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re:Birth

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            —This is a story about a girl.

            ……As though through a connection thinner than a capillary.
            The images and sounds flow into me.

            When she was small, her world was made up of the people around her.
            Her father and mother always smiled at her and gave her kind words and gifts.
            In return for their love, she loved them more than anything.
            The other people around her were also kind.
            …Courtiers, nursemaids, teachers, and knights.
            All of them.
            Everyone.
            Her early years were like the garden of paradise, filled with white light, bordered by the green and gold and pale blue of the family’s colors.
            A palace of white marble, interspersed with gardens and beautiful things.
            A tiny world filled with warmth and kindness directed toward her.

            …It was only her.

            Of course, it wasn’t as though there were no other children at all.
            She sometimes saw the children of the people around her.
            …It was that in the end, she was the sole child of the king and queen.
            …They said.
            Before she was born, the queen gave birth to twin girls.
            But they died almost instantly after they were born because their bodies were too weak.
            ……And the queen could no longer bear children after her.

            So it was only her.
            It wasn’t as though her days were dreamlike and filled with nothing but fun.
            …She was the only one who could become the next sovereign.

            In her country.
            Sovereignty wasn’t something that belonged to men alone.
            Only those of her own family could bear the proof of the sovereign, and so even when she married, she would rule the country and her husband would simply be her consort.
            …But of course, she couldn’t just go unprepared for that day.

            So there were lessons.
            Various things about how to handle a kingdom, understand politics and supervise a treasury.
            She learned about the other countries on the vast continent, and most of all about their allies.
            She met the people of the kingdom firsthand, and her father explained to her human relations as they recognized and accepted the small girl who might someday rule over them.

            ……But even more importantly than that.
            That proof of sovereignty I mentioned before.

            It was said that her family had been chosen by God to rule the world.
            They were descended from angels, and so too had an angel left them their right to continue ruling all in their sight.

            …To put in weapon terms, I suppose you would call it a bastard sword.
            It wasn’t fashioned like an ordinary longsword or scimitar, and beyond that it was immense.
            Stood on its tip, it was the same height as her.
            ……This sword, that could only be wielded by the hands of her family, was the proof.
            It was called a holy weapon, and its weight was impossible for ordinary people to handle.
            Because it was bound to the blood of the royal family, however, she could lift it without feeling its weight.

            …She was told.
            She was told that the sword would one day come to her hands, but beyond that—

            “—Princess.”
            She can’t remember, now, who first gave her those words.
            But she remembers the words themselves.
            “The Holy Sword is justice.
            “Justice lies with it, no matter what.
            “—And so as long as you hold this weapon, justice will be on your side—”

            …Of course, she believed.
            Even if she hadn’t been raised to believe, she would have believed.
            It was the belief that united her country and its allies.

            Her world was filled with light and love.
            Her family had been given heaven’s mandate, as it were.
            …And she had it confirmed to her by people she believed in.
            She was blessed.

            …She, and those days, were surely blessed—

 

            …
            ……
            ………I wake up.
            “—”
            My body feels very heavy and I don’t want to think.
            …How long was I asleep?
            The faint light I can see through the curtains suggests that it’s either early in the morning or already nightfall.
            “—”
            I can’t figure out the date and I really just want to close my eyes again.
            …But.
            I force myself to sit up anyway.
            “…”
            My body feels sluggish and my head hurts.
            …It’s the aftereffects of the shock, most likely.
            I don’t know.
            I can’t tell how long I’ve slept, but it’s been long enough to make me feel sluggish and awful.
            “—”
            And then.
            The door opens.

            “—Roswell.”
            Yggdra is standing there.
            “I could sense that you were awake.
            “…I’m glad. You’ve been sleeping for almost an entire day.”

            She comes into the room with hesitant steps.
            As she does, the light of the rest of the house illuminates her from the side, casting soft light over the side of her face.

            …I can’t answer her.
            I can’t face her, and I can’t say anything at all.

