The Hanging Gardens had already begun its advance. Having taken the Greater Grail into its stomach, the fortress sailed across the dawn sky.
With his sensory abilities as a Ruler, Shirou was able to determine that Avicebron had perished; it would seem he was unable to fulfill his dream. In any case, it meant that the opposing camp now had some leeway to reform and reorganize.
“Considering the time required to go through all of their information, trace our location, not mentioning the actual pursuit… I would say around three days.”
“Until they are upon us again, you mean?”
“Yes. Assuming, of course, that Ruler is able to convince the Yggdmillennia magi and bring together the surviving Servants.”
It was possible that the Yggdmillennia would lose faith and beg for aid at the door of the Association. This was an emergency even for the Association; after all, they wanted the Greater Grail as well.
“Now… what say we hear your side of the story? Then I will decide whether to take your head.”
Achilles said with a grim face, thrusting the blade of his spear into the floor. It was not an exaggeration; if Shirou were to give an unsatisfactory response, Achilles would aim to kill the boy regardless of his chance of success. More problematic was the distance between them, as there would be no time for him to utilize a Command Spell.
Rather, ‘distance’ was never an issue to begin with – for Achilles, anything within his sight had already entered striking distance. His spear would be able to close in and decapitate him in an instant. And that was without mentioning the other Servant who had an arrow drawn and ready on Tauropolos. Atalanta was similarly prepared to shoot through his skull without reserve. She waited only on Shirou’s answer.
Karna did not yet move from his place by the wall, though it was beyond clear that he would not follow any commands just yet. However, Shirou had no choice but to speak the truth in his heart. He did not believe it would be possible to deceive any of them to begin with, least of all Karna.
“I will answer all questions truthfully.”
“Good. So what are you planning?”
“The salvation of all mankind, as I have already said to Ruler. That was the purpose for which I required the Greater Grail. I required it, and so I acquired it… just as I required Servants to survive this Great War, so I acquired all of you.”
Achilles and Atalanta gave brief glances at Karna, before whom all attempts at falsehoods and blandishments were meaningless. The ‘Hero of Charity’ nodded lightly at them.
There was surprise, and confusion. Shirou was evidently serious. They could not laugh his words off as some insane drivel. They pressed him further.
“Where are our Masters? What did you do to them?”
“Can you not sense them? All five of them are in a room on this very garden. In fact, they should all be still very much alive and human. The poison we used was made to ensure that.”
“So it was you, then…”
All of the Servants rounded on Semiramis, who wore her usual elegant smile as she turned to face and answer them.
“But of course, we could hardly have them moving about as they pleased. However excellent, they are but Magi… ones who consider naught but how to surpass their fellows. They would only hamper us.”
“Indeed, you are showing just how different you are to them and their self-centered ways.”
Semiramis shot a dirty look at Karna for his quiet remark, and Shirou chuckled awkwardly.
“And what’s to come of us? Once we’ve served our purposes, you’ll just get rid of us, then? Is that why you wanted to become the sole Master?”
“Oh, far from it. As long as your wishes do not directly conflict with mine, I will give my all to see that your individual desires are granted as well. As your Master, I also would like to ask of you all; what is it that makes you seek the miracle that is the Holy Grail?”
All three Servants fell silent at his words. After exchanging some subtle glances with one another, Achilles sighed and spoke.
“My wish is no different from when I was alive… to ‘live as a hero’, nothing more.”
“Are you saying that there is nothing left for you, and you have no desire for a second life?”
“Not quite… settling down in this world certainly has its own appeal. But before all else comes my conduct as a hero.”
That was the oath he had sworn to his mother, to live and to die as a hero. That would never change, in one life or the next; Achilles would not accept anything else. He did not regret any of the things he had done in his past life – the deeds he accomplished, the evils he committed, even his rebellion against the Gods. However, he would not pretend to be a saint and act as though he had no other desires. If anything, he was filled with impulses and urges.
“I see, I see… but I must say, a rather uninspired wish for the great Achilles.”
“Shut it, Empress. As you say, my wish is uninspired… but don’t think I’ll let it go just because of whatever high and noble cause you think to have. I’m in this only for me and my own.”
Achilles and Semiramis glared at each other. Shirou spoke out as though to intercede.
