* * *
Roche was perplexed.
He did not understand any of this at all. He did not want to.
Caster had grabbed him by the neck and thrown him roughly at the golem. The stone and earth that came in contact with Roche liquefied and sealed his movements. Steadily, with a creaking noise, he was being absorbed into the innards of the golem. He knew that much. But he did not understand at all.
“Um, sir… what, are you…”
“Do you not know, my Master? By this time, you should be able to comprehend that you are to serve as the core…”
The Caster whom he so respected spoke with indifference. If this was such a matter of fact to him, it must not be of much issue… yes, it was nothing… nothing important… nothing big… no!
“Why are you doing this? Why?! M-Me, the core? I don’t want…!”
“It is because you are a fitting and sufficient magus, of course. Darnic had ordered me to make do with Gordes – but given the circumstances, there is no issue with using you.”
“Wh-What are you saying?! I’m… I’m a Master! I’m your Master!”
“Correct, hence I could not make you the core, at first. However, I accepted a proposal from one of the Masters of Red earlier. So you see, I am no longer your Servant. Do you understand? I have no interest in such trivial matters as to whether Red or Black emerge as victors.”
Proposal… accepted… betrayed… no interest… only… golems…
“I suppose it would be false to claim that I have no interest in the Holy Grail itself. But what is most important to me is the activation of this Noble Phantasm – and whether, at the end of all this, I could emulate the First Man, that which is so dearly desired by all my fellows. That is why I was summoned. That is why I had lived. Fortunately, by accepting a Master on the Red camp, I can employ you as the core.”
Amongst modern magi, Roche had the greatest affinity with golems. After all, that was how he had managed to summoned Avicebron. It also meant he was most compatible to power his Noble Phantasm.
“N-No…! No! Stop it! I don’t want…! I don’t… aaaahh!”
He was being dissolved. The flesh which composed Roche Frain Yggdmillennia was melting and being fused on a cellular level – to dirtied wood, and rock, and melting, melting, melting…
Roche screamed, swinging his arms and legs in wild terror – or tried to. But he could no longer feel anything with his limbs. The entirety of his lower body, up to his elbows, had already been taken into the heart of the golem.
“Why are you doing this?! Why…?! You were everything to me! I respected you! I worshiped you! Why…?!”
Avicebron, quietly working some unknown process, suddenly turned to face him.
“I would have thought that you knew me well…”
“Avicebron. Solomon ibn Gabirol. Philosopher. Poet. Cabbalist. Misanthropic… sickly… ailed in the skin. Is that about right?”
Roche silently waited for him to continue. What great secret was Caster about to reveal…?
“Unfortunately, I must betray your expectations. I was alone in my hatred of humans, and took up golemancy only to keep myself occupied. In the end, I decided to employ it in order to imitate the Lord – but even that dream was crushed before I had even been anywhere near its conclusion.”
His had been such a mundane life. He had been such a mundane existence. He had a dream but was unable to achieve it. Ultimately, that was what his life boiled down to. However…
“…this desire of mine must fulfilled. Yes, even if others see it only as clinging to a delusion. For this, I am prepared to make any sacrifice.”
“Feel free to condemn and reproach me. Certainly, you have shown me respect and worship. It was no lie that the affection you displayed towards me was most comforting.”
However, consider this.
“I despise humanity. I weary of this world. I abhor seeing eye to eye with anyone to the point of donning a mask. I cover my entire self in all my sickness. How did you possibly reach the conclusion that I would not plot to betray you?”
It was then that Roche realized he would never be able to understand this man. His Servant did not comprehend how he felt – and he himself knew nothing at all about Avicebron.
Roche only understood him to be a genius golemancer, and cared for nothing else. His misanthropy, his disease, his thoughts about golemancy, his desires and those of his people – he ignored all of it. Thus, this was but the most obvious of conclusions. Masters and Servants who did not mutually understand one another would suffer defeat. There was nothing more to it.
“No… stop… please… don’t do this…! Help…! Save me…! Someone save me! Someone…! Anyone!”
Anyone is fine! Just save me! Please! I won’t ask for any more! I’ve learnt my lesson! I’m sorry! Please forgive me! But who should I ask forgiveness from? What did I do wrong? No… please, wait. I’m scared. I don’t want to become a golem. I don’t. I just want to make them, I…
His mind was unnecessary, thus it was drained of its color. His Magic Circuits, his Thaumaturgical Crest, his Command Spells – his everything had become mere resource to grant motion to Keter Malkuth.
At the last, one final thought grazed his mind, an ironic reflection.
