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Vagrant Grail Cadenza

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            —This is the story of someone dear to me.

            The young captain crossed the imperial border, and became a revolutionary.
            The war that immediately commenced was as fierce as it was quick.
            …The imperial army couldn’t possibly compete.
            For one thing, they had no sense of camaraderie, nor any real sense of loyalty owed to their motherland.
            That was in sharp contrast to the army of the young revolutionary, which had powerful bonds and fought out of pathos for their fellow citizens.
            And the common people quickly overcame their surprise at the young revolutionary’s change in appearance and demeanor, and rallied behind him, supplying the army with food and shelter and new recruits.
            But most of all—the imperial army could not stand up to the young revolutionary’s power.

            …He still couldn’t use it freely.
            It wasn’t as though he didn’t want to, but that apparently it might put his life in danger—and that even using his powers little by little as prescribed to him caused him to suffer occasional fevers and nausea.
            His allies—specifically the prophet, but also the young girl he had once rescued, who he had been told was his half-sister—restrained him from using his full power for his own sake.
            But even so, none could stand before it.

            Even as they claimed cities and towns and freed the people from the yoke of the government—
            Even as the survivors of the original private army clung together in fearful hope, in friendship, and in love—
            His childhood friend, and the warrior who was his mentor still would not approach him.
            …He could sense them watching him sometimes, didn’t know what to make of it, and didn’t have much energy to spare to investigate it.
            He spent all his days running through the battlefield, and when night came and it was time to set up camp he was far too exhausted to chase after them and try to close the gap from his side.
            But that was all right, because once this was over, there would be time—

            He told himself things like that and faced toward the future.
            There were people to save, and he was so close to granting his and his late foster mother’s dearest wish that he had no energy to spare for other matters.

            If there was one thing that continued to distract him—then it was the fact that in their few interactions, his childhood friend refused to call him by his real name.
            That man continued to use the fake name his mother had used as a seal for his powers.
            Stubbornly.
            As if incapable of accepting or understanding the change in the young revolutionary, or unwilling to respect his desires about how he wanted to be seen.

            …It bothered him.
            Of course it bothered him.
            Being called that—only reminded him of the weakness and failures that he was trying so desperately to overcome.
            But no matter how many times he corrected that man and asked him to use the name he preferred, it was no use.

            The war went on.
            The revolution progressed very quickly in the empire’s state of disrepair, and very quickly the young revolutionary and his men stood before the gates of the capital.
            …The gates that had never been broken down by any assault in the empire’s long and storied history stood before them like a solid and impassable wall.
            But the young revolutionary was not afraid.
            If the wall couldn’t be broken, then he would just have to be the first.
            If it was an obstacle that couldn’t be overcome by “humans”, it wasn’t a problem for him because he simply wasn’t human any longer.

            …It was the prophet who dissuaded him from simply attacking to break the gates with his power, and suggested that they should instead attempt to win over the guardian who held them closed, the most powerful and respected general in the imperial army.
            The young revolutionary had faced that general before, and had respect for his power and integrity, so he agreed.
            …Together, the two of them waged a mental and physical assault on the proud general.
            They showed him their power in a steadfast attack that utilized all their strength and teamwork.
            They demonstrated to him the decay of the empire, by coaxing his reinforcements into surrender.
            …And the young revolutionary personally dealt the final blow, by ceasing his attack and drawing the old general into conversation instead.
            The old general had always fought defensively, as a shield for those things he wished to protect, and so if he truly loved this land and the powerless who lived here, then this coup d’état that was for the people’s sake should not be resisted—
            It went quietly and perfectly like that.
            The old general’s loyalty swayed towards the revolution, and he opened the gates of the capital willingly.

            It was a perfect victory, and it bode well for the upcoming final battle against the emperor and his men.
            Soon.
            …He could fulfill her dying wish soon.
            Resting for the final assault, the young revolutionary stood hand in hand with his lover at the gates, and reflected on everything that had brought him this far.
            …And, at that time.
            His childhood friend came to meet him for the first time in many weeks.
            He walked up and without preamble began to ask the young revolutionary a number of strange questions about his intentions, and whether he believed that any of this would work.
            …All throughout the confusing interview, he continually refused to call the young revolutionary by his real name.
            It was inevitable that the young revolutionary should grow more and more distressed.
            His childhood friend’s face was grim and unreadable, and it felt like some kind of portent of disaster.

            After the interrogation went on for a few minutes, the prophet intervened.
            There was an edge to his polite words as he told his former rival that the young revolutionary needed rest, and his movements as he steered the young revolutionary away from that place were very firm.
            …When they reached a place suitably distant from that area, the young revolutionary’s lover bade him to rest.
            Stress would act as a catalyst for his demon blood, and his body was still too unstable for him to contain it safely.
            If raised with a proper understanding of their powers, his bloodline should not ever suffer what was regarded as an inversion impulse, but for the young revolutionary who had gone from a humanlike state to a fully-fledged demon with powers that had been allowed to mature uncontrolled, things were different.
            And rather than an inversion impulse that would simply make him crazy—if he were to invert, he would die instantly.
            The prophet cautioned him against these things yet again.
            If he overused his blood now, he would wind up chipping away at his remaining lifespan.
            …And if he wanted to change the world and protect the weak, that would take many years after his coup d’état had succeeded.
            Therefore, he must slowly become master of his demon side, and survive.
            The prophet held him and scolded him tenderly, and still unable to fully forget his ominous premonition, the young revolutionary fell into an uneasy sleep.

            …And the final battle was waged the following day.

            The young revolutionary led his men into the streets of the capital.
            He called out to the residents—to the rich who had lived in the walled city in ignorance to the struggles of the poor, but who he now knew had still felt resistance to the emperor’s rule.
            There had not been time to prepare any kind of speech that might sway them, and even the prophet had judged that things might go well if they simply left it to the young revolutionary’s natural charisma.
            …And so, he remembered the way the landgrave had always spoke in the moment that he drew breath to speak.
            His words weren’t beautiful and well-formed.
            No matter that the prophet had gently and patiently begun to correct his diction and teach him to speak more properly, the young revolutionary did not know much about public speaking.
            His vocabulary was still quite plain and unrefined, and so the words that he spoke were unadorned and very simple.
            But if there was anything to be praised about his speech—it was that he spoke honestly and from the heart, the same way that he always had.

                        “To be powerless is not a sin.”

            …Yes.
            As a representative of the powerless who had gained his strength by means of many miracles and the continued support of the people around him—he would fight for their sake.
            He would fight for the right of the populace to live their lives safely and in peace, the right that everyone should carry regardless of their individual differences.

            And his words reached them.
            Rough, unlearned, honest words.
            The people of the capital remembered the military drafts and the taxes and the atmosphere of terror that had gripped them all their lives, and allowed themselves to think that the emperor’s rule was unjust.
            His words reached them, and they reached out to him, allowing the army of the revolution unmolested passage through their streets.

            And so his army clashed with the emperor’s army that lay in wait.
            He easily destroyed the first wave, and overcame the second wave led by the emperor’s chief bodyguard with a little difficulty.
            In the streets of the capital, the young revolutionary crossed blades with the emperor himself.
            The descendant, the natural inheritor of the demon dragon’s power, and the contractor, who had augmented himself with that power artificially based on the ancient customs that were sneered upon by other nations of the continental world.

