DISCLAIMER: I do not take credit from the Fate universe and its characters. The rights and credits go to the original authors.
Read the notes in the first chapter if you haven't done it already.
English is not my native language, so please bear with me. I'm confident in my grammar, but if there are any mistakes, then let me know and I'll try to figure out how to fix them as soon as I have time.
Hope you enjoy.
Ocean of Memories
[Sometimes, life can be unfair.]
Those words echo inside her head while the cruel whisper of the wind blows steadily around her body, golden-blonde hair fluttering in her face. Her eyes are red and dry due to witnessing such a scene, but her heart has been crying for much, much longer. Blue dress and silver armor cling to her body as her only source of comfort from the biting wind, but she barely even registers its howl as she stares at the crowd gathered in front of the gallows.
In the midst of that sea of tumults and exclamations, her eyes remain glued to the scene happening in front of the people. A man is being led before the gallows. He has tanned skin and white-stock hair covering his eyes, hiding his dirty, blood-soaked face from view. People are screaming and howling. Some of them are raging and ranting; throwing rocks and stones at the man while the guards keep leading him to his fate. Yet, he remains unfazed, with his head low and those white bangs shadowing his features. Faster than a man can blink, and he is already standing in front of the scaffold; while people of all ages and looks keep screaming and cursing his name all around.
A name that she is unable to hear and register.
Tears are already welling in the corner of her eyes. She could try and complain to the men in front of her, but they wouldn't listen. They wouldn't look at her. They wouldn't even glance in her direction, for they only care about the scene in front of them, their mind solely focused on what is about to happen and their hearts interested in riding the world of sin.
A sin that, unlike them all, the man who's about to die has never committed.
Just glancing in his direction is enough for her to understand the current situation. Looking at his bloodied face alone is filling her mind with a sense of sympathy and understanding. This isn't his fault. The man is innocent. He is about to die a meaningless death, for this isn't what he has signed up for. He wanted to actually save people, not to become a glorified exterminator. Unlike the lots of them, his only purpose is to save and make sure that no one would ever cry… but the people do not seem to realize his wish, for they keep screaming and cursing him with a never-ending roar.
Her eyes remain glued to his face; sadness and hopelessness haunting every single fiber of her being. The man isn't trying to talk. He isn't even trying to resist. He knows as well as she does that this situation is inevitable. There is nothing he can do.
Being hanged by the people he has saved after being branded as the mastermind behind the war he has so desperately tried to stop for years was by no means something he could have foreseen, after all.
Yet, one single look at his ageless face tells her more than what words could ever express. The man does not care about that. He is not afraid of dying. He is not attempting to resist. He has accepted his fate, and he's not blaming the people and his executioners despite being innocent.
[And she understands… because she has felt the same.]
One of the guards pushes him forward, closer to his eventual fate. She watches in sadness and horror as someone places a noose over his neck, getting him ready for his final demise. People are cheering and screaming at the sight, their words echoing with rage and fury and anticipation.
But the man does not react, keeping his head low as the noose begins to tighten around his neck.
Her heart clenches and weeps, and she almost falls on her knees in desperation.
The last thing she manages to glimpse amid the sobs is the man raising his gaze towards the above, staring at the sky with a helpless smile filled with acceptance and silent satisfaction.
He is satisfied with his life. He will not complain.
The last words whispered from his lips echo inside her head like a roar of thunder.
[I have no regrets. This is my only path.]
Then, the trap-door is opened, and the man falls into darkness.
He dies with a smile on his face.
I still remember that day clearly, no matter how much I loathe it.
One step. Two steps. Three steps. Hands bound by rope by the stomach. Rough cloth on skin, the cheap garb of a dead man walking. A crowd assembled to watch. The hanging noose before him, looming. Fourth step, onto the pedestal that would be kicked beneath him as the sentence would be carried out.
