The magus stands on her apartment terrace, gazing out into the night.
…The Grail War that she was disqualified from should be about to end right now.
She grits her teeth bitterly.
…In truth…, she had not wanted to give up.
The Command Spells still remain on her arm, as proof of her will to fight.
But with her level of power, her chances of contracting with another Servant were slim, and no Master-less ones have attempted to approach her.
She can sense the Grail opening.
…Yes, even she can sense it.
The great spiral of possibility in the earth and the slow connection to Akasha.
…The magus breathes in the night wind that blows back her long hair.
…An “angel” appears in the air before her.
Her breath disappears.
…The breath in her lungs literally feels as though it has evaporated.
She can tell.
The creature before her is, beyond doubt, a Servant—
“You retain Command Spells.”
It is not a question, but rather this Servant says so as though confirming something that is a matter of fact.
There is no way that she could lie to such a grand being as this.
“—The battle is near.”
The Servant says so.
“I am one of two Servants remaining, and I require a contract.”
“—What of your original Master?”
She isn’t a fool.
She knows whose Servant this is.
She, and she alone, commanded the Servant most suited to espionage, Assassin.
…And so she alone was able to discover the secret of the supervisor’s involvement.
The Servant shakes her head regally.
Her golden hair spills over her shoulders.
“My former Master was unsuitable.
“—Most unsuitable, and I could not allow the Holy Grail to fall into his hands.”
She says so in a toneless voice.
The magus suppresses the urge to swallow and give away her fear.
The Servant before her has admitted that she has just killed her own Master.
“If I am to do battle with my enemy, I require an anchor should my own prana run out.”
She says so dully.
“—I will not give you the Holy Grail.
“But do you at least wish to avenge the defeat of your own Servant?”
So…, the enemy is “that” magus.
…The magus named Soala grits her teeth and extends her hand.
“Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade—”
…And the Servant.
(16-1 interlude out.)
…It is very early.
When I look at the clock, it is about four in the morning.
We can’t afford to waste any more time, and we have to go on.
Yggdra has already disappeared from the room, leaving me the time to try to settle my heart.
…I would probably feel more at ease going into battle like this if I were in my own home, but this is how it has to be.
I look around the guest room.
It doesn’t have much to show for me being here for the past few days.
When I head downstairs, Ein and Rose are there with Yggdra.
…The three turn to face me when I arrive.
Rose is the first to speak.
“…I’m sorry that we can’t be of help, but… get him back for us, for Lancer.”
Ein says so very quietly with intense eyes.
…I can’t speak, so I just nod my head in assent.
Yggdra bows her head as well.
“I will definitely make it so that Roswell comes back here.
“—You don’t need to worry.”
…Without exchanging anymore words…
Like that, we depart the household.
Lingering in the air… is the knowledge that even if I return, Yggdra most likely will not.
…Whether we win this battle or lose it.
We walk down the streets beneath which ether writhes as if in excitement.
…Yggdra does not assume physical form.
Every drop of prana in her body is precious if we’re going to defeat that Caster.
It’s not far to the Tohsaka residence.
The walk is short, and even without prior knowledge of where the building is I would still be able to find it.
…It’s a large, proud mansion that rejects the presence of outsiders, currently uninhabited as the sole resident is a student at the Clock Tower.
A trace of divine mystery lingered about it before as it was the summoning place of the second war’s Grail, but that is nothing compared to what this place is like now.
……The deep basement.
The stone arena.
…That is where our enemies, Caster and Hector, will be waiting for us—
I make my way down the steps with Yggdra’s presence nearby.
Of course our enemies are going to be able to tell that we’re here.
Magi like them will know no matter how I try to conceal myself.
So all there is to do is go on ahead and hope that I won’t be killed immediately—
The vast cellar, this underground stadium, is illuminated faintly by light fixtures ringing the walls…
……And by the wide eye of the Holy Grail, the circular “gate” that is filled by immensely bright white light.
It is blinding and I do not wish to stare too intensely into the light that is formed by “colorless” energy that is not meant to be perceived by my own human eyes.