            During their battle, the emperor scorned him, laughing and repeating the same things that his mother had.
            That this power, that the young revolutionary’s birthright, could do nothing but make others unhappy—that the power of demons that he now wielded made him less than human, cruel and barbaric.
            The emperor mocked him, told him that one day he should rue his decision to claim that power as his tool.
            That there was no difference between them.
            …Even as the young revolutionary continued the battle without pause, those words made him uneasy.
            There was no way that the two of them could be the same.
            But the mad smile of his opponent who declared that they would share the same table in hell was very unnerving.

            ……Perhaps he knew but did not want to admit that there was a possibility of his power one day corrupting him and leading him down the same path as this person.
            But he had been taught that possibility slowly and surely ever since he had accepted the landgrave’s proposal and begun to accumulate knowledge about his world.
            And he knew that if he continued to trust in the people around him to make sure that he remained on the correct path—if he never let his memories of that girl and of his own past die, he would not falter.
            …Even more than that.
            He couldn’t forgive the prejudice of the world that spoke through the emperor, which declared that as demons the two of them were lesser beings, and no one need care if their hearts were trampled and battered.
            That—was the injustice that he had been fighting all along, the mindset that had led to his being abandoned and abused in the first place.

            And so even though his opponent’s words worried him, he refused to give in to them.
            He struck his opponent down.
            And with that, the long war was over.

            …It was over.
            He already had the support of the people, and when the wreckage of the battle was cleared quietly away by his victorious troops, the formalities were dealt with swiftly.
            The empire was ended, and in the same moment it was reborn.
            His revolution complete, he would become the new emperor, and after his coronation on the following day he would be free to start reforming the country.

            …That night.
            On a whim, perhaps because the day had been as busy as a whirlwind and he had not been able to calm down, the new emperor ventured outside the castle that was now his home.
            …On its steps, his body collapsed.

            A great heat overwhelmed his body.
            Thirst.
            Something like lust.
            No matter how much he gasped for air, his lungs weren’t drawing in enough oxygen, and he could barely move.
            Without a means to attempt to save himself, he would surely drown in this too-sweet fever and die.

            In his field of vision overwhelmed by phantom flames.
            His lover—the prophet appeared from inside the castle and ran to him.
            The calm voice cut through his hazy head.
            …The young emperor had overdone it in the battle, and his overstimulated and unsatisfied demon blood was attempting to invert.
            The natural instincts of the dragon inside him needed sacrifice, could not be quelled with the deaths of the enemy on the battlefield, and unless sated immediately would claim the young emperor’s life as the price.
            He would die because of his carelessness, and everything up until now would be for nothing.

            Distantly.
            Through fever and panic, drowning in the sensation akin to acute sexual arousal—he heard the prophet calling for someone.
            A foot soldier the young emperor did not recognize—someone in his army’s colors emerged from the castle.
            The prophet explained firmly that his only choice would be to consume the life of another with the ritual in his blood—the dragon god’s Reality Marble, Genocide.
            He would be consumed himself if he did not sacrifice another.

            …But the young emperor was paralyzed in horror at the thought.
            Surely, he could not do such a thing.
            His life was not so important that he could deliberately kill one who served him and depended on him to prolong it.
            These were the lives that he had gone so far to protect, and he could not prey on them no matter the demands of his body.

            The soldier whispered.
            The soldier said to him that his life did not matter if the young emperor’s ideal could live on, and that he would gladly give it away as an offering.
            …Still, he could not bring himself to do it.

            And.
            The voice of the prophet that had been very calm rose sharply.
            …He said.
            In a firm tone that leaked panic, he called out that he could not lose his loved one now.

            The young emperor remembered his own pain and grief at the loss of the girl.
            …And in that single moment of weakness, his body moved automatically.

            Intense—pleasure.
            His voice escaped him in a scream of gratification and of self-hatred, blotting out the foot soldier’s single cry of pain.
            He tasted blood, the fever that had wracked his body with terrible aches became comfortable, and his conscious mind was deafened with an orgasm so intense that his entire body convulsed.

            He couldn’t remember clearly what happened after that.
            …He knew the sound of the prophet’s voice, and the taste of the soldier’s blood, and the terrible dark pleasure of his body invigorated by the fresh vitality of another.
            He thought that the prophet held him until his body stopped seizing.
            He thought that they might have loved each other, debauched and nearly violent, there on the castle’s obsidian steps.
            He thought that the prophet most likely cleaned him up and calmed him.
            Vague recollections of a conversation about many things.
            His memory is hazy as poorly shot film, thick and grainy and blurred.
            …He came back to himself in stages: a slightly clearer memory of their retreat into the castle to change into clothes not caked with sweat and blood and ejaculate, a memory slightly clearer than that of the prophet departing for the castle interior whereas he himself went back outside.
            …When he could think clearly again, he was just staring blankly up at the sky with the feeling as though he’d just awoken from some kind of terrible nightmare.
            But what he had done—even if it had been involuntary, he could not take it back.
            …To save his own life—for the sake of that girl’s dream.

            He said aloud to himself that he could understand his mother’s consternation over his blood.
            If he’d already been growing into this state as a small boy, it was no small wonder that she had panicked and sealed his powers away rather than trying to teach him to manage them.
            …He was lucky that he had his allies here, a sister and a lover knowledgeable about the demon’s curse on his flesh.
            But—he had to learn to control himself better, and not forget this night.
            This bloodlust in his blood was a challenge to be overcome, but surely he could overcome it.
            He understood his objective for using this power, and he had bought himself time.
            He would be all right.

            …As he held his shaking body upright and tried to convince himself of that fact.
            A voice in the darkness called out to contradict him.

            His mentor—the traveling warrior who had not spoken to him in weeks emerged from the night, armored and carrying her weapon.
            He stared blankly at her.
            And—she calmly announced something absurd.
            That she was here to stop him, as heir to the dragonslayer who had defeated his ancestor in ancient times.

            Unable to understand the situation, he tried to get her to explain.
            …She told him that in the first place they had only met because her journeying the world was an attempt to escape her heritage.
            That she had run away from home in order to prove that the destiny her fellow dragonslayers lived by was nothing more than a myth.
            But she, a descendant of the hero, had met him—the last fully realized scion of the ancient dragon.
            When he demanded to know what had changed her mind about destiny, she denied his words and said that that had nothing to do with anything.
            She was here because she had been spying on him, and had watched him nearly succumb to his inversion impulse.
            And, seeing that, she had made up her mind to kill him.

            As he stood there, his exhausted mind unable to comprehend her story—there were footsteps from behind him.
            The prophet, one of the twin girls, and his childhood friend were here to check on him.
            He ordered them to gather his troops so that he might stop and capture the woman trying to kill him.
            The prophet and the girl returned to his side with backup, but his childhood friend who had run away with a white shocked face did not return.

            …In many ways.
            This battle was far crueler than his confrontation with the emperor.

            His mentor wielded inhuman strength, proof that she was the true descendant of the dragonslayer of old.
            As he fought to repel her, she accused him of already having gone mad, having lost his humanity—of using his long-held ideals as an excuse to swing his power around indiscriminately.
            Even so, he tried to argue back that she was wrong.
            Even if he had to stain his hands with power that wasn’t human—even if he was a demon and he had to fight his inversion impulse for the rest of his life, it was worth it if he could make the ideal world he and his surrogate mother had dreamed of a reality.
            She said that his willingness to sacrifice others was proof that he had thrown away his kind heart, and that the girl who had died would be disgusted to see him now.
            …Even as his mind had frozen under those terrible words.
            With his friends at his back, he was able to disarm and restrain her at last.

