Sieg was surprised at how unexpectedly light the girl he carried on his back was, but he was also surprised at her current state of dress. Having released her armor, she was now dressed in civilian clothes. As expected, it would be too suspicious for her to go into town wearing that battle outfit.
“…Ah, this is so embarrassing.”
“Don’t worry about it. It can’t be helped considering your circumstances.”
Sieg said that as he vigorously stepped on the ground. If what she had confessed about being [summoned by possessing a human] was true, then it was understandable that she would collapse.
“In other words, you have the physical abilities of a Servant, but since you’re linked to physical human body through the realm of the unconscious, you have to carry on your life as a human as well.”
“That’s how it is. Moreover, I seem to use up an excessive amount of calories while I act as a Servant.”
“That’s really inconvenient…”
Even if she covered her normal human body with a shell, what she did was still no different from overusing and abusing it. She was able to endure this unimaginable situation by coating different parts such as her nerves and muscle tissue, but she couldn’t avoid the fervent consumption of calories that accompanied that method.
Of course, she wouldn’t die from it. She wouldn’t but—
“I didn’t think an empty stomach would be this painful. Umm, I even thought I’d be fine with munching on tree roots if it meant eating soon, but what should I do?”
Her tone conveyed that she was quite serious. Sieg replied while speeding up his feet somewhat
“…Please endure it just a little longer.”
I’m not sure eating tree roots is such a good idea, Sieg thought, but Ruler merely feebly responded with “Yes…” to his words. At this rate, she would probably start munching on tree roots within less than thirty minutes if she had nothing else to eat.
Dawn had already come, and they started to see early rising villagers every here and there. Sieg rushed from the mountain to approach the nearest farmer and asked an old man whether there was a shop that supplied food in this village.
“Did your friend collapse?”
Seeming to take a break from his early morning manual labor, the man asked that in a worried tone while wiping the sweat from his neck with a towel.
“No, it seems she’s unable to take even a single step due to an empty stomach.”
“That’s not good… I was thinking of eating breakfast right about now, but would you like to accompany me?”
“…Thank you. Then I’ll accept your kindness without reserve.”
Sieg had considered using suggestion magecraft if push came to shove, but since the conversation had gone unexpectedly well, he couldn’t find the timing to do so at all. The old man immediately returned to his house, so Sieg also followed after him.
“Uu. What a nice smell…”
Having fainted earlier, Jeanne woke up. Sieg sat her down from his shoulder onto a chair in the dining room. The old man immediately placed a plate and spoon in front of her. It was a dish of thick reddish-brown porridge.
“This is real kasha made from buckwheat. Well, try eating it.”
Seeming to gasp, Ruler scooped up some porridge with her spoon and brought it to her mouth. Immediately after, she seemed to quickly come back to life, and then ate up the porridge in the blink of an eye, requesting seconds with tears in her eyes.
Helplessly Sieg heled out some more from next to her, and she ate up that portion almost immediately as well.
“You’re a big eater, aren’t you?”
“Y-Yes! No, err, that is… I’m sorry.”
With her stomach settled down, she seemed to put energy into thinking again. Her cheeks turned bright red, and she bowed her head deeply in apology.
“No, no, go ahead and eat more. You too, young man.”
He held out another set of plates to Sieg and Ruler. While Sieg hesitated, Ruler decided to happily presume upon the old man’s good will.
The old man said his name was Serge. He told them how he had been born in this village, raised his son here, seen the boy off when he left, and plowed his fields as he lived by making the most of the present. It was an ordinary life that did not particularly stand out.
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen any young people in this village.”
When the old man treated them to coffee after the meal, the two of them gratefully accepted the drinks after sweetening them with large amounts of sugar and milk.
“Aren’t you going to ask what we’re doing out here?”
In response to Ruler’s question, Serge shook his head in a gentle manner.
“…Well. When two young people wander through a town in the middle of nowhere like this with only the clothes on their backs, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on.”
Sieg’s body stiffened in shock.
“Well, I think it can’t be helped since you two are young. But you should properly prepare before you run away next time, okay?”
It seems that Serge has seen through everything, Sieg thought. He glanced sideways at Ruler, but she looked at Sieg with a somehow embarrassed expression.
