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Vagrant Grail Cadenza

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            “—”
            …When I open my eyes, it’s a little cold.
            There’s still a bit of winter in the air.
            I’m not used to it and don’t like it that much, so I reach out for the covers and pull them over my body, burrowing underneath them.
            There’s a familiar heat source right beside me.
            I press close to it.
            Really, mornings are cold, so why do I always seem to wake up with the covers on that side thrown all the way back—?

            Warm arms fold around me.
            If there’s one thing to be said about waking up cold, it’s that it feels so nice when you’re suddenly embraced by warmth.
            When you’re already warm and someone with a high body temperature holds you, sometimes the surplus of heat is uncomfortable, but not when it’s cold.
            Seasonal scenery is nice to look at, and I know that it would cause problems with harvests and such, but I really think it would be wonderful if the world would stay between sixty-five and eighty degrees Fahrenheit all the time.
            Anything below sixty-five degrees is much too cold, and anything above eighty degrees is much too hot, but the seventies are lovely weather.
            Temperate days with beautiful skies and just a little bit of a breeze are the best possible weather.
            …That’s all I ask for, but the weather is harsh and doesn’t like to obey to the convenience of lowly mortal creatures.

            So, I fold up my body so that my limbs won’t get too cold on their own, and curl up against Gulcasa, and close my eyes again.
            …It’s cold.
            It’s very early and still a little dim in the room, so I move along the futon and resolve to go back to sleep.

            But.
            The door slides open, and I hear an all-too familiar voice.

            “—Come on, you guys, are you just gonna sleep all day?
            “Jeez, don’t go making noise about wanting to make breakfast if you’re not gonna follow through on it.
            “You know you’ve gotta get up at the crack of dawn to claim the kitchen.”

            Who cares.
            First of all, if you’re going to wake up at the same time as everyone else, then at least don’t fling the covers around and leave me in the cold—
            I want to direct some kind of annoyed response at the culprit, but that would be a waste of energy, so I just press closer to Gulcasa and redouble my efforts.
            Sleep, sleep.

            But.
            “…Ugh.
            “All right, all right, I’m getting up.”
            Gulcasa responds to the intruder with a muzzy voice and lets go of me.
            His warm body disappears, leaving only the futon covers.
            “At least Nessiah can sleep for a little longer.
            “If you’re not awake when it’s time to eat, somebody’ll come in to get you, all right?”

            …No, that’s not all right.
            That’s very far from it.

            I lift my head off the pillow and open my eyes, but Gulcasa’s already padding out of the room in bare feet, probably to go wash his face.
            The sliding door is pushed shut, and I am left on my own.

            “—”
            Normally I don’t have any objections to our residence.
            Honestly, this is probably the best place to be in while I finish recovering, as the only surviving expert is here and can help me with any residual problems.
            We were taken in without any complaint, and best of all, the food is always good even when Gulcasa isn’t cooking.
            It’s exceedingly rare that I’m able to find any human with remotely near Gulcasa’s talent, but everyone on kitchen duty here is fairly close.
            So unlike the situation during the Grail War, I am always being treated to gorgeous meals three times a day.

            …But.
            Mornings are the worst for a reason in conjunction with that.
            …Yes.
            It’s exactly as the uninvited intruder proclaimed.
            The master of the household has a long-standing habit of getting up at five o’clock in the morning, and because there’s competition for the kitchen and that competition is quite fierce, hopefuls for breakfast duty must also get up at five o’clock in the morning.

            I swear, no one in this house has any common sense.
            …I might be less inclined to complain, but the house itself is built low to the ground and the walls are thin just as a part of the design, so it’s cold in the mornings.
            A portable heater was brought into this bedroom for my sake, but I still don’t like it when Gulcasa leaves.
            At this rate, I’m going to get dragged into their schedule as well.
            …But Gulcasa is right when he says that I’m really not a morning person.
            Mornings are my enemy, and I have trouble waking up.
            I prefer to stay up at night anyway.

