The sky was filled with dazzling stars.
Though the occasionally blowing wind was cold, it wasn’t so bad that it made the body shiver. Seen from the lookout of the Fortress of Millennia, Trifas looked to have finally regained its peace.
Many Yggdmillennia magi were running around, using hypnosis on the people to suppress the panic, acting as doctors to give medical treatment, and acting as policemen to publically announce what happened as a spontaneous outbreak of poison gas. Fiore, who was the acting clan head, had immediately negotiated with the government to bring the state of emergency to a close. Apparently, it had also been announced that the serial killings were resolved.
As he was looking up at the stars, Archer of Black felt a strange sense of disconnection. It wasn’t that anything abnormal had occurred, but rather that a certain thought had suddenly come to mind.
“—The stars haven’t changed even after more than two millennia, huh?”
He had thought that the sky he saw in Greece in the past and the sky he saw now in Trifas would be different, but it hadn’t changed that much.
The lives of humans have changed. History continues to advance. But the way the world works hasn’t changed that much, thought Archer.
People fight, love, think and give directions—Those known as kings may have entirely died out, but the act of ruling itself hadn’t changed that much from when Archer was alive.
…It can’t be helped, he thought.
People could accumulate wisdom and convey knowledge down the generations. But that didn’t mean that their inner instincts changed as well.
If that part of them changed, they would no longer be human, but something else entirely.
Even so—should people aim to become something beyond human?
That whisper he unconsciously muttered was heard by someone behind him.
Archer turned around at the sound of that clear voice.
“Ah, Sieg. What is it?”
He looked behind Sieg for the figures of Rider or Ruler, who were the first and second most likely people to be with him. Noticing Archer’s gaze, Sieg spoke up in a slightly miffed tone.
“The two of them are speaking with your Master. I was just told to bring you a message.”
“Yes… It seems we’ll be departing in five days. You should talk with your Master later to hear the full details.”
“—Is that so?”
Archer understood the meaning of those words very well. It meant that his Master, who was both a magus and a normal human, had decided to live as a normal human.
But despite everything, she had chosen that. Though she would lose many things, she had still chosen that path.
No matter how normal they might be, everyone was pressed to make a choice eventually. The choice of what path to take in their life.
There were exceedingly few people who didn’t regret or waver. But Archer knew that never wavering was not necessarily correct.
No, he wouldn’t mind even if she wavered and made a mistake.
“Archer. I have a question to ask of you with your wisdom.”
Archer was a bit surprised to find that Sieg was still there, since he thought the homunculus would leave right away after delivering the message.
“Yes, what is it?”
Sieg’s handsome, doll-like face was tinged with faint distress.
“I don’t understand.”
His whisper was faint beneath the starry sky.
“What don’t you understand?”
“…Assassin of Black showed me something.”
Sieg spoke of what he had seen.
There were those who exploited and those who were exploited. And at the end of it all were pure lives that were merely plucked away.
It was complete and perfect as a system; no one was in the wrong, and there was no justice to be found anywhere.
The spectacle he had witnessed was one form of hell.
“It’s true that that might not be all there is to humans… But then, I realized. If humans continue to sacrifice the few for the sake of the whole, simply because it’s not very visible… the world might not be that different from that hell.”
With those faltering words, Sieg denounced the world.
The world isn’t beautiful. The world is ugly. Those words—contained a grain of truth.
“…Of course, I don’t know anything about the world. So these thoughts of mine might be absurd to you.”
He said that in a somewhat sulky manner. Archer found that slightly charming.
Now then… it would be simple for Archer to reject what Sieg had said, and putting it into words would be easy for him as well. He could destroy Sieg’s conclusion in just ten words, and with a hundred he could easily persuade him otherwise. After all, Sieg himself wanted to deny his own conclusion. He wanted to believe in Ruler’s words that ‘The world is beautiful’.
But Archer rejected that option.
“…Perhaps so. Sieg, I walked on the earth more than two thousand years ago. People have multiplied since then. They have continued to overcome disasters and battles and to prosper. In the Earth’s long history, the only race to have prospered this much is humanity. But that doesn’t mean that humanity has changed much over those two thousand years. They haven’t changed in the most fundamental sense.”