No. I've tried to avoid thinking about it. I don't want to remember this. I don't want to remember—
―yet, the memory always returns, haunting me relentlessly.
Looking through the noose. Seeing those faces. Some familiar. Many strangers. They looked at him with distant eyes. Fear. Mistrust. Hope. Disgust. Hatred. Excitement. Accomplishment. Satisfaction. None would stand beside him; none would have spared him. He was a strange creature: a useful tool that had broken its leash and lashed out on its own. An 'indiscriminate demon of justice' as a certain friend had called him right before he set up a trap to turn him into those they had been fighting before.
Back then, I had accepted my death as a natural consequence.
I've killed and killed and killed. My hands are drenched in the blood of countless; guilty and innocent alike. I've grown drunk on my ideals and worked myself to the bone. I've disparaged the strong and defended the weak. I've cut down the corrupted and reached down to all those who had been trampled upon, as I continued to delude myself.
It was natural that people would grow to shun me. It was natural that they would rally against me, even as I represented the justice they all believed should have existed.
So, I accepted their judgment and did not fight back.
Now, however, all he could see was her. He could see her there, amid the crowd, staring at him with tears in her eyes and a frown on her face. A woman with golden-blonde hair, dressed in silver armor. The partner of his first Holy Grail War. The friend with whom he had won that ruinous battle. The goal he had so desperately tried to reach… looking just as beautiful and mesmerizing as she did that night, under the moonlight. She looked stunning, even as she mourned the loss of her foolish believer. Even as she watched her helpless follower meet his end to the gallows. He knew she would be saddened by his death, but he could not understand the feeling. Dying meant nothing to him. Betrayal meant nothing to him. He had been betrayed countless times, after all; both by others and himself. Yet… Yet, there had been a strange feeling in his chest. In those long hours of isolation — both in his cell and during the trial where everyone was too busy playing their roles to pay attention to him — he had thought strange thoughts.
Even now, I can still remember it.
That final moment; so painfully clear. It wasn't just the resolve to accept the sins cast upon me for killing all those I have. It wasn't just the understanding that I would still serve after my death for a greater cause, as a Counter Guardian. Those thoughts had come and gone long before I've been betrayed. Even before I've been dragged before a kangaroo court and made a patsy for political gains and convenience.
I can remember the moment clearly.
And yet that last thought remains...
He pushed his head through the loop of rope, feeling the coarse material tightening around his neck. He inhaled, feeling his throat pressed against the restrictive material. He looked at that sea of faces, all intently gazing at him. At his final moments.
And I remember a smile.
A thought. A realization. A resolve. An absolution. He accepted his death. He accepted their hatred and fear. He hated no one here; he thought no ill and wished no retribution upon any of them. Thus, he had to reflect that truth in his heart. He realized that this was his inevitable end, the one and only conclusion to his mortal life. He looked out at them, one more time, and he smiled. He closed his eyes and then the trap beneath him was opened. He fell. The rope went taught, the sensation strangely distant and slow. His neck broke instantly… and Emiya Shirou died.
I gasp for breath, even as there is nothing to inhale beyond dust and the scream that would not escape my throat.
I remember that smile, but I cannot understand it anymore. Why have I smiled in that last moment? What have I forgotten? Why have I smiled?
Grabbing for my head, I squeeze at my temples with a haunted face.
Kiritsugu's desperate sobbing hangs heavy in my heart.
The words escape my lips on their own, whispered through a broken hiss.
"I have no regrets."
But although I am unable to admit it…
"This is my only path."
…deep down I know that I'm just fooling myself.
. . .
Location: Fuyuki City (Japan)
Kurokizaka District – Semina Apartments
Artoria Pendragon woke up with a scream.
Heart pounding, bowels churning, she fluttered her eyes open as a loud gasp escaped her lips. Panting, gasping; she rose from her bed and ran towards the bathroom. There, she threw herself on the toilet and emptied her stomach, crying and moaning all the while. Pain and tears stung her eyes, and the girl with golden-blonde hair found herself covered in sweat by the time she was finished. Her body felt like she had been stabbed in the guts multiple times, making her lungs twitch and gasp for air.