“All wishes are equal. They are not judged by any height. In any case, what you desire is something you are willing to fight for… and it is not something which clashes with my interests. You simply need to act as a hero for my sake, and destroy my enemies. I will support you with prana and Command Spells.”
“And you are so sure that your enemies are the same as mine?”
“If you ever judge that they do not coincide, feel free to ignore or assist us as you please. However… I do believe there is a single Archer in the Black camp which opposes us.”
Achilles clicked his tongue, but his murderous mood began to fade. After all, settling the duel with Chiron was his one goal in this war.
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes… but I’ll wait until the others are all done.”
Achilles said as he placed his spear at his feet. It was not a sign of surrender; he still stood in defiance, not accepting his new Master. But he made it known that he would not oppose them for the time being.
“As for myself… while it was quite grating to hear that my Master had been poisoned, I suppose there is little point in worrying myself further. I shall accept you as my new Master.”
“Are you serious? That’s all there is to it, then?”
Despite the exasperation in Achilles’ tone, Atalanta answered him with an even voice.
“That is all there is to it, for this is the Holy Grail War. It is a competition to overtake all rivals… and it is none’s fault other than your own to fall for the tricks of others. My former Master ought have exercised caution before calling forth me as a Servant. I do not feel bound to such a Master, filled with hubris in place of care. That they still live is already a blessing in itself.”
Her words were hard and devoid of pity, but they were not without logic. For the girl who had been abandoned soon after birth and raised by on the breast of a bear until being found by hunters, the world was a simple place where subsistence was something seized from others. However, there was still one thing which she had mercy upon.
“My wish is for a world where all children are loved. A cycle of life where the young can be raised in the loving care of fathers and mothers, so that they too can one day raise their own. Anyone daring to interfere with this desire of mine shall receive no mercy from me.”
“Do not take this as offense, Archer, but… is such a world not impossible?”
There was some anger in Atalanta’s words as she replied to Semiramis’ question.
“Then for what do we vie for the Holy Grail? How be it a wish-granter if it cannot fulfill such a simple request?”
Shirou nodded with a light smile on his face.
“Yes… such a wish is perfectly possible for the Holy Grail. In some form or another, it will be capable of granting her desire. After all, the thing you wish for is but a portion of my own.”
“The salvation of mankind, is it?”
“That’s right. Of course, you may deny and reject my wish. I will simply remove the contract between us, so that you are free to work with someone else. You can even join the Black camp.”
It was not a lie, as far as Atalanta could see. And while she did have one question remaining, it was likely the same as that in the minds of Achilles and Karna – the question which ought to close this discussion.
“What of you, Lancer?”
Atalanta passed the conversation to Karna, standing with his back against the wall as he watched in silence with his divine eyes. All this time, Shirou had felt immensely pressured by the hero, almost as though he had been laid open before him. Quietly, Karna began to speak.
“In truth, you are not the Master who summoned me… the one who desperately called for my aid in obtaining the Holy Grail despite being so weak in body. That was the reason why I took up arms and answered the summons. That is my wish, and my compensation.”
“You mean to say that the only Master you recognize is the one who called for you? You are a fool, Hero of Charity. That decision is most unwise.”
Taking his declaration as a sign of hostility, Semiramis moved immediately to neutralize him. However, she was held in check by Shirou’s gaze. Karna did not show any hint of fear as he continued flatly.
“Call me what you will, Queen of Assyria. Your brandings do not concern me. I am nothing more than a spear.”
Aside from Shirou, all the Servants present were at a loss for words. After all, having been granted knowledge by the Holy Grail, they all understood what kind of existence this extraordinary hero was. If anyone else had said the same thing, this excessive display of humility – to the point of becoming a repulsive slavishness – would have been met with irritation or sarcasm. However, Karna’s words came from the bottom of his heart; he believed in them in all his earnestness.
“In that case… may I also call for your aid?”
“Certainly, the positions have been reversed, but the enemy will come for the Grail all the same. As such, I only need to destroy them.”
He apparently would not oppose them. With some hesitation, Semiramis lowered the arm she had raised to weave a spell.
“Well… it is also my own desire to fight for this side, so all the better. With all my might shall the flames engulf any who attempt to take the Grail.”
The spearman’s words alarmed the others. It seemed even Karna, who did not possessed any concept of self-interest, had a wish for the Holy Grail.
