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Vagrant Grail Cadenza

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            —This is the story of someone dear to me.

            In the end, he kept moving simply because he did not know what else to do.
            He could not stand still when so much sacrifice and so much grief had bought his survival up until now, and so he would keep moving.
            Abandoned, betrayed, and having failed to save the people he loved the most—he still had his responsibilities as a ruler.
            And—as long as there were people at his back who would support him and rely upon him, he had no recourse but to plunge forward.

            The trip to the barren lands of the northeast was brutal.
            The princess’ army was in hot pursuit, and the princess herself made as much trouble for him as she possibly could.
            It would lower their effectiveness, but the young emperor had no choice but to leave his generals to guard the path behind him in clusters.
            If he could not complete the ritual and gain a perfect failsafe, then there was no meaning in coming this far.

            It was a combination of stubbornness and fear of letting his loved ones down.

            …Even though he had ordered them all to fall back when necessary.
            He would not know until much later that there were many who stayed and fought until their lives bled out on the blades of the princess’ soldiers, who died for love of him.

            The young emperor reached the old temple in the heart of the wastelands.
            Instructing his men to contain the princess outside, he went in alone and began the ritual that would create a sacrifice.
            …Eventually, there were sounds of fighting, and he was interrupted halfway by a runner who told him that the princess’ backup had already arrived and were fleeing the valley with her.

            The young emperor left the temple in a great charge, but the royal army was already too far away to catch.
            The younger of the twins had attempted to stall them, and had been wounded terribly; his priority had to be her survival.
            …And the ritual couldn’t be left halfway done.
            His mind had been made up already.
            …This ritual would ensure that he should have a last resort, if the princess ever attacked his country.
            The young emperor would gain further power as a demon by his choice, but more importantly, he would be able to accomplish something important with his life and his death if she ever got that far.
            He vaguely foresaw that if such a time came that he must complete this ritual, then all the people he loved would most likely already be dead.
            …If that was the case.
            Then he could give his duties as emperor over to a higher power.
            No one would shoulder such a burden but him.
            He had had more than enough of sacrifices in his name.
            …He was not a greedy conqueror, nor was he an arrogant tyrant.
            The young emperor was a knight at heart, and believed in the creed that would one day make the king of knights the beautiful ideal of all heroes.
            That the ruler of a country exists to lead and protect, and that the ruler must give their entire self to protect the people.

            If the time ever came that the princess had slain all that he loved.
            If the time ever came that the princess pointed her sword past his capital towards the town where he was born and raised, and threatened his people with him the only one left to defend them.
            Then he would gladly surrender his life, in the prayer that his ancestor would answer him with a miracle.

            The young emperor returned to his country.
            One of his dear friends—the knight had died to see him safe, betrayed by kin.
            Two of his people had betrayed him in that battle; the former royal soldier due to a grudge and the knight’s sister for the sake of stopping her brother.
            Many of his soldiers had been slain, and the younger of the twin girls had been brutalized and would not be able to take to the battlefield for quite a long time.
            Still, only a week after the catastrophic battle, the royal army moved out again.
            They headed not for the empire’s border, but for a land far to the west.
            The elder of the valkyrie girls explained to him that the sword, the kingdom’s greatest weapon, could only be fully utilized by a crowned sovereign; the princess must be seeking the sword’s hidden power in order to destroy them once and for all.

            …And so the young emperor mobilized all of his troops that could still do battle, and headed for the scorching lands of the west.
            When he arrived at the holy diocese at the edge of the continent, the princess was already departing for the island that only royal blood could enter.
            …He knew that his valkyrie bodyguard was a royal bastard child, even if she had never explained to him in detail.
            He dispatched her after the princess, while he and his troops would do battle with the princess’ backup so that he could dispatch her personally should she come back unscathed.

            As an effect of the ritual, the young emperor was now more demon than human.
            He trampled the battlefield in a glorious attack, and all of the royal army could barely restrain him in his new power.

            …But the price was that he had unbalanced his body again, and undermined what little stability he had gained over the last three years.
            In the height of battle.
            The young emperor suddenly coughed up blood and began to falter.

            The royal army knew not what was going on, but they at least understood that they had an advantage, and pressed it.
            The young emperor rallied his people and his collapsing body and tried to fight them back, but it was of little use.
            Though the spasms wracking his body were not a complete inversion impulse, on the inside he was a terrible mess.
            …In the end, he simply collapsed.
            His personal guard formed a barricade between him and the advancing royal soldiers, but at that time his sister’s aerial unit arrived.
            As she had many times before, she had sensed the imbalance of his blood, and had come to rescue him.
            …The last thing that the young emperor saw before he passed out was his sister’s face.

            After that, everything was a long and terrible fever dream.
            The prophet who had always been in charge of calming the young emperor’s body was no longer of this world, and so all that he could do was wait for the sickness to end on its own.

            He was too ill to lift his own body for weeks on end.
            …He thought, in his delirium, that the people he loved stood at his bedside and discussed distressing matters.
            He thought that the voices around him disappeared one by one.

            When he finally awoke.
            The young emperor was told by his people that his borders had fallen under the princess’ assault, and that the old general who had trusted in him and that his spymaster had died as heroes, fighting to keep the empire safe.
            The troops remaining to him were the two valkyrie sisters, both of whom were healthy enough to do battle; his master of ballistics, who was hard at work arming the castle for a final assault, using the magical weapons confiscated from the long-ago feuding magicians and a theoretical formula drafted by the departed prophet; and his sister, who was still in the field, trying to save the civilians.
            He was told that a saint had risen amongst the common people, and attempted to gather all those with able bodies in an effort to drive out the royal army.

            The princess had slaughtered her and all of her soldiers, not even caring that she fought against untrained militia with no real knowledge of how to swing a sword.

            His sister was still out in the field, doing what he would have done and fighting for the sake of the people.
            The young emperor, not quite well enough to ride forth and aid her, paced the corridors of his obsidian castle.
            He ordered evacuation plans drawn up, contacted the distant city where he had been born, and had confirmation that the trade city would accept the refugees.
            He organized his forces for the battle that would surely come, and made sure that the three women who remained with him understood their roles.
            At the same time, he paced and he prayed.

            …Finally.
            A messenger from the front lines reached him.
            His sister’s forces had been defeated, he was told.
            Every soldier had fought brilliantly to her death, he was told.
            His sister was among the slain, he was told.

            He bowed his head.
            The young emperor closed his eyes and dismissed the messenger as kindly as he could.
            …He waited for the sound of her footsteps to disappear, and allowed his body to bow down in grief, his voice to warp with tears.

            She had still been little more than a child, although she hated being called one.
            She had had too many bitter experiences of being defined by her youth, and assumed to be little more than a burden because of it.
            But she had had a long life ahead of her.
            …She had spent years homeless, searching for him, without even the power of her blood to protect her; they had crossed paths and not realized each other’s identities and gone their separate ways, and even when the prophet had brought them back together they had gone on in ignorance for quite some time.
            It should have been obvious, now that he thought about it.
            They looked quite alike, and even his sister had never put the truth together.
            The prophet had theorized once that it was a side effect of the seals on their blood, something like brain damage that prevented the realization from taking place.
            She had had three years at his side, but it wasn’t enough.
            They should have had longer together, grown powerful at each other’s side and led the country with the brand of their power.
            She was the only blood relative he had ever had who valued him without asking for anything in return.

            Three years wasn’t enough.
            Three years of peace, and it wasn’t enough.
            Wasn’t that what all of this had been for?
            A warm summer evening, a comfortable place with friends and loved ones, a sense of trust like that fleeting dream—
            But no matter how much he reached out for that dream, it kept vanishing like soap bubbles.

            How much of this conclusion was inevitable?
            How much of this conclusion had he caused directly?
            The young emperor was tired of fighting, tired of thinking, and the blame weighed him down and threatened to douse the fire in his heart.
            He had lost friends, family, those who relied on him above all else, the person he had loved more than anything in the world—
            And he grieved for them, and he cursed his own powerlessness, and he cursed the foolish girl who blindly carried out her birthright of destruction.

            His face was hard and tearstained as he gathered his men and confronted the princess’ army from atop the city gates.

            The girl stood on the distant ground and called to him to surrender unconditionally.
            That if he did as he was told, she would no longer harm his citizens.
            He heard the implicit threat like a blade against his throat.
            …What of his soldiers, then?
            Did she simply expect him to bow down for her to let her cut off his head, and take his place to run this country into the ground again?

            He told her to leave his land or die.
            When she tried to protest, questioned if he found her untrustworthy, he cut her off.
            They had nothing to say to each other.
            He had attacked her country; this was hard fact that could not be changed.
            To punish him, she had razed his.
            …And so there was nothing left to say.
            She could turn and leave, or she could finish the job, but he would never give up.

            The battle started after that.
            The young emperor immediately began directing the evacuation of the castle.
            …If the princess was able to break through the gates somehow, there would be very little time to get the civilians out afterward.

            But before he could progress to evacuating the people of the town, there was a great explosion from the direction of the city gates.
            …The princess’ army was already spilling into the capital.

            The two girls waded into the streets to occupy them.
            From the castle steps, the young emperor directed the exodus of his people.
            To give an example, it was quite like he was trying to hold a bursting dam closed with his own two hands.
            Too many of his people were dead, and the princess’ army was still at near to full strength.
            He had to prioritize the civilians before he moved to aid his soldiers, but without his backup it was inevitable that they would not hold for long.

            And finally, the younger of the twins perished under the princess’ sword.
            The elder of the valkyries, the only person he had left to stand at his side, made to gather the soldiers and attack her sister’s murderer in a suicide charge, but he called to her from the castle steps.
            She was wild with grief and responded rebelliously to his orders to fall back, but when he mentioned that it was time to fall back on their last resort, she became subdued and obeyed him.

            The princess’ troops chased them into the empty palace.
            The young emperor gathered his men to hold them at bay while the valkyrie regrouped her platoon, but with only his soldiers against a full army, he was not able to hold out for long.
            …Right at the point that it was becoming too dangerous to remain in the princess’ way, the valkyrie rallied to his defense, and he had his troops fall back in order to give first aid and reform the battle lines.
            But as it had been with him, the valkyrie could not hold the princess’ army back indefinitely.
            When he sensed that she was in trouble, he gave his injured troops orders to flee the castle without him, and ran to aid his last surviving friend.

            …Before he could reach her, the girl fell.

            She called out to him in a fading voice.
            Her words contained no bitterness or blame.
            She thanked him warmly for sheltering her and showing her kindness.
            She asked him to complete the revenge against the kingdom that had abandoned her, as she and her sister no longer could.
            …The valkyrie passed away, and finally left him on his own.

            His body wanted to bow down and collapse.
            The despair was already so heavy that he could not possibly raise his head ever again.
            …All that he had loved was ruined now.
            The people that he depended on to be able to make it through each day had all gone beyond his reach, and he was finally alone, as he had not been since his earliest memories.
            He couldn’t bring them back with victory.
            …He could not see himself being able to survive without them.

            But—he still had the power left to avenge them.
            And if he fell here, the people would be helpless against the princess’ invasion.
            So the young emperor held tightly to his weapon and raised his head.

                        “I won’t accept an end like this.”

            He spoke those words, and relinquished all control over his demon’s blood.
            In that moment, the empty castle ignited, becoming a mirror of the barren, burning plains that he had always held in his heart.
            He could no longer think.
            All of the young emperor’s senses were warped and vague, and only the physical sensations of battle were clear.
            He roared like a beast, or like his ancestor the demonic dragon, and twisted and fought against the army that even now attempted to strike him down.

