Fate/Zero:Act 8 Part 5
Night once again descended on the Einzbern forest.
The night was still pitch dark and serene, but the signs of battle scattered all around was still evidently visible.
The castle that was specially tidied by the maids she brought over from her own country was also severely damaged in the battle between Emiya Kiritsugu and Lord El-Melloi. Even if she wanted to fix it, the maids in charge of chores had returned to their country. Irisviel sighed as she traversed the corridors, doing her best to ignore this ruinous scene.
Luckily, a few bedrooms were spared, and currently Hisau Maiya was resting in one of them. Although Irisviel had already performed healing magecraft on her, the Einzbern healing magecraft is an extremely large burden to the wounded after all. This is because it is adopted from alchemy and does not cause the injured body to regenerate, but use magecraft to create new tissue and use that for grafting.
That was the only thing she could do for now. It wouldn’t matter if the patient is a homunculus, but since she was healing humans it would count as a major operation similar to an organ transplant in modern medicine.
Exhausted, Maiya was deep asleep. It would take a very long recovery time for her to regain consciousness and move her body.
When Irisviel thought that Saber was protecting her she felt worse for Maiya, who was heavily wounded. However, considering her importance in the Heaven’s Feel, then undoubtedly Irisviel would be protected with priority. That’s an undeniable fact. Feeling painful for her wounded friend would have to be her naive sentimentality.
Meanwhile, Kiritsugu left immediately after he sent the injured Maiya back and still hadn’t returned. He didn’t even tell Irisviel and Saber his destination – perhaps he went to chase Kayneth El-Melloi, who had escaped. Irisviel had already detected that the enemy magus wasn’t successfully killed because of Saber. However, Kiritsugu didn’t get angry with nor blame Saber, but left coldly and without her. It’s hard to tell if he did it due to a reluctance to wound her pride, but the gulf between these two were getting bigger and bigger and it was already becoming very hard to reconcile them.
Troubled with the relationship between her husband and the King of Knights, Irisviel sighed deeply. Suddenly, a thunderous roar sounded beside her ears. Not only so, but this roar that tore apart the night created a gigantic burden for her Magic Circuits; the dizziness almost made Irisviel faint in the colonnade.
The roar came from a nearby thunder, and the prana impact that followed it meant the bounded field in the forest outside the castle was already under attack. Although a bounded field isn’t something that can be easily destroyed, her magecraft had already been damaged. “What’s going on… a frontal charge?”
A pair of strong arms held up Irisviel’s shoulders; they were Saber’s arms, who immediately appeared beside her when this strange change occurred.
“Are you alright, Irisviel?”
“Yeah, just scared. I didn’t think such a rude guest would visit.”
“I’ll go out to greet him, you stay beside me.”
Irisviel nodded upon hearing this. Staying beside Saber, who was going out to take in the attack, meant she herself must also face the enemy. However, the battlefield is the safest place for Irisviel, because the strongest Servant is right beside her.
Quickening her steps, Irisviel followed behind Saber. The two of them galloped through the tragically ruined castle; their destination was the terrace outside of the door. Since the opponent was attacking from the front, they should be able to meet him there.
“The thunder just then, and this senseless tactic… the opponent should be Rider.”
“I think so too.”
Irisviel remembered the overwhelming power of the Noble Phantasm ‘Gordius Wheel’ she witnessed a few days ago at the warehouse street. The chariot entwined with thunder and pulled by divine bulls – if that type of anti-army Noble Phantasm were to release all of its power, it could easily destroy the magecraft focal points placed in the forest. It wouldn’t matter too much if the bounded field was whole to begin with, but it had yet to recover from Caster and Kayneth’s attacks a few days ago.
“Oi, King of Knights! I especially came to meet you, come out, aye?”
This sound came from the main hall; it looks like the other party had already entered the door. Without a doubt, the enemy was the King of Conquerors, Alexander. Judging by his powerful and reverberating call, his tone was not like a warrior about to fight.