“Do you refer to the continuation of your duel with Siegfried?”
“Yes. After all, that was what was requested of me when we first fought.”
Their duel had been an unending display of technique and skill. The God-spear pierced that immortal dragon’s scales again and again, even as the great-sword managed to make its mark all over his unbreakable golden armor. Theirs had been neither a ruthless duel to the death nor some feeble exercise where both sides held their strengths in check. Instead, it had been a miraculous balance of two fully unleashed forces rivaling one another. Those few hours until the dawn that ended their duel had lasted but an instant.
Shirou raised his eyebrows, but decided to say nothing of the fact that Karna’s wish could no longer be fulfilled. After all, Siegfried was already gone. All that existed of the Saber of Black now was contained within a simple homunculus. However, it seemed that was precisely what Karna was referring to; perhaps he had already known.
“If the Saber of Black ever comes to the Hanging Gardens, I assure you that he will find his way to you.”
Shirou said, and Karna gave a slight nod of gratitude. It was not a lie, after all, that Siegfried still existed if only in appearance. Although some guilt remained in his heart, it would only bring further trouble if Shirou were to speak his mind and cause Karna to take back his word – although such a thing was unimaginable from such a charitable hero.
“Now, allow me to represent the three of us in asking one final question. Shirou Kotomine… how do you plan to use the Holy Grail to bring about salvation for all mankind?”
That was the one question the three Servants all wanted answered. After all, their opposition included the neutral Ruler – and it was clearly their side which attacked her first. Servant Ruler was summoned to protect the conduct of the Holy Grail War and prevent said conflict from bringing destruction to the world at large; in their present situation, it seemed clearly to be the latter case. In other words, the Grail itself had determined Shirou’s wish to be a threat.
“Yes… it will invite some unfortunate misconceptions if I do not speak of this now. For example, some might think that I am not considering saving the world at all, but simply acting as a puppet for that laughing Servant over there…”
Hearing this, Semiramis looked somewhat disgruntled and turned away.
“So, how I will use the Greater Grail to save humanity… let me be a bit more specific in terms of what I plan to do.”
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada began to speak – of the results of innumerable thoughts entwined by nigh madness into the single conclusion he reached. No matter how others might misunderstand it – whatever they would accuse him of – he would never change this answer.
* * *
“…That was what Archer and I had encountered.”
Jeanne’s recount crushed the words from all those present. The shock was clear on the faces of all of them aside from Chiron, who had witnessed it all first-hand. It would take some time before the silence was finally broken.
The Fortress of Millennia laid mostly in ruins, but there were still an abundance of rooms available. They were gathered in a meeting room for clan members. Fallen chairs and a shattered chandelier spoke of the impact from earlier, but Fiore corrected them right away. Of course, not even Fiore and Gordes combined would be able to repair the entire castle. They could only take their time in fixing one small part at a time.
A thought suddenly came to Caules as he looked around at all those in this room. It was strange that Darnic, Celenike, and Roche – the Masters whom he had been sure would survive the war – were all dead, whereas he himself was still alive. After all, it was obvious that he would be the first Master to fall, or so he had convinced himself. He was simply lacking as a Magus.
The situation seemed almost surreal. Perhaps it was due to the display of overwhelming force he had just been shown. Perhaps he was still unable to let go of the death of his own Servant. Or perhaps, he simply had yet to fully accept the things he just heard.
But that’s obvious, Caules thought. The things that Ruler had mentioned were simply too ridiculous, too bizarre – and too horrifying.
“So there’s… one more Ruler, Amakusa Shirou Tokisada?”
Finally, Fiore managed to force a response out of herself. She was a soft talker to begin with – and even quieter than usual just now – but within the silence of the room, her words clearly reached their ears.
“And this… other Ruler, you said he even had three Command Spells for each of the Servants on their side?”
Caules asked. Jeanne nodded grimly.
“Yes, it is true. Those brilliant marks on his arms were certainly Command Spells. Rider, Lancer, and Archer… the three of them may not be willing, but they have no choice but to obey him.”
With the Command Spells, he possessed even the authority of the Masters. Without the prana he provided them with, they would not be able to take form in the world. Those Servants with the Independent Action skill might find it less difficult, but there was a limit even to that.
