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Thread: Fate/strange fake (Free-Range Spoilers)

  1. #9441
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Comun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NMR-3 View Post
    Is that also why it's Erkidu instead of Enkidu?
    Elkidu is a spelling invented by Nasu and the Japanese is just as confused as we are about why TM spells it like that.

  2. #9442
    鬼 Ogre-like You's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Comun View Post
    Elkidu is a spelling invented by Nasu and the Japanese is just as confused as we are about why TM spells it like that.
    Elk I Do

    Eto's archnemsis
    Though abandoned, forgotten, and scorned as out-of-date dolls, they continue to carry out their mission, unchanged from the time they were designed.
    Machines do not lose their worth when a newer model appears.
    Their worth (life) ends when humans can no longer bear that purity.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ticeexcenny
    In my opinion you are not right. I am assured. Let's discuss it. Write to me in PM, we will talk.

  3. #9443
    The Greatest Cool Reign's Avatar
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    I bet it started as a typo but by the time he realized it was too late to change so he just ran with it.

  4. #9444
    Quote Originally Posted by Reign View Post
    I bet it started as a typo but by the time he realized it was too late to change so he just ran with it.
    It was Enkidu in FSN material until it got changed into Erukidu

  5. #9445
    wanting to differentiate from the character in the epic, who is substantially different? only explanation i can come up with, but then he should've done it with the couple hundred other servants which are substantially different too

  6. #9446
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Comun's Avatar
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    Apparently they only draw the line at Altera and Elkidu.

  7. #9447
    Gil's name actually is written differently too
    Some said it was because of Final fantasy

  8. #9448
    屍食鬼 Ghoul
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    So... What's going on with True Berserker?
    is he Huwawa and not huwawa at the same time? What's edison's role in all of this?

  9. #9449
    it's not edison and never was by the look of things

  10. #9450
    死徒 Dead Apostle jennajayfeather's Avatar
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    That makes sense because when True Berserker came out, in his afterword he just kind of cheekily went "yeah have fun trying to guess watcher & true berserkers identities" so the Edison thing was an intentional red herring

  11. #9451
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Comun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lieSiny View Post
    So... What's going on with True Berserker?
    is he Huwawa and not huwawa at the same time? What's edison's role in all of this?
    Harli got a catalyst for Edison, but Ishtar happened and that caused her to summon Humbaba instead. But she isn’t aware of that and assumes her big monster is Berserker Edison.
    Maybe. We still haven’t gotten the full explanation about this case, but that’s what the situation is building itself to be so far.

  12. #9452
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six pinetree's Avatar
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    Oh shit, clicked the wrong thread and was spoiled. Welp.

    Wow true berserker not being Edison is really disappointing.

  13. #9453
    Eh if it was Edison it'll just be a another wild card in a war when we have a tons of wildcard. It gives enkidu something to do at least.

  14. #9454
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six pinetree's Avatar
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    Yeah but I like Edison and don't care about Enkidu.

  15. #9455
    The Huwawa seems a bit odd anyways. Since when was it a mechanical monstrocity? On the other hand what about Edison being a beserker sounds correct? Was there some time when he was insane or was said to have gone mad? He doesn't fit the criteria to become a beserker. I'm thinking that this is some kind of duel summon with two spirit origins mashed together. This may not seem right but keep in mind that everything else in this story is a bit, strange.

  16. #9456
    The Wolf King Lobo's Avatar
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    Huwawa being mechanical is specifically because it has the ability to absorb everything on the environment and has being so far strolling throught the city
    By the incoming volume
    Spoiler:
    It may not be mechanical anymore since as far I remember from the spoilers, it was absorbing Enkidu's forest

  17. #9457
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Comun's Avatar
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    Humbaba didn't appear in volume 6 outside of Enkidu's flashback.

  18. #9458
    The Wolf King Lobo's Avatar
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    If I remember right, the spoiler I mentioned is from the ending of vol.5
    And yeah, I don't remember any mention about Humbaba's status/position from the vol.6 info that got shared

  19. #9459
    死徒 Dead Apostle jennajayfeather's Avatar
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    anyone have any cool boku!flat theories you want to share? im stumped

  20. #9460
    Sorry it's been a bit since the last bit of translation I posted. Everything going on in the world really messed with my schedule (and also I spent like 120 hours playing RPGs).
    Here's the full chapter 16, with a couple minor fixes to the parts I already posted. New stuff starts at "?????"
    There are about 20 pages left in the book now, so expect the next section I post to wrap it up (except maybe for the afterword).

    FSF 5 Chapter 16: Day 3, Breaking Dawn and Wakeless Dreams I

    Chapter 16
    Day 3: Breaking Dawn and Wakeless Dreams I


    In a Dream

    Wind blows.
    Wind blows.

    Whoosh, swoosh, they all melt together.
    The stars, and the tall, tall buildings, and sleepy townspeople too.

    X X

    Even in the dream, the girl continued to sleep.
    She slept because it had gotten dark. She slept because she was sleepy.
    That was the girl’s modest wish.
    Thus, therefore—

    “————————”
    “—————————————”

    Her protector simply acted to grant it.
    To put the dazzling lights that kept the girl from resting soundly to sleep.
    To stop the noisy wind that threatened the girl’s salvation.