            …But even relinquishing all trace of his humanity, the young emperor was just one man fighting against an entire army.
            The princess and her soldiers scored his body with their weapons, painting the castle floor with his blood and damaging several vital organs.
            …This time, there would be no one coming to save him, and his body and his mind and his heart were all irreparably broken anyway.
            The young emperor could feel his body beginning to shut down, his vision going indistinct and his breathing coming with difficulty.
            But that was just as well.
            The young emperor gathered what was left of his strength and ran into the shrine at the depths of the castle.

            …The ritual he had enacted in the distant battleground made it so that one sacrifice in this shrine would resurrect his ancestor.
            With the princess’ escape, the young emperor had not allowed anyone else to shoulder the burden of becoming the sacrifice, and had taken on the role personally.
            As long as he died at the altar before the abyss, the demon god would be revived.
            His ancestor would rise up and reclaim this land, destroy the enemy, and rule where he no longer could.

            He carried his failing body towards the abyss.
            …But the princess followed him into the shrine alone, still grasping her sword.

            He was dying, and the pressure of the god’s presence made it difficult for her to move.
            It would barely constitute a battle, and certainly did not match the level of the carnage they had wrought against each other before.
            They brandished their weapons and grappled with each other feebly, until finally she struck him down.

            His body collapsed in the middle of the shrine.
            He felt suddenly awake, and stared at the princess from where he knelt on the ancient stone.

            The princess let her sword come to rest beside her.
            With a pained expression, she spoke to him.
            She spoke of how she fought for the world, and her desire to use her power to protect.
            An odd—sensation.
            It had only just occurred to him that she was still very young, probably about the same age that he had ascended the throne.
            …She had not had a mentor to explain to her the nature of power, nor had she been able to grow up knowing the varied shapes of injustice as he had.
            She might desire peace and justice, but her upbringing in such a skewed culture was getting in her way and preventing her from using her power effectively.
            He wondered how long it would take for her, and how many times that she would lose her way as she tried to do right by the world she had conquered.
            All that he knew for certain was that her power was great, and that as she was now, he would not be able to come to terms with her in the time he had left.

            The young emperor smiled.
            Perhaps he took the princess off guard, because she fell silent and stared at him with a troubled expression.
            The smile on his face was gentle and sad.
            It was slightly wry, as though he mocked himself and simultaneously laughed at the irony in her earnestly proclaiming ideals that they shared.

            …He closed his eyes and sighed in the very end.
            He had run through the days of his life with all his strength.
            He had done everything that he could think of to achieve his goals, obtained many things, and lost many things.
            Feelings of frustration and sadness still lingered over the ruin of this end.
            Even so.
            Perhaps it was stubborn and foolish, but he thought in the end that there were things that he could be proud of having created, and fixed, and loved.
            He had wanted to be with his people for longer.
            He had wanted to love everyone around him so much more, and help so many more people.
            Had he managed to do enough?
            Had he been able to make anything really change for the better?
            …He had run through his twenty years without turning back even once.
            It was impossible to know anything for sure.
            …He grieved for the lives lost, and his own weakness and inability to save his people.
            But even in his frustration and his pain.
            He did not want to believe that everything he had done was mistaken.

            …He had lived, and he prayed that something of his efforts, of his feelings for the people would survive him.
            That his love would leave marks on the world as surely as the footprints he had tread.
            He had done the best that he knew how.
            He was proud to have met and loved all those who had gone before them.
            …If nothing else, he was glad for that.

 

            The young emperor closed his eyes and died.
            As if setting down some great burden, the young emperor died with a smile on his face.

 

            “—Ah.”
            …I push myself into a sitting position as soon as I wake.
            My face is already wet with tears, and even if I wipe them away, they simply won’t stop.
            This isn’t good.
            It isn’t good, but warm tears keep falling down my cheeks like rain.

            “That dream was—”
            My voice is shaking.
            Noticing that makes me feel like I’m detached from my body.
            It feels like I’m making an observation about someone else.
            That’s how much of a given it is for my voice to shake right now.

            I don’t know what I’m feeling.
            Watching Gulcasa’s dying face, seeing him hold on to his pride and give up on all the things he dreamed of and wanted to do—
            Part of it is anger at him, I think.
            I’m angry, because I don’t want him to say or think such stupid things.
            But there is also guilt, because he wouldn’t have met such an end if not for me, and deep sadness. It’s all a great agonized mess, and it feels like my heart is tearing itself apart.

            My body feels light and alert, and I am warm and in a safe place.
            But even though my physical condition is much better than it has been in a very long time, it hurts so much that I just don’t know what to do.
            …Because Gulcasa always has to be shining brightly.
            Because if Gulcasa can’t live with the pride and majesty that I have always loved about him, I won’t know what to do anymore.
            Selfishly.
            Even though I know how things turned out after my death, the Gulcasa in my heart was always standing tall and unbroken, a symbol of shelter and of charity.
            He should have—had more time.
            It’s unfair to him and to everyone, the way that I have him now.
            It’s stupid to believe so, maybe, but I can’t help but feel as though Gulcasa would have been savior to so much if he had lived a full life.
            He is alive now in a manner of speaking as my Servant, but he won’t be anyone’s savior but mine ever again.
            I’m selfish, and so that is enough for me.
            …But even so—I know it’s not fair.

            “—I’m so sorry.”
            I hide my face in my hands and finally say it out loud.

            Those words are all I have to offer.
            …I know that it isn’t enough.
            The star that disappeared from the sky won’t ever return.
            But even so.
            All I can do is acknowledge that what happened was wrong.

            “…Nessiah.”
            By the time I realize it, Gulcasa is standing in the doorway.
            I’m sitting up in bed, in my room in Roswell’s house, and Gulcasa has come back in after being absent for my awakening.
            …Oh.
            This is bad.
            I don’t want him to see the state I’m in and ask questions.

            “…Nessiah.”
            But it’s too late to try to hide my face now.
            ……I must really be a sight, with my face all red and sticky with the traces of tears.
            I don’t know what to say.
            …I’m tired, and confused because I’ve barely woken up, and anyhow the dream is still so vivid that I don’t know if I can actually come up with some kind of passable excuse.

            “—”
            But Gulcasa doesn’t ask.
            He crosses the room and puts his arms around me, holding me tightly.
            My cheek and my arm are pressed against his chest, and I can vaguely feel the sensation of his heartbeat against my fingertips.

            Gulcasa is very solid.
            He is here with me now, half-incarnate.
            He is half-alive.
            Even if it’s only a temporary body made by my prana and the Grand Grail’s pre-prepared vessel, it is solid and warm.
            The arms that support and cradle me are as kind and as implacable as they have always been.

            “Hey.”
            Gulcasa lifts me up with one arm and touches my face with his free hand.
            He touches my cheeks softly but firmly, and wipes them dry.
            His facial expression is almost neutral, but there’s a little bit of tension at the corners of his mouth that betrays his worry.

            “…I’ll be all right.”
            I don’t think that I could adequately explain what I’m feeling right now, so this is really all the explanation that I can give.
            I wrap both my arms around Gulcasa’s shoulders, lean against him, and close my eyes so that I won’t have to look at his expression.

            “I see…”
            Even so, his voice sounds pensive, like he’s not sure how far he can get away with prying.
            Perhaps he already has some inkling of why I’m acting like this, as he’s experienced some of my memories in his dreams as well.
            “—Anyhow, would you like to take a bath? I think you might feel better if you can get clean.
            “You went out like a light in the middle of the trip home, so all I could do last night was sponge you off a little so that you wouldn’t get sick from sleeping all dirty.”

            “…Oh, that isn’t a bad idea.”
            I try to smile.
            Gulcasa lets me down, and I pick up a new set of clothes and head to the bathroom on my own two feet.

            There isn’t enough time to really take a soak, but even just being able to wash my hair and my face is refreshing.
            I stretch out the muscles in my legs, towel off, and get dressed.

            Downstairs.
            Gulcasa and Roswell are in the kitchen.
            “—Where is Yggdra?”

            Roswell comes to the counter and says good morning, and smiles bitterly.
            “She’s still recovering in the summoning circle downstairs.
            “I’m going to bring some food for her later, but for right now I don’t want to push her.
            “She was still injured when we went to rescue you, and the injuries on top of that were really too much for her to deal with.
            “……Even once the outside of the wounds heals, I think that just moving around and staying in solid form is going to be all that she can handle for a while. We’re not going to be able to assist you in the battle tonight.”

            I breathe out.
            Honestly, it’s about what I was expecting.
            But my body is in good condition right now, and I have allies who will fight at my side nevertheless; this is all I can ask for.

            “…Oh. Come to think of it, where is—”
            I haven’t seen her yet.
            But her presence is in this house despite that, so it seems odd that I haven’t stumbled across her until now.

            As if understanding my question even when I haven’t finished it, Roswell smiles a little and points to the living room.
            I turn around.
            Avenger—Meria is stretched out on the sofa.

            She lies on her back with a blanket thrown over her.
            She’s tall, so she takes up the full length of the sofa with her head and shoulders cushioned on the pillows propped against one armrest and her feet crossed at the ankles on the other.
            There must not have been nightwear that fit her, because even though she’s asleep she’s wearing a black sleeveless shirt and a pair of long pants.
            They must have been hers already, because I really get the feeling that Roswell and Yggdra’s clothes would be too small for her.

            Meria sleeps as if she hasn’t got a care in the world.
            …That’s audacious.
            She wasn’t collapsing from exhaustion like me, or like Gulcasa had been the time that he slept on the very same couch, but she still decided to lie down and sleep on a complete stranger’s furniture like she had no fear.
            I suppose that with Yggdra out of commission, she judged that Roswell wouldn’t be able to do anything to her and that Gulcasa wouldn’t harm an allied Servant anyway.
            That’s a sensible judgment to make, but there’s also a sense of flippancy and a kind of bravery to knowingly making oneself vulnerable in an unfamiliar environment.
            …I don’t think I would be able to do the same.

            “It’s going to be a while until breakfast, so you can go ahead and wait wherever you like.”
            Gulcasa tells me this, so I sit down in a chair in the living room and wait.
            The atmosphere is relaxed and easy.
            The passage of time is slow and gentle.
            …Even so, I can feel the seconds slipping by very acutely, and it feels as if sand is sliding quietly into the lower half of an hourglass.

            I can feel a pulse at my fingertips.
            The pressure in my body is only a vague echo of what it was yesterday in the false holy land, but it’s there nonetheless.
            The summoning has to happen tonight at the latest—or to be precise, early tomorrow morning, after the date changes but before the sun rises.
            If not, the prana of the defeated Servants will disappear from inside me as the Grand Grail goes back into hibernation, and the Servants who are not anchored to this world with a contract and sufficient prana will be drawn back to the Throne.
            …I can well imagine what will happen if that comes to pass.
            Hector will come to find me again, and will likely wait until the opening of a seventh Holy Grail War, to use me as the vessel again and again until he is satisfied.
            …And even so, I don’t think that he would let us wait out the night if we wanted to take our chances.
            Roswell and Yggdra cannot aid us, but when the time comes, I will head to the Tohsaka workshop of my own free will, and take the chance to obtain my wish.

 

            …It takes a while for breakfast to be finished, but eventually a grand feast is laid out upon the table.
            As apparently Yggdra will not be joining us, there are only four places set.
            I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go about waking Meria, but she courteously saves me the trouble while Roswell and Gulcasa are still bustling about the kitchen and table.

            “—Nice service,” is her first comment, which makes Roswell turn very red.
            I nod to her in mock seriousness.
            Meria sits leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and a leer on her face, and again I can’t help but find her cavalier air incredible.
            If I hadn’t been ill at the time, I don’t know if I would have started off this much at ease in this household.
            “Yes.
            “Saber’s Master shares a few proclivities with my Gulcasa, and as you might imagine, living in a household with not merely one but a pair of house husbands has its perks.”
            “—Hmm.”
            The tall Servant folds her arms and nods with a straight face.
            “I see, I see.
            “So ever since you’ve gotten allies, you got pampered, huh?—Yeah, that must’ve been nice.”

