—This is the story of someone dear to me.
The land that was silent in suffering began to whisper, a susurrus like the wind.
Those days of fair blue skies and of deep red evenings were about to change, and everyone who could smell smoke on the air understood that.
The young captain and his army had begun to take on greater targets very suddenly.
What had once been a three-man vigilante band was now a splendid and well-trained force that was enough to frighten the corrupt into behaving just by appearing before them.
They were able to conclusively secure peace on the mountain paths to the capital of the empire that had always been covered in bandits, were able to expose a major money-laundering scandal by a noble who had unlawfully raised the tax on salt.
The young captain himself had even achieved a notable prize at an imperial tournament, and caught the emperor’s eye in doing so.
…Even the young captain was willing to admit that by now he and his soldiers had begun to amass the kind of power that really meant something.
Their name ran throughout the people of the country like hope.
The once-glorious resistance movement that had degenerated into a pack of wild dogs was also amassing firepower and great numbers.
But no matter what they called themselves, the young captain and the people of the empire knew that this was no cause for rejoicing.
He’d crossed blades with those people a few times.
The rebels proclaimed that they acted in the best interests of the weak while oppressing the powerless with malice even more active than the government.
They stole goods for themselves and exploited the people, and acted out of greed rather than compassion.
It was bad enough that people like them paraded themselves about under the claim that they were the saviors of the weak, but to top it off the rebels who had always been decentralized and unskilled began to act cohesively, as if given direction by someone who knew what they were doing.
…That was the truth.
In one battle, the young captain saw it.
The disillusioned knight he had once met had apparently been hired by the rebel leader to train their forces, and knowing of the conflict and only desiring to avenge his loss, the knight fought with the rebels.
…That blindness to all but one’s own pain.
Most likely, the rebel leader had shrewdly taken advantage of it and was simply pointing the knight’s madness in a direction that best suited his purposes.
The air of the empire was permeated with ozone, and the scent of an impending thunderstorm was strong enough to be suffocating.
Late summer like a pressure cooker.
Everyone went about their daily lives in the oppressive atmosphere, understanding subconsciously that the world around them was a powder keg and the spark that would change it irrevocably would inevitably light very soon.
It was an unremarkable gray day.
The young captain and his forces had just returned from taking part in a military exhibition at the capital, a stressful battle where they had obtained the acknowledgement and approval of the top general of the nation, but at the potential cost of the emperor’s suspicion.
In that fretful afternoon, as the sun fell and stained the world madder red—
The emperor’s right-hand knight appeared there.
She demanded that the army’s landgrave employer and the entire army itself accompany her to the capital on orders of the emperor, and she would not explain the cause.
Indeed, her demeanor proclaimed that this was nearly an arrest.
And if they failed to comply with her orders, she threatened that they would all be executed for treason.
Amidst the voices raised in frustration and distress, surely only the prophet heard it.
—The sound of timber popping with the crackle of fire, and the clash of swords.
When the argument was interrupted by a scout, the fuse was lit.
The western half of the town—the young captain’s birthplace, the slums that were the only refuge left for the poor and the powerless—was under attack by the rebels.
The emperor’s messenger knight assured the private army that there was no need to worry.
…That her soldiers were stationed on the bridge leading to the nobles’ quarter, and that no matter the power that the rebel army had, it would be insufficient to break through their guard.
…That an order was an order, and no matter the circumstances they must depart.
The young captain’s outrage, and that of his men, was explosive and uncontrollable.
It couldn’t be helped.
To be told so bluntly and as if it were a natural thing that only the rich were worth saving, that whatever self-centered plans the emperor had were more important than protecting the people right before their eyes.
…No matter how they had fought, the ugly truth was that they still could not reach far enough to change the minds of those in the capital, those with real power in the empire.
And when it came to this place—no amount of reason or threats could suppress his desire to protect it.
The people who had put themselves at risk to shelter him and his two first friends during the time when they had nothing.
What was his power for, then, if he could not protect them when they were in danger—?
The landgrave cut in just before battle could erupt between his army and the knights, and he forcefully explained things to the emperor’s messenger in such a way that she had to accept their putting higher priority on the people than on her mission.
…But that didn’t do anything to diffuse the young captain’s rage.
That anyone would dare to put a hand on the people so dear to him.
He bore down on the soldiers hired to delay him from reaching the slums like a great divine wind, furious enough that his mere presence became oppressive.
It was the state that people would refer to as cold wrath.
His heart was on fire, the light of his eyes became like flame, the air around him seemed as though it would ignite with just one more spark, and yet he blazed so hotly that it manifested as a chill that terrified any who would dare to stand in his way.
The night fell.
The rebels had set the slums ablaze, and a great amount of smoke and flame rose from the westernmost quarter as the poor fled into the district of the rich.
As the landgrave made preparations to accept and shelter the refugees, the young captain and his men stood on the bridge.
