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re:Birth

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(interlude 4-1)

            …In the end, it was simply something that she couldn’t forgive.
            That was right.
            She couldn’t forgive.
            It was foolish even to expect her to allow a farce like this to go on.

            All of it—everything of his.
            She would steal it away.

            In the end, seeing it was simply too much to bear.
            …His arrogance.
            The way that he just brushed her off so easily, as if he thought nothing of her.
            …That girl, as well.
            Just one look said that they were so well-suited that it made her want to throw up.
            ……And if the coin toss had merely gone the other way, then she was the one that would have been able to do what she pleased to such a fine doll.

            …Aaaah, but even so.
            She desired.
            Just that sight had caused the swelling mass of jealousy inside her to burst, and her swirling emotions seethed like a sea of black mud.
            She desired.
            The longing in her heart was akin to lust.
            …By now he’d probably already played with the doll a bit anyway.
            It would have been dirtied by his touch.
            ……It was never as much fun with secondhand goods, right? She almost wanted to giggle with the force of it.

            It would be a different kind of satisfaction than simply destroying him with his own toys.
            —Yes.

 

            …The witch who contemplated her revenge rocked back in her chair and laughed.
            She had already decided upon the perfect method to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

(4-1 interlude-out.)

 

            “—”

            Cold.
            It’s cold.
            It’s very cold.

            …Sigh.
            I get the feeling that if I breathe out very hard I’ll see my breath in the air before me…
            This morning, a cold snap seems to be in progress.
            …Ahh, it would be so good if I could just curl up and stay in bed all morning until the sun melts away this layer of awful cold.
            But that would expose me as a lazy host, and so I cannot.

            “—”
            I pump magical energy into my blood to heat myself up temporarily.
            Ahh, but it’s still cold. It’s definitely cold.
            I’ll need to check the heater before I can actually start on breakfast.
            Trying to cook in this environment could cause unnecessary strain on the kitchen equipment, and besides, it’s cold.

            “—”
            Hmmm.
            Honestly, I’m not very good with mechanical things, but I think this should do it.
            As long as all the windows stay closed, the house should gradually warm up from now.

            I go to wash my face with hot water.
            Today’s breakfast needs to be warm, also.

            …I get out things to prepare for making pancakes.
            There’s still some fruit, so I should heat it up.

            As I work,

            “—Good morning, Roswell—”

            Yggdra calls out to me.

            “I should apologize for how cold it is in here.
            “I wasn’t expecting the weather to shift like this.”
            Well, it is that season, but Fuyuki is supposed to have mild winters, so I suppose I let my guard down a bit.

            It’s too cold just to keep standing here, so I prepare the batter from a mix instead of making it from scratch.
            I put the blueberries, pieces of mandarin, apples, and strawberry slices into the batter and prepare the pan.

            “It’s all right. The house has already warmed up a lot since earlier.”
            “—Hmm, I suppose so. How are Vienya and Archer doing?”
            “They seem to be using the upstairs bathroom and such now, so I’m sure they’ll be down here soon.”

            …The breakfast is finished without incident.
            Vienya and Archer both appear and everyone eats, with a few requests for seconds here and there over the course of the meal.

            “…Roswell, we’re out of milk.”
            Yggdra says so after thoroughly examining the contents of the fridge.

            “—Hmm, that definitely will pose a problem when it’s time to make dinner.”
            I’d wanted to make sausage and potato soup in cream sauce as the main dish…
            I don’t have any mix, and I prefer to make broths from scratch if possible anyway.

            …I wonder why.
            It just strikes me as funny all of a sudden, watching her.
            That a Servant should be concerned over things like this.

            “That reminds me.
            “Since you’re spending most of your time here materialized, I’d just thought…
            “It might be nice to get you your own set of clothes, so that we can go out and be less conspicuous.”

            There’s the sound of a thump, and when I look, it seems that Vienya has elbowed Archer.
            “—What, me too?”
            Archer complains with a smile on his face.
            “All right, what problem do you have with my clothes now? They’re just fine.”
            Vienya is smiling.

            …I see.
            Vaguely, this is familiar scenery.
            ……It’s the kind of place my boyhood home was, whenever my parents weren’t concentrated on my teachings as a magus.

            “—Then, how about this?
            “We’ll go out and shop for food, and on the way back we’ll pick out a few outfits.
            “It has to be on the way back, because after lunch it’s important that we make our strategy for tonight.
            “From today, the war does start for real, after all.”

            “Vienya.”
            Yggdra smiles as she closes the fridge.
            “Is there anything you want us to get?
            “If it’s possible, we can pick it up for you, since it’s not fair that Roswell just keeps making whatever I like.
            “Make a list while we get ready.”

