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Forgotten Wings

Chapter Text

            —This is a story from a long time ago.
            I don’t remember how long ago it was, exactly, but I still must have been a little kid. The grown-ups around me all seemed so big, and so wise.
            Anyway, little kids don’t know much about the world, right? But they do know about right and wrong, and about heroes.
            I liked hero stories when I was young.
            The people looking after me were magi, so they knew a lot of good hero stories from what they called the “age of gods”.

            A lot of them were stories about ancient wars in foreign countries, but some of them were about the gods themselves, about angels and demons and things that are impossible.
            I mean impossible with today’s technology, and impossible with magic—but in the “age of gods”, the world was young and a lot more things could happen.
            I was still just a kid.
            But I understood what that difference meant, even though I’d never seen the outside world.
            It meant that maybe there was more truth to all the stories I heard than most people might believe—

            I was still just a kid.
            It was the first time I ever heard the story of Ragnarok, the great war between gods and demons that was supposed to have been the death of many gods.
            My master got angry with those of his servants that told me after I heard about it, either because he thought it was too violent for me or because he’d planned for me to hear it when I was older. …Which amounts to the same thing, but still.
            When I heard the story of the angels who did the fighting, my heart beat faster and faster, and it felt like something inside me was swelling up. It wasn’t the same as pride, but it was a really happy feeling and I was excited.
            …I really was a kid.
            The man who was telling me that story smiled at my attitude and patted my hair. That wasn’t something that happened very often, so I was even happier, and I said that I felt a lot more alive listening to his story than I ever had before in my life.
            “That’s only natural,” he told me. “Because those angels are the same as you, Ein—”

            I didn’t understand what he meant then, and I still don’t now.
            But whenever I hear that old story, my heart still beats a lot faster—

Chapter Text

            …It’s warm.
            It’s warm and it feels good, so I don’t want to get up.
            I don’t want to get up, so maybe if I just curl up a little more under the blankets, I can go back to sleep, because it feels wonderful—
            “Hey! Are you going to sleep all day? We’re gonna be late, you know!”
            Oh.
            A girl’s voice. It’s the most familiar voice in the world. …And she sounds angry.
            No such luck, I guess. So I open my eyes.
            …Standing next to my bed and glaring down at me is the girl I’ve lived with for the past two years, Rose R. Crawford.
            She’s over a year younger than me, but she’s my tutor, and she came to live with me because our master assigned her to take care of me. Um, she’s sharp-tongued sometimes, she talks like a guy, and she acts like I can’t handle very much, but she’s very level-headed and I think she’s got it together a lot more than other girls her age.
            …And, um, she’d definitely hit me if I said so, but maybe that’s the reason she’s not very girlish.
            “It’s already six-thirty, you know! If you don’t get up we’re going to be late for school!”
            “…Sorry, I’m sorry. But couldn’t you just let me sleep a little if it’s only six-thirty?”
            Rose stands up taller and folds her arms.
            Maybe it’s that she’s already wearing her new high school uniform, but she looks impressive and as I’m still sleepy, I feel bad, like I’ve just been mouthing off to my teacher.
            …Gah, what am I thinking? That’s exactly what I just did—
            “Sorry. I’m just still really tired, it’s hard for me to think too much. I’ll be more awake in a second.”
            I sit up and rub my eyes.
            Rose makes a face and then stares at me.
            “Well, since you’ve apologized twice now, maybe I’ll forgive you if you don’t give any more excuses. Hurry up and get changed, and I’ll go make some breakfast.”
            She turns so quickly that her skirt makes a swishing sound against the sheets of my bed, and crosses my room. She stops at the door and turns to look back at me, maybe to see if I’m really going to get up or not. It makes me smile. Rose has got her cute sides, after all, and she’s not just my tutor—she’s been a combination of best friend and substitute mother to me all this time.
            …Hold on, she’s smirking.
            Um, Rose. I was just complimenting you in my head, so could you please stop making scary faces at me…?
            “It’s going to be today or tomorrow, after all. I want you nice and awake when I beat you for good—”
            With a big smile on her face like she’s already won, Rose leaves and heads down the hall. …Her lively footsteps sound almost like she’s skipping, that’s how badly she wants this.
            She’s my friend and I owe her a lot, but she has her scary sides too. It’s even just me that she bullies, which makes it a lot worse.

            I go down the hall to use the bathroom and wash my face, and while I’m down there I change into my uniform.
            …The girls’ uniforms at my high school are fashionable and austere-looking, with a tan blazer over a white blouse and a gray skirt. I think it’s the ribbons that really do it though, as they have a line of gold thread that gives an impression of quality. Even if a really plain girl were to wear our uniform, I’m sure she’d stand right out in a crowd because of the combination of colors. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.
            Well, Rose likes the uniform even more than I do. When she got hers in the mail, she acted her age for once, dancing around and around and insisting that I take pictures when she first tried it on. She puts her uniform on really early in the morning too, when she could go around the house in her pajamas and not worry about it. I mean, what if she spilled something cooking? Wouldn’t she be sad?
            …All that said, the guys’ uniform is rather plain and I’m not sure it suits me very well. The tan color looks dignified on dark-haired guys, but it makes the color of my hair look strange.
            Maybe it’s just my vanity, but I don’t see how I’m going to impress anybody in my class if the uniform doesn’t look good on me.
            I’ve never been on a date at my age, and even though Rose and I aren’t exactly normal, that makes me worry every now and then.
            I straighten out my uniform and head into the kitchen and dining room, where I can hear the sound of something frying. I also smell sugar—oh, so that was what Rose meant by making toast.
            I can see her in front of the stovetop. She’s smiling while she fries bread to make French toast, and her gestures are competent and assured.
            I’m jealous.
            Rose really has it together.
            …I can cook easy things, and sometimes harder meals if I have instructions, but Rose is a pretty good cook. She likes making Western food, and knows how to make some Japanese and Chinese meals, too.
            It’s a little strange to see her making French toast, though, because she complains that eating too much of it makes her fat.
            She must be celebrating.
            After all, soon it’ll be starting, the reason we were told to move to Fuyuki City in the first place—

            When I sit down on my cushion at the table, Rose looks over at me and smiles.
            …She really looks domestic, and I’m surprised.
            With her shining black hair and green eyes, Rose has always been pretty, but today I think she’s actually really beautiful. Somehow, girls always look best when they’re doing something confidently.
            Maybe it just makes me realize the gap between her, succeeding at everything she does, and myself. …Maybe it just means I’m a failure as a man. I’m her student and wouldn’t even count as a sempai, but it feels kind of bad that I can’t take the workload off my best friend even a little bit.
            “Wow, you really did get up. I thought you were going to roll over and go back to sleep even though I picked on you, and then I’d have to go kick you out of bed even more.”
            I sigh, because I might have considered it if I knew Rose wasn’t going to get mad.
            “Wait, what would you have done with all that toast if I hadn’t gotten up?”
            Rose makes a face like she’s laughing at me.
            “I’d have eaten it all and gloated, of course.”
            She puts the finished toast onto two plates, takes out a bottle of syrup, and uses the syrup to write our names across our toast.
            …Hey, Rose. I thought you said you’d get fat if you ate too much of that. Is making fun of me that much more important to you? You’re really scary.

            “Thank you for the food.”
            The toast was really good, and I didn’t stop to say anything once I started eating it. Rose is giving me a good smile from across the table, because she knows I liked it.
            …She’s much easier to be around when she’s happy.
            I take all the plates and wash them, along with the frying pan, while Rose puts some leftovers from last night into bento boxes and checks both our school bags. Neither of us says much, because this has gotten to be a comfortable routine.
            Before I know it, it’s 7:10.
            Rose hands me my bag.
            “We’re going to have to hurry if we don’t want to be late,” she says, and heads for the door. I follow her, and lock up.
            Rose and I have this whole house to ourselves. It’s a first, and we had a lot of rules impressed on us, so together we make sure we follow them.
            I mean, it would be a disgrace for both of us as well as our master and his organization if we didn’t take care of the house we were given.

            To someone who’s just gotten here, Fuyuki City is a pretty normal-looking place.
           It’s a city with two halves—the residential district called Miyama, which is the side of the town that we live on, and the part that looks more like a city, Shinto. A river splits the city into its two sides, and it’s connected by a big bridge.
            I haven’t been to Shinto much except to do the kinds of shopping I can’t in Miyama and for part-time work. We also go there together to report to our master.
            Our school is in Miyama, and across a big intersection from us, there’s also another subdivision. Ours has Western-style houses, and it’s got Japanese-style ones. Miyama also has a shopping district, like I said, and a Buddhist temple.
            The weather is very mild here, meaning that there isn’t much snow in the winter, but summers are cool, too. The name of the city means “Winter Tree”, and I remember hearing someone say that it was named that because of the weather.
            Well, I don’t know that much about it, since we only moved here two years ago.
            If you want a lot of connections in the city, you have to go to the Fujimura family, but the Tohsaka family are actually the owners of the land.
            Our master tried to contact the head of the family, but apparently she’s at graduate school at the Clock Tower, in London. When he finally got hold of her, she said that he should contact the deputy head instead.
            The deputy head of the family isn’t even named Tohsaka anymore, and she lives in one of the Japanese houses.
            I remember meeting her once when we first moved here, and even though I don’t remember her name, I do know that she was very kind and very powerful.
            Things got settled very quickly after that, and so we got a nice place, one of the houses left empty because of the fifth one. It has a basement big enough for Rose to use as her “workshop”, and to help teach me.
            We’ve gotten used to this kind of life after two years, and Fuyuki City feels like home.
            Maybe it’s because this is the kind of life that we’ve made for ourselves, instead of having it made for us by the adults who have always ruled over us—

            Because we hurried, Rose and I make it to school in plenty of time. We slow down after we get through the school gates.
            I would have liked to use the track a little bit, but I might not be able to today because I did get up a bit late. It’s all right, though, since the day after tomorrow I should be able to, and tonight I have to cross town to work.
            Rose impressed it into me that I need to keep my body fit if I want to be any good at what I do, so I try to run a few laps and do stretches most days.
            It’s not like I really work out or that I have big muscles, but I’m not in any sports—I just need to be able to react to things quickly and not have trouble moving my body when I want to.
            It was before I knew her, but Rose says that she took years of gymnastics lessons when she was little, and now she just has to maintain her body. I believe her, because she has just the right kind of body for that kind of thing.
            Um, from what I can tell, anyway.
            Anyhow, we both go up the stairs, and when Rose heads down the hall towards her classroom, I go up one more flight of stairs and head for room 2-B.
            There are already some students around, working on homework or studying.
            “Yo!”
            The girl who’s waving in my direction, slouching with her feet up on her desk as though she doesn’t realize she’s wearing a skirt, is Serene.
            She acts like a guy and doesn’t like being called by her last name. Because she’s more like a delinquent than anything else, she won’t ever get me to call her with “-chan” or “-san”, and I’d laugh at her if she tried.
            She’s just not ladylike enough.
            “Well, you’re in class early.” She crosses her legs and leers at me like she knows something that I don’t.
            I’m not in a mood to be picked on twice this morning, so I just nod to her and go sit down.
            From the other side of the room, a blond girl with a blue ribbon waves to me with a bright smile.
            “Don’t forget we have a meeting today, Ein!”
            “I won’t forget.”
            This is Mimee Madder Browden, the president of the school club that Rose and I belong to.
            Unlike that poor specimen over in the other corner, Mimee-san is a proper upperclassman to her fellow club members who is cheerful, energetic, and gets good grades.
            She likes to look after the younger girls, too, and her habit of reading lots of manga means that she has a lot of admirers among the guys in our class, even though I don’t think she knows that.
           I look through my things and take a peek at my lunch to pass the time. …Rose has packed everything perfectly, and she’s also given me some fresh rice balls that are covered in some kind of purple seasoning.
            …Well, knowing her, they’ll taste just fine.
            The first homeroom bell rings, and our teacher walks into the room, so I put my things under my desk and pay attention—

            The bell rings, and students start to trickle out of the classroom, all talking cheerfully to each other. I check to make sure I have everything, and hang back for a little while.
            A hand taps me on the shoulder, and I look up to see that Mimee-san has come over to stand by my desk.
            “We’d better get going.”
            I nod and follow her.

            We leave the classroom and go down the stairs to Rose’s classroom, 1-A.
            Most of the other students are already leaving the school, and almost all of our club members are already here.
            …This is an unusual student organization that was only established in the past few years, and it’s difficult to get into.
            Well, our supervisor tries to make sure it sounds as boring as possible, so that only people like us will be interested in joining.
            If any normal kids tried to get in, that would be a problem.
            So we’re the Occultism Club, and if anyone asks, we’re interested in learning the history of magic. We all memorize at least a little of the most boring facts we can find about European earth-based religion, or “paganism”, to parrot at non-qualified hopefuls so that we can scare them off.
            I do feel a little bit bad for them, but—
            Including myself, this club has six members, and only we and our teacher know that this is a kind of study group for “magi”—

            Fuyuki is a city that has attracted a great deal of magi.
            By magi, obviously I mean those who are able to use magic.
            To someone who’s never heard of magic, it’s difficult to explain—it’s nothing like pulling rabbits out of hats or pointing a wand at something, saying “abracadabra”, and getting anything at all you want.
            Actually, most magic nowadays accomplishes things that modern technology can.

            “Magic is moving towards the past, while technology is moving towards the future.
            They’ll wind up in the same place at the end, as they’re both heading towards the zero point—”

            This is something that a famous sorcerer once said.
            I don’t really understand it, but I guess that’s the case.
            Anyhow, magic is like a shortcut to accomplish things that would ordinarily be done with a lot of work, using only one’s willpower and the energy of the world.
            The only true goal of magic is to reach Akasha, the Origin of all things. Hence, to study magic is to abandon common sense and embrace the death that is always standing right beside you—

            I should also explain that there are three types of people who use magic.
            Magi are the kind that are trying to reach the Origin, and are usually long-standing families or clans that pass down their knowledge from generation to generation through a transplantable glyph called a Magic Crest. They are different from humans, because they concentrate their ability to use magic in order to produce Magic Circuits, which are the paths that magic travels through a human body. They also obey the Magic Association, which is a kind of organization that tries to keep the existence of magic hidden whatever the cost.
            Most people who use magic are magi.
            Then there are sorcerers, whose magic can produce miracles that are impossible by ordinary means. They’re the kind of people who can do the kind of magic that kids’ books talk about.
            But they’re very rare, and there are only five sorcerers known. They can do ridiculous things with magic, things the rest of us would never dream of, and they’re all very famous and very revered, like Kaleidoscope Zelretch and Aozaki Aoko.
            The third kind of people who use magic are magic users. They usually stick to using the magic in their own bodies rather than the kind in the air, and because of that they are often much weaker than magi. Some don’t even have proper Magic Circuits, and use their nerves to channel magic instead.
            Because everyone has some kind of magic that’s suited to them, they can still use magic, but without a Magic Crest it’s much more dangerous. Plus, if they aren’t approved by the magi whose lands they live on and if they don’t adhere to the laws of the Magic Association, they’re branded as heretics and hunted down.

            Fuyuki is a city owned by a family of magi—the Tohsaka family.
            Another family of magi called the Matou lived here too, until their Magic Circuits died out. And other groups and families of magi have often come through these lands in the past.
            Therefore, it’s not unusual for there to be so many magi, even though Fuyuki is filled with mundane people who know nothing about the existence of magic.
            The advisor of our club is Cierra-sensei, a magus who has been living here for several years and asked the Tohsaka head for permission to help young magi study.
            For herself, she says that she’s studying abroad to get more experience as a magus. Rose says that Cierra-sensei is talented, and might be pretty good as a researcher once she gets it together.
            I think that’s a little cruel, because Cierra-sensei is very good at teaching the basics and at helping people.
            Mimee-san is from a small magus family, and her Magic Crest is about five generations old. This means that her magic is nowhere near as powerful as that of the Tohsaka family, or even as powerful as Cierra-sensei’s, but she’s also very talented.

            The other members of our club are Aura-san, Fia-san, and Pamela-chan, who are all in Rose’s class. Aura-san and Fia-san are from old families, and Pamela-chan is from a new family but has an unusually large number of Magic Circuits.
            Rose is probably the most skilled member, though. She won’t even tell me how old her Magic Crest is, but she has twenty-five Magic Circuits and she’s years ahead of everyone else.
            …That’s probably why our master chose her as my tutor. She can do things that even Cierra-sensei can’t.

            As for me, well—
            I’m not of much use to anyone in this club, who Cierra-sensei helps with things like Magic Crest integration, meditating techniques, using their Magic Circuit switch, and learning to transfer energy.
            Because I’m no magus, just a magic user who’s no good at manipulating energy at all when transforming energy is the root of a magus’ power.
            I only have a handful of Magic Circuits, and the only kind of magic I’m anywhere near good at is projection.
            And I even fail at projection nine out of ten times.
            I can do very basic strengthening, too—if I’m very lucky.
            The most I usually do when I try is inflame my Magic Circuits and wind up weak and sluggish for a few hours until they heal.
            So the only reason I’m a part of this club is to keep Rose company, and be around people who know about magic the same way I do—

            The club lasts for an hour, and the sky is already reddish-orange when we leave, waving goodbye to everyone else.
            Rose gives me a strange look when I turn towards the road I always take to the bridge, but then stops and shakes her head.
            “Yeah, you have work tonight, don’t you?”
            “Only a little bit. Our boss just wants us to clear up and do some shelving, and then I can come home. We shouldn’t have any work to do until next month, actually, so we’re getting a bonus.”
            Rose nods with approval. Our master makes sure that we have a small allowance enough to pay for the house and any living expenses—Rose keeps the papers, because they just confuse me—but both of us take some part-time work here and there just in case.
            And besides, I do have plans for tonight’s money.
            Rose and I part under the skies that are turned brilliant colors by the sunset, and she tells me to make sure that I come straight home and don’t run around after dark.
            Um, but Rose, that’s the kind of thing I should say to you.
            You’re the girl here.

            Work is over now, and I stop by the bookstore on my way back.
            I got 10,000 yen as a bonus, and a lot of that is going to get put into our savings, but—

            It’s pretty easy to find what I want, and the clerk isn’t surprised. She asks me if I’m sure I don’t want the book wrapped, which is embarrassing, but I think it’s a good sign.
            Anyway, once I have it in a bag and have got my change, I hurry back across the bridge. From here, it’s faster to go through the park if I want to get to the crosswalk that leads back home. The sun is almost down, and if it’s really dark by the time I get back, Rose is going to get mad again.

            When I head to the park…
            …there are two little girls sitting on the swings that I’ve never seen before.
            …Well, it’s wrong to call them little girls. They’re small, but they’re probably around middle school age; their size just fooled me a bit from far away.
            One has red hair, and the other’s hair is pink. They’re both wearing white dresses and what look like they could be blue raincoats, even though it’s not supposed to rain tonight, and they’re holding hands, swinging in silence.
            I kind of want to tell them to get home and that it’s not good to be out late at night, but it’s none of my business and I don’t want to bother them, so I just keep heading down the sidewalk.
            ““Heeeeeeeeeey!!””
            There’s a pattering of little footsteps and then the two of them are standing in front of me.
            …Um, a little too closely.
            Both of them are staring up at me with smiles. They almost reach up to my shoulders even though I’m not very tall.
            “Is it going to be you, Onii-chan?” asks the closer one, the one with pink hair.
            “There are still four seats open, so will you be in one, Onii-chan?” asks the other one, a little more politely.
            …They could be sisters, as they’re acting very alike, and they look almost the same.
            Except for the color of their eyes and hair.
            But I don’t really know what they’re talking about, and I tell them so.
            ““Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?””
            And now they turn to each other.
            “Um—are you really sure it’s him?”
            “I’m sure I’m sure! Um. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet?”
            They turn up to me again, wide-eyed.
            “But it shouldn’t take too much longer, should it? Maybe a day or two.”
            “That’s what Master says.”
            “Yeah, and Master should know.”
            “Yup.”
            They turn to me and bow.
            …Um, I’m not sure whether to say that they’re really cute or just weird.
            “So maybe we’ll see you again soon, Onii-chan!”
            “Good night, Onii-chan.” She tugs on the other’s sleeve, and the two girls vanish into the night.

            From the park, it’s about ten minutes before I make it home.
            “I’m home.”
            “Yeah, you’re back. Ugh, what took you?” Rose’s voice sounds like it’s coming from the living room.
            I take my shoes off, and head into my room to change out of my uniform. Since it’s so late, I just put on a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt that needs washing. Straightening my clothes, I head back down the hall and into the living room.
            Rose is sitting on a cushion at the kotatsu, watching the news. She has a scary kind of glare on her face, too.
            “…They’re getting impatient.”
            “Who’s impatient?”
            She doesn’t seem worried at all as she turns back towards me with a “Nevermind”. But she does make an incredible scowl at me as though she’s getting ready to tear strips out of me for coming back even a little later than she wanted.
          “I’m getting started on dinner in just a second, okay? I stopped to pick something up for you, so don’t be mad.”
            I offer her the paper bag from the bookstore, and Rose turns the TV off and comes to pick it up. The dangerous expression is gone, and I sigh with relief. Inwardly. It’d be even more dangerous to let her see.
            When Rose has the bag, I head towards the kitchen and pick up the apron from the peg on the wall. Um, I think we have enough ground beef in the freezer to make some thin hamburger patties, and that shouldn’t take too long to make. Jeez, I really am late coming home. At least it’s not bad enough that we have to make instant food like freeze-dried noodles or kimchi.
            I’m already bordering on being a failure as a man. I don’t want to actually become one.
            “Hey Ein, this is…!”
            Rose, whose hobby is books, has discovered the novel I bought at the bookstore.
            Lately, whenever we passed by there on our way to or from a part-time job, she’d spend a second or two giving it looks of longing through the window.
           I think it’s part of a series of murder mysteries she’s been reading, that examine the closed-room types of crime.
            …You wouldn’t believe it by looking at her, but Rose eats these kinds of books up. And not just murder mysteries, but any kind of book.
            When Rose is acting as a magus, a magus is all she is. It’s like she turns off everything that’s human about her. Having taken lessons from her for a while, it’s almost easy to forget that she has a side to her like this.
            …She’s already sitting down and starting to read.
            “I’ll tell you when dinner’s ready, okay?”
            “Hmm. Okay.”
            It looks like today I’ve done a good deed.
            Rose’s smiling face is enough to make me forget about all my worries for a while. And if I’m not worrying, I’ll be able to cook better. That should make her happy, too.

            Dinner went without any problems, and I completed today’s homework on our lunch break. Rose says she has preparations to make, so I go run the bath. Once I’m clean, I put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and head back to my room.
            It’s hard to believe that this might actually be the last normal day that Ein and Rose live in this house—
            With a troubling thought like that, I close my eyes and go to sleep.

Chapter Text

            —When I was small, my world was made up of my master’s workshop.
            My master is an incredible magus, and any workshop he creates is immense, but that’s still a tiny world for a little kid.
            I didn’t have parents. I wondered a lot when I was little if it meant they were dead or something, but since no one ever claimed me, the only grown-ups I really knew were my master and my master’s servants.
            It wasn’t a bad life.
            I can’t say it was a very good life, but it wasn’t a bad life. I had regular meals and I was cared for, and the servants kept me company most of the time.
            I also had a lot of time to myself as my master was always really busy then.
            —So, when I was small, my world was the workshop and the stories I was told.
            I hardly ever even saw the sky.

            —But I had dreams.
            I had dreams about angels, armies of angels with black wings, who marched down monsters that terrified me.
            When I was little, I always thought that the monsters were coming to get me and the angels were fighting to save me, but eventually I realized that it was a dream I was watching, not a scene I was part of.
            They were very realistic dreams.
            I could smell the dust and the blood and sweat from the fighting. And I could hear orders being shouted, the screams of monsters and explosions.
            But what stood out most of all—were the weapons those angels were carrying.
            They were bright and colorful, and from a distance they looked almost like cardboard cutouts—it seemed laughable that a warrior would carry such a weapon into a fight.
            I realized after a while though that those weapons were bright and bold because they were “something more” than mortal. When the fighting got close, it was easy to see that those weapons had mass like any ordinary sword or spear or staff.
            I was fascinated by them.
            I always wondered more than anything else, what it would be like to touch one of them—

            I wake up.
           There are birds chirping and light is coming in through the window, and even though it’s warm, I feel refreshed.
            I sit up and yawn, stretching.
            It’s hard to think, but I know that after yesterday, I should get up without dawdling. So I head outside my room with slow steps and enter the bathroom to wash my sleepy face.
            …Man, why am I never any good right when I wake up.

            I get changed into my uniform and head into the kitchen, as it’s 6:20 now.
            “—Oh.”
            “—Oh.”
            Rose is standing there.
            She must have just gotten up too, as she hasn’t tied her hair yet. Her ribbon isn’t tied yet, either. She looks tired out, but at the same time warm and feminine.
            —Hold on, I think that was just a very strange thought to have.
            How is it strange, though?—I really am no good this early.
            …I should say something, as she’s staring at me with a confused face.
            “Good morning, Rose.”
            She nods and covers a yawn.
            “’Morning. Get me out a frying pan, would you?”
            I open the cabinet and take out the pan she asked for, and I realize that she’s holding a bowl and a whisk. It looks like she’s stirring eggs.
            “Hold on, Rose. Are you making omelets?”
            “Huh? Uh, yeah. They’re fast, and we have to leave a little early today, since we have a short club meeting before classes start.”
            Oh yeah. I’d almost forgotten about that.
            “Well, here. Let me do it, you did make breakfast yesterday after all. And I can make an omelet well enough.”
            Rose looks at me for a long time—,
            and then she smiles at me.
            “Okay. Thanks. No onions on mine, okay?”
            “Haha, I know better than to give you anything like that.”
            She goes to sit down at the table, and then the phone rings.
            “I’ll get it!”
            Before I can move, Rose goes to pick it up, so I just busy myself in front of the stovetop.
            “Hello? This is Rose… oh! Hector-sama!”
            I almost drop the pan, but when I turn around, Rose is making fierce shooing gestures at me. So I figure I’d better do as I’m told.
            “No… not yet. I’m very sorry. But the sign should be appearing today or tomorrow at the very latest… isn’t that right? I have everything ready in the basement as soon as it manifests. How many positions…? Three? I’m sorry we’re cutting it so close. Yes, I’ll be sure to notify you right away. Thank you, Hector-sama. …Goodbye.”
            She sets the phone down.
            All the air of an old friend is gone. Her shoulders are rigid and she has the sense of a magus about her.
            I keep silent and flip the omelet I’m cooking so that it won’t burn.
            “Well, it seems like time is getting close. But there’s nothing we can do until it’s time, so—hey Ein, stop staring off into the distance and hurry it up! We’ll be late!”
            I put the omelets on plates, but it’s hard to get that relaxed feeling back from before.

            —Well, we got to school in enough time.
            Actually, only Aura-san and Fia-san were here before us, which is good.
            Cierra-sensei came into the classroom before long, and Pamela-chan was almost late, but those are normal, everyday things.
            I’m sitting off to the side as I usually do, since Cierra-sensei is talking to Mimee-san and Pamela-chan about the different kinds of things a Magic Crest is good for and Rose is helping her. It looks like Fia-san is trying to get something out of her bag, but she’s listening too.
            The unusual thing today—
            —is that Aura-san is sitting off to the side, too, and she’s watching the others with a lonely face.
            I hear that it’s hard for Aura-san at home.
            It’s not something that’s easy to talk about, and in any case I don’t think I have a right to intrude on other people’s business, but Mimee-san is a close friend of Aura-san’s, and I’ve heard her talk about how strict Aura-san’s father is.
            Um, it seems that Aura-san’s family, the Herzogs, are a long-standing clan of magi.
            It also seems as though they’ve been dwindling lately, but I know because Cierra-sensei said so that Aura-san has a lot of Magic Circuits. And they’re all high-quality ones, which makes her kind of a prodigy in her family.
            So I think part of the reason Aura-san has seemed so strained lately is because her family expects her to help them return to their former standing.
            It’s not really fair to Aura-san, but it’s an expectation in families of magi that the heir gives up their humanity before their birth. Even I know that kind of thing and have felt it, and I never had a family to begin with.
            Even if we want to be people more than we want to be magi, this is something we’re always held to, because magi are exceptions to human society.
            But it’s sad that it’s making her so miserable.

            “Aura-san, is something the matter? You’ve got a look like your stomach hurts or something.”
            “Sempai.”
            …She makes an expression like a cornered animal.
            “You don’t have to talk about whatever’s bothering you if you don’t want to, but you shouldn’t make a face like that. Mimee-san’s going to get worried, and then she’ll get really angry. She thinks of you like a little sister, and she’d feel really bad for letting her little sister get depressed on her watch.”
            Aura-san looks down guiltily, and I wonder if I said the right thing.
            …In a few years, I’m sure Aura-san will be a stunning beauty.
            She’s the kind of girl that people who don’t know better will be calling “Ojou-sama” because she looks like a cultured kind of person.
            But before she’s a young lady, she’s still just my underclassman in high school, and I’m sure there are places she doesn’t let us see that are childlike.
            And just as I’m thinking that,
            “Sempai, is it… strange for a high school girl to want to keep a stuffed toy?”
            she asks me a question like that with an embarrassed face.
            “Huh? That’s kind of random, but no. I think it’s normal. We all have stuff from when we were kids that we don’t want to give up. Well, I may be generalizing a bit, but that’s the case, isn’t it?”
            Aura-san makes a reserved smile. Even now, she’s sitting perfectly with her back straight and her hands folded in her lap.
            “My uncle… you see, for my birthday, my oldest uncle gave me a very large teddy bear.
            “My father wasn’t pleased with it and thought it was babyish, and the only reason he didn’t make me get rid of it right then is because it’s impolite to refuse a gift.
            “I care for my uncle very much, and… I like the present. I want to keep it. But my father is… I’m afraid he finds it unsuitable for me to have such a thing, when I should be putting all my focus into my studies as a magus.”
            I can’t help making an angry face. What kind of person is Aura-san’s father? Aren’t people supposed to know that this is the kind of thing girls should be allowed to get away with?
            “You wear hair ornaments, don’t you?”
            Aura-san makes a surprised face, and I understand because that must sound like a complete non sequitur.
            “Um, that’s because you’ve already learned to keep magic reserve in your hair, right? I remember from Cierra-sensei talking about it before.”
            Aura-san nods.
            “Well, I’m sure there’s a way to put magic into inanimate things too… if you can store prana in jewels, then shouldn’t you be able to do it in just about anything if you really try? Maybe Cierra-sensei can help you. Your father will probably be able to approve of it if you’re using it to practice with magic.”
            “…Thank you, Sempai.”
            Looking a little better, Aura-san gets up and moves a little closer to everyone else.
            Um, I know it’s presumptuous, but I’d be happy if that helped at all. I don’t know if it did, because that’s up to her.

            “That was a good thing you just did, Sempai.”
            I jump, and nearly fall over.
            Fia-san is much closer than I thought she was before, and is beaming at me with folded hands.
            …That’s embarrassing.
            First, that Fia-san was listening in while I was talking to Aura-san… but also that I didn’t notice and jumped when she spoke.
            Um, just like Aura-san, Fia-san looks up to me a lot as a good Sempai, and I don’t want to do anything to seem less dependable.
            …Fia-san is giggling. I can feel my face heating up.
            “Um, uh, I-I don’t really think so,” I answer her with a dizzy head. “I just—don’t like it when girls look sad, and so I just selfishly…”
            Fia-san gives me a shining look.
            …Um.
            As a man, I should be happy to have a girl looking at me that way.
            But I wish it had happened on a date with someone, not as an underclassman accidentally seeing me in a private conversation with another underclassman.
            “Anyway, Sempai. Why don’t you join the rest of us? Even if you don’t have a Magic Crest, it’s always a good thing to learn. You never know when it will come in handy, after all!”
            I hold up my hands in protest.
            “Sensei doesn’t need somebody asking a hundred questions about the basics when you all are ready to have an advanced lesson, so it’s okay.”
            The smile falls from Fia-san’s face, and she’s looking at me in alarm. I lower my hands, confused. …I don’t think I said anything that bad, did I?
            “Sempai, your hand!”
            Eh?
            I look down at my hands, and for the first time, I see it. …I really must have been half-asleep when I got dressed, if I missed this.
            On the back of my left hand is a red bruise.
            It’s large and goes under my sleeve, and it looks as if I just hit my arm on something big. Did I run into a desk when I jumped backwards?
           Fia-san carefully takes my left arm and pushes my sleeve up an inch or so. The bruise is still spreading upwards, as if it runs up my entire arm.
            “Sempai, this looks awful! You should go down and see the nurse, right away!”
            “—Fia-san, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt at all, I’ll be fine.”
            When I look up, I see that Rose has turned towards us. She’s staring at me over Fia-san’s shoulder.

            On her face,
            is a look of cold shock and hatred that ties my insides into frozen knots.

            “…Sensei. I’m sorry, but Ein and I are going home right now.”
            Cierra-sensei—no, everyone—stares at Rose in shock.
            “There isn’t time to explain, but neither of us can come to school for a week or two. Oh, but I think I can stop in every few days to pick up the handouts. Please let our homeroom teachers know.”
            As Rose crosses the room, her form is that of a magus, not a high school girl. She grabs me roughly by the shoulder and starts to pull me out of the classroom.
            “But—”
            “I will talk to you,” she says coldly, “when we’re home.”
            Leaving our silent club members behind us, we walk out of the building. We’ve left the school before the bells have had a chance to ring, and before the gates have even closed.

            The walk home is silent.

            When we get back to the house, Rose tells me to hurry up and change out of my uniform.
            I head into the bathroom with a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt and put them on. Before I pull the shirt over my head, I take a long look at my arm.

            All up and down my left arm, there’s a wide red mark. It’s impossible to think I actually bruised it somehow. And don’t bruises start fading to purple right after you get them?
            …There’s nothing I can do about it now as it won’t come off even if I scrub it with soap and water, so I finish getting dressed and head back into the kitchen.
            Rose is on the phone when I get there.
            “The summoning will be tomorrow, since I’m sure I’ll have to explain a lot of things first. And once that happens, we’ll come see you directly. ……Thank you. Goodbye.”
            She puts the phone down and turns to me.
            She’s wearing that look again.
            It feels like my blood is going to turn into ice.
            “…Well, if you’re going to gloat, you’d better do it now.”
            …Um, Rose just said something strange.
            “Huh?”
            “…Because it’s you. It’s not me, it’s going to be you.”
            “Wha… WHAAAAAAAT?!”
            Rose crosses her arms and glares at me.
            “Like I just said, the one chosen for the Sixth Fuyuki Grail War isn’t me. It’s you, Ein.”
            …My head is spinning.
            “But why would it be me instead of you? I don’t even have a Magic Crest, and I’m barely even a qualified magic user, and—how do you know, anyway?”
            Rose points at my arm.
            “That. That’s the first manifestation of the holy sign. When you summon your Servant, it’ll turn into a Command Spell. Which Servant you have determines its shape.”
            It looks like if I try to protest or ask how she knows, Rose is going to get even angrier. Besides, I know how she knows that. Both of us expected her to be chosen as a potential Master, so Rose was the one who did all the research about the Grail War.
            …Rose takes a deep breath and sighs. Her face is telling me she’s given up.
            Somehow, that expression makes me feel even worse.
            “Anyway, you’d better go be useful and go buy us lunch. I can’t concentrate on explaining things to you and cooking at the same time.”

            …Since I’ve been exiled from the house, I head for the shopping district.
            Let’s see… It would be easy to just pick up some junk food at the convenience store, but I have the feeling Rose will get even madder if I don’t put some effort into this.
            The local Chinese place has small cartons of fried rice mixed with bell pepper on sale, so I pick up two of those, as well as some apple bread and melon bread. It’s pricey, but Rose’s favorite sushi bar also has crab sushi today, so I buy some of that too.
            …Maybe I should consider taking her out for a ramen bowl or tempura later… It won’t make up for taking her place as a Master, but maybe it’ll put her in a better mood.
            We still have some fresh fruit at home, so this should be enough.
            Carrying the bags carefully, I turn and make my way towards home—
            —when I see a strange person in front of the vending machine.

            It’s a girl.
            Her red hair is almost pink, and it’s falling thickly into her face so I can barely see her eyes, but I think she’s cute.
            Um, she seems about middle school age, but school is still going right now and she’s not wearing a uniform. …At least, I don’t think that school uniforms have black shirts and plaid skirts these days.
            And, um, she’s hitting the same button over and over with a really distressed look on her face.
            I shift the bags onto one arm and walk over with difficulty. …Wow, she’s really intent on that button, which seems to be the “vend” button for the red bean milk.
            …I haven’t had shiruko in anything since I was really small. It’s way too sweet for me now.
            She must like sweet things, as she’s also holding a melon bun.
            “Um, excuse me…”
            The girl jumps up with a gasp, and then leaps away from the vending machine as if I caught her doing something bad.
            “This is what you want, right?” I point at the little box of red bean milk, and she nods.
            I lean over and look at the vending machine.
            …It looks like her money went in fine, and she paid enough. Maybe the button is jammed. I give it a poke to test, and the coil obediently pushes the drink forward.
            …Um, it’s pushing an iced caramel coffee forward too.
            Both drinks fall into the tray, and I straighten up.
            “See? It was just being stubborn. And now you get two for one, look.”
            She cautiously heads back up to the vending machine and bends over to get the drinks, but when she does, she drops her melon bun.
            …Oh.
            She looks like she’s going to start crying from frustration.

            Um, it would be bad if she cried, and I feel sorry for her. So I dig in my shopping bag for one of the melon buns I just bought.
            They’re a bakery specialty and they’re packaged individually. It looks like this is the same kind the girl bought, and they may be out by now—these kinds of bread are very popular.
            I look the plastic wrapping and the bun inside over, then hold it out to the girl.
            “I have a lot, so take mine, okay?”
            She stares at me. …It’s an intense stare that I can feel piercing me even through her hair. Finally, she takes the bun from me, looks it over—
            —and gives me a brilliant smile.

            The girl bows deeply and then disappears into the crowd.
            …Come to think of it, she never said a single word all through that.

            “What took you so long? Come on, I’m starved.”
            With that kind of angry greeting, I’m welcomed back into the house.
            Rose nods with approval when I set the food out, and then goes to get chopsticks. By the time I find a drink and sit down, she’s already wolfed down half her meal. …She must really have been hungry, or she must really be enjoying it.
            Maybe some of both, because she seems much more relaxed as I start to eat too.
            “Okay. Even though I know you’ve heard the basics before, let’s go back over them so that I can be sure you haven’t forgotten.
            “Here in Fuyuki, the ritual of the Holy Grail War has been carried out for about two hundred years, at intervals of about sixty years. The gaps between the fourth and fifth war, and the fifth war and the one right now, have been a lot shorter because the fourth and fifth wars accumulated a lot of magical energy that didn’t get used.
            “The ritual was founded by the Einzbern, Makiri, and Tohsaka families. None of them seem to be participating any longer, and the Tohsaka head can’t participate in this war anyway because she’s at the Clock Tower. The Einzbern family doesn’t seem to be involved with this war, which is probably because the fifth Grail War ended in a joint victory between their Master and one of the others.
            “Basically, the Holy Grail War is a free-for-all battle between seven magi called Masters and their seven Servants, which are Heroic Spirits called into this world and given form by the Grail. Each Servant makes a contract with a Master, and after that they fight and kill each other. The Servant and Master that win the Holy Grail are able to use its magical energy to make any wish come true.”
            Most of this I already know, but I think it’d be better just to listen as Rose talks.
            “There are seven classes of Servant that can be summoned: Saber, the knight of the sword; Lancer, the knight of the lance; Archer, the knight of the bow; Rider, a mounted warrior; Caster, a magus; Assassin, a killing expert; and Berserker, the mad warrior.
            “…There’s also an eighth class called Avenger that’s used to summon antiheroes, but only one Avenger has ever been summoned. It was a taboo in the first place, and apparently the Servant that got called was really weak, so most Masters since have ignored that class.
            “Anyway, ignoring Avenger for now, the classes that are considered the best ones are Saber, Lancer, and Archer. In all the past Grail Wars but the fifth, Saber made it to the final battle. All the classes but Caster, Assassin, and Berserker have natural magic resistance, too, which means it’s hard for Masters to fight them.”
            Rose’s face grows more serious.
            “When I talked to Hector-sama over the phone, he said that the only Servants that haven’t been summoned yet are Saber, Assassin, and Lancer. When we summon your Servant tomorrow, you want Saber or Lancer if we’re going to have any chance of winning.
            “Any questions yet?”
            I think it over, and then nod.
            “Um. We don’t have to kill other Masters, right?”
            “You don’t have to, but it’s easier to go for the Master than to just attack Servants. You can bet that there are going to be a couple of unscrupulous Masters that won’t mind going straight for you, if not more than a few.
            “Hector-sama’s always told you that the path of a magus is a path stained in blood, right? It’s unpleasant, but if you’re going to be killed, you’d better prepare yourself to aim for your enemy’s life too. That’s the only way to defend yourself now.”
            She narrows her eyes at me.
            “And don’t even think about not summoning a Servant. You’ve got the proof of a Command Spell, and as long as it’s there, those unscrupulous Masters will go after you to keep you from making a contract with a Servant whose Master has died.”
            I think I’m probably making a face, but I can’t help it. Rose is a lot more prepared for this than I am, and the more I listen, the more I wish she’d gotten this bruise thing instead of me.
            “Um, one more question. How does a Heroic Spirit manage to stay in this world for long enough to fight a war, even a short one like this?”
            Rose nods with a stern face, but I think she’s pleased that I asked the question.
            “The Grail gives the Servants physical vessels. They can become spirits, but the vessels are half dependent on the Grail, and half dependent on the Master’s prana.”
            …Um, I think I see a problem with this.
            “Is that going to be okay? I don’t have that much magical energy capacity, right?”
            Oh.
            Rose is making a really scary smile in my direction.
            “What, are you asking me to lend you more?”
            “N-No!! What are you saying?! You shouldn’t joke about things like that, stupid!”
            I seem to have surprised her, as she folds her arms.
            “Well, picking on you aside, in your case the problem is just that you’re not very receptive to absorbing and using the mana in the air. You’re okay when it comes to od, so I was thinking that for the rest of the day, I’ll just have to tamper with your body to increase your receptivity.
            “…Your Servant might still lack a bit of magical energy, but it’ll be able to make up for it if it’s any good as a tactician.”
            Rose says this as though it’s a matter of course. I think there was still something scary in there, but it’s better than what she was implying before.
            “Hurry up and finish eating, Ein. I’m going to get things ready in the basement. I’ll teach you the spell to summon a Servant there, and then we’ll work on expanding your capacity.”

            —After that, Rose really did bring me down to the basement and start the torture she calls training me.
            She told me with a dangerous smile to fire the “switch” to open my Magic Circuits, and once I’d done so, then she put her hands on my head and forehead and did something like slamming a wedge into that small opening.
            “…Man, she’s ruthless.”
            To make the situation worse, she didn’t know when to stop tormenting me mentally and kept saying ridiculous things about how she’d claimed my magical virginity and this was her revenge for all women on stupid men who ruin things with their clumsiness.
            …Um, it sounds like she has a grudge on someone.
            I’ve definitely learned one thing from today—if girls get the wrong idea about things you say, they’re completely vicious. And, um, that if this is anything like “that”, I need to be careful in the future.
            I still feel awful.
            …The torment ended a few hours ago when Rose noticed that I was in too much pain to concentrate properly, and she gave me a smile that was much less scary and told me to hurry up and go to bed now.
            “I’ll give you a cheat sheet for tomorrow, even,” she said. I wonder if that was supposed to be an apology.
            “Ugh.”
            My head is pounding.
            What Rose is doing is like trying to expand a cup that can only hold 10 liters of water by placing it under a waterfall.
            In this case, the cup will grow a little, but the mana pouring into my body from outside it and spilling out again violates my nerves with pain with every breath. This is “torture” that is essential to expediting my growth as a magic user.
            It would end if I shut off my Magic Circuit, but I don’t want to die, so I’ll keep it going and endure the stabs of pain through the night. …I don’t want to die, after all, and Rose would kill me if I disobeyed her now.
            …I’m exhausted.
            Even with this pain, all that’s left for my body to do is collapse onto the bed and go to sleep.
            It’s telling me that even before I enter the Sixth Fuyuki Grail War, I’m already straining at my limit—

Chapter Text

            —It’s morning.
            …How ridiculous. The sun is already up, from what I can see from my window, so it must be around eight or nine o’clock, and yet no one came to wake me up.
            I lie still in bed and try to analyze the situation with a confused head.
            …I feel as though I didn’t have a very good night. That’s right, my body kept aching and I couldn’t spend very long asleep even though I was exhausted. So I would wake up, roll over, go to sleep, and then the pain would wake me up again. How stupid.
            If we were going to school, I would already have missed homeroom. As it is, Rose will probably yell at me.
            Gah, I’m a failure even as a magic user.

            After I’ve washed my face and put clothes on, I can remember what I’m supposed to be doing now.
            Surely enough, after that night of torture, I can feel a little something in the air circulating, and flowing faintly into my raw Magic Circuits.
            This must be the “mana” in the air.

            It doesn’t even need to be said, but magical energy has components.
            “Mana” is the large source of magic in the air, that can be manipulated by skilled magi, and “od” is the smaller source that resides within any living thing.
            Up until now, I had trouble absorbing and manipulating mana, so whenever I use spells it’s always using my own od.
            This works well for some magi. For instance, one of the five sorcerers in the world, the famous Aozaki Aoko, is said to be able to work the Fifth Sorcery and accomplish miracles just using her od and one Magic Circuit.
            But it also doesn’t need to be said that I can’t possibly compare to a sorcerer.
            I practice magic because my master willed that I should hone the skills I have. I may not be very good at it, but the skills I have are all because of that.

            Because of Rose’s help, I should now be able to use a little bit of mana.
            It wasn’t anything I was fit to learn before, but now that I’ve the ability, Rose pounded the knowledge of how to do it into my head.
            Even so, my Magic Circuit has been on for a long time and it still feels sore and irritated (although nowhere near as bad as before), so I reverse the switch and head gingerly into the living room.
            My nausea and pain disappear, and I’m left only feeling groggy.
            Well, it’s better than nothing, so I head to make myself some breakfast.

            …Rose isn’t anywhere around.
            I wonder where she went.
            …Um, when I first woke up I could feel something strange, but I’m not sure if it was my imagination or not. In any case, the only place I can imagine her hiding in is the basement.
            That’s the place where I’m supposed to summon my Servant, after all.
            And from Rose’s lecturing last night, this should probably take a large magic circle to accomplish.
            The only place to put that is the basement, Rose’s workshop. It’s the most spiritually advantageous area for such a ridiculous summoning, too, so I should go down and join her. She did say something about there not being many Servants left to summon.
            And that there are certain Servants it would be better to summon than others.

            As I head for the staircase, I see the clock.
            It’s eleven thirteen.
            How long have I been standing around with a useless sleepy head? Or have I really been lying around sleeping for that long, even though it feels like I barely got a few hours of rest?
            …I think it would be better not to worry about such things.

            “Oh, you’re awake.”
            As expected, Rose is down in the basement.
            The electric lights are on, but the space is transformed.
            This is Rose’s workshop and her study, so she usually has carpeting here as rugs, and a number of bookshelves and desks. But she’s shoved all the furniture against the walls, and rolled up the carpeting. She’s balancing a book in her arm and holding chalk, and a large circle is already halfway inscribed on the bare stone.
            “Good timing. I thought you were going to leave me to do all this myself, you ingrate.”
            “Hey now. You don’t need to go so far as to say something like that, I wouldn’t make you do all the work if I’m going to be the Master now.”
            “That’s nice to hear. Come over here and help then, would you?”
            Rose gives me a second piece of chalk and, with a lot of checking back to make sure the circle is diagrammed correctly, we reproduce the glyph in her book.
            “This should do it for the form. Now to actually make the glyph, we have to trace this out in blood. …Well, melted-down magical artifacts would do too, but we haven’t got the funds for that kind of thing.”
            Rose holds up a syringe and a cord.
            “Give me your right arm.”
            She asks for the one that has no so-called holy bruise on it, even though it’s usually the left arm that you take blood from.
            She fills up a couple of syringes, then takes blood from her own left arm and pours our blood into a small bucket. Then she takes out a paintbrush.
            …Um, there’s something a little weird about using something so mundane for a magic circle this important, but if I complain about that out loud, she’ll probably hit me.
            I don’t want to die. Frankly, it would be a waste to die for such a small thing, too.
            …It’s hard to reconcile in my still-sleepy brain how someone can exude the full majesty of a legitimate magus while diligently tracing the chalk outlines of a magic circle with a paintbrush and blood, but I suppose that the willingness to get one’s hands dirty is also an essential part of being a user of magic.
            In the olden days, every magus had to perform rites like this to use great magic like this kind of summoning. That was before Magic Crests were used to pass down a family’s magic and the need for big rituals was reduced.
            …This really is a piece of a past that’s two hundred years old.

            “Done. Okay, now we have to wait for this to dry.”
            Rose stands up and puts her hands on her hips, puffed up with pride.
            “Well, I have to say I’m happy with how it came out even though somebody was just standing around being useless. Come on, we should have some lunch while we wait. Both of us need something sugary around now, anyway.”
            She takes my shoulder and leads me away from this place, back up to the living room.

            …Well, I’m surprised.
            Rose really did mean it when she said she was giving us sugary food.
            …She probably emptied out half her secret stash of chocolate, and the rest of the fruit buns we haven’t finished yet are on the table too. It would be almost laughable if I didn’t know Rose well enough to know that she guards her chocolate zealously.
            “If you have any more questions, now would be the time to ask.”
            I think about it for a while, then nod.
            “Um, you said before that I want to try to summon Lancer or Saber, but how do I do that? Is there some particular way to determine which Servant you get?”
            Rose frowns.
            “Well, since Servants are Heroic Spirits, they’re heroes from the past or present or future, right? So ordinarily, if you’re trying to get a particular hero, you need to have something connected to them with you when you do the spell.”
            “Something connected to them…?”
            “Yeah, like a bone or a piece of their armor, or a piece of jewelry they always carried. But obviously we don’t have anything like that, so when you summon a Servant, you’ll get one that’s suited to you. And as long as the other Servants haven’t gotten summoned already, I don’t think that’ll be Assassin. Hiding in the shadows and waiting for the chance to strike—in other words, setting up sneaky strategies instead of fighting head-on—isn’t really your style.”
            …Um, does she mean she doesn’t think I could do that? Coming from Rose, I don’t know whether that’s a compliment or an insult.
            “One more thing. You said yesterday that ‘the winner gets the Holy Grail’, but how does that even happen? I can’t really imagine a magical cup popping out of the air when all the Servants but yours get defeated, after all.”
            Rose nods and sits back.
            “Well, the Holy Grail in this land isn’t actually a cup. Um, in the past, the Einzbern family always made a vessel to help draw it down, and none of the vessels were ever cups. Think of the Holy Grail as kind of a magic-run wish-granting machine… but then, I don’t know what the Holy Grail actually looks like, so I only understand the theory of it.
            “You’re making a face like you don’t get it, so let’s skip the complicated stuff.
            “You’re wrong about the Holy Grail just popping up in front of the victor. This is a ritual, so the place that the Holy Grail appears is always one of the four magical compass points in Fuyuki. The first time, it was in a cave under the Ryudou Temple. The second time it was in the Tohsaka workshop. The third time it was at the church, and the fourth time it appeared at the burned field in Shinto. That’s how the field got burned, anyhow. The fifth war it returned to the cave, so this time we know it’s going to manifest in the Tohsaka workshop again.
            “From what I hear, the Grail fills up in proportion to how many Servants get defeated, so usually by the time that four or five are dead, it might start to manifest. It won’t reach its magical peak until at least six Servants die, though, so it’s useless trying to call down the Grail and use it before then.
            “But because we know where the Grail will appear, of course we’re going to go there when it’s almost time so that we’ll be ready. Because of that, the final battle in the Grail War tends to be at the altar before the Holy Grail. Do you understand now?”
            “…Kind of. Um, but now I have another question.”
            Rose nods again.
            “We should have time for one more. So, what is it?”
            “This is a pretty twisted ritual. The three main families that started the war—what kind of wish did they want badly enough to start slaughtering Heroic Spirits for?”
            It seems like a ritual where the purest and best of souls are used as sacrificial lambs is a terrible sin or a sacrilege. I’m starting to feel a little queasy just listening to this.
            Rose gives me a soft smile, like she understands how I feel.
            “It was the Einzbern family’s idea to start with… well, it’s said they sought the Grail for a thousand years. Can you imagine? The Makiri magus wanted to use the Grail to create paradise or something ridiculous like that, and the Tohsaka magus just wanted it because their land was used. The Einzbern family wanted to use the Grail to achieve the Third Sorcery, though, or at least their particular brand of it, a performance called the Heaven’s Feel. The Grail War’s proper name is still the Heaven’s Feel because of that.”
            “That’s complicated. But none of those families are competing anymore, so only outsiders can have the Grail now, right?”
            “Yep. The Makiri magi died out, the Tohsaka head isn’t here, and Einzbern finally won, so they’re satisfied.”
            “What happened to the Einzbern magus? You’d think they’d be a worldwide sensation if they can do the Third Sorcery now.”
            Rose shakes her head.
            “…At the end of the Fifth Grail War, the Einzbern magus achieved the Grail. She performed the Heaven’s Feel, reached the Origin, and disappeared from this world.”
            In other words, she died.
            I try to picture it—an unknown grand magus performing a miracle with the prize she won, purchased with her own life as well as those of her enemies. It must have been beautiful, terrible, and sad.
            I wonder how her Servant felt, and the friends and allies she left behind.
            “What a selfish ritual.”
            “Isn’t it, though? And to think we’re in it for bragging rights. …Well, that and to keep any crazy people from laying hands on the Grail and destroying the world with it.” Rose says it like a joke.
            “But, Ein. You mustn’t think that Servants are just unwilling sacrifices being laid on the altar and having their throats cut, you know? The Servants come willingly and respond to our summons because they have wishes too. If you don’t like the picture of the Grail War I’ve showed you, all you really need to do is win. Not for your sake, not because Hector-sama ordered it, but to make your Servant’s wish come true.”

            —To make my Servant’s wish come true.
            To grant the wish of someone I don’t know yet—it’s a risk deciding that’s what I’ll fight for, but it’s better than just fighting because someone told me I had to. Rose is right.
            We walk down into the basement, and I stand in the magic circle.
            I can feel Rose pouring her magical energy into the circle, and as I think about the Servant I haven’t yet met, I switch my Magic Circuit on.
            The connection is sore, so it feels even worse than usual.
            Like I’ve stepped into water that’s boiling so hot, my skin is freezing and withering away.
            Like molten lead is being poured into my veins.
            Like I’m being stabbed with a thousand needles over and over again.
            Like a desert wind is sanding the flesh off my body with each passing second.
            The key turns in the latch, and my violated nerves turn inside out. From now on I, Ein, am a magic user even before I am a human.
            The magic circle glows brightly with the power Rose and I have put into it.
            I can feel it pulsing, and despite the immense pain of being at odds with the world, I feel as though I am holding all the power in the world.

            Rose gave me a piece of paper with the words written on it, but I don’t need to look. They’re carved into my heart the way that the magic is carved into every cell of my body.

            “Ye first, O silver, O iron.
            O stone of the foundation, O archduke of the contract.
            Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Schweinorg.
            Let the descending winds be as a wall.
            Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve.
            Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
            Five perfections for each repetition.
            And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead!”

            —The sensation of a gate being opened in front of me.
            More power than I have ever touched in my life is flowing through me.
            I’m not stupid enough to think that I’m controlling it. Rather, it is using me, and if I resist it will kill me.
            To practice magic is to abandon common sense and embrace the death that is always beside you, so if I make a wrong move I’ll be annihilated before I can even complete the contract.

            I swallow hard and wait for the power to fill me up.
            This is my magic, Rose’s magic, and the magic of the world.

            “Set!
            Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
            If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail, and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
            I make my oath here.
            I am that person who is to become the virtue of all heaven.
            I am that person who is covered with the evil of all hell.
            Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,
            Come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance—!!”

            Light.
            Light and power are streaming into this underground room, and the power leaves my body as well as the circle. There’s nothing here but waves and streamers of light like mist.

            And through the light,
            comes a strong but quiet voice.

            “—I ask of you. Are you my Master?”

            The light begins to clear, and I can’t breathe.
            Black, wings.
            Black wings and skin like white marble, blood-colored robes and a brilliant scarlet cloak. A single spot of white in all the red—a cravat, carefully tied. Hair the color of gold dust, and garnet-colored eyes.
            In his hand,
            there is a trident-like weapon that is too brilliant to be bound by the laws of this world,
            a spear like the ones in a half-forgotten dream.

            But I hardly notice it.
            I cannot take my eyes off the creature—the man, who seems barely older than me—standing before me in silent expectation.

            “—I ask again, are you my Master?”

            Pain.
            Sharp pain like a burn rips down my arm, and I clutch it with a cry. As I look down at it, I see that the bruise is gone, replaced by three entwined marks like lightning strikes. This must be the Command Spell, but I’ll worry about it later.
            “Y—yes. I am—I’m the one who summoned you here,” I manage at last.

            The golden-haired Servant bows his head once, in acknowledgement.

            “I, the Servant Lancer, have come forth in response to your summons.
            From this time forth, my spear shall be with you, and your fate shall be with me.
            Now, our contract is complete.”

            —I don’t know how long we stood there.
            Rose must have been waiting for me to do something, but I’d almost forgotten she was in the room with me as I couldn’t look away from the one calling himself Lancer.
            Lancer keeps looking at me steadfastly with an expressionless face, as if waiting.
            I’ve forgotten what plans I might have had for this moment, as I am struck speechless by the sight of Lancer. His spear, his wings—beyond a Heroic Spirit, there is no possibility that he isn’t an angel, and I can’t believe I’m sharing the presence of something so holy.
            —What is it, though?
            It isn’t just his holiness that keeps me unable to speak, but what is it?
            This is a feeling that I don’t have words to explain—

            “Master, I await your order.”
            And I realize I’ve forgotten something incredibly important.
            “Um—Lancer, right? Can I call you Lancer?” He doesn’t reply, and it would feel strange adding an honorific to a name like that. “My name is Ein.”
            All I really know is that since he’s introduced himself, it’s only polite to do the same, no matter who or what he is otherwise.
            Lancer tilts his head slightly to the side, as if this is unexpected.
            “…Master, have you any orders for me?”
            Uh.
            …This is going to take some getting used to.