    X X

    In _____

    A voice.
    A voice began to reach the ears of the dozing “observers.”
    “The likes of you will tell the story of my love and hate?”
    Whose voice could it be?
    It was a sharp voice, and yet quivering with the flames of resentment. Its every utterance froze the air and seemed to presage tragedy.
    The “observers” recognized the next voice they heard.
    “You got it. This is a deal. I’ll arrange your revenge into a book. I’ll tell everyone in Paris—everyone in the world—about you.”
    It was the voice of the Servant who had given them the strength to fight—Alexandre Dumas.
    After sound came hazy vision.
    The “observers” saw a man in black holding a sharp fork to Dumas’ throat.
    It was probably a kind of fight.
    Dumas had not followed in the footsteps of his martial father. Nevertheless, faced with a “rival,” he was risking his life on his words.
    “Everyone’s got at least a little love and hate. Even a brat could tell a story about it. But who can tell the story of your love and hate, Edmond Dantès, Comte de Monte-Cristo? . . . I can. Only I can, avenger. What sets your grudge over having your whole life stolen apart from a little brat’s grudge over his kid brother taking his sweets? Something does, of course! But you aren’t the one who can tell it most dramatically. Can you speak to the hearts of thousands, millions, of people? I can! That’s what my pen is for! . . . Or, putting it the other way ‘round, you’ve as good as finished speaking to millions, billions, of people! It’s my pen that will put it to paper, but it’s you who showed me how you live!”
    Despite the fork still at his throat, Dumas got to his feet partway through his speech and spoke with the full tones of a rough commander addressing his troops.
    “. . .”
    A brief silence followed.
    The man in black stared expressionlessly at Dumas, but in the end, he lowered his fork with an air of disgust and practically spat:
    “. . . I won’t seek compensation, but your ‘deal’ is hardly reasonable.”
    “Oh, you’ll be compensated,” Dumas answered, shrugging his shoulders and twisting his mouth into a broad grin. “I’m gonna make you a celebrity.”
    Then, spreading his arms wide, his eyes shining like a child describing his dreams for the future, he began to expound his views to the man in black.
    “My protagonist will walk a road or revenge paved in bright-red blood spray and pitch-black hatred, but everyone will cheer that that’s what makes it beautiful. I’ll make sure that for the next thousand years, the word ‘avenger’ will make every person in France think of you.”
    The “observers” finally realized that Dumas was conducting a negotiation.
    And that the man in black in front of them must be the model for someone in Dumas’ massive body of work.
    A few well-read “observers” realized who the man in black was, but couldn’t shake the doubt: “He couldn’t have actually existed, could he?”
    “That’ll make your revenge complete. You were slandered by society, forgotten by the people, and abandoned by the world. But for the first time, people will recognize that you were in the right.”
    “In the right . . .? Do you think I want that?”
    “Yourself aside . . . it could mean salvation for people who’ve been mixed up with you.”
    At those words, the man in black fell silent again. Then, he slowly shook his head.
    “Do as you please.”
    “You don’t mind?”
    “The man called Edmond Dantès no longer exists. The only thing here is a grudge that continues to fall toward the far side of love and hate.”
    Even as he took a philosophic view of his situation, the man’s voice still seemed to burn with dusky flames.
    Dumas swirled his wineglass again and said, with a hint of loneliness:
    “So, you’re casting off Edmond Dantès?”
    “. . . It’s the name of a man who ought to have vanished in the Château d’If.”
    “That coat you’ve wrapped yourself up in is like a black fire. You want to burn yourself one of these days? . . . Or else . . . have you already done it? A black tulip’s the same color, but it’d be a sight to stir up the people’s hearts. Ever considered turning back before you’re nothing but cinders?”
    The “observers” were confused.
    Dumas had spoken as if he approved of vengeance. Why would he try to talk the other man down at this point?
    “Yeah, that’s right. The only place you’re headed for is Hell. A darkness even deeper than the black flames you’re wrapped in. There’s no salvation for you. I’ve seen enough humans to say that for sure. Ten to one, you won’t make it back here. You’ll end up crushing ordinary happiness with your own hands. But if you turn back now, you just might meet the same end as the hero of the novel I’m going to write.”
    Dumas almost seemed to be trying to tell the man not to let him write the novel. The avenger in black heard him and, with an incredibly cheerful grin, directed a sinister laugh at the empty air.
    “I see . . . So, you, the man they called the king of Paris, guarantee the hell awaiting me.”
    “What’re you laughing for?”
    “I’m relieved. That means my path is worth walking.”
    The avenger let a rage whose flames threatened to consume him seep into his voice as he continued.
    “I do not need salvation! I do not need mercy! How could I speak of ‘revenge’ if I refused to pay the price for dragging even the innocent into my rage?!”
    Why are we here?
    Why are we seeing this?
    The “observers” wondered.
    But at the same time, they could not look away.
    Even if they did not know the identity of the man speaking with Dumas, they were painfully aware of the dark flames of the soul that dwelt within him.
    It was as if they had been to this place by those flames.
    Ignorant of both the man’s circumstances and Dumas’, the “observers” simply felt their hearts being mysteriously influenced by the man in black.
    The man in black paused, turned back to face Dumas, and resumed speaking.
    “Still . . . what becomes of a man walking into Hell should be no concern of yours.”
    The man chuckled and said with a hint of pleasure:
    “I took you for a money-grubber like my archenemies . . . but you’re surprisingly cordial, novelist.”
    “. . . It doesn’t matter, does it? I’ve just already got more money than I know what to do with.”
    Dumas scratched his head, put off by the sudden remark.
    The man in black turned his back on Dumas and began to walk toward the room’s back door.
    “It’s just a name I’ve discarded. If you say you’ll save it with your pen, then do it, if you can.”
    “I’ll do it all right. Yeah . . . It’ll take some prep work . . . but the next time I hear someone mention the island of Monte-Cristo someplace that had nothing to do with you, that’ll be fate giving me the signal. I think I’ll start writing then. I’ll get it serialized in a newspaper or something, so look forward to it.”
    “See that you don’t forget. If I don’t like the ending, I’ll pay a visit to your bedroom to tear up your manuscript and your windpipe.”
    Dumas responded to the threat, spat out with a keen-eyed grin, with sarcasm.
    “Sure thing. If I strike it rich, I’ll build a ‘Château de Monte-Cristo’ on the banks of the Seine so you’ll know where to find me.”
    He had no idea that he would one day follow through on what he meant as a quip.
    “Anyway, if the ending strikes your fancy, come to applaud me. I’d like to find out how my model really ended up, if I can.”
    “I have only one thing to say to you.”
    The man in black flashed a faint, wry smile and, with his back to Dumas, pronounced:

    “Wait and hope.”

    The “observers” who had been listening to the pair were unable to see any more of the scene.
    As the man in black spoke, their consciousnesses withdrew from that space.
    As they did, they had a premonition that they had already been incorporated into the life experienced by the Heroic Spirit Dumas—into his “story.”

    Then, light enveloped the “observers’” consciousnesses . . .

    X X

    In the Morning Sunshine

    “. . . What . . . was that?”
    Vera, the police unit’s coordinator, realized that she was lying on a bench on the hospital grounds and slowly rose.
    “Where . . . How did I get here?”
    The other officers lay on the ground nearby and were also beginning to rise, as if at a signal.
    They were all surveying their surroundings with looks of confusion.
    “Where . . .?”
    “Huh? Wasn’t Caster just . . .”
    “Mr. Caster . . . and a guy in black . . .”
    Based on their mutterings, Vera judged that they had all seen the same scene.
    “A dream . . .? But it was too . . .”
    Vivid and lifelike.
    They could even clearly remember what had been said. It was like their waking minds, and nothing else, had been blown into a different time and place.
    “Oh, did all of you see it too?”
    “. . . John?”
    The voice from behind Vera came from John, who seemed to be already awake.
    His prosthetic hand was half-destroyed, and he had lost the hydra-venom blade.
    Of course, it would have been incredibly dangerous if his hand had been broken with the blade exposed, so, in a sense, that was fortunate.
    “Since you mentioned a guy in black, I guess you saw Mr. Caster talking to the avenger in the restaurant . . . Well, that was the first thing I got shown too . . .”
    “The first . . .? John, what happened to you? How did you get that kind of power?”
    John answered Vera’s cool-headed questions with visible confusion.
    “Well . . . I don’t really understand it myself . . . I was shown all kinds of ‘heroic tales,’ starting with that one, for about . . . ten hours, I think. Crazy strong musketeers, like the famous three, and the revolutionary hero Garibaldi. Then it shifted to a gathering of the amazing authors he met in Paris . . . Oh, but I guess those authors were heroes too . . .”
    John sounded bewildered. Vera reacted to one thing he had said with confusion.
    “Ten hours . . .?”
    “Yes. It’s weird, though—when I woke up, dust was still falling from the hospital ceiling. I guess it must have only lasted a few minutes. But one thing’s for sure—Mr. Caster gave me power . . . I can tell that much.”
    “Caster did . . .? Could he have come up from underground? Is he here too?”
    “Speaking of here . . . Where is this place, anyway . . .?”
    John’s voice trailed off as he looked at the front entrance of the hospital, which led to Main Street.
    “I woke up in front of the church, but . . . Well, see for yourself. I can’t explain it . . .”
    “?”

    Urged on by John, Vera took several other officers who had regained consciousness and left the hospital’s premises, where they saw . . . no trace of destruction. Little birds flitted about over the pristine surface of Main Street.
    The church, which ought to be half-destroyed, had also been restored. Actually, it looked less “restored” and more like it had never been destroyed.
    It seemed to say that the destruction of the battle between Heroic Spirits the night before had been an illusion.
    Behind the bewildered officers, the haggard-eyed John asked a question that seemed half addressed to himself.
    “If the fight before we lost consciousness really happened . . . then where is this place . . .?”

