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re:Birth

Chapter Text

            —This is a story about a girl.

            If the first seventeen years of her life were a summer’s dream, then that night was the abrupt awakening.
            …And that awakening came so quickly.
            There had been murmurs of the mounting tensions, thinking back.
            Three years ago, there had been a coup d’état in the northern empire, and that country became controlled by a fiercely independent young sovereign quite different from his reliant predecessor.
            Murmurs of worry and discontent that trickled down to the ears of a princess.
            To her, those words had had very little meaning then.
            —And by the time the end came, it was more like a landslide than a row of falling dominoes.
            It was all at once and there was no time to try to understand.

            …Later she would understand that her great kingdom in its greatness had become complacent.
            When the border fortress fell, the royal cavalry was too underprepared, and the enemy army had worked long and hard to amount more than enough strength to overcome them.
            —Entire battalions of soldiers fell like wheat being harvested, and the soil of her country was saturated with their blood.
            Before there was even a chance to think, their defenses were completely overwhelmed and the capital city overrun.

            Her father pressed his sword into her hands.
            —He told her to run.

            In the confusion, she managed to escape the hold of her honorary guard.
            Her head was blank, and her only thought was to get help to her father.
            Even the greatest knight she knew of still must have needed the power of their blood.
            He needed justice, because justice did not lose.

            —When she returned to the castle.
            In the midst of the battle, she saw her father fighting with a young man.

            He couldn’t have been more than two or three years older than her.
            It struck her at the same time his fearsome armor and hair like fire soaked her bones with terror for her father, her people, the army.

            It didn’t take long.
            Her father was pushed back by the intruder, and cut open by the enemy’s scythe.

            As the king fell, the usurper stood bathed in her father’s blood.
            With red spray on his face and trickling over his armor, his gaze passed over her by chance, then returned to her, and their eyes locked.
            —Her body registered the danger before her brain, and she ran.

            Fleeing the only home she’d ever known as the knights protecting her fell one by one—

            …
            ……I wake up.
            There’s a distant annoying sound coming from downstairs.
            —The phone?
            There aren’t many people who would call me… it’s probably important.
            “—”
            I’m still not quite awake and I don’t want to get up quite yet, but I’ll miss the call if I just lie around here, so I push myself and get up.
            There’s not time to get dressed, so I don’t bother.

            “—”
            …I reach the kitchen and am able to pick up the phone.
            “—This is the Branthèse residence.”
            The vaguely familiar voice at the other end of the line helps to snap me out of my sleepiness.
            The owner of the voice introduces himself as a doctor and speaks of Vienya’s condition.
            “…”
            For the time being, it seems as though her condition has stabilized.
            ……At least there’s that much comfort to be had.
            I sigh, thank the doctor, and set the receiver back down.

            “—”
            At Yggdra’s suggestion, I make fruit pancakes for breakfast.
            —We eat in the quiet, and there are only the sounds of water running and dishes clinking against each other as we clean up.

            “—Unfortunately, I don’t think that we can take any more time off.”
            She’s right.
            …I may hate to admit it, but she’s definitely right.
            I’ve had time to recuperate, so we should really get back to the Grail War by now.

            “The question is what we want to accomplish from here on out.”
            She steeples her fingers and looks at me seriously.
            “—Right now, including me there’s at most seven Servants left.
            “Lancer, the Riders, Berserker, Avenger, and either Caster or Assassin.
            “—Honestly, I’m not worried about Caster, and Assassin would have to be an especially good Servant to not cause problems in direct conflict.
            “And Avenger is a problem, but definitely not one that can’t be dealt with.
            “Our biggest threats are Berserker and the Riders.”

