—It appeared she was seeing a dream.
The family who had taken upon the name of Shishigou had moved to a gloomy land in a Far East island nation where it seemed to rain all-year-round. Fair weather only lasted for a shoot time during summer. On most days, the skies were covered with dark grey clouds.
It was a desolate place, where people had to use up all their will and energy just to survive.
Even if they were magi, they needed food to survive. All the more so for fallen magi like them. They had to start over using worthless spells that couldn’t be called proper magecraft and gaining the trust of the native people.
“We can still make it, we can still make it, we can still make it…”
What do you mean, ‘you can still make it’? They had already reached their end. They had reached an unsolvable impasse; their Magic Crest had decayed and their power wasn’t even a tenth of that from their golden age. Their Magic Circuits were becoming more meager with each generation, and they would eventually end up becoming merely people who ‘know about magecraft’.
The insult, indignity and humiliation of it all. The end result which all magi wanted to avoid at any cost. The worst possible conclusion, where they didn’t lose their lives in a challenge to learn of the abyss or in a gruesome battle between magi, but rather simply became meaningless.
No, I hate that, I hate ending like that, I hate it, hate it…
They whined unreasonably like children and sought help from other magi they were acquainted with out of desperation. Although the family had done so much for them back in their heyday, they all scorned the family and showed nothing but contempt.
“O pitiful clan. You are all already finished.”
“How can we help those whose Magic Circuits are dying out?”
“It’s sad, but this is also the fate of magi. No matter what you say or do, your wish won’t be granted.”
In the end, the one who granted their wish wasn’t any of those other magi. Instead, they made a curse-like contract with a mysterious being that resembled an evil spirit.
“Well, I shall promise you prosperity.”
It cackled in amusement.
“However, this is only a loan, so remember that you’re fated to someday have it all end in an instant, understood—?”
The family said that they didn’t care. They would progress their magecraft until that day. They could come up with any number of methods to deal with it. Even if they couldn’t, their descendants surely would, someday—
They had felt prejudice and contempt towards the branch of mystical techniques in this remote land. Their new magecraft was primitive and vulgar, far removed from their sense of aesthetics.
However, on the other hand, this craft was so simple and sturdy that it was beautiful. How foolish and shallow they once were. The family passed their knowledge down the generations, warned their children and grandchildren the curse and repeatedly ordered them to come up with a measure to deal with it as quickly as possible.
Their time of prosperity was like the account of a dream. Their thesis was recognized and the Clock Tower welcomed the Shishigou family back without hiding their surprise. ‘I don’t know how you managed to make this comeback, but how wonderful. We welcome you—’
And then, their fall once more came in the blink of an eye.
They didn’t stumble down a hill, but were pushed off a cliff. Cruel treatment? Not at all. They had prepared themselves for this—however, it was a problem that they had forced upon their descendants.
Shishigou Kairi was the beginning of the end. He was the greatest masterpiece among the children the Shishigou family had given birth to until now. Having surpassed his father and attained even greater mysteries of their magecraft, he was the pride of their family.
He was introduced and married to a wife. Having not forgotten about the curse for even a moment, the family first confirmed whether he could conceive children.
And then, they realized that it had finally started.
“It’s no good. Kairi doesn’t have the ability to conceive. There are no abnormalities in his body, so this is definitely the work of the curse. Unbelievable, it has finally begun—”
First, they attempted to make it possible for him to conceive children using every kind of method. They used various medicines, performed every ritual possible and used their connections and a great deal of money to have him examined by magi who specialized in medical magecraft.
Every one of them failed miserably. They did manage to make it possible for him to conceive for an instant. But the children died immediately after being born no matter how many times they repeated it. The children would be born, melt and then fade away.
His wife immediately decided to divorce him. She spoke to him with cold, indifferent eyes.
“You really are a splendid magus. You even toy with your own children.”
She’s right, thought Kairi. His children always died upon being born—due to his duty to his family. They died no matter what he did—as if he had killed them himself.
His wife’s family also understood at this point how far the Shishigou family had fallen and quickly washed their hands of them.
Kairi and his wife had been the best couple in terms of their qualifications as magi. That’s why the Shishigou family had continued to obsess over having them give birth to a child. But at that point, the family decided they had no other choice but to adopt a child as the next successor.
The Shishigou family was desperate. They thought that, since nothing else worked, they should have Kairi pass on the Magic Crest to another child through some means. Even an adopted child would do for them.
…Even after having reached this point, it was hard to say whether they had understood the true meaning of the ‘curse’. The condition of the contract they had made was to give up magecraft when Shishigou Kairi was born.
The act itself of producing a magus to be his successor was impossible.
Without realizing that, they somehow discovered a young girl who was a distant relative with good compatibility. When they were introduced to each other, Kairi felt plainly depressed, knowing how scary-looking he was.
