The very existence of the temple Noble Phantasm Hanging Gardens of Babylon was miraculous in itself, but the basement room containing the ‘altar’ that stored the Greater Grail was an especially strange room within the gardens.
First, its size was clearly abnormal. Considering the total size of the Hanging Gardens, there was no way for there to be any space within so huge its wall were out of sight, but even someone with eyes accustomed to darkness couldn’t see where this vast room ended. Most likely, space was being distorted here through some form of magecraft.
The floor and walls were all rough and uneven like mortar, except for the area at the center of the room, where the floor was completely smooth. Beyond a series of sun-dried brick stairs that led to the very center, the stolen Fuyuki Greater Grail hovered motionlessness in the air.
It faintly radiated a pale light, looking as if the moon itself had been summoned into this room.
But what was even more astonishing was this room’s ceiling… in other words, the part that served as the ‘sky’ here.
There was ‘water’ running along the ceiling. It was an upside down lake. Upon its surface floated lotuses of a myriad of vibrant colors—it was like looking at rainbow-colored sky.
This phenomenon was brought about by the concept of reversal that ruled over the Hanging Gardens. The water flowed upwards from the ceiling to the space above, and that water went on to fill the ceiling in the throne room.
In other words, the water-filled ceilings of this alter room and the throne room were linked, and it was impossible to tell which one was actually located in the basement of the gardens.
“Dear me… I feel like my sense of reality turns topsy-turvy every time I come to this place.”
Caster of Red smiled wryly as he looked at the ceiling. Ripples occasionally spread through the water in the sky due to the mana filling the Greater Grail.
Caster of Red—Shakespeare—was a man who’d been born in an era where magecraft and mysteries weren’t openly exposed to the public. He’d had virtually no opportunity to witness shamans cause a miracle through prayers to their objects of worship or famous magi display impossible phenomena.
Clairvoyant witches and curses were commonplace in his stories—but those were merely products of Shakespeare’s imagination. The range of his imagination was limitless and could perform terrifyingly huge leaps that could picture anything in detail.
That’s why it was rare for him to express amazement and awe like this. However, that was perhaps only natural considering the sheer abnormality of the Hanging Gardens and the Greater Grail.
Shirou Kotomine was standing directly below the Greater Grail in the center of the room.
Upon noticing Caster’s arrival, Shirou lightly waved his hand in greeting.
“Caster. My Noble Phantasms are ready.”
“Yes, Master. I’ve also finished preparing my Noble Phantasm.”
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada’s Noble Phantasms—Right Hand, Evil Eater: Right Arm, Transgression Consumption and Left Hand, Xanadu Matrix: Left Arm, Foundation of Heaven’s Gift.
Caster of Red’s Noble Phantasm—First Folio: Let the Curtains Rise to Thunderous Applause.
Their respective Noble Phantasms were neither weapons bestowed by the gods nor famous mounts obtained during adventures.
Shirou’s Noble Phantasms were the materialization of the miracles he had bestowed onto people in life.
Caster of Red’s Noble Phantasm was the [book] he had never managed to write during his lifetime.
Either way, these Noble Phantasms were merely the embodiment of their legends.
Neither one could face an army, let alone destroy a fortress. In terms of Servant rankings, they were both undoubtedly third-rate.
But, only at this very moment—only when they combined their Noble Phantasms together was their value completely upturned.
A holy sword or a divine spear could destroy the Greater Grail.
But among the Servants in the Great Holy Grail War, the only ones who could take control of the Greater Grail were these two.
“I’ve already connected the ‘thread’. It’s what supplies the prana to you and the other Servants, after all.”
The only Servant who Shirou Kotomine actually supplied prana to as a Master was Assassin of Red. The other Red Servants were merely connected to him through the basic Master-Servant contract, while their prana supply was provided from the Greater Grail, which he’d himself linked to after stealing it.
Just creating that link had required significant time. He’d searched for a method to accomplish it for several days after stealing it and had only managed to finally form the prana supply connection through the help of Assassin.
An ordinary mage like Darnic, who wasn’t from the great alchemist Einzbern family who had created the Greater Grail, had likely required decades just to touch the Grail’s system.
But both the Einzberns and Darnic had merely adjusted its system rather than control the Greater Grails itself. In other words, they had merely activated or slightly improved its original functions.
Basically, their actions had been limited to switching it On and Off. But what Shirou was about to attempt was something fundamentally different.