…There is a naked figure held suspended before the Grail.
A young girl.
And there is a faint glow emitting from beneath the skin of her lower abdomen.
Beneath and to the side of the Grail, there is a great gelatinous glob of what almost looks like orange-colored jelly.
Like a cartoonist’s rendering of translucent slime.
…It’s vaguely oblong as though it was a sphere made oblong by the pressure of the ground it lies on.
Inside it is the silhouette of a woman.
I recognize her.
…Beyond doubt—that dark hair.
Her black and white clothes.
That is beyond doubt the figure of the magus Soala, Assassin’s Master—
On the steps leading up to where the Grail has appeared…
……there is a corpse.
Even at my distance, I can easily tell that it’s a corpse.
There is no life energy, no prana and no breath.
…From the dark robes, it appears to be the body of the fake supervisor, Hector.
And finally, in the middle of the room—
The proud figure of the Servant Caster stands.
She is perfectly still with her staff in her hand and a neutral expression on her face.
…It’s odd, but—
She seems to be somehow diminished from when we saw her last.
It may just be the distance, but something is surely very strange.
…Just what is going on here?
I daren’t ask Yggdra.
If Caster moves to attack me, she will defend, but until then or until I approach close enough, she will remain in spiritual form as a last safety precaution.
We draw closer.
……Still, there is no movement from Caster, who appears to be standing still as if she were ordered to maintain guard duty.
…My odd premonition about her presence continues to hold.
And finally, still several meters away from Caster, I stop.
It’s not because I intend to start the battle now.
…No, it is because I can now clearly see the body that’s suspended like a Christian symbol before the Holy Grail—
…If I strain my eyes, I can see that her skin is beaded with sweat.
She bites her lips as if to bear it and her chest is moving painfully.
As if it’s a joke, her hair is still tied even though she’s been stripped naked.
What is she doing here?
…where that girl is supposed to be—
…is the meaning of all this?
Caster stares at me impassively.
“—The process has already begun.
“The Holy Grail will not open without the vessel my former Master chose.”
She says so like there’s nothing wrong with it.
………My head is pounding.
Instead of horror…, this is closer to “rage”.
I cannot stop myself.
I can barely think over the pounding of my own blood.
Caster continues to gaze at me without any expression.
“—What do you mean, magus?
“I certainly cannot speak for the dead.
“My former Master made the choice as to which host should be the best.”
Her voice is unadorned with emotion.
…Callously, the angel stands as if declaring that she cares not what sacrifices were made if they were not made by her hands.
I can feel my own body preparing for combat instinctively.
My knees bend and my hips sink.
…My senses sharpen as if a razor edge has been brought close to my skin.
“This is just for confirmation, but Caster, you killed your Master, didn’t you—?”
The eyes the color of amber gaze through me.
“Why ask if you are already certain, magus?
“Yes, I killed him.
“—Ordinarily, I must not disobey one of his station, but this is a special circumstance.
“A mortal that seizes that power could, with the proper preparation, even become a god, and my Master was unworthy of such a thing.
“For the glory and protection of Asgard I slew him, and obtained a more suitable anchor.”
…My gaze slides past Caster and focuses on Soala, encapsulated in that jelly-like substance.
I don’t know why she was still in Fuyuki or how she was tempted into a contract with this being, but this is the inevitable result.
Master to a superior magus, she has become a “puppet” solely devised to supply Caster with enough magical energy to fight to her heart’s content.
I can feel my skin crawl.
Caster is not like other Servants.
…Of course, she isn’t the only inhuman Servant to have been summoned.
But Berserker was raised as a human with human values despite his identity as a demon.
He did not desire unnecessary sacrifice.
And Lancer was always quiet and obedient.
By contrast, Caster looks down at me through alien eyes as if I am an inferior being.
…She has always looked at us like that.
And that is why she ignores Vienya’s suffering as if oblivious.
…It is a matter of course that she, an angel higher on the food chain, should have her path supported by the suffering of lower creatures, we “humans”.
But I cannot forgive that.
……I cannot accept that.