In other to further increase the Crest’s compatibility with her, Kairi began living together with her.
“With this, I’ll be able to become a magus just like Onii-sama. I’m so happy—”
She murmured that with a smile. She was a frail and meek young girl. Every time it rained and there was thunder, her condition would worsen. When she heard that her body would also become sturdier once the Magic Crest was transplanted to her, she smiled happily. However, her poor health would continue until it was transplanted. It couldn’t be helped, so Kairi would read a book out loud to her when she went to sleep.
“I feel a bit sad that you won’t read any books to me anymore once I become a magus, though—”
She said that, hanging her head in regret. Kairi muttered back, “Once you become healthy, you can read all the books you want.” But when she sulked and said, “That’s not what I mean”, he finally realized that she wanted him to read to her.
“It can’t be helped then. I’ll read books to you until you get tired of it.” When he said that, she finally brightened.
Never before or after this—
—did Kairi experience such gentle, happy days in his entire life.
…all suddenly vanished like magic on a certain day.
They cremated her body, which had turned violet after death. Following the customs of this land, and most of all fearing pollution of the soil, they burned her in fire. Kairi didn’t cry. There was no way he could.
The one who had turned his eyes away more than anyone else from the possibility that it might turn out like this was Shishigou Kairi himself.
He had hoped that it might work. His father and the rest of the family had told him that it would be fine, so he had held onto the hope that it would all work out.
But it was all lies. He couldn’t blame anyone else for what happened.
After all, Kairi had wanted to become her father. He had cruelly crushed her with that dream.
That was the truth; it was all he was left with. Tear, apologies and anything else were far out of his reach.
Shishigou Kairi calmly accepted curse in its entirety. He had searched through books, thought it all over to the point of madness, and in the end—he decided to accept that it was over.
After that, he only did things that would throw away his life. Even for a necromancer, modern battlefields were far too dangerous.
He was no longer a magus, but more like a mere user of magecraft—no, that’s exactly what he was. But inside his heart, he didn’t care, like a man who knew death was near and wasted all the wealth he had accumulated over the years.
Perhaps due to having the devil’s luck, or perhaps because he, at the very least, refused to choose death by his own hands, Shishigou Kairi somehow managed to continue surviving in a state of being half alive. The other half of him had died when the girl had.
Each time he shed blood and collapsed on the battlefield, he remembered.
“The next time you wake up, please call me father—”
That’s right. He carried the sin of having wished for her to call him that. It was hard, painful and bitter, and dying would only make it all easier—and so he would tightly clench his hands, spit out blood and get back up each time.
Years passed. His once soft husk became hard like steel, and the hands he once used to write thesis papers became marred with countless scars.
He searched for corpses and processed them, thought up spells, and made money and wasted it immediately after.
He carried that sin.
He carried that sin, so he still lived, having yet to find a way of atonement.
At the very least, he felt as if he were dead.
And thus, when he reached the present, Shishigou Kairi encountered the Holy Grail. He was introduced to it.
His knowledge as a magus told him that reviving the dead was impossible.
His experiences of running across battlefields told him that the possibility was equal to zero.
Even so. Even so, he might find something. While half-despairing and suppressing the hope that swelled within him—he reached out for the Holy Grail.
The reason he sought the Holy Gail was simply that.
This was a common, childish story that could be found all over the world in a variety of different situations.
But that was precisely why Shishigou Kairi’s passionate desire for the Holy Grail was real.
It was a method to satisfy his extremely tiny pride as a magus that he himself wasn’t even aware he still had, and at the same time the method of atonement that he had finally found. And in the deepest depths of his instincts, he knew.
He knew that that this was the place where Shishigou Kairi would die.
When she awakened, Saber of Red spoke up.
“Don’t show me such a stupid dream, idiot Master.”
“Sorry for showing you a stupid dream, but I’m not an idiot, you know…”
Perhaps having an idea of what she dreamed about, Shishigou grimaced.
According to the [Spirit Board], the rogue Assassin of Black had been killed. There were no other casualties among the Black camp. As expected, it was likely easy for them to take down Assassin with Rider and Archer on their side.
Shishigou Kairi and Saber of Red had already left Trifas. The Greater Grail was no longer there, and this wasn’t the time to leisurely remain in enemy territory.
They went to Romania’s capital Bucharest, and there they worked hard to gather information on the Hanging Gardens.
This time, instead of sleeping bags, they rented a hotel room. Yggdmillennia’s clout in Romania was quite large, but even their influence vanished in the capital. Still, they rented two suites on the top floor under a pseudonym, and just in case used a suggestion spell to ‘peacefully’ take over someone else’s room.
…Saber, who had enjoyed the view from the top floor suite, couldn’t help becoming sulky when she couldn’t see anything out of the window of their borrowed room. “You can go use the suite room for yourself,” Shishigou suggested, but Saber immediately rejected it.