    X X

    Snowfield, Coalsman Special Corrections Center

    “They disappeared. There’s no other way to put it.”
    Publicly, the facility was a privately-run prison, common in the United States at the time.
    In the special surveillance facility deep inside it, Faldeus heaved a little sigh.
    Having run his eyes over the report, he was considering the disappearance of a number of his associates who had been at the scene.
    The report told him that the police had surrounded the hospital.
    Also, that someone from the police station had contacted the hospital beforehand.
    When he saw the name of the patient that the physician they had contacted had attended, Faldeus shook his head.
    “Kuruoka Tsubaki . . . Damn the Kuruokas. I can’t believe they would set up their hospitalized daughter as a Master.”
    Faldeus had had his doubts about the motivations of the Kuruokas, mages who had been cooperative with this Fake Holy Grail War, but thanks to the chaos of the day before, he had gotten a rough idea of the circumstances.
    “I don’t know if she accidentally developed Command Spells, of if it was intentional . . . but I see now. They’re using their daughter to supply magical energy and directing the Servant from a safe location . . . Cunning, but I suppose it’s reasonable. I’ve heard that, even in the Fuyuki Grail War, a renowned Lord used his fiancée as a source of magical energy.”
    “You think that Kuruoka Tsubaki’s Servant did something?”
    Faldeus answered the woman who served as his aide-de-camp, Aludra, with a short nod.
    “I’ve gotten Francesca’s guarantee that there are no traces of magecraft being used to impair recognition or of any kind of illusion being cast. Of course, she did seem to be enjoying the situation.”
    “Meaning that more than thirty people vanished from Main Street in a brief period of time. Including Servants, if we assume that they didn’t dematerialize to conceal themselves.”
    Aludra’s businesslike, unemotional statement prompted Faldeus to run his eyes over the list on the report again.
    “In addition to the police unit, the missing persons are Flat Escardos, Hansa Cervantes, the self-proclaimed overseer, and four nuns thought to be his subordinates, who were in the church . . . He’s officially an ordinary priest, but based on Chief Orlando’s reports and the combat footage our surveillance network captured, he must be an executor. A capable one, at that.”
    Faldeus frowned, then read out the remaining names.
    “Also . . . Sigma, and Saber’s Master, who was accompanying him.”
    Looking at the spectacled blonde woman he had seen in video recordings, Faldeus sunk into thought.
    “Her identity concerns me . . . but she doesn’t look like a mage. We can’t eliminate the possibility, but we ought to view this as the work of Kuruoka Tsubaki’s Servant.”
    They had lost contact with Sigma, who was, practically speaking, on their side. They had also been unable to confirm Assassin and Saber, who seemed to be accompanying him, since that morning.
    Even setting aside Assassin, who had been summoned to “prime the pump,” if Saber had been destroyed, his Spirit Origin and magical energy ought to have been poured into the Grail.
    The fact that there was no sign of that meant that there was a strong possibility that Saber, at least, was still alive.
    In which case, where had they disappeared to?
    Faldeus wanted to consider the question carefully, but Aludra reported a matter that required his attention even more urgently.
    “Let’s say that the destruction on Main Street was the result of underground gas lines bursting . . . a chain reaction caused by the pipeline accident in the desert the other day. It will be a little hard on the gas company . . . but we did create it to be expendable. I sympathize with the low-level employees who don’t know anything, but we’ll leave them to the social security plans the ‘ordinary’ politicians draw up.”
    Faldeus sounded unconcerned as he shifted his attention to another issue.
    Now, it’s high time I located my own Servant.
    At worst, I may need to use a Command Spell to recall him . . .
    Just as he was about to return to his work . . . he sensed a slight shift in the flow of magical energy within him.
    “. . .”
    It was an odd feeling, different from his ordinary five senses. Like the inside of his body had ever so slightly dimmed.
    Faldeus intuitively recognized it as a “signal.” He left the remaining details to Aludra to iron out and exited the surveillance room.

    He stepped into his “workshop,” inside the same facility, confirmed that its door was shut, isolating it from all outside radio waves and magical energy, and then spoke.
    “. . . May I ask you are playing at?”
    “What would you ask, my contractor?”
    A voice that was utterly devoid of all emotion and, for that reason, utterly chilling sounded from behind Faldeus.
    The puppets in his workshop, handed down by generations of his ancestors.
    Faldeus found himself imagining that the voice came from each of them as he spoke in a dignified tone as its Master.
    “I am, of course, referring to the orders I gave you, Assassin—no, Hassan-i Sabbah.”
    He made a point of speaking the name aloud.
    Faldeus was addressing his own Servant, whom he might call “True Assassin” in contrast to the girl fanatic who had been summoned to “prime the pump.”
    “I ordered you to assassinate Galvarosso Scladio, the head of the Scladio Family. And yet, matters seem to have taken a strange turn.”
    In the day since he had given that order, a portion of the United States had fallen into chaos.
    In that one day, thirty-five important figures in the worlds of business, media, politics, diplomacy had passed away due to accident or illness. And a majority of the deaths from natural causes had the result of sudden strokes or heart attacks rather than prolonged struggles with illness.
    “I have yet to receive a report of Galvarosso’s death . . . but the area in which he is believed to reside has produced one fatality after another. It would be unreasonable not to suspect a connection.”
    Faldeus spoke aggressively, concealing the cold sweat on his back and hands.
    If his Servant was committing a string of murders for some reason of his own, then Faldeus needed to reign him in, even if it meant using a Command Spell.
    If the Servant was the type not to fear his own destruction, however, it was entirely possible that he might kill Faldeus before Faldeus had the chance to activate his Command Spell.
    Faldeus steeled himself as he asked the question, readying his mind and magical energy to activate a Command Spell . . . but the shadow—Hassan—simply answered matter-of-factly.
    “I have not deviated from our agreement. I have merely returned the lives that your faith determined to end to the other side of sleep.”
    It was a cold, robotic voice, as if a shadow with no will of its own was speaking.
    “As one who walks the shadows of the sacred purge, I swear—I have surely ended the life of those people, Galvarosso Scladio.”
    “. . . Those . . . people?”
    Faldeus frowned questioningly, then looked up with a start.
    “Don’t tell me . . .!”
    “Just so.”
    The “darkness” that stood behind Faldeus alleviated his doubts by quietly stating a single fact.
    “Galvarosso Scladio’s ‘personhood’ had already eaten away. That is all.”

    X X

    One Day Earlier, Somewhere in the United States, Scladio Manor

    The Scladio Family.
    It was one of America’s foremost crime syndicates, exerting a major influence not only on the criminal underworld, but on the business world as well.
    There was a reason why it retained its powerbase, even as crackdowns on cartels intensified.
    It rounded up mages who had, for whatever reason, been driven out of the Clock Tower or Asian mage organizations and stray magecraft-users and used its abundant financial resources to support their activities.
    They provided the Scladio Family with magecraft in exchange, but there was no compulsion—the mages and magecraft-users voluntarily assisted the Scladio Family in order to avoid losing an ideal patron or a protector from rival organizations.
    The Scladio Family also had strong connections to South American drug cartels, but their “drugs” never hit the market. Those drugs, which had undergone various forms of improvement, were used as specialized catalysts or ingredients in elixirs by the mages the Family patronized.
    The Clock Tower partially ignored the Family, reasoning that, while they would love to crush it if the chance presented itself, the ensuing confrontation with the United States and the release of the magecraft-users affiliated with the Family would outweigh the benefits of doing so at present.

