He had told them everything that he could – and while he did not obtain the full consent of all three Servants, they promised to at least maintain the present situation. In other words, if the Servants of the Black camp were to assault them, they would protect the Hanging Gardens and the Holy Grail. As long as they could fulfill this, it mattered little even if they did not accept Shirou as their Master.
In a way, he had just overcome the greatest gauntlet. Heroic Spirits could be proud creatures, capricious, noble – and utterly without hesitation. It would not have been strange for one of them to have killed him on the spot when he revealed his identity and his seizure of the Masters’ rights.
He lowered himself onto the throne where Semiramis normally sat, and gazed upwards at the lofty ceiling. It was not yet time to relax, but he could not hide the relief he felt within.
“So, how find you the sensation of sitting upon a throne, Master…?’
How long had she been there? Assassin materialised besides him. Shirou excused himself and began rising from the throne, but the Servant placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him back down. Circling around to his back, she whispered into his ear.
“You may continue… Well? How does it feel to be King? Do you see, in your mind, a host of heroes before you, bowing their heads in subservience? Rather pleasurable, is it not? Does the pride of being an absolute ruler not rise within you? Would you not drink deeply of the euphoria of utter domination?”
Wordlessly, Shirou shook his head. Holding her hand on his shoulder, he stood up.
“No, not at all. I don’t think I am suited to commanding others. This was meant for you.”
Although looking somewhat displeased, the Empress lowered herself onto her throne.
“What a bore… it would only be fitting for one who declared himself to be my Master to claim the entire world.”
“And if he did do so, you would destroy him. The world does not need two rulers, after all.”
Said Shirou coolly, and Semiramis clicked her tongue without the slightest hint of apology.
“Tch.. so you realised it.”
As Shirou had said, it was Semiramis who would sit upon the throne in the end. He would execute his plan, save mankind – and that would be it. With salvation being his sole objective, he had no thoughts for what laid beyond.
“So why not take up the crown then?”
“I’ll decide that once I’m there.”
Shirou laughed and excused himself to look to the Greater Grail. As he left the room, the beautiful visage of the Empress showed a hint of gloom.
“Good grief… truly, those without want are most difficult to deal with. To think he would have no interest in wealth, power, or even a woman.”
Men were mere playthings to Semiramis, the Empress of Assyria. The ones who had been lured by her words and robbed of everything were beyond count. Amidst all of it, she allowed only herself to exist as a ‘woman’. The world needed its fertile wombs to bear the children, of course – but it was her sole province to act as a woman and do as she pleased with any man. From the start, that was the only way for her to survive.
She still remembered the moment shortly after her birth. She could vaguely recall the form of the woman who had abandoned her and hurriedly escaped to the river. It was the fish-goddess Derketo, who had committed adultery with a Syrian man and bore her as a daughter. She had called Semiramis a shame – a humiliation for being the product of a mortal. It was only later in her life that Semiramis realised what a fool her mother had been. After all, Derketo had failed to resist the charms of a mere man.
Semiramis had been left to die by her mother, and her father’s life was ended by the same. However, Derketo had bestowed a single gift upon her – for within Semiramis flowed divine blood. She adapted to the riverside and her cries drew doves who would care for her. Surrounded by endless wings, they came together to keep her warm when she shivered in the cold, and obtained milk from other sources with which to feed her. Those dauntless wings protected her from wind and rain and raised her.
Ten years later, she was discovered by a shepherd and brought into the human world – but her inner nature had already been set. Her foster parent taught her how to perform dances, and to beautify her appearance – but these were merely weapons and techniques by which she would survive in the world.
All women deserved her hatred – for they were weak and could not help being toyed with by men, and not even goddesses would receive her mercy.
All men deserved her contempt – for they were brutes of primal urges who degrade women, and whose only merit was being made playthings of by her.
That was her philosophy and understanding of the world. In that case, how should she interpret her own Master, Shirou Kotomine – Amakusa Shirou Tokisada?
“Neither a woman nor a man… what a perplexing existence.”
He could not be ensnared by seductive smiles, and swiftly retreated from the allures of authority. Humans beings were creatures of want, yet the boy possessed none for himself – and his desire for the salvation of mankind could hardly be reduced to mere greed. If she were to categorise him, she would place him beyond any doubt among the insane. It was exactly for that reason that Assassin found herself simply enjoying standing by this Master.
