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Vagrant Grail Cadenza

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            This is the story of the one I love.

            …Well, you can dress it up in fancy words all you like, but the long and short of it is that there was a horrible war once.
            If you know anything about war, you know that they’re never about something as pretty and clear-cut as good and evil, but this one comes close. It was a war between order and chaos, pure and simple.
            Even though the world as we know it needs both to keep existing, neither side was really good at understanding those things. The closer you are to a conflict, the harder it is to see the other person’s perspective, and so on.
            But putting that aside for now.

            Anyway, it seems like the forces of order were about to lose.
            They were outnumbered, overpowered, and finally they had lost their only advantage, which was tactics; the enemy had gotten smarter after having been outwitted time and again.
            The truth that nobody’s going to deny is that a world that’s ruled almost entirely by chaos is a harsh and hostile one in which only the strong can survive.
            So, the forces of order needed a way to win.
            They made one themselves, by cheating and creating a race of super-soldiers, each with the power of a god.
            Even if the gods of order themselves disappeared because they had broken their own rule, the most important thing was that order could continue to exist.

            …Well, about those super-soldiers.
            They were the ultimate trump card, but because of that, the only thing important to the forces of order was their power.
            They had been created to win the war, and would serve as the ultimate weapon to drive chaos back.
            But just like mortal lives can’t thrive in chaos, they can’t thrive in order either.
            And even the most powerful super-soldier is still essentially “human” per se if it’s a thinking, feeling lifeform.
            …You could make all the excuses you want about the stresses of wartime, but it would’ve happened even if there had been no war.
            Their hearts fell through the cracks.

            As long as they were obedient to the cause and behaved like weapons, no one cared, and the individual minds and emotions of those soldiers got magnanimously ignored by the gods and the people of order.
            But if… just if, say that there was one of them who questioned their orders and thought for themselves. Someone who wouldn’t just quietly do as they were told, someone with a busy mind and a contrary nature, someone who didn’t want to fight and die in the first place—

            It was an inconvenience.
            And the world of order had no use for such a dangerous inconvenience.

            So—they punished him and threw him away.
            It’s a simple, easy-to-understand story when you don’t dress it up as anything else.
            It was an injustice that common and everyday.

            He was young, and smart, and felt really strongly about his choice.
            …But those were all things that cornered him in his helplessness and his fear.
            I think he probably broke a little bit inside.
            …And, of course, the harshness of reality never stopped bearing down on him.

            His own powerlessness, and the casual cruelty of everyday, ordinary humans—
            He was exposed to that kind of poisonous stuff over and over.
            In the first place, he’d never been exposed to anything but that.
            …So.
            I think it’s probably still an excuse, but it’s not hard to understand why he came to believe that his only means of defending himself was to use others and harm them in return.
            He lost what little faith he had in people, and when he was faced with the choice between protecting himself and getting revenge or starting to set his burdens down in order to be happy, he was afraid and didn’t know what to do.
            Happiness was a transient thing, and he had worked for revenge for so long.
            If he didn’t get revenge, he would spend the rest of his life in fear of being found and punished yet again.
            …He cornered himself even further by thinking things like that.

            And in the end, he messed things up just a little.
            He couldn’t decide quickly enough and was pushed into the mud, left to crawl again in the depths of despair.
            The person who had been so outspoken against the war he was born to fight wound up only ever creating more and more wars.

            That he never gave up just goes to show exactly how scared and stubborn a person he was.
            The type that digs their heels in for long fights and holds grudges for whole lifetimes.
            It was both his frailty and his strength.
            At the same time, he was so wise and yet so stupid.

            What I want to know is—how am I not supposed to love a person like that?
            He fought so hard for so long, got lost and fell, wandered in the darkness and stumbled back onto the right path just a little late.
            I can see myself reflected in actions like those; I can see what’s admirable about them, and I can see what’s pitiable.
            I can’t think of a person like that as anything but dear.

