When Archer of Red returned to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Aerial Gardens of Vanity where the Greater Grail was stored, she dispassionately reported to her Master Shirou that she had shot down Assassin of Black.
“If possible, I would have like it if Assassin of Black kept causing a disturbance among the enemy camp a little while longer…”
Assassin of Red spoke up in a bored manner from where she sat calmly on her throne.
“It doesn’t matter. Either way, they will definitely chase after us. Since we’re in an all-out war, it would be troublesome to have trash like that moving unnecessarily.”
“That’s true enough… Ah, by the way, Archer. Did you find out which Heroic Spirit Assassin of Black was?”
Archer of Red replied in a completely apathetic, bored manner.
“There’s no point in worrying over those already slain.”
“…Hmm. Yes, it’s just as you say, but…”
Shirou’s gaze became slightly suspicious. Archer of Red wore an annoyed expression and didn’t respond. There was something more important she needed to think about right now—all her focus was on her hated enemy.
“I’m tired… that’s all I have to report.”
After saying that, she left the throne room. Her Master Shirou tilted his head in puzzlement at having seen something strange.
“What’s wrong, Master?”
“…No. I’m a little concerned about Archer of Red’s behavior.”
“She looks the same as always to me.”
Archer of Red was a fundamentally cool-headed person. She wasn’t indifferent, but even if someone died in front of her eyes, she wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
Perhaps it was because she had lived her life amidst the exceedingly harsh providence of nature. Her thoughts were extremely cool and sober when it came to life and death—including her own.
That’s why she wouldn’t care about the people she killed, no matter who they were, since their deaths changed nothing.
Certainly, in that regard, her behavior was not that different from her usual attitude. But Shirou couldn’t get rid of a feeling of something out of place.
…And then he realized. She had said she was ‘tired’. But there was no way the likes of Atalanta could feel tired from a simple scouting mission.
Immediately before she turned around, Shirou had seen Archer of Red’s face from the side.
Her beautiful face, which countless men had sought to marry her for, had been exuding unconcealed hatred and rage towards someone.
Archer of Red silently walked through the Hanging Gardens. Her pace was quick, as if she was trying to shake off that scene carved into her memories. But before she could go anywhere, a single man came to stand in her path.
“…Out of the way, Caster.”
Archer glanced at Caster in displeasure. Caster spoke to her while wearing his usual smile that was as deep and opaque as the bottom of the sea.
“[Good things of day begin to droop and drowse; While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse]… Were you captured by the night, exalted swift-running huntress?”
Archer grabbed the collar of Caster’s shirt as if she were fed up with him—and pushed him against a wall.
“I’m tired. Very tired. So shut up, you clown.”
But Caster didn’t shut up.
“There is no way you of all people would be tired from a mere scouting mission! And you aren’t tired, but frightened, are you not? Just like a child who’s unable to escape into sleep after hearing a scary story!”
Archer’s gaze oozed with killing intent. Her eyes declared that she would kill him if he joked around any further. Nevertheless—Caster questioned her, his smile never breaking.
“—What did you see? What did you perceive? How foolish. No matter what you saw, it is already merely a remnant of the past. We are ghosts of the past, and if ghosts regret the past, they become merely vengeful spirits.”
The words of the clown, who shouldn’t have known anything, gouged the deepest depths of Archer’s heart.
Suddenly, all life and energy disappeared from Caster’s body. In the blink of an eye, the man she grasped by the collar was reduced to a mere wooden puppet.
A spell used by the author Caster… or rather, a kind of sleight of hand that combined his immense fame and enigmatic history.
“—We must live in the future. To devote our bodies to the yet-unseen world. Archer, you also want to see it, don’t you? A world where all children are loved!”
At some unknown point, Caster had crept up behind her back. Hearing him voice her wish, Archer stopped as she was about to grab him by the cuff again. The one in front of her didn’t seem like a puppet this time.
Caster of Red gave a thin smile and closed one eye.