He hates other people so much. He can’t bear all the annoying humans in the world. Just like me. So why… why is he trying to create a human being? Funny…
Roche continued to exist in the world, but he was no longer alive. His mind had been wiped clean, his brain and body fused into the heart of the golem. At the same time, having been granted its core, the golem’s eyes became filled with light. It drew its legs up from the lake, its feet grasping powerfully upon the earth. Splendid, Avicebron sighed. Despite being a human product of amalgamated wood and stone and earth and human flesh, it felt as though it fully incorporated the grandeur of nature. It was simply beauty in itself.
The first miracle occurred. The earth upon which the giant stood firmly upon began to sing, spreading tree and grass. The trees the giant touched bore fruit, which fell to the earth and became more trees in return.
That was not all. The birds and beasts that had been repelled by the Yggdmillennia boundary field began to appear out of nowhere. Like moths to a flame, they approached the giant without hesitation, grasping onto it – and were broken apart without a single drop of blood. They were absorbed by the giant, becoming pure energy. They could wish for nothing more; after all, unintelligent beasts had always been helplessly attracted to him.
Furthermore, the area around the giant became rejuvenated. The air was faintly filled with a sweet, honey-like smell, such that simply taking breath would fill one with utter bliss.
“Yes… this is Eden.”
This was the ultimate expression of the pinnacle of golems pursued by numerous Cabbalists. Its mere existence could replace the current world with a Paradise. That was the true nature of the golem, Keter Malkuth – an autonomous Reality Marble.
As long as it existed, the giant would continue to replace the world with its own – Eden, the land granted to Adam and Eve by God.
“Now… shall we begin the salvation of this world, my golem? You shall fight, and kill, and destroy, and build Paradise on this Earth. All other meaningless conflicts will end. All meaningless societies will cease to be.”
The golem began its march towards the Fortress of Millennia, easily scaling the cliff side. Perched on its shoulder, Avicebron glared at the magi and Servants gathered atop the half-collapsed rampart.
* * *
And so the Masters and Servants of Black met the giant. Riding upon its shoulder was Avicebron, the Caster of Black who had so readily betrayed them for the Red camp.
“Hmph. So you are all alive…”
Fiore shouted. Avicebron gave a light nod in affirmation and waved his hand.
“Rider, and the new Servant who became Saber! It is good to see you are well.”
“Don’t be a fool! What are you doing, Caster?!”
“Betraying us, it would seem…”
Jolted by Gorde’s murmur, Sieg and Astolfo stared at Avicebron. Naturally, it was the latter who was the first to make his indignation known.
“Caster! Are you turning on us? Even your own Master?!”
Caster nodded calmly.
“I would rather say that I betrayed your expectations.”
“Don’t try to joke your way out of this!”
“I did not mean that as a joke… but yes, I suppose I did betray you. I am now your enemy. And now I will destroy you, and bring salvation to the world with this supreme Noble Phantasm.”
Avicebron’s words angered Astolfo further.
“Are you stupid? What can a puppet like that do for the world?!”
There truly was no concept of ‘the fear of God’ in Astolfo – whereas Sieg, Fiore and Gordes did their absolute best to avert their gaze from Avicebron’s golem.
They could not describe it as ‘fearsome’ or ‘powerful’. If anything, ‘wondrous’ would be more appropriate. It was the pearl of His work, the only being ordained to come into life veiled in glory. It was not an exaggeration to say that they wished to prostrate themselves before it. Looking upon it conjured nothing but the clear image of defeat.
“What insolence. I see it is true that your reason has evaporated.”
Only Astolfo remained standing in haughty defiance, glaring at the golem and Avicebron who controlled it. He puffed up and declared with confidence.
“That’s right! So I’m not afraid of you at all! Whatever it is that you think you’ve created… at the end of the day, it’s just another Noble Phantasm!”
Hearing his words, Sieg relaxed. Astolfo was right; the golem was simply another piece of armament. However divine its appearance, it was simply a creation of Avicebron.
“Quite correct… which is precisely why my arrow will not falter.”
Avicebron turned around at these words echoing through the air – but he was too late. He had no means to defend against a shaft that could pierce the sound barrier. The thin shield he quickly erected was blown apart with ease, only slightly changing the arrow’s course as it planted itself firmly in his shoulder.
Rasping in pain, Avicebron pulled out the arrow fired by Chiron, the Servant of Fiore and the last hope of the Yggdmillennia.
Fiore cried out in joy. He must have masked his presence from them for the sake of this one strike.
“So you managed to cling to life, Caster. Doubtless my next shot will end you.”
It was only natural, for the class of Caster was unsuited to close combat, and Avicebron was weak in body to begin with. Holding his shoulder, Avicebron turned to face Chiron.
“Hmph… so you would aim for me, Archer. However…”
“…even if I finish you off, it will not stop your Noble Phantasm. Is that correct?”
