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Glass Coffin

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            And I wake up without dreaming.
            …It’s morning.
            The light coming through the curtains tells me that it’s already past dawn.
            So much for jet lag and the like.
            My head is fuzzy and my arms and legs feel heavy and ache as though I’ve been doing strenuous exercise all yesterday.
            I’m not confused the way that I was yesterday morning, and at least I’m able to wake up in bed instead of on the open rooftop in the middle of winter, but with or without Heckler supporting me, my body is complaining about climbing all over roofs while we were spying on the battles last night.

            A shower comes first.
            I’m hungry, but I wasn’t able to get clean last night, so I should wash off the sweat before I change into new clothes.
            Also, I think my muscles will complain at me less if I soak them in warm water.
            Back at home, we sometimes had to conserve water, but here in the hotel I can take as many showers and baths as I want, so I should take advantage of that.
            Plus, as I find out when I try running the shower, here I can have hot water that actually stays hot after the first five minutes.
            That’s pretty nice.

            I change into fresh clothes and decide to leave my hair down until it dries out more.
            There should still be soup leftovers from last night, so I can heat that up for breakfast.

            …I think that Servants are pretty useful people to have around.
            But continually having trouble waking up in the morning because Heckler’s prana comes from me isn’t something I like or want to learn to live with.

            “Good morning, Master!”
            …Uwaaah, there’s a disgustingly cheerful person here.
            Heckler, who was apparently in spirit form while I showered and made myself breakfast, appears with a face as radiant as the sun.
            He keeps beaming at me as I stare without comprehension.
            Moja perches on my shoulder and preens my hair.
            …I can tell that if someone doesn’t step in and hold these two back, terrible things will happen.
            B-but I’m tired.
            Can’t someone else do it?

            “Is that all you’re having for breakfast?
            “That’s no good, a growing teenager needs sweet things in the morning to jumpstart the brain.
            “There should at least be vending machines in this building, so do you at least want to go buy a fruit juice?”

            …Actually, I don’t think I’m even awake yet.
            Because this has to be some kind of nightmare.


            Heckler smiles and hands me the plastic packet of grape juice.
            I twist the plastic cap off and drink the juice through the small opening in the package.
            These super-modern juice packages are a little difficult to figure out, but the sweet juice tastes good.
            …A boost to the blood sugar isn’t quite as good as caffeine to start a day off, but I can’t afford to be picky, and I do feel more awake.

            I commend my Servant for a mission well-completed and finish my juice.
            Moja has been sent out the window to get a chance to fly and scout around, and so Heckler and I are alone for the moment.
            He watches me as I slowly coax my mind into functioning with the same smile on his face.


            In the end I can’t just endure the staring, and wind up having to ask.

            Heckler startles like he himself didn’t realize his own expression.
            “—Ahaha, I’m sorry.”
            He grins sweet-naturedly and scratches at his cheek.
            “It’s just that—you know, when I was alive, the order of knights I was in was half women, you see?
            “And women tended to complete their training as knights earlier, maybe just because they tended to enroll earlier too, but even though the men tended to be around twenty or so at the youngest—there were a lot of girls who were around your age.
            “And so you just reminded me of them a little—my comrades, that is.
            “Even though we were the army, and even though the kingdom had a lot of problems with politics and racial tensions and factional disputes and such—I think it’s actually impossible for a scenery filled with energetic girls to not be cheerful.
            “It’s not relaxing the same way that wilderness and little animals are, but it’s still kind of hopeful and nice.
            “Sorry for thinking something weird.”

            Honestly, comparing me to the knight kingdom leaves me with mixed feelings.
            The atmosphere of camaraderie and companionship that Heckler describes doesn’t sound bad, but all the same, that’s the right arm of the government that’s keeping my people poor and oppressed even now.

            Heckler makes a sound and buries his fingertips in his hair, as if only now realizing his mistake.
            He makes a troubled expression and looks at me.

            My body gets tense as soon as he says my name.
            I’ve never reacted like that to Vilgo-sama or Moja or the villagers calling me.
            It’s not like he’s pronouncing it wrong or anything.
            …I guess it must just be that I’m not used to his presence yet.
            Even though we’re Master and Servant, Heckler is a strange boy I’ve only just met, one who is only a few years older than me.
            I’ve never thought of myself as particularly sensitive to boys paying attention to me, but that must be because I already knew all my fellow villagers, and other young men are either enemies or inconsequential to me.
            So maybe if the boy from two days ago had known my name and called it like this, that would have affected me strongly too.