“For the sake of that, we must activate the Greater Grail. Through any means possible.”
“…You really believe that it will grant that wish?”
“You heard our Master’s words, did you not? That Greater Grail can certainly grant his and your wish.”
Hearing that answer, distress and conflict filled Archer of Red’s face. Caster’s words were truly like the devil’s whisper.
“I—don’t know. Certainly, if it’s his wish, it might have the power to grant my wish as well. But… but, is it really all right? Is that wish truly… correct?”
“Who knows? I don’t know either. No, let me put it like this. Are you unable to decide unless there’s a guarantee? [To be or not to be]—in that case, a clown can only laugh!”
Archer glared at Caster for a little while—but a little bit of life had returned to her eyes. She silently walked away from him.
Caster called out from behind her.
“By the way, Archer-dono. In the end, just what kind of hell did you see?”
Keeping her back to him, Archer whispered softly.
“…It was a piece of the world’s system. Gods, heroes, magical beasts, evil kings—everything was dead there.”
If an evil being committed a crime, then she would eliminate it.
If a god went on a rampage, then she would search for a method to soothe it.
But there was neither there. It was a part of mechanism of the world, working so superbly well that it created a perfect system that preyed on the weak.
There was only one way to destroy it.
The fulfillment of her wish by the activation of the Greater Grail. That was Archer’s only hope now.
“I couldn’t save them with my own power… But, even though that woman could have saved them, she abandoned them and cut them down.”
Her fists trembled with rage—and, even while understanding that this question was a landmine, Caster of Red asked her without holding back his curiosity.
Turning around at the question, Archer of Red’s eyes were filled with dreadful glee.
“Jeanne d’Arc. I will kill that woman. I’ll shoot her down with my arrows, and if that doesn’t work, I will rip her apart with my claws, and if that doesn’t work, I will tear her to shreds with my fangs.”
“Oh my, is that possible with your beautiful nails and teeth?”
With unfading madness in her eyes, Archer of Red smiled in joy from the bottom of her heart.
“It’s possible. If it’s to kill that woman, I will even become a monster.”
Archer of Red departed, and Caster watched her leave. At some unknown point, Rider of Red had come to stand behind Caster.
“A mouth that runs off so much can be a nuisance, you know.”
Caster turned around at Rider’s sharp voice—and laughed.
“Hahaha. After all, the only weapons I have are daggers of words!”
Rider didn’t believe that this man had given advice to the troubled Archer out of the kindness of his heart. Caster was clearly planning something. The problem was that his intentions were unclear.
Perhaps he simply found it amusing to mislead her with words… actually, that was quite possible.
“More importantly, how about you go comfort Archer-dono yourself, Rider-dono?”
Caster’s words were correct. It was true that it was important for Rider to soothe Archer of Red in her current dangerous state. But there a matter that took priority over that. It was something he had to ask Caster in front of him.
“Hmph. I’ll go comfort nee-san later. What I’m more concerned about is—”
“What are we waiting for, you mean?”
“That’s right. You said you had to make preparations, Caster. Preparations for what? …The Black camp is going to arrive here sooner or later. It doesn’t seem like you’re preparing any countermeasures against them.”
“Naturally. In the first place, preparations for that are being taken care of by Assassin—our dear empress.”
“So it seems.”
The Hanging Gardens were a Noble Phantasm, and its owner was that unbearably unlikable Assassin of Red.
She had probably already made a plan for dealing with any attacks against them. Then, just what on earth was Caster, who shouldn’t be capable of using magecraft, doing right now?
“Even if I cannot use magecraft, as a Servant of the Caster class, I have a technique to weave ‘miracles’. Right now, I’m in the midst of making preparations for it, you could say.”
In other words, he meant his Noble Phantasm. Perhaps, like these Hanging Gardens, it required necessary materials or conditions, or perhaps it needed time to activate.
Either way, it was probably something not for battle, but to break out of the deadlock of this situation—thus Rider concluded.