            …In the silence of the battle won.
            He asked her if they could not just put this behind them and start over.
            She accepted her loss calmly, looked at him with something like pity, and told him that she didn’t think so.
            In the long and painful silence.
            …The prophet spoke, calling for her death as punishment for betraying him as so many others had before.

            At that time, his childhood friend pushed his way into their encirclement, and shielded his mentor.
            Claiming ridiculous things like having put the dragonslayer up to everything, and that he was the mastermind of the betrayal.
            Pleading for her life like an idiot, so that even she herself told him to shut up and that no one would fall for something that obvious.
            …The man ignored her and looked only at the young emperor, saying that the girl they had loved and lost would only be saddened at any more blood spilled between them.

            As everyone waited for the emperor’s decision.
            …From beside him, the prophet quietly offered to execute the pair of them in his place, and spare him the pain of killing two more people he had loved with his own hands.

            It broke his heart.
            …His friends had fought to defend him, and his lover was willing to kill for him.
            His surviving childhood friend was willing to die to stop this battle, and even though his mentor was acting out of old prejudice, by her words she was also fighting for the sake of his former self, to destroy him now before he went down a path that she had judged to be mistaken.

            He told his soldiers to restrain the two and take them to jail.
            He forbade his followers from taking their lives.
            …They all knew.
            The jails of this castle were old and moldering, as the former emperor had always executed his enemies rather than taking prisoners.
            Damaged in several places, it would be an easy prison for these two trained warriors to escape.
            In reality, he was simply letting them go without punishment.
            But—no one spoke against his orders.

            And by the next morning, they were already gone.

            …He would be crowned that day, and his fight to save the country would begin.
            After the empire had been made a safe place for the peasantry, he would work to save other countries in the same way, until injustice was gone from the entire world.
            He was prepared to spend his entire life working towards such a goal.
            …He didn’t believe it to be impossible.

            As if the betrayal of the last two original founders of the private army had been a heralding bell, his army splintered a bit more before the coronation.
            The familiar still had to fulfill his assigned task, and the Undine was tired of bloodshed; the minstrel who had wandered into his ranks would wander back out on a never-ending journey for inspiration.
            He understood that this was a path too harsh to bind the unwilling to, and bade them all good luck, parting with each of them with love.
            This would not be an eternal farewell like the past night, as they were all aware that the empire was a safe place for them to return.
            …And he told them to treat his childhood friend and erstwhile mentor with kindness, if ever they met on the road.
            Like a fool.
            He smiled painfully and forgave those who had turned their blades on him, let his friends leave even though he wanted them to stay, and refused to betray his inner turmoil as he left to be crowned.

            He would not forget any of it.
            …He would hold it all in his heart, hold his head up, and keep fighting.
            In order to protect the person he had been and all of his memories with the people he loved, he would not falter.

            He accepted the pledges of loyalty from his friends and from the people with a grateful heart.
            …The prophet beside him was the only one who showed any displeasure, but because the young emperor understood that his lover was just angry that he seemed to be endangering himself, he simply accepted it without complaining.

            From that day onward.
            …The most important battle in his life would begin.
            Under the name of “blazing emperor”, he would not give up until he made that distant dream come true—

 

            I wake up to a sense of heat, unresponsive limbs, and a vague feeling of guilt.

            “—”
            With an effort, I’m able to look at Gulcasa curled up in the chair in the corner.
            Truly, this person’s combined gullibility and bad luck are astounding.
            And according to what he said last night—he already knows everything about my side of that affair.
            I still—don’t know what to think, about his lack of blame towards me.
            “Even though I always—”

            If you want to say that he’s stupid for putting so much trust in me and all the other people surrounding him who had an agenda at the time—
            Then I’m at least as stupid as him, for taking advantage of his kindness for so long and then having the nerve to get in over my head.
            “…There’s no helping the two of us, is there.”

            Gulcasa’s body stirs.
            His eyes open slowly, and he sits up, rubbing at his face with the heel of his hand.
            When his gaze falls on me—that warm honey color makes something in my chest skip.

            “—Oh, you’re awake.
            “Good morning.”

            He calls out to me in a slightly slurred voice.
            …Ah.
            I love this person so much, there’s no saving me.
            As I think that, I smile.

            “…Good morning.
            “It appears I’ve beaten you awake again.”

            He stands up, stretches, and comes to the side of my bed.
            That long hair flutters like a solid sheet of red silk, and I want to reach out and touch it.
            But my arm only gives a sad little jerk when I try to move it, and I have to bear down on my will to force it up.
            I only have my hand halfway into the air when Gulcasa holds it in both of his.

            “—Nessiah. Are you in pain?”
            His expression is serious, and it’s past the point where I can really deceive the others about my condition now that I’ve confessed everything, so I take a moment to think before answering.

            “No. Rather—I have very little feeling in the lower half of my body again.
            “There’s a bit of a pins and needles sensation in my fingertips, but I can’t feel much past my knees at all, and it’s rather disconcerting.”
            “—I see.
            “It seems like we’re going to have to take care of this again soon.”
            Gulcasa says so seriously, but his face is slightly red, which ruins the effect.

            “Hmm, I’d like to hurry up and get some first aid too, so to speak. For quite a few reasons.
            “But given the time of day, I would expect that Roswell or the princess will be along to check on us soon, and it would be troublesome to get walked in on.
            “So—I can hold out until night.”

            Gulcasa gives me a sidelong look.
            “Nessiah—there’s only so long that we can wait, with your health at stake.
            “If I’m just taking prana, then I can do that in half an hour or less.”
            “That’s if you’re only taking prana.
            “—I believe I already mentioned that this time we’re going to extend the treatment beyond just that, and actually do it for the sake of doing it.
            “That’s going to take time, because if I can move then I’m going to be doing things for you as well.
            “So, your breakfast will be taking place downstairs with the rest of us, and I’m not going to hear any argument out of you.”

            Gulcasa lets out a long and very aggravated-sounding sigh.
            “Man, you’re a pain. I’m just worried about your health.”
            “…It seems as though you won’t be satisfied until I say this, so I will.
            “It’s nice just being serviced every now and again, I won’t pretend otherwise because I would just be embarrassing myself.
            “But no matter how into it both of us are at the moment, looking back on any kind of sexual contact and remembering that it was for the sake of transferring energy first and foremost is depressing.
            “Furthermore, only receiving that kind of clinical treatment makes me feel like an invalid, which I am not yet.
            “…And—does it make sense for me to say that as nice as it is to listen to you make noise because you’re invested in what you’re doing, I also enjoy it when you’re making noise specifically because of something I’ve done?”

            Gulcasa does not respond immediately, instead covering his face in his hands.

            “…Man, we really need to work out some kind of signal to Roswell or something.
            “If we had some way to tell them to keep out, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

            “We might yet.
            “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to lounge about having sex all morning on an empty stomach.”

            Gulcasa’s shoulders slump in defeat.
            “All right, all right.
            “Here, I’ll carry you downstairs. It’ll be hard to move around if you’re losing sensation in your legs, so—”

            And that is how I come to be carried to the kitchen, held in Gulcasa’s arms like a princess.
            Yggdra, who is drifting around the kitchen table with a distracted air, stops in her tracks and watches as Gulcasa settles me at the table.
            He departs to join Roswell in the kitchen, apparently trying to bully him into handing over the stove and countertop.