My Servant, the great queen whom I love, appears at my side and lifts her holy sword to point it at Caster.
“—It’s true that your Master was not worthy to receive the Holy Grail.
“And perhaps we should thank you for dispatching one so evil.
“But we cannot forgive you.
“And we’ll be taking the Holy Grail for ourselves.”
Caster says so idly.
“Then learn your place, foolish mortals—!!”
…Great magical power gathers in the staff she holds aloft.
I leap backwards, and Yggdra charges forward, holding her sword level beside her and putting strength into her arms to strike.
Caster murmurs that phrase, and something like a bubble appears around her.
…The base of that “shield” is the armor covering her body, and the power of that “shield” is amplified by the staff in her hand.
It is a very elegant principle.
…For instance, if that armor were to reject all attacks below the level of A rank, that staff should give her the power to repel everything but the most powerful of ranks, such as A++ or EX.
Yggdra’s strength is only at A rank.
She collides with the barrier with all her force, well aware that in the worst case scenario she may be repelled again, like she was in the battle at my house.
Today is different.
She comes up against the barrier, which slows her motions—
—and against her attack, the barrier seems to bend somewhat.
Yggdra grits her teeth and puts power into her movements.
She seems to be struggling to move past the barrier, but she is definitely going to be able to get through—
…But even so.
Caster simply bats her away with the staff, clashing it against Yggdra’s great sword.
Yggdra lands in a ready stance with her sword held up.
…And I watch tensely.
If I apply a Command Spell, Yggdra might be able to use the extra power to carve through the barrier like wet paper and strike Caster directly.
But that is an inefficient strategy.
…I only have two Command Spells remaining, and if I try once and fail—
No, even if I try once and succeed.
…Caster will be aware of the attack and will be able to fight back against it.
So the single attack needs to be fatal.
That is no good as a strategy, I don’t even need to be told that.
Caster’s barrier is weaker than it should be.
…That is undoubtedly the way we can win.
But simply powering through it with the Command Spell would be stupid and probably fatal if there is a single mistake.
…I can’t match Caster at all, and so all I can do is stay to the back and plan.
If I could use projection like Ein or reinforcement like Rose, I could back Yggdra up physically and we could both apply force to a single weak point.
…But I know very few precise spells, and can’t guarantee that simple magic in its purest form will have the same kind of effect as Yggdra’s attacks.
Right now, I am little but an “anchor” that cannot do anything in Yggdra’s battle, like Soala.
Honestly, I just want to run past them and try to get Vienya down.
…Maybe that would be detrimental to the Holy Grail and its summoning ritual, but I don’t care, as the life of an ally is more important than such things.
Even Yggdra, as the one who actually has a wish, would probably agree.
But without a plan, I would surely be cut down uselessly if I separate myself from Yggdra.
I grit my teeth over my own helplessness.
But I can’t do that.
Right now, I need to think—
Before me, the battle continues.
Yggdra attacks Caster’s barrier again and again, and she seems to be denting it deeper and deeper before Caster is able to knock her away.
When Yggdra ducks backwards, Caster attacks her with magic.
Like Hector and Nessiah, her magic is born from the age of gods and is on a completely different level from my own.
…Like the quality is higher, not to mention that the method of production is entirely different.
The way Caster’s Magic Circuits work is different, and instead of having to forcibly connect herself to the world every time in a way that violates her own body, she instead is already connected.
The world’s power is right there for her when she needs it, so the process of conversion is considerably different from a modern magus.
So her casting is much faster.
Instead of setting up an electrical circuit, she just needs to flip a switch and the power is there.
While flipping the switch, she routes the power using the “incantation” that bends my brain in ways that keep me from understanding it.
The principle of her magecraft is so different from my own that we modern magi must seem hopelessly clumsy to her.
…I don’t know how Hector and Nessiah managed to preserve the techniques passed down from the age of gods directly, but they certainly are able in ways that we personally are not.
They have that kind of elegance.
Sometimes Caster’s magic is not strong enough to make it through Yggdra’s protection, and sometimes it is.