This dream was worse than the last one. Much, much worse.
But the tears wouldn't stop. The girl would have burst into a sobbing fit if it weren't for her Servant's presence. She didn't need to raise her head from the toilet to feel the quiet, familiar presence standing right behind her. His concerned and imposing presence was simply too obvious to miss.
Archer kneeled next to her, placing a hand over her shoulder.
"I'm here. It's ok."
His voice kept her from hyperventilating.
The girl panted and coughed, sweat and tears coating her cheeks. "A-Archer," she sniffled through the panting. "I-I'm sorry. I―"
"There's no need. Breathe."
She did as she was told.
After a few minutes, her body began to feel better. Artoria struggled to catch her breath. Her mind was racing to connect the dots, images and sounds from her previous vision still flashing behind her eyes. The longer she kept thinking about it, the more depressed she was starting to feel. It was nauseating, in the literal sense of the word. Especially since it concerned Archer, the very same Servant she had grown so fondly accustomed to. This was a mess of not insignificant proportions, and she didn't like what she had seen. Not even one bit.
"What did you see this time?"
Her Servant's words pulled her out of her trance. The girl turned to him slowly, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her pajama. "…you don't know?"
Archer shook his head. "Servants do not sleep, nor dream. Only Masters can see their Servants' memories. The more they become used to each other, and the more the bond between them grows, the higher the chance becomes," he explained, helping her on her feet with one arm and offering her a glass of water with the other. The girl rinsed her mouth and took a deep breath to collect herself, but the man's eyes never left her frame, observing her intently with a mixture of concern and seriousness.
In the end, Artoria could bear his gaze no longer. She took a deep breath and steeled herself as best as she could.
"I… I saw your death," she revealed after a while, her voice so low it was barely above a whisper.
Emiya did not react, not offering his thoughts as he continued to stare at his Master.
Artoria felt her hands clench into fists. His lack of reaction was only making the pain inside her heart grow stronger. "W-When I dreamt of you yesterday, I saw things from your perspective," she continued. "But this time… I was there. I saw you walking towards the gallows, surrounded by a sea of people. It was… an execution?" she whispered, doing her best to keep her emotions in check.
It was a statement more than a question.
The only reaction her Servant showed was a slight furrowing of his brows, followed by dead silence. His impassiveness irked her to no end.
"You were innocent, and yet they sentenced you to death," she hissed, trying so very hard to keep her emotions in check. Just thinking back about those memories was enough to make her eyes sting. The bitterness on the inside was so strong that she had to turn away from his stare. "I-I don't understand… why did they do that? Why were you forced to die despite being innocent all the while? Why did you have to be sentenced when you had no guilt at all?"
Heroic Spirit Emiya offered no answer. He just stared in cryptic silence.
Despite his lack of reaction, the girl wouldn't allow him to remain silent. Whatever she had seen in that vision, she knew that Archer knew what it was. She knew that he was aware of it, even if he had lost a lot of his memories. She couldn't allow him to just shy away from this. Not when she had just dreamed of his pain. Not when she had just felt it on her skin. That dream had been filled with so much pain and regret that it was almost asphyxiating… she couldn't simply shrug it off and forget about it. She simply couldn't. It was too painful to bear.
"Why, Archer?" she asked him directly this time. "Why were you killed despite being innocent?"
She spat that question like something foul. Artoria wouldn't meet his gaze, her eyes shadowed by her golden bangs while her hands were clenched into trembling fists; but she still refused to accept a silent treatment on this matter. Her Servant always tried to escape her probing questions with sly remarks, but both of them knew that they wouldn't work this time. Not again. Not right now. This was simply too important – too painful – to be ignored.
