“I-It is nothing of the sort… Anyway, Sieg, I wanted to ask you again about what happened earlier. I would like to hear your opinion as well, Chiron.”
“Earlier? Did something happen, Master?”
Sieg explained about the ‘dream’ that he had had. When he mentioned his chest being gouged, Astolfo pulled apart Sieg’s shirt in a hurry and made sure that there were no wounds there. Impulsively, Sieg covered the blackened parts of his skin with his hands, feeling that letting the others discover it would only worsen the situation.
“Whew. What would we have done if it’d actually been life-threatening…”
“You could have not ripped my shirt open, I think.”
“Rider… why must you… really…”
Jeanne pushed her fingers between her brows, as though weathering a headache. Putting all of that aside, Chiron began to analyze the dream that Sieg spoke of. With knowledge bestowed by the Greek Gods, it should have been trivial for him to interpret a dream…
“…allow me to say in advance that I cannot speak with certainty. After all, Sieg, you are unmistakably unique in this world, something that has never been possible in any of the Holy Grail Wars of history.”
Chiron repeated that Sieg was an unknown factor. Beyond any description of ‘rare’, he was quite literally the one and only and unlike any other.
“You live on by the heart of Siegfried, successfully resurrecting through the release of Frankenstein’s Noble Phantasm. However, the problem lays with your heart… the heart that ought have faded away when Siegfried left this world. Due to the binding by your mana and Circuits, it has become flesh, in a fashion.”
The Einzberns created homunculi that were top of the line. It was even possible for them to manufacture homunculi to function as a vessel of a Holy Grail – a Lesser Grail, in other words – that was also capable of managing itself. Although Gordes had realized the potential, these functionalities were deemed unnecessary for the homunculi commanded by Darnic.
Even the homunculi forged for disposable purposes were structurally designed to be able to accept a ‘vessel’. It was simply a matter of not having enough space to take in as oversurging an existence as a Servant.
The homunculi of the Yggdmillennias were unable to take in even a single Servant. However, it was only the matter of a single organ. Now, with that organ lost, instead supplemented by a very symbol of immortality – dragon’s blood – even the impossible had become possible.
“Your dream was influenced by Siegfried, that much is without doubt… what remains doubtful is whether that had been but a simple dream. What are your thoughts, Sieg? Did you feel that you were in a dream?”
Sieg wordlessly shook his head.
“No… I don’t think that was. There was a dream, before that.”
He glanced at Astolfo. Surely, even this Servant would prefer not having his own past discussed openly. Mentioning it would not help anyone.
“In that case, I believe we should take it as an ill omen. I can only presume… but I believe that you may be attempting to become Siegfried.”
“Would it be so strange for such an overwhelming existence as the heart of a Servant to erode you? Your flesh would not be able to withstand it. It would eat in you, until the dike collapsed and you would be crumpled from the inside.”
“But… as far as I can tell, Sieg’s heart is functioning normally.”
“Did you forget, Ruler? He had already become Siegfried once.”
Jeanne nodded at Chiron’s words, looking distressed.
“Yes… that possession was nothing short of a miracle.”
“It was beyond even a miracle. Am I correct, Sieg, that you have been possessed by Siegfried twice now? How long has that been combined in terms of time?”
“Three minutes is the limit to one transformation.”
“Then your flesh had been consumed for three hundred sixty seconds. Although I cannot know how long your lifespan will be, I can tell you that those six minutes as Siegfried are on par with your entire life. Understand that, for every time you allow Siegfried to take over yourself, you approach your own death.”
Dead Count Shapeshifter – the Command Spells were a literal count to his death. He might be able to transform as many times as he could be replenished with Command Spells, but Sieg’s very existence would crumble with every use. There would be no way to reverse that.
“Are you telling me that I shouldn’t let him possess me anymore?”
Jeanne intercepted Sieg’s queston to Chiron.
“That would be the wisest decision. You are a Master, Sieg. Having you fight was not a good idea to begin with. I hope that you can leave the battles to your Servant, and act as a Master should.”
“But don’t we need the power of Siegfried?”
Jeanne fell silent, averting her gaze. Astolfo was gripping Sieg’s shirt tightly and made no sign of letting go.
“Besides, it isn’t for sure that everything will go as Archer says. It’s definitely possible that I just got confused and it really was a dream.”
Chiron spoke out to dissolve the argument.
“This is not a matter that can be resolved by our decision. The question belongs only to his own will, and whether or not he will use the Command Spells.”
Chiron was correct, thought Jeanne. The question laid with Sieg himself. Was he resolved to disregard Chiron’s warning regardless? Would he choose to walk forward no matter what laid ahead?