“No, no. As a Servant, I have to protect my Master.”
She folded her arms and spoke just like a Servant would.
Shishigou desperately held back from asking, ‘Did you eat something bad?’, and instead merely said, “I see.”
“So you should move to the suite room, Master. It’s okay, I’ll be by your side!”
However, though Shishigou himself had judged that the suite room was 90% likely to be safe, he couldn’t sleep there while thinking of the remaining 10% uncertainty. He was quite prone to worrying.
“…You were much more desperate in my dream, though, Master.”
“I don’t know what kind of dream you saw, but as a bounty hunter, I always take precautions. Right down to the little details.”
Even if he’ll eventually die, he should die after having done everything he could. That was Shishigou Kairi’s stance towards the world.
Saber of Red seemed dissatisfied, but it appeared she didn’t think of leaving her Master’s side even so.
After Shishigou had gotten the room and settled in, he decided to make his regular report. Technically, he should probably report to Rocco Belfegan, the one who hired him, but he was an old-fashioned magus who forbade reports by telephone or email—he didn’t have such devices in the first place.
Since he wasn’t going to use a sluggish enchanted communication tool that would take forever, Shishigou decide to make a simple report to El Melloi II, who did have a cellphone, instead of Belfegan.
[Hmm, I understand the situation… It really is quite serious.]
El Melloi curtly summarized the current situation in a cool-headed tone. Just as he said, the situation truly was serious.
Though the Greater Grail being stolen was a serious matter in and of itself, there was also the additional fact that it was stolen not by the Association of Magi, but by a member of the Holy Church and, furthermore, the Ruler of the Third Holy Grail War in [Fuyuki], Amakusa Shirou Tokisada.
Naturally, the Association was already taking action. Though its relationship with the Church had greatly deteriorated and fallen into an all-out stand-off for a short while, the moderate factions of both sides had apparently desperately worked to reconcile and end the conflict without incident.
The Church wasn’t going to take action this time. In the first place, the mediating priest Shirou had simply gone mad and betrayed them. Therefore, it was only proper for them to choose to wash their hands of him… Fortunately, the Church hadn’t been learned that Shirou was actually Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. Though the possibility was low, it couldn’t be dismissed that they might interfere in the Great Holy Grail in order to protect or use him.
“You got that right. So, how’s the request I made last time coming along?”
El Melloi didn’t react at all to Shishigou’s presumptuous words and replied indifferently.
[No problem. It’s being prepared at the location you designated. I’ll send you the password later.]
“Roger that. Also, there’s one more thing I’d like to ask—”
[Like you thought, I can’t sense any prana from the enemy on my end either. Most likely, it’s due to Assassin of Red’s… Semiramis’ personal skill or Noble Phantasm.]
“As expected, huh?” Shishigou clicked his tongue. He had thought that it would be possible to track a Noble Phantasm that used such a large amount of prana anywhere, but it appeared that Semiramis’ class of ‘Assassin’ wasn’t just for show.
Most likely, it was a top-class unique Noble Phantasm even among the many Noble Phantasms that Servants had used in past Holy Grail Wars.
A sword that annihilates the enemy by shooting a beam of light, armor that rejects all attacks, a war chariot that flies swiftly through the sky, a book that summons an endless stream of monsters, or something else even more unique and mysterious—there existed all different kinds of Noble Phantasms.
However, even among the many Noble Phantasms possessed by heroes, a moving fortress was unheard of. Moreover, it was currently storing the Holy Grail within itself. The situation was nothing but nightmare to the Association.
[Will you be able to pursue it?]
“No problem, the Yggdmillennia magi are constantly observing it with their familiars. They seem to have an idea where it is.”
[Do you think the Hanging Gardens might be heading out of Romania?]
Shishigou thought over El Melloi’s question for a little while. The chances of it were extremely high. After all, it was a flying fortress. No matter how slow its speed was, they couldn’t stop it from leaving the country.
“Its flight speed is unknown. We can’t be certain yet.”
[I see. We’ve already sent squads tasked with recovering the Greater Grail to the countries bordering Romania. Depending on the situation, they’ll immediately go to recover it.]
He had expected it, but it seemed the Association was prepared to act at a moment’s notice. That was only natural. After all, this was not just a matter of getting a wish granted—they might be able to get their hands on the Greater Grail itself. Should the Clock Tower get a hold of it, it was likely that the next Holy Grail War would break forth immediately afterwards.
…Was there really any room for him to grant his own wish at this point?
“—What was that, Master? Are those guys planning to seize the Holy Grail!?”
Saber yelled loudly behind him. Shishigou froze—and even El Melloi on the other end of the phone call was shaken by the shout.
[W-What was that just now?]