            When I turn back around, Yggdra is staring at me.
            She has a thoughtful expression as if she wants to say something, but no matter how I stare back at her, she remains silent.

            “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
            Roswell deposits breakfast on the table, what appears to be a thick fruit pizza laid with many different kinds of fruits on white cream and light dough.
            Gulcasa sets a side of bacon and another side of browned shredded potato down in the middle of the table, and sits down beside me.
            …There are only strawberries on half of the fruit pizza, and so it appears that at least for today we’re going to be avoiding a scene.

            “—Tomorrow.”
            Before anyone has a chance to give thanks for the food, Roswell speaks.
            “I know that this isn’t something that can be put off indefinitely, but—
            “We can talk about strategy and how to deal with our enemies tomorrow.
            “For today, I think it would be best if we allowed everyone time to rest and recover.”

            No one objects.
            …Everyone is very acutely aware that we are getting into one of the more severe stages of the war, and that any one of us may now be living solely on borrowed time.

            Roswell sighs.
            “Then—thank you for the food.”
            A thin choir of murmurs like the whispering of a small brook ensues.
            After that—there is no sound but the impact of utensils against plates.

(interlude 13-1)

            The doors to the church are heavy and resist the motion of being pushed open.
            As if to keep the stench of death firmly enclosed within them, their weight pushes back against the hands that try to intrude upon their territory.

            “—”
            The witch’s footsteps ring out like gunshots on the hardwood floor.
            Entering with foreknowledge, there is tension, but no fear.

            “—Hoh.
            “Don’t tell me that you are here at this late date to give up in the competition?”

            There is a magus in deep blue robes standing at the pulpit.
            He is of average height and build, but his magical aura is intense so as to be crushing.
            From underneath the cowl of his priest’s robes, the witch can feel his colorless gaze.

            With confidence, she smiles.
            “—Oh, that’s not it at all.
            “With only four players left and at this stage of the game, you couldn’t possibly think that I’m here to play along with that farce.
            “No, I’m here because I have a proposition for Caster’s Master.”

            “—”
            Subtly.
            The air in the church changes.

            “The master of Avenger is indeed brazen.
            “—And? If you have business, then you should indeed state it, or else I will interpret your intrusion as that of a fly with an urge to be swatted.”
            A thin smile.
            As the magus speaks, his Servant materializes behind him.

            “—”
            The witch recognizes her.
            Never having seen the enemy’s Servant through her own eyes, she vaguely recognizes the form of the armored archangel from the surveillance lines and through her connection with her own Servant.
            Caster, a Servant from the world of the gods, is a wall of near-perfect defense with three high-ranked Noble Phantasms, a creature leagues above the capabilities of her own Avenger.
            Undoubtedly, this is the most powerful Servant remaining in the war.

            “I discovered who you are the same way that I obtained the information that I am about to offer.
            “As apparently I am the only magus in this town to think of such a thing, my familiars have been watching all the happenings in this war for several days now, and I would be a fool to not keep one eye on this place at all times.
            “—Caster’s movements have intrigued me for some time now.
            “You cautioned all of your subordinate Masters against Berserker, and had your own Servant patrolling sweeps of the town at night.
            “You’re searching for the Lesser Grail that escaped, aren’t you?”

            “I fail to see the relevance of my own actions to your intrusion.
            “Surely, you have come to me with more reason than just to repeat your analysis of my actions back to me.”

            The witch’s lips form the crescent shape of a bow.

            “—The Lesser Grail is tucked into the protective arms of allies.
            “From what I can glean, it appears that Saber and her Master have, knowing the function of the Grail War, consented to remain in the running as accessories to Berserker’s team.
            “The vessel of the Lesser Grail intends to keep it to himself.
            “The two of them have powerful Servants, and even though I have confronted them before, their residence is now fortified with protections powerful enough that they will take me some time to break by myself.
            “But I’ve been listening in on them the same way that I have on everyone, and so—I’d like to offer you a deal.”

            “—Go on.”
            Surely she has piqued the magus’ interest.
            But he simply folds his arms and speaks laconically, his voice dripping with superiority.

            “You see—this world is godless.
            “With the destruction of the gods and the progression to the fantastic age, even the mages outside the confines of humanity can no longer achieve the same kind of arts as we should.
            “Just looking at the difference between your skill level and mine, that much is obvious.
            “—I’ve heard that you, as a representative of the council of seven sages from the world of gods, intend to use the Grail to close the gap in power and become the new god of the world.
            “And to be perfectly honest, that sounds rather interesting to me.
            “…My desire is something that could actually be fulfilled by you rather than by the Holy Grail. I have the power, but lack the knowledge.
            “So—in exchange for a full understanding of the Rule of this world, I’ll lend you my knowledge and my strength.
            “Let’s be allies.
            “Your desires are on a high plane, but I’m only interested in this world. Our wishes should be compatible, especially since I won’t fight you for the Holy Grail once I have what I want.
            “—Mr. Master of Caster, all I really want is for you to let me ride on your coattails.”

            …A small smile.
            Hector—the fake supervisor of the war makes a dangerous expression while considering the witch.

            “—The Rule… is it.
            “Certainly, even a ne’er-do-well magic user such as yourself would be able to become useful with that type of knowledge.
            “And, knowing everything, you proclaim yourself all right with handing the Lesser Grail directly back to me.
            “—You are an interesting woman.”

            …At that time.
            From the air behind her, her Servant appears.

            “—Hey.
            “I don’t know what you’re thinking here, but I can’t consent to this plan.”

            With words of warning.
            Avenger folds her arms and glares down the church aisle towards the pulpit.

            For once.
            The hostility of the Servant is not directed towards her, but rather towards the archangel at the end of the narrow wooden road.

            “Oh?
            “Do you really think that you’re in a position to be arguing with me over my choice of allies, since you’re just my puppet?”
            “—Yeah, it’s really no concern of mine if you want to throw your lot in with someone like this guy; you’ve already proven how bad your sense of these things is.
            “But there is one thing I can guarantee you, and that’s that if you expect me to work together with that thing then you’ve really got to get your head checked out.”

            At the same time.
            “…Caster.
            “So you, too, disapprove?”

            When she looks, there is an expression of mild distaste on that Servant’s face.

            “The decision is yours in the end, Master.
            “But—I simply consider it inadvisable to take that creature as an ally.
            “It is weak, egocentric, and unreliable.”

            “—”
            At that moment.
            From Avenger’s body rises a sharp intent to kill.

            …The witch clucks her tongue.
            Honestly, she should expect nothing less from this Servant, which seems to do everything in its power to hinder her and needlessly get in her way.

            But the magus laughs.
            “—Then, Yellma.
            “This seems as though it should be amusing.
            “—I am sure that you know that a magus of my caliber needs fear nothing from anyone at your level.
            “If you desire to know of the Rule, then you may partake of my great libraries of knowledge as you please.
            “…Rejoice.
            “And arise, as the apostle of my advent.”

            …She did not expect an answer so easily.
            There is a dark flutter like joy in her breast, and she cannot repress her jagged smile.

            “Hmm.
            “—It might actually be that you and I could get along well.”

