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            —This is a story about a girl.

            …She had been captured, but the enemy didn’t seem to have any plans to execute her, and she didn’t know what was happening anymore.
            While the soldiers of the empire bustled back and forth, she was carted from fortress to fortress and tucked away into guarded cells in old jails that seemed empty but for her.
            For the first few days, she tried to refuse food as much as possible.
            The guards pleaded with her, saying that she would be of no use to them dead, but that only increased her resolve.
            …She’d starve herself out of spite if she couldn’t kill them with her own hands.
            And besides.
            Even if there was no intent to kill her, there were a number of poisons that only weakened the body.
            It could be drugged to keep her compliant no matter what they did to her, or it could include a potion to force her to tell the truth if they wanted to interrogate her.
            This was the empire, and there was no limit to how low they would stoop.

            …Eventually, as they moved farther towards a goal that she couldn’t fathom…
            ……the emperor himself heard about it.
            He came down to her cell in a temper to order her to eat.

            ……Against her will, she noticed that he looked wan.
            It was probably grief over the man she’d killed, the man whose name she hadn’t even known, although she’d certainly seen glimpses of him in the battle where her father had been killed.
            …Her enemy’s pain seemed to sit heavily on him, and no matter how vehemently she thought that he deserved it, the little changes in his countenance seemed so painfully obvious now that she was actually looking at him.
            He was her enemy.
            …He was her enemy and he had no business being a human with a heart.

            At any rate, he came down to order her to eat.
            …When she told him that she wasn’t stupid, he said he would prove that the food was safe.
            They would eat the same food in full view of each other.
            …It went about as well as you would expect.
            Of course she was suspicious, and he lost his temper with her easily and had to threaten her to make her eat anything.
            ……The food was seasoned oddly, and sometimes it had things in it that she couldn’t stand.
            But aside from that…
                        …It was actually good.

            Eventually, they left the fortresses and she was dragged through a forest and then a great wasteland.
            …She knew now where they were, but not where they were going.
            They wanted to use her for “something”.
            And her army was in pursuit, trying to get her back.

            That was all she knew.

            Eventually they reached a place that felt like the end of the world.
            There was a great building like and yet unlike a fortress, and near it was a great tomb made of stone.

            …There was an air around the place that smelled of ashes.

            She was chained there, and the usurper left for that building.
            …She was chained there for so long that her consciousness became hazy.
            …Some time after that.
            Her army arrived.

            Those days that had passed like a confused dream ended, and she tried to put them out of her mind as much as possible.
            If she thought about them too much.
            …She knew, deep down, that she would lose the ability to look at that man solely as her “enemy”—

            …And I wake.
            My head feels dull.
            …Whether it’s the remnant of Yggdra’s confusion in the memories I dreamed about or simply the recoil from all the events of last night, I’m not sure.

            Anyhow, I can’t simply sit around, so I force myself up.
            I wash off my face and my body and put on clean clothes, then head downstairs in a daze.
            …This is the second day running that I’ve forgotten the alarm…
            I’d better be careful not to turn this into a habit.

            It’s about as I feared.
            We’ve almost run out of food completely after Yggdra’s enthusiasm yesterday morning.
            It’s not so bad that we won’t be able to eat today, but before anything else I need to replenish our stock.
            ……I suppose it can’t be helped, but the most difficult part will be convincing her not to go overboard again anytime soon.

            “Roswell, good morning!”
            While I make a simple breakfast from fried toast, spices, and jam, I hear her calling out to me from around the counter.
            She’s smiling broadly, and is wearing one of the outfits she bought two days ago.
            …It looks good on her.
            It’s a dangerous thing for a man to be presented with early in the morning, but I concentrate on the food so that I won’t let my head heat up.
            Any male will have myriad objects of desire placed in front of him and react to them, but you can’t call yourself a man until you’re able to master your own desires.
            So even though the low neckline of Yggdra’s shirt makes me want to set my fingers to the fabric and push it down to bare her chest and shoulders, I bear down on my concentration and think of calming, purifying things.
            …There’s no helping this attraction, but given our relationship it would be rather rude to try to act on it like this.