But Saber didn’t dare to be slack; she materialized her silver armor as she ran.
Irisviel and Saber finally went past the corridors and came to the terrace… but when the two of them saw, by the moonlight shining through the skylight, the enemy Servant standing in the hall with his chest puffed out, they didn’t know what to say.
“Yo, Saber. I wanted to have a look after I heard about the castle here – what happened to it, aye?”
Not apologetic at all, Rider smiled, baring his teeth; then he flexed his neck, pretending to be serious.
“It’s difficult to get in and out of the house if you have too many trees in the garden. I almost got lost before I arrived at the door, so I cut some down for you. Thanks to me, the view is much better.”
Saber said severely. But faced with this enemy who always made his opponent to be at a loss, she didn’t know what to say next. It was Rider who furrowed his brows in surprise and said:
“Oi King of Knights, aren’t you gonna wear something modern tonight? Don’t just always wear that old-fashioned armor.”
If Saber’s armor-clad form was to be regarded as old-fashioned, then how would Rider’s attire of jeans and T-shirt be judged? If this armor is considered to be Saber’s pride, but the cracks on the thick breastplate was as if hinting upon its weaknesses. Perhaps, the only thing we could say here is ‘the ignorant is indefeasible’.
Waver was half hiding behind Rider’s giant torso and looking up towards Irisviel, and it was hard to tell if his expression was one of enmity or terror. Undoubtedly, his face plainly showed he wanted to go home, and quickly too.
Once upon a time, King Alexander took the lead in wearing Asiatic clothing due to his interest in the cultures of his conquered land, and caused his followers to avert him like the plague. Irisviel had heard of this story, but she would never have known that the reason Rider changed into modern attire was because of Saber and the suit she wore.
What made them more confused was the thing in Rider’s hand; it wasn’t a weapon or anything else used in battle.
It was a casket.
No matter how they look at it, it still appears to be a red wooden wine casket. Rider, who easily carried the casket under his arm, looked just like a wine shop owner coming to deliver his stock.
Saber, once again at a loss for words, took a deep breath and said calmly.
“Rider, what are you doing here?”
“You can’t tell by looks? I’m gonna drink with you – oi, stop standing there like a stick and lead the way. Is there a courtyard here fitting for a banquet? We can’t do with this castle, way too dusty inside.”
Saber sighed helplessly, and the anger piled up in her chest also disappeared. Faced with this opponent who appears to have no ill-intent whatsoever, she found it impossible to keep up her fighting spirit.
“Irisviel, what do we do?”
Irisviel was similarly befuddled.
She was angry at the destruction of the forest’s bounded field, but there’s no way she’d manage to continue to hate him once she saw his grinning face.
“He’s not the kind of person who’d set a trap; could it be he really wants to drink?”
Rider once said he would obey the contract sealed by the Heroic Spirits’ pride and honor and pronounce his challenge after Saber and Lancer had decided the victor among them. Therefore, his sudden appearance tonight was truly incomprehensible.
“Could that man be trying to placate Saber?”
“No, this is a challenge.”
Saber, who should have lost her will to fight, suddenly became solemn for no reason.
“Yes… I am a king, and he is also a king. If we are to find the victor on the drinking table, then that is a ‘battle’ without bloodshed.”
Hearing Saber’s words, the King of Conquerors nodded with a smile.
“Hohoho, it’s good that you understand. Since we can’t oppose each other with swords, then let’s battle with wine. King of Knights, I won’t go easy on you tonight. Be prepared.”
“Interesting. I accept.”
Saber, replying resolutely, emanated the sharp battle vigor as if she was facing a battlefield. Only then did Irisviel realize this was not a joke, but a true ‘battle’.
The place of the banquet was chosen to be the parterre in the castle’s central courtyard. The battle last night didn’t affect this place, and it wasn’t frugal to welcome a guest here. By now, no one paid attention to the coldness of the outside air.