When Chiron pointed this out, Avicebron tilted his head.
“Then, why did you shoot?”
“Is it not obvious? I will not suffer a traitor to survive.”
“How irrational… I did not take you to be one moved to action by anger.”
Avicebron lamented – and another shot was fired, followed nearly simultaneously by a second and third. Avicebron could not even prepare any defenses before his skull and chest were pierced. He tottered about on the golem’s shoulder, somehow managing to keep from slipping off. However, Chiron knew that his had been a fatal blow.
“Unfortunately Archer, my task is already complete. My Noble Phantasm is active… I have no regrets.”
It was a lie; if possible, he had wanted to see for himself the Paradise that his golem would bring forth. The wish lingered painfully in his mind. However, he could do little about his wounds. Not to mention that Chiron was correct; whatever excuses he made, it was true that he had betrayed his own Master for his own desires. Even now, the fact left a sour aftertaste in his mouth.
In the end, however, it was his decision – and he gracefully accepted the retribution for his sin of treachery. Only death remained as his atonement, for he no longer possessed anything else – besides Adam perhaps, but he would never surrender him, of course. After all, Avicebron had sacrificed everything, even his own Master, for his birth. He could not let his creation meet its end here.
“I leave the rest to you, Keter Malkuth! You… yes, you have the power to build our Paradise! Grant the world… grant all humanity… grant our people… grant us your salvation!”
To the end, Avicebron never took off his mask or reveal his flesh, even as he fused with the golem. Much like the birds and beasts, it was his wish to become nourishment for his Noble Phantasm, Adam.
The magi and Servants watched on in disbelief as a great force began to surge within the golem. Most likely, it was due to taking in such an enormous source of energy as a Servant. The giant looked at them and its gaze settled on Fiore. It swung its right hand – and materialized a weapon. It was a sword of brilliant black.
Fiore froze. Earlier, this giant had shown clear killing intent in its strike; it must understand that she was Archer’s Master.
“Oh, no… let’s get out of here!”
Astolfo grabbed Fiore by the shoulder and without hesitation, leapt off the castle wall they were standing on. The east side of the fortress rampart was suspended over a sheer cliff; the drop was over several meters to the ground.
“Do you have a landing strategy?!”
Against Fiore’s impassioned protest, Astolfo showed a self-assured smile.
“Of course I do…! Come, Hippogriff!”
Slicing apart the air, his mount caught Fiore and Astolfo on its back, its shrill call resonating through the air.
“Hmm…? It’s in pretty bad shape, huh. Hey, come on! Get!”
Astolfo smacked the Hippogiff several times in the neck, and it turned its head to look at him with some resentment. Astolfo had already forgotten about their assault on the Hanging Gardens earlier, where it had received a powerful blow from Semiramis’ thaumaturgy to the point of needing to withdraw. It only took flight again, even in such a winded state, because of its owner’s command.
The giant’s black blade slashed the air a hair’s breadth behind them.
“Wahaha! That thing’s fast! Try not to get its attention, Master!”
Still in pursuit, the giant stopped and swung again at the Hippogriff’s back. Its booming impact shook the air and scattered residual prana all about. The giant sword of obsidian was brought to a stop just inches from the helm of Jeanne, who stood atop the rampart. With a single strike, the stone floor beneath her had nearly collapsed.
“The First Man, Adam… what a troublesome thing to leave behind, Caster.”
What was possibly the most surprising was the durability of her banner, which did not bend even as its received the full brunt of the giant’s sword. However long the giant were to continue his attack, it would never break past and reach her.
“Keep it still, Ruler!”
Chiron did not miss this opportunity, of course. Drawing his bow’s string, he loosed an arrow with all his might. The arrow punctured the giant’s eyeball and it reared. With a spirited shout, Jeanne deflected the obsidian sword and made a sprinting leap towards the giant. She flipped through the air, bringing her banner down on the giant’s knee and shattering the joint. The giant could only escape backwards, jumping off the cliff and landing on the ground below. This should guarantee the safety of Gordes, Caules, and the homunculi. However, it also meant that Ruler was now alone in facing the giant.
Continuing his attack, Chiron put another arrow to his bow in one smooth, swift action. He was merciless in combat; even now, he aimed for what appeared to be the giant’s other eyes. The tactic he employed was one of pure efficiency, brutally blinding the enemy and shooting again and again from his safe position. However, the giant upon which Avicebron had entrusted all his hopes was not a simple golem.
Even from his kneeling posture, the giant was able to sweep aside his arrows. That was the first shocking truth; it was a rigorous feat for any Servant to intercept Chiron’s undetectable arrows travelling beyond the speed of sound. However massive its form, the giant should not be able to deflect the attacks which had completely sealed even the movements of Achilles in their first engagement. However, after only a single shot, the giant had understood the attack and was able to deal with it cleanly.