            They’re all smiling.
            Somehow—
            …Yes.
            I’m glad that these two are the ones we decided to ally with.

            Vienya really does write out a list.
            It’s a long list, actually.
            …That shouldn’t be a problem as far as money goes, but I do hope that I’m able to find and carry all of that…
            Her handwriting is neat and slanted and she smiles as she works.
            She’s still a very young girl, but her silence and mature presence give me a premonition of the woman she will one day become.
            …As a human, and as a magus.
            The Command Spell on the back of her hand burns with pride against her pale skin.
            With the familiar on her shoulder, she seems very much caught between the two eras of her life, childhood and adulthood, but at the same time she possesses such surety.

            She hands the list to me and stares hard like she really does expect everything here.
            …Thankfully, most of the things she’s hoping for can be picked up in the usual market.
            I wouldn’t want to let down a houseguest I’m cooking for.

            As we put our shoes on, Vienya slaps at Archer like she’s telling him to go.
            “—Are you sure?”
            Well, the barrier is still protecting the house, so it should be all right.
            And besides, it’s not like we could get outfits for Archer without having him there to check his measurements.
            Somehow I don’t doubt that he wouldn’t fit my clothes.

            And so, it’s decided.
            Both of the Servants go into spirit form and follow me as I leave the house, Vienya waving us on from behind.

            I point out the store we’ll be visiting as we pass it, and then head for the bridge.
            The market in Miyama will be our destination for now.

            On foot, it takes a while to walk.
            Yggdra is silent.
            So is Archer.
            …I wonder a little if Archer really was alright with leaving Vienya behind.
            Next time we might as well bring her along, but it seems foolish to go back for her now…

            Thinking thoughts like that, we cross over to the other town.

            It’s the middle of the day and it’s gotten to be a little bit warmer now that the sun is up.
            …As I expected, it takes a while for us to actually be able to buy everything on that list.
            But in the end, it’s not really anything that can be helped.
            We’ll return with enough food, and maybe an outfit each for Yggdra and Archer.

            “—”
            But somehow something feels a bit off.
            The shopping trip is almost over.
            We’re on our way back to Shinto now.

            …Perhaps it’s the cold.
            Yggdra doesn’t seem all that interested in shopping for clothing anymore, and Archer is silent again.
            ……Yes, perhaps it’s just the cold.
            But the sun is out, and so something is telling me that—

                        ……That there may be another reason for the foreboding in my heart.

(interlude 4-2)

            It’s boring waiting alone, but she supposes that’s her own fault for giving them such a long list and then not insisting to come along.
            …The least she can do is think about what lies ahead.
            There are at least three other Servants that they’ve confirmed—Avenger, the Riders, and Lancer. As long as they’re together, all of these are threats that can easily be overcome.
            …And on top of that, there are at least two more Servants unaccounted for.
            Assassin, Berserker, and Caster.
            Two of those three have definitely been summoned, and if Berserker is among them it’ll be a problem.
            —Still, as allies they can overcome this.
            For a magus and Servant unable to participate in close-range combat like her and Archer, this has been a lucky alliance indeed.
            The only certain thing is that as long as they are working with another Servant they are undefeatable, unless a larger alliance is eventually made. And even in that case, she and Roswell will probably be able to overcome the deficit.

            …She’s interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
            Why at a time like this? Roswell likely would have mentioned it had there been a delivery scheduled.
            …But she recognizes the magical aura outside and realizes the identity of the intruder.
            All she needs is to just ignore her or send her away.

            ……But the doorbell does not stop.
            It’s an incessant ringing that hurts her head.
            —Agh, shut up already.
            …There’s magical force being applied now too, as though a thread has been hooked into her skin and is being tugged at insistently.
            Whatever the woman wants, it seems she’s not going to go away until she’s gotten it.
            And so she sighs and stands up.
            This is going to be a pain; she can already tell.
            She doesn’t know if she can even communicate with someone like this well enough to make them go away, but she has to try or else she’ll eventually be irritated to the point of wanting to attack.

            When she opens the door.
            The woman named Rosary is standing there and smiling.
            “—Finally.”
            …There’s something wrong.
            Instinct alone can tell her that, and there’s something about the dark circles under this woman’s eyes that she doesn’t like.
            She begins to thread prana into her Magic Crest in preparation.
            “—Well, shall we begin then?”
            Rosary giggles.
            She realizes.

                        —It’s already…, too late.

(4-2 interlude out.)

            “—”
            As we walk down the streets that will lead us home, Archer suddenly materializes.
            There is an incredibly intense look on his face as he clutches his chest and stares toward our distant destination.
            “—Archer?”
            …It’s that sense of vague foreboding too, but I cannot help but be uneasy about this.