            “—”
            Certainly, what she says is true.
            The knight classes—Saber, Archer, and Lancer—all possess innate magical resistance, and if I’m remembering correctly, Yggdra’s Magic Resistance stat is at a B+.
            In order to injure her, spells must either be great magic, ritual magic, or possess very high rank due to her vessel being protected with a “rule” that does not allow those things.
            ……Actually, that should be even more cause for concern.
            Berserker’s Master attacked her with magic, and although its effects were lessened due to Yggdra’s innate protection, she was still injured.
            I don’t think that I could cast anything high-level enough to attack most Servants without hitting Yggdra as well, and our elemental affinity is poor.
            Yggdra’s affinity lies with “sanctity”, or in other words ether.
            Mine is, of course, with “shadow”, or imaginary numbers, even if it isn’t perfect-grade.
            ……So, if we go into battle again with Berserker, I have to try to handle his Master somehow to keep him from attacking her.
            He can attack freely, able to cast spells without worrying that it will harm his Servant.
            “Honestly, it would be ideal if we could wait for the Riders or Berserker to be defeated, hopefully one by the other.”
            Yggdra crosses her arms and considers.
            “—In that case, I’d have to guess that Berserker would be the winner.
            “They don’t know what to expect of him, he’s powerful, and he has a strong Master as well.
            “—It really would be ideal.
            “Then we would only have to deal with him.
            “If the last Servant we haven’t seen is somehow strong enough to destroy the Riders and Berserker together, then we definitely have a problem on our hands.”
            “If the last Servant is Assassin, though, we’ll also have to stay on guard for traps.
            “—Our best defense, in the end, is simply that you are Saber.
            “…You’re Saber, and you’re the Servant I summoned, so you are the best.
            “That’s all there is to it.”

            —Yggdra smiles at me.
            “Yes, that’s exactly right.”

            “—So what should we do?”
            In the end, we don’t know where any of the Masters’ bases are, so we’ll have to resume patrolling, but…
            “In Berserker’s case, I think he’ll have enough sense to only want to fight in a place where people won’t be harmed.
            “It’s against his nature and against mine to want to involve any more innocents than strictly necessary, and both of our Noble Phantasms are very destructive.
            “If there’s anyone who’ll come out of the woodwork on their own, then that would be the Riders and Avenger, as Avenger and the Riders’ Masters seem to be the most reckless.
            “—We can’t predict too much about Lancer, but we know that his Master is fair-minded.
            “The biggest problem will be where we run into the enemy Masters, and in what circumstances.
            “……Of course, we do need to be careful of using my Noble Phantasm and leaving survivors, or using it in a place it might be seen.
            “But with my magical energy reserve, I should be able to use it several times in succession. The only setback will be that I’ll have to spend the next day at rest.”
            Basically meaning that if we want to push her boundaries on that, we’ll need to give her an extra power source somehow.
            Obviously, having her consume human souls is out of the question.
            It’s something I’ll have to think about by myself for a while, I suppose.

            We talk about things like that, and discuss what we’re going to do when we actually do go out and patrol, and before we know it it’s already nightfall.
            “—So what shall we do for dinner tonight?”
            Yggdra is smiling, and I know she’s already anticipating tonight’s culinary battle.
            …
            Well, I have to do something to stop this before it gets out of hand.

            “—”
            I stifle the urge to laugh.
            …It seems that in the end, there actually are some things from this age that can surprise and delight even a princess like Yggdra.

            Yggdra the girl was interested in the city when we looked around Shinto, and so I’ve decided to bring her to one of the nicer restaurants.
            This is a place I’ve only been a handful of times, but its delicate decorations and peaceful café-like atmosphere have always made me think that it would be a good place for a date.
            …
            Even if only in my own head, I seem to be incriminating myself somehow.

            We’re taken to a table and given menus.
            The food here is a little expensive, but it’s all very good and I can afford to splurge a little bit.
            Yggdra spends so much time staring in wonder at the delicate decorations and high ceiling that she isn’t ready to order when the waitress comes along, so I suppress my smile and order us a pair of caramel coffees and almond biscotti to give her time to decide what she wants.
            Her face is very bright as she asks me what the different kinds of dishes are, and the different kinds of wine.
            When she finally does decide on fried calamari, she makes me promise both that I’ll share whatever I get and that we’ll buy dessert after this.
            …When all is said and done, I doubt that she’ll actually mind being unable to try cooking today. Well, that’s a relief for me.
            And watching her get this excited over what kinds of food we can get…
            ……It makes me happy.
            Just seeing her face light up makes me happy, but knowing that I’m the reason behind that light is a pleasure that’s difficult to put to words.
            …I’ve been with women before, of course, but even on real dates with them, I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like this just seeing them smile.
            And even though there’s nothing romantic about this dinner, it’s still impossible for me to take my eyes off Yggdra for an instant.
            There really is something special about her.

