—The night wore on.
Saber of Red and Shishigou Kairi had left Bucharest and were heading by car to Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Force base, which lay about three hundred kilometers away from the city.
The items Shishigou had requested through the Association of Magi were there. They would no longer return to Bucharest, as their plan was to head to the battlefield next—in other words, to the Hanging Gardens.
The driver Shishigou and Saber of Red in the passenger seat rode the car without exchanging any words. As some melancholy country music flowed out from the car radio, neither of them felt any awkwardness at the silence between them. Saber thought that in itself was strange.
When she’d been alive, she’d never experienced such a silence with anyone else. In most cases, people ran from her, she stood up to take action, or she and the other party hated each other to the point that they were on the verge of killing each other.
There was no one who had let their guard down with her, and there was no one she had let her guard down with. She had thought that was what life, what a knight and what the being known as Mordred was.
She didn’t even find his curt way of talking all that irritating. There were very few cars on the road right now, and even the few sounds on the road merely emphasized the calm and silence.
“…Hey, I said, what is it?”
Shishigou voice was dubious—speaking of which, she had merely called out to him without any question in mind. Perhaps she had merely thought, Now then, what should I ask?
“Ah… I forgot what it was.”
After turning silent again for a little while, Shishigou tilted his head in confusion and muttered.
“…That happens a lot to humans, but does the same apply to Servants?”
“It does, doesn’t it? After all, we’re so real that this is called our second life. Thought we don’t need to eat or sleep.”
“And yet you eat quite a lot—”
“Shut up. That’s not because I’m hungry, but because I’m curious about the taste.”
“As expected of someone born on the island known for having the worst cooking.”
“Stop it with the insults I can’t refute, Master.”
She continued talking with him about this worthless topic even while thinking it was worthless. It was fun, so fun that it made her think it would be even more fun if they had alcohol too.
Why hadn’t she been able to talk like with anyone during her life—? It was obvious; it was because her father hadn’t. As the one who would succeed her father, she couldn’t do anything that her father didn’t.
But the things that her father hadn’t done were so fun.
Did her father never converse with others because it was fun? Or because her father didn’t find it fun? Or did her father merely think it was unnecessary?
It might be all of those reasons. Her father always looked too far ahead. Her father had freely devoted all efforts to build a peaceful country.
Naturally, her father’s knights had always devoted their efforts to that cause. But they were too short-sighted. Though it was necessary to first make a foundation in order to build a castle, they didn’t understand that and merely asked for the castle.
Or perhaps it was the opposite. They were unable to understand what their efforts in the present would bring in the future.
To dry up a village within their territory was a callous and cruel act… They didn’t move a single step from that viewpoint. They didn’t see the victory that lay beyond it. That was only natural; the possibility that they would lose if they didn’t dry up their own territory was merely a hypothetical future.
Naturally, the king had explained to them. They had heard the king’s words that the village was being sacrificed for the sake of victory. But—
—Maybe, maybe they could have won even without drying up their villages?
When they thought like that, distrust towards the king always took root in them… After all, it had been none other than the Knight of Rebellion herself who had said that to instigate them.
The king was isolated, the king was alone—that was a natural, unmistakable fact.
But… maybe it would have been better to talk to each other.
If they had been frank with each other and deepened their mutual understanding, maybe a different path would have appeared—
“What’s with you, suddenly turning silent?”
“Shut up. A future king like me has a lot of worries that ordinary people can’t understand.”
“Yeah, yeah, the imperial court magus will be quiet now.”
When Shishigou said that, Saber of Red suddenly imagined it—Shishigou wearing a robe that just emphasized his suspicious appearance and bending his back like an old man.
She couldn’t help bursting out with laughter.
“It doesn’t suit you at all! It’s no good, Master! You should start by rectifying that fact of yours first.”
“Hey, don’t say things about other people’s faces. Despite how it seems, I’m sensitive about this frightening appearance of mine!”
Saber of Red was a little surprised by those words—and then she realized again. It was a trivial detail, but she had once again learned something new about the person known as Shishigou Kairi.