            …So, it’s a really simple story.
            And it makes me so angry I just want to scream until I cry, and cry until I throw up.
            This is exactly the kind of injustice that pisses me off the most.
            …But.
            It’s a story so old that doing that now wouldn’t have the meaning it should.

            This is the story of the one I love.
            No matter how strong I am or how strong I get, I’ll never be able to change the past.
            What’s already happened can’t and shouldn’t be taken back.

            The only question I have to worry about is how to protect him and make him happy from this day on—

 

            I wake up without even a hint of drowsiness.
            Having this kind of form is convenient in ways like this. Before, I probably still would have been really tired this early in the morning, even though I was able to wake up shortly after dawn by force of habit.
            To borrow the terminology of the era, for me as I am now sleeping is like being put into power save mode or something like that.

            At any rate, I wake up.
            “—”
            My idiot Master is still dreaming, lying still and breathing deeply.
            Good.
            As long as he’s asleep, he’s not getting into trouble, so I can probably leave him be for a little while.

            Since this is still the house of a magus and we’re not going outside, there’s no need to get dressed in the modern clothes that have been prepared for me.
            What with there only being two outfits, I’m hesitant to get dressed anyway because that will just mean I have to wash them, and I’m not sure where the laundry materials are.
            —I’ll have to ask Roswell sometime when the princess isn’t roaming around.
            So I just materialize my normal clothes and leave the armor off, and then head out after closing the door behind me quietly.

            It’s probably rude to our host to think this, but this house is decorated so gaudily that I can’t help feeling uncomfortable.
            …No building really needs this much decoration unless you have to impress people. It’s better to just have the things you need, and maybe one or two ornaments if you like stuff that looks nice.
            Uh, I just think that if you have enough money to buy this kind of ornamentation then you should be using it for something better, like helping others who are in need.
            I think I’m going to start having flashbacks of the castle immediately after the revolution at this rate.
            By the way, I seem to remember there being some people who wanted to keep the stacks of gaudy things, but of course I said no, and we sold it all.
            I say “we”, but I didn’t have much to do with it personally as I was still too inexperienced in managing the treasury at that point.
            Still, it was baffling how much treasure my idiot predecessor managed to get his hands on given the financial condition of the country and public opinion of him.
            How did he have enough to buy that kind of stuff, and why did people keep giving him such gaudy, useless things? Or was it all hereditary treasure?
            Jeez, it’s not nice to badmouth the dead, but it’s no wonder that the imperial family wound up the way that it did with its poor taste and its selfishness.
            ……Ugh, if I keep thinking about this I’m going to give myself ulcers and a headache.

            “—Sigh.”
            At any rate, I finish walking down the stairs and walk into the kitchen.
            …Oh.
            Damn it, it looks like Roswell got here before me.

            “—Oh, good morning.”
            The magus who’s already cooking breakfast smiles at me politely.
            …Hmm, I don’t know how I feel about this.
            Roswell seems to be a nice guy, but even though I’m aware how stupid it is, I already feel territorial about the kitchen.
            Uh, I’m aware that I lost my temper and said stupid things last night, but if I can’t follow up on things that I get myself into, it feels a little like I’m betraying my responsibilities…
            If I said I want to make sure Nessiah gets appropriate nutrition that’s really bad; it feels like I’m just using him as an excuse. But there is that too.
            Most of all, I just really want to play with all the high-quality equipment a little bit more after having to resort to cooking in fire pits and such for a long time.

            “You don’t have to be so on edge; Yggdra is still asleep.”
            Roswell’s smile has become apologetic.
            It seems that despite his resemblance to that woman’s pet magus during our lifetime, Roswell personally sees himself in the position of third party when it comes to my fight with her.

            “—Well, it’s not really about that.”
            I can’t complain about his house after he agreed to take us in, but—
            “It’s a little frustrating thinking that I didn’t wake up early enough.”