            …Yggdra insists on sharing her calamari with me, steals spoonfuls of my soup and forks pasta off my plate, and then eats two slices of tiramisu and a corner of my blueberry cheesecake to top it off.
            She smiles, she laughs, she wonders about the recipes behind what she’s eating, and she never stops admiring the restaurant’s décor.
            ……I’m—so glad we’ve done this.

            I place a generous tip on the table as we leave.
            It is getting dark outside.
            Yggdra stretches with a refreshed look on her face, and I almost want to tell her that patrolling can wait, that we should just keep looking around the town, maybe buy her a few new outfits while we’re here.
            ……But at least for tonight, the time for those things is over.

            Outside, the air is crisp and very cold.
            “—Let’s go.”
            Yggdra speaks to me in a self-assured voice.
            …We move on with our breath streaming white in the night sky.

            There’s still quite a lot of activity going on in Shinto, but we may as well cover all our bases and search this city thoroughly before moving on to Miyama.
            I tell Yggdra to stay on the alert for the presence of enemy Servants.
            …It’s a bit of a risk, but I’m having her stay in physical form.
            At the least, this will serve as a beacon to draw other Masters to us.
            The faster we get these things settled, the better, after all.
            ……But there is no trace of enemy Masters throughout the city.
            When we are sure, we go through the residential section… but there’s nothing there either.
            …Well, if we found someone there then it would either mean that they were there to prey on civilians or that they were also patrolling, so I’m still somewhat glad, but all the same it’s troubling.
            And so, we head for the bridge.
            It’s probably nearly ten o’clock by now.
            …There’s a greater chance of meeting the enemy Servants in a place with thick plant growth for cover, or in the quieter subdivisions of Miyama, where the people retreat into their homes early as if to specifically protect themselves from battles between Servants.

            …We walk.
            The light of the lampposts casts an unearthly glow over Yggdra’s hair.
            Her movements are very steady and there’s no sign of concern on her face.
            I can sense her alertness, looking at her steady gaze.
            …She is ready to defend against an attack at any moment.
            ……I can only follow after her.

            And finally, we reach Miyama.
            We head towards the temple.
            …It should have the least number of people, even in this dark town with all the lights turned off in the windows.
            Of course, that will make it the most likely place for enemy Servants to appear.

            “—”
            We’re close to the forest when I sense it.
            A faint prickling sensation in the back of my hand along my Command Spell.

            “…Roswell.”
            “Yes. I can sense it too.”

            Yggdra’s form shimmers faintly, and her modern clothes are exchanged with the white dress and black corset.
            In her hands is her massive holy sword.

            The path is empty.
            The path is empty, and so there will be no one to witness our battle.
            “—”
            I run power into my Magic Crest.
            It’s an irritating feeling like pins and needles when it starts up, but all the better if I’m to have spells ready when our enemy finally appears.

            …At last, I hear footsteps.
            There are multiple sets.
            Yggdra sinks down into a guard-like stance—

            And finally, the two girls we saw facing down Lancer days ago emerge from around the corner.
            Both of the Riders are flanking them as they walk.
            The two women are wearing black tuxedoes like what you would expect a bodyguard in an American film to have as a uniform.
            The two girls are wearing modern clothes, with the red-haired girl in a black shirt and tartan skirt more punk-styled than the clothes Vienya wore and the pink-haired girl in a light pink shirt and ruffled skirt.
            When they approach, it’s the pink-haired girl who calls out, waving.

            “Thanks for waiting, Onii-chan!
            “It’s been a while since we got to have a fight, and we didn’t wanna have to chase you to finally get one.”

            “—No, it’s really to our best interests to fight here after all.
            “This way we won’t have any unnecessary interruptions, correct?”

            …Again, she is the only one to speak.
            “You’re another one like our master, aren’t you? The rules are boring and sometimes we don’t wanna follow ‘em.”

            “—Primea.”
            The red-haired girl says so softly as if making a reprimand.
            Her expression is very worried.

