…The sun is almost up.
It takes a while to clear away the requisite amount of space as this place is rather small, but I still have enough time to complete the ritual when I finish.
I regulate my breathing and open the Revelation to the proper page.
The book balances itself in the air above my open palms, and when I run my magical energy carefully over the pattern of the glyph, it is instantly transcribed onto the floor so that I am just standing on the edge.
There is more resistance than usual when I open myself to my power.
…Given what I am, there should barely be any resistance at all.
I who was born in the age of gods am a natural remnant of the time when magic was a normal aspect of the world, and my using it does not violate the logic of Gaia the way that it would for a magus of this era.
But the complicated glyphs underneath my skin and the “irregularity” inside me heat up and are irritated by my use of magic.
I can’t really expect it to be easy, but—I can handle this.
“Ye first, O silver, O iron.
O stone of the foundation, O archduke of the contract.
Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Schweinorg.
Let the descending winds be as a wall.
Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve.
Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
Five perfections for each repetition.
And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead!”
If you’re there—
If you can forgive me—
I can—sense it.
Tears run down my face.
I can’t let my voice waver, but I can at least allow myself this.
It is a sensation as though the one standing across the vast chasm from me has run to the edge and is holding out his hand as if to grasp mine firmly.
As the summoner, I can create the “bridge”.
With this heretical ritual, I can open up a path to that faraway place for a moment to pull a fully realized Heroic Spirit into the world of man.
It’s a fervent wish to the world that all my suffering up until today be fulfilled.
Like a prayer.
After this moment—I’ll do the rest with my own hands.
Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail, and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
I make my oath here.
I am that person who is to become the virtue of all heaven.
I am that person who is covered in the evil of all hell.
Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,
Come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance—!!”
If I am reaching out—
Then in that moment space contracts, and it is as though that distant hand seizes mine powerfully.
There is a sharp burn in my left shoulder as though I am being branded,
and at the same a heavy shock like a blow throughout my heart and ribcage.
My eyes have closed on their own, and my body nearly loses its balance in the darkness of the shack as the earth rumbles.
There is a sound.
There is the heavy, familiar sound of armor.
When I open my eyes…
There is a man standing at the center of the glyph.
A tall man with brilliant scarlet hair that streams down to his ankles.
A man with kind eyes the color of gold and a proud, carved face.
He wears resplendent armor of deep red.
He stands expressionlessly as if staring through me to my heart.
The beloved voice speaks—
“I ask of you. Are you my Master?”
…My voice won’t work.
But I push the wide strap of the dress I wear off my shoulder to bare the fresh Command Spell engraved there.
He smiles in a way that softens his features and hurts my heart with the warmth he exudes.
“Then from this moment my blade shall be with you as your fate shall be with me.
“—The contract is now complete.”
I gather up all the courage in me.
The Servant in red armor looks at me as if in surprise.
“Do you—still remember me?”
I can barely breathe, but I still force out the words.
I can vaguely feel that my limbs are shaking, but I force myself to focus all my attention on the man before me.
My Servant—Gulcasa stares at me for a moment as if in a daze…, and then his lips bend for just a moment before he begins to laugh softly.
“That’s got to be the most idiotic question I’ve ever heard.
“—I would never forget about you, Nessiah.”
Whatever tension has been binding me falls softly away.
…Just for a moment, the Grail War can wait.
I take a step forward and reach out weakly, and Gulcasa wraps both arms around me and holds me against his chest.
His storied armor is, of course, hard steel, and the rivets are rough against my skin.
The metal isn’t cold, but pressing myself against him like this is awkward.
It’s very warm.
……It’s been about an hour since that time.
Honestly, I’m just a little worn out in a lot of different ways, and I’m a bit lightheaded from using up a large quantity of prana without being able to eat right away to make up for it.
And now that I’m not actively using my power, it’s gone back to being terribly cold.
Mornings and nights are the worst.
But it’s not as bad as usual.
If I were to be asked why—
It’s because my Servant is sitting next to me.
…It appears that becoming a Heroic Spirit hasn’t changed the fact that Gulcasa has a naturally high body temperature.