It was a foolish question. Of course, he would choose to. And Jeanne had to let him choose…
…no! I can’t let him choose! I mustn’t!
“I shall take my leave here. It seems my Master has matters to discuss with Ruler and Rider, as well. You may take your time, but please bring yourselves to the meeting room after.”
Chiron exited the room, forcing the mood to take another uncomfortable dive. Jeanne and Astolfo were both painfully aware that, whatever the oaths they made him swear, or the restraints and the compulsions placed upon him – if Sieg were to appear at the right place and the right time, he would definitely summon and allow Siegfried to possess him.
They could knock him unconscious, gag him and tie him up – but that probably wouldn’t work. Why not just put him to sleep permanently, then – that would be even worse.
“You two aren’t think of anything… drastic, are you?”
Sieg asked the two who looked at him with a heavy, lingering gaze.
“What makes you think that?”
They shook their heads. Sieg rose from the bed.
“We won’t find an answer to this problem. Ruler, Rider… I’m really grateful for all your kindness, and I know I shouldn’t disregard what either of you say.”
“…I’m sorry. I’ll go take a look at the homunculi. Please go find the Magi.”
Jeanne and Astolfo looked at each other, and sighed at the same time.
“Roger. And Master, don’t run off and leave the castle, all right? Say something before you go.”
“What am I, a child?”
The two Servants left the room and headed for the meeting room, all the while shooting looks at one another to keep each other in check.
“Well… what shall we do?”
“I’d ask the same thing.”
In the end, there was only one way to make Sieg not transform, which was to create a situation where he had no need to. That meant crushing the enemy with overwhelming force – and of course, if they had the power to do that, they would not have to struggle so in the first place.
“Can’t you handle it with those Command Spells you have?”
Jeanne shook her head and put an end to that train of thought.
“The Command Spells are in a form that is keyed to each Class. They cannot be matched to one of the wrong color or Class. If it could, I would have done so already.”
“Why on earth would they work that way? They’re Command Spells. Normally, any Master can use any one of them, right?”
Astolfo was correct, and that was exactly why in a normal Holy Grail War, the Command Spells could be safeguarded by the overseer and even granted as compensation when changes in the rules took place.
“What if I, as Ruler, devoted myself to one Servant and granted them Command Spells intentionally? This is for the sake of preventing a worst case scenario.”
“I wish they’d had the foresight to predict something like this happening, too.”
“No one would normally consider anything like our current situation.”
Even the premise required for something like this Great Holy Grail War to take place was an aberration. The system itself must have become cautious of something of even worse possibilities occuring.
The one silver lining was that their opponent, Shirou, had also about three Command Spells for each Servant of Red, which were ineffective against the Servants of Black. As well, he did not manage to secure those for Mordred. At the least, the Servants on their side would not be bound by Command Spells.
“What do you think Fiore called us out for, by the way?”
“I wonder… perhaps she wanted to discuss the raising of funds needed for the airplanes? Or they have come up with some idea of how to approach the Hanging Gardens…”
“I hope so…”
* * *
“Unfortunately, things have not gone quite so smoothly.”
The met at the same meeting room as the day before. There was some slight exhaustion in Fiore’s face as she smiled. Chiron placed himself beside her like a steward, while Caules stood one step removed from them.
“Please wait a little while longer for the airplanes. It is planned for them to arrive within three days.”
“Hmph, that’s too bad. So, did you want us for something else?”
“Yes. Actually, it concerns the Assassin of Black.”
“Now that you mention it… the Assassin of Black has not appeared for quite some time now. I was under the belief that the Yggdmillennias was holding Assassin in reserve for the chance to kill the Masters.”
Jeanne said, and Fiore shook her head.
“It shames me to admit this, but it appears that the Master of Assassin has had his Servant stolen.”
“Huh. That does sound pretty shameful.”
Astolfo gave his honest feedback to the troubled Fiore. Jeanne recalled what Shirou had said on the subject.
“There’s only one thing we know. Assassin is completely out of control.”
Caules tossed a newspaper at Jeanne and Astolfo. Taking it in hand, Jeanne’s expression became bitter.
“Identity of Romania’s ‘Jack the Ripper’ Remains in Shadows”
“‘Jack the Ripper’…”
“Even the sort of press that would use provocative headlines like this sometimes tells the truth. As it turns out, the serial killer they are labeling ‘Jack the Ripper’ is the real Jack.”
“You… summoned Jack the Ripper as Assassin?”
Seeing Jeanne’s raised eyebrows, Fiore looked disheartened.
“Yes, one of our own, Hyouma Sagara, believed that there was a limit to what could be achieved by the proper Assassin, Hassan-i Sabbah. He believed the best chance laid with summoning the newest Assassin, Jack the Ripper.”
