Assassin of Red’s Fortress Noble Phantasm, Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Though on the battlefield, this fortress was the only place ruled by silence and calm.
“—Now then, Master. Was that part of your calculations?”
She smiled nastily. Shirou Kotomine gazed down at the phenomenon that had just occurred with an unusually grim expression.
“Unbelievable! Saber of Black has revived! Goodness gracious, it’s a great miracle worthy of a saint! Truly, [Hang up Magic]!”
In response to Caster of Red’s mutterings, Shirou shook his head silently.
“No, it isn’t a revival… If I had to describe it, that is closer to a possession.”
“…Among Servants, there are also those who can cause strong effects on the bodies of their Master. Normally, the relationship between Master and Servant is the same as between owner and familiar, but there are those who possess skills that make it possible to share bodies. In those cases, the Master becomes an existence close to immortal. Of course, only for the duration of the Holy Grail War… And most importantly, it doesn’t mean that their battle power increases, so the only Servant they’d be able to fight is Assassin.”
“Wait. No matter how I look at it, that there is different. He isn’t a Master, and he definitely isn’t a Servant.”
“Yes. That’s why it’s a possession. Most likely, he’s summoning Saber of Black with the abundant prana of a Command Spell. Of course, normally it would be impossible even with a Command Spell, but—”
Saber of Black and Saber of Red were fiercely clashing against each other. It was an impossible battle even in myth between the ‘Dragon-Slayer Siegfried’ and Saber of Red.
“That homunculus alone is an exception. He has something connected to Saber of Black within his body. I don’t know if it’s a part of Saber’s body or a holy relic of his. In any case, by using that as an intermediary, he’s making Saber descend from the Throne into his own flesh.”
“Impossible… We’re not such low-class evil spirits. We’re Heroic Spirits, you know? The purity, density, strength, solidity and every other aspect of our souls are completely different. Something like possessing someone’s physical body and giving them a Heroic Spirit’s abilities is impossible.”
Assassin of Red was correct. If Shirou’s words were right, then that was a ‘shell’, a being who wore the body of Saber of Black. But that was impossible. The physical abilities, magical abilities and, of course, the soul of Saber of Black—no, of any being that was called a Heroic Spirit was incomparable to that of a human’s.
“If a body is possessed by a Heroic Spirit, a human’s soul wouldn’t be able to endure it. To say nothing of the soul of a homunculus like him.”
“It’s precisely because he is a homunculus. Their souls are very young and therefore pure, as such they won’t be dyed by anything, and their bodies can endure any kind of transformation as well.”
In the first place, a homunculus was a ‘molded’ entity using Magic Circuits as the foundation. Since they had no accumulated experience like humans did, their souls were pure and sturdy like an infant’s. A human who had lived twenty years would have twenty years’ worth of accumulated experience, and that experience would sometimes produce magnificent strength under critical duress.
But, when you possessed another person’s body, that accumulated experience became jammed and obstructed as if by white blood cells. That other person’s accumulated years of experience and your own accumulated years of experience would clash due to lack of compatibility.
However, the homunculus was different. He had no accumulated experience. He was merely a being created in an already-matured state. Therefore, there was no rejection when he was being possessed.
“…Though, being possessed by a Heroic Spirit for even one second is equivalent to a miracle. Even with the assistance of a Command Spell, he should only be able to maintain it for a few minutes.”
“In other words, you mean this? —That thing is something that we can ignore.”
Shirou nodded. Certainly, Saber of Black’s revival was astounding. But it was another matter if it was limited by time and number of uses. Even if he still had the maximum number of Command Spells left, he still had only two remaining. He was basically worthless. He probably wasn’t accustomed to battle itself either, so it was hard to say that he perfectly displayed Saber of Black’s true specs.
And yet. That homunculus’ existence—is awfully irritating to me.
All those gathered on this battlefield were chess pieces to Shirou. Whether it was those facing him as enemies, those who were his allies, or even himself, everyone was a piece on the board.