“I understand, we’ll make sure to do that next time.”
Ruler was strangely surprised by Sieg’s reply, which he found curious.
“So, what will you do now?”
“Of course, we’ll go back… There are people waiting for me, after all.”
Serge seemed a bit surprised by his answer. Shortly after, he nodded several times as if in understanding and sipped at his delicious coffee.
“…I see. Yeah, that’s good. It really is important to get everyone’s blessing.”
Not understanding what he was talking about, Sieg glanced to his side, and for some reason, Ruler’s eyes had started swimming. He didn’t get it, but Sieg decided to focus on his coffee for now.
…In the end, since Sieg was also exhausted, the two of them decided to rest at Serge’s house until noon. Serge gladly lent them his son’s room which hadn’t been used since he left the village.
“Even if we have permission, I wonder if this is all right…”
“T-That’s true. But I’d feel bad about not willingly accepting his good will…”
It was a trivial conversation, but Sieg looked at Ruler quizzically. Sieg was a homunculus, and his communication experience was practically zero except for with Rider.
However, even so, he understood enough to know the appropriate distance between people when they spoke to one another. Ruler was consciously distancing herself from Sieg. The distance between them was about three meters. Rather, she was hiding herself behind the room’s door and wouldn’t come out from there.
“Why are you so far away?”
“Ah, err. It seems that Laeticia inside me is bad with men, so I can’t interact normally with you unless I maintain this distance—”
Ruler spoke apologetically… but she stayed hidden behind the door.
“No, but you didn’t seem that on guard against me when we first met.”
“…It was at night. And I deemed it more important to see what kind of person you were since I didn’t know you. Now that the situation has calmed down, the Laeticia inside me is coming out a bit more strongly.”
“The possessed is affecting you the possessor?”
“Yes…. Though this is also a first experience for me. I’m certainly conscious of myself as Ruler, Jeanne d’Arc. However, at the same time, Laeticia’s consciousness remains. In particular, she serves as the base for my knowledge that concerns matters outside of the Holy Grail War.”
“Aren’t there any inconveniences?”
“Like I said before, besides the necessity of eating and sleeping… Ah.”
Ruler took out a book from the bag she carried. It seemed to be some kind of textbook on mathematics.
“It’s somewhat inconvenient that I don’t understand mathematics at all.”
She lightly complained with a bitter smile.
“…Is high-level mathematics necessary for the Holy Grail War?”
In response to Sieg’s extremely natural question, Ruler entwined both her hands’ fingers together and replied with a somewhat pouting expression.
“No, it’s true that it’s unrelated, but… I can’t get the equation problems out of my head no matter what I do, and I can’t quite seem to calm down about it…”
Indeed, one wouldn’t be able to remain calm about that. If Sieg could be of even a little use, perhaps he should help.
“…Lend me the textbook for a little bit. I might be able to solve them.”
When Sieg nodded affirmatively, her expression sparkled brightly.
“Then, err, I suppose I’ll let you get closer.”
After giving a single cough, Ruler approached Sieg with somewhat awkward footsteps. They sat down on chairs and faced each other with a small dining table between them.
“P-Please go ahead.”
Bowing her head, Ruler held out the textbook and a pencil. Sieg accepted them and opened the designated page. He read it silently for a while, and then filled in the answers into the black spaces in the textbook.
“I think this is the correct answer.”
“…T-That was admirably well done.”
After reading the answer, she bowed deeply. It’s not such a big deal, Sieg thought. He had merely had that kind of knowledge since he was born.
Silence suddenly fell between them. Sieg gazed at Ruler with his red eyes. She seemed uncomfortable with being stared at and nervously glanced around the room.
In the room Serge had furnished them with, there was a bed, a small table for two, and two sturdily-built chairs. There was nothing else besides a closet in the corner. Most likely, the son who had used this room had taken his personal effects with him when he left the village. But the room was still thoroughly cleaned.
“…He must really be treasured.”
Sieg enquired about the words Ruler murmured to herself.
“Ah, I mean Serge’s son.”
When Sieg tilted his head quizzically, Ruler realized the reason and cast her eyes down somewhat sadly. It’s true that he was endowed with knowledge. He was both logical and intelligent. However, at the same time, there were many things he didn’t understand as well. Rather than ignorant, perhaps it was better to call him pure and innocent.
