting more familiarly.
"My name, yes. Indeed. For this era, you could call me..."
The man put a finger to his lips, then after thinking a little,
"... Then, for now, you can call me "Bluebeard". Pleased to meet you."
He replied familiarly with an angelic smile.
Thus, for the last position of the fourth Heaven's Feel ― the Master and his Servant 'Caster' completed the contract. This is how, without knowing the meaning of the Grail War or his nature as a magus, the casual murderer received Command Seals and a Servant.
For a trick of fate, this may be the foulest play.
The saying goes that the hour when even trees sleep doesn't apply to magi and Servants.
The Heroic Spirit of the shadows, Assassin, has a better grasp than anyone on the complexity of being prepared in the darkness of the night.
Especially since the magi gathered in the city of Fuyuki have a double interest. Standing on the hill of Miyama town, neither of the western-styled houses of Matō and Tōsaka were left behind in term of splendor.
Masters aiming for the Grail, the two landlords were using, lately, some low-grade familiars to patrol left and right, day and night around their visible castles. Naturally, the master of the mansion must be ready, and stretched around a multitude of bounded fields for detection and defense even inside the mansion; it must be a stronghold in the magecraft sense of the term.
Stepping unauthorized into the bounded fields is all but safe, all the more for the large mass of prana that is a Servant. Essentially, even if it is a spiritual body, it should be just about impossible to slip through the bounded fields of the fortress undetected.
However, the impossible can always be made possible. That is the Presence Concealment skill of the Assassin class. While he does not excel in battle power, Assassin can suppress his prana emission until it reaches zero to creep in the shadows and reach his target.
Additionally, for the Assassin of this time, Kotomine Kirei's Servant, this night's infiltration operation was especially easy. The garden he was now sneaking in isn't the one in the Matō mansion that has been considered enemy territory for some time. It is the mansion of Tōsaka Tokiomi, who was his Master Kirei's ally until just yesterday. Of course, Assassin too has agreed with Kirei and Tokiomi to deceive the other Masters and remain undercover. Obeying that secret agreement, he has undertaken the guarding of the Tōsaka mansion on countless occasions. Knowing all about the disposition of the bounded fields, he was naturally aware of the blind spot.
In his spiritual form, Assassin progressed through the many alarm fields without a problem, laughing at the ironic fate of Tōsaka Tokiomi. That arrogant magus has placed a considerable faith in his protégé Kirei, but can't imagine that he might be bitten by his dog.
Kirei's order to murder Tokiomi had reached Assassin no longer than an hour ago. He was unsure of what caused Kirei to change his mind, but Tokiomi's summoning of a Servant a few days ago must be when it began. Tokiomi seems to have summoned the Servant Archer, but apparently, that Heroic Spirit must be weaker than Kirei expected. And as the merit of the cooperation with Tokiomi faded away, he agreed with the decision Kirei made this night.
"Vain prudence is unnecessary. Have no fear of facing Archer. You need to obliterate Tōsaka Tokiomi quickly."
That was the order of his Master Kirei. Against the despised, weakest fighter Assassin, he won't be afraid and won't hurry— it should be easy to betray the miscalculations of the Heroic Spirit Archer summoned by Tōsaka Tokiomi.
Halfway through the garden, the blind spot of the bounded field one could just pass through vanished. From there on, the barrier has to be destroyed by physical mean, and one need to progress while removing it. It is impossible to proceed while invisible in spirit form.
Leaning over the shadow of the vegetation, Assassin returned from spirit form to physical form, exposing his bony mask and tall, lean figure. He can feel many "eyes" all over him from afar, different from the bounded field of the Tōsaka residence. The familiars of other Masters must be observing the Tōsaka residence from outside the barriers. As long as he remains unnoticed from Tokiomi himself, there is no need to worry about any Peeping Toms. Tokiomi's rivals disputing the Grail would never warn him of Assassin's infiltration. If one competitor drops, the others should remain unconcerned spectators.
Snickering without a sound, Assassin extended his hand at the first keystone that binds the barri—
The next instant, that hand was pierced through by a spear flying from above, shining like a flash of lightning.