            …Well, breakfast probably won’t be ready until six in the morning anyway, so I’ll have time to wake up slowly, but it’s still far too early for me.

 

            Nevertheless, because I’m alone and it’s cold, I have no choice but to give up and wake up already.
            I get out clothes in a daze, change into a fresh dress and cardigan, and wander from the bedroom into the hallway.

            “—”
            It’s colder out here, and I can’t help but shiver.
            I just can’t get used to this Japanese-style mansion.

 

            It has been three months since the end of the Holy Grail War.
            Things have just started to calm down after the hectic period that immediately followed the final battle.

            At that time.
            …I was exhausted from tapping into the other side, and temporarily lost my human functionality.
            I was able to use the gate of the Grail correctly.
            So—obviously, the granting of my wish was successful.
            My body is now mortal.
            I used the great prana of the Holy Grail to destroy my original remains, destroy the Third Magic of the gods, and permanently transfer my soul to this body to make my existence more like that of a mortal.
            Because my existence is facilitated by the use of Heaven’s Feel, I am not completely the same as an ordinary person, but I am close enough that I can live and age and die.
            And.
            Before the gate closed, I bathed the bodies of my Servants in the colorless elixir.

            I would not be able to live unless Gulcasa stays by my side.
            And.
            Meria also wished to be able to live as an individual.
            So.
            I used the power of the Holy Grail to grant the pair of them true incarnation.
            Their bodies are real now, and although they retain their abilities as Heroic Spirits and still need their contract with—and prana from—me to maintain themselves and keep from being denied by Gaia, they will live normal lives just as I will.

            And so—now with the war ended, the three of us can live a relatively normal life.

            But.
            …My body has still faced a number of problems.
            I’m still a Holy Grail.
            So—my body is still connected with Akasha, and although it is not at the same rate as the time of the war, I occasionally accumulate a little too much prana in my system and need to burn it off.
            The magical sigils like a Command Spell that Hector branded into my body underneath my skin remained, too, and so the parts of those that could be removed had to be taken out, like tumors.
            Furthermore.
            As if that in itself wasn’t enough trouble, I surpassed my limits in that last battle.
            …It’s still up in the air as to whether the sight in my damaged eye will ever return to normal.
            But so that it isn’t damaged or strained too much while it’s still healing, I still have to wear an eyepatch for most of the day to prevent light from damaging the sensitive iris and cornea.
            In the end—using that projection meant that to keep from denying my fabrication of the Gran Centurio, I wound up denying my own body.
            I suppose that’s what I get for projecting a weapon that was partially made from my own body parts.
            Gulcasa was a lot angrier than I’d seen him in a while, even though he didn’t ever yell at me for it. Even now it’s best not to mention it to him if he’s holding something delicate, because he’ll grip whatever’s in his hands too tightly and wind up breaking it.

            “…Honestly—”
            It’s not so bad, considering.
            It’s not so horrible to have to adjust for faulty depth perception, and I did spend quite a while in my youth compensating for that before I was fully blinded.
            The memories are faded, but I can cope by instinct and experience.
            And besides, I’m just happy that Gulcasa and Meria don’t have any problems with their bodies.

            But anyway, I needed treatment, and we needed a place to stay.
            …We wound up here because when Roswell was extracting us from the Tohsaka workshop, the magus with temporary supervision over Fuyuki found him.
            I was unconscious for that, but I’m a little disappointed.
            Apparently it was quite a shock that he received, when a young magus at nearly my power level came waltzing in with purpose and dignity while he was at his wit’s end about how to carry me and my two unconscious Servants out of the wreckage.
            …With a Servant of her own, too.