            I lift myself to my feet carefully.
            The entire house is filled with the scent of warm breakfast.
            Time is continuing to pass, but—

            “…It is indeed nice.
            “So, even if it’s a little bit late—we’re finally fulfilling Gulcasa’s offer to cook for you, and extending the treatment to you for today.”

            It feels as though we take our time with the meal, and yet at the same time it is over very quickly.
            The dishes are taken to the sink to be cleaned, and even though I know that the food was delicious, the taste does not linger.

 

            “—Then.
            “In the time remaining before the final window of action—we need to come up with some kind of plan.”

            The air changes.
            Roswell is still washing the dishes, but the silhouette of his shoulders is tense.
            Both Gulcasa and Meria look at me.
            Gulcasa sits still and looks directly at me, and Meria remains in a casual leaned-back position, her gaze focused at me while she tips her head back.

            “…My guess is that by the time we arrive at the Tohsaka workshop after midnight, the enemy will already be there.
            “He will probably know that I won’t want to waste the chance to have my wish granted either, and may not even bother trying to undo the boundary field upon this place because of that.
            “Our enemies will be Caster and her Master.
            “Caster is an archangel, and a very powerful one, but aside from that…”

            “—If you need to know about her abilities, I can tell you.”
            Meria suddenly volunteers the information.
            Her disposition has changed, and there is no playfulness or sarcasm to her voice and her pose now.
            “She’s a top-class Servant, as you might be able to guess just by looking at her.
            “She’s oriented towards magecraft rather than physical combat, but her defense is still very strong and can’t be overwhelmed except by weapons and Noble Phantasms that exceed a certain rank.
            “Furthermore, she has three Noble Phantasms—her weapon, her armor, and the spell that serves as her ultimate technique.
            “I’ve fought her before, and not just as Servants. We knew each other when we were alive.
            “—She and I were born from the same existence.”

            Her gaze is bitter.
            Meria does not look at me or at Gulcasa, but glares into the distance as if confronting her rival directly.

            “—Look, even if you weren’t my Master now, I wouldn’t be able to leave that woman alone.
            “From the moment that I was born—no, even longer than that, she’s done nothing but deny my right to exist.
            “I don’t care so much about inscrutable relics like the Holy Grail, but she’s the only one I can’t let run around.
            “The last time we fought wound up in something like a draw, but… this time won’t be like before.”

            She growls silently with the weight of her grudge.
            …Hmm.

            “As for Caster’s Master.
            “…Well, he’s my enemy, so I know his capabilities the best.
            “He is already an existence about on parallel with a Servant because of his age and abilities.
            “I myself come from the same general era as him, but I’ve lost my original powers and been weakened by being in captivity for so long.
            “While I was fighting and struggling to make my way in the world of mortals, he’s had a comfortable seat in the realm of the gods. The most frustrating thing is that he didn’t spend that time resting on his laurels, either, but increasing his political and magical power, and developing new techniques through state-of-the-art materials and experiments.
            “So—while I hate to admit it, I’m not really a match for him by myself.
            “If I were at the height of my powers and actually had some of my artifacts instead of just my self-developed magecraft, I might stand a chance.
            “—Or even if I had a Diviner, I might be able to somehow fight my way through his offensive techniques to be able to strike him down.
            “But I don’t, so I simply have to rely upon my Servants or try to prepare a countermeasure in the time that I have.”

            …I can’t help but sigh.
            “Nessiah.
            “—You’re physically able at least, so…”
            Even though he knows better, Gulcasa says so half-heartedly as if trying to encourage me.

            “It’s no use.
            “—Honestly, even if I were overestimating Hector’s ability level, I don’t know if I would be able to face him the way that I am now.
            “I need to arm myself mentally, or I might break down the instant the two of us come face to face on the battleground.”

            I feel slightly nauseous, just admitting that much.
            But it’s true.
            The same way that the gods who carelessly threw me away are a source of trauma for me, that man also holds thrall over me mentally.
            He treated me as a toy to abuse at the same time that things first fell apart, and then he deliberately searched for me so that he could use me as a convenient experiment after my mistakes in Gulcasa’s time.
            He defiled me endlessly, all for his entertainment.
            …If I am to be honest with myself—it is a blessing above all blessings that he did not harm me while I was unconscious, the last time that I was his captive.
            If I had awakened to discover traces of assault, I might have broken down for good.

            To go against that man in a deliberate confrontation means knowing that I will be subject to the same treatment all over again if I lose.
            That’s frightening.
            Even the thought that he might lay the palm of his hand on my skin makes me feel like vomiting.
            I don’t want to go through that again. I am tired of being hurt, of feeling dirty and wanting to shred my mind rather than be aware of even one more moment of his torture.
            …And on top of the fear itself is the worry that my fear might paralyze me.
            I would do anything to not fall into his hands again, and I cannot risk that my body might suddenly refuse to obey me or that screaming fear might cut off my reason if we were to come into contact again.
            The last time I was alone in his presence, I lost consciousness just because of that fear.

            So—giving myself special means of attack and defense has more meaning than just making sure that I might be at a level of power where victory against him is possible.
            Without some manner of reassurance that I will not absolutely lose, I cannot stand against Hector mentally.

            So—it would have been preferable to go into the battle with as many allies as possible.
            Caster will take time and effort, and I may have to leave dispatching her to one ally while going ahead to finish things.
            If so, then I need both a means of arming myself, and someone beside me to fight with me and to protect me if I collapse mentally.
            Roswell and Yggdra would have been superb for that role.
            With her innate magic resistance, Yggdra at her full strength could have deflected at least some of Hector’s magecraft and provided a distraction, and as a healer, Roswell would have been able to support me mentally and emotionally until I could join the battle again.
            But Yggdra is incapable of battle after receiving so many injuries.
            Even if she regenerated as much as possible today, I know that she would only be at a quarter capacity of her full power in the very best case scenario.

            But this isn’t as terrible as it could have been.
            Because—Gulcasa and I are not alone.
            Meria is with us.
            Both of my shoulders are branded with the holy mark.
            Carrying them both—granted this new pair of wings, I will have to see for myself if I will be able to fly… huh.

            “…Neither Gulcasa nor Meria possesses innate magic resistance.
            “To begin with, Meria’s irregular class means that she doesn’t have any innate skills.
            “But, even if the situation is not ideal, it is far better than the worst case scenario.
            “—Two battles will have to be fought tonight.
            “I am a more competent magus than that Yellma.
            “Even serving as Master to both of you, you are at your maximum capacity as Servants.
            “Therefore—one of you will have to handle Caster, while one of you will come with me in order to confront Hector.”

            …If I were to be honest.
            Gulcasa is best suited to battle Caster.
            He is the stronger Servant, and besides, as long as his enemy is a Servant—no, as long as his enemy is armed with a Noble Phantasm or a grand ritual, he can blow it away with his greatest trump card and defeat his opponent.
            Meria also has an extremely powerful Noble Phantasm, but she might have trouble matching Caster in a battle of endurance.
            Even with my power boosting her abilities, she might not be able to defeat Caster.

            All the same, this is opposite from the feelings of my Servants.
            Meria has a personal grudge against Caster, and less investment in fighting Hector.
            Gulcasa has enmity towards Hector for abusing me, and to him Caster is just another opponent.
            I can’t be sure that they will obey my judgment.

            “…Anyhow, we can decide that part later.
            “Once I begin the Heaven’s Feel, I would be extremely vulnerable to attack, so it is important to defeat both Caster and her Master.
            “There are still only five Servants defeated, and at least six need to be processed to make the Holy Grail actually usable.”
            Seven would be ideal, of course, but I can’t force Yggdra to just relinquish the prana that makes up her physical vessel.

            “Then—for the actual battle against Caster’s Master, what will you do?
            “If he’s that powerful, then just overwhelming him with two against one might not work unless there’s a real plan.”
            Meria points out the truth bluntly.

            “…I know.
            “There isn’t time to circle around in front of him and lay traps in the Tohsaka workshop, as he may have a familiar there for observation or even be there in person already.
            “…No, I need a weapon that can compete with that man.
            “It’s just frustrating that I have to rely on a method that’s so unreliable.”

            “Nessiah?”
            Gulcasa is staring at me.
            …It appears that I will have to be more specific.

            “—Look, my strengths as a magus all lie in innovation and invention.
            “I don’t have the time or the freedom to create an entirely new spell or branch of magic in time for the fight, so that leaves me with only the path to prepare an artifact.
            “…And materials in this age that has already departed from fantasy are weak and subpar. Even if I were able to get the highest quality of pure metals and jewels, I require orichalcum and mithril, and pure gemstones that have already been treated multiple times and imbued with bountiful prana; I would need blueprints and magical herbs to use in tempering, and the tools of a forge.
            “There’s no way that I could get my hands on things like that at this day and age. Back in the time of Ancardia, I had a temple that was filled with appropriate materials, but now I don’t even have so much as my own atelier. I couldn’t even create my own workshop here, in another magus’ territory.
            “Which leaves me with one path.”

            While Gulcasa and Meria continue to watch me curiously, I call out to Roswell.

            “Is Yggdra in the condition where she will be able to manifest herself?”
            Roswell turns the sink off and stares at me as if bewildered.
            “—Probably, but she won’t be able to leave the basement yet…”
            “It’s all right; as long as she can take solid form, she doesn’t even have to leave the summoning circle.
            “If I want this to work, I need a reference.”
            “…?”
            Roswell tilts his head to the side.
            I stand up.
            Time is already running out, and doubtless I’m going to need some rest time between this endeavor and our departure.

 

            “—Eh, my Noble Phantasm?!”

            Yggdra stares at me with wide eyes.
            I stand across from her in the basement, with Gulcasa and Meria on either side of me and Roswell watching from the stairwell.

            “I believe that I will be able to take it out, but using it would be impossible…”
            “That’s fine.
            “…I just need to be able to look at it for a while.”

            “Nessiah, what are you doing?”
            There is suspicion in Gulcasa’s voice even as he asks, so I’m sure he must have some idea already.
            But the others surely don’t understand, and it wouldn’t do well to keep this a secret when I may need help.

            “If I can’t create a weapon from scratch, my only option is to start with a copy of something I already know how to make.
            “—If you’ve fought the Riders or against Lancer, you might have seen that all of their Masters were capable of derived forms of projection, which has given me the idea.”
            “—Projection?”
            Roswell sounds entirely dumbfounded.
            I’m certain that a magus of his standing at least knows what projection is, and so that must not be what’s confusing him.

            “I have the appropriate Magic Circuit, but I’m not any good at it, so I can use all the help I can possibly get.
            “I just need some practice time.”

            “But—wait.”
            Roswell shakes his head.
            “Projection is creating an object from the magus’ mental image.
            “As long as imagination and belief are strong enough, there shouldn’t be any problems, but…”
            “That’s going by an ordinary standard.
            “I am capable of projection magic, but there isn’t any way that I could ever work it successfully—it’s a matter of my nature being incompatible.
            “I’m a maker. I create real artifacts, real things. My magic depends on absolute and intimate knowledge of every detail of a thing I work with, down to each individual material it’s composed of.
            “So unlike an ordinary projection magus, who would be battling their own mentality and Gaia trying to deny the object they have made, I will instinctively deny an object unless it is duplicated perfectly—and sometimes even then.
            “As a creator, I cannot project objects of pure imagination solidified into prana because as long as I know that they are not real, I will deny them from my own subconscious.
            “Therefore.
            “If I wish to rely upon such an unstable trump card as projection, I must strive for the greatest possible degree of verisimilitude, through practice with the actual object before my eyes.”