It wasn’t just because he was a homunculus. Having been made to serve as a prana supply, he probably lacked many things.
“Do you understand? This room probably hasn’t been used since his son left the village. That can be surmised from the fact that Serge-san lives alone and the meagreness of this room’s furnishings.”
“Hmm, that’s logical.”
“So, normally speaking, this room would be a good room even if it wasn’t clean. No, rather, it wouldn’t be a problem even if this room was covered in dust. And yet, this room has been completely wiped of dust. The one who cleans it can only be—”
It was a logical conclusion. He lived alone and didn’t have the money to hire a maid.
“It’s possible that he’s a tidy person, but the first floor is a bit messy and disorderly. Though, of course, not to the point that it could be called unsanitary.”
Certainly, just as Ruler said, the things he should normally tidy up, like his clothes and farming tools, were still lying scattered about, but it didn’t seem like he didn’t care about them at all either.
“So, we can surmise that keeping this room clean is more important to him than tidying up the first floor where he conducts the main part of his daily life. In other words, that can only be an act out of love.”
Sieg thought it over for a while, and then refuted it with a shake of his head.
“…No, that’s not the only possibility. It’s also possible that the son is atrocious and has completely enslaved his father Serge-dono, making him do forced labor like cleaning his room every day even after he left—”
“Certainly, the chances are extremely small, but…”
“I said it’s impossible.”
Sieg couldn’t help feeling somewhat unconvinced, but he obediently nodded. He was ignorant, and even if she was a Heroic Spirit, she was a human who bore knowledge of this era. Her logic was probably correct.
“…Hmph. Well, you are a newborn, Sieg-kun. So I suppose it can’t be helped. But leaning about the subtleties of human relations… about the heart is also important. If there’s anything you’re unclear about, I’ll teach you about it to the best of my abilities.”
Ruler puffed up her chest proudly. I think this way of talking is referred to as ‘acting like a senpai’, Sieg remembered. But there was something that bothered him more than that.
“Hey, wait a minute.”
“Yes, what is it, Sieg-kun?”
“…No, why are you adding [kun] to the end of my name?”
“Because Sieg is younger than me, right? So I don’t think there’s any problem with using [kun]. Do you dislike it?”
“Ah, I don’t really—dislike it, I think, but…”
I don’t think I dislike it, but something seems wrong about it… Sieg wanted to say that, but since that ‘something’ was too vague for him to articulate, he couldn’t raise any objections.
“Then I’ll call you Sieg-kun from now on. Please call me either Ruler or Jeanne as you like.
“I get it, I get it already. Then, Ruler, I have a question, but… is it okay if I ask you?”
“Yes, go ahead.”
“In the first place, what is ‘Ruler’? You said it was the class that conducts the management of the Holy Grail War, but…”
Sieg had been furnished with knowledge about the Holy Grail War to a certain point. But besides knowing that that the crucial class known as [Ruler] existed, everything else about the class was unclear to him.
He decided that he should at least ask what Ruler’s objective was and what she prioritized.
“…Yes, that’s an understandable question. Basically, it’s nearly impossible for a Ruler to be summoned in a normal Holy Grail War. There are two big cases where a Ruler like me is summoned. The first case is when a Ruler is summoned due to the Holy Grail War taking place in an extremely peculiar form and an unknown number of consequences would come about as a result. In other words, this refers to cases when the central pillar of the ritual, the Holy Grail, deems that the Servant Ruler, who is under no one’s control, is needed in this ritual. Like now, with the Great Holy Grail War where seven Servants fight seven other Servants—the largest-scale Holy Grail War in history. And the other case is where there is a possibility that distortions will appear in the world due to the effects of the Holy Grail War.”
“Distortions… in the world?”
“Yes. In the current Holy Grail War, people who become Masters control Heroic Spirits as Servants and compete for the Holy Grail, but the majority of the people who become Masters are Magi who prioritize the concealment of magecraft and the war. So there are rarely situations that beckon mayhem into the world, and even when there are—they are dealt with as simple disasters in most cases.”