            That started the discussions.
            Tohsaka Rin—the proper Second Owner, heir to one of the three founding families and a survivor of the Fifth Grail War, who is completing her education at the Clock Tower—was contacted by her relatives, who live here in Fuyuki.
            While I was being treated in this place, communication flew back and forth from Japan to London to work on damage control, and there was also a lot of discussion about what to do about the damage to the Tohsaka mansion and estate.
            …The biggest problem seems to have been what to do about the Magic Association.
            Hector came here and did as he pleased with the land, and to add insult to injury, another magus succeeded with the Third Magic while no one was there to witness and document it.
            I was still weak and ill at that time, and so my memories are hazy, but I disclosed everything to Tohsaka-san and to my hosts as soon as I was able.

            We were lucky.
            Not only were we met with sympathy, but Tohsaka Rin and her mentor, El-Melloi II, immediately set about with damage control.
            Tohsaka Rin herself was here in Fuyuki a short time ago and took charge of things in a great whirlwind.

            So.
            In the midst of all that.
            Roswell returned to Europe in order to assist things on the Magic Association’s end and to report to his relatives on the result of the false Grail War.
            As his property was all sold to help cover for damages, Gulcasa and Meria and I were all left with nowhere to stay.
            And somehow—it wound up being decided that the three of us would live, at least for now, in the Emiya estate with Tohsaka Rin’s relatives.

            While I was still too sick to comprehend what was going on around me,
            we were moved to the Japanese-style mansion on the hill in Miyama—
            the residence of Emiya Sakura, who already saved Gulcasa and I once before,
            and her husband Shirou and her Servant, the Rider who participated in the previous war.

            Emiya Shirou said it for all of us when he remarked that he felt like an idiot.
            …Long ago, during the war itself.
            We had decided to ignore the offer given to us by the kind girl who had handed us her money, out of the fear that we would be bringing danger to an unrelated person.
            And actually, if we had just swallowed our pride and decided to trust in her based on our premonition of her inner strength, we would have had a steadfast ally.
            I myself recognized vaguely, towards the end of the war—
            While I dreamed of the Einzbern Grails who went before me, I vaguely realized that the girl we had met that day was similar to them, and must thus be a similar existence to me.
            And knowing that—looking back, there are a lot of small details that add up based on the hypothesis that Emiya Sakura was watching over the progress of the war from a distance.

            While we were all dumbfounded by the truth we hadn’t even dreamed of.
            Emiya Sakura, a beautiful girl with a childish ribbon in her hair, smiled like she was troubled and said that it had been all she could do to just keep her husband from finding out.
            She apologized for prioritizing the continuation of her peaceful life over providing assistance to us, and opened her home as if in compensation.

            But that’s a decision that all of us—who fought for our selfish desires—could easily forgive.
            Anyway, we were in need, and so the Emiya family gladly took us in.
            I’ve spent the past several months recovering quietly.
            There are plans being drafted so that within the next five years, the Grand Holy Grail itself can finally be dismantled.
            Two cave-ins and the loss of its core weren’t able to destroy it for good, and so clearly it needs to be taken apart with care by magi who know what they’re doing.
            Tohsaka-san and her mentor are taking care of that end of things, with support from Roswell and several other magi.
            All that we have received is a firm guarantee from many different powerful and influential people that no one will bother myself and my Servants.
            …And we’re grateful for it.
            We have no interest in the clamor for Akasha.
            I have survived for thousands of years, but been unable to live.
            Gulcasa was cut down by war in his prime, and Meria has never been able to experience a peaceful life at all.
            So—the three of us are only interested in living normally from here on out.

            Apparently the trials that this family went through five years ago were similar.
            Emiya Sakura held my hands.
            She and Emiya Shirou both smiled, and they and Rider promised us a safe and peaceful place here, where no one will bother us.