            “—”
            Silence from my audience.
            …Somehow it feels judgmental, as if I’m being accused of the sheer stupidity of my course of action.
            I know it’s stupid without their telling me so.

            “—And so you’re going to try projecting Saber’s Noble Phantasm as your weapon to use against Caster’s Master.”
            Meria says so, as if to confirm it.
            She whistles softly when I don’t deny her words.
            “Well, I guess nobody can accuse you of lacking confidence.”

            Yggdra shakes her head.
            “…According to our previous conversations—Nessiah was the one to create my Noble Phantasm in the first place.
            “If he has that level of power, then I would expect that this is a natural course of action for him, and not overconfidence or disrespect towards Heroic Spirits in general.”

            “Hmm, is that so.”
            Meria keeps looking on in a nonplussed fashion.

            “—I will cooperate.”
            Yggdra says so definitively.
            “I believe that that is fair of you to ask, as we’re allies but I cannot actually fulfill the terms of the alliance and be of help in the final battle.”
            She hesitates.
            “…Under the circumstances, I would even consider lending you the Noble Phantasm itself, but… I believe that as it has manifested as my Noble Phantasm, it’s no longer connected with you.
            “Under such conditions, only I should be able to wield it, and even if one of my ancestors were to be summoned into this war alongside me, they wouldn’t be able to activate it if they held it.”

            “That’s approximately my understanding of things, too.”

            I sit down on the floor.
            Yggdra sits down cross-legged in front of me and holds her hands out flat, as if mimicking the lotus position.
            Her great broadsword—the Gran Centurio appears balanced atop her hands.

            “—This is going to take a great deal of concentration.
            “I’m going to be at this for a while, and so I’m sorry to impose in this way, but I need either Meria or Gulcasa to remain here with me.
            “That is—if I become exhausted and don’t realize it, I will probably need someone to steady me before I collapse, and anyway I will need someone to monitor my physical condition so that I don’t drain myself too much.
            “I will lose track of time after this, and so someone will need to stop me at around the time dinner preparations begin.
            “I do need to eat lightly in preparation for the battle, but I may be nauseous for a while after this procedure.”

            As I give out instructions, I notice that Gulcasa is staring at me with something like horror in his eyes.
            His face is extremely pale, and his fists are clenched tightly.

            “…Nessiah.”
            Even the tone of his voice is strange.
            “When you say that you need someone to monitor your physical condition, you don’t mean…”
            And for some reason, his question trails off there.
            Gulcasa seems incredibly uneasy for some reason.
            His eyes are very wide, he is white-faced, and he does not seem to know how he should shift his weight.

            “…?
            “If you’re asking to make sure that there’s not going to be any undue physical stress on me, then my only answer is that there shouldn’t be.
            “I’m not so unskilled a magus that I would do myself a serious injury in practice. I’ll just be concentrating so intensely that I won’t be able to notice if something happens, and so I need someone to alert me if there’s any sudden change.”

            “—That’s not exactly it.”
            Gulcasa evades my gaze with a complicated expression.
            “It’s because—this sword is…
            “Let me rephrase my question. Projecting this sword in perfect detail—isn’t going to cause you physical harm, will it?”
            A soft question like he’s begging me to tell him no.
            ……Oh.
            That’s what this is about.

            I try to smile in reply.
            …I’m an idiot.
            If Gulcasa is so worried about this that he looks like he’s going to be sick, then something must have happened to give him cause to worry so much.
            “Again—there shouldn’t be.
            “I’m not recreating the sword. I don’t have the time or the materials, and the toll on my body would be far too stressful for me to be able to go into battle immediately afterward.
            “Besides, a newly created Gran Centurio would lack the power of a duplication, which would defeat the purpose.
            “It’s projection, so I’ll just be constructing a fake copy of it.”

            …Gulcasa doesn’t look completely convinced.
            But I suppose that’s only reasonable, from his perspective.
            …I can’t know how he felt, if he saw that in my memory.
            I can’t know, but—seeing the anxiety on his face now makes me regret that he had to witness something that gruesome.

            “—So then, I guess you’re going to want to stay here and look after him?”
            Apparently attempting to get the discussion back on track, Meria turns to Gulcasa.
            …But Gulcasa shakes his head minutely with a pained smile.
            “…I couldn’t. I would be too afraid to watch and would intervene right away.
            “You should watch him instead.
            “—Because you’re like we are—well, I’d be able to relax if you did it.”

            Gulcasa goes back up the stairs as if he’s running away.
            …Ah.
            I kind of want to go after him, but I know it’s useless.

            Meria tilts her head to the side.
            “—What was that all about?”
            Even Roswell and Yggdra look rather bewildered.
            …I shake my head.

            “…It’s all right.
            “He knows how the original sword was made—that’s all.
            “The rest of you probably should not know the cost to me at that time; it’s not a happy story to tell.”

            The three of them exchange looks.
            As long as they are all aware that my actions right now will not change no matter how many protests I meet, that’s fine.

            “Then, I suppose I’ll go and keep Gulcasa company.”
            Roswell bows his head.
            “I’ll come back down before dinner starts, so take your time until then.”

            After that, it’s just the three of us left in the basement.
            Yggdra sits quietly in the summoning circle with her Noble Phantasm in her hands, and I sit on the cold floor before her.
            Meria finds a cushion and eases herself down onto it, sitting with her legs stretched out.

            “…If anything out of the ordinary happens to my body, or if I seem to be about to pass out, just shake my body lightly and I’ll know to stop.”

            Leaving those directions, my mind is clear and my will is set.

            “—Then. Let’s begin.”
            I give my senses over to my coursing Magic Circuit with a sensation like a firing hammer being cocked—

 

            “Ga—ah.”
            A dull throbbing.
            “—”

            My consciousness is hazy.

            It feels as though a stake is being driven into my brain through my eye socket, and my body is heavy with dripping sweat.

            My senses are dull and my body aches all over, as if I have a fever.

            “—”
            I can’t continue any longer, and stop trying to support myself with my wavering body.

            “Hey—”
            At the moment that I am about to collapse, callused hands hold me up.
            Oh.
            That’s Meria’s voice.

            “Man, you said stuff like if you seem about to pass out, but I didn’t think you’d actually start to faint. What happened to being such a big-shot magus?”
            She’s complaining.
            I open my eyes, but my vision doubles and sways, and it makes my headache worse.
            So I close them again.

            “—Um, are you all right?”
            Even Yggdra is asking in a raised voice.

            “—I’ll be all right.
            “I’m tired and I have a migraine, that’s all.”
            Somehow, I manage to reply to them.

            “I think that means you’re done, right?
            “Anyhow, the floor is cold and there’s nothing comfortable in here, so we’re taking you upstairs. Hey, help me with him—”

            While things like that are being said around me, my body is lifted up into a standing position.
            I feel dizzy and even more nauseous and disoriented.
            I try to open my eyes and am immediately assaulted by vertigo.
            “—”
            That was a bad idea. Let’s keep them closed.

            Hands support me from either side, and I am brought awkwardly up the stairs.
            …It’s bright.
            I try awkwardly to shield my face, even as I am ushered along to a destination I can’t see.

            “—Nessiah—”
            And then I hear Gulcasa’s voice.
            …I’m still too disoriented to open my eyes, but he sounds worried.

            “I’m all right.
            “I have a headache, but if I rest then it should go away—”

            “Here, I’ll take him.”
            In the next moment.
            I am lifted up into warm and familiar arms.

            Gulcasa carries me for a short distance, and then I am set down upon a soft surface.
            …I believe that this is the living room couch.

            Gulcasa doesn’t speak, but his presence lingers.
            There are soft sounds in the distance, as though everyone else is busy off in the background.

            The sickness and the headache dissipate in soft folds like waves.
            By the time I am able to open my eyes again, the light through the windows is golden, and there is a warm smell coming from the kitchen where Roswell works.

            “—”
            Gulcasa is sitting next to me.
            …I can see that Yggdra is up in the kitchen with her Master, and Meria appears to be heckling the pair of them from the table, but Gulcasa is next to me on the sofa.
            He looks only at me.
            His body is haloed in the gold light of the evening, as if he is garbed in a cloak made of flames.
            And—despite everything, just sitting like this makes me feel at peace.

            Gulcasa notices my gaze.
            He shifts to face me more directly and reaches out to touch my forehead, grazing my skin delicately with warm fingertips.

            “—Hello.”
            “—”
            His eyes widen for a moment, and then—
            “…Yeah, good morning.
            “How was it?”
            “…Hmm.
            “Well, it’s better than nothing, so I’ll take the risk.
            “For a magic that my body isn’t suited towards and a weapon that my existence itself will deny, I think I at least have some small chance of success.”

            “—Are you lucid?”
            From the dining room, Roswell calls.
            “That’s good, you’re just in time.
            “Here’s food, and then after dinner we’ll have a little bit of time to relax and take a few extra measures before you have to head out.”

 

            …And the sun goes down on the last day I will spend in this house.
            We will leave at around midnight, which still leaves several hours.
            Dinner is silent.
            It all closes down like that, and I can’t think of anything to say.

            When Yggdra is washing dishes, I reach out and take Gulcasa’s hand.

            “We’re going to take time alone, just for a while, before it’s time to leave.”

            Roswell nods like he understands, and Meria does not react, as though this is merely a matter of course.
            …I take Gulcasa’s hand, and we go up the stairs with our hands connected.

 

            “—”
            I turn on the lights and sit down on the bed.
            This room is like it always is.
            It’s small, closed, dimly lit and cluttered, but it’s become “my” space for the past week or so.
            It’s the first real shelter I’ve had since escaping from Hector’s imprisonment.
            …The shack was able to serve as a roof over our heads, but the living conditions there were so excessively poor that the stress of exposure was wearing away at my health almost as much as having had this body forcibly rewired to serve as a grail.
            So—after having gained the alliance of Roswell and Yggdra, this place became the first real shelter I have had in countless years.

            The room is like it always is.
            Gulcasa sits next to me, and we both stare at the wall in silence.

            He is warm.
            His burning demon’s blood and naturally high temperature make him radiate heat, and I think that without him next to me I probably would be shivering right now.
            The atmosphere is so tense that I am even afraid to make any noise.
            The air is heavy with tension, with fear and impatience.

            …It’s funny.
            There should be so much that we have to say to each other here and now, alone with each other on the edge of the last battle.
            Things that we can’t say in front of the others, promises to make.
            But it’s so silent.
            There is so very little left to do before the last battle begins that it feels like the next movement will set off an avalanche and nothing will be able to be taken back.

            In that tension, like balancing on razors—
            Gulcasa turns and wraps an arm around my waist.

            “—Nessiah.
            “It’s nearly time.”
            I don’t reply.
            There’s no need to confirm such a statement.

            “I know you’re afraid.
            “But—I promise you that when the dawn breaks, you’ll be free.
            “You’ll never have to fear that person capturing you, or hurting you or using you, ever again.
            “When the sun rises again, all the bad dreams will be over for good.
            “—I wasn’t able to understand all the things I should have, back when we first met each other.
            “I couldn’t see through you then, and so I failed to reach out to you when you needed someone else’s warmth and reassurance.
            “So—now at the end of all things, I’ll make a beginning for you if it takes every last ounce of my strength to do so.”

            “—”
            There’s a sharp pain in my lip.
            I’ve been biting it to keep my composure, but from the pain, it appears that I’m in danger of breaking the skin.