Rider brought the casket to the central courtyard, and the two Servants sat opposite each other with ease. Irisviel and Waver sat aside, next to each other. As they tried to guess the progression of events they realized they were in a temporary truce, and all they needed to do was stay aside and watch.
Rider shattered the lid of the casket with his fist; the musky fragrance of rice wine immediately filled the air of the courtyard.
“Although this is shaped oddly, it’s the goblet unique to this country.”
Rider happily scooped up some wine with the long bamboo ladle. Unfortunately, no one present pointed out the error in his common sense.
Rider firstly drained the wine in the ladle with one gulp, then spoke:
“I heard that only those who are worthy are able to obtain the Holy Grail.”
The solemn tone made the atmosphere quietened down. Something must be up if this man is speaking in this tone of voice.
“And the ceremony of choosing the worthy one is this battle conducted at Fuyuki – however, if we’re only onlookers, there’ll be no need of bloodshed. As Heroic Spirits, if we can mutually acknowledge each other’s strength… I don’t need to say anymore after this, do I?”
Without hesitation, Saber took the long ladle Rider passed to her, and also scooped up a full measure of wine.
Saber’s slender body made others worry if she could really drink liquor. However, her forthrightness with the drink wasn’t in any ways lacking compared to the giant Rider. Seeing this, Rider happily praised her.
“So, firstly you are going to compete with me to see who’s stronger, Rider?”
“Exactly. Going through a true competition in the name of kingship. But we can’t call this ‘the War of the Holy Grail’, better if we call it ‘Quiz of the Holy Grail’… At the end, between the King of Knights and the King of Conquerors, who would become ‘the King of the Holy Grail’? It’s best fit to ask the wine goblet such a question.”
Rider did a u-turn from his previously solemn tone, laughing as if pulling a prank. Then he started speaking as if to himself.
“Ah, speaking of, there is another guy here who calls himself ‘king’.”
“ – The joke stops here, mongrel.”
As if responding to Rider’s vague words, a blinding golden light flashed into being in front of those present.
That sound and light made Saber and Irisviel tense up.
“Archer, why are you here…”
Saber demanded angrily, but the one replying was the impassive Rider.
“Ah, when I saw him on the streets I asked him to drink together – but you’re still late, Goldy. However he’s different from me; he walked here, so it’s not all his fault.”
Archer, in full armor, glared haughtily at Rider with burning ruby-like pair of eyes.
“Trust you to choose this cruddy place to conduct a banquet; this is probably as tasteful as you can get. How are you going to repay your sins of getting me to come all the way here?”
“Don’t say that. Come, have a drink first.”
Laughing heartily, Rider passed the wine-filled ladle to Archer.
People thought he would be angered by Rider’s attitude, but surprisingly he outright took the ladle and downed all the wine in one gulp.
Irisviel remembered the ‘challenge’ Saber spoke of before.
Archer. Since this anonymous golden Heroic Spirit calls himself ‘king’, then he couldn’t refuse the wine Rider passed to him.
“ – What kind of cheap wine is this? How can you use this kind of wine to conduct a fight between heroes?”
Archer said with repulsion written all over his face.
“Really? I bought it from the market here; it’s pretty fine wine.”
“You only think so because you don’t know anything about wine, you mongrel.”
Beside Archer, who dismissed the wine derisively, ripples appeared in the empty air. That was the harbinger of the strange event that can summon Noble Phantasms; Waver and Irisviel felt a chill running down their spines.
– But what appeared beside Archer tonight weren’t weapons; instead it was a set of wine bottles inset with sparkling gems. Colorless lucid liquid filled bottles made of heavy gold.
“Behold, this is what ‘the king's wine’ should be.”
“Oh, many thanks.”
Rider didn’t mind Archer’s tone at all and happily poured the new wine into three cups.
Saber was still on her guard against Archer, whose identity she still didn't know. She looked at the wine in the golden bottle hesitantly, but still took the cup passed to her.