If examined by a normal human doctor, they would probably be amazed and left at a loss for words, as Gulcasa emits enough heat that a normal person would be incapacitated with a dangerous fever.
But even when he was alive, Gulcasa wasn’t fully human, and part of the composition of his body is just that he runs a hotter temperature than one.
It’s because of the heat of his blood, which is more than enough to burn an ordinary person’s unprotected skin.
Even just sitting beside him, I’m warm enough to be able to cope with the bitter cold that’s plagued me up until today until it felt like my bones were growing brittle.
Well, but that’s beside the point.
Up until now, we’ve just been discussing the situation.
“—So you’ve been summoned into the Berserker class.”
It’s hard for me to tell which Servants have been summoned already and which classes are still open, and I don’t know if that will change once I’ve met those Servants or not.
Gulcasa is a warrior with a lot of different talents, so he could have been summoned into a number of different classes.
Rider would also suit him, and I think that if certain conditions were met he could also be summoned as a Lancer.
…But because his “current self” doesn’t have the qualification of wielding a lance and his Noble Phantasm, which is a great scythe, was created by forging a scythe together with the lance he used to carry, his physical form and even his mentality might be returned to their state at that time.
In the worst case his memory might even be affected, so I’m glad that awkward situation has been avoided, and I won’t bring it up unless Gulcasa speaks of it himself.
……Well, the gist of it is that he went through a great upheaval at that time.
In various ways.
But I suppose there’s no need to rehash the past when we’re here together now.
Anyhow, Gulcasa nods as he sits at my side.
The motion causes his long hair to flutter slightly through the air.
“I think that this is what would be considered my optimal class, and because of what I am there’s no need to worry about Mad Enhancement.
“That’s like an extra that can be switched on and off at your discretion.”
This is the special ability of the Berserker class.
In exchange for the Heroic Spirit’s reason, they receive a boost to their abilities and become a mindless puppet to their Master’s will.
But because the burden of controlling and supporting the Servant is much greater when the Servant has no will, it is an exceptionally difficult thing for an ordinary magus to handle.
Most of the early Masters of Berserker died from prana deprivation, and it took an especially powerful and well-trained magus to control the one summoned in the last war, it seems.
…But even after being summoned into this particular class, Gulcasa retains his sanity.
It’s like he said.
Gulcasa isn’t human, and the same rules can’t be applied to him as to humans.
A mostly-mortal hero who went mad a lot and is summoned as Berserker because of that trait is one thing, but a demon who has lived with madness in his veins is quite another.
If circumstances were different, and Gulcasa were raised as a demon, what humans perceive as “madness” would be the natural state of his heart and mind.
But he was raised as a human, with human values.
From a human perspective, he is well versed in controlling his own madness.
From a demon perspective, his behavior now is true madness.
That contradiction seems to have worked for our benefit.
Anyhow, Gulcasa will be able to change between his current state and a “powered-up” form with no reasoning and not even the ability to speak, only the drive to follow my orders, very easily.
And I’m left with the responsibility of toggling that.
“—Unless the situation calls for it, I suppose I’d rather have you with me as you are now.
“You and I are already the strongest, so we should save things like that for when there’s no other choice.”
Well, I’m speaking flippantly, but I wouldn’t want to take Gulcasa’s reason away without his consent, and I doubt he would enjoy that very much either.
It’s also more practical to do this as the prana flowing from me to him is at a reasonable rate right now and would only become troublesome if we were to turn Mad Enhancement on.
Gulcasa is watching me like he’s either suppressing amusement or enjoying himself.
“—Nessiah, you shouldn’t say things like that.
“For all we know, there actually could be another combatant stronger than me in this war.”
“—You’re the strongest there is already, and I’m supplying you with extra power, so it should be fine.
“Well, I’m not naïve enough or arrogant enough to say that there won’t be any problems, and I know that one of the enemy magi will probably be trouble.
“But all the same, I have the best Servant, so that’s one worry off my shoulders.”
He smiles at me in a troubled way.
“And you’re supposed to be the one who’s good at strategy here.