As the ritual of the Holy Grail War and its derivatives were repeated time and again, a number of strategies became established among its participants. It became common practices to prioritize the defeat of the Masters first – and to stay most on guard, not against the three knight Classes beginning with Saber, but the Assassin Servants.
It proved nearly impossible to survive an ambush conducted via Presence Concealment unless a Servant was kept nearby at all times. However, ensuring that one’s Servant stayed in visual contact for security, presented another problem when one faced off against another Servant. The risk of becoming a part of the battle itself became higher than ever, and even Heroic Spirits would be placed at a crushing disadvantage if required to fight while covering for another. Even if one’s Servant was not directly killed in the initial encounter, if caught in a situation where their movements became bound, only defeat remained in the end. Yet it was also foolish to keep one’s Servant at a distance. As well, one could never discount the possibility of Assassin intervening and killing one of the Servants while they were entangled in battle. There were even anecdotes that, in one particular offshoot Holy Grail War, the Master who summoned Assassin ended the War in just three days. As such, all Masters began desperately shoring up their defenses against Assassins. After all, the true name of the Assassin Servant was known wide and far.
Hassan-i Sabbah was the head of a legendary order of shadowy killers in the Middle East, and the one from whom the term assassin could be traced back to. However, history told of only nineteen individuals who took up the name of Hassan. Normally, when summoning Assassin, one of these nineteen would be called. Although it was possible for others to answer the summons, the chances were so low that one could be forgiven for believing them nonexistent.
Across the many Holy Grail Wars, not only had the true names of the nineteen Assassins been laid bare, but the nature of their Noble Phantasms as well. Yet the Masters feared Hassan-i Sabbah all the same. It was beyond count how many Masters lost their lives at their hands, as Hassan slipped through regardless of all their countermeasures.
However, thanks to those countermeasures, the possibility of Hassan being killed by their targets became exceedingly high. It became common perception that summoning Assassin was an immeasurable gamble – as one either ended up taking the Holy Grail, or death swiftly followed.
Aside from that, the summoning of Hassan as the Assassin Servant was due to the word assassin itself being their catalyst. As such, if one were more creative in arranging additional lines in the summoning incantation, bringing in catalysts not associated with Hassan, then it would not be out of the question to call upon other Heroic Spirits. For example, Semiramis who was summoned by Shirou in the Red camp.
“When deciding the Heroic Spirit to summon as Assassin, Hyouma Sagara focused on the lack of information, and so his eyes landed on one of the newest Heroic Spirits, Jack the Ripper.”
“That is true. After all, the Ripper is one of the great mysteries of England. Nothing is certain, not even his gender.”
“Eh? But isn’t Jack a man’s name?”
Caules shook his head and answered Astolfo.
“He’d been called Jill the Ripper at first, since only prostitutes were targeted and all of them were killed without any apparent struggle. Well, the theory that Jack was female did die down pretty quickly… normally, you’d assume that he’s a man.”
“Most likely, Jack the Ripper is an Assassin that has never been once called to any Holy Grail War. I cannot even imagine what their Noble Phantasm may be. So you are saying that…”
“Our last contact with Hyouma Sagara was right before the summoning ritual. At the start, we assumed that an agent of the Association had killed him and seized his Servant…”
Fiore looked at the newspaper in front of Jeanne and Astolfo.
“…but based on that article, the Assassin of Black arrived in Romania and behaved in a way that we could not imagine was allowed by a Magus. We proceeded with our own investigation.”
That was when Chiron and Fiore witnessed the duel between the Assassin of Black and the Saber of Red. The pair had considered this a great opportunity to exploit – but in the end, Assassin managed to retreat with only light wounds, and the confrontation between Chiron and Mordred ended with damage taken on both sides.
“Sigh… even now, I regret that I focused so much on Saber that I neglected Assassin.”
Having just lost Siegfried at the time, it was decided that the highest priority for the Yggdmillennias was taking out the Saber of Red.
“Your decision was correct, Master. The fault was mine for failing to secure the kill.”
Chiron consoled his lamenting Master. Caules agreed with the Servant.
“Well, in hindsight, not taking out Mordred became the silver lining for us, so that’s okay. No use crying over spilt milk, right, Sis?”
As it turned out, Jeanne and Chiron only still survived due to the Yggdmillennias’ failure to defeat Mordred.
“Also… we received a report from our kin down in Trifas. Last night, just before we were to engage the Red camp, contact was lost with several of our agents inserted around the city. Ten of them, and they were all veterans, if not all first-rate Magi.”
