Jeanne received a mild chiding when she reached the church.
“When I woke up and saw what happened to the castle, I was quite worried, you know? You just went off and didn’t come back.”
Alma Petresia wore a fittingly somber expression as she said that to Jeanne. Naturally, Jeanne could not tell her that she was not only one of the parties involved in the incident, but in fact the target of the attack and managed to survived unharmed at ground zero due to her holy banner and her faith.
“In any case, we must thank God for guiding you to safety.”
“But who would have thought that a meteorite… what a terrifying accident.”
It seemed that the people of Trifas were made to believe that that was a meteorite impact. Jeanne was thankful for the suggestion which also prevented the city from falling into panic.
“I will take some rest for today and go back home after that.”
“Oh? Have you completed your research? Ah… I suppose now isn’t quite the time, considering what just happened.”
“Um… yes. Yes, I’ve completed my research.”
Jeanne recalled that she had introduced herself as a schoolgirl. Alma smiled softly and added that not even students should push themselves too far.
“Sleep well, then. I will be attending the service now.”
“Thank you, I will.”
Jeanne returned to her room in the attic and collapsed onto the bed. It was rather inconvenient that she needed to sleep and eat – but it was these little things that made her feel far more alive than if she had been summoned as a normal Servant.
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada…
Jeanne thought back to the boy with the unwavering gaze. His eyes belonged not to a child gazing at some dream, but one carrying great ambitions. She was convinced from the moment she had met him in the chapel – that he would not be stopped by words, nor by mere defeat in a contest of strength, not even the utter annihilation of the Servants of Red or the loss of the Greater Grail itself. The very act of standing still had been stripped from his core. He would only continue to walk forward, either until his plan was fulfilled or he could no longer function as a living being.
The Third Holy Grail War of Fuyuki took place sixty years ago. The boy had received flesh then and pursued the Grail ever since.
Certainly, Fuyuki’s Greater Grail was a unique existence. It was difficult to imagine anything that would prove its equal – except perhaps for the genuine article itself. In other words, the holy relic of the Son of God, the mystery that was sought by all yet attainable by none.
Shirou believed in the Messiah as well. Perhaps that would explain why he pursued nothing else – but as one who shared the same faith, Jeanne understood his obsession to be another thing entirely. Holy relics were precious to be sure, but they were not things to gamble one’s life over in order to seize. After all, their faith laid with God and not His belongings. The boy of miracles must understand that himself as well.
Besides, even a supposed ‘omnipotent’ wish granter had limits. Certainly, a magus might consider it as such – for a Holy Grail was an inexhaustible swirl of prana and a clear sign on the path towards attaining Magic. However, Amakusa Shirou was no magus, nor was it likely that he held interest in their esoterica. As such, he must mean to bring about some sort of ‘miracle’ using that massive amount of energy…
Whatever miracle that might be, it would not save all of humanity. Many saints and great figures had challenged and then wasted their lives away before this dilemma. The heroes understood their roles and saved only those whom their hands could reach. Take Vlad III, for instance; he was a miraculous savior to the people of Romania, to be sure, but from the outside – from the perspective of the invading Turks – he was nothing if not the Devil himself.
Saving one person meant leaving another to their fate. To save nine, you must cut off one – or else save one by killing the nine. That was the law of this world; all heroes understood and fought under this cruelest of logics. Yet why was it that Amakusa Shirou could remain the way he was without any trace of hesitation? What ground-breaking instrumentality – or was it perhaps insanity – had he reached in his mind?
If he were simply insane, then naturally she had to stop him. However – what if he was right?
“What should I do…?”
What would be her decision then? Would she stop him regardless?
Or would she…?
When she considered this, Jeanne pulled the sheets over herself. She could not help dreading what laid at the end of that line of thought.
It was an ideal that all saints dreamed of. Could she say with certainty that she would be able to resist the temptation?
No… I cannot lose.
With words of prayer on her lips, Jeanne began to close her eyes. Suddenly, her thoughts went to another boy. She wondered if Shirou’s goal of salvation included him as well. Strangely, her anxious mind became calm at the thought. It was the vague realization that homunculi like him would not be saved by Shirou. In that case, she could not possibly aid Shirou.
The instant that she confirmed this to herself, her consciousness began to fade.
* * *
Mordred wondered whether she should sigh or express herself in some other way – in the end deciding to do what was most fitting and punching the ground.
“Why did we come back to here of all places?!”
She had thought that Shishigou would stay at the castle. Instead, her Master rejected the offer and unceremoniously returned to the catacombs.