But he alone was clearly different. An unintended piece had suddenly revived and struck the board. Perhaps the growing irritation in his chest was due to that. Or perhaps—
“…How foolish. Even if he’d have an ephemerally short lifespan, it’d be far better to try and be a perfect existence.”
Shirou’s whisper didn’t seem to reach anyone’s ears. Assassin of Red questioned Shirou.
“Well, if that’s the case, he’s not a problem then. More importantly, Shirou, if you don’t hurry up and get to work soon, you won’t make it in time, you know? Ruler has also come to this battlefield. Right now all her energy is devoted to dealing with Berserker, but if she manages to reach these gardens, it’ll be the end of the line for you.”
“Yes, I’ve already received permission from them… All that’s left is the transfer ritual with the agreement of both parties. It’s an easy procedure… I have to conduct the transfer, so I will need a bit of time, though.”
“Hmm, if I obstruct her with those three, I’ll be able to buy some time.”
“Good luck then”—Leaving behind those words with a refreshing smile, Shirou departed. The only ones remaining there were the two Servants who respected him as their Master.
“By the way, Caster. Since we have the fortune of being alone together, there’s one thing I’d like to ask you.”
“Ah, I also have something I need to ask. Then, please go ahead first, revered empress.”
“—What are you scheming?”
While smiling sweetly, Assassin of Red struck to the heart of the matter with cruel and ruthless emotion in her eyes. They were similar to the eyes of a snake ascertaining its prey.
And Caster of Red saw those eyes, but instead of breaking out in a cold sweat, he merely tilted his head curiously in response. He clearly possessed no ordinary nerves as well. Even if he didn’t have any weapons or magecraft, he had a well-functioning tongue.
“Nothing really. Just as I have stated, I only pursue our Master’s… Shirou Kotomine’s fleeting and majestic dream.”
“Hah. So you’re that kind of character, storyteller. Indeed, his dream is as fragile as glasswork and also very long. The journey to it is obstructed by many hardships, and even if he can overcome them, it’s still uncertain whether or nor his wish will be granted. But—if our Master should brush aside all those hardships and even reach ‘that’…”
—It could only be called a miracle. The dream that Shirou told to Assassin of Red was something any ordinary person would laugh off as ridiculous, something that only abnormal people could seriously talk about.
“…Your role will cease to exist in this world.”
“Not just mine, but yours as well—no, the same goes for all Heroic Spirits!”
Assassin of Red smiled faintly at those words.
“I am different. I’ll still have a proper role. If not, even I wouldn’t follow Shirou’s plan.”
“Ah, I see. So that’s what you mean! Hmm, it’s true that, if Shirou’s dream is realized, even the need to spin tales will disappear from this world. But—the story to reach it will be a masterpiece. An unprecedented, first and last masterpiece that would be unreachable even if you gave an infinite number of typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys! If I can write it down, well, I won’t have any regrets left.”
“…You make some sense.”
Still, Assassin of Red didn’t lose her suspicious expression. Honestly speaking, her doubts about Caster had started when he had released Berserker of Red.
If Shirou’s plan advanced well, this man may carelessly produce hardships himself.
“Ah, that. In that case, have no worries!”
“…What should I have no worries about?”
Spreading both his arms in an exaggerated manner, Caster of Red spoke as if singing.
“Our Master is already [Against death and all oblivious enmity], and is trying to win against them! There’s no way that no one will interfere with such an extraordinary plan! Even without me planning any underhanded tricks, every single person will come to obstruct him! However! However, I have faith that our Master will surely overcome even them!”
Watching Caster of Red excitedly talk on and on, Assassin of Red finally let go of her vigilance towards him.
“—I see. If you put it like that, I can understand your attitude. Caster, you think obstacles will appear? What kind of obstacle specifically?”
“You already know what. Right now, it’s that girl who’s bewildered due to ignorance.”
“…Ruler, huh? Certainly, her privilege is astounding. But we’re conducting a counter-measure against that right now, aren’t we?”
“No, no. Her privilege is also marvelous, but what should be truly feared is the girl herself.”
“What, do you know who she is?”