The giant surprised them further still by leaping backwards, taking some distance from them – and then pulling out the arrow stuck in its own eye. Even as they watched on, the wound began to close.
Jeanne grimaced and denied those words.
“No, I believe that is… the blessing from the earth itself.”
As an autonomous Reality Marble, Adam could change his surroundings to an alien world simply by existing – and in Paradise, there was no bloodshed. Therefore, the arrow’s wound was made not to exist.
“We must bring it down quickly! If it can turn all of this place into its own world – it will become immortal!”
Adam had yet to completely convert this land of despair into its Paradise; that was how they had managed to hurt it at all. However, it would not take much longer. The further the influence of Eden spread – the longer the giant continued to exist – the more powerful its recovery ability became.
It was little wonder that Avicebron had left his dreams to this giant. Possessing absolute agelessness and deathlessness, it would not be possible for humanity to defeat this impregnable being – and perhaps, not even for Servants.
Evading the giant’s downward slash, Jeanne stabbed with her banner – not towards the abdomen which she could not reach, but one of its arms. However, the great-sword was drawn back with speed and stopped her attack. And so, she could only persist in spurring her heart, wavering at the divine sight of the giant, even as she maintained her stalling tactic.
Jeanne could only buy time for the others – for she had no means to bring decisive victory. Rather, she had one – but it was forbidden to her. At the very least, she could not employ it here. She was beginning to fluster but, holding back her emotions, she continued to swing her banner and deflect the giant’s sword.
* * *
Watching all this from high above, Fiore shouted.
“Rider! Can one of your Noble Phantasms defeat that…?!”
“Sorry, but I doubt it! My flute and tome won’t do anything to it, and my lance certainly wouldn’t hurt it much. The only reliable source of damage is my Hippogriff – but considering its wounds, it won’t be able to attack at full strength. Even if it could, there’s no guarantee that it can win. If anything, I don’t think it will!”
Fiore gritted her teeth. Was there no choice but to release Archer’s Noble Phantasm, then? Although a simple Anti-Unit type attack, its force was incomparable to his regular arrows; it was meant to kill in a single blow. But what if it did not…?
No – there was no time to hesitate, Fiore chided herself. Logic dictated that it was their only remaining option.
“What is your command, Master?”
Chiron spoke to her, encouraging her towards a decision.
“Yes… Archer, you may release your Noble Phantasm. But before you do, take some time – even just a minute – to consider whether it can truly defeat that golem.”
Acknowledging her order, Chiron turned his cold gaze towards the giant – using those eyes which had in the past gauged so many champions of might, heroes of guile, and demonic creatures aside.
“The golem is formed of wood, stone, and earth, and possesses a magus as its core – its ‘heart’. That was its weakness, of course – but could it be felled by piercing through its heart, given enough strength behind the blow? No… it would not.”
With his eyes, capable of seeing through all creation, Chiron could analyse and comprehend even the internal workings of Adam.
The heart was certainly important, considering the flow of prana within the giant. However, bigger issues laid with the brain and the two feet. The giant was closer to a Servant than a human or golem; it possessed a spiritual core in the skull as well. Simply putting a shot through its heart would not bring instant death while its head was intact. Even more pressing were its two feet grasping the ground firmly. It was through the soles of its feet that the giant managed to gain huge amounts of prana flowing from the earth.
As such, three forces were necessary to completely obliterate Keter Malkuth. One attack must destroy the spiritual core in its skull. A second attack must destroy its heart. A third attack must remove both its feet from the earth.
“It is impossible for my Noble Phantasm.”
Chiron alone would be able to fulfill one of the attacks. Borrowing the power of the homunculus boy, they could secure two. However, they could not manage three. They needed Ruler to hold back the flurry of strikes from the obsidian sword; it was only through her concentrated defense that they had any openings with which to attack the giant. If she moved to attack as well, it was possible that one of the three necessary attacks would be deflected.
They needed one more on their side, a warrior who was capable of such an attack – and so there was.
“Ruler! We require one more Servant! There must be one more nearby!”
Skillfully parrying a slash from the giant, Jeanne consented to his suggestion. It seemed Chiron had a plan – and already predicted the Servant who would be close at hand to assist. She brandished her banner and declared loudly.
“Saber of Red! By the name of Jeanne d’Arc, I call upon you to aid us in battle! I know you are close enough to hear this… come to us!”
