The holy maiden who had been summoned in this Great Holy Grail War as Ruler: Jeanne d’Arc. She carefully inspected the parts of the forest that had been the stage for two fights, the battle between Berserker of Red and Lancer and Rider of Black and the battle between Rider and Archer of Red and Saber, Berserker and Archer of Black, and placed a hand to her chest in relief.
The destruction had been limited to trees mowed down in the midst of battle. Furthermore, the range of destruction through the forest wasn’t extensive. If Lancer of Red—the great hero Karna, who was clad in the sun itself—had participated, the forest might have been turned into scorched earth.
Leaving aside the Masters of Black Faction who were secluding themselves in the Fortress of Millennia, she hadn’t caught any sight of the Masters of the Red Faction who should have initiated the attack. But it wasn’t that strange if she considered it from the viewpoint that this war was just starting to unfold. Masters in the Holy Grail War mainly consisted of magi, so they likely wouldn’t be experienced with battle itself.
“…In any case, it was a normal battle.”
Yes. Though the number of Servants was large, the battle was conducted normally. Archer who sniped from long range, Berserker who charged forward, Caster who controlled golems through magecraft, Lancer who summoned stakes and skewered the enemy—including Rider and Saber as well, none of them were absurd Servants who slipped from the limitations of Heroic Spirits. That went for both the Black and Red Servants.
…Of course, since they were Servants, their power was tremendous. Rider of Red especially stood out among them. By Ruler’s estimation, he boasted ability and power that rivaled Lancer of Red’s.
That was understandable. After all, he was a great and famous hero. The progress of a battle completely changed just due to his existence. Should Rider and Lancer both be present on the battlefield, the Red side would be superior in terms of the [quality] of Servants.
Naturally, that was only a comparison in simple power. The affinities between Servants, the abilities of their Noble Phantasms, magecraft, location; there were countless factors to consider. Depending on what kind of Servants the still unseen Assassin of Black, Saber of Red, Caster of Red and Assassin of Red were, the situation could change further still…
At any rate, the situation was fixed to the limits of a normal Holy Grail War. Even if it dissolved into an all-out battle between all fourteen Servants, the town of Trifas was isolated from the outside with its population of twenty thousand. If she used her privilege as Ruler, she could also likely limit any damage done to the minimum.
There weren’t any suspicious factors. There weren’t any, but—
Nonetheless, a sense of doubt whose source she just couldn’t grasp whirled within her heart. She had held out through the night like this and investigated the traces from the battles, but in the end she hadn’t obtained any clues. The only clue that she obtained was the fact that Lancer of Red had come to take her out. Ruler also understood quite well that Lancer of Red possessed a pure and noble character. As such, it was probably due to the order of his Master that he had tried to kill her.
…As expected, she needed to make contact with the Masters of the Red Faction somehow.
In any case, tonight’s battle was over now… The moment she thought that, her body lost a little strength… It appeared that she was ‘sleepy’. To put it more accurately, it wasn’t Ruler, Jeanne, who was sleepy. The one who required sleep was, in the end, only Laeticia’s body. However, in the first place, Servants lacked the ability to sleep. Perhaps due to that gap, it was somehow a refreshing urge for her.
“Ugh, no… not yet…”
This sleepiness was not something that Jeanne could deal with just through willpower. She had to return to the town and make it all the way to the church and the bed in the attic there. But her body was rapidly wishing for sleep too much.
She leaned her hand against the trunk of a large tree, and when that turned out to be not enough, she reluctantly punched her cheek. The pain managed to clear her mind… A physical body was truly inconvenient. Due to her incomplete summoning, she could endure it for long periods of time, but if she crossed over the limit, she would probably lose consciousness like a switch being cut.
Leaving the matter of finding a way to deal with this problem for the future, for now she used the holy water she carried and once more began identifying the location of each Servant. If she found no problems, she would end her work here for tonight.
Five of the Black Servants and one of the Red Servants were located in the fortress. The Red Servant should be Berserker. It had been a large capture operation, but it appeared he had succeeded in safely changing Masters. This was not a violation of the rules, as changing to different Masters or Servants was a natural occurrence—no, wait.
“There’s one missing…?”
There should have been six Black Servants in the fortress. What had happened to the last one? She expanded her search range further and further, but she couldn’t find the sixth one.
…She had a bad premonition. That Servant had died—was not what had happened. If one of the fourteen Servants lost, Ruler would definitely be able to sense it intuitively. At present, no Servants had been defeated.
But something was strange. It wasn’t her intuition as the Servant Ruler, but her instincts as Jeanne d’Arc that whispered to her that something had occurred somewhere without her knowledge.
She had to locate the last Servant as quickly as possible. But how to search? Should she go out and search aimlessly?
She wouldn’t find anything that way. Ruler felt certain of that. God helps those who help themselves, so searching blindly would merely be acting without thinking.
In that case—she looked at the fortress where the other five Servants were gathered. Questioning them would be more constructive.
At the very least, the Black camp had to bring her over to their side, so they probably would not try to kill her without even attempting to talk like the Red camp.
It might be wishful thinking, but nothing would start if she didn’t act. Ruler decided to proceed squarely towards the fortress right to the front door.
The fortress towered on top of a slightly elevated hill that lorded over Trifas. Its silhouette faintly stood out against the black of night, reminiscent of a huge kettle in hell within which squirmed the souls of the departed. Its majesty was far too mismatched with the small town with a population of twenty thousand, but the inhabitants of the town didn’t even consider using it as a sightseeing landmark. One reason was that this fortress was not a public building, but rather a private building built on private property… but most of all, it was because all the inhabitants of the town were afraid of this fortress.