            “Ein, hurry up. Are you going to bring Lancer with us to the church, or what?” Rose asks at last, breaking the awkward silence.
            Lancer turns to her as if noticing her for the first time.
            “Is this my Master’s objective then, magus?”
            “—Wait just a second, all right? First of all, Lancer. It’s not ‘Master’, it’s Ein. I’m not anywhere near a skilled enough magus to be comfortable getting called something ridiculous like Master. And, um, this is Rose, and she’s helping me—us.
            “About the church, though, we have to report to our master—Hector-sama—right away. It’s across town, but do you want to come with us, Lancer?”
            …Oh. Lancer is frowning.
            I’m not sure what I said that was strange, but now I’m a little worried. Am I already making a fool of myself when I’ve just summoned a Servant…?
            “…If that is what you wish, then. …Yes, I shall call you ‘Ein’.”
            Whoa.
            Suddenly my heart is trying to jump out of my chest.
            “And of course I shall accompany you, as it is a Servant’s duty to protect its Master from all possible danger.”
            Um, I’m not sure what possible danger there is in going to report to the church, but if he says so. I think it’s a bad idea to contradict Lancer, who I’m starting to realize is the stubborn type.
            Rose sighs. …She has a hand over her face, and her expression is the same one she always has when she’s thinking something like “You’re really stupid”.
            “Uh… are you going to keep this up for long? ‘Cause introductions and things can wait until later, but Hector-sama’s gonna get pissed at us if we keep him waiting. And it’s a really bad idea to piss him off, Ein. So—we’ll eat when we get back, but we need to head over to Shinto right away. Are we going to take a taxi, or are we going to walk?”
            Um. I think about it for a moment, then turn slightly so that I can answer her without turning my back to Lancer, which would be rude.
            “If we take the shortcuts, it should be okay walking, right? Leaving aside that it would be a problem explaining Lancer to a taxi driver, wouldn’t it be best to let Lancer see the town firsthand? This is going to be the battleground of the Sixth Grail War, after all…”
            Rose puts her hands on her hips.
            “Wow, I’m impressed. You actually gave an answer that made sense. Well, what do you think, Lancer?”
            Lancer inclines his head.
            “As you suggest, observing the battleground before the battle occurs would be advantageous. You need not worry that my appearance attract undue attention, however, as I shall assume spirit form while we are in public.”
            Oh. Rose explained before that Servants can switch between being spirits and using physical vessels at will, and that in spirit form Servants don’t need as much of their Master’s prana. It’s a good state to use for stealth, or if their Master is having trouble giving them magical energy.
            “That’s a good idea, Lancer. Um—shall we go, then?”

            It’s sundown, and the town is dyed red.
            Not many people are around, and no one is paying attention, so we’re freely able to talk to Lancer and no one will notice that anything is strange. Furthermore, Lancer doesn’t speak much, so it’s really just Rose and I explaining different parts of the town.
            Lancer, the Servant that I summoned, does not seem to be all that talkative.
            However, Rose has relaxed around him and is acting like she knows him well enough to just chat away at him.
            …Honestly, I’m impressed by her confidence. I still don’t know what to say to Lancer, and I’m the one that’s supposed to be his Master here. Even when he isn’t visible like now, he’s still a little difficult to deal with.
            I hope things will get easier in time.
            Finally, we manage to reach the church, and with a ripple, Lancer reappears.
            …There’s no mistaking it, his face is creased with dislike as he looks up at the church.
            “Um. Is something wrong, Lancer?”
            “—I do not trust this place. It has known evil.”
            With a tense face, he says something ridiculous.
            Rose crosses her arms and nods.
            “Certainly, this place was a battleground once, but…”

            …According to Rose, the Holy Grail appeared here once and was the site of the final battle in the Third Grail War.
            Also, since the Third Grail War, this has been the place where the war’s supervisor has stayed. Because this is a battle between magi, there is a high potential for ordinary civilians to get involved, so eventually the Magic Association and Holy Church sent someone to keep an eye on the Masters and take care of any damages caused by their fights.
            And, of course, with something like a Holy Grail being the prize, the Holy Church wanted confirmation as to whether or not it was anything like the Holy Grail that received the blood of the Christ.
           In the last Grail War, the supervisor was a priest named Kotomine, but apparently he was one of the casualties. He was replaced by an old man that helped sort out the damage and then left, and from what I hear, a young nun lived in this church for a few years after that.
            She left, and now the supervisor of the current Grail War—Rose’s and my master, Hector-sama—is staying here.

            “If this is where your business lies, it is inadvisable for you to enter such a bloodstained place. I must ask you not to linger here.”
            I glance at Rose, who looks as perplexed as I am.
            “…There really shouldn’t be anything wrong with this church. Our master, the supervisor of the Grail War, is here, after all. If there was something wrong with it, he’d definitely know and fix it.”
            Lancer still seems very anxious. This is the most agitated I’ve seen him since he first appeared.
            “I see. Then I cannot persuade you any differently. I suppose it will be all right for now, though, as Rose will be with you.”
            Um, Rose looks surprised about this, but I’m sure Lancer can tell that she’s a strong magus. I’m more worried about something else.
            “Aren’t you coming in with us?”
            “—I will not. I would not enter such a place unless there were truly no other choice. …Be careful, Master.”
            Ugh. He’s back to calling me Master again.
            I don’t know what he’s worried about, but Lancer is concerned for our safety, so I smile to reassure him.
            “We’ll be back soon, Lancer.”
            Leaving the scarlet knight standing outside with a torn expression, Rose and I push open the heavy doors and walk inside the church.

            “You two have certainly taken your time in arriving.”
            Standing at the pulpit is a familiar man staring at us from beneath the cowl of his heavy blue robes, radiating a crushing presence of power.
            …This is Hector-sama, my master. The one who directed us to come here for the Holy Grail, the one who assigned Rose to help me, the man who raised me.
            I don’t know all the details, but he became the supervisor for this Holy Grail War. And as the supervisor, it would be inappropriate for him to try to take the Holy Grail, so he sent Rose and me here so that one of us would become a Master and win. Hector-sama said that now the main participants in this war are no longer active, outsiders seeking the Grail for personal gain will be the only people becoming Masters, so we have to win to keep it out of the hands of anyone who would use it with evil intentions.
            It’s a shame that Hector-sama can’t become a Master and must rely on someone like me, though. Just by sensing his immense magical presence, it’s easy to tell—
            If I’m not even the equal of an adult magus, and Rose is equal to about two or three, Hector-sama is worth ten magi.
            He is much older than he appears, and has studied magic for decades, amassing more than enough power to easily crush everything in this demanding presence of his.
            —So if Hector-sama were to have become a Master, he would absolutely and without question win this Grail War.
            However, the Magic Association and Holy Church felt that it would be more appropriate for such a massive power to protect the mages and civilians who have nothing to do with the war, but might be drawn in.
            Even though I’m uneasy about fighting, I agree.
            Hector-sama is the best choice for a supervisor there could have been, other than one of the sorcerers themselves.

            “It’s my fault, Hector-sama. I wasted time before we left, and we were slow arriving because I wanted to show my Servant the town.”
            Hector-sama nods. There’s no change in his expression, but the immense pressure on my body lightens a little bit.
            “…So you were indeed successful in summoning a Servant, I see. That Servant would be the presence I can feel outside, then?”
            I nod. …Hector-sama is really amazing, as not even I can sense Lancer outside, and I’m his Master.
            …Well, it might just be my lack of ability that’s the cause.
            “Although Rose is definitely the more skilled of the two of you, other magi will likely not be able to sense that you are a Master. With the proper support, you should do well in this Grail War. It is regrettable, but of course I cannot aid you now.”
            I nod again. It wouldn’t be fair for Hector-sama to help us, even though we did enter the Grail War because he said so. He’s supposed to be neutral now.
            “However, if the time should come when you lose your Servant, you must come here if you wish to be protected from other Masters.”

            …Um, I don’t know that that’s ever going to happen, because as far as I can tell, I’ll definitely die before Lancer does no matter what.

            I think it would be a bad idea to say this to Hector-sama, though, so I just nod again to show that I understand.
            “This means that the Grail War has officially begun, however, as your Lancer was the last Servant to be summoned.”
            “You can tell which Servant Ein has without us saying?” Rose asks.
            Hector-sama smiles very slightly.
            “As the supervisor, all I can tell is when each Servant is summoned. The only Servants that had yet to be summoned when we spoke last were Saber, Assassin, and Lancer; Saber and Assassin were summoned too early to have been called by Ein, as I know that you would have reported to me sooner had that been the case. Lancer, however, was summoned slightly less than an hour ago. You waited until there was only one Servant left; as I stated before, you certainly did cut it close.”
            …Whoa.
            I’ve never noticed it before, but Hector-sama’s smile is even scarier than Rose’s.
            Uhh. I did something bad.
            Rose, however, gives a long annoyed-sounding sigh and plants her hands on her hips.
            “Well, it’s not like we could help it. The sign only appeared yesterday after all, and I had a lot to explain along with the setup. If I’d been the Master, I could have summoned my Servant yesterday, just after the sign appeared.”
            …I was wrong.
            Rose is definitely much scarier. She’s even confident enough to stand up to Hector-sama, so she’s terrifying.
            “So? Can you make it up to us by at least telling us the order the Servants got summoned? Anyone could ask you that, right?”
            Hector-sama’s smile grows, and I give up on trying to decide which of them is scariest.
            “Certainly.
            “Caster was first, summoned as soon as the opportunity to summon a Servant became available. Rider was summoned a few days later, and all the other Servants were summoned within the past few days. For instance, Berserker was summoned yesterday morning; Saber was summoned last night, and Assassin was summoned after midnight, meaning this morning. And as you know, Lancer was barely an hour ago.”
            “So then, it’s really…”
            “Yes. The sixth Holy Grail War in Fuyuki City has officially begun. Once you have left this church, you may not return unless you are seeking my protection. So if you have anything else to say, now is the time.”
            Rose draws herself up, and I look from her to Hector-sama.
            “You don’t need to worry. We will definitely win.”
            “I see.
            “Then there is nothing else to say. I will see you again when your Grail War is at its end, then. Take the greatest care from now on. You are Masters to Lancer now; from now until the Grail is won, you will always be at the point of kill or be killed.”
            We turn our backs on Hector-sama and walk to the exit of the church.
            For a moment.
            The magical presence that fills this building becomes so intense that I can barely muster the strength to breathe.

            “Are you finished, Master?”
            Lancer is waiting when we’re outside.
            “…Yeah, we’re done. And you can relax, because we won’t come back unless we can’t think of anything else.”
            Some of the tension in Lancer’s body disappears, and for a moment I think he almost smiles.
            Instead, the scarlet knight turns, spreading his wings wide.
            “Then, let us return. The battle begins from here, correct?”
            “…Yeah. We’ll go home first of all. Rose has a boundary field set up there so that other magi will have trouble breaking in, so we can make our plans there. Um, I’m no good with magic, so we shouldn’t move recklessly.”
            “…It is as you say, Master. So then—”
            Lancer stands and waits, and I realize he wants us to lead him.

            …We walk in silence through the neighborhood, as the sun has set almost completely and the town is bathed in deep blue.
            By the time we’re over the bridge, the town is dark.
            …It’s unusually quiet even though it’s dark. Usually there still might be people moving around here or there, but tonight there aren’t any.
            “Ein, we should hurry.”
            Rose is looking around as she says this, her body as tense as Lancer’s.
            “Huh? Why’s that?”
            “—On the news lately they’ve been talking about vandalism incidents where the outskirts of town have been damaged. There might be Masters that are already active, even though the war didn’t technically start until right now.”
            …I remember Rose watching TV the other day.
            I remember the harsh look on her face and I wonder if this is what she meant then.
            “Wow, you’re pretty smart, Onee-chan.”
            —I look up.
            In the wide empty street ahead of us,
            stands a familiar pair of girls.

            White dresses and blue cloaks.
            The moon shines down, giving them white hazy haloes like a silver corona.
            The girl with pink hair is standing in front of the girl with red hair, giving us a big confident smile.

            There’s something,
                                    …red,
                                                …on her right hand.

            “Pri…mea,” the girl behind her says softly.
            “It’s okay, Nana-chan. There are more of us. And Master will be happy, the sooner this ends—right?”
            The girl called Primea is still smiling as she holds up her right hand, with its Command Spell burned in red.

            “Ein—”
            Rose breathes out, tense, and Lancer steps past us to stand before us.

            “Is this your Servant, Onii-chan?”
            The girl called Primea smiles happily.
            “Are we going to fight now, Onii-chan?”
            As if nothing would make her happier.

            …I feel power gathering to Lancer.
            Without a word from me, his Master, Lancer unleashes his killing intent and raises his red spear.
            “If you intend to threaten my Master here, then you will die.”
            …Primea is laughing.
            “Okay! You have a funny Servant, Onii-chan. This will be fun!
            “Come out, Rider!”

            With the same ripple in the air,
            an armored woman appears beside the girl.
            She’s much taller than me, and is carrying a lance. …Her lance isn’t a spear like Lancer’s, but rather a javelin meant to be wielded from horseback. It is heavy, but is covered in engravings of flowers. Rider herself has several blue roses in her long brown hair.
            She has a commanding presence like Lancer, and although she looks human, she is clearly far more than human.
            …I can understand why she’s called Rider as she seems like a knight that would fight from horseback.

            I want to ask why.
            I want to ask why Lancer is so eager to fight.
            I want to ask why such a small girl has to be my enemy.
            I want to ask why I’m not even allowed any time to think before I have to start fighting for my life, but—!

            “Ein.”
            Rose, next to me, has lit up her Magic Crest and is glaring at the two girls.
            “I want you to listen to me.
            “You can’t underestimate them. These two are top-class magi, no matter how young they are. And since we can’t tell who Rider is just by looking at her weapon, we’re at a really big disadvantage here.
            “…Lancer and I will be fine, so when we start fighting, you’ve got to run for the house. Start running and don’t look back. You don’t stand a chance here, and if you die, Lancer will too.”
            “But—”
            “Just do what I tell you! Damn it, we don’t have time for you to be stupid here!”
            I grit my teeth.
            I don’t want to just run away—

            “…Jumping into battle this way is hasty, Primea.”
            Rider speaks in a melodic voice, looking at the girl with the concerned eyes of an older sister.
            “The magus isn’t the Master, and she seems powerful. Also, Lancer is a Heroic Spirit from the age of the gods, so my Noble Phantasm may not be very effective.”
            “What are you talking about, Rider? You know we have the advantage here, so it’d be bad if we didn’t use it and let them get away.”
            “You’re right, of course.
            “—Lancer, my Master wishes for us to fight. Will you accept our challenge?”
            I can feel Lancer’s intent to kill growing stronger.
            “I shall not retreat. One such as I knows no surrender.”
            “—I see, then there’s no need to hold back! Prepare yourself!”

            A clash of steel.
            A clash of steel that looks like a thunderclap and sounds like a ringing bell.
            My eyes couldn’t even track the movement, but the spear and the lance have collided, and Lancer and Rider are striking at each other with a furious intent to kill—!

            I can’t move.
            I’ll die if I move.
            Even though Rider’s only target so far seems to be Lancer, even though Rider’s Master and the other girl are only watching the fight, I know with absolute certainty that I will die if I move.
            I can’t move—

            Beyond being unable to move,
            I am captivated by the impossibility of this battle.

            I understand now that Servants are not human.
            They look human, they speak and act like humans do, but the way they move is too insane—no human could ever move his body so quickly.
            And no human could take in or exude that sheer amount of magical energy—

            Rider, who is slightly taller than Lancer and wearing heavy armor, is moving just as fast as him and does not seem to be exerting herself.
            Her lance sweeps from side to side at Lancer, who deflects her weapon with his own, and makes stabs for his body, which he sidesteps. He uses that kind of opportunity to attack her, but she in turn avoids and deflects his attacks.
            A spear can follow a line or a point. A line is easy to track, and a point less so, but when feints are thrown in to attempt to outwit the enemy, it is even more difficult to trace.
            So far, no blows have been landed upon Rider or upon Lancer, and neither of them seems concerned about taking one.
            Their level of skill is so impossibly high that dodging and striking must be second nature, as Rider speaks out above the clamor of their weapons.

            “I’ve never seen a Noble Phantasm like yours, Lancer. Just what manner of spear is that?”

            Her expression and tone are casual as though this is a taunt she expects no answer to.

            “As you were mortal when you were alive, you would not have seen such a thing,” Lancer replies, his voice as even as ever. “Your weapon is proud, but can it compete—?”

            Their movements, already faster than the human eye can easily track, speed up even more—!

            Beside me, Rose grits her teeth.
            …That’s right, shouldn’t she—?
            “Rose, can’t you do something to help Lancer?”
            “—Don’t ask impossible things, idiot!”
            She glares at me.
            “First of all, Rider has strong magic resistance! And I don’t know if I could perform some kind of great magic that wouldn’t hit Lancer too, but in the first place, I don’t have that kind of magical energy right now!”
            …Oh. How stupid of me, I actually forgot.
            I wasn’t the only one working to summon Lancer. Rose gave me—gave us everything that she had, so she can’t cast magic unless we’re really in danger now.
            Damn, so Lancer really is our only way out of this…!

            The long whirling blades are clashing and sending off sparks in every direction.
           Even I can feel that an immense amount of magical energy is contained in every blow, and from what I can see, the faces of both fighters are creased with concentration.
            But Lancer is moving forward steadily.
            Meaning that—Lancer is driving Rider back…!

            There’s a flash,
            and a loud clang.
            Lancer and Rider jump apart.
            Lancer doesn’t even seem winded, but Rider is looking at him in consideration.
            “—Master, it may be unwise to continue like this.”
            The girl called Primea nods to her Servant, and then turns to the girl behind her.
            “Nana-chan, you heard her. If we wanna win, you guys can’t just hide, and Rider wants to fight too, right?”
            …The girl called Nana looks down and nods her head.
            She seems uneasy, but I guess she’ll do what she’s told.
            The silver knight is watching them from the corner of her eye with a smile.
            “…Master, what are your orders? Shall I press the attack, or do we need to leave here quickly?”
            Primea smiles again.
            That same innocent smile, with that same murderous intent.
            “Yeah, it’s okay, keep fighting! ‘Cause—you’re the Servant that I summoned. I believe you can win. So it’s not even a problem.”
            “—You heard my Master, Lancer. Will you back out while you still can?”
            Lancer stares her down steadfastly.
            “This is not an amusing jest. You and I are both aware that you are outmatched. Shall I take this as a declaration that you wish to perish for these foolish sentiments, and abandon your right to the Holy Grail?”
            Rider narrows her eyes at this cold statement, and smiles a smile that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
            “—We’ll see which of us is the foolish one, angelic Lancer.”
            And with a rush like speeding wind, Rider runs forward and attacks Lancer again—!

            “Rider!”
            The girl called Nana lets out a cry.
            It doesn’t seem like she shouted in fear, so I don’t understand at first until Rose curses next to me.
            Without warning,
            Lancer is fighting on two fronts—!

            “Guh…!”
            …Lancer is struggling.
            It’s not surprising.
            Lancer is easily more powerful than Rider on his own, but now when the knight of roses slashes at him, another knight in silver-blue armor strikes from his other side…!
            It doesn’t seem as though Rider has duplicated herself or something ridiculous like that.
            No, while the other knight has a similar build, this is a woman with black hair and a blue lance with an ominous pulse…!

            I see now.
            It’s impossible and I don’t understand how, but I get it.
            These girls are both Masters,
            and there are two Riders…!

            Damn, why didn’t Hector-sama say anything about this?
            As the supervisor, he should know that the rules were broken and two Riders got summoned into this Grail War.
            He should know, but he didn’t say anything, so either he’s set us up to fail or he thought it wouldn’t be a problem somehow—

            But I can’t think of such things.
            I don’t have the time to think of such things, as Lancer is being cornered before my very eyes…!
            There has to be something I can do, but damn, I need some kind of a weapon before I can even fight, and there’s nothing around here like that!
            “Rose…!”
            “I said run, Ein! Hurry up and get the hell out of here! The house isn’t far now, and you’ll be safe in the boundary field!”
            …Oh.
            I can feel magical power gathering to the enemy Masters, Primea and Nana.

            “Oh. Onee-chan, are you going to get in our way?”
            “Keh. What do you think I’m doing, you stupid little girl? Stay away from us unless you want to get hurt!”
            Primea leans over, smiling angelically.
            “—I like you. You’re a brave Onee-chan, saying things like that. But we don’t have to fight, you know. Our only target is the one behind you.”
            She means, me.
            She means that if Rose surrenders and lets them kill me—she won’t be hurt.
            …And Rose is telling me that she’ll lay down her life to give me a chance to escape.
            No…, way.
            The Grail War has only just started, and we’re already in this ridiculous of a situation…?
            “I’m telling you to scram, kid. Scram when I tell you to!”
            Rose is standing firmly in front of me, with mana pouring into her Magic Crest and a feeling of danger radiating from her.
            But her fists are shaking slightly.
            Either she’s afraid or she’s exhausted, and both of those things are bad signs.
            …It means that she’s not going to be able to last for very long against these two enemy magi, and Lancer is too busy trying to fend off the two lance-wielding knights to come help us.

            “Ugh…!”
            Pain stabs through the Command Spell on my arm, and I look over to the battle.
            Lancer has been wounded.
            He cannot afford to falter or stagger, and so he doesn’t, but I can hear blood splashing onto the ground.
            The two Riders know this, and they press their attack even harder.

            …If this keeps up, Lancer will die.
            Lancer will be torn apart by the two enemies he faces, and he’ll die.
            Just like Rose will die trying to protect me, and then with their blood all but on my hands, I too will die.
            Making their sacrifices meaningless.
            …This is ridiculous.
            I only just became a Master a few hours ago, so this is ridiculous.
            First of all, it’s unbelievable that the first enemy Masters I face are cheaters that summoned two Servants when there should only be one.
            That’s against the rules and someone should have done something.
            …So aren’t we supposed to be “someone” here?
            Aren’t we supposed to win this battle, as the representatives of the will of the supervisor?
            And it would be more than ridiculous for Lancer, an angel, to lose to heroes that were mortal when they lived just because he’s worried about us.
            And it would be even more stupid if Rose died here, as she’s going to go to the Clock Tower in a few years and become a brilliant magus and help a lot of people.
            …And it would be the stupidest of all for me to cost my allies their lives in such a wasteful way…!

            I raise my right arm and open my Magic Circuit.

            At that time.
            Thin bolts of light rain down from the sky.

            …Arrows.
            These are arrows of magical energy, that disperse when they hit the ground.
            The enemy Masters, Nana and Primea, run back to where they were standing to avoid being hit, and even Lancer and the two Riders stop fighting to look for where those arrows came from.

            …There, on top of the high wall that frames the side of this walkway, stands a young man with an ornate bow.
            He’s exuding an insane amount of magical energy, and looking down on our battle with ferocious green eyes.
            A little behind him is a familiar silhouette, but all my attention is on this new Servant, who must be Archer as he’s carrying a bow.

            “Ah—so we’re not the only ones,” the black-haired Rider says simply.
            …What does she mean?
            Archer says nothing, but turns to his Master, who raises a hand and points.

            Archer shakes his head.
            “I don’t really want to fight you, but it’s my Master’s order. And besides—shouldn’t it be beneath knights like us to gang up on others?”

            The first Rider smiles.
            “We have our orders too—I suppose I should call you Archer, now.”
            I see, so Archer and the Riders know each other somehow.
            This is probably important, but even if I had the capacity to pay attention to something like that and try to figure it out right now, I’m interrupted again.

            “Saber, go!”
            …Like a rushing wind.
            Or like a commandment from a god.
            Something, or someone, with massive magical energy rushes past me.

            …When I say “massive”, I mean it exceeds Archer and the Riders, and of course exceeds we magi. This kind of power is at or near Lancer’s level.
            This power crackles in the air in the wake of the girl who runs past me to attack the two Riders who have drawn back slightly.

            Such a,
            beautiful,
            girl.

            …That’s all I can think now.
            She is not dressed for battle, but is rather wearing a heavy-looking white dress, and there is a gleaming silvery tiara resting atop her bright gold hair.
            …And she’s carrying an immense sword.

            Saber rushes down the Riders with a war cry like fine music, swinging her sword.
            …I can see the trail of holy energy the sword leaves as it knocks aside the Riders’ weapons.
            I can see the trail of holy energy without trying.
            …It is an impossibly concentrated blow of magical energy, truly what one would call a phenomenon rather than magic.
            Leaving aside the power of the girl, the aura of her sword alone could probably crush me.
            And on top of that, it’s such a large sword, but she’s swinging it as though it doesn’t weigh anything at all.

            …Um, I think we’re all in shock, as the Riders aren’t parrying very well and even Lancer is staring at the girl as she fights.

            “…We can’t stay here now…!”
            Nana rounds on Primea with a pleading face.
            “Hmm, I guess so.”
            Primea looks disinterested now.
            “Rider, this is boring. Let’s go back home.”
            The Rider wearing roses in her hair draws back, rejoining her Master. The black-haired Rider follows warily, but Saber doesn’t chase them.
            “Onee-chan, Onii-chan, we’ll come back for you guys later.”
            The words are friendly, but have a distinct undertone of “next time we meet, I’ll kill you”.

            “Do you want me to follow them?”
            Asking this, Saber turns back towards us.
            …Incredibly, she’s a girl my age.
            “No, it’s all right. Chasing those four back to their home base would be a bad idea, as we don’t know what they may have planned.”
            I whirl around.
            The one Saber was speaking to, a magus who’s probably her Master, has come up behind us.
            …Actually, he was probably nearby all that time, but as we were concentrating on Saber and what the two Riders were going to do, we didn’t notice him.
            He’s a man a few years older than me, maybe in his twenties, with long hair and a kind face. As Saber walks back towards him, I get the feeling they’re well suited for each other when they’re standing next to each other.
            …Yeah, unlike the two girls we were fighting, Saber and her Master feel like they’re good people who know and understand the difference between right and wrong.
            “Are you all right?”
            ““Huh?””
            Rose and I are both confused by the question. Lancer, who is moving to join us while holding his wounded side, doesn’t speak.
            “…I guess it’s only natural to be confused, since technically we’re opponents.”
            Saber’s Master smiles.
            …It’s a gentle smile that only makes me more convinced that he’s a nice person.
            “We were walking around town, exploring and making plans, when we sensed the magical energy of your battle and decided to see what was going on, and help if we could. We’re not supposed to start fighting until the supervisor gives his or her word, after all.”
            Oh.
            “Uh… actually, the starting bell just got rung an hour or so ago,” I explain. Rose gives me a glare, but somehow I feel like I need to say this was a legitimate battle, no matter how unfair it was.
            Saber’s Master frowns and crosses his arms.
            “…Hmm. I thought there would be some sort of signal and we would be able to tell when all the Masters were here, but I suppose I was wrong. …Then again, today was supposed to be the last day that summoning a Servant would be possible, after all.”
            Saber pats her Master’s shoulder, and it looks like she’s trying not to laugh.
            “It’s okay as long as no one got hurt too badly, right? …I see that Lancer was injured, but the wound should heal quickly as long as he rests.”
            …Wow, they really are both nice.
            We’re probably going to end up fighting each other at some point, but Saber and her Master are genuinely concerned for our well-being right now.

            Beside me, Rose crosses her arms.
            “Why did you help us? We’re enemies, aren’t we? If the Riders and their Masters had killed us, that would only make it easier for you—we’d be one less fight to face, and you could have attacked those guys when they were worn out. It doesn’t make sense.”
            Saber and her Master look at Rose blankly.
            “It wasn’t fair,” Saber’s Master says at last. “They deliberately waited for you and attacked you with superior numbers, at a time when your strength and Lancer’s Master’s is low. That kind of cheap victory over an unprepared opponent that never had a chance to compete is dishonorable, even cowardly. And I know that most situations in this war won’t be fair, but we had a chance to help, so we couldn’t pass it up.
            “Besides, Vienya was pretty insistent about it too.”
            There are hurrying footsteps, and Archer comes up to join us.
            “Those girls and their Servants are headed for the forest. From there it’s gonna be really hard to track them, so we’re giving up finding out where their base might be.”
            Saber’s Master nods.
            “All right, then. We’ve seen each other and gained some information, and no real harm was done here, so I suppose that’s good. Where’s Vienya?”
            Archer laughs. …It’s not a mean laugh, and he’s not glaring at anyone, so he seems like a pleasant person too. Actually, he seems about Saber’s and my age, too.
            “She’s coming. She wanted to get down from the wall by herself, after all.”

            Rose is still making a face like she wants to protest.
            It’s only natural, I suppose, as she doesn’t think this is a smart move from Saber’s Master. But she can’t complain because it doesn’t look like we’re being attacked, either.

            There are more footsteps,
            and Archer’s Master arrives on the road.

            …It’s another face I know.
            I shouldn’t even be surprised by now.
            The girl from yesterday, who was having trouble at the vending machine, is standing there with a red Command Spell on the back of her right hand and a ragged black bird on her shoulder.
            Instead of saying anything to Archer or to Saber and her Master, she walks right past them and up to me.
            She’s scrutinizing me from behind her hair, as if checking to make sure I’m really okay.
            When she straightens up, she smiles like she’s going to say something, but the bird on her shoulder flaps its wings and opens its beak, letting out squawking words.
            “EVEN NOW! EVEN NOW!”
            …Even now?
            She must mean she’s paid me back for my help yesterday.
            …How stupid.
            As if something trivial can be paid back by saving my life. She doesn’t understand that now I’m the one that owes her.
            Either she was really grateful, or she’s really still a kid.
            That’s funny.
            I don’t know how it’s funny, but it’s funny.
            …First of all I’m tired, so how should I be able to explain why I’m thinking something this irrational…

            …Oh.
            There’s a sharp pain in my knees, and then I’m looking up at everyone else.
            “Wha—Ein!”
            Rose turns around with a worried look on her face, and everyone else I can see looks startled.
            Why are you all up there when I’m down here? That’s not fair.
            …The next moment, everything is going warm and dark, and I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Not even when I hear something I’ve been waiting for all day, a raised voice that tells me Lancer is done being angry with me—

Chapter Text

           —This is a story.
           This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

           The world was young, but the heavens were old, and so was the war that was going on between the gods and the demons.
           …It got so that the gods were becoming desperate, and starting to break more and more taboos in order to keep the demons away from heaven and maintain the balance of power.
           Because the angels and the armies weren’t strong enough to really fight.

           First of all, only gods are supposed to have the power of gods.
           That’s a rule so simple it shouldn’t need to be said.
           If mortals had the power of gods, they’d surely misuse it.
           But the gods knew that if their power wasn’t spread out to enough people to make an army, they were going to lose their war, and so they came up with a plan—to create such an army, but to make each soldier flawed in a way that would compensate for their godly power.
           …You can’t add something to something that’s already whole, and doing so is dangerous. That’s a principle that’s the same in magic and art and lots of things, so it holds true here too.
           If you want to add something, the easiest way to do it is to take something away first.

           —It wasn’t a new concept by the time he was born.
           These soldiers, the angels who carried death, were first created hundreds of years ago by the time he was alive.
           He knew about them, learned about what kinds of lives they led, and many of his peers were afraid or excited that they might be chosen to take the place of those that died fighting demons.
           He was a scholar first and foremost, so it would have been bad if he hadn’t understood such a thing.

           …He came from a proud family whose grandeur was like a rusting palace.
           His parents’ families, on both sides, were warriors and priests, and he was brought up to know that serving the gods and the heavens came even before his own life.
           It was neither a warm household nor a cold one.
           His parents didn’t seem to particularly care about him unless he was holding up or tarnishing the family name.
           …He went about his business having learned not to expect anything from them, but I think that somewhere deep inside, he still hoped.
           He still hoped that his father would smile and say that he was proud, or that his mother would put her arms around him.
           …He couldn’t remember either thing ever happening.

           I think he was sure to have known.
           The soldiers came and told him of the council’s decision, and his only response was a quiet “thank you”.
           With folded hands and a calm expression, he saw the soldiers off politely and gathered his few belongings before he went back to the home that wasn’t his home and informed his parents in much the same terms.
           They nodded and accepted it as a matter of course too.

           In the end.
           In the end, what did he gain?
           Was it an escape, or was it a death sentence?
           —What was it about that cold place that gave him a reason to throw his peaceful life away?

           …
           ……
           ………
           ……………I wake up.
           I’m staring at the familiar ceiling of my room, and my chest hurts like it’s been burned.
           …I remember.
           I remember that I was having a strange dream.

           “…Jeez, what an idiot.”
           I raise my hand and place it to my face, as my eyes are burning.
           I wipe my wet face and close my hurting eyes.
           “And his parents were idiots too. Everyone around him was an idiot, so how could he have known not to be an idiot?”
           I was having a dream about a story I loved a lot as a kid, but the way I saw things was very different, and I was dreaming about the daily life of an angel instead of battles or anything thrilling.
           …It’s rare for my chest to hurt this much from a dream, but it really was stupid, and I’m mad because it wasn’t fair.
           When somebody’s trying his best, he should be rewarded for it, after all.
           When somebody makes a lot of sacrifices, he should gain more and more things to compensate for what he loses until he can be happy again.

           I head into the bathroom and wash my face.
           I don’t feel all that sleepy, but a daily routine is a good thing to follow.
           …I get dressed and head for the living room sluggishly.

           When I get there…
           Rose is slouched on one side of the table,
           and a scarlet knight with black wings is sitting Japanese-style on the other.

           …Hold on.
           Hold on one minute.
           …My head starts boiling up with confusion as I go over my memories from yesterday.
           …So all of that, really did happen…?

           The Grail War.
           Being chosen as a Master instead of Rose, and a ridiculous battle that kept getting more and more unbelievable by the second.
           And—the figure of this knight fighting desperately,
           his side stained painfully with blood—

           Oh.
           I’m a terrible Master.
           How can I be standing here with a confused head when there’s something important I have to confirm—?!

           “Lancer, are you all right now?”
           “—Eh?”
           For a moment, Lancer just looks at me like this is the last thing he ever expected to hear.
           …Oh, he’s making a really startled face.
           He recovers and touches his side, where the wound was.
           “…Yes. The injury is almost recovered.”
           I smile with relief.
           “Good, that’s good. I don’t know what we would have done if you’d been really hurt. I was worried about you.”
           …Lancer is frowning as though this is an unexpected thing for me to say.
           “Anyhow, good morning, you two.”
           I sit down.
           …Rose stares at me and clears her throat.
           “Uh. What is it, Rose?”
           …She’s glaring at me. She’s definitely glaring at me with the fire of a personal grudge.
           “Where’s my apology?”
           “—Huh?”
           ……I don’t know what she’s talking about, but she makes a furious face and pounds the table with her fist.
           “My apology! For making us worry about you! At the very least, the idiot Master that fainted from lack of magical energy yesterday should make us breakfast to show how sorry he is! You’re horrible!”
           On one side of the table, Rose is glaring ferociously at me, and from the other Lancer is staring at me with a blank face.
           Uh. …Uh. They’re both really mad.
           I’m happy that they worried about me, but they look really mad.
           “—I’m sorry, then. I’m sorry I scared you guys, and thanks. I don’t mind making breakfast. What do you want?”
           Rose sighs as if admitting defeat.
           “You’re not exactly up to making French toast, so an omelet will do. Don’t burn it, and no onions, okay?”
           “—Okay. Yeah, I’ve got it. And I know better than to give you onions.”
           I get up from the table and head into the kitchen, pulling bowls and pans from the cabinets and taking an egg out of the refrigerator.
           I crack the egg and start to whisk it, but then stop when I realize something important.

           “—Lancer? What do you want to eat?”
           I turn around.
           Lancer is staring at me with a confused face again.
           “Maybe I should ask if there’s anything you don’t like or can’t eat. Um, and what about allergies and things?”
           …Rose is giggling off in her corner. I’m happy that she’s in a better mood, but I wish she wouldn’t make fun. Lancer seems more confused than ever.
           “—Master, what exactly are your intentions?”
           I sigh.
           …He’s back to calling me Master. Maybe I just imagined that last night.
           “Look, Lancer. You’re my Servant, and I would be an even more unfit Master for you if I didn’t at least make sure you’re eating properly. Can you eat eggs?”
           “——”
           Now Lancer has a face that says he’s not sure what to do about me.
           …Well, I’m feeding him no matter what, so he’d better get used to it.
           “I guess I’ll make you an omelet like Rose’s, then. Um, if there’s anything about it you don’t like, tell me. And if you ever want to cook, just tell one of us, since we usually switch off making meals.”

           I make the omelets for Rose and Lancer before I make my own.
           I bring the plates out with chopsticks and Western silverware, as I don’t know which kinds of utensils Lancer is used to using.
           When I head back to the kitchen to finish up and put the pots and pans in the sink for later, I hear Rose speaking to Lancer.
           “—It’s pretty pointless to try to resist. This is just the kind of person Ein is.
           “See, no matter how much you try to act like a tool to achieve the Holy Grail—he’s going to look at you and see a person. So you can relax, because you won’t ever suffer any mistreatment here.
           “He’s kind of an idiot, I know. But there are worse Masters to have, I’m sure.”
           Lancer doesn’t say anything.
           He doesn’t say anything, but when I look back, he has a piece of egg on the end of a fork.

           Breakfast is over, and the dishes have been finished, so we sit around the table.
           Rose straightens up.
           “Okay, we should probably talk a little bit about what we learned yesterday and what we’re going to do from here.”
           …I’m relieved. I was wondering how I was going to be able to ask her what we’re supposed to do now.
           To my surprise, Lancer looks to her and interrupts.
           “There’s something else that must be discussed, as well. I should have mentioned it far earlier, but there was no convenient time yesterday.
           “—It’s about my true name.”
           Oh.
           Now that you mention it—I never got to hear Lancer’s real name.
           Because Servants are heroes, they have legends associated with them, and those legends explain their strengths and weaknesses.
           If one knows their name and identity, one can understand their weapon and their powers from there, so Servants are usually called by their class names to conceal their weaknesses.
           Lancer is called Lancer because he was summoned into the Lancer class.
           He has a name and a story, too.
           “All right then, Lancer. Will you tell us about yourself?”

           Lancer inclines his head slightly.

           “My true name is Ledah Rozwelli, Grim Angel of Asgard.
           “My Noble Phantasm is my Diviner, the divine spear Lorelei.”
           —The scarlet knight declares so readily.

           …A story I’m familiar with, and heroes that I idolized when I was a kid.
           …His name is a name I certainly know.
           In an age of heroes, he was a knight who slew many more demons than the rest, called upon by the gods again and again to strike down their foes until the time of his death.
           …And such a person is actually sitting at the same table as me now.
           This really is the Holy Grail War.

           “Ein.”
           He speaks quietly, his gaze unwavering as he looks only at me.
           “As I was the blade of the gods in life, I am your weapon now. As long as it is you who wields me—we will surely win this war.”

           His words send a thrill through my body.
           My skin is prickling and I can barely breathe.
           …And yet.
           Somehow I feel as though there’s something seriously wrong with what he just said.

           …That’s right.
           That emotionless voice and expressionless face.
           It’s like Rose said before, after all.
           Lancer, the hero Ledah Rozwelli, is a Servant and a Heroic Spirit.
           I grew up on stories of people like him, and yet the scarlet knight sitting in front of me is a living and breathing creature.
           The pale gold of his hair that falls around his face, and the white skin of his hands.
           The black wings that shift as he breathes.
           The strange faces he makes sometimes when he doesn’t understand things, or doesn’t approve of them.
           …I don’t want him to talk about himself as if he’s a “thing”.

           “…Okay, so with this, we’ll be able to make plans that fit more to Lancer’s strengths.”
           Rose nods and looks satisfied with the card we’ve drawn.
           “From here, we’ve got a couple of different things we should talk about. First, we learned some important things yesterday and we should go over them. Second, it’s about what we’ll be doing today.”
           “—All right. We should probably go over what we know first. You’re smart, Rose, and so is Lancer, but I don’t want to misunderstand anything.”
           Rose smiles like a benevolent victor, and Lancer gives me a concerned face.
           “Probably most importantly, we got to see a lot of other Servants yesterday on our first day of the Grail War—Rider, Archer, and Saber. So we can easily understand the enemy’s strength if we look at their Servants, and we can make guesses about the Masters.”
           “—Wait a minute, Rose. We don’t know who any of those Servants are, so how would we be able to predict their strength?”
           Rose folds her arms.
           “…And here I thought you were supposed to be our authority on heroes. If you’ve got that attitude, we’ve lost before we’ve even begun.
           “Look, even though they didn’t use any of them, all those Servants were carrying their Noble Phantasms, right? I didn’t get a clear look at Archer’s, but I’m sure we can research those big lances that the two Riders had, and giant swords like Saber’s are pretty unique.
           “Besides, Archer and the Riders knew each other, so we can go off of that, too.”
           I’m impressed.
           Rose is right that I know a lot about heroes, but she’s much better with logic than I am.
           “…I think I can make a good guess about Archer and the Riders, though. Ein, did you get a good look at their armor? Both of the Riders were wearing a crest stamped on theirs.”
           …A crest?
           Like a coat of arms or some such thing?
           —Come to think of it, I think there was something like that.
           “…I think you’re right, but I didn’t get a good look at it.”
           Rose nods and sighs.
           “It was a pretty simple one—a running horse and a lance. You know where that coat of arms is from, right?”
           “Um—let me think. It depends a little on how it actually looked, but the first thing that’s coming to mind is the Aventheim knights…”
           …Rose looks really pleased.
           “Exactly. I’m sure that was it, and it makes sense, doesn’t it?”
           “—Aventheim, the land of a hundred heroes… huh? It’s true that that’s the only legend that has much chance of two mounted knights and an archer would be likely to know each other well.”
           The Riders and Archer clearly knew each other’s names and identities, and they shouldn’t be able to do so as Heroic Spirits.

           —Aventheim, land of a hundred heroes.
           The story is similar in some ways to King Arthur and the Round Table, in that it was a small area filled with small countries and fiefdoms, all governed by one king and his army of knights.
           The legend that made it the land of a hundred heroes tells of an age where that army was wiped out fighting demons, and their souls were united by the king to drive the demons away.
           …Come to think of it, there were a few angels in that legend too.
           At any rate, it’s said that every one of those knights were venerated by the survivors, and became Heroic Spirits. There were over a hundred of them, hence the name “land of a hundred heroes”.

           “But if that’s true, how are we going to figure out which heroes they are? I left all my books on Aventheim with Hector-sama’s servants when we moved here, and it would take too long to call and ask for them to be mailed here.”
           Rose puts her hands on her hips.
           “Well, we could always use the Internet or the libraries here, right? For now, the important thing is that the legend of Aventheim isn’t too well-known these days. And even with the people who know about it, the most well-known heroes in the story are Meria and the Lionheart King, not the knights themselves. Because of that, the Riders and Archer are all going to be weaker.”
           “…Why is that?”
           “Heroic Spirits are strengthened by the will of the people, since the wishes of humanity are what create heroes in the first place. So the more people there are who know about and like them in the age that they’re summoned, the more powerful they are. Make sense?”
           I guess so, and so I nod.
           …There’s something weird about popularity having to do with a Servant’s strength, though.
           “Because of that, what makes the two Riders dangerous is just that there are two of them.
           “There’s a record that in the Third Grail War, the Edelfelt family participated. Since their family tends to have twins, they perfected the art of twinning their Magic Crests as well, and both the magi of that generation became Masters. They used their natural attributes to summon two Sabers.
           “I think the Masters we saw probably did something along those lines to summon two Riders. But only the Edelfelt family should have an art like that, which makes it suspicious. At any rate, it’s definitely cheating. The Riders by themselves would be weak Servants because of their unknown backgrounds, but they’re heroes summoned from the same legend and so they already know how to work together, and they have powerful Masters. So it’s impossible to face them head-on unless you have a perfect Servant, or unless you have more than one.
           “And on top of that, Nana’s Rider has a demonic lance, which might be a problem for Lancer if he has to fight both of them.”
           While Rose sulks about the strength of the enemy’s strategy, I turn to Lancer.
           “…This may be the case. However, I cannot accurately gauge the strength of Rider’s demonic lance unless I know its true name or do battle with her again.”
           “I see. Well, Rose, what about Archer?”
           “In Archer’s case, he seemed like a pretty solid Servant, but Lancer could probably take him down if they ever fought hand-to-hand. Have some more faith in your Servant, Ein. Lancer’s the best of the best.”
           …Uh, Rose is glaring at me suspiciously.
           “In their case, it’s more about the strength of Archer’s Master, that Vienya girl. And speaking of her, she sure was acting awfully friendly towards you last night.”
           “Um, that’s because I met her once before. I didn’t know she was a Master or even a magus then, and it was probably before she even summoned Archer anyway. Don’t look at me like that, she was having trouble with a vending machine! It’s natural to help someone who’s having a hard time at something, isn’t it?!”
           Rose covers her face with both hands, and Lancer continues to watch me impassively.
           “…You’re unbelievable. Even at her age, that girl’s a top-class magus and familiar-user. You can’t underestimate her because of her looks or even if she’s weak against technology… well, if her rationale for helping us was because of you being an idiot, I can’t complain too much, but even so.”
           Ugh.
           …She’s glaring at me again.
           She’s glaring at me again, but I’m not going to surrender so easily this time.
           “Well, they say you’re repaid in kind for good deeds, after all.”
           Rose slams down on the table.
           “You idiot! All this really accomplished is that you’re going to have trouble fighting her when the time comes! When she’s ready to kill you, you’re gonna get caught up in her fake cute-little-girl act and just let her kill you! She’s a familiar-user, Ein! She’s even too lazy to talk for herself, and makes her minions do it for her!”
           Rose burns with the furious fire of unforgiven grudges.
           “…Rose, I don’t think she can talk. She never said a word when we met before, after all.”
           “Shut it, Ein! She’s a familiar-user, all familiar-users are lazy, and it’s a stupid and evil kind of magic! Everyone who uses it is stupid and evil! I will not allow myself to be wrong!”
           ………Rose, you would have been using familiar magic yourself if you’d become a Master.
           “—Like I said, it’s not lazy if that’s the only way she can communicate. It’s not good to make fun of people with disabilities.”
           Rose fumes.
           I can’t surrender to her angry face, and turn to Lancer again.
           “…so that’s the case with the Riders and their Masters, and Archer. For now, Vienya isn’t hostile, which leaves Saber and her Master.”
           Lancer bites his lip.
           “…Master, there is one thing that concerns me. Saber’s sword is clearly divine, although she is a mortal hero. I am not familiar with such a weapon, and I cannot conceive of a situation in which a human would be granted such power.”
           “Well, if it’s a divine sword, then it should be even easier to find out her identity, right? This is history, not anime, so how many girls her age could there have been running around with swords like that?”
           Lancer looks puzzled, and Rose shakes her head.
           “And as for the strength of the Master…”
           “He’s competent, probably around my level or above from what I could tell. Of course there’s no way to really understand his skills until he uses them.”
           Rose volunteers this, no longer sulking.
           “He’s also got that same infatuation with fair play that you have. Man, who’d ever have thought we’d run into another idiot like that in the same Grail War? He didn’t have anywhere near the amount of blood in his aura as any of the other magi did.
           “—And even more than that, when you fainted before, he was just as worried as the two of us were. He and Saber, and Archer and that Vienya girl, all left when we decided to take you home. Yeah, that’s a dangerously good nature to have.”
           Rose nods seriously, although she seems in a better mood now that she’s making fun of someone. …I can’t really interrupt her, but something seems wrong with the way she’s acting.
           “Still, he probably wouldn’t back down in a fight, so it’s not like we can underestimate him. Anyhow, that about wraps up what we learned from yesterday.”

           Vague clues to the identities of our opponents,
           an idea that those opponents are at least as powerful as we are or more,
           and the knowledge that attacking the Riders as we are is a dead end.
           …That’s not much, considering that the events of yesterday nearly cost us our lives.

           “Thanks, Rose. I think I understand a little better the position that we’re in. So what about what we’re going to do today?”
           Rose makes an uncomfortable face.
           “…There’s not much that we can do, unfortunately. I’m still recovering my magical energy, and you shouldn’t use much magic right now. We should make a patrol plan for tomorrow, and there are still some details that I need to teach you about being a Master. Lancer can help with that, too, but for today the best plan would be to stay inside this house’s protective barrier.”
           “—Yeah, the boundary field would probably be able to keep us safe even if intruders did come to attack us. But it feels weird that we’re just sitting around when this is supposed to be a battle.”
           Rose covers her face with her hand.
           “Hey, now. We can’t go having big magical fights during the daytime, remember? There are only a few places here where we could actually fight without being seen. Especially with that in mind, the only reason to go out during the day would be to try to find out who other Masters are. And we don’t want to go attracting the attention of other magi in the state we’re in today.”
           “…Oh, that’s right.”
           That’s certainly true.
           So all that’s left for today, is…

           In the end, things were pretty uneventful.
           We talked a lot, and then showed Lancer around the house. Rose ransacked the kitchen in search of ingredients for dinner, and I wound up helping make dessert. After that, Rose sat me down and told me to meditate while she checked over my Magic Circuit.
           “Starting tomorrow we might have to fight, so it would be better to make sure you’re in top shape—”
           I silently agreed and let her examine me as I emptied my mind and let my body relax.
           After a while, Rose nodded and proclaimed that I was in good shape. Then she suggested something strange.
           “Every night, instead of just meditating, you should try to work a little on projection and reinforcement.”
           “—Huh?”
           “I’m saying that if we’re fighting, you might get attacked while Lancer and I are busy, and you won’t be able to defend yourself if you can’t at least make some kind of weapon. It’s a last-ditch resort and I don’t expect too much, but it’s better than nothing.”
           I protested about how little success Rose knew I had, but she waved my words away.
           “—Look, Ein. The only thing that’s really wrong with your projection skills is that you don’t have enough confidence in your image. Projection can only be successful if you believe in it. Practice can’t hurt either. You should start tomorrow, okay?”
           After that she declared it was bedtime.
           Which, um…
           …seems to have led to this uncomfortable situation.

           “Master, you’re being unreasonable. This is dangerous, and can only result in further problems.”
           “—Like I said, there’s no danger inside the barrier, and you can’t. I’m telling you that you can’t. That’s an order from your Master, all right?”
           Lancer stares at me reproachfully, his entire body tense.
           —I have an intense feeling of being scolded.
           Meanwhile, the demon in black is laughing at me.
           …Hey, Rose, help me out here.
           “A Servant must always protect his Master, and during the hours you are asleep, you are the most vulnerable to attack. I demand—no, it is not a demand; I insist that I be positioned in the same room you sleep, to guard you at all times.”
           Seriously, Rose, now isn’t the time to make faces at me. How do I convince Lancer that this is the worst of ideas?
           “—And like I’m telling you, if you stayed in my room it would defeat the purpose. I wouldn’t get any sleep at all that way.”
           Um, because it would be difficult to sleep with such an intense stare on me. And more than that, I’m worried. I’m really worried because it would make me uncomfortable for so many reasons.
           “Lancer, why don’t you just give up and stay in the guest room? It’s right next to Ein’s.”
           …Thank God, it looks like Rose has finally taken pity on me here.
           “If you keep going on like this, none of us are going to get any sleep, and Ein will wind up using a Command Spell to make you obey. How sad, I didn’t realize that Lancer was such a disobedient Servant.”
           She’s teasing him.
           …She’s totally and completely teasing him.
           “…ugh.”
           “With the barrier, we’ll know if we’re getting attacked, which should give you plenty of time to get to Ein’s room and protect him if anyone hacks through our protections. Honestly, though, none of the magi we saw yesterday are capable of doing that, and the same goes for their Servants. Caster might be a different story, but if Caster attacks us you’ll be able to fight him or her easily with your magical defense.”
           “——”
           Lancer stares intensely at us for a long while, but nods his head at long last.
           …Finally.
           His eyes are telling me what a fool I am, but I’d never be able to sleep with Lancer in the same room as me.

           After saying goodnight to the others, I head into my room and turn off the lights, then get into bed.
           Today has been an exhausting day.
           —As expected, Rose is taking full advantage. She’s scary, and she’s still angry with me for taking her place.
           Well, I can’t blame her. She’s been looking forward to this for a long time.
           We have so many powerful enemies.
           And I wonder…
           I wonder how long it’s going to take for Lancer to stop being angry at me…

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            The scarlet knight overlooks the battlefield, spear in hand.
            The corpses of his enemies lie before him, and his will is true. The battle ends as soon as he arrives, and this is something that both sides are well aware of.
            Yet, the scarlet knight overlooks the battlefield with empty eyes.

            —What is it?
            It’s a magnificent image of a victorious hero, and yet it seems so hollow and empty that I feel like screaming out.
            Fighting comes to him as naturally as breathing, and yet even I can tell that this is not where he belongs.

            —Where did it go wrong?
            When did his life become a trap too cruel for him to escape?
            Sometimes it surely seemed as though he was simply born into the trap, but even so, there must have been a point where he could have said no to it all.
            However, he never refused.
            He always continues to look straight ahead, wherever duty points him, and he willingly walks into situations that are dangerous and self-destructive.
            “Because this is why I was born—”
            He tells himself this.
            I can see it on his face.
            I could see it on his face before his eyes lost sight of anything but battle and duty.

            He marches simply,
            magnificently,
            down the road to his own destruction.

            I cannot yet see the end of the story, but I am certain that this is how it will end.
            The scholar who became a hero because it is what he was told to do—will continue walking down this path, striking enemies down, until he arrives at a dead end and loses everything.
            Because looking from side to side for an obvious escape would be to betray his duty.

            —I want to scream.
            I want to scream that this is enough, already.
            Why hasn’t anyone told him that this is enough, that he’s done enough already?
            He’s simply one soldier out of many, one hero in an army of heroes.
            There will always be replacements, so why—?

            He needs to be told.
            He needs someone to say to him that he’s done well and can rest.
            He’s been waiting all his life for those words, and pursues his duty in a vague hope that someone will give them to him at last—

            …
            ……
            ………
            ……………I wake up.
            I wake up, and head to the bathroom to wash my face and get my dream out of my head.
            …It’s too painful to keep dreaming about someone that stupid.
            I can’t really remember the face of the hero, but I want to hit him for being that stupid, and say that it wasn’t for nothing and people appreciated him, damn it.
            So it hurts that no one is there to do so, even in a dream that I’m having.

            I head for the kitchen, where I can already hear sounds of food being cooked. It’s late again.
            …I’m a little worried that these late awakenings are going to become a habit, but there’s not much I can do about it now.
            “Good morning, Rose, Lancer.”
            “G’morning.”
            Rose is in the kitchen already, and I can smell things frying. It seems as if she’s preparing a luxurious breakfast for us, as we’ll be heading out to fight today.
            Lancer is sitting at the table, holding an open book.
            …Come to think of it, there’s a lot of books piled up on the table. Won’t we have to move these when it’s time to put the food out anyway?
            “Hey, Rose, what’s all this for?”
            “Research materials. I went to the library early, and took some books out on legendary weapons—there weren’t any on Aventheim, but I got some with Aventheim in them just in case.”
            I nod and take my seat.
            “So are we going to spend today doing research then?”
            “Mostly—but by now you and I have recovered enough that we should be able to patrol the city and look for other Masters, so we’re going to do that after breakfast.”
            …Certainly, that’s something we need to do.
            Even though we’ve already seen a number of our opponents, we don’t even know where any of them are located, or if they have any advantageous bases.
            “Still, it’s hard to imagine that any other magi would just walk around in the middle of the day without concealing their prana signatures. Rose, wouldn’t it be better to go at night?”
            “Maybe if we were looking for a fight, but right now we just want to know people’s locations, if we can find them. Besides—hey Lancer, do you want to see the rest of town? You might pick things up that we wouldn’t.”
            The gold-haired knight looks up from his book and considers us.
            “…Perhaps. In any case, I will follow my Master’s orders.”
            “I don’t have any plan, so I guess we’ll just do what Rose says for now.”
            …Trying to gain information is as good a strategy as anything else, I suppose.
            And even though it might get us nowhere, it’s going to feel better than just sitting around and waiting for the enemy to arrive at our door.

            After breakfast is finished and the dishes are washed, we set out.
            Instead of crossing into Shinto, Rose says that we should explore Miyama for now, and so we head towards the mountain path.
            The Ryudou Temple is this way, and according to Rose, this is where the Holy Grail appeared in the last war. If nothing else, perhaps one or more of our enemies will have gotten curious and decided to investigate the same way we are.
            …We can’t get too close as we might bother the monks in the temple and besides that there’s a boundary field against intruders, and even though I want to know more about the lake where the Holy Grail appeared, searching for that would take too much time. Maybe after the war is over, we’ll be able to do that.
            “This was a good location for a final battle.”
            Shielding her eyes from the sun, Rose says so as she looks around.
            “Why is that?”
            “…Master.”
            I hear Lancer’s voice from behind me and look, but he isn’t materialized right now, so I don’t see anything.
            “You are slightly more insensitive to mana in the air than most, but if you concentrate your senses you should be able to feel it.”
            …?
            I close my eyes to block everything else out, and try to extend my senses.
            …There’s something strange about the air of this place.
            It’s almost as though the mana is more active…, or more concentrated.
            “That’s really weird. What is it?”
            When I open my eyes, Rose has turned back to look at me with pleased surprise.
            “Oh, so you could feel it then?”
            She nods.
            “There’s a ley line in this area. You remember studying those, right?”
            “Something like… a concentrated vein of magical energy that occurs naturally in the earth, right?”
            Rose nods again, smiling now.
            “Yep. Apparently that’s why the monks set the temple up here in ancient days, although I don’t think the ones today can still use it.”
            …Certainly something like that would be useful in manifesting the Holy Grail, and those who could call upon the ley line would say it’s a good place to do battle.
            But it still seems a little too close to civilians to really be the site of any major struggle.

            …Suddenly there’s a tug from the vague connection between myself and Lancer.
            The air shimmers, and Lancer is visible where he stands slightly behind us.
            He is staring into the trees with an intensity that makes me feel cold.
            “…Master. Do you not sense it?”
            As he says those words, there’s a sting of pain in my Command Spell.
            “Ow!”
            Rose looks at us like being left out is irritating her.
            …And then she also turns toward the trees.
            “…That prana signature, don’t tell me…”

            …That’s when I feel it.
            This power,
                        it can’t even—

 

                                    …be called “human”—

            “We’ve got to go.”
            Rose says so with a terrifying expression.
            “If we don’t go to them, they might come to us, and we’re right on the middle of the path. People are going to see us.”
            Lancer turns towards me.
            His eyes are telling me that he’s going to wait for my order.
            Steadfastly.
            Not even questioning the immenseness of that prana.
            Or whether he’ll survive if I tell him to go against it.

            …There’s something,
            …about this,
            that…

            “Ein, come on!”
            Rose is glaring at me, and I snap back to reality.
            …I reach for the branch of a nearby tree and hold it before me like a sword.
            There’s no time to spare. I open my Magic Circuit, steady my breathing, and focus as hard as I can.
            —The principle of strengthening an object relies on adding to an object that’s already complete as it is. It doesn’t have to be said that this kind of magic directly defies logic.
            Therefore, it’s considered useless by many magi, who don’t even need to strengthen items to gain the power to attack.
            But for me…,
            …this is all I can do!

            …The reinforcement, is complete.
            I lower the branch that has become my sword.
            “Lancer, Rose, let’s go.”

            The intenseness of this magic that even I can feel is almost like a heartbeat.
            Being in its aura is like being impossibly close to some immense living thing.
            …The aura lacks the sternness of Hector-sama’s, but the prana I feel is still incredibly dense, and within this aura is the unmistakable boundless energy that can only belong to a Servant.