For an instant, there was silence – but they could detect her enormous swirl of prana. The steel knight stepped forth from the shadows of the fallen trees, and Sieg stiffened. It was the Servant that had killed him earlier. Her helmet was disengaged, revealing a daring grin even as she stood barely removed from the immediate danger.
“And here I am, Ruler. What do you want from me?”
“Ask Archer… please!”
The flag and the blade clashed again, and giant’s weaker weapon shattered. However, the obsidian sword must be considered one of Adam‘s possessions as well, for it too began to regenerate immediately. It truly possessed limitless endurance and recoverability. Given enough time, they would eventually be unable to harm in any way.
“I… suppose we cannot simply let bygones be bygones. But forget them for a moment; for now, we must deal with that giant first.”
“I got it. We will play nice together, for now. And you, homunculus! Do you disagree?”
Mordred called out to Sieg with a mischievous smile. He took a deep breath and chose to bear it.
“Sieg, we require your help as well! Is it possible for you to materialize and release your Noble Phantasm?”
The homunculus looked at the back of his left hand. Some time had passed since his second use of the Command Spell. That deadly sensation which had gripped him after his transformation was now faint.
“There’s no problem. I can.”
“Hold on, Master…! What are you trying to make my Master do, Archer?!”
Astolfo complained even as he flew around on the back of the Hippogriff, preparing to harry the giant. However, Sieg stopped him with a shake of his head. Chiron began to talk to the two via telepathy.
“The release of your Noble Phantasms is required to bring the giant down in one blow. Saber, you will aim for the skull. Sieg, the heart. Launch your attacks the instant you see the giant’s feet leave the ground, after I shoot through both hamstrings.”
“And what happens if we fail?”
“The giant will never fall again, becoming immortal. It will be able to do as it will to the entire world. At the very least, Romania will be completely converted into an alien world.”
Chiron promptly revealed the severity of the situation. If they failed to bring it down – if any single one of them failed to time their attack correctly – there was a chance that the giant could rise again. Failure was unacceptable. They could not even wait for a better opportunity to strike, for the only opening would be one which they made themselves.
“Damn… I suppose I have no choice but to take this seriously.”
“All right. I’ll decide the best time to transform.”
“The first task falls to you, Ruler. As soon as you clear a path, I will secure the route – and these two will destroy it.”
“Understood! Then let’s…”
“Oh, hold on, Ruler!”
Even for Jeanne, crossing blades with the giant was no simple task. Every move she made was with her full power, as sweat poured down her face. The giant was relentless in its fierce assault. It stepped forward and slashed diagonally; using the tip of her banner, she forced the blade into a different trajectory, causing it to tear into the earth.
“I… am quite busy…!”
Laughing in spite of the situation, Mordred broached the subject.
“Servant Ruler possesses Command Spells for each Servant, correct?”
“Y-Yes, that’s right…!”
“Give me two, then.”
As could be expected, Jeanne was utterly dumbfounded as Mordred extorted from her with a smile on her face. Neither Chiron nor Sieg could think of anything to say on her brazen request.
“N-No! I will not! Granting you Command Spells…”
“…is possible, yes? The ones on a Ruler should not be much different from those on a Master.”
“Yes… but not two! One, maybe…!”
“All right, one it is! Hand it over!”
It hardly needed to be explained. Making an overly large request at first and, once it is rejected, pushing through with the result you truly desired – it was one of the most basic techniques of negotiations. Jeanne had fallen for it so spectacularly that she even presented the most desirable terms before Mordred could.
“F-Fine! All right! I will grant them to you later, but now…!”
Hearing this, Mordred brandished Clarent at the sky and announced regally.
“Good! Archer, the timing is yours! And you, homunculus, get yourself ready! We will dispose of this giant within three minutes!”
“Who made you the leader?!”
Astolfo was utterly justified in pointing this out, but Chiron and Sieg had no time to respond. Mordred had already preparing to release her Noble Phantasm.
The Radiant Sword of the King crackled with electricity and began to change its shape, twisted by hatred into a blade of evil. Sieg saw this and brandished his left hand.
“With the Command Spell, I order my own flesh…”
His body transformed, as the borders of a confined world were raised. All rules were silenced and, for just three minutes, a miracle would make its advent upon the body of the homunculus called Sieg. Gordes and Caules were speechless as they watched from nearby.
Sieg expended another Dead Count Shapeshifter in exchange for a period of 180 seconds during which he crystallized as the Saber of Black. Effortlessly wielding the holy dragon-slaying sword Balmung, he immediately prepared to unleash it.
Jeanne and Chiron exchanged glances; it was from this point on that every second mattered. Jeanne swung her banner at the giant, parrying its slashes as she slowly drew it within Chiron’s effective range. However, Adam was not a fool. Although it was born with little experience in combat, it was learning at an incredible pace through exchanging blows with her. It was now beyond even the greatest of soldiers and approaching the territory of heroes. Accordingly, the tide of battle began to shift – as Adam began to overwhelm her.