There was not time to go in and assess the situation, but even so—
Even as his men stood struck dumb by the senseless cruelty of the rebels, his body shook.
His mind was empty but for one thought.
…But, at that moment, when all the others amongst his cadre were paralyzed with grief and fear and shock, one pair of small hands held him back.
Gentle and steady.
The prophet, the only one in the entire army who had remained perfectly calm, spoke.
He said that the rebels could not possibly have anything to gain from sacking the slums other than enraging their forces, and that reacting with anger would only play into their hands.
That if they charged in and fought emotionally, then they would lose their cohesiveness and ability to fight as a team as the price for the extra strength it might grant them.
…Hearing such rationality was like being dashed in the face with cold water, and at once the young captain was abashed at himself and grateful.
If not for the prophet’s cautioning him, he surely would have forgotten even his goal of protecting the people in the face of his own rage.
And so the young captain led his troops into the burning slums, pushed back the rebel soldiers, and shepherded the surviving poor back to safety.
The rescued poor wept in gratitude, cheered on the hero who had risen from amongst them, and held their hope and pride to their hearts as they watched the battle from the safety of the nobles’ quarter.
Too, the nobles and the rich allowed the refugees into their town with remarkably little fuss.
The army returned to battle to find the knight waiting for them.
…The enemy commander had waited for them to save the poor, avoiding any further persecution of the powerless as the fire had done its job.
And the young captain acknowledged the vengeful knight’s display of honor in the crossing of their blades.
But—the stage was not yet set for them to raise the curtains on their rematch.
The rebel leader, in his cowardice, had taken the opportunity of their battle to mobilize his own personal troops—aiming for his true goal of the nobles’ quarter and the supplies he could steal therein.
Realizing the twofold trap, the young captain directed his soldiers to ignore the knight and instead prioritize the real threat.
When the knight protested that their battle was not yet over, the young captain simply said that now was not yet the time.
—Without mincing words, it was a one-sided rout.
The army came down upon the rebels with the force of a landslide, like the right arm of a god, swift and righteous in their fury.
And like so many other enemies who had tried to stand down the young captain’s wrath that day, even the rebel leader himself turned tail and fled in terror.
Afterward, the enemy knight said it best.
That a man like that, who made his subordinates drunk on pretty words and promises of personal satisfaction and yet heartlessly manipulated them—without having enough courage to risk his own life—had no right to call himself a revolutionary.
That the knight himself had been drawn in the same way, drunk on the prospect of avenging his own honor or at least making the young captain too feel loss, tempted into taking the easy way out.
And in the depths of the night, in the burning city, he demanded that he be allowed to settle his accounts.
He would fight alone, with no support; only a lance in his hand and the dregs of pride and hatred in his heart.
Perhaps the young captain saw himself in that pride and that desperation, for he agreed.
…The battle was quick, and merciless, and honorable.
The knight who fell was able to acknowledge his loss, and acknowledging it asked to be allowed to rescue a relative from the clutches of the rebels before returning to die.
…It was the kind of trust born between rivals that’s often told of in chivalric ballads, and knowing that he could believe in the word of his foe, the young captain allowed him to go.
The rest of the night was spent suppressing the fire, keeping it from spreading, and finally putting it out.
And in the morning, the girl that the knight had gone to rescue returned alone.
…She said that her brother had meant to meet up with her sooner.
She brought the army along with her out of worry.
And when the young captain and his forces arrived at the rebels’ hideout, there they found the knight surrounded by enemies and about to be executed, blamed for the rebels’ defeat the previous night.
From what they could see of the knight’s demeanor, he believed that he was going to be killed no matter how he struggled, and was simply attempting to pave his road to death with as many enemies’ corpses as possible for the sake of his own satisfaction.
What to do in a situation like this.
…To the young captain, it was obvious.
He led his troops into the fray, broke through the encirclement, and extended the hand of salvation to his former foe.
Of course the knight was too proud to passively accept being saved, especially from someone he had considered a rival.
He bluffed and spurned the young captain’s offer, first claiming that he would only be shamed by pity and didn’t want a handout; when the topic of his sister was brought into the conversation, he claimed that all he wanted was for her to live a life unconnected to battle and that was why he had entrusted her to the army.
The young captain refused to accept that answer, and the two of them shouted at each other for quite a while, as shameless as little boys.
As if they were completely unconscious of their audience; like fools.
—Perhaps that was precisely why he was able to communicate it.
… “Because we are the same”—
And understanding that, the knight joined him in crushing the remaining rebel forces and chasing their leader away.
He was able to cross that small and impenetrable “distance” separating the two of them.
Fear and panic; rage and pride; camaraderie, and love—
The bountiful, uncontrollable emotions that the young captain experienced over the span of those two days were beginning to work a change in him.