            “…I want to make something clear to you, Gulcasa.”
            I turn towards him and stare directly into his face.
            His inhuman eyes seem almost to be a light source of their own in this dimly lit room.
            I stare at him so hard that my own vision is painful, because I want to make sure that he hears and understands my words.
            “I know how much care for me goes into proclamations like that, that you’ll open a path for me no matter the cost.
            “But there’s something vital that you don’t understand yet.
            “…It’s that more than anything else—you have to survive.
            “You have to survive this battle with me, because if I lose you again I will have lost everything.
            “I don’t have the strength anymore to endure until I find a way to summon you from the Throne again, tether your consciousness to me again—that will no longer be possible outside the framework of the Holy Grail War.
            “If you die in this battle and return to the Throne, we will never meet again—and I will lose everything at that time.
            “I won’t have anything to live for any longer.
            “If you don’t survive the battle—I won’t be able to survive, either.
            “So—don’t say things like you’re going to use your life.
            “I need you to live, or else I—”

            A soft touch interrupts me.
            Gulcasa sets his fingertips to my face and cuts me off.

            “Nessiah.”
            “—I want a future.
            “I’ve spent my life trapped in one place, and I want my own future.
            “But I have no future without you.”

            “…Nessiah.”
            Gulcasa’s hands rest against my body as if to support me.
            “I know.
            “—I know.
            “When the morning comes—I want to face it together with you.”

 

            I don’t know what Gulcasa is feeling right now.
            He wraps both arms around my body and holds me against him, so that my senses are drenched in him.
            As if trying to make my world nothing but him.
            Every breath is tinged in the scent of woodsmoke that has always lingered heavy about his long hair.
            Having two separate bodies is too much pain and anxiety to bear.
            If we were the same being and never had to be apart, we would live together and die at the same moment.
            But if our body was the same, we wouldn’t be able to hold each other for any longer.
            An anxious kind of codependency.
            We can’t survive separated, but at the same time we are separate entities that cannot be fused.
            No matter how strongly I press myself into Gulcasa’s chest, our skin will not meld together.
            I don’t know what he’s feeling.
            All my life, I will never know with complete certainty.
            It’s just that—his heartbeat rushes with great urgency, a heavy pulse across every square inch of his skin.
            It is too intense and overwhelming for someone at rest, and so the foreign emotions in his body are at least as intense as my own.

            “—To the next sunrise.”

            I close my eyes.
            We hold each other in the blurred world of the dimly lit room without pause.

(interlude 16-1)

            “—So I have to ask a favor of you two.”

            The voice of the girl cuts through the silence of the room, and both Saber and her Master look up.
            She crosses her arms and leans against the wall in a nonchalant pose, but her gaze is very intense and her expression is unreadable.

            “All right—if it’s a reasonable request.
            “What do you need?”

            At Roswell’s words—Avenger…, Meria shrugs as if to say that it isn’t a big deal.

            “I was waiting until those two decided to take their time together.
            “—I’m sure my Master probably has some idea of this, but there’s a problem if we’re going to go head to head with Caster like this.
            “That’s my Noble Phantasm—my real Noble Phantasm, that I used to help block off the pathway last night.”

            Her audience, Master and Servant, both nod to encourage her to continue.

            “Basically, if I’m going to be fighting Caster or her Master, I need that trump card.
            “—But the thing is that it takes a lot of my energy.
            “Even if I’m relying on as much supplied prana from Nessiah as I can, the way it’s built is that it eats into my own natural stores of energy.
            “I can only use it a few times in a row before I run out of prana for good and disappear.
            “And—the energy deficit after the first two times lowers my parameters.
            “The thing is that there’s a twenty-four hour rollover on this.
            “We were fighting until a little after midnight last night, right?—So, if I go into battle as I am now, the first use of my Noble Phantasm is going to drop my parameters and make me less effective.
            “I need extra prana from somewhere if I want to be at full form and have the three-time limit, so since you aren’t fighting, it’d be great if you could fork some over.”

            “—”
            The words are so blunt that Roswell’s mind stops working.
            She can see it on his face, in the way that his eyes go wide and uncomprehending.

            Saber frowns.
            “It’s true that you’ll need extra prana, in that case.
            “—But why come to us?
            “Your own Master is much more understanding than your previous one, so you could always approach him with this problem.”

            “It’s true that Nessiah’d listen, but there’s not anything he could do.
            “If he gave too much prana to me he’d be in no condition to fight.
            “…I don’t know if you guys can tell, but between supporting me and Gulcasa and serving as the grail vessel, he’s stretched to his limits.
            “He needs all the prana he can keep in reserve if he’s going to fight, just like the both of us.
            “And besides.
            “He’s not interested in women, he wouldn’t be able to give me prana in the first place.”

            “…That is true.”
            Roswell says so with a troubled face.
            He rests the side of his face in a hand.

            “So—I don’t have any choice but to ask the only straight Master in the house.
            “And it’s obvious you two are an item, so I’m not leaving Saber out.”
            “It’s nice that you’re so frank.”
            Saber tilts her head like she’s not sure how to reply.
            Her smile is troubled, and she folds her hands in her lap like she’s keeping a secret.

            Meria watches the pair of them.
            Her body is already a tense coil of arousal.
            The cause comes both from within and outside of her, as she can’t help but feel some influence from the pair canoodling upstairs.
            Animal instincts with no outlet.
            She seeks affirmation and recognition of her life.
            Her goal is victory, and what comes after that victory.
            Even so, death is already close enough for her to sense it vaguely.
            So—that is the other reason why she is in such a state of heightened sensation already.
            She is greedy.
            She wants to be made more and more aware of the fact that she is alive, that she has a working body, and that even if her incarnation is an illusion granted by the false grail—that she is here and in the present.

            Her instincts as a living thing are very sharp, and so her hunger for prana is inevitable.
            She has always consumed the ether of other humans, made to do so by her former Master, and so that method of obtaining power is distasteful to her.
            She wants energy and to feel the exertion of her body.
            And so—her senses are heightened, and she can feel the blood beating in her lips and breasts and stomach.
            The two before her are her Master’s allies, and so they are more preferable than any other, but it doesn’t matter whose hands touch her as long as they will worship and fulfill her hunger with kindness.

 

            Saber’s eyes are boring into her.
            Perhaps—as a Servant, Saber understands this better than anyone.

            Roswell looks to her as if for confirmation.
            “—Hm.
            “Then—at least in a place more suitable than this.”

 

            The room is drenched in the blues of night.
            Like the rest of the house, the decoration is incredibly ostentatious, and the room is dominated by a king-size canopy bed.

            Roswell sits on the bed without moving to turn the lights on.
            He sits still and does not say anything, looking to the two women as if to leave all direction to them.

            “—I didn’t expect you to be this shy.”
            Well, she doesn’t really care for delicate situations, so she smirks and looks at the magus on the bed through predatory eyes.

            “—”
            Roswell makes a face like he’s put out.
            But instead of getting defensive on his behalf, Saber hides a giggle behind her hand.

            “Yes.
            “You might not expect it, but this is what my Roswell is like.
            “—He was this way with me, too, and I had to drastically take the lead to get anywhere.
            “Give him time to stop being polite, though, and I think he’ll be fine.”

            She turns to Saber.
            The golden princess has dematerialized the clothing of her manifestation, and stands with her body white and naked in the faint moonlight.
            Unlike Meria, she is small and soft, with round hips and full breasts and thighs.
            Her golden hair is silvered in the light, like a painting of an angel, but the expression on her face would be more suited for a painting of Venus.
            She has already accepted her role as an accessory to the coupling of her Master and her fellow Servant, and the earthy look upon her face is the amusement of a woman who knows men, comfortable with her own state of arousal.
            The lighting leaches the red coloring of her nipples down to a pale pink, but they are standing upright, and the same pink and soft swelling gradates upward from between her legs as well.

            Meria also takes the time to take her clothes off.
            Nakedness betrays her rough breathing and the slick wetness of her pussy and her inner thighs, but this space precludes embarrassment about such things.

            “—Anyhow, I’ll work with you until my Master can get into the mood.
            “If we’re going to do this—”

            Then, we’ll do it completely—

            The words go unspoken.
            Meria reaches out and touches Saber’s pale skin.
            It has the texture of flawless silk, all of the muscular definition padded out by softness.
            Saber lets out a sound.
            She vocalizes her sigh until it turns into a quiet moan.

            “Ah—”
            A sound like relief.
            As if, just by having her skin touched, she is being fulfilled and redeemed.

            She reaches out.
            She reaches out to the girl in front of her and pushes her back against the wall.

            “Ah—mm, you’re excitable—”
            Saber says so happily.
            “Is that really something that you should have the leisure to say—?
            “Look at you, you don’t even need this like I do and you’re already—”

            Meria isn’t the type to hold back her desires.
            Continuing to talk would only postpone the pleasure, and so she doesn’t bother to finish the sentence.
            She leans down and tastes the lines of Saber’s throat, and Saber clings to her sides and continues to make those noises like sighs of relief.
            Saber’s breasts are pressing into her chest, and the silken stomach and hips are pressing against her own skin.
            Her left knee is pressed to the wall, holding Saber’s legs open, and Saber tilts her pelvis up like an offering, willingly pushing herself into the contours of Meria’s thigh.

            She’s become hypersensitive with arousal.
            The intensity of sensation is concentrated most clearly in her hips, but all of her skin is wild with stimulation.
            Saber’s pussy, which was only slightly damp, is now becoming wet.
            Her labia are open like flower petals, and her clitoris is stiff.
            Meria explores Saber’s body with fingers, silencing her by interlocking their lips, and Saber slips her tongue in willingly.
            Her whole body is opening like a flower underneath Meria’s touch.
            A light, heady sensation like being drunk.
            Touching the girl she has trapped against the wall is like drinking honeyed aphrodisiac.

            “Ah—mm, you’re wet—”
            Saber whispers against her lips.
            …It’s true.
            If Saber’s pussy is slick with the beginnings of arousal, hers is already overstimulated and making Saber’s skin smooth with dew.
            Saber’s leg is between hers, but the angle is not high enough to provide satisfactory contact.
            She molds Saber’s breasts gently with her hands, rolls her nipples experimentally, and Saber makes pleased sounds and cants her hips up against Meria’s thigh.
            “Pick yourself up a little—”
            So she complains.
            Playing with Saber as much as she likes is fun, but it does not provide any relief.
            To touch and not be touched is more like dreaming of sex than having it, although the reality of the situation is drenched into her fingertips.

            “Ah—does this, feel nice?”
            With a heated voice.
            Saber folds her leg into a triangle shape, foot braced against the wall.
            “Nn—mm.”
            Where Saber’s flesh grazed against her lightly, now her pussy is pressed tightly against the supple surface of the golden princess’ thigh.

            “You’re so wet—”
            A dazed voice.
            Saber leans her head back against the wall, rocking her hips.
            Her breasts shake with her breath and her movement, and the white column of her throat strains.
            At the vision of invitation—Meria overflows.
            “Ya—ah—”
            She holds Saber tightly.
            Pinning the girl against the wall, she thrusts, tracing Saber’s wet skin with her throbbing pussy.
            The movement crushes Saber into the sharp contours of her hip, and the breathing of the two becomes wild.
            The dew that wells up from inside Saber’s vagina, the proof of her pleasure, makes obscene sounds as their bodies overlap, and it heats up her head.

            “Ah—mm, you’re dripping—you’re rough, it feels so nice—”
            Saber’s body arches.
            She moans and sighs, breathing lightly.
            The lips of the girl’s pussy twitch and pulse softly, the sign of a light orgasm.

            Meria tightens her hold on Saber.
            She closes her legs around Saber’s thigh, thrusts her hips fiercely, and pushes—

            Her whole body shakes tightly as she comes.
            Wetness runs down Saber’s skin and drips onto the floor, making a pattering sound.