“Yes. It’s something that shouldn’t happen, but it’s also true that it can’t be helped. Many Holy Grails are forgeries quite different from the real thing. However, their ‘function’ is another matter. There are more than a few that can function as an omnipotent, wish-granting device. That is something that mustn’t spread through the world as public information.”
“I suppose that’s true… The people who are able to have their wishes granted by the Grail aren’t limited to saints.”
Ruler nodded with a sad expression.
“Of course, I don’t mind if the person isn’t a saint and wishes to fulfill a personal desire. As long as it doesn’t beckon the world’s destruction, I would properly respect the wish. However, there are rare people who would plan to destroy the world itself. They might be magi, or some other kind of person… Ruler is summoned when that destruction could theoretically come about due to the Holy Grail War and is given the duty of protecting the framework of the Holy Grail War.”
“…When it could theoretically come about? Then, does that mean it’s possible that there is someone planning to destroy the world in this Great Holy Grail War as well?”
If that were true, it was a serious matter. After all, this time it wasn’t a battle between seven Servants against one another, but a war between two sides with seven Servants each.
“I wonder about that. It’s true that several of my abilities as Ruler aren’t functioning correctly. Whether that’s due to an abnormal phenomenon in the Holy Grail War or something else completely, I still don’t know… Also, even if someone is planning something, it could be either the Black camp or the Red camp. Or it could also be another force entirely. There are no precedents of an all-out battle between two sides of seven Servants each. Furthermore, the Holy Grail they are seeking this time is the Greater Grail of [Fuyuki], which served as the original basis for all subspecies Holy Grail Wars. It’s a holy object, an artifact created by three magi. So I can’t still definitely say what the cause for my summoning is.”
However, compared to the Black camp who merely tried to bring Ruler to their side, the Red camp attempted to assassinate her with Lancer, the Servant who could boast of being the strongest among their camp. Based on the situation, the Red camp was exceedingly suspicious.
“…It’s really a serious situation. I’m grateful for you assisting me in spite of that.”
“Fufu, it’s fine. You were someone involved in this Great Holy Grail War from the moment you were born. I want to respect your will and determination. Also—”
There, Ruler’s words awkwardly cut off. When Sieg tilted his head curiously at her, she shook her head softly.
“I’m sorry. I think it’d be better if you didn’t think anything of my words just now. For some reason, umm, the words I’m expressing are very, like that, and that, and also that…”
“I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”
“Umm, it’s just that I have no positive proof yet, so… please forget about it for now.”
Sieg decided to agree to her request. In the first place, she was the only person besides Rider he could rely on now.
“There’s no reason for me not to believe in a saint like you. I don’t mind, you can talk to me about it when you have the positive proof you need.”
After Sieg plainly declared that, she blushed and nodded.
“I don’t know whether I’m embarrassed or happy to hear you say that. But I’ll do my best.”
Her voice was small, but there was definitely determination in it. A diamond-hard determination that couldn’t be shaken by anything.
“Now then, since we’ve calmed down, there’s a problem I’d like to clear up.”
“Ah, what a coincidence. I was thinking the same thing.”
Sieg and Ruler both awkwardly looked at the bed. It was a single bed, and was very cramped. Sieg had gone through the entire morning without even a wink of sleep since his escape in the dead of night, and Laeticia’s body was also near it limits.
But the bed was only big enough to properly fit one person to sleep on it. If both of them slept on it, they would be glued to each other like affectionate lovers. Of course, it seemed that Serge thought that they were lovers.
“I’ll sleep on the floor, so you—”
“I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, though.”
“B-But. Based on what you said, Sieg-kun, you haven’t slept at all since last night, right?”
“That’s true. But perhaps thanks to this heart, I don’t feel that tired.”
“That’s a lie. You look totally exhausted. I’m a Heroic Spirit, so it’s no problem for me.”
“No, but you said just earlier that you have to eat and sleep. You should sleep on the bed for the sake of the girl whose body you’re using as well.”
“Guh, it’s unfair to bring up Laeticia as an excuse—Then, how about we at least sleep together?”
“The bed is narrow. We’d be glued to each other. Laeticia hates men, right?”
“No, it’s fine. She may be inexperienced with men, but she’s a girl that truly feels that it’s bad to be heartless. She has no objections to sleeping together.”
“…Don’t you feel embarrassed?”