            “—We’re only having toast?”
            She sounds dumbfounded.
            …I don’t know whether to be irritated or amused, so I despair instead.
            “It’s good to give things your all, but restraint is a virtue too.”

            She looks at me with a frozen smile as if she doesn’t know who the culprit is.
            I’m not that weak of a man.

            “I see. I’ll say it more plainly.
            “Please don’t get carried away with cooking lessons from now on unless you tell me beforehand, as this is all we have left to use today.”

            She laughs and averts her eyes cheerfully, and her cheeks turn red.
            …So she really was just playing innocent.

            We eat the toast together with a relaxed atmosphere.
            “—Anyhow, I’ll head out this morning to shop for food, and then after I come home we can talk about our plan of attack.
            “Getting rid of Assassin and her Master is important.”

            Yggdra nods.
          “There’s something that I actually want to discuss about Assassin, but we’ll leave it until our strategy meeting.”
            “—I see. That’s reassuring.”
            Both that she has information and that she’s unconcerned enough to be this worried about food, even if it is out of guilt.

            We wash the plates, and I put on my jacket.
            “If anything comes up, I’ll call for you.”
            “—Understood. I’ll see you later, Roswell.”

            Yggdra smiles at me as I close the door.

            The air of the early day is very brisk, and I can just barely see my breath as I walk.
            …Let’s see.
            Some of what we need can probably be picked up here in Shinto, but in order to keep from having to do this again later, I really ought to cross into Miyama and visit their market.
            I run down the checklist in my head.
            Even if it’s a boring talent, I’ve always been good at things like this.

            “—Well now.
            “What should I get first?”

            Seeing Yggdra get so enthusiastic made me want to try out a few Japanese-style dishes, so I suppose I’ll get some wraps and minced meat.
            If I go through with my plans and make pot stickers, I’ll need Japanese vegetables as well.
            On top of that, my usual selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and bread.
            It might have been easier to just bring Yggdra along and have her help carry things, despite the affront to my pride.
            …At the same time, the magic to make things lighter is very discreet, so all I’ll have to worry about is the bulk of the bags.

            I think about ordinary things like that and stare around, charting out a course through the various small shops in the marketplace.
            Calculating the things that are cold and can be carried ordinarily, and the things that are warm that will have to be hurried back.

            “—Excuse me.”
            And then a voice calls out to me.
            …It’s a woman’s voice, and it seems familiar somehow.

            “Yes, who’s there?”

            “Over here.”
            I turn.
            There’s a woman in a long white coat with black clothes and a black hat.
            Her skin is clear, her hair is long and sways in the faint breeze, and her eyes are a deep gray that’s almost purple.
            Plain gold jewelry hangs at her wrists and her throat, and the sleeves of her shirt are very long and cover the backs of her hands.

            …I recognize her.
            Of course I recognize her.
            It would be foolish for me not to.


            Assassin’s Master smiles at me and walks closer to me.
            …What is she doing here?
            What is she doing out in the open like this?
            …She only appeared last night out of the entire Grail War, and her Servant is best in subterfuge, so why would she approach me in broad daylight?
            …Does she want to negotiate?
            I don’t know what this is, but it smells like a trap.
            …But I can’t call Yggdra in the middle of a place like this.
            The most I can do is contact her so that she heads out normally—

            I think that.
            And then Assassin’s Master draws close to me.

            Something red flickers in her eyes.

            I feel my consciousness and my body detach.
            …I don’t faint or otherwise collapse.
            I simply can no longer make my limbs work.
            Even my Magic Crest is no longer responding to my will.

            “It’s a little bit too crowded here, so let’s go back to someplace more convenient, okay?”
            She smiles at me without a bit of visible malice.
            Like any woman would to any man.
            …But it sends chills through me.
            I cannot even nod or shake my head.
            When she starts to walk, my body follows along with her without a by-your-leave.

            Assassin’s Master makes small talk about the weather as we walk.
            …Our destination appears to be the bridge.
            But instead of crossing it, she leads me down towards the structure underneath it.
            The storage and control rooms underneath the bridge itself.