“What am I supposed to do with you?”
He complains very gently as if attempting to deflect my praise.
Any problems we’ll face in this war will be on my end or be caused by the enemy’s abilities and plans. I’m not paying him lip service.
I reach out and touch his face.
…Even though he’s just a Servant right now…, his cheek is warm against my fingertips and very solid.
“You should be good and accept it when people give you a compliment.”
He smiles purely.
Underneath my hand, his cheek dimples slightly.
…I’m relieved, and I can’t help but smile back.
Gulcasa has to be like this.
When I speak with him at times like this, it’s like all my pain softly evaporates into thin air.
“…But even so, Nessiah.”
Gulcasa’s smile has fallen away and he is now regarding me with anxious eyes.
“—It’s this place.
“I always thought you were bad at handling the cold, so isn’t this a little unhealthy for you?”
Those eyes are the eyes of someone who’s long since become used to overseeing the care of other people.
If I called it a motherly personality Gulcasa might get embarrassed, but that’s the kind of thing it is.
In life, it was a trait that made him a good leader, and he has a good memory for other people’s strengths and weaknesses. Moreover he’s very considerate of them.
Even so, the winters in his country were awful and he probably has a lot of memories based on that kind of thing.
“—Well, it’s not my first choice either.
“But it’s the best option I’ve got, considering the circumstances.”
Gulcasa says nothing, but continues to stare at me as if waiting for an explanation.
“—The magus I mentioned earlier, the one who I expect to be a problem.
“I’m trying to avoid his notice for now, at least until we have better footing in this Grail War, and because of that this place that I can create a strong boundary field around is the best place I could find.
“On top of that, renting a house would require contacting the magus family in charge of this area, and I don’t have the money to do that to begin with.
“—I barely have enough to pay for the necessities, and this is an old enough place that I think my freeloading will be overlooked for a while.”
That’s quite the face Gulcasa is looking at me with.
I do kind of wish he’d stop that, as it’s difficult to bear the brunt of such openly worried eyes and the things I’m doing aren’t exactly admirable.
“I don’t think there’s much here, if anything.”
“Well, you’ve got me.
“—Food is one of the things that I’m just barely affording.”
Gulcasa shakes his head.
“Nessiah, that’s no good. If you half-starve yourself, how are you going to be in the condition to fight?
“—Starting tomorrow, you have to get enough for a decent meal. Even if it’s raw ingredients that’s fine, I can handle the rest from there.”
…That might be difficult.
I’d rather not steal.
Gulcasa would have a bigger problem with it than I would, as he’d be against it from a moral perspective whereas I’m simply protecting my pride.
“You don’t have to worry so much.
“When we go out tonight to try to locate other Masters and gather information, I’ll get something to eat then.”
My Servant continues to regard me with a troubled face.
The armor melts away from his body.
Apparently he can materialize and dematerialize his armor and clothing at will, just like his Noble Phantasm, as it’s part of what he came to this world with.
Anyhow, this leaves him sitting still in the long tunic, pants, and shirt he wears underneath the suit of armor.
He holds out his arms to me without saying anything.
Gulcasa just looks at me.
He puts his hands on my shoulders and pulls.
It’s a very soft gesture.
…If he were exerting any of his strength, he could knock me over easily.
That’s not just using his strength as a Servant, but the basic power in his body.
But he pulls at me as if trying to coax me closer, and so I let him draw me up against his chest.
He folds both arms around me there, and my body curls up against his automatically.
He’s tall as ever.
If I fold my arms and legs in and duck my head, I fit easily against his chest.
Now that I’m resting against fabric, it’s a lot more comfortable than before, and I can let myself relax against his body.
He really… really hasn’t changed.
“It’s not much.
“But this should at least be better than only having that stove.”
I can’t get too close to the stove.
It’s hot metal and the actual heat only comes out of grates and pipes.
Gulcasa’s body heat is warmer than what that machine gives off, and furthermore he wraps himself around me as if trying to share it.
I can relax against the softer texture of cloth and the flesh behind it.
…I can tell that I’m smiling.
I can’t help it.