In response to those words, Ruler turned silent and averted her eyes while blushing.
Since she said she was fine, she was probably fine. Sieg finally agreed to it, and the two of them somehow managed to lay their bodies together on the narrow bed. It was cramped, but fatigue settled into them like a log, and they couldn’t help feeling sleepy.
Ruler’s face was right in front of Sieg’s. She seemed to have reached her limit as her eyes started closing just by laying down. Sieg was also exhausted, and he had been on the verge of closing his eyes for this past while as well… but, the fear that nested in his chest stopped sleep from taking hold.
Was this entire reality a dream, where everything would return to the way it was before the instant he fell asleep—and would he awaken in that prana supply tank? Here he had been given much compassion and fortunate blessings. Perhaps the world wasn’t so kind, and instead—
“Good night, Sieg-kun.”
His foolish thoughts were drowned out by that whisper and the smile like that of an affectionate mother in front of him. Yeah, this really did seem to be reality. If it were all a dream, that would mean she was a product of his imagination. But there was no way—he could imagine such a smile.
The instant he said that and closed his eyes, Sieg’s consciousness cut off. Without even the chance to see a dream, he slept while feeling as if he were falling. Even so, he felt no fear in it.
…When they next regained awareness, they found that they had both rolled off the bed onto the floor. Their heavy weariness had been reduced, but their joints hurt due to sleeping on the hard floor.
“…I guess it really was impossible.”
They smiled wryly at each other and stood up. After that, they told Serge they were leaving now, but he said “Wait a bit” and carried over a mountain of luggage from the kitchen.
“Here, here, put these on.”
He handed them a bunch of preserved dried meat and bread. He even gave them a thermos of coffee, and Sieg accepted it all in bewilderment.
“Umm, I’m grateful for you giving us all this, but unfortunately, we don’t have anything to repay you with.”
“I don’t need any… But, I know. Make sure to protect the young lady there.
Sieg tilted his head with a puzzled expression, and the old man struck his shoulder vigorously while smiling.
“You have the ability to do that much.”
“A-All right! L-Let’s get going now, Sieg-kun!”
With questions marks still hovering over his head, Sieg was forced to start leaving as Ruler pushed his back. But there was one thing he had to ask Serge. He forcefully stopped his feet and turned around.
“Can I ask you one thing?”
“What is it?”
“Do you love your son?”
Serge blinked upon hearing that crazy question, but then his tanned and rugged face immediately made a satisfied smile and he answered it.
“Of course I do! He’s my pride and joy. He’s working hard right now in another country somewhere.”
Even Sieg could understand that that smile was from the bottom of Serge’s heart, praying for the well-being of his son who had left the nest and rejoicing at his success.
Ruler pulled at his sleeve and said “Didn’t I tell you?” with a smile. Sieg nodded, and shouted “Thank you!” to Serge.
“Good luck to you both!”
After waving their hands back at those words of farewell, the two of them returned to the mountain once more. Walking alongside Ruler who had completely regained her vitality, Sieg tilted his head in puzzlement again.
“What did he mean by ‘protect you’, I wonder…”
“Sieg-kun, that was just a misunderstanding on his part. You shouldn’t think about it too deeply.”
“…Yeah, I suppose you’re right, but…”
When Sieg said that, Ruler strangely turned her face away from him as if sulking, confusing him even more.
In any case, Ruler and the member of her entourage returned to the mountain once more and headed towards the Fortress of Millennia. They would probably reach the forest by nighttime.
“…How should I convince the other homunculi?”
When Sieg asked that as he wracked his brain for a solution, Ruler gently admonished him.
“That’s something you must think about for yourself. However, you did hear cries for [help], right?”
“Yeah, I’m sure of it… The other homunculi should have heard those voices as well.”
“Then how about appealing to that? —Don’t worry, they will surely listen if you speak to them.”
Her words had a mysterious persuasiveness. Just by hearing her say “Don’t worry”, he felt as if the path to success was guaranteed.
“…Thank you. I’ll do my best.”
“Yes, I hope that your prayer will reach them.”
But contrary to the boy’s hopes, the two of them would end up witnessing something unexpected when they were halfway to the fortress.
And that ‘something’ was the [meaning] behind Jeanne d’Arc’s being summoned as Ruler.