            I want to scream out, but my voice will not obey me.
            I can’t stand it.
            …I can tell now that we’re standing here at the door.
            This is her workshop as a magus.
            It’s her home base, and I don’t know what she wants of me, let alone what will happen if I go inside.
            …I most likely won’t ever be able to leave.

            But I cannot move.
            …“Mystic Eyes” of binding.
            She seems to have replicated that art with enough strength to take my will away.

            Ordinarily, any magus would be able to at least resist, but she caught me with my guard down…
            And since they’re strong Mystic Eyes regardless of whether they’re real or simulated, I won’t be able to escape as easily as if it were a spell poisoning my body.
            Then I could just force her power out of me by activating my Magic Circuit.

            …I could call her.
            I could get Yggdra to come and save me—

            But I cannot reach my Command Spell.

            I can’t… call her.
            All I can do is follow Assassin’s Master blindly as she beckons for me to follow her inside—

(interlude 10-1)

            She waits in the large empty house for his return.

            It’s not that she’s bored, as there are a number of things for her to do to pass the time.
            She examines the radio in his room, the strange instrument that produces different kinds of sound, and looks at his vast collection of books.
            She looks through her own books to see what recipes she might want to try when they have the new supplies for it.
            She listens to the news and hears that the body of Avenger’s Master was found and recovered by the police.

            …There are a number of things to do.
            It’s just that the house is a lonely place with only one person in it.

            She wonders a little what life was like for her Master before she came here.
            …He’s a fragile person, and if there wasn’t anyone to interact with him—
            How sad it must have been.
            She has read that in this country, there is a story that rabbits can die of loneliness.
            …Her Master is a person a little like a Japanese rabbit, then.

            At the end of the war, if she is able to achieve the Grail, she will return to the Throne.
            …She wonders a little how he will cope with living alone then.
            Something about her doesn’t like it.
            …She is naturally suspect of that something.
            She’s well aware that she mustn’t superimpose the feelings of her old life upon this one.
            As kind as her Master is, her wish should be more important.

            She tells herself this and roams throughout the house.
            …She feels restless.
            Honestly, it isn’t just the boredom.
            ……She does want to go out and get the fights over with.
            The end of the war is not far off.
            As a Servant, her natural desire is to continue doing battle, even though she suppresses that out of knowledge of and concern for her Master’s weakness.
            It’s not that he’s holding her back, rather that she’s holding herself back for him.

            So this boredom, and this restlessness.
            She has knowledge that will make the next battle much easier to overcome, and honestly she knows that she needs to share it.
            …It will have to wait, and her instincts are telling her that it cannot.

            And thus she gradually realizes that her restlessness is actually wariness.
            She can sense vaguely that something is wrong.

            Along the sense of the Command Spell, her bond with her Master, there isn’t the sense that his life is in great danger, but rather the sense that something is amiss.
            He said that he would be in the market in Miyama, so wherever he is when this happened must be somewhere between here and that point.
            …The bridge.
            She cannot be certain, but she feels that it must be so.

            She erases her form and leaves the house.
            Her speed is very great, and she can cover that ground in little time, searching for the traces of magecraft.
            …Out of the remaining Servants, she is aware that the only one who would attempt something of this nature would be Assassin.
            In searching for her Master, she may be searching for Assassin’s nest itself.
            …That is a dangerous place for her.
            As a Saber-class Servant and as herself, she is a warrior meant to do battle head on.
            All of her knowledge of tactics deals with how to arrange an advantageous battle, and how to assail the enemy’s weak point.
            And so she is at a disadvantage.
            …If her Master is in danger as she senses vaguely, then that is unacceptable.

            Her only option is to find a way to level the playing field.

            She runs, invisible.
            To where her Master is.

(10-1 interlude out.)

            The inside of this place is very dark.
            There are few windows, and those are small, letting in very little light.
            Assassin’s Master takes me deep into the warren, forces me to sit down, and ties my hands behind me.
            …As if I could do anything even if they weren’t bound.