            “Tch, you’re boring too, Nana-chan.
            “—How are we supposed to win at this rate if we can’t make anybody come out and play?”

            “—Regardless of that.”
            The Rider with flowers in her hair, the woman Archer identified as the knight Meslieness, interrupts.
            “We do have an opponent before us now, Primea.”

            “…yeah, I guess so.
            “But still, there’s only one of him and he should be easy enough to beat as long as he’s alone, so it’s still kinda dumb.”
            Nana continues to look at her as though she shouldn’t complain if we’re easy targets.

            …Well, let them think that if they want.
            The problem here is of course that we only have a general idea of their abilities, and we’re still outnumbered two to one.

            “Be that as it may, we won’t allow you to back down either now that you’ve found us.”
            Yggdra says so and holds up her sword.
            “On my honor as Saber, I will claim victory for my Master.”

            In a low voice I murmur to her.
            “—But we do want to conserve your Noble Phantasm all the same.
            “Unless there’s really no other way, you understand, correct? There’s a high chance that we’ll be involving civilians otherwise…”

            We’re far enough away to do battle without worrying about intruders, but from what I know about her Noble Phantasm, it’s far too flashy and destructive for an area like this.
            There’s the possibility of dragging innocent people into our battle, and I don’t want that.

            “I understand.”
            She replies in a near whisper.
            “I feel the same way.
            “—But, Roswell. I won’t lose. I won’t be made a fool of in front of my Master.”
            There is pride and something that is almost playfulness in her voice.

            “Go get her, Rider!”

            Primea gives the order and Rider steps forward, but Yggdra is already rushing to meet her.

            …The almighty crash that resounds through the trees when Yggdra’s sword meets the holy lance is like the sound of hundreds of cymbals going off at once.
            And Yggdra is already wheeling about, pirouetting with her sword to head off the attack of the second Rider, Silvanoier, before it even lands.
            As the two tall knights attempt to gauge their opponent cautiously, Yggdra continues to fend them both off with fierce, sure counterattacks.

            “—”
            …She is definitely worth more than either of them alone.
            The reach of their weapons is against her, but her knowledge of their capabilities levels things out.
            ……If she can gain the offensive, then…

            “—Huh, so she does have some fight in her.”
            Primea sounds pleased.
            “How about you, Onii-chan?”

            ………I can’t hesitate.
            I can’t,
                        think of Rosary,
                                    …and hesitate now.

            “—”
            I gather up my power and prepare to cast a bind on her.
            But—

            “Trace, on!”

            She calls out the incantation to something absurd, and a shining shape like a cardboard cutout of a halberd appears in her hands.

            ……What?

            “—Come on, Nana-chan, you always just sit there and be boring!
            “You’d definitely feel better if you did something too!”

            “Nn.”
            The girl called Nana bows her head as if she’s unhappy about it.
            She lifts her hands slowly as if in pain.
            “Trace—”
            ……In the moonlight.
            It seems almost as if her hair is lit up in shades of gold.
            “—on.”

            She grasps her weapon with hands that tremble, and she stumbles.
            …Her eyes reflect red in the play of blades between Yggdra and the Riders.
            For whatever reason, the magic seems to cost her more dearly than Primea’s.

            “—”
            …This is ridiculous.
            Not only do these two practice projection, which is such a rare branch of magic it’s barely used at all by orthodox magi, but they plan to fight me with things like this?
            Weapons that are so ridiculous my head hurts just looking at them?
            …Please.
            Now I do feel a little sorry for them.

            “—Roswell, you can’t underestimate them!”
            Suddenly.
            Yggdra’s voice shouts out a warning from her own battlefield.
            “Those weapons are similar to Lancer’s spear.
            “They’re ‘conceptually’ higher than ordinary arms—”

            …What does she mean by that?

            I wonder for a moment, stupidly.
            And then I start to sense it.
            …There’s a power in those childish-looking halberds that’s beyond anything I’ve ever touched.
            It’s almost equivalent to the ceremony to summon a Servant, although classing it with a single-purpose ritual isn’t quite right either.
            ……I have no way to defend myself physically.
            Even if I did, I get the feeling that I would be hopelessly outclassed.