Learning the death of a Hero of old was by no means a small thing, after all. On the contrary, it was one of the most important piece of information regarding a Hero's life. Every Heroic Spirit was bound to their past, to their legend. It was something that could never be truly severed from them, for it was thanks to legend that they could still be remembered in the modern days, after all. A Hero's legend would never die, for it was the embodiment of all the events they had been through in life. The recalling of all the deeds they had achieved when they were alive. And in most cases, among said deeds and events, the Hero's death was one of the most important ones. Every Hero had to meet their end eventually, even if said end would never be forgotten by the world; for the passing of a Hero would only serve to heighten and amplify their legend among the people. It would serve to boost their name and deeds even more throughout the lands, regardless of whether their death was a glorious one, a peaceful one… or a tragic one.
The death of a Hero was sad, but at the same time necessary. It was something that would be forever marked into history, bringing forth a new tale of heroism that would last and be remembered forever. Consequently, it was a sacred event. Something sad, and yet at the same time something that would bring forth a new heroic tale that could instill hope to those who were born later. A memory that could offer insight, and hope, and teachings to all those who came to learn it. Therefore, yes: it was a sacred event. An event that would bring forth admiration and teachings for the future generations, regardless of whether the tale and its end were good or bad. The Tale of King Arthur and his Knights was the primary example of that, after all. The tragic tale of a brave and righteous King who fought for justice but died by his son's hand because of a cruel betrayal. It was a tragedy, and yet it was still remembered and looked upon with admiration thanks to its legend.
So, it was safe to say that a Hero's death was never a meaningless one, for their legend and deeds would always be remembered in the future. They would always be recalled and admired by the people, and that fact alone was something that gave meaning to their life and death, regardless of the legend itself being tragic or glorious. Their existence would always find a meaning, because the people and the world were bound to give one to it. It was simply inevitable.
Or, at least, that was how it was supposed to be in theory.
Because Archer's death didn't seem to align to that concept. It didn't seem to feel right. It didn't seem to have meaning.
And that was what bothered her the most.
Indeed, Archer's death had no meaning. It had no sense, no purpose, no glory. It lacked the very same feeling of purpose that many legends of Heroes possessed; replaced by a helpless, dull acceptance instead… and Artoria was struggling to accept that reality. All she had been able to feel during that vision was sadness, and a feeling of hopelessness that was too heartbreaking to bear. She didn't know how it was possible. She didn't know how; she didn't know why. She had just dreamt of her Servant's death not even a few minutes earlier, and yet… all she had been able to feel inside that vision was sadness. No sense of glory, no lingering meaning, and no purpose whatsoever. Just sadness.
Sadness… and regret.
Yes: regret. A wide, gigantic feeling of regret had been drenching the vision she had just dreamt of. A feeling that was overwhelming… and yet at the same time familiar, for it was the very same feeling she had already experienced during her previous dream from the night before. The exact same one; and there was no doubt about it.
Regret. Regret. Regret.
"I have no regrets. This is my only path."
Her Servant's last words had stated the contrary, but the dream she had just felt on her skin was telling her otherwise.
That was why she could not accept it. That was why she could not stand it. Artoria had just dreamt of Archer's demise. She had just witnessed to his final moments, to the end of his legend and life. And according to her vision, her Servant had been fooling himself all along. He had been fooling himself until the very end, accepting his death as if it were inevitable. He had been sentenced to death despite being innocent, and yet he had accepted it with a smile on his face and regret in his heart.
Artoria could not stand it for any reason.
Because her Servant had met an exemplary end… but one that was filled with regret all the same.
In other words, he had died a meaningless death. He had been killed for nothing, but he had accepted it nonetheless. Her dream had just showed to her that the only thing left from Archer's life was regret. No glory. No purpose. No meaning.
He had died a meaningless death.
How could she ever accept that?
"Whatever you saw, don't let it bother you."