Just by spending a few days together, she had learned a ton of facts about someone else. How much would she have learned about others if she talked with them during her life?
If she had talked with the king—would she have been able to understand the king?
Even though it was already in the far past, she couldn’t help but regretfully think that way.
“…Are we there yet?”
“Just a little longer. I know you’re bored, but—”
“No, I’m not bored. More importantly, talk to me more, Master. Talk about something trivial and worthless.”
Shishigou smiled bitterly at her pestering tone.
In truth, they still had a long way to go. He was worried that she would be bored, but if she was satisfied just by talking, then that was perfect.
“Can’t be helped. Then let me tell you the story of a man I met on a certain battlefield—”
The Master Shishigou spoke of a trivial tale, and the Servant Saber laughed as she listened to that trivial tale, and then recounted her own few absurd stories from when she was a knight.
This might be the last time I laugh, Saber thought.
She wasn’t scared of dying, and she would feel no despair even if her wish wasn’t granted. She would merely say “That’s how it is” with a light sigh and shrug.
Even if the two of them were blessed with luck in every aspect, made a perfect battle strategy, thoroughly displayed their abilities and got the Holy Grail, their parting would still eventually come.
“…Hey, Master. Is parting sad?”
As a slight urge of weakness sprouted in her, she involuntarily asked that question. She already expected his answer. ‘Parting isn’t sad. If people have memories, they can live on.’
Shishigou, of course, betrayed her expectations when he replied.
“Of course it’s sad. All the more so if it’s an eternal separation. Listen, Saber. To part with someone means you can’t talk with them. Being unable to talk with them means you’ll eternally lose the chance to understand each another. No matter how strongly you’re connected to them—as they fade away into the flow of time, the things you remember about them will also disappear.”
“Then meeting other is pointless?”
“Completely pointless. If we were perfect beings, we wouldn’t need to meet anyone else in the first place. The reason we meet and talk with others is in order to try and fill something we lack within ourselves. But sadly, we’re far from perfect. That’s why we have to fill up our feelings of loneliness by encountering others. In other words—encountering others is a luxury. If you think of it that way, you can endure meeting even the most unpleasant of people.”
“…What contrary logic.”
Saber’s amazed voice made Shishigou heartily laugh. Indeed, what he said wasn’t mistaken. It was a trivial conversation without any potential for anymore more, an act that wasted time in a completely pointless manner.
It was such a luxury, such precious time spent—
All the more so for a Servant. Normally, a Servant would only fight, fight and fight until everything was over, after all.
“So well, let’s enjoy this luxury while we have the chance. Now then, back to my story—”
Shishigou continued talking—and she listened to that trivial story while closing her eyes.
—The night wore on.
Like Rider of Black and Caster of Red, Archer of Red didn’t like going into spiritual form very much. She preferred perceiving the feel and smell of the earth.
There was practically none of the smell of iron which she hated in the Hanging Gardens, but she couldn’t sniff the smell of trees or earth either. And most of all, she couldn’t hear the laughter of children here.
Since the dawn of history, the ones who were most exploited in this world were children. Many children simply cried and died without ever being able to smile and laugh.
Each time she thought that, Archer was struck by despair strong enough to tear out her heart. The world should have been simple. A world where all children laughed only required adults to give a little concern and help.
And yet they trampled over, abused and never gave love to the young ones born into this world, who they should have been considered half of themselves.
Having once been one of those children, Archer could understand quite well. How cruel and painful it was. And also—how joyous it felt to have her pleading hand grasped by someone else.
“—That’s right. That’s why I won’t deny you all. I’ll accept you. I’ll love you. I’ll truly love you all.”
Looking at her discolored right arm, Archer smiled. The vengeful spirits continued to whisper.
Kill, kill, kill, kill everyone, kill every last one of them.
…It was abnormal. Low-class vengeful spirits could only repeat the desires from when they were alive. If they wanted to ‘return’, they would continue to earnestly seek to return. Even if a hundred or a thousand years passed, as long as they existed as spirits, that wouldn’t change.