Of course, while she could have simply stayed in Spirit Form, even she would have liked to sleep on a soft bed, or submerge herself in a real bath instead of washing herself in some lukewarm shower. They were meaningless, yes, but understandable cravings. Shishigou answered the vehement protests of his Saber even as he wrapped the sleeping bag around himself.
“That was enemy territory, you know? Who would be stupid enough to sleep there?”
“Yes… yes, well, but…”
Mordred sat down on her sleeping bag with an expression overflowing with malcontent.
“Geez… do you get it, Saber? Yes, we are cooperating with them. Of course we are, because at the rate things were going, we would’ve been cornered eventually. It was right to save Ruler and Chiron. But ‘cooperating’ is not exactly the same as ‘working together’.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is, being together means giving an opening. It’s a signal that says, ‘I trust you’. We can’t ever let the Yggdmillennias see that.”
“Are you saying that we can’t trust them…?”
Mordred turned a questioning look on him. Certainly, it was most like a magus to never trust anyone else. It could even be considered natural, given that they would kill even their own parents and siblings…
“No, you got it the other way around. If we showed that we trusted them, it’s them who would stop trusting us.”
The Servant tilted her head and waited for Shishigou to continue.
“Let’s put it this way, it’ll be easier to understand… suppose there’s a tiger with a collar around its neck. Its keeper guarantees that it’s docile and well-trained. Let’s say you have to spend a night together with it. You have a gun in your hand, and you have to go out on a hunt with him. But sadly, you’ll have to kill it in the end…”
“So we are the tiger, then?”
“Bingo. The more we trust in them, the less they’ll do the same to us. You can trust someone who works for money, so long as you have money. But when you work for free, people get scared… what if he comes back for what he’s owed?”
That was all too natural for human beings, much less between existing enemies. And Shishigou Kairi was in no position to demand money from the Yggdmillennias at the moment.
“Is that why you decided not to stay at the castle?”
“Well, that and I also wanted to have an emergency meeting with you. It wasn’t a good place for it.”
Shishigou said smugly as Mordred’s mouth also stretched into a smirk.
“You should have told me that from the start… well? What are you thinking?”
“First, we’ll be acting independently. It’s dangerous to all bunch up on the same plane anyway… I’m sure they’ll understand if we put it that way. Once Ruler and them are dealing with Archer and Rider, we’ll slip through their defenses…”
“…and take the Grail.”
They said at the same time, grinning at each other.
“Ha. To think that my Master still refuses to give up, even now!”
“You think I’m being stupid…?”
The girl did not speak a word, only shaking her head.
“Of course not. I just… found it hard to believe. You told me before that your wish was for the Grail to bring prosperity for your offspring, yes?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“That’s a lie, then. I refuse to consider that such a vague desire could lead to so deep an obsession.”
Suddenly, Mordred’s smile disappeared. She looked more serious than she had ever been as she stared at Shishigou, as though pleading at him.
“So, tell me, Master… what do you truly desire?”
Moving his head slightly to avoid her gaze, Shishigou sighed in apparent resignation. He reached into his coat and fished out a packet of cigarettes.
“Do you mind?”
“I’d prefer not having the room filled with smoke, but if you must.”
Shishigou smiled lightly at her words and lit a cigarette, drawing in its fumes and then exhaling it.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t lying… but I also didn’t give you the whole story. Well, I won’t have another chance to once we reach the Hanging Gardens, so I guess I should talk to you about it now.”
Shishigou Kairi began to speak.
The house of Shishigou were a family of Magi that – a few generations ago – ended up drifting from Europe to Japan. The name ‘Shishigou’ was, of course, something they took up when they arrived there. At that point in time, their Thaumaturgical Crest was already on the verge of fading completely, and their children were born with few Magic Circuits. Moving to Japan would clearly be a critical blow to such a family; it was practically suicidal for a Magus to remove himself from the lands where the foundation of his craft were laid.
As to be expected, the family had within a single generation declined to the point where they could barely establish themselves as Magi. They were at an impasse; at this rate, they would meet their end. But they still had the chance to do something – anything – before it was too late. They still had the strength to employ and rely upon the miracle called Thaumaturgy. Taking something from one to ten should be simple, whereas it was difficult to build something up from zero to one.
What would they do? Having left their foundation, they could no longer learn new Thaumaturgies. With every passing second, their line decayed further. By the time the next generation arrived, they would no longer be worthy of being called Magi.
What to do…?
The house of Shishigou reached its conclusion. They would sell their souls.
“You know, like the stuff you hear in fairy tales… a deal with the Devil… Mephistopheles and such. That’s what our forefathers did.”