An intense pain, terror, and above all, shock. The simple spear strike was completely unexpected, and Assassin swung his head upward, looking for the thrower.
No, there is no need to search.
On top of the roof of the Tōsaka residence, a golden shadow stands magnificently. That divine radiance even steals the dignity of the starlit sky and puts the moon to shame.
The rage of being wounded made Assassin forget the pain, but he could only fear the overwhelming coercion.
"You worm crawling on the ground, whose pardon do you seek?"
The golden man asks indifferently to the Assassin hidden on the ground, looking down at him with a pair of disdainful, burning crimson eyes.
"You can't look at me. Worms can only look at the ground when they die, like the worms they are."
Around the golden shadow, even more glows appeared, growing to a countless number. Suddenly sliding out of mid-air were swords, halberds, not one of them were the same, all of them treasured weapons with dazzling ornaments. And all of them were aimed at Assassin.
I can't win.
Without even thinking, Assassin realized it instinctively.
Winning against him is impossible. It's stupid to even think about facing him.
If he is able to hit Assassin, a Servant, it means that golden shadow is definitely a Servant. And if he is stopping an invasion into the Tōsaka mansion, then the Master is Tokiomi— In other words, he must be the Heroic Spirit Archer.
There's no need to fear that?
In his pledge to his Master, Assassin knew there was no contradiction in Kirei's words.
In front of such an overwhelming enemy, fear is— yes, there is no place for fear—
There can only be despair and abandon.
Slashing through the air in a howl, an infinity of shining blades started raining down on Assassin.
Assassin felt the eyes. The familiars observing from outside the place. The first Servant to fall in the fourth War of the Holy Grail met an unsightly end without even a retort, witnessed by the other Masters.
And at the last moment, Assassin understood. The true intention of his Master, Kotomine Kirei, and... of the leader, Tōsaka Tokiomi.
Relaxing in a comfortable chair of his room, Tōsaka Tokiomi listened to the roar of the countless Noble Phantasms drilling the ground, tearing flesh to pieces.
"Well, things are looking up. Now..."
The magus muttered to himself, his profile glowing a different gold from the other one under the lamp shade.
Just by its presence, the golden figure stood out in the dimly lit surroundings, like the one on the roof that just executed the invader. Turning into spirit form to come back to Tokiomi's room, then again in physical form, the Servant Archer stood proudly beside his Master, who bore a satisfied face.
The figure looking around is tall and dignified and wearing a golden armor. He is a young man with golden hair standing up like a blazing flame, handsome with an elegant face. His eyes, crimson like blood, are visibly not those of a human, and whoever is stared at cannot but wither in front of their mysterious radiance.
"You made me perform some extremely trifling duty, Tokiomi."
Tokiomi stood up from his chair and bowed respectfully, yet elegantly.
"I am sorry for your trouble, king amongst kings."
As a Master to the summoned Servant, those were manners more humble than expected. But Tōsaka Tokiomi expressed his gratitude without reserve to the Heroic Spirit he had summoned. As someone from a valued lineage himself, Tōsaka Tokiomi can perfectly discern "nobility" better than anyone. He is the guest of honor Tokiomi has summoned to win this fourth Heaven's Feel, not a humble servant, but the greatest hero.
This man, Archer, in the present era, is the "King of Heroes", Gilgamesh. The tyrant who ruled ancient Mesopotamia, part divine, part human. As a hero, rooted in the oldest origin of mankind, he is amongst the oldest kings.
Tokiomi firmly believes in the value of nobility. Even with the supremacy of the Command Seals, or with the best contract, nothing can surpass ranks. Even if he was a Servant, that golden young man was one who deserved the highest honor.
"The outcome of tonight's event will save us a lot of complications. Having witnessed the power of the "King of Heroes", no stray dog will try to bite in vain."
Archer appreciated the truth in Tokiomi's words. Tokiomi and his upright attitude, lost in more flattery than it was necessary, also has no hope in this era. The King of Heroes could understand that.
"In a little while, the field beasts will understand who the hunting lion really is. Please have patience until then."