            …Or maybe it’s just because it’s Heckler.
            Maybe I’m paying special attention to him because he is my Servant and we’ll be living together for the rest of this Holy Grail War.
            …Maybe I should just stop trying to overanalyze it, as the fact still is that his saying my name makes my heart rate rise and my body go tense and still.

            “—Have you always had trouble waking up in the morning?”

            …Yes, there’s no point in working myself up over this guy.
            This isn’t the kind of conversation between different sexes that makes the pulse pound.

            Unless there’s something wrong, when I wake up, I’m awake.

            I sign back to him.
            In response, Heckler scratches his chin and makes a troubled face.

            “—Then, unless you’ve suddenly gotten sick with really bad timing…”

            —Yes, it would be because of prana loss.

            There’s no point in beating around the bush.

            —Either I’ll adjust, or we’ll just have to factor it into our strategies in the future.
            Even if I was okay with having you eat souls to lessen the burden on myself, I don’t have any confidence that we could pull off that many murders or attacks on civilians without the supervisor of the war coming after us, so it’s just impractical.
            Besides, what we heard during the fight last night is concerning.
            Rider’s Master said that the supervisor of this war is crooked, so I think we should avoid contact with them if at all possible.

            “…Mmm, that’s very true.
            “For what it’s worth, I am a knight and don’t want to attack people either, but I’m glad that you can be practical about it.
            “But that is worrying in terms of the future.
            “I can minimize the burden on you by remaining in spirit form unless we need to communicate face to face, but given my general ranking as a Servant…”

            …I know.
            Compared to the Servants we saw last night, I don’t think that Heckler is actually so impressive.
            Well, Saber and Rider were probably high-ranking Servants, but even Caster and Assassin were at an average ability level.
            Whereas Heckler is a little-known Servant, which affects his average parameters anyway.
            And given that both he and I are long-range fighters, if we can’t deal with this war strategically we don’t have any chance of victory.


            —Since you’ve already brought the topic up, I think we should take this chance to discuss what we saw yesterday and talk about what to do from here on out.

            The somewhat silly air of the previous discussion vanishes.
            Heckler sobers all at once.

            “—All right.
            “Then, Master, where do you want to start?”

            —First is about the two Servants whose Noble Phantasms we saw.
            I haven’t heard of Rider’s Noble Phantasm, but I’m sure that with all that we know about him already, we ought to be able to find something if we do research.

            Heckler nods.
            “What I can add to that is that he has very high specs as a Servant.
            “How much of that is natural ability and how much is just having a strong magus for a Master, I don’t know, but if we take on Rider with no plan, we’d have no way of winning.”

            —We can wait to see if they are defeated by some other Servant, but it would be pretty troubling if another Servant showed up that could defeat them just like that, too.
            Anyway, when the time comes to do battle with Rider, we’ll have to gather information and try to set up some kind of situation where we have the advantage over them.
            Then, next would be Saber.
            I didn’t recognize her Noble Phantasm either, but it seems that she’s also a strong Servant…

            Heckler narrows his eyes.
            “—I know who she is.”

            That’s interesting.
            Her Noble Phantasm wasn’t well-known enough for me to recognize it, so Heckler does.
            That implies that either she’s old enough that he had heard of her during his life, or that she is also affiliated with the Land of a Hundred Heroes.
            …Though, if that’s the case, shame on me for not knowing who she is either.

            “It’s not strange for you not to know.
            “Saber’s main Noble Phantasm—which is to say, her real trump card and the key to her identity isn’t her sword.
            “She has another Noble Phantasm that she’s withholding.”

            ……Servants with multiple Noble Phantasms.
            From my perspective that’s unfair, because Heckler only has the one.
            But Servants who were heroes with multiple famous weapons or special techniques sometimes have more than one Noble Phantasm, it’s true.

            “Her true identity is Maria.
            “—She’s the angel who saved my king and fought at his side as he led us in combat against the demon god Zolgonark.”