            Yggdra stands at my side.
            She lays her arm across my shoulders and tugs at them lightly as if to pull me against her body. Even like this, I can’t help but be aware of her warmth.
            —I’m, a pathetic man.
            “You should get up and wash your face.
            “Don’t worry about breakfast, I’ll make something for you.”

            …Does she know that more than anything, I need someone to give me direction or I won’t be able to do anything at all?
            Whether or not she does, it’s still true.
            When she disappears back outside the room, I drag myself out of bed and dress.

            …I can hear the sounds of her rattling around in the kitchen downstairs.
            Dully, I wonder if she’s all right.

            The cold water does a little to wake me up, and I look at myself in the bathroom mirror.
            …I need to wash my hair, and even though I slept for so long, there are muted purple bruises under my eyes.
            It’s probably just the way that I’m feeling manifesting in my body.
            No matter how long I sleep, failure and despair will continue to weigh on me.
            I am bone tired.
            …But Yggdra said she wanted me downstairs, and so what choice do I have but to go?
            Making excuses like that, I head down.

            “—”
            There’s actually quite a bit of food there.
            I recognize much of it as various leftovers, but there’s still something to be said for a Servant who’s only been in this world a handful of days figuring out modern kitchen equipment well enough to heat them up.

            …Damn it.
            It’s only when I see the food that I realize that I feel emptied out inside.
            I’m hungry after spending all that time asleep and still giving prana to Yggdra to anchor her here. That’s a matter of course, but I understand what they mean when they say that you still get hungry even in times like this.
            …I wish I could ignore my needs a little more for the sake of my dignity.
            But then again, she went to all this trouble to prepare the food for me, so how am I supposed to refuse it?

            She keeps giving me the excuses of propriety as rungs for me to pull myself up into continuing living, the way my body urges me to.
            …I am human.
            So even if I crave it, I need those excuses.
            …Rather than saying that she knows me, it’s more that she knows human nature very well.
            Perhaps people she knows or she herself has been through a similar experience in life.

            All I really understand is that the food in front of me, while not as good as anything freshly cooked, tastes good.

            “—”
            I listen to the water from the faucet against the basin of the sink.
            It cuts off and leaves my head ringing.
            Yggdra stands in the quiet and dries the dishes.
            …Really, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank her enough for picking up after me the way I am today.

            “—I suppose the first order of business today would be to cleanse the house of negativity, but…”
            …Honestly, even if I really wanted to do that I’m not sure if I could manage it.
            No, if I went back to the place where I killed “her” and those things were done to Vienya, I would probably just throw up again.
            ……For a magus, I really am a late bloomer, aren’t I.

            “There’s no need.
            “I’ve already taken care of it.”
            …Wait, what?
            “I washed the blood off the floor and cleaned away the negative energy yesterday, so you don’t have to do anything about it.”
            Her voice is just a bit too firm for the statement to be casual.
            —Well.
            I’m not sure what to expect now, but at the same time I can’t say that I’m anything but grateful to her.
            It must not have been easy.
            “Then—”
            “No, Roswell.
            “I’m aware that as you’re my Master I can’t really give orders, but all the same you’re in no condition for any of this. So today we’re not going out, and there’ll be no talk of strategy or the war until tomorrow.
            “You need to rest. I’m your Servant, and so it’s up to me to look after you.
            “—Also, there’s no need to apologize or to thank me, because I wouldn’t mind taking a break either.
            “From my perspective, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to fight, and constant conflict is exhausting when you’re not used to it.”

            “—”
            She said not to apologize or to thank her, but all that floats up are apologies and thanks.
            I’m a sorry excuse for a Master indeed.
            ……But all the same, I suppose it’s not altogether unusual for a person such as her to take the lead like this.

            She comes out from behind the counter and smiles at me.
            ……Honestly, I don’t know what to do.

            “—But there is one thing that I should apologize to you for.”
            I turn to her.
            With the breakfast things put away, we’re now sitting side by side on the sofa.
            “It’s about yesterday.
            “I shouldn’t have just gone off and chased that man, no matter what the history behind us.
            “…It was terribly rash of me, and I endangered you. For that, I’m sorry.”