It wasn’t that they thought it was cursed. The ones who ruled Trifas lived in this castle. The inhabitants generally perceived it that way, and in reality, that assumption was correct.
Standing before the castle gate, Ruler twisted her head to look up. The fortress possessed not even a fragment of artistry, and its stubborn structure made it in effect difficult to assault and easy to defend. However, that was not the true special characteristic of this fortress.
She softly touched the castle wall. Instantly, a slight numbness ran through her. It was probably a spell that contained both strong interference and detection magecraft. Due to the countless magical defences that covered the surface of the wall, even a Servant would probably require a suitable destructive force to make this fortress fall.
When Ruler stood before the castle gate, the gate started automatically opening before she had even named herself. The door opened with a tremble, and on the other side of it stood a single ‘old person’ with a staff in his hand.
“You are a magus of Yggdmillennia, correct? I am—”
“The mediator of this Great Holy Grail War, Jeanne d’Arc-sama. It is truly the highest honor to meet the famous holy maiden. My name is Darnic Prestone Yggdmillennia. I serve as the chief of the magi that reside in the Fortress of Millennia.”
Forestalling her introduction, Darnic gave an exaggerated bow. His use of her true name was probably a warning rather than an attempt to show familiarity. But then, the fact that her true name was known to others didn’t matter to her. Rather, if she didn’t disclose her true name, it would probably be difficult for every Master and Servant to place trust in her. That was why she had given her name as Jeanne at the church.
“…I’ll say this just in case, but I don’t intend to support either the Black or Red camps in the Great Holy Grail War. I have only come here because there are two or three things I wish to ask you about.”
Darnic responded to Jeanne’s words of indifference without losing his smile.
“Naturally, I am aware of this. However, for the time being, please come meet my lord first. He’s been in a good mood since we received the report that you came.”
Darnic nodded and spoke with a smile that gripped Ruler with wariness.
“The sovereign of Wallachia, Vlad III, is my Servant, Lancer of Black.”
As Ruler walked through a stone-paved hallway with Darnic leading the way, servants came and went in either direction and bowed to them one by one as they passed. Ruler realized they were homunculi from their excessively uniform looks, behavior and Magic Circuits within their bodies.
“We thought it was best to keep the number of humans involved down to the absolute minimum.”
Darnic murmured those words as they walked. This followed the fundamental rule of the Holy Grail War to avoid involving unrelated humans as much as possible. But—
“Homunculi are also unrelated lives no different from anyone else.”
Ruler curtly replied.
By its nature, the Holy Grail War was both the smallest and greatest war in the world. Seven Masters and Seven Servants should have been sufficient for it to be conducted… Though this time, the circumstances differed far too much.
“Hoh. So as a saint, you also work your hardest for artificial life forms. Then have we violated your rules?”
Darnic gave her a sarcastic smile, and Ruler’s expression stiffened slightly as she responded.
“—I won’t go as far as to say that.”
…But, considering the current scale of battle, it could be argued that employing homunculi like this couldn’t be helped. It was true that there was no room for Ruler to judge it as a violation of the rules. She couldn’t force them, and it was difficult to call the homunculi children. They had merely been created that way.
“Unlike our enemy, the Association of Magi, the existence of our clan hangs in the balance. I would appreciate it if you would take that point into account.”
The door connecting to the throne room opened.
Although Ruler leaked out that faint mutter, she stepped into the throne room without hesitation. Sitting on the throne was Lancer of Black—Vlad III. And from among the Black Servants who followed him, Archer, Berserker and Caster stood in reserve nearby.
Furthermore, golems and homunculi carrying halberds were also lined up in the room with them.
…Their presence was miniscule as a threat, but even so, their combined hostility as a group created an intimidating air on its own. However, Ruler had experience with being surrounded on all sides by enemies during her lifetime.
Not especially worked up by it, Ruler calmly stepped forward to the king. Since she wasn’t a retainer, she didn’t bow her head, but the king didn’t raise a single eyebrow at it.
“I am the Servant Ruler summoned as the mediator in this Great Holy Grail War, Jeanne d’Arc.”
“—Hmm. It’s reassuring to have a mediator who believes in the same God as I.”
“…Since I believe in God, I pray that I can convey to you that I aim to be fair and impartial.”
The edges of Lancer of Black’s mouth loosened into a smile at Ruler’s resolute gaze. He probably thought her words were the nonsense of a foolish country girl.
“Now then, dawn is almost upon us. First of all, what is your business here, mediator?”
“You battled against the Red Servants earlier this night, correct? The opponents should have been Rider, Archer and Berserker of Red.”
“Yes, what of it?”
“In the end, it appears that the battle concluded with Rider and Archer withdrawing and Berserker being captured—but just what happened after that?”
Archer of Black reacted slightly to Ruler’s question. No, it wasn’t just him. A slight agitation was also visible among the halberd-wielding homunculi.
But the one who showed the most dramatic reaction was Lancer of Black.
Just by Lancer saying that, the throne room was filled with killing intent. It was unreasonable like a child’s temper tantrum, but its power was equal to a wide-range, saturation-fire weapon. Ruler nonchalantly accepted the killing intent released by a weapon with its own will.