“But besides those three, he himself is a Servant, right? And if what you said earlier was true, then he already had one on his side to start with! How is that even possible?”
Caules stood up and shouted. The Master and the Servant were a paired existence, one each existing for the other; to break this relation and contract with five Servants at once was ridiculous. Even if you were to try, all of your prana would be drained long before you reached that number, and you would wither into nothingness.
“I believe he said that he was receiving energy from the Greater Grail. As long as he remains connected to it, the prana it has built up alone would be able to sustain all of them.”
“In other words, a division of the prana pathways similar to our homunculi.”
Jeanne nodded at Gordes. However, in their case the Greater Grail did not control everything. There was little doubt that Shirou had the base authority as Master to decide who would be supplied with prana.
“Amakusa Shirou… he was a saint of the Far East, yes? Can you tell me more about him, Archer? I’m afraid that I really don’t know that much.”
“Yes, Master… Amakusa Shirou Tokisada was a boy who had lived about five centuries ago. He was the leader of a large-scale uprising in a place called Shimabara in Japan.”
“Yes. He was but seventeen years of age when his life ended.”
Caules was taken aback that there was a Heroic Spirit of the same age as him.
Chiron continued to tell the simple story of the boy saint. Amakusa Shirou had no stunning victories to his name. Although he had led a great rebellion, it was just preceded by an era when the country itself had been a engulfed by warfare between myriad lords and states all pulling at one another. It was shortly after this period ended with the final unification of the nation of Japan that Amakusa Shirou was born.
Massive increases in taxation; a poor harvest due to unstable climate; the crackdown on followers of an alien region not accepted by the country – all of these things came together and caught fire at the worst time, setting alight the powder keg that was Shimabara and beginning the greatest peasant revolt in Japanese history. The rebels numbered 37,000 with supposedly around 20,000 of those being non-combatants.
They were led by their ‘savior’ Amakusa Shirou Tokisada. The seemingly normal boy had, by sixteen, accomplished various miracles – healing the eyes of a blind girl, walking on the surface of the sea – and began spreading his faith. When the smaller uprisings taking place all over converged into one single movement, it was only natural that Amakusa Shirou was brought up as a candidate for leadership. That was how much that his followers believed in him and his God.
However, their successes quickly came to a stop. Despite some initial victories during their stand at Hara Castle against the impetuous Shogunate forces, besiegement deprived them of provisions and led to their downfall. With the exception of one collaborator, all thirty-seven thousand of them were killed there. The boy had died as neither hero nor saint, regretting that for all of his miraculous powers he could not save any of them.
“From what you have said… he does not seem so terrifying a Heroic Spirit.”
“That is true. In power alone, he is greatly inferior to heroes such as ourselves… however, that is all the more reason why I fear him.”
Chiron thought back to when Shirou had appeared before them in the chapel and declared his true name without hesitation. It stuck out to him that even as Shirou made an enemy out of nearly every Servant present, he did not break his smile, much less lose composure. At the time, his only collaborator had been his own Servant, Semiramis. Aside from her, he was simultaneously pressured by six heroes – no easy storm to weather. He agreed with Jeanne’s words.
“Yes… I find that Ruler fearsome as well. It is not his strength or skill that frightens me, but simply the form of his faith.”
It was not merely his adamantine will, but the immensity of his faith that could bring to heel any human being or Heroic Spirit – a monstrous black hole in human form. Yet his was not insanity, for the insane could not hold such a powerful conviction.
What did Amakusa Shirou see, and feel, and swear to do that day – on that battlefield where the thirty-seven thousand lives that worshiped him as their Messiah were massacred?
Jeanne and Astolfo had lived their lives through periods of strife. Chiron came from an era of myth when heroes roamed the world. However, they could give no answers to these questions.
* * *
“Let us put this aside for now… the problem is what he plans to do.”
Chiron nodded at Jeanne.
“He will make some attempt with the Greater Grail… but it is not for revenge. That much is certain. His goal is not the changing of his history or resurrection of the dead.”
“How do you know this?”
Jeanne answered Fiore.
“It is as he himself said… his goal is the salvation of all mankind.”
“Absurd is what it is…”
Gordes snorted in laughter. Mordred sighed.
“Are you dull, fat one? What is the purpose of the Holy Grail if not to easily grant such an absurd wish?”