    The leader of that powerful organization, whose reach extended to public, criminal, and even mage society, was currently . . . lying limp as a sheet on a massive bed in the innermost recesses of a vast mansion, a respirator and countless tubes attached to his body.
    Anyone who saw him would assume that he had at most a few years left to live, but he was smiling under his respirator and handing a large plush fox to the young girl who stood beside his bed.
    “Thank you, Great-Great-Grandfather! I’ll treasure it as long as I live!”
    “Good . . . Olivia. You don’t need to treasure it that long. When you find something you care for more, forget about me.”
    The bedridden old man spoke to the girl of five or six in a voice that hoarse, but still had strength in it.
    His name was Galvarosso Scladio.
    It was a false name, but it would be no exaggeration to say that that name, which had left its mark on the world, was all that he was.
    He was the head of the Scladio Family, a man who employed every means at his disposal to prolong his life. Officially, he was 109 years old, but rumor had it that he was actually even older.
    The majority of those means employed magecraft and could never be made public, but, perhaps because he was not a mage himself, there was a limit to what they could to halt his physical and mental degradation.
    Mages of truly high degree were capable of transforming themselves into hematophages and other “inhuman” things, but none of the mages affiliated with the Family, at least, were capable of converting another person—especially a non-mage like Galvarosso—without risk.
    “Listen, Olivia.”
    “What is it, Great-Great-Grandfather?”
    Galvarosso smiled as he addressed the girl, who was the youngest of his forty-three great-great-grandchildren.
    “You’re the spitting image of my wife, who died eighty years ago . . . Give me a closer look at your face.”
    “You’re acting funny, Grandfather. You talk like you’ll be gone soon.”
    The guards who accompanied the girl averted their eyes slightly at her naïve remark.
    They must have known that Galvarosso likely did not have much time left.
    The old man himself, however, displayed no such weakness and continued to listen to his great-great-granddaughter with a smile.
    After a short conversation, the girl and bodyguards left the room.
    The bedridden Galvarosso was left alone inside with the faint sounds of his respirator.
    Although it lacked even a single guard, magecraft had made his room in the innermost recesses of the Scladio Family’s headquarters into a fortress.
    One of the bodyguards who had brought his great-great-granddaughter was a capable mage. Without his guidance, she would not even have been able to notice the hallway that led to his room.
    A massive composite workshop created by the utmost efforts of the most elite mages even among the many at the Family’s disposal—that was the Scladios’ main residence.
    A variety of defense mechanisms and numerous evil spirits inside a powerful, thirty-five-layer ward.
    In light of a case in which a mage’s workshop had been destroyed along with the building that contained it, its systems had been designed to defend against both airborne projectiles and attempts to destroy its foundations from deep underground.
    For mystical defenses to surpass it, one would have to look to mage centers such as the Clock Tower or the Wandering Sea, or else the labyrinths and dens of vice that mages powerful enough to approach the Root had spent their lives constructing.
    At the center of toughest ward was a space devoid of any trace of insects, let alone malice.
    There was nothing there to threaten Galvarosso except his own lifespan. Despite which . . . he deliberately removed his respirator, stared at the empty air, and spoke.

    “. . . You’re there, aren’t you, darkness that signals my end?”

    The empty air did not answer.
    Nevertheless, Galvarosso continued to speak, as if to himself.
    “. . . Yes, I knew. I’ve known . . . for years now.”
    Breathing must have been difficult for him without his respirator, but Galvarosso continued to speak at length.
    “I poured my personal fortune into an auction to obtain these Mystic Eyes . . . We weren’t very compatible . . . or maybe too compatible . . . but they only showed me a single future . . . again . . . and again.”
    The man’s slightly mismatched eyes showed self-derisive laughter as he continued to address empty space.
    “Today, the day I die . . .”
    Still, the empty space did not answer.
    But Galvarosso sounded certain that he was being heard. Something in his face expressed relief.
    “I knew today was the day . . . as soon as Olivia asked me . . . for the plush fox.”
    Galvarosso had had a Mystic Eye implanted into his head on a certain train.
    That Mystic Eye had shown him the future.
    The future that would play out in his fixed location.
    He had seen his eyes closed by “darkness” after he gave a plush fox to his great-granddaughter.
    “It’s simple. All I had to do was not give the fox to Olivia . . . the youngest member of my family. That might have been enough to change my fate. That’s what I thought . . . but I suppose this is what it means to get old . . . If the alternative is seeing Olivia cry and sulk, I’d rather accept death . . . That was honestly how I felt.”
    Galvarosso quietly explained himself to what should have been empty air.
    There was no trace of the cold-hearted leader who had once terrified rival syndicates—just a dying man who continued to speak to something invisible.
    “Funny, isn’t it? I’ve crushed plenty of organizations and killed many, many people to get where I am now . . . Please, darkness who has brought me death . . . If you really are there, listen . . . I . . . will end, but not like this . . . No, I can’t end . . .”
    His face was growing gradually paler, as if from a lack of oxygen, possibly because he had removed his respirator.
    But, as if to indicate that there was still something he needed to say, he stretched out a hand toward the empty air as he continued.
    “The mages who seek to prolong my life . . . decided that it no longer matter if I am me . . . Bazdilot was against it . . . but the other mages . . . killed the souls of other powerful Americans . . . and overwrote . . . their personalities. They want to turn this country . . . into a mage’s paradise . . . Please . . . stop this nonsense . . . Let me . . . end . . . I just wanted a chance . . . to use magic . . . magecraft . . .”
    His speech had become broken. His words had begun to stop forming sentences.
    But, as if struggling to carve his essence into the world, he seared words that were nearly curses into the air of the room.
    “Yes, yes, the first woman I fell for, my wife, was a mage . . . Barely any Magic Circuits . . . Practically an amateur . . . Killed by the Clock Tower . . . Magecraft . . . Yes, magecraft . . . Magic . . . I always yearned for it . . . like a child . . . I wanted . . . to use magecraft . . . like she did . . . I wanted to see the same world . . . the same view . . . that my wife did . . . That’s all I wanted power an organization Ah Aah Aaa aa a aaa a”
    Galvarosso continued his fragmentary account of his path, as if to atone for his sins.
    As the words poured out, there was a tremor of emotion in his eyes.
    Then, just as his heart was about to break under the fear of death . . . darkness reached out from the empty air to quietly, gently cover his eyes.

    “It” did exist.
    A messenger of death that had slipped into the heart of the gargantuan magecraft workshop whose wards and defense mechanisms, while not supreme, were only a step below it, without triggering even one of its systems.

    “You have nothing to fear”

    It was a strange voice. It seemed to come from the entire room, and yet it was only audible to Galvarosso. Its words were simple, but because they were simple, they swiftly resonated with his chaotic emotions.
    “. . . Are you sure? A man like me . . .”
    Tears flowed from his Mystic Eyes, which no longer showed him anything. Darkness mercifully enveloped his life.

    “I have no reason to judge thee, nor do thou. Entrust all to the night.”

    The darkness, which had taken human shape before he knew it, laid its hand on the man’s head as it dispassionately intoned:

    “Awake in peace on the far side of sleep.”

    Then, unnoticed, the darkness vanished from the room, leaving behind only an old man who no longer needed to breathe, his eyes closed and a hint of relief on his face.
    He had yearned for magecraft.
    Some might say that, for a man who had moved behind the scenes of mage and American society for so long for such a childish reason, his end had been too peaceful.