            “Oh.”
            He bites his lip as if he’s suppressing laughter.
            …Good. If you actually laugh at me I’m going to get mad.
            “I’m sorry.
            “But—actually, for whatever reason Yggdra has decided that she wants to try cooking while she’s here. It’s not out of spite or anything; that’s why we had our schedule set up to alternate what meals we’re cooking even before you two came here.
            “And it just turned out that this was actually your hobby, too.
            “I can understand your wanting to do something you like and your desire to prove yourself in front of a rival, but I think that sticking to the schedule so that all three of us are able to use the kitchen equally will be better for keeping the peace.”

            …Damn it.
            “I know. At least, I understand it all in my head.
            “—Sorry. I must seem pretty immature, losing my cool over something that’s already over and done with.”

            Roswell shakes his head.
            “Don’t say that. You’re a Heroic Spirit who’s been summoned with the general state you had when you died, so even if you know mentally that it’s been a long time since your battle ended, it’s perfectly understandable that your enmity still feels so immediate to you.”
            …Man, being told that just makes me feel guiltier, so don’t.
            “Anyhow, it’s going to be a while before it’s time for breakfast.
            “You didn’t get the chance to take a bath last night, so you can go ahead and use the shower if you’d like to. I’d imagine that with hair that long, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wash your hair and your body at separate times if we’re going to conserve water Japanese-style.”

            This guy is a little bit like Nessiah.
            I mean, in regards to his understanding of other people, at least.
            There was my desire to look after Nessiah last night, and also not wanting to let my guard down too much with that princess roaming around the house.
            With both of them asleep, this should be my time to relax, but I’ve been denied the opportunity to cook and I can’t help but feel uncomfortable because of the décor.
            “…Yeah, I’ll go ahead and do that. Thanks.”

            So.
            I leave the kitchen and go back up the stairs to the bathroom.
            It’s a wide room with a tiled floor, a shower stall for taking quick showers, and a movable showerhead on a long cord for washing one’s hair and body before actually taking a bath.
            The tub itself is also very large and deep, to the point that I think I’d be able to stretch my legs out and really rest and relax inside it.
            The room’s sink and cabinets are filled with different kinds of soap and hair care products that I don’t really know anything about, and whose functions I can’t necessarily guess just by looking at them.

            “…Well, I can at least guess that the pink ones with cute shapes on them aren’t Roswell’s.”
            If I use them it might make her angry, but then again when I open the bottles there’s an oppressively sweet scent that wafts out, so no thanks.
            “Let’s see, was it shampoo and conditioner?”
            I know a little bit about this age because the information is just delivered to us when we’re summoned as Heroic Spirits, but just because I have the information in general doesn’t guarantee that I’ll understand it.
            And the print on all the bottles is really tiny and hard to read… I wish I had glasses to read it with, even though I know that would just wind up giving me a headache.
            …Oh, but maybe with the technology in this era, it would be possible to get me a set of glasses that would work right and not hurt my eyes?
            Nessiah and my court magister said that it’s rarer for people to have trouble seeing small things close up than to not be able to see things far away, and people didn’t know how to make glasses that were perfectly adjusted for me, so that was why I couldn’t wear glasses for a long time, but I’m sure that in such a convenient time as this it wouldn’t be so unrealistic to hope for something a little better made.
            …Ugh, I just hate reading tiny text because it always gives me a headache whether I’m trying to puzzle it out without glasses or hurting my eyes with glasses that are too strong.

            Anyhow, I waste about twenty minutes or so getting lost in thought like an idiot.
            Once I know how I’m supposed to use these things, it’s not hard at all to pick out the ones that seem to be Roswell’s and then move over to the movable showerhead.
            I dematerialize my clothes and do my best to turn the water on.
            “—What the hell, it’s actually hot.”

            In my surprise, I forget to control my voice, and amazed words bounce back and forth across the tiled walls and floor.