Sieg looked at Archer in surprise. Archer shook his head as if to say how unbearable it all was.
“I have raised and trained less than a hundred humans. Many of them reached the level where they were called heroes. Of course, that was due to their individual resourcefulness and efforts. I merely gave them a push to support them, but—”
Even so, he felt pride in the pupils he had taught.
Asclepius, who became revered as a god of medicine; the famous hero Heracles; Castor; and the hero who had been summoned as Rider of Red, Achilles. Both those who left their names in history and those who remained buried in anonymity were splendid humans, one and all.
“Even though there were once such great heroes, the world still hasn’t changed. That’s only natural. No human can change their basic instincts.”
No matter how much people trained themselves, there was no human who never felt hunger in their life. If such a feat were achieved, it would probably be some kind of curse.
Humans possessed both reason and instinct. It was impossible to live by reason alone, and living by instinct alone merely made one a beast.
Reason has developed due to the advancement of knowledge. Techniques to restrain instincts have also increased. But—it was impossible to completely negate them.
“However, everything is washed away before the large river of history. It can’t be helped. It can’t be helped, but… As I stand here again in the world two thousand years later, I wonder if there was any meaning in my life. I think such foolish thoughts.”
It truly was foolish.
Archer of Black immediately denied the thoughts that welled up in him. There was no such as a life that had meaning in this world. And there shouldn’t be.
Because your life’s meaning was something that you had to create yourself by moving forward.
“…There is meaning in it. You left your name in history. Your life’s brilliance became part of the stars in the sky and the name of your constellation remains even two thousand years later. I find that enviable.”
The way Sieg seemed to pout as he murmured that was quite amusing to Archer.
“Thank you, Sieg. Now then, I can’t answer your question. But I will give you one piece of advice, if you’ll allow me. Right now, you don’t know what’s good and what’s bad, but you should think about it while following your heart. Accepting the advice of others is useful, but you mustn’t simply obey it.”
“…In the end, I guess I have to think for myself.”
“Is that troublesome?”
Sieg should his head silently. He never once thought it was troublesome. But he felt like he shouldn’t think so much that he came to a standstill.
“That’s true. Simply thinking will merely make you go around in circles.”
“…So I have to act, huh?”
Archer nodded at Sieg’s words.
“That’s right. Act and decide. Right now, you are a living creature that can step firmly upon this earth with your own two feet.”
“…I understand. Archer, living is quite difficult, isn’t it? If even I’m like this, it must be even harder for heroes like you.”
Archer shook his head in denial of Sieg’s words.
“It’s true that living might be difficult to some extent, but not so much as you imagine… Rather, the place from which you started was much harsher.”
Sieg gained self-consciousness within a prana supply tank. The fact that he thought of breaking out from there in the first place was abnormal.
He might have despaired once he understood his situation. He might have been at a loss over what to do. But even so, he chose to move forward.
…That wasn’t an act that anyone could do. Most heroes possessed power, talent and divine blessings from the moment they were born.
He had none of those. Yet even without them—he was continuing to fight in the cruel situation of the Great Holy Grail War. If humans had possibilities hidden within themselves, then an artificial lifeform that was extremely close to humans—a homunculus might also have infinite possibilities hidden within himself.
“…Not really, I think I was just desperate back then.”
However, it seemed the boy himself wasn’t aware of that.
“As long as you have that desperate urge, I’m sure that your worries will be settled someday.”
“I see… Thank you, Archer.”
Sieg honestly thanked him, and then began walking away with a pondering expression. He seemed to be diligently considering Archer’s advice.
“That’s fine, but please do watch your step.”
“I know… ah.”
As soon as he said that, Sieg stumbled. Hearing a muted cry of “Kyah” at the same time, he saw that he had bumped into Archer’s Master as she passed by.
“No, it’s fine.”
After that brief exchange, Fiore moved out onto the lookout where Archer stood. Since her wheelchair couldn’t ascend the stairs, she was using her Bronze-Link Manipulators.
“Did you hear the message from that homunculus?”
“Yes… I heard about how we’ll be leaving in five days.”