    X X

    The Present, Snowfield, Meat Processing Plant

    The battle between the gargantuan, mechanical Heroic Spirit and Alkeides had left the meat processing plant in ruins.
    Thanks to Francois Prelati’s Noble Phantasm, however, it was apparently restored.
    In its distorted space, the mage who was Alkeides’ Master—Bazdilot Cordelion—was collecting elements that had not been destroyed to begin with and rebuilding a simple workshop in the meat processing plant.
    His subordinates—Scladio Family mages—whispered to each other as they watched Bazdilot, who was using magecraft to contact someone via a communicator, from afar.
    “Hey . . . when does Mr. Cordelion sleep?”
    “You don’t know? He’s special. I hear he can get by with a few seconds of sleep a day.”
    “. . . Seriously? I could see him managing for a few days like that with magecraft, but . . .”
    “That’s not all. He eats the bare minimum, too. Rumor has it he went thirty days without food or drink hunting down and dealing with a hostile magecraft-user who’d holed up in a snowy mountain workshop.”
    The mages watched their superior at work with frightened eyes.
    “Thank God he’s on our side . . . Even when he faced down that creepy Heroic Spirit, he didn’t give an inch.”
    “Yeah. I don’t know what kind of mages the other Masters are, but I can’t even imagine him losing.”
    Even among mages and magecraft-users, they were nearly strays. Their positions in the Family weren’t especially high, either.
    But a mature man’s voice, which, unlike theirs, was perfectly calm, rang out in the meat processing plant.
    “No . . . Mr. Cordelion isn’t invincible. He’s been beaten a few times, and he doesn’t make a secret of it.”
    It was the man who had been working under Bazdilot the longest.
    He had come to replace the man who had been replaced by an enemy mage and held a fairly high position in the Scladio Family, although Bazdilot still far outranked him.
    The veteran magecraft-user elaborated on Bazdilot to his juniors.
    “He’s nearly died fighting Holy Church executors, and a freelancer named Shishigō outwitted him once. Magalo or Der Familie gouged out one of his lungs, and Brother Degras burned most of his Magic Circuits. I think he fought to a draw with Wu from the Marble Company . . . This was before he joined the Family, but I hear he expected to die when he went up against one of the more infamous Clock Tower organizations—Sponheim Abbey, I think.”
    “I-Is that so?”
    “The scary thing about him is that none of that put a crack in him mentally. It didn’t matter if he had his organs rotted or his lover’s head dumped at his feet—he never turned a hair. The person who dumped that head probably hoped to cast something on him while he was shaken . . . but that didn’t pan out for them.”
    The mage spoke matter-of-factly while lighting a cigarette.
    “. . . What happened to that mage?” One of the underlings swallowed hard and asked.
    “The same thing. He just stuffed them into that machine and turned them into a Mana Crystal, the same as all the others. Of course, they bawled more pathetically than the rest.”
    The man’s gaze rested on the hulking machine developed by the mage Atrum Galiasta to convert human life force into Mana Crystals. It has been damaged in the battle with the gigantic Heroic Spirit the day before and was currently inoperable.
    Still, that was not a problem—they had enough crystals stockpiled to enable Alkeides to use his full strength for the duration of the Holy Grail War.
    “You see, he’s sacrificed his own life and family to the big boss, Galvarosso Scladio . . . I’ve never seen him cry or . . .”
    The man had been speaking matter-of-factly, but at that point, he suddenly cut himself short.
    Bazdilot had left his seat at the communicator and begun walking toward a storehouse deeper inside the meat processing plant without his noticing.
    “Mr. Cordelion . . . What is it?”
    The subordinate mages wondered what he could want in the storehouse, but they had not received orders about it, so they remained on standby.
    Then, after a brief interval . . . Bazdilot emerged from the wide-open doors of the storehouse.
    His mage subordinate’s eyes widened at the sight of him.
    Their surprise was due to the instrument he carried in his right hand.
    Of course, an ordinary instrument would not have been so shocking.
    In fact, even a shamisen made of human skin would have surprised them less.
    The type of instrument was the issue.
    The instrument clutched in Bazdilot’s hand was larger than his entire body—it was a grand piano.
    “. . .”
    Silence fell between the mages, who were unable to keep up.
    ?
    Oh, it’s . . . a piano? Huh?
    At first glance, it looked as if he were dragging the black mass, but he was holding it off the ground with the strength of one hand.
    It must have been the result of using reinforcement or domination magecraft to alter his own body.
    The mages were unable to follow Bazdilot’s use of this disproportionate, superhuman brawn for the bizarre purpose of carrying a piano. The better they grasped the situation, the deeper their confusion.
    He continued to walk, advancing toward an enormous freezer manufactured to fit the meat processing plant.
    “M-Mr. Cordelion?! What’s going on?! Is the, um, piano . . .”
    They knew that the piano had been placed in the storehouse for some reason.
    They were aware that playing the piano was one of Bazdilot’s talents, but none of them had understood why he would bring one to a place like this.
    To begin with, bringing a piano into a freezer seemed unlikely to do anything but significantly shorten the instrument’s lifespan.
    A tuner or pianist would probably faint at the sight.
    The mages were so confused that such irrelevant concerns crossed their minds.
    As they began to wonder if it might be some kind of Mystic Code disguised as a piano, the expressionless Bazdilot began to speak.

    “It seems that Mr. Scladio . . . Don Galvarosso has passed away.”

    “. . . What?”
    This time, time ground to a halt in the mage’s brains.
    Leaving the stunned mages behind, Bazdilot opened the freezer doors and vanished into a forest of suspended beef.

    The door closed, and the freezer was locked in darkness.
    The placement of the jet-black grand piano in its center caused alien “blackness” to eat away at the world of red flesh and white fat.
    The tennis-court-sized freezer was brought into an eerie harmony, as if it were a work of art.
    In its center, the still expressionless Bazdilot placed his hands over the keyboard and held still.
    There were not even clouds of white breath around his face; it appeared he had stopped breathing.
    Silence and stillness combined to make the frozen air pierce the mage’s skin with increased keenness.
    After a full minute of stillness so complete that it seemed even time had frozen . . . Bazdilot, his breathing still stopped, began to glide his fingers lightly over the keys.

    “Hey, what’d he mean, the don is dead?”
    “Wait.”
    One of the mages waiting uneasily outside made gestured for silence and strained his ears.
    He heard . . . a carefree piano tune from the other side of the freezer doors.
    The beautiful, ephemeral melody made the hearts of the bewildered men as calm as the surface of a clear stream.
    “. . . A requiem . . . Is that . . . Lacrimosa?” The veteran muttered.
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In his twilight years, the great composer had begun a great work that one of his students had taken up and completed after his death—Requiem.
    The tune was one of its sections—Lacrimosa.
    Their hearts captivated by the sounds of the piano, grief-stricken yet filled with tenderness, took in the meaning of Bazdilot’s declaration that Galvarosso Scladio was dead for the first time.
    They had no choice but to take it in.
    “Mr. Cordelion . . . For the don . . .”
    One of the low-ranking members grew teary-eyed as he listened to the playing that escaped the freezer.
    They had heard that Galvarosso likely did not have much time left. Bazdilot must have brought the piano with him to Snowfield so that he would be ready to play the requiem whenever the news reached him.
    The men etched their respect for Bazdilot’s resolve and for the way he had expressed his mourning for the don without turning a hair into their minds as they stood and let his playing wash over their souls.
    If anyone else had witnessed the scene, they would still have wondered if it really made sense to bring the piano, but Bazdilot’s men were past caring about such things.
    They were simply reaffirmed in the belief that their superior was extraordinary in everything he did.
    Still, why go out of his way to play in the freezer?
    By the time that question resurfaced in their minds, the performance was coming to an end.

    After a brief silence, the large doors of the freezer opened.
    “Mr. Cordelion!”
    Several men ran up to him to ask the details.
    “When did the don . . .”
    Then, their words stopped.
    And not just their words.
    Time froze for the men. They stood, rigid, unable to continue.
    This was not the time or place to question Bazdilot.
    His face itself was its usual non-expression brimming with machinelike murderousness.
    But in contrast . . . the interior of the enormous freezer behind him had become a red-black hell.