Placating the fuming Gordes, Fiore argued.
“I do believe Uncle is correct… ultimately, the Holy Grail is just a massive pool of energy. It certainly will be enough to grant most wishes. It is possible for it to bypass all theories and processes, and bring about only results. In the opposite manner, however, any wish it is capable of granting requires a process to omit.”
Coming to a realization, Sieg asked Jeanne.
“But then… isn’t it meaningless to wish for the salvation of humanity?”
“In such a case, yes. For example, if you simply asked the Holy Grail to ‘save mankind’, it would cease to function as long as the wisher did not possess some concrete idea of what procedures that would entail. A wish is a wish, it requires a set course to reach its conclusion.”
“And what if this Shirou does have a concrete idea? Regardless of whether it would truly lead to salvation?”
Jeanne swallowed her breath as Sieg hit the weak point in the logic.
“If so… then I believe the Holy Grail will carry it out.”
“But how could such a method exist?”
Caules shook his head at Fiore’s words.
“I don’t think that’s the problem here. The issue is, what if this Shirou believed strongly enough that his method was enough to save humanity?”
Fiore tilted her head in confusion.
“Do you see, Master? The Holy Grail is not able to fulfill desires for which the wisher himself knew of no way of being carried out. In reverse, the Grail can act when the wisher does possess such a concept. The worry is that the ‘method’ chosen by him will be one that brings disaster upon mankind.”
Without some solid form of implementation, there would be no further concerns. However, provided Shirou Kotomine was in possession of such a thing – even if the majority of humanity would believe it to be mistaken – the Holy Grail would most likely activate.
“So that’s it, then? Let’s say there’s a man who wishes that he’s the best Magus in the entire world. In his mind, that meant every Magi better than him ought to be dead. Are you saying that the Holy Grail would go ahead and do it for him?”
Shishigou’s words silenced the room. Slightly jarred, Mordred asked.
“Do not tell me that is your wish, Master…?”
“It’s not… seriously, don’t give me that look. What about it, Ruler?”
“Your logic is sound, provided that the man in your example truly knew of no other method.”
Sieg recalled something.
“Then you being summoned as Ruler…”
“…would imply that Shirou’s seizure of the Greater Grail, and his wish of salvation, represents a threat to the world, yes. Whatever the case, the act of Servant Ruler employing other Servants in order to place a wish upon the Holy Grail is in itself the grossest of misconducts beyond any debate. That is why the Masters and Servants gathered here are going to stop him. I hope that there are no objections.”
The Magi of Yggdmillennia nodded, although in truth only Fiore remained as a Master. Both Caules and Gordes had already lost their Servants and could do little to help. As for Shishigou…
“…I do agree that Shirou Kotomine, or Amakusa Shirou, needs to be stopped. Well, it’s not like we really have a choice. You’re not going to disagree with me, are you, Saber?”
Mordred nodded in agreement, somewhat sulkily.
“No… I do want to settle things with that Saber over there, but at this point we really have little say in the matter. And to be fair, the other camp is rather irksome… especially that Assassin.”
“So you mean that…?”
Shishigou signaled their agreement to Fiore.
“At the very least, we don’t mind working together until we take them down. We can use Self-Geis Scrolls, if you prefer… both of us, of course.”
The Self-Geis Scroll was a binding documentation and the most powerful spell-based contract in Magi society. It bound the very souls of the participants and, depending on its contents, could continue to affect both parties in life or in death, or even their offsprings, and the offsprings of their offsprings. Fiore considered Shishigou’s suggestion for a while and then shook her head.
“There is no need to go so far. I will trust you on this.”
Astolfo tugged on Sieg’s sleeve. When he turned around, the Servant said quietly to him.
“Hey… are you really going to fight?”
“Yes, I am.”
Sieg stated clearly and firmly. In truth, he did not care much for whatever plot that Shirou worked towards, although it had already taken many lives. The dead included homunculi, and Servants, and Masters – some of whom had accepted their fate, others which withered away in bitterness. However, he did not fight for their revenge; he had no right to such a thing and Shirou would not be the target to begin with. Yet Sieg had gained some rights – his authority as a Master, and his ability to participate as a Servant. As such, he considered it his duty to see through this Great War to its end, even if it costed him his life.