            So.
            I waste another five or ten minutes trying to make it so that the showerhead will put out enough water that I can actually realistically wash my hair.
            And as usual, washing it takes a little over half an hour.
            The only thing I don’t like about having long hair is that it’s not very practical.
            Cleaning it is a pain, and if you’re not careful about how you move you’ll wind up sitting on it or getting it caught in things. It can get a little bit hot in summer, it’s frankly not fun to have when the weather is humid because it sticks to everything, and on top of all that it gets dirty quickly.
            I always used to get asked why I kept it like this.
            …Come to think of it.
            Out of everyone I ever became close with, I think Nessiah was the only person who never asked that question.
            And that’s because he already understood.

            It’s never—been about the practicality.
            Cutting my hair would be the easy way, and if I cut my hair because of my own fears, I would just keep being afraid, even now.
            …Really, it’s a matter of my own pride and stupidity.
            I don’t want to give in to the memories of my hair being an easily targeted weakness, something that others could always use to hurt me.
            Although, even now I don’t know what I would do if anyone ever went out of their way to try pulling me by it.
            It’s something that Nessiah already understands.
            Even when the people who hurt you aren’t there anymore, your memories and your fear are still oppressive, the body’s natural defense system to keep you from actually suffering that kind of abuse again.
            The fear is rewritten forcibly into you, a constant companion and reminder of your own weakness.
            It’s impossible to blame someone for experiencing that fear.
            But if you want to be able to keep the fear from making your choices for you, every day is a constant battle.
            …It’s like a weight.
            I carry my life’s failures with me every day, like stones in my chest.
            Not being able to save my loved ones, not being able to save myself.
            None of it can be taken back anymore.
            …My battle is to overcome all of that, to learn from it and succeed the next time, but no matter how hard I fight there are days when I come close to being overwhelmed. Days when it’s hard even to raise my head.

            But.
            …Even though we lost each other for a little while.
            Having Nessiah at my side then, and having him there now—just that there’s someone who understands all of this without my having to try to put it into words—I can’t even begin to articulate how that has saved me.
            How, even now, it continues to save me.

            “—Sigh.”
            Ten minutes to get my hair wet, ten minutes to work shampoo and conditioner in, and another ten minutes to rinse it all out.
            It’s long and it’s tedious, but it’s a ritual that’s determined by my pride.

            I turn off the showerhead, put the things away, and stand at the center of the room, away from everything else.
            I close my eyes and concentrate the heat in my body.

            “Hup.”
            It’s a little difficult to control, but it makes me happy to be able to use my power for mundane little things like this, so I think I’ve become quite good at it these days.
            I channel the heat of my blood through my body in just a split second’s worth of flame.
            Heat flashes through me in the form of red fire, and then dissipates.
            And thanks to that, most of the water in my hair evaporates, leaving it smooth and slightly damp rather than totally sodden.

            …There.
            I rematerialize my clothes and am finally able to depart the bathroom.

            It is mid-morning.
            I can smell breakfast, and I can hear two voices from downstairs.
            …Well, I guess I should go wake Nessiah up so that he can get something to eat.

            “Nessiah.”
            I head into the bedroom and call out.
            …He’s still lying in bed, exactly how I left him.
            Well.
            I prepare myself for a long battle in trying to make him get up, but at the same time I get an odd premonition.
            “—”
            When I get close.
            …He’s breathing heavily.
            His eyes are not fully closed, and I can see just a slight flicker of green from between his eyelashes.
            There seems to be sweat on his skin, and even in the low light I can tell that his pale skin is reddened a bit.

            “Nessiah—”
            Just touching his forehead and his shoulder confirms my fears.
            Even I can tell that he has a fever.

            …He isn’t getting any better at all.
            If anything, his condition has just relapsed to something nearly as bad as it was when I brought him to this household—

 

            “—”
            “—”
            “—”

            The three of us sit tensely in the living room.
            Roswell just got back from examining the patient, and has folded his hands and is looking at the floor as if trying to decide how best to explain.