            We walk through the trees.
            Rose has lit up her Magic Crest, and I hold on to my sword tightly.
            Lancer has not yet called his Noble Phantasm, but I can feel his own killing intent, a deadly sharp beacon piercing through the aura we’re enveloped in.

            —We emerge through the trees into a clearing.
            …I say it’s a clearing, but it’s still so covered in the branches of the trees above that we’re still all just barely dappled with light.
            Standing in the small patch of sunlight are two figures.
            The one in front is a man dressed in black, with long red hair like fire. …He’s tall and imposing, much larger than Lancer.
            …The one in back is a slight, pale figure all in white, with empty-looking green eyes.

            With them standing like that, it’s hard to tell which of them is the Servant.
            Both of them have an aura so immense that to someone like me, it’s like they’re blurring together.

            …The one in white takes a small step forward.
            With an elegant gesture, the free hand holds out the folds of those skirts to the side, and with a small smile, the figure bends in something like a curtsy.
            …There’s no red on either of the exposed arms; this can only be the Servant, then.
            Probably Caster, judging from the book the Servant is carrying.

            “Thank you for coming up to meet us.”
            …He’s smiling at us warmly as he says so in a soft voice.
            “It would have been a bother to fight you in the open or chase you if you ran away.
            “We’re a little busy as it is, so I’d like to get this over with quickly, if possible. I will not concede the Holy Grail to you—it belongs to me.”
            His smile grows as he looks up at the man beside him.
            “…Or rather, to us.”

            Rose makes a scolding sound from next to me.
            “You talk awfully big, don’t you?”

            …A soft laugh.
            Maybe it would be more appropriate to say it’s a giggle.
            But in either case, it makes the hair on my arms stand up, and I clutch the branch-sword in my hand until the bark hurts my palm.

            “Oh, my. And I take this to mean you two are suggesting that children of magi such as yourselves—barely out of your cradles, at that—will be able to give me sleep?”
            “It’ll probably be easier for them to understand if we show them.”
            The red-haired man speaks for the first time.
            “Small fries like this just won’t accept their place until they’re taught.”

            “…Very well. Whichever one of you two is the Master—shall we do battle, then?”
            The man in white asks this with an air of indifference.

            “—Fine. Lancer?”

            …Lancer steps forward, presenting us with his back. His spear is in his hand.
            “Stand back, Master. I shall handle this.”

            The man in white spreads both arms, and the book he was carrying floats in front of him, its pages fanning out. I can see something red glowing from beneath the front of that dress.
            …And the air around the man in black seems to shimmer. I only blink once, but after that, the modern clothes he was wearing are replaced by heavy red armor.
            There’s what looks like…, a scythe in his hand.

            ……A scythe?
            Wait a moment.
            The three Servants we haven’t yet encountered are Assassin, Caster, and Berserker.
            …But there’s no way this man is a magus,
            Assassin is supposed to be a Servant weak in direct combat,
            and this Servant is clearly sane.

            Lancer seems to be thinking the same thing as me, as he is eyeing his opponent suspiciously.
            “Just what manner of Servant are you?”

            “—Huh. How pathetic can you be, if you can’t even tell that much?
            “Still, I can tell you’re Lancer easily enough, and it’s a bit rude to go into battle knowing what you are when you have no idea. You want to tell them?”
            The smiling magus tilts his head to the side and touches a white finger to his lips.
            “—Very well.
            “This is my Berserker.”

            “—You cheaters!”
            Rose stabs a finger at them like a prosecutor in court.
            “How exactly is that thing a Berserker! He’s standing there talking as sanely as anybody!”

            …The smile falls from the enemy magus’ face.
            “Why, how rude. We most certainly are not cheating; Berserker was properly summoned into his class with the same boundaries as any Servant. Mad Enhancement is just inactive right now.”

            —Mad Enhancement.
            Berserker is a dangerous, double-edged Servant class to control.
            It’s usually a class used to reinforce a weak hero, as the hero’s sanity is exchanged for an increase in all their parameters, but that loss of sanity makes Berserker incredibly taxing to control.
            I’ve heard from Rose that in the first four Grail Wars, the Masters who summoned Berserker couldn’t stand the strain and died from the immense prana cost, and it took an exceptionally skilled Master in the fifth Grail War to stop that from happening.
            Still, the entire point of a Berserker is to make them impossibly powerful using Mad Enhancement, so why go to all the trouble of summoning one and then not even activate it in the first place—?!

            “—You really are amateurs.”

            Berserker walks towards us calmly as he speaks, red hair fluttering in the wind.

            “It’s useless to judge Servants just by the abilities of the classes. We’re legendary heroes from any era and story you can imagine—we have our differences, unique strengths and weaknesses. In my case—”

            There is a flash of light, and then the crescent of the scythe is straining against Lancer’s Lorelei—

            “—Mad Enhancement is one of my natural attributes, and my Master and I can control it at will—!”

            For a moment Lancer seems to sink beneath the blow, and then Lorelei sweeps up in a red crescent.

            “Ein.”
            Next to me, Rose is looking at me steadily.
          “Just believe in your Servant. They’re strong, but you should know better than anyone how powerful Lancer is.”

            And just as she says, before my eyes, the battle that seemed like it would be so one-sided is evening out.
            Lancer is advancing with steady strikes, wheeling around Berserker as Berserker pivots in place, fending off Lancer’s attacks with his scythe—!
            Berserker is wearing a cold smile as the two of them face off, and Lancer continues to press forward with an intense face.

            The feeling from before—that feeling like being next to something immense and alive begins to strengthen.
            This aura like a monster’s heartbeat, seems to be focused on Berserker.
            …It’s not easy to put in words, but there’s something uneasy about this aura. Something more than you would expect from a mad warrior.
            ……No, I can feel the looming presence of something very dangerous, and maybe very evil.

            …Fire spins through the air along the blade of Berserker’s scythe.
            He hasn’t spoken its name yet, so he’s not using his Noble Phantasm at full strength, but just looking at that fire makes me feel ill.
            Lancer spins Lorelei masterfully in his hands and pure red fire seems to block off the flames that Berserker’s weapon casts off.
            Like complete opposites, the two fires disappear wherever they touch.

            …Opposites?
            I see.
            This means that Berserker’s weapon—no, maybe Berserker himself…, is demonic in nature.

            If that’s the case, then this is a battle between natural enemies.
            It feels strange that something demonic—not just carrying a demonic weapon like Nana’s Rider—has been summoned as a Heroic Spirit, but that should make it easier to guess Berserker’s identity, shouldn’t it?

            …That’s right.
            As Lancer’s Master, I have a duty to keep thinking at times like these, and try to find an advantage for my Servant to break through—!

            …It sounds familiar.
            A demonic hero.
            A demonic hero in red, wielding a scythe.
            Damn, but Berserker and Lancer are already moving too quickly, and I can’t take a good look. I should have thought about this more while I had the chance—
            …Even so, I’m sure there was some kind of coat of arms on Berserker’s armor.
            What was it?
            …Some kind of black animal…

            ……Black…, and red.
            A scythe being wielded by a demon.
            Fire.
            I should know this.
            I know I should know this.
            —So why can’t I call up the name that’s on the tip of my tongue—?!

            Then.
            Soft…, and yet somehow condescending,
            that laughter again.

            “—Oh, dear. You certainly are amateurs, aren’t you?”
            Berserker’s Master looks down at us with a malicious smile.
            “You’ll die if you’re not more aware of your surroundings.”

            Suddenly.
            Prana swells up in the air like a whirlwind.
            It tugs at my clothes and Rose’s skirt, and sends Lancer’s clothes billowing. Berserker’s hair flutters like the flames of their battle.
            Berserker’s Master, standing on his toes with arms outstretched, laughs down at us with his white dress tossed about his form.
            Like a girl’s doll,
            or a child dressed up as a ghost,
            or a half-shrouded corpse.
            He giggles like a little boy about to pull a prank.

            The air—, inverts.
            The sunlight seems to disappear as the sky darkens.
            And all across the body of Berserker’s Master—,

            …red marks.
            Twisted glyphs are carved all across his body,
            under his skin,
            almost like a summoning circle—or perhaps a command circle,
            but that’s insane, that’s definitely insane, and it’s so complicated that I can’t make most of it out, and damn, all of this should be beyond Rose’s level too—and the cost of having something like that written on your body, it could drive you insane, it wouldn’t feel like your body anymore to the point you would want to cut it all off…!

            But they’re there,
            glowing and pulsing like the heartbeat around Berserker,
            with brighter marks over his chest in what must be the real Command Spell.

            Gently,
            Berserker’s Master smiles.

            “—You’re still children, after all.
            “I regret it a bit, but it can’t be helped; this is war. Still, it’s the least I can do. I’ll stop your hearts so swiftly, you won’t feel it in the least. It may look a little violent, but there’s nothing to fear, truly. I hope your sleep will be a pleasant one—”

            That giggle, again.
            As if he can’t help himself.
            It feels cold all over, like I’m freezing.

            Berserker’s Master points at us and moves his finger through the air, leaving bright letters in a language that I can’t read burned in gold.
            As he writes, he speaks them, and the sound hurts my head.

            We can’t stay here.
            That much I know.
            I’ll die if I stay here.
            No matter how skilled Rose is, she’ll die too.
            There’s only one thing we can do.

            I grab Rose’s wrist and start to run.

            “Ein—?!”
            With my sword held to my side,
            pulling Rose with me,
            I run for Berserker’s Master with all my strength—!!

            The sky cracks open.
            There’s a blinding flash as the sky cracks open, and the ground rumbles.
            I can smell metal.
            I think lightning just hit the ground where we were.
            We would be dead if we hadn’t moved.

            Berserker’s Master is making a frustrated face.
            —Oh.
            He’s looking like I cheated him out of something entertaining.

            …Damn it, a demon like Berserker is suited for a creepy guy like this.
            I ready my sword.
            Rose is running on her own now, even though we’re still holding each other’s hands tightly, and I can vaguely sense that she’s gathering prana.

            …That’s right.
            If we’re going to have any chance against someone this insanely powerful,
            we’re going to have to be the ones to get in close and strike…!

            I swing my sword.
            Next to me, Rose fires off a burst of solid energy.

            —There’s a crash.

            “Nessiah!”
            From behind us, Berserker shouts in a worried voice.

            I blink, and the smoke from Rose’s attack clears.
           The end of my reinforced branch is bent over like a steel pipe, and Berserker’s Master is holding up both hands.
            There’s a thin barrier between us, like the skin of a bubble.

            “—I’m all right, Berserker. Don’t worry about me—you need to focus on Lancer right now.”
            Berserker’s Master—Nessiah spares a glance for his Servant, then continues to watch us.
            He isn’t smiling now.
            Instead, he’s considering us as though we’re really his enemies.

            …Um.
            I look to Rose.
            If my sword can’t do anything against this barrier, then she’s our last real defense against anything else that this Nessiah is going to do to us.
            Rose lights up her Magic Crest again without a word.

            “—It seems I owe you an apology.
            “It’s true that you’re children, but it appears you actually have some competence. I underestimated you, and for that, I’m sorry.”
            He hesitates.
            His expression is very intense, and somehow he seems very severe.
            “…For this, as well… I should most likely apologize. But I won’t. It’s a battle, not a slaughter, if you’re at the level where you can defend yourselves somewhat.
            “And I cannot lose this war.”

            Nessiah raises his hand.

            …Oh.
            Rose isn’t going to make it.
            Lancer…, is still fighting Berserker.
            The speed of the strikes behind us increases as though he’s trying to make it through.
            But he won’t make it either.
            And I…,

            …Should I use my Command Spell?
            It’s only our second battle, but we’re in danger of our lives again.

            Still,
            …Once I use this up, there won’t be any more.
            It’s the end of me as a Master.

            …I,
            hesitate.

            At that moment,
            light rains down from above.

            I know this attack.
            It’s—

            “Are you guys alright?!”

            A shout from the edge of the clearing behind us.
            I risk a glance over my shoulder.
            …Archer is standing on the branches of a stout old tree, his bow at the ready with an arrow aimed just past us, at Nessiah.
            I don’t see Vienya, but she’s probably somewhere nearby.

            “You don’t have to move at all—I can hit him just fine from here.”
            Archer says so with confidence, and points his arrow towards the sky, releasing it.

            There’s a fizzling sound from behind me.
            I turn back around.
            Nessiah has shifted his barrier upwards, and is cringing back with his arms shielding his face and chest as Archer’s arrows slowly tear it apart.

            —This is it.
            It bothers me a little bit to do this, but like Nessiah himself said, there’s no helping that this is a war, and anyway, I don’t think I have enough force to actually kill someone.
            I lunge forward and swing my bent sword…!

            The shock from it hitting hurts my shoulders.
            Nessiah falls hard with a sound like he’s choking, sprawled on the ground.
            I move to follow it up, but he rolls onto his side and gestures through the air.
            Something hits me hard, and I stagger back.
            …It’s that book.
            He pulled it through the air somehow and used it to repel me—

            Damn, that was stupid.
            I shouldn’t have thought that because of his looks, he wouldn’t be able to hit me from there…
            …I fall.
            Or, I would have fallen.
            Rose supports me at the last second.

            “—, …”

            Nessiah is running.
            But Archer’s arrows aren’t falling far behind him.
            Come on, just a little more—

            “Nessiah…!!”
            The clanging noises from Lancer and Berserker’s battle speed up.
            This time, it’s Berserker struggling to get past Lancer, but Lancer isn’t going to let him by so easily, and spins Lorelei hard to block Berserker from getting anywhere.
            Berserker keeps fighting with a desperate look on his face, swinging his scythe this way and that, but he’s not moving as fluidly now.

            Suddenly.
            The sky darkens further, and the air explodes near Archer’s tree, halting his fire.
            …Oh. It seems as though Nessiah is gathering himself to counterattack.
            And with his insane levels of prana,
            maybe he could actually hold off a Servant for real, too—

            Then.
            I hear running footsteps,
            and with a great crash,
            Saber arrives in the clearing, just like two days ago.

            The girl in white stops short when she sees the battle.
            Her blue eyes are wide, and her golden hair flutters around her.

            “Lancer!”
            She calls in a commanding voice.
            “Stand aside.”

            Everyone comes to a stop.
            Lancer is staring at Saber like he’s not sure what to expect of her,
            Archer is doing the same, from what I can see,
            and Saber herself looks extremely grave.

            Berserker is staring at Saber with a ferocity that truly makes him seem like a demon.
            …He smiles dangerously.

            “Well.
            “I never thought I’d get the chance to meet you again like this, Princess.”

            Saber inclines her head.
            She does not falter, but only replies in a calm voice.
            “Indeed. It seems that fate has determined that we must continue to cross blades. …You seem to have a fine Master, but you mustn’t expect the outcome to be any different from last time.”

            Berserker narrows his eyes.
            It looks more like a snarl than a sneer.
            “We’ll see about that.”

            …Like two links of a chain connecting.
            Suddenly I understand everything.
            Oh…, so this must be…

            “Stand aside, Lancer!”
            Saber raises her sword.
            “Stand aside—this is my battle. If you try to hinder me in fighting this man, I won’t hesitate to strike you down as well.”

            …I feel a chill.
            She’s serious.

            I don’t have to give Lancer any order, though.
            The scarlet knight bows his head.
            “If that is what you wish. The battlefield belongs to the two of you.”

            And the angel returns to my side.

            …The clearing erupts.
            In actuality, their battle is very contained.
            Outside the range of their weapons, no extra energy is spent.
            Still, the intensity of their will to see each other dead is enough to make me feel like the scythe’s crescent is pressed to my throat and the point of the sword at my back.

            “You’re not going to use your Noble Phantasm?”
            The girl’s voice rings high and clear over the maelstrom of their weapons.
            “You’re not using yours.”
            Berserker says so with a smile.

            Somehow, in the midst of all the fighting,
            light—Archer’s arrows—starts to rain again, and the air begins to crackle with Nessiah’s lightning spells.

            “Master.”
            Lancer speaks to me softly, so that only we can hear.
            “What is your command?”
            “—Ein.”
            Rose holds my arm.
            “You know what we have to do.”
            I feel sick.
            I feel sick, but I take a breath and nod.
            The path of a magus is a path stained in blood.
            It feels wrong.
            It feels wrong.
            It feels wrong.
            It feels wrong.
            It feels wrong.
            It feels wrong.

            …But, we have to consider what will happen if I don’t.

            “—Lancer.”

            …I can’t, say it.

            Rose sighs.

            “Lancer. He won’t give the order, so will you listen to me?
            “Go after Nessiah. He can’t handle you and Archer at once.”
            The knight bows his head,
            and takes off.

            Rose squeezes my arm.
            It doesn’t feel like a reprimand, but I still feel terrible.
            I should be able to do this much.
            I should, but I can’t.
            …On both sides…, it feels as though I’m in the wrong.

            There’s a flash of red,
            …and a scream.

            “Berserker—…!”

            The air cracks.
            Lancer’s Lorelei and Archer’s attacks hit nothing.

            “Wha—”
            Saber’s cry draws my attention, and I turn to see that she’s swung herself off-balance, staggering and trying to compensate for the fact that her blow fell on empty air.

            In the sky,
            on the level of the treetops,
            Berserker is suspended in mid-leap.

            The scarlet hair is stretched above him in an arc.
            He’s abandoned everything, even his armor and Noble Phantasm, and is dressed like an ordinary young man again.
            His eyes are telling Saber that this isn’t over.
            His eyes are telling Saber that their battle will have an answer.
            But right now, he’s holding his Master in his arms.
            Nessiah is cradled to his chest like the most important thing in the world, and Nessiah is holding on to his Servant tightly.
            …I see.
            So Nessiah must have used a Command Spell to have Berserker save him.
            Berserker is holding him with incredible care, so it seems that Berserker wasn’t against the order, but he shouldn’t have been able to make it.
            …Rose told me that a Command Spell can be used to defy the laws of the universe itself if used for one single short-term order.
            This was probably the only way that Nessiah could have survived.

            The moment that the two of them hang in free-fall seems to go on forever, but it’s actually over very quickly.

            Nessiah makes another gesture and says something else that hurts my head, and the two seem to vanish before they even touch the ground.

            Lancer turns back towards me.
            He seems to be asking me what he should do.

            “Archer.”
            Saber calls out.
            “Go ahead back to Roswell and Vienya, and tell them that I’m going after Berserker. I can’t just leave them, and even if I can’t catch them, I might be able to find out where they’re hiding.”
            Before she gets an answer, she runs off into the shadowed space between the trees.
            Archer nods to the air and disappears.

            Slowly, I exhale.
            …We managed to escape death again thanks to those two.

            “Let’s go home, Lancer.”
            Rose nods, suddenly looking tired.
            “Yeah, we made a lot of noise anyway. We don’t want to be here in case people decide to come have a look.”

            …
            ……
            ………
            We return home.
            Amazingly, we return home before the sun has set, and the sky is still only dyed red.

            I double-check the locks and the boundary field, and take off my shoes.
            Rose and Lancer have already gone ahead, and when I enter the living room, Lancer is sitting at the table while Rose is in the kitchen, getting out ingredients.
            …Come to think of it, we probably should eat something now that we’ve had to fight.
            This is a war after all, and we need to keep our strength up.
            “What a disaster.”
            Rose says so with a sigh.
            “We wound up finding another Master after all, but that Nessiah isn’t one to sit back and let his Servant do everything for him… even if Lancer hadn’t had any trouble with Berserker, we would’ve been finished if Saber and Archer hadn’t showed up.”
            Lancer is silent, and I don’t have anything to add either.
            It’s obvious that the Master of Berserker completely outmatched the both of us.
            And even surrounded by three enemy Servants, which would be absolute death for anyone else, they still found an opening and escaped.
            —A powerful Servant and a top-class Master.
            We’ll be in trouble if we come up against them as we are now.

            …However.
            I pick up one of the books that are still stacked next to the table.
            It’s a book concerning the legends of an incredibly ancient country, close to the age of gods, and it should have everything I need.
            I flip through the book quickly but carefully and examine the diagrams.
            Just as I thought.

            “—You’re wrong, Rose. We found out something important today.”
            I close the book with a snap as Rose turns to stare at me.
            Lancer is also watching me intently.
            “I didn’t really have any idea before, but Berserker was just too obvious. It was the way that you fought him that gave it away, Lancer.”
            I explain about the fire and my theory that Berserker’s abilities are demonic.
            Really, this is the last confirmation I have to wait for.
            “Certainly, Berserker’s abilities seemed to have a demonic origin.”
            Lancer says so assuredly.
            I nod with relief.

            “Then, I’m sure.
            “I’ve found out Saber and Berserker’s identities.”

            Rose stares at me with an impressed face.
            “—I said before you were an expert on heroes, but I didn’t think you’d be able to figure something like that out so easily. Well, don’t leave us in suspense, who are they?”
            In order to explain, I open up the book.
            That land became known as Ancardia after it became peaceful, but before then there were a lot of wars fought there, so there were many heroes.
            The last war in what people call the Thousand Years of Strife was fought between the kingdom at the center of the continent, and the empire to the north.
            It was a complicated battle and a lot of things happened, but the two leaders of the countries are still known today.

            “Look here. Saber’s sword matches most of the records, so I’m sure. The physical descriptions fit, too.
            “Saber must be the Queen of that era, Yggdra Yuril Artwaltz.
            “—Berserker is her rival from the legend, Gulcasa the Blazing Emperor.”

            It was another story I liked as a child.
            Well, personally, I preferred the stories about Ragnarok, and this one went over my head the first time I ever heard it, but the more I learned about it, the more it made me think.
            It was a story of two heroes who continually fought until one of them fell.
            If you looked at things from one country’s side, the opposing hero was the villain, but both of them were brave and noble.
            —On one side, a man whose birth itself was a miracle.
            He rose up and saved his country from oppression, and was loved by everyone around him. In order to protect his happiness and the happiness of his people, he didn’t lay down his weapon, and marched forward to conquer the rest of the world.
            He decided that he would become the strongest and use that power to save his people, no matter how bloodstained his own hands became.
            —On the other side, the princess of a country conquered by the man.
            She lost everything except her own sense of justice, and carrying her family’s holy sword, she raised an army so that she would be able to rescue her people from the hands of the enemy and avenge the deaths of her parents.
            Against all the odds, she was able to push the man’s army back.
            …The fighting went on for a long time, but in the end the princess became queen, and crushed the empire completely.
            At that time, the legends say that she no longer desired war and understood that there was no difference between the two of them.
            Still, both of them were determined to see their people safe from every threat, including each other, and so their course was set.
            Neither could resume a peaceful life while the other was alive.
            …To be honest, the story always made me kind of mad because it wasn’t fair.
            Even in a story, two good people couldn’t manage to reconcile what few differences they had and live peacefully.

            Well, that’s the case.
            The important thing is that if we know who Saber and Berserker were in life, we might be able to know how to fight them.

            “So? It sounds like you know what to expect from them, so tell us about it.”
            Rose folds her arms and nods at me, and Lancer watches me intently.

            “—Saber is human, but her sword… her Noble Phantasm is what made her an invincible warrior in the story.
            “Like the legend says, it’s a holy sword that’s supposed to have been forged and given to her family by angels. Lancer himself said that it’s really powerful, and even I can tell that it’s strong. She was able to hold off the Riders and compete with Berserker at full strength, so she’s definitely not going to be an easy Servant to face.
            “And Berserker really is a demon like we thought.
            “His ancestors were humans that made a contract and received the blood of a demon god, so Berserker has the strength and powers of one. According to the legend, he was more demon than human when he died, and he was the first person in a long time to have full demon blood where he came from.
            “On top of that, he’s strong enough that he was able to fight off Lancer, and Lancer is a full Grim Angel. Berserker is like Lancer’s natural enemy. I don’t know how things will change if the two of them bring their Noble Phantasms into the equation, but then there’s the fact that Berserker’s Master could activate Mad Enhancement at any time… it’s a problem no matter how you look at it.”

            Rose nods.
            “Still, at least now we can take a better look at the books and find out the properties of Saber’s holy sword. If we wind up having to fight her, it’s going to be important to know what to expect.”

            …The rest of the day goes by like that.
            Lancer looks over the books while I reminisce about the legend, and Rose makes dinner.
            It’s a hearty dinner with a lot of meat over rice.
            At first I doubt that I can finish it, but it seems I’m hungrier than I thought as I’m able to eat everything in my bowl.
            …Lancer uses Western utensils again, and eats very quietly.
            It seems that his usual serious demeanor won’t be shaken by such a thing as a meal.
            “By the way, Ein.”
            Unfortunately, there’s none of that from the devil in black, as usual, who sees no issue with teasing me over the food.
            “You said we learned something important today, but you skipped over the most obvious thing, didn’t you?”
            …Man, I’m not sure I want to hear this over my food.
            “About Saber and Archer. You’ve realized it, haven’t you?”
            She sets her chopsticks down with an unmistakable air of smugness.
            “Their Masters have to be cooperating. That’s the only real explanation for the way that they keep showing up together like that.”
            “Hold on a moment, you mean Masters can cooperate in the war?”
            “Well, of course.”
            Rose nods as if it’s only to be expected.
            “It’s easy for two people to decide that they’ll deal with each other after they’ve cleared out the more dangerous opponents first. They’ve made a temporary alliance, and it’s easy to see why, what with cheaters like the Riders running around.”
            …Come to think of it, we did talk about how the Riders would be impossible to deal with unless you had more than one Servant, and it would also be easier to deal with the enemy if you applied that same advantage to your own battles.
            “Huh, I never thought about that before, but you’re probably right.”
            “Aren’t I? The only problem is what’s going to happen if we wind up having to deal with them while they’re allies.”
            Rose complains with a sour expression now that she’s no longer teasing me.
            …I also hope that we won’t have to fight Saber and Archer.
            In addition to them having the advantage of numbers, it’ll probably be hardest to deal with people like them who act on fair play in a war like this.

            …The day ends uneventfully.
            After dinner, I run the bath and get clean, then leave the water for Rose to use, and Lancer if he wants it.
            I change into my nightclothes and head to my room so that I can meditate and get to sleep.
            As I stand in the doorframe,
            “Master.”
            I hear Lancer call out to me.

            …I turn around.
            The scarlet knight is standing in the hallway, watching me.
            …It’s a very strange feeling.
            No matter how you look at it, Lancer in his red cloak and dark priest’s clothes just doesn’t fit into a modern setting like this, and the way that he ignores his surroundings makes him stand out even more.
            And beyond that, simply the fact that he’s concentrating on me so strongly is almost uncomfortable.
            …What is this feeling?
            It’s the same kind of wonder that overtook me when Lancer was first summoned.
            That kind of awe that I doubt I’ll ever be able to properly describe—

            “Anyway, what did you need, Lancer?”

            Lancer turns slightly and looks at me appraisingly.
            His dark eyes are silent and hold their secrets. I can’t tell what he’s thinking.
            “Earlier today, you took the initiative well.
            “…Master, you have reflexes and the intuition suitable for battle. Rather than fighting from the back like a true magus, it would do you well to learn more about combat and pursue the path of the warrior.”
            “Lancer…?”
            …I don’t know what to say.
            First of all, hearing from my own Servant that I’m not suited for magic is a little deflating, but there’s also the fact that one of my own childhood heroes has told me that I have the potential to do what he does.
            ……I don’t know what to say.
            “—However.”
            Lancer’s posture is stern.
            The tone of his voice is even and he looks more like a marble statue in this moment than a young man close to my age.
            “Hesitation like that is unacceptable, should you pursue that path. Should you continue your studies as a magus. On the battlefield, there is only those who are weak and those who are strong. The weak perish, and the strong survive. If you see an opening you must pursue it ruthlessly, no matter who your opponent may be.
            “—Regardless of your own ideals. Sparing the enemy is naïveté, Master.”
            Lancer nods to me once.
            A display of deference that doesn’t fit with the harshness of his own words.
            …Before I can say anything or even attempt to defend myself,
            the scarlet knight disappears into the room beside mine.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            …Every time, he awoke to the familiar graveyard.
            Flowers were blooming all around the mausoleum, and in the light that shone down from the sky, the world was painted in soft colors.
            It was a beautiful sight, and yet at the same time, it wasn’t a place for the living and breathing.
            …Someone who wandered into that place lost might feel their energy and will seeping away and fall into the horror as it slowly shredded their mind.
            …Because the inside of the mausoleum was filled with living corpses.

            In actuality it was a kind of “stasis”.
            The mausoleum was a gruesome weapons storehouse.
            When the weapons weren’t in use, they would be returned to the storehouse to sleep until they were needed again.
            No one knew how the weapons would last out in the open, so society as a whole considered that sleep to be a necessary thing.

            For the “weapons” themselves, that reality was very different.
            He never questioned it, and didn’t think about it too much because it was just the way things were, but inside I think he was actually very tired.
            The weapons were returned to the storehouse and put to sleep whenever they weren’t in use.
            He fought the enemies of the heavens over and over, but to him it felt like an endless battle that had no meaning.
            He was told that he was saving people, but in the end, he never saw the people he was meant to save, nor did he ever see the impact of his victories.
            —But this is the way it should be.
            Because he had been chosen.
            Because this was the will of the heavens, and he had no choice but to obey.
            …And yet, all the same, he was tired.

            There was no joy in battle or in victory.
            And there was no meaning to be found in the endless sleep.
            He was awakened and sent into hell over and over, and as soon as the battle ended, he was returned to the mausoleum.
            To that familiar, beautiful graveyard that was at the same time a bed of all horrors beyond human comprehension.
            …Because he was a weapon, and no weapon needed a will, or desires.

            That,
            was his life as one of the chosen.

            …I wake up.
            I wake up covered in sweat after a worrying dream, and go to wash my face.
            …This is the third time I’ve had such a strange dream in a row.
            ……A dream about the same idiot.

            This time… I don’t know, but it seems different somehow.
           Maybe the dream really got to me, but I feel uneasy as I change into new clothes and head into the living room.

            …
            After a dream like that…, how can I put it.
            This is a really comforting scene.
            Rose is sitting at the table with her plate half empty, talking to Lancer, who is eating quietly as usual.
            Maybe I was just imagining things last night or maybe I’m getting used to it, but the scarlet knight that seemed so out of place before actually looks included.
            He doesn’t reply to Rose much, but he watches her as he eats.
            His gestures are elegant with no wasted movement, and his dark eyes are calm.
            The hair like woven gold wavers softly as he nods to Rose.
            Rose doesn’t seem uneasy with him either, and is talking to Lancer as though it’s normal.
            …Today is the fourth day that Lancer has been a part of this home, and it’s starting to feel as though he belongs here.
            My place at the table is set with food already there, and somehow it feels like we’ve already become a family of three.

            “Good morning, Rose, Lancer.”
            Rose looks up and waves to me, and Lancer also looks up at me.
            Rose is smiling, and while Lancer isn’t smiling, his expression isn’t cold or judgmental, but calm—it’s a warm feeling.
            “Hey, sleepyhead. You got here just in time, I don’t think your food will be cold yet.”
            I sit down and thank her for the food.
            Today’s breakfast consists of omelets and pancakes, with bowls of yakisoba on the side.
            It’s a strange combination of Western and Japanese styles, but it still looks really appetizing, and I’m not wrong.
            For a while, there’s only the sound of our utensils as we eat.

            …Actually, this kind of scene makes me wonder.
            We’ve seen a number of other Servants so far, and their Masters.
            I wonder just how they face the mornings every day?

            Well, Saber and her Master seem to get along well, and back when we saw them together they were talking normally.
            I can’t see them not eating breakfast together.
            …It was harder to judge about Vienya and Archer, but it looked like their relationship wasn’t uneasy or anything. Picturing them eating breakfast together is a little bit weird even so, but that’s more because of Vienya than anything else.
            I wonder if she’s able to get the vending machines to work now when she’s at them?
            …Then, there’s the Riders and their masters, Nana and Primea.
            Those girls seemed really immature, and it was hard to judge their relationship with their Servants too…
            Still, a funny mental image pops into my head of those knights having to look after the two girls like babysitters.
            …The scary thing is that it might not be too far off, but somehow that’s even funnier.

            I wonder what kind of morning Berserker and Nessiah are having.
            Part of me wants to think that it’s cold and uncomfortable, but that may just be my prejudice as Berserker is a demon, after all, and there are some real problems with Nessiah’s personality.
            More honestly, though, remembering the picture of Berserker in the air with his arms around his Master—and how tightly and carefully they were holding each other—makes me think that however their morning is going, it wouldn’t be too awkward.
            It couldn’t be, or at least I don’t think so. …Yeah, those two also seemed to get along well.

            I shouldn’t be thinking things like this—and I’m sure that Rose and Lancer would scold me for humanizing the enemy or some such thing.
            Still, it puts me at ease somehow to think that none of the Servants are being mistreated.

            Yeah.
            Servants are Heroic Spirits, after all.
            Heroes who did their best in life and still have to fight for something like this ought to have a place where it’s okay for them to relax.
            Even if all they have is a Master who smiles and says good morning, a warm breakfast and a place to curl up in the sun before the next strategy meeting, I think that would be all right.
            …Maybe it’s presumptuous of me, but a thought like that makes me happy.

            “Ein, what the heck is with that weird smile?”
            Rose teases me with a grin and reaches across the table to push me in the shoulder.
            I just smile.
            Lancer looks at me with what might be concern, and I smile to reassure him.

            Like that, breakfast goes without any issues.
            I’m in the middle of cleaning the plates…
            …when suddenly, there’s the sound of the doorbell.

            “…Wait, were we expecting anyone today?”
            I turn off the faucet and put the plates on the drying rack, and go to answer the door absentmindedly.

            When I get there, Rose is also moving to open the door.
            “Sorry for intruding!”
            …On the other side,
            are Mimee-san, Aura-san, Fia-san, and Serene.

            …Um.
            I turn to Rose, not knowing what to do.
            Rose is also looking between me and everyone, flabbergasted.

            “Um. …Um. Everyone, what are you all doing here?”
            Serene shrugs at us as though it’s obvious.
            “Today is Sunday, so we decided to come in and throw you a get-well party. What else would we be doing?”

            …Oh.
            That’s right, because of the Grail War we’ve had to take off of school.
            Rose announced it very suddenly, so it seems that everyone has come to the conclusion that I must be sick…, or something of that sort.
            “We properly brought food, and it’s not as though you’re doing anything, so it’s fine, isn’t it?”
            The disgrace of a high school girl is already taking off her shoes and getting ready to enter the house.
            —Uh.
            Uh, this is really bad, isn’t it?
            Mimee-san, despite being an honor student and supposedly knowing better, is also taking off her shoes.
            She was carrying bags, but she hands them to her juniors and forces all the burden onto them while she lines her shoes up next to Rose’s and mine.
            And then before Rose and I can think of anything to put an end to this disaster before it has a chance to begin, Serene and Mimee-san march into the house.
            Fia-san and Aura-san are both smiling a bit helplessly.
            …I see, so they must have been roped into this by their irresponsible seniors.
            I see, I see.
            …I sigh.
            “Well, I suppose I’ll hold on to these for you. Uh, please pardon any mess.”
            I bow a little and reach out to take the bags of food, and Fia-san and Aura-san both bow back to me.
            “Oh, no need to apologize, Sempai. We came uninvited, after all.”
            “We’re very sorry to bother you at a time like this…”

            “—Ein!”
            Rose hisses at me, alarm written all over her face.
            …But, well, what can we do?
            Fia-san and Aura-san have been pushed so far already, so all I can do is try to be a good Sempai and not trouble them any further.

            …Then, from the living room.
            “—Oh? Who is this?”

            —
            …Oh.
            Oh no.

            I run through the halls as fast as I can while not dropping the bags.
            …It’s just as I feared.

            Mimee-san and Serene are standing in the living room looking curiously at Lancer, who never had enough warning to dematerialize.
            The scarlet knight…,
            is looking back at them as though he’s a cornered animal.
            He turns to me.
            Lancer turns to me with a helpless expression.
            His eyes are asking me why.
            In the greatest show of emotion I’ve seen from him so far, the hero of so many wars in the heavens has turned to me and is begging me whole-heartedly to rescue him from this unforeseen situation.

            …I,
            I just don’t know what to do, and am left standing here at as much of a loss as anyone.
            From behind me, I hear a sigh and a tsking noise.
            “—Well, the secret’s out. Now you know why Ein and I had to leave school so quickly.
            “This is Lancer, and he’s going to be staying with us for a couple of weeks.
            “As you can tell, he’s a foreigner, and he’s still learning Japanese and getting used to the city, so we have to do what we can for him.
            “Don’t bother him too much. If you all talk on top of each other he’ll get confused, and he’s quiet to begin with, so you guys are way too noisy to interact with him at all.”

            …Thank God.
            Thanks to Rose’s quick thinking, we’re completely saved.
            As Mimee-san and Serene turn to sulk at her, I set the bags down near the kotatsu and then sit down next to Lancer.

            “—Master.”
            Lancer turns to me with an uneasy face.
            “It’s okay, Lancer.
            “If there’s anything they say that you don’t know how to answer or don’t want to, just tell them that you don’t understand the question. We’ll make them leave you alone.
            “…Um, these people are my classmates. Serene isn’t a magus, but the other three are all apprentice magi. They might be able to sense your prana a bit, but since this is a house of magi I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem.
            “…And Lancer, uh. One more thing. You can’t call me ‘Master’ while they’re here, okay? Just use my first name for now.”
            Without saying a word, the blond knight nods.
            He still seems very uncomfortable, but his face is telling me that he’ll trust me for now.

            …Jeez, since when was Lancer so reliant?
            He’s usually so aloof and forbidding, but I guess he’s just so out of his depth right now that all he knows to do is depend on me to get him through it.
            It’s a little worrisome as it shows he has problems adapting to things, and just that he’s so unused to other people can’t be good, but this kind of shy and childlike side to Lancer isn’t necessarily bad.
            …It’s cute, like a skittish cat being coaxed to be around other people.

            Anyway.
            Even though we’ve just eaten, somehow I wind up in the kitchen with Fia-san while the others crowd around Lancer.
            …Hang in there, Lancer. We’ll have to get them out by dinner, so just hold on until then.
            “Fia-san, it’s really okay if you want to go sit with the others. I can handle things in here by myself, especially since it’s just washing vegetables and heating things up.”
            Fia shakes her head and smiles.
            Her long green hair sways softly.
            “No, it’s all right, Sempai. I want to help. Besides, everyone’s caused more than enough trouble already, so I want to help out a bit.”
            I sigh.
            It seems like I really can’t persuade her, although since she’s a girl and my junior, chivalry says that I really ought to be doing the work.
            …Actually, I kind of wish I could persuade everyone to let Fia-san and Lancer change places, since Lancer is seeming less and less comfortable by the moment and Fia-san tends to work too hard.
            Really, though, that might not be such a good idea.
            First of all, it looks like Mimee-san and Serene are having fun interrogating Lancer, and Rose is having fun defending him.
            Second of all, Lancer has never offered to cook, so I don’t know if he’s any good in the kitchen or if he doesn’t like cooking.
            It would be just like a failure of a man like me to only make things worse despite trying to fix them, so I’ll keep quiet for now.

            “—So, Lancer-kun.”
            Mimee-san is smiling, thoroughly enjoying herself.
            I don’t know if she’s noticed Lancer’s discomfort, but she’s talking to him the way that she would talk to any other junior, including him in her usual friendly way.
            “What brings you to Japan? Judging by your clothes, you’re from a ways away, aren’t you?”
            “…”
            Lancer first looks to Rose, and then to me.
            His eyes are saying that he needs clear instructions on what to do, or he’s not going to be able to cope with this kind of situation.
            “I’ll be here for a short time to do my job. After that…, I believe I’ll be returning to where I’m from.”

            “…Ouch.”
            I feel a bite of pain in my finger, and look down.
            The peeler I was using for the vegetables slipped and scraped my hand.
            …That’s right.
            Lancer is only going to be here for the Holy Grail War.
            Even if we win and Lancer is able to make his wish…, he’ll disappear after that, won’t he?
            Back to wherever Heroic Spirits go when they aren’t summoned into the world.
            …
            ……
            …I don’t like that.
            I don’t know what it is I don’t like about that, but I don’t like it.
            It hasn’t been very long, but Lancer already feels like he belongs here with us.
            “Sempai?”
            Fia-san is looking in my direction with a concerned face.
            I smile to reassure her.
            “I’m okay, I just spaced out for a little bit. I didn’t even cut myself or anything, there’s no need to worry.”
            Fia-san nods and looks back down at the pot.
            She’s heating up rice to put the red peppers in, and after that I’m going to fry it while she switches to the vegetables.
            Somehow, she still seems really troubled.

            Suddenly, Fia-san takes a breath and makes a determined face.
            “I’m not going to lose!”
            …Um, huh?
            I don’t really understand, but if she says so, I guess that’s a good thing.

            …So.
            In the end, I was completely ineffective in coming up with a plan to rescue Lancer from my classmates, and Rose had to protect him while Fia-san and I finished preparing the luxurious lunch materials Mimee-san brought to compensate for the intrusion.
            At least Aura-san stayed quiet, but when we sat down to eat, even Fia-san started to bother Lancer with a lot of questions.
            After we ate, though, Mimee-san finally seemed to understand that she might be intruding and gathered everyone up to go home.
            “If you guys ever decide to stop playing hooky, feel free to bring Lancer-kun to school, okay? He should be able to sit in on classes, and he’ll be able to play around with us and see what it would be like to be a foreign exchange student.”
            I’m sure she wanted to drag him to the magic study group as well, but unfortunately for Mimee-san’s plans, we’ll be far too busy to entertain her more as long as this goes on.

            …Sigh.
            I know it’s a small thing to complain about after all the battles and such, but seriously, those guys sure are noisy.
            Rose is in the kitchen cleaning up, and I’ve come back into the living room to see that Lancer still hasn’t moved from the same spot he’s been in since they got here.
            Ordinarily I wouldn’t complain because it’s rude, but seeing how Lancer still looks, I sit down next to him and let my irritation show a little.
            “I guess it could have been worse, but all the same, I wish they’d show a little more consideration… they didn’t leave a moment too soon.”
            Beside me, Lancer lets out a small sigh of his own.
            I look at him.
            Lancer has a downcast expression on his face, and he’s not looking at me.
            Maybe he’s stiff from having to sit there for so long?
            If Lancer had gotten up and moved, they might have realized that his wings are wings, and not a part of his clothing, so he’d had no choice but to stay still no matter what.

            “…Tiresome.”
            He says so in a listless voice.
            “I’m sorry.”
            I apologize for them without thinking.
            “It really wasn’t fair to spring all of that on you without any warning.”
            …Lancer sighs again.
            He really seems out of sorts, but the look on his face is more depressed than angry.
            I think his eyes would be more intense if that were the case.

            “…I’ve grown unused to such displays.
            “Perhaps this is a sign that I lack discipline.”
            Lancer ponders, berating himself for his helplessness in front of the girls.
            …As I thought, Lancer really does take things too seriously.
            Who knows how long he’ll stay angry at himself if this keeps up, so I suppose I should try to cheer him up a little bit.
            “It’s just that they’re really noisy. Well, they’re energetic girls that don’t have important things to worry about, so it’s not like there’s something wrong with their being noisy, but you’re quiet by nature, so even if they didn’t recognize it and show some consideration, no one was expecting you to know how to be noisy with them.”
            “…Hmm.”
            Lancer still seems worried.
            I rest my hand lightly on his shoulder.
            “You really don’t have to mind it so much.”
            “…oh.”
            Lancer turns to look at me, surprised, and I pull my hand back.
            “…Ein.”

            …
            “—I apologize, Master.”
            Lancer looks away.
            “It’s okay. You can call me whatever you like, it doesn’t matter to me.”
            “…”
            Lancer doesn’t reply, nor does he look back at me.
            …If calling me by name is more natural for him, I want him to do it, but he doesn’t have to get this nervous about it.
            ……Come to think of it, Lancer sure is awkward in situations that don’t have to do with battle and strategy for the Grail War.
            I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I should remember to be careful with Lancer during everyday scenes like this one from now on.

            …There isn’t much left of the rest of the day until dinner, but it goes uneventfully.
            Since lunch was so big, I just make bowls of miso soup for everyone.
            …Tonight, we’re going out to patrol for the first time.
            There are a number of unknowns, but at this point, if we hide forever, nothing is going to happen.
            There’s also the matter of Assassin and Caster, the two Servants we have yet to encounter.
            We have to find our enemies and do our best to overcome them.

            …Dinner passes in silence.
            It’s a completely different, tense atmosphere from the comfortable silence of breakfast.
            Rose washes the dishes quietly, and I sit in the entrance, putting on my shoes and a jacket.
            It’s dark outside, and it’s sure to be cold.
            …Lancer dematerializes.
            He says that he’ll stay incorporeal until we run into someone, both so that civilians won’t see him and so that the other Masters won’t take so much notice of us.
            As proved by everyone in class, it isn’t unusual for people in Fuyuki to have a small amount of magical energy.
            As long as Rose conceals her presence, my magical energy should also go unnoticed.

            …We leave the house and lock up carefully.
            From here on out, Rose is a magus, and I am a Master.
            We have to do our absolute best to win this battle.

            …Since we’ve already run into Berserker here in Miyama, we decide to go to Shinto.
            Ignoring the suburbs and the mountain, we head in silence for the long bridge.

            We crossed this way only a few days ago to speak to Hector-sama, but then Rose and Lancer were talking to each other and the mood was much more relaxed.
            Now, there’s only the sound of the wind as we cross the water as dark as any abyss.

            —The city is mostly empty.
            There are people heading back and forth still, but largely the streets are bare and the world is very quiet.

            With Rose at my side and Lancer invisible behind us, I walk through the streets.
            Time passes, and the moon rises higher in the sky.
            There are fewer and fewer people around.

            It’s probably only about 10:30.
            Still, after everything that happened in the past war, apparently the city of Fuyuki has grown the defense mechanism of shutting down and sleeping earlier than other places.
            In the end it wouldn’t save people if a real monster of a Servant were around, but this is enough to make the people feel safe, and to empty the city out during the times when our kind is most active.

            We draw close to the park.
            The burned field where even now very little grows, and even someone like me can still feel the air of death.
            The final battle that became a conflagration and killed hundreds of people at the end of the fourth Grail War.

            …Within the field…, I see lights flashing in the distance.
            “What is that?”
            The words have just left my mouth when I feel a sting of pain in my Command Spell.
            “…”

            “…Master.”
            Lancer’s voice feels like it’s just at my ear.
            “There are Servants fighting there.”
            The knight states so with certainty.

            “Ein, we should get as close as we can.”
            Rose murmurs it to me, even though we’re still far away.
            “We don’t necessarily want to be seen or get involved, but this is a good chance to learn about the abilities of the other Servants.”
            …I nod, and begin walking as softly as I can.

            We stay in the shadows, but with Lancer’s presence cloaked it seems as though the Servants fighting and their Masters have yet to actually notice us.

            As we get closer and closer, I’m able to make out four figures in the distance—a Master on either side of the conflict, and two bright forms exchanging blows so quickly that I can barely make them out. Those must be the Servants.

            The Master closer to us is a young woman with long, dark hair who’s wearing black clothes and a long white coat. I can just make out the nervous look on her face.

            …The Master further away is also a woman. She has very long, light hair and is wearing a bright blue dress. I think she’s smiling, but it’s hard to tell because she’s holding a fan at her face.
            Aside from her hair, she looks like a tourist from the continent.

            Although the Servants are fighting, the Masters aren’t exchanging blows.
            This fight seems to be more like our encounter with the Riders than our fight against Berserker.
            Either the Masters are content to let their Servants do battle, or neither of them can provide support for their Servant without harming their Servant as well because of the close quarters—something along those lines.

            “Well, dear?”
            —The silver-haired Master calls out in an amused voice.
            “I think the outcome is just about decided, don’t you?”

            “—”
            The dark-haired Master doesn’t answer.

            There’s a heavy sound of metal, and the two Servants separate, leaping back to stand by their Masters and glaring at each other across the field of battle.

            “—Master.”
            The Servant of the dark-haired woman is a slight-figured girl who appears to be younger than me.
            She’s carrying a crossbow on one arm, and the other is encased in metal, extending into a massive claw.
            Her short blue hair flutters softly in the moonlight.
            “…Assassin.”
            The Master murmurs as if calling to her Servant.
            Her voice is a soft question, as if asking what their chances are.

            …So this is Assassin.
            It’s true that this Servant doesn’t seem suited to vicious head-on battles as she’s only a small girl, but as she’s still a Servant it wouldn’t be a good thing to write her off as one.
            She probably has plenty of hidden abilities that make up for her small size, and she seemed to be exchanging blows with her enemy competently.

            The other Servant must be Caster…
            Or so I think, but the Servant in front of the woman with the fan is a female knight in black armor.
            She’s tall and holding a large sword, and her long hair blows into curls in the wind.
            The deep purple lace she wears floats around her almost like some kind of bridal veil, or a dark mist.
            …She’s looking at Assassin and her Master with a displeased expression.
            And it’s strange, but there’s an odd feeling about her.
            I don’t know how to put it, but—even Berserker had the presence of a hero about him, despite that demonic pulse that surrounded his body.
            This strange Servant doesn’t have the same sense of pride.

            “Lancer.”
            I call out to him quietly, so that we won’t be overheard by the Masters and Servants up ahead, but my words will only reach Lancer and Rose.
            “It’s not possible for two unconnected people to call Saber, is it?”
            I still can’t see him, but it feels like Lancer is shaking his head, and I picture his pale gold hair fluttering elegantly.
            “This Master does not possess the art that those girls did.
            “—It isn’t possible for there to be twin Sabers, and that Servant doesn’t have the presence of a magus. She is not Caster.”

            “—Tch.
            “Yellma, I didn’t answer the summons for crap like this.”
            The knight doesn’t turn, but she speaks dismissively to her Master.
            “Assassin, it’s been kinda fun hanging out with you, but unless you can show me a better fight, I’m done playing. I’m bored, let’s go.”

            Assassin looks down helplessly.
            And Assassin’s Master hangs her head.
            “—Assassin, I’m sorry.
            “It seems like with my magical energy, we really…”
            “Please wait, Master.”
            Assassin half-turns so that she can address her Master.
            The small girl faces her opponent gallantly.
            “—Don’t consider this battle finished yet. If it costs my life, I will carve a path for my Master’s victory.”

            The knight nods a bit.
            It’s a kind of begrudging show of respect, and it seems to fit her nature.
            “It’s not like I don’t like your attitude, but the way things are you don’t have a chance.
            “Come on, Yellma, I’m bored. If you’re making me fight for you anyway, I at least want to have some goddamn fun while I’m doing it.”

            The knight’s Master has not stopped smiling, and just snaps her fan shut, tapping it against her own shoulder.
            “—Why would we be retreating now?
            “You’re my Servant, and this is the opponent you’re fighting. I’m not allowing you to run away from something this weak, go on and finish them off.”

            —The knight sighs.
            Rather than dispirited, it’s a very annoyed sound.
            Then she sinks into her stance, holding her sword at the ready.
            “—You heard that coward calling herself my Master.
            “You haven’t run away yet, so you’d better get ready to die, Assassin.”

            Assassin doesn’t answer, but rushes forward.
            She rushes forward as though melting into the wind, and vanishes into the dark like a shadow, reappearing above the unknown Servant with her crossbow at the ready…!

            …But the knight must have expected such an attack.
            She’s already swinging her sword up above her to counter…!

            Assassin doesn’t fire her weapon, but swings her other arm down and grabs hold of the blade of the black knight’s sword.
            With her metal-covered arm, she won’t receive any damage from holding onto its edge.
            The knight swings her weapon and propels Assassin towards the ground, but Assassin lets go and sends a crossbow bolt up, straight for the knight’s chest—!

            The knight leans to the side, but the arrow has already opened a cut over the side of her face.
            A single cut appears along her cheekbone, marring the perfection of her white skin, and blood pours down it like tears.
            Of course, she’s a Servant.
            The wound has already healed by the time the first drops of blood have reached her chin.

            —Still, the knight grins dangerously.
            “Oh, so you had some fight left in you after all—”

            There’s a sound like an explosion.
            Before I can clearly see what happened, Assassin is sent flying through the air with a clear shout like a bell.

            “No way, a directed energy attack—?!”
            Rose lets out a startled voice beside me.

            Assassin lands on her feet like a cat and lunges forward as though to attack again,
            but the knight simply readies her sword,

            “—Goodbye, Assassin—”

            and swings it with a sound like rushing death.

            “EXHAUST NOTE…!”

            Following the arc of the sword is something like deep purple and black wind made form, magical energy so concentrated that even I can see it with my naked eyes.
            Unlike the magic that Saber’s sword gave off, I can tell that this is the real thing, not just a trail of energy.

            “Ah—”
            Assassin draws to a halt as she realizes her mistake, but there’s no time to do anything else.
            The beam of dark energy hits her across the chest and torso, heavily bisecting her body.

            “Master—, Soala…”
            Assassin murmurs.
            Her eyes are wide with shock.
            There’s no blood, but instead, along the lines of the wound, Assassin’s body dissolves into pale shining sand and drifts away on the wind in halves.

            The knight lowers her sword with a sigh and closes her eyes.

            “Assassin—”

            Assassin’s Master falls to her knees.

            …And just like that, one of the Servants is gone from this world.

            “…Well, there you go.
            “I killed her, just like you wanted. And now I’m pissed ‘cause you keep making me attack weaklings, so can we get out of here now?”
            The black knight looks at her Master irritably.

            The knight’s Master spreads her fan again and flutters it with an annoyed face.
            “You aren’t done yet. I said finish them, so finish them both.”

            “Wha—”
            The black knight’s face twists in disgust,
            Rose curses,
            and my heart jolts in my chest.
            —I feel sick.

            “What the hell is this! If I had to get summoned to an idiot like you, then the least you can do is give me interesting battles to fight! So what the hell are you talking about, this isn’t even a fight, you’re telling me to step on worms, I don’t want to dirty my sword with this! Huh, so you’re so stupid that you’ll spit on the pride of the Heroic Spirits like this? Get real! Give me a fucking break, Yellma, I’m done here! I don’t have any interest in wielding my sword any further!”

            The knight’s Master, the woman named Yellma, smiles dangerously.
            It’s a predatory smile and it reminds me of pictures of carnivorous plants.

            “—The pride of the Heroic Spirits?
            “You’re joking, right? When did you have anything like that? A Servant like you that only has the right to respond to the Avenger class has no right to talk about pride or act honorable or pretend to have any kind of chivalry. You responded to my summons because you were willing to break the rules for victory, didn’t you? So why don’t you just shut up and kill the girl while she’s trapped in our boundary field and nobody without any magic can so much as hear her screaming, Avenger?
            “You used your Noble Phantasm anyway, and we can’t let even a weak magus with Command Spells live. So I’m commanding you as your Master, hurry up and kill her!”
            Yellma raises her hand with an ugly sneer.
            There’s a red glow and a crack like the one I remember from yesterday, and red sparks encircle Avenger’s body like a cage.

            —Avenger screams.
            Intense pain, and above that, even more intense hatred.
            The black knight falls to her knees, her long hair cascading around her as she supports herself on her sword.

            —Suddenly.
            Tangible rage and an immense desire to kill bloom beside me, and Lancer appears with his Noble Phantasm at the ready.

            “Rose, we have to do something…!”
            Beside me, Rose is already lighting up her Magic Crest.
            “—I know. Beyond any sense of justice or this being the way things have to be, any Master that would force their Servant to do something like that has already broken the rules.”
            There’s no rule like that in this Grail War,
            but I know that what Rose means is that the Master named Yellma has broken the rules of humanity.

            Before us, the black knight is already rising to her feet again.
            Her body is still surrounded in red sparks, and she’s trembling all over.
            She advances towards Assassin’s Master as though she’s sleepwalking, but her steps are stilted and there’s sweat on her face.
            —She’s resisting the order with all her might, but the Command Spells can’t be disobeyed.
            Unless she’s stopped, she’ll absolutely kill Assassin’s Master no matter what.

            Assassin’s Master herself has gotten back onto her feet, and is holding both her arms out with a determined expression.
            Her face says that no matter how hopeless of a situation she’s in, she’s going to resist to the end if there’s even any way she can fight back.
            I can feel her gathering prana, but I don’t think that level will be able to fully repel a Servant.
            She doesn’t even seem as strong as Cierra-sensei, let alone Rose.

            Lancer swings his sacred spear, but hits something like a wall and is thrown back.
            “—Mn.”
            He swings again, and sparks fly off the invisible barrier, but he can’t cross it.

            “Lancer—no way, is it even hopeless for you?”
            “—Certainly if I were to use my Noble Phantasm, I would be able to break it in one strike, but…”
            The sentence trails off.
            I understand.
            I hate it, but I understand.
            If we use Lancer’s Noble Phantasm and expose the identity of his Diviner, his enemies here will be able to know who he is, and even if we rescue Assassin’s Master, we’ll then have to defeat Avenger and her Master here.
            We may not be able to do that while protecting Assassin’s Master.
            “—This barrier is powerful, but not powerful enough to repel me forever. I will continue trying.”
            Rose points at the barrier, and a blast of magic hits it near where Lancer is attacking with a sound like a gunshot.
            …Avenger and the two Masters don’t even seem to notice.

            …Again, I’m not able to do anything.
            If I were better at manipulating mana, I might be able to help Rose blast the barrier, but I can’t, and I don’t think there’s anything here I could reinforce…
            I rack my brains trying to think of some kind of weapon, but what would be able to crack this barrier if even Lancer’s Noble Phantasm can’t do it yet…?!

            Assassin’s Master throws power at the still-advancing Avenger, but the magic washes off as though it can’t even touch her.

            There are only a few paces left between them, and lurching drunkenly, Avenger swings her sword.
            There’s the sound of an impact, and then Assassin’s Master falls to the ground with a thump.
            There’s no blood.
            At the last minute, Avenger must have been able to use the flat of her sword.

            …I realize.
            Rose and Lancer won’t make it.
            Even if I could think of something, I can’t make it.
            Avenger lifts her sword up over the fallen body of Assassin’s Master.

            …She’s still struggling.
            The sparks have gotten bigger and she looks like she’s in terrible pain.
            There’s sweat all over her skin wherever it’s left bare.

            And I can see her expression.

            Avenger’s eyes…, are filled with tears.
            Her teeth are gritted and she’s biting her lip.
            But rather than screaming in anger or hatred, the black knight is crying, lamenting her inability to reject the way her body is being violated.

            —I watch, unable to turn away.
            “—!!”
            —Avenger brings the sword down with all her strength.

            A wet sound.
            There’s a soft gurgling wet sound, and blood sprays across Avenger’s face and body.
            …She sags against her sword.
            Assassin’s Master must be dead, as nothing seems to be compelling Avenger to move.

            “—Well, that’s that.
            “You certainly are a troublesome Servant, but now that all that’s over with, we should go home.”
            Avenger’s Master turns and walks off, disappearing into the night.
            …She must be hiding her prana signature, as I can’t sense her.
            Avenger lingers for a few more moments, and then disappears.

            “…Master.”
            Lancer’s voice is very quiet.
            “The barrier is gone.”