"Very well. I will just walk off my boredom. This era seems fairly interesting."
At Archer's words, Tokiomi glossed over his slight irritation with a sour look.
Certainly, the Servant he has contracted with is the strongest. But he gives him headaches when he wanders away for his selfish curiosity. In the present world, he hasn't spent even one whole night quietly in the Tōsaka mansion. Tokiomi devoted much effort to keeping Archer inside the mansion for Assassin's raid tonight.
"... Does this era please you?"
"Its ugliness is beyond help. But it does hold love as it is.
What is essential is whether or not there is a treasure worthy of my fortune."
Bragging with a cynical smile, Archer gazes at Tokiomi with his red eyes full of divine authority.
"If there is not a single thing worthy of my favor in this world— the price for summoning me in vain will be heavy, Tokiomi."
"Rest assured. The Grail will definitely catch your attention, King of Heroes."
Confident, Tokiomi replied without fear.
"That will be mine to decide. ... Well, this is fine. For the time being, I will do as you say. Every treasure in this world is mine. Depending on what kind of treasure this Holy Grail is, I will not overlook mongrels fighting for it."
With that haughty declaration, the King of Heroes turned his heels and cancelled his physical form, vanishing like a mist.
"I will be your lion, and I expect to be amused. I will leave the details to you, Tokiomi."
Tokiomi dropped his head at the shadowed voice without a shadow. He didn't stop his reverence until the presence of the Heroic Spirit had disappeared from the room.
"... Well, well."
The magus sighed deeply when the pressure from the golden man went away.
Servants receive certain skills when a class is attributed for the Heroic Spirit in the present world. Those skills are abilities such as Assassin's "Presence Concealment", Caster's "Territory Creation", and Saber's and Rider's "Riding". By the same way, a Servant being assigned the class Archer in the present world possesses the unique skill of "Independent Action".
This ability means he is capable of being severed from the Master supplying prana and act in autonomy; this is useful, for example, if a Master needs to concentrate all of his prana for a single large spell, or if the Master is injured and unable to supply enough prana. Yet on the other hand, it becomes harder for the Master to have the Servant accompany him and be completely under his control.
As an Archer, Gilgamesh's skill of Independent Action is ranked A. With this alone, he can use Noble Phantasms at will in battle and remain in the present world without the Master's back-up... But by having this, the King of Heroes was able to ignore Tokiomi's inclination and stroll around in Fuyuki City as he wished. Constantly apart from each other, Tokiomi can never be aware of his own Servant's whereabouts, or of what he is doing.
Having not a single interest in his own world, Tokiomi cannot understand what amusement a man like the King of Heroes can find by walking around to watch people's lives.
"Anyway, for now, I can have Kirei handle it. Everything is going as planned for the moment."
Snickering, Tokiomi looked down at the garden through the window. The excess of destruction gouged when Assassin crept in made the scene look like it had been bombed.
"Assassin― has been killed?"
Disappointed by how quickly it had ended, Waver Velvet opened his eyes.
Until a moment ago, he was spying over the complete turn of the scene at the Tōsaka mansion, and his vision now returned to the room he has gotten used to ― on the second floor of the house of the old couple he lived with like a parasite. The image that was behind his eyelids until just then was coming from the vision of a rat familiar. That kind of magecraft is nothing spectacular for Waver.
With the opening of the Heaven's Feel, the first step was obviously for Waver to start by observing the Matō and Tōsaka mansions. There is a detached villa owned by the Einzberns in the forest on the outskirts, but the magus from the North hasn't arrived yet, so there's no reason to observe an empty place.
Nothing had moved yet from both houses, and the Masters were growing tired of waiting, wondering about raiding either the Tōsakas or the Matōs; that was only wishful thinking to ease the observation, but they didn't expect it to actually happen.
"Hey Rider, here's something new. There has been one loss."
The giant, despite being called, was lying there on the floor, and only responded with an "Hmf" devoid of motivation, not even turning around.
Waver was downright pissed.