“There aren’t many Heroic Spirits who are female saints hoisting a flag… She is my motherland’s beloved enemy. The country girl who was destroyed due to obeying the voice of god and went mad with grief—Jeanne d’Arc.”
“Hoh. So she’s the bitter enemy of your country.”
Assassin of Red said that with a smile. Just as she said, Jeanne d’Arc had risen up as the savior of France and completely defeated the English army. Though she was arrested in the end due to treachery, their hatred towards her was probably very deep. Many works written in England at that time depicted her as an enemy and denounced her.
“No, no, I no longer harbor any such ill feelings. Actually, isn’t our own Master a saint from the Far East? Things like England and France no longer matter. However—if she’s going to obstruct us, we’ll have to crush her without any mercy.”
“…By your hands?”
“Me? Perish the thought. I’ll leave that to you, revered empress.”
Caster of Red laughed loudly, and Assassin of Red, though she’d already known it would be that way, sighed.
“…So? What was it that you wanted to ask?”
“It’s about none other than our Master. I naturally know that ‘Shirou’ is his real name. But where did the name ‘Kotomine’ come from? There’s no way he simply adopted it because it was suitable.”
“Ah, that. Kotomine is apparently the name of his adoptive father. Needless to say, that man is without a single relative in this world. So apparently he relied on the supervisor who had survived along with him, a priest named Kotomine, and received a certain social status from him.”
“Haha, I see. So the reason he became the supervisor of the Great Holy Grail War was also thanks to those connections.”
“So it seems. Though, that priest has already been dead a long time now, and Shirou apparently doesn’t interact much with the man whom he’s step-brothers with… What’s with those eyes and that smile you’re making?”
“No, no, I just thought that our Master trusts you a lot. When I asked him about it, he just vaguely dodged the question.”
“…Isn’t it probably because you haven’t made yourself trustworthy?”
When Shirou had carelessly talked to Caster of Red about his origins, Caster couldn’t help seeming as if he were about to spill over and fall from the gossip. Moreover, it was quite possible that he’d publish it as biography.
“Hmph. I am not so much of a fiend that I’d expose people’s privacy, but—whoa there.”
An impact ran through the ground beneath them from the bottom of the gardens. The whole gardens trembled violently as if affected by an earthquake.
“The aftershock of Berserker’s attack, probably. It seems he’s about to reach his critical point.”
Assassin of Red ordered the Hanging Gardens to ascend higher in the air. It would be troubling if these gardens were targeted by that [weapon]. He should be targeting not these gardens, but the Fortress of Millennia.
“However—won’t the Holy Grail break as a result?”
“Have no fear. The Greater Grail is underground beneath the fortress, and it’s not something that can be turned into rubble anyway. Even if Berserker goes to attack it directly, there’s no problem. And in any case he no longer has such intelligence left in him.”
Using remote-viewing thaumaturgy, Assassin of Red confirmed that Ruler was fighting Berserker of Red.
“Now then… How does Ruler intend to face Berserker? If she gets hit by his final attack, even she won’t be able to walk away unscathed.”
Just as Assassin of Red said, the champion of rebellion, Spartacus, was about to swing his final blow. He was targeting the Fortress of Millennia where the oppressors were gathered. The mad warrior didn’t even consider that his own Master was there.
When his body started to collapse due to its own weight as it swelled up with prana, Berserker at last reached enough power for that final and most powerful attack. It was the attack of the end and demise on this battlefield.
—Here it comes.
Ruler was certain of it. The next attack would be the most powerful attack that Berserker of Red could unleash. At the same time, it would be his final attack. He was going to use up even the prana needed to tie himself to the present age and disappear as a result.
If that was the path that the Heroic Spirit Spartacus chose, then she wouldn’t stop him.
But, as expected, she had to avoid getting swallowed up in it herself.
She glanced at the Hanging Garden, which existed as if to sneer at her. Next, her gaze turned to where the Sabers of Black and Red were fiercely battling each other.
She decided. She made a decision not according to a revelation from God, but according to her own will.
While holding her flag in one hand, she took a huge jump backwards—and once having confirmed that Berserker’s gaze had turned to look at the fortress, she headed towards the two Sabers.