Archer's words roused her from her thoughts all of a sudden. The young heir of the Pendragon line blinked and startled, caught by surprise by the unexpected statement. Slowly and mutely, she turned her head towards the right, staring at her Servant's narrowed stare with wide, incredulous eyes.
She did not like the emptiness of his gaze. She did not like it one bit.
"We've been through this already. It doesn't matter what my life was like, all I care about right now is focusing on my duty to you," Emiya explained to her, grabbing her shoulder gently in a gesture of support. "Forget about the dream and my past. They are irrelevant for our mission."
…Irrelevant? she thought.
Emiya refused to elaborate further, but the young Master read between the lines all the same. Despite what many believed, Artoria was not a naive little girl… and it didn't take her long to understand what was happening right now. It was just too obvious – painfully obvious – that her Servant was openly ignoring his feelings right now. He was deliberately disregarding his own emotions and thoughts in order to calm her down; and Artoria couldn't miss this fact in spite of his best attempts to hide those efforts.
His emotionless eyes told her a different story, though.
"It's… It's not irrelevant, Archer," she shook her head with force, pursing her lips in attempt to stop herself from screaming. "This is your life we're talking about! How can you dismiss the past so easily?" she hissed, fixing the taller man with a stern, incredulous gaze.
Archer just sighed at her stubbornness. "I told you: the past doesn't affect me that much."
"You were unjustly killed! You were betrayed by those who had been saved by you! How can this not affect you?" she cut him off with a stern tone, growing more and more enraged by his lack of reaction.
This time, her Servant stunned her into silence with his following words.
"What makes you think that I was innocent?"
Artoria paused and startled, caught off guard by that sudden question. She stared at Archer with wide, incredulous eyes filled with disbelief.
"…what?" was all she managed to whisper.
Emiya looked at her with an unreadable expression. His stern, narrowed gaze was focused on her face with a cold intensity, and he stared unflinchingly into those anguished emerald eyes for what seemed to be an eternity.
"What happened back then was the result of my own decisions. The inevitable end of a foolish, screwed existence such as myself," he stated with an emotionless tone, smiling in self-mockery with an expression devoid of pride. Just seeing the empty smirk on his lips was making her feel physically sick. "I don't remember much, but those events happened because of my actions. It was a fitting end for me, all things considered."
Artoria's mind snapped. Something inside her broke upon hearing that.
She batted his hands away from her shoulders, rage and sorrow clouding her every thought.
"How can you say that?!" she yelled at him, her face a mask of cataclysmic rage and righteousness. "How dare you say that to yourself?!"
Her body rose up, a hand grasping the Servant's arm. Emiya watched, calm and collected, despite knowing full well what was to come. Artoria was staring at him – glaring – with emerald eyes filled with sadness and tears. The snarl on her face was honestly frightening to witness, and it reminded him of the anger that a certain Saber in silver armor had felt against him in a time long past, when he was nothing but a boy who had given his final order at the end of his first Holy Grail War. And it wasn't a pleasant memory. It wasn't pleasant at all.
Right now, this Artoria was wearing the exact same face. And Heroic Spirit Emiya had to fight hard in order not to flinch under her outraged expression.
"You… You're so… infuriating, Archer!" she all but shouted at him. "Hiding your pain from me! Trying to be cool all the time! Thinking you know what's best for others while you're still unable to be honest with yourself!" she raged. "You think I don't see through your half-truths? Archer, I know what I saw! I know that what you've been through was wrong! You were innocent, and you did not deserve to be killed by those you had saved! You were a Hero!"
He scoffed, tearing his eyes away. "I was no―"
"Don't try to deny it!" she screamed at him as her shoulders quivered with sobs. Archer stared at her for a long moment, stunned, as she looked up at him while crying. Her words and tears stabbed through him more painfully than any sword could have. "You didn't deserve that sentence! You've spent all your life trying to save people, and yet they betrayed you in the end, without even batting an eye! I've felt it in my dream, so stop denying it!"