But the vengeful spirits possessing Archer’s right arm had changed their wish. Was it born from Archer of Red’s own desire, or was it because the vengeful spirits actually understood Archer’s love and hatred? Even Archer herself didn’t know.
She was certain of only one thing.
Her wish was absolutely correct, and the fates of the children in the world hanged in the balance. She couldn’t afford to lose. Even if—she became a beast that froze the hearts of those who saw her.
That’s right, she had that power. Not her power as a hero, but the power of a Monstrous Beast of punishment sent by the gods—but if it was for the sake of these children, she would happily become a beast.
So just wait a little longer. It’s all right, I’ll gladly become the cornerstone for you all.
She whispered while holding her right arm closely.
Her right arm replied to Archer’s words with a faint “Thank you”. At the very least, she [heard] it.
As long as she had this voice, she could fight. She could kill. She could trample over all obstacles and destroy all evil.
Even if she was exterminated as a monster, she would let herself fall into destruction while smiling—
—The night wore on.
Rider of Red took the ‘poisonous serpent’ stance with his spear. It was an effective style where he held the middle part of the handle and could use quick thrusts while warding off the enemies attacks. He aimed at the stomach of his enemy, Chiron, with that stance.
However, the attack was avoided quite naturally by the enemy screwing his body with a side step.
The enemy saw through Rider’s movements. The moment he took this stance, the enemy understood where he would aim.
—How should he respond as he pitched forward in readiness? After remaining vigilant for a counter and dodging to the left or right, the enemy used a punch or kick. There was an 80% chance the enemy would do a roundhouse kick and attack at the same time as he twisted his torso; that was the most logical course of action. That’s why, now that he was pitching forward, the enemy would be forced to aim at his head. How should he defend himself? He could draw back his spear and thrust it again… but it wouldn’t make it in time. He could lower his head and dodge… but that would cause his stance to collapse even further.
Cut and retry.
He resolutely set up his first move by jumping and then thrusting—Retry.
He tried to thrust after tripping his enemy up—Retry.
He swiped his spear horizontally, turned around as the attack was blocked and swiped his spear again. He aimed at the knees and thrusted downwards—No good. Retry.
“Damn it, nothing works.”
Rider of Red closed his eyes with a sigh. His palms were soaked with sweat. The back of his neck was cold, and his entire body hurt as if he’d actually been punched and kicked everywhere.
Rider was imagining a hypothetical one-on-one battle against Archer of Black in a situation where they were on a flat field without any obstacles.
In the end… he had gone over five battles, and made mistakes and lost each time. As long as he fought with the spear that Archer had taught him how to use, all his combos were seen through. Additionally, Archer’s power of observation was practically on the level of future sight. If Rider tried to use a surprise attack, Archer would read it and deal him a counterattack.
Naturally, the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The way Rider lunged with his spear was truly divine speed incarnate. Even if his attacks were seen through, they couldn’t all be avoided. In the hypothetical battle just now, he had fought in a situation where his speed was not taken into account.
But he couldn’t say for sure that it wouldn’t actually go that way. Archer of Black’s skills knew no depth. He was perfectly balanced in all aspects; that was precisely why all heroes sought to be trained by him. Moreover, Servants were summoned in the form of their prime. Though his appearance was human, his stats were of that when the being known as Chiron was at his most perfect.
If he ignored all their feelings and bonds in the coming battle and simply considered and compared their respective power, Archer of Black was the enemy wanted to fight the least. Therefore, Rider always imagined the worst situation as he fought—and continued to lose each time.
“…I feel like I keep making a mistake right from the first move.”
Since his opponent had greater battle power than him, making a mistake right from the start was fatal. Since they both knew almost all of each other’s moves, he could tell the fight would end in this manner by logically thinking it through.
Since both of them moved completely logically, the first one to make a mistake would lose.
However, there was a strong possibility that such a situation wouldn’t occur. The only thing that the Black camp had which could deal with his chariot was the other Rider’s Hippogriff. His opponent couldn’t fly no matter how he struggled.