            I start to move forward, but a hand on my arm stops me.
            It’s Rose.
            “Come on. We have to go home now.”
            “But…!”
            “There’s nothing we can do for her. Tomorrow the police will be here and will find her body, and if we try to move her they’ll just come bother us. We can’t explain this, and we don’t need to drag civilians into the war. More than that, if we bury her, how are the people who knew her going to find out what happened to her?
            “All we can do is just go home.”
            “—”

            …Damn it.
            ……Damn it all to hell…!

            ………
            …I lie on my back in the dark and stare at the ceiling.

            I’m in my room.
            I’m in my room, lying on my bed with the lights turned off.
            …It feels like I shouldn’t be here.

            …………
            I can’t get the image out of my mind.
            Assassin disappearing.
            That Master’s unconcerned orders.
            The tears on Avenger’s face,
            …and that same face covered in blood.

            I should have done something.
            But what could I possibly have done?
            I’m Lancer’s Master, but all the same, I’m only a useless magic user.
            No blame can be placed on me, and yet all the same I know this is my fault.

            I’m supposed to know heroes.
            So I should have been able to think of some kind of weapon.
            Even if it had killed me, I could have tried to project something and broken the barrier in time to save that woman.
            But I froze up, and someone died.
            I was too busy protecting myself and my own interests to order Lancer to use his Noble Phantasm.
            Without a doubt, Lancer’s Noble Phantasm could have saved that Master’s life.
            …She was already out of the Grail War.
            It shouldn’t be possible to summon Servants anymore.

            I can’t stop picturing it.
            Rose was silent all the way home.
            Lancer didn’t say anything either, but beyond his calm expression I could sense his intent to kill only strengthening.
            …To Lancer, too, this isn’t something that can be forgiven.
            Because of the pride of the Heroic Spirits.
            That woman named Yellma was ordering a Heroic Spirit around and made it do her dirty work, like an actual servant.
            I understand that this isn’t something Lancer’s own pride can overlook.

            But for tonight, we’ve already lost our chance to do anything.
            Going back to try to chase Yellma and Avenger would just be stupid.
            Even if we found them on their home base, we would have the disadvantage there.

            Something happened today…, that can’t ever be taken back.
            The life of a Master was lost.
            And a Servant disappeared from this world.

            …I’ve heard from Rose that even if Servants die, they don’t die permanently.
            Their containers are destroyed and their souls return to the Throne of Heroes.

            Still, something shaped like a human has disappeared.
            And her chance to have a wish granted has ended, too.
            And we just stood by and did nothing.

            …But then.
            This is the Holy Grail War.
            The sixth war in which Masters and Servants kill each other over a single chair.

            …There’s nothing…, to be done about it, is there…?

            Hopelessly.
            My mind chases itself in circles, and I fall into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            He never once considered refusing the path that fate had chosen for him.
            In his society, it was something that wasn’t done.
            …He remembered hearing stories as a boy of the one person who had tried to struggle against being chosen, and the fate that that person had eventually suffered.
            It was enough of a horror story to convince anyone to do as they were told, and worse yet, the story seemed to be true, as there were still records from that time.
            …But that wasn’t why he refused to resist his own fate.

            Not because he was afraid,
            and not because of the expectations of the world.

            If it was his fate, then surely it was the reason he had been born.
            If it was his fate, then surely it was the reason “he” existed in the world.
            Why struggle against that reason?
            It was only right to accept it, and by doing so, many people would be saved, regardless of what he had to endure.
            —He told himself this.

            He told himself this over and over.
            Over and over, before it was too late and he was plunged into that eternal hell.

            …What did he hope to gain?
            I know that there must have been something.
            He wouldn’t have repeated his reasons to himself over and over again like that unless there was something more he wanted, or something he feared.
            And there was nothing he feared.
            Someone in surroundings as dull and cold as his learns to forget about fear.
            So in the end—what did he hope to gain?
            What was it that he believed he would receive, at the end of that journey—?

            …
            ……
            ………
            …………I wake up.
            I open my eyes and am completely awake.
            “—”

            …I didn’t expect to sleep this well, but I feel fully rested despite my uneasy dreams.
            It’s kind of a guilty thing, but I’m glad I didn’t dream about what happened last night.
            Even though I’ve just woken up, it’s all I can think about.
            Like an old video tape.
            The colorless frames replay over and over in my mind.
            Assassin was defeated and killed.
            Avenger’s Master wasn’t satisfied with that, and forced her Servant to kill Assassin’s Master as well, and despite how hard we tried, we couldn’t make it through in time.
            …Maybe we could have made it if we’d exhausted all our strength, but what’s done is done.
            All there is left is the weight of that possibility.
            That maybe we could have saved that woman if we’d been giving our all.
            Her life is on our shoulders.
            Avenger’s torment is on our shoulders.
            ……I will bear this weight every day of my life until I die.

            I wash my face and get dressed.
            Quietly, I head down to the room that has already become the heart of the home that Lancer, Rose, and I belong to.
            Both of them are there.
            Toast with butter and jam is placed in front of everyone, and Rose sits eating one slice absentmindedly.
            Lancer has not touched his breakfast, but has his hands wrapped around a cup of what seems to be black tea.
            …He doesn’t have the same murderous aura from last night anymore, but even now he seems tense.
            Or to put it in other words, nowhere in the posture of the angelic knight can I see the quiet and flustered Lancer from yesterday.

            I sit down.
            The atmosphere is hostile against everyday greetings, but I halfheartedly wish them both good morning and sit down, staring at my toast.
            I’m hungry, and yet I don’t know if I can bear to eat it when the events of last night are still painted against the backs of my eyes.

            Rose lets out a sigh.
            “You two should eat your food. We don’t have any time to rest today.”
            I turn to her.
            I hear a shift of fabric and can tell that Lancer has turned to look at her too.
            “Rose…?”
            “We all saw how that Yellma woman was. She’ll probably be on the move again tonight, and if she runs into any other Masters, she’ll make that Avenger kill them, too. We can’t allow that, can we?”
            “—No.”
            “—No.”

            …Oh.
            Lancer and I answered her in unison.

            “So we need to come up with some kind of plan if we’re going to be able to fight them. I’ve been looking through the books since early, but I haven’t been able to find anything on a sword called Exhaust Note. What about you, Ein?”
            “—No, it’s not a name I’m familiar with either. Avenger herself is strange, so if there was any clue to her identity, I probably missed it because of that.”
            Rose folds her arms and sighs.
            “What’s really bothering me is that Hector-sama didn’t tell us about this. He clearly said that each of the seven Servant classes had been summoned, Caster first and Lancer last, and told them to us in order. He never said anything about an Avenger being summoned.”
            Come to think of it, Rose is right.
            “Maybe Avenger’s Master is a rule-breaker like Nana and Primea. That would explain it, wouldn’t it? If it’s a Servant called into the Avenger class, it wouldn’t be strange for her to have been summoned outside the usual rules.”
            Rose sighs.
            “I don’t know, but either way, it’s bad if it was done sneakily enough that someone as powerful as Hector-sama missed it. It feels like a really bad omen. I don’t think that even that guy would tease us so badly as to ‘forget’ to warn us about two things this dangerous.”
            I sigh along with Rose this time.
            There’s been a lot of sighing this morning, come to think of it.
            “And there’s still Caster, who we haven’t seen yet, too. All in all, that’s a total of nine Servants summoned into this Grail War.”
            Rose said that the Grail would appear when six Servants were defeated, so the full-fledged Holy Grail will be appearing in the Tohsaka workshop when there are still three participants left.
            …That’s a scary thought. At that point, the battlefield could become very messy.
            “There was an extraordinary amount of prana left over from the past two wars, after all.”
            “—Man, this Holy Grail War is really messed up.”
            I start to eat my toast.
            Lancer still hasn’t touched his meal, but he does move to drink his tea.
            The mood is still very subdued compared to usual, but at least it’s not as stifling as before.

            “—But really, what are we going to do?”
            Rose and Lancer turn to look at me.
            “It’s obvious that we’re going to find Avenger and her Master and beat them up, but beyond that, what are we going to be doing? Even if you say we’re going to fight, I’m still—”
            …Just dead weight.
            The words are heavy and difficult to admit to.
            Rose smiles.
            Her expression seems pained.
            “I would tell you to look things up in books and see if you can find a weapon to counter Avenger and try to project it, but… since we haven’t been able to identify her that would be troublesome.”
            —Damn.
            I really am useless in this battle.
            I’m the tether keeping Lancer connected to this world, but that makes me a target that needs defending, and so far despite my own training I haven’t been able to defend myself.

            “…Master.”
            Lancer speaks quietly.
            His bitterness is hidden away, and he looks at me with calm red eyes.
            “If you wish to aid us in battle, then the way you should do so is not necessarily through traditional magic. In your state, aiming for Rose’s potential is like trying to capture the moon by scooping its reflection out of the water.”
            I hang my head.
            I hang my head, and prepare for Lancer to confirm my uselessness.
           “—No, you need to be ready to defend yourself. I shall have you learn what battle is like in a safe environment, and make sure you are ready to produce a weapon and go forth into battle if need be.”
            …Um, huh?
            “Lancer.”
            I look up at him.
            Rose is also regarding the knight curiously.
            “…Are you saying you’re going to teach Ein to fight?”
            Lancer tilts his head slightly.
            “…Not precisely. It’s impossible to teach someone how to fight in one day. Rather, I’m going to teach him about fighting. I intend to help him be able to keep his head in a combat situation. My Master has the instincts and the potential, and while we do not have time to develop it, we do have the time to explore it a bit.”
            Rose looks from Lancer to me.
           “That’s actually not a bad idea. If you two do the dishes, I can clear some space in the basement for you to use. That should be big enough, right? It’s not a dojo or a gym, but it should do for now.”
            “You have my thanks.”
            The knight inclines his head and turns back to me.
            “—Master.
            “This battle must be fought. Do you want to join us and be a part of it?”
            …He doesn’t even have to ask.
            “Yes. I know I need to leave most of the fighting to you, but I want to be able to defend myself at least. It’ll make things easier on you, too, Lancer. You can go on the offensive this way without having to worry about me.”
            The knight bows his head.
            “—So be it. Then, Rose, if you would not mind.”
            Rose stands up.
            “Okay. I’ll be back up when it’s ready.”
            I stand up, too.
            “I’ll take care of the dishes, then. I don’t want to impose on you more since you’ll be teaching me, Lancer.”
            The knight bows his head again.

            …
            …So.
            Rose is studying upstairs, and Lancer and I are in the basement.
            Just like the day when Lancer was summoned, everything has been pushed out of the way, but the carpets and rugs are still there.
            The scarlet knight stands facing me, empty-handed.

            “—Ein.”
            “Yes.”
            I stand at attention.
            This feels similar to the times that I had Rose teach me more about magic and about living, but Lancer is a Servant and a hero, so I’m a little nervous.
            “I have heard from Rose that your magical strengths are geared towards reinforcement and projection. There’s nothing suitable here, so before anything else you must create a weapon that you feel would be best for practicing with me.”

            I nod my head.
            Certainly, this seems like the best place to start.
            Reinforcing an object is making it stronger with the power of magic, and so you can repair the weak places or make a shield or weapon out of something ordinary.
            It makes sense, and as my usual first instinct is to look for a weapon when I’m in danger, I’ve been relying mostly on strengthening existing objects to defend myself.
            However, what Ledah says is true.
            If there is no weapon, then the first step is to create one.

            —I open my Magic Circuit.
            My body inverts, and although the parts of me that are human protest and burn as they’re turned away from their original purpose, my mind is clear.
            Projecting is compensating for the absence of something that you need.
            A projected object is created from nothing out of the magus’ own image.
            The more strongly the magus believes in the projection, and the more minutely the magus can imagine and reproduce the details, the stronger the object becomes and the longer it lasts.
            The sole sustenance of such a fake is the magus’ belief.
            —Meaning, if the magus does not fool himself into believing that the projection is real, it will soon break and disappear from the world.

            I’m a poor student at magic and strengthening and projection are my only skills.
            I often fail, so it’s difficult to build up my confidence.
            Still, Rose herself told me that my lack of confidence is all that’s holding me back.
            —I must believe that I can do this.
            I look at the knight in front of me, waiting steadfastly.
            …I have Lancer with me. There’s no way I will fail.

            I close my eyes.
            Something to use for a practice fight.
            …If I were to use a weapon, I think that a basic sword would be the best.
            Swords are the most popular weapon and so I know the most about how they’re used.
            And it’s a bit conceited, but there’s no way to separate the image of a hero and his sword, so if I am to act as the “hero” of this battle of magi, I think a sword would be the best choice.
            And for a practice battle, of course a wooden sword like a shinai is the most obvious and fitting image.

            I’ve handled shinai like the ones used in kendo before.
            I imagine the light weight of the sword, and its length.
            I imagine it strongly and open my hand.
            —For an instant, my Magic Circuit burns as I pull the image of a sword into my hand.

            “…A wooden sword?”
            I open my eyes.
            …Lancer is looking at me with a perplexed expression.

            With a confused head, I look down at the sword in my hand.
            It seems to have come out with no imperfections, and even though I feel foolish, I’m pleased with my workmanship.
            “…Uh… well, yeah. I guess this just really does feel the most natural if we’re going to be practicing. It’s what swordsmanship students use in this age.”

            Lancer seems to think about it, then nods.
            “This does seem wise. Unlike in my age, students would not be in the midst of training for war, correct? There would be no replacements for you if there were an accident with live weapons, and especially for those studying the arts of war for recreational purposes, it would be important to prevent such things.”
            The knight nods his head in approval while casually saying something frightening.
            “—Still, Ein. This is meant to simulate a true battle and as such I will not hold back, even if I am going to constrain myself to a human’s bounds. Are you sure it is wise to use such a weapon?”

            “Honestly, I wouldn’t want to hurt myself with a sword in practice, since I haven’t used these much. And it’s also really light so I shouldn’t have trouble using it.”
            Lancer nods again—and for a moment, he almost seems to smile.
            “…I see.
            “Certainly, as a student you should use the objects you find appropriate for yourself. And, despite the fact that I am to be teaching you, you are still my Master. I should not have such doubts about your choices.”

            —My heart pounds.
            My heart pounds, and I look down as my face grows hot.

            …Of course, that’s not the only reason I want to use a shinai instead of a real weapon.
            If somehow I were to hit Lancer too hard, I wouldn’t want to harm him.
            It’s a ridiculous thought as I know the gap between us, but the self that looks at Lancer and remembers the times we’ve been together as two people rather than Master and Servant thinks so foolishly.
            I’ll keep the worry to myself.
            Lancer would surely be furious with me for looking down on him, although that’s not exactly the case.

            Before me, Lancer is now holding his Noble Phantasm, the brilliant spear Lorelei.
            “—I will restrain myself to using the blunt side of my weapon and 15% power output. This way, I will neither inflict serious harm nor destroy your weapon.”
            Fifteen percent doesn’t sound too intimidating, and I get into a stance.
            It feels a little awkward, but I’m sure that once we start moving, I’ll become used to it quickly and be able to learn.
            Lancer stands with his feet apart and a stern expression.

            “—Now, Ein, come if you will—”

            …
            ……
            ………
            …………man.

            From where I lay on the floor, I watch the scarlet knight kneel down and sit Japanese-style not far from me, smiling as he places his Noble Phantasm at his side.
            Ugh.
            Lancer… is an even more brutal teacher than Rose.

            Right now, if I were a better student, I would be getting up and taking advantage of Lancer’s relaxed composure to hit him with all the surprise I can muster.
            But since it’s Lancer, I’m sure he would intercept it even if I had the strength, …and even though I hate to admit it, I can barely move.

            It went like this.
            I would rush Lancer and he’d attack me before I even managed to complete one swing.
            He said he was holding back, but there was nothing “holding back” about that kind of brutal attack, and I feel bruised all over.
            Even more than that, I had to keep attacking because if I ever paused, Lancer would come and attack me, and the second I was put on the defensive I always lost all ability to cope.
            My body told me that I would be killed the second I didn’t block one of Lancer’s strikes.
            At first I tensed up, but then I got hit more, so eventually I was able to move more fluidly.
            Still, it all amounted to nothing in the end as Lancer would keep me defending for so long I would make mistakes in my defense eventually, and I would get knocked down.
            Even beyond my own failings, it really is no good attempting to beat Lancer the way I fight.
            For one, his weapon is unfair.
            Lancer’s spear is a spear, and so it’s only natural that he has a longer reach than me. He’s taller than me too, so that only amplifies the natural advantages of his weapon.
            So for the past few hours, I’ve just been attempting to hit Lancer even once and getting beat up mercilessly.

            Of course, Lancer called an end to the match when he realized I could no longer stand, and now he’s smiling at me.
            “You’ve done well, Ein.”
            “—Please. If I were actually doing well, I would have been able to hit you even if it was just once. I really am terrible at this.”
            “No, you actually adapted to the flow of combat much better than I expected. And even though your skill still needs sharpening, I was right that you have the proper instincts. It was quite pleasant—I thought it would take much less effort to make you stay down, but you kept coming back with more and more enthusiasm and making me improvise.”
            Lancer’s smile is small, but very proud, and I can barely stand to look at it.
            “A-anyway, thank you. I think I understand what you were trying to teach me now, about fighting.”
            —The second I start thinking too hard, it’s over.
            If I stand around and rack my brains when I have an opponent in front me, my hands won’t move and neither will my body, and I’ll be killed.
            If I stand around thinking about how I have to save someone, I’ll think myself into a corner and the person I’m trying to save will be killed.
            My eyes need to establish a direct line of contact with my body, and I need to act and react based on my heart and my instincts, not my thoughts.
            Strategy is for when my opponent and I are apart, not when I’m close in fighting.
            If I have a weapon that doesn’t work, I just have to project another one or strengthen something and improvise until I can.
            It’s a no-stress situation, even though battles in and of themselves are stressful, because if I stress too hard I’ll definitely freeze up.
            Lancer spent the past few hours teaching me this, and I have learned it in every cell of my body, but now I can’t even move.
            A little while ago, Rose came to bring food for us, and she told us that we’d better call it quits for today or else I won’t be able to move in time to go on patrol.
            And even though I kind of want to go back and try to hit Lancer at least once, stopping Yellma and Avenger is much more important right now.

            So I lie on the floor and stare up at the ceiling while my lunch sits untouched next to me.
            Lancer is drinking tea in between carefully eating Rose’s rice balls.
            I took my shirt off earlier, and so my bare back is pressed to the cold floor.
            It feels nice.
            I turn to the left to look back at Lancer, and wind up staring at my arm instead.
            …It really is covered in the Command Spell.
            The three holy marks wind up my arm like jagged snakes or lightning bolts.
            If I went to any of my part-time jobs with a tattoo as bold as this, I’m sure I’d be fired right away. It would scare people into thinking I was a member of the yakuza or something.
            Still, this is a holy mark, and even though I haven’t had much time to look at it, but it feels like a natural part of me.

            I wonder what would happen to the marks if I used my Command Spell.
            Would they disappear?
            Somehow it feels sad and wrong to consider that happening.
            “They would not disappear. The marks would simply fade.”
            I must have spoken aloud accidentally, as Lancer answers my question.

            …I’m not sure I want it to fade, and I say so.
            “I mean, this Command Spell is my bond with you as Master and Servant. Even though the Command Spell will grant me miracles that neither of us could do otherwise, I would hate the thought of it disappearing because of what it would mean.”
            Lancer gives me a sidelong look, as if considering, and then speaks.
            “—Actually, Master, that statement is slightly incorrect. The dissolution of the Command Spells does not terminate the contract between Master and Servant unless the Master chooses to break the contract at that time.”
            “Wait, it doesn’t? But then—”
            “No, Ein. The Command Spells are simply the guarantee of a Servant’s unconditional obedience. Even if given orders that we find distasteful, we are forced to follow them and obey our Master because our Master could force us to do so anyway. If a Servant who disliked his Master had his Master use all three Command Spells, his Master would no longer be safe. The Servant would be able to kill that Master without any possible interference.”
            …I feel a chill.
            Certainly, that’s true.
            If I used up all my Command Spells, then Lancer would be able to kill me as easily as Avenger killed Assassin’s Master. Even more easily, probably.
            Lancer continues to look at me, and then smiles a bit.
            “You have no need to seem so concerned. Even were you to use all your Command Spells, I would not turn my blade against you.
            “—I cannot foresee any event that would make me come to dislike you that much. I responded to your summons because we are similar, Ein.”
            …I can’t see anything in myself that would make Lancer say such a thing.
            But I’m happy enough to hear him say it that I could cry.

            “—Lancer.
            “Could you tell me more about the Command Spell?
            “I’ve heard the basics from Rose, and I haven’t been in a situation where I have to use it yet, but it would be best to know.”
            Lancer inclines his head with approval in his eyes.
            “Very well.
            “As I already said, the Command Spell is your proof of command over my obedience.
            “With it, a Master can be sure that his Servant will obey him, and can also issue any three orders that will be absolutely obeyed.
            “Saying ‘any three orders’ is a bit misleading, however. The Command Spell is best used for one-time events, not for orders that would last a long time.
            “To compare, let us say that you suspected I was unwilling to part with information about another Servant—let us use the example of Caster, as we know nothing about Caster now. If you were to use your Command Spell to order me to tell you everything I knew about Caster, I would have no choice but to do it. If you used your Command Spell to order me to only speak the truth to you for the rest of the Grail War, the power of the Command Spell would be severely weakened, and I would be able to resist it.
            “If resisted, the Command Spells cause pain and reduce a Servant’s abilities. We are compelled powerfully to obey, so resisting a Command Spell is tiresome and sometimes futile. A weak Command Spell with its strength spread out over time can be resisted with only minor discomfort.
            “Actually, such a Command Spell can be enforced if the Master is very powerful or the Servant very weak, but I do not believe it possible of you, so there are only three real ways for you to use the Command Spell.
            “First, to command me to do something against my will. I will do it if you order me to, but you must pay one Command Spell in return for treading inside my body.”
            Lancer places a hand to his chest and looks at me seriously.
            …I remember Avenger struggling and shake my head.
            “I would never do that to you. Even if I don’t know why you’re doing it, you have the right to refuse my orders. Making you do things against your will is just wrong no matter how you look at it.”
            Lancer nods.
            “The second way to use the Command Spell is to strengthen me. For instance, commanding me to use my Noble Phantasm or to strike the next blow with all my strength. With the Command Spell behind me, I will be able to use extra force because of its momentum.
            “Thirdly is to bend the laws of reality in order for me to do things for you. For instance, summoning me from long distances or across the battlefield to save your life when you are about to be killed.”
            Lancer means, the same as what Nessiah and Berserker did two days ago.
            Certainly, Nessiah would have been killed beyond a doubt if he hadn’t used the Command Spell to escape, and if he’d used it even a little bit too late he still would have been killed.
            “The power of the Command Spell is such that not even the world can resist it. It is a powerful magic, truly a sign of the sacred nature of the Holy Grail.”
            I nod my head.
            I still don’t want to squander it, but it’s good to know more about the nature of the trump card I’ve been handed.
            It’s also important to remember that all the other Masters also have this weapon to use.

            I take my time cooling off and meditating.
            We’re going to go out again tonight to try to find Yellma and settle this, but if I focus too much on that or try too hard not to focus on that, I’ll tense up and be unready for battle.
            Instead, I accept it as a fact and think of nothing but my healing bruises and the way that Lancer is still beside me.
            I eat my lunch slowly and relax as my body adapts to the punishment of the fight and begins to heal itself, readying for tonight.

            And after a few hours, both Lancer and I head upstairs.
            It’s almost dinnertime.

            …Rose is standing in the kitchen with the food half-prepared.
            Dinner is half-prepared, but she’s just staring out the window blankly, wearing a distant expression.
            Lancer heads over to take his seat in an unconcerned way, but I go over to her.
            It’s rare for Rose to act like this.

            “I thought I was gonna have to go down and get you guys.”
            Rose says so indifferently as I approach.
            That’s so like her.
           Even though she looks distracted, I could never manage to sneak up on her, not even if my life depended on it.
            “No, we were actually already done by the time you came down earlier. The rest of it was just me putting myself together.”
            Rose glances over at me with a curious face.
            “So you actually did listen to me, huh. Well, how did it go? What do you think of Lancer as a teacher?”
            “…Well, he’s much scarier than you are, but I still managed to have fun. It never gets any easier realizing just how far behind someone else you are though.”
            Rose sighs.
            She looks strangely dejected.
            “Is something the matter?”
            …Oh.
            …She’s looking at me like I caught her going for her chocolate.
            “Not really. Well, maybe a little.
            “—I guess I’m just a little bit jealous, you know?”
            Rose smiles into the distance with a fond look on her face.
            “Up until today, I was the only one that really got to bully you like that. But now someone else has been able to see all the cute faces you make when you get frustrated. It’s such a shame.”
            …Um.
            On the one hand, I’m feeling a little bit violated.
            …I’m feeling a little bit violated, but it’s still nice to see Rose act like a young girl of her age and be concerned about something so petty.
            It’s dangerous, but it still feels as though I’ve been allowed to see something fleeting and precious.

            Dinner goes quietly and we talk about ordinary things.
            I wash the dishes as Rose and Lancer get ready.
            We’ve already decided that we’ll head to Shinto again, as that was where Yellma and Avenger were before.
            —We cannot afford to lose this battle, but we will go in simply to fight it.
            I want to be of use.
            Rose is fighting for the pride of the magi, Lancer is fighting for the pride of the Heroic Spirits, and I am fighting for my own pride.
            We won’t allow people like that to harm this town, even in the name of the Holy Grail War.

            Once again, the town is silent and people are few.
            The lights are still on down towards the markets, but we head for the bridge.

            There are fewer and fewer people the further we go.
            It’s a bit eerie, but I’m glad that the people are safe in their homes and away from the battles they might otherwise be caught up in.

            “—Ouch.”
            The bridge isn’t quite in sight yet, but a stab like being branded runs up my arm.
            When I look up, Rose and Lancer are both there looking at me.
            “We have to hurry.”
            I nod my head and begin to run.

            We run.
            And run.
            —There’s nothing but the sound of our footsteps on the sidewalk, and distantly, the sounds of metal and bodies moving fiercely.
            At last, we come into sight of the park.

            This is—

            Yellma is sitting on the partitioning wall and fanning herself like she’s bored.
            On the other side of the park is a small form I know well.
            It’s Vienya.
            Unlike Yellma, she’s holding her hands out in front of her and a glyph is shining from beneath her feet. It seems as though she’s casting some spell, and it must be high-level as it’s taking a long while to incant.
            Her familiar, the black bird, is flying above her in circles with its wings flapping hard.

            Between the two of them, the black knight pursues the retreating form of Archer.
            Avenger seems subdued as compared to yesterday, and as I begin to see her face when she touches down and stops moving, she looks grim and isn’t smiling.
            Archer is constantly on the move, but it doesn’t seem as though Avenger is giving him the time he needs to nock and fire his arrows.
            …This is bad.
            If he had the proper distance to fight, Archer would be able to contend with Avenger evenly, but it seems that knowing that Avenger doesn’t intend to give him that kind of chance.
            She’s pursuing him relentlessly, chasing after him without pause.
            Because Archer is retreating and has to think of his path, while Avenger simply has to follow his movements, she’s slowly gaining on him and surely he will be within the reach of her sword soon.
            We have no time to delay.
            “—Rose, is there a barrier?”
            “Yeah. There’s nobody around to see, so just give me a second and I’ll blow it right open.”
            Her Magic Crest is glowing fiercely.
            “—Master, your orders?”
            Lancer asks quietly and gravely.
            “Rose can handle the barrier on her own, but as soon as she has it open we have to run right in. I’ll follow you and see if I can at least get Vienya out of the way.”
            Without questioning, Lancer nods his head and calls his Noble Phantasm.

            —Then.
            A bolt of light crosses the battlefield.
            Vienya has finished casting her spell, and a blue streak of light like a throwing star is shot right at Yellma.
            With a sneer, Yellma stands up and sweeps her fan, projecting a thin bubble that absorbs the light and then breaks.
            “Ohoho, if you think you’re going to fight me, you’re a hundred years too early, little girl!”
            Yellma stretches her arms out, and even though Vienya begins to cast something to counter, the sky cracks and power rains down like lightning.
            —This kind of spell is around Rose’s level when she gets serious.
            It’s not as strong as Nessiah’s magic, but if something like this hits Vienya when she can’t defend herself yet—

            “Vienya—!”
            Archer turns midflight and is suddenly there at his Master’s side.
            There was no flash of light or crack in the air, so a Command Spell was unnecessary.
            The young man arrives steadfastly and pushes his Master out of the way.
            Her body is small and light, and she skids far away, coming to stop at a safe difference. Her familiar arrives to continue flying in circles over her.
            Yellma’s spell crashes down, but it washes off of Archer’s body.
            As if to say that such a paltry trick cannot damage a Servant.

            “—Got you!”
            In the wake of Yellma’s spell.
            Avenger lunges, and pierces the bowman’s chest.
            —Archer’s body sinks back, but he doesn’t fall to his knees.
            His braced stance says that he knew that sword would pierce through his chest if he pushed his Master aside.
            And yet, he didn’t hesitate to do it anyway.

            “—!!”
            At the soft sound in the silence, Archer turns to look at his Master.
            Even at this distance, I can see his pure smile.
            —Selflessly.
            He declares that his Master was more than important enough to lay down his life, and smiles to show his relief that she is still safe.

                        —I’ll see you on the other side,
                        and thanks.

            Archer’s body disappears into light.
            The light reflects us all, and casts a warm tone over Avenger’s sullen expression and sword.

            “—Avenger, you know what comes next.
            “Be a good girl and do as you’re told this time—”

            The words haven’t even left Yellma’s mouth when there’s an explosion like a cannon going off, and I can see the dome of the barrier crumble and collapse.
            From our vantage point, there is a great burst of black feathers, and Lancer is soaring to match blades with Avenger as she turns her sword towards Vienya.

            —Now.
            Open the Magic Circuit, basic substance estimation and analysis, create the framework and expend the power—
            I kick off and run as Lancer’s Lorelei and the black knight’s sword, Exhaust Note, clash together like church bells clanging.
            I take the weight of the plain steel sword in my hand and wrap both hands around the hilt.
            I do not stop to question how it came out.
            I simply believe and move forward—!!

            Distantly, I can hear Rose chasing behind me.
            I rush to put my body between Vienya and the battle.
            —She’s simply lying there.
            Perhaps everything happened too fast and she’s still confused, or perhaps the shock of losing her Servant has rendered her unable to move.
            In any case, I’ll defend her.
            This won’t end like the night before—

            “Stay close to me, and we’ll be alright.
            “We have to cut and run for safety as soon as possible, our home isn’t too far from here…”

            Before me, Lancer and Avenger are trading powerful blows.
            The sound of metal crashing together is heavy and hurts my ears.
            Lancer is presenting me his back, with his wings spread impressively as if to engulf the sky.
            Over his shoulder, Avenger seems the most alert and spirited I have ever seen her.
            Her face is animated, and her lips split in a grin anticipating the battle.

            “You, you’re different from all those other small fries!
            “Finally, I can’t believe after all this time there’s actually another Servant in this war worth fighting…!”
            “—”
            Lancer does not reply, but holds Lorelei level and sweeps in toward her again.
            The two of them are still clashing with great force, but Lancer is applying more strength.
            He seems to be the more powerful of the two, and his blows are starting to make Avenger’s body shake, pushing her back towards the edge of the park.
            —As this is happening, Rose charges across the battlefield.
            Gallantly.
            Her black hair and clothes streaming with her own speed, Rose kicks the ground hard enough to crack the flagstones.
            I can sense the power in her limbs and I know that she’s used her limited knowledge of strengthening to reinforce her own body.
            Yellma turns towards Rose with a blank look as Rose pulls her body low to the ground and lashes out with a sweeping kick.
            —The enemy Master steps back, but Rose springs up with another kick and a fierce shout.
            Yellma continues to dodge and block, but Rose pursues her with magically-reinforced blows.
            I can tell that Rose is especially aiming for Yellma’s hand, the one with the Command Spell on it. It’s a little bloody to go about, but if we can sever Yellma’s hand, she’ll be completely incapacitated as a Master.
            —I may not have to do anything in this fight.
            But as I think that,
            Avenger puts all of her weight into a strike that throws Lancer to the side and tangles his wings in a bush, and runs straight at me.
            “Haaaaaah…!”

            My body reacts without my having to think about it at all.
            My knees bend and my body braces as I swing my sword up to take the blow.

            —Avenger’s strike comes down powerfully.
            It’s, impossibly, strong?!
            I knew that Lancer was holding back, but how can this blow be this strong?!
            I feel like I’m going to be pushed through the stone and buried up to my neck in earth if I let up for even a second…!

            Avenger is so close to me.
            I can see the sweat on her face and am staring right into her eyes.
            Rather than the perverse joy on her face I saw when she attacked Lancer, she is now completely serious.
            As a warrior, she is attacking her enemy’s weakness, even though it will bring her no joy nor reinforce her own pride.
            —Avenger lifts her sword and swings for my side, and I barely manage to block her again.

            “…Good boy. Can you stand the rest, now?”

            Even more, strikes powerful enough to crack my mind.
            I’m sure my sword can’t take much more.
            As soon as I think so, I can hear a splintering sound from the blade.
            —Oh no.
            I can’t let my faith in the image waver any further than this.
            I’ll die if I do, and so will Vienya.
            So I believe.
            I believe and even though it feels like my arms will tear off under this weight—even though my muscles are straining—I believe that Lancer will come to save me if I can hold Avenger off for even a few more minutes…!

            “Not enough—!”
            —Faster than I can see.
            The sword moves faster than I can see, and my own blade shatters and disappears.
            …I see.
            All this time, Avenger was just testing me.
            And now that she knows I’m no match, I’ll be killed—

            My body realizes this, but then I see Lancer appear.
            Like the grace of the gods, Lancer drops down from above and sweeps his spear in a wide arc, catching Avenger squarely in the side and sending her flying.

            —A thick noise as she hits the playground equipment.
            From the vast cloud of dust that erupts, I hear her cough like she’s choking.
            Her silhouette rises from the dust, but Avenger staggers.
            Lancer comes to rest at my side and points his spear at Avenger.
            As if to warn her not to try this ever again.

            “—What are you doing, you worthless Servant!
            “Hurry up and kill them! Kill them now!”

            “What are you damn well talking about!”
            Avenger shouts back to her Master with annoyance.
            “You wanna die? Then go ahead and ignore me, but this guy’s more than I can handle right now! It’s no good unless I fight him completely fresh, and it’s not like you’re doing any better!”

            Rose and Yellma are still fighting.
            Yellma seems able to fend off Rose’s attacks perfectly well, but she hasn’t made one counterattack from what I can tell.

            “—Tch, fine then!
            “But you haven’t seen the last of us. This is the Holy Grail War, after all, there’s no way to avoid your fate now—”

            Avenger disappears.
            Yellma turns her back and runs.
            For a moment it looks like Rose wants to chase her, but all the same it seems as though she knows it’s best not to go off on her own.

            …I sigh and relax.
            My body is shaking.
            I kneel down and turn to Vienya, who is slowly starting to pull herself up.
            …It really must have happened too suddenly for her.
            All of a sudden her Servant is gone, she was going to be killed, and then we appeared out of nowhere to save her.
            Really, it all happened too fast for me too, and it was our plan that saved her.
            “—Well, they’re gone. It’s okay now.”
            I smile to reassure her.
            She stares back at me expressionlessly.
            …That’s right, she can’t speak.
            And she’s staring at me from under her hair, so I can’t see what look she has in her eyes.

            …I feel lightheaded.
            We managed to save the Master, but not the Servant.
            It would have been better if we could have arrived in time to save both of them.

            Even if this is the Holy Grail War.
            Even if this is a ritual where the Servants are the sacrifices in a no-holds-barred battle to claim the prize.

            “Sorry we couldn’t break through in time for Archer.”

            A small hand touches my face.
            I can feel the intensity of her stare.
            Vienya is very close, and in the cold emptiness of the night, the warmth of another person is very reassuring.
            Lancer is close by too, and Rose is a little further away.
            It would feel as if I were swimming in a black sea if they weren’t here.

            “—”
            Up above me, the stars dance dizzily.
            I cannot raise my head, and I cannot stand up.
            My body is as half-empty as my hopes that no lives would be lost tonight—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            The knight stands on the battlefield.
            Surrounded by enemies and the bodies of his few allies, he stands in the gap steadfastly.
            —The enemy is an entire army strong.
            All of his allies are already dead.
            Reinforcements will be coming, but he doesn’t know when and by now it no longer matters.
            Surely…, this will be his last battle.

            The knight understands this.
            All his life, he has been heading towards this moment.
            This wasteland, and the lonely pass.
            The knowledge that should he fall, he does not even know what will become of his body.

            …But the knight does not lament.
            He is a weapon of the gods.
            A sword pointed towards its enemy does not curse its fate, even if it is broken.
            The sword is simply there as a tool to be used to wreak death.

            And so, the knight does not lament.
            The knight does not consider retreating or surrendering.
            He simply stands steadfastly, and prepares for the enemy to come.

            Neither does the knight feel joy.
            Or relief that after so long he doesn’t even have any way of telling, his long battle is finally over at last.
            He feels no bitterness, no spite, no hatred, no fear.

                        —So, this is it.

            He thinks the words the same way you might think “oh, it’s cold today”.
            …Facing down the army that will kill him…,
            the knight barely feels anything at all.

            …
            ……
            ………I open my eyes.
            …I had another dream.

            Ordinarily, I don’t have such vivid dreams.
            My dreams are either all nonsense, or they replay things from the past.
            …For some reason though, it’s been different these past few days.
            Maybe it has something to do with all the magic I’ve had to use lately, or even the contract with Lancer.
            I’m dreaming about a hero, so that might be it.
            Heroes are on my mind, so I’m even dreaming about them.
            Well, I don’t really know what’s happening, but I guess I’ll mention it to Rose later.

            I wash my face and put on new clothes, and head downstairs.
            It still seems fairly early, so at least I haven’t slept in too badly today.
            When I reach the living room,

            …a strange scene greets me.

            As usual, the scarlet knight is sitting to one side of the table, but this morning he is sitting stiffly and with a closed expression.
            Rose is in her usual seat too, glowering with her arms crossed.
            …And apparently having wandered into the room just a few minutes ahead of me,
            the pink-haired girl in black clothes is facing them with her head tilted to the side.

            “““…”””
            “…um.”
            Rose turns her glare on me as if to tell me to shut up before I even begin to talk.
            Lancer does not react.
            …Vienya turns towards me and waves good morning with a confused expression.
            “Um, good morning.”
            “…Ein.”
            Rose speaks in a dangerous growl.
            “Y..yes, Rose?”
            “Go make breakfast.”
            …She did make breakfast yesterday and all, but I don’t understand the hostility.
            “Well? You’re the one who decided we’d be feeding four, so go make breakfast already!”
            Lancer is still silent, but it’s the kind of silence that feels like assent.

            …I look at Vienya helplessly.
            With things the way they were last night, we couldn’t have just left her.
            She’s a magus, but she’s still a little girl, and without her Servant to protect her it would be bad for her to be left wandering around in a state of shock.
            She still seems to have Command Spells left, so Masters like Yellma might have attacked her out of fear that she would make a contract with another Servant in the future.
            It was the best choice, so I had her come home with us.

            ……But Lancer seems resistant to the idea of having a former enemy under our roof.
            And Rose still dislikes Vienya for whatever reason.
            So, this is how it’s ended up.

            I head into the kitchen and look in the refrigerator.
            Usually I wind up making omelets or something like that when I’m on kitchen duty, but I think that given the way everyone else is right now, I’d better put in a little more effort.
            I get out the rice cooker and some white rice, and take out some spices.
            Also, there’s a bit of fruit in the refrigerator, which I can get out and wash to give to everyone while I cook the rice and make some fish.
            Rose likes sweet things, but she likes well-cooked fish too, and a proper Japanese breakfast would also be good for a growing girl like Vienya.
            Lancer generally eats whatever is put in front of him without complaint, so I think he won’t have any problems with this either.

            …I get the food ready and set the table, putting the fruit out first.
            “…Hmph.”
            Rose grumbles out a “thanks for the food” and starts cramming it into her face.
            Lancer begins to eat silently.
            Vienya claps her hands together and eats with a happy expression, as if completely oblivious that she’s the cause of the tension surrounding her.

            …There aren’t any harsh words passed between anyone, but all through breakfast it feels like if I make a wrong move I might be killed.

            After we finish eating, Rose leaves.
            She says that she’s going back to keep studying and looking for Avenger’s weapon, and leaves with a sour face.
            Lancer nods to me and says that he’ll be meditating in the basement.
            I’ll be left on my own until after lunch, which is when we’ll resume training.
            …I sigh.
            I’m left to gather up the plates and wash them.
            Despite the fact that she’s a guest, Vienya stands next to me and hands me the next plate when I’m finished with each one.
            “Somehow it still feels like I’m really useless.”
            I didn’t mean to say it aloud, but it seems I went ahead and said it absentmindedly.
            There’s a tug on my sleeve.
            I turn the faucet off and look, and Vienya lets go of my shirt, staring up at me pointedly.
            “—Sorry.
            “I shouldn’t just let my mouth run when I’m not paying attention, even if I am telling the truth when I’m doing it.”
            She shakes her head.
            She’s silent as always, but at least I can tell that she’s disagreeing with me.
            …I sigh again.
            Somehow it seems like she’s gotten a disproportionately good opinion of me.
            It’s nice to be liked, but it’s uncomfortable to be looked up to when you don’t deserve it.
            “…I am pretty useless, though. I’m not a strong magus like you and Rose, just a magic user with weird talents. And even though I want to fight and win the Holy Grail War to help people, I’m not good at fighting either and it’s all I can do to not get in the way.
            “Last night was the best I’ve ever done, and that still wasn’t good enough to save Archer. You should actually be mad at me for that.”
            Vienya hangs her head for a moment, but then looks up.
            —She’s a very small girl, but even though she acts her age and childishly admires somebody just for getting her food out of a vending machine, her expression is very wise.
            She touches her heart and smiles.
            …Peeking through her hair, I can see that her eyes are shining.
            As if to say that no matter what, as long as there’s something I can do, I’ll never be useless.
            As if to say that she’s glad I saved her and kept Archer’s sacrifice from losing its meaning.
            I can’t really tell what she wants to say, but that’s the feeling I get.
            …I don’t deserve a feeling as pure and strong as this.
            But it still makes me happy and gives me strength.

            …Yeah.
            Despite Rose’s prejudice against familiar-users, Vienya really is a good girl.
            I’m glad we were able to save her, and I don’t regret my decision to bring her here.

            Still, it really would be better if we could talk to each other.
            These one-sided conversations are a little awkward.
            “Um… what happened to your bird? The one that you used to talk to people? I haven’t seen it all day, actually…”
            Vienya tilts her head to the side like a cat.
            Her heavy braids sway as she looks at me curiously.
            When she straightens up, she starts to make movements with her hands, and her fingers swim nimbly through the air.

            It doesn’t seem to be sign language.
            She repeats the motions a few times, and then I realize that she’s miming something.
            First is the motion of writing, and then she pretends that she’s opening a window, and then forms her hands into wings like a child making shadow pictures and flaps them.
            “You sent it off with a message?”
            Vienya smiles and nods.
            “…That’s right, you were cooperating with Saber’s Master, weren’t you.”
            It’s not too surprising that she wanted to tell them where she is.
            Still, I wonder why Saber and her Master weren’t with her and Archer then.
            If the two of them had been together, then surely Avenger wouldn’t have been a threat.

            …Rose doesn’t come downstairs even after a while, so it looks like I’m stuck with making lunch, not just breakfast.
            I use the leftover rice to make onigiri while Vienya watches me and eventually tries to help.
            My onigiri aren’t as well-made as Rose’s, and after realizing hers are too small because of the size of her hands, Vienya starts stubbornly using too much rice and almost makes a mess.
            I get her a plastic bag to help her shape the rice, and we finish making the onigiri.
            We have some side dishes and things in the fridge, so I take them out and warm them up.
            It’s also leftovers, but there’s some teriyaki chicken in the freezer that I decide to heat up too.

            Sometime, it might be more fun to go out to a restaurant for lunch if the atmosphere gets less tense.
            With four of us, it wouldn’t be so bad if we split the bill.
            …Oh, but we would have to think of something to do about Lancer’s wings.
            That is a problem, but it’s a nice image to think about.

            I call Rose and Lancer, and we all sit down again to eat.
            Lancer is still very quiet and occasionally looks towards Vienya severely, but he seems more relaxed than before.
            Rose is also ignoring Vienya, but she’s nodding as she eats the food and she doesn’t seem too displeased.

            “…Everyone, what should we do from here on out?”
            All three of them turn to look at me.
            “We know we can’t leave Yellma alone.
            “No matter what, we can’t let someone like that get the Holy Grail.”
            Rose sighs and nods.
            “You’ve got that right. She’s been using barriers, but sooner or later the people in Fuyuki that have some talent with magic are going to notice and the war’s going to get found out by outsiders.
            “And if that happens, well, who knows what the Tohsaka head and deputy head will do about it. They don’t seem to care about the Grail War now, but if it starts damaging their land they might start interfering, and I don’t think Hector-sama would be very happy about that.”
            …It’s true that Hector-sama wouldn’t like it.
            It might be a little strange to say so directly, but Hector-sama has pride in his chosen role and is used to having a lot of authority.
            He would probably consider it an insult to his pride if the Grail War he’s overseeing was suddenly interfered with by people he might consider outsiders.
            “…We cannot let such a Master have her way in any case. Such an insult to the pride of the Heroic Spirits simply cannot be ignored.”
            Lancer says so plainly with intensity in his voice.
            He seems to be speaking mildly, but I can feel his intent to kill sealed within those words.
            “…”
            Vienya’s expression is also intense.
            It’s clear even without words that she doesn’t intend to forgive Yellma and Avenger for taking Archer away from her.
            …I can sympathize with Vienya’s feelings.
            If anything happened to Lancer, I’d never forgive the person who was at the root of it.
            I’d never forgive myself for failing to prevent it.
            Lancer is my Servant, it’s true.
            But he’s also a precious member of this household for as long as the Holy Grail War lasts.
            Moreover…

            I think back and remember Avenger’s disinterested expression.
            …Her intense face.
            …The black knight that only showed joy at being able to fight an opponent she perceived as worthy, the black knight who cried to have her pride forcibly broken.

            …Abusing a Heroic Spirit like that cannot be allowed.
            I don’t care if she’s an antihero or what, but even if she’s my opponent, Avenger deserves respect as a worthy enemy and as a hero.
            I can’t let it affect me on the field, but I have to feel a little sorry for her for getting summoned to somebody like that Yellma.

            “—So, are we going to patrol again tonight?”
            Rose opens her mouth to answer, but Lancer shakes his head.
            “I hate to admit it, but Master, after fighting for the past three days, I require today to make sure I have my prana stores in full.
            “You are not able to supply me enough prana to make up for even such a battle as yesterday’s immediately. Our only course of action is to take today off from patrolling, and move out tomorrow or the next day instead.
            “—Otherwise, I may be insufficiently supplied for any surprise attack. There are many Servants in this Grail War, and with six enemies still remaining, there is no room for taking unnecessary risks.”
            …That’s right.
            Come to think of it, that’s right.
            Up until now I’ve ignored it like it’s normal, but I’m the one supplying Lancer with prana, and because up until now I haven’t been able to take in mana, I’m probably not giving Lancer enough to fight on at full strength unless we take days off to conserve.
            What he says is right, even if it’s frustrating that we have to give Yellma even one more day to do whatever she pleases.

            …And.
            I sigh to myself.
            Lancer is back to calling me “Master” again.
            Up until yesterday we were doing so much better about that, too…

            …Lunch ends with vague plans of resuming patrol tomorrow, and Lancer and I return to the basement.
            Rose has gone back to studying, and it seems as though Vienya has returned to her room as well to take a nap or something.
            Her bird still hasn’t come back yet, so she must be trying to pass the time while waiting for it to return as it’s hard to communicate without it.

            It goes much the same as yesterday.
            I’m able to move a bit better today and can keep up the skirmishes longer, but ultimately I’m still not able to land even a single blow on Lancer.
            Even though he continues to restrict his power, how can I say this…
            As a warrior, Lancer is simply magnificent.
            Fighting against me, he does not leave any kind of opening, and sternly treats me as though fully expecting me to be able to compete on the same stage as him.
            From a different teacher—say, Hector-sama—it would be frightening, and from a tutor as many years ahead of me as Rose, it would be tiring, but somehow when it’s with Lancer this kind of feeling is liberating.
            Lancer believes in me.
            I have to become stronger not just to support Lancer and Rose properly and to pull my own weight, but because Lancer believes in me and I want to be able to accept and answer that belief with all my heart and all my strength.

            …After three hours of being beaten down and getting back up, we finish for the day.
            Lancer puts his Noble Phantasm away, and I let my projected sword disappear, sinking down into a sitting position against the wall.
            “—Well done, Master.”
            Lancer nods his approval.
            I shake my head.
            …Whoa.
            Just that has made the world waver in front of my face.
            I’m completely out of energy.
            “It’s still no good. Even after all that, I couldn’t hit you once or make you falter even a little. Lancer, you’re really amazing.”
            I can’t imagine ever being able to fight at that level.
            Not even if I lived for a hundred years, became a hero, and one day was summoned as a Servant myself.

            “No, you’re certainly beginning to move much better. Your projections were lasting longer, and it was taking longer for me to box you in.
            “You likely cannot ascertain it yourself, but you are certainly improving. It’s buried deep and not apparent looking at you, but you have the talent for battle.
            “—Ein.
            “Combat magi with your abilities are exceedingly rare, especially as projection magic and strengthening tend to corrode low-quality Magic Circuits.
            “Simply because you have the instincts and your body can withstand your own magic, you have the ability to someday become great.
            “It has no bearing on this Grail War as it would take something akin to a miracle for you to improve so much over the next week. However, when you are older and have reached your true potential, you will become a great warrior.”

            …These words.
            They fall into my body like smooth stones in a clear pond, disappearing into the water without even a ripple.

            “Until then, all that’s left is to teach you to hone your instincts and get you used to battle.
            “I cannot impart technique. I can only aid you in becoming more competent with the weapon in your hand through these means.”

            Lancer nods.
            His expression is stern, but his eyes are calm and clear.
            He may not approve of the me of today, but Lancer is looking into the future and seeing a “self” that I wouldn’t dare to dream of becoming.
            Lancer is telling me to go on and grasp that self.

            “—I understand.
            “Then, I’ll do my best from now on too. Better than my best. Because I have to keep getting better as long as this battle is continuing.”
            …More than that.
            It’s just like before.
            Lancer believes in me, and just to be believed in by someone like Lancer is like a reward that I haven’t been able to earn yet.
            I want to be worthy of that—

            …After training is dinner.
            Rose still isn’t cooking and I’m too tired to do anything fancy, so I call and order take-out.
            It costs money, but it’s a sacrifice that needs to be made to feed us.
            This is the way that life is, after all.

            Come to think of it, we’re going to run out of food before long.
            We need to go shopping tomorrow or the next day.
            Feeding three people took more than two, and obviously four will take much more food than three.
            …If I mention it now I may just make Rose angry again, so I guess I’ll talk about it tomorrow.
            Dinner passes quietly as we talk of mundane things around bites.
            The air is filled with the sound of our chopsticks and Lancer’s Western utensils on the plates.
            …By the way, even though Vienya doesn’t seem Japanese or Chinese, she can use chopsticks perfectly well.
            It’s a bad stereotype to apply as Rose and I both learned to use Japanese utensils and cook Japanese-style foods quickly when we came here, but since that’s the way that people think, it’s rubbed off on us a bit as well.
            …We really have grown used to life here in Fuyuki.

            After dinner, Vienya volunteers to do the dishes.
            Rose and I watch to make sure that she isn’t doing anything wrong, but she seems to have picked up on where all the dishes and things are supposed to go by watching me earlier.
            …I stand up.
            “Hey Ein, what’s the matter?”
            “…Nothing. Well, I was just thinking that I wanted to go for a walk.”
            Rose sighs and makes a face.
            “Even you’re not dumb enough to go picking fights by yourself, so what is it? You don’t want to go to the church, do you?”
            …Uh.
            “…Yeah, you got me. I kind of do want to go out and see what Hector-sama thinks of things so far, what with there being so many Servants and all.”
            Rose crosses her arms.
            “At least take Lancer with you. If Lancer doesn’t manifest and you keep your Magic Circuit closed, no one should be able to find you and you should be safe.”

            …I’m surprised.
            I thought she would put up more resistance especially because this means she’ll be left alone in the house with Vienya.
            Still, all I can do is be grateful as this is something that I really feel I have to do as a Master.

            I head for the doorway, followed by Lancer.
            …Lancer says nothing, only watches me.
            I’m sure he’s not happy about having to return to the church, as he was suspicious about it before, but he doesn’t question me.

            I put my shoes on and leave the house.
            The night air is cold on my skin, and I hear the soft sound of Lancer melting into the air behind me.
            The town feels silent and empty as always whenever it gets dark.
            Still, I don’t feel frightened or alone.
            I can still sense Lancer’s presence.
            If only vaguely, there’s a link between us.
            Even if I were frightened, I could take strength from it, and it’s the proof that I am with someone else in this world.
            Quietly, we head for the bridge.
            I don’t speak, and Lancer doesn’t say anything either.

            The only sound is my footsteps, much like the night before.

            We reach the bridge.
            There’s yellow police tape all over the park.
            We made kind of a mess last night, and so there’s a lot of broken equipment.
            I remember what Rose was talking about before.
            I wonder if the news people are also claiming this to be the work of vandals.

            …We get onto the path.
            The long white road of the suspension bridge stretches out like a tightrope over the black abyss of water.
            Still, Lancer and I move forward in silence.

            …At last, we head into the residential district on the other side.
            The church atop the hill.
            I crane my neck and look up at it.
            …Maybe it’s my imagination, but Hector-sama’s presence seems dense even outside.

            “Master.”
            Lancer speaks softly.
            “I know. You don’t have to go inside if you don’t want to.
            “It’s cold—wait, maybe that won’t bother you if you’re in spirit form, but please wait for me. I’ll do my best to be done soon.”
            The feeling of Lancer nodding.
            I take a breath and gather my courage, and push open the heavy doors that lead into my master’s castle.

            “—It seems a lost sheep has come seeking guidance even at such a late hour.”
            Hector-sama is standing at the pulpit.
            As I’m alone here, that suffocating aura is all focused on me.
            It’s so stifling that I have to struggle not to bow my head.

            …Instead, I approach the pulpit slowly.
            “…Hector-sama.”
            “Yes? Surely you haven’t had your Grail War come to an end this easily.”
            “—No. It’s as you said, Hector-sama. I’m… not sure who else to come to for advice, and I should report the abnormalities in this Grail War thus far.”
            …It’s a minute gesture, but Hector-sama smiles.
            Under the cowl of his robes, I can’t see his eyes, but he seems interested.
            “Hoh… abnormalities, you say…?”

            …Slowly and carefully, making sure not to miss any important details, I recount everything to Hector-sama.
            That there seem to be three more Servants than normal.
            That one of these Servants is of a forbidden class.
            …That we have encountered every Servant but Caster, and that two Servants have been eliminated thus far.

            Hector listens without speaking until I’m finished, and then:
            “—Interesting. It seems as though this battle’s grail will be especially potent.”
            “…Hector…, sama?”
            My master smiles.
            It is a smile without any mirth, and a chill makes its way down my back.
            “Ordinarily, the saturation point of the Holy Grail is six Servants.
            “You’ve been told that the Holy Grail fills in proportion to the Servants defeated, correct? …Think about it. In an ordinary Grail War, if a Master wanted a truly full Grail, he would have to turn his hand against his own Servant at the war’s end.
            “But for nine Servants to have been summoned…, the battle will end with the Grail eight Servants’ worth full. The Master who ascends the final stage will achieve the most potent holy miracle of any.
            “Do you understand what this means, Ein?”
            …I swallow.
            “If this Holy Grail is supposed to be really powerful…, then it’s even more important not to let an unsuitable Master have it… is that right?”
            “Certainly. It’s also imperative that you defeat as many Servants as possible over the next few days.
            “When the Grail is ready to descend, the fewer there are to try to claim it, the better. And the Grail will not mature until around the end of this week.
            “Thus far, two Servants have been defeated—Assassin and Archer.
            “Your next target should be Avenger. You do not need such an enemy.
            “After that, deal with the others as you please. The two Riders, you should annihilate by power if you cannot do so by guile. Your Servant is strong; do not fear to utilize that strength.
            “And you have identified Saber and Berserker, so surely you should not have too much trouble with them.
            “As for Caster, that Servant will surely appear eventually.”
            …I feel as if I’m being crushed.
            The weight of Hector-sama’s commandments is so strong I don’t know if I can keep standing for much longer.
            ……He’s expecting too much of me.
            I can’t speak against him.
            My life belongs to Hector-sama. He’s my master, after all, and the closest thing to a parent I’ve ever known.
            But.
            “…Hector-sama. About Caster…”
            “—Hoh.
            “You certainly have become bold, questioning me like this.
            “Caster was summoned. About that, I am not wrong.”
            I want to ask more.
            I want to know how he can be so sure.
            But Hector-sama’s smile is daring me to question the supervisor of the Grail War even more than I already have, and to question his abilities is really something I have no right to do.
            Furthermore, Hector-sama is the supervisor, after all.
            I’m not really supposed to be here trying to get information from him.
            It’s giving me an advantage that’s unfair, and we’re different from the cheaters in this war, so we should behave differently.

            “—Thank you, Hector-sama.
            “I’ll refrain from coming back here unless I can’t think of anything else.”
            ……Hector-sama smiles.
            “Indeed. I wish you luck with your Grail War, my chosen representative.”
            …I bow, and leave the stifling atmosphere for the open air again.

            Lancer is standing there.
            Materialized, Lancer is standing there waiting for me with a concerned face.
            “—Master.”
            I smile and nod to reassure him, but Lancer steps forward and places a hand on my shoulder before I’ve fully descended the steps.
            “…Ein. You look unwell.”
            “…I’m okay. You don’t have to worry about me, Lancer. Hector-sama is just… well, a little difficult to deal with.”
            My head is spinning.
            My head really must be spinning through all this, because the warmth of Lancer’s hand on my shoulder seems as hot as an iron.
            …I think I might be sweating.
            In the moonlight, Lancer is looking up at me.
            It’s strange to be in this position as Lancer is taller than me.
            The light illuminates his hair and turns it into the color of fine gold.
            Although the moonlight itself is white, the light glances off of Lancer’s feathers and brings out the hues of a prism in the contours of his wings.
            …It’s beautiful.
            That’s the word I’ve been looking for all this time.
            Lancer is a handsome Servant, but that’s so obvious it doesn’t have to be said.
            It was something that I accepted from the moment he was summoned.
            Rather, it’s something that fits into every child’s concept of a hero, so it wasn’t something I questioned or found remarkable.
            …But this close, I understand.
            Rather than just good looks, Lancer has a beauty that strikes awe into my soul.
            As an angel and as a warrior, but also as a person.
            …I don’t understand my thoughts or what I’m feeling.
            “…On second thought, I probably should get out of here. We’re loitering on the church’s steps, after all, and Hector-sama’s presence isn’t good for me when I’m trying to think.”
            Lancer gives me a confused look, but nods and lifts his hand away.
            “—Then, Master.”
            I nod and come to stand next to him.
            Lancer’s body melts into the moonlight.
            —It’s beautiful.
            It really is.
            And more than that, the fact that Lancer is still standing right beside me…, is something I can only be grateful for.