He closed his lips shut, clenching his hands hard. Curse those dreams and the Master-Servant bond. He really would have preferred to avoid discussing that topic with his Master. This young girl didn't deserve to suffer because of him.
Artoria would have none of it. With a jerk-like movement, she grabbed his face with her hands all of a sudden, pulling him closer without hesitation.
Emiya stared into her jewel-like eyes, finding himself stunned by the clarity of her teary orbs.
"Stop pretending to be fine, Archer," the girl pleaded to him through gritted teeth. "I don't want you to hide your pain from me. You promised it. You promised you would be honest with me… remember that?"
He did. That was why he was feeling conflicted right now. Archer inwardly cursed himself.
Artoria kept his face in her hands, her fingers grasping his cheeks softly. "I don't like when you hide your emotions from me, Archer. In fact, I absolutely hate it," she said. "I want you to be honest with me. I want you to take care of yourself. This is the second time I've dreamt – I've felt – your regret. Running away from your past and trying to make me ignore your suffering won't work with me… not when I've felt what you've been through in my dreams. So, I will not allow you to put some distance from it. Not when your suffering was unjustified, even if you do not believe it. I cannot stand it for any reason."
Heroic Spirit Emiya paused at that, taken aback by her outburst. He was forced to use countless half-remembered years of practice to avoid freezing while he listened to her rant. The fact that this girl was being angry solely for his sake was both endearing and painful to him.
"So, please… stop lying to me," she said with utmost seriousness, her eyes staring straight into his own with deep intensity. "Stop pretending to be fine. I don't care about what kind of life you had… I just want you to be honest with me. I want to help you if you're suffering."
Good grief. This reversal of roles was simply too cruel to bear.
"Why do you care about something so trivial?" he asked her in the end, unable to understand.
It was a legitimate question. Perhaps the one and only question to which Archer had no answer despite all his experience and knowledge. After all, this matter was of no importance. His past and his regrets had nothing to do with Artoria (or, at least, with this Artoria). They were his to deal with, and this girl had no reason to feel so conflicted about them. Besides, they were inconsequential, and completely unrelated to the unfolding of the mission. So why was this girl so fixated on them? Why was she feeling so offended for his sake? It made no sense.
He did not understand. He could never understand.
Yet, her answer made him pause in spite of everything.
She stared at him, her lips quivering into a sad smile. "Because you're my Hero, Archer."
He blinked upon hearing that, utterly confused by her answer. The girl nearly smiled at his baffled face.
"Did you forget? You are my Hero, and the one I admire the most," she explained with a sad tone of voice, trying to make her point cross. "You're the only one I can truly rely on, and not just because you're my Servant. You chose to fight by my side despite knowing my selfish wish; you stood with me when my own family tried to stop me from participating in the War… you even saved me twice, both yesterday and the day before! Do you seriously believe I wouldn't care about all of that? Despite all you've done for me?"
"I was just carrying out my duty," he tried to deflect, unfazed. "Protecting their Master and fighting by their side is a Servant's role. Every Servant would have done the same."
She gave him a look that said: we both know that is not true. And she was right. Their initial distrust after the summoning was the very proof of that, after all.
Archer sighed under the unyielding stare of his Master. Her glare alone was so painfully familiar that he didn't find the strength to retort.
In the end, seeing that he wasn't refusing her reasoning, Artoria managed to calm down slightly. But her hands remained glued to his face all the same. "I know you've been alone for a very long time, Archer," she said, caressing his cheeks with a pained expression. "I just… don't want you to be like that now. I don't want you to keep pretending. If you don't like talking about your past, then I won't pry about it. But please, stop lying to me and to yourself. There's no need to keep hiding your emotions."
To actually hear something like this from that voice, coming out of those lips… gods damn it, this really felt like a twisted joke. Alaya must have really decided to screw with him this time. Archer had to fight really hard to quell the impulse to push the girl away out of instinct after hearing that statement. His lips nearly parted into an unamused sneer, in fact.