These conditions wouldn’t be overturned unless something significant was done.
But on the other hand, the enemy should also be desperate to overturn this situation. The Black camp might use a plan that he himself couldn’t think of.
In that case, his opponent would definitely aim for him. He knew that since he would definitely do the same if he were in the same position.
That was because he possessed a body that couldn’t be harmed except by those with divine blood—and “he” was the only Servant on the other side who had divine blood.
…No, such reasons didn’t matter.
Rider knew. His quivering muscles, creaking bones and boiling cells whispered to him.
—The one to fight that man will be you.
—You are the only one who has the right to fight him.
It wasn’t that he wanted to kill his opponent. He didn’t hate him either. This was a pure contest of strength; he wouldn’t hate his opponent even if he lost, and he wouldn’t bear a grudge even if he was killed.
He just wanted to fight him, to swing his clenched fists, to kick and to pierce him with his spear.
How strong was he compared to the teacher he had once loved and respected? He wanted to show him. In life, he had been extolled as a hero by everyone. But his teacher had never seen his exploits after their final parting.
He was proud.
Just like other heroes such as Heracles and Jason, he was incredibly proud of having been taught by Chiron. And yet, his teacher had always merely smiled calmly. He felt no pride in granting wisdom and strength to young heroes like Achilles. Neither did he feel jealous of them for being praised as heroes.
“Of course. Even without me, they would have naturally become heroes on their own eventually. I merely gave them a little push from behind. But you know, Achilles. That act… that act of giving them a little push is something I take great pride in—”
Chiron had once said that to Achilles when he was young. This might be a thought that suddenly came to Achilles at that time. Or perhaps it was something he always thought about while he was being taught—
Achilles thought to himself that Chiron, who continued to teach and guide others, had never once fought seriously.
And at the same time, he also thought that he wanted to drag out his great teacher’s—full power.
The Great Holy Grail War truly was a miracle unto itself.
Depending on the situation, they both might not be able to display their power to perfection.
But that moment would come. It would definitely come. Rider intended to devote this final remaining day to training.
The night wore on, and the sun would soon rise again. But Rider continued to glare through the darkness without closing his eyes.
Error, retry, miss, retry.
Rider of Red continued to repeat hundreds of battles in order to take down Archer of Black—
—The night wore on.
In a small spring within the confines of the Hanging Gardens which ruled the sky, Lancer of Red bathed himself out of habit. Naturally, Servants had no need to clean themselves, but his habits from when he was alive wouldn’t go away.
Karna silently washed his body while gazing at the mysterious phenomenon of the water flowing upstream.
In contrast to his magnificent armor and dazzling spear, Karna preferred the simple life.
In the first place, he himself had never wished for his armor or spear. His armor was given to him due to his mother’s supplication to the gods, and he received his spear in exchange for giving up his armor.
The reason he had lived after being abandoned by his mother was due to the power humbly bestowed upon him by his father and the armor he had received thanks to his mother.
He always lived without ever sullying his father’s name.
That guiding principle of his hadn’t changed even now in his second life. So naturally, he had to obey his Master as a Servant. Lancer of Red refused to commit any act that would sully his father’s name.
However, his Master had already been restrained even before Lancer had been summoned, a problem that went beyond merely the matter of how he acted.
His Master continued to view a dream with empty eyes. He couldn’t communicate with him, and there was no chance of mutual understanding. The only thing Lancer understood from his ramblings was that his Master mistakenly thought that he had obtained the Holy Grail.
Knowing that was enough for Lancer. He would obtain the Holy Grail and grant his Master’s wish… Of course, he knew full well how difficult that would be to accomplish.
He probably wouldn’t manage to get it. The Holy Grail was right before his eyes, but this wasn’t a situation where he would take it away that easily, and most of all—Lancer of Red’s Master had been changed to Amakusa Shirou Tokisada, the one who currently possessed the Grail.
He had no intention of betraying his former Master, but he couldn’t go against Shirou. He was completely cornered in every direction.