For the time being, she intended to get their attention and convince them to withdraw. The other Servants had already noticed Berserker of Red’s abnormal state and had retreated somewhere safe.
Only Sieg, who had transformed into Saber of Black, Rider of Black and Saber of Red were still within range of Berserker’s attack.
Saber of Red and Saber of Black had, of all things, unleashed their respective Noble Phantasms against each other. The aftershocks of that tremendous energy naturally reached Ruler, but also Berserker of Red further away.
Having broken through his critical point, Berserker of Red howled. The countdown reached zero, and the ground shook.
Just as she was about to deal the finishing blow to Sieg, Saber of Red turned around in shock and caught sight of Berserker right as he was on the verge of exploding. Though she hesitated slightly, she seemed to receive an order from her Master and clicked her tongue, immediately turning into spiritual form.
It went without saying for Ruler, who was in fact possessing the human Laeticia, but Sieg couldn’t turn into spiritual form and run away either.
Hearing Ruler’s desperate call, the now-empty Sieg silently shook his head. It appeared he couldn’t move due to the pain and damage from being hit by Saber of Red’s Noble Phantasm attack earlier as well as the backlash from his transformation.
“…Go. You aren’t a Servant who should perish here.”
And yet, he unhesitatingly told Ruler to run away alone. Ruler sighed in exasperation.
“Don’t say stupid things… The one who brought you here was me.”
“I chose to fight by my own will.”
“Guh. There’s a limit even to being stubborn!”
“…Isn’t that basically the pot calling the kettle black?”
Despite being in this kind of situation, Sieg spoke to Ruler with cool eyes.
“—Do not worry. I don’t intend to let you die. And I’m not going to perish here either.”
She planted the flag in her right hand into the ground. Peeking at the state of affairs behind her back, she saw Rider of Black, who looked totally exhausted, tightly hugging Sieg as if to protect him.
She didn’t think his Master would refuse to let him turn into spiritual form and run away. Most likely, Rider himself had refused to do so. Since he possessed the [Independent Action] skill, Rider could continue to survive for a short time even if his prana supply was cut off.
…However, not running away in this situation was just reckless.
“Are you not going to escape, Rider of Black?”
“I don’t want to.”
Rider shook his head fervently while hugging Sieg.
“I said I don’t want to! I don’t want to see him get wounded any further! I absolutely won’t move away from here!”
Despite his own substantial wounds, Rider didn’t even consider running away. It wasn’t that there was something he could do; he was just going to perish with the two of them because he was trying to protect Sieg.
It was meaningless. A completely meaningless act.
If his Noble Phantasms weren’t taken into account, Rider of Black, Astolfo, was a Heroic Spirit that was only somewhere between second and third rate in terms of strength and skill. Astolfo was the only one among Charlemagne’s Twelve Paladins who was famed to be [weak] according to legend.
But even so, Astolfo was a hero.
“I don’t want to…”
Even though he trembled, Rider didn’t stop protecting Sieg. He didn’t falter either. It was only natural for those who were born strong to display courage. Because they were strong. They had pride in their strength, and they had a will that wouldn’t yield to any enemy.
Astolfo was different. This Servant was weak and could never defeat the enemy known as fate. His strength could neither move mountains nor pierce the heavens. And yet, Astolfo was a brave hero acknowledged by everyone during his lifetime. Even if he was weak, even if his power was insufficient, even if he was defeated. Astolfo was a brave person and had the qualifications to be a hero.
“—I understand. Then please stay still there. It will be dangerous if you move.”
If that was this Servant’s will, Ruler had no right to stop him.
That’s why this was to protect Sieg. She might be slightly deviating from her role as a mediator. But she had been given the discretion to act according to her judgement on the battlefield.
The Servant who was like neither a beast, human, monster or even a Heroic Spirit, but rather a giant ‘wrathful god’, at last struck the ground with his final attack.
Berserker of Red was filled with euphoria that numbed his brain. His final attack would destroy all tyranny and smash all authority.