            He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, then sits up straight and folds his hands, putting them in his lap.
            “—Berserker.
            “…No.
            “Gulcasa. ……I don’t know how to preface this or how to make it sound like anything other than deadly serious.
            “I don’t even know how to apologize. I don’t know if this is something that I can treat properly.”

            …I can’t sit and panic.
            I’ve already been dazed with worry all day, and the sun is about to set.
            Roswell is doing his best.
            And whatever is wrong with Nessiah’s body, I can’t do anything unless I’m able to sit still and accept the truth first.

            “That’s fine.
            “Just go ahead and tell me.”

            Roswell narrows his eyes and averts his gaze from me, staring into the corner of the room.
            “Nessiah’s illness isn’t an actual sickness per se.
            “And I don’t know what’s caused it, let alone what to do about it.
            “There’s something extremely strange about the way his Magic Circuit is acting.”

            “—?”
            Well.
            I at least knew that no matter how much Nessiah kept trying to pass it off as not a big deal, his sensitivity to this area and the Servants was making him have bad reactions to sudden changes in the existence of Servants, or something like that.

            “…I don’t know what could be causing this.
            “Nessiah’s body is oversaturated with prana. His Magic Circuit is on and won’t turn off, and his body itself is producing far more od than is natural.
            “There aren’t any pathogens in his body at all. His fever and the unresponsiveness of his nerves are his body’s attempt to respond to the problem.
            “It’s a poor analogy, but you could compare it to allergies.
            “The human body has a complicated and specialized immune system that is capable of dealing with all different kinds of pathogens. And there’s a particular part of the immune system that’s supposed to attack parasites.
            “Allergies occur when that part of the immune system starts reacting to harmless substances other than parasites, and sometimes the body can even react so strongly that the shock can kill a person.
            “—What’s ailing Nessiah is a little bit like that, but in reverse. His physical body doesn’t have a way to cope with his overproducing prana, and so it’s attacking itself futilely in an attempt to cut that overproduction off.
            “His nerves are hopelessly violated by this point, and whatever has set his Magic Circuit into overdrive isn’t disappearing.
            “So, he will continue to produce prana for as long as his Magic Circuit directs, and his fever will continue for as long as his body contains too much prana.
            “This isn’t natural. No kind of god or devil, no angel or demon or spirit that I’ve heard of has ever had such a perverse Magic Circuit.
            “He can’t process this. It’s no wonder he’s having trouble moving. If this continues and he has no way to get rid of all the extra prana built up in his body, he’ll probably start to lose his human functionality.”

            “…And what does that mean?”
            I feel cold.
            I don’t understand any of this, not really.
            All I know is that my gut feeling that Nessiah knew he was in serious condition but didn’t want me to realize it was right all along.

            Roswell stops gazing off into space and looks at me directly.
            His eyes should be the same warm blue as the sky, but for some reason they feel incredibly cold right now.

            “…I mean that there’s a chance he’ll artificially lose the ability to walk and move his body, his five senses, and even the means of waking up.
            “In the worst case scenario, he will simply exist as a prana-producing tool until the source of his abnormality disappears.
            “It’s not that his nerves will be cut and he will not be able to do those things in reality.
            “His body will just shut those things down one by one in order to keep them from being violated by his out-of-control prana and destroyed for good.
            “Our bodies already have psychologically-imprinted limiters on them.
            “Our jaws have got enough strength to shatter the bones in our fingers when we eat with them, but the brain automatically suppresses that to protect our hands; similarly, we can only use a low percentage of our potential strength because otherwise the effort would tear our muscles and tendons or even detach them from our bones.
            “So, just like that, Nessiah’s brain will shut off his ability to function as a ‘human’ in order to keep him alive.
            “A psychological block like losing the ability to speak because of emotional trauma.
            “…It’s not certain, but it’s likely, and becomes likelier the longer his body is kept in this state and the more prana builds up in it.”

            “—”
            My head is reeling.
            I feel stupid.
            My mind can’t process the words that keep washing over my body like dirty water, and I just vaguely understand it.