            At that.
            …The magus called Hector laughs, a rich and sonorous sound.
            Caster looks down, not at her but at Avenger, with eyes so empty of emotion that they betray their condescension easily.

            “…You can’t be serious.”
            And.
            Avenger herself betrays her distaste in a mutinous undertone.

            “—Of course I am.
            “Honestly, I don’t actually need you anymore.
            “So—when you stop being useful, I’ll just use this Command Spell and have you die to fill the Grail.
            “With that in mind, at least try to keep yourself obedient if you want to stay alive.”
            “—”

            Avenger narrows her eyes and offers no reply.

            The witch smiles.
            The witch smiles, turns her back on the sulking Servant, and walks up the aisle—

(13-1 interlude out.)

            The passage of time is quiet and low-key.
            Because Roswell has already made the decision that there will be no talk of battle today, there is nothing much to do.
            …But because I wouldn’t be able to move much anyway, that’s all right.
            The only thing that I would be able to do in my condition is to exercise my mind, and my mind is as tired as the rest of me.
            So, I sit back and watch the light on the walls turn golden as time passes.

            “—”
            Roswell and Gulcasa are in the kitchen.
            There’s a faint, quiet clatter of crockery as the two of them work.
            Otherwise, the house is silent.
            I am comfortable, which keeps the lack of activity from feeling desolate.

            …At that time.
            Yggdra comes to sit in one of the high-backed chairs of the room.

            She makes no effort to hide it as she looks at me.
            Her considering gaze is like she’s trying to penetrate my thoughts.
            “—”

            “—Now that I think about it, it was easier than I expected to put things together.
            “I always thought that the legends of our sword being passed down to the founder of our dynasty by an angel must be our inflated sense of self-importance distorting history, but—that must have been you.”

            The golden light and the madder red sky.
            For some reason, the princess sitting across from me wants to trace back along old stories of the past.

            “There isn’t any meaning in pretending I don’t know what you’re talking about at this point in time, I suppose.
            “…Yes, the sword that became your Noble Phantasm is something I created.
            “At the time that you were alive, there were a number of artifacts like that floating about—some things that I had made to kill time, because immortality is rather boring, and others to further my own agenda.
            “As I’m sure you will have guessed, that sword was among the latter.
            “—It no longer matters, though.”

            She looks at me for a long moment, and—
            “…I see. You really must love him.”
            —says something rather out-of-place with a smile.

            “…Hm. I don’t suppose I’ve lost the thread of this conversation?”
            “—No, it’s just that I did a great deal of thinking about the war once it was over.
            “You’ve admitted to having pulled the strings behind everything at that time, and you’ve also told me that my Noble Phantasm was simply another of your tools for revenge.
            “At that time, you surely knew what he was planning to do, and yet rather than moving to ensure my survival and freedom, you sacrificed yourself in an attempt to save him.
            “We’re most honest, I think, in our spur-of-the-moment actions.
            “…I wanted to kill him, and charged out on my own, falling into that trap.
            “You saved him, and he stopped fighting to attend to you.
            “Maybe if I’d taken advantage of that moment things would have turned out much differently, but I was paralyzed by the magnitude of what I’d just done and couldn’t.
            “—I think that says quite a lot about all of us, really.”

            She smiles like she’s satisfied.
            Leaning back as if swallowing down more questions.

            “…And you’re all right with all of that?”
            …When I call out to her.
            She turns back towards me with an elegant expression like a tigerlily in bloom.

            “I suppose that if you press me on it, there are more things that I would like to confirm.
            “But—they don’t have much to do with what’s happening now.
            “It would be foolish, clinging to such things when they can only cause harm for everyone involved.”

            “—”
            It’s an odd thing to realize, but it seems as though this girl has matured quite a bit since we saw each other last.
            …It’s an odd thing to realize, because there was no real reason that she would not.

            She stands up.
            She stands and brushes her long hair out with a turn of her wrist.
            She nods to me, and makes her way over to the kitchen with quiet footsteps.

            …It gets noisier.
            I don’t sense any hostility, the noise level just increases as a conversation starts between the three over tonight’s food.
            What’s being said is indistinct, and I’m not bothered to really strain myself to listen in.

            “—”
            I simply close my eyes.

            There’s a brief instant where I remember the phantom pain of being run through on my sword, and the taste of blood surging up from my lungs into my mouth.
            In the end—I might be the only one holding on to those feelings.

(interlude 13-2)

            Against the night.
            Two angels stand on the roof of the church, facing one another.

            “—”
            “—”

            Two paths that will never cross.
            They stand at either end of the highest beam, silent in the cold winter wind.

            The atmosphere is that of a battlefield on the brink of war’s beginning.
            The two angels stare at each other without bothering to suppress their intent to kill, eyes cold as if they no longer have anything to say to each other.

            But the starting gong in the two’s private war will not yet ring.
            …That is—due to the selfish whims of the pair’s Masters.

            It is Caster that finally closes her eyes.
            Rather than a surrender, it is a show of supreme loathing and arrogance, a sign that she is so self-assured as to seal off her own field of vision without fear even in the presence of such an enemy.
            “…But still, I would not have thought that such an inferior creature would merit summoning as a Servant.”
            “—”
            “You, an incomplete caricature of a creature, with no true power or meaning—it’s only fitting that Avenger should be the only class that would accept you.”
            “Keep talking like that and I’ll just kill you.
            “—You know I’m more than capable.”

            Caster opens her eyes.
            Flat amber bores into the shape of the woman standing across the roof from her.

            “…Perhaps.
            “But in this situation, the power of our Masters is also a factor.
            “You should know better than any that your Master is the pinnacle of mediocrity compared with mine—no, even that is a kind overestimation.
            “I shall be frank. Your Master cannot even reach up to the level of my Master’s feet.
            “The thought that you might be able to best me in this state, even at the cost of your own life, is naught but hubris.”

            Avenger lifts her chin in defiance.
            “All this Master, Master, Master.
            “—Even knowing what he plans to use the Grail for, you’re still sucking this guy’s cock, huh? What happened to all that jumping around like a puppy trying to please the gods?
            “Either you’ve gone senile or he’s taken your fangs out.”

            “Huh.
            “A wise dog chooses how and when it bites.
            “Unwise rebellion in such a circumstance will only lead to failure.
            “But, I wouldn’t expect a pitiful mad dog like yourself to realize such a thing, no matter how many times you are beaten.”

            “—”
            The two angels stand as their wills do battle.
            The girl in black armor, and the seraph in white.
            —Two paths that, once diverged, shall never cross again.

            “Ah.
            “—My Master calls me.
            “I, unlike you, am trusted in the manner of tactics, and I must be present for the planning that is to commence.
            “And so—you shall have to excuse me.”

            Caster vanishes in a cloud of golden feathers.
            Moonlight catches on them as they evaporate, sending glittering particles throughout the air.

            …Alone on the rooftop of the church.
            “—A wise dog, huh.”

            The knight all in black turns on her heel and stares up at the moon.
            Like a lonely animal howling.
            The light frames her jagged profile severely, like an angel of death or a gargoyle perched atop the house of god.
            If an angel’s wings are the sign of its divinity, then surely the Astarte clad all in black was born fallen.

            “—There are things that you’ll never be able to understand.”
            Even though the other Servant surely cannot hear her, she speaks in a clear voice.
            Her shadow scatters darkness and dances on the distant ground.

            “In a choice between freedom and slavery—it’s obvious which choice is the right one.”