I know the difference in smoke rising from Yggdra’s raiment and in irregular sparks of discomfort in my Command Spell.
The pain is duller along the faded mark and sharp along the two that are still active.
Yggdra dances through the magical assault and continues to advance on Caster.
…She seems tireless, but all the same, it’s a problem.
Caster has not yet moved from her spot, and Yggdra has to continually dodge and advance, which consumes more energy.
…I can’t attack.
Everything strong enough to hit Caster will consume Yggdra as well.
They have the same alignment with ether, and I with my attachment to “imaginary numbers” as my sorcery trait will damage both of them.
I bite my lip and shift my weight.
There’s definitely a clue that’s come up so far.
…That clue is—
I straighten up and hold out my hand as Yggdra rebounds from another failed attack.
And as she charges.
“—Yggdra, strike with all your might!”
There is a great crack through the air as I shout, and Yggdra’s footsteps speed up preternaturally.
Her advanced movements will give her sword more weight.
Without waiting to see how this will turn out, I run—!!
I run wide to put myself out of the range of Yggdra’s Noble Phantasm.
I put prana into my legs clumsily and force more speed—
There is a great rush and explosion of light.
And there is a great crash.
…I turn slightly to keep them in view as I continue to run.
Caster has staggered back.
There is blood on the ground, so she must be injured, but even so Caster’s stance is very strong.
Yggdra, who has swung her giant sword, is still recovering from delivering the blow.
Into that moment of “windup”—
A forest’s worth of thin lightning bolts descends.
Yggdra is blown back, the heels of her shoes dragging against the floor as she shields her body with her sword.
…Even so, her body has been hit.
She staggers slightly as she resumes her stance, and when she coughs as if to clear her throat, her lips are flecked with blood.
…I want to call out and praise her for how well she withstood the enemy’s Noble Phantasm, but there is no time—
If she knows what I’m doing, she will keep Caster distracted.
…Even if she hasn’t yet grasped my idea, I know that she will continue to fight believing in me, because that is what our partnership is about.
So I put strength into my limbs and continue to run for the dais.
…I want to check to make sure that Hector is dead.
I’ll cut off his head myself if I need to.
……But before even that comes securing our victory.
I pass even Vienya.
My objective is—
The woman trapped in the globe of slime like a doll encased in amber.
I expel the word on my breath and hold out my hand, slashing my fingers through the air.
My Magic Crest starts up and expels power that ruptures the bubble.
…Liquid starts to spill from within it.
It smells bloody like amniotic fluid, but at the same clean like soap.
It is filled with oxygen and will not allow those trapped within it to die.
This woman is Caster’s precious “anchor”.
She is the wedge we will be able to drive home to secure victory.
I continue to blow the bubble apart.
If Caster has caught on to what I am doing, she still isn’t trying to attack me.
I can hear the clashing of weapons in the distance, and it seems that Yggdra is continuing the battle with all her might.
In terms of strength, Yggdra was far inferior to Caster as a Servant the first time that we fought her.
It is more the fact that Caster is simply a higher rank of being and a perfect defensive wall that even the great holy sword cannot break through.
But now they are more evenly matched.
The reason for that is because of Caster’s mistake.
…Servants’ statistics and capabilities are in part dependent upon their Masters.
With a great magus like Hector as her bulwark, Caster was a powerful fortress.
…But Soala is just your average magus and has a low capacity of prana to boot.
To compensate for the difference, almost all of Caster’s capabilities have been lowered by at least one rank.
As if to prove it, the “wall” surrounding Caster’s body is something that Yggdra can now break if she exerts all her power.
Caster can bleed.
She was always able to.
It is just that a high wall must be overcome for that to happen.
To put it more simply, the only way to defeat Caster is to be such an offensively-oriented Servant, and to have such a great Master, that one can overcome her barrier all by oneself.
…Either that, or to have a trump card that can neutralize her defense and give the attacker a chance to do battle without having to deal with it at all.
The change of Masters has “lowered” Caster’s walls.
Where before we would have had no chance, this is now a battle up a slope that is steep but not completely sheer.