In the end, only the then-head of the Shishigou family knew what it was that they made a contract with in Japan. They did not know what was done to them – be it reversal of time, or simply rejuvenated flesh, or perhaps being gifted with a new Crest – except that they had been bound by an immense force, almost like a Self-Geis Scroll. At the same time, their wish had been granted without any twists or false interpretations.
The house of Shishigou found itself conducting a successful, miraculous revival. Their Thaumaturgical Crest was reanimated and exhibited powers beyond their previous heights. The Magic Circuits that were once fading away within them increased in both quality and quantity. They were reborn as a great house of the Far East. Although the crafts of the past became lost to the family – their place taken by newly acquired Necromancy – they were considered necessary sacrifices.
Of course, such a miracle fetched its own price…
“…and that’s me.”
The contract was a curse, in the end, for the family had given up their future in exchange for prioritizing the fullness of the present. Such a thought must appear foolish to normal humans, but it was only natural for Magi…
For after all, what the house of Shishigou had chosen to sacrifice was a future wherein they lived on as normal human beings. How could any proud Magus suffer such a thing? They did not care for things to come, those great Magi of Shishigou, not when there were great deeds left to be achieved by their hands. That had been their only desire.
After a few generations, the curse eventually activated. It was unclear what it was that triggered the activation. The family did not know whether it was set to work at a predetermined time – or if it had been a game of Russian roulette all along, waiting for its chance to go off. Whatever the case, the sacrifice was Shishigou Kairi. It was the greatest of evils that could befall a family of Magi – for Shishigou Kairi could not produce children. He would never be able to create an offspring. It was destined that the line of Shishigou, along with all their precious Magic Circuits, would end with him.
“What, was that it? Why couldn’t you lot have just adopted a child or something?”
When Mordred said this, Shishigou plucked out the cigarette hanging from his mouth and put it out on the ground, wearing a curious smile as he did so.
“Well… I guess my folks had the same optimism as you do. At least, until the kid that my dad brought back… the one they’ve put all their hopes on… died when they tried transferring my Crest to her.”
The girl’s body had displayed no signs of rejection. She was a distant relative, still carrying trace amounts of Shishigou blood, and pre-transplant examinations showed great compatibility. After the autopsy, the cause was found to be Shishigou Kairi’s Thaumaturgical Crest itself – for from it seeped a deadly toxin which he himself had completely adapted to. Any attempts to transfer the Crest would cause the toxin to react.
Once he learned of this, Kairi prevented his father Touki from proceeding with further transplant attempts, making him give up on the idea completely. He had made the decision – that the Shishigou line would end with him. Kairi left his family, becoming a lowly bounty hunter, an outsider living off his Thaumaturgy.
Of course, Kairi felt relief if anything – for he was freed of the burden that had bound him since birth. He believed that he would die on some battlefield, preferably with his remains ground into fine dust. It might have been only a brief hundred years or so, but the Shishigou family had had their taste of glory. What more could they ask for?
Yet so it was that he had stumbled upon the Great Holy Grail War. By a miracle of the Holy Grail, it might be possible to remove the poison in his Crest – and for him to have children. That was why Shishigou Kairi pursued the Grail.
Mordred made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt when Shishigou finished his tale.
“What’s the matter, Saber? I just told you the embarrassing past of my family, you know. Did you expect something more?”
“No… it’s just that in the end, you do wish for prosperity for your children, huh…”
“I, uh, hope you weren’t expecting some sort of sappy left-field twist…”
Apparently deflated, Mordred quickly wrapped the sleeping bag around herself. Seeing this, Shishigou decided to do the same.
Was it the low ceiling hanging above them? The Servant found it somewhat difficult to breathe, giving the illusion that the world was slowly crushing down upon her. To distance her mind from the sensation, her thoughts went hazily back to what they had talked about earlier.
A contract with a mysterious being…. generations of glory followed by a promised fall… and…
“Hey, Master, can I ask you one last thing?”
“If I can answer it, sure.”
“Do you… still remember her?”
After a long silence, Shishigou suddenly murmured.
“There are some things in the world that we mustn’t forget.”
His low, quiet voice echoed in the small cavern – carrying words that had not been present in his earlier story, nor in the wish he had expressed to Mordred at the very beginning.
His desire was not born from the wish to bring prosperity to his family.
His desire was not born from the wish to leave behind the name of Shishigou.
His desire was born from the wish to give meaning to those lost things he could never forget – and to ensure that they had not been lost in vain.
His words were an oath. His voice carried a pride that he would protect even at the cost of his life and his own honor.
“That good enough for you, Saber?”
“Yeah, good enough. Master… let’s take that Grail.”
All senses of being crushed gone, the two looked up at the ceiling as their fists lightly touched one another in the dark.