Rider took a small sip, and immediately complimented it with wide open eyes. This time, even Saber’s curiosity was raised. This wasn’t originally a contest of manner, but a competition undertaken with wine.
When the wine flowed down her throat, all Saber felt was a strong swelling sensation in her head. It was indeed a good wine that she’s never tasted before. Fiery and clear, mellow and invigorating, the pungent fragrance filled her nose, and her entire body felt like it was floating.
“Fabulous. This is definitely not wine brewed by humans; is this the drink of gods?”
Looking at Rider, who lavished praises, Archer displayed a leisurely smile. He was already sitting down, twirling the cup in his hand satisfactorily.
“Of course. Whether wines or swords, only the best is stored in my treasury – With this, seems like my grade as a king has already been decided.”
“Stop the jokes, Archer.”
Saber roared. The silence was broken by a tense and intimidating atmosphere.
“I’m sick of listening to you bragging about your wine collection. You’re not like a king, but rather, a clown.”
Archer sneered as he looked at Saber, who was all worked up.
“How unmannerly; someone who doesn’t even know wine isn’t fit to be king at all.”
“Enough. You two are so tiresome.”
Rider smiled helplessly and signaled at Saber, who still wanted to say something, to be quiet; then he turned and continued with the previous topic.
“Archer, this greatest of wines you have does indeed deserve to be only contained in the most prized of all cups – but unfortunately, the Holy Grail isn’t made to contain wine. Now we’re going to have a quiz of the Holy Grail to determine if one among us is indeed worthy of having the Holy Grail. Firstly, you need to tell use why you want the Grail. Archer, as a king, try to convince us you and no one else are the person worthy of gaining the Grail.”
“You’re so irritating. Firstly, we’re going to ‘compete’ for the Holy Grail. I’m afraid your question is too far removed from this premise.”
Seeing Rider lifting his brows confusedly and with surprise, Archer sighed resignedly.
“It is something that should be in my possession to start with. All the treasures in the world originate from my collection. However, because much time passed, it disappeared from my treasury. But I am still its owner.”
“So you’re saying you once had the Holy Grail? You know what it is?”
Archer evenly negated Rider’s question.
“It’s not something you can understand. The total amount of my wealth even exceeded my knowing, but as long as it’s a ‘treasure’ then it’d obviously belong to me. You should have more sense then trying to rob my treasure away.”
Now it was Saber who was speechless.
“Your speech isn’t too different from Caster’s; looks like he’s not the only demented Servant here.”
“Oi, what’s up with those words of yours?”
Different from Saber, Rider mumbled as if supporting the situation. Unknown to others, he had already picked up the bottle again and poured into his cup without care.
“Speaking of which, I think I know your true name now. There should only be one person who’s even haughtier than Alexander.”
Irisviel and Waver immediately focused on his words, but Rider changed the topic.
“Then Archer, you’re saying that we can obtain the Holy Grail if you agree to it?”
“Of course, but I have no reason to reward rats such as you.”
“Could it be that you can’t afford it?”
“Of course not. I only reward my subjects and my people.”
Archer smiled mockingly towards Rider.
“Rider, if you would like to become my subject, then I wouldn’t mind giving you a cup or two.”
“… Ah, now that’s actually impossible.”
Rider scratched his jaw, and seems to feel that the opponent’s conditions are truly too unreachable, and decisively turned his head.
“But Archer, you actually don’t care if you have the Grail or not, right? It’s not like you’re competing for the Grail because you’re trying to fulfil some wish.”
“Of course. But I can’t let go of the guy who robs away my treasure; this is a matter of principles.”
“That’s to say –”
Rider drained the wine in his cup.
“That is to say what? Could there be some cause and reason?”
“It’s the law.”
Archer replied immediately.
“The law I set down as the king.”
Rider seemed to have understood his words, and took a deep sigh.
“Such a perfect king, able to stick to the laws he set down himself. However, I still want the Holy Grail very much. My way is that if I want something, I’ll get it by force; that’s because I, Alexander, am the King of Conquerors.”