            Slowly, we make our way back across the bridge and into Miyama.
            It’s cold and lonesome, but we aren’t bothered by other Masters or the suggestion of a fight.
            It’s only the night, myself and Lancer here.
            The silence is more precious than words.
            …Such a person worried about me.
            Such a person showed concern.
            That, in and of itself… is beautiful.

            …When we make it back, most of the lights are off.
            Rose is sitting at the table with a notebook and a cup of juice, and looks up when she sees us.
            “Oh, hey. So you didn’t wind up being too late back after all.”
            I raise a hand to say hello as Rose welcomes me back.
            Lancer turns to me.
            “…Then, I shall retire for the night.
            “If you need me, then call for me.”
            “—Yeah. Thanks, Lancer.”
            The knight nods his head, and then disappears in the direction of the stairs.
            —Even Lancer needs his sleep.

            “You two look like you’re getting along. So how did it go?”
            I shake my head and report to Rose as I sit down.
            “That Hector-sama, he’s always so hard to deal with no matter what happens.
          “Well, at least we know for sure that there actually is a Caster. The rest of this Grail War is going to be insane.”
            …Rose is probably right.
            We’ve been fighting for days now, and yet there are still seven Servants left.
            What Hector-sama said about the Holy Grail is probably true too, so we have to do our best.

            “So what did you want, Rose?”
            “—There are a few magical exercises you should be doing every night so that you can open up more to the mana in the air.
            “Without mana, you’re not going to be able to really supply Lancer with all the strength he needs on a day-to-day basis, right?
            “Well, I say magical exercises, but really you’ll just be meditating with your Magic Circuit open while I tamper with you a little bit more. It won’t be as bad as the first night, but that’s because you’re used to it and we’re compatible after all.”
            I nod.
            …Letting Rose manipulate my od is something that we’ve done together since we first met, after all, so it really shouldn’t be much different than normal.
            Besides, even if it’s painful, it’s still necessary for our victory.
            If nothing else, talking to Hector-sama made that clear.
            Victory—is something that we can’t afford to allow to slip away.

            …Actually, before we start. Wasn’t there something I wanted to talk to Rose about…?
            “—Rose. I’ve been having some weird dreams lately, actually…”

            “Oh.”
            Rose seems pleased for some reason.
            “That actually makes my job easier. You’ve been dreaming about a hero, right?”
            —Wait, how does she know that?

            Rose folds her arms and nods to herself.
            “—See, Ein, when you have a Servant and the bond is functioning healthily, you share each other’s dreams. If you’re having dreams that seem unusually real, it means you’re dreaming about Lancer’s past. He should be dreaming about your memories, too.”
            Oh.
            So that should explain things. I’m just dreaming about Lancer’s past.

            “—Wait, wait, I’ve been dreaming about Lancer’s past?! All of that was Lancer’s memories and it was all real?”

            The scholar who was made a warrior, and fought to save people despite having no real life of his own.
            The knight that died alone against an army, in a battle he never could have won, like I just saw in my sleep this morning—

            Rose frowns at me.
            “Well, yeah. You know Lancer’s legend, don’t you? So it matches up, right?”

            —That’s true.
            Now that I think about it, the hero Ledah Rozwelli came from a noble family and was chosen to become a Grim Angel, and Grim Angels really did live like that.
            I’d just never considered—

            …No.
            I’d never wanted to consider it.
            Lancer—Ledah was one of my childhood heroes, after all.
            Heroes aren’t people. They’re things.
            Convenient guardians to light the path for humanity without preserving any of their own.
            ……They’re not supposed to be lonely, or want someone’s approval.
            They’re not supposed to be tired of fighting.
            They are simply supposed to fight…, like weapons—

            That is what it means to be a hero.
            That is what it means to be a Heroic Spirit.
            That is what it means,
                        …to be a Servant.

            “…Ein? You seriously don’t look good. Should we wait until tomorrow?”
            At Rose’s worried voice, I come to my senses.
            I force myself to smile, and shake my head.
            “No. It’s all right.
            “I just didn’t realize I was being stupid again. This is important for our ability to fight, so go ahead and do it.”

            Rose looks troubled, but she sighs.
            “—Fine. Get your head out of Lancer’s past. You can think about it later.”

            …I realize that I am simply running away.
            I cannot accept this now, so I am putting the revelation off for later.
            …How, cowardly of me.
            But still.
            As someone who is “human”, this is all I can do for now.
            —I’m sorry, Lancer.

            …
            ……
            ………It is past midnight.
            Rose brought me out of my trance half an hour ago, and sent me to bed.
            I don’t feel any different.

            “…”
            …No.
            That’s not exactly true.
            My body might be in extreme turmoil right now, and I wouldn’t be able to notice it.
            —Because my mind cannot turn away from it.
            Lancer’s memories.
            …The hero, my pillar of strength, my Servant.
            He wasn’t always that way.
            He has become the way he is now because of the things that happened to him.
            …I think of the scholar from that first dream.
            …I think of the Lancer that I know.
            ……As I thought, I can’t reconcile the two images.
            They seem as though they should have nothing to do with each other.
            …What happened?
            When was the transformation really made?
            ……I don’t know.
            But when I close my eyes, I will probably find out.

            This is,
            the bond between Master and Servant.

            Afraid to fall asleep and yet impatient for it, I toss and turn as time continues to progress.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            The world was young, but the heavens were old, and so was the war that was going on between the gods and the demons.
            …It got so that the gods were becoming desperate, and starting to break more and more taboos in order to keep the demons away from heaven and maintain the balance of power.
            Because the angels and the armies weren’t strong enough to really fight.

            First of all, only gods are supposed to have the power of gods.
            That’s a rule so simple it shouldn’t need to be said.
            If mortals had the power of gods, they’d surely misuse it.
            But the gods knew that if their power wasn’t spread out to enough people to make an army, they were going to lose their war, and so they came up with a plan—to create such an army, but to make each soldier flawed in a way that would compensate for their godly power.
            …You can’t add something to something that’s already whole, and doing so is dangerous. That’s a principle that’s the same in magic and art and lots of things, so it holds true here too.
            If you want to add something, the easiest way to do it is to take something away first.

            …The young scholar stands in the hallway of the council.
            He is waiting for his name to be called, to receive the blessing of the gods and become their warrior.
            —He understands, a little, what that means.
            He will stop being an ordinary angel and become something else.
            There have been holy warriors, Grim Angels, in his family before.
            This is the fate of the Rozwelli blood—to serve the gods from birth unto death.
            His skin will change color, as will his wings.
            —When he progresses, he will not be receiving the gods’ “blessing” per se, but the actual flesh and blood of the gods themselves.
            He has been assigned to the god Rediensilve.
            …To the angels, all the gods are worshipped as one, because all deified beings sprang from the same source and are one and the same at the root.
            Names, classifications, are all things for the human scholars and the surface worlds.
            …He has been given an identification number, and will be given his own class.
            …He will bathe in and consume the sacrifice of a god, and become more than just an angel.
            When the transformation is over and his body is ready, he will be given his weapon in exchange for part of his being.

            …He doesn’t know yet what will be demanded of him, but as a Rozwelli it is his duty to give up whatever is asked.
            There are angels who have lost their wings, some of their organs, their ability to maintain prana, and numerous other things.
            The sacrifice asked of him could be literally any part of his being.

            …It is his duty to give up whatever it is.
            Deep down, the scholar might be a little afraid, but he hides it.
            He is serving Asgard.
            He is serving the gods, and his family.
            —This is why I was born.
            The young scholar closes his eyes and waits for his name to be called.

            “Ledah Rozwelli” will disappear.
            All his hopes and dreams for the future, will vanish like an illusion.
            …And he will become a tool.
            All it means is that it was not to be.
            All it means is that this is what fate had in store for him.
            Thinking so, the scholar accepts what he is told and prepares himself.
            From today on, he will become a knight of Asgard, so he must conduct himself like one.

            …
            …I wake up.
            ……I had another dream.
            The dreams were already worrying enough, but now that I know they’re about Lancer…,
            ………I can’t get it out of my head.

            In a dismal mood already, I wash my face and put on clothes haphazardly.
            Then I head downstairs.

            …As usual, Lancer and Rose are both at the table, and Vienya is there too.
            There’s no food again, so it seems as though I’m to be making breakfast once again.
            I sigh and head for an apron.
            I think I’ll be able to make a breakfast for four with toast and jam, and there should be side dishes as an alternative to something sweet.
            While I’m getting out the bread, there’s a tapping at the window above the sink.
            “—Huh?”
            …I go to investigate.
            There’s a black bird like a raven or crow with badly rumpled feathers.
            It’s tapping at the window insistently with its beak.
            …This is Vienya’s familiar, isn’t it?

            “…Uh, Vienya?”
            I look back toward the table, where she raises her head to stare at me.
            …I open the window.
            The bird hops in tamely.
            …As I close the window behind it, Vienya comes running up to stand next to me and holds out her hands.
            The bird jumps onto them and then hops up to her shoulder.

            …Like that, it seriously seems more like a pet than a familiar.
            Vienya reaches up absently to scratch the bird’s back as she returns to the table.
            Rose gives her a dirty look, but as usual she seems oblivious to any hostility.
            …I sigh and go back to fixing the toast.

            Since it’s going to take some time to actually heat up the side dishes, I bring the toast over for everyone to eat beforehand.

            Vienya tears off pieces to give to her familiar, and Rose sighs and gives herself extra jam.
            Lancer eats silently and carefully, and somehow manages to avoid getting any jam on his fingers. I’m seriously impressed.

            When I’m done and am about to go check on how the side dishes are doing, the doorbell suddenly rings.
            “…Wait, since when were people coming over?”
            It’s the morning.
            Unless they’re cutting class, our silly classmates shouldn’t be coming to bother us.
            “—Lancer, you may want to go into spirit form just in case. We don’t know who this is, after all, but they might barge in like Mimee-san and the rest of them did.”
            Lancer nods and blinks out of sight, and I wipe my hands on my apron absentmindedly and get up to answer the door.

            “Good morning. Please excuse us for coming to bother you so early.”
            “—”

            …Standing at the door, is a familiar young man.
            At his side is an even more familiar young girl.

            The young man bows his head slightly and straightens up.
            His long brown hair is tied back, and he is dressed casually in a button-down shirt, but although his clothes might make him look like a student, the way he stands gives him a sense of elegance.
            The golden-haired girl is wearing a pretty one-piece dress with a thin cardigan and a sun hat.
            Both of them are smiling.

            —I can sense their prana.
            Unmistakably, this is Saber and her Master, but neither seems to be attempting to conceal who they are or their natures.
            If even I can sense their prana, then they are definitely here as Saber and her Master, not by chance at all.
            And yet they don’t seem to want to fight, so I don’t really understand it.

            “It’s Lancer’s Master, correct?”
            Saber’s Master asks gently, and I nod to confirm it with a confused head.
            “I thought so.
            “Forgive us for intruding all of a sudden. Vienya sent us word about what happened the other day, and so we thought we should stop by to thank you for helping her when we couldn’t.”
            I nod again.
            I can understand it in my head, but all the same, I’m not sure how the pieces add up.
            “It’s all right.”
            Saber says so with a concerned face.
            “We really aren’t here to cause trouble—and we just followed Moja back here. If we’re unwelcome, then please don’t be angry at Vienya. She didn’t ask us to come or even tell us where you lived.”

            “—Huh.
            “So, Ein. Are you going to stand there forever, or are we letting them in?”
            …I turn.
            Rose is standing there with folded arms.
            She probably came after hearing the door open, and listened in.
            “As for you guys, if that’s all you want then there’s no need for thanks. We just did what was natural, and Yellma and Avenger are just plain bad news.”
            For some reason, Saber and her Master are smiling again.
            “There’s no need to be shy about it. You saved our comrade when we weren’t there to do anything. That deserves more than just a simple thank you.
            “—Besides, there was another matter, if we can come inside.
            “If possible, we’d like to make an alliance with you.”

            …So.
            After a short moment of surprise, Rose and I welcomed Saber’s Master and Saber into our house, and with the breakfast cooking, everyone is seated around the table.
            …With six people, it’s kind of a tight fit.
            Maybe if we knew each other better it would feel like family, but Lancer is staring at Saber suspiciously, and it’s giving the scene a real air of hostility.
            “—First of all, allow me to introduce myself.”
            Saber’s Master nods and touches his chest.
            “My name is Roswell Branthèse. As you can tell, I’m the Master of Saber. I was chosen to represent the house of Valois in this Holy Grail War, and I came here from overseas.”
            He speaks Japanese quite fluently for a foreigner, but he has the air of a scholar and so it doesn’t feel too unusual.
            “And obviously, this is Saber.”
            Saber bows her head politely, and I nod back.
            “—Um. I’m Ein, Lancer’s Master. And this is Rose, and Lancer.”
            Rose responds with a bored-sounding “hello”, and Lancer does not even nod his head.

            “Before we talk about that.
            “I’ve got a question, if that’s alright. You guys were allies, so why weren’t you there to back Vienya and Archer up when they needed it?”
            Rose crosses her arms and looks at them seriously.
            …It’s a merciless demand, and yet I know why it’s important to know.
            It would be terrible if we relied on Saber only for her not to be there when it was most important.

            “That’s…”
            Saber hangs her head.
            Roswell places a hand on her shoulder and looks at us sadly.
            “—It’s all right. We were unable to accompany Vienya that night because Saber was injured at the time.”

            —Injured?
            Rose and I exchange confused looks.
            …I turn back to the golden-haired girl.
            Saber had not yet raised her head.
            She continues to sit still and silent, ashamed.
            “—Roswell.”
            She says softly.
            “Is it okay to explain?”
            Roswell looks at her, and nods.

            “—It’s my fault.
            “We saw each other then… four days ago.
            “I went ahead to pursue that man, but…”

            …I see.
            I’m starting to understand the situation better now.
            Yggdra and Gulcasa were bitter rivals until the very end, according to the legend.
            Saber was just acting naturally, and not thinking about it.

            “…It was truly a disaster.
            “I caught up to Berserker only to be flanked by the both of them. Berserker I know how to handle, but with his Master there too…”
            Saber falls silent, but Roswell begins to speak in her place.

            “I sensed she was in grave danger through the Command Spell and ordered her to return. It could have been terrible, but we escaped alive, and Berserker didn’t come after us any longer.”
            Ordered her to return?
            I bet he means, he used a Command Spell.

            “—I’m so sorry, Vienya.
            “Because of me, Archer…”
            Saber shakes her head.
            Her golden hair sways as she condemns herself.

            “—…”
            Beside her, Vienya reaches out.
            The small girl places her hands on Saber’s shoulders and smiles.

            On her shoulder, the bird flaps its wings and opens its beak.
            “NOT YOUR FAULT!”

            “…Vienya.”
            Saber reaches out and holds the small girl close.
            …It’s a sight that I feel I don’t have the right to interrupt.

            At her end of the table, Rose nods and folds her arms.
            Her expression is neutral, and it’s plain that she’s accepted Saber’s explanation.
            She doesn’t ask if Saber won’t make the same mistake twice, and I’m glad.
            Even I can understand that Saber seems to have learned from what she did wrong.
            Asking any further would be cruelty, and as harsh as Rose can be, she isn’t a cruel person.
            …Lancer, too, seems to know better than to speak out, although he has not yet ventured a word about it.

            “I do have a question.”
            Saber and her Master both look at me as I ask.
            “Why come to us? Aside from rescuing Vienya, you’ve had to save us twice. Why ask for an alliance with us?”

            Roswell smiles slightly.
            “It’s partially because of that. We’ve come to each other’s aid, so it already feels like we have an affinity. And we’ve also spoken to each other before, so Saber and I know that you aren’t very different from us. You value fair play, and when all is said and done, Lancer seems to be quite powerful. So?”

            I glance to Rose, who shakes her head.
            “Ein, I’m here to help you, but in the end, you’re Lancer’s Master, not me. This is up to you.”
            …I turn back to Lancer, who simply closes his eyes.
            It seems that whatever I do, both of them will accept it.

            “…Then, it’s settled. Having another Master and Servant to work with will be a great help. Please look after us from here on.”
            There’s a release of tension from Saber and Roswell.
            …But it feels like the tension from where Lancer is sitting just increased.

            “Thank you. Please look after us, too.”
            —Still.
            Even if Lancer doesn’t like it, I’m sure that I’ve made the right choice.

            “—It’s terrible of us to impose so early into this alliance, but there’s one last matter.”
            Roswell said that an hour ago, and then things took a turn for the worse.

            Because of the distance between our place and Roswell’s, which is in Shinto, we decided that for the sake of easy communication and cooperation, Roswell and Saber would be moving into our place until the end of the Grail War.
            Our house is the larger of the two, and Roswell has less things to move—those are the reasons for them coming here instead of us going to their place.
            Also, I think that Lancer would be more comfortable on familiar ground than in the home of someone that used to be an enemy.
            He seems to be having enough trouble simply accepting former enemies into our own home as it is…

            Still sitting at the table, Rose seems pleased.
            “This should solve the problems of both Avenger and the Riders.
            “See? Now that we have two allied Servants, we can abuse the same advantage as those kids. We just have to head out on patrol, smoke Avenger out, and double-team her. Nothing’s really going to make up for the fact that we don’t know who Avenger is, but even with her identity unknown, we’ll be able to overpower her.
            “It’ll also be easier to defeat her Master with a lot of combat mages. If we work on protections for you, you could even help us fight her.”
            “—I don’t know about that.
            “I know that she’s evil and she’s our enemy, but I still don’t like the thought of killing another person with my own hands.”
            I say so with hesitance in my voice.
            …It would be bad for me to fight against that Yellma with this kind of reluctance, and I know that Rose will see that and understand it.
            Besides, I don’t want to say it in case I offend Rose, but it feels like we’ll sink to Yellma’s level if we start going after the Master instead of the Servant.
            The deaths of the Servants can’t be helped, and it’s not as bad as they aren’t really dying, but if we can, I want to keep the Masters alive.

            Lancer stares towards the doorway.
            Roswell and Saber haven’t returned yet.
            Well, they’re moving in, so I’m sure they have a lot to do at their place before they come here. I hope they don’t have too much to pack, or reorganizing this place might even become a hassle.
            “Master.”
            Lancer says so in even tones that somehow feel cold.
            “Do you expect us to go out tonight and fight when Saber and I have had no chance to strategize or compare our fighting styles?
            “If we go up against Avenger unprepared, we will simply get in each other’s way.”

            “—No, we should probably go out and attack Avenger tomorrow.”
            Lancer has a good point, after all.
            “When we train tonight, you and Saber can take the time to learn how to work together. And I’ll meditate or something so that I won’t be slacking off.
            “How does that sound?”

            Rose nods.
          “I don’t think it’s a bad idea. We should probably wait until they get back to really decide on anything, though.”
            And so saying, she heads into the kitchen.

            …Ah.
            There’s something that I should be remembering about now.
            What is it?
            Vienya tugs on my sleeve and points at the refrigerator just as Rose opens the door.
            —It’s too late.
            Rose turns towards me with dangerous expression.

            “You stupid Ein, how come there isn’t anything in here?!”

            …And so.
            Luckily there was enough for the four of us for lunch, but as soon as that was over, I was unceremoniously thrown out of the house.
            My orders are to stock the pantry and the fridge back up, and I don’t think Rose will let me back in the house until I have food with me.
            What’s worse, she sent Vienya and Lancer with me…
            I’m pretty sure that her reasoning was that Lancer would be useful if I were attacked somehow, and she doesn’t like Vienya anyway… and she has to be in the house because otherwise Roswell and Saber won’t be able to get back in unless someone is still there.
            But it’s still kind of strange to be headed to the marketplace with this small girl and the presence of my Servant following us down the road.

            Lancer is silent all during the trip, and of course Vienya can’t let her familiar speak for her in the middle of a crowd of mundanes.
            But the way she looks around at everything makes even something this routine seem much more interesting than usual.

            We stop by the greengrocer’s to restock on vegetables, and also at the bakery for more bread.
            If I’m remembering correctly, we were almost out of soy sauce too, so I head down to get a new bottle.
            Stopping for the things like meat that need to be in the freezer comes last, like always.
            Vienya carries some of the lighter bags for me.
            She runs around from one side of the market to the other.
            Unlike what you would expect of a young girl, she’s far less interested in the little toys and things that are being sold here and there, and more attracted to food of all kinds.
            …Well, liking sweets is still something you would expect from a girl her age.
            But then Vienya just seems to like food.

            It’s a little bit fun… going shopping like this.
            Lancer is very quiet, but I don’t feel any hostility from him anymore, so it’s like I imagine an older sibling would be.
            And it’s obvious that in this kind of comparison, Vienya would be the little sister.
            I don’t have siblings, and the closest thing to that I ever could have would be Rose.
            So it really is fun to picture ourselves like this.
            If Lancer were able to materialize, we probably really would look like a family.

            On the way out of the marketplace, Vienya stops by a vending machine.
            It gives out cups of coffee, from what I can tell.
            Vienya waves me over, and so I stop to take a look as well.
            …Oh.
            She has coins in her hand and is gesturing insistently.
            There’s enough to pay for three cups of coffee, and I understand.
            She’s saying she wants to treat us.
            …I don’t really understand why she wants me to work the vending machine instead of her, but it’s fine, as she can point out what she wants to me.
            Vienya buys a strawberry latte and I get a cup of cappuccino.
            “—Lancer?”
            I ask quietly, to make sure passers-by don’t hear.
            “What kind do you want?”
            In the silence, I can feel Lancer’s confusion.

            …Is it because as a Servant, he still considers it more natural that he should be treated like a tool…?
            Or is it because even in life, he was treated for so long as something less than human…?

            “…Anything is fine.”
            Lancer’s response is very quiet.
            I spend the last of the money Vienya gave me on a plain coffee with milk.

            Because there are still people around, we can’t have Lancer materialize and give his coffee straight to him, so we hurry towards home.
            The air is cool out, and the steam from the coffee twirls into white wisps as we walk.
            Once we arrive, the sounds from inside say that Roswell and Saber have arrived.

            Vienya, who has already finished her coffee, takes off her shoes and brings her bags into the house with her.
            I sit down on the step just inside the entrance and put my bags down.
            There’s enough time for this, at least.
            Lancer appears.
            …I can’t read his expression.
            But I smile and hold out the coffee we bought for him.
            “Here. It should still be hot.”
            Lancer does not sit down, and the blank look on his face does not change.
            But his hand reaches out.
            For a moment, his warm fingers brush mine.
            The contact is very brief, but I can’t help but be struck by it.

            …The sight must be very absurd.
            I’m sitting in the entrance with a half-finished cup of coffee in my hands, grocery bags behind me.
            And standing before me is the angelic knight in red robes, drinking coffee with a solemn face in complete silence.

            ““—Thank you for the food.””
            Everyone pushes their plates back and relaxes around the table.
            Rose helped me with dinner, and so it managed to become enough of a feast for all six of us.
            Vienya clears away everything that’s left, and takes the plates up to the sink to be watched.
            As she does so, Rose outlines for Roswell everything that we know about the nine Servants in this Grail War, and what we’re aware of about the remaining five enemies.
            “…Avenger, huh…”
            Roswell folds his arms and looks at the table seriously.
            “That class hasn’t been summoned since the Third Grail War. It’s surprising that anyone would want to pull that card, considering its reputation from that battle.”
            Rose mentioned before that the Avenger summoned during the Third Grail War was a weak Servant, and so I can agree.
            Saber nods her head.
            “The Avenger class was only added during the Third Grail War, according to my Master’s research, and so it doesn’t have any class abilities like the other Servants.
            “Basically, an Avenger can only fight based on the Master’s level of power and its worth as a Heroic Spirit. A Servant called into that class would need to be powerful if its Master wanted to win the Holy Grail War.”
            I think back to the battles where I’ve seen Avenger fight.
            “—I would say she’s probably pretty strong. When we fought her, Lancer was able to overpower her, but she was still close to his level, even though she’d already fought with Archer that day.”
            “That means that if we’re able to corner her with both Lancer and Saber, it’ll be easy to take her out as long as she doesn’t start waving her Noble Phantasm around too much.”
            Rose says so with a pensive face.
            “Rather, in a situation like this, the real problem isn’t Avenger, but Avenger’s Master.
            “If this Yellma woman is prepared to order her Servant to kill a defeated Master, she probably isn’t above ordering Avenger to prey on human souls to increase her power.”
            …Yeah.
            That would be the worst case scenario, and the way that Yellma behaved, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already attacked innocent civilians.
            Roswell shakes his head.
            “If you’ve checked the news lately, it seems that there have been a few unexplained disappearances in Shinto over the past few days. That might be Avenger and her Master’s doing.”
            My guts contract.
            There’s nothing we can do about it right now, but I still hate the thought.
            “…Shinto, huh?”
            Rose murmurs thoughtfully, and then smiles.
            “Come to think of it, the two times we ran into them, they were either in Shinto or right at the bridge. I think we know where we’re going to look for them tomorrow night, then.”

            Like that, it’s decided that we’ll be patrolling Shinto all in a group tomorrow night.
            Even though she has lost her Servant, Vienya will be coming with us.
            She’ll be more use dealing with Yellma than I will, and I don’t think anyone wants to stop her from settling things with the people who took Archer away from her.
            At the very least, I don’t intend to, and I don’t think Rose cares enough about Vienya to try to hold her back.
            We will gather all our strength and strike tomorrow, to put this to an end before anyone else has to get hurt—

            …Metallic sounds.
            The clash of metal against metal, and the sounds of bodies moving.
            Despite that, the air is calm, and the rhythmic sounds of battle serve as a good backdrop to meditate against.
            Here in the basement, Lancer and Saber have been testing each other’s strength.
            It’s similar to the way that Lancer has been teaching me to fight, except that as he’s fighting with another Servant, they can compete as complete equals.
            It seems less like a battle and more like some kind of effortless dance.
            They exchange blows back and forth, blocking and dodging.
            I suppose that the best way to learn and understand someone else’s style in battle would be to spar with them, after all.
            Rose is sitting on the staircase with Roswell.
            The two of them are talking about their own magical strengths.
            Apparently, Roswell specializes in the transformation of energy, and has no skill in either reinforcement or projection.
            That’s all I’ve actually heard, and that’s all I need to know.
            I can guess from this that their styles of combat are similar, and I’ll only be present at the battle to guide Lancer and defend them from Avenger for a few moments if she attacks them and Lancer is a distance away.

            I resolve my heart slowly.
            My mind is my forge of weapons.
            Right now, I am not a very skilled blacksmith, but as I gain experience, I will continue to get better, and I can do what I need to in order to protect myself for even a short time.
            Tomorrow, we will settle things.
            Like that, the hands of the clocks move forward, towards the moment when the date will finally change—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            The world around him continued to change.
            As his body lay unmoving within the great mausoleum, the world turned and the seasons changed, entire years going by without his having any knowledge.
            A sword on the wall is ignorant to the passing of time.
            A weapon in the armory is only necessary in times of war, and so war is all it knows.
            …Vaguely, he understood it.
            If he were to return to the place where he had used to live, the buildings themselves might be long gone, with no trace of his family left.
            He was the last of the Rozwelli line.
            He was made a Grim Angel, and the family name was preserved forever in glory at the expense of ending prematurely.
            He was no longer a living creature in the eyes of Asgard.

            …But that was all right.
            A sword has no desires.
            A sword is simply a weapon to be swung.
            Wondering to himself how he would feel if he were to see his family’s estate, wondering to himself how his parents spent the last of their days…
            Wondering to himself if his childhood sanctuaries were still there…
            He had no time to do so, and would not have done so if he had.
            The knight stands upon the battlefield with his great Diviner in his hand.
            His eyes and expression are blank and hold no emotion.
            His heart is perfectly still, trapped in one long, suspended moment.

            He is one who has transcended mortality, become fixed in time, and been added to the eternal “legacy” of Asgard.
            And he will continue to walk straight forward, his eyes only upon the path ahead of him, not looking to either side even in the moments leading up to his own demise…

            I wake up.
            I open my eyes and wake up with the dream still in the back of my sleepy mind.
            I get up and put clothes on, then make the bed and go to wash my face.
            There’s no time to be wandering about with a sleepy head today.

            When I go down to the kitchen, everyone else is already gathered there.
            There is toast on the table, and Vienya and Saber are helping themselves.
            Lancer is sitting on one of the narrow ends of the table with his hands in his lap as if meditating.
            Rose has a map of Fuyuki on the table and is talking to Roswell, who nods now and again as if agreeing.
            They must be working out a schedule for the patrols later tonight.
            I take my place next to Rose and smile at everyone.
            “Good morning.”
            Lancer turns to me before anyone else.
            “Good morning, Master.”
            The early morning light sifting through the thin drapes haloes Lancer’s silhouette in gold.
            He looks more like a priest or a monk than a knight, or perhaps an enlightened Buddha.
            The beauty I first realized the night before last is a strange and constant revelation.
            If I let myself concentrate on it too much, it might consume all of my attention, and I’ll simply want to watch Lancer all the time.

            “Good morning.”
            Everyone else is smiling at me.
            “Did you sleep well?”
            …Crap.
            “I guess I did.”
            I say so nonchalantly, not wanting to bring up my dreams in front of Lancer.
            I’m not sure I want to know what kind of face he would make if I tell everyone else about my dreams of his past.
            …Or maybe I’m worried that his expression might not change at all.
            It’s very difficult to say.
            There are lots of things that I don’t understand about my own reactions to Lancer.

            “Hey Ein, turn on the TV, would you?”
            Rose makes an idle demand as she reaches for another piece of toast.
            “Since Roswell was talking about the news the other day, we probably should listen just in case.
            “After all, even if we don’t hear anything that sounds like it could be Avenger, we might learn about other Servants attacking ordinary humans that way.”
            I think about the other Servants we’ve met, and agree.
            Somehow I doubt that the Riders’ Masters or Nessiah would hesitate to attack humans, and I don’t know how much their Servants would disobey.

            So, I get up and turn the television on to a news station, and then return to the table to eat.
            Lancer drinks tea and I put different kinds of jam on my toast as the reporters talk about sports and politics, things I’m not interested in at all.
            Vienya seems to be bored and has taken a napkin to make origami out of.
            Saber joins her Master and Rose in talking about patrol, and I let my mind drift off.
            This scenery is something that’s worth protecting.
            My bright mornings with Lancer and Rose, and now our new allies, are something I don’t want to give up no matter what.

            —Then.

            “Just in with a breaking news report.”

            …The illusion of peace shatters.

            Everyone turns to look at the television.
            The newscaster is reporting a large gas explosion down in Shinto.
            Apparently, first there was a gas leak that caused many people to lose consciousness, and then there was an explosion at the lower level of the same building.
            Aside from the emergency teams getting the last few victims out, the area has been evacuated.
            Some people are already dead, and others are in the hospital.
            A list of names is being read.
            …I sit still, numbly.
            There’s no way that this isn’t the doing of some Master.
            The timing is too convenient.
            All I can do is curse my foolish self that thought people would be safe during the day.

            “—Roswell.”
            Saber’s voice is quiet and tense.
            “People losing consciousness is probably a boundary field.
            “As for the attack itself, it only serves to get people out of the way. The Servant has already had its meal, so causing a disaster on top of that is like a challenge.”
            Are we… being called forward?

            “—That idiot Yellma.
            “A boundary field might also be Caster, but since we haven’t seen Caster yet at all, it would be weird if he or she suddenly started making a fuss.
            “This is a challenge aimed towards us. They must be expecting us to rush in and act the heroes again here.”

            I clench my fists.
            “Do we have any choice other than to go?
            “If we don’t, then they may just start targeting other people to try to draw us out, thinking we haven’t realized yet.”
            “Yeah, we’ll have to go.”
            Rose stands up, and everyone looks at her.
            “We can get across town and sneak inside. The fact that no people are around means that we’ll be able to fight freely without worrying about mundanes watching us.”
            I also stand up. Slowly, so does everyone else.
            “…But first, everyone raise their resistance.
            “They know we’re coming, and they may still have that boundary field up.
            “Without your Magic Circuit activated, the boundary field will wind up feeding off of us, too. Ein, that means I’m going to have to force your Circuit open. Your internal levels of od are low, so we can’t take any chances.”
            I nod.
            This is a bigger situation than my discomfort.
            With Vienya and Roswell looking on with stunned faces, Rose puts her hands on my chest, and the switch inverts itself inside me with something like a snap.
            The circuits don’t turn on as they usually might, but instead blast open, and power surges through my body like a hammer swinging down after it’s been lifted up.
            My breathing speeds up as my body forgets that it is human.
            It hurts.
            Needles of mana have been inserted throughout my bloodstream, and turn into broken glass, catching on the insides of my veins.
            It is very painful.
            My vision flashes over red and I clutch at my shirt as I stabilize my wild heartbeat and chase after my breath.
            “…Ein. Are you all right?”
            Lancer’s calm voice, with the slightest note of concern.
            I raise my head and smile through the pain.
            “—Yeah. We should get moving.”
            Everyone aside from Rose is still looking at me with worry.
            I don’t really understand why.
            This is a normal procedure, and Rose has been tampering with my body ever since we first met, so surely if a half-magus like myself can withstand it, it’s no big deal at all for them.
            I have to show everyone that I’m not so weak.
            “—There’s no point in waiting until we’re there to open our Magic Circuits.
            “They already know we’re coming, and no matter what, we have the advantage of numbers.”
            So I follow Rose and put on my shoes.
            We have to go now, before the situation gets any worse—

            Silently.
            We move through the midmorning city under a gray sky.
            In the distance, we can already see smoke rising from the scene of the explosion in Shinto.

            Crossing the bridge with only the hollow sound of the wind about us, we leave Miyama behind us and go.

            And when we enter into the office district…,
            …we emerge in hell.

            There is smoke everywhere.
            The air smells faintly of fire and it’s hard to breathe.
            By now, all of the victims have probably been removed.

            …But this…,
            Disturbing so many innocent people’s lives just to do something as stupid as picking a fight…
            Can I…,
                        forgive that…?

            Vaguely.
            I can sense the magic of Rose, Vienya, and Roswell near me.
            Lancer appears in the smoke.
            We are standing in front of the building, and we may as well be the only people in the world.
            Except.
            My Command Spell hurts.
            The Master and Servant who caused all of this are inside this skyscraper.
            The smoke is as good as a boundary field, cutting everyone inside it off from the rational world, so we can fight as much as we please.

            Saber’s body shines.
            Her ordinary clothes are replaced by her elaborate dress, and her massive sword appears in her hand.
            As though following her cues, Lancer also summons his Noble Phantasm.

            “Let’s go.”
            I move forward through the smoke and push the doors open.

            “—”
            It’s dark.
            All of the lights are off, leaving only what little light filters through the smoke as the sole illumination.
            It’s dark, but being able to see vaguely is enough.
            The inside of the building has been transformed into hell.
            Rose was right to guess that the Master’s boundary field must still be active.
            The air feels thick and somewhat slimy.
            The walls, the floors, the office cubicles and everything else is covered in grime, as though the building was abandoned in some form of apocalypse.
            I can smell blood.
            It’s almost as though some monster beyond human imagination has used this empty building as its lair.
            It’s creepy, as though the air itself is breathing with a wet and raspy sound.
            I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls were lined with human organs…
            …It’s that kind of atmosphere.

            “This is seriously sick.”
            Rose mutters with a furrowed brow as she looks around in distaste.
            “They aren’t here.”
            Roswell shakes his head.
            “We’ll probably find them in a more open area.”
            …He’s right.
            Especially if this is Yellma’s doing, Avenger will need open space to do battle.
            A tall knight with a big sword would have trouble maneuvering in such a place.

            “This is an office building, after all, so I don’t think there would be anywhere more open than the roof.”
            I say so, and as Rose agrees with me, we go try to find a way up.
            Roswell locates an elevator, but it seems to be out of order, and Rose says that an elevator would be too easy to sabotage, anyway.
            Fear crawls into the pit of my stomach and lodges there like a parasite as I imagine Avenger waiting at the top of the shaft, cutting the elevator cables.
            …We take the staircase.

            It’s a skyscraper, after all, so it takes about twenty minutes to reach the top by the stairs.
            Lancer opens the door, and…

            An open gray plain spans out before our eyes.
            Standing in the center is a knight in black armor.

            “Huh.
            “So you finally got here. Took your time, didn’t you?”

            Avenger calls out in a bored voice.
            The air is circling with smoke.
            It is more like steam, being blown apart by the winds at this high altitude to allow us glimpses of the alien world in the sky.
            Yellma is here.
            She is standing slightly behind and to one side of her Servant, fanning herself elegantly.

            Lancer steps forward, holding out his lance.
            Saber also begins to walk forward, holding out her sword.
            Roswell, Rose, and Vienya fan out around me.

            Far away, Avenger’s lips curl into a cold smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.
            —The black knight kicks the ground.
            With an immense crack like the sound barrier shattering, Avenger kicks the ground and rushes forward…!!

            Saber lunges.
            The white bastard sword crashes forward to collide with the black broadsword…!!
            The two Servants clash with all their power.
            Avenger is taller, and uses her height to press Saber backwards, but as she does so, Lancer swings his spear at her unprotected back…!

            Avenger releases the pressure against Saber and melts away.
            The black knight is laughing.

            “Fine, that’s good. I like it! Come and fight me, if you have the balls for it!”

            White and red.
            Saber and Lancer strike in tandem, with Avenger repelling the both of them.
            She seems more powerful than she was before.
            But this is due to the dark pulse about her body.
            The aura of half-digested human souls, the overlarge meal that’s slowly sinking into her body, saturating it with unnatural strength.

            This is how she is able to fend off two more powerful Servants without any danger to herself.

            “—All right. Then I’m going.”
            Rose’s Magic Crest is glowing white.
            She shifts her weight, and the tiles beneath her feet begin to crack.

            The same as Saber and Lancer,
            Rose kicks the ground and flies forward in a streak of black, her footsteps crushing tiles as she skirts around the Servants’ battle to attack Yellma.
            Sharp murderous intent is rising off her body.
            I can sense compacted prana beginning to rise around Yellma as well, and when Rose attacks her, she blocks the kick with a strike from her fan.
            The fan must be magically reinforced, because there is no damage to it even after being hit with Rose’s kick.

            …No, moreover, the strike was a strike, not merely a block.
            I can see the flashing of steel within the ribs of the fan.
            This time Yellma is more than ready to actually do battle, too.

            “—So tell me, Ein.”
            Roswell says so casually.
            “About how good is Lancer’s magical defense?”
            I think about it.
            “Lancer should be at least a B rank.”

            “Excellent. This won’t do a thing to him, then.”
            With no more warning than that,
            Roswell chants a single-line incantation, and black flames impact the area where the Servants are fighting.
            It’s like a lightning strike or a very small comet.
            Avenger dodges narrowly, but by dodging, puts herself in the path of Lancer’s attack, and even at my distance, I can distinctly hear the splatter of blood hitting the ground.
            On my other side, Vienya is also preparing a spell.
            Her familiar is flying in circles above her, and pale pink lightning strikes the ground behind Yellma, herding her towards Rose’s strike.

            —I focus.
            It’s true that I’m only here in case of the worst, but I must also be ready.
            I prepare my body and produce the plain steel longsword as quickly as I have ever been able to do it, sinking into the guard stance I’ve been using while sparring against Lancer.

            Fighting against two enemies and a magus, Avenger isn’t even slowing down.
            Having to dodge both Rose and Vienya’s spells doesn’t seem to be bothering Yellma, either.
            Still.
            The outcome of this battle is already decided.
            We have numbers, and aside from me, everyone here has a great deal of skill.
            Anything Yellma tries is just delaying the inevitable—

            Suddenly.
            Avenger launches herself backwards and braces her sword, a mad grin on her face.

            “EXHAUST NOTE!!

            “—!!”
            I act without thinking.
            I tackle both Roswell and Vienya and pull them flat to the ground with me.
            Power roars over our heads, and I can feel the burn of the dark energy against my back, even though it hasn’t touched us.

            “…! Kuh, guh…”

            My left arm, explodes, with pain—
            “L-Lancer…!”
            I lift my head.
            Lancer is staggering backwards with his chest and robes soaked with blood.
            His wings spread broadly, he grits his teeth and glares at the enemy, solidifying his stance so as not to fall, but the pain in my Command Spell tells me that it will not be long before he collapses.
            Saber’s golden hair is windblown, but she appears to have avoided Avenger’s Noble Phantasm easily.
            The sound of cement cracking.
            The building itself appears to have been damaged.

            I look towards Yellma and Rose.
            …Between the shock of Avenger’s Noble Phantasm and the loss of Vienya’s backup, it looks as though things are becoming more even.
            Both of them are attacking each other viciously, and Rose’s arms are bleeding from blocking the bladed fan over and over.
            There is blood staining Yellma’s dress as well, but Rose seems to be much more heavily injured than Yellma.

            …This isn’t good.
            If anything, the dark aura around Avenger is only intensifying.
            Firing off a shot from her Noble Phantasm hasn’t damaged her supply of energy at all.
            She could probably continue like this for hours.
            …Yellma overfed her.
            As her grotesque overabundance of energy decreases, she will only become more and more powerful.

            As if to prove it, she readies her sword again.

            “No matter how well you dodge or how high you fly, you’re not getting away from me.
            “This is fun. Hahahahah, this is fun, fighting with a pure knight and a cute little girl. It’s so much fun that if it keeps on any longer I think I’m gonna cum my pants.”

            The harsh edge of her voice is unusually excitable, almost manic, and confidence wreathes her body like the nebula of shredded souls I can sense.
            —This is bad.
            Taking in all those souls is like removing her limiters.
            Between that and Yellma’s ill treatment, Avenger’s form seems warped.
            As if she might start laughing and crying at the same time.
            Like a silent protest that if this goes on any longer, she might go mad.

            “You’re cute. You’re just too adorable. And you’re strong, I like that. Hahahahah.”

            Avenger arches an eyebrow as her grin twists, her face contorted.

            “—But I’m better than that thing that calls itself my Master.
            “So no matter how much I’m itching to cut you apart by inches and fuck you to death, I’ll end it nice and clean and fast. The quick deaths feel the best, anyway.”

            And then, without warning—

            “EXHAUST NOTE—!!

            The arc of energy is aiming straight for Lancer.
            I don’t stop to think.
            I push myself up on my elbows, still holding Roswell and Vienya down.
            “COME BACK, LANCER—!!!”

            Seconds before the wave of power crosses where Lancer’s body would have been,
            an immense crack splits the air with a red flash.
            My arm burns, and Lancer’s form disappears.
            I can sense him nearby.
            …With the force of the Command Spell, Lancer was able to avoid the blow just in time.

            “—Tch.”
            Avenger doesn’t seem pleased, but before she can advance on us, Saber blocks her way.

            I can sense that Lancer’s wounds aren’t fatal, but it’s no good to let him continue fighting.
            He will return to the battle if I order him to, but I don’t think he can take another direct hit from Avenger’s Noble Phantasm.

            —Rose is still attacking Yellma and cannot help us, and if any of us get up, we’ll be killed right away by Avenger’s next strike.

            This means that Saber is on her own.
            …As expected of a Noble Phantasm.
            Avenger is too reckless and too strange to fear revealing her trump card, and uses it freely.
            By doing so, she has leveled the playing field.

            …Already, the black knight is resuming her stance, aiming this time for Saber.

            “…………”

            Roswell pushes my arm off of his back and gets to his knees.
            “Saber, do it!”

            The girl in white nods.
            The wind sends her golden hair streaming behind her as she assumes a stance I have never seen her use before.
            …So it seems that this is going to come down to a battle between Noble Phantasms.

            She speaks.
            Saber’s back is to me, and her voice is so quiet that I can’t hear what she’s saying.
            I know that it must be the name of her weapon, the Holy Sword Gran Centurio.

            Avenger smiles her bitter smile.
            The ground around her cracks as all her power flows into her sword.

            “EXHAUST—

            Saber leaps into the air.

            A flash of light.
            Light so bright it brings tears to my eyes gathers around Saber—no, Saber’s sword.
            Roswell flattens himself to the ground and pulls me with him.
            There is a great roar of wind, and the earth trembles, sending vibrations all through the cracked expanse of the rooftop.

            “—NOTE!!

            Saber’s voice rings out.
            Saber’s voice rings out in a cry like the clear peal of a gallows bell.
            The light is too bright.
            I close my eyes.

            —A sound of impact.
            Even against my sealed eyelids, the light is enough to make my eyes feel like they’re melting.
            The great rumble of the earth feels like the apocalypse, and my ears momentarily go deaf.
            Unable to see or hear, all I can feel is a great heat.
            Like the light of judgment.

            It’s a massive thunderclap that it seems I’m experiencing from inside the thunderhead itself.

            As the light begins to abate…,
            …I open one eye.

            Saber is standing before us.
            Her sword seems larger than it should be.
            Massive, it resonates.
            Her figure is not angelic, but godly.

            Beyond her…,
            …the form of the knight, kneeling.
            Avenger’s armor is cracked, and there is blood on her lips.

            Propping herself up on her sword, the knight smiles.

                        The form of Avenger becomes pale lavender ash,
                        and spirals up toward the gray sky, freed of all binding it.

            …It’s over.
            I push myself up on my knees as the last of the smoke blows away.
            I cannot sense Avenger’s presence anymore.
            Saber has completely and utterly destroyed her enemy.

            Beside me, Roswell and Vienya also sit up.

            Rose is standing near the edge of the rooftop with a distant expression.
            ……That’s strange.
            I don’t see Yellma anywhere.

            “We’re done here.”
            Rose announces in a quiet but commanding voice.
            “That Yellma ran away.
            “Someone might come here soon to investigate the flashes, so we need to get out of here too. Saber and Lancer need to rest, more importantly.”

            She’s right.
            As I watch, Saber’s white dress and sword vanish, leaving her as the girl in modern clothes again, with only her posture reminiscent of the massive destructive power she can wield.

            …As for Yellma, it would be pointless to chase her now.
            Her Servant is gone.
            The boundary field has dissipated too.
            If she wants to continue fighting in this Grail War, there are no other Servants who will make a contract with her, and she will not last long on her own.
            We don’t need to concern ourselves with her anymore.

            …So.
            Slowly, we begin to head back into the interior of the building, to walk back down—

(interlude 10-1)

            “Haah—haahh—haah—hahh—”

            The magus named Yellma runs.

            Her long pale hair and elegant dress in disarray, she runs with a bitter face.

            “—That useless wench.”

            As blue slowly washes over the city, she continues to run in an ungainly fashion, cursing the Servant who fought and fell at her orders.
            That’s right.
            She would have made it out of that situation just fine, without having to endanger her dignity, if she had just managed to draw a better card.
            That useless wench was far too focused on fighting for fighting’s sake, when their energy could have been better spent manipulating and destroying from the sides.
            The magical beatings she administered couldn’t have been enough.
            She had never wanted a strong-willed spirit to contend with.
            She would have been content with a groveling, soulless doll.

            Stranded in the unearthly dark world of shadow pictures, Yellma’s footsteps slow and come to a halt.
            Even someone as powerful as she must stop to catch her breath.

            …The sound of children laughing.
            It irritates her.
            Surely at this hour, any decently-raised children should be in their homes.
            They must be filthy little urchins, to still be playing outside now.

            An angelic, innocent little giggle.
            It’s from nearby.
            A pair of girls are perched upon the top of an encircling wall.
            One with pink hair, one with red hair.
            They are holding hands and swinging their feet in unison.

            “—Hey, Oba-chan.
            “Where do you think you’re going?”

            Moonlight shines down.
            Moonlight shines down, bleaching the red-haired girl’s unruly locks pale blond.

            The girls giggle again.
            Ordinarily Yellma would already have been rebuking them, but something kept her quiet.
            —Too late, a sense of impending danger.
            This is a bad situation.

            “After all.
            “You can’t get away anymore.”

(10-1 interlude out.)

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            He was born, and he was chosen.
            He became a Grim Angel, the being that is closest to a Heroic Spirit during its natural lifetime, and he fought countless battles, only ever awakening into hell.

            …And then, at last.
            That day arrived.

            It was during a war, of course.
            It was during another war the likes of which Asgard had not seen since the true Ragnarok, and the heavens trembled.
            Before they knew it, the armies of demons were waiting right at the gates of heaven itself.
            There were whispers that someone must have betrayed them.
            That only a traitor could have led the demons this far and avoided detection.

            The knight cared nothing for traitors or rumors.
            He was a weapon, one that had been aimed.
            There were very few of his kind awakened for that battle, and they were set to hold the pass.
            The world was barren, and filled with only sky and rock.
            The only colors were the pale blue, the bright gold, and the deep red of spilled blood.
            One by one, the other angels all died, and the scarlet knight was the only one left.
            Still, he did not falter; he had known that this day would come for a long time.

            He did not fear, or feel relief, or simply lie down and accept his death. Nor did he struggle against dying.
            He was a weapon that had been told to fight, and so he fought.
            Wedged into the pass, he was able to reach many enemies at once, even as few of his enemies could reach him.
            And so he was able to stand there for a long time, fighting with everything he had.
            He was wounded many times.
            Slowly, the pain became so intense that his body became numb.
            Still, his gaze never faltered, the agony did not show on his face, and his arms continued to swing his lance, even when they became slippery with his own blood, even when his eyes could no longer see.
            …His form could no longer be called beautiful or magnificent.
            He was drenched in blood, ragged, and haggard after fighting nonstop for what could have been days with no rest.
            Even so.
            There was no such thing as a boundary that he could not overcome.
            When pushed down into the mud, he would simply stand up again.
            …It wasn’t that his determination would send him striving towards his goal even if he suffered, or even if he cried.
            There just was no longer enough of his heart left that was the scholar Ledah Rozwelli for him to do something so fragile and mortal.
            Ledah the Grim Angel was a heartless machine.
            But even machines are able to grant miracles.

            …In the end, when his body could no longer work, when his arms could no longer swing his lance, and the enemy was about to surge past him and trample him…
            The horn calls of his own army sounded in the distance.
            The reinforcements were coming.
            Even if he fell, he had held the pass for long enough, and the enemy would not reach the heavens even if he died.
            His task was fulfilled.

            …And so, he closed his eyes and died.
            He was just another dead soldier, just another broken sword.
            It wasn’t until the war ended that he became recognized, that his name truly worked its way into legends.
            His life ended as emptily as he had lived…

            …I wake up.
            I wake up with an aching body and a clear head.

            …I feel sluggish, and I get the feeling that I probably overslept.
            I hastily wash my face and change my clothes, then head downstairs.

            Rose, Vienya, and Saber are in the living room in front of the television.
            Lancer is sitting at the table in his usual spot.
            …Oh.
            He turns and nods to greet me.
            “Good morning, Ein.”
            Calm words and the sound of my name.
            After having such a dream, seeing the scarlet knight sitting in this tranquil scenery…
            …makes me want to cry really badly.

            “…Master?”
            Lancer stands up and walks over to me, and my heart jumps painfully.
            “You are making a strange expression. Do you feel unwell?”
            I shake my head.
            I shake my head and answer Lancer’s concerned face with a smile.
            “No. Good morning, Lancer.
            “Are you sure you’re feeling all right? Maybe you should spend a little longer in spirit form.”

            Lancer touches his chest.
            “No, I am quite all right as you can see. Having spent the entirety of the night in spirit form along with yesterday means that I have healed completely.”
            Using part of his magical reserves and staying incorporeal really does seem to have repaired the injury that Avenger gave him in battle yesterday.

            “—Rose, how about you? Are you okay?”
            Rose looks over her shoulder at me.
            “Huh?
            “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. Roswell finished patching me up after you crashed. I don’t even have a scratch on me anymore.”

            Apparently, Roswell is good at healing magic.
            After we got back, he treated all the wounds that we had received from shrapnel and such.
            I went to sleep soon after to conserve my magical energy for Lancer’s sake, but…

            “You should eat.”
            I turn towards the kitchen to see Roswell standing there.
            …Now that I think about it, someone had to have made breakfast, as I appear to have missed it entirely.
            “We just finished with lunch. You’ll be tired out completely if you don’t have something already, you know?”
            With a slightly teasing smile, he comes over and places a plate in front of me.

            “And hey, we should probably talk about what we’re doing now. We’re already on the second week, and only three Servants have been taken down.”

            I continue to eat as everyone explains.
            Lancer and Saber are obviously on our side, so that leaves four enemies left.
            The two Riders,
            Berserker,
            and Caster, who still has not appeared.
            “We still don’t really know where Berserker and Nessiah are hiding, but we think we’ve located the Riders.”
            Rose says so casually as she comes to sit at the table.
            By comparing notes and sending Vienya’s bird out to check, it appears that the two girls Primea and Nana, along with their Servants, are living in a ruin in the middle of the forest.
            “—That’s the old Einzbern castle. It was supposed to have been half-destroyed in the last Grail War, but I guess it’s still big enough that they can live in it.
            “We should deal with them as fast as we can.”
            I think for a moment.
            Lancer has recovered, and it looks like magical energy isn’t a problem for Saber, who has Roswell as her Master after all.
            “…Will we be able to find them and fight them equally?”
            “Probably, although you know we can’t say anything for certain. If nothing else, we know that Lancer and Saber can work together now, and with two powerful Servants, we should be a match for them.
            “As for finding them, we know where they are, but getting there is definitely going to take several hours. Still, it’s doable.”

            I hesitate.
            “…Ein.”
            Roswell’s cheer has disappeared, and he folds his arms with a grave expression.
            “There was a report on television this morning that a woman’s body was discovered in the park in Miyama late last night.
            “We can’t confirm anything, but the description they gave out sounds like Yellma.”
            Meaning that one of the other Masters or Servants found her and finished her.
            “They were describing it as a gruesome murder.
            “I can’t say it’s any great loss, but all the same, someone out there is more than happy to target a defenseless Master.”
            And even though the victim herself was a terrible person, this isn’t something we should overlook, is what Roswell is saying.

            “—Anyway, we’re working together, so that’s an advantage over all the remaining Masters.
            “Even if it’s just nullifying the enemy’s advantage in the Riders’ case.
            “With that said, we have even more reason to attack than before. The Riders will be the most evenly matched battle, so we should do it right away before they have a chance to gather any more strength.”
            Rose nods.

            “How about you guys? Are you ready to take the fight to them?”

            Saber smiles and looks to Roswell.
            The proud magus nods his head.
            The two of them look as suited to each other as always.
            —I wonder.
            Do Lancer and I look out of place when we stand next to each other, or do we look like a team the way that they do?

            “—Lancer.
            “You just got hurt, so I can understand if you don’t want to be forced into battle again. Still, this is the strategically best option. Do you want to go?”
            Lancer closes his eyes.
            “—Ein. You have no need to question me, as I am your lance.
            “And I am proud to serve you as such.”

            …When he says something like that… there’s no way I can correct him not to think of himself like that.
            Because my Servant, the man who went through so much pain in his life, is looking at me with confidence and something like a smile.

            “…All right then, so it’s settled.
            “The only remaining matter is…”

            …I thought it would be a problem, but somehow it was resolved very easily.
            When we asked her to look after the house, Vienya smiled and her familiar said for her that of course she would.
            She’s a good girl, and level-headed, so I think she understands the situation.
            …Besides, now that Avenger and Yellma are gone, her grudge for Archer is resolved.
            Vienya is only a magus now, not a Master and contender for the Holy Grail.

            We put on our shoes and head for the door.
            Vienya stays inside and waves to us.
            Her eyes are shining through the curtain of her hair, and in her slippers she really looks as though she’s a little sister who belongs to this household.
            Maybe she’ll be leaving Japan after this battle is over.
            That’s a sad thought to have, as it already feels like she belongs here…
            But still, she’s a member of this household now, and that feels good.
            Not wanting to irritate Rose or offend Lancer, I keep my thoughts to myself as we leave.

            Lancer changes into spirit form and Rose calls a taxi to take us to the edge of the forest.
            We depart, and the driver tells us to be careful on our hiking trip.

            From the moment we pass the trees, an intense cold flows through my body.
            …What is it?
            It feels as though this place is full of death, even though everything is growing well.
            …I know that I can sense the presence of enemy Masters, but this is somehow different.

            “Something very evil has been here.”
            Saber says so in a quiet voice.
            I don’t know what I’m sensing, but the fact that Saber feels it too makes me uneasy.
            “It’s not here any longer.
            “It feels like it’s been gone for a long time, but…”
            It was an evil so strong that it left a permanent mark on the forest.
            In a way, this place is the same as the burned field in Shinto…

            After walking for about an hour, we arrive at a ridiculous place.
            It really is a castle, hidden away in a clearing in the forest.
            …Or at least, it’s the remains of one.
            It feels creepy, like something out of a horror movie.
            A lot of the stone has crumbled, and the same unhealthy pall is settled over it.

            But.
            From within those ruins, I definitely can feel the presence of other Masters.
            “They’re here.
            “I think that at their skill level, they probably know that we’re here, also.”

            Rose nods.
            We may as well do the thing properly as we have come this far.
            So the five of us head straight into the main entrance.

            …It’s even worse inside.
            This wide entrance hall with its proud pillars and crimson carpet looks as though it has been torn apart from the inside.
            It’s probable that this was the site of a huge battle during the last war.

            …Atop the stairs are the two girls.
            They are no longer wearing matching outfits, but something more like street clothes.
            Still, they look as though they could be sisters.

            To either side of them are the two Riders.
            Both of them are wearing dark suits and look like hired bodyguards that some princess or president’s daughter might be escorted by.

            Primea smiles.
            “Onii-chan, Onee-chan, welcome to our castle!
            “We were starting to get bored waiting for other Masters to show up, so we’ve had to go wandering around a lot, but somebody finally actually came.
            “—So? Are we going to fight now?”

            …An intense murderous intent.
            That girl is smiling beatifically, like a picture of a Christian saint.
            This is the kind of child that doesn’t fully understand right and wrong.
            It’s that kind of casual cruelty, like a two-year-old innocently burning ants with a magnifying glass for fun.

            Without us having to say anything, Lancer and Saber step forward, both armed with their Noble Phantasms.
            Primea claps her hands with a delighted expression.
            Nana still has not moved.
            “Nana-chan, Nana-chan! Look, it’s a rematch, we’re gonna have a rematch!”
            She points.
            “Go get ‘em, Rider!”
            Silently.
            Nana nods her head.

            —In an instant.
            The suits are gone, and both female knights are clad in armor, holding their lances.
            I hear Rose draw her breath beside me.

            …The sound of a cavalry charging.
            In perfect tandem, the two Riders thunder down the stairs and leap.
            I feel a hand grasp my arm as if in warning.
            The next moment, both Riders give a shout at the same time.
            Quickly and expertly.
            Immense power crashes down upon Lancer and Saber.

            —I realize.
            The two Riders have just activated their Noble Phantasms.
            On one side, a rain of ice, and on the other, holy light.
            They spoke at exactly the same time, and so I couldn’t distinguish what they were saying.
            …These Servants can disguise the name of their trump card and preserve their advantage as long as they are together.