            But there’s no time for that.
            My only priority is that Nessiah survive this war, and so I have to decide what I can do in this situation.

            “—If he gets rid of the excess prana.
            “If he can do that, will he get better?”

            Roswell sighs.
            “That would only be a stopgap measure.
            “His physical condition might improve slightly, but it would have to be done regularly until his out-of-control Magic Circuits could be returned to normal.
            “It’s like bailing water out of a ship with a hole in it. You can get rid of some of the water and stabilize the ship so that it doesn’t sink, but the ship will keep taking on water until the hole is stopped up.
            “And on top of that, the hole might get larger so that the bailer couldn’t keep up with the amount of water.”

            “—But buying time is still better than nothing.”
            There are ways to keep Nessiah using prana.
            For instance, there’s the fact that I’ve stayed materialized almost continually ever since my summoning.
            There are more direct methods to get rid of a lot of it all at once, but I’d have to talk to Nessiah about that kind of thing before I try it; it’s not something I could do without his agreeing to it first.
            Even if it saved his life, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I violated his bodily autonomy too badly.

            “Anyhow—there was something else too.”
            Roswell’s brow creases, and he folds his arms.
            “—There’s something odd about Nessiah’s body.
            “The Command Spells are all still engraved where they’re visible, but there’s something rather like them branded into his body invisibly beneath his skin, directly into his flesh.
            “They’re magical glyphs that are very complex and very old.
            “My instinct tells me that they probably have something to do with the abnormalities in his body, but I don’t even know what they really mean, let alone what they do individually.
            “I wouldn’t dare interfere with them until I can understand them, and they’re so old that they’re extremely difficult for me to comprehend.”

            “—”
            There’s a sharp pain.
            I realize that I am biting my lip in frustration.

            I remember the first time I saw Nessiah’s empty eyes.
            …Right now—he doesn’t have to rely on his other four senses and his magic to make up for what he had to sacrifice.
            And because of some malfunction in his magic, his circumventing his old disability in this body has been rendered meaningless?
            You have to be fucking with me.

            “…Gulcasa.
            “Even if I don’t understand Nessiah’s condition fully, I do know that this could be fatal if we make a wrong move.
            “Whatever is happening to his body is beyond my comprehension, but we can’t take risks if we want him to survive.
            “You have to keep him here and out of the fighting as much as possible, if only because he will make an extremely easy target if he leaves this place.
            “—Yggdra and I will continue to fight.
            “The Grail can be completed with seven Servants.
            “Nine of them exist, so we can easily win without having to harm either of you.”

            Roswell speaks in a calm, steady voice.

            “—It isn’t natural.”
            And my own voice shocks me with its lack of shaking.
            I want to shout, and it feels like I should be fighting back tears.
            “I’ve experienced Nessiah’s memories in my sleep.
            “So I know. Over thousands of lifetimes, Nessiah has never gone through anything like this.
            “—Which means.
            “This is someone’s doing.”

            Nessiah’s enemy.
            …I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle yet.
            And from what I know, I’m not sure enough to make a guess.

            All of Nessiah’s memories that I’ve seen are of his birth, his life until we met, and our memories together.
            Mixed with delirium and a vast abyss of despair that come after our parting.
            …So I can’t fully grasp the situation of what it is he fears.
            But in a few more nights, I know that I’ll be able to understand anything.

            Even so.
            Even not knowing the whole story, I can tell.

            “…Someone did this to Nessiah purposefully.
            “Whatever is wrong with his body—there’s a chance the thaumaturgy itself will be destroyed if we kill the one who did this.
            “And if someone did this to Nessiah, it’s probably his ‘enemy’.”

            Roswell sighs.
            “…Just sitting here and talking isn’t going to solve much of anything.
            “Gulcasa, I’ve left Nessiah alone for now, but before we decide on what else we’re going to do you should check on him.
            “Yggdra and I have a war to fight, and you have your own priorities.
            “Those should be focused on protecting Nessiah rather than just trying to kill a shadowy enemy that you don’t know anything about.”