            …I am momentarily left unable to think.

            She’s one of the two heroes that my country is best known for.
            Part of the big incident that led to the hundred knights becoming Heroic Spirits came from an angel being sent down to heaven to judge my own people for trying to rebuild the tower of Babel.
            The angel wished for power out of a sense of unworthiness, and was taken advantage of by the demon god, her soul split in half.
            One half was kept as the demon’s slave, and the other became the valkyrie Maria, who salvaged the soul of the Lionhearted King and fought as his right arm as the king rallied the empty bodies of his soldiers.
            At the end of the battle she was restored to her full powers, and thus restored the king and all the people to their bodies.
            The story goes that she returned to the realm of the gods and accepted her punishment for letting a demon sway her.

            If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder that I didn’t recognize Saber just because of her sword.
            The valkyrie Maria is best known for her sunset-colored wings.
            It was recorded that ordinarily she looked like a human, but during the darkest hour, she could assume her full strength—and only when unleashing her most powerful attacks could she manifest her wings.
            …If that’s true, then that must be her main Noble Phantasm.
            No, if that wasn’t considered a Noble Phantasm, it would be very strange.

            “…With that being the case, it would be very difficult to win against her head-on.”
            Heckler says something fatalistic and sighs up towards the ceiling.

            “We were part of the same army, and so she would know what I’m capable of.
            “On top of which, she’s a different level of being than me.
            “Rider is some kind of Heroic Spirit amazing enough to ride dragons, so he must be affiliated with them.
            “And Saber is an angel, another powerful fantasy race.
            “I’m a Heroic Spirit and all too, but I’m just a human, after all.”

            I’m surprised to see Heckler complain.
            But then, he saw Saber fight up close when they were alive, so I guess it’s only natural for him to be so awed and impressed by her.
            His own feelings from “before he was a hero” remain.

            —Then in that case, if we ever had to fight them, I think our main chance would be exploiting her Master.

            Heckler looks at me.

            —Saber’s Master didn’t seem to be a very good one.
            Saber was obedient, but her Master seemed to have a difficult personality and kept making selfish demands of her.
            So if Saber keeps trying to follow the whims of such a Master, and her Master is proud and foolish, I can see it being possible that her Master might make a mistake.
            The problem would still be trying to create a situation that’s advantageous, and how to engineer such a mistake into happening.
            I think that just like Rider, Saber is a Servant that we can only defeat as we are now after a lot of observing and planning.

            “I see, that makes sense.”
            Heckler is following along with my assertions and nodding.
            He’s an experienced knight and older than me, but that he treats my suggestions like they have worth makes me a little happy.

            —So that leaves Caster and Assassin, whose Noble Phantasms we didn’t get to see.

            “Most Assassins are supposed to be either the Hassans—the old men of the mountain from the Middle East.
            “But judging from her appearance, the Assassin in this war is different.”

            Heckler’s words are certainly true.
            She had lighter skin than you would expect someone living in a Middle Eastern country, and she wasn’t dressed like a Japanese ninja either, which is the other thing that immediately comes to mind when someone talks about assassins.
            But then, assassins aren’t all like thieves or spies sneaking in the night, and there are any number of ways that you could theoretically assassinate a target.
            So, if someone summoned an Assassin with a catalyst not related to a Hassan or a ninja, it’s easy to imagine that a different hero could be utilized in that class.

            “Judging from her appearance, I don’t think she’ll be able to utilize the Assassin class specialty of stealth as efficiently as one of the old men of the mountain would.
            “So in that regard, if we were to challenge her it would be a more equal battle.
            “I think that some of her statistics are superior to mine, but since she’s also a long-range fighter, we could at least fight on the same terms.”

            —Her Master was also wearing a school uniform.
            Because of that, we have a lead on investigating her.
            If we can find the school that has that uniform, we can search for clues about Assassin’s Master and look for a weakness or a personality trait that we could take advantage of.

            Heckler nods.
            “And last, there’s Caster.
            “I don’t know what to make of her as a Servant.
            “Her statistics seem to be about average in most categories from what I could tell, but we don’t know how strong her magic is.
            “As one of the three knight classes, I have natural magical resistance, but it’s not actually very strong and can be influenced by the situation or area I fight in.
            “But fighting Caster would probably also be a long-range battle.
            “The problem is her Master.
            “It would depend on what you think you can do against guns.”