“Not necessarily. If you invade, I’ll punish; there’s no room for negotiations.”
“Then we can only meet on the battlefield.”
With a solemn face, Archer nodded at the same time with Rider.
“– But Archer, let’s drink first and leave the business of battle till later.”
“Sure, unless you don’t think much of the wine I brought at all.”
“Nonsense, how can I bear to not drink such delicious liquor?”
At this moment, Saber could no longer tell if Archer and Rider were friends or foe; she merely sat aside, looking at the two. After a short while, she finally opened her mouth towards Rider.
“King of Conquerors, since you’ve already admitted that the Holy Grail is owned by someone else, you’re still going to take it by force?”
“ – Huh? Obviously. My belief is ‘conquest’… which is ‘taking’ and ‘invade’.”
Suppressing the anger in her heart, Saber continued to ask:
“Then why do you want the Holy Grail?”
Unexpectedly, Rider smiled rather shyly. He replied after taking a sip of wine:
“I want to be human.”
It was such an unexpected answer. Even Waver yelled out, and then screamed almost hysterically.
“Owww, you! Could it be you still want to conquer this world – waaaa!”
After forcing his Master to quiet down with a finger flick, Rider shrugged his shoulders.
“Idiot, how can I conquer the world in one lifetime? Conquest is my dream, and I can only bequest this first step to the Holy Grail.”
“Mongrel… you’re challenging me with such a silly wish?”
Even Archer was helpless with this, but Rider became more serious and continued:
“Say, even when we appear in the current era due to prana, we are still Servants at the end. We originally do not exist in this world – although it feels a bit ridiculous, but are you really satisfied with just that?”
“I’m not satisfied. I want to be reincarnated into this world, and live on as a human.”
Thinking back – Waver originally thought Rider’s stubbornness in refusing to exist in spiritual form, and insist in physical form, is an odd habit of his. Indeed, although Servants can talk, dress, and eat like humans, their true essences aren’t too far from ghosts.
“Why… do you want a body so much?”
“Because that is the cornerstone of ‘conquest’.”
Alexander muttered as he stared at his own tightly clutched fist.
“Possessing a body, marching out towards the ends of the earth, carrying out my conquest – that is truly my way of kingship. But right now I don’t have a body; that won’t do. Without a body nothing can start anew. I’m not afraid of anything much; I just feel that I must have a body of flesh and bone.”
As if diligently listening to Rider’s words, Archer just silently sipped his wine throughout this. Upon close inspection, one could discover he had a strange expression on his face at this moment, an expression different from his usual ones. It may be far-fetched to describe it as a smile, but compared to his usual sneer, this smile now encompassed a particularly sinister sheen.
“I’ve decided – Rider, I’ll kill you with my own hands.”
“Hahaha, saying those things even now. You’d better be prepared early as well. Leaving the Grail aside, I’m also planning to plunder your treasury too. Letting the King of Conquerors taste such delicious wine is really thoughtless of you.”
Rider roared into brutal laughter. But there was still one person here who was attending this banquet and hadn’t shown a sliver of a smile yet.
Saber, attending this banquet, didn’t find a place to join in Archer and Rider’s conversation throughout it. The way of kingship these two talked about is far removed from that she believed, so she and them don’t have any common topics at all.
Only according to your own will –
This isn’t a thought that the king should have. For Saber, who believed in incorruptness, Archer and Rider were just tyrants.
No matter how mighty the opponent might be, the unwavering battle vigor will continue to burn inside Saber’s heart.
Only these two are enemies she must not lose to. She must never let the Grail fall into their hands. Archer’s words were senseless, and Rider’s wish can only be regarded as the wish of a fighter. Moreover, it was just the beginning of all the desires of men. Compared to their wishes, the wish Saber harbors has got to be nobler.
“ – Oi, say, Saber, talk about your wish too.”