“—There’s really nothing to be done with you, is there?”
I don’t expect an answer, and Gulcasa just tightens his hold on me slightly.
The warmth makes me drowsy, and I close my eyes.
It should be all right to rest for just a bit, since there are still hours to go before we actually have the opportunity to patrol—
…Well, I think that, and then when I open my eyes next the sky is already stained orange.
I’m fairly sure I drifted off, and as if to confirm the theory, my body is very heavy and I have a groggy head like my senses have been dulled.
“—You should have woken me earlier.”
I complain, but my weighty limbs aren’t obeying me properly and I want to go back to sleep.
“You’re cute when you’re sleeping, so I didn’t want to.
“Besides, didn’t summoning me cost prana? I wanted to give you the chance to recover it before we head out.”
“Mm, that’s true, but…”
I don’t feel all that different from before, aside from the fact that I’m tired and my body is very heavy.
…It’s probably that.
I wasn’t aware of my tiredness until I actually fell asleep, and now my body wants more of it.
Well, I don’t think spending that much time in captivity and sleeping have been good for my internal rhythms, but that’s my own problem.
Even sitting up, it’s really comfortable to be lying against Gulcasa’s body, so my old bad habits want to kick back in and leave me unable to actually wake up at all.
I stretch as if to try to get my blood flowing, and it doesn’t work.
“Heavy sleeper as always, I see.”
Gulcasa’s arms are loose, apparently so that I can stand if I want or just lie back against him and indulge myself.
I hate to do it, but I start to drag myself up.
…The air is even colder now that it’s actually a shock against my skin, and I try to suppress the shiver that runs through me.
“The war hasn’t started yet, and this is a good opportunity to show you the town before we actually have to navigate it tactically.”
…No, it certainly hasn’t begun.
By my count, there’s still… two seats left.
Apparently one more was claimed after I summoned Gulcasa.
“…I have to be careful not to address you by name in front of our enemies.”
I don’t know that any of the other Masters will have the same problem, and it would be embarrassing to be given away by my own slip of the tongue.
…Well, the sole fact that he’s a sane Berserker might be clue enough to give his identity away, but I still don’t want to hand our enemies any free help.
It would be quite the disadvantage if our enemies were able to specifically research how best to defeat us based on Gulcasa’s abilities.
Gulcasa himself seems unconcerned.
“When we go out I’ll have to erase my form anyway, since I doubt I’ll fit in with the people of this age given my looks.
“It should be fine as long as you don’t talk to me when others are around.”
…That is a problem.
Honestly, I don’t like that.
It’s my personal hang-up, but even if I can sense him near me, I don’t like the idea of not being able to see Gulcasa when we’re out together.
If we purchased him clothes from this era it should be fine, but I think I’d only be able to afford one set of clothing for him, and that would cut severely into the money that I have set aside for food.
…Well, in any case it’s no good debating this kind of thing today.
I’ll have to weigh my options later.
“—At any rate, we should go.
“The sun is setting, so we may not get back until late if we really do make our rounds through the entire city.”
I have vague plans of just finding good vantage points if possible, given how my body is, but…
Anyhow, there’s the question of food as well.
We depart the shack, and Gulcasa erases his physical form as I close the boundary field.
The first stop will be the marketplace.
“Would you call it lucky or unlucky at a time like this, I wonder.”
The woman with long silver hair who stands before us on the Miyama side of the bridge is definitely a Master.
Even if our close proximity wasn’t sending pain through my Command Spell insistently, I can vaguely sense the presence of a Servant nearby.
She’s making an annoyed face and crossing her arms.
“Here I thought we’d obtained some easy prey, but you seem like a fairly powerful magus.
“—Don’t tell me that we’ve actually run across an enemy already?”
“Well, the war itself has not yet begun.
“—We’re still waiting on two.
“I’ll engage you if you really want to play, but I’m telling you right now that that’s unwise.”
I can’t pass judgments on her Servant as I can’t see it.
But I’m certain that my magical ability far eclipses this woman’s.