To put it simply, he was going to create a new switch. He wasn’t adjusting the system, but adding in a new system. He was remaking it into a Greater Grail that suited his needs.
Servants were summoned to the present age through the Greater Grail. Therefore, reprogramming the Greater Grail went beyond dangerous and into the realm of sheer insanity for a Servant like Shirou. Even if all his preparations were perfect.
That’s why, to Shirou, this was his true battle. All the battles until now had merely been preparations and groundwork. Even if he lost them, he could still make another move.
But this was completely different. If Shirou lost here, he would come to an end. And if he was gone, everything would be brought to naught—the salvation of humanity would end in failure.
The light tremble in Shirou’s hands wasn’t from excitement. It was from the fear of knowing everything would end if he lost.
“—Even so, you’re still here, Master.”
“Yes. After thinking and agonizing over the correct choice for sixty years, I chose to be here. Even if I feel fear, I have no regrets. Then Caster, let’s begin the preparations—but before that.”
Shirou held out one arm towards Caster. His Command Spells were faintly glowing.
Caster’s face immediately stiffened.
“Caster. I respect and trust you as a writer from the bottom of my heart. And that’s precisely why I understand. You surely want to write a tragedy. Therefore, this is a necessary piece of insurance.”
With a radiant smile, Shirou used up a Command Spell.
“I order you with a Command Spell. Caster, don’t write a tragedy for my story.”
The expended Command Spell bounded Caster like a chain.
The Command was an order with absolute authority created by the Makiri and capable of firmly binding not only a Servant’s body but even their mind. And wording the order not as ‘forbidding betrayal’, but as ‘not writing a tragedy’, made it bind Caster of Red even more tightly.
“Master… Such treatment is too awful. This is cruel, far too cruel.”
Caster of Red loudly lamented—but that was only natural.
“No, I already told you, remember? I trust you as a writer. You want to write a tragedy. But if I questioned you about it, you would have to lie. So I never once asked you ‘Do you want to write a tragedy?’ until now… If never questioned, you would have no reason to lie, after all.”
Despite his groaning, Caster of Red had to acknowledge that. It would be a lie if he said that he didn’t intend to write a tragedy. He had thought about not writing one—but when the time came to write, his pen would naturally plunge towards writing a tragedy on its own. The only way to prevent that was for him to decide to write a comedy from the start.
Caster loudly sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
“Very well, I will do as you wish. After all, [Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head].”
“Thank you. I thought restricting the genre of a story would be rude towards the most famous writer known today, though.”
“Fufu, being called a famous writer is embarrassing. I’d prefer it if you gave me such praise after reading my works—”
“Yes, I made sure to read your Four Great Tragedies, at least, before today. That’s why I decided to use a Command Spell.”
What a blunder, thought Caster as he held his head in his hands at the irony. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told him to read my works… No, no, having others read one’s stories is precisely what makes a writer a writer.
In the first place, this man had already experienced the worst possible tragedy. The thirty-seven thousand people who followed him were massacred and he lost his own life as well. His was a tale of crawling out from the pit of despair and overturning that fate of misfortune.
In that case—he had to continue to climb up even now. Even if God allowed him to walk away from his path in this situation, a writer never would.
“I promise to use all my might to write a happy ending instead of a tragedy, Master.”
“Thank you, and sorry for the imposition… Now then, let’s begin.”
“—You’re so slow. I was wondering when you would finally start.”
Assassin communicated her clear displeasure through telepathy. Her words were heard by Caster of Red as well. Shirou looked up at the water canopy and apologized with a smile.
“Sorry. —We’re beginning now.”
“Worst comes to worst, I will discard you. Understood?”
How terrifying, thought Caster with a slight chill down his back. There was not an even the smallest trace of emotion in her words, words which a Servant should never direct at their Master under any circumstances.
“Of course. That’s only natural.”
…And even more terrifying was Shirou’s reply, far too bright in face of such unfeeling and merciless words.
He wasn’t unworried because he thought his Servant wouldn’t do such a thing. There was no way that Assassin was that naïve. In the worst case scenario, she really would choose to abandon him in order to protect herself.
Which one could be considered madder, a Servant who would unhesitantly betray her Master or a Master who would happily accept that?
“Good. Then begin, Shirou. And win. Failure is not allowed.”
Assassin’s words remained unfeeling, but Shirou Kotomine expressed gratitude from the bottom of his heart.