Those chaotic feelings, and the power he obtained when he was able to overcome and harness them, had allowed him to accomplish a feat so great that no amount of personal humility could dim its shine, even in his own eyes.
In other words, it was far too late to stop the creaking motion of fate’s heavy cogwheels.
The world around him and the world within him had begun irrevocably to change, and the simple days of hard work and companionship would no longer return—
I wake to the vague feeling of having awakened halfway several times in the night, but not really being able to recall any of it.
My body is heavy, and I feel overly warm.
Still, I can’t just go back to sleep.
My internal rhythms tell me quietly and insistently when I close my eyes that I’ve had enough sleep to be getting on with, and that I should get up and be active unless I want to seriously hibernate.
“That’s bad. I have a war to be fighting, so this is no time to hibernate.”
But my body is disobedient when I push myself up.
The joints in my arms feel rather stiff, and especially my shoulders don’t move easily.
Underneath the covers, my hips seem to have lost a lot of their range of motion, and now that I’m more awake and concentrating it feels as though my legs have turned into dead stumps of wood from the knees down.
I can’t even feel them.
…But when I throw back the covers of the bed, my legs are definitely still there.
From what I can tell by examining them magically, there’s nothing wrong with them.
“…Either I slept oddly enough that they’ve gone to sleep, or…”
Things are progressing a bit more quickly than I thought they would.
It would be a combination of my own unpreparedness, the harshness of living homeless in this weather, and then the sudden acquisition of shelter, I suppose. A bit like the stories of starving people who suddenly receive as much food as they can eat, and stuff themselves to the point where their bodies can’t handle it and become extremely sick from the shock.
Well, this just means that I’ll have to be careful moving until the feeling returns, since I might hurt myself otherwise.
I take my time levering myself out of bed so that I can maintain my balance without twisting an ankle.
According to the clock, it’s about ten thirty in the morning.
I definitely feel as though I’ve slept longer than that, since I didn’t go to sleep until fairly late last night…
At any rate, Gulcasa doesn’t seem to be around here, so I should go downstairs and find him—we need to speak to Roswell about what to do from here as well.
And it would be good to confirm if I’m free to use the bath at my own leisure.
I am able to get myself across the room and out the door with no problems.
Luckily this house is lavishly furnished with a number of tables and ornaments, so there are plenty of things to touch and place a bit of my weight on to take the strain off of my oversleeping ankles.
But even though I support my weight firmly and carefully with both hands on either banister…
…I manage to place a foot wrong or something along those lines, and before I know it I’m at the bottom of the stairs in an awkward sprawl with my head ringing.
Heavy footsteps shake the floor, and when I look up, Gulcasa is there.
“Are you okay? Jeez, don’t think so hard when you’re walking down stairs, it’s easier to slip when you space out.”
…Unless my ears are deceiving me, Gulcasa’s voice has some modicum of relief even as he scolds me. I’m not sure why that is.
“…I wasn’t thinking particularly hard. My senses are just a bit dull from sleeping too much, and because this place is relaxing.”
Gulcasa shakes his head and kneels down.
“Here, I’ll help you up.”
And he carefully supports my arms in order to raise me to my feet.
But when I’m set onto my feet, even with Gulcasa supporting me—pain shoots up my whole left side through the leg that’s otherwise devoid of feeling, intense enough to make me gasp and to cause my vision to double.
“…It’s a very light sprain.”
Roswell says so afterward, his hands wrapped around my ankle, the palms glowing slightly.
His demeanor is very much like a professional doctor’s as he assesses my injury sharply, and with Gulcasa hovering anxiously in the background I really do feel as though I’ve been transported into some doctor or healer’s examination room.
“With this healing, you should be back to perfect condition in less than twenty-four hours, but until then it’s best that you stay off your feet as much as possible.
“You said that you don’t have much feeling in your lower legs as it is, so it’s possible that you could make things even worse with another misstep if you don’t.
“Whatever the case, you two are definitely staying indoors and resting all of today.”
Roswell’s doctor-like practicality is coupled with definite concern, perfectly befitting his position as our ally and his personality as a healer.
I can read Gulcasa’s closed expression well enough to be able to tell that he’s barely suppressing anxiety akin to panic.
And even Saber, keeping her distance as usual, emits no hostility at all as she watches us with intensity.
This is what I was hoping to avoid, and it will only get worse if I actually try to explain things at this late date.
Unfortunately, there’s some degree of clumsiness and apparent sickness that I won’t be able to help on the downswing of these kinds of events.
Until my body stabilizes, I can expect all kinds of side effects such as pain and dizziness and fever, and even loss of sensation like today.
…But the fact that we have obtained shelter and allies is a greater boon than anything else, as it buys more time for me to rest and become stable once again. It’s all extremely simple.
I just hate being looked at with those worried faces.
There’s no use panicking on my account, not over this degree of hindrance, but there’s no way for me to explain without causing an even greater uproar.