            It’s hard to breathe in this place.
            The air is heavy and tastes of blood and bone marrow.
            …It’s very musty, but aside from that this area itself has been made hostile to foreign magi.
            Assassin’s nest has something very like an intent to kill festering like mist, clinging to the walls and floor.

            As I think so.
            Assassin herself materializes out of the darkness.

            She is a young girl.
            About Yggdra’s age or younger.
            She is dressed in partial armor over thick twill clothing, and her shoulder-length hair is held back with a headband.
            …I can see a crossbow holstered at her back, and a large armored claw over her arm.
            As both are her weapons, they have an immense presence about them, but—
            Avenger was killed with a crossbow shot, and no name of a weapon was called.
            So does that mean that the claw is her Noble Phantasm?

            “—Master Soala, are you all right?”

            Now that she says so.
            The witch who ensnared me is moving in weaving steps.
            “I’m fine for now.
            “—It was difficult to maintain the magical energy necessary to get him here, but that should all change now that we have him.”

            …I’m not sure what she means.
            But… if her prana stores are low from such a thing, then is she an amateur magus or magic user with a low amount of actual talent?

            “As I thought, should I stay in spiritual form a little longer?”
            Assassin asks meekly like a child waiting to be reprimanded.
            Her Master smiles.
            “—No. It’s all right. None of this is a problem anymore.
            “I can’t bear to keep bothering my sempai, but now that we actually have an external source of prana, we’ll be able to compete evenly without any problems.”

            An external—source.
            It’s painfully obvious what they mean.

            …Back on the day that I summoned Yggdra, we were attacked by Avenger and her Master, who were looking for souls to feed to Avenger to make her stronger.
            Servants can consume human food, but their real form of sustenance is “spirit”.
            Humans eat flesh to grow stronger, and so Servants consume souls.
            Ordinarily, Servants are Heroic Spirits who are opposed to stooping to such tactics, but since the inclusion of antiheroes in the third war, there are always a few who are willing to do such things.
            There are Servants who would be more willing in the case of a “fairly captured enemy”, someone aware of the Grail War instead of a bystander being drawn into the conflict based on the selfishness of higher beings.

            Assassin is usually a Servant closer to the lines of the antihero, simply based on the fact that they are assassins.
            …Usually, the Assassins summoned are those from the Middle East, those who served under the name Hassan-i-Sabbah.
            In fact, this girl may be the first who isn’t one of the old men of the mountain.
            Regardless, they are a type of hero who rely upon trickery and subterfuge instead of brute strength, in order to make up for their own shortcomings.
            So of course they require the will to depend on such things.

            …One of two fates awaits me.
            Either my soul will be consumed by Assassin and used as an artificial amplifier for her power in such a way that it will take the pressure of supplying prana off her Master,
            …or I’ll be used as a battery to give prana to one or the other of them when they run low.
            Paralyzed and unable to manipulate my body as I am, they could easily control me for that purpose.
            Even though my senses are dulled with the effect of the Mystic Eyes, I still feel very cold.
            ……Well, the effects of fear are psychological as much as physical.

            It goes without saying if you’re a magus, but if you’ve trained in the ways of magecraft and opened your body to your Magic Circuits, your bodily fluids become saturated with your own prana.
            …Mainly, this refers to blood, semen, and vaginal fluid.
            Blood-drinking Servants who are close to the existence of a Dead Apostle must exist, as I have heard that at least Vlad the Impaler counts as a Heroic Spirit, but…
            In my case they would almost certainly mean to extract my prana by means of sex.

            Any magus worth his or her basic training knows how to give or take prana through sexual intercourse.
            …It’s an emergency measure that’s always taught to children when they go through puberty.
            I have heard that poor magi are sometimes reduced to selling their semen to the Magic Association as a donation or research sample.
            And as beings summoned into this age, Servants should instinctively know about such a thing as well.

            So I’m either to be used as a meal for Assassin or as a doll for them to take their pleasure of.
            “—, …”
            It’s distant.
            But I can feel sweat running down the side of my face.