            “Ah—hah, mm.”

            Their bodies separate.
            Flushed and disheveled, they come apart and turn to the bed.
            Roswell sits there with clouded eyes.
            The clothing of the magus is unbuttoned, and his breathing is rough like theirs, as though he has been drawn into the surreal air of their sex just by spectating.
            From his opened pants, the column of his penis stands straight up.
            It is white, the engorged red tip bleached pink like Saber’s nipples and vulva in the moonlight, and it shines with beads of precome sliding down the shaft.
            The clean lines of the shaft are not marred by thick hair or bulging veins.
            The blood vessels are only suggested by faint shadows, and the curls of silvery brown hair around the base are thin wisps.
            Just like Saber’s roundness perfectly suits her, it is a beautiful arousal befitting the small and slender body of the magus.

            “—”
            Saber walks across the room on bare feet.
            The insides of her thighs are wet from her own fluids and her leg is covered in translucent streaks from Meria’s orgasm, but she is utterly unselfconscious of it.
            She places her hands firmly on Roswell’s shoulders and kisses him deeply.
            Meria can see her tongue slipping into her Master’s mouth.
            Roswell holds her, shudders, and moans with a full-throated sound.

            Saber looks very pleased when she pulls away.
            “—Lie down on the bed.
            “Meria will take you, and I can help her while you pleasure me.
            “I’ll make sure that she’s ready when you come—”

            “Ygg, dra—”
            When she eases him down, he lies on his back with no sign of protest.
            It appears that as long as she is confident in leading him, he will allow her to do whatever she pleases with his body.
            Saber sits down next to his shoulders, rises up on her knees, and swings one leg over so that she is kneeling on top of her Master.
            Roswell softly grips her spread thighs and leans up to caress the opened flower of her pussy with his tongue.

            “Ah—ah, ah—”
            Saber’s spine arches.
            Her arms go limp and her chin lifts back.
            Her eyes are unseeing, complacent with pleasure.
            Roswell unfolds the foreskin from her clitoris with his mouth, and Saber’s body shakes.
            Her heavy breasts sway, and she lets out a loud voice.

            “Ah—Roswell’s, is—”
            He kisses her vagina the same way that she kissed his mouth.
            Her body quakes, vibrating with the joy of being thoroughly pleasured.
            The girl faces the ceiling and breathes with intensity, her chest heaving in the same rhythm that she is penetrated by his tongue.

            And.
            As she moans in an unrestrained voice as though singing.
            The girl—Saber tilts her head to the side so that her gaze falls upon Meria.
            She smiles.
            She smiles with unfocused eyes and reaches out a hand, beckoning her to join them—

            “—”
            Meria climbs onto the mattress.
            Roswell’s body is almost entirely relaxed, with his legs raised and his feet flat against the bed in weak triangle shapes.
            All his strength is in holding Saber’s legs open and pleasing her in ceaseless licks and kisses that make her body tremble and jolt.
            His cock stands straight up.
            Saber is looking at her dazedly, smiling faintly as if encouraging her to go on.
            So—just like Saber did, she swings her leg over Roswell’s body so that she straddles him on her knees, her calves pressed flat against his sides.

            Saber reaches up to touch her shoulders.
            She bears Meria’s weight as she leans inward, reaching between her legs to grasp the shaft of Roswell’s penis.

            “—!”
            Roswell’s body jumps slightly.
            His cock is pounding in her hand.
            She lowers her hips slightly and lines the tip up with the opening, and—

            “—!! Ah—”
            She lowers her waist in one movement.

            “—”
            All of her body tenses up, her pleasure-hazed senses now tight and alert.
            Her wet vagina accepted the very tip of the penis easily, but when she made to take the whole of the shaft in, the wide head and rim pushed and penetrated inwards mercilessly.
            But her weight was already lowering her body, and while she was unable to stop the movement, the thick head wrenched her open all in one movement.
            —It isn’t pleasurable, and the presence of the foreign object inside her vagina from root to tip makes her overwhelmingly aware that her vaginal muscles have tightened like a fist from the shock.
            Stinging pain, thin and bright like a small laceration, lances up through her most vulnerable flesh, and makes her breathing rough and uneven.

            Beneath their bodies, Roswell is also panting roughly.
            “Tight—”
            He chokes out the one word, and breathes shallowly as if in pain.
            “Your walls are—so tight, I—can’t move—”

            “—Relax.”
            Saber’s voice is gentle.
            As Meria sits up, legs and stomach tense with the unexpected sensation and the alien fullness of the erect penis buried in her body, Saber leans in.
            She leans in until they are close enough to breathe in each other’s breath, and licks at Meria’s still-pulsing lips.
            “If you relax and loosen up, it will feel much better—”

            It’s difficult to understand the meaning of the words.
            Even more, it’s difficult to understand how to control this unfamiliar part of her body that is clamped down in rejection of Roswell’s stiff, hot flesh.

            As if understanding that, Saber smiles gently,
            and bends her head to cover Meria’s breast with her mouth.

            “—! Ah—ya, ah—”
            Soft and hot.
            Instead of just kissing or licking the nipple, Saber opens her mouth wide as if to take in as much of the breast as possible, until her teeth graze lightly against the skin.
            Saber’s breathing is wild, and her cheeks are red.
            Just the wet heat of her mouth is enough to make Meria go crazy, but her tongue rolls all around the areola and rubs against the nipple firmly, and a hot sensation goes down Meria’s entire spine—

            Wetness rushes between her legs.
            “Mm, fu—”
            Roswell lets out a breath from beneath them.
            His stomach that was fluttering from the tension eases, and he begins to rock his hips gently back and forth.

            “Ah—nha—”
            Meria arches.
            Her back draws a low curve similar to the way that Saber twisted backwards from the pleasure of her Master’s cunnilingus, and the tender stirring motions of Roswell’s penis and Saber suckling at her chest make her body feel loose and feverish.
            The head of Roswell’s cock is rubbing gently against the deepest part of her.
            She grips on to the back of Saber’s neck to hold her in place, and reaches up to roll her other nipple between her fingers, only conscious of the need for more pleasure.
            The brief pain of penetration is gone, and her body moves naturally like waves flowing, contracting and relaxing around the length of Roswell inside her.
            When she is used enough to the stimulation to almost recover her mind—Saber’s hand slides between her legs to the place where she and Roswell are fused together.
            Saber’s fingers form a wide V shape around the base of Roswell’s cock, lightly brushing against the stretched-out inner lips of Meria’s pussy.
            “—?!”
            Her skin is too sensitive between her legs.
            Her labia are swollen with blood from the stimulation of Roswell inside her and from her arousal, and even more, Saber’s fingers are brushing teasingly against her erect clitoris.
            “—”
            She can’t run away from the sensation.
            Saber grips her tightly and she is caught on Roswell’s body.
            Every time that Saber moans from the sensations of Roswell pleasuring her, the sound vibrates directly into her skin and makes her crazy.
            Her body can twist, but it only contorts so that the stimulation of her nipples, of her vulva, and inside her vagina feels even better.

            “—”
            She cries out to the canopy of the bed as if in a dream.
            She calls out, a long wordless note of pleasure, as she comes lightly.

            “Fuah, ah—”
            Saber’s mouth slides off of her breast, and her hand comes away from the joint of Meria and Roswell’s bodies.
            She sits up with her hair and breathing in disarray, and presses her lips together firmly.
            “Roswell—Roswell, harder—”

            But—they are too close for Saber to be able to run away.
            Meria is already past reason.
            Roswell’s cock is thumping with blood inside her, pulsing as if he’s reaching his limit.
            And just that—is enough stimulation to the oversensitive inside of her body that she can only move so as to seek greater pleasure.

            “—,—”
            She raises her hips and lets them sink.
            Her waist shakes and her long hair spills around her body.
            It’s difficult to thrust without bracing herself on something, and so she seizes Saber’s shoulders, making Saber whine.
            Meria jacks her hips up and down with violence.
            The wide rim of Roswell’s cock rakes over the walls of her vagina, pressing against parts that feel immeasurably good, and the head brushes and presses against her cervix wall.
            The heavy pounding of blood in her body, in his, only pushes her further—

            “Ah—ha, ah, ah—”
            A new sensation.
            Instead of remaining still while she raises her hips and thrusts them down, Roswell is thrusting upwards as if to answer her.
            Their rhythms don’t match, so that he all but slips out of her and then the head of him is crushed against the deepest parts of her.
            It is uncontrolled, and at the same time the unpredictability of the pleasure makes it all the more intense.
            She spreads her legs wider, grinds her hips backward and forward instead of thrusting up and down, and when Roswell’s thrusts don’t stop, the sensation of being stirred makes her voice spill out.
            Instead of her fluids covering them both, precome is welling out of the tip of Roswell’s penis.
            She can sense the traces of prana just beyond her reach, and her body’s desperation increases.

            “Ah—ah, Roswell, inside me—”
            All the while.
            Saber cries out in a mix of agony and bliss before her.
            Meria grips Saber’s shoulders hard enough to bruise them, and Saber grips Meria’s back as if for support.
            Their lips come together again and again between breaths, and they taste each other’s mouths thoroughly as their tongues entwine.
            It is a loop of pleasure with no beginning and no end.

            “Ah—ah, ahn, I’m gonna come—!”
            Saber is crying from the delight.
            “Roswell, ah—ah—”

            She embraces Meria tightly and reaches her peak.
            Saber’s body quivers with waves of pleasure.

            And—as she grinds her throbbing pussy against Roswell’s skin, he pushes his hips up and ejaculates deep into her.
            The pressure is—too much.
            She reaches orgasm, and rocks her hips weakly back and forth.
            He comes thickly inside her, and her vulva and vagina pulse as if to guide as much semen from him as possible.
            Every time his cock throbs, a little more is released, and she gasps with the sensation of prana flooding her body.

            After almost a minute, they slide apart, and she sits heavily on the mattress between Roswell’s open legs.
            Her thighs are open, and the open mouth of her vagina is filled with pearlescent semen that’s flowing slowly and unevenly out of her, down the contours of her buttocks and seeping into the comforter of the bed.
            She can’t move, and sits supported by her hands as she leans back, still a bit too tense to feel properly sated.

            “—”
            Saber is on hands and knees on top of Roswell.
            Her deep blue eyes travel the length of Meria’s body, and she smiles faintly as if pleased by what she sees.
            She inches forward on her hands and knees and lowers her body.
            Saber’s face approaches Meria’s steaming pussy, and her tongue flicks out.
            The tip of her tongue slowly traces Meria’s erect clitoris from base to tip, slipping underneath the foreskin to sweetly caress the overly sensitive flesh.

            “—!!”
            It’s too much.
            With that one sensation—, Meria comes in a burst of clear sticky fluid.
            A shining strand of it draws a parabola between her flushed pink vulva and Saber’s lips, and disappears in the next moment as they breathe.

 

            …After lying still and sated for about half an hour, they clean up in silence.
            With washcloths, they wipe their own bodies clean of sweat and ejaculate, and dress themselves halfway.
            According to the clock, it is nearly ten thirty, and so there will be more than enough time to get energy back in time for the battle.

            Meria pulls pants on and stretches out her arms.
            Her stores of prana will be sufficient for one use of her Noble Phantasm without lowering her parameters, and for two uses without making her disappear.
            Her body is loose and limber from experiencing four consecutive orgasms, and her mind is alert—she is in top condition, in other words.

            “…Avenger.”
            At the soft voice, she turns around.
            Saber lies on the bed in a sleepy curl, and her Master sits up, his shirt unbuttoned.
            They look effortless, like lovers.