The giant’s onslaught was reminiscent of an avalanche, or a tsunami, or a windstorm – a guided natural disaster. Every single strike in its unending string of attacks were placed perfectly, and with such force that any missteps from Jeanne would lead to her being torn in two.
Even those watching the scene unfold from the side were chilled. The golem certainly possessed might of arm befitting its size, and finesse of body which betrayed it. Any hero of worth could parry a powerful swing or weather a great technique – but Adam, combining the two, would doubtlessly crush down the average champion. Yet Jeanne held on, her hands steady and unshaken by the numerous strikes, every one of which must have drained her strength.
It struck fear in all of them – not the golem, which was truly extraordinary in its own regard, but the tenacity of Jeanne. The situation would not be so alarming if the giant’s opponent was one capable of overpowering it; great heroes like the Rider or Lancer of the Red camp, for example, should be able to face a giant such as this head-on and achieve victory with ease.
Jeanne did not overpower Adam in any way. She was weaker in both strength and now technique. She was little more than a single tree standing by itself against a tempest. Yet she refused to fall, continuing her dangerous game of tightrope where any single step backwards, any lost of balance, and any mistake in timing her advances meant instant death.
However, she could not create any openings in the giant’s defense. In order for Chiron to shoot through both of its legs at the same time, the giant must be forced into a situation where it forgot his existence, if only for an instant.
“Sieg, Mordred… can you go and assist her?”
Thus, the three of them must force an opening. It would become even more difficult for Chiron to gauge the timing but right now, the priority laid in actually gaining the chance to attack.
Mordred said as she released her prana, using the force to propel her forward. Sieg nodded wordlessly and, as Siegfried, brought Balmung to bear and dashed forth.
“Hey! Bring that great ugly rock for a face to my sword!”
Mordred soared through the air like a meteor, and the giant avoided her in a most surprising way.
Leaping high above her with frightening speed, the giant swung its obsidian sword downwards. Mordred clicked her tongue and defended against the slash with her own sword – but suspended in the air, she could not kill the momentum of the giant’s attack. She was smashed into the ground, just barely managing to land on her feet. However, the damage was severe, and cracks appeared in several spots on her armor. Her Master began the heal her immediately, but the giant had landed again and made to follow with another attack.
Covering for Mordred, Sieg flung himself into the fray. Both gave fierce shouts as the phantasmal great-sword and the obsidian sword clashed.
Sieg’s expression twisted at the giant’s fearsome strength, which seemed to carried even the weight of its creator’s faith. He held on, although the thought crossed his mind as to whether he was qualified to oppose such conviction to begin with.
Jeanne hurried to his side and delivered a stout blow to crush the giant’s wrist. As the giant’s strength wavered, Sieg knocked it back with all his might. However, Sieg was dismayed to see that it took only an instant for the giant to heal its ruined wrist, immediately recovering its position.
This giant was to be the savior and guiding hand of a suffering people, able to overwrite the world simply by existing. Having taken a bite of the forbidden fruit, it gained the light of wisdom. Victory was all too simple for the giant; it only needed to remain standing. With every second that passed, it progressed further and further into a state where it would be completely unassailable.
On the other hand, the disadvantage on their side was all too obvious. Even with four heroes engaging the giant directly, they had only one chance to attack. If they missed it, victory was lost. It would be particularly critical for Sieg, who was only permitted to remain as Siegfried for three minutes; the giant only needed to wait the three minutes, or for Chiron to launch a premature attack. It was likely that Avicebron had known the mechanics behind Sieg’s transformations, and that his knowledge was passed onto the giant. Seemingly realizing that the miracle of Siegfried could only be maintained for a short moment, the giant committed itself to careful, deliberated attacks. That did not mean it was passive, however, simply that it changed tactics.
Impatience began to set in again – but the immortal heart of Siegfried inside him advised otherwise. It told him that he was not wrong – that his decision was well made. After all, the great sage who commanded them from the rear had yet to speak a single word. Therefore, their tactic must be correct. Sieg had absolute trust in Chiron.
Sieg had no time or right to the luxury of hesitation. For now, all Chiron needed him to do was put all his efforts into facing the giant. He brought his sword to bear and moved to engage again. There was no need to fear the giant’s massive bulk; after all, the crimson knight standing by his side was smaller than him yet more than capable of pressing him underfoot. Nothing the giant could do would be comparable.
Sieg unleashed a storm of blows, cutting and slashing and crushing. He continued his fearless assault, forcing the giant back – and Jeanne finally saw her chance.