            As I gather the prana to shield myself—

            ……There’s another reaction in my Command Spell.

            “—?!”
            …Someone else is coming.
            Another Master is headed this way, and fast.
            This energy is—

            I feel the power building and step back; Yggdra seems to sense it a few moments later and leaps away.
            And then.
            A wave of fire splits the path between us, washing over the two Riders.

            “—I’ll thank you two to keep your hands off of her.”
            From behind us.
            Berserker walks up the path with his scythe held out, long hair fluttering.
            His pale eyes burn in the half-darkness.
            “If you’re knights, then you should know better than to get in between rivals.”

            The dark-haired Rider stands up and stares him down.
            “—A fine thing for an intruder in our battle to say.
          “Stand down. We cannot disobey our Masters, and it would be dishonorable for us to retreat at a time like this.”

            “—Heh.
            “Well said, but don’t say I never gave you the chance to run.”
            Berserker spreads his feet apart and sinks down with an inhuman grin on his face.

            “—”
            Just looking at him makes my skin break out into gooseflesh.

            “What do you think you’re doing?!”
            …Oh.
            Yggdra is standing looking at Berserker indignantly, high spots of color in her cheeks.
            …She’s completely ignoring the Riders, too.

            “—What does it look like I’m doing?
            “You’re not allowed to die, Princess, unless it’s by my hands. If some other Servant kills you first, you won’t be paying for what you did to my people.”
            “—”
            She looks like she wants to protest.
            I can see the struggle on her face.
            ……It makes her look much younger than the way she usually seems.
            As if for once, she actually fits her physical years.

            But instead she grips her sword anew and turns to face the Riders again.
            “—All right then.
            “Just this once, I’ll grant you a reprieve.”

            …I’m not sure what’s going on.
            But the fact that we have backup is certain for now.

            The Rider with roses in her hair runs past us to clash with Berserker,
            and the black-haired Rider continues her battle with Yggdra.
            …I see.
            They’re nothing if not observant.
            A demonic lance for the girl with a holy sword and a Master who can only use dark magic, and a holy lance to fight the demon…

            Still.
            That takes care of the problem of the Servants.
            Berserker’s weapon is a pole arm, so he’s on much more even footing against the Rider Meslieness than Yggdra was against the both of them.
            …Yggdra seems a little less desperate than before, too.

            Now all I have to deal with is—

            “—I do wish he wouldn’t run off like that.
            “So it’s you girls. At least this is a lovely opportunity to deal with the cheaters, then.”

            Berserker’s Master, Nessiah, has finally appeared.
            …He walks past his Servant’s battle towards Primea and Nana, and stops when he’s a few paces ahead of me.

            “Oh, it’s this Onii-chan.”
            Primea sounds displeased.
            “Well, we’ll just have to take care of you.”

            Nessiah’s small back shows no signs of distress.
            He holds up his hands, and prana so thick I can see it unaided boils in the air around them.
            “I assure you, this is quite unwise.”

            “—”
            …Hmm. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job keeping up with all these developments, but at the least, we have backup.
            Our numbers have been evened out.
            Even if Berserker and Nessiah turn on us once we’re done with this battle…
            These are opponents that Yggdra knows how to handle.

            “—Don’t hold back, Saber!
            “Go ahead and take her out with all your might!”

            “Understood!”

            The clang of weapons behind us grows ever more intense.
            The two girls in front of us ready their strange weapons, and Nessiah begins to chant.

            “—Well.
            “This looks pretty interesting.”

            …
            ……I don’t quite know what to say about this.

            Further down the road, behind Primea and Nana.
            …Avenger is standing there.

            She’s alone.
            My Command Spell hasn’t reacted, so her Master, that Yellma woman, must not be nearby.
            For whatever reason, Avenger must have been sent out to do some scouting or to attack civilians or whatnot.

            The tall knight shades her eyes and stares at us appraisingly:
            Berserker and one of the Riders in battle,
            Yggdra fighting the other,
            and Nessiah and myself preparing to engage the Riders’ Masters.
            I can’t imagine what this must look like from any outsider’s point of view, let alone hers.

            She crosses her arms like she’s debating with herself.

            And then she starts to smile.

            ……I really do not like that smile.