It wasn’t as bad as the ill will she had received when she had sought an audience with the Crown Prince Charles at the Château de Chinon despite being a mere village girl, or when she was imprisoned and put on trial for heresy. If there was even the slightest uncertainty, it was that it was greater than when she had been executed.
“If you cannot provide an answer, it can’t be helped. Our conversation ends here. I’ll go and investigate it on my own.”
The instant she was about to turn her back to him, Lancer’s killing intent immediately softened.
“—Pardon me. It seems that I teased you a little too much.”
Even Ruler couldn’t help but be stunned that Lancer called the killing intent just now ‘teasing’. No, perhaps he was telling the truth. To a king, all human emotions were a part of his rule. For example, he cried for his retainers even though he felt no sadness and he accepted tributes even though he felt no happiness from it. Perhaps anger was also just a mere performance for him.
“Saber committed suicide.”
Even Ruler was left speechless at those dispassionately spoken words. Lancer of Black shook his head and sighed as if sad.
She promptly stopped shut her mouth as she started to say, “That’s impossi—”. …It appeared that he was telling the truth when he said that Saber of Black, Siegfried, had lost his life. But there was a contradiction. Saber of Black was on the verge of death, but he was still alive.
…There was no way a Master wouldn’t be able to sense the state his or her Servant. If that situation were to arise, it was probably because the Servant’s line1 had been severed.
But Ruler’s perception ability exceeded that of the [spirit board]2. True, it was feeble, but she could affirm that Saber of Black hadn’t completely disconnected with this world. It was unclear where exactly he was, but—in any case, he should still be alive.
“Who would be able to explain the situation more concretely?”
“The one who reported it was Rider of Black, Astolfo… It appears that he instigated it, though, so he’s been incarcerated in the dungeon as punishment.”
“…Is that so?”
“—Now then. Ruler, I’ll speak frankly. The swordsman who could truly be called a vital cornerstone for us has been meaninglessly lost. Therefore, I want to replenish my forces with a fighter of equal power as Saber. Is that not only natural?”
Ruler frowned as the conversation seemed to turn suspicious.
“As I said before, I am Ruler. I am this war’s absolute mediator summoned by the Holy Grail… I have my own objective, and it does not involve joining you all.”
“Do not you have a wish? Since you were summoned by the Holy Grail, you should have a wish of your own.”
“—The Ruler class is an exception in this regard as well. Since Ruler is summoned as a mediator, possessing no wishes to be fulfilled in the present age is one of the qualifications for the class.”
Those words caused a slight disturbance among the other Servants.
“…Ruler, you have no wish?”
“Yes, I have none.”
Lancer struck his throne’s armrest in irritation. Standing up, his former madness was unconcealed as he shouted angrily.
“Jeanne d’Arc. I know of your last moments! There is no way that you, who were betrayed by everyone, had everything taken away from you and met a violent death, do not have a wish! Answer me! I won’t allow any falsehoods!”
If his previous killing intent was like a wide-range, saturation-fire weapon, his words this time were sharp like a stake. She could tell that the instant she lied or gave an answer Lancer could not accept, she would be skewered.
Ruler gazed at Lancer for a short while, and then spoke in a voice so calm it overpowered him.
“I have no wish. Everyone says that I should regret my last moments. That I probably wish for revenge, or wish to be saved. However—it’s enough if I alone know the life that I lived. It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for others, but at the very least, I don’t have even a single regret regarding my life, and I have no wish to make to the Holy Grail. If I were to have one, it would only be that this Holy Grail War be conducted correctly.”
“You say that after having been forsaken even by God?”
“—That in itself is foolishness. The Lord did not forsake us. No, in the first place, the Lord has never forsaken a single person. There was just nothing he could do.”
“Praying, giving offerings, everything is an act not for oneself, but for the Lord. We pray in order to heal the Lord’s laments and sorrow. Yes, I definitely—”
I definitely heard the Lord’s lament.
He shrieked. He lamented. He wept, and he felt sorrow.
The world changed straight into hell, and no one could stop it. No, perhaps that itself—was hell.
The Lord lamented in sorrow. People were not even allowed to live simply, and were compelled to become either beasts or food.
Conflict never ended, and blood continued to rain incessantly and soak the land.
That’s why the Lord lamented—I heard His voice. I caught His small, feeble murmurs that everyone else failed to hear.
It was an obvious thing. To lend my ears to His voice and respond to it meant that I would throw away everything I had until now.
I had to throw away my life as a simple villager and the joy of loving someone and being loved back. Furthermore, there would be no compensation. I would surely be scorned by many people—both enemies and allies alike.
It was a very terrifying thing to contemplate. It was mad for a mere village girl from the countryside to leap onto the battlefield where people’s killing intent swirled about.
—But the Lord cried.
Yes, I surely… can’t bear it. I can’t turn my back on His cries.
In order to stop the Lord’s tears and soothe Him, I will oppose this world’s hell. I will clad my body in armor, hang a sword on my waist, carry the flag—and devote my life to it.
Yes, the voice of revelation I received from the Lord contained no glory or victory, no obligation or sense of purpose. The Lord merely lamented and grieved.
—That’s why. At the very least, having received that revelation, I thought I should stop the Lord’s laments.
Lancer of Black glared fixedly at Ruler for a while, but eventually he shook his head and sat back down.
“—It seems that, even though we believe in the same God, we are incompatible.”
“There are those who burned me at the stake even though they believed in the same God as me. So it’s only natural.”
Ruler spoke with a composed expression. Lancer of Black smiled pleasantly at those excessively joking words.