“…All we can really do is just eat breakfast.
“Nessiah, you need nutrition so that you can get your energy back.”
Gulcasa looks at the floor and says so while tightly holding on to the hem of his shirt.
His brow is creased and his knuckles are white, and he’s biting his lip.
I don’t like that he’s got that expression on his face at all, let alone on my account.
Gulcasa’s days of having to worry about others to the point of heartsickness should be so far behind him, after all.
The morning is gray.
Roswell makes a show of energy in the kitchen and alternately has Gulcasa and his contentious princess help him make a large breakfast, but I can tell from my seat at the table that the atmosphere is lifeless.
Perhaps it’s that sensation, but the breakfast itself seems to lack taste a bit.
I try to eat what I can anyway so that Gulcasa won’t look at me so anxiously, but in the end it’s difficult to force food down when the overall air of the house is so listless.
I know I should eat, but my hunger itself is being sapped away.
“…At any rate.
“I was wondering if I could use the bath for a bit. Aside from just getting clean, being able to sit in warm water would be good for my body.”
“Try to keep your ankle raised, and have Gulcasa help you with picking things up.
“Also, just make sure to rest easy until you’re feeling more fit. I’ve already said this, but with nine Servants summoned, only seven need to be defeated in order to complete the Holy Grail.
“With Saber and Berserker on our side, there is no need for us to compete at all, and unless we specifically need the power of both Servants to defeat a foe, it should be all right for you two to stay in reserve and recuperate instead of actively participating.
“…We’ll be heading out again tonight to gather information, as we decided last night. But I believe that it would be best for the two of us to go alone, and for you two to keep resting.
“Pushing you in your condition would be far too counterproductive.”
Roswell sighs and leans back in his chair with an air of finality.
The only sound is the noise of Yggdra quietly doing the dishes.
…She’s barely spoken since arguing with Gulcasa over food. I suppose that makes some things a lot easier to deal with, but it does feel awkward.
Gulcasa doesn’t venture anything either, and I certainly can’t argue.
Being told to stay put is a bit frustrating, but I highly doubt I’ll be of much use the way that I am, and anyway with Team Saber investigating the city we’ll still be able to retrieve information at the usual rate.
So, it would be best to stay here in hopes that it will allow me to recover more quickly.
“—We should hold a strategy conference when you get back, at least. I want to learn anything that you find out.”
When I say so, Roswell lets out a breath as if relieved by my acquiescence.
“Yggdra and I will be heading out before dinner, a little earlier than usual. But we should definitely be back before midnight even if we run into an unexpected combat situation.
“You can use anything in the house freely until then, as long as you don’t make a big mess and then don’t clean it up.”
“I’ll partake of the bath with thanks, then.”
The conversation ends like that.
Because I shouldn’t walk on my own according to our resident doctor, Gulcasa carefully raises me up into his arms in order to carry me up to the bathroom.
Gulcasa sets me down on a stool and digs out the different things that he deems I might need to bathe, like washcloths and soap.
And it doesn’t take me very long to discover the main problem with this scenario.
He stops when I call his name, looking at me blankly.
“What is it? You’ve got a really weird expression.”
…I don’t think I’m making that strange of a face.
This is normal for people who feel distaste at having to make a request.
“I require assistance.
“—You heard Roswell, I shouldn’t be on my feet.
“And… without standing, these clothes are somewhat difficult to remove.”
Gulcasa blinks, then breathes out and smiles almost apologetically.
“Excuse me, then.”
His footsteps ring on the floor, echoing with his oddly formal words as he comes to kneel behind me.
I untie the front of the dress, and Gulcasa’s hands run over my shoulders to push the straps down.
His hands are warm, gentle, and a bit rough because of the thick callusing along his palms.
He supports my weight and lifts me slightly in order for me to push the clothes I’m wearing down past my hips, and then sets me down to extricate my legs from the soft fabric.
His hair, soft from recent washings, brushes lightly against my naked skin as he works.
And his hands continue to touch against my body in various places.
It’s the gentle touch of the person most important to me in the world, but it underscores my own helplessness.
And above and beyond all of that, because of my still uncertain physical condition, his touch is vaguely irritating against my skin.
Ordinarily being in a position like this—that is to say, being undressed should be arousing.
But because of the situation, it just makes me irritated and anxious, and having those feelings under these circumstances is tiresome.
“…I can at least wash my own body, though.”
Perhaps because of that, I can’t keep the annoyance out of my voice when Gulcasa turns on the mobile showerhead and begins to run warm water along my bare skin.
“Then, I’ll wash your hair and your back and leave the rest to you.”
When Gulcasa responds, his voice is warm and extremely gentle.
…I wonder what he’s thinking.
If this is just his usual patience, or whether seeing my ruined back revives his feelings of sympathy so that he’s more tolerant than usual.