It came at the perfect moment. Taking a powerful step, the holy maiden cried out and swung her banner upwards with every last ounce of strength she possessed, hitting the obsidian sword directly. The giant lost its balance and began to topple. Chiron placed two arrows on his bow and began to draw, charging both with as much prana as he could muster. He would release both at the same time to shoot through the giant’s feet. The living Noble Phantasm knew where Chiron was aiming – and that it now stood on the borderline between life and death. It also understood that, if it could defend against Chiron’s arrows, it would win. The giant was not afraid of death, but it utterly rejected failure in accomplishing the task it was given.
Chiron never lost his composure even as he prepared for his extraordinary shot. With a light nod, the sniper fired.
The First Man roared. It was obvious that it would lose at least one of its feet – so it worked to avoid losing both. It would only take seconds to recover from the former, after which the enemy would be powerless to stop it. The two massively charged arrows split the night and raced towards their targets. With the momentum of a cruise missile and destructive force to match, one completely pierced through and destroyed one of the giant’s ankles.
However, the giant was only concentrating on the other arrow to begin with. It was impossible to defend against it with the sword; there was not enough time. Thus the giant arrived at the most logical conclusion. There was no need for it to make up its mind, for it only did what was necessary.
The other arrow impacted directly on the giant’s left arm, tearing it to shreds – but it was worth the loss, for Chiron had failed to fulfill their victory condition of removing both feet at the same time. Yet if the giant had turned its gaze on him, it would have realized what Chiron’s true intentions. Chiron murmured, paying no heed to the fact that his shot had failed to reach its target.
“Caster… it certainly is possible for your golem to change this world. It would save your people and lead them to Eden.”
The giant began to regenerate; once its remaining feet reached the ground, the world would grant its blessing to Adam.
“However, it would seem the gaining of wisdom could not prevent one mistake. Yes, it has forgotten… that a hero without reason would not fear even your one true God.”
Something crashed into the back of the giant’s knee, and the feet that would have reached the earth was brought swinging into the air. A new emotion took root in the giant’s developing mind – fright.
The heroes arrayed against it were all famous figures: the Knight of Treachery, the pinnacle of bowmen, the holy maiden savior, and the strongest dragon-slayer. However, there was one more on the battlefield which could not be forgotten.
“Got it…! It’s all yours, Master!”
A minor champion, a gallant and excellent knight, and a hero so bereft of reason that he feared no God or Devil. The rider on his phantasmal mount brought down the enemy with his golden lance.
Charging the giant on his Hippogriff, Astolfo hit the back of its knee directly with the Trap of Argalia. In terms of damage, it was nothing than a mosquito bite, but the scene soon turned surreal as Adam tumbled into the air. It was as though it had comically stepped on a banana peel.
The golden lance was a weapon with the concept of making anyone who touched it fall down, a humorous yet deadly effect. And before its power there would be no exceptions – not Servants, and not even the First Man.
In the moment it became airborne, Adam lost the blessing of the earth. It was for these few seconds that the great sage had planned so carefully for. For the best-laid plans caught its opponent easily yet unexpectedly, while over-complicated schemes found themselves crumbling before brute simplicity.
From the moment Astolfo had saved his master, Chiron had begun to prepare for this moment. All of his actions afterwards were made with the impression that those two were no longer present in the battle. From that point on, Astolfo must have disappeared from the giant’s thoughts as it devoted its attention to its four opponents at present. It was a weakness born from Avicebron’s own lack of understanding of Astolfo. The Rider of Black was a weak hero and had no means to disarm the giant; however, he could easily remove its footing – all the more given that he did not fear Adam at all.
It was time for the two heroes to make their move. Siegfried curled his body like a wild beast and leapt forward, while Mordred release her prana is a single burst and flew at her target like a bullet.
Red lightning crackled as Mordred exercised her Prana Burst fully, her instincts telling her that this was their one and only chance at victory. Her Master might complain now, but surely it would be forgotten once she had won. Right now, it was time to revenge herself for what she was made to suffer earlier. All feelings of humiliation were blown aside by her animosity as she aimed at the skull of Adam – the puppet that dared to stand before her with its one-track obedience and artificial life. There was some grudging sympathy – but it was incomparable with her animosity.
“Sword of the king!”
Responding to her enmity, the sword symbolic of the king’s authority began to warp, stained by her hatred.
* * *
“I see… so you are just another golem, in the end.”
Sieg thought. Yes, the Noble Phantasm Adam had the incredible ability to change the world. However, it was not born of its own will. Its wish was neither chosen nor even borrowed – but simply granted by Avicebron. It did not yet possess its own opinion. In that case – Sieg must win.