“…It can’t be helped. But it’s a fact that a Red Servant tried to kill you. We merely wish to win you over, but it seems they are different.”
“So it seems. I also must investigate what the Red camp is thinking. I don’t intend to oppose them but—”
“It’s a different story if they attack you.”
“I’ll pray that the Red camp consists of fools aiming to kill you, then.”
Lancer said that and smiled once more.
Ruler exited the throne room and headed directly for the dungeon. Both Berserker of Red who had been captured in battle and one of the Black Servants were present there. According to Lancer, it appeared to be Rider of Black.
The atmosphere within the dungeon made it obvious that it hadn’t been used in a long time. Nearly all of the eight cells present were filled with nothing but rotted wood, straw and spider webs.
In one cell, Berserker of Red was imprisoned with his body completely sealed in a wax-like fluid. Even though he had changed Masters, that didn’t mean that the Black side could simply leave him to take care of himself… Though even in this situation, his unchanging smile was very eerie.
Now then, the problem was the Servant who was imprisoned in the last remaining cell.
“—Oh? Who might you be?”
The young boy tilted his head with a puzzled expression. It was a casual gesture, but right now he was even more firmly sealed up than Berserker. The sight of him with stakes driven into his arms and legs was quite painful to look at.
“You are Rider of Black, correct? I am the Servant Ruler, Jeanne d’Arc. I was summoned by the Holy Grail to carry out the management of the Great Holy Grail War.”
When Ruler told him that, Rider nodded with a “Yeah” in understanding.
“Now that you mention it, I did hear that such a Servant was summoned. But are you for real? You’re not a Red Servant?”
When Rider gave her a doubtful look and a smile that said, Things have gotten interesting, Ruler took a short time to ponder, and then removed her gauntlet and rolled up her sleeve to show him ‘that’.
“Is this sufficient as proof?”
“…It is. Yeah, you’re definitely Ruler. I see, so that’s the ‘privilege’ of Ruler. How nice, I want it!”
Rider nodded repeatedly in understanding.
“It’s fortunate you understand. Now then, Rider. I apologize for this, but there’s something I wish to question you about.”
“Sure, sure. I’ll answer anything as long as it’s within my power, so go right ahead.”
Rider replied in his unwavering light manner.
“…Did Saber of Black, Siegfried, really commit suicide?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
…But that shouldn’t be possible. Whether it was Saber or anyone else, all fourteen Servants were present in this world. She intuitively knew that he was ‘alive’. Ruler knew this for certain. He still walked this earth.
“I’m sorry, could you please explain in a little more detail?”
“Sure. You came at just the right time. I can’t stand all this free time.”
Smiling, Rider started talking about Saber. It was far from a heroic tale, and more like the story of a saint. And he spoke of the homunculus, the nameless boy saved by that hero. He told of how the boy had sought freedom and departed.
“Well, after this and that, I ended up being tied up all by my lonesome in this place. No, I do have Berserker of Red as a neighbor, but talking doesn’t work with him… You doing good over there?”
When Rider of Black called out, there was a response from the cell next door.
“I have no intention of flattering the dogs of political power. Though, I will answer your question. I’m doing fine. Now, it would be perfect if you could just remove these restraints—”
“That’s for another time.”
It was a startling development, but at the same time Ruler finally understood.
“…Saber has definitely disappeared. But he gave his [heart] to that homunculus.”
It wasn’t a mere sword or suit of armor assembled out of prana, or something small like a piece of hair. It was a heart, the internal organ that was just as important as the brain for humans. The spiritual core of Servants also existed in the heart and brain. Personally gouging out one’s heart and giving it to another was an act without precedent in the past Holy Grail Wars.
Furthermore, the one who had given his heart was Saber of Black… in other words, the immortal hero Siegfried, who was bathed in the blood of a dragon and obtained a body close to that of the Dragon-kind. It wouldn’t be strange if it had some kind of effect on the homunculus’ body.
“Yeah. I parted with him there. After that, he headed towards the mountain road. I saw a village over there when I took my Hippogriff out for a test ride, so I guess he’d be there now?”
“I see. I understand now. Thank you.”
After Ruler gave her thanks, Rider of Black made a very complicated expression and asked a question of his own.
“…Are you going to meet him?”
“Yes. If what you say is correct, there is no one else but him who could be radiating the presence of a Servant.”
“I know, but I’d like it if you didn’t involve him in this war.”
Rider, who had given an optimistic smile earlier, suddenly glared at Ruler with eyes that concealed a slight hostility and a strong determination. Ruler caught a glimpse of an extremely strong will within those eyes.
“…I understand. If what you say is correct, then he is certainly just a victim. As long as he doesn’t wish otherwise, I do not intend to excessively interfere with him.”
Rider sighed with relief, and his hostility vanished like mist all at once.
“I’m relieved to hear that. Yeah, if he can survive and live, ending up like this is worth it.”
As Rider whispered that, Ruler asked Rider about one point that was still unclear.
“Rider. Why did Saber save that homunculus? If you were the one in Saber’s position, I would understand. Since you’re Astolfo, one of Charlemagne’s Twelve Paladins—”
If the one who saved the homunculus was Astolfo, who sacrificed himself to chivalry and yet possessed a bottomless soft-hearted nature, it would be more understandable. But Saber of Black was Siegfried. He was a member of royalty, a prince of the Netherlands. Protecting the lamenting weak and taking down the strong who lived in luxury was a suitable act for a Heroic Spirit. However, even that had a limit. Since he was a Servant summoned in the Holy Grail War, he should have had a wish to make upon the Holy Grail. At the very least, it was careless to go as far as to sacrifice his life to save a single person who wasn’t even his Master.