            “…You mean Berserker, correct?”
            She nods.
            Her long golden hair sways as she looks far into the distance.
            “……I’m sure you can guess, but we knew each other in life, before we became Heroic Spirits. His name is Gulcasa, and out of the Servants we’ve seen, I’d say that he’ll be the most formidable enemy we have to face.
            “We were enemies in that war.”
            I don’t really need to ask her what war.
            It was the one that granted her the right to become a hero in the first place, of course.
            ……Naturally, I’ve read the historical records.
            Her kingdom was nearly conquered by a neighboring country, and she repelled the enemy with guerilla tactics, ascended the throne, and fought back and forth for several months before invading the other country and securing victory.
            Yggdra survived that battle, ruled her country in peace, died, and became a Heroic Spirit.
            …Most heroes have tragic deaths, but unlike the rest of them Yggdra lived quite a full life.
            Still.
            It was a war, and so you can’t say that her life was never touched by tragedy at all.

            “—I always wondered what I would feel, and what my first instinct would be, if I saw that man again.
            “I never quite imagined that it would be like this. All the emotions I thought I’d left behind me just rose back up, and there we were attacking each other in a blind rage like the children we were in those days.”
            I feel as though she’s soliloquizing rather than speaking to me.
            Her profile is so distant, and in the end I don’t think there’s anything I can do to reach her.
            …This harsh presence is the same Yggdra who analyzed the town from a general’s perspective, ran down our strengths and weaknesses, and ignored the blood and horror from two days ago to stand tall and proud.
            It’s almost as if she and the Yggdra who smiles at me and made breakfast for me are different people entirely.

            As I think that,
            “…I regretted it from the bottom of my heart.”
            …she looks up and says that with a quiet and untouchable sorrow.

            “He stole what was mine, and I stole what was his.
            “—It was childish, irresponsible, and so much blood was shed over that stupid war.
            “…I think that it might have ended if I’d spoken to him instead of retaliating, but I didn’t realize that or the wisdom in that until it was too late.
            “Even now I can remember the sensation of having killed his people, killed his loved ones, and killed him.
            “……I wondered.
            “If we were to meet again under different circumstances, would anything change? The only line ever between us was a border made of the conceits of man.
            “…But here we are. There we were, and nothing was different at all.
            “Either I’ve grown less than I believed, or it’s just too late by now.”

            I feel as though I’m looking up at her.
            As though she’s a holy saint or priestess or mother, touched by something grave and beautiful, and I am a child who cannot understand.
            She is untouchable.
            In this moment, we are different existences.

            …And yet.
            It connects us.
            That thread of magic thinner than a capillary.

            …I think back to last night’s dream.
            Beyond doubt, those were her memories.
            When Master and Servant share a healthy connection, their memories will reflect in each other’s dreams; if she sleeps she will see my past.
            As a child, she had everything.
            I suppose you would call it being spoiled, but that carries the connotation of not appreciating what was around you, and Yggdra did appreciate it.
            She was naïve and there were a number of things she still took for granted, but at the same time she was still a good person who wished for the well-being of others.

            …She lived as a princess and our lifestyles are quite different.
            Still, understanding that she was once like that makes me feel like I might be able to understand even this side of her if I try.
            Even if she is “untouchable”, the distance between us “can be bridged”.

            Yggdra shakes her head, and the ends of her hair flick against my arm like strands of silk.
            “—Or it may just be that as Servants, we’re doomed to repeat our battle.
            “When the time comes, as long as you give me all your power, I’m confident that I can defeat him again.”
            …She frowns.
            “It’s just that his Master…”

            But her voice trails off and she says nothing.
            When I prompt her to continue,

            “—It’s just that that man reminds me very much of someone, when that can’t be possible.
            “It’s an irrelevant detail, in any case.”

            She says that and smiles bitterly.