            “—Oh, your color looks pretty bad all of a sudden.”
            The magus Soala is addressing me now.
            “I’m sure you’ve started to realize what position you’re in.
            “—Don’t worry, though, you won’t be killed unless we have no other choice.
            “If Saber becomes a problem, I’ll have Assassin eat you, but it really has been too much of a bother capturing just you.
            “Trying to find another man after we’ve used you up would be a pain.”

            She informs me that she means to rape me in an unconcerned voice.
            It doesn’t feel real.
            …Give me a break, I’m supposed to be shopping and going home to Yggdra.
            Like that.
            My mind attempts to reject such a notion.

            Soala continues to smile.
            Her expression is filled with derision and maybe a little pity.
            “—Well, someone like you wouldn’t know how it feels.
            “I can sense how powerful you are, now that you can’t suppress your presence as a magus.
            “—If we want to be active, I’ve had to take the prana from other people on a regular basis.”
            She complains in a vague way as her Servant stands by silently, watching me with cold impassive eyes.
            “I’m lucky to have a helpful sempai, but all the same, I have my own pride. I can’t keep coming back to him over and over like an addict or like a whore.
            “—He would get tired of me behaving like that.
            “Well, he’s had pity on me because of my situation, but in the end I’d rather do something about it myself.
            “—I was chosen as a Master.”

            …I think I’m beginning to understand.
            This woman, Soala, doesn’t have an extraordinary magical presence.
            …Lancer’s Master was like that as well, but he had an assistant magus as well as great internal stores of od.
            But Soala is different.
            She is a weak magus, and with her fully functional connection to her Servant, her choices are to either seek outside sources of prana to supplement the flow between them or to burn out like a normal magus would when attempting to control a Berserker.
            …This is the eighth day of the Holy Grail War.
            So she must have been lucky or smart up until now, but having an active Servant is inevitably too much of a strain.
            …And so.

            “—Yes, that’s right.
            “I will win this war by whatever means necessary.”

            She looks at me impassively.
            She runs a hand through her dark hair and then unbuttons her white coat with long, pale fingers while she stares at me as though I am merely an object.
            “—I will defend Assassin’s pride as well as my own.
            “And you will become the keystone of our victory.”

            …I am paralyzed and cannot attempt to fight back.
            When she tries to stimulate my body, it will react.
                         “The body gives because the body can.”
            ……A phrase written by some American author flashes into my head unwelcomely.
            And I will, be forced to watch, as she and Assassin do as they please with me.

            A part of me is still protesting in revulsion and fear that this has to be some kind of a bad joke, but the rest of me has realized.
            If I cannot call Yggdra to save me, then I really will—

            There’s a crash so loud it shakes the entire room and makes my eardrums pop.


            “Stand back, Master—”
            Assassin leaps around us as if to make for the intruders.
            I hear it.
            …I can hear the clear, high sound of a girl’s voice roaring.
            ……I could weep with relief.


            I don’t know how, but it is definitely her.
            She is definitely here to rescue me.

            There’s a great cloud of dust rising up from the entrance, along with light that spills in and hurts my eyes.
            The cold rolls in and stirs up the stale bloody air.
            …It makes my body shiver, but at the same time, it’s invigorating.
            I still cannot break the hold of Soala’s Mystic Eyes.
            But I have hope now.

            In the darkness, there is a great arc of green so pale it is almost white, and shockwaves erupt after it.
            …Yggdra comes barreling into the warren like a Berserker.
            Beside her.
            There is a great red heat.
            —It’s Lancer.
            My confused mind is given pause.
            …Why Lancer?

            But all the same.

            Soala lifts both her arms and begins to chant.
            Her jewelry lights up, and I can tell that the metal has extra energy for spells stored inside it.
            …Even if she may be weak, she is definitely well-prepared.
            And she is ruthless.
            This is most certainly the iron will of one who has determined to win “no matter how”.

            She fires cold white bolts like gunshots.
            I cannot see Assassin anywhere, but Soala wades into the fray unafraid.
            So her Servant must be nearby.

            There are running footsteps.

            “—So here you are.”
            It’s a boy’s quiet voice.