To a Servant, participating in the Holy Grail War meant gaining a second life, a one-in-a-million miracle. It was not natural to so easily throw it away—and for a homunculus he didn’t even know at that.
“Even if we’re Servants, that doesn’t mean we repeat the same things we did in life. Rather, there are a lot of guys who try to do something different in order to wipe away the regrets from when they were alive… Well, it probably ends in failure most of the time, though.”
Heroes were heroes due to what they achieved in life. No one wished for what they couldn’t accomplish in life.
“…Thank you for everything. I pray that you will be victorious in this war.”
“Eh? Are you favoring me?”
Ruler chuckled and shook her head at his question.
“No. I merely pray for all the participants to be successful.”
“Hey, hey, don’t speak nonsense, Ruler. It’s the principle of the Holy Grail War that there can only be one winner, you know?”
“That’s correct. —Even so, I pray that everyone will be victorious.”
Ruler quietly left the dungeon. Left alone once more, Rider of Black suddenly remembered Saber’s last moments.
Had that man, who sacrificed himself to save the homunculus without hesitation and smiled in satisfaction at the end, been ‘victorious’?
It would be nice if that were so—no, it had to be so. Rider thought that from the bottom of his heart.
The one that guided her out was not Darnic, but a female homunculus servant this time. Silently walking with quiet and precise steps, the homunculus truly did resemble a doll.
“Is it all right if I ask you something?”
The homunculus replied without stopping or nodding at Ruler’s question.
“I don’t mind. Please go ahead.”
“Are you homunculi participating in the Great Holy Grail War because you wish so?”
“Of course. That is the wish of our master who created us, after all.”
It was an indifferent and smooth answer. “I see,” replied Ruler. …At the very least, it did not deviate from the rules of the Holy Grail War. It was by the will of both these homunculi and the golems that they acted to obey their master. Even if they were manufactured—it was still by their own will.
Therefore, she had to respect their wishes.
“I can make my way from here. Thank you very much.”
When they finally arrived at the castle gate, Ruler politely stated her thanks. Gazing at her with transparent eyes, the homunculus bowed deeply. And the instant Ruler turned around and was about to depart, the homunculus cleared her throat slightly in hesitation and called out to her.
“Did he commit some kind of wrongdoing?”
Turning back around, Ruler tilted her head at the unexpected question.
“I mean ‘him’. The homunculus who brought about the death of my master’s Servant, Saber.”
There was no turmoil or emotion in her eyes… or so she had thought, but when Ruler observed carefully, she caught a glimpse of something like concern for ‘him’ in her eyes.
“No. From what I’ve heard, Saber merely responded to his wish to ‘live’. Wishing to live is never a sin.”
She declared that not as Ruler, but as a human being. No matter how evil one may be, the wish to live itself was not wrong. The crime of living and committing evil was another matter, though.
“…Thank you very much.”
The homunculus’ expression relaxed just a little. Yes, these homunculi truly were ‘alive’—Ruler sighed. Their fates were almost completely determined. Their compensation as hurriedly constructed life forms was a considerably short life.
But, precisely because she was Ruler, she could do nothing about it. She had not been granted the right to take up arms for those who did not wish for salvation.
Pulling herself together, Ruler began walking in the direction of the mountain that Rider had spoken of earlier.
Although Rider of Black had recounted what he saw earlier, the bad premonition that had been clinging to her since earlier wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t actually rare for a Servant to self-destruct in the Holy Grail War. The circumstances varied, but for the Berserker class, there were many cases of the mad Servant self-destructing due to exhausting its prana supply. There were also Servants that used powerful Noble Phantasms and accidentally destroyed their Masters in their wake.
Though it was a rare case, there were also Servants that chose to kill themselves for the sake of their Master, and soft-hearted Servants that deployed their Noble Phantasms in order to protect innocent citizens.
But something was different this time. Saber had gouged out his own heart, and there were no anecdotes of him doing so in life—but that wasn’t the reason she felt this way. Something was fundamentally different. That was only natural; after all, there now should have been only thirteen Servants left now.
So why did she feel that there were still fourteen Servants left? Why did she think that Saber of Black was still [alive]? There really was something strange about this Great Holy Grail War. Something had gone amiss. Wasn’t that homunculus partially responsible for that?
No, that was merely conjecture. She didn’t know for sure. She didn’t know, so for now, she could only chase after him and question him.
“Rider said he headed towards this mountain, but…”
The forest, covered entirely by a Boundary Field, was so silent and still that it hurt the ears. The homunculus wasn’t emitting the presence of a Servant. In other words, she had to search for [someone] who was continuously walking to get out of the forest.
However… that might unexpectedly be difficult, she began to think. After all, the homunculus was running away from Yggdmillennia. He was probably sensitive to the presence of magi and Servants more than others.
Even if she called out to him, he likely wouldn’t come out. There was a good chance that he would run away in fear.
The thought Should I stop him? rose through her mind. In the first place, the homunculus ran away because he didn’t want to be involved in this war. To him, he probably could only think of her as a nightmare trying to bring him back into the war.
She gathered her prana and held it down enough to just barely negate the effects of the Boundary Field. This way, she wouldn’t be detected as a Servant, and would probably be able to approach him close enough to see him with her own eyes.