            “—”
            I know that Roswell’s words are correct.
            But.
            …Protecting Nessiah from his condition and protecting him from the shadowy fear that’s been oppressing him all this time…, are probably the same goal.

            The quiet sounds of rain fill the house.
            The weather has probably taken another turn for the worse while we sat here, and it’s now nighttime.

            I stand up and make my way back upstairs.
            …But.
            When I enter our bedroom,
            “—”
            Nessiah isn’t there.

            “—”
            The sound of rain.
            Coldness enters the house through the open front door.

            My body moves.
            As if drawn by a thread.
            …My body moves, and I follow the thread into the gloaming night.

(interlude 8-1)

            “—”

            The magus stares blankly into the clouded-over sky.

            His body was hot.
            His body was hot and it hurt, and so he went to a place where it was not hot.

            The rain coats his body and plasters his clothes to his white skin, and he blinks away the water on his face.
            It is cold, but his body is still hot.

            “—I see, so it’s like that.”
            He speaks in a detached manner.

            Most likely, he is delirious.
            His senses are distorted, and even standing in the rain gives no real relief from the fever.

            “How troublesome.”
            But in his voice there is only dispassionate annoyance.

            He breathes out.
            His lips are blue with cold, and the white cloud of breath is torn to shreds by the unrelenting droplets of rain.

            “—”
            Even so.
            Frozen and wandering through the dead streets, oblivious—
            He doesn’t react in complaint or say that it hurts.
            From the beginning, this was a price he knew he would have to pay.

            There is none more suitable to be chosen as the scapegoat than one long since used to being pushed into that role.

 

            And so.
            Awake and dreaming, the magus—the imperfect “vessel” walks through the shadow-picture nightscape with uneven steps like a dance.

(8-1 interlude out.)

            “—”

            The street lamps pass by like jellyfish in the dark town.
            At the speed with which I run, everything is abstract and the world around me feels like a bad dream.

            I don’t have time to stop and think.
            So I don’t think.
            All I do is run.

            The connection between us, the bond of Master and Servant, is weak and muddled.
            But if I block out everything other than that connection, I’ll be able to follow it.
            I shut out my awareness of everything else and run through Fuyuki City.

            Because—

            If I just let Nessiah charge off on his own now, if something happens and I never see him again—

            …I know him.
            I know him better than anyone else.
            As presumptuous as it might sound, I think I can understand.

            …Most likely, he fully understands what’s happening to him.
            He’s wise enough for that.
            And most likely—he’s made the mistake of thinking that his understanding of his own condition means that he can weather it all by himself.
            He’s that kind of stupid.

            …No.
            That’s uncharitable, and it puts all the blame on Nessiah himself.
            It’s true that he’s really stupid sometimes.
            …But it is also true that this is just how Nessiah has gotten used to thinking, and that the way he’s lived for all these years has not been conducive to getting him to value himself.
            He would have broken for sure if he had cared about such things, and so he dissociated from himself in order to protect himself.
            …It’s just that even if that’s let him survive up until now, he can’t keep thinking that way.
            If he doesn’t take care of this life, then—

 

            My clothes and my hair are wet and heavy against my body, and cling at my limbs as if to try to make me slow down.
            The chilly air hurts my lungs when I breathe in, and it’s annoying.
            But I follow that “thread” through the blinding rain.

 

            Because.
            I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes I always have.
            Back then—Nessiah became fixed in his ways, and I failed to understand the full extent of the pain that he was in.
            We kept missing each other, even though we loved each other so much.

            And he fought so hard.
            He kept running and survived until this day so that we could have another chance.
            I’ll be damned if I’m going to let all of that slip through our fingers again—

            The rain continues to fall.
            Next to blind in the night, I arrive at the bridge.

            “—”

            And.
            A figure in white is there, looking blankly at the sky.