            —Plus, we don’t have as many leads on Caster’s Master as we do on Assassin’s.
            She looks to be about the same age as the Master of Assassin, but she wasn’t wearing a school uniform and she may not even be native-born Japanese.

            “I think that about sums up the report on what we found out last night.”
            Heckler folds his arms and tilts his head to the side.

            —Since we have clues and we know that we might be able to fight Caster or Assassin on equal terms, I want to spend today using Moja to gather information about those two Masters.
            Then, when night falls, we can decide whether we want to go after one of those two, or try to investigate the Servants we haven’t seen yet.

            “Berserker and Lancer… huh.”
            Heckler nods.
            Like me, he’s probably thinking that both of those Servants also sound like enemies that would be trouble if we let them get close to us.
            Most likely, if we want to take them on, we will need information about the both of them so that we can find a way to turn the battles in our favor.


            With that decided, Heckler returns to spirit form and I return to my room.
            When I’m using Moja as a familiar and looking through his eyes, it’s best if my body is undisturbed, and so I’ll use the bed to lie down on to keep my body comfortable anyway.


            I turn on my Magic Crest, bear the discomfort, and send my mind to join with Moja’s.


            With my mind riding over his shoulder, we fly up into the sky and get a panorama of the whole city of Fuyuki.
            Miyama is the more suburban district, and so it makes sense somehow to start looking for high schools there.
            I have Moja follow the lines of roads, and before long we arrive at a place with the same uniform that the girl was wearing.
            …That’s pretty lucky.
            Even luckier, the students seem to be on break and are milling around on the grounds and the hallways.
            As I’m having Moja circle around in the sky—a figure with light-colored hair appears on the rooftop.

            She looks around as if to check that she’s alone, and motions with her hands.
            I can’t see it, but I can feel it through Moja as a light boundary field goes up on the school rooftop.
            I have Moja perch in the branches of a nearby tree and not approach any further.
            It would be stupid to have him go closer and get injuries from the boundary field as I try to examine it.
            As it is, Moja can still see and hear what’s happening inside the barrier, and therefore I can too; even if it’s the kind that blocks out humans and human senses, it won’t work on a bird.

            After the boundary field is finished.
            A woman with red hair—Assassin appears next to the light-haired student.

            “—Are you sure that was a good idea, Mimee?
            “I’d think that having an enemy in a place so close would make it unsafe.”

            “I’m saying it’ll be fine.”
            Even though she’s disagreeing with her Servant, the Master named Mimee laughs and smiles brightly, like the sunshine.
            “I know all the magi who go to this place pretty well, so I can vouch for her character at least to some extent.
            “And besides, this school is a public area.
            “She’s a magus with a proper magus mentality, and so just like me she wouldn’t think of starting a battle in a place like this—well, I do guess it’d be different if we met here at night when no one was around.
            “But during the day this is neutral ground.
            “And for a student, going to school is important to maintaining appearances, you know?—If I don’t at least show up, Aura will worry.
            “I don’t want that—she doesn’t really know what’s happening here, after all.”

            Assassin crosses her arms and raises her eyebrows in what’s clearly an “I don’t buy it” face.
            “Even if she is someone you know, you can’t always be certain that she’ll play fair.
            “—It’s pretty common for people you trust to stab you in the back over rewards that are less enticing than the Holy Grail, so I’d watch out for that.”

            The Master called Mimee turns around.
            Her body language is very relaxed and she doesn’t seem to be taking any umbrage at her Servant’s complaints.
            “I’d say that we’ve always been more like rivals than friends… If she intended to backstab me she’d have done it before now, I think.
            “Even if I didn’t trust in her specifically, I’d trust in her own sense of pride and integrity.
            “—Besides, you’ll still be with me wherever I go, and even if I don’t doubt her, you’ll be suspicious for me.”
            Rather, her tone of voice is full of affection.

            “It would be nice if you’re right.”
            Assassin shrugs her shoulders and sighs as if to say that her Master is hopeless.
            But her banter is lighthearted enough given the subject matter.


            Bells ring throughout the courtyard, and Assassin disappears.
            Mimee returns to the inside of the building as the students all head back to their classes.
            …Even so, this is a big school.