            Terrible pain seizes my left arm.
            I don’t know why, but somehow we seem to be in extreme danger…
            Lancer is in danger.
            But I don’t have the time to consider it.
            Because those girls are walking down the stairs.

            Stopping at the bottom stair, Nana holds out her hands and begins to chant.
            I can feel power gathering to her in a harsh motion.

            Primea holds out her hand and a look of stubborn concentration crosses her face.
            It’s strange to see her look so serious after all her childishness.

            “Trace—, on.”

            …That incantation.
            That is the rare ignition key for the skill of projection…!

            …In Primea’s hands, there is an axe.

            I can tell it is supposed to be an axe, despite the fact that it is flat, as though made up of abstract shapes, a glass cutout of ice blue and gray.

            It seems,
                        impossibly,
                                    similar to Lancer’s Diviner.

            But it’s not the same.
            I can tell by looking at it that it’s not the same.
            If Lancer’s Lorelei is the original, then this axe in Primea’s hands is a cheap imitation.

            It’s projection, after all.
            We are human, and a Diviner is something that could only be made by the gods.
            This fake born of human imagination might come close, but it cannot surpass the real thing.

            …Stop it.
            There’s no time to think right now.
            Impossibly loud sounds of battle are crashing all around me, and an enemy with a weapon is advancing towards me.
            I hold out my hand and call a sword.
            Rather than the plain longsword I have been using, this time I try to call a heavier greatsword.
            The blade is long and white, and I have to hold the hilt with two hands.
            It is heavy, but balanced, and light enough for me to swing the way that I’ve swung my shinai in combat with Lancer.

            —This should work.
            Even as my left arm continues to protest to me that there is something very wrong, I hold myself steady and prepare to attack—

            In the distance, I can hear Roswell’s voice blending in with Nana’s.
            Sounds of exertion are coming from the battlefield, along with the clash of weapons.
            Boundless prana is emanating from these girls.
            The Riders’ Noble Phantasms might be like Avenger’s, ready to fire off at any time.
            So we just have to push forward now, and win first—

            And then.
            “TIME OUT!!”
            The battlefield freezes at the sound of Rose’s loud voice.

            It’s almost laughable,
            but such a childish sound makes every single one of us stop and turn.

            “—Onee-chan?”
            Primea is staring at her curiously.
            “You’re here to fight, right? You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to fight, right?”

            “—Yeah, we’re here to fight.
            “But before that, I wanted to play a game.”
            Rose says something absurd nonchalantly.

            “A game?”
            “Yeah, a game. You know how to play hide-and-seek, right? Don’t you think that this forest is a great place for it?”
            “—Well, it is big.”
            Primea seems dubious, but she’s listening to Rose’s words with interest.
            She really is still a child.

            Rose smiles.
            “Right.
            “So we wanted to challenge you to a game of hide-and-seek. The reward for finding us will be a battle.”
            Primea is smiling excitedly now.
            “So what if we don’t find you? What’s gonna happen then?”

            “If you don’t find us, then we’ll just leave, and you don’t get to fight us at all.
            “We’ll wait for Berserker or Caster to take care of you instead.”

            Primea sulks.
            “You don’t want that to happen, right? So we’ll leave, and hide in the forest. Give us three hours to find a good spot, and then come find us.”

            “Three hours is enough to leave the forest, too. How do we know that you’re not just chickening out?”
            Rose shakes her head.
            “Seriously, how much do you think I’m underestimating you by? If we try to leave the forest, you won’t be able to sense us anymore, right?
            “Besides, we’re not cowardly enough to run away from a fight that we’ve started.
            “Still, if you can’t find us in your own forest by dawn, then we’ll leave anyway. If you can’t even do that, then you’re not worth fighting.”

            “—Hmm. Three hours is a big head start.”
            Primea seems to be considering it seriously.
            “Still, they say that the one offering the challenge gets to set the terms.
            “Okay. Nana-chan, what do you think?”
            She turns to the red-haired girl with hopeful eyes.

            Nana looks around as though she does not know what to do and wants someone to tell her.
            “Um—I guess it wouldn’t be so bad.”

            “Yaaaaaay~.”
            Primea giggles.
            “We’re gonna play hide-and-seek~”

            Rose smiles.
            “Fine then. Start counting as soon as we leave. We’ll see you when you find us.”

            As calm as anything, she turns and begins to walk out of the massive, wrecked lobby.
            All the rest of us can do is follow her, stunned.

            …
            ……
            ………I wait until the castle is out of view before trying to make Rose stop.
            “What was that about? I thought we were going to go in there and fight them.”
            Rose crosses her arms and looks at me severely.
            “Ein, you’re pathetic. Take a look at your Servant.”
            …Huh?
            I turn.
            Lancer is walking with his eyes half closed.
            He appears to be breathing with great difficulty, and his pale skin seems translucent from sweat; it would probably be clammy to the touch.
            …The pain in my Command Spell back there is explained.
            Although he looks fine and his wound has been healed so that it cannot reopen, Lancer is exhausted and cannot fight hard.
            “—That’s why we have to find a place to hide and deal with this right now.
            “Ein, you’re not a full magus, just a magic user, so there are problems with the way you supply Lancer magical energy.
            “Fighting two days in a row was too much for him, he told you the last time.
            “After we let him rest, so much happened that we all just assumed he would be okay, but this isn’t good enough. Lancer and Saber have to be in full form if we want to have a chance against those girls.
            “—Otherwise, someone is just going to rush in ahead and it’ll wind up the same as with Avenger, with most of us unable to do anything.”
            Each one of us has a vital role.
            So I can understand what Rose is saying, and furthermore, I’m worried about Lancer.
            And I’m angry at myself for letting him get into this state without my realizing it.
            Some Master I am…

            “But, Rose.
            “Surely at least the two Riders are going to realize why…”
            “I’m sure they already know. Those girls, too. They’re not as stupid as they act.
            “Look, Ein. That Primea is a sociopath, so she has no interest in things unless they’re fun. She agreed to this because she thinks it would be more interesting to fight us on equal ground.”
            I think of the girl’s red eyes and shudder.

            “There’s an old house about half an hour’s walk from where we are now. I remember the location from checking the maps.
            “Sorry, Roswell, Saber. I have a plan, but it’s going to take a while, and I’m going to have to ask you guys to guard the place from the outside, just in case.”
            Roswell nods.
            “I don’t mind. As long as we’re able to finish this and all make it out alive, Saber and I have no complaints.”

            And so, we walk.
            It really does take a half an hour to reach the ruin of a building, and as night falls, the world grows very dark.
            Lancer seems to be struggling.
            I reach out and lead him by the hand.
            The gesture is embarrassing, but what else can I do when he’s making a face like that?
            Lancer is my Servant, and so he’s my responsibility.
            I couldn’t protect him and I can’t heal him, so the least I can do is take care of him in times like this, right?

            So we reach the building.
            It’s truly a ruin and it looks like the forest has started to take it over.
            Roswell and Saber find a place to sit outside, and Rose pushes the door open, walking in brazenly.
            I look at Lancer, who stares back at me expressionlessly.
            He has not tried to make me let go of his hand.
            Carefully, I duck through the doorway, and Lancer follows me.

            The ground floor is a disaster.
           Roots have sprung up through the floor and a lot of the doorways look impassable, but Rose finds the staircase. As it’s intact, we all make our way up.

            The upstairs seems mostly all right.
            The rooms are empty and look better ordered than downstairs, as if there was a time that someone was using this place for shelter.
            Rose finds a room that’s mostly bare except for a large window and a bed, and nods to herself while making a complicated face.
            “Well, this place is as good as any. Come on.”
            We follow Rose into the bedroom, and she closes the door behind us.
            I bring Lancer over to let him sit on the edge of the bed, and he closes his eyes gratefully.
            He still has not let go of my hand.
            …Um, this is getting a little embarrassing, but deep down I’m kind of pleased.
            I sit down next to Lancer so that I won’t have to pull free, and look at Rose.

            “—The issue here is Lancer’s lack of magical energy right now.
            “He’ll be fine if we replenish his energy, but then the other problem is that this is just going to keep happening again and again over the course of the Grail War. I mean, there are still several Servants to beat over the course of the next few days.”
            She’s right.
            After all, once we’ve defeated the Riders, Berserker, and Caster, our partnership with Saber will also end.
            We will probably have to fight them as well, since the Holy Grail can only belong to one person, and we still don’t know what Roswell and Saber’s intentions are.
            “So, Rose. What are you saying we should do about it?”

            Rose stares off into space.
            “It’s only a theory, but it should work.
            “Lancer is limited because he’s being supplied by you, right?
            “But you and I are connected. If there’s a way to extend our connection to Lancer, then he’ll be able to take magical energy from me as well as you.”
            I stare at her, stunned.
            “Is that kind of thing really possible?”
            “—It should be.
            “But this is only because it’s you and me. Our bond is unusual, even among magi; there aren’t many people whose magic is so compatible as yours and mine.
            “Lancer is a Servant. He’s linked to you similarly to the way that we’re linked. As long as we can get those links to form a three-way tie, then the rest is easy. It’ll all be things that I’ve handled many times before.”
            It sounds reasonable enough, but I get the feeling that what Rose is saying is fundamentally absurd from the perspective of an ordinary magus.
            But this is Rose.
            We’ve lived together and worked together for years, and no one knows more about my magic than she does.
            She’s the best judge of whether or not this is possible.
            “—Okay. I trust you, so let’s try it. How does it work?”

            Rose scratches her cheek, then folds her arms and looks at me like the answer should be obvious.
            “First we have to stimulate and open our connection so that it’s fresh, and after that we add Lancer to the connection. It’s pretty simple.”
            It doesn’t sound very simple.
            My bond with Rose came from a ceremony where we drank each other’s blood, and even with Roswell, I don’t think that we can afford to spill as much blood as we would need if we’re going to fight, and I say so.
            Rose sighs.
            “You know the answer to this already, idiot, you just don’t want to face it.”
            I frown at her.
            “No, I don’t. Quit being evasive, Rose, we don’t have that much time, do we?”
            She sighs again as if to say that I’m bringing this all upon myself.

            “The three of us have to have sex, obviously.”

            “—H-huh?!”

            Rose puts her hands on her hips and raises her eyebrows.
            “Huh, and after all this, are you going to tell me you’re not interested?”
            U-uh.
            This is bad.
            This is a very dangerous question and something is telling me that no matter what, I can’t answer such a thing.
            “B-but Rose.
            “Y-you’ve always been mad whenever anybody brings that up, and anyway, this is really sudden and I don’t know what to think—”
            She’s shaking her head at me.
            “If I was unwilling, then I wouldn’t have suggested it, now would I?
            “And I know that it’s not like you don’t have any interest in my body, I know that much for sure. Besides, there’s even more significant proof that you’re interested in Lancer.”
            Smiling a dangerous smile, she points at our interlocked hands.
            Lancer is looking away from me as if trying to hide.
            I drop his hand as if it’s a hot brick.
            I have to think of some kind of retort, but my head isn’t working, it’s too confused and full of steam.

            …Now Rose is scowling at me.
            “Ein, stop being a coward. In this situation it’s going to get you killed.
            “You know that those girls are going to come after us if we leave this place, right? Even if we say that we lost interest and left because they couldn’t find us, they will definitely chase us. We’re not getting out of this forest until we deal with them.
            “And if we have to deal with them, you want Lancer to make it out of that situation alive, don’t you?! The best way to make sure of that is by strengthening him with all of our magical energy.”
            I scowl back at her.
            Surviving is important, but this, at least, I can’t just let go.
            “Think of Lancer’s feelings, would you?
            “Putting what I think and what you think aside, Lancer has a right to decide about these things himself—”
            “…I’m not opposed to the idea.”
            Lancer says quietly, as if embarrassed, and all my protests die.

            My head goes blank and I can feel my face heating up.
            I’m sure I’m blushing bright red.
            But what am I supposed to do, if I’m told something so ridiculous?
            If Rose and Lancer both say things like that…

            But, but, this all seems like a joke, and it’s still imposing on Lancer, and doing something this ridiculous my first time is a little…
            Rose smirks like she’s already won, and I realize I’ve been mumbling out loud.
            …Oh.
            This is bad.
            My heart is racing and my head is still so blank, and it feels like I’ve been cornered without any escape.
            If you ask me if I desire them—

            Rose is my childhood friend, after all.
            She’s beautiful and smart and no matter how roughly she talks and acts, she’s still a girl.
            Her form as a magus, her form cooking or reading books, the shape of her body is that of a woman, and I would be crazy not to appreciate that fact.
            The shape of her legs under her skirt, her breasts pushing against the fabric of her shirt.
            If I pay too much attention to them I might go mad.
            And Lancer is—
            …Lancer is even more beautiful than Rose.
            The image of him looking up at me on that night, of his golden hair and his lips parted in a question, is burned into my mind.
            His body is built perfectly and the contrast between that and his timid and awkward side makes me want to protect him.
            No, that’s a lie.
            It makes me want to hold him.
            I try to prevent myself from thinking thoughts like that.
            These people are my friends and colleagues.
            Especially in the middle of a situation like this, giving in to wanting them would be like screaming in the mountains to cause an avalanche.

            Rose smiles slightly.
            It’s a different smile than the one she usually wears.
            Her skin is slightly flushed, and her lips are redder than usual.
            “You seem to be plenty mentally prepared for this.”
            I stand up.
            I don’t know what I intend to do, but I stand up, and Rose reaches forward to lay her hand against my face.
            She is very close to me and I can feel her breath against my cheek.
            Very deliberately, she leans in, and as I start to ask her what she thinks she’s doing…
            …her lips touch mine.
            Softly.
            Sweetly.
            The tip of her tongue reaches out and grazes mine, and she makes a low noise in her throat that’s completely unfair.

            Rose steps back, and walks to where Lancer is still sitting on the bed.
            “—”
            She leans in and presses her lips firmly to his.
            There is a slight wet sound, and when Rose pulls away, there is a thin silver thread connecting their lips for just a second.
            “So this is…, the taste of my Master.”
            Lancer speaks out in a dazed tone, and the inside of my head goes white.
            I can hear my heart pounding.
            …That’s unfair.
            That’s too unfair.

            “You don’t look so unwilling now.”
            Rose smiles in triumph, but not as though she’s bragging.
            “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing magically, and unlike you, this isn’t my first time.
            “So I’ll be able to keep my head.”

            I listen to Rose with a confused head, unable to process half of what she’s saying.

            “Well, it’ll be a little bit more difficult for you, but I think you’re strong enough mentally to be able to hold yourself back.”
            She begins to describe the process.
            According to Rose, just as she said before, we must connect magically first, and then introduce Lancer.
            In other words, the two of us will start having sex, and once she’s had her first orgasm, then Lancer has to join in.
            After that, Lancer and I have to ejaculate as close to her second orgasm as we possibly can.
            It sounds impossible.
            I don’t know the first thing about how to make a girl feel good, and if Rose doesn’t feel any pleasure we’re doomed before we start.
            Just the thought of trying to do anything like this is enough to make my brain short-circuit.
            Of course I desire them.
            But it feels as though it’s asking too much of something like this.

            But as I’m about to protest that she’s expecting too much and we have to find another way to make this work…
            Rose takes off her shoes and places them at the foot of the bed.
            And then, she lifts up her skirt.
            In a gesture that can’t be called casual, she begins to slide her panties off.
            …I see it.
            In the moonlight, a thick trail of fluid connects the crotch of her panties with the secret parts of her for a few moments, and breaks as she slides them down her legs.
            —It’s not fair.
            Beyond getting herself ready, Rose is showing me that just thinking about it, she’s already like this.
            With her panties removed, she sits down on the bed with both me and Lancer looking at her.
            The mattress is about as high up as my hips.
            Rose sits down and puts her feet on the mattress, then spreads her legs apart.
            Her short skirt is bunched up at her waist, and she smiles at me charmingly.
            “You don’t have to worry, Ein.
            “Like I said, this isn’t my first time, so you won’t hurt me. And besides, this is what my body is made for.”
            She says something kind of strange.
            But I can’t think about it.
            I can’t think of anything.
            —I can see it.
            I feel dirty and perverted looking at Rose’s body, but the truth is that my pants are starting to feel uncomfortably tight, and my erection is pressing insistently against the zipper.

            Slowly.
            I unzip my pants, take off my shoes, and leave my pants and underwear on the floor.
            If I’m already like this, then I have to solidify my resolve.
            I can’t stop wanting.
            I want to take her.
            I want to touch her and bury myself in her.
            I want to feel Lancer’s chest pressed against my back.
            I want to be taken.
            If I don’t do something about all of this desire I’ll go mad.

            So I undress halfway and as I leave my clothes on the floor, I leave my shame with them.

            Rose is staring at me.
            With a smile that looks completely wicked, Rose is staring at my cock.
            …It’s kind of embarrassing, both that she’s staring so directly and that there’s such open desire on her face.
            I’ve never known that she could make a face like this.
            This is a side to her that I’ve never seen before.
            “Come closer, Ein.”
            Her voice is soft but commanding, and I step closer so that we are only an arm’s length apart.
            The night’s air is cold on my bare skin.
            Rose slips her hand between her legs and softly pulls apart the white outer lips of her pussy, exposing reddish-pink flesh.
            I can’t look away.
            She’s wet.
            The inner red lips are open and pulsing slightly, wet and shining in the moonlight.
            It’s cold.
            I wonder if I’m imagining the slight haze of steam rising off the fluid.
            —But more captivating than anything else.
            I’m looking straight at the open slit of her vagina.
            “—Hurry up.”
            Rose’s voice is heated and sounds strangely distant, as though it’s echoing from a long distance away.
            “Morning’s going to come at this rate.”
            I swallow to try to regain a little bit of my composure, and with uncertain hands, guide the head of my cock to touch Rose’s flesh.
            …She’s warm, and slippery with arousal.
            Carefully, I try to guide myself forward, but my touch is unpracticed and clumsy.
            At last, the head of my penis slides and pushes inward.
            My body twitches in shock.
            It feels like all the sensation out of the rest of my body has disappeared completely.
            It’s barely even an inch, but I’m inside her.
            Her face is very close to mine and she’s staring straight into my eyes.
            …It’s hot.
            Hot and wet, the feeling of many folds wraps around me.
            Her pussy is incredibly soft.
            It feels too good.
            The rough sensations of touching myself have always been enough, but this is really too good, and if I don’t move slowly and carefully, I’m not going to be able to hold myself back from just bursting inside her right now.

            …I feel her hand against the small of my back.
            Rose pulls me in slowly, forcing me to penetrate deeper and deeper.
            My breathing goes wild.
            Finally, my body presses up against hers, and I can relax just slightly.
            Her breathing is smooth, but deep.
            Her breasts brush against my chest, and even through my shirt and hers, I can feel that her nipples are hard.
            “Hold onto my waist for balance and brace yourself, and then you’ll be able to move.”
            She sounds slightly breathless.
            I can’t manage to speak in reply, but I nod.
            It’s hard to move when my cock is wrapped up to the root in the wet folds of her pussy, but I manage to square my feet on the floor.
            The side-to-side movement of adjusting my balance feels poisonously good, and Rose makes a noise like a hum.
            She lets go of my back and balances herself with both hands, leaning backwards in a slouch.
            She is staring at the place where our bodies connect.
            Carefully, I place my hand on her waist, and grip the mattress with my other hand.

            I pull my hips back, and then plunge back in.
            Rose’s chest moves with her breathing.
            The inside of her vagina moves too, contracting slightly, the folds undulating.
            It feels like the inside of my head is going to explode.
            I bite my lip and try not to let go.
            She tightens as I continue to move steadily in and out.
            Rose’s breathing is full and wet, and she makes pleased sounds as I continue to move forward.
            “A little more… to the left.”
            She demands in a husky and heated voice.
            I don’t know what she means, but I try to obey her, and her back arches as she lets out a full-throated moan.
            Her pussy starts to tighten, and her slim body heats up beneath mine.
            I have no idea why it is, but the more I thrust at this angle, the louder her cries become.
            It must feel very good.
            —Suddenly.
            Rose grabs my shirt and pulls me down to kiss me.
            Our lips collide with force, and her tongue enters my mouth boldly, as if she’s plundering it.
            The feel of her tongue against mine goes straight to my blood-swollen cock, which throbs and twitches with the effort of not forcing my semen out.
            This only makes her moan louder, and I thrust harder.
            The inside of Rose’s body is this soft, but it’s also this strong.
            Just doing this makes her feel good, but the more violently I move my hips, the more pleasure she seems to feel.
            “Ah—ahn, ah—Ein—right there—more—…”
            Her voice is beginning to get higher.
            Quite separate from her “self” as a magus and as my friend, this is Rose’s face as a woman glorying in sex and demanding greater pleasure.
            The movements of her pussy become more rhythmic and more frantic the better she feels.
            Straining to please the both of us, I push my hips against hers so hard it makes a slapping sound, and I can feel her muscles starting to seize up.
            “Ah—ah, nn—”
            Rose’s body tightens.
            Her pussy clamps down on my cock so hard that I can’t move.
            She shudders and then relaxes, her entire body going loose.
            I can feel a thick and sticky fluid drenching my cock, her wetness increasing.
            …I think… she just came.

            My breath is ragged and my head is blank.
            I can’t stand it any longer.
            I’ve been holding it in for so long it hurts.
            I want to pour myself into Rose’s waiting body and finally release myself from the agony of trying to withstand this much pleasure.
            But I can’t do that yet.
            I can’t forget the reason why we’re doing this.

            “You just need to bear this a little longer.”
            Rose is out of breath, but she reaches up to touch the side of my neck.
            “—Lancer.”
            She calls.

            …A warm body is suddenly close behind mine.
            A careful hand with skin white as marble reaches around to encircle the few inches of my cock that aren’t buried in Rose’s pussy.
            The fingers move and stroke, becoming dirtied with her fluids.
            —It feels so good that if I don’t ejaculate in the next second I’ll pass out,
            but the hand pulls away before then.
            I can feel Lancer’s warmth against my back.
            His dry hand is resting on my naked hip.
            I can’t think straight.
            My cock is being caressed and traced by the walls of Rose’s vagina, and even though it feels dirty not being able to see Lancer’s face, his presence behind me is painfully exciting.
            …I can feel his fingers tracing me.
            His hand smoothes down the side of my leg and traces back up, and his fingers pierce into me, wet enough to slide in.
            …It hurts.
            My body protests the invasion of the fingers, but the stinging discomfort distracts me from the pleasure and is able to keep me from bursting.

            “…Master.”
            A very soft voice.
            Lancer breathes at the nape of my neck.
            “I apologize.
            “I am going to take you now.”

            Something impossibly hot and wet presses against my backside.
            Rose holds on to me tightly as I shudder.
            And then Lancer’s thick erection sinks into me.

            “Nkh—?!!!”

            It’s, huge?!
            There’s no way, my body, can accept anything this big—
            It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!
            This hurts!!
            It’s like I’m being torn apart from the inside out—

            My mind understands that there isn’t enough time to work my body into being fully ready to accept Lancer.
            But all my body cares about is the pain.
            The insertion is done and I am left shaking, trying to balance out the pleasure of Rose’s pussy, the comfort of Lancer’s presence, and the pain of the cock inside me.

            My senses are hopelessly confused.

            “—Ein.”
            The soft voice pleads with me to bear it.
            Gentle lips press against the side of my throat, a precious token of affection and concern.

            “I’m going to begin moving.”
            He announces it in his usual tone.
            Still.
            There is care in his movements.
            My body aches as he presses into me, but even the ache feels good.
            I am propelled forward with each thrust and pulled back as he pulls halfway out.
            He’s touching secret things inside of me that I know nothing about.
            I’m going to go mad.
            It feels too good.
            Rose collapses backwards onto the bed.
            She is moaning thickly and her pussy is wet.
            I can move unbelievably easy, and Lancer pushes me deeper into her than ever before.
            Crouched over her on the bed, I bare everything to Lancer.
            I thrust deeper into Rose and take Lancer deeper into myself.

            …It hurts.
            Rose is tightening so much that it hurts.
            Her eyes are closed and there’s sweat on her face.
            She looks small and helpless and her composure from before is almost gone.
            She has opened her body into me and is arching her hips up against mine, rotating her body forward and back instead of just up and down.
            The pressure is impossibly good.
           Lancer continues to move in even strokes, but his breathing is a wreck and his hands are tight against my waist.
            Even the tightness of his hands feels good.
            “R-Rose, I can’t—I’m gonna—”
            The voice that comes out of my throat feels nothing like my own.
            Beneath me, Rose writhes.
            She is thrusting her hips up frantically.
            “Ein, Ein, harder—Lancer, do it harder—!”
            My vision is whiting out.
            I can’t see anything.
            My perspective has narrowed down to the simple connection of our bodies.

            “Ein, do it now, do it now, I’m almost—”
            Rose’s pussy clamps down and she makes a sound like she’s going to die from the pleasure.

            I can’t hold on any longer, and thrust like a madman.
            I jerk my hips between the convulsions of Rose’s vagina and the swelling, throbbing length of Lancer’s penis.
            “Ah—Rose, I—ah, ahn—ah—Ledah—Ledah……!!”

            It bursts.
            Orgasm forces all the semen I had built up in my body straight into Rose with a great contraction of my belly and in my balls.
            Lancer trembles behind me and there’s a great shock of hot fluid rushing into me from behind.
            The moment seems to last forever—

            …
            ……
            ………Over the next few hours, we spend our time cleaning up.
            It’s a good thing we got mostly undressed first, as otherwise our clothes would have been completely ruined.
            After all of that tension and the exertion, I can barely stand, and have to sit down.
            I feel drained.
            Everything feels oddly detached, and I pull my clothes on as I watch the sky begin to lighten through the window.

            Rose has already left and gone downstairs.
            I sit at the top of the steps.
            Already, everything that just happened feels like some kind of surreal dream.
            That’s probably how I should think of it.
            I just had sex with my best friend and with my Servant, but it was only for the sake of winning and going home alive.
            …Ordinarily, such a thing would never happen.
            That sensation was a dream.
            I tell myself that over and over.
            We have to focus on doing battle now, and I can try to reconcile it later.

            …I hear footsteps.
            I hear Lancer’s quiet footsteps.

            …Oh no.
            My heart is pounding.
            I don’t know how to face him.
            Whether it was like a dream or not, the fact is that we were still doing that not long ago.

            “…Ein.”
            There is a great creak of old wood, and then Lancer is sitting next to me.
            His expression is as even as usual.
            …I guess I was the only one that was worried.
            But.
            Lancer doesn’t say anything else.
            He simply closes his eyes.
            …I can hear the sound of his breathing, and our bodies are only about an inch apart.
            My body remembers the feeling of being connected with his and heats up.
            It’s lucky that I’m in no condition to pick up where we left off.
            Lancer opens his eyes and looks into mine.
            His expression is very still and his eyes are deep.
            It feels almost like I’m falling into them.
            “Y—yeah, what is it?”

            Lancer stares at me.
            “…Earlier…”
            I nod for him to go on, but he seems to change his mind and looks away.
            “No, it is nothing. Forget that I said anything, Master.”
            Liar.
            Obviously it isn’t nothing.
            …Still, as long as we make it out alive, then this can come later.
            So first we have to prepare to fight.
            I try to smile for him.
            “…It’s okay. We’ll get out of here soon, and then you can tell me when you’re ready.”
            Lancer looks down the stairs, and stands up.
            He brushes off his deep red priest’s robes and begins to walk.
            …It’s absurd.
            The form of an angel with black wings in an overgrown place like this is like a painting you would see in a museum.
            But there’s so much more to this world than you would ever know if you didn’t keep your mind open to it.

            “—Oh, wait a minute, Lancer.”
            He stops at the bottom of the stairs and turns partway, looking up at me.
            —Those eyes.
            Against the dawning light and the open doorway, Lancer’s gaze goes right through me as if he possesses Mystic Eyes of binding.
            “I’m sorry.
            “I used your real name without thinking.”
            Before I push it all into a box labeled “dream” and put on the lid, I have to say this first.
            “I don’t think anyone would have heard in a place like this, but still, I should be more careful about it, so I’m sorry.”
            Lancer spends a moment looking at me as though he has never seen anything quite like me.
            —And then.
            He smiles.
            Lancer smiles in a way that softens his intense gaze, full of trust and affection.
            “…You are my Master, Ein.
            “You may call me whatever you see fit, whenever you like.”
            So saying.
            He walks out of the abandoned house, leaving me speechless.

            …Outside, everyone has already gathered.
            It took longer than we expected to fix everything back up, as the sky is definitely getting lighter and it will probably be dawn soon.
            “Then, let’s have an emergency strategy meeting.”
            Rose speaks quietly and her posture is that of a magus.
            She is allowing herself only to think about the battle ahead.

            “This terrain is better.
            “We need to move out and find an open space like a clearing, but as long as it’s flat, then the Riders won’t be able to jump down on us from above again. That was a bad way to start out a battle.”
            Saber nods.
            “…Yes. Especially if I am to fight a warrior with a lance, then I need every advantage I can get. Even a sword the size of my Noble Phantasm isn’t truly meant for doing battle with pole arms.”
            “Also, it seems as though at least that Primea girl has the same ability as Ein.
            “She projected a weapon and was going to fight hand-to-hand. So it looks like we have to move Ein up to the front lines.”
            Rose says so, and Roswell smiles bitterly.
            “That’s true. I may have significant magic power, but I can’t defend myself as well as either of you if it comes down to a physical fight.”
            “If you can support us from the back, then do it. If not, then go ahead and attack the Riders.
            “Both Saber and Lancer have high-rank magic resistance, so you don’t have to worry if you hit them too, since it won’t do anything.”
            That’s kind of a scary thing to say, but even so.
            Roswell nods.

            After a bit of searching, we reach an open clearing in the forest.
            The sky is beginning to turn pale.
            It’s unthinkable that they will not reach us soon, so we find a thicker section of trees and stop to wait.

            No one says anything.
            This is an open range suitable for a large battle.
            The escape routes are kind of few, but anyway we’re not trying to escape.
            The time to settle things with the Riders once and for all has arrived.

            …I feel a chill and stand up.
            Roswell touches the back of his hand and frowns.
            A moment later, my Command Spell pulses.
            They’re here.
            The quiet forest becomes thick with tension as we all become alert.
            …Through the dawning mists, I can see the figure of a small girl.
            Primea steps into the clearing.
            Nana is right at her side.
            The two armored women are close behind them, each with Noble Phantasm in hand.

            The pink-haired girl giggles innocently.
            “We found you.”
            “—Yeah. You found us. It’s time to fight.”

            The red spear forms in Lancer’s hands.
            Heavily, he steps forward, wings spread broadly.

            Saber’s body shifts in the pale light as she arms herself.

            “—Lancer, don’t hold back. Show them what you can do.”
            The knight nods his head silently.

            “Go get them, Rider!”
            I can’t tell which of the girls said it, but both of the armored knights rush forward.
            The two Masters stay still for now.
            The tall women, both wreathed in armor, charge through the morning mist, then shout out and release their Noble Phantasms.
            —Lancer and Saber do not attempt to dodge, but move forward to meet the blows head on.

            Lancer moves to confront the Rider who wears blue roses.
            If the holy force of her lance is a wave, then the movement of Lancer’s Lorelei is a great wind.
            The power of her Noble Phantasm is split by Lancer’s strike, and even as Lancer is struck by it, he presses forward regardless.
            Of course, he’s taking damage.
            But this first initial charge is the most dangerous and we already knew that we could not escape unharmed.
            —And besides.
            The danger in the Riders was from the beginning their unity, and the power of their Masters.
            Lancer’s Noble Phantasm is of the highest rank.
            His already proud form is burning far more brightly now that Rose’s substantial power is flowing through his body, not just mine.
            Rider’s lance is powerful, but it is not enough to strike Lancer down when half-deflected.

            …He will take serious damage if he manages to sustain a direct hit, but as long as he can avert the full force of the blow, he’ll be fine.
            Sparks fly out in all directions in the clearing.
            Unlike the first night of the contract, Lancer and Rider are moving to kill rather than testing each other’s strength.
            With Saber here to keep the other Rider out of the way, they move back and forth as if to kill each other.

            “—Go ahead and go all out, Rider.”
            Primea calls with a delighted smile.
            “There’s no need to hold back, you can take the stage as you please.
            “After all, we’re going to finish them here, so strike him down with your Noble Phantasm and let me see his blood—”

            Rider steps back and takes a stance slightly different from the one I know.
            Her lance poised, she narrows her eyes at Lancer, her target.

            “SHANGRI—”

            She steps forward heavily and the ground shakes.
            The holy lance wreathed in carvings of flowers sweeps forward in a motion that makes the air itself vibrate.

            “—LA!”

            The ground erupts.
            The ground shakes and erupts with holy power as a pale green wave of pure magical energy rushes through the air.

            “—”
            Lancer cannot deflect such a large blow.
            He takes a defensive stance and shields his vitals as the strike hits.
            I can feel my Command Spell prickling with pain as he takes damage.
            …Still, he can and will go on fighting.
            Until she manages to hit him fully where he’s vulnerable, even such a thing as this is not enough to defeat Lancer.

            …Shangri-La.
            The holy lance named after the valley of paradise.
            As its name describes, it holds the purity and power of the land of happiness, and permits no evil into its field of attack.
            Furthermore, as we have seen, it is a versatile Noble Phantasm that can be used for two types of attack, the sweeping slash and the thrust.
            As it can put its true power into either type of attack, Rider is an opponent with power.
            My mind races through names and facts.
            I remember that there was a knight in the Land of a Hundred Heroes who indeed wielded Shangri-La.
            She was one of the survivors who held out until the very end, and died in the last sweep of the demons’ attacks.
            Her name was…,
                        …if I’m remembering correctly…

                        Meslieness.
                        …Meslieness Mell Zweig.

            A strong name with beauty like a sculpture.
            It fits this knight who seems to have walked straight out of a legend, with her deceptively delicate-looking lance and the flowers in her hair.

            …But.
            To put numbers to it, Shangri-La is only a B-rank Noble Phantasm.
            Lancer’s Lorelei is so powerful that it can barely be classified in a normal system.
            Rider’s only advantage was in her superior magical energy, but now with Rose’s help that problem is solved.
            …As soon as Lancer is able to land a killing blow, this battle will be over.

            So.
            Whose killing blow will be the one that connects first—?

            “—, —…?!”

            …A strained cry from the other side of the field draws my attention.
            Saber is in trouble.
            The black-haired Rider is taller and with her great spear, she has a far superior reach.
            Saber can defend herself, but she has not been able to attack, and is steadily being driven back.
            Her teeth are gritted hard and she continues to swing her immense sword.
            But her legs are starting to buckle and one side of her dress is stained in blood.
            There is ice embedded in her thigh, slowing her down.

            Power rises beside me.
            Roswell calls out in a commanding language I do not know, invoking a powerful spell.
            …Dark power crashes down.
            It stops Rider’s attack for long enough that Saber can swing her sword inwards, but perhaps because of her injured leg, it doesn’t have the same force as the time she attacked Avenger.
            Rider is able to swing her lance up in time to block it.

            Roswell can slow her down and damage her, but I don’t know if he can summon something powerful enough to destroy Rider without damaging Saber too.
            —This isn’t good.

            “Ein, we’re going in.”
            Rose says so and reinforces her body.
            Bare-handed, she charges across the field of battle towards the enemy Masters.
            If we can’t defeat that Rider, then we will defeat the Masters instead, and force them to break their contracts—
            Rose is already halfway there by the time I open my Magic Circuit and call the white sword.
            Perhaps because it’s already something I’ve created, but the projection is faster now.
            I run after her, following her down towards Primea and Nana.

            ““Trace, on!””
            Both of the girls are holding those imitation Diviners.
            From the look of the things, they are based in ice, and both axes.
            Rose does not slow down, but heads straight for Nana, who manages to block her kick with the shaft of her weapon.
            “Hahahah, Onee-chan, you left yourself open—”
            Primea says in a singsong voice.
            But as she swings her axe down towards Rose’s defenseless side, I block her weapon with my sword.

            The blade holds fast, despite it confronting a more powerful weapon.
            …As I thought.
            The difference in the weapons is made up by our difference in strength.
            Even if Primea were wielding something of the same rank as Lancer’s Noble Phantasm, I could still counter it with something of one rank lower if I had to.
            Because I’m still larger and stronger.
            Primea is a strong magus, but she has a girl’s body and has not trained in martial arts.
            She knows how to wield this axe, but that is all she can do.

            But Primea smiles at me.
            “Ahahahahahaha, just like I thought.
            “Let’s play, Onii-chan, let’s play!”

            She swings.
            I swing my sword to stop it, and there is a rending crash as the axe and sword collide.
            Blows like falling rain.
            But this is nothing compared to Lancer.
            She and I are the same kind of creature.
            So we can fight on the same level…!!

            “Ah—!”
            “Saber…!!”

            I risk a look back.
            Saber is on the ground.
            Her leg must have given way.
            She can still hold up her Noble Phantasm and defend herself, but on the ground, she cannot wield it.
            Rider is hammering away at her sword, trying to force her to drop it.
            If her guard fails, she’ll be skewered.
            …Saber is stronger than Rider.
            But on even footing and with the lack of the element of surprise, Rider’s weapon baffles her.
            If something isn’t done—

            “Ha—kuh.”

            The sound of something punching through metal.
            A wet cough.
            Blood hits the ground.

            …But it isn’t from Saber.

            On the other side of the field.
            Lancer is standing with his spear through the holy Rider’s chest.
            Her face is contorted with pain.
            Coldly.
            With a stern face, Lancer puts his shoulders into it and twists.
            The heavy head of his Lorelei rips through Rider’s chest cavity, destroying her heart and lungs with a wet sound like bones and meat being shredded in a garbage disposal.
            Blood hits the ground.
            …He withdraws his blade.

            All of this happens very quickly, but it feels as if it is in slow motion.
            Once Lorelei is removed from her body, Rider quietly fades into nothing.
            “—Primea, Nana. The rest is up to you.”
            After that, Rider’s body is ash on the wind.

            “R, Rider!
            “Where do you think you’re going, Rider?!”

            Primea calls out as if she doesn’t understand.
            Her body strains.
            Her body strains as the realization sinks in.
            The axe in her hands pulses.
            It is reacting to her rage and disbelief.

            “—I’ll kill you.
            “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I won’t let you take Rider away from me, I’ll kill you—!”

            She rushes at Lancer.
            But I reach my sword out to stop her.
            Primea flings it aside.
            The sword shatters, and she rebounds on me.

            “—That’s right.
            “I don’t need to kill the Servant straight away.
            “If you disappear, then he’ll disappear too! Isn’t that right, Onii-chan!”

            She swings for me in a blind rage.

            Rose cannot help me.
           She is kept busy by the axe in Nana’s hands, trying to break through her reach to strike a hit enough to stun her.
            After all, Nana is our target.
            She must keep aiming for the target no matter what.
            …If nothing else, I will be able to keep Primea away.
            But I need a sword.
            I dismiss the danger that I am in and stand up.
            The sword that I had was insufficient after all.
            The projected weapon in Primea’s hands is at the same level as a mid-ranking Noble Phantasm, after all.
            I need something that can manage it.

            …I reach into my memories for the image.
            It was large and intricate, made out of unusual materials.
            I remember and I trace.
            My body burns.
            My body burns, but her sword appears in my hands.

            “Let’s see you handle this, Onii-chan…!”

            She swings down her weapon.

            “Trier!!”

            But the sword is ready.
            I take its firm, solid weight into my hands, assume the half-remembered stance, and swing, with the sword guiding my movements.

            “EXHAUST NOTE!!”

            The dark wave envelops the forming ice and blows it away.
            Primea is staring at me with shock.

            “That’s not fair!
            “Stop using your magic the way you’re not supposed to, and hurry up and take it out!”
            She swings at me in a temper tantrum, and I block with Avenger’s sword.
            My head is burning up and my Magic Circuit hurts.
            …Come to think of it, this is the greatest strain I’ve ever put on it.
            Until I did it, I couldn’t be sure that reproducing a Noble Phantasm wouldn’t be beyond me.
            But we will worry about all that later.

            “—Go, Lancer!
            “Get Saber out of there, and show them what a real Diviner can do…!”

            “…Understood, Master.”

            Lancer levels his spear and charges towards where Saber and the remaining Rider are still struggling.
            It would be stupid to erase our ally along with Rider.
            So the first task is to get Saber out of the firing range.

            Lancer rushes forward like a divine wind.
            Rider is forced to abandon her attacks on Saber to defend against Lancer, and is still blown back.
            The gap allows Saber to push herself to her feet, and Roswell arrives to take her away.

            Rider recovers and takes her stance.
            But Lancer spreads his wings and flaps them, rising off the ground as he spins his lance in his hands.
            The red spear cuts through the air.
            The world opens up and bright tongues of flame rush through the air.
            Even though Rider might have unleashed her Noble Phantasm, she needs the opportunity to do so, and enough purchase to launch her attack.
            Lancer’s attacks do not afford her such an opening.

            “—Calibration seventy percent.
            “Seventy-three. Eighty-one. Eighty-nine. Ninety-six. One hundred percent. Synchronization rising exponentially. Releasing all limiters.”
            Lancer speaks in a mechanical tone with his eyes closed as the spear in his hands begins to glow, transforming from glass lightning to a bolt of molten lava.
            It is painful to look at even from the corner of my eye.

            “—So be it.
            “Those who challenge the judgment of my Master shall in turn be judged.
            “Death to all sinners!”

            Lancer lifts his holy spear in a stance that I have never seen before.
            His wings strain at their limits and his eyes open, gazing mad and red at his target.

            “LORELEI—!”

            In the swing of his spear, great fire erupts.
            It looks as though Armageddon has been unleashed right in front of him.
            Fire appears out of nowhere and simply explodes.

            I can’t look.
            Even the heat against my face feels like my skin is going to start melting, even from such a distance away.
            The black silhouette of Lancer against the inferno is stern and impressive, like a true apostle of the gods.

            —The fire dies down.
            The ground is scorched and the trees in the path of the blast are gone.
            The ashes and embers fluttering from the sky curl into the shape of black feathers and scatter across the silent battlefield.
            For a few moments there is a figure resembling a welded suit of armor in the midst of that hell, but the next, it disappears.

            Lancer touches down.
            He turns with his spear in hand, pointing his mighty Diviner past me and to the figures of the two Masters whose Servants have been destroyed.
            Judgment has been passed, and Lancer is ready to strike down a new target if he must.

            But Primea and Nana are both staring at the conflagration blankly.
            It’s as if simply understanding the truth is all that they can do.

            They aren’t a threat anymore.
            Rose has stopped attacking, too.

            They aren’t Masters anymore.
            The weapons that they’ve projected have already disappeared.

            …I turn and look.
            Saber is supported by Roswell and appears to be all right.

            …The battle is over.
            We’re injured here and there, but we’ve all made it through alive.
            And there is no need to kill the enemy Masters.
            …We can go home.
            We can go home, rest, and look forward to the next dawn—

(interlude 11-1)

            On the edge of the forest, the two girls watch the place where their enemies disappeared.
            They have lost their Servants, but they have survived.
            It is more than they should be able to expect.

            …Still.
            Instead of leaving the forest or returning to their mansion, the two girls stand there like half-broken toys.
            Out of all their kind, the two of them were the strongest and the most complete.
            They were the only ones worthy of receiving the Magic Crest and being marked as Master of Rider, and that should have been enough to carry them through the Grail War.

            …After all, this is what their master ordered them.
            After all, this is their purpose.
            But they have been disqualified in the end.

            Perhaps it is their state of confusion and their lack of understanding as to what the next step should be.
            But they are not alerted to the familiar presence until it is very close to them.

            “—Master.”
            “—Master.”

            They turn and look up at him.
            As always, his stern face shows them nothing.
            His presence is enough to crush them, and it is denser than it has ever been.
            All they can do is look up at him and tremble.

            “—I see. So you have lost.”
            They do not talk back nor make excuses, as it is the truth.
            “I ordered you to secure me a victory.”
            They do not know words of apology to appease him.

            “…I have no need of a tool that does not function.”

            Their master lifts a hand.
            Nana clutches at her chest, crumpling to her knees.

            “No—no—Master—please—I can’t…”
            Her voice cuts off in a choking cough.
            The scream that cleaves the air is only heard by the birds of the forest, who take to the air and fly away with hollow cries.

(11-1 interlude out.)

Chapter Text

            …Slowly.
            I wake up from a deep sleep.

            Carefully, I sit up, and recognize my own room.
            Still, I am disoriented for a while, or maybe it would be better to say that I simply cannot think quite yet.
            We made it out of the forest early in the morning and returned home.
            I went to sleep then, and so did everyone else.
            …Obviously.
            I pulled out something insane during that fight.
            It would be strange if I wasn’t exhausted.
            Lancer used his Noble Phantasm and Saber was hurt.
            Both of them needed to rest.
            Rose and Roswell were surely tired too.

            It’s surely already about noon.
            I should get up and try to make some food.
            …………
            I try to suppress the scene from last night.
            That was no better than a dream.
            It was a measure that had to be taken for our survival, nothing more.
            If I don’t think of it that way, then I’m not going to be able to face them.

            I take a deep breath and dig up a change of clothing, then go to wash my face and get ready.

            But when I head downstairs, the living room and table are empty.
            The only person there aside from me is Rose, who is standing idly in front of the sink while staring out the window.

            …I freeze.
            My body wants to remember how it felt to be inside her.
            My desire wants to awaken and rage out of control, but I can’t let it.
            I turn away and try to straighten out my thoughts.
            No, first of all—

            “—So you’re embarrassed after all. I figured you were going to be.”
            Rose says so calmly.
            I turn back to look.
            She’s leaning against the counter with something like a bitter smile.

            “Rose.”
            I don’t know what to say.

            She pushes her hair back in an unusually girlish gesture.
            “—Don’t worry. I’m not going to pick on you about it.
            “It was probably a stressful situation for you and all, and I’m sure you find it strange that I can be so calm about this.”

            Rose smiles.
            “It’s a situation I’m more familiar with than you.
            “Like I told you, it wasn’t my first time at all, and this is what my body’s made for after all.”

            “—Hold on.”
            I don’t understand what she’s saying.

            “After everything, I guess I’m glad you reacted normally.”
            Rose shrugs her shoulders and continues looking at me with a smile.
            “But then, it would be unfair to you to compare you to the other magi who trained me for use as their spare battery.
           “—You never knew better, but you’ve still always treated me like a person. This was necessary for our survival, and yet right now you’re trying not to think about having had sex with Lancer and me.”

            I don’t understand what she’s talking about.
            But I feel uneasy.
            “—Rose, of course I don’t want to think about it.
            “We’re in the middle of a war, and no matter what the reason was, we still did something embarrassing like that.
            “I don’t want to trouble you any more after having made you do something like that to help make Lancer stronger.”

            Rose smiles bitterly.
            “It’s going to be hard to explain this to you no matter what because I don’t know where to start, even though you still have the right to know.
            “But before anything else, what makes you different is that you have consideration for how Lancer and I feel, and feel desire for us outside of having to connect sexually and magically to survive.
            “Most of the magi I’ve known in my lifetime aren’t like that at all.”

            She says so calmly.
            This girl younger and slightly smaller than me, who’s still always been more of a sempai and an older sister than someone who looks up to me.

            “…Rose, please explain.
            “I may not know very much, but I at least understand that not very many magi would have been able to improvise a ritual like the one we used.
            “And I’m worried about the way that you’ve been talking.”

            Rose nods.
            “All right. You’ve always wondered why I hate familiar-users so much, haven’t you?
            “—It’s because I’m not human.”

            She says something absurd with a blank face.

            “What are you talking about? To begin with, Rose, you’re—”
            Rose holds up a hand to make me be quiet, and I fall silent.
            Then she points to her ears.
            She touches the black tips of her ears and pulls them forward and back demonstratively, as if explaining something extremely obvious.
            “My magic shouldn’t work on you like this, but then you’re sheltered enough to have not considered it strange usually.
            “Still, now that you’ve experienced life in the open, haven’t you ever wondered about these?
            “Even among magi, ordinary people don’t have cat ears.”

            …Well, she’s right, but…
            When we first met, Rose was the only girl I’d ever known, and the only one close to my age I’d ever seen.
            My world when I was young had been made up of Hector-sama and the servants attending him, and I really didn’t know about anything else.
            I might have wondered about the way Rose looks when we first met, but I quickly accepted it without asking anything because it wasn’t important if I just wanted to be near her and learn from her.

            “You know that Hector-sama is on this level, right?
            “He and the other powerful magi made me after you were born.
            “Part of my body was constructed from a cat, which is why I look like this; part of my innate magical properties forces the people around me to accept it as normal without questioning it.
            “For instance, even though Roswell is a magus, when he looks at me, only his subconscious would notice that I have a cat’s ears.
            “His conscious mind glosses over it because of my body’s natural magical camouflage.”
            Rose explains it in a calm voice, the same way she’s explained so many things to me.
            “I was created as a blank familiar in order to help develop your magic and teach you more directly than Hector-sama and his servants could.
            “You always had the potential to be a magic user, but the truth is that a lot of your potential was unformed, so someone would have to wake it up and shape it.
            “They created a ‘scalpel’ to do so, and that was me.
            “I have multiple uses, though.
            “My construction was very complex as I’m far above the level of your garden familiars, like the bird Vienya uses.
            “I have my own will, my body can store prana, I have Magic Circuits and a synthetic Magic Crest copying the things that Hector-sama’s servants have.
            “My life is tied to yours, though. If you ever died, I would either die or be crippled as well.”

            I stand in silence as Rose speaks.
            It feels as unreal as Lancer’s memories that seep into me almost every night.
            …Perhaps because this is a cold explanation and I can see the things that Lancer experienced, it doesn’t feel quite real and I almost want to deny it out loud.

            “…Of course, I’m here as your magical backup as well.
            “Your prana and mine are tightly connected, and any serious manipulations of the way your Magic Circuits flow would require sex.
            “I was able to tamper with the bond between you and Lancer, even. It would be impossible for an ordinary magus, but this is what I was made for.
            “—Well, it’s easier if you know the theory.
            “But I fully understand the theory and the method and I’ve had experience with providing other people magical energy.
            “I was always made to manipulate the connection myself, so even though it’s not something you’d ordinarily boast about, I’m good at this.”
            Rose goes on quite nonchalantly.
            “—Don’t make that surprised face at me, Ein. I told you plenty of times that I wasn’t a virgin, and you know it with your body, too.
            “It was your first time too, but when last night did I bleed or feel pain?”
            …I don’t want to linger over the memories, but what she says is true.
            “I’ve been trained in this for years, after all. Since before we met.”
            Rose speaks simply and calmly, as if it’s a given fact that’s not to be fussed over.

            But I feel cold.

            “Trained—you mean, they…?”

            She raises her eyebrows at me.
            “You can’t say they raped me or anything like that.
            “—Like I said before, I’m a familiar, and I knew that that was what I was for.
            “I’ve supplied a number of the people working under Hector-sama with magic power many times, and even Hector-sama himself.
            “They only cared about the magic exchange, and that was all I bothered with too, even though it was uncomfortable a lot of the time.”
            Rose dismisses sex as just a ritual and part of her training.

            “So I’m not embarrassed and I’m not angry at you.
            “You see me as a person and always have, and you treated me accordingly.
            “The way you’re acting is just more proof of that, and you deserve to know why I’m not going to get angry at you or anything.”
            Rose says so with her words full of worldly understanding and nonchalance.
            …She pauses, and then smiles.
            “And I know you better than to think you’ll change your opinion of me just because I’m not human. You’re not that kind of person, and you’ve treated Lancer like an ordinary human even knowing what he is from the start.”
            Looking at Rose, I can see the figure of a wise and strong adult in the form of the girl who’s always led me through everything.
            …But I can also see something else.

            …I can see the silhouette of a girl raised to believe that because she was born a bit differently than other people, she didn’t have the right to decide what would happen to her own body.

            I walk into the kitchen and lean on the counter next to Rose.
            Even though she believes in me so casually, I want to show her that this doesn’t change anything, really.
            “—Thank you for telling me that.
            “To be honest, it’s kind of a lot to absorb, and I don’t think I’ll be able to fully let it sink in until after we’re done fighting.
            “I’ll be thinking about it after the Grail War ends, too.
            “But I’m glad you confided in me.”

            Rose nods and smiles.
            “I wanted to be the one to get the Command Spell, even though my chances were pretty slim as I’m not an ordinary magus.
            “But in the end, it’s all right that I didn’t.
            “You’re taking good care of Lancer, and knowingly becoming a familiar-user hasn’t changed you at all.
            “—Besides, I still won, because you’re hopeless without me.”
            Rose gives me a cheeky and complacent smile.

            …I smile back.
            No one else is around.
            If I really wanted to, I could probably lean in and kiss her, and she wouldn’t get angry or push me away.
            We might even go further.
            Everyone else still seems to be sleeping.
            …But I know that this isn’t the time for such things.
            I may not be able to read the future, but I’m sure that if we survive this Grail War, then someday we’re going to do it again.
            Not for the sake of a magical transfer or anything like that.
            Just to do it.
            …I want to show her that beyond my just treating her as a person, she is a person.
            No matter what kind of person she is or how she was born.
            Even if she has been raised so she isn’t aware of this one thing, Rose is smart and brave and competent.
            She deserves to be loved and pleased and made to feel good.

            …If I said so, she would really get mad.
            And I’ll have to stop thinking about it soon, because it’s embarrassing.
            But last night… isn’t something we should or have to regret.

            So Rose and I stand still in the kitchen in silence as we wait for the rest of the house to wake up, and even after what I’ve been told, it’s a very peaceful feeling.

            …Eventually everyone else trails in, and we make lunch.
            Vienya especially seems to be half-asleep, and everyone is groggy as we pass around the soy sauce and eat rice.

            “—So anyway, now the Riders are gone too.
            “All that’s left as far as the enemy Servants go is Berserker and Caster.”
            Rose fiddles with her spoon idly.
            “—Man, I can’t believe that Caster still hasn’t come out at all yet.
            “Five Servants out of nine have been defeated, but we haven’t seen hide nor hair of it yet. Either that’s a really lazy Servant and Master pair, or they’re just opportunistic and hoping that we’ll finish each other off and they’ll only have to fight one battle.”
            Rose’s tone is disapproving, as if wanting to make the insult that that kind of opportunism is also a sign of laziness.
            “—There’s nothing we can do.
            “Hector-sama said that there’s certainly a Caster-class Servant in this Grail War, so we just have to think that it’s in hiding.”
            Roswell shakes his head.
            “You have the word of the supervisor, and we’ve been all over the town and haven’t sensed a thing from Caster yet.
            “That Servant must be quite skilled at staying concealed, or just in a place that lets it hide well, after all.”
            The air is filled with the sounds of sighs.
            “…So anyway, what should our plan be for tonight?”
            Rose stretches.
            “—That one’s obvious, Ein.
            “We have to go out on patrol again, all of us, and track down Berserker if we can’t get Caster to come out.
            “We don’t know about Caster, but at least Berserker might be roaming around.
            “Probably, we should stay in Miyama now.
            “This is where the Tohsaka household is, after all, and our best chance at finding Caster would be to surprise them there.
            “If they’re a real opportunist, they’ll just go where the Holy Grail is going to appear and then wait for us to come to them. Besides, Miyama is where we ran into Berserker before.”
            Saber narrows her eyes.
            Either because of her vendetta against Berserker or her memories of her near defeat, Saber narrows her eyes and stabs her food with her chopsticks in a petulant gesture.
            Roswell sighs.
            “—If we’re going to be finding Berserker, then all of us will be necessary.”
            …He really is right.
            It’s been a while, but I still remember it.
            If we hadn’t been saved by Archer and Saber and given the advantage of numbers, we definitely would have been killed.
            The problem is still Nessiah, who is very powerful and seems like he could fight a Servant on even ground, even being a magus instead of a strong fighter.
            Berserker, who is already a strong Servant, is made even more of a monster by his monster of a Master.
            We have to come at him with full force or we’ll be killed.

            The plan is made to go out patrolling again tonight, and to leave the house in Vienya’s care again, as without a Servant she would be in danger confronting a Master as powerful as Nessiah.
            As for what to do until then, I suggest that we go back to training.
            “—I won’t be able to join you.”
            Saber says so unexpectedly with an uncomfortable face.
            “My wounds are healed on the outside, but they need a little more time before the inside is completely fixed.
            “So I need to stay with Roswell and rest as much as I can until we go out.”
            …Oh.
            “So then, will you be okay when we go out to fight?”
            Saber nods her head to my question.
            “Yes. I’m doing this because I do not want to be at any kind of disadvantage when I face that man.
            “We haven’t both been called into this war for me to be defeated easily and laughed at.”
            I see.
            Saber has her pride too, and she recognizes Berserker as the most dangerous enemy.
            …He probably is, for her, considering that they were nemeses in the legend.
            Roswell nods.
            “I guess we’ll stay up here, then.
            “Ein, go ahead and use the basement. We’ll all stay out of your way.”
            I nod my thanks to everyone.
            “Okay then, let’s go, Lancer.”
            I stand up and begin to head for the stairs.
            …Unusually, there’s a pause before I hear Lancer get up.
            It’s odd, but he follows me into the basement as usual.

            …Rose hasn’t even bothered to move her things back this time, and so there’s still plenty of open space.
            Lancer takes his place at the other end of the room.
            He calls his Noble Phantasm and takes the same stance as always.
            …Huh?
            Something’s different.
            I might not have noticed it before, but something about the way Lancer is standing seems uncertain.
            He has a mild expression on his face that might be dissatisfaction.
            “…Then, Master.
            “Please create your weapon so that we may resume the training.”

            …
            ……
            ………
            …Something is definitely odd here.
            We’ve been training for nearly two hours and I’ve worked up a good sweat.
            Soon it’s going to be dinnertime, so we’ve already come to a rest.
            Apparently Roswell is working to create something good for us, and there’s no need to head up while we’re still cooling off.
            …But it’s odd.
            I don’t know if he’s still tired from the battle against the Riders or not, but Lancer has been fighting strangely today.
            As usual, he attacks me without mercy and has been driving me around for the past two hours, but despite his serious attitude, it’s as though the will to follow through has disappeared.
            Any time we come in too close and he drives me back, every time I realize too late that I’ve left myself open for a close-in attack or connecting blow that would push me to the edge of consciousness, Lancer has not pursued it.
            I know that he must be seeing those openings, as it is utterly unthinkable that someone at Lancer’s level would not.
            And still, he never pursued them.
            …Well, I can’t complain about that too much as I’m not as exhausted, and besides, bringing our bodies that close might have made me dredge up that night’s dream and made me unable to continue.
            Still, how much am I going to learn from this?
            “…Hey, Lancer.”
            I raise my voice to ask him to hit me harder tomorrow as usual.
            Lancer turns toward me absentmindedly.
            The way he’s standing still seems unsure.
            “Lancer?”
            Is he all right?
            I stand up and walk over to him.
            …I doubt that Servants can catch colds, but stranger things have always happened, and so I guess I can’t dismiss the fact that he might be sick.
            After all, it’s a little worrying for Lancer to space out like this.
            …But when I come close enough that we’re less than arm’s length apart, Lancer takes a quick step away from me.
            He’s avoiding my gaze and his face seems flushed.