 

                        “Vienya’s calling for me. There’s something wrong.”

            Leaving only those words,
                        …Archer takes off running so quickly that all I can see of him is a blur.

            “—Yggdra.”
            “Yes.”
            She materializes, and starts to run.
            I put magical energy into my legs to boost my speed and tear after her with the grocery bags still in my hands.

            …When we reach the actual neighborhood.
            The sky is dark and overcast, and a gray fog clings to the ground and the buildings.
            I can feel it tugging at my senses and imploring me to sleep, and I send power through my Magic Crest to shake off its effects.
            —Whoever this is was at least courteous enough to put everyone to sleep so that we can all fight seriously.

            …Damn, carrying these is going to be too much of a problem!
            There’s milk, but I enclose the bags in a pocket of cold air and leave them hidden next to a hedge. We can come back for them after this is over.

            When I get closer to the house, Yggdra and Archer are there.
            They’re fighting—

 

            ……I knew it.
            It feels as though my heart is sinking in my chest with this knowledge.

            Earth and stone golems.
            For the most part they’re well crafted, each seven to eight feet tall.
            …I know that craftsmanship, and I would know it anywhere.
            Rosary’s skill at dollcraft is unmistakable, after all.

            —There.
            Yggdra, a tiny flash of white and gold amidst these great clumsy titans whose steps rock the pavement, slashes at them with her sword again and again.
            She whirls like a dervish with her small white shoes ringing as a carillon against the ground, and every time her sword swings, more and more of the golems are cleaved in half.
            …Well, she is a Heroic Spirit, but all the same, I’m impressed.
            She does not hesitate, but merely focuses her will and charges forward with all her might.
            —Perhaps it’s just because she seems like such an ordinary girl most of the time, but…

            Quite separately from the way I can’t help but notice her beauty, there is a part of me that wants to forget the danger and just be bewitched by her.
            It’s the same as that night ten years ago.
            …All I can do is gaze upon her in amazement.
            Because she’s—this beautiful.
            This valiant.
            ……It’s a sense of wonder that steals away my ability to breathe and tries to spill out from behind my eyes.

                        …But that is not something I can afford to lose myself to now.

            I hear Archer’s voice cursing from nearby.
            “—We don’t have time for this.”

            As I turn, I see him readying his great bow.
            …It’s an immense weapon of deep scarlet, and now it bends the air around it, drinking in mana from the air like a powerful vacuum.
            Yggdra must sense the change in the air, because the next moment she appears at my side.

            Archer pulls the string of his bow back.
            The motion itself seems to generate a great burst of wind, and between his fingers a line of pure light takes shape.
            —I see.
            Before, Archer always must have converted real arrows to power and used them to attack, but this is unmistakably his preparation to use this bow for its true purpose.
            …Basically, to reveal its form as a Noble Phantasm.

            “—I don’t have time for you.
            “You’re in my way when my Master needs me, so die.”

            The single arrow of molten power splits and becomes a multitude.
            Bolts of light and heat radiate out from the vertex of his pinched thumb and forefinger like the ribs of a fan.
            Archer’s green eyes burn into the mass of golems lumbering towards us, and then he braces his stance.

            “—Meteora!

            …It really is…, like a meteor shower.
            Fire rains horizontally as Archer releases the bowstring, a pouring of burning projectiles that wash away the golems in our way like a tidal wave.
            I don’t recognize the name of the bow or its appearance, but I know…
            ……We should be proud to be working alongside this man.

            “—Come on.”
            We may not have that much time before more golems appear, depending on how Rosary has organized her forces.
            The path is clear. We must leave all hesitation aside and go.

            “—”
            When we reach the house, the door is wide open.
            “—It’s in the basement.”
            I can feel it.
            Archer and Yggdra must be able to as well.

            —The air in this place is oppressive.
            It feels like such a violation.
            For a place that I call my own to reject me so harshly sets off every warning, and the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stands on end.

            ……And there she stands.
            There are six golems in front of her.
            Rosary’s white coat is flecked with blood, and there is a sickness in her eyes.

            ……On the floor.
            Vienya’s body, lies at her feet—

            “—”
            Her clothes are soaked with red and her right arm is torn open.
           …In the puddle of blood spreading out from the side of her body lie a number of thin white things like noodles.
            “—, —”
            …Like photographs in an anatomy book.
            From her knuckles to her shoulder, they were torn out.
            “—”
            Nausea forms into a hard ball inside me, and I swallow.
            The entire room, stinks of blood.

            “—”
            But Vienya’s chest is moving sharply.
            …It seems that she’s still alive.
            “—”

            My vision blurs and I bite my lip to steady it.
            …Damn.
            The stench of blood and of impurity is choking and makes me want to retch.