We’re at a bit of a disadvantage because we can’t dodge left and right, but if I have Gulcasa shield me until I can get off the bridge and into the park grounds the situation will even itself out immediately.
“I’ve got it.”
I hear Gulcasa’s voice close to my ear.
“—Well, even if it’s not quite what I wanted, it’s close enough to the starting line to count towards the total of deaths, right?”
The woman says so in a bored voice.
In her hand, she holds a fan.
She taps it against her shoulder as if considering her options to herself.
“I see you don’t care about taking risks.”
…Ahh, so she’s the foolish sort.
Honestly, if we were to do battle here and one of our Servants were to die, that Servant’s prana may actually be delivered into the waiting vessel.
But with the ritual not fully begun, it’s stupid to push your luck that way if you really do want the prize.
“Dead enemies are dead.
“—I won’t let you run away.
…Like smoke clearing, the air parts in a haze around the form of a woman in armor.
The armor is a purple as deep as midnight, and is woven of intricate metal designs.
A dark translucent veil flutters around her body, and her long hair curls up in the wind.
There’s a sword in her hand.
And despite the sullen look in her eyes, the Servant’s sword is filled with killing intent.
“—If there’s no choice, then.
“Berserker, convince these fools to retreat, please.”
Gulcasa steps out of empty space to place himself between me and the enemy.
He is wearing his full armor and holding his long-poled scythe in his hand.
Moonlight shines down upon the armor that’s stained blue in the darkness, lighting it up until it’s almost white.
He stands in silence for a moment as if gauging the opponent, and then rushes forward lightly to clash against the enemy.
Avenger meets his charge with a heavy swing of her sword.
Even so, she is pushed back slightly by the amount of force Gulcasa exerts, her feet sliding on the bricks beneath them.
In that moment, I too move down from the narrow walkway of the bridge and alight upon the cobbles of the park.
I run to put distance between myself and the water, and gather power to my hands as Avenger’s Master turns to follow me with the fan she holds.
I call out and trace a line in the air.
The burst of energy like a lightning strike hits near the enemy Master’s feet.
Of course, if I wanted to hit her, half her body would be burnt off and rotting right now.
It’s a warning shot to tell her to retreat this second if she actually wants to survive.
I can see the glow as she starts up her Magic Crest as if to respond to me.
…And between us, our Servants continue to strike at one another.
Avenger’s sword arm is true and her intent to kill is powerful.
She moves like she’s dancing, and her attacks are reckless and unrefined but have a kind of wild charm to them.
She’s a seasoned warrior who’s attempting a killing strike with her every blow.
That can’t possibly compare to Gulcasa.
His armor dispels the attacks that aim for his body, and he parries her away with his scythe, pushing her back and back into a range more favorable for him.
A scythe is an unwieldy weapon in hands that don’t know how to use it properly, but it is extremely powerful.
It can be used as a counter to most types of weapons, but because it’s impractical to do all the training required to wield one correctly, it’s not commonly used as a melee weapon.
But in the hands of one with that training, it’s a polearm with few weaknesses.
Gulcasa uses his height and the force of his arm to spin the pole and get great force behind the blows, and he is continually knocking Avenger backward without even bringing out the true power of his Noble Phantasm.
—They are on a completely different level from each other.
Avenger must know that she’s outclassed.
But all the same, she continues to attack.
She fights against Gulcasa with a lively expression that’s completely unlike her sullen face from when she first appeared.
“—This is nice.
“For being told to fight a Berserker, I was expecting to just cut down a rabid dog, but you’ve got pride and skill.
“I’d even call this fun.”
She talks like that in an airy voice while fighting hard.
“What with your Master’s attitude, I wasn’t expecting an enemy with honesty in their blade.”
…Well, it’s him, so I’m sure it’s his pride as a warrior or his honest judgment of his opponent that’s relaxed him enough to speak and betray his sanity.
“—It is fun.
“So I’m sorry I have to cut this short.”
—There’s the sound of a brutal impact.
Avenger hits the ground and slides.
Her body doesn’t stop until she’s several meters away.