            “—Nessiah.”
            He turns to me when I say his name.
            His gaze seems to go right through me as if I’m not even actually standing here.
            “Nessiah, we’ve got to go back.”
            He doesn’t reply.
            He simply stands still and lets the rain pound his small body.

            “Nessiah.”
            I’m just about within arm’s reach of him when he staggers slightly, raising a hand to his forehead.
            When I reach out to put a hand on his shoulder and steady him, a shiver runs through his body, and I nearly pull my fingers away in surprise.
            His skin is quite hot to the touch, even more so than it was earlier today.

            “…Nessiah, we’ve got to get you out of the rain.
            “I know you don’t feel good, but there are better ways to cool off than by taking a walk in this kind of weather. You could get a cold on top of what’s already wrong with your body, and it’s not safe to be by yourself when you’re in this condition.”
            He doesn’t answer for a while, but then I catch his lips moving slightly.
            His voice is small, and with his hand in the way I can’t see the look in his eyes when he speaks.
            “I’ll—be all right.”

            Honestly, it pisses me off when he says that.
            He’s not all right, and that’s obvious to anybody with even a quarter of a brain.
            I don’t know whether he’s protecting his pride or whether he doesn’t want me worrying, whether he’s trying to convince himself or whether he’s just spacing out like an idiot.
            …The only sure thing is that we won’t be able to communicate if I get angry and yell at him. He’ll just tune me out the way that he did before.

            “Nessiah.
            “I can tell that you’re not okay, and it hurts just watching you push yourself and try to pretend that you are.
            “You’ve been through so much to make it here, but you’re not alone anymore.
            “Please.
            “Lean on me a little. We’re almost there, and you finally were able to summon me after waiting for so long, so if your legs are about to give up then let me help support you on the way to the finish line.
            “Just let me help you. It’s—it’s okay to rely on me a little.”

            “…Gulcasa.”
            He lets his hand fall as he says my name.
            He stares up at me with eyes as green as the sea.
            His eyes are cloudy with hopelessness.
            …They’re eyes that ask me why.
            They’re eyes that protest that he is worthless and should not be saved, that I should know this better than anyone.

            …He’s so stupid.
            Taking the long way, falling down and getting lost time and time again, being drawn into the cycle of pain that has always turned the world—
            Trying to take all the burdens on himself, as if suffering is the best kind of penance for everything he’s done wrong.
            Disregarding his physical needs as irrelevant, as if it’s become habit by now.
            It’s all so stupid.

            How—
            “Nessiah, I swear to you. It’s going to be okay.”

            How am I not supposed to love this person?

            Nessiah narrows his unfocused eyes.
            The droplets running down his face might be rain and might be tears; by now it is impossible for me to tell.
            So I tilt his face up and wipe his cheeks dry, even though I know that the rain will just fall all over again.
            “I’m going to protect you, no matter what.
            “So—cooperate with me, just a little bit.”

            His thin shoulders are shaking under my hands.
            He doesn’t make a sound, and all he does is close his eyes.

            “Nessiah.
            “I’ll say it as many times as you need to hear it.
            “I chose you, and I’ll keep choosing you with every breath and every beat of my heart until we’re both erased from the world.
            “So let me take care of you.”
            “…Gulcasa.”
            He opens his eyes and gazes at me as if not thinking anything.

            “—I love you.”
            And.
            For the first time since I was summoned into this age.
            I hold Nessiah carefully in both arms and lean down to cover his lips with mine.
            …It’s soft.
            His skin is so hot that even I feel like there’s a fire underneath, but his clothes are frozen with the rain and his breath is uneven.
            He clings onto me and doesn’t attempt to break away from the kiss.

            …When I make to move away.
            He just rests his forehead against my chest and keeps holding on to me.

            …For a moment.
            With time standing still, we stand under the icy blades of the rain, in a distorted world where the street lamps have turned to jellyfish and the Shinto skyline looks like blurry crystal.
            For just a little bit longer—we remain in a Fuyuki City where everything but the two of us is an intangible illusion—