                        And all the while,
                                    …she’s laughing.
                        Rosary is,
                                                …laughing.

            “—”
            “—See, I’ve won.
            “—”
            Rosary holds up her hand.
            Bloody red marks are inscribed on the palm.

            “—You—”
            There’s a hatred in Archer’s words that strengthens the nausea I feel.
            “—That’s right.
            “See, in the human world, if you’re not given what you want from the start, then you can always just take it by force.
            “—You’re my toy now.”

            ……It’s impossible that this twisted logic…, is coming from her.
            I feel like my ears and eyes are lying to me.
            …Only my nausea…, and this stench of blood are able to keep me standing.

            “—Roswell.
            “I won’t kill you that easily though.
            “—I’ll have the little ones crush your limbs and play with you a little bit first.”

            Her eyes are rotten with madness and her smile seems too wide for her face.
            …It’s…, jealousy.
            The parasite called envy has eaten her body out from the inside and wears her skin, leering at me from beneath its disguise.

            “—So, my new toy.
            “Obey me and kill them.”

            A crack and a flash run through the air.
            Archer curses.

            —When I turn to look at him, he is shaking as if in seizure, and pale bolts of red are snaking around his arms.
            …She used, one of the Command Spells.
            She really does, mean this.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra steps in front of me with her sword raised.
            “—I’ll keep Archer from doing anything he’ll regret.
            “You have to save Vienya!”

 

            ……Ah.
                        …She’s.

            She’s standing tall and firm as if the stench of blood…, doesn’t bother her at all.
            “—”

            “—Rosary.”
            …There’s no helping it.
            I have, to face her.

            “—What you’ve done…, is beyond forgiveness.
            “I must stop you, and prevent you from sullying the name of Verlaine any further.”

            She tilts her head to the side as though she doesn’t even know what I mean by the words, or what the words even are.
            …And then,
            ……she laughs.

            Her body slumps and her head tilts back, and she laughs.
            …Her presence is chilling, painful against my skin as a brush of needles being pressed down.
            “—What do you think you can do against me now, cousin?”

            My body locks.
            …I must forget now even what it means to be “human”.
            This is my duty as a Master.

            “—Go ahead and crush him.”

            But before the golems can move toward me at all.
            “—I reject the presence of your familiars in my home.”
            I draw the runes in the air.
            For protection, for purification.
            Around us, the boundary field pounds like a heart.
            The floor rocks as if with an earthquake.
            Her golems’ bodies crumble from the feet upwards, as though they are constructed from pillars of sand.

            “—Tch.”
            She raises both hands, and around her, the air burns.

            …I won’t, let you.

            I lift my right hand and point.

                        “—Ansuz.”

            It’s a very thin line.
            The rune propelled by the Fin shot hits Rosary in the chest with a tiny popping sound.

            …She looks down at her chest with an exaggerated bewildered expression.
            Above her heart, a red stain is spreading.
            ……Faintly.
            The blood drips to the floor.

            And she falls to her knees with her eyes dull.

            “—”
            …I stand still with my hand still outstretched.

            It feels, almost anticlimax.
            …That she would die so easily after all of this.
            “—But that’s different.”
            It can’t be helped.
            Because after all…, no matter how maddened by jealousy, no matter how magically powerful, Rosary was still human.
            …And when killed, humans die. That’s the way it should be.
            This is—the way it should be.

            “—”

            …Inside her body, the rune takes hold and she burns.
            The “corpse” of the magus who attained Mastery through thievery will become white ash.
            And then even that ash will vanish, erasing her entirely.

            ……Still Vienya keeps breathing.
            Her eyes are glassy, but she seems aware.
            …It’s likely that she’s in a lot of pain.
            Well, that’s only obvious.
            That’s a given when all the nerves have been ripped out of her arm.
            Her shoulder where the nerve endings are raw must be screaming so much that she wants to cut it off entirely.
            ……But this small girl cannot make a sound.

            Archer, set free from the Command Spell, walks toward her and kneels at her side.

            “—You’ll be all right.
            “As long as the bleeding is stopped, you can survive this. You’re strong; survival is in your blood. I know that better than anyone.”
            “—”
            She reaches up with her left arm to touch his face.

            “—Yeah.
            “I know it’s already over.
            “—I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to protect you.”

            She shakes her head once and closes her eyes. Archer reaches out and holds her hand tightly.

            “—You were my only Master.
            “—And, Vienya…
                        Heckler was blessed to have been your Servant.”

            He says so and smiles as he closes his eyes.

            Slowly.

            Like petals drifting off of a cherry tree.
            Archer’s body dissipates and vanishes.