            …Wait.
            There’s no way Lancer is sick.
            But can this actually really be—

            “Master.”
            Lancer closes his eyes and his Noble Phantasm disappears.
            “We should hurry upstairs, or we may be late for dinner.”
            Before I can say anything, he’s already headed for the stairs.
            …That settles it.
            Lancer is never ever the one who declares it’s time to stop and eat.

            …Well.
            I can’t complain because this is exactly as embarrassing for me as it is for him.
            But I just hope that it isn’t going to make things too awkward for the rest of this time.

            Tonight, Roswell has made a sumptuous dinner of rice and seafood with a lemon-based seasoning.
            The sourness along with the salt and butter is an excellent taste, and I’m a little bit jealous.
            Lancer eats silently as ever, and everyone has a second helping except Vienya, who eats four servings. And there’s still enough to put in the freezer to heat up for tomorrow.
            I think to myself how strange it is that no matter how many new people we meet and invite into our home during this war, they always wind up just like part of our family in the end.
            —If not for the war.
            —We might not even have met, and yet if we had met outside the war, we probably could have become like this without any need of bloodshed or pain.

            Carefully, we lock up and leave the house to Vienya.
            With Saber in normal clothes and Lancer not materialized, we begin to walk down the sidewalks of this blue and silent world.

            The world is very quiet in Miyama at night.
            There are still probably plenty of people wandering around in Shinto at this time, but that’s only natural as this is the residential district and over there it’s more office buildings and stores.
            For now, the only sound is our footsteps on the paved cement, and our breathing.
            We don’t need to talk, as everything important has already been said, and besides we need to keep our guard up.

            As the hours pass by and the date comes closer to changing, we walk up and down the streets and even check by the Ryudou Temple, but we don’t find anything.
            There are a few places left to check like the unfinished edges of the town and the empty places where the early battles occurred, so we head towards there.
            Roswell and Saber are in the lead, walking with their steps almost in perfect time.
            Aside from their magical presence, they seem almost like any other young couple.
            …Well, that and their serious expressions, but those are just because this is an important battle for Saber especially.
            I’m sure that Lancer and I wouldn’t look like this together in a million years.
            Even Rose and would I look more like classmates or sempai and kouhai than a couple.
            If the three of us were able to walk down the street together, putting aside the issue of Lancer’s wings, I’m sure that the only people who would stare at us would be the people who stare because we stand out.
            …But Roswell and Saber are different.
            A beautiful girl and an elegant but proud magus.
            Especially with the air of majesty that Saber can carry, they seem like the kind of pair that statues might be made to represent.
            …Even during dinnertimes, when Saber sometimes acts childish and Roswell acts smug and pompous about his cooking, they are so well suited that all I can do is envy them.
            It’s similar to my respect for Rose’s magic, just a wistful longing from afar, knowing that this is something I will never achieve.

            After a long and peaceful walk, a dull ache starts up in my arm just as we get to a particularly abandoned-looking stretch of destroyed road.
            They are sitting on a large piece of rubble that looks like it’s a part of the road itself, jutting up and making something of a shelf-like bench.
            Berserker is watching us approach, but makes no move to get up.
            He is wearing modern clothing instead of his armor, and watches us with an expressionless face, eyes following us alertly.
            The moonlight highlights his hair brightly, while the blue shadows make it look more purple than red.
            …Nessiah is leaning into his Servant’s side with his eyes closed, arm linked through Berserker’s.
            Just like the last time we saw them, he is dressed all in white and carrying his heavy book on his lap, and in the moonlight, he looks more like a mannequin or a porcelain statue than something real.
            As we approach, Nessiah sits up slowly and rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand in a delicate gesture.
            The figure of the two of them is mysteriously captivating.

            “—Oh, there you are.”
            Nessiah looks at us and calls out with a drowsy voice.
            “We were searching for you earlier, but it was taking too long and I was getting tired, so we decided we might as well wait for you to come to us.”

            Master and Servant stand up.
            Berserker remains silent, watching us while standing at Nessiah’s side protectively.
            His gaze seems to be focused on Saber, but that’s only to be expected.
            Not displaying any of the malevolence from before, Nessiah looks like an empty doll.
            Still, I can feel the traces of their intense magical presence, and it would be bad to consider them anything other than a real threat, despite the fact that they are outnumbered.

            “You’ve been busy lately, haven’t you?”
            Nessiah asks in an absent tone as if not really expecting an answer.
            “By my count, there should only be these three left and Caster.
            “—But then, this Grail War is meant to end soon, so I suppose there’s nothing else for it.”

            Apparently, they’ve been keeping track of the defeated Servants somehow as well.
            “And now we’ll draw things closer to the final curtain call, I suppose.”
            The white figure separates from Berserker for a moment.
            The golden book opens and holds still in midair as if on a podium, and Nessiah takes the sides of his skirts and bends in something more like a curtsy than a bow.
            …No.
            It’s more like a marionette sagging on its strings than a curtsy.
            After a pause, Nessiah stands up straight and holds Berserker’s hand.
            …There’s something about this scene that imprints itself upon my heart.
            Given Nessiah’s small stature as compared to Berserker’s height, it should look comical, like mismatched siblings or a parent and child, but that movement has incomparable grace.
            …I guessed about it before, but I’m sure now.
            More than anyone, this Master and Servant are connected by a strong “bond”.
            I don’t think it’s anything that I can understand so easily.
            But this bond will be as much a weapon as Nessiah’s magic or Berserker’s Noble Phantasm.

            “—Now.
          “I presume that you children are here to challenge us over who has the right to the Holy Grail, as per the norm.”

            I step forward.
            As Lancer’s Master, I must be the one to answer these words.
            “Yes.
            “Either use up your remaining Command Spells and retire, or we must do battle here.”

            Nessiah smiles bitterly and closes his eyes.
            He places his free hand on the center of his chest and traces it over his body.
            “…That which has been carved into this flesh will never fade.
            “I will not allow it.
            “No matter how this battle ends, I will be the Master of Berserker until I am erased from this world.”
            —His response, is words of a terrible love.

            “As I told you before, I will not allow you children to take the Holy Grail.
            “It belongs to us already.”

            “—Nessiah.”
            Berserker speaks with a smile.
            “You’re talking to a bunch of witless small fries and one of the most stubborn princesses I’ve ever known.
            “We’ll have to beat it into them to make them understand.”

            Saber’s form changes.
            From the bright-natured girl to the pure queen with sword in hand.
            Lancer appears at my side and steps forward, pointing his Diviner forward.

            “—Then.”
            Nessiah’s eyes open fully, and he releases Berserker, spreading both hands wide with a twisted smile.
            “Go get them, Berserker—!!”

            “—”
            The next moment, Berserker is halfway across the road.
            His body is covered in red and gold armor, and the long-poled scythe Noble Phantasm is in his hands.
            Saber meets his charge with a heavy crash, and their bodies strain for a moment before Saber begins to be pushed back due to Berserker’s sheer size.
            Lancer drives in at Berserker’s side, but the attack is deflected by that heavy armor, and Berserker leaps a step backward to slash at them both.

            …A scythe is ordinarily an extremely unwieldy weapon.
            Still, Berserker’s height and technical skill enable him to use it with deadly force.
            His body is reinforced with great magic and despite having been a mostly mortal hero, I can tell that in his current state, he is more than a match for either Saber or Lancer alone.
            …As it is, the two of them together are just more than a match for him, but with his natural strength he is able to hold them off and do them damage.
            The small wounds pile up and then heal.
            For now, any serious damage to Berserker himself is prevented by his heavy armor.

            —Nessiah’s voice.
            He’s speaking harsh, sharp words in a language I can’t understand, but which makes me want to cover my ears to try to block it out.
            It’s painful just to listen to it.

            Rose grabs my arm and starts to pull me backwards.
            Roswell is also getting out of the way.
            Nessiah raises his hand and calls out, and fire like a waterfall crashes down onto the three Servants.

            My Command Spell stings, but it’s not the same as the tearing pain that told me we were in danger before.

            When the flames disperse, Berserker has taken no damage, and Lancer also seems fine. Only Saber has been directly harmed, with her clothes and skin singed or burned in places.
            —The battle continues to get faster.
            Berserker’s scythe is a sharp crescent flash through the air, and it is a precise deathly strike.
            Lancer and Saber both aim for his unguarded body, straining to put an end to this without having to overuse their Noble Phantasms, but Berserker twists like a thrown cat and is able to repel both of their attacks.
            —It’s insane.
            …Worse, Nessiah continues to rain down fire spells.
            They don’t hurt Lancer very much and Berserker is unaffected, but it’s plain to see that Saber is starting to suffer from the repeated blows.
            She does not slow down, but the arc of her sword has become less clean and more desperate, easier for Berserker to block or cast aside.

            …This is a dangerous situation to be in.
            If Saber should fall, then we’ll lose our advantage and it will be two on one instead of two against two.
            …And yet.
            Berserker and Nessiah work together in a seamless front, trusting each other completely, with Nessiah taking full advantage of his Servant’s strengths.
            If there’s any one thing that we should strive for in the few remaining days of this Grail War… it should be to become like this.
            Not so much in power, but in unity.

            …For now, though, there is not much that I can do.
            There isn’t enough room for me to get around the battlefield and attempt to attack Nessiah again physically, even were I to project a powerful weapon.
            If I were to attack him head-on, he would only switch to targeting me instead of Saber, and it shouldn’t need to be said how long I would last in a direct battle.
            When it comes to this, I doubt that I have any real way to contribute to the battle and help Lancer to win, other than trying to find an opening for him.

            …Even though I don’t want to order the death of a Master, technically the fastest way to put an end to this battle would be to attack Nessiah directly.
            But to do that, someone would have to get past Berserker first.

            —For we mages at least, this is impossible.

            The second method would be to wear Berserker down before Saber herself is worn down.
            …This isn’t a very viable option as I have no idea who will give out first at this rate.

            It would also be good if one of us could attack Berserker with some form of spell that he’s weak to, but our Servants aren’t.
            He’s a demon, so light-based spells might be effective, and they shouldn’t do much damage to Saber or Lancer.
            But I’m no good at things like that, Rose is strongest with fire and contact magic, and Roswell specializes in dark magic, lowering that possibility.

            Or we could distract Berserker with something strong enough to give someone else a chance at a finishing blow…

            “—Lancer!
            “It’s no good holding back, you might as well get ready to use your Noble Phantasm!”

            The knight pauses for a moment after blocking and glances back at me.
            …I know he can see that I have an idea now.
            After everything, Lancer knows me at least well enough to understand that.
            He nods to show that he’s willing to put his trust in me.

            “—Then, we will reply in kind.
            “Berserker, with as much force as you can…!”

            Nessiah calls out from behind his Servant.
            “—Right.”

            “Stand back, Saber.”
            Roswell beckons his Servant away, and she retreats out of the blast zone as Lancer lifts his body into the air and begins to prepare his holy spear.
            Berserker closes his eyes and pulls his scythe back.

            “LORELEI—”
            But as the explosion of flames begins to descend, Berserker lunges forward, swinging his scythe forward in a powerful gesture.

            “PROMINENCE!

            I shield my face, but am able to peek through my fingers for the inevitable result.
            The great cataclysm of fire rains down.
            …So Berserker’s attack was too late.
            Not even a great demon could stand up to something like Lancer’s Noble Phantasm—

                        “…Heh.
                        “If you’re trying to kill me, then you’re going to need to turn up the heat more.”

            …Something vast erupts from within the conflagration.
            It’s also fire.
            Pale fire with the usual colors inverted, gold to red instead of red to gold.
            The fire is in the shape of a massive beast—a dragon or a phoenix—and rises out of the shockwave of Lancer’s attack, cutting a vast swath through the purgatorial pool of holy fire and streaming forward toward Lancer himself.
            The flames wrap around Lancer and lose their form, vanishing.

            —Pain runs up my arm and Lancer lands heavily, just as Berserker becomes visible when the flames of Lancer’s Noble Phantasm start dying down.

            He is braced with one eye closed, but smiling dangerously.
            …His hair flickers around him like fire itself, and his face and armor is smudged with ash.
            —His breastplate has been blown away, leaving him partly exposed.

            “—Saber!”

            She rushes back in, and strikes hard before Berserker is able to get his guard back up.
            The sound of the slice, and of the sword’s blade grating against the armor that remains, rings through the night air.

            “Kh…!”

            As Saber pulls away, Berserker lets out a harsh voice and swings at her, then pivots to strike at Lancer.

            Lancer also retreats several paces, and Berserker falters.
            There is a deep and ugly gash across his chest.
            The wound does not appear to be fatal, but it’s sure that he’ll have trouble maneuvering now.
            —It worked.
            We’ve opened Berserker to attacks…!

            “Gulcasa—!!”
            Anxiously.
            From the other edge of the battlefield, Nessiah calls out his Servant’s true name.

            “—Stay there!”
            Not taking his eyes off his opponents for even a second, Berserker calls back.
            “I’m going to protect you this time. I’ll protect you, so stay there!
            “No matter what, we’re going to make it out of this, so give me the strength I need…!”

            “—”
            Saber begins to ready her blade for another swing, and Lancer backs away another few paces.
            He is nearly up to where we are.
            I can tell that he is injured, although it’s not badly enough for real worry.
            “—It’s okay, Lancer.
            “Saber can handle it from here, so go ahead and return to spirit form. You did a good job.”
            Lancer nods once, and then vanishes from sight.

            But then.
            “—All right. I’m releasing the limiters now.
            “Gulcasa. If your body can’t withstand this, I’ll never forgive you.”

            Berserker has no reply.
            Instead, he just smiles bitterly at us, teeth gritted and bared in a harsh grin.

            …The sound of something cracking.
            The air around us heats up, and Berserker’s eyes go blank, empty pits of gold.
            The black marks around his eyes deepen and sharpen, and the dark heartbeat of power that’s always enshrouded his body intensifies.
            This pressure is—

            …Still, Saber runs forward.
            Like a white streak of light or a proclamation of the gods.
            She parts the air and rushes forward to clash with Berserker as he finally goes mad.

            …Heavy blows struck with all their strength.
            The air fills with the sounds of metal clashing and clanging, and it hurts my ears.

            It’s just like the legends.
            Within the hellfire and the mad aura around Berserker that feels like it’s crushing my lungs from within my chest, the white queen and the red emperor reenact their fateful confrontation.

            I might be able to get Lancer to manifest again.
            I might be able to rush in myself and strike a critical blow.
            But such things don’t occur to me now.
            All I can do is watch in awe.

            …Finally.
            Berserker’s voice is raised in a hoarse cry that is equally roar and scream, and Saber punctuates each blow with a desperate shout.
            They are slowing down to the point that it no longer hurts my head to watch them trade blows.
            Saber’s body is battered and covered in shallow cuts, her dress frayed in places, but she does not falter.
            For all the exhaustion evident in her movements, she continues to strike each blow as hard as the last.
            Berserker is covered in serious injuries.
            His armor is mostly destroyed and his body has been slashed open in several places, vast red gashes that nearly go down to the bone.
            Still, there is no reason in his eyes and no regard to how critical a state his body is in.
            The only directive remaining is his self-appointed task to protect his Master.
            …He truly is a demon.
            This is a monster in the shape of a man.
            …And yet.
            The battle between the two of them is beautiful.

            “—!!”

            With all her strength,
            Saber pushes her sword forward.

            “Kh, ah—?!”

            The tip of the blade erupts from Berserker’s back, through his spine, covered in blood and other fluid.
            Blood runs from Berserker’s mouth as the choked cry of pain leaves his body.
            The aura of madness dissipates as Saber pulls her sword back, and his legs collapse, sending him to the ground hard.
            …It’s no surprise.
            Saber’s fatal blow severed the spinal column and cut away the use of the lower half of his body, leaving collapse as the only thing he could do.

            “…Gulcasa…?”

            Soft and shaken.
            It’s already too late for the Master to do anything.
            The wind tosses back Berserker’s long hair, slowly turning to ash from the ends up, as though his body is gradually becoming steam and being torn apart.

            “…Gulcasa—!!”

            Running footsteps.
            I am close enough to see Berserker’s eyes close, and open again as ordinary.
            With the last of his strength, he turns to look over his shoulder at the Master rushing to his side, no longer able to care about the danger he may be putting himself in by coming near us.
            …All of Nessiah’s composure is long gone.
            His body is shaking and his eyes are wild, filled with tears.

            “Gulcasa—”
            Calling his Servant’s name as though it’s the only thing he knows how to do.
            Finally, he reaches the still-smoldering part of the road, and the collapsed body of his Berserker.

            He reaches out, perhaps to put his arms around his Servant for comfort, perhaps just to steady the both of them.
            But the second after he lays hands on Berserker’s body…,
            ……that Servant’s body disappears.

            Nessiah stands alone in the middle of the street, frozen.
            His body buckles, and he falls to the ground heavily, the same way Berserker did.
            —His voice raises.

            The wordless scream is filled with grief and rage and a hundred other emotions I can’t put names to.
            It goes on and on, even after his voice begins to crack, and it continues for eternity.

 

            —“Eternity” ends.
            The only proof that Berserker was here in this war,
                        the only proof that such a “bond” existed…

            …is the pale body lying twisted and unmoving in the middle of the pavement.

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            A red-stained world.
            A cold scene of carnage with the battle already ended.
            The knight stands in a wasteland under a muted blue sky masked in clouds.
            The wind picks up quickly, lifting the tatter of his cape as he walks away.
            He steps over corpses, those of the enemy and those of his allies.
            None of these things matter now that the battle has ended.
            …Nothing matters to the heavens but the fact of the “victory”.
            His companions would not do anything different if it were his corpse on the field.
            None of their lives mean anything individually, after all.

            —They are “things”.
            I have seen this fact several times in these dreams.
            In the world that he lived in, such a conception was seen as the one and only undeniable truth of his existence.
            He fought many great battles.
            After every one, he was quickly returned to sleep.
            He was saving lives, but he never saw the people he saved.
            He was just spat out into hell over and over again, killed many enemies, and was swallowed up into darkness once his task was fulfilled.

            I’m only watching this ugly familiar scenery from a distance.
            But all I can sense from the knight is tiredness.
            He feels no victory, no mercy, no guilt, no boredom, no joy or sorrow.
            —Perhaps it is because of that fallacy called a “truth”.
            “You are merely a weapon, and weapons have no need for emotions—”
            I don’t know how many times he was told this.
            All I know is that by this time, whichever battle this was over his long existence, it is something that he believes without question.

            …That’s enough.
            You’ve done enough.

            No one exists who will praise him or give him those words.
            The heart of the scholar was wrapped in steel and sleeps as if dead within the chest of the knight.
            Ledah Rozwelli, the great knight, the Grim Angel of the heavens…
            …is little more than a walking corpse, kept alive only by his sense of duty.
            Even in battle, his expression never changes.
            Tears never form in his eyes, and he never smiles.

            …How stupid.
            To comply with the demands of the world,
            he crushed his own sense of self and free will.

            He could have turned away many times.
            If he had left the battlefield, then he could have faked his own death and escaped into a peaceful life somewhere.
            Even being isolated would be better than the hell in which he lived.
            …But he did not even consider such a thing.
            It would be against his orders, and besides.

            “This is why I was born.”
            —It was a necessary sacrifice, from the view of the others.
            For the sake of preserving order, Asgard chose a few of its own children and utterly destroyed them.
            The world of the gods was a world of absolute order with no mercy.
            This way, there would be fewer sacrifices, and the people were happy with whatever they had to endure.
            —They could look down on the Grim Angels, think “At least I’m better off than them”, and obey the orders of the gods with easy hearts.

            He knew this.
            As a scholar, of course he knew.
            But when he was chosen, he simply thanked the messengers and complied.

            …He would not run away.
            Instead, he would accept his fate.
            It wasn’t so noble as wanting to protect everyone.
            Even being praised by one person would be enough.
            If he could fulfill the purpose of his existence, then surely someone would offer those words.
            Surely he himself would feel fulfilled before his death.
            —He only ever desired to be recognized.
            If the scholar could not be recognized, then he would become a knight as he was ordered.
            He would throw away whatever the gods asked of him, even his own heart.
            He would live, fight, and die.

            …Even if he was miserable the entire time, even if he became a machine, even if he forgot why it was he chose to do battle in the first place.

            —Surely someone must exist somewhere who would give him those words…

            I wake up.
            My eyes hurt.
            …That’s a matter of course, as there are tears in them.
            Lancer—no, Ledah.
            He’s an idiot.
            He boxed himself in with painfully simple hopes and dreams.
            —But the world should be blamed more.
            Anyone could have reached out to him and saved him before it was too late.
            That kind of person just didn’t exist.

            I go into the bathroom and wash my face before I get dressed.
            I don’t want to upset anyone by looking like I’m getting ready to cry.

            …When I go downstairs, the table is relaxed and lively.
            Like usual, everyone else is awake before me.
            Saber looks back to normal, and is sitting beside her Master with a smile.
            Vienya reaches over the table for things and feeds part of her breakfast to her familiar.
            Rose is sitting on her side of the table with a few of her study things piled next to her.
            She competes cheerfully for the same food as Vienya.
            …And Lancer is sitting at his corner of the table like always.

            …Well.
            It may be too late, but there are at least some things that I can do.
            It’s not enough just to give Lancer a warm environment.
            I don’t know what I can really do to let him relax and have fun, but I’ll start with what I know I’m capable of.

            “—Good morning, everyone.”
            I sit down as they reply to me.
            Lancer turns slightly so that his attention is on me.
            “Are you feeling better? You got hurt last night, after all.”
            Lancer nods.
            “Yes. The wounds are mostly healed and should be better after today, so we will be able to move out again soon.”
            The only hostile Servant left is Caster.
            After we defeat it, all that’s left should be deciding what to do with the Holy Grail with Saber and Roswell, and hoping that it doesn’t have to come down to a battle.
            …Rose and I don’t have any wish to grant, after all.
            “I’m glad. But I’m just happy that you’re all right, Lancer.
            “I took a risk, and I couldn’t even tell you about it. It makes me happy that you trusted me.”
            Lancer gets an uncomfortable expression.
            “…I was merely following my Master’s orders as any Servant should, and besides, I was not able to defeat Berserker alone.”
            “Nobody could ask a single Servant to take out a monster of an enemy like that alone, so don’t worry about it. You did a good job.”
            …I don’t usually have the opportunity to praise people, so I think the way I phrased it might be kind of awkward.
            Still, I touch Lancer’s shoulder lightly before I start eating.
            It’s just a touch, but it makes me want to go wild and remember that night.
            But I can’t.
            No matter how much my face wants to go red, I won’t allow it.

            “—So now all there is left is Caster.
            “Saber and Lancer both have strong magic resistance, so it shouldn’t be a difficult battle unless Caster is a complete beast, too.”
            Roswell returns from washing his dishes and says so with a calm smile.
            It’s a complacent expression, but it’s still something good to see.
            “We can’t underestimate the last Servant just because it’s a magus.
            “The Master could easily be a contact-style magus, and if they’re boosted by Caster it would be a tough battle. We can’t rule out any possibilities.”
            Rose corrects him, but she’s smiling too.
            I understand how she feels.
            If we’re all together, we can take on anything and win.
            It’s that kind of a feeling.

            “Hey, Ein.”
            She looks across the table to me with a more serious expression.
            “I made a little bit extra, so could you take some into the spare room?”

            …I realize what she’s asking.
            It kind of hurts my chest.
            But I can understand how the others might have trouble dealing with this, and after all, it was my idea in the first place.
            So I nod my head and agree, and once I finish eating, I put the spare serving onto a plate with Western utensils and chopsticks.

            …There are a number of rooms in this house that Rose and I don’t normally use.
            We gave the two upstairs guest rooms to Vienya and then to Roswell and Saber.
            There’s one more guest room down on the ground level, and I slide the door open carefully.

            …It’s quiet here.
            I can hear the sound of the rain that I never noticed before.
            It sounds soft and peaceful like a lullaby telling me it’s okay to go back to sleep.

            “—I brought you breakfast.”
            I say so quietly in what I hope is a soothing tone.
            There isn’t any response.
            “Um, I’m sorry if there’s nothing here that you like. It should all be healthy, but I understand if there’s something here that you can’t eat.”
            Rose’s breakfasts are better made than mine, so I guess in a way it’s good that this is from her instead of me.
            “You don’t have to worry about taking the plates back when you’re done. Um, I’ll be back later to take them and wash them.”

            …There isn’t any response.
            I hoped that there might be, but in the end I guess it’s useless.
            The pale figure all in white sits as still as a doll in the futon with blank green eyes.

            …In the end, we decided to bring Nessiah back with us.
            Unlike Nana and Primea, he was alone and in a state of shock… or maybe more like a waking coma.
            After he collapsed on the site of the battle, he didn’t react to anything, and his body started to burn with fever.
            It was clear that we couldn’t just leave him there.
            Lancer no longer felt any threat from him, and even Saber and Roswell felt that we should take some kind of responsibility.
            …The best way to do that would be to keep him where we can monitor him, since none of us are the type to kill enemy Masters.

            So we took out a futon and made this unused room into his room.
            It’s awkward.
            Even though he’s awake and sitting up, his eyes are blank and his face is expressionless.
            …I guess losing Berserker must have been a shock.
            That “bond” that I can’t put into words truly must have been strong.
            With it taken away, this person is little more than a husk.

            …I feel bad.
            This is the way that the war goes, but I still feel bad.
            If it were possible, I would rather not hurt people like this.
            We saved who we could, but the way Nessiah is right now, it seems like without Berserker, he can’t be saved no matter what.
            …All we can do is keep trying.

            The day goes on in a quiet and kind of peaceful way.
            Our most dangerous opponents have already been eliminated, so there’s no longer anything to fear… it’s that kind of thing.
            We sit around the table and talk about silly things.
            Eventually I do go to check on Nessiah again, and some of the food is gone.
            He seems to have gone back to sleep.
            …I’m glad as I don’t really know how to handle him.
            Rose and Vienya get into an argument about dinner and Roswell laughs at them.
            Saber watches over everyone with the same smile, like she’s just enjoying the atmosphere a lot, and I also think that this kind of peace is best.
            Lancer remains quiet, but I don’t sense that he’s tense or uncomfortable at all.
            It’s like a traveler stopping by the fireside at an inn and basking in the warmth.
            He isn’t a part of the conversation or the liveliness, but he’s enjoying the fact that it’s there.
            …For my part, I stay close to Lancer and only offer a few words here or there when the others involve me.
            Maybe it’s too obvious and won’t work, but I want to bridge the gap between the two.
            I want Lancer to realize that he has people who care about and appreciate him right here.

            Time passes by slowly.
            We might wind up heading out on patrol later, but don’t think about it.
            The rain has stopped, the sun is starting to set, and the world is bathed in gold and red.

            We’re almost there.
            We’re almost to the end of the Holy Grail War.
            …We’ve done well thus far and even though there have been some deaths and sacrifices, it’s a much cleaner Grail War than the last one.
            So it should be all right even if we all take a day off like this.

            —As I think so.
            “—!”
            All of the lights that we’ve turned on so far go out with a sound like a wooden wind chime.

            “The boundary field—”
            Rose murmurs.
            Everyone has gone tense.
            The boundary field has been broken.
            …For something to get through here, and at a time when night has not even truly fallen, it must be Caster.
            The final Servant, not wanting to wait for us to find it, has already arrived here—

            “Ein, get Nessiah up.
            “Everybody be ready. We have to get outside, it’s no good trying to fight in a tight space like this—”

            I don’t waste time trying to argue.
            I push open the door to the guest room.
            —Nessiah is awake and standing.
            He seems more alert than he was before.

            “—So he’s sent the last one.”
            He says something soft that I don’t really understand.
            But it’s fine as long as he comes with the rest of us.

            …I can feel a great and heavy magical presence advancing.
            This is bad.
            Caster is strong.
            And I can’t feel any response in my Command Spell to tell me that another Master is here, so Caster may be on its own.
            Roswell says that he can feel the presence of magic used outside.
            If this Servant is concealing its presence, then of course it must have done something so that this battle will go unnoticed.
            Simply by undoing the boundary field, this Servant knows that we will be warned.

            …We leave through the back door and move out to the street.

            It is deathly still.
            I cannot sense any movement or any life from the surrounding houses.
            They seem little better than empty shacks.

            …And she is there.
            A tall woman with long golden hair and massive wings the color of sunset.
            Her body is bare except for the parts that are covered by heavy white armor with red runes written across it.
            The angelic presence about her is the similar to that around Lancer.
            …But it’s different.
            Instead of Lancer’s honor and pride, I can only sense a great coldness about this Servant.
            There is no emotion on her face other than mild dislike.
            She points the head of the massive staff she carries at us.

            “—How courteous to come out and save me the trouble.”

            Caster speaks in a voice that is close to monotone.
            “Now you will die.”

            We don’t have time to waste.
            I don’t know what it is, but I have a bad feeling about this.

            “Lancer, do it!”
            …Lancer arms himself and rushes forward.
            Saber is also moving out to strike.

            …But.
            “A.S. Shield, activate.”
            Caster closes her eyes and stands still, murmuring.

            …It’s as though their weapons hit a wall in the air, and are not able to touch Caster.

            “—Huh?”
            Rose grits her teeth beside me.

            “…Defensive Noble Phantasm.”
            Roswell says so quietly.
            “I’ve read about them, but none of the Servants we’ve faced so far has possessed one.
            “—This is bad. No matter how weak Caster herself is physically, that barrier will prevent any attack below a certain rank.”

            “That is correct, magus.”
            Caster opens her eyes and stares us down.
            “Unless you are willing to use great magic or a Noble Phantasm in a place like this, you will not be able to touch me.”

            …This is bad.
            …This is really bad.
            I think back to the times that Saber and Lancer have used their Noble Phantasms.
            If Caster left the people in their homes alive, then the survivors will surely wind up killed.
            Their attack radius isn’t small enough.

            “—You do not intend to make any move?”
            Caster stares us down impassively.
            “—”
            I want to tell Rose to take Nessiah and Vienya and run.
            But where should they go?
            The church is too far away, and if Caster defeated us, she would easily be able to reach them before they could hide with Hector-sama.

            “Then, I shall make the first strike.”
            Announcing it, Caster raises her staff and gestures with a bored expression.

            “—Master, stay back—”
            Lancer shoves me several paces backwards and the small burst of lightning hits his shoulder.

            “—?!!”
            Pain.
            …Pain erupts through my arm.
            …What’s, going on?
            Lancer has resistance against magic, but—

            When the knight raises his head, there is blood on the side of his face.
            There is a bloody burn mark on his shoulder.
            —Impossible.
            The attack strength itself was only about the same as what Rose or Roswell could do.
            But the ranking is high enough to make it through Lancer’s defense without even using an incantation or a catalyst…

            My heart speeds up.
            Caster is looking at us like insects.
            …She has not expended any effort so far.
            …This is bad.
            Like this, she’ll be able to hit Lancer and Saber with impunity, and for fear of attacking the civilians around us, neither of them can hit back.
            …I think it’s already a given that we magi can’t do anything right now.
            I doubt I could produce a Noble Phantasm at the necessary level, let alone a specific one that would be able to hit only Caster.
            And I don’t know if Caster is unwilling to do anything flashy in order to keep the civilians here alive.
            This is so not good.

            If we stay here, every one of us will die.
            We’re outmatched and have no way to attempt to counter.
            I can’t think of anything.
            I don’t have the time to rack my brains and ask Rose what would be best to do.
            We need to get away.
            …Our only chance will be to find a place to hide and wait until the next sundown to come up with a counterattack.

            “…You still do not choose to attack?
            “Huh, for all that my Master impressed the need to leave you for the last, you do not even rise to the level of my low expectations.
            “But if you wish to be erased without a struggle, then there is no need for me to object to that. All that matters is my victory.”

            …There isn’t enough time.
            There isn’t enough time to come up with a last-ditch solution or a miracle.
            All that’s left is—

            “—Saber.”
            Roswell calls out to his Servant.

            I can tell by the tone of his voice.
            That these words are being spoken like blood is being pulled from his heart.
            But he kills his emotions and speaks anyway.

            “Buy time for us.”
            …He orders his Servant to die.
            Saber straightens up.
            She does not let her gaze leave the enemy.
            “Fight all-out. It’s already too late for the civilians near here, so you don’t need to worry about minimizing damage control.
            “It will be better for them to die quickly and painlessly than to wait.”
            He says that the civilians around here are already being drained.
            “Wait until we’re far enough away, and then find your own way to escape.
            “In spirit form, you may be able to shake her off.”
            Caster does not refute this, but simply looks on passively.

            “We’ll be headed somewhere safe. You know the place. Meet us there when you’re ready.”
            Saber is still only showing us her back.
            So I can see the regret starting to show in Roswell’s eyes, even though his voice is so firm.

            —Then.
            Saber turns very slightly and smiles.
            “Understood, Master.
            “…But instead of just buying time, it’s all right if I defeat her, isn’t it?”

            “…………”
            Roswell’s tense expression changes to surprise.
            I can understand exactly.
            The presence that Saber gives off is full of confidence.
            I don’t know whether or not she’s faking it, but her decision is just as firm as his orders.

            “—No, I don’t mind. Teach her the price of barging in where she isn’t wanted.”

            Roswell turns his back, gently takes Nessiah by the wrist, and begins to run.
            Rose and Vienya follow them.

            …I look back at Saber, readying her sword, for one more moment.
            I have nothing in particular to say to her.
            She’s our ally, but after Roswell’s goodbye, nothing I say could make a difference.
            So I nod to Lancer, and I start to sprint as he disappears into the air.

            …After I catch up to the backs of the others.
            I can hear the sounds of combat.

            Roswell is running in the direction of the bridge.
            …He runs.
            None of us pause at all, even though Nessiah’s breathing is very pained.
            We run.
            And we run.
            We cross the bridge and enter Shinto as the light disappears.
            …Past the shopping district and into the residential area.
            We run.
            My legs hurt and it feels like my lungs are exploding.
            We’ll never make it all the way to the church like this, but unless we keep running, we may not make it anywhere.

            …Then.
            Roswell stops at a large Western-style house and opens the gates, beckoning us all inside.
            We cross the spacious lawn and wait for him to close the boundary field, and then pile inside the house itself.

            The tension hasn’t quite released yet as we come to a stop in the parlor and take off our shoes.
            Everyone is breathing hard and Nessiah is shaking as if he’s delirious.
            “You don’t have to worry.”
            Roswell gets his breath under control and says so softly.
            “Even a Servant the level of Caster would have to take a great deal of time to undo this barrier, and she won’t be able to sense us behind it.
            “It took me a week to fully assemble it and the help of some of the patrons who got me this house, and it took me longer to recover afterward.
            “Essentially, this shield is a high-level great magic, so for now, we’re safe.”
            …I see.
            Such a boundary field should reject any unknowns.
            So this is the last safe haven for us.
            I’m a little glad we didn’t go to the church, as I don’t know whether even Master Hector would be able to subdue a Servant like that out of nowhere.

            …As we go through the hall.
            Nessiah suddenly cries out and collapses.

            “H-hey, are you all right?!”
            There is no response.
            Like last night, his breathing is wild and his skin is painfully hot to the touch.

            “Roswell, we have to do something, or—”
            The words die as I turn to look at him.
            Roswell is standing very still with his hand clenched in front of his heart.
            I think that’s the hand with the Command Spell on it.
            My fears are confirmed as Roswell brings his other hand up to shield it as if cradling something precious.

            …Saber is gone, then.
            It’s only natural that Roswell would feel it, as Masters and Servants are connected.
            I don’t know what to do, so I just help Rose and Vienya find a sofa to lay Nessiah on.
            The furniture is all of very high quality and we’re a little worried about messing things up, but in the end, a person’s health matters more than material things.

            …Roswell continues to stand there as we turn on the lights and do what we can.
            He stands there without making any sound.

            …
            ……
            …Time passes.

            We’re sitting in the grandly-furnished living room, which has a view into the kitchen.
            Rose is rummaging through the refrigerator trying to find something that’s worth cooking.
            …Lancer and I are simply here in the living room.
            I still don’t know what to say or do.
            It’s clear from Roswell’s reaction that Saber is gone.
            If Caster were going to attack us, she would already have done so, and so it’s safe to guess that she can’t find us, she’s too injured for another fight right now, or both.
            I hope it’s both, but there’s no way to say for sure.
            Lancer is silent, with his expression closed.
            I can’t tell what he’s thinking.
            …This atmosphere is too oppressive, but it would feel almost sacrilegious to break it.
            Nessiah is still lying on the sofa where we left him.
            His fever seems to be climbing and he hasn’t opened his eyes.
            It seems like the state he was in after Berserker’s death, but worse.

            …Roswell is sitting at the table with a cup of hot chocolate in his hands.
            He looks very tired and I expect that the truth of his leaving Saber behind to die is probably weighing on him very hard.
            He keeps staring straight ahead of him and seems like he can’t react to anything.
            I think back to how well-suited he and that girl were to each other.
            For that “bond” to have been destroyed is a terrible thing.

            As Rose continues to hunt through the kitchen, Vienya arrives.
            She’s been upstairs reclaiming her guest room, probably the same one she used when they were working together before.
            Quietly, she pulls out the chair next to Roswell and sits beside him.
            She doesn’t say anything.
            …Well, obviously she can’t, but she doesn’t have her familiar say anything for her either.
            Her silence must mean more than anything we could say.
            The atmosphere around Roswell relaxes a bit.

            …Now that I think of it, they were working together before we joined in.
            I remembered that, but it didn’t feel important compared to everything else, so I remembered it again.
            They had an alliance before the starting bell even rang.
            …I wonder how they must have met.
            It isn’t a story that we would know.
            Maybe it isn’t one that we have the right to know.

            …In the end, I do understand this.
            If there’s anyone particularly suited to comfort Roswell right now, it’s her.

            After a while, Roswell stands up and says that he’s going to bed.
            He smiles as though he’ll be better in the morning, and leaves.

            Rose finds some things to heat up, and the rest of us eat dinner.
            When we’re done, Vienya also leaves the table.

            “—Man.”
            Washing dishes with Rose, I try not to let the mood depress me too badly.
            I mean, of course it’s going to depress me no matter what.
            Someone who should be here will never come back.

            Out of nine Servants, only two are remaining.

            On top of that, the Grail should start to manifest in two or three days’ time.
            …Somehow, we’ve survived until the end, but this means that the final battle will between us and that Caster.
            The Caster that even defeated Saber, who saved us so many times.
            …But we have to win.
            Who knows what her Master would use the Grail for, and as Hector-sama’s representatives…

            …No, that’s wrong.
            That’s not why I have to fight and win.
            …It’s because this everyday scenery is something that I want to protect.
            I’ve never really felt what it’s like to have a family myself, but I bet it’s something like this.
            Roswell and Saber were like reliable older siblings and Vienya is like a little sister.
            And Rose and Lancer are always with me.
            It’s not perfect and I understand that.
            …But this normal, peaceful, sometimes awkward scenery is something that’s precious to me.
            These people are the ones I want to send me off to school every day.
            I’d like to introduce everyone in the magic club to everyone else, not just Lancer.

            And besides.
            The dreams I’ve had all this time.
            The Holy Grail is the one miracle chance that I have to save Lancer.
            …He lived an unfulfilled and empty life, and yet he’s been summoned into this war because somewhere inside himself, there’s a wish that only the Holy Grail can grant.
            In Lancer’s current state, I don’t know whether or not he even recognizes what that wish is.
            His sense of self is so shattered and so buried.
            But he has a wish, and I want to make sure it’s granted.
            Lancer has protected me all this time, so it’s the least I can do in return.
            Besides, I want to do it.
            I’m worthless as a magus and I’ve only barely managed not to be a burden as a Master.
            But telling Lancer that he’s done enough and granting his wish is something that I know I can do.
            So I’ll fight.
            —Even if it’s against Caster and the Master we haven’t seen yet, I’ll fight.

            “You should go to bed, Ein.”
            Rose says so as she takes a seat in a tall chair.
            “—What about you?”
            Rose shakes her head and grimaces.
            “I’ve got a little bit of research I want to do.
            “…And besides, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to leave this guy alone.”
            She points to where Nessiah is lying on the sofa.

            “—All right. Take care of him.”
            Rose sort of shrugs like it’s not a big deal.
            But I know that I can count on her.

            Lancer and I head upstairs.
            There seem to be a number of guest rooms available among the doors that are open.
            “…Then I guess we’ll take this one.”
            The bed is big enough for two, but there’s also a large couch on the other side of the wall where Lancer can sleep.
            It does make my heart a bit faster and make me nervous that after all this time, Lancer’s finally going to be sleeping in the same room as me.
            But after all this, I’ve realized that he was probably right about us needing to stay in the same room for safety.
           I know that it will take Caster a while to break through Roswell’s boundary field even if she manages to find us, but it’s more comforting to have Lancer with me, even if it is also awkward.

            …I don’t have anything to wear to bed but the clothes I’m in.
            Hmm.
            I take off my shirt in case I sweat in my dreams.
            After all, unless I can borrow some of Roswell’s clothes, this is all I have, and I don’t want to mess it up.
            Not being able to go back home is a problem.
            …Well, there’s nothing we can do about that now.

            Lancer sits down on the couch and I turn off the lights.
            “—Good night, Lancer.”
            “…Yes. Good night, Ein.”

            And I get into bed.
            …It takes a while to get used to the sound of Lancer breathing.
            To distract myself, I think.
            …About what to do from here.
            About what I want to do, and what’s most important to me—

Chapter Text

            —This is a story.
            This is an old story from days when the world was much younger than it is now.

            The scholar who sat alone in the hall was eventually called forward.
            He was surrounded by the council and told extensively of the procedure.
            …It seemed that what he was meant to sacrifice had been decided.
            In order to become a Grim Angel, Ledah would have to give up his heart.

            Not his heart as in the muscle beating in his chest, but his heart—his emotions.
            Once his body had completely changed, his ability to feel sorrow and joy would be taken away, and in compensation, he would be given the power of the gods.
            Only a god should have the power of gods.
            That’s so obvious it shouldn’t even have to be said.
            So the solution that the gods came up with was to take something away first in order to balance it out.

            …He agreed, of course.
            Otherwise the man I know wouldn’t exist.
            He had already decided that no matter what he had to lose, he would accept it.
            Besides, the loss of his heart would make it easier.
            The things like loneliness and fear that he suffered under acutely would all but vanish, making him the efficient weapon that the heavens desired him to be.

            …Perhaps.
            It was probably easier to consider it something disposable if no one told him how important a thing it was.
            The heart of the scholar was something that no one appreciated very much.
            From the moment of his birth, it was like the world was telling him that it would have been better if he’d never had a heart in the first place.

            I don’t know what he might have felt, or what he really thought.
            But the scholar agreed placidly and was prepared for the transformation.

            His body was twisted and changed and he was made something entirely different from what he was born to be, all for the sake of the heavens.

            —I want to scream.
            It’s a dream that I’m watching about something that already happened, but I want to tell him to refuse and run away.
            Because at the end of this path, there’s nothing but…

            …That cold, lonely wasteland pass.
            An unending hell culminating in an empty death with little meaning.
            In the end.
            It’s as if no one, not even he, could be saved by becoming something legendary and powerful—

            …I wake up.
            I wake up feeling very cold in an unfamiliar room.
            …………
            What was that?
            Just what the hell was that?

            Giving up your heart, that’s just so—
            But.
            I feel sick.
            After all this time, I never thought it strange.
            Lancer does not show his emotions very well.
            He hardly ever smiles and shows his disapproval in silence.
            He’s never laughed and never cried.

            …But that’s wrong.
            I know for a fact that Lancer has a heart.
            Even if it’s something sealed away, it still exists.
            It’s fragile and hard to see, but it’s there.
            That’s not even anything to argue about.

            I sit up and put my shirt back on.
            Lancer is still sleeping on the sofa.
            Everything that happened yesterday must have tired him out too, as he doesn’t stir even when I stand up.

            …What I want to do from here on.
            …What I’m fighting for.
            I have my answer, and I have a plan.

            “—So that’s it. I understand if you want to complain, but I think it’s the best course of action.”
            I say so to my incredulous audience at the breakfast table.
            Rose is the first one to sit back and smile.
            “I don’t know if Lancer’s gonna like it, but I think it’s a great idea.
            “You could use a chance to breathe, and he definitely could.”
            Vienya stares at me for a long time, then shrugs like it isn’t her business and goes back to eating her breakfast.
            Roswell stays silent the longest.
            He seems better than last night and even got out things to cook by himself this morning, so it looks like he’ll be able to cope.
            “—I understand.
            “Don’t stay out too long, and stay together. We can talk about strategy when you come back.”

            Then.
            Lancer appears in the hallway, still looking sleepy.
            …Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I’ve woken up before someone else.
            I’m usually the last one down to talk to people, and it’s especially strange that Lancer should be the one to oversleep.
            “—I apologize for not waking up earlier.”
            Lancer says so in a normal tone.
            “I believe it is the change in environment, but there’s no use in shifting the blame.
            “Please inform me of any strategic planning you have decided upon.”
            …Huh, they say that people usually have trouble sleeping in new places, but for some reason it seems like Lancer is the opposite.
            The absurdity of the concept, especially in someone like Lancer, is kind of cute.
            …Well, it’s either that, or Roswell’s house is better furnished than mine.
            Maybe even the plush sofa in our room was more comfortable for Lancer than a futon or a thin mattress.

            “We were just deciding on what to do now, actually.”
            I say so, trying not to sound guilty or nervous.
            “You and I will be heading out for a little while before we start making plans to defend against Caster when the Grail descends.”

            “—I see.”
            Even though he says that, Lancer looks rather puzzled.
            “If we’re going out on a scouting expedition, then I am more than willing to go with you.”
            …Hmm.
            It looks like Lancer doesn’t really get it.

            “Well, it’s something a little bit like that.”
            It’s embarrassing to say straight out, though.
            Luckily, Rose jumps in to save me.
            “You’re going to need to stay materialized in town, so first let’s get you a change of clothes. Roswell, it’s fine if he uses a spare set of yours, right?”
            Roswell nods.
            If he’s taken aback by the sudden request, he doesn’t show it.
            “I can make it so that people won’t notice your wings today, so it should be fine.”

            “—”
            Lancer nods his head and lets Rose lead him back out of the room.
            …I still don’t think he understands.
           But, well, there’s not much I can do about that, and he should figure it out soon enough once we’re on our way.

            …When they arrive again, Lancer is transformed.
            ……Well.
            Well, well, well.
            It’s quite something to see Lancer dressed in clothes this ordinary.
            The shirt may be a little bit large on Lancer’s smaller and more solid frame, but it’s borrowed, so that can’t be helped.
            Besides, the appeal of such a thing doesn’t go understated.
            Basically, after all those days of going around in his Grim Angel’s clothes like a temporally-displaced Buddha, Lancer in street clothes looks like he’s more in my league.
            Still.
            Even without looking directly at the wings on his back, Lancer is still just too good-looking to be true.
            His pale skin, gold hair, and deep red eyes have a beauty superior to anything “human”.
            But no matter how anyone tries to think of him as statuesque, that’s wrong.
            His body shifts slightly as he breathes and he’s looking at me as though he still doesn’t fully understand what’s going on.
            …I want to see it more.
            I want to see more and more sides to him, even the frail and rare ones that he hides away.
            Especially those.

            …We leave Roswell’s house with promises to come back before it gets too dark.
            It won’t hurt to walk around outside, and more than that, um… even if people can’t see them, it might be uncomfortable for Lancer on the bus because of his wings.
            So we walk in silence down to the shopping district.
            Lancer follows me quietly, and there’s no sense of unease or irritation from him.
            As I take in the blue sky and the temperate air, Lancer continues to follow me.
            I don’t have much of a plan today, but I think we’ll manage.
            We have time, so we can just wander around until we find something that Lancer’s interested in… I walk around thinking those kinds of things.

            “…Ein.”
            Lancer calls out hesitantly.
            “What is it?”
            He doesn’t answer, but instead glances around.
            …Oh.
            People keep sneaking peeks at us.
            I guess it must be making Lancer uncomfortable as he doesn’t understand why.
            So I reach out and take his hand.
            I think I can see smiles on the faces of some of the passersby.

            “—They can’t help it any more than I can.”
            I tell him quietly with a smile.
            “You’re good-looking, so people get curious and want to take a peek.
            “If you’re uncomfortable, then we can go somewhere that there are less people.”
            “—”

            He slows down for a moment with a surprised face, but I keep walking.
            Um, I think that if we keep going, he’ll get used to it after a while.
            And besides.
            We’re together today.
            This is exactly what it looks like to the people around us, even if Lancer hasn’t realized it yet.
            …That’s right.
            I’ve decided to play hooky from the Grail War for just this one day and take Lancer out on a date.

            And so the morning goes like that.
            We walk around and Lancer learns to endure the stares of the people around us, and we look at stores and wander across the city.
            Fuyuki is a nice place.
            Parts of Shinto still seem like they just sprung up mass-produced, but there are all kinds of good things here.
            I wonder if we should risk the mall, but then I start feeling hungry.
            …Rose recommended a few places, and so I lead Lancer down to a café.
            I’ve never been in this place before, but I think it’s supposed to be good.

            “—Master.”
            Lancer says in a low tone as I glance over the menu.
            He’s sitting across from me, looking at me with reproach.
            “What is the point of this excursion? I have followed you without question thus far, but…”
            …I sigh.
            “We’re taking a break from everything. The Grail War can wait for a few more hours, and mentally resting is just as important as physically resting. When it comes to mentally resting, I think you’re the one that needs it the most.”
            Lancer is looking at me like he’s not following this at all.
            …Sigh.
            “Basically, we’re out here to play for a little bit. I brought you along because I want to spend the day with you, and let both of us forget for a little while about being Master and Servant. It’s broad daylight and we’re in the middle of a lot of people, so getting attacked is unlikely.”
            “—”
            Lancer keeps staring.
            I scratch my cheek awkwardly.
            This is really hard when he doesn’t seem to understand.
            …Well, Lancer isn’t the one that should be blamed, as this is how he turned out because of his environment when he was alive.
            “I know your legend and I know how you lived, and, um, there is the link between us so I’ve seen parts of your memory too.
            “But that’s even more reason why. I want to know more about you as a person, not a hero or a warrior or a Servant. We haven’t had much chance to do that.”
            “—Ridiculous.”
            Lancer looks away as though pained.
            “…In the beginning, no such person ever existed.”
            “Liar.
            “You buried yourself and cut yourself off from your heart, but you’re more than just an empty shell. All it takes is one look at you to know that.”
            …Gah, this is coming out all mixed up.
            “My world really expanded a lot after Rose and I came to this city.
            “We were able to interact with other people and grow, and learn about ourselves as people, and have fun… I want to share that with you, even if just a little.
            “Because no matter how you look at it, your life was too unfair.”
            “—”
            Lancer is avoiding my gaze as though he doesn’t know how to answer.

            “But there’s also one other thing.”
            I have to be honest with myself and with him.
            “I’m just being selfish in the end. Our time together may end after we win this Grail War. I don’t know if you intend to find a way to stay in this world or want to go back to the Throne the way that Heroic Spirits usually do.
            “—But I want to spend time with you. I want to fill up these days with more and more memories of being together. Not just because you’re my Servant, or a member of this household.
            “It’s because I like you.”

            …Crap.
            I don’t know how I managed it, but it seems I really just said that out loud.

            Lancer’s eyes flick back and forth over the patterns of the tablecloth.
            He’s not looking at me.
            Every now and again he makes as if to speak, but then changes his mind.

            “It’s okay if there’s nothing you can think of to answer what I just said.”
            I smile for him.
            “It’s enough that you heard me out, and I don’t need a response.”
            …Well, I don’t need one, but I wish I had one.
            I’m making myself look calm on the outside, but on the inside my heart is pounding.
            “For now, we’ll just spend the day together.
            “Then we’ll return to the war later. And whatever happens after that is whatever happens.”

            …So.
            We spent some time wandering around the city after that.
            Lancer was looking at the bookstores a bit longingly, so we went into some of them and got more coffee while he looked through things.
            Well, as a scholar, it was probably a nostalgic place for him.
            I offered to buy anything that he wanted, but in the end we didn’t leave with anything.
            I guess that since he can’t take anything back to the Throne with him in the end, he must think that it’s unnecessary.
            …Well, I think that’s a little bit sad, but there’s nothing I can complain too much about.

            We even went down to the batting cage for a little while and watched other people play.
            Lancer seemed curious, but when I asked him if he wanted to try, he said no, and I’m no good at it, so I wouldn’t be able to show off in front of him anyway.
            After a while I started to get tired, and the attention from various people seemed to wear Lancer out, and so we went down by the riverbank to sit for a while.
            I bought snacks so that we’ll have something to do while we’re here, and so we sit and eat in silence while looking out over the water.
            …I don’t know whether or not Lancer is happy or bored, but at least he seems more relaxed than he usually is.

            It’s already past noon.
            Time has gone by quickly as though it’s sand I’m trying to contain in a sieve.
            But that’s natural, too.
            Everything ends eventually.

            Lancer is staring far out into the distance.
            Very far away, the sun is starting to set, and the sky is beginning to turn madder red.
            Against the water, it makes a really beautiful picture.
            …Somewhere across this vast water is the place Lancer and I first met.
            The Tohsaka workshop is in Miyama, too, so we’ll be going back there for the final battle.
            It all feels so cyclical and complex.
            And it feels like it’s been forever since Lancer came into my life.
            I can’t imagine my life without him.

            “…Lancer, if we win this war and get the Holy Grail…”
            He turns to me just slightly.
            “I don’t have any wishes of my own, and neither does Rose.
            “In the end, we were just dispatched by the supervisor in order to make sure that nobody with evil intent lays hands on the Holy Grail.
            “So if we win… the main use of the Grail would be in granting your wish.
            “Have you thought about what you might do with it?”

            …Lancer turns away as if avoiding my eyes.
            “—I do not know.
            “From the beginning, I have not had much concept of why it is I seek the Holy Grail.
            “I only know that there is a yearning within the void of myself, and I’ve understood by instinct that only the Holy Grail may grant it.
            “If we win the battle, I believe that that is when I will understand.”
            ……So in the end, it’s as I thought.
            In a way, Lancer is fighting blindly, but it’s a good thing that he has a wish for himself, even if he doesn’t understand what that wish is.

            A soft wind comes over the water and brushes Lancer’s hair.
            Carefully, he stands up.
            His unearthly beauty and the intense expression on his face give the scene a feel of cold surrealism.

            “—Master.
            “You are familiar with my legend, and these are things that you should already understand.
            “I am a weapon without a heart, and I cannot be anything else.”
            Lancer tells me with his gaze and his stern posture that there is no way that he can understand even his own desires.

            “…You’re wrong.
            “After all this time I wouldn’t expect it to be easy to sink in, but you’re wrong.
            “You’re not a weapon or a tool. You’re a powerful warrior and you’re like a sempai to someone like me, but even Heroic Spirits are people.”
            Even Grim Angels.
            “You’ve been treated like an object your entire life, but that’s different here. Rose and I, and all of our friends—we see you as a person no matter what you are or how you got here, even if the price for doing so was alienating yourself from your own heart.”

            The wind blows.
            The beautiful red sky is darkening to scarlet and deep purple.
            The sounds of people around us start to die down as they return to their homes.
            Despite all of that, we two stand here.

            “Lancer—no, Ledah.
            “I can’t tell you what to believe or what to fight for.
            “All I can tell you is that you mean more to me than the word Servant.
            “You’re my partner and my teacher, and we’ve fought side by side and experienced a lot together. I know the things that you’ve gone through, and the things I’ve seen in my dreams have helped me to understand you.
            “—I like you and you’re important to me.
            “I want this summoning to be fulfilling for you, and I want to help you grant your wish.
            “—Even if this is just going to wind up as a single record book to entertain you in the Throne when this is all over, I want it to be the record book that’s packed full of the love of the people that were around you.”

            Lancer says nothing.
            I don’t know if my words are reaching him at all.
            We’ll have to return home soon, and go back to fighting.

            …But there’s one thing that I want him to hear before then, at all costs.

            “Ledah.
            “—You’ve done enough.”

            “—”
            Lancer stares at me uncomprehendingly as I take a step closer and put my hands on his shoulders.
            I don’t think he knows what to say or even what he just heard.

            “You fought so hard and did everything you could.
            “You put your all into everything you did, and you accomplished amazing things.
           “You really tried so hard to do what was expected of you, even when it hurt, even when it put you through hell.
            “You exceeded everything that was ever asked of you and more. You saved so many lives and you protected an entire world.
            “You’ve been struggling for so long, and even when things were unfair, you never complained.
            “—And after all that, the Ledah that I know exists here.
            “You’ve done well. You’ve done more than enough.
            “—If I were powerful and wise and rich, then I would be able to reward you with everything you ever dreamed of.
            “I’m not, so all I can do is tell you that you did a good job.
            “But I’m proud that someone I know and care for was able to do so much.
            “I’m happy that the Ledah I know exists.”

            The knight who ran through all his battles.
            The knight who only ever knew such things.
            His heart was trampled and crushed so much that when he died, this must have been his only remaining desire.
            It was only a very small wish.
            For fulfillment.
            For recompense.
            If one person had said it, it would have been enough.
            But it was too late.
            The praise of the people for the weapon was what gave him the miracle to become a Heroic Spirit, and instinctively, he has been called after the Holy Grail.
            …I don’t know if even the Holy Grail can make up for all of the hell that Lancer has lived through, but it’s the best chance we have.
            I believe that when the time comes, he’ll know what to wish for.
            …It hurts to think of letting Lancer go.
            After all, I love him.
            But it’s because I love him that I want to do what’s best for him, and cherish every last second that we have together.

            “You’ve done enough, Ledah.
            “It’s all right to rest now.”

            “—”
            Something pale and not quite white.
            Tears form in Lancer’s eyes and run over.
            He seems as bewildered as a small child and catches one tear on the side of his index finger, looking at it as though he doesn’t quite know what it is.
            …Gently.
            I pull Lancer closer in, as his body does not resist.
            The sky is dark and the air has become cold.
            But as I hold Lancer close to me, his body is very warm.
            It feels good to hold someone, but my chest hurts like I’m going to start crying with him.
            Lancer’s arms come close around my waist and we hold on to each other.

            We stand like that for a long time.
            But sometime after the sun sets, we let go of each other.
            …After all, it’s time to go home.
            Rose is going to get angry because we’ve worried her.
            …Well, as scary as that is, it’s just a sign that she loves us, too, so it’s also something to be happy about.

            We say nothing.
            I take Lancer by the hand and begin to lead him back up into the plaza.
            …Honestly.
            He’s so strong and smart, but he’s pretty hopeless sometimes.
            I can’t leave him alone.

            We should make it back in a little over half an hour if we walk, less than that if we hurry.
            There’ll be dinner going at Roswell’s house and it would be a shame to miss it.

            …The same Lancer that silently cried is holding my hand tightly like a child, waiting for me to lead him along.
            I thank the gods for the feel of our connected skin.
            That night was just a temporary dream, a paradise that I may never glimpse again.
            …But the heat of Lancer’s hand in mine is more than enough for me.