Or if he understands my reasoning and feels like in my place he would act the same.
Whatever the case.
…I clumsily run a soap-covered washcloth over my body and rinse away the dirt and sweat of the past few days while Gulcasa’s fingertips dance through my hair and at the nape of my neck.
As expected of someone who’s sensitive about such things himself, he takes care not to yank on my short hair while working shampoo into it, and he warns me to close my eyes when he appropriates the showerhead to rinse it out.
He does not flinch from the ugly scars that cover me from just beneath my shoulders to my waist, but still touches them with extreme tenderness as he washes them.
His methodical consideration of my disabled and mutilated body is an irritation to me.
Because he’s caring for me as he would for anyone.
…Or maybe it’s just that I’m contrary and I don’t like being cared for.
The position of helplessness and Gulcasa’s kind silence.
I swallow the sharp feelings of frustration and anger and hold them in a ball of prickles like a fat sea urchin in the pit of my stomach.
Painful and constant.
That I feel like this towards someone that I love is also an annoyance.
I let out my breath in a sigh as Gulcasa fills the bathtub.
Being able to sit in silence and relaxation should undo the knots inside me.
“I’ll help you get settled, and you’re already clean, so you can stay in as much as you like.
“—I’ll tidy up, too. You’re the only one using the bath, so there’s nothing to really worry about here.”
Gulcasa speaks casually as he lifts my body with obvious care and sets me into the water.
The tub is wide and deep, allowing me to stretch out and stay submerged up to my shoulders while putting my injured ankle up on the step built into the tub’s side.
The water is warm.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen as Gulcasa makes needless amounts of noise trying to figure out where the bathing tools go.
If there is time to relax, then I should
It makes me gasp in shock.
I was sitting still and cradling my dissatisfaction, and Gulcasa was on the other side of the room making a useless din.
…But instantaneously, he is here at the side of the tub, holding my face in his hands as he yells in a panicked voice.
“Can you understand me?”
My mind can’t keep up, but—
There is no color in Gulcasa’s face.
“Nessiah, I’m asking if you can h— — — —e?”
Static bursts next to my ear for a moment.
I can see Gulcasa’s lips moving, but I can’t hear anything.
I raise a hand and touch my forehead.
My feelings of disorientation are all to do with the oddness of the situation, not physical.
Gulcasa asks insistently once again.
“—I can hear you.
“I can hear you, so calm down.”
Gulcasa releases an immense sigh and lets go of me, collapsing onto his backside on the floor.
“That’s a fine time to space out.”
I shake my head in a vain attempt to clear it.
There’s a window, high up in the wall, just a few rectangular panes of glass.
…And the light from that window is definitely in a different place than it was just a moment ago, because there is a faint patch of brightness in the direction I’m looking where there was none before.
…Stop thinking and just confirm it.
Otherwise I might panic, which will only agitate Gulcasa more.
“—Gulcasa, how long have I been sitting here?”
“Something like an hour or an hour and a half.
“Jeez, you’re so bad about getting randomly lost in thought. I thought you’d either fallen asleep or you were relapsing, but your eyes were wide open and you actually replied.”
I lost—that much time.
That’s the only explanation.
The time passed, but for whatever reason it was not recorded in my memory.
I realize that my hands are vaguely trembling.
…I realize that I am breathing too hard and too quickly.
Gulcasa immediately plunges his clothed arms into the water to lift me out of it, and sets me down and flings a towel around my shoulders.
“Damn it, I thought you were doing better, but if you’re getting sick because of running out like an idiot yesterday—”
The words catch at my mind.
“Gulcasa, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you deciding to take a little stroll in the rain last night—don’t tell me you were feverish enough that you don’t remember it at all?”
Last night, I properly went to bed after our strategy meeting, and even if I feel as though I woke up a few times momentarily, I certainly should remember a sharp physical shock like being rained on.
I don’t like this.
“This is just to confirm, but will you recount the events of the past two days to me?”
For a moment, my Servant simply looks at me with baffled eyes.
I understand. I’d be confused if I were asked something like this out of the blue, as well.
But I want to know if my bad feeling is correct before I actually start talking about it and make Gulcasa’s habitual worrying go into overdrive.
“—Well, two days ago we didn’t do very much.
“You woke up and I introduced this situation to you, you got mad, I made dinner here and we decided to partner up with Roswell at night.
“Yesterday you were sick again, and so not much happened then either except your wandering outside in a daze. I think aside from that you were mostly either asleep or delirious.”
All I can do is sigh.
“—It figures as much.
“All of the events of yesterday that you’ve mentioned just now don’t exist for me.”
“—What are you talking about?”
He continues to stare at me, perplexed.
“The last thing I can remember before I woke up this morning was speaking to you before I went to sleep—what you describe as being two nights ago.