“I still think it’s better if you don’t, though…”
Astolfo murmured, seeming strangely dissatisfied. With some irritation in her low voice, Mordred replied.
“What would he do if not fight? He is a Saber.”
“He is not Saber. My Master is not Siegfried. I don’t want to see him in danger like that… he’s had enough.”
The entire room once again fell silent. However, it was somewhat different from earlier on. After a while, Mordred somewhat sheepishly pointed out the obvious.
“Did you just tell me his true name?”
“Huh? Didn’t you already know?”
“No! By God, you are stupid! Why did you even say it?”
“I… cannot defend you this time.”
Chiron sighed. ‘Perhaps I was right after all,’ Gordes muttered. Caules put a hand to his head, and Fiore’s eyes became dead.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Rider…”
The accusing gazes of the others made even Astolfo shrink back. Putting his hands together, he turned to his Master with a sad face.
“Huh? Oh, well, I don’t really mind. Besides, Saber, didn’t you hear the name of my Noble Phantasm?”
Mordred put a hand over her mouth in surprise. It seemed she had forgotten.
“Eh? Um… we were in the middle of battle, so I did not pay attention. Now that I recall, it was the holy sword Balmung. Curse it, now I feel like the fool.”
“Don’t worry, Saber. I was paying attention.”
“Oh, shut it, Master.”
Mordred glared at the self-satisfied Shishigou.
“And Rider… sorry, but I do plan to fight. I will fight by your side, as your Master. That’s my way of returning the favor, to you and to Ruler.”
Jeanne took on a difficult expression as Astolfo puffed up in indignation.
Sieg simply looked at his left hand and the black, strangely-shaped Command Spells on its back. He could see patches of his skin beginning to blacken. After checking earlier, he found the same shade spreading on his chest and back. The question now was, what would happen if he were to use one more Command Spell.
He recalled the terrible sensation he had felt the instant before he wrapped himself in his ‘shell’ via Command Spell. There was no mistake that it was something critical to his current state. After all, his existence was just all too miraculous, even for the Command Spells which sustained him.
Once Sieg used up all of his Command Spells, he would most likely die. However, he could understand that he would use them in future regardless. He would use up even the last one if it meant helping the others in some way. Sieg realized the irony that the homunculus who had escaped to find life would now consider and accept his own death.
“Sieg… you’re not thinking of something strange again, are you?”
Jeanne’s words suddenly reaching him, Sieg hastily shook his head. ‘I do hope so,’ she said as her eyes narrowed. His own Servant Rider aside, he found it strange how Ruler had also tried to distance him from the fighting. However, it was his decision to remain – not due to the irresistible force of fate, but by of his own will.
* * *
With the acknowledgement of the others, Fiore moved on to the next concern.
“Now the matter is what will happen from here on… where they are heading, to start with. Would you happen to know, Ruler?”
Jeanne shook her head.
“No, unfortunately. In the first place, I did not conceive that the Hanging Gardens would be able to seize the Greater Grail by force. And while I do know what it is they plan to do, I do not know where it is they will attempt it. However, we can still pursue them. Due to the circumstances of my summoning, I am strongly connected to the Grail and can sense its approximate location. We will not lose track of it.”
Besides, the Hanging Gardens was a powerful energy source, as were the Servants of Red currently garrisoned there. There were plenty of ways to track them down.
“They are moving by air, and such a massive structure must be quite slow. In terms of distance, it would be a simple task to overtake them, but…”
Jeanne did not speak further. As she said, catching up to them was easy enough; however, the bigger issue was what could be done once that occurred. After all, the Hanging Gardens was suspended in the air, unreachable from the ground. It should be possible to ‘leap’ onto it by expending Command Spells, but that would be too much of a waste.
“My Hippogriff can make it.”
“Can your Hippogriff carry all of us?”
“Oh, I suppose not. I can’t exactly make it pull a carriage, so there’s only one more seat behind me. And I’m not riding with anyone but my Master!”
“Do not look so proud of yourself when you say that… useless Rider.”
Astolfo laughed with some embarrassment as Mordred shot a chilled gaze at him.
“Anyway, it can’t be easy moving long distances with an active Noble Phantasm. And there isn’t any thaumaturgy suitable to moving so many people at once… or to be exact, the cost will be too high. It will put too much strain on the Magus performing it. Why don’t we just charter a plane?”