Of course, he was mad… and even he understood that he was mad. But he wouldn’t stop. He was born with this personality that couldn’t endure obeying anyone.
No, that wasn’t it. Being scorned and wounded felt good to him. Making the stagnating things inside him settle like sediments was an irresistible joy to him.
So he continued smiling. And when it reached its critical point, Spartacus rebelled. As long as there were oppressors in the world, neither his joy nor his anger could be stopped.
And now, after having been given a second life, he was trying to throw the most powerful blow of his life. His vision distorted and the pain of having his entire body rearranged by something tortured his mind. But that was also at an end. This wasn’t simply an attack loaded with all his power. It was what could appropriately be called the ultimate destruction that he couldn’t achieve unless he sacrificed all of himself.
He even let out a sigh of wonder. He didn’t even reflect on how much his flesh had been hideously transformed. The gladiator of suffering who had devoted his entire lifetime to rebellion finally swung that final blow.
His target was the oppressor with the greatest authority in the Great Holy Grail War: Ruler. And also those in the Fortress of Millennia behind her. An attack that seemed to reach the moon and make the stars fall. The greatest counter punch he had ever made in his lifetime including both before and after his death. Would his fist, his sword really reach those oppressors?
He neither knew nor cared to find out. The austere gladiator, who had only devoted his life to rebellion, breathed his last breath while smiling.
Ruler, Rider of Black and Sieg were in the direct path of that attack. Avoiding it was impossible, and no matter how tough a shield one possessed, it couldn’t protect against that attack that Berserker had wagered his life upon.
But—the one receiving that attack was the absolute mediator of the Holy Grail War, Ruler.
She tightly grasped her flag with both hands and activated its true name.
The flag that the saint Jeanne d’Arc had kept in place of a sword. That flag, which inspired and uplifted the soldiers who followed her believing that a saint walked amongst them, was said to have continued to protect this female saint who always ran ahead as the vanguard.
“—Eternelle: God is Here With Me!”
And when this holy flag was activated as a Noble Phantasm, it converted Jeanne’s EX rank Magic Resistance into a protection against all physical and spiritual harm.
Berserker of Red’s attack had been unleashed with all his hate and joy. But the flag completely cut off not only Jeanne, but also Rider of Black and Sieg behind her from it.
She put strength into both her hands. Right now, Ruler’s flag was their only lifeline. Stifling her anguish and simply looking forward—Ruler simply endured the explosive maelstrom of light.
It was like someone who opposed all the evil in the world.
It was like someone who opposed a fallen star1.
It was like all humans who, despite being so small, opposed the thing before their eyes that they didn’t consider right.
Filled with pride, willpower, anger or perhaps something else entirely, humans possessed hearts that could rise up with courage that surpassed their fear even in the face of overwhelming violence that slaughtered thousands of people.
Watching her small back, Sieg was gripped by a heartbreakingly sad feeling for some reason. He was fully aware that it was arrogant of him, but when he thought of the tragic tale of her life, he couldn’t discard those feelings.
She had everything taken from her due to betrayal. Receiving the worst treatment conceivably possible for a human, and yet never cursing anything… the personification of a saint who never despaired.
It would be fine if she cursed those who betrayed. He could understand if she hated them. But she had felt no hatred, resentment, or even regrets. For some strange reason, Sieg couldn’t stand that.
…Rider of Black suddenly recalled the myth of an old man who managed to cut the sea in half. The light that completely isolated and cut them off from their surroundings was like that divided water. Just as life had an end, this attack that Berserker had wagered his life on also came to an end. Berserker of Red’s fully-powered attack had half-destroyed the Fortress of Millennia, and killed the many golems, homunculi and Dragon Tooth Warriors that remained on the battlefield.
But even with that stupendous destructive power, the three of them didn’t receive a single injury. When the light settled down, Ruler sighed with relief and turned around. With a brilliant and shining smile, she let out another sigh of relief and—
“…Thank goodness you’re unhurt.”
She murmured that.
It was closer to a calamity than a sword slash. It was also like an earthquake and tsunami filled with malice. Having converted Berserker’s entire enormous store of prana into pure destruction, it shook the earth and mowed down the Fortress of Millennia.