Sieg had advanced further than this giant. He did not act in accordance with what was mandated of him, but his own precious desires which he had taken so long to form. He was proud of his wish and would risk his life for it. The salvation of his comrades – it was as foolhardy as it was straightforward and clear, and it grew with every passing moment. No matter how many times he tried to lift them up, his weak self would never have been able to save them all – but he had been granted strength to do so, by those who had changed his life. That was why he could not lose. That was why he must win.
It was much the same scene as the initial clash of the Sabers earlier in the war, but with a single difference; the two swords were now aiming at the same target, the great Noble Phantasm which Avicebron had devoted everything in life for – Keter Malkuth. There was no need to match their individual timing. They needed only to think back to the last time they had acted in unison.
The Saber of black shouted.
The Saber of Red roared.
Bright twilight and crimson aurora fused together and threw out dazzling light of every color. All those who saw it swallowed their breath at its magnificence – and so, it seemed, did Adam. The puppet of stone and wood and dirt reached out at the shining light – that light of consummate annihilation wielded by the two very different swordsmen: the slayer of dragons and the killer of heroes.
The crimson emission bore through the head of the golem as surging twilight completely devoured its core. Not three seconds had passed since Jeanne raised her banner, Chiron released his arrows, and Astolfo tripped the giant. In that brief moment, they had fulfilled all of their objectives. Mordred chuckled and thrust out a middle finger.
“Headshot! Go find your Eden elsewhere, pawn!”
The woods around the giant began to wither before the golem had completely collapsed. After all, the earth could no longer become Paradise, as the undying Adam decayed.
“We did it!”
Astolfo pumped his fist into the air and the magi finally let out the breath they had been holding. Seeing this and realizing that his task had been complete – that he would be able to continue fulfilling his wish – Sieg felt relief in his heart. His suit of armor came apart and he paid no further attention to his exhaustion and pain.
Jeanne ran over to him. Sieg raised his right hand to signal that he was all right; however, the gesture was apparently so weak that it made her worry even more. She gripped his body here and there, searching for wounds.
“You are not injured, are you…?”
She asked one more time for confirmation. She really does worry too much, Sieg thought as he replied.
“It still aches a bit… but yes, I’m all right.”
“Boys cannot be trusted when they say they are ‘all right’.”
Sieg had no response to that claim. In any case, she was satisfied that he was not harmed. Jeanne knelt and clasped her hands together, praying for the fading giant. Was it to bring peace to the Caster of Black? The magus who was converted into the core? Or the newborn foetus whose mere birth could not be forgiven? Sieg did not know; he simply thought that she was beautiful as she prayed. However, it was at the same time a painful sight to behold, for he knew that prayers did not reach anyone. Nothing came from relying on heavenly forces; she must know better than anyone else that nothing could be saved by prayer alone.
Yet the holy maiden Jeanne d’Arc continued. One day, Sieg thought, he would ask her – whither she directed her prayers to.
* * *
The battle was over. They had managed to defeat both the Caster of Black and his Noble Phantasm, but it could hardly be said that they had reversed the overall situation.
“Ruler, my Master wishes to speak with you.”
Chiron called out to Jeanne.
“You as well, Saber of Red.”
“Yes, if you wish only to speak. We will form no alliances.”
“Very well. Let us simply share what information we possess, then. After all, you and your Master do not yet fully grasp what had taken place within the Hanging Gardens.”
Mordred made a noise of irritation and turned her back to them, beginning a quick exchange with Shishigou via telepathy.
“Okay… oh, and my Master expects his compensation within the day.”
As soon as Jeanne heard this, her face was overcome by distress. But a promise was a promise, and she had no choice in the matter. At the very least, she had one Command Spell remaining for herself, which would be enough to prevent the worst from occurring. Although disheartened, she assured them that she would make good on her commitments.
Shishigou must have been observing the battle from unexpectedly close by, as he reached the rendezvous in less than five minutes. He was greeted by Mordred, Jeanne, Chiron, and Fiore.
“Fiore Forvedge Yggdmillennia, right? I haven’t seen you since… yesterday.”
Shishigou raised a hand and grinned. Meanwhile, the girl tried to maintain her composure – but somewhere in her expression a slight rigidness could be found. Unlike the mercenary, she was not quite as capable in detaching herself from her emotions.
“Yes… we meet again under surprisingly different circumstances, and much sooner than I had wanted.”
“Well, we’ll all have to change our views a bit. From the moment the Greater Grail was stolen, this war has moved onto its next stage. We aren’t enemies any more.”
“Yes. for now.”
They chuckled. Fiore knew one thing for certain – behind the man’s sunglasses, there was no laughter to be found in his eyes. Of course, Shishigou could say much the same for her.