…We do have a small chance of winning naturally.
But that isn’t necessarily enough.
We can’t simply depend on luck when such a power isn’t within our grasp.
We have to get together all the power we have and create an opening, even artificially.
The bubble like an amphibious creature’s egg slowly sloughs away.
Even though there’s half of it remaining, Soala flounders and collapses onto the hard tile amidst the sloshing mess, her limbs moving feebly as if she is a baby bird.
She coughs and vomits out the gel, and the amber jelly dribbles from her mouth and nose.
…Even so, she can move.
She can see and hear and speak, even if she is too weak to do much else.
Caster immobilized her.
Caster intended to simply back herself up in this battle and make sure that she would not reach the end of the prana that makes up her body if she really went all out against us.
…But aside from just limiting her capabilities, there is another mistake in Caster’s choice.
A Master isn’t just a backup battery for the Servant whose activities cost prana.
—A Master is the force that “commands” a Servant.
I look down at Soala where she writhes on the floor.
…I don’t want to touch her.
Just the thought of coming into contact with her after what she wanted to do to me sends an ugly sensation crawling over my skin, and I feel as though I’m going to vomit.
I don’t know how Caster tricked her into forming the contract, but…
……Just because she almost did that to me…, doesn’t mean that she should deserve to be sucked dry in Caster’s battle.
And if she is here for us to make use of, we should.
“—Do you know where you are and what’s happening?”
Soala coughs and shivers.
The magus in her stained clothes hugs herself with cold and blinks like a fish, taking in the surroundings.
She loses color when she looks at the Servant that somehow became hers.
Her reaction is definitely fearful.
…This can work.
It may be cruel.
But I’ll manipulate her a little anyway as compensation for her attempt to rape me.
I prioritize Yggdra’s and my own self-preservation over this woman’s state of mind, and as far as payback goes this is petty.
“I don’t know what she told you.
“But that Servant of yours is going to drain you until you die for the sake of winning this battle, as compensation for her parameters being lowered.”
Her dark eyes are pearlescent with tears.
She quivers on the floor as if to protest that she is helpless.
“—Stand up and stop complaining.
“You’re not powerless.
“—If you don’t want to meet that fate, then help us.
“The Grail War will end, and because we don’t believe in killing other Masters, we’ll let you live, the same as we did before. You have my word.”
She continues to look at me.
…I don’t want her to touch me but stand firm.
Even if she reaches a hand out to me, I resolve myself not to flinch away.
“—How many Command Spells do you still have?”
Realization seems to come over her.
As if regaining a bit of her dignity, she pulls herself into a crouch.
“—I have all of them.
“Elena—Assassin was a good Servant.
“If I could convince her with words, I had no need to use something so vulgar.”
…Vulgar, she says, as if her relationship with her Servant is something completely different from the way she treats people outside of that contract.
Well, in the end I suppose we’re all a little like that.
“Now is the time to use them then.”
“You mean for me to break my contract with her—?”
Soala stares at me in wonder.
…I can understand.
If I were to ask that and our attack failed to get rid of Caster’s energy, then all of us including Soala would likely be killed.
“Will you give the commands that I ask of you?
“The contract will remain intact, and you’ll be protected from her.”
Soala bites her lip.
“—I have no choice.”
…And she sighs.
“…I don’t mind so much.
“The contract might exist, but my only Servant was Assassin.
“I don’t feel so bad about ordering around a malevolent ghost that would kill me to suit its own needs.”
…She stands up by herself and holds out her arm with determination.
“—I’ll trust you for my own sake.”
She says so and stands as though not wanting to depend on anyone.
Beside her, I face the battlefield.
…The Command Spell is the only magic she can use in her condition.
If I can’t trust her words, I can trust that reality.
Yggdra is still fighting.
…Her body is scraped in many places and her clothes look burnt, but she still continues to swing her holy sword.
Caster, with her back to us, moves tirelessly to repel her, pivoting in the same spot.
…I murmur the first command.
“Disable your defensive Noble Phantasm!”