            “What?”
            “—”
            Roswell makes a troubled expression, and then—
            “…You didn’t say that you were a virgin.”
            —he says something that sounds like he’s trying to apologize.

            Meria tilts her head to the side.
            “…That’s because technically I wasn’t.
            “At the time Caster and I were split apart, she’d already had sex before, and basic states of existence stayed the same for both of us. See, and I didn’t bleed or anything.”

            Roswell smiles.
            It looks pained, like he isn’t sure what to say.
            “—If we’d known it was your first time, we could’ve made it a little easier on you.
            “And… what she did or didn’t do before you were born has nothing to do with the way you lived your life from that moment.
            “Um—I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry you had to waste your first time on something like this.”

            She stares at him.
            Meria stares at him with something like shock—and she laughs.
            “—Yeah, you guys are like ridiculously nice.
            “I wouldn’t’ve jumped you two if you weren’t like this.”

            Still half-dressed, she makes a lazy salute and leaves the room.

(16-1 interlude out.)

            “—”
            Gulcasa continues to hold me.
            Our bodies are pressed together firmly.
            …It feels like I’m dreaming of being underwater, as if we are enclosed in a bubble and nothing else in the world exists.

            “Nessiah.”
            He breathes my name as though praying.
            Gulcasa’s warm, callused hands run over my body from the nape of my neck to my nipples.
            It makes a soft, pleasurable shiver run through me.

            “—Gulcasa.”
            I look up at him.
            Our faces are only a few inches away, and his eyes are hazy.
            “—”
            I take his face in both my hands and draw him down into a kiss.

            “—”
            Gulcasa runs his teeth lightly along my lower lip.
            The gesture is tender and sensual, and it excites me.
            His body is filled with a contagious kind of heat.
            Just being this close to him and kissing him makes me want to hold him, and I can sense myself starting to get hard.

            Gulcasa leans in to kiss the side of my throat.
            “Ah—”
            It’s soft.
            He doesn’t kiss passionately or use his teeth, and the sensation is sensual and comforting.
            I hold him with both arms, and stroke his long hair, running my hands over his back.
            “—”
            He shakes underneath my touch.
            We’re both growing more aroused as we stimulate each other softly.

            “…Nessiah.”
            The cadence of his voice is like a question.

            “—Yes.
            “Yes. I want to be closer to you, at least now—”
            His hands run over my body like a gesture of love, but his palms contain such heat.
            It feels like my clothes will be burned away.
            …That’s fine.
            It feels the best to be naked under Gulcasa’s hands.
            He loves and accepts every part of me, just like I love and accept every part of him.

            “Ah—”
            When I run my hands underneath his shirt, Gulcasa lets out a little voice.
            I am already sitting in his lap with my legs wrapped around him.
            I can feel his erect penis straining at his pants, and I’m sure that he can feel mine pressing against his stomach.
            If we stay like this and just thrust against each other for a little longer—surely that will be all it takes to bring us both to climax.
            But that isn’t good enough right now.
            I want him closer to me—I need him inside me.

            “Shall I—take the lead this time—?”
            I ask him while I frame his face in my hands.
            Gulcasa smiles and holds me with both arms.
            “—Yeah. Please, go ahead.”

 

            He takes his clothes off slowly.
            In the soft light of the room, his body is golden.
            He gets the bottle of oil, sets it down on the bedspread, and lies back with his head and shoulders against the pillows.
            His long hair spreads out underneath his shoulders and his back, scattering across the comforter.
            I carefully step out of my dress and sit down on the bed, curling up next to him.
            Gulcasa simply looks at me with love and faith.
            His muscles shift and move as he breathes, making the scars on his body pull into different shapes.
            Each one is precious.
            Because we are in inverted positions right now like a symbol of yin and yang, there is no effort involved in leaning down to kiss one long, faint white mark that runs across his stomach.
            Gulcasa reaches out to stroke the nape of my neck, and his fingertips feather through my hair.
            His hand drifts down to the old twisted marks across my back.
            It simply rests there, the weight warm and comforting.
            I run my tongue along the scar, and he catches his breath.

            “—Here. I’ll get you ready, so please take care of me as well—”
            I wet my fingers in oil and pass the bottle to Gulcasa.
            I don’t wait to watch him get it open, but simply wrap both hands around the shaft of his penis and move my fingers in idle patterns.

            “—! Nessiah, that’s—”
            “It’s all right. I won’t let you come yet, so go ahead.”
            He doesn’t protest after I say so.
            I slick his skin thoroughly with the oil, trace the head and the rim and every vein.
            My fingertips feel as though they will burn.
            His skin is too hot here, and it feels as though I shouldn’t stay in contact with it for long.
            But—because this is a part of him that is vulnerable, I want to treat it with gentleness.

            Gulcasa cups the underside of my testicles in his palm and slips his fingers inside me.
            He works my body gently, teasing me where I’m sensitive.
            There isn’t any pain.
            My body is relaxed and accepts his fingers easily, and he strokes at my prostate and every other sensitive place he can reach.
            It’s erotic, and it’s also comforting.
            Gulcasa moves his fingers in and out of me smoothly, and because of the thick oil, it causes soft wet sounds.
            I can faintly hear similar sounds from where I continue to run my hands over him.

            “—Ah.
            “Are you ready?”
            Gulcasa’s voice sounds almost shy.
            When I look at his face, he is staring down at me with hazy eyes and flushed cheeks.
            “Yes.
            “Just lie still, I’ll need some help to support myself, but I’ll take care of the rest—”

            As if trusting my words, Gulcasa takes his hand away.
            I push myself up onto my knees and position myself with my body atop Gulcasa’s and my weight rested against his bent legs.
            He reaches up to help me brace myself with one hand.
            …I think he realizes that it’s difficult for me to support my weight at such an angle and still take care of the insertion, because he takes the shaft of his cock into his other hand and lines it up with my entrance.

            “—”
            Slowly—I lower my body.
            “Ahh—”
            My own weight takes care of the penetration, and Gulcasa’s cock pushes inside me slowly.
            Finally.
            I’m crouched over him in a somewhat awkward position, with Gulcasa holding my hips and my hands braced against his chest.
            But on top of him in this pose, I’ll be able to move—

            “Are you all right?”
            Gulcasa nods and smiles at me as if trying to reassure me.
            “—Yeah.
            “You’re just tight enough that it feels really good even staying still.
            “What about you, are you in any pain?”
            I shake my head to answer him.
            “I’m going to start moving now, all right?”
            “…Okay.”

            I put strength into my legs, and Gulcasa bites his lip.
            Tensing these muscles means that the inside of me is going to clamp down on him much harder, and so I have to be careful not to hurt myself in this position.
            …But that’s all right, because I can at least judge my own strength.

            I move my hips in a gentle sway.
            “Mm—ah.”
            Even just with this, I can feel him throbbing inside me.
            When I move down, he reaches deep into me, and it feels like he’s piercing me all through my body, making my balls and penis ache pleasurably.
            The head rakes against my prostate, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to thrust shallowly so that he’ll just rub against that part.
            But if I did that, it would end too quickly.
            I want to keep feeling the length of him inside me.

            “Nessiah, you’re so tight—”
            Gulcasa arches his head back and exposes his throat.
            His larynx trembles as he breathes and swallows.

            “Touch me—”
            He’s getting wet inside me.
            Slick with precome, it’s easier for me to thrust, and Gulcasa’s penis moves in and out of me much more smoothly.
            He pants intensely like he’s feeling very good.
            But it’s not enough for me.
            Working the muscles of my legs is hard, and it’s enough of a counterpoint to the pleasure that I don’t think I’ll get near orgasm for a while.
            “Gulcasa, touch me—”

            “Okay—”
            His hand comes up to trace over my cock.
            The sensation goes all the way through my back, and I want to cry out.

            “Hm—no, don’t stop—”
            “I—can’t help it, I can’t move my hips, it feels so—”
            I think I’m panting too wildly.
            Gulcasa caresses the entire length of my erection with his rough palm and soft fingers, swirls his fingertips around my balls, and reaches up to rub the underside of the head, where it’s most sensitive.

            “Ah—aha, a lot’s coming out.”
            His hand is wet and sticky.
            It’s not just the rest of the oil, but the fact that precome is welling up from inside me.
            My testicles are cramping, and I want to let it out.
            “Can I—move my hips?”
            Gulcasa doesn’t stop pumping his hand over my penis even as he asks.
            I let my breath out and nod.
            I can’t bear the sensation of his touch and move my body at the same time—

            “Ahh—”
            Gulcasa’s hips are moving.
            Slowly at first, and then more quickly and roughly, Gulcasa thrusts upwards into me.
            “Ah—mm—”
            And all the while, he does not stop stroking my cock as if encouraging me to let it all out.
            His breathing is rough and heated as he thrusts, eyes half-closed with concentration.
            His body is lovely.
            Positioned above him, I can only look down and watch the muscles of his chest and stomach contract and move as he thrusts into me.
            The bicep of the arm that services me coils and uncoils.
            I’m riding atop the body of such a powerful man, but he seeks only to please me, and looking down at him makes me feel dominant.
            His body is so strong, and yet his actions and the soft blush of pleasure on his face make him seem so helpless and pliant.
            He breathes heavily.
            The only moaning voice is mine, because he doesn’t have the lung capacity to spare.
            All of Gulcasa’s energy is put into thrusting as deep into me as he can, and running his closed fist up and down the length of my penis.

            “I can’t—I’m going to—”
            “It’s okay—ah, let it out together, inside me—I’m already—I’m going to come, do it with me, Gulcasa—”

            My testicles seize, and I let go into his closed hand.
            Gulcasa closes his eyes tightly and—

            “—Nessiah—”

            Calling my name in a helpless whimper, he slams his penis deep into me and ejaculates like an explosion.

            “Ah—ah, mm.”

            It throbs.
            I can’t tell if the pulse I’m feeling is the beat of his heart, transmitted into my body through his penis, or whether it’s my own penis thumping in his hand.
            …It could easily be both.

            I stare down in a daze at Gulcasa’s face as he orgasms.
            Blankly.
            I think that the way he closes his eyes and furrows his brow in an attempt to bear the pleasure looks very dear.

            “—”
            I let the strength go out of my legs and sit down against Gulcasa’s stomach with my legs folded on either side of his waist.
            I feel full inside with the amount of semen he released, and even when he idly wipes his palm on the sheets, his hand is still stained in streaks of my come.
            I’m already mostly limp and he’s only half hard inside me, but I don’t want to stop.
            It’s still barely nightfall, and there’s almost a full quarter of a day left for us to stay together.
            Then—I want to spend as much time as possible making love with Gulcasa.

 

            “—Nessiah?”
            He rubs the sides of my hips with both hands and looks up at me.
            …Oh.
            That upward gaze is really unfair.
            This is a side to Gulcasa that I rarely get to see.
            It’s only natural, as he’s so much bigger than I am.
            His face, slightly blushing and tilted upward as if relying on me.
            I already feel like I’m coming back to life a little.

            So I give him my best smile.
            “—Yes.
            “We have the time to spare, so—as long as you’re willing, I’d like to continue.”

            “—”
            Gulcasa stares up at me for just a moment as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing, and then—
            “…Yeah.
            “There’s still so much of the night left until the date changes.
            “I want to keep making love to you until our bodies have nothing left—”

            …We said that, but I don’t have the strength to keep staying on top of him.

            “That’s okay.
            “Here, fold your legs up like this—”
            Gulcasa directs me to tuck my knees up to my chest.
            He lifts my body carefully and turns my body so that I’m facing the other way.