But in this state, her physical abilities were no different from that of an ordinary human. Even if the moon was out, walking up a mountain road while relying on its hazy light to see was an act that would exhaust her body extraordinarily.
While settling down her rough breathing, she prayed that she would catch up with him and ascended the mountain road with determination.
Her eyes swam dizzily—but she didn’t have the time to spare worrying about it.
Each step she took exhausted her stamina greatly—Just endure it a little longer, she thought to her body.
Why did she have to go through so much trouble? —Because she wanted to meet him. The homunculus whom Rider of Black helped and Saber of Black sacrificed his life for without hesitation.
Was that all? …That, that should have been enough. Then just what was this sense of duty and purpose that troubled her so much she was at her wits’ end?
No, it was better not to think about it. For the time being, it was best to just conclude that she was trying to meet him out of her own will.
…And yet, contrary to her mind, her body gradually lost that control.
It was probably Laeticia’s human body. It had at last broken through the limit of its ability to continue moving, and was now only walking through Ruler’s willpower. Cornered in this situation, she stifled the impatience in her heart. Walking through a mountain at night didn’t mean that she could be negligent.
Resisting the temptation to sleep, she simply walked up the mountain. Perhaps due to severing the support provided by her prana, the weight of her armor was somewhat painful.
She continued to walk up the path that seemed to go on forever—and then she finally caught sight of a hazy figure standing at a place near the summit of the mountain beyond which the forest ended.
She sighed in relief… but, that seemed to be a fatal action on her part. Her vision darkened all at once and the world swayed.
No, I still—I still have to endure it.
She reflexively called out to him. The thought I blundered flitted through her mind. Even though she had gone through so much trouble so as not to frighten him away, she had called out to him at the very last moment.
Her stamina was completely used up. Before she could form some kind of counterplan, her consciousness broke off. She crouched and leaned her back against a large tree nearby.
She couldn’t move. Though she wasn’t going to die, she could no longer move presently. Her body needed to surrender itself to sleep. But—her shout a moment ago had probably made the homunculus think he was being pursued. If she didn’t chase after him now, she would never get another chance to meet him.
She might have committed a fatal blunder. As Ruler regretted that in her heart, the faint sound of feet stepping on grass reached her ears.
It couldn’t be, she thought as she raised her head. Her consciousness cleared just a little. A boy with fine, elegant features timidly extended his hand to her.
She grasped his arm at once, and whispered with a sigh of relief.
“Thank goodness… I managed to meet you!”
—And thus, the two met.
The girl who was a Servant yet had no Master, who merely devoted herself to administrating this Great Holy Grail War. The boy who was neither human nor a Servant, and who might not even be a homunculus. Both were outsiders in the ritual known as the Holy Grail War.
“Ah, um, err. I’m not an enemy.”
The girl apologetically muttered that, and the boy replied with a nod empty of ill will.
“…Somehow, I understand.”
Despite staggering, the girl managed to lift herself up and, after correcting her seated posture, she introduced herself.
“I am Jeanne d’Arc, summoned in the Servant class of mediator—Ruler—for this Great Holy Grail War. There is something I wish to ask you, a homunculus formerly belonging to the Fortress of Millennia, but do you mind?”
“Yeah, I have no problem with that.”
“Due to the special characteristic of the Ruler class, I can detect when any of the Servants participating in the war are defeated. Currently, I can confirm that all Servants are still present, However—”
“…No. That’s incorrect. Saber of Black died not long ago.”
“Rider also told me that Saber had died. However, that shouldn’t be. According to my senses, there are still fourteen Servants present. And you are emitting the presence of a Servant. But I understand now that I’ve directly met you like this. You really aren’t a Servant.”
Ruler took off her gauntlet, and suddenly placed her hand on his chest. Ignoring his bewilderment and embarrassment, she confirmed the sound of his heartbeat.
“—It’s beating strongly. It appears to be functioning no different from a normal heart. Thank goodness. He really didn’t choose a mere meaningless death.”
She sighed in relief. Then, she seemed to realize what she was doing, and frantically pulled back her hand and apologized profusely.
“I’m sorry, I just—”
“No, I don’t really mind… Are there no problems with me?”
The boy asked that somewhat uneasily, but Ruler shook her head and assured him, “You’re fine.” Frankly, his [heart] was functioning so perfectly it was unbelievable. If one excluded his Magic Circuits and his ability to perform magecraft, he was no different from an ordinary human.
“It’s just as Rider of Black said. You are free.”
When she said that, the homunculus’ expression involuntarily clouded over. Seeing that, Ruler quizzically questioned him.
“Is something wrong?”
“No. I naturally understand the meaning of the word [freedom]. But… I don’t know what I should do.”
Sieg honestly spoke his worries. Ruler tilted her head in curiosity. She knew that Rider of Black had spoken happily of the boy’s future when she was at the castle.
‘He’ll surely go to the village and then use that as a stepping stone to go to a town. He’ll come into contact with lots of people, move forward while being healed and wounded, and then come to love someone. Yeah, how wonderful!’
When Ruler told him of Rider’s words, he shook his head and denied that future.
“Yeah, certainly, if I’m [free] now—that is probably also a possibility for me. But for some reason, I don’t feel the desire to do that at all.”
He turned his face down, wearing a gloomy expression that conveyed his apologies to Rider. Ruler spoke up to comfort him.
“A lot has just happened to you, so I don’t think your feelings will simply change so soon afterwards… But perhaps you have a different wish?”