He had been doing nothing but rest his pained muscles all day in his room ―strictly speaking, that was someone else's room, but let's put that detail aside― but Waver couldn't settle down. Even though he had ordered him to go back to spirit form when he wasn't doing anything, Rider had refused, saying he felt "more comfortable in materialized form", and so he has been showing off his giant body all this time. Just dragging on the materialization means a large prana loss for the Master to supply to his Servant; that isn't too much of a problem for Waver, but in those circumstances, Rider is quite unmindful.
Harder to forgive was what Rider was doing while spending Waver's prana, which was... well, nothing, in fact. Even with Waver scornful, he was just resting, relaxed, nonchalantly picking around in a dish and watching a rental video. Can you believe that Servant?
"Hey, did you hear me? Assassin got done in. The Heaven's Feel is starting!"
As Waver was rising his voice with excitation, Rider finally turned around half of his body.
"Yeah, what about some assassin guy? A rat in hiding is not much of an enemy."
"Anyway, boy, what's amazing is that, here."
Rider turns back to face the CTR as he speaks more heatedly. The cassette is playing "an authentic account on the flight force of the world, part 4"... With a mania for military affair, Rider has put his hand on everything related, books, images. Of course, providing all of it is Waver's problem. Otherwise the giant Servant would walk in a library or video store, which isn't fine with the Master.
"There, that big black B2 thingy. It's wonderful. I'm thinking about buying ten of those."
"―Just go and buy a country if you have that money."
Waver spat his answer out of frustration, and Rider made a serious face, moaning "Oh yeah..."
"Of course, funds are an important matter... Maybe I should plunder a city as rich as Persepolis."
Apparently, that guy, Rider, has seriously been considered conquering the world and done research on the wars of the current era. Even the information he has received from the Grail has limits. For one, he doesn't know the price of one stealth bomber.
"For the most urgent matters, this Clinton man is a formidable enemy. He might be a stronger enemy than King Darius."
Waver has endured stomachaches ever since he has summoned that Servant. He'll have a stomach ulcer by the time they get the Grail.
Shutting the giant in front of him out of his consciousness, Waver tried to think positively.
At any rate, it was a good thing for Waver that Assassin was the first to fall. Waver is aware that his own Servant, Rider, with his battle abilities, is the type to go full frontal in a fight. With that in mind, an enemy who can plan out clever tricks is a bigger threat. And Assassin was pretty much the definition of that. An unknown Caster Servant is also a problem, but an Assassin who creeps up without revealing himself was the most direct menace.
The three main Knight classes, Saber, Lancer, Archer, then Berserker who just riots his way, are nothing to be afraid of. Rider's abilities and Noble Phantasms are enough to push them back and win. All that is left is finding out Caster's true name―
"― So, how was Assassin killed?"
Sitting up cross-legged, Rider threw a surprise attack at Waver with his sudden question.
"Yeah, the Servant who beat Assassin. Didn't you see him?"
Waver faltered. He did see him― but, just what did he see?
"Must be that Tōsaka Servant... I guess. Looked strong and aggressive, showing off with a lot of shiny-goldy things. It took only an instant, so I'm not sure..."
"That's what mattered, fool."
Along with his shocked voice, something burst in the middle of Waver's eyebrows. The completely unexpected pain and the surprise make Waver fall off then tumble flat on his face.
That was Rider's middle finger. Holding it bent by the thumb then shot forward: that's a flick on the forehead. Of course, there was no strength in that. However, when it's Rider's finger, hard as the root of a pine tree, Waver's skin swelled red from the force.
Violence again. Corporal abuse again. Waver was confused between fear and frenzy, and was at a loss for words. This is the second time he is hit by his Servant. This is the second time in his whole life. Unable to breathe properly because of anger, Waver opened and closed his mouth like a fish. Ignoring how upset his Master was, Rider drew a deep, grand sigh.
"You know, if I fight, it's to win and survive. What will happen if you can't observe properly?"
Waver didn't reply. Rider was right. He doesn't want to hear it from a Servant who does nothing but lie down, eat tea cakes, watch videos, and read, but it's true that there are enemies who can become a problem.
"Oh well, never mind. That shiny-goldy or whatever, what impression did he give you?"