            “—The bonds are ordinary enough. You can cut them without worrying, Ein.”
            The girl in her black clothes steps into view.
            She stands before me, very close, and her green eyes travel the length of my body as if staring through my skin to the nerves.
            “—Yeah, I can break this.
            “It’s gonna hurt a bit, but you’ll just have to bear with it for now.”

            Her Magic Crest lights up as she lays her hands on my face and begins to speak.
            …It’s a language a little like Greek, but the sound is more similar to Gaelic.
            …Whatever the case, I don’t recognize it.
            It seems to be a similar pattern of language to whatever Nessiah casts spells in, but no matter how ancient the words, the ones Rose uses do not hurt my head the same way.

            There’s a faint sound of sawing, and my hands come free.
            The moment after that, there’s a brilliant pain through my entire body like pins and needles.

            “—, —”
            I cannot support myself and slide down to the floor.
            My muscles are twitching.

            “That’s quite the contamination.
            “—I’ll say one thing for this enemy Master, she may have crap for power, but she knows what she’s doing.”

            ……I can’t even imagine what her training must have been like to utilize magic at this level despite her low level of prana.
            Or perhaps the ability to create Mystic Eyes was simply ingrained in her Magic Crest.
            …Either way, I can barely move.

            “—You’ve got to stand up.”
            The boy Ein’s voice is kind.
            A firm hand tries to pull me to my feet, but I’m still not sure of my ability to stand.
            “It’s dangerous here, especially when they’re fighting.”

            …I see that in his free hand, he’s carrying what looks like an iron sword.
            Rose appears to be in the process of reinforcing her arms, as I can sense a great amount of prana packed into them.

            And then.
            Through the smoke, Assassin emerges, and makes her way towards us with her long scarf streaming out behind her.

            “—Ein, get him out of here!”

            Rose yells as she spreads her feet wide, sinking down into what I recognize as some form of martial arts stance.

            “Come on, we’re not safe until we get outside.”
            He takes me by the wrist and begins to pull me in the direction of the door.
            I don’t want to just leave Yggdra to do the fighting on her own.
            It may be nonsensical, but we’re supposed to be a team—

            Assassin dives for Rose, who stops her with a solid roundhouse kick.
            The impact seems to make the air waver and the ground beneath us rock.

            “—It’s really not safe.”
            We’re on a bridge, and I don’t think that anyone has reinforced this place the way it was when Avenger fought against the Riders.
            …So we should get out.

            I am unwilling and my body does not want to work properly, but Ein still drags me over to the entrance.
            “—Lancer, hurry up and let’s get out!”

            The next moment.
            Rose is running towards us, and when Assassin tries to follow her she is cut off by the winged knight.
            The two of them arrive beside us, and they are followed by Yggdra, who is dusty but otherwise unscathed.

            Ein releases me, and Yggdra reaches out to support me instead.
            —And we emerge into daylight.

            Lancer erases his form quickly, but Yggdra stays materialized as we put distance between ourselves and the bridge.

            Once we reach the playground, I am unable to hold myself up and collapse.

            Yggdra kneels with me and steadies me with firm hands.
            There are streaks of dust across her white clothes and in her hair, but she pays them no mind and focuses on me.
            “—Roswell, are you all right?”

            ……I can’t answer.
            Maybe because only now is it sinking in what’s happened to me, and what could have happened if not for her interruption.
            But my body is shaking and words won’t come.

            “—This is my fault.
            “I shouldn’t have let you go out alone when I knew who we were facing.
            “—From now on, I’m coming with you if you have to go into town, just in case.”

            I want to correct her.
            I want to tell her that she’s wrong and this was my own fault for letting my guard down.
            But she puts her arms around me, and again I cannot speak.

            “—Rose, will it be too dangerous to cross the bridge now?”
            Ein asks the girl in black clothes.
            “No, attacking the people going back and forth on the bridge is too obvious.
            “—On top of which, she’ll probably abandon her hideout now that she knows someone’s found it. It’s what I’d do if I were her.”

            …Certainly, that might be right.
            Especially when so much of their advantage was made up of that place, and that will disappear now that we know how to counter it.