            I keep having Moja follow Mimee around for the rest of the day.
            There aren’t any other incidences that she talks to her Servant.
            When the school day ends, she leaves the building right away and walks to one of the residential districts.
            With Moja following at a distance, I map the route in my head.

            As far as I can tell, she doesn’t notice our presence.


            It’s already getting to be the end of the day.
            While there’s still light, I should see if I can find any traces of Caster’s Master—


            Even though I say that, it takes a while to track her down.
            I find the site of the battle last night and gauge where Caster and her Master must have been based on my own hiding place, and head in that general direction.
            It isn’t much to go on, but I can at least scope out any hotels and such that these roads lead to, just based on the girl’s hair color.
            Assuming that she’s foreign just because she has red hair seems a little silly given that Mimee is blond and yet goes to school in this town, but at least it’s a guess.
            If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, and I’ll have to look elsewhere.
            At least today won’t be a total waste of time no matter what happens.


            In the end, I wind up just having Moja follow the big bridge back to Shinto.
            We still watch the ground below us, but the sky is increasingly red, and we’re going to lose the light soon.
            This city is filled with people, and so it’s basically asking the impossible to find one person without any idea of where to look—

            But as we pass over the wide “park” that has nothing in it but dead land.
            There’s a familiar girl sitting on the bench, talking on a cell phone.

            I have Moja circle for a bit and then land in a tree, near enough to hear the girl but not who she’s talking to.

            “—oh honestly, I don’t need to get a lecture like this from you of all people, old man.
            “Who do you think has been filing your taxes for the past five years?”

            It’s unmistakably the Master of Caster.
            Not just because her short red hair is so distinctive, but because I don’t know of anyone else that might be carrying concealed revolver holsters in a place like this.
            Civilians aren’t supposed to be able to get firearm licenses in Japan, right?
            …Aside from that, she seems relaxed at first glance, but she’s seated so that she will be able to get up and face any intruder immediately.
            Her back is to a tree, and she’s minimized her blind spots really deliberately.
            With a Servant keeping guard over her, she should be ready to take on attack from any direction.

            “I’m more worried about my Servant than anything.
            “Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one here who’s actually taking the Grail War seriously.”

            “Hey Elisha, what does that mean?”
            There’s a girl standing on the other side of the tree where no one was before.
            She’s dressed in modern clothes, but it’s unmistakably Caster.
            Moja’s feathers puff out immediately at the presence of a Servant so close.
            …He’s probably reacting to my own tension more than anything else.

            “It means that you need to get back to keeping watch!”
            The red-haired girl, Elisha, glares death at her Servant.
            Caster puffs her cheeks out and falls silent sulkily, but doesn’t dematerialize.

            “Anyway, it’s not like there’s any problem with her ability level, and I understand that even over the black market, our choices for artifacts were limited…
            “But yeah, I have my worries about this kid’s personality.”
            Elisha jabs a thumb in her Servant’s direction without looking at her, and Caster sticks out her tongue like a child.

            “But no, we’re fine other than that.
            “And yeah, I’ll keep you updated and everything if something goes wrong.
            “—Honestly, it’s just like you to get worked up like this.
            “Try trusting me more.
            “And I really don’t want to come back to see you drinking through all our savings—it’s not like the Holy Grail is an endless fountain of money.
            “Even if it were, so much new currency would wreck its own market value—”

            She sighs and hangs up after nagging her conversation partner.

            “Damn brainless father figure.”
            With that, Elisha stands up and brushes off her skirt.
            “—Come on, Caster.”

            “Elisha, not until you tell me what you mean when you were complaining before!”
            Caster sulks valiantly.
            In response, Elisha just shrugs her shoulders and sighs again.
            “—Hey, you know that if anybody actually saw you suddenly appear, we would have to kill them all right now, right?
            “And then we’d have to kill anyone who saw that.”

            Caster’s brow furrows.
            “—Because like I told you, magecraft isn’t publicly known in this era.
            “If we don’t want the whole Magic Association coming down on our heads for letting mundanes know about our existence, we’d have to take care of it ourselves.
            “Not to mention, you need to stay hidden or other Servants are gonna find you.
            “We don’t want to get into a fight on somebody else’s terms, do we?”