            The very air shudders at the tone of her voice.
            The girl turns with a movement like a dance step, and disappears into the dark.

(13-2 interlude out.)

            “Thank you for the food.”
            Four voices ring out in unison, and then there is a great clatter of hands being lowered and utensils being picked up.
            Far be it from too many cooks ruining the broth, what is laid out on the table for tonight’s dinner is nothing less than a banquet.

            It appears that while I was resting, the three chefs each managed to navigate the crowded kitchen in order to make several dishes without cooperation or interference from the other two.
            Apparently, the synergy and good maneuvering worked out quite well, as if after several days’ worth of struggling has resulted in the discovery of harmony and balance.
            I can tell who made each dish by looking at it, as amusingly enough their choices in what to cook reflect their personalities quite well.
            Gulcasa, apparently in charge of the main dishes, has laid out three plates of meat—spiced shellfish on a bed of pasta, duck meat baked in herbs and flavored with a lemon-based sauce, and a wide oval dish of all different kinds of meat grilled together with vegetables.
            Regarding the latter dish, I’ve been able to identify pork, beef sirloin, chicken, more duck, crab, and confectionary crab; a sampling of the vegetables included involves baby corn, water chestnuts, and green peppers.
            Roswell, who has taken charge of the side dishes, has laid out one pan of okonomiyaki, a dish of ratatouille, a plate of pot stickers, and a tall stewpot filled with spicy soup that he says is called pozole.
            And Yggdra has contributed a bowl filled with carefully washed mixed berries, a plate of baked and sugared plums and cherries, and a small apple cake.
            …It’s certainly a lot of food, but given that Gulcasa is sitting at this table, I wouldn’t venture so far as to call it overkill.
            The night is very calm and quiet.
            The silence is comfortable, as its cause is simply that everyone is rather busy with just eating.

            …After the meal.
            Roswell gathers up the plates to wash them, and Yggdra gets up as if to go help.

            “—Hmm, it’s a complicated feeling not having done anything.
            “Certainly I’m the least skilled cook out of everyone here, but not even being able to wash dishes is a bit frustrating.”
            “It’s probably useless to just tell you to enjoy it while you can, huh.
            “…Well, it’s not as though I don’t understand.
            “When this is all over, you’ll be on dish duty for a while yet, of course.”

            Gulcasa speaks mildly.
            But his words are still incredibly sobering.

            …After this is all over.
            If he and I can survive through the end of this war, and win.
            …Chances are that this scenery will disappear.

            Because, after all—once this cycle has ended, it will probably be too taxing for Roswell to keep Yggdra as a familiar.
            Even then, it will be a miracle if the both of them survive as well.
            For all four of us to enjoy this kind of scenery again is a wish that in all likelihood can’t be granted.

            …I think that Roswell declared today to be a day of rest specifically because of that.
            I’m lucid, and so even if minimally, I’m able to participate in this scenery free of battles and of care—that way, today will become a shining, bittersweet memory for whoever survives.
            If any of us even do.
            Gulcasa isn’t insensitive enough to the atmosphere to not know this.
            …No, the way that he says things so easily is because of his own nature.
            Even if it tears at the illusion, he can only live in hope.

            …Even though his own memories should point out the impossibility.

            I can’t push myself to stand for fear of falling.
            …But even so, I reach out to cover his hand in mine.
            I can’t let him down gently.
            But—I wish that I could at least protect him from reality when the blow falls.

            Gulcasa gives me a long look.
            And—he turns towards the kitchen.

            “—Roswell.
            “We’re going ahead to bed, so don’t mind us.
            “We can figure out all the important things tomorrow, so just take it easy for tonight.”

            He says so simply, and gets up from the table.
            My Servant lifts me up carefully, and we depart from the stage of the fleeting dream into the scene of a deeper reverie.

            “—”
            “—”
            Gulcasa sets me down on the bed and closes the door.
            I can see him turn the lock.
            …Honestly, Roswell is prudent enough to not come in here after what Gulcasa has said.
            But there’s still no harm in taking precautions and creating a mental barrier between us and the rest of the house.
            We’re alone.
            When Gulcasa turns back toward me, his gaze is hot and intense.
            Just that makes my head feel ready to explode.

            My hands are clumsy as I reach up to untie the ribbon at the front of my dress.
            If my body is going to get any hotter than this, my clothes will only irritate my skin.
            And—more than that, if we’re going to do it anyway, then I really want to feel his body.
            But even though my hands could still manipulate table utensils, I’m utterly defeated by this knot.
            I can’t put enough strength in to undo it, and tugging on it weakly won’t help anything.

            “—Nessiah.”
            When I look up and realize, Gulcasa is standing there.
            His body gives off an intense heat that makes me dizzy.
            The lights are off, and the faint natural light from the half-opened window illuminates his silhouette.
            He rests his hands on my shoulders.
            Just—from that.
            My conscious mind starts to float, and I can feel myself starting to go hard.

            “—I can take care of that.”
            My hazy mind doesn’t register what he means until he kneels at the side of the bed and moves my hands aside to untie my clothes.
            The front of the dress falls open.
            Gulcasa stops with his hands on the mattress on either side of me, and carefully looks at my body as if trying to memorize every detail.
            …I’m probably quite a sight.
            My breathing is rough, and my erect nipples and stiffening penis are probably quite visible against these loose and half-opened clothes.
            I wanted to go slowly and savor each other’s bodies tonight, but now that I’m here with him alone in such a suggestive position, my desire is immediate and terrible.
            …Even now.
            The prana that has been violating every inch of my body is building up.
            I can’t dispel the lumps of energy that belong to the five defeated Servants, which takes up the space where my own natural prana should go and spills over.
            And because my body won’t just stop generating od or processing mana, my real prana stores are building up with nowhere to go.
            So—even after I said all that about things being mutual, I can barely even remember my own words.
            I need to get rid of what’s inside me.
            It’s painful, and suppressing the pain and the arousal is exhausting.
            I need someone to take it away as soon as possible.
            So—just being stared at like this is too much.

            “—”
            Gulcasa stares at me as if all of my thoughts are plain for him to read.
            “…As I thought, we have to start with a little bit of treatment before we get into the real thing—”

            …But still.
            Dizzy, feeling as though swarms of flat insects are rushing through the thin spaces between my muscles and my skin, I do my best to shake my head.
            “—Gulcasa.
            “I said that we’re going to do it right, so—”

            He smiles.
            “I know.
            “—Relax, I’m not going to go against your wishes.
            “This is just foreplay, all right?”

            As I sit still.
            He lifts up my skirts and tells me to hold on to him.
            …And.
            He leans in, and there’s a familiar rough warmth against the head.

            “—”
            I can’t suppress the strangled sounds of pleasure.
            This isn’t like before.
            Last time, Gulcasa went slowly as if savoring the taste of my skin, servicing me gradually until I was about to lose my mind.
            But right now, he is directly attacking the sensitive spot at the bottom of the head, as if trying to force me to orgasm as quickly as possible.
            “—”
            My body wants to squirm in resistance.
            …I know that we’ll continue from here, but my body acts like it’s being tickled and tries to twist away from the intense attack.
            I can only barely keep my wits about me, and my rationality that tells me that Gulcasa’s actions to make me come lightly are not to keep me dissatisfied, but so that we can fully embrace each other.
            But my body only wants pleasure.
            Gulcasa lightly holds my thighs apart and licks relentlessly at the head, a sharp sensation that makes my stomach cramp sweetly from instinctive resistance.
            His tongue must get tired every now and again, because periodically he stops to nibble at the rim, a change in sensation that makes me shiver.
            I can feel his breath against the full length of me, and that’s the unbearable part.
            …The warmth makes me remember the less-intense but more satisfying sensation of being deep-throated, a wet caress all the way down to the root.
            At this rate, I can’t be sure that my hips won’t automatically move in search of that sensation.
            I can’t trust my body, and I can’t control it.
            I grip Gulcasa’s shoulders tightly and try to breathe.