Archer of Black understood very well what that meant.
“The Greater Grail will be—”
“Yes, I know. Archer, there are several things I wish to discuss with you. Will you listen?”
“Of course, Master. Shall we go inside?”
“…No, I don’t mind staying here.”
After saying that, Fiore looked up at the sky. Archer looked at her face from the side under the faint illumination of the castle’s lamps—and at the faint traces of tears on her cheeks.
“It might be able to grant my wish, but it will be difficult to take back the Greater Grail itself. It will most likely be retrieved by the Association of Magi.”
Though, even leaving that aside, it was difficult to say whether or not the Greater Grail would be able to grant her wish anyway. The Black camp had no idea what state the Greater Grail was in after being stolen. It probably wasn’t broken, but that was still merely conjecture on their part.
Besides, the enemy was a minor hero of the Far East who had continued to seek the Greater Grail over the course of six decades. Just what on earth was he planning—?
“That is extremely disadvantageous to Yggdmillennia.”
Archer struck at the truth of the matter with a quiet voice. That’s right, if they launched their attack in five days, it would effectively mean defeat for them.
Sooner or later, the other clan members would also find out about this. In that case, Fiore would be completely cornered by them.
“Yes. That’s why I will take responsibility… No, rather, because I won’t take responsibility, I will give up magecraft.”
Silence. Even though he had already understood, Archer uneasily kept silent.
For a magus to give up magecraft—it meant giving up not only their life, but the entirety of their family’s long history as well.
That was unimaginably painful and terrifying. Because she would be destroying something precious that had been gradually accumulated over time.
“Don’t look at me like that, Archer… This is fine. I was finally able to understand. Archer, you realized that I was unsuited to be a magus, right?”
Fiore’s gentle smile didn’t allow Archer to lie.
“…I apologize. After I was summoned, I vaguely became aware of it as I talked with you. Master, you possess excellent and unrivaled talent as a magus. Even now, that is without a doubt true.”
Archer apologized with a sincere expression. Fiore faintly giggled.
“Thank you. Those words make me very happy. But—I never had any talent as a magus. I wasn’t able to think rationally and devote everything to the study of magecraft.”
“I think it would have been fine if you were at least only an isolated magus, Master.”
In that case, she wouldn’t have gotten involved in the Great Holy Grail War, and would never have been installed as the head of Yggdmillennia.
In the first place, magi did not fight out of preference. There were simply battles they had to fight as a result of something they couldn’t give up. If she were isolated, the danger of that would have been low. She might have made the best use of her ability as a magus and eventually left her work to the next generation without ever noticing the truth about herself all her life.
But those were all empty assumptions.
Fiore had been born as the eldest child of the Forvedge family and was made to shoulder various expectations as the candidate for the next Yggdmillennia clan head. She would have noticed it herself eventually. Or someone else would have noticed.
That would have likely led to an unstoppable and fatal situation. Just as Caules had said, this was definitely a turning point for her.
“However, though it may be arrogant of me to say—that makes me happy.”
“You acted not as a magus, but as an individual human towards me. You regarded me not as the deadly weapon known as a Servant, but as a comrade who fights alongside you. No, perhaps it’s precisely because you’re such a soft-hearted person that I was summoned by you.”
Those were extremely unnecessary feelings in a Holy Grail War. She would definitely part with her Servant in the end.
No matter how much they bonded, that alone would not change.
It was a relationship that would eventually end. In that case, it was better to treat each other that way from the start. The Master would treat the Servant as a weapon and the Servant would use the Master as fuel.
Even though it should have been better that way…
“That’s not it at all. I was just afraid of being hated by you, Archer…”
Archer smiled wryly, finding that to be such a human-like answer.
Perhaps noticing it herself, Fiore became shyly embarrassed.
“I’d like to ask one more thing. Archer, are you all right… with fighting Rider of Red?”
“…What do you mean?”
“I saw a dream about you and Achilles. When he was young and you were raising him.”
Fiore spoke of the dream she had seen. The young Achilles had earnestly revered and respected Chiron. And Chiron had also treated him as his own child—and trained him to be a hero.