    Red and black.
    The interior of the freezer was dominated by those two colors.
    The dozens of animals worth of beef that should have been hanging up had all been knocked off their hooks.
    Some chunks of meat had been smashed into the walls, flattened until they resembled red insoles. Other had been shredded into ground beef, bones and all, and scattered over the floor.
    In places the torn meat had rotted, dissolving into red puddles that looked like blood, while in others the bits of meat had been scorched to ash.
    Something like dark-red mud was writhing between the scraps of meat, as if it were scavenging the destroyed flesh not as foodstuffs, but as bovine corpses.
    “Eep.”
    One of the underlings sank to the ground.
    They were all mages or magecraft-users after their fashion.
    The appearance of the freezer would not have been enough to frighten them.
    But when the haphazard, inexhaustible magical energy that oozed out of the room, like a child had thrown a tantrum and poured all his strength into a mixture of bloodlust and animosity, hit them, they could not suppress screams.
    They were terrified.
    Terrified of their superior, Bazdilot Cordelion.
    Terrified of his rational abnormality that had caused such an atrocious rampage of magical energy while playing such a beautiful tune—and yet confined it entirely to a single room.
    Bazdilot glanced at his collapsed underling before turning to survey the freezer, as expressionless as when he had entered it.
    “. . . I see some got on the piano.”
    A few shreds of beef had splattered on its legs.
    The dark-red “mud” was completely avoiding the piano. It looked as if there were a ward set around it.
    A moment later . . . the piano instantly sank into the sea of mud and entirely vanished from sight.
    Bazdilot shut the freezer doors and walked into the center of his workshop as if nothing had happened.

    Then, in place of his subordinates, who were still frozen in place, his Servant, who had remained incorporeal up to that point, materialized and spoke.
    “That was somewhat unexpected.”
    “. . . What do you mean?”
    “That you take an interest in music.”
    Alkeides avoided touching on Bazdilot’s emotions, simply expressing his surprise that his Master could play the piano.
    Bazdilot answered the avenger dispassionately.
    “I accepted training to assist with mental tuning . . . Mr. Scladio just happened to hear and take a liking to it.”
    After a brief pause, he added his reason for playing just then.
    “I promised that I would play a requiem . . . if the worst happened.”
    Bazdilot turned to face Alkeides and asked a question of his own.
    “You seem to have recovered from your physical injuries. It looked like you took quite a beating.”
    “It’s no cause for concern. Although facing pursuit from Rider . . . the queen of the Amazons in that state was troublesome.”

    Alkeides was one of the few participants in the battle on Main Street the day before who had not vanished and remained in Snowfield.
    The previous night, when the “black smoke” that overflowed from the hospital had been about to envelope him . . . Alkeides had summoned four of the Horses of Diomedes, one of the powers of his Noble Phantasm King’s Order, sent three into the black smoke as decoys, and succeeded in escaping the scene on the back of the fourth.
    He had, however, suffered an attack from Rider—the Amazon queen Hippolyta—who had chosen that moment to appear, and sustained injuries.
    Both those and injuries and the hydra dagger wound in his side had now completely vanished.
    The “demon” power he had stolen from Berserker was currently contained within him. At first glance, Alkeides looked as he had immediately after being summoned and transfigured.
    Bazdilot, however, dispassionately asked about the other side of his Servant.

    How many more days can you last?”

    Alkeides answered with surprising alacrity.

    I can remain sane for another three or four days.”

    “I see. That erases our advantage over the fakes . . . No, given that being overtaken by madness won’t destroy you on its own, we still have the upper hand.”
    Alkeides had indeed been poisoned with hydra venom.
    He had used the vile sludge to consume it and prevent his bodily destruction . . . but that deadly poison, which had led to his own death and indirectly driven his third wife to suicide, had still been taken into his body.
    It was the influence of King’s Order that kept it from eating away his flesh.
    He had drawn out the power that he had taken from the Erymanthian Boar.
    It was not, however, the boar’s own power.
    The boar was not the greatest thing he taken and conquered during that expedition.
    It was the thing Alkeides, during his penance, had taken from his mentor Kheiron.
    It was none other than Kheiron’s immortality.
    Kheiron, a centaur bestowed with the power of immortality, had been struck by hydra venom due to a stray shot from Alkeides.
    The pain had been so intense that, unable to bear it, Kheiron had surrendered his own immortality to Prometheus and ended his life.
    Therefore, while Alkeides had lost the twelve substitute lives that his proper Spirit Origin possessed, he did possess a single substitute lifespan, Kheiron’s immortality until it was ceded to Prometheus, as one of his Noble Phantasms.
    Activating it, however, meant nothing less than experiencing the same pain Kheiron had suffered.
    At that very moment, that ceaseless agony—the same agony that had led him to choose death while alive—continued to torment him. He was currently cancelling it out by transforming that pain and suffering into strength through the influence of the “mud.”
    “Do you regret it? Killing your mentor?”
    “. . . Were I to obey my heart, having given myself to vengeance, I ought to rejoice that I was able to liberate my mentor from immortality, a vile curse of the gods.”
    After that evasive answer, Alkeides continued:
    “. . . The mud is winning at present, but this venom is the symbol of my death. Little by little, it is eating away root not of the body, but of the mind of my Spirit Origin.”
    But he showed no fear of that.
    Despite the mitigating effect of the “mud,” an agony beyond any ordinary toxin was coursing ceaselessly through his veins. And yet, Alkeides maintained his usual mental state, forcing himself to endure out of his lust for vengeance.
    That, however, would only last the number of days he had just told his Master.
    “That will be enough. You just have to obtain the Grail before you’re finished.”
    Bazdilot’s statement prompted a questioning response from beneath Alkeides’ cloth.
    “. . . I thought you had no interest in the Grail itself.”
    “If my master had simply died of natural causes, I wouldn’t.”
    Bazdilot’s eyes narrowed slightly.
    He rarely showed emotion, but his voice was dripping with hatred and something approaching bloodlust.
    “. . . Some of the Family’s mages didn’t know when to stop . . . They copied my master’s personality into several other people’s brains . . . but all those ‘substitutes’ died as well. And from different causes.”
    “Oh?”
    “That means that their deaths weren’t a chain reaction caused by the side effects of magecraft. Someone else intervened. I have a good idea what organization would do that just now.”
    Bazdilot then swallowed his hatred and wrestled the maturing “mud” into submission through superhuman force of will as exhorted his Heroic Spirit.
    “When you obtain the Holy Grail, use its power to show them to your heart’s content. Once you’ve destroyed this country and crushed it beneath your feet . . . take back the name you cast off and show them all. By overturning common sense and exterminating Mystery, the name you detest—Herakles—will be dragged through the mud and perish along with Hera herself.”
    “. . . That goes without saying.”
    That day, that moment . . . an evil possibility for the United States was born.
    If Bazdilot were to obtain the Holy Grail . . . its power would be used to exact his revenge on the state.
    That would mean nothing less than becoming a “sacrifice” to grant his own wish using the might of Alkeides infused with the full power of the Holy Grail.

    Faldeus had made only one mistake.
    He had guessed—wrongly—that Bazdilot Cordelion was an unfeeling mage—a mage’s mage or magecraft-user who would make the concealment of Mystery his highest priority. That a mage who had been a cog in one large organization would, once that organization’s leader was gone, turn to whatever other organization could offer him the most in order to fulfill his ambitions as a mage.
    Of course, Faldeus had intended to kill Bazdilot. The instant Bazdilot showed signs of doing anything of the kind, Faldeus would have exploited the opportunity to finish him off.
    But that was a misreading—one that Faldeus had made because he was a mage himself.
    He was right that most of the Scladio Family’s mages were either using Scladio to further their own research, looking for ways to reach the Root alone, or else magecraft-using mercenaries who would join whatever organization offered them the best support.
    But the remainder, including Bazdilot, were different.
    There were a very few driven by ways of thinking that were un-mage-like—and yet not those of ordinary people.
    Even among that minority, Bazdilot Cordelion had put down exceptionally deep roots in the Scladio Family.
    His disposition made it difficult to understand . . . but was becoming something other than a mage. In his mind, the Family already took precedence over the Root.

    Bazdilot was not a mage.
    He was not a magecraft-user.
    He was not a clergyman.
    His soul had put down roots in the community called the Scladio Family.
    Those roots were deep and tangled.
    So deep and so tangled . . . that a mage like Faldeus could not hope to understand what drove him.