            “—Sorry, ladies.
            “I know you two, but I’m not interested in fighting you.
            “So I’m gonna have you leave the stage here.
            “…Saber and Berserker look like they’ll be much more fun to have a go at, and as long as that piece of shit calling herself my Master isn’t here to be a total cockblock…”

            “—”
            It’s the Riders’ turn to give pause.

            Saber and Berserker also hesitate when they see their enemies stop fighting, and then—

            There’s a crack like the sky opening, and suddenly both Riders are sitting astride tall horses.
            …Well, I suppose you can’t really be called Rider without something to ride on.
            “Rider?!”
            Primea is the one to call out as if annoyed.
            “—If we’re already doing battle, she is too dangerous of an opponent to have to deal with at the same time. We must retreat.”

            Yggdra is already raising her sword again indignantly, but when the lady knights charge, she is bowled over.
            The both of them gather up their Masters and crash away into the foliage in a great blur.
            ……If Servants by themselves are fast, the horses those Servants called are especially fast.
            There’s no way we’ll be able to follow them at this rate.

            “Shit fucking god damn cocksucking whoreson on a flaming bike!”
            Avenger snarls and hits the ground petulantly with her sword, turning to glare in the direction the Riders retreated in.
            “I mean, what the fuck does it take to actually get a good goddamn battle going these days? You’d think that getting summoned into the Holy fucking Grail War would involve a neverending clusterfuck of them, but no…”

            She rolls her eyes for good measure.
            …I must admit that her profanity is at least quite creative.

            After a moment’s silence, Avenger turns to look at us.
            “—So now what? If you two still wanna go at it, I’ll fight whoever wins.”
            And she looks almost hopeful by now, but—

            “We’re still too close to the town—at this hour, too much commotion will have the ordinary citizens coming to investigate.”
            …I’m surprised.
            It wasn’t me or Yggdra or even Berserker that said so, but Nessiah.
            “—So unless everyone is willing to relocate, I believe we may as well all call it a night.
            “Even if you don’t mind it, my Berserker has the fault that we call great kindness, and so I’m sure he won’t permit a battle close to here. Saber will probably say the same.”
            “—”
            Nessiah smiles easily at Berserker, who returns it with a glowing look.

            “…You…”
            Yggdra frowns as she looks at the both of them.

            “Yes. We appreciate that line of thought very much.
            “—Honestly, I’d like to avoid innocent casualties if I can.”

            I’m afraid for a moment that Avenger will protest or even attack us to force the issue…
            …but instead, she relaxes.
            Her expression softens and evens out until she looks like any other Heroic Spirit.

            “—You guys are lucky.”

            She says so with something that might be a rueful smile.

            “Both of you have found good Masters.”

            Before anyone can say anything.
            She turns and vanishes, switching over to spirit form.

            “—”
            “—”

            Yggdra and Berserker stare each other down as though neither is willing to be the one to look away first.
            Rather than the vicious mutual intent to kill that passed between them before, this looks more as though they’re small children stubbornly trying to outdo one another.

            …Finally, Yggdra sighs.

            “—You have a reprieve, then.
            “The next time we meet—”

            “Yeah.
            “The next time we meet in battle, you die.”

            Berserker turns in a graceful movement.
            His armor shimmers away as he offers his Master his arm.

            …Nessiah gives us an appraising look, but when I don’t say anything, he places his hand in his Servant’s, and the two of them walk away.

            …
            ……It’s already past midnight.
            That was an eventful enough patrol that we decided to call it a night.

            We returned to the house via taxi, since going by foot would take too long.
            This time I cloaked my magical presence as best I could, and Yggdra went into spirit form so that we could escape notice.
            She only returned to physical form once we were inside.

            It’s time to rest.
            …A lot happened today, after all.

            We both climb the steps.
            For some reason it makes me almost uneasy.

            ……She rests her hand on my arm, briefly.
            And she smiles.

            “—Goodnight, Roswell.”

            …Ah.

            “…Goodnight.”

            She disappears through the door to her room, and I am left standing there in a daze.
            She’s—

            Even when I force myself to change into my bedclothes and lie down.
            …My heart simply won’t stop pounding—