            “Ah—”
            His voice is thick and muffled.
            Even his breathing is ragged now, and my body shudders strongly.
            …Even now and like this.
            Gulcasa’s ministrations are a direct attack meant to make me come as quickly as possible, but they aren’t clinical and measured.
            Even now, his body temperature is climbing sharply, and the strong movements of his tongue are intense with lust and with love.
            He takes just the head into his mouth, and my vision doubles and sways.
            …But if I close my eyes, I feel it far too powerfully.

            “I—!”

            As if taking my attempt to warn him as a cue,
            Gulcasa sucks strongly on just the first two inches of my erection,
            and my mind hits its limits.

            The faint noise I hear is probably my voice.
            I curl in on myself and embrace Gulcasa’s shoulders tightly as I come.

            —The orgasm is very light.
            I let out as much as I can, but it’s only really enough to loosen up my body and clear my head.
            …My body still feels aroused, but the urgency is gone, and I can move freely.
            Able to arrange myself as I like, I sit up and lean back.

            …Ahh, I did it again.
            Gulcasa kneels on the floor, breathing hard.
            At some point he must have made his clothes dematerialize, and thick ribbons of my come are running down his body, hanging from his parted lips.
            Even as the eroticism of that pose goes straight to my penis and makes it curl further up, I can only be ashamed of myself.
            He acts as if he’s all right with such things, but I would hate it if it were me.
            …It feels good on my end, but it must be painful for him to have to deal with that.
            There’s a phantom burning sensation in my throat just from the thought.
            …To banish it, I reach out and wipe his face clean.
            Gulcasa closes his eyes and leans into my touch.
            …The look on his face is closer to tenderness than gratitude, and when I try to take my fingers away, he reaches up to cup my hands with his.

            “—Do you feel better?”
            “I do.
            “But—Gulcasa. I keep telling you, don’t push yourself and drink that if you don’t want to.
            “I’m not—very good at warning you, I know, so—I’d be fine with you switching to your hands instead, next time.”
            …Gulcasa looks up at me.
            A very relaxed expression.
            “You don’t have to worry, okay?
            “I’d much rather swallow it than have you come on my face or something like that.
            “This is what feels best for both of us, and if you ever really did something I hated, I’d talk to you about it afterward so we’d both understand.”
            …He says that, but I still can’t shake off these feelings of anxiety.
            Maybe he reads that on my face, because he smiles at me.
            Direct, kind, loving, and a little bit bashful.

            He gets up off the floor.
            His body uncoils, and he stands up halfway.
            Without giving me a chance to really look at his body, he wraps both arms around me.
            “—”
            Because I can return his embrace easily, I do.
            His skin radiates heat, and even though I can feel his musculature quite acutely in this position, he holds me with effortless tenderness and care.

            “—Keep this a secret, okay?
            “I have to tell you like this because it’s too embarrassing to do it while I’m looking at your expression.”
            Gulcasa says so softly.
            “—I actually do it because I really like it.
            “We can feel and accept each other when I’m inside you, but your body reacts totally differently when I’m giving you head, and I could listen to your voice forever.
            “That goes for when you come, too.
            “So—don’t stress out about it.”
            “—”
            My head goes blank.
            Of course, this time it’s not because of my body building up with too much prana.
            It’s obviously because Gulcasa’s taking advantage of our physical closeness to tell me something ridiculous.
            “You—honestly…”
            “So, um… you don’t have to feel bad when you wind up letting it out when I’m still doing it.
            “I’m not just saying this. If you need proof—”

            I can feel his hand on my arm.
            Gently, he tugs so that I follow him, and rest my palm against his great chest.
            He loosely guides my wrist so that my hand traces the length of his body, and then—

            “Ah.”
            I move my hand the rest of the way down on my own.
            I lightly move my fingers through the curls of his hair to the base of his cock, which is standing up like it’s been sculpted.
            …The shaft is wet.
            While he was doing that, he was apparently so into it that he started leaking precome, and the beads of fluid have run all the way down here—it seems that he wanted to show me this.

            “—”
            It’s in my hand, so I squeeze very slightly and start to stroke it.
            Gulcasa trembles underneath my embrace.
            He shakes with pleasure as I hold him, and his breathing goes uneven.
            …He doesn’t move away, so either he must still be feeling shy or he doesn’t want to risk escaping from my touch.
            His is much bigger than mine, and because his body temperature is normally higher, it’s so hot that I almost worry that my palm might be scalded.
            His voice escapes when I touch the head.
            It’s already quite wet.
            At this rate, I almost have to wonder if he was pleasuring himself while he tended to me.
            Gulcasa’s breath shakes.
            It’s faint, but his erection has begun to twitch lightly in my hand.
            Hiding his face from me, he shudders with tension and arousal.
            It’s in front of me, so I lean in a little bit closer and lick at his flushed earlobe.

            “Ah—”
            Instantly.
            Gulcasa lets out a cute moan, and his hips move shallowly, thrusting at my hand.

            “Ah—no, damn, I can’t make my hips stop—”
            Gulcasa’s breathing is rhythmic.
            As I tighten my grip and continue to stroke, he thrusts to meet my touch.

            “Nessiah—at this rate, I’m—”
            The weakness in his voice is intoxicating.
            As close as we are, the sound really does rumble throughout my body, a hum that makes my penis harden and start to throb.
            “No, I—want to do it inside you—”

            At those words.
            I release the pressure in my hand, gradually slow down the strokes, and let go when my hand comes to a natural stop.
            Gulcasa pulls back from our embrace, breathing deeply, and puts a hand to his chest as if carefully gathering himself.
            …His doing so allows me to look at him.
            He is so hard that his erection draws an upwards arc like mine, looking as if it gets any stiffer it will curl upwards and touch the tense skin of his stomach.

            …Gulcasa sighs.
            He looks at me directly.
            Rather than being unfocused, his gaze is sharp and intense, and it makes my heart jump.
            “—Nessiah.
            “Are you ready to?”

            …As much as I can.
            I smile for him.
            “…Yes.”

            “Go ahead and take that off, and lie down.”
            He gets up and leaves the side of the bed as he says so.
            …I remember that he said he took oil, so that must be what he’s looking for.
            I pull my dress over my head and let it fall to the floor.
            The night air is a little bit cool against my naked body.
            I put power into my legs and move back so that I can lie with my head and shoulders against the pillows.
            When I carefully rest back on the mattress, my legs fold in loose triangles, and I don’t bother to change position.
            This way—should be easier, since I’ll just have to open them later.

            “—”
            Gulcasa is back.
            He sits down heavily so that the mattress shakes slightly.
            He sets a bottle down near my side, and pulls his legs up onto the bed.
            Again, his hands are on either side of my body, and when he leans down over me, I reach and pull him close with both arms.