However, such a situation was par for the course for Karna, the Hero of Charity. He held no grudge against his former Master or his current Master Shirou.
He merely did what he could within the range of actions that were available to him.
He merely give the things that were asked from him as long as it was possible.
And he always accepted everything solemnly no matter the result.
—No, perhaps not quite everything.
Lancer of Red recalled the one thing he had continued to obsess over.
There was person, one hero in this world that had continued to stir up Karna’s heart.
His name was Arjuna. ‘Kiritin: The Shining Diadem’, ‘Vijaya: The Victor’, ‘Dhananjaya: The Prosperous One’—he was a man who had various names and was loved by all.
If Karna was a man who had everything taken from him in exchange for his spear and armor, Arjuna was a man who had received everything with no compensation in return.
Was the emotion Karna held within him envy? Or was it something else entirely?
Karna had never known the answer to that right until the very end. After all, as someone who had never envied anything or anyone, he had been unable to concretely put a name to the feelings that stirred his heart.
…Soon after this Great Holy Grail War began, he had received another chance to find out.
Saber of Black—Lancer could tell that that man held traces of Arjuna somewhere in him. When he heard of his true name from Shirou Kotomine afterwards, Lancer had understood the reason for that.
The tragic hero from a royal bloodline who had obtained wealth, prestige and everything else—Siegfried.
But unlike Arjuna, his end was terribly tragic.
An untimely death due to a sneak attack. Without even the time to swing his dragon-slaying sword, the invincible Siegfried had his only weak point attacked and lost his life.
Karna thought of all the various Heroic Spirits participating in the Great Holy Grail War as unique and rare beings.
He thought of his allies as comrades to work with and his enemies as rare warriors of valor. In that sense, Karna ‘comprehended’ the other Heroic Spirits more deeply than anyone else.
But the only one he held a personal interest in was Saber of Black. Though they had exchanged few words, Lancer had glimpsed into the man after exchanging hundreds and thousands of blows with their respective weapons.
A man who was very similar to Arjuna, but at the same time hungered for something.
A man who held no regrets over his untimely end, but instead sought something new.
And—a just hero, so evident that anyone could tell. He had wished to fight Lancer of Red once more and saw him as an enemy that must be defeated. That was the greatest honor and joy for a warrior like Lancer.
That battle, and that promise. Had there ever been anything else that made him boil so much with excitement before? He felt gratitude for the actions and warm conversations of humans. But that was far removed from ‘selfishness’. He had never possessed a desire and joy that made him seethe.
But he found it on the battlefield. Now that he thought back, Karna had only encountered joy on the battlefield. His entire existence was focused on the tip of his spear. It was the only instant where he was released from the thoughts of the people he allied with and could freely run forth as his ‘bared self’.
The sparks of clashing weapons were twinkling stars to Karna. A worthy enemy who could easily push back his bared self and told him to give it his all. Thought it was arrogant of him, it was enough to make him think that his entire life had been for the sake of tasting the joy of that moment. That’s why, when Saber of Black disappeared, when the prospects of another fight vanished in the empty sky, Lancer had felt unspeakable regret.
Saber of Black had disappeared.
But—he still hadn’t died. Lancer didn’t know the reason behind it, but Saber was still in this world even now.
In that case… their promise was also still valid.
Naturally, Lancer understood that ‘he’ was a being far removed from Saber of Black. Lancer understood that ‘he’ was a being who had been born with everything taken away from him, even more so than Lancer, and yet still struggled to live.
But a promise was a promise. It couldn’t be changed. Back then, Karna and Siegfried had wagered each other’s lives, battled with deadly technique and put off the conclusion for later.
—They had sworn on their names to definitely fight and unleash their utmost power against each other. It was a trust founded on their very lives. To break it would be equal to insulting that man’s life.
He had surely entrusted something to the one who had now become Saber of Black. Lancer believed that ascertaining that was would tie to the promise they’d made.
Thus, Lancer of Red lived, in order to protect his Master to the end of the war and fulfill his promise with Saber of Black.