            “—Letting Assassin choose the battleground means our loss.”
            Yggdra says so firmly, releasing me to look up at the other Master and his partner.
            “I know who that girl is, so I can say so with certainty.
            “—Now that they’ve been found, they will either choose a place to make a stand and wait for us to walk into the trap, or try to take us unawares.
            “And I don’t put it past that Master to make her Servant eat souls to strengthen her before that battle.”

            ……I can agree with that.
            The woman named Soala had very cold eyes when she proclaimed that she would do anything to win this war.

            “She can simulate Mystic Eyes of binding.”
            I force myself to speak.
            “…That’s how she captured me, so stay on your guard.”

            “…Mystic Eyes, huh.”
            Rose folds her arms as if considering.
            “—Well, that’s not as much of a problem now that we know about it.
            “But the question is still what we’re going to do.”

            As long as she can choose the place, Assassin will have the advantage.
            And it’s always bad to give someone like that class of Servant the advantage.

            “If it’s all right—I’d like to propose an alliance.”
            Yggdra says so, getting to her feet and staring at the two magi.

            They both stare as if they weren’t expecting this.
            …Well, I’m not going to protest.
            Especially as it seems Yggdra has an idea.

            “Aside from my asking you for aid here, we’ve helped each other a number of times already, and that should make it the natural course of action.
            “And this is the best way to eliminate the enemy Servants until things can come down to a fair duel between us, which both sides should be able to accept the outcome of.
            “—What do you think?”

            Rose is silent, looking to Ein.
            As if to say “you’re the Master, so act like it”.
            This time it’s Ein’s turn to pause and ponder, but at last he nods.
            “—Yeah, all right.
            “We’ve run into each other a lot, after all.”

            “Then all that’s left is to decide on our plan.”
            Rose looks at us with folded arms.

            “About that.”
            I should really stand up.
            But I’m not sure if I can support my own weight, and so I remain kneeling for now.
            “—The safest place to discuss strategy is inside a boundary field, so I would welcome you back to my home.
            “It’s in Shinto, and it should be large enough for our purposes.
            “—When we were allied with Vienya, she stayed there as well.”

            …I think this is the first time I’ve been able to say her name since what happened.
            It feels painful, but at the same time empty.

            As both Ein and Rose are staring at me as if they want to ask a question, I realize that they never realized what happened to her and to Archer.
            …I don’t know if I can explain.

            “—They were attacked by a rogue magus who wanted to steal her seat as a Master.
            “Archer relinquished his chance, and Vienya was relocated to a hospital for magi in the next town over.”

            Ein nods with a serious expression.

            “…Oh, but.”
            There is the matter of food.
            “—I was interrupted shopping, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that now.
            “So when you do come down, will you bring extra supplies?”

            “—That seems fair enough.”
            And Ein smiles.
            “You’re providing the lodgings, after all.”

            …In the end, I’m able to stand up.
            We give them the address, and it’s agreed that they will come tomorrow morning so that we may discuss our strategy.

            …And Lancer’s team leaves.
            Apparently they live here in Miyama, as they don’t head back towards the bridge.
            …I’m not sure if I want to cross it myself.

            But Yggdra puts her arm around me.
            “—I’ll carry you.
            “I can move with enough speed that we won’t be seen, and I’ll get us back to the house.
            “Roswell, you’re in shock, so you need to rest.”

            Saying that, she lifts me easily.
            …This girl smaller than me lifts me easily as if to confirm the great power in her body that I personally lack.
            “—Close your eyes.”

            It’s because of the wind, I know.
            If debris is carried on the air, it would be foolish to risk getting hit in the face and being injured, after all.
            …So I listen to what she says.
            But at the same time.
            …Doing so immerses me in the feel of her body and her scent.

            …Her arms are as warm as they are strong, and the curve of her breast is pushed against my own chest.
            ……I don’t know if it’s her natural scent or that she was using shampoo, but her hair is sweet against the brisk chill of the air and the smell of the water.

            “—Hold on to me.”
            She says so quietly, the words self-assured.
            And then she leaps forward and any other sound is lost to the roar of the wind.