“You have no reason to lie to me, and so the conclusion I’m forced to draw is that I lost an entire day’s worth of time. Yesterday surely happened, but I cannot remember it whatsoever.
“And it happened again just now.
“Since getting into the water, I lost a full hour or so.
“It’s not the same as simply spacing out and losing track of time, there’s a gap in my memories so that one second you were banging around the cabinets and the next you were shaking me in a panic.”
Gulcasa is pale.
The look on his face is a mix of concern and horror as he stares at me silently.
“…This is what Roswell said would happen, I guess.
“When you were delirious yesterday, he said that—that as long as your body had too much prana in it, if things got too out of control then you’d start to lose your human functionality, that your senses would shut down or something like that.”
“So, rather than just keep me in an impossible state of fever all the time, my body has decided selfishly on its own to start shutting itself off for self-preservation.
“And that’s why my sense of touch and my memory are flawed.”
Gulcasa doesn’t reply.
We just face each other in silence, him kneeling on the floor, me naked and dripping and shielded only by a towel.
“…It’s turned into a race as to whether I can adapt and stabilize, or whether things will progress to the point that my body won’t be able to keep up… huh.”
Well, I do think that given enough time I would get used to it and be able to cope well enough to go about my business as usual.
…It’s just that I may not have the convenience of as much time as I need.
“And, if we’re sure that things will get worse every time a Servant is defeated…
“Honestly, how troublesome.
“I could easily adapt and keep abreast of the fluctuations in my condition if this weren’t a two-week-long war.
“Even if I’m not physically suited for such things, I know that I have a sturdy enough constitution to be able to bear this.
“But two weeks may simply be too close to be sure.”
Gulcasa’s eyes narrow slightly.
The only sound is the faint patter of water against the floor.
“…I don’t understand complicated things.
“All I know is that you can’t keep pushing yourself like this.
“—It’s too dangerous, Nessiah.”
“I’m not pushing myself.
“At least, I’m not doing so by choice. This is a position I was thrust into without having any say in the matter.
“As long as it’s a matter of simply bearing it as it runs its course—then especially since we’ve been granted shelter, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m experienced at that kind of thing, you see.”
“I can’t tell you what to do when I don’t know what’s going on yet, but this much is within my power.
“I’m getting you back upstairs; you should lie down and rest. There’s your twisted ankle too and all, so at least while Roswell and the princess are off scouting around, you ought to stay in bed.”
There’s not much that I can do to argue.
Well, in the first place, Gulcasa is probably correct.
At a time like this when my body still cannot decide how to cope with the influx of prana and the extreme fullness of my crowded flesh, I must rest rather than aggravate my condition further.
…All I can do is doze, and wait for my body to stop panicking all on its own—
The town is gray.
It’s only eight o’clock, and the sun is still going down.
Rather than painting the world madder red, the sunset has progressed to the point where everything is a dull metallic blue.
“It’s a little bit depressing.”
The magus says so idly as he walks with his Servant.
“—Not having any color in the sky always makes me feel a bit listless.”
They walk throughout the gray town together.
…This is an early patrol.
Even though this is a point in time when people should be running about, in Miyama it is still extremely quiet.
Perhaps it’s because of the recent report of the death of Assassin’s Master.
This land remembers the scars of the last war five years ago, with the high death toll.
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the people of Miyama have retreated into their homes at the appearance of another inexplicable and cruel death.
“—The fire fifteen years ago at the end of the fourth war, the masses of civilian casualties in the fifth, and now this violent death.
“It’s like the ritual itself is cursed.”
“Are you regretting it?”
From beside him, Saber asks quietly.
“There’s nothing for me to regret.
“I’ve already gone and been chosen, and I have to uphold the honor of the Branthèse family—no, the entire Valois clan, win or lose.
“There was everything with Rosary too, after all.”
The world of magi is like that.
But even so, Saber’s Master hesitates.
“It’s just that everything about this ritual is strange once you think about it.
“We don’t know anything about the ritual aside from the information recorded by the Magic Association. We don’t know why the gaps between the cycles have sped up, and we don’t know why the ritual itself is continuing on like this even now that none of the three founding families is participating.
“I don’t have enough knowledge of the history to proclaim it unusual or suspicious.
“But even though I’m just a chess piece playing my part in the grand scheme of things—I can’t help but feel uneasy.”
A grand ritual like this shouldn’t just continue to occur all by itself like a clock that keeps going once it’s started.
Clocks by themselves need winding.
This war has all the necessary structure aside from the absence of Einzbern, Tohsaka, and Makiri, even possessing a supervisor dispatched by the Magic Association.
Perhaps it’s because their ally, the Master of Berserker, speaks of that supervisor with such enmity and fear.
…Perhaps it’s because of the look on that magus’ face when they spoke two nights ago that he feels this oppressive anxiety.
“—I hope I’m overthinking things.