            —But.

            “—Huh, so you really are foolish enough to wander around.
            “What hubris you must have, to waste your friend’s sacrifice so callously.”

            —My blood runs cold as I realize that we stayed too long, and the empty plaza has become a waiting death trap.

            Caster stands with her staff leaned against her shoulder, her features distinctly bored.
            I squeeze Lancer’s hand tightly, but he hasn’t moved either.
            Both of us are remembering leaving Saber behind to die miserably against this foe.

            “Honestly, I doubted that you would be foolish enough to allow me to find you the day after our first encounter, but my Master insisted, and here you are.
            “If you are in a hurry to die, then I do not mind granting at least that wish.”

            …This isn’t good.
            Lancer and I are alone.
            We have a wide area to fight in, but Caster’s defensive Noble Phantasm is enough to cause huge problems.
            We don’t even know yet what her offensive capabilities are, but it was enough to kill even Saber, who saved our lives many times.
            …We aren’t ready.

            “—Master, stand back.”
            Lancer lets go of me and steps forward, and his body shimmers.
            His priest’s robes appear over his skin and his Noble Phantasm is in his hands.
            —If it’s a Diviner, then it will be able to break that barrier if enough power is put into it.
            But I have a very bad feeling about this.

            “Caster, if you do not wish to die, then allow us passage.”
            Lancer says that he will not seek a fight if we are not pursued.

            Caster just stares at him coldly.
            “—No, my Master’s orders are to eliminate anything that may get in the way of our claiming the Holy Grail.”

            “Very well.”

            Without another word, Lancer races forward.
            The red line of his Diviner rushes through the air and clashes against Caster’s armor.
            …Caster endures the hit and moves backward.

            It appears that when wielding his Diviner at full strength, his power is just at the level that can penetrate Caster’s defensive Noble Phantasm.
            Still, I wonder about that staff.
            It’s very possible that she is a hero with more than one Noble Phantasm, and anyway I know that she used something in order to break through Saber’s defenses and destroy her.

            Caster continues to retreat as Lancer advances, striking at her armor and pushing for a hit against the unguarded skin beneath it.
            Under Lancer’s intense stare, she still seems unconcerned.
            …I don’t like it.
            She’s an angel, so I’m sure she knows what that lance is.
            It should be unthinkable for any angel to go up against a Diviner and be so unconcerned unless they knew they had some way to counter it.

            …This can’t go on.
            What is inside me is telling me this.

            Caster rises into the air, higher than Lancer can reach on the ground.
            She raises up her staff, and without a word, lightning splits the sky.
            Innumerable bolts of white and golden lightning rip open the ground.

            Lancer dodges through them at speeds that hurt my head and my eyes, and rises up off the ground, but—

            “Revellion.”

            A thunderclap in the dry sky like the world is coming apart.
            My eyes are blinded, but pain sears up my arm and my heart catches in my chest.

            There is no cry of pain.
            But something heavy hits the ground near me.

            …It was decided that quickly.

            Blood.
            Blood is spreading slowly through the cracked ground.
            Awful burns have torn away parts of Lancer’s robes, and his wings are crumpled badly from falling like that.
            …I know he’s alive, but he looks to be in a terrible enough state that he might be dying.

            “Lancer…”

            “—How disappointing.
            “But as specialized as they are for combat, Grim Angels are only weapons after all.
            “Only Guardian Angels are capable of holding the last lines.”

            Caster says indifferently.
            “…”
            Lancer strains.
            His eyes are unfocused and blood is staining the side of his lips, but he still strains to stand.
            …No.
            What am I doing?
            What the hell am I doing?
            This is bad.
            No matter how hopeless I am, I’m Lancer’s Master.
            …And I have projection.
            Somewhere in my memory is the Noble Phantasm that can defeat her.
            …No.
            Somewhere in my heart.
            …Something I was told.
            I can’t remember who said it, but the angry words of a girl that ordered me to stop using my magic the way that it wasn’t supposed to work.
            We had an affinity.
            I should have known the second that I saw her moving.
            …No, I should have known long before then.

            I walk forward and stand in front of Lancer.
            It’s okay.
            You’ve done enough.
            I’m done relying solely on you to carry me through my battles.
            You can’t even stand.
            You’re not a sword, you’re a person, and so there are times when even you need to rest and protect yourself.
            I’ll protect you this time.
            If I can’t protect you, then what use is there in me living?

            I hold out my hand and open my Magic Circuit.
            A row of firing hammers goes down and the lines all spark into life.

            “—Ein.”
            Lancer’s voice behind me is a warning.
            His voice is quiet and hoarse and is asking me why.
            The sound is very painful to endure, and yet selfishly, I’m happy.
            If he’s conscious, then we’ll be able to manage.

            “Ein, you mustn’t.
            “Leave me. As long as I am gone—”

            “Sorry, but I can’t do that.
            “I decided, didn’t I? I’m going to win this war and use the Holy Grail to grant your wish.
            “So I’m not even going to let her get in my way.”

            I’m not a Heroic Spirit.
            I’m just a magic user.
            So it’s needless to say that one strike of her raining lightning will finish me, let alone that spell she used.
            Still.

            It was something about the lightning.
            I’m not letting it slip past me this time.
            What was it I forgot? Deep within myself—

            “—You, boy. What do you think you’re doing?”

            Caster’s voice has lost its complacence.
            Alert, she regards me warily.
            —Shut up.
            You’re noisy and I can’t concentrate.

            The memory at the end of the circuit.
            The lines reach inward and complete themselves.
            …Yes.
            Strengthening, projection.
            That’s not what my magic is for.
            I’m not even really a magic user.
            My hands exist to run prana through my body, and reach the lightning into my hand.

            “—Ein.”
            A thin gasp from behind me.
            Lancer sounds amazed.

            …Yes.
            All along, I was stumbling blindly through the dark, trying to reach this truth, and it’s almost within my hands.
            This golden sword.
            I can make out the faint impression of it in my hand.
            But unless I keep my eyes closed, it will dissipate.
            A warning.
            I’m not ready yet.
            My body isn’t ready enough to receive it yet.
            But still.
            With the indistinct shape of a sword in my hand, I gather up all my magical energy and run it along the blade, swinging towards where I can sense Caster’s body.

            My legs waver.
            “—Ein—!”

            Powerful arms support my body, and I open my eyes.
            A gold flash of lightning in my hand—

            The next moment everything is overwhelmed in green light.

            When I open my eyes.
            Lancer is holding me from behind.
            His wounds are beginning to heal and although his blood is soaking my clothes, I can feel that he is steady.

            …And ahead of me.
            Caster is clutching her shoulder bitterly, glaring.
            Blood is running down her arm and splattering on the ground.
            Her statuesque body is taut to bear the pain and her beautiful features are twisted with a deep hatred.
            It seems there’s nothing she’d like better than to strike us down here.

            …But.
            She winks silently out of sight.

            …I don’t understand what it is or why.
            But I realize that the battle is over.

            “—I understand now.”
            Lancer says as he holds me steady.
            I don’t understand anything, but I’m glad his arms are around me.
            …Um, I think I might fall if he weren’t supporting me.
            And besides.
            …Well, it’s not like I have to say it.
            He holds me tightly until I can steady myself, and doesn’t even let go then.

            He’s not saying anything, but Lancer is smiling.
            Even though my head is fuzzy and overstrained, that must mean that it’s all right.

            Caster has left, and so slowly and painfully, we make our way back home.
            Rose is waiting for us, but instead of scolding, she smiles and says that we’d better go on and get some rest.
            …Really, that seems to be the best idea.
            After all that fighting, I might be sick if I ate anything, and what we need more than anything else is rest right now—

            Slowly.
            As we sit side by side, Lancer’s wounds heal, and his presence goes from feverish to pure warmth beside me.
            I suppose it really makes a difference for Rose to be supplying him magical energy through me as well, since he never used to heal quite so quickly.
            But still.
            All I can do is be glad that Lancer’s all right.
            My head cools down as we sit in silence on the bed.
            Lancer made me take off my bloody shirt and his clothes have gone back to normal after nearly being ruined.
            I suppose because it’s something that he came into this world with, he can renew it any number of times.

            “—Ein.”
            Very softly, Lancer calls my name.

            “Yes, what is it?”

            “—Even though you know exactly what I am and that I am incomplete, you’ve said such things as caring for me.
            “I do not fully understand why.
            “But I also know that it may not be anything I can understand in my current state.
            “…My heart has been sealed off for a long time.
            “Everything around me dulled upon that day, and I became accustomed to the hollow in my chest. It was never uncomfortable and did not feel natural either.
            “The absence was neither good nor bad, neither real nor fake.
            “—I’ve lived most of my life like that, and yet…”

            He closes his eyes.
            Through the curtains, soft moonlight comes down and touches his hair and his face.
            I remember the awe and the desire that I felt that night.
            I swallow hard to control myself.
            …Softly, Lancer touches his chest.

            “—There is something here now.
            “Warm and unsettled, constantly moving and shifting.
            “I’m not sure how to deal with it, and it strengthens whenever I look at you.
            “This body, and this heart… have come to desire you.”

            …Slowly.
            I understand what it is he’s trying to say.
            It’s only natural that Lancer is having trouble articulating it.
            But I still understand.

            I lean in so that my shoulder is pressed against his, and my forehead is touching his cheek.

            “…Ledah.
            “I know how you feel, and I’m happy.
            “—Because I love you and want you, too.”

            We’re alone in this room.
            The door is locked and everyone else is asleep.
            My body starts to heat up, and I can feel an answering fever in Lancer’s body.

            “……”
            And so I kiss the exposed side of his throat.
            Lancer’s breath catches in his chest, telling me that this spot at the base of his jawline is sensitive.
            But that’s not enough.
            I want to hold him and love him and have him.
            …I can’t stop now.
            Lancer grips my arm so that I cannot pull away.
            We’ve already gone past the point of returning, and neither of us would want to.

            …His hands run up my side and a chill goes through my body.
            After all, it’s different.
            Lancer’s hands are covering my naked skin.
            …I’m only wearing half my clothes, after all.
            The feeling of his hands touching me makes me remember that night and I shiver.
            …It’s getting uncomfortable still wearing pants, but, um, I can’t move.
            All the power has left my body, and I can’t even reach down and undo my own zipper.

            —Softly.
            Lancer pushes me backwards and I fall against the mattress.
            Still fully clothed, his body arches over mine.
            With the moonlight from the window backlighting him and his eyes hazed with fever, my pulse jumps.
            I remember his hands on my waist and the feel of him inside me, and my breathing goes out of control.
            “—”
            He leans down and his lips touch mine.
            …It’s only a very light kiss.
            But it’s soft and it’s like I’m feeling it throughout my entire body.
            …Um, I don’t think I can handle much more of this.
            Even as I think so.
            Lancer’s hand is on my chest, covering my heart, and his body sinks down over the top of mine.
            The inside of my thighs are tight against his waist.
            My body clings to him and refuses to let him go.
            “—, …”
            I reach up to hold the nape of his neck and draw him into a deeper kiss.
            I barely know what I’m doing, but that’s fine.
            Even if it’s clumsy, the feel of his breath against my cheek and the caress of his tongue against mine heat my body up even more.
            I imitate how Rose kissed me that night blindly as my stiff cock strains against my pants.
            It almost feels like the denim is going to give way.

            —Lancer’s body presses down against mine at the waist.
            …A shock runs through me as something hot and hard touches me through my pants.

            “Ah—ahn, hmm…”

            I let out a heated voice as my hips start to move.
            I’m not the one that decided to start thrusting.
            My body just can’t stand the sensation and is too overwhelmed to do anything else.
            Lancer holds my shoulders down and our hips crush together.
            The tight pressure of my jeans and the heat I can even feel through them.
            Lancer’s expression is dazed and he’s breathing at least as hard as I am.
            He’s not crying out, but seeing his face flushed like this is more than sexy enough for me.
            I want to undress and do it properly, but this alone just feels too good.

            …Lancer puts strength into his hips and thrusts them in a rhythm opposite to mine.
            I clash my cock up against his and he pushes back.
            My mind is blanking out.

            “N—no, Ledah, stop—I-I can’t, I—nn—I’m gonna—”

            As if to make me shut up.
            Lancer kisses me hard.
            …And he grinds his hips against mine, pushing me past my limits.

            “—…!!”
            I arch my back as I climax.
            My face burns as scalding wetness soaks through my underwear and the fabric of my pants, and the throbbing in my cock dies down enough that it’s bearable again.

            Lancer releases me.
            He sits up with our bodies still pressed together at the hips, breathing unevenly and with his gaze overcome by fever.
            …He’s not trying to restrain himself.
            He hasn’t felt shame in long enough to let it hold him back, so he just sits with his legs spread and his shoulders heaving.
            …Lancer hasn’t come yet.
            His erection strains and bulges against the fabric of his clothes as if begging me to do something about it.
            …………

            …Well, first things first.
            As I regain control of my hands, I undo my jeans and push them down on my hips.
            I’m able to slip my clothes off and dump them on the floor.
            I idly consider that that’s going to be a problem tomorrow unless I can take some of Roswell’s clothes.
            My body is soaked in sweat and my halfway flaccid cock is smeared with the semen I let go before I could get my pants off.
            …I’m fully naked now.
            Lancer doesn’t reach out to touch me as his body is too tense, but his gaze is devouring me.
            …Rather than embarrassing, it’s quite arousing as I don’t think I’ve ever been looked at with this much hunger before, not even that night with him and Rose.
            Right now, Lancer wants me purely because of our own desire for each other.
            That means so much more than any need for prana could create.

            …Now.
            Lancer continues to stare at me absentmindedly.
            I suppose I could just please him like this, but somehow I don’t want to get his priest’s clothes any dirtier, and besides, I want to touch his skin directly.
            His hands on my skin were enough to drive me wild, and I want him to feel as good as I did.
            …The only problem is that I don’t really know how to take his clothes off.
            I fumble with the ties of his cloak for a moment before his eyes regain some sense and he guides my hands to all the fastenings.
            …Hey, he’s wearing quite a lot.
            There’s this vest, and then a robe underneath it, and pants beneath that…
            It’s no wonder we didn’t climax close together if he was feeling it through all of this instead of more directly like me.

            Slowly.
            I unsheathe Lancer’s body from the dark red covering.
            His body is well-muscled and very pale.
            His skin is pure white, and in the moonlight it almost looks blue, like porcelain.
            The ripple and shudder of muscle under that skin keeps me from thinking of him as delicate, but this view is really too much for me.
            …Lancer’s face and chest are flushed, and something like a blush is spreading from between his legs, too.
            His great black wings are arched and tense, each feather shivering.
            His nipples are standing up, and, um…

            …This is so hard that it’s almost touching the line of his navel.
            And it’s wet with fluid, and bright red with blood.
            I can’t look away, and reach out to wrap a hand around it like I’m in a dream.
            When my hand touches his skin, Lancer’s entire body twitches.
            The veins throb under my hand and his hips strain.
            He closes his eyes and lets out a soft sound too low to be a voice but too loud to be a moan.
            —Unabashedly.
            Lancer demands for me to touch him more and make him feel even better than this.

            “—Ha—ah.”

            …I can feel myself getting hard again just from running my fingers up and over Lancer’s stiff cock.
            It’s bigger than mine as I thought, but not quite as thick as I expected it to be.
            That’s probably just because the pain I was in that night made it feel even bigger than it was.
            Weakly, Lancer moves his hips, but his body is too tense to thrust against my hand.
            …That’s fine.
            His breathing is noisy and his chest and shoulders shake with every gasp he makes.

            “—It’s okay.
            “You can let go.”
            I run my fingers up and over the head and trace the rim.
            My hand is getting sticky and coated in Lancer’s precum.
            That just makes it easier to move, and by the soft sounds of approval Lancer keeps making, it must feel better for him, too.
            His hands are gripping the already-rumpled sheets.
            Lancer arches his body back as the hot length of flesh in my hand starts to throb and twitch.
            I move my hand harder and squeeze lightly at the end of each stroke.

            …Then.
            Lancer’s hips jerk up and he exhales sharply.
            …I cup the head with my palm as he ejaculates.
            He lets go hard enough that my skin stings, but the hot sticky liquid coats my palm and my fingers.
            There’s a lot of it.
            By now, the air in this room has taken on the faint scent of semen, both mine and Lancer’s.

            The strength goes out of Lancer’s body and he relaxes.
            But he keeps looking at me.
            He could stop my heart with those eyes.
            Lancer looks at me like he’s wondering why I’m not going to the next step yet.

            “—Ledah.
            “Um, is it all right if…?”

            In response.
            Ledah moves back and grips the metal headboard of the bed with both hands, wings arched into the open air.
            There are pillows under the small of his back and it looks like he’s well-supported.
            …Um, and his legs are open slightly.

            He nods slightly.
            “—Yes.
            “I want you to take me, Ein—”

            With just those words.
            The whiteness in my head boils up.

            I place my clean hand on the inside of Lancer’s thigh and coat my already-sticky fingers in semen.
            I coat the ring muscle and then push two of my fingers inside.
            Lancer closes his eyes and shudders.
            His breathing is heating up and becoming irregular again.
            It doesn’t look as though he’s in pain, but instead he shivers and moans slightly whenever I move the fingers of this hand.
            He doesn’t seem particularly tense and is accepting the movement of my fingers well.
            …Slowly.
            He’s getting hard again just from this.
            I wonder if it feels good, but I’m too embarrassed to ask.
            It almost makes me want to switch positions to see if it would feel good for me if he were taking his time.
            Imagining the feel of Ledah’s thick fingers inside me again excites me and makes my own movements rougher.
            …Under my hands, he lets out a thin moan.
            …………
            …He’s definitely feeling good.
            As if to prove it, his penis is standing erect again, blushing red from the tip against the white of his skin.

            …His body seems like it’s ready to receive me.
            I stifle my nervousness and coat my already-sticky erection with everything that’s left.
            …Carefully.
            I push Ledah’s legs back and line myself up against him.

            “—Then, um.
            “I’m going to do it now.”

            With his eyes closed, he nods.
            I guide myself forward and push my hips in.
            At first there’s some resistance.
            …I suppose that’s only normal as this is nothing like a pussy, and it’s not supposed to take a man inside.
            But the forbidden feel is why it’s so exciting and feels good.
            —Lancer lets out a sharp breath as I start to push inside, and I almost lose my breath too.
            The inside of his body is even hotter than Rose’s.
            And it’s not wet at all.
            Instead, it’s very tight, with walls that feel powerful enough to crush orgasm out of me in one contraction.
            …Slowly, I enter all the way, and hold on to Lancer’s waist with both hands.
            For a moment he was biting his lip, but now he is staring at me and panting raggedly.
            He stares absentmindedly with eyes that are mostly blank.

            “—Ledah, does it hurt?”
            Slowly and then more quickly.
            He shakes his head.
            “—No, but this is not enough.
            “I would like you to start moving now.”
            He says it with a red face and the faintest smile on his lips.

            …………
            …Slowly.
            I press myself into him.
            Ledah closes his eyes and breathes harshly.
            He moans faintly against every exhale.
            …I can barely think.
            He’s so tight inside and the muscles move as if to please me as I thrust in and out.
            When my hips are pressed to the back of his thighs, the head of his cock sometimes brushes against me.
            His voice gets louder like that, and I want to hear it more.
            …It feels good.
            The sensation is completely different from Rose, and it’s driving me mad.
            I don’t know how to cope with it and precum starts flowing out of me, which helps me move even more smoothly, and Ledah’s voice heats up.

            “There—ah—yes, there—Ein—more strongly—”

            I put power into my hips as Ledah demands harshness.
            …I do worry just a little about his body, but it seems that he has a high pain threshold in any case, and the harder I press against this place inside his body, the louder his moaning gets.

            Ledah’s back is arching upward.
            His body contorts itself to press closer to me.

            “Ledah—no, it feels too good, I—”
            “Ein… do it—, harder—!”

            I can’t think anymore.
            I move my body with all the strength I have.
           Lancer’s body is gleaming with sweat and he tightens on my throbbing cock as if trying to please me even more.

            I can’t handle this.
            “Ledah—Ledah—I can’t, I have to—”
            My cock swells up again as I’m about to ejaculate.
            “Ein—harder—ah, I—together…”

            I can’t reply with words.
            I nod vaguely and thrust without regard to Ledah’s pleasure or pain as he tightens against me viciously, drawing me in.
            —An ejaculation like an explosion.
            Ledah’s climax knocks the breath out of me and it feels like it’s staining my whole body.
            Unable to hold my breath, unable to hold myself back, I let go with all the power I have.
            Ledah’s voice cracks as he calls my name, and everything goes hot and white with the force of our orgasm—

            …
            ……
            ………
            …A silent kind of warmth, and a warm kind of silence.
            Lancer is already asleep.
            Our bodies are entangled and we lie curled up together on the bed.
            I’m about to fall asleep as well.
            …Tonight was the turning point between dream and reality.
            The love that we feel for each other and the passion of our bodies.
            I don’t know how long this will last.
            But even if it’s against that monster of a Caster, I will fight to protect this truth with absolutely everything I have—

Chapter Text

            …When I wake up, it’s light outside.
            It looks like I went ahead and slept in.
            But just like yesterday, Lancer isn’t awake either.
            He’s lying next to me with his wings folded at his back like a bird, sleeping soundly.

            “…”
            Carefully, I slide out of bed, trying my hardest not to wake Lancer.

            …Now the question is what to do about clothes.
           Mine are messy enough from last night that I’m not sure I want to touch them much until they’ve been cleaned.
            I look around and find that there’s a stack of clean things on the sofa nearby.
            …Well.
            These actually seem to be my clothes.
            It appears that Rose or someone went and got some spares yesterday while Lancer and I were out playing.

            I get dressed quickly and leave the room, trying not to make noise.
            Lancer was hurt last night too, and if he still needs his sleep, then I don’t want to disturb him too much.

            …I should make some kind of a plan.
            Whatever I did last night, that was enough to make Caster back off.
            It would be a good idea to try to utilize that, but I’m not even entirely sure what I did myself.
            If Rose knew about this, she would already have told me about it.
            …So that leaves Hector-sama.

            Sigh.
            It’s still light out, so I should be able to go and come back without any major problems.
            He might be a little bit scary sometimes, but he would know best if it’s a problem about my body, so I don’t see what choice I have.
            …Rose probably won’t like that I’m going back to the church again, but honestly, I’m stuck.
            I can slip out and then come back without bothering her or the others, since this should be a quick journey.

            …I reach the hill.
            I climb quietly and come into sight of the vast church.

            Something about the tall white building against the gray sky…
            …or maybe it’s the traces of Hector-sama’s presence even outside…
            …make my skin break out into gooseflesh.
            I shiver and open the doors.

            “…Hector-sama?”
            I walk into the chapel, but the lights are off and he doesn’t seem to be here.
            That’s odd.
            He’s usually close by, and comes to answer my questions right away to make me leave.
            …I can tell that his presence is here, but he’s not here…

            “—Hector-sama…?”
            Could he be in the back?
            Carefully, I walk up the aisle and to the altar.

            Nothing.
            I call his name again, quietly.

            …Quietly?
            If I’m calling for him, I should call loudly, but I’m subconsciously keeping my voice down.
            The prickling sensation that I felt outside hasn’t gone away.

            I exit the back door of the chapel and emerge in a courtyard.
            …I’m not familiar with this church, so I don’t even know where to begin looking.
            I know that Hector-sama is here somewhere in this grand building, but I have no idea where he is, and that puts me a little on edge.
            “—”
            My heart pounds.

            …Why?
            I keep my breathing soft even though I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate.
            It feels like I’ve begun to sweat.

            …Hector-sama isn’t here.
            A voice inside me tells me that he’s not here, so I should go back home.
            Lancer will wake up soon.
            Rose will scold me if I’m out for too long, and I’ll get lost if I stay in here for too long.
            This is a place I shouldn’t be.
            It’s not that it’s bad.
            It’s not bad, it’s nothing bad, so I should just turn around and go home before…

                                    (…Before what?)

            …This is bad.
            I don’t feel good.
            I’m chilled, sweating, and starting to feel sick.
            This is very bad.
            My instincts are sharp enough that I cannot be wrong about something like this.

            …That’s when I see the staircase.
            It’s dark.
            It’s completely black.
            …No, it’s not completely black, but that’s how I felt.
            “…Underground?”
            Hector-sama could be there.
            …But my heart is beating so hard.

            It’s fine. It’s fine. Just go back.

            It doesn’t smell like blood.
            It doesn’t smell like blood.
            It doesn’t smell like blood.
            There’s no way it smells like blood.
            …I should go home, but…

            …I walk into the darkness.

 

 

            At the bottom of the staircase is a room of cold stone.
            There aren’t lights, but a dim blue glow illuminates it like the ceiling is covered in phosphorescent moss or something like that.
            It looks like some kind of ancient temple or altar.

            It’s perfectly clean, so either it’s used often or dust doesn’t even have the nerve to settle in such a place.
            …If I were dust, I would be smart enough to avoid this place.
            I guess that means I’m pretty stupid.

            …Past the gate in front of me is something like a catacomb.
            There’s something bright within all that darkness.
            …I walk forward toward it as if pulled.
            I cannot stop my feet, even though my common sense is telling me to leave here before it’s too late.

            The air feels thicker in here as though it’s very humid.
            …And it smells kind of like how I imagine a slaughterhouse would.
            There’s a pervasive scent of decay as though there were things dying in here for a long time.
            …But on top of that is the scent of fresh blood so thick that I want to gag.

            Even on top of that.
            There’s something that smells like formaldehyde, thick and cloying.

            Someone appears to have left a light deep within.
            After all the darkness it makes my eyes hurt, but my eyes have begun to adjust.

            …I see it.
            My eyes adjust and I see it.

            Blood.
            There’s blood.
            There’s blood everywhere.
            Blood in long spatters like a Rorschach blot.

            …And in the center.

            Long white limbs spread out.
            Thin and small and delicate.
            A girl’s arms.
            More like a child’s.
            She is splayed on her back as if pinned by her hands and ankles.

            Her skin is perfectly white.
            White except for the blue mottling on her wrists, throat, face, thighs, breasts—

            A girl’s, dead, …corpse.
            It’s a corpse.
            It’s a corpse.
            It’s a corpse.
            It’s a corpse.
            It’s a corpse.

            …As though profaning something pure.
            There is a wide, rust-colored slice from just above her larynx that splits her body open all the way down to her vagina.
            “—”
            It’s neat like a dissection slice and her skin is pulled back around the abdomen and the bottom of her ribcage.
            I can see her bones, but there’s something wrong with them.
            Her exposed muscle and organs are maroon and black as though they have slowly died.
            …Her body isn’t rotten yet, but only smells of blood and chemicals.

            …And.

            ……Fresh and old splatters of semen.

            “—Gih.”

                        They cross her legs and the lines of white even hang over and drip down into her opened body as if to profane even the sickest of rituals.

            “…ah.”

 

 

                        …I,
                                    …know,
                                                this girl.

 

            Red eyes that have lost all their life and might as well be jelly models.
            Pink hair that’s become rough and clotted with blood.
            …And as if to prove the thing I don’t want to recognize, half of a red pattern engraved upon her arm.

 

            Master of one of the Riders, Meslieness Mell Zweig.
            A childish young girl who smiled and acted as though she were much smaller than she actually was.
            —Primea.
            We left her alive.
            We left her and the other girl alive.
            Why is she here?
            Why… did she have to die like this?

            I can’t look away from that body.
            You can’t even call it mutilated, but it’s been desecrated nonetheless.
            It’s like all of her bones have been replaced with metal and her organs with cheap rubber models that haven’t been dyed.

            …And someone, did that kind of thing, while she was dying.
            Perhaps even as her body was being taken apart.
            Perhaps even as she was crying and didn’t know why.

            Scenes like that flow into my mind and I want to throw up.
            I can’t move.
            I can’t breathe.
            The dead body of the girl is like a curse that pins my feet to the floor.

 

            …Then.
            “—So this is where you wandered off to.”
            The lights come on in a flash that blinds me for a few moments.

            The choking presence and that voice.
            I don’t even need to turn around.
            Even a dumb animal knows when its back is to the wall.

            “—Really. You simply couldn’t wait for me up above, could you?
            “But then you’ve always been a foolish boy.”
            I can tell from the sound of the voice.
            …That man is smiling.
            Not even bitterly or dangerously.
            But in perfect amusement.

            “—Come now, you dull child.
            “Can’t you even say anything, or is the shock of seeing your kin in such a state too outrageous even for you?”

            “—What?”
            What did he just say?

            …He doesn’t even ask what I mean.
            “In a way, you could have referred to her as your older sister, you know.
            “—She was still a prototype, one of many failures, but it was the process that was eventually refined to give you birth.
            “Such a shame. I’m sure she would be quite embarrassed to be seen by her younger brother in such a state.”

            …Hector…, is laughing.

            “But there is no helping such a thing.
            “There may still have been some materials of use in that body, so when I tired of punishing her for her failures in this Grail War, I began to collect what I could.
            “—At least the orichalcum in her blood and bones has not dissolved to the extent of the other girl.
            “She was too useless even to keep alive for entertainment.”

            “You—”

            “—Honestly, cannot you even understand something so simple? You truly are obtuse.
            “It was the ‘blueprint’ that we obtained, many millennia ago.
            “The source is gone, and so if more of you are to be made, then it must be done artificially.
            “—Our data on Aries, at least, was quite extensive.
            “He never even received his Diviner, and so he was a most suitable subject.
            “We had the optimal results all recorded, and so all that was left would be to reproduce them.”

            I don’t understand what he’s saying.
            It feels like my head is filled with static.

            “—It’s taken a very long time, of course.
            “There were so many failures, but at last we had a few workable samples.
            “This girl was one of the more functional failures.
            “Able to live, but unable to produce anything more than a fake.”

            “—Ein.
            “For all the little you’ve shown it, you’re the first success.”
            “—You are the real thing.”

            A thousand voices wake up in my head all at once.
            They combine and overlay with the static.
            My back hurts like it’s missing something.

            Inside me.
            Inside me.
            Inside me.
            …Inside me?

            I can hear a voice.
            Underneath all of them.

            …My senses are telling me not to think.
            To go back, before I can’t any longer.

            But it’s too late. The switch has been flipped and I can’t forget again.

            I am—

            “—Yes.
            “Caster told me of your success.
            “You’ve done well, but once one has been formed, another can take its place.
            “…All of you were only here to make the numbers fit, from the beginning.”

            My field of vision is growing narrow.
            I’m overwhelmed.
            I’m too overwhelmed to fight back against this pressing sensation of death.

            Lancer—
            All I can do, is wish that salvation would come for me—

(interlude 15-1)

            When he awakens, his Master has already gone.
            He cannot sense Ein’s presence anywhere in the house, although he goes downstairs to check and make sure that he is not fooling around in the kitchen or talking to any of the others.
            …He is not there.
            He sits down with a sigh.
            He feels something like irritation, and wishes that Ein would have at least awakened him to say where he intended to go.

            After a while, he grows bored with sitting still and looks outside.
            The sky is covered in a great amorphous canopy of gray.
            It looks like the beginning of winter.
            A wind is going and it appears that the clouds are moving quickly, so the sky may be clear by tonight, allowing them to see the stars.

            He muses idly, wondering whether any of the constellations visible from this town would even be familiar to him.
            Perhaps Ein would share with him their names and the meanings behind them.
            He allows his mind to drift away from the Grail War as he absentmindedly considers mundane things like that.
            …He’s aware that he doesn’t usually think like this.
            …No, it’s more that he hasn’t had the chance to think about things like this in a long time.

            “—Oh, there you are.
            “Hey Lancer, do you have any idea where Ein went?”

            …The magus Rose appears at the end of the hall, and Lancer moves away from the door.

            “—No.
            “I apologize. It appears that he has gone outside without my knowing.”

            Rose sighs.
            “Man, that’s just my luck. I wanted to get him to help out, since Roswell and Vienya both want lunch and I’ve got my hands full with Nessiah.
            “—That idiot’s fever just won’t go down no matter what I do. I was hoping that I could at least make Ein cook, or trade places so I can make some food and not have to worry.”
            Rose complains like that while making a face like an annoyed cat.

            “…Nessiah? He still has not recovered?”
            He is a bit confused as to why.
            First of all, why Ein continues to insist upon adopting so many ex-Masters, but also as to why neither Rose’s magic nor Roswell’s would have any effect.
            Both of them are competent healers with good knowledge of the basics, so even if Berserker’s Master were truly ill, then they should be able to care for him with little difficulty.
            At the least, his fever should have gone down by this time, according to his old memories of researching healing magic.

            “No.
            “I don’t understand it. He’s at his limits and his Magic Circuit won’t turn off.
            “He’s a strong magus and his limits must be extraordinary, but at this rate he’s going to wind up comatose until this war is over.
            “—If he were a simpler life form like a homunculus, his body would already be breaking down by now. So honestly, it’s about all we can do just to keep his necessary bodily functions working.”

            “…?”
            He does not understand it.

            Rose sighs.
            “—Well, it’s complicated, and you have enough to worry about.
            “Ein’s either shopping or he’s gone back to the church again to bother Hector-sama about coming up with a plan to defeat Caster.
            “When he comes back, yell at him for me. I have to go back and look after Nessiah now.”
            She leaves.

            …He is left standing still and feeling uneasy.
            —By now, there should be no problem with a plan.
            It will be a very difficult battle, but between the two of them, they should be able to defeat Caster; the only problem is the limits of Ein’s body.
            His Master is still untrained, no matter how powerful he may be, and appears unused to using his true abilities, but they should have enough time left to teach him.

            His uneasiness festers.
            “—”
            Just as he decides he may as well go out on his own and check after the shopping district and the church in spirit form—

            —His chest contracts.
            He turns and glares towards the source of the sensation.
            …There isn’t time.
            Lancer opens the door to the house and leaps out.
            He moves more quickly than the human eye can trace.
            He reaches the church without once stopping or slowing down.
            …Lancer arms himself.

            He did not intend to do so until he was inside, but this place stinks of death.
            He can feel the weak thread connecting him to Ein growing tense as if it’s about to snap.
            …His Master is in danger.
            That is all that Lancer knows, but that is enough.
            There is no time left.
            —Thinking so.
            Lancer breaks through the door and rushes into the church.
            He does not care about the surroundings and the magical energy discharged when he kicks the ground is enough to warp the floor and destroy the pews.
            Ignoring everything else, he rushes through the chapel and into the courtyard, finds the stairs, and explodes like a red bullet into the catacombs.
            …This place smells overwhelmingly like death.
            And within that darkness, Ein is silently crying out for help within the confines of his mind—

            “—Ah, so you have arrived.”
            A familiar voice.
            Lancer pays it no mind.
            His Master is in the room in the back, slumped down onto his knees and with a blank expression.
            It is not from the horror of the defiled corpse of the other Master before him.
            He seems to be numbed from the inside at the force of a realization.
            …But he is alive.
            Lancer is able to relax very slightly.

            He will go.
            He will go to where his Master is.
            “—”

            But as he enters the room that stinks of death.
            There is someone in his way.

            “—You—”

(15-1 interlude out.)

            …I can’t hear anything.
            I can’t sense anything and I have no perception of what’s around me.
            My body hurts.
            It feels like my body is being opened up like the girl’s.

            “—”

            The “thing” inside me.
            It’s telling me that it’s time to let it be born.

                                    “Because those angels are the same as you, Ein—”

            …Stop.
            I don’t want to remember.
            I’m human.
            First of all, I’m just a powerless magic user.
            So—

            But the words pound in.
            …Because I’m not a magic user.
            I’m not a magus at all.
            The Magic Circuit running through my body has only one purpose.
            It creates byproducts like strengthening and projection that are close to that purpose, but that’s all it does.
            ……My Magic Circuit exists solely to take “that which I am missing” and give it shape in this world.

            I grew up in Hector-sama’s laboratories.
            They were his vast workshop, and I was always being made by his servants to participate in numerous tests.
            It was no place for a child.
            When I finally was given a playmate in the form of Rose, she was used as a tool half the time to open the path to my Magic Circuit that lay dormant inside my body.
            …It wasn’t time yet.
            I wasn’t fully mature yet.
            So I forgot all about what my body was supposed to be and my mind smoothed over the inconsistencies and the things that the adults around me said, all for my own protection.
            It’s quite amazing what the mind does to protect itself.
            …It wasn’t time yet.
            The “thing” inside me was still in the middle of gestation.
            It matured very slowly as I grew, and gained power from my life as an incomplete being.

            …Truly.
            It is such a perversion of the natural system.
            …In the end, I’m a fake too.
            But if you put the numbers next to each other, they would match the originals.

            This is just like another one of the experiments.
            I want to laugh.
            I want to cry.
            …In the end, aside from being here to fill up the numbers, my body was being put through another test, to see if my potential would mature and show itself.
            And now my body is ready to produce and give birth to the “thing” inside me.
            It’s ready to complete itself.

            “—Why is one of the Magi in a place like this?”
            A familiar voice.
            A familiar voice filled with suspicion and hate.

            My vision clears at the sound.
            My eyes are filled with blur, but I am able to lift my head and make out the vague shape of Lancer, who is facing down — with his Diviner in hand.

            …The sight of the lance makes my body heat up.
            I feel sick.
            ……I feel sick.

            A sound of faint curiosity and amusement.
            “—That’s funny.
            “That he should have called one such as you.
            “—Well, like calls to like, as they say.
            “Stand back, Lancer. Your Master is awakening now.”

            Softly.
            My body remembers Lancer’s memories.

            —If I were born naturally.
            Are you saying I would have lived like that too—?

            “That is correct, Ein.
            “If you had been born and not created, born in this man’s time, you would have experienced the same hell as him.
            “—I see you’ve begun to realize. Huh, so you are not entirely hopeless.
            “Still, you will not open it all the way.
            “Must I do everything for you?”

            —Stop.

            “You are a being very much like a homunculus, but more perfectly made.
            “On the outside, you are indistinguishable from humans.
            “The inside of your body remembers at its core that you have always been made up of orichalcum, the precious mineral that has become difficult to find even in the world of the gods.
            “—That’s right. I’ve been attempting this for what amounts to centuries now, but in the end, I have finally succeeded in creating one.
            “My own Grim Angel, an ‘artificial angel without wings’.
            “—My Servant informed me quite well.
            “We were beginning to wonder if the natural laws had turned our success into a failure after all, but in your time of need, your body was able to resolve itself and call it.”

            —A sword like lightning in my hands.
            The memories lose their protective covering and I am forced to look at the truth.

            At the time, I was just desperate.
            But I was able to open the body that wasn’t yet ready and call the sacred sword.
            The sword made up of the wings I had forgotten.

            “—Ein.”

            I can hear the sound of footsteps and a warm presence kneels beside me.
            My vision clears and I see Lancer’s concerned face.

            …That’s right.
            It’s like I told Rose.
            If I’m really an artificial Grim Angel, then so what?
            It just means that I understand the tools at my disposal better.
            If giving birth to a Diviner hurts, then fine.
            —Rose was made to go through so much worse.
            —The hell that Lancer went through makes this look like nothing.
            Roswell and Vienya and Nessiah all had to lose their Servants.
            Compared to that, my pain is nothing.
            …I still have to fight.
            That man.
            He called Caster his Servant.
            He said that he’s the one who did this to Primea.
            …Even if it’s this man, I won’t forgive him.

            “—Hmph.”
            From the temple, he looks down at us.
            “How boring. It seems I’ll have to discard you after all.
            “—Well, at any rate, the Grail has long since reached its saturation point.
            “Tonight, when the advent comes, all that remains is to drench it in the blood of the eighth Servant, and its power shall overflow.
            “—That power is all I need now.
            “After all, without that power, it shall take another million lifetimes in the world of men to claim the chair that has been left empty.”

            He smiles.
            He smiles emptily, like a benediction of death.

            “—Caster and I will go to retrieve the vessel now.
            “If you are interested in gambling for the Holy Grail, then bring your Servant to the Tohsaka workshop after nightfall.
            “—There, we will decide which of our Servants shall be laid upon the altar to have its throat cut as the final sacrifice.”

            …My creator.
            Hector fades into the darkness and disappears.

            “—”
            Even returned to my senses, I feel like I’m going to be sick.
            Too late.
            I understand it now, and it’s too late.

            “—Ein?”
            The Holy Grail doesn’t fill up proportionately to the number of Servants killed.
            The Holy Grail is filled with the blood of those Servants.
            The power to grant any wish comes from the massive amounts of prana taken from every Servant killed.
            …And Hector wants that power.
            I don’t know why.
            But if he wants a vast amount of power, then this war was of course the perfect chance.
            The incomplete endings to the fourth and fifth wars left massive amounts of prana behind.
            That was what pulled the curtain back open so quickly.
            That was why something as absurd as nine Servants appearing was allowed.
            I don’t know why Hector wants the Holy Grail.
            He said something about filling an empty seat, but everything I think about either doesn’t make sense or is so blasphemous that not even Hector would attempt such a thing.

            All I know is that I can’t forgive him.
            He brought me and those girls into this place to die.
            He took advantage of the deaths of heroes simply for his own sake.

            …There’s no way a wish like that could be worthy.
            There’s no way such a thing can be allowed.
            Lancer’s wish.
            —I’ll crush that man and Caster, and I’ll grant it.
            I can’t change everything that’s come up to this point.
            But I can make sure that all the sacrifices that have led up to this moment…, aren’t squandered on something so pointless.

            …We leave that place full of death.
            My body is still unsteady, and Lancer supports me as we walk.
            We’ll settle this tonight.
            But until then, I need to sit down and rest, and have Lancer teach me how to use my Diviner.
            The sword that’s inside my body, sleeping, ready to be brought into this world.

            Carefully, we turn the corner and reach Roswell’s house.

                        …The door is open.

            I forget my tiredness.
            I forget the bleak feel of my body struggling to accept the truth and run.
            The house smells cold and feels fragile.
            It’s not as dark and death-filled as the catacomb… but this place smells of blood.

            I run.
            Into the living room.
            I run without even taking off my shoes.

            “—You’re late.”

            “…Rose…”

            …The room.
            Everything is smeared with blood and various furniture is knocked over and destroyed.
            Rose is leaning back on the couch with strained breathing, her hand covering a wound in her diaphragm.

            …Vienya.
            She’s lying on a chair with several injuries hastily bandaged and does not seem conscious.
            Roswell is sitting against the wall, with smears leading to a large bloodstain near him, and is not moving.

            “L-Lancer, the first aid kit…”
            Footsteps tell me that he’s departed.

            “—It’s fine.
            “I’ve already treated these two, and my wounds aren’t that deep, so I can fix them myself if you let me.
            “Don’t move Roswell. He hit his head and when he wakes up he might have a concussion, so I have to take another look at him after the healing kicks in.”

            Even like this, Rose keeps talking like normal, as if this is no big deal.

            “—Besides, Ein.
            “There’s something way more important than that to deal with.”

            …I don’t know or understand any of this.
            But it’s clear that I just have to listen to Rose now, since she’s the most calm in this situation.
            “…Did Hector do this?”

            Rose closes her eyes and gives a pained smile.
            “—No, Caster did.
            “They were both here just a little while ago. That guy tore down the shields and then she came in after him.
            “We tried to fight, but it was useless against them. We’re probably just lucky nobody died, but… Ein, they took Nessiah with them.”

            …Nessiah?
            Come to think of it… he hasn’t been moved from this room since we first came here.
            And I don’t see him anywhere.

            “The way that his body reacted to everything… I might be wrong, but I think he may have something to do with summoning the Holy Grail.
            “They’ll be at the Tohsaka place tonight. You and Lancer have to stop them no matter what.”

            …It appears that Rose has also realized what Hector is.
            She’s smarter than me, so I bet she’s already worked out most of it.

            “—All right. We’ll do it. So don’t you worry about a thing, Rose.”

            She laughs.
            “—You sound pretty dependable all of a sudden.
            “Talking kind of hurts, so I think I’m going to take a nap for a bit…”

            …And then she closes her eyes.
            Despite her injury, she closes her eyes and goes to sleep whole-heartedly.
            I can tell that she’s not in danger of dying.
            …And just as she said, neither is anyone else.
            Lancer and I bandage her wounds and decide that we’d better let her rest.

            …Time passes.
            Slowly and surely, time flows as the world approaches night.
            We clean up the house and talk about what it means to be a Grim Angel.
            …It turns out that Lancer was able to recognize my Diviner for what it was yesterday.
            We talk about what it can do and how to use it.
            After a while, I use the things that are in the pantry to make dinner.
            They say that those who don’t eat before battle are eaten by battle, and so I don’t want to take that chance.

            …Finally.
            After Lancer and I sit side by side in comfortable silence for nearly an hour, the sun goes down and the world becomes bathed in blue.
            “—Let’s go.”
            I say softly.
            “—Yes.”
            A quiet voice answers back.

            …The sky is like dark blue velvet with tiny jewels scattered across its surface.
            The moon is distant and bright and there are no clouds anywhere.
            No one is outside.

            Lancer and I walk together through town and across the bridge.
            …When we get into Miyama, it feels like something vast and light is fluttering under my feet.
            The feeling of something wondrous waiting to happen.
            This must be the energy of the Holy Grail.

            It’s a beautiful clear night.
            …I remember as we pass through the streets how we fought the Riders the night that Lancer was summoned.
            That was when we first met Roswell and Saber, too.

            …Eventually, we turn toward the district filled with Western houses.
            The gate to the Tohsaka estate is open.
            It’s a grand and imposing building, and the path to the basement is open.

            …We head down.

            It’s vast.
            Almost the size of a gymnasium.
            …Down at the far end, there is a vast summoning circle, and hovering several yards over a stage is a glowing circle, connected to a bare human figure.
            …Hector is standing there beneath it.

            But before that.
            The figure of Caster blocks the way.

            “—”
            Caster stands with her staff in her hands and faithfully blocks the path to her Master.

            “—Get out of the way.”
            I order her.
            I order her with everything I have.
            “—If you’re his Servant, then you should know what that man is. So move.”

            Caster simply closes her eyes.
            “—Silence, whelp.
            “Any child who says as much has no understanding of the natural order of things.
            “Do you even know who that man is?”

            “—Of course I know.
            “That’s Hector, the man who made me and is trying to control this Holy Grail War—”
            Before I can say anything else.
            Lancer steps past me.

            “That man is one of the Seven Magi who govern the heavens in the absence of the gods.
            “And he is a traitor of the worst order.
            “In life, you were one of the guardians, were you not—? Then you should know better than anything else what that man has twisted the world into.”

            Caster’s calm expression does not change.
            “—Tool.
            “Do not speak to me of such things.”
            …On the face of that woman, I see the same arrogance that I observed on the people surrounding Lancer in his memories.
            She looks upon us as Grim Angels to be nothing more than an insignificant subclass, not even true living beings.

            Lancer readies his Noble Phantasm, and I hang back.

            “From birth to death, angels exist only to perpetuate the gods’ order.
            “And the Magi are those who govern that order.
            “There could be no higher honor than to serve the Magi with one’s life and death!”

            …Caster stretches out her arms, and bolts of lightning stipple the stone of the ground.
            Lancer pivots and evades, rushing through to clash against Caster’s staff.

            Lancer’s magical resistance is strong.
            So even if he is hit, then it will not be fatal.
            He strikes for Caster’s armor.
            Again and again, evading her magic and striking for her armor.
            Her defense is this strong.
            Her defense is this strong, but Lancer will be able to overpower it if he uses his full strength.

            …I wait.
            I wait and I watch as they become more and more absorbed in their battle.
            …And then.

            Seeing my opening, I dash forward…!!

            At the last moment Caster notices me, but it’s already too late.
            I duck past her and continue to run at full speed towards Hector and the altar.

            “—”
            “—You cannot afford to turn your attention from me.”
            Lancer lets out a loud shout and I can hear the clashing of weapons.
            “—I will show you.
            “Whether or not I am a lowly tool as you say, I will show you how we angels are only meant to serve the will of the gods…!!”

            I leave them behind, trusting Lancer.
            If anyone can handle that monstrous fortress of a Servant, it’s my Lancer.
            All that I need to focus is fighting Hector until Lancer wins.
            If I can, I will destroy him.
            If I can’t, I will weaken him and wait for Lancer’s support.
            Because we cannot let this man have the Holy Grail—

            …As I draw closer.
            The figure suspended at the golden-white void and the void itself become clearer.

            This is the Holy Grail.
            It is already brimming with iridescent colorless fluid like honey.
            And the body suspended above it as though offering a sacrifice…,

            Pale arms stretched out as though crucified.
            A small and thin body with white skin.
            A red magical circle so complex that it hurts my eyes to look at it is burning across every part of that body, from the fingertips to the toes.
            Shoulders, head, and ribcage sag forward.
            …I can hear pained breathing.
            The nude body of the abducted Master arches and convulses as the Holy Grail pulses.

            …I don’t understand it.
            But it appears that Nessiah is being used to open the Grail.

            “—”
            …He’s alive.
            And he’s conscious.
            It must be painful as he continues to struggle in feeble movements.
            In the light of the Grail, I can see sweat on his skin and I hear occasional cries that sound like very hoarse screaming.

            “—He’s holding up rather well, wouldn’t you say?
            “But then, he has already processed the souls of seven Servants.
            “After everything that he has endured thus far, this likely isn’t even a trial; he may actually survive until the Grail is closed.”

            “—You.”
            Hector simply smiles.

            “What the hell are you after?”
            I continue to advance.
            I can’t let anything stop me now.
            “—What the hell is worth toying with all these lives?!”

            Hector looks down at me with an amused face.
            “Didn’t I already say so?
            “—The gods’ seat has stood empty for that long and needs to be filled.
            “I have already created a Grim Angel.
            “All I need now is the rest of the power, and the Holy Grail will grant me that.
            “—This battle is all that I need to ascend to godhood.”

            Hector lifts his hand and begins to speak.
            …If he’s really as old as Lancer claims.
            …Then this spell will be great magic like Caster’s.

            I can’t hesitate.
            I step back and open my Magic Circuit.

            …The firing hammers all crash down, and numerous lanes of magic light up my body.
            I stretch out my hand before me.
            …It hurts.
            It’s like projection but more painful.
            I am literally calling the sword up from the inside of my body.
            The flakes of orichalcum in my blood and bones contract and take form.
            …It was like lightning.
            I trace the half-remembered sword and it comes loose, forming in my hand with a sense of exhilaration.
            “—”
            It’s gold in color and shaped like a jagged bolt of lightning.
            It’s perfectly balanced and very light.
            It feels like a feather in my hand.
            …The sword’s name is Einherjar.
            It’s a Noble Phantasm at the same level as Lancer’s.
            I only barely understand how to use it, but with the sword in my hand I feel more confident.
            …It was made for me.
            …No, it is a part of me.
            This sword was made a part of me in exchange for the wings my body was forced to forget before my birth, when I was still developing.

            —Hector completes his spell and great darkness roars down around me.
            I dodge and my sword swings, almost as though acting without my will behind it.
            …Einherjar cuts through the darkness and I rush forward.

            Curses.
            Great spears of magic.
            They cut my body and blood and pain run down my limbs, the extremity of my sides, my cheeks and forehead.
            But Einherjar’s arc is true and it deflects everything that is thrown at me.
            …I will fight.
            This man.
            This man is an abomination.
            And just past him.
            Just past him is the last key left to the door leading to our future—!!

 

            “You cannot win.”
            Caster says so in a cold voice.
            Most of her armor has been broken away by now.
            But she stands with her staff held aloft and prepares the killing blow.

            “—”
            Lancer is kneeling.
            His body has been burnt and cut many times by the strikes of magic.
            …But.
            He pushes himself up and his body lifts into the air with a great stroke of his wings.
            Gathering all the power he has left.
            Eliminating every function but “existence”.
            He aims his Noble Phantasm.

            “REVELLION…!!”
            The incantation.
            It is the ignition key for the most powerful of spells with which the Guardian Angels were gifted by the gods.
            This power is a power that rejects all interference and all life.
            And the Noble Phantasm whose name Lancer still does not know strengthens that spell.
            …That staff.
            There is a great legend attached to that staff, but Lancer cares not for it.

            Great lightning comes rushing down from the ceiling.
            In his state, it is more than powerful enough to erase him.
            But that was simply one gift from the gods.

            Lancer’s entire body…

                        …Yes.
                        In exchange for his heart,
                        Ledah’s entire body became divinity made flesh.

            The safeties and restraints, unable to withstand the rush of power, all snap.

            “LORELEI—!”

            And the power rains down.
            An avalanche of bold red fire.
            A holy baptism that purges everything before it.

            Caster makes no sound.
            …But in that instant, her body is erased into ash.

 

            …I run.
            If I falter, if I slow, if I trip and fall, everything is done.
            Hector’s attacks are so far beyond my level that he really might as well be a god.
            …But.
            As long as I can deflect the things around me with the slashes of this sword…!

            …Burning in my hands.
            The birth is completed, and the activation key flows into my mind.
            The sword begins to emit vast waves of holy energy, far more than I could ever dream of producing.
            My body follows its motions as it cuts away everything surrounding Hector.

            “—!”
            …He faces me down with a look of disgust.
            And I raise the sword above my head and use every bit of the strength I have to lunge—

                        …I won’t make it just with one jump.
                        …But I don’t need to.

            “DISARESTA—!!!

            The rebirth of the ancient line within me.
            …Even if it was made by mortal hands.
            …Even if I am the product of this man.
            It won’t lose to anything.

            As I swing the sword down, everything before me is enveloped in holy light.
            I feel the resistance of Hector’s shields.
            …And I feel that resistance vanish and his body wear away into dust in the all-cleansing wave of energy.

            …………
            ……………It’s over.
            My body sags and my sword disappears.
            For now, that was the best I could do.
            …From the Holy Grail, the colorless power begins to overflow.
            The great power shines brightly.

            “—”
            There is a breaking sound, and Nessiah’s body falls.
            I don’t think, but slide forward on my knees.

            “—Ouch.”
            A thump and a cry of pain as I break his fall with my arms.
            The last time I touched this man, his skin was burning, but his body is cold now.
            …And yet he’s breathing easily.
            I don’t think his life is in danger.

            …From across the stone expanse, Lancer is walking towards me.
            His Noble Phantasm is in hand and his form seems indefinite.

            —No.
            My heart stops as I realize that faint steam is rising from the tips of his outstretched wings.
            Lancer is disappearing.
            After all this, the fight must have used up his last reserves of magical energy.
            Walking and keeping his body together must be all that he can do.

            …The lance in his hand disappears.
            He has to conserve his energy just to keep moving.
            I can’t speak.
            My throat is frozen and my voice won’t come out.
            Slowly.
            So slowly that I think it will kill me.
            Lancer mounts the stairs to the altar and stands beneath the Holy Grail.

            “—”
            He stares at it.
            As the steam eats away at the edges of his wings and the tips of his hair.
            Lancer stares up at the Holy Grail.
            …I don’t know what he’s considering or what’s going through his mind.
            He just stares at it.

            …He doesn’t have any more time to waste.
            But I can’t tell him that.
            That is something that Lancer would know more than anyone else.

            After an eternity.
            Lancer closes his eyes and lifts his arms.
            And the great shining power pours down as if to bless his entire body.

Chapter Text

            “—Ein, wake up.”
            …I’m poked by something very sharp.
            I don’t want to get up, but that voice tells me that worse things than poking will ensue if I don’t open my eyes, so I do.
            …It’s the empty classroom.
            When I sit up, Serene gets up and comes over to glare at me.
            She looks sulky.
            …I guess she’s probably just mad that in the end, she always gets in trouble when she dozes off in class and I don’t.
            It helps that she snores and I don’t.
            “Jeez. Class is over already and you’re gonna miss your club if you don’t get moving.”
            Serene sounds like she’d like nothing better than to have me miss my club, but when I look outside, I see she’s been forcibly coerced even into this.

            Rose is standing out in the hallway, leaning on the wall.

            “—Thanks. I’ll get going now.”
            I pick up my school bag and join Rose.
            We walk together in silence.
            It’s good to see Rose back in the uniform she enjoys so much.
            …I haven’t said so because I’m sure that she’d get pretty mad at me if I did.

            Heading down the stairs and to her classroom, I wave slightly.
            Rose sighs.
            “…Ditching again? Well, I’ll make your excuses for everyone else.
            “Be sure to change into something nicer, since Roswell and them are coming along for dinner tonight.”
            We talk about dinner plans for a bit and then we head our separate ways.
            …I don’t think I really belong with the others anymore.
            Fia-san is still kind of upset, but the Mimee-san just laughed and said to Rose to haul me back in every now and again so that they don’t forget my face.
            …I pass out of the gate and walk down the street.

            Roswell and Vienya will be coming with us as we go out to dinner tonight.
            It seems that Vienya has moved in with Roswell permanently, and for now Roswell has decided to stay with us in Fuyuki.
            We visit every now and again and sometimes, like tonight, we all go out for dinner or eat at someone’s house.
            Vienya has adapted well to life in Japan.
            Sometimes Roswell seems depressed, and I bet it’s because he’s remembering Saber, but otherwise he seems to be coping very well.

            Nessiah isn’t out of the hospital yet.
            The magi who are treating him say that it could be another year before his body is completely over the aftereffects, and the Magic Association seems to be monitoring him closely.
            But the few times I’ve been to see him, he’s seemed much more spirited, and now that he’s well enough to insult me, I think he’ll be able to make it through everything that’s happened to him.

            …It’s been several months since then.
            It’s the middle of spring now and we’ve started the new term at school.
            I’m running through my life as usual, and the road up through Miyama to our house is familiar and filled with the sights of things that I love.
            I would be lying if I said that everything was just dealt with cleanly and easily.
            Hector was a prominent figure in the magical community, after all.
            In the end, the head of the Tohsaka family stepped in and helped us come up with a convincing cover story.
            She said that similar things happened with past Grail Wars, and so it wasn’t a problem as long as sympathetic people were the ones to hear about it and help.
            …I kind of wanted to ask, but didn’t, mostly because the Tohsaka head seemed kind of scary like Rose.
            And, well, we were definitely imposing, as she was busy at the Clock Tower and all.
            But as time has passed, life has been getting back to normal.
            Even our house has been repaired and is just like new.

            “—I’m home!”
            I announce so and take off my shoes, heading into the living room.

            “—Welcome home, Ein.”
            Sitting there.
            Sitting at the table with a cup of tea and a stack of books.
            …Is the man who was once my Servant.

            His wish was granted by the Holy Grail after all.
            Bathed in the Grail’s light, his body was given form.
            …He isn’t a Servant anymore.
            …He isn’t a heroic spirit anymore.
            Instead.
            Ledah is mortal again, and has chosen to live with us.

            The road has been long and hard.
            There are still so many things that he is not accustomed to, and we have to keep his existence quiet so that the Magic Association doesn’t decide to monitor and keep him for themselves.
            But there’s at least one precedent of a Servant that stayed and is living peacefully, so I believe that it’s going to be fine.

            …Yes.
            I know that it’s going to be all right.
            …Because…
            Ledah, who gave up his heart long ago…
                        …is smiling at me.

            For as long as he can smile.
            —Even if there are problems or difficulties to overcome.
            —Even if further trials are awaiting us.
            Ledah and Rose and I are going to be just fine—