“A different, wish…”
The future he had been given by Rider was without a doubt attractive. But for some reason, he didn’t feel attracted to it. So maybe there was a something else… a different future he wished for.
“If you say you have no dreams, then first you should experience freedom and then search for a dream. But, if you already have a dream—you should express it honestly. That’s what I think.”
A dream, his own dream. What was it really? Closing his eyes—Sieg thought back on his life. He had wished to live and escaped, asked for help, tried to escape in order to live and failed, and even though he had died once, he was revived like this and obtained freedom.
It was an extremely short life, but he had been blessed with much good fortune. Even though he was no different from the other homunculi… No, he had become different from the other homunculi. They died out without exception, and he lived.
It was simple to just say, ‘It can’t be helped’, and end the matter there. With those words, he could simply cast them away. But, he absolutely couldn’t say, ‘It can’t be helped’. Earlier, in spite of being ordered to search for him, his fellow homunculi had purposefully overlooked him.
What was that happiness he felt when he heard about that from Rider afterwards? Was it not because he felt a bond with his fellow homunculi, who had overcome even their master’s orders?
Then, it’s easy to understand what my wish is.
I became free. That’s why I want to free everyone else as well. Like how Rider, Saber and Archer gave me freedom.
Wish, my wish, my dream… is to save them. I want to save my former self… my fellow homunculi who will die at this rate.
They’re immersed in that rotting juice, only able to feel frightened. It’s normal for all living things to have death as a fixed part of their future, but for it be decided that they couldn’t do anything until then is just too unreasonable and sad.
Like how Rider saved me, I’ll save them. If I do that, I feel like I’ll be able to stick out my chest with pride if I ever meet Rider again. I’ll be able to say that I saved everyone else who wished for freedom—
They said, ‘please save us’. I heard them. I can’t act as if I didn’t hear them and run away from it. Upon this pride3 entrusted to me by a hero, that is the one thing I can never do.
“…I want to save them.”
“Who do you want to save?”
“My comrades, those who are the same kind of being as me. Those who can’t even cry out even though they begged to be saved. The ones who live just to die without even being able to expect help.”
“…You mean to say you will save the homunculi in that castle?”
Sieg nodded at Ruler’s question.
“But… that isn’t what Rider wanted, right?”
Exactly, that Servant should have just wished for the homunculus to be happy. For him to have a peaceful life without battle.
“I know… But, that peaceful, ordinary life. That dream… isn’t my dream.”
Rider’s feelings had truly made him happy. Even so, he wanted to do this.
“I heard it. I heard their wish to ‘someone’ asking for help. I can’t just live and turn my eyes away from that.”
It was like a chain to him. The homunculus, having been saved by much good fortune, understood that joy very well. …The great joy of having someone grasp the hand you held out. It was an emotion that the other homunculi would probably never experience in their lives.
…A strange feeling of guilt crept through his body. It was something that couldn’t be helped, but his heart wanted to do something about it.
Ruler had her breath taken away by Sieg’s words.
Though the source of the voice he heard was different, he hid the same determination as her within himself. She tried to respond to the laments of the Lord, and he was trying to respond to the laments of his fellow homunculi. Even though Ruler couldn’t hear their voices asking to be saved, this boy heard them.
“…I can’t stop you.”
“Hmm? …If it’s you, I think you have plenty of ways to stop me, though.”
“No, I was talking to myself. In other words, you intend to return to the castle now and persuade the homunculi to run away?”
“…I’m thinking of various approaches to take to do that, but that’s basically it.”
“What do you think your chances of success are?”
“Right now, it’s equivalent to zero. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to run away.”
“Please cut it out with the reckless charging ahead. That is the same as trampling over Rider’s good will.”
Of course, he didn’t intend to do that. But… currently, Sieg couldn’t come up with anything that could be called a plan.
“I have a question for you as the mediator of the Great Holy Grail War. The Black camp is using homunculi like me as a prana supply. That could be called a violation in the Holy Grail War, right?”
Ruler’s expression darkened. Yes, rescuing the homunculi was his objective. But the journey ahead of him was filled with too many difficulties. The biggest problem right now was the difficult question of whether this could be called a violation if one strictly applied the rules.
“…From what I have seen, the homunculi are participating in the Holy Grail War of their own will. At the very least, that’s how a homunculus answered when I asked her.”
Because it was their master’s order, they agreed to fight. That was a course of action that not only homunculi, but also many humans had taken. In the first place, Servants participated in battle fundamentally for that reason.
“Our will is extremely weak. We’re beings that just obey the orders we’re given.”
“But you yourself possess a sense of self and are acting according to it.”
“That’s true, but—”
“If they are participating in the Holy Grail War of their own will, I don’t think it’s my place to speak out. You can ask the homunculi whether they are participating of their own will and obtain an answer from them, can’t you?”
The homunculus was at a loss for words. It was doubtful that he would get an ideal answer from them if he asked. Since the moment they were born, obeying someone’s orders was everything to them. Their will to resist was pretty much nonexistent.
“But it’s true that this is something I cannot overlook. It’s a general rule that the supply of prana should be conducted between Master and Servant alone. To ignore that rule on such a large scale and so openly… it might be a bit of a problem. But, even if I order them to correct the situation, they do not have the obligation to obey.”
“Don’t you have that kind of authority, since you’re the mediator?”
“I do, but… the number of times I can use it is limited. To be more specific, I have been granted the right to enforce up to two orders on each Servant.”