Although they had not been chosen as Masters, a few among the ten were more skilled than Caules himself, with familial history going back many years. If their opponent had been Magi of the Association, there would have been any number of ways for them to remain in contact – so in this case, it was more likely that they had been unable to reach out at all.
“Ruler and Rider, what I would like to request from the two of you is…”
“…bringing the Assassin of Black to justice.”
Jeanne interrupted Fiore, who nodded as she watched closely for Jeanne’s reaction.
“I see… so you were concerned that this would conflict with my duties as Ruler, correct?”
“That’s right. We are asking you to defeat a particular Servant, after all.”
“I assure you, even in a normal Holy Grail War, the amount of innocent lives that Assassin and their Master have dragged into the fighting would have incurred a severe penalty.”
More specifically, they had involved people who had nothing to do with the Holy Grail War, and on top of that, created a situation where that became publicized. Ultimately, it depended on the Servant chosen as Ruler to judge whether the rule-breaker deserved punitive measurements regardless of the latter condition. But Jeanne d’Arc as Ruler had strict definitions of what counted as ‘within’ the boundaries of the Holy Grail War, and what did not. She would show no mercy to any who attempted to cross the line from the inside to the outside, while those attempting the opposite would be expelled as carefully as possible.
“Besides, we have only these three days before the airplanes arrive to track down and defeat Assassin. After that, we must employ all our resources to pursuing the Hanging Gardens.”
“So what you’re really saying is, help us out if you want to set off in three days, right? Sly girl!”
Astolfo said quietly as he smiled. Fiore replied with composure.
“It is a teaching in our family that idle hands should never be kept wanting for work.”
“I do not mind. However, may I request that Sieg does not participate in this matter?”
“Yes… I’ve heard that that homunculus can be possessed by Siegfried three more times. I suppose it won’t do to waste them on a single Servant.”
Jeanne sighed softly in relief. If Sieg were to join the battle, he would most certainly allow Siegfried to take over. Every Command Spell counted, and they must prevent him from entering situations where he would use any at all.
“Thank you. In that case, that leaves Rider, Archer, me… and perhaps the Saber of Red could be persuaded to join us? Seeing as she has faced Assassin once before.”
Fiore’s expression soured.
“I would… prefer not relying upon Saber and her Master.”
Fiore kept silent despite Astolfo’s innocent question. Caules decided that it was time for him lend a hand.
“Basically… the old man and Mordred are on the Association’s side, and we’d have to disclose our own situation to explain why we’re taking down the Assassin of Black. Well, he’s probably already figured that something was up, but this is still a matter of pride. Besides, we don’t want to owe him any favors.”
“The Assassin of Black is not beyond the abilities of the three Servants present here. I myself had once…”
Unusually, Chiron trailed off mid-sentence. The others appeared bemused as they turned their attention to him.
“What is it, Archer?”
“Master, I believe you had sighted the Assassin of Black, as well. Can you see their parameters?”
Fiore closed her eyes as to recall, but quickly opened them to give Chiron a look of confusion.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. Strange… I’m sure that I’d read Assassin’s parameters… but, why…?”
Fiore put a hand over her mouth in shock.
“That is not all, Master. Although both of us had observed the Assassin of Black, neither of us are able to remember their face.”
“Could it be… some kind of innate Skill, or a Noble Phantasm?”
“It is likely. As the Saber of Red wore her helm to keep her name a secret, so perhaps does the Assassin of Black possess some means of hiding one’s true form.”
The helm of Mordred was merely a temporary means to conceal her identity. After she revealed her Noble Phantasm, she did not hesitate to reveal even her face.
In a regular Holy Grail War, Noble Phantasms would only be used to deal a killing blow to an enemy Servant. This tactic represented the lowest risk and ensured that one’s name remained secret. In single combat against another Servant, out of the sight of other Masters, it would prove a difficult obstacle to surmount.
But the Assassin of Black went above and beyond that. For Jack the Ripper, keeping one’s identity a secret was not a tactic but a way of existence. Although the result of various deplorable conditions coming together, this was the killer who had murdered at least five prostitutes without leaving any trace of evidence. One legend spoke of the killer having even the devil’s own luck, as graffiti that might have become evidence was ordered to be washed away by the Police Superintendent of the time over concerns of racial tensions.
The killer did not merely obscure their identity. Obscurity itself became the killer’s identity, taking a life of its own.
“I detected nothing unnatural during the battle itself. Most likely, it was from the moment that we recognized Assassin as having disappeared that the information we gained became expunged.”
“So, aside from knowing that Assassin is Jack the Ripper, we have absolutely no idea what their appearance or abilities are, much less their Noble Phantasm. Is that right?”
Fiore answered Astolfo as she nodded dolefully.
“That’s right. This may be more difficult than I expected…”