"I, I told you that..."
How could he have understood anything in that instant?
For starters, the attack that sent Assassin into oblivion is probably a Noble Phantasm. Even through the eyes of the familiar, he had perceived a huge burst of prana.
Yet the number of weapons that poured down on Assassin―
"... Hey, Rider, Servants usually have just one Noble Phantasm, right?"
"Generally, yes. Sometimes, there are Heroic Spirits who managed to get two or three. I myself, for example, am one of this case."
That's right, the night he arrived in the present world, Rider showed Waver a Noble Phantasm and said it wasn't his only trump card.
"Eh, there's no sense in considering the number of Noble Phantasms. As you must know, Noble Phantasms are the crystallization of the historical facts and anecdotes that made the Heroic Spirit famous, but that doesn't have to be a weapon; it can be a specific ability or a unique mean of attacking."
"... So, throwing ten or twenty weapons at once could be a "Noble Phantasm" in itself?"
"A sword that splits in an infinite number, eh? That could happen. It has the potential of being one "Noble Phantasm", yes."
Still, what defeated Assassin is yet again something different. Waver did see through the eyes of his familiar that the weapons thrown weren't all the same. That wasn't a multiplication. Those were all unique weapons.
Could they have all been Noble Phantasms after all? That shouldn't be possible. There weren't just one or two blades flooding down on the crawling Assassin.
"Oh well, that's fine, we'll know when we figure out the true identity of the enemy."
Laughing heartily, Rider slapped Waver, who was thinking deeply, on the back. The impact shook his spine and the small magus starts choking. The blow this time wasn't humiliating, but Waver could appreciate some gentler skinship.
"Are, are you quite done!?"
"Good. My heart is in joy."
Rider remarked carelessly with a daring smile.
"Food and sex, sleep and war― enjoy yourself however you want. That's the secret to a man's life."
Waver couldn't find the fun in that. Or rather, he had no experience in two of those.
"Alright, let's look for some fun outside."
Cracking the muscles in the back of his neck, the giant Servant stretched largely.
"We're departing for the front. Be ready."
"The, front... Where?"
"Over there of course, where else."
Standing up and nearly reaching the ceiling, Rider looked down at Waver's angry face and smiled.
"You're not the only one who was observing the Tōsaka fort. This means Assassin's death is already known. So they'll all grow tired of looking out for an attack from the shadow, and they'll all start moving together at once. We'll find them and hunt them."
"Find and hunt... Like it'll be that simple..."
"I am Rider. I have predominance over the other Servants going by foot, you know?"
With that exaggeration, Rider drew the sword at his waist out of its scabbard. Realizing that he was about to call out that Noble Phantasm, Waver stopped him confusedly.
"Waitwaitwait! You can't do that here. You’ll blow up the house!"
That night, the expected visitor appeared at the Fuyuki Church on the hill of the Shinto suburb.
"Following the Heaven's Feel agreement, I, Kotomine Kirei, request the protection from the Holy Church."
"I accept. Conforming to my duty as a supervisor, I, Kotomine Risei, will guarantee your security. Come inside."
To the two men who had arranged everything, this was a laughable farce, but they couldn't know if there wasn't still someone spying at the gate. Kotomine Risei feigned strictly his role of supervisor with a grave face, and invited his son, weakened by his defeat as a Master, inside the Church.
With many residents from outside, Fuyuki has a lot more people coming at the church than the other towns; despite being in the Far East, this church of Fuyuki is the center of the belief from Western Europe, giving it a genuine splendor. However, the resting place of ordinary Christians is nothing more than a camouflage, as the church was built in this place by the Holy Church specifically for the Heaven's Feel. Being the third best spiritual place, it matches the mansion of the Second Owner of this earth, the Tōsaka family.
Obviously, the Father who has come here and taken over the supervision of the struggle to the death between Masters and Servants is a member of the Assembly of the 8th Sacrament. In other words, the priest who has been administrating the daily religious service for the ordinary Christians is no other than Kotomine Risei.
"I see everything has been carried out without problem."
Leading Kirei through the priest’s house, Father Risei dropped his acting and nodded with a serious face.