Ruler nodded at his surprised expression. Yes, this was her greatest privilege as Ruler. The rights to enforce absolute orders on Servants that each Master possessed three of—in other words, [Command Spells].
“However, I cannot use a Command Spell as the mediator when it comes to minor matters… No, naturally, this is just my own criterion.”
Of course, if she used the Command Spells, she could even control who obtained the Holy Grail as an extreme example. She could just order the Servant who she didn’t want to obtain it to commit suicide.
However, that was precisely why she needed laws inside herself. If she got rid of those, she wouldn’t be Ruler, but just a despot.
As the homunculus slumped his shoulders in defeat, Ruler felt her heart tighten. Just as he said, it was too harsh to ask for a display of [will] from the homunculi.
“…I have a suggestion. Don’t you think the homunculi would open their hearts if you talked to them? Why don’t you show them the things the ones that rule them haven’t shown them?”
The boy began to ponder hard. As a homunculus like them, he might be able to make an appeal regarding their wretched conditions. Then it was possible that Ruler might act a little as well. If that was enough to break out the homunculus who sought help and chose to withdraw from the war from the castle—
“If I can save my comrades that way, I think I’ll try it.”
“I see… In that case.”
To be honest, this was an act just on the borderline of Ruler’s jurisdiction. She was supporting this homunculus too much.
But… even if she were to say she wouldn’t cooperate with him now, he probably wouldn’t stop.
As long as Rider of Black existed, he would undoubtedly cause chaos among the Black Faction. And with matters already being complicated due to the Red Faction aiming to kill her as well, she couldn’t allow for the war’s order to crumble any further.
First giving a light cough and then puffing out her chest, she spoke in a deliberately crabby manner.
“—It can’t be helped. The situation is unavoidable, so from now on I’ll direct and manage your actions. Have no worries, I will consider your will as much as possible. However, please refrain from taking any absurd and reckless actions. Understood?”
“This isn’t a situation that you can deal with by yourself right now.”
“That’s true… but.”
“Most of all! If you go back to that castle by yourself right now, we have no idea what Rider of Black… Astolfo might do. I feel deeply, deeply anxious about that…”
She grumbled as if she felt anxious from the bottom of her heart.
After all, he was a Heroic Spirit who blew off reason all the way to the moon. If the homunculus acted carelessly, Rider would definitely go on a rampage inside the castle for his sake.
“Therefore, please follow my lead. Is that fine with you? It’s fine, right? Answer me!”
Overpowered by Ruler as she suddenly and forcefully pressed him for an answer, the boy frantically nodded.
“U-Understood… I’ll obey you.”
Ruler was about to hold out her gauntlet-less hand to shake, but then suddenly realized. She had yet to hear his name.
“I’m sorry, but about your name—”
“Please call me ‘Sieg’. Though this was originally his name, not mine.”
The boy spoke with his hand placed against his chest as if somehow proud of that.
“Since he’s gone now, I must live. When I consider that, this name seems appropriate… that’s what I think, but how about it?”
“I understood. So your name is Siegfried then.”
“No, that’s wrong. Just Sieg is fine. I feel that that hero’s name is too heavy for me. I probably wouldn’t be able to live like he did.”
He probably wouldn’t able to sacrifice his life without hesitation like he did—
He whispered that with some regret and frustration.
“That’s only natural. You have merely obtained a position that allows you to just barely do something. You aren’t a hero who has already accomplished the things you needed to do like him.”
It was mere disgusting arrogance to force a boy with an infinite future spread out before him to sacrifice his life. No matter how much he looked like an adult in appearance, he—was still very young.
“I see… Yeah, I understand.”
Sieg obediently nodded. What a good boy, Ruler pleasantly thought. Then, she offered her hand again. And the boy gingerly grasped that hand.
“Then, let’s return to the castle without delay… If we meet Rider, please leave it to me to properly explain things to him so it doesn’t turn into a quarrel.”
“All right. Then, let’s go.”
“Yes, let’s go!”
Ruler turned around to face away from the village at the base of the mountain. And then, after taking a few steps forward, she weakly collapsed to her knees.
Sieg frantically rushed over to her, and Ruler replied with a deeply apologetic expression.
“Umm… I’m sorry, but let’s go to the village at the base of the mountain.”
His question was answered by a sound more eloquent than words. It was the trill of her stomach; in other words, it was the sound of her stomach growling.
“I don’t think it’s possible, but are you—”
“I’m sorry, but could you please carry me on your back while you’re at it? My stomach is empty and I can’t move…”
It was that impossibility. She was out of gas. Thinking back on it, since eating dinner, she had been running around here and there without eating or drinking until it was near dawn, and she had lacked the time to rest after using her holy water to search. It was only for an instant, but her consciousness had flicked off earlier.
Even if it was no problem for a Servant, she had expended too much energy as a human. If she expended a massive amount of prana, she could move, but—she could not endure this despairing sensation of hunger forever.
“…I feel anxious about our future prospects.”
Ruler had no words she could respond with.
(1) Here, it says the English word “line” in furigana, while the kanji beneath it says “karmic line”.
(2) Spirit board: An item belonging to the Church overseer of the Holy Grail War, mentioned in the Fate/Zero light novel. It allows the overseer to detect when Servants are summoned and which class they are, and also indicates which Servants remain and when a Servant is killed.
(3) Here, it says “pride” in furigana, while the kanji beneath it says “heart”.