Soala’s voice calls out.
It is a voice with no elegance or surety, but still there is the ringing crack of a Command Spell activating.
Caster staggers and turns towards us.
…I can sense it even though I can’t see it.
The “bubble” that has surrounded her body is gone.
“—You are not to harm any human!”
Caster’s arm that was reaching for us jerks in midair and falters, and her face is contorted with a snarl as her attack on the ones about to bind her is cut off by the order.
It’s not enough to simply order her to kill herself.
Caster would resist that order now that she knows what we’re doing, and she might even suspect it.
“Cast away that staff—!”
Caster’s body moves.
The amplifier that has been boosting her abilities flies through the air and clatters against the distant ground.
…If she were to chase it…
……Yggdra would surely arrive in the way to block her.
The contract is still in place.
Her abilities have still been hobbled.
And with her Master’s orders crippling her power—
Caster swivels back towards Yggdra, who has already begun to focus her power, and lifts her empty hands into the air as if calling upon the aid of a god.
At her shout.
Great amounts of thunder, enough to purge the world of life, crash throughout the stadium before her.
The ground rumbles, and I nearly fall.
Like a divine wind,
Yggdra rushes through the rain of lightning bolts towards her target.
Caster continues to summon great magic.
…And Yggdra, whose protection now exceeds Caster’s capabilities, rushes forward with all that magic rolling off her body like water off of oil—
She pulls her sword back.
Her legs have stopped moving, but her momentum slides her inwards, her white shoes pushing past the mounds of gravel created by their battle as she winds up the sword like a batter about to swing—
Once she has gotten into range.
…She puts all of her weight onto her feet and lunges forward—!!
There is the sound of a strike as the peal of the holy sword sounds like a gong.
Scattered orange feathers float through the air.
…There is a great amount of dust kicked up by Yggdra’s charge.
…And as it disperses—
Yggdra draws herself up to her full height.
She still holds her sword strong in both hands.
…Rather than a queen—
She looks like the triumphant silhouette of King Arthur overseeing a victorious battle, and her long hair streams out behind her beautifully.
She stands there.
…For a brief moment, the nearly-bisected form of her enemy is visible through the smoke…
……And then Caster’s body vanishes.
Soala collapses, maybe from the release of tension.
And there’s a gasp.
Above me, Vienya gasps as if in pain, and the gate that was teeming begins to spill over with colorless energy.
…That’s no surprise.
This “gate” is meant to be constructed from the energy of six Servants or maybe seven, not eight all at once.
So the substance that was inside begins to spill out.
…It’s a beautiful sight.
A little messy, but it still takes my breath away like a rainbow has been turned into liquid and is streaming down in imitation of a molten waterfall.
Well, I can’t just sit here.
All the Servants that will be delivered into the chalice have been delivered, so there’s no need for Vienya to keep sitting there like a filter.
I reach out as if to draw her down just as her body wavers and falls.
…She is naked and breathing painfully.
Her eyes are closed.
Inside her body—
The “thing” that forced the Grail open has been placed into her uterus itself.
Symbolically this is the place for such a thing, but there’s a limit to perversion as Vienya is still such a young girl.
The Grail is already open and should remain open for a while even if its focus is taken away, so I rest my hand on her skin and focus my power.
Her body arches up and she breathes in fiercely as if to reject the magic being worked inside her body, making her hair scatter and her thin, still-forming breasts shake slightly as the muscles in her limbs go tense.
…I destroy it.
The lump of dying muscle inside her body liquefies, and as Vienya squirms beneath my hands, something that looks similar to but isn’t menstrual blood is running from between her legs when I open my eyes.
…The foreign element is being expelled from her body, and she will be all right.
As I kneel near the rumbling Grail…
…Yggdra approaches the stream of energy in slow steps.
Her eyes are searching as if she’s trying to decide on what exactly she should do.
…I can’t speak.
I can barely even breathe.
Yggdra looks briefly at me from the corner of her eye and smiles.
…And as her holy sword disappears from her hands, she mounts the steps to the dais, approaching the Grail while it is still open.