“Hmm, well, I guess little bro does have a point, but…”
“Don’t call me that, old man… what’s the issue?”
Shishigou frowned at the jab at his age, while Mordred held back her laughter and remained silence. Only pain laid down that particular path of discussion.
“They have an Archer on their side, too.”
“Oh… right. That’s right…”
Caules scratched his head. Of course, the Huntress would engage any Servants approaching by air as soon as she detected them.
“Damn it. I guess the real problems start only if we even manage to get that close.”
With her acting as a gun turret on the Hanging Gardens, any method of approach would be risky. On top of that, the chariot carried by three horses possessed by Achilles could also freely take to the air.
“We can’t expect planes to withstand an attack by Servants.”
“But there is no other choice. Things would be different provided we had some extraordinary thaumaturgical tools on hand, but anything like that capable of flight would have astronomical costs.”
Besides, it would be most difficult warding off Atalanta’s attacks even with thaumaturgy. Neither the esoteric nor the scientific stood much chance before the brutal might of a Servant.
“In that case, I guess planes are at least cheaper to come by.”
“We will think of another way to deal with the Archer of Red… first, we need the transport.”
With that, Fiore decided on their next course of action for the time being. Whether they assaulted by plane or some other contraption – they needed some way to fly and chase down the Hanging Gardens.
“We will take a break for now, and contact the other members of our clan. If any of you would like to sleep, feel free to use one of the vacant rooms. Rest well.”
Fiore, Chiron, and Caules left the meeting room. Faint orange light was beginning to seep into the ruined castle.
“It’s already dawn…”
Their longest day was nearing its end – but there was no time for Fiore to relax. She must report the current situation to their brothers and sisters around the world, and hasten to decide the next head of the clan. It was something that could have been decided by Darnic’s word alone, but he had yet to decide on a successor prior to his death, one mere step from the Greater Grail before perishing alongside his Servant.
The history of the Yggdmillennias was the history of Darnic Prestone. For good or ill, he had possessed both the ability and the charisma to lead the entire clan. In truth, it might have simply been a matter of greed. Perhaps it all came from his longing to reach the Root, or for glory, or fame, or the restoration of the sullied name of Yggdmillennia. Would she be capable of that? No, there was no use thinking about it. There were things she ought to do before then. But where would she begin?
“So, what are we going to do?”
“We have the funds necessary, so purchasing some planes should not be a problem…”
“Not that. I meant that ballista they have on top of their castle.”
“Oh, her? Well… do you have any ideas, Archer?”
“It is possible for me to deal with Archer or Rider individually. It would not be very difficult, and it is likely expected by our enemies as well.”
With this preamble, Chiron revealed his plan. It was simple to a fault just as he said, but certainly effective. At the same time, it also meant that only one of the two objectives would be tied down. Only after figuring out a way to deal with the other could they reach the Hanging Gardens.
After that would be the true test, in terms of whether their current group could stand up to the Red camp – and she was not optimistic. Certainly, they had a rare champion on their side in Mordred. However, the force arrayed against them consisted entirely of famed heroes – masters of war, great Magi and poisoners, heretics, and mysteries besides. And there was one more issue greatly troubling her.
“Master, I believe you should rest for the time being. Could you not speak with your clansmen tomorrow?”
“It’s like Archer says. Besides, talking with the rest of them is pointless. They can’t help us for sure, and whatever they say will just make us feel worse.”
Fiore nodded vaguely as the other two agreed. After all, Chiron had never been wrong.
“I shall take my leave then. Good morn… no, good night.”
Lowering her head lightly, Fiore retreated into her own room. Watching the door close, Caules turned to Chiron.
“Aren’t you going with her, Archer?”
“I respect the privacy of my Master as a lady. Mostly, I remain here in Spirit Form unless she calls for me.”
That’s Chiron for you, Caules applauded internally. As could be expected of the nearly unique exception among the savage Centaurs.
“By the way, there is one thing I wish to ask of you, if you do not mind.”
“Me? Sure, go ahead.”
Frankly, Caules did not believe that he could give a proper answer. What if the Servant came at him with some philosophical conundrum? As he worried in all the wrong ways, Chiron asked quietly.
“From your eyes… do you believe your sister is suitable as the head of the Yggdmillennia?”