Rider finally turned to Saber. No matter when it was, the wish in her heart never wavered at all.
“My way of kingship is my pride.”. Still having her head up, the King of Knights said while looking straight at the other two Heroic Spirits.
“I want to save my homeland. I will change England’s fate of destruction.”
“How can they drink together…”
Tōsaka Tokiomi, sitting alone in his underground workshop, once again sighed for Rider’s odd behavior.
“Is it really alright to leave Archer alone?”
The magecraft communicator brought Kotomine Kirei’s rather stiff words. Tokiomi laughed bitterly.
“It can’t be helped.”
“Since it’s a meeting between kings, how can he ignore those questions directed at himself?”
It’d be fine as long as they don’t figure out the King of Heroes, Gilgamesh’s, true power. Luckily, tonight all they did was a fight on the drinking table. As long as they don’t draw swords, Archer won’t easily show ‘Gate of Babylon’.
For Tokiomi to know the occurrences at the distant Einzbern headquarters so clearly while in his own workshop is naturally thanks to the reports of the Assassin hiding there, who passed it on via Kirei. After Rider destroyed the bounded field in the forest, Assassin also successfully infiltrated the castle while maintaining his presence concealment.
The Heaven’s Feel was already in its fourth night, and Tokiomi still hadn’t taken one step out of his house in Miyama. For days, he’s stayed inside his own house, while gathering information about the current situation of the Heaven’s Feel. He had also investigated pretty much all he needed to know about the few Masters who were currently in hiding.
At this moment, the people he’s concerned about were Rider, the King of Conquerors, Alexander, and his Master, Waver Velvet.
These two had yet to fight other Servants. Tokiomi knew preciously little about them. What’s worse, due to Assassin’s mistake, the fact that Kotomine Kirei and Assassin were still alive was exposed to them.
Therefore, Kirei specifically warned Assassin to not go near Rider unless necessary. However, even with presence concealment, its power still has its limits. Disregarding Rider’s careless demeanor, the truth is that his perception is sharper than other Servants. This time, while listening in to the conversation held between these three, Kirei again told Assassin to be careful not to be discovered by Rider.
“Right, Kirei. The difference in battle strength between Rider and Archer… what do you think of it?”
“I think the key is whether Rider has a trump card even more powerful than ‘Gordius Wheel’.”
That was the problem. Compared to the four remaining Servants, only Rider makes Tokiomi and Kirei the most restless.
The Master controlling Berserker already spent a huge amount of energy, while Caster was surrounded on all sides and even had his workshop destroyed. For these two groups, their lives would die out on their own.
Gilgamesh won’t lose to a wounded Saber. Although Lancer remains unscathed, his original Master had already quited the War due to his severe injuries. A Lancer controlled by an inferior magus is no threat at all.
That’s to say, apart from Rider, the four remaining groups of people no longer needed to be spied upon by Assassin.
“… Right now, we have the need to try that plan.”
“I see. I understand.”
Without the need to speak it out, Kirei, at the other end of the communicator, already understood Tokiomi’s intentions.
To obtain precious information, they can send Assassin to test it out.
Right now, while Rider and his Master were defenselessly having a banquet, it’s a great opportunity for a surprise assault. At this time, victory doesn’t matter; the important thing is the difference in battle strength between the enemy and their side. Of course it’d be best if Rider can be smoothly disposed of; if not, then if they can force him into a desperate situation and get him to use his most powerful ultimate weapon, that would be enough as well.
“It’d take about ten minutes to gather all the Assassins together.”
“Good, give the command. Although this is a big gamble, the silver lining is we won’t be losing much even if we fail.”
For Tokiomi, Assassin was just a method to obtain the Holy Grail, a prop that can be thrown away after it’s been used. This understanding was also fully reflected on his pupil Kotomine Kirei.
When he finished speaking, Tokiomi changed his sitting pose and poured some more tea into his cup. He sniffed at the fragrance of the red tea delightfully, and waited for the result of the plan he commanded.
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