 

            …That was three months ago, in the middle of February.
            It’s May now.
            It’s the beginning of spring now.
            My body is mostly healed except for my vision, and I’m doing my best to adapt to living in this unfamiliar Japanese mansion.
            The young Emiya couple enjoys cooking more than anything, so Gulcasa is in the company of his fellows and is very cheerful all the time.
            The mansion even possesses a dojo, and Emiya Shirou practices kendo there with the woman who taught him, a representative of the Fujimura family.
            Apparently Meria first found that place with sparkling eyes, and it’s now one of her favorite places to play.
            Rider is quiet, but she likes to read, and she’s graciously shared some of her personal library with me while I’ve been recovering.
            It seems as though it’s been an impossibly long time since I was able to curl up with a book, and so I can’t even put my gratitude at her generosity into words.

            I can hear a commotion from the direction of the living room.
            It sounds like Gulcasa and the others are having fun.
            Even though there are three enthusiasts taking up space in the kitchen every meal on every day, it seems as though they’ve become able to match each other’s rhythms perfectly over the past few months, because the only voices I ever hear from that kitchen are cheerful ones.
            There are never arguments, only pleased debates about technique and quiet requests for ingredients and tools to be passed back and forth.

            …I’m tired.
            But—I can’t help but smile, even as I wind up leaning against the chilly wall out of exhaustion.
            Gulcasa will always be like this.
            I’ve taken so much away from him.
            But his world is already beginning to expand again.
            He will make new friendships and new bonds, and his light will spread out amongst like-minded people once again.
            Even if his priority now is on living at my side, his ideals will still bring warmth to people’s hearts, and I’m glad of it.
            This is how he has to be.

            “Oh.”
            I look up at the voice.
            The beautiful woman with long pale hair, glasses, and inhuman eyes is Rider.

            “—Are you feeling all right?”
            She crosses the hallway in long strides and touches my forehead with cool fingers.
            “…Yes.
            “I couldn’t go back to sleep after Gulcasa and Meria left, so I might as well go to where it’s warm and sleep under the kotatsu where everyone else is enjoying themselves.
            “I’ll even be right there when they’re done.”

            Rider smiles at me over her glasses.
            Her square-pupiled eyes are alien but very human, and I think her smile is quite beautiful.
            “Then, please go ahead and wash your face.
            “The water should help you feel more at ease.
            “—I will be waiting in the living room.”

            She opens the door to the cheerful room and disappears behind it.
            She’s correct, of course.

 

            …When I get done with washing my face and step back out into the hallway, Meria is there.
            “Oh, so you did get up, sleepyhead.”
            She grins wickedly.
            She’s incorrigible, but at the same time she seems so happy and good-natured with it that even I can’t be that annoyed.

            “—Yes, that’s your fault.
            “You can’t keep getting out of bed so early and flinging the covers off so dramatically that I don’t have any anymore.
            “It’s a futon, so we’re already too close to the ground anyway.”

            Meria looks at me like she doesn’t know what I’m complaining about.
            “Hey now.
            “It’s helping you form some good habits, isn’t it? I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.”

            …Even I sometimes regret that I let her share the same room as Gulcasa and myself when we don’t want to be alone.
            We’re close enough to sleep in the same bed even though our relationship is completely platonic, but she’s like this, after all.
            Well, I’m sure that the next time I have a nightmare or a spasm and Gulcasa can’t calm me down by himself, I’ll retract those thoughts for a while.

            As I keep complaining on the inside of my skull.
            Meria smiles and holds out her hand to me.

            “—Come on.
            “Let’s go to where the others are.”
            …To a place where it’s warm and everyone is smiling.
            To a place where people will accept us and treat us as their friends.

            I can’t stay angry when she’s like this.
            …I reach out and take Meria’s hand.
            She’s put herself on my bad side, so that I can trust her with my back.

            She leads me, and we walk together.
            She slides open the door to the living room, and we step inside in the same movement.

            Rider is sitting at the low table with a book and a glass of water.
            Meria releases my hand and walks to stretch her body out on the pillows in front of the television, watching the news.