            Very lightly.
            Like the brush of a butterfly’s wing.
            His lips graze mine, soft and brief contact.
            …He doesn’t move to lock our lips together or to slide his tongue into my mouth, possibly out of consideration for how much I hate the taste of semen.
            Instead—Gulcasa moves down and gently traces a line of kisses down from my throat to my clavicle.
            His hands are on my body.
            Their touch is soft.
            …And—that’s all I need.
            That gentle touch is far more sensual and erotic than any kind of rough handling.
            Warm fingers run over my nipples, and Gulcasa nibbles at my collarbones like a whisper.
            “Ah—nn.”
            My voice comes out like a sigh.
            He moves further down, hands at my waist and lips settling against my chest.

            “Mm—”
            He licks the edge of my areola, and my mind starts to go hazy.
            His tongue rolls my nipple, and I feel it all the way down to my penis.
            The blood throbs in the same rhythm as the way his mouth caresses me.
            Vaguely.
            I’m aware that his hands have left my waist and that there are sounds of plastic moving, but all that’s important is that he keeps kissing me here.

            “Nessiah, I’m going to start getting you ready—”
            “Ah. Go ahead…”
            While I wasn’t paying attention, my legs have already fallen spread.
            Gulcasa’s hand settles between them so that the edge of his thumb lightly brushes the sensitive inside of my thigh, and his finger slides inside me, slick with oil.
            The faint and comfortable scent of olive oil tinges the air that’s already thick with the smell of our sweat and my come.
            Gulcasa straightens up in order to watch what he’s doing, but before I can manage to protest that his mouth has left my chest, he presses inside me to where it feels the best.
            “Ah—hah—”
            I lose the strength in my hips.
            Maybe that’s relaxed all of me, because Gulcasa slides a second finger in almost immediately.
            He moves his hand rhythmically.
            It’s only his hand, and there’s no real force, as he is just carefully making sure my body is accustomed to being penetrated, but my whole body shakes as if he’s thrusting into me with everything he has.
            If I had to try to pinpoint the reason why, it’s that every time he sinks his fingers inside me, he pushes deliberately against the place that’s driving me out of my mind, and it feels so nice that I can’t put up any resistance to the motion—

            But.
            When my erection is aching from the pleasant sensations—, Gulcasa slips his fingers out of me in a soft movement.
            The fog that was settling over my mind dissipates.
            He works the bottle with wet hands, and strokes the oil over himself.
            Even though it’s his own hands, he breathes deeply at the touch, and his face is so flushed that it looks like he’s masturbating in front of me.
            The thought heats up my head, and it’s troublesome.

            “—I can do that for you…”
            But Gulcasa shakes his head, biting his lip as if suppressing something.
            “I’m almost done, and—Nessiah, if you touch me now, I’m gonna come right away—”

            As if to prove his vulnerability, his speech is slipping and becoming less proper.
            …I watch as he runs his hand up and down the length of his penis so that the whole of his erection is shining with oil and precome.
            And, finally—he reaches out and slides his free hand underneath my hips to lift them up.

            “—”
            Gulcasa leans forward.
            His long hair sways as if to make a curtain around our bodies, and with a look of deep concentration on his face, he lines himself up with me.
            “I’m going to—”
            …I nod.
            Like silk.
            He thrusts into me in one smooth, flowing movement.

            “—! Ah—”
            …I can’t breathe.
            My vision is vague, my body is burning, and I can’t breathe properly.
            That’s only natural.
            Gulcasa’s hips are pressed against my thighs and buttocks, and he’s incredibly hot inside me.
            …I’ve missed this sensation for so long.
            He’s inside me.
            I’m honestly so happy that I could cry, and my relief is apparently so strong that my body doesn’t try to reject the foreign object, but rather welcomes him deep inside me.
            “—”
            “I’m—going to start moving.”
            Gulcasa, looking down from above me, tells me so.
            …He is feeling the same as me.
            The faint hints of a smile on his face are more than enough to prove that to me.

            Long strokes.
            The sensation burns and lingers in my fingertips, along my chest and nipples, heavy in my cock.
            Gulcasa presses only against the places that feel good.
            His expression is intense, as if it’s taking all his will to keep from letting go right now.
            The beating of his blood inside me is counterpoint to the rhythm of my own pulse.
            “—”
            He only thrusts into me, gradually building up speed and momentum so that his hips fall into a steady pistoning movement.
            His hands hold my hips tightly, not quite squeezing.
            My senses are so filled with his presence that even his touch there is interpreted as pleasure.

            Simple lovemaking.
            …But that’s really all that’s necessary.
            Gulcasa lifts my hips up further so that my legs naturally fall closer to my body, rising up so that he can push even deeper inside me.
            I’m already going to come any minute just from contact as comfortable and familiar as this.

            It’s been—so long.
            So long since my body has been touched with love.
            It’s not that it feels new, but rather that the familiarity is reassuring, and my defenses are down.
            Because of that, the pleasure is far more intense than usual.

            “Ah—Nessiah, I can’t—”
            “It’s—all right—”

            Gulcasa shakes his head twice as if trying to hold back the inevitable.
            But his hips have already begun to speed up, and the rhythm of his thrusts is in double time.
            The fierce and loving assault on the most sensitive place inside me is too much, and I—

            “Ah—Gulcasa, I—!”
            …I love you.

            His body cleaves to mine.
            His hips rock against mine with something almost like violence, and my body is already starting to arc when he bursts inside me with reckless force.

            …That’s it.
            My thoughts are deafened as I come.

 

            “Ah—hah, ah—”
            I can’t stop shuddering from where I lay in Gulcasa’s arms.
            My breath is ragged.
            My body is covered in sweat and stained with my own fluids, and I can still feel the warmth of his release inside me.
            …His breathing is a wreck too.
            But all we do is hold each other, naked on the rumpled bedsheets.

            …I can’t say anything.
            I’m exhausted.
            I feel more lucid than I have in something like a week, my internal stores nearly back to normal levels.
            …This should hold for another day or two, so long as no other Servants are defeated in that time.
            But far more importantly—I was finally able to love and be loved by Gulcasa again.
            Close, intimate contact.
            I’m resting in the arms of someone who I am absolutely safe with, and it’s so wonderful that this sensation does not even lose out to the ancient memories that I’ve been polishing for so long.

            “—From the beginning, I should have chosen you.”
            “—”
            Gulcasa’s eyes open, and he stares at me as if dumbfounded.

            …Then.
            He smiles radiantly.

            “If that’s how you feel—then just that is enough for me.”

            “…It’s not enough.”
            As grateful as I am for that face, and as happy as it makes me.
            “It’s not enough at all.
            “To make up for everything that I did wrong—I am going to succeed.
            “And after that, we will—finally be able to start up where we left off.
            “It will only be us, and I will never be able to apologize enough for that.
            “But—if all we can do is move forward, then that is all we can do.
            “I love you, and—my feelings may not be as pure as yours, but they’re invincible too.”

            “—”
            Gulcasa watches me with a blank expression.
            …And then, he smiles.
            “…Yeah.
            “You waited for me all this time with those feelings alone to sustain you.
            “I, too—should apologize, for not being able to save you.”

            Like that.
            …I regret my wrongdoing, and he regrets his ignorance.
            We hold each other in the night, naked and honest.
            ……And.
            Safe in Gulcasa’s arms, my mind sinks into sleep—