            “Oh—ah, Gulcasa, I—!”
            It catches me so off-guard that my voice spills out on its own.
            I’m the one turning in place, but it feels like his cock is rotating inside of me, and it feels so good that I can’t stand it—

            “Here, it’s okay—”
            Gulcasa’s body shifts underneath mine.
            His lips settle against the nape of my neck, and my body jumps slightly.
            It’s not an unpleasant sensation, but it’s awkward not being able to see his face—

            “I’m going to lie down with you now.”
            Maybe he’s worried about what my reaction might be to having him do things while I can’t see what he’s doing, but Gulcasa warns me before wrapping his arm around my waist and gently bringing our bodies down to the mattress.
            We’re lying on our sides, and Gulcasa’s chest is pressed up tightly against my back.
            My legs are still curled in, and Gulcasa’s thighs press against my buttocks.
            He folds one leg in between mine, and our bodies curl together naturally.
            “Mm—”
            We are folded together tightly.
            Both of Gulcasa’s arms are around me, and he holds my hands in his.
            His lips and the tip of his nose tickle the side of my throat where the edge of my jawbone meets my neck, and most of all—

            He’s as deep inside me as he’s ever been, and completely hard again too.

            “Hm—mm, ah.”
            Gulcasa rocks his hips gently.
            “—”
            It’s not a dramatic thrust or a rough one.
            So—I don’t understand why it does this to me.
            Gulcasa’s hands travel gently over the length of my body, caressing my chest and stomach and legs.
            His fingertips dance lightly along my penis, but don’t linger there.
            And all the while, he continues to rock his hips.

            “Mm—hm.”
            Gulcasa’s leg between mine forces me to lift my upper leg, making the muscles in my thighs and buttocks tighten.
            In this position, I might otherwise be loose and relaxed, but this keeps me tight against the expanding shaft of Gulcasa’s cock within me.
            He pushes all the way inside me so that I almost expect our balls to graze together.
            My head feels like it’s trapped in a fever or a fog.
            There’s the sheer sexual pleasure of being penetrated and having erogenous zones like my nipples and my penis tenderly fondled, but all of Gulcasa’s body is pressed so closely to mine that I can’t help but be completely overwhelmed.

            “Nessiah.”
            He murmurs my name into the nape of my neck, and our bodies rock gently.
            I can’t see his face in this position.
            But—I can feel him so intensely that it’s not distressing.

            Gulcasa spoons me tenderly.
            The ebb and flow of our bodies is soft and sweet.
            I can feel sweat standing out on my body.
            My muscles are tense, and I want to reach orgasm again.
            But—at the same time, I would be more than happy with this close sensation lasting for hours more.

            Gulcasa makes soft, contented sounds.
            Does it feel as good for him as it does for me?
            The pulse I feel from his penis is intense, but at the same time he continues to stroke my body calmly.
            He presses little kisses against my shoulder and the side of my throat, like he wants to love and cherish every part of me.

            Just that—is so erotic that I could go out of my mind with loving him.

            “Nessiah—you’re so wet inside.”
            His heated voice and his breath stimulate the nape of my neck and my earlobe, and my body squirms from the pleasant sensation.

            “Ah—I think that’s your fault.
            “You came—mm—you came inside me so much before.”
            “I can’t help it.
            “I love you, and you’re this beautiful, so I always want to give you everything right away.
            “But it’s strange—ah.
            “You’re so tight, but you’re accepting me so well, and you’re so wet that you feel totally different from usual—”

            Gulcasa’s entirely the same the way that he’s saying embarrassing things like he doesn’t realize that they’re embarrassing, but he’s right.
            His thrusting penis makes slick noises, lubricated by the sticky semen and the oil inside me, and despite the position that doesn’t allow us much space to move, his hips have a steady rhythm and he moves with no resistance.
            I can feel every contour of his penis clearly, and I know that I’m squeezing down on him in arousal and from the lifted position of my leg, but my muscles aren’t bruising and there is no sense of pain or discomfort at all.

            I can’t suppress my voice, which keeps letting out low sounds of pleasure.
            I want more.
            I want to hurry up and reach climax, but at the same time—

            “Ah—I love you.”
            I try to twist my upper body around so that I can face Gulcasa more.
            As if understanding what I want, he pushes himself up on his elbows.
            “Nn—”
            It’s subtle, but it changes the angle at which he’s penetrating me.
            When he thrusts, the pressure goes straight against my prostate, and I think I’m going to go out of my mind if this keeps up for too much longer.
            Gulcasa rests one arm in front of my chest, so that where I lie on my side, his forehead presses against my temple when he tucks his head down.
            His hair tickles my face and spreads like silk all across our bodies.
            His heartbeat rumbles through our connected bodies, a frantic rhythm that does not match the slow pace of our lovemaking.

            …Probably.
            If I were to hazard a guess, Gulcasa is having as much trouble as I am just holding himself back right now.

            “—Do you want to let it out?”
            “…Yeah.
            “But—Nessiah. I want to keep doing it with you for longer and longer—”
            Gulcasa’s voice is heated.
            It feels like there’s a great fever in his body, and he kisses my face and throat like he can’t help himself.
            His hands wander all over my body.
            They trace warm patterns across my skin.
            Waves of heat rush along my thighs, over my buttocks and back, along my stomach and chest and throat.
            He swirls his fingers around my balls and strokes my penis so quickly that hot precome starts to leak out, and Gulcasa rubs the burning fluid into my skin to make it slick.

            “Ah—hm, ha, ah—”
            Gulcasa’s steady strokes are beginning to speed up.
            His hips make a faint slapping noise against my back and thighs.
            His penis is expanding again.
            Swelling heat saturates my entire body.
            I twist my upper body and try to capture his lips with mine.

            “Mm—Nessiah, you’re so—”
            He says something indistinct against my mouth, runs his tongue over my lower lip, and caresses my tongue with his.
            The pleasure that has built up slowly is already making him glassy-eyed, and his whole body quivers.
            I lift my leg up higher, and Gulcasa lets out a tormented-sounding voice.

            “Nessiah—no, you’re too tight, I’m gonna—”

            Even though he protests.
            What started as little more than embracing to share each other’s warmth and sensations is turning into tender and eager sex.
            Gulcasa holds my hips and fucks into me so that I feel the reverberations all through my body.
            My face and chest feel hot.
            The head of his cock is continually stabbing against places that he well knows are sensitive.

            “Ah—mm, not yet—”

            It’s still not quite enough.
            Because his energy is focused on thrusting into me, he’s not touching my penis or my nipples, and so I can’t come.
            But it still feels intensely good, and I can’t help but imagine what kind of expression Gulcasa might have on his face as he slowly loses his self-control and thrusts into me with more force.
            The head of me is already wet with precome, and leaving dark spots of moisture along the sheets that are already damp with our sweat.

            “Ah—no, I want more—”

            My body is hot, and I feel like I’m dreaming about flying.
            Gulcasa’s movements make my body undulate, and I feel as though I’m floating in warm water, making my fingertips pulse.

            “Ah—nn, please, deeper, I want to feel you—”

            I’m calling out freely in rapture and arousal.
            I can barely recognize my own voice.
            …It doesn’t sound like me at all.
            It is a carefree voice saturated with intense pleasure.

            “Gulcasa—touch me—ah, I want—”

            The hand and arm that are trapped underneath our bodies suddenly gains strength.
            Gulcasa grips my hip with one hand much more tightly, and—

            “Ah—ah, ah, yes, more—!”

            He wraps his other hand tightly around my penis and starts to rub the slick shaft in his clenched hand at a counterpoint rhythm to his thrusts into me.

            “Mm—ah, ahh—”

            My body is starting to arch up.
            I can’t tell whether my pleasure-drenched body is trying to escape the overwhelming sensation or push closer into it.
            Gulcasa is thrusting into me.
            He is moving so fiercely that it feels like his cock is filling up my entire body.
            And yet at the same time, he pumps his fist up and down over my erection mercilessly, as if trying to force me to orgasm with all his might—

            “Aha, ah—ah—”
            “Kh—nnh, Nessiah, you’re getting—bigger—you’re too tight, I can’t hold back anymore—”

            The wet sensation of his tongue on the nape of my neck.
            He fucks me from behind with his hot arousal and from the front with his warm hand.
            My vision is going blurry, and I can faintly tell that my toes are curling in an attempt to bear the great pleasure.

            I can’t see his face.
            But when I imagine that he’s moving with that same helpless expression as before—I can’t keep my precome from overflowing.

            “Hah—ah, u, ahh, ahh—harder—I need more, it’s not enough, love me more—”
            “—!!”

            My body is bent in an arc.
            Gulcasa’s hips keep slamming into me from behind, and it feels almost like my skin is stinging, vibrating brightly from the sharp contact.

            “Ya—ah, mm, please—”

            My voice and my body are out of my control.
            My hips are moving on their own.
            Taking Gulcasa deeper inside me, wanting to fuck harder into his slick hand—
            I don’t know which it is.
            The stimulation from both sides is making me come undone.

            “Hya—ah, ah—”

            Somehow, it’s changed completely.
            The tender lovemaking has gotten to be so passionate.
            But I’m not afraid.
            Because—Gulcasa is the one holding me.
            We will love each other until our minds and our self-control are both wrecked, but—I have no fear that he will hurt me even accidentally, or that the pace of our sex will become too violent for me to bear.

            I trust him.
            He knows my limits too well to even have to consider them consciously.

            “Nessiah—Nessiah, I love you, you’re—”

            Words overflowing with passion.
            My body is already starting to convulse.

            …Right now, we are connected so tightly that I don’t know where he ends and I begin.
            His cock is perfectly formed to exact pleasure from every sensitive place when he moves into my body.

            “Ah—ah—”

            All I know is that I can’t hold myself back any longer.

            “Gulcasa—I have to—”
            “I know—I can’t, either, I—with me—”

            He thrusts into me, and embraces my body tightly with one arm.
            The fingers of his other hand run up to the tip of my erection, and I—

            “Nn—ah, ah—”

 

            The pleasure overflows and spills out.
            I bite my lip to keep from crying out, and I come with enough force that my sense of hearing fades temporarily away.

            As soon as my orgasm ends—
            When my body is left limp and shaking, Gulcasa makes a low and desperate noise.
            And—there’s a great rush of heat and wetness inside me as he ejaculates for the second time tonight.

            “—”
            “—”

            Our bodies are too hot to stay connected.
            If we remain together for any longer, we will surely both melt away.
            So—we come apart with a soft, wet noise.

            My body aches all over from all the vigorous sex.
            But—I push myself up on my hands and knees in order to turn myself over.
            Sticky threads of semen are flowing out from inside me, and I’m literally dripping with sweat, but I’m still too euphoric from the intense orgasm to care.
            I let my body collapse, and tuck myself close against Gulcasa’s chest.
            His eyes are closed, and he simply folds his arms around me.

            There is a strength in his embrace that I would not have expected, from the amount of energy we’ve both exerted.
            But Gulcasa holds me tightly as if afraid to let go.

            I can’t speak.
            All I can do is be with him, here, now.

            The clock is still moving inexorably towards midnight.
            But—as long as we have a few hours left.

            I want to just lie still in Gulcasa’s arms.
            I want to be with him, and doze exhaustedly in his embrace, and forget about everything for just a short while.
            The dream won’t end just yet.
            I won’t—allow it to disappear so quickly.

 

            “—I love you.”
            I have to swallow to get moisture back into my dry throat before I can say it.
            Still, I get the words out in a whisper.

            Gulcasa’s embrace tightens.
            He doesn’t respond in words, but he holds me more tightly.

            …I close my eyes.
            I’m not tired enough to sleep.
            But—I can doze for a while, until my strength returns.
            Until the time runs out, and we have to face forward towards the battle awaiting us—