    Faldeus did not know that yet.

    X X

    ?????

    When she came to, Ayaka Sajou’s consciousness was in a distant scene.
    Once Ayaka grasped her situation, she quickly realized that she was once again seeing Saber’s “past” from his point of view.
    She was fully conscious but felt as if her body were moving on its own.
    She remembered that the last time she had seen Saber gallop across a field with his knights and encounter a man who called himself Saint-Germain who was driving a car . . .
    This time, however, things seemed quite different.
    She was in an old-fashioned stone castle, surrounded by dazzling decorations.
    But the height of her eye level relative to tables and the size of her hands, which she glimpsed occasionally, convinced Ayaka that this was a child’s viewpoint.
    . . .
    So . . . is this his—Saber’s—childhood?
    The body that did not respond to her will seemed to be playing a musical instrument.
    Even Ayaka’s ears could tell that it was a beautiful melody.
    The sound reverberated off the stone walls, falling on Ayaka’s ears with the rich sound of an orchestra despite coming from a single musician. It was hard to believe that it was a child playing.
    He did seem good with instruments . . . I guess he’s been that way since he was a kid . . .
    Ayaka thought. She had heard his improvised playing at the night club.
    As soon as the performance ended, the adults around her began to sing her praises.
    “Magnificent, Prince Richard! I can hardly believe that you’ve come so far . . . in such a short time.”
    “And not just in music. Your Highness excels in the arts and in feats of arms as well.”
    “I hear that Your Highness bested one of Her Majesty’s personal guards in swordplay.”
    “Your Highness is truly the son of the ‘incomparable’ Queen Aliénor.”
    Praise was on the tongues of all the old-fashioned-looking men ranged in front of her.
    But Ayaka understood.
    For better or worse, she was able to glimpse the fear and jealousy of her that lay behind their words.
    And judging by the gaze and behavior of the young Saber’s body, he was not especially pleased either.

    A little while later, the boy returned to his own room, where a beautiful woman greeted him.
    “What’s wrong, Richard. You look unhappy.”
    Then, the voice of the young Richard’s body rang in Ayaka’s ears.
    “. . . Mother.”
    What?
    Is this pretty lady . . . Saber’s mom . . .?
    The word “majestic” suited her.
    The woman radiated a sense of presence that was not overshadowed even inside the luxurious castle. In fact, she made Ayaka feel that it would be no exaggeration to say that the castle and soldiers were all there just to protect and enhance her.
    Just as Ayaka felt that this must be what queens in stories were like, the woman, who might justly be called the personification of her beautiful homeland, addressed her with a mother’s loving smile.
    “Tell me, Richard. I won’t help you unconditionally, but I won’t scoff at what you have to say either.”
    At that, the young Richard hesitated for a moment and then spoke clearly to his mother.
    “. . . Mother, I’m frightened.”
    “Frightened? Of what?”
    “I . . . I can do anything. I can do it all well.”
    . . . Excuse me?
    That’s a hell of a thing to say.
    Still, I guess . . .
    No, that was definitely a hell of a thing to say!
    Ayaka made two mental retorts, but there was naturally no sign of their reaching Richard.
    “I studied swordsmanship, and now no one in the castle can beat me. I thought they must be holding back because I’m the prince, so I left the castle and attacked a bunch of bandits who prided themselves on their valor, but I vanquished them all without difficulty.”
    “. . .”
    What does this kid think he’s doing?!
    Is he and idiot?!
    I mean, I guess that does sound like Saber, but still!
    “It’s the same with instruments. Once I learn one, I can play it perfectly in no time at all. Archery, painting, wrestling, hunting, fishing, spear-fighting, horseback riding, shatranj, nine men’s morris . . . I master everything as soon as I start it. Before long, no one can beat me in any kind of game!”
    “Oh dear.”
    “I’ll never make any friends at this rate. Everyone eyes me with envy. I want to get along with everyone, I want people to follow me, but what should I do? Would it be better if I held back and pretended to be bad at everything?”
    Whoa. If he weren’t a kid, I’d want to give him a good kick in the behind.
    Still, normal Saber never says anything that bad . . .
    Maybe that means he’s matured . . . although I’ve got a feeling he hasn’t really changed that much . . .
    Ayaka thought, exasperated, but then she remembered the mix of envy and fear in the eyes of the grown men earlier and felt a little sympathy for the young Richard.
    Well . . . I guess if people were always looking at him like that, it’s no wonder he got a little twisted.
    Richard’s mother, however, burst into raucous laughter.
    “Didn’t you promise not to laugh, Mother?” Richard said, sulkily.
    “No, I said I wouldn’t ‘scoff.’ I laughed, but I’m not going to dismiss your meaning and feelings out of hand.”
    Then, gently stroking Richard’s cheek, the regal woman said:
    “Listen, Richard. It’s true that you’re a genius.”
    She sounds so sure . . .
    Ayaka was surprised, but Richard’s mother continued, smiling:
    “But that’s all. What’s the point of being a genius?”
    “Huh . . .?”
    “You’re just able to do things. That doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Being able to do something has nothing to do with leaving a legacy.”
    Richard’s mother was comforting him as her son, but at the same time she was facing him as an individual and imprinting her words into his soul.
    “Before you show off your strength against bandits around town, you ought to think of a way to share the grief of the people those bandits tyrannized and to overcome it with them. Be ashamed of the environment that created the bandits you bested—of the state of this kingdom. I’ll share your shame.”
    Then, embracing her son, Richard’s mother continued:
    “It takes more than just genius to make a hero, Richard. By the same token, a person becomes a hero when they see their own path through, even if they have no talent at all.”
    “A hero?”
    “Yes, a hero like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table or Charlemagne and his Paladins. Just like Sir Kay, who they say was the least talented of the Knights of the Round Table, became a hero who supported the Round Table because of who he was. You need to learn how they created this land and how they laid the foundations of people’s hearts. If you really think you can do anything, Richard, then you should prize the ability to tell stories more highly than anyone else.”
    Then, she launched into a story.
    A story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
    Richard’s mother told of Lancelot, Gawain, Tristan, Galahad, Percival, Gareth, Agravaine—even the traitor-knight Mordred—as if she had seen it all with her own eyes.
    She must have gotten fired up as she went, because she started to add scenes that struck Ayaka as overdoing it, even for myths. By the time she ended with incoherent ramblings like how “the world began when King Arthur’s Excalibur separated Heaven and Earth, and King Arthur learned of the wicked King Vortigern’s plot to drop the moon on London and threw Merlin at the moon to knock it back, and Lancelot held off five billion Picts with a single piece of straw to defend a lake,” Richard was drifting into a peaceful sleep.
    As even Ayaka’s view began to grow hazy, Richard’s mother stared kindly at her son’s face, gently stoked his cheek, and said, with a chuckle:
    “Of course, Vortigern didn’t really drop the moon. I made that up . . . Now, wake up.”
    “Nnn . . . Mother . . .? What happened to Sir Bedivere next . . .?”
    “Good morning, my darling Richard. I’ll tell you that next time.”
    Then, she changed her attitude slightly.
    “But before that, Richard, I’ll have to show you hell on earth.”
    “Huh?”
    “As your mother . . . I’ll have to scold you for leaving the castle without permission to fight bandits.”
    Richard’s great mother, still grinning cheerfully, let loose a king-size thunderbolt . . .

    And Ayaka’s consciousness was hurled into darkness.