"Father, who is watching over the church?"
"Nobody is. This neutral ground has guaranteed inviolability. The Church dissuades Master from interfering unnecessarily. On top of that agreement, the defeated ones are of no interest."
"We will have tranquillity, then."
Sitting on the chair that was offered to him, Kirei sighed deeply. Then―
"We shouldn't neglect vigilance, to be sure. There should always be someone."
He speaks with a cold-hearted, commanding tone to nobody. Of course his words aren't addressed to his father. Father Risei beside him doesn't see the speech of his son as strange.
"― Also, was anyone observing the scene?"
"Yes, that is me."
This time, a voice responded to the question Kirei had apparently asked at an empty space. A woman. Under cover in the corner of the room, a female appeared in black clothing that seem to boil.
Neither Kirei nor Risei raised an eyebrow to that appearance. ―But the appearance of the woman was that of one that shouldn't be here.
Jet black robe wrapping a soft stature, a symbolic skull mask hiding her face, this costume is without a doubt that of the Heroic Spirit of assassination, Hassan-i Sabbāh.
"There were traces of four different types of familiar at the place of Assassin's death. I believe there are at least four Masters who have witnessed the scene."
"Hm... We are missing one."
Narrowing his eyes as if to think, Kirei looked at his father at his side.
"The 'spirit board' definitely indicated the arrival of seven Servants, didn't it, father?"
"Yes, without a doubt. The last one, 'Caster', arrived two days ago. As usual, the names of the Masters weren't given, but all the Servants of this Grail War must be present."
Kirei would have preferred all five people to witness this night's farce.
"Observing the mansion of each of the three main families should be a given for all Masters participating in the Heaven's Feel."
The woman in a skull mask standing at his side ― the one who cannot be anyone but Hassan-i Sabbāh spoke her opinion.
"If there is anyone with the nerves to ignore their guard like that, they are too careless for us Assassin to begin with. Is this conclusion satisfactory?"
If the Master Kotomine Kirei had lost his Servant, the Seals carved on his hand should have disappeared. But the three deep black stigmas were still carved there.
In brief... The Servant Assassin hasn't been annihilated. Then the masked woman who was currently serving the two Kotomines must be the real Hassan-i Sabbāh.
"Is it regrettable that the man died?"
The woman shook her head with an air of indifference at Kotomine's question.
"That man was one of us Hassans who didn't have any particular forte. Losing only him does not affect us as a whole. Still―"
"I cannot say his death affects us, but a loss is a loss. You could say it is like losing a finger. I do not wish to think he was a vain sacrifice."
Kirei listened intently as the woman put forth her growing protest through her humility. Of course that was not unreasonable.
"That is not vain. You can deceive the other Masters by sacrificing one finger. They all already believe Assassin has fallen. Do you not think all of you can now turn the tide of battle under cover?"
"Indeed, you speak the truth."
The woman in black clothing bowed her head deeply.
This time, thinking Assassin has been removed, nobody will expect the Heroic Spirit of shadows to creep up behind their back. Who would know― that the Servant Assassin was still kneeling in front of the Master who had ran to the Church.
Even for those competing for the miracle called the Heaven's Feel, that was evidently a strange situation.
Indeed, the name of Hassan-i Sabbāh doesn't refer to just one person. The name Hassan, that means "old man of the mountain", was once the root of the word "assassin", a name passed down to the head of a group of assassins in the Middle East. This means that historically, there are several Heroic Spirits with the name of Hassan. Of course, it isn't a miracle that there was one female Hassan.
But as a general rule, there can be only one Assassin summoned for the Heaven's Feel. It is theoretically possible to have control over two Servants by taking one from another Master, but having over two Assassins simultaneously means it is obvious a rule has been bypassed.
"At any rate, this marks the opening of the hostilities."
The exaggerated voice of the dignified old priest was filled with anticipation for victory.
"The Fourth Heaven's Feel has begun. It seems these old bones of mine will witness a miracle this time."
Unable to share the enthusiasm of his father, Kirei silently gazed at a dim-lit corner of the priest’s house.
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