Family… That truly was the spectacle of a family.
“Archer, Rider was a beloved pupil to you, wasn’t he? I don’t think it’s right for you to fight him…”
She gave a human-like response out of human-like emotion.
She really is a good Master, thought Chiron with a broad smile. But she misunderstood. She wasn’t wrong—but she wasn’t right either.
“Master. It’s true that, just as you say, it might be painful to fight him to some extent. But it also brings me great joy that exceeds that pain.”
“Achilles left my tutelage at around the tender age of ten. And just as promised, he acted as a hero, fought as a hero, and remained a hero right until the moment of his death. The fact that I contributed to those great achievements even a little brings me tremendous joy. And—”
Archer gave a bold smile and clenched his fist.
“I can’t help thinking. His fists were once small and weak, unable to even hit me, but could he beat me now? Has his formerly clumsy skill with the lance become good enough to face my arrows?”
That was the instinct of a warrior. The selfish and pure desire known as fighting spirit that sprouted in all those who cultivated the art of battle in this world. It was the simple wish to fight someone strong, even if they were family.
“I want to fight Rider of Red… Those are my honest feelings.”
“You mean not as a Servant, but as a warrior?”
“…Yes. Of course, it’s also true that there’s need to eliminate him as a Servant.”
“—I see. Hey, Archer. I might be unsuited as a magus, but could it be that you’re also unsuited as a Servant?”
Fiore started giggling.
When she saw Archer think over his own words and then nod meekly, her laughter grew even greater.
“…Do you have regrets over giving up magecraft?”
Archer suddenly asked her that. Fiore cast her eyes down with a slightly sad expression and whispered.
“Of course. It feels painful enough to pierce my heart. Magecraft was something precious to me. So much so that giving it up makes me want to cry in pain and regret.”
When this conversation ended, Fiore would probably cry.
And when she transferred her Magic Crest to Caules later, she would probably cry again.
She would probably suffer through tearing heartache for a while after the war was over.
“…That’s good, Master.”
Though Archer’s words were extremely inappropriate as a reply, Fiore accepted them.
“…Yes. My life wasn’t a waste. Magecraft was such an important part of my life that I knew joy and the pain of loss from it.”
That was why.
That was why she had to throw it away in order to walk a different path.
She would feel sad and lament over it. But there weren’t many things in life that were held so preciously—so she also felt joy over it.
“Thank you, Archer.”
“I didn’t do anything. You chose your path by your own will. And Caules-dono gave you a push from behind.”
Fiore shook her head at those words. If her Servant had been anyone other than Chiron, she would never have been able to make this choice.
It was because this man, who was as gentle and calm as a deep forest, had merely watched over her from behind that she was able to make this choice.
“I’m truly glad that my Servant was you.”
“And having you as my Master was unexpected good fortune for me.”
“Five days from now. Don’t mind me and fight to your heart’s content. That will help in protecting Caules and I.”
They couldn’t break through the obstacles to the Hanging Gardens with just an airplane. Therefore, they had thought up several plans (though there were all brute force strategies).
Having the Master Fiore and the Servant Archer act separately was also one of those plans. The Servant was meant to protect the Master, so Archer’s presence in one place would also expose the location of his Master there.
Therefore, Archer would forget about his Master and act freely.
“Even so, I’ll respond to a summons by Command Spell in an emergency. If something happens, make sure to call me. I may be a failure as a Servant—but I swear upon the stars of Sagittarius that I will protect you.”
Archer took Fiore’s hand and kneeled. Her cheeks turning slightly red, Fiore let Archer kiss the back of her hand.
“Courtesy and etiquette didn’t exist in my era, so forgive me if I’m ill-mannered.”
“Not… at all.”
As she spoke, Fiore laced her hands together as if having accepted something precious.
Their parting was definitely close at hand. Servants were spirits, and even if Chiron were summoned in another Holy Grail War, it wouldn’t be the Archer of Black who was summoned in this Great Holy Grail War.
“Archer, I pray for your victory.”
It was already uncertain what victory or defeat was at this point. But even so, Fiore could only pray and entrust those words to him.
Without saying anything, Archer nodded with a gentle smile.