            I sit down at my place at the table, spreading out my skirts as I lower myself onto the cushion.
            The kotatsu heater is going, and by slipping my legs underneath the blanket and leaning against the table, my whole body warms up almost immediately.

            “Good morning!”
            The first one to offer a greeting is Shirou.
            Emiya Sakura’s husband turns to give me a full smile before returning to the range, where he appears to be monitoring a frying pan sizzling with some kind of meat and vegetables.

            Sakura-san only looks over her shoulder at me warmly before returning to her task.
            She is chopping up something on the cutting board.
            I can’t see what she’s making, but the rhythm of the knife is steady and comforting, and her hands and elbows move almost as if they’re keeping time in a delicate kind of dance, professional and easy.

            Gulcasa sets down whatever he was working on, turns on the faucet, and runs his hands underneath the water before wiping them on the front of his pants.
            He is awake and cheerful, and his long hair is pulled back into a long loose braid.
            He looks so natural in the kitchen, side by side with the red-haired boy and the girl with her familiar pink ribbon.
            He ducks out underneath the partition and comes to kneel down next to me.

            “—So you did get up.”
            “I had little choice, believe me.
            “The air is more pleasant here anyway.”

            Gulcasa smiles.
            A perfect smile that makes my heart lighter just seeing it.
            It’s an expression that I see echoed all around the room.
            From Meria, lounging in front of the television, to Rider with her book.
            It adorns the faces of the young Emiya couple, and I don’t have any doubt that the same expression must be on my face right now.

            “We’re trying out one of my recipes this morning.
            “Shirou’s got some interesting ideas about side dishes and spices, and apparently Sakura’s really good with techniques like these, so I really want you to look forward to it.”
            “…Meria was right, you really are a cooking otaku.”

            Gulcasa laughs like he doesn’t mind.
            “You’re saying things like that, but you still seem pleased.
            “—Besides, you’re eating more and you seem healthier all the time, so we’re all grateful.”

            I lean forward.
            He holds me lightly.
            His hands are still a little damp from washing them, but his arms are steady and warm.
            By the time we let go of each other, our hearts are probably beating in the same rhythm.

            “Okay, stupid couple, break it up.”
            …The cry from the peanut gallery seems to originate from Meria, who is grinning at us like she’s pleased from the other side of the room.
            “If you two just sit there and canoodle, isn’t breakfast gonna take much longer?”

            Gulcasa stares at her blandly.
            “You could always come help, you know.”
            “—No thanks, I’d rather freeload.”

            “…Well, that seems to be the case, anyhow.”
            Gulcasa shrugs like it’s not his problem, but he stands up.
            “We’ll be done maybe within the next fifteen minutes, so try not to fall back asleep even though it’s nice sitting at the kotatsu.
            “Try to eat as much as you can, and—um, I’d always like to know what you think.”

            I promise to give my opinion, and wave him back to the kitchen.
            …Today is probably going to be a clear and lovely day.
            My rehabilitation is progressing, and I’m sure that there are things I’ll be called on to take care of throughout the day.
            It will warm up, and even after breakfast is over I’ll be looking forward to two more luxurious meals, like always.

            Now then.
            The days of war and toil are gone and past.
            It is time for a new harvest, a quieter story filled with love.
            I am free.
            I threw myself into battle not daring to dream of more than a world only comprised of Gulcasa and me, but here I am in a room filled with kind and loving people.
            Ordinary days.
            …But, they are days that shine in my heart.

 

                        “…That’s right.”

 

            From the kitchen, Shirou speaks casually.

            “It’s almost time for us to go see the cherry blossoms.
            “We’ve already done flower viewing with the plum trees here in Miyama last month, but you guys couldn’t really come back then.
            “So—if you want to, how about coming with us this time?”

            I look around the room.
            Meria is watching me as if to wait for my answer, and Gulcasa’s back tells me that the decision is mine.

 

            …I smile.
            With all my heart, I smile.
            “—That sounds like it would be wonderful.”