            Caster draws the word out, still making an unsatisfied face.

            “Well, since you’re out already…”
            Elisha shakes her head.
            “It’d be just as bad if anyone saw you suddenly vanish, so at least try to behave on the way back, okay?”

            Caster brings her hands up to her chest with an expression that looks excited or inspired.
            “…Elisha, I’m hungry.”
            As Caster deflates and whines, her Master slaps a hand to her forehead.

            “—Sheesh, what am I going to do with you?
            “Are you actually hungry, or do you need fuel?”

            Still complaining at each other, Master and Servant leave the sorry excuse for a park.
            I have Moja tail them at a distance until they reach a hotel that isn’t too far away from the one where I’m staying.

            And just in time for the sun to finally go down, I have Moja return to the hotel room.


            Even when my consciousness returns to my body, I feel lightheaded.
            It’s probably an aftereffect of having been lying down using magic all day.
            …Anyway, everything I was able to find out will go to waste unless we discuss it, so I shut my eyes and give the line connecting me to Heckler a mental tug.

            …My lightheadedness gets worse as soon as Heckler appears.
            Uwaaah, this is going to be a pain.

            I relay the things that I found out to Heckler, who nods seriously.
            …Moja isn’t present.
            Since I’ve been using him as my eyes all day, he needs to replenish his energy, so it’s best to just leave him alone for a little while to scavenge and hunt.
            Besides, even though he’s protected against magic, Moja is a lot less conspicuous as a familiar when I’m not actively doing something magical with him.

            “—So that’s the situation…”
            Heckler tilts his head to one side and then the other.
            “What are your plans on what to do next?”

            …He’s asking me?


            —I think we should focus on eliminating Caster first.

            Heckler nods.
            “Why do you think so?”

            —Assassin should also be an option, but judging by the conversation that she had with her Master, there’s a second Master at their school that they know of.
            That’s an unknown element, which means that we have to tread with caution until we understand that situation.
            So as long as we’re sitting around needing to do more reconnaissance there, we might as well attack the enemy that we’re surer of.

            Heckler watches me sign until I’m finished and nods.
            “…Yeah, I think that’s good reasoning.
            “Then, tomorrow we’ll do that.”


            —Why tomorrow?

            Heckler smiles awkwardly.
            “Come on.
            “There’s no way that you can go out and fight when you’re tired from using magic all day.
            “Besides, you need to eat something.”

            That’s probably correct, but there’s nothing left here to eat.
            And I don’t want to deal with vending machines, so—


            I have to get Heckler to make the phone call.

            Looking up local take-out restaurants on a computer in the lobby, I decided that I wanted to eat kimchi.
            It would be cheap for the amount of food, and I thought that maybe eating something spicy would make me feel more lively.
            But in the end the restaurant had no order by email option, and going out to walk by myself (or so it would appear) seemed like asking for unnecessary trouble.
            So, I make Heckler make the phone call after writing down the number, and he copies down the time that the food will arrive.
            The phone call is an absolute mess that involves a lot of signing between both of us and frantic scribbling from Heckler, as it turns out that Heckler does not know the hotel’s street address.

            …I do eventually get the kimchi, but it’s not as if the spice can put back everything that exchange took out of me.

            “Master, they say that happiness always escapes when you sigh.”
            Heckler, beside me, is still trying to be positive, or maybe to soften the mood.
            “So—hey, now…”

            He must finally take the hint that I’m not in the mood for conversation.
            It only took my flipping him off, so that’s something.
            …But it’s exhausting.
            I throw out the empty boxes, turn the lights off, and collapse onto the bed.


            It’s not that I want to be able to speak.
            If someday I become able to speak again, well, that’s fine in and of itself, but just that I won’t have to deal with the inconveniences doesn't mean that those inconveniences are justified in existing.
            They’ll still exist, just for “other people”.
            So it’s not that I wish I were able to speak in order to escape.

            I’m just annoyed that no matter where I go, it seems as though the entire world thinks that people without a “voice” must have nothing to say—

            Heckler must have gone back into spirit form.
            Without unnecessary burdens on my body, and with the hot fast food at least alleviating physical discomfort, I am angry about things I cannot change until I go to sleep.