Perhaps he would be rewarded for his obsession of sixty years – that would be fine.
However, if he were to find himself lacking in the end and fail – then that would be interesting in its own right. Seeing the despair and fall of a Saint who could not grasp his dream would be worthy entertainment.
“Which of the two would be more amusing, I wonder…?”
The Assassin chuckled as she vanished, as her Hanging Gardens of Babylon continued to sail across the Romanian skies, unseen by mundane eyes.
* * *
The Greater Grail maintained its incorruptible brilliance as it had always done. Some amount of prana had been spilled when it was ripped from the ley lines, but it would not prove to be a problem.
Amakusa Shirou Tokisada knew this Grail well. The Tohsakas had abandoned the Holy Grail and attempted a different approach to reach the Root; meanwhile, the Makiris had decayed, passing down knowledge of the Grail only as an oral tradition. Shirou had managed to buy the information from both of these families. Naturally, he could obtain nothing at all from the Einzberns, who had yet to abandon the Holy Grail, but what he had learned was information necessary to understanding its composition and system of functions.
The Greater Grail spent sixty years absorbing prana and used it to cut open a path that would lead to true Magic – opening a hole that would lead outside the world.
There was a place outside the world, where it was said that almighty power and ultimate truths could be discovered. It was called Akasha, the Swirl of the Root, and it was the goal of all Magi though nearly every one of them would fail in reaching it. From one generation to the next, they passed on their dreams and hopes – but it was a hopeless path in the end, as evidenced by the first lesson for all Magi: “learning to give up”.
Related to this, he had also read of a “back” to the world – the underside, an alien realm where phantasmal beasts which had already disappeared from the world now reside.
In any case, the granting of wishes was merely a side effect of the Holy Grail. Its true nature was a tool to bore a hole through the world, fueled by the sacrifice of Heroic Spirits of the past. And there was only one task left to perform.
Before he realised it, his hands were sweating.
The twin hands of Amakusa Shirou Tokisada, who had brought about many miracles, had sublimated into his Noble Phantasms – his right hand, Evil Eater and his left hand, Xanadu Matrix. Although they were Noble Phantasms, they merely acted to support him.
His right hand – the Predation of Immorality – supported him in battle with abilities such as precognition.
Meanwhile, his left hand – the Foundation of Divine Blessing – strengthened himself.
These were not powers he originally wielded. Instead, his Noble Phantasms caused them to manifest as “miracles”. Although they were universally effective in all situations, Shirou would only be a second-rate Servant if summoned normally, as he lacked the crucial ability to decide a battle. And while a Noble Phantasm that stopped one’s aging was rare, it was hardly useful in combat.
Yet it was due to these very two Noble Phantasms that Shirou would be able to make the most reckless of challenges.
“I can do it… I will. Those seventeen years, and these sixty years… I’ll use all my nerves, all my cells, all my muscles, and all the power I possess.”
The boy turned his back on the Greater Grail. Unfortunately, the situation was not perfected to the point that he could deploy his full strength right now. There was one more piece remaining; he simply needed to wait, and endure.
And so the Great Holy Grail War came to a conclusion, for a time. The Greater Grail had been stolen from the Yggdmillennias; their key Servants, Vlad III and Siegfried, had both fallen; and Frankenstein and Avicebron were no more. The Assassin of Black had fully became an enemy of both camps, reducing the fighting force of the Black side to essentially Chiron and Astolfo.
However, the Ruler of this war, Jeanne d’Arc, stood by them – as did Mordred, their mutual benefactor. Finally, aside from these four Servants, they had one last Joker to play in the fragile Saber of Black, who would only take form for three minutes, three more times.
On the other hand, the Red camp had a crushing advantage in not only the quantity, but also the quality of Servants. In addition, they were encased within the autonomous mobile fortress that was the Hanging Gardens. The side with the fewer captains were being forced to besiege them, on top of breaking through to victory in as short a time as possible.
Looking purely at the balance of factors, the situation was stacked heavily against the Black camp. However, it was not yet time for the Red camp to lower their guard. After all, regardless of the side they stood on, Servants were heroes of famous myths and legends – and a hero was only awarded the title by overcoming any and all obstacles. There was no doubt that the Servants of Black would engage them once again to decide this war.