“—Thank you, Assassin.”
Shirou smoothly took of his stela and mantle. He took off his cassock and undershirt as well, leaving his upper body naked. His tanned skin had countless sword scars and fire burns carved into it. In Caster’s eyes, his body expressed great sorrow rather than ugliness.
Shirou then lifted his arms up above him. He opened his palms, as if to make the Greater Grail his by grabbing it.
His arms were filled with a different radiance than that of the faintly shining Command Spells—Shirou Kotomine’s miracle, his dual Noble Phantasms, were activating.
“Then I’ll start first.”
Shirou began to walk with graceful footsteps towards the Greater Grail hovering in the air. As Caster watched him, he was suddenly beset by the illusion that Shirou was walking on a staircase made of corpses.
The corpses that served as building material for the stairs were the victims who had been eradicated for believing in a faith different from the native religion and following Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. They didn’t feel sadness at being trodden over. In fact, it was clear that they felt joy, even.
They were grateful from the bottom of their hearts that they’d become sacrifices for saving the world—. It was an illusion, just an illusion, but if these corpses from the past knew of what was happening now, wouldn’t they say the same thing?
That was what Caster of Red believed.
As he walked towards the canopy and the Holy Grail, Shirou thought back on the seventeen years of his first life and the sixty years of his second life.
He had devoted everything for this moment. He had lived with the resolve to sacrifice everything.
Right now, hundreds of millions of lives, and human goodness itself, rested on his shoulders. It was so heavy he felt like was going to be crushed, but there was no sign of agony on his face.
—I won’t lose.
Shirou took the first step, and connected to the Greater Grail through the ‘thread’ he’d made while establishing a prana supply connection—
Instantly, his world turned upside down.
His existence was instantly fused with it. He was overcome by a comfortable feeling like when one is about to fall asleep, and the sensation continued infinitely. He was engulfed by something soft, and kept sinking without end—down, down, down.
Any malice, no matter how strong, would vanish here.
Any desire to kill, no matter how great, would be useless in the face of this.
This entire space, filled with happiness, peace, pleasure, order and purity all mixed together, felt like sweet milk dripping over his entire body.
His brain’s functions halted.
His brain’s functions became unnecessary.
Thought and instinct are unneeded. So melt away. Melt away and become one with it, until you’re reduced to mere sweet, formless milk—
“…You’re in my way.”
Shirou rejected that supreme pleasure with extreme ease. He scrunched his face at the great pain that ran through his arms, but he felt relieved at the same time.
Shirou had touched this several times while linking with the Grail to connect the prana supply. He had clearly understood from those brief touches that he would likely become unable to think of anything and merely dissolve into it if he plunged his entire body into it. To prevent that, he’d made his arms feel pain. The reproduced pain came from the despair which he’d experienced in the past—and his black rage which sought to overcome it.
Shirou Kotomine couldn’t forgive humans. He couldn’t forgive human evil, nor human goodness either. It’s precisely because humans possessing contradicting aspects of good and evil, greed and compassion, that they continue to exist as beings that repeat an endless spiral.
…He couldn’t forgive that. As long as he had that rage and pain, Shirou could withstand even such comfortable pleasure. The interior of the Greater Grail was still swirling with enormous amounts of prana undyed by anything.
To maintain his ‘self’ while inside the Greater Grail was the first trial.
Images of various scenes whirled around Shirou like a revolving lantern. It reminded Shirou of a fast-forwarded film.
The images appeared to show the history of the Einzberns. Their origins went back two thousand years, and the start of their quest began one thousand years ago. They were a clan that had repeated a trial-and-error process of every possible method for the sake of their dream of completing the Holy Grail.
They glorified every gruesome sacrifice they made and flung off every setback. Simply calling it ‘obsession’ wasn’t sufficient; in fact, their struggles could even be likened to the journey of a saint.
Endless days without joy, of only battling with despair head on. The span of one thousand years made it seem like madness, but in truth it was merely a simple repetition of the same process.
Trial and failure, setback and restart. Even though it wasn’t even clear whether they were moving forward or backwards, they just relentlessly continued to walk on.
Shirou honestly felt respect for them at the sight—and smiled wryly at the same time.
Receiving sympathy from someone like him who wasn’t even a member of the Einzberns was merely a bother for them.
Even more so since he was the culprit who had stolen their Greater Grail.