“Now then, I will be on my way—ah, wait a minute. Speaking of which, Rider-dono. Archer of Black is your teacher Chiron, is he not?”
“…What about it?”
“No, I just wanted to ask how you have come to terms with the fate of clashing against your former teacher, even if you’re both Servants now.”
“Do you want to know?”
“Quite,” Caster replied with a nod. Without hesitating, Rider of Red materialized his beloved spear and pointed it at Caster.
“You wouldn’t understand even in a hundred years.”
Rider’s stern gaze radiated blatant killing intent. Rider of Red wasn’t a patient person at all. Regardless of the situation, any further mockery would cost Caster his life.
And, with it unclear whether or not he was aware of this, Caster calmly shrugged.
“So it’s like that. The pride and soul of noble warriors cannot be spoken of in words. In other words, you’re filled with such delight and sorrow to be facing each other as warriors that you cannot express it in mere words!”
“You really don’t listen to people at all, do you!?”
—And, even more annoyingly, when he heard his incredibly complex and indescribable feelings put into words like this, they became unexpectedly simple and clear.
“Damn it, this is giving me a headache.”
Scratching his head in frustration, Rider made his spear vanish. I’ll go make Lancer listen to my complaints, Rider decided as he turned his back on Caster—but he was called out to once again.
“Eventually, I will carve your story into writing as well. So I have a question. Should it be a tragedy, or a comedy?”
Too fed up with threaten Caster again with his spear, Rider replied immediately.
“It’s my life. Interpret it however you want. But, well—”
Suddenly, Rider’s past flashed through his mind. He had been born the child of a hero and a goddess, was separated from his mother at a young age, learned, fought, love, hated, and died in battle.
That was probably something that could be expressed in words. With the infinite words that Shakespeare could spin, he could probably speak of and expose even Rider’s true heart.
However, in the end, that was merely a story.
No matter how accurately it was expressed in words, his life belonged to him alone. That’s why it was all the same to him whether it was a comedy or a tragedy.
Therefore, all that was left to decide was Rider’s own preference.
“Make it a comedy. So ridiculous it makes people laugh. In fact, dying because only my heel is human and it was shot with an arrow is already far beyond ridiculous!”
Rider heartily laughed off his own life. Seeing that, Caster’s smile vanished, and he deeply bowed his head.
“As you wish.”
Even if he had some troubles, Rider believed himself to be fortunate.
At the very least, this second life of his wasn’t filled with only bad things. There was someone he had wished to surpass in the past. The great sage who taught many heroes and knew all manner of martial arts and wisdom.
There was a hero who once had wondered whether he would be able to fight and surpass that man one day.
It was a wish Rider had left behind at some point during his days on the battlefield. But—his wish was now granted. Since it was granted, he treated it as fortunate.
However—Rider of Red still had doubts over whether or not Shirou Kotomine—no, Amakusa Shirou Tokisada’s wish was truly enough to save the world.
He understood the reasoning. It was flawlessly correct. Rider, who understood human karma quite well, even now deemed that Shirou’s plan was worthy for him to devote his spear in support.
But… even so, he had doubts. It was literally a revolution against the human species. There was no predicting what would become of the world afterwards.
But, at the very least, his Master believed in it. It was the conclusion he had reached after many decades. Most likely, he had already experienced the doubts that Rider was feeling.
Was it too fast or too slow? It was a problem that even Heroic Spirits couldn’t reach a conclusion on.
…Amakusa Shirou Tokisada must have seen hell before. He must have certainly witnessed that scene of every single human in his sight sight being massacred. And, even so, he still wanted to save all of humanity.
That’s why Rider of Red decided it was fine to acknowledge him as his Master.
He didn’t think that was wrong. He didn’t, but—
He still had some slight hesitation he couldn’t get rid of. Rider was certain these feelings wouldn’t disappear until he knew that the salvation of humanity had been correctly brought about.