Shrieks rose up around the magi. Fortunately, the location where they were watching the battle situation from was not directly exposed to the roaring flames. But everything just a few meters ahead of them was in a miserable state.
“W-What… what happened just now…?”
Gordes’ mutter as if he were seeing a nightmare was only natural. If they had been directly hit by the attack, it would be understandable. But they had only been hit by the aftershocks.
“…What’s the condition of Berserker of Red?”
In response to Fiore’s question, Caules sighed and spoke up
“He’s vanished… What about the other Servants?”
“Archer is still alive. How about Rider?”
Celenike nodded in an annoyed manner. Despite how much she had told him to turn into spiritual form and come back here, he had, let alone come back, tried to protect that homunculus. Considering the situation, it might be time to finally settle things decisively with him.
“Rider is also alive. Caster?”
Roche had received a terrible shock over how the golems he and Caster had worked hard to make had been scattered into pieces like wood chips. But he confirmed that the one he was concerned about the most, Caster, was still alive.
“Sensei is safe and sound… 80% of the golems were blown away, and the ones that were kept on standby at the fortress are barely able to operate.”
“I see. All that’s left is Lancer. It seems grandfather is also alive, but…”
“My lord is also fine. His battle with Lancer of Red ended while unsettled. He’s terribly angry. More importantly, there is an emergency.”
Standing on the broken window frame, Darnic said that with a somehow hoarse voice.
Fiore thought that there couldn’t be any situation worse than what they went through just now, but Darnic’s voice was more serious than she expected.
“—The Hanging Gardens have started to approach the fortress.”
Saber of Red canceled her spiritual form and examined the state of her surroundings.
—In the forest that spread out on either side of the grassland plains, many trees had fallen. They were in a wretched state that made it looked as if they had been trampled by a giant.
—Nearly all the golems, homunculi and Dragon Tooth Warriors had died. That was only natural. That much prana had been concentrated and released all at once. The only ones still alive were those homunculi who had been on standby back in the rear lines or who had sensed the situation and run away.
—The Servants had all escaped from the battlefield at high speed. At the very least, anyone who was thick-headed enough to get swallowed up by this attack was worse than third-rate.
In other words, the land was completely empty. That strange monstrous Servant had annihilated this battlefield. Whether she was angry, amazed or sneering… not knowing what her currently feelings should be described as, Saber simply stood there in a dumfounded daze for a little while.
“…Ah, Master. The situation is just as you can see.”
Turning around at the voice that called out to her from behind her back, she shrugged her shoulders. Her Master Shishigou also let out a sigh of amazement as he looked at the battlefield.
“So, what should we do now, Master? Please give me orders.”
“Even if you say that… a battle with enemies and allies jumbled together on completely empty land like this will definitely turn out awful.”
“So shall we withdraw?”
Shishigou was about to agree with those words, but he suddenly looked up to the sky and decided to reject that proposal.
“—No, we won’t be withdrawing. Look, Saber.”
Shishigou pointed at the Hanging Gardens, a product of the Age of Gods. Shishigou, having carefully investigated information about Semiramis, could tell that it was Assassin of Red’s Noble Phantasm.
The problem was that the Hanging Gardens were approaching the crumbled Fortress of Millennia.
“…Hmph. Certainly, if we withdraw now, we’ll be treated as outsiders.”
“Right? Let’s go, Saber.”
“Understood, Master. So, is flying your speciality?”
“I’m terrible at it. I don’t want to think about it that much, but it seems I’ll have to rely on you.”
In response to Shishigou’s grumbles, Saber of Red chuckled. Yes, in other words, it was time for her to use her personal skill, [Prana Burst].
(1) These two lines are a reference to a certain scene in Fate/Stay Night, as I’m sure many readers have already realized. I won’t give any spoilers, but I felt the need to point it out for those who haven’t seen the original visual novel, since the lines lose their significance without that knowledge. Once again, I suggest looking at Fate/Stay Night for those who are still new to the Fate universe to enhance your reading experience.