    X X

    “. . . yaka. Ayaka, are you all right?”
    Saber’s normal, adult voice reached Ayaka’s ears.
    “What . . .?”
    When she woke up, she was in the church.
    Seeing Saber in front of her and remembering what had been happening before her dream, she leapt up.
    “You . . .! What about your injuries?! Are you all right?!”
    “Yes. I’m not completely recovered, but I can move now. It has been more than half a day, after all. Although I’d be in trouble if that golden Archer’s attacks had been the kind that consume you Spirit Origin and all or poison you . . .”
    “I see . . . Thank goodness . . .”
    Ayaka heaved a sigh of relief.
    Saber briefly glanced away from her, then steeled himself and lowered his head.
    “I’m sorry! I borrowed a lot of magical energy from you to get one of my companions to use healing magecraft on me. That’s probably why you ended up sleeping passed noon. Sorry.”
    Saber sounded apologetic, but Ayaka gripped his arm firmly and said, angrily:
    “I don’t care about that! That’s not why I’m mad at you!”
    “Huh? Oh, you mean how I boasted and then lost? True, that was . . .”
    “Idiot! That’s not it either! It’s not that at all!”
    Ayaka’s strained words to the confused Saber sounded more frustrated than angry.
    “You . . . left me in the church so that I could get them to protect me as soon as you died, wasn’t it . . .? You said that in a Holy Grail War, the overseer protects defeated Masters . . .”
    “I thought . . . Well, I thought that would probably be the best thing for you.”
    “If you’ve got time to worry about me, try taking care of yourself . . . This isn’t self-flagellation, Saber; I’d say the same thing if I were a king or a queen! You need to take better care of yourself! Oh, damn it, there’s a lot more I want to say, but I’m not good at finding the right words . . . And . . . umm . . . thanks. You ended up protecting me again . . .”
    Ayaka understood.
    Saber could probably have avoided the attack on the roof of the church if he had wanted to.
    But if he had, the church would have been demolished, and Ayaka, inside, would most likely have died.
    “. . . Sorry. It seems I made you worry again. I ought to have lured him somewhere far from the church, but I was sure that I could never beat that Heroic Spirit unless I hit him quickly, practically by surprise. . . . No. I lost, so that’s just an excuse.”
    Saber sounded troubled. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling as he spoke.
    “That golden Heroic Spirit saw through me too. I probably haven’t gotten serious about this war yet. . . . Probably because I still haven’t found a heartfelt wish for the Grail.”
    He had joked that he wanted to take all sorts of songs and heroic tales back to the Throne, but that wish seemed achievable even without the Grail.
    “But if I wish for something in earnest . . . then I’ll really end up dragging you into the war. I don’t want that.”
    “I’ve already been dragged into it. I mean, just earlier I almost got blown away along with the whole church and . . .” Ayaka started to say. Then, she realized.
    The ceiling that Saber was looking up at was the church’s.
    The church, which should have been in ruins due to the golden Heroic Spirit’s attacks, was completely unscathed.
    “No way. . . . What’s going on? Is this the ‘magecraft’ you talked about, Saber . . .?”
    “Sorry to disappoint you, but if I could do that, I would have repaired the theater I destroyed right after I was summoned. There are some things even I can’t do.”
    Ayaka, who had finally managed to get her feelings under control, sighed at Saber’s self-deprecating tone. She adjusted her glasses as she spoke to mask her embarrassment.
    “. . . Even though you said . . . ‘Mother, I can do anything’?”
    At that, Saber froze.
    “. . . You saw that?” He asked with a forced smile, cold sweat beading on his forehead.
    Richard trembled as he spoke, knowing that Ayaka was talking about his “past,” shown to her through the magical energy that linked them.
    Ayaka, despite thinking that she should not have mentioned it, looked away as she confirmed his suspicions.
    “. . . Yeah. . . . Your mom was pretty, though.”
    For a little while after that, Saber lay on the floor of the church, his face bright red.

    “. . . Do you still think you can do anything?” Ayaka casually asked Saber once he had regained his composure.
    She looked serious, not teasing, so Richard answered seriously.
    “I’m not as childish as that. Still, I’m confident I can do most things well. That must be how my nature is imprinted on the Throne.”
    “I guess. . . . You do seem like you could do just about anything. I doubt you’re bad at anything but reading the mood.”
    “You’re exaggerating. There are things I couldn’t do while I was alive. I’m made up of the Throne’s knowledge now, but . . .”
    “What can’t you do?” Ayaka asked, interested. Richard hesitated for a moment before he looked away from her and answered:
    “. . . English.”
    “What?”
    “I . . . could speak French, Italian, and Persian,” Richard said dejectedly, “but even though I was the king of England . . . I was hopeless at English.”
    Ayaka stared at him for a moment, stunned . . . and then she seemed to relax for the first time and let out an exasperated laugh.
    “It’s not nice to laugh at people’s shortcomings, Ayaka.”
    “Sorry. It’s just . . . you sounded so confident that you could do ‘anything’ . . .”
    At that point, Ayaka let out another big sigh and looked at Saber while wiping away tears behind her glasses.
    “. . . I’m glad you’re alive, Saber. Thank you.”
    “The feeling is mutual.”
    Saber raised his voice at the sight of Ayaka’s smile, as if to say that that was enough to satisfy him.
    “All right, I’m a new man! Now that you know my shameful past, I have nothing left to lose! I’ll even beat that gold fellow next time! I’ll protect you, Ayaka, no matter what you say! After all, I’m a man who can do anything!”
    Ayaka was able to understand.
    It was not bravado, and he was not the least bit downhearted.
    Even after having such a huge difference in strength brought home to him, even after coming so close to death, Richard was undaunted.
    Ayaka stared enviously at him, until the atmosphere was disturbed by a visitor from outside.

    “. . . Saber and Ayaka Sajou, right?”
    The church doors opened, and there stood a group of police officers.
    They were the officers who had been fighting the other Archer on Main Street, between the church and the hospital.
    “Oh, you made it through safely? Taking on that intimidating bowman and surviving is quite a feat. I’m impressed!” Saber showered them with unfeigned praise.
    “. . . Can we ask you to accompany us?” A female officer, who seemed to be the leader, asked him.
    “The cops . . .!” Ayaka muttered in the tense atmosphere.
    Only Saber looked up at the ceiling as if he had remembered something and shrugged as he said:
    “Come to think of it, Ayaka and I are escaped fugitives, aren’t we?”
    The female officer, however, quietly shook her head and offered Saber a deal.
    “No, we have no intention of accusing you of anything at the moment. I would like to propose a temporary alliance.”
    “An alliance? Against whom? I think the golden Archer fell from up high at the end. . . . What happened to him? Or are we fighting whatever made that odd bellowing I could hear just before I passed out?”
    Saber leapt at the offer like a child. The female officer remained expressionless as she dispassionately stated the facts.
    “We are probably isolated in a ‘world’ similar to a Reality Marble.”
    “Isolated?”
    “We can see people in the city, but their minds have all been seized by something. The police station and city offices are deserted. It’s possible to leave town, but past a certain point the roads connect back to the city. We can hypothesize that space has been warped, but we can’t be certain.”
    She went on to matter-of-factly explain the rest of what they had seen.
    Beside the female officer, who introduced herself as Vera, was an officer with a broken prosthetic hand dangling at his side. It appeared that the church was completely surrounded.
    “We’ve been searching for Masters and Servants in the same situation as us. We’d like you to join our alliance.”
    “World? Isolated? . . . What does she mean?” Ayaka asked, confused.
    “. . . I guess it’s something like a Reality Marble,” Saber explained. “Think of it as a kind of fake world that a mage or monster created. Still, based on what she said, I’ve got a feeling it’s something a bit different. . . . Do you have a plan for getting out of this ‘world’?”
    At Saber’s question, Vera lowered her eyes for a moment, then said:
    “We believe it will be necessary . . .

    “for us to eliminate the mage or Heroic Spirit at the core of this ‘world.’”


    An illustration of Richard and Ayaka picking themselves up in the church goes near the end of the chapter.

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