There’s a long trailing bloodstain tracing the ground from where she stood to where she lies, and from the blood on Gulcasa’s weapon I’m guessing that he struck hard at her stomach or diaphragm, which aren’t protected by her armor.
There’s hard, rasping breathing.
The wound that was delivered so quickly my eyes couldn’t track it must be a serious one.
Avenger lies still as if unwilling or unable to regain her feet.
Her abilities as a Servant will heal the wound eventually if it’s not already fatal.
But all the same, the battle is decided in this one blow.
Avenger won’t be able to fight for hours even if she heals.
Gulcasa has stopped advancing, as he won’t kill an opponent in this condition unless I order it or unless the opponent has personally given him a reason to do so.
And I won’t give the order.
Because even if it would be economical to kill the enemies we can, it’s still not certain that the vessel is fully ready to accept the first sacrifices.
“—Avenger, what are you doing?!
“Get up and continue the fight right now!”
Avenger’s Master, as if unable to read the atmosphere, says so in a cross and shrill tone of voice.
I say so as I walk towards them.
“Your Servant can’t defend you, so retreat if you know what’s good for you.”
She casts me a scathing look as if to tell me to butt out.
“—I order you to stand and continue fighting, Avenger.
“I won’t allow these little boys to make a fool of me.”
There’s a crack like the sound of a whip, and my body jolts without my being able to control it, an automatic reaction I can’t suppress.
In front of me, Gulcasa has also gone tense.
The release of a Command Spell.
Red sparks crawl along Avenger’s body.
The woman in armor tries to push herself up on her arms and to drag herself up with her sword, but it’s useless.
She is physically incapable of fulfilling her Master’s order in this position.
She may not even have the presence of mind to shed her physical form anymore.
Still, the compulsion of the Command Spell forces her body to move.
Avenger struggles miserably on the ground, still covered in blood.
…How senseless and how cruel.
I can vaguely sense my Servant’s body shaking near me.
And honestly, I feel sick enough to vomit.
Luckily for me, there’s nothing in my body that I could expel.
The foolish Master’s annoying voice still rings in my ears.
As if unable to understand what she’s doing, she still continues to shout insults at the Servant that cannot obey her order.
Something inside me—cracks.
She turns toward me with an annoyed expression, and only then do I recognize the sound of my own voice.
My hand has lifted, and my legs move on their own.
I am standing so that only a few inches separate my fingers from her throat.
“Rescind that order and get the hell out of my sight right now, or I will kill you and put that girl beyond your reach forever.”
I watch her eyes change and narrow as she realizes that I am dead serious.
She doesn’t say anything more, but she slowly moves backwards step by step.
The knight’s body disappears immediately.
The bloodied ground remains.
Continuing to look back at me suspiciously, Avenger’s Master retreats.
It isn’t until she reaches the edge of the park that she begins to run.
The tension in my shoulders doesn’t relax.
I realize very distantly that my body is shaking.
I make myself turn towards Gulcasa, who is still looking at Avenger’s blood on the ground out of narrowed eyes.
His body is perfectly still.
I force my legs to move so that I may stand beside him.
…I don’t know if it’s safe to speak his name here, out in the open.
But at the least, I can still try to comfort him somehow.
I reach out to touch the back of his hand.
I feel his body jump very slightly under my touch, and he looks at me as if disoriented.
After a moment, he moves his arm so that the palm of his gauntleted hand rests against my own palm.
He doesn’t say anything.
…Just as he’s the only one who might be able to understand what I’m feeling right now…, I’m the only one who knows the reasons why this is affecting him so.
I line up our fingers and weave them together tightly.
“…It’s turned out like this, but should we continue?”
I start to say that.
I try to say that.
…But for some reason the inside of my skull is very heavy.
My body that is only connected to Gulcasa’s at this one point veers into his side.
All the exhaustion that has built up in my body seems to rise up and overwhelm me.
Even Gulcasa’s voice seems to be coming from a long ways away.
My vision goes blue and then my eyes close of their own accord.
There’s something painful.
And there’s something gentle.
My body sinks before I have a chance to differentiate them, and my consciousness disperses without giving me a chance to do anything about it—