“I have a pessimistic personality to begin with, so I hope it’s just that.”
Saber listens and does not reply, and the two of them continue to walk through the dead streets of the gray town.
They walk, and after turning a corner into a niche tucked out of sight, Saber’s Master feels the distinct sense of walking through a wet membrane.
The mark on his hand throbs.
He does not speak, but communicates to Saber with a glance.
Her form changes softly, and she tightly grips her holy sword, the great Noble Phantasm of her family.
In the grassy garden overgrown with thick clover.
In the place touched by the first glow of moonlight as the sun goes down, stands a pair of young girls and a gallant woman in armor.
The woman holds her Noble Phantasm in her hands.
It is a heavy spear.
…She is not Lancer, whom Saber’s group and Berserker’s have both met and confirmed as a male Servant.
And so, she fits the description well enough that he can tell which Servant she is.
With two young magi at her back, she could hardly be anything else.
“Master, stand back.”
Saber lifts her sword.
“You can sense it too, I’m sure.
“—Alone, she isn’t any match for me.”
“I’d like for you to refrain from making hasty judgments.”
Rider replies to her foe in a mild tone of voice befitting a knight.
“You do a dishonor to both of our status as Servants.”
Saber simply narrows her eyes.
“—It’s brave of you to face me down, but I know that everyone standing here can tell the difference in our strength.”
She isn’t lying, either.
It is the entirely ordinary distance between a “ruler” and a “knight”.
Rider closes her eyes.
The knight who surely understands that she has lost her advantage now that she has been separated from her partner does not react to Saber’s boldness.
Her legend is one legend out of a hundred.
Even without the greater popularity of Saber’s tale in this time period, she would be at a disadvantage because of her relative anonymity.
But Rider’s actions don’t seem to curse her natural disadvantage.
She simply closes her eyes and lets Saber’s remark roll off her armor as if to suggest that Saber’s having said so is arrogance unbefitting of a Heroic Spirit.
“—I am Primea’s Servant.
“My lady and her sister both stand at my back, and as a knight I will show you how I crush that possibility.
“Lady Knight Silvanoier gave her life so that we might still win this war, and I will not shame that sacrifice.”
In contrast to the calm words of the knight, the two girls simply stare at Roswell Branthèse with harsh eyes.
Primea, the girl who always danced and taunted like a little child, is quiet.
And—there is something odd about the way that Nana, she who had always been timid, stands.
Like the knight, she has placed herself between her sister and the enemy.
And when the clouds part and let the starlight and moonlight through, her auburn hair becomes tipped with gold.
Light shines down.
Rider lifts her heavy spiraled lance to the heavens, and a great wind erupts around her.
It is too intense, and Roswell must shield his face for a moment to protect his eyes from being pierced by debris.
When he is again able to look, Rider sits astride a tall armored charger, a great horse with proud bearing.
…He understands that this isn’t good.
Although Saber’s sword itself is large, Rider is taller and has much greater range.
Now mounted, she will have still greater range and be harder to hit.
But Saber’s back tells him that he mustn’t worry about such things.
“I will decide this in a single strike.
“—Stand back, Master.”
And in the next moment, the two clash.
At the border of the road and the garden, leaves of clover fly through the air like cherry blossom petals.
Like a tournament joust, Rider on her horse clatters into the street, wheeling around for another blow.
Saber simply pivots on one foot and readies her sword once more.
Seeing them clash like that gives strength to Roswell’s belief.
Truly, Saber is stronger than their opponent.
Neither of them has particularly been damaged.
…Perhaps that’s why he suddenly has certainty.
Rider, who has superior reach and locomotion, was not able to land a decisive blow on Saber even so.
When they reveal their Noble Phantasms and strike at each other, surely Saber’s light will shine the brighter, and lead her to victory.
Rider’s Master, the pink-haired girl dressed in cute frills, bites her lip as if she understands this as well.
Faced with the gravity of the situation, Rider’s Master shows a rare serious face.
Even as Rider’s Master looks at her sister dumbfoundedly, Roswell can only do the same.
“If we can’t win like that, there’s always the other way.
“—I’ll thank you for saving me from that monster of a Servant by cutting this guy’s guts out, okay—?”
Relaxed and casual.
The former Master steps into the moonlight, and when she opens her eyes they burn red.
It’s not a trick of the light at all.
Her hair has been turned blinding gold by the light of the moon, and the girl named Nana raises her arm.
…Roswell can see the line of her Magic Circuit light up through her skin.
Blood erupts out of the corners.
Compared to his Magic Circuits, hers is of poor quality, and her body is truly unfit for magical study just as Nessiah proclaimed.
She proclaims an unusual spell, and something like a simulacrum of Lancer’s lance appears in her hand.
A jagged spear—no, a halberd.
Detached fragments of blue and white, of some kind of substance that looks flat and hurts Roswell’s eyes.