“I’m sorry. My Servant just—”
Ignoring Shishigou’s attempt to smooth things over, Saber quickly grabbed the phone from him and shouted into it.
“Hey! I’m saying this just in case, but the Holy Grail is ours! I won’t let you get guys try to snatch it by sneaking in from behind! Got it!?”
While El Melloi was shocked and Shishigou was frantically trying to snatch back the phone, Saber of Red continued talking as she kept Shishigou at bay with one hand.
“Answer me, magus! We won’t hand the Holy Grail over to you until it grants our wishes! Got it!?”
Satisfied with that response, Saber of Red threw the phone back to Shishigou.
“Ah… I’d like it if you’d forgive my Servant’s words as just a little joke.”
Shishigou apologized while preparing himself for the worst. After a long silence, El Melloi surprisingly didn’t become indignant, but rather laughed as if slightly amused.
[Pardon my laughter. It seems we’ve both been troubled by our respective Servants.]
[I’ll overlook that outburst just now. The recovery team will move in swiftly, so you should grant your wish as quickly as possible.]
The call ended there, and Shishigou let out a sigh.
“Hey, didn’t you say something rude about me just now?”
“I didn’t. Rather, you were the one who… no, never mind. The situation hasn’t changed all that much.”
In the end, for Shishigou Kairi to survive to the end of the war, his Servant would also have to necessarily remain alive at that point. Shishigou had wanted to keep his Servant’s identity a secret for as long as possible and slow the Association’s recovery operation should the worst happen—but if his Servant died, he didn’t think he’d be able to survive in that situation.
“Right, right! As long as you continue to seek the Holy Grail, I’ll be your Servant, Master!”
“Don’t worry, I haven’t given up. Now then, I have to do a little work. You can go and act freely on your own. You can go the hotel’s top floor, go sightseeing, or anything else you want.”
“Hmm… Is that really all right?”
“I’m going to be holed up in this room for a while. Just make sure to return by evening.”
“Okay. Then I’ll take you up on your offer.”
When his Servant, who was as boisterous as a poltergeist, left the room, Shishigou sighed in relief.
After that, he took out a conspicuously large bottle from his luggage. It was the young Hydra corpse preserved in formalin that he had received as compensation for this job. He had already processed its heads into a dagger, but he hadn’t had the time to use up all of its heads, so he had set it aside in a half-dissected state.
“Rider of Red is Achilles… In that case, Archer of Black is either Chiron… or maybe Paris?”
Naturally, Archer of Black’s true name was information that hadn’t been provided to Shishigou by Yggdmillennia. Even so, based on the way Archer had talked when they were explaining the situation and planning countermeasures, Shishigou could easily tell that there was a connection between Rider of Red and Archer of Black.
Achilles… he was the greatest hero who had participated in the Trojan War, but there were two bowmen who had been deeply connected to him during his life.
The first was Paris. The man who had been the trigger for the Trojan War and who had also dealt the fatal blow to Achilles.
Having learned of Achilles only weakness, his heel, and having been possessed by the sun god Apollo, Paris had splendidly shot Achilles’ heel even as Achilles didn’t stop moving or rest for an instant on the battlefield.
He was pretty much Achilles’ a mortal enemy. And at the same time, Paris had an extraordinary personal grudge against Achilles.
After all, Paris’ older brother, the great hero Hector, had been killed by Achilles and then had been submitted to the indignity of having his corpse dragged across the battlefield by Achilles’ chariot.
If Paris were Archer of Black… that would mean that he had been talking nostalgically about his brother’s killer back when they met.
It wasn’t impossible, considering the unique sense of values that heroes often had. However, it was definitely unnatural. But there was one other bowman who was deeply connected to Achilles’ life.
It was none other than the man who raised Achilles, the greatest sage among the centaurs, Chiron.
Of course, Archer had a human form and lacked the lower body of a horse that should be the proof of being a centaur. However, that wasn’t anything to be surprised by. After all, Chiron was born from a god and a goddess, and was a great sage who was extremely close to being a Divine Spirit.
He could probably freely take the form of a half-horse and the form of a human at will.
…Yeah, if Archer was Chiron, then it also made sense how he had wounded Rider of Red who possessed divinity. Also, Archer’s great depth of wisdom that seemed to apply to everything was more characteristic of Chiron than Paris.
However—if Archer was Chiron, then that meant…
“…Yeah, it’s possible.”
On the other hand, Shirou, who was of the Ruler class, was on the Red side. After having met face-to-face in the Hanging Gardens’ chapel, everyone who had been there knew each other’s true names now thanks to Shirou and Ruler.
Chiron had been there, and so had Achilles. And the problem was one of the other Servants who had been there.
Shishigou thought about what result that would bring about—and made a decision.
Breaking down the knife he had previously made, he started constructing a new magical tool.