            The day goes on like that.
            I read books, and I get out the record player for her.
            She listens to the music with a pleased expression, and when I get to the end of my book I give up on routines and run the bath for myself in the afternoon.
            She cuts fruit for lunch.
            Sometimes she disappears and only the feeling of my magical energy leaking out tells me that she’s still in physical form somewhere, exploring the house.
            …I have the chance to sit and not think about anything.
            ……I don’t think I’ve been able to have a day like this since my parents died.

            But really, the most important thing is being able to watch her.
            Watching her movements, watching her smile for me.
            She’s protecting me, and I know it.
            She’s protecting me with all her heart and I just want to give up and weep into her shoulder.

            I know it.
            She knows it.
            We let the time pass quietly and comfortably.

            “—I think I want to try making dinner.”
            She says that as the sun begins to set.

            “Huh?”
            Yggdra looks over to me with an earnest expression.
            “Well, I’m taking care of you today after all, so I think maybe I should try to make something myself.
            “It’s true I don’t have much experience in the kitchen, but I was able to figure out how all the various appliances work, and as long as I have determination I won’t lose to anyone or anything.”

            …Hmm.
            I have no idea whether to think of this as endearing or terrifying.

            “—By not much experience, what do you mean?”

            Yggdra tilts her head to the side and counts on her fingers.
            “I can cut and prepare fruits and vegetables, and I can dress meat and cook it over a fire.
            “Umm, and as long as I have broth then I can make stew.”

            …
            ……Anyone who can prepare raw materials and has broth can make stew if they can judge time decently.

            “…Unfortunately, we only have materials for making broth from scratch.”

            Yggdra just nods very seriously.
            “If I have instructions, then I can do it! Just leave dinner tonight to me.”

            …Oh, no.
            I can see this disaster coming from miles away.

            “…Instead, how about we do this.
            “I’ll give you instructions personally, and you’ll do most of the work.
            “Does that sound all right?”

            Yggdra makes a very considering face at me.
            As though she’s not sure whether to keep arguing the point or not.
            “—All right.
            “You won’t have to do that much instructing, though. I’m sure I can manage this.”

 

            …
            ……
            ………Well.

            To her credit, I can say that Yggdra certainly has a great deal of enthusiasm.
            She also has a remarkable amount of common sense for someone whose meals were always cooked for her instead of by her own hand.
            ……As a relaxing exercise, this was a complete failure, but after a number of close calls and some nearly-burnt cream broth, the soup has been cooked and isn’t half bad.
            Honestly, the finished product is filled with uneven results, but the texture of the soup itself hides it. And on top of that, she’s not bad at wielding a cooking knife for an amateur.
            When I pointed that out, she looked at me blankly and said that it’s no wonder because she spent a major part of her life cutting meat.
            …Scary.

            I won’t dwell on it, as in the end the meal is saved.

            “—I’m definitely going to continue cooking from now on. It was a lot of fun.”
            Not if I can help it, Yggdra.
            I may just develop tachycardia or palpitations if you keep giving me small heart attacks the way you’ve done today.
            …I keep the words in my head, though.
            She’s smiling at me now.
            “Wasn’t it fun?”

            …Oh.
            I see.
            Maybe…
            Maybe this has gone exactly how she was hoping it would after all.

            “—”
            I’ve already bathed and the dishes are done, so I go back to bed right away.
            In the hallway, she smiled and told me she was glad.

            “—”
            It’s not as though I’ve forgotten about what happened two days ago.
            Honestly, I think it may haunt me all of my life.
            …It’s just.
            Yggdra is very good at this sort of thing.
            Instead of the depression that hung on me like a malaise this morning, I feel at ease now.

            …A gratitude…, that I can’t put into words.
            I don’t know how it is that she does this, whether it’s out of experience or the bond between us allowing her to know me.
            All I know is that… without her, I wouldn’t be able to cope.

            Thinking thoughts like that.
            I rest back into the warmth around me and her presence in the room next to mine, and sink into sleep—