It’s not at all on the level of a Noble Phantasm.
But it is a powerful weapon nonetheless, and not the kind of thing that a “human” should ever wield.
…He has an ominous premonition.
As with the time that Nessiah easily overcame his attacks with impossible feats of magecraft.
This girl is a monster.
This girl is a monster beyond him, especially as his means of melee combat are very limited.
The house of Valois is not like the Tohsaka or the Edelfelt.
It is much more like the Einzbern in that Valois magi, no matter their family, pour their all into the magical arts that suit them rather than seeking to support them with modern battle techniques.
If every long-standing house of magi is mad to the point of foolishness, then that is the fatal flaw of Valois’ descendants.
In one-on-one close combat, Roswell is next to helpless, and Saber is his only means of defending his body physically.
So he can’t let her get close.
He would prefer not to stain his hands.
…But allowing that girl to get close to him would mean his own death.
The girl—the former Master with a peculiar madness in her eyes leans forward and begins to run towards him with her weapon in her hands.
Roswell leaps backwards.
He leaps backwards, calls prana into his hands, and releases it in sharp bursts with crawling shadows that slip out of the earth to catch at her feet.
But the girl—Nana simply slows her pace slightly and slashes at his released spells, deflecting them with her blade.
…He can tell from that action.
This thing he’s facing isn’t really a magus.
It’s something far different.
If Nessiah is close to a magician or a beast, then she is a magic user or a beast.
The Magic Circuits that lit up in her body when she projected the axe in her hands were poor quality and very few in number, far too few to support a true magus.
…So she is something different, something more suited for combat.
She has limited ability to use magecraft, but it appears as though attacking him like she is now is what her true purpose is.
Saber calls out to him in a concerned voice.
“It’s all right.
“—Just focus on Rider, you can’t get distracted—”
Saber is the only weapon available to him.
And she is occupied with having to fend off the most dangerous opponent.
She is only a single sword, and cannot protect him while fighting her own battle.
So Roswell’s battle is simple.
He will have difficulty winning if he cannot do so from a distance, and must therefore endure.
As holy weapons clash further down the road, Roswell retreats to the other side of the sidewalk across the street.
This is a dead sector of Fuyuki.
…Therefore, even if they make a great deal of noise, it’s not like anyone will come.
He doesn’t have many catalysts on him, but he came prepared to use them all up to keep himself alive.
So, Roswell ignites and sets loose three large-scale fire spells in succession.
Nana, the great clump of murderous intent that calls itself a former Master, stops and staggers backward with the effort of blocking all the fire.
Her weapon is aligned with water and ice, and so maintaining it in the face of an opposing element is likely very difficult.
But she must counter the fire if she does not wish for her body to be burnt.
It’s not as though she has tripped.
When she launched herself back towards him, her left knee buckled and she had to support herself with her weapon or fall.
Her clothing is dark, but Roswell can still see it in the moonlight where the pale blue light turns the leg of her pants gray.
…There’s a seeping black stain at her knee as though she is a robot with an oil leak.
“Stop getting in my way—”
Her breathing is hot and rowdy as she lunges at him.
It reminds Roswell of his limited experiences in transferring prana, and the perverse breathing of the girl before him as though her pain and his desperation are giving her pleasure makes him wary.
But even though her movements are limp and erratic, she continues to charge at him in straight lines, and swings her weapon from side to side rather than thrusting it.
It causes her attacks to be easy to avoid.
The odd changes in this girl’s demeanor are something to worry about after the fact.
There are no other Masters present, and so Roswell must simply evade her to his heart’s content until Saber is finished.
He avoids her wild strike and moves backward, but she continues to raise her weapon and chase after him.
…Truly, it is decided in an instant.
Rider disappears without a sound.
The faint noise comes from the Master still standing in the garden.
The girl called Primea falls with a thud, her consciousness dissipating with the tension.
She runs as if to turn to her sister’s aid.
And Roswell raises his right hand.
Just when the girl reaches the threshold of the garden, he fires one Gandr shot off his extended index finger.
She makes a sudden, surprised noise like a squeal, and she drops.
Further down the street, Saber is already lowering her sword.
The battle is complete.
Roswell lets out his breath and looks into the garden.
On the soft cushion of clover, the sleeping bodies of two girls lie.
Their Command Spells have disappeared.
With those and their Servants gone, they have no means to fight any longer other than their own bodies.
“—If they come after us again—well, I suppose that we shall deal with that when the time comes.
“Until then, they can go ahead and dream.”
His soliloquy is swallowed by the night.
It is nine o’clock and the sun has set.
In the empty streets, the master of Saber turns to his Servant.
“—Let’s go home. If we run into another combat situation it will only tire you, and our allies are waiting for us—”
The sword vanishes.
The two turn and head back the way they came in silence.
(9-1 interlude out.)