It’s true that the sight of their history was moving—but that’s all it was, nothing more and nothing less. He remained silent until the fast-forwarded film ended.
A pale light engulfed the world once more. If he let his attention slip, he would dissolve in it, so he had to keep affirming his own existence every second.
There was no real direction here. Ahead laid the origin point of the Greater Grail. As he reinforced his strong determination to reach there, he began to walk.
Normally, the Greater Grail activated by using the Lesser Grail as fuel after it had absorbed the souls of Heroic Spirits. Once activated, the Greater Grail would create energy from it. Seven Servants were needed to fully activate it—but no Servants souls were absorbed into the current Lesser Grail yet.
The Lesser Grail, which had a hole gouged into it, was sealed in a small room within the gardens, where the concept of ‘up and down’ didn’t exist, and was continuously leaking out prana. No matter how many times the souls of Servant entered it, they would keep leaking out from the hole. But the leaked souls were unable to follow gravity in the room, and so they continued to be absorbed into the Lesser Grail and leak out again from the hole in an endless cycle.
Currently, Saber of Black, Lancer of Black, Berserker of Black, Caster of Black, Assassin of Black and Berserker of Red had all been killed, so the Greater Grail would automatically activate using the Lesser Grail as fuel after one more Servant was killed. This setup with the Lesser Grail was meant to prevent that.
If the Lesser Grail was destroyed, the Greater Grail might sense the abnormality and malfunction in some way. But if Shirou left it to operate normally, the Greater Grail would activate before he could finish changing its system.
Even he wouldn’t be able to touch the Greater Grail once it fully activated. He couldn’t let it activate—not yet, at least.
Shirou Kotomine wasn’t a magus. But still, he’d had sixty years to work on his objective. At this point, he was pretty much as knowledgeable as possible on the Holy Grail War and the magecraft connected to it.
With what he’d learned, he had to agree that the Greater Grail truly was the ultimate wish-granting device whose almighty power reached God’s domain. Its system, having been designed minutely and elaborately to an abnormally high degree, definitely had the power to grant any Master’s wish—and even reach the ****.
But no matter how enormous, divine and almighty it was, what lay at the core of this Greater Grail was a single woman.
Her name was Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern. The head of the Einzberns who had become the nucleus of the Greater Grail.
The Saint of Winter who had sacrificed her own life and given up everything for the sake of realizing a miracle (Sorcery)—that was Shirou Kotomine’s goal and destination. She held all of the grail’s functions under her control.
There are stories of weapons that were made by sacrificing human lives, enchanted into true cursed swords by throwing a maiden into the hot molten iron.
But the Greater Grail was different from those. The Justeaze wasn’t sacrificed to the Greater Grail. First, Justeaze existed, and then she became the Greater Grail.
Yes. The Greater Grail was both an almighty wish-granting device and also a giant pipeline (Magic Circuits) for the sake of reproducing the lost miracle of the Einzberns.
Normally, three things were necessary for a magus to perform magecraft. A spell foundation, Magic Circuits and prana. A spell foundation was the foundational system needed for any form of magecraft. Magi produced prana through the inner pathways known as Magic Circuits and performed spells based on a specific foundation.
And it was no different from the Greater Grail. This enormous Holy Grail was basically a cluster of Magic Circuits, and it could produce any miracle by using prana it absorbed from leylines.
The title almighty wish-granting device wasn’t just for show. The Greater Grail was a meticulously-made and extremely precise device that contained an enormous store of prana worthy of being called ‘almighty’.
But Amakusa Shirou Tokisada knew. The Greater Grail was impartial. Justeaze’s personality was already gone—only her Magic Circuits still lived.
No matter what wish it was asked from the outside, the Holy Grail would grant it all. Then, if Shirou asked it to ‘save humanity’ from outside of it, would the Greater Grail bring about that salvation?
—Of course, the answer is no.
The Greater Grail can’t do what’s impossible. That’s why Shirou was risking his very life to invade the Greater Grail. He had a wish that was impossible for even the Greater Grail—in that case, he merely had to overwrite its system from the inside and forcefully make the Greater Grail grant it.
He was attempting to adjust and reprogram the Greater Grail itself, something that would never be allowed in a normal Holy Grail War.
If it wouldn’t grant his wish, then the Holy Grail was the one that was mistaken. So he would merely correct it.
Shirou walked towards what he had long sought—which surely lay beyond this expanse.