Fortunately, though, he stopped himself before he could do something he might regret. This girl was not King Arthur. She was not the one he knew from his life, nor one of the two Sabers he had met in his previous Holy Grail Wars. Therefore, he knew that she was just trying to help him in her own way without any ulterior motives. Her kindness and care for him were endearing, no doubt… but he just couldn't help but feel irked by the fact that she – Artoria Pendragon, of all people – was telling him to stop hiding his emotions. It was simply inevitable, given that her 'other self' had done the exact opposite for the entirety of her life. It just felt wrong, and sad, and bitter. This whole situation felt like being enclosed within a twisted nightmare.
If Saber Artoria Pendragon had been the one to say those words to him, Emiya would have snapped. Badly. He was sure of it.
But since she was just a simple girl in this world, Archer decided to relent. He forced himself to quell his annoyance, and instead focused on her words with a clearer mind. After all, he couldn't really deny the fact that she was right, deep down. There really was no need to hide his emotions this time around. He just kept doing it out of habit, and because he didn't want his Master to deal with his problems. But deep down, Archer knew that bottling everything inside and trying to shrug it off was not going to work in the long run. Not when his current Master seemed to be even more stubborn and fixated on this than his previous one.
It was undeniable. Rin had been a positive – albeit annoying – influence for him. Archer could not deny it. Regardless of all they had been through, that girl had showed him that his life had meaning in spite of everything, and that there was nothing wrong in trying to be happy after all he had done. 'I want to see you smile', she had said to him at the end of that War, after all. For that, Emiya would forever be grateful to Rin, and he still carried his final promise to her inside his heart.
However, his previous Master was not comparable to the current one. Because this Artoria was even more stubborn and resolute than Rin, at least on the matters regarding Archer and his personal life. Rin had never tried to pry too much about his past, mostly because she had other matters to deal with at the time, and because she had already formed her own suspicions by the end of the conflict; but Artoria Pendragon was another story entirely. Unlike Rin, in fact, she seemed extremely interested – almost fixated – on discovering Archer's identity whenever that matter was brought up, and even her dreams kept coming at an outstandingly fast rate for a Master. This fact alone showed that she had started to care for him deeply during the last few days of the War, and Archer was not blind to that. He knew what was happening right now.
Artoria was starting to care for him. She was growing attached, even if this fact was no surprise to Archer. Actually, if he had to be honest, he should have seen it coming from a while. After all, since she had been treated differently by both the people and her own family due to her bloodline, Artoria had become accustomed to acting cold and detached with everyone… at least until Emiya had appeared. And since he was the only one who actually treated her like a normal girl, going as far as spoiling her with his food and keeping her safe all the time, it was no wonder that she was growing attached. The fact that he had also saved her life twice in a row had been a huge factor as well. Just in the last two days alone, Artoria's opinion of him had boosted quite a bit because of that, and she had clearly admitted it herself after their clash against Rin and Saber.
So… yeah. Emiya knew that the current situation was inevitable. As loathe as he was to admit it, it was the result of his own actions, and as such he had to take responsibility for it in his own way.
Even if he did not deserve this girl's affection. Not even one bit.
"Fine, then," he relented with a sigh. He rose on his feet out of the blue, slipping away from his Master's hold and shaking his head with an amused expression while the girl blinked at his unexpected reaction. "If you have such a high opinion of me, I guess I'll have to be even more clear with you. Just don't blame me too much when you'll end up being disappointed."
Artoria blinked owlishly at him, surprised by his sudden change of mood, and quietly moved to stand up as well. "Huh? W-Why would I be disappointed by you?" she asked in confusion, unable to understand what he meant with those words.
Emiya eyed her sideways, his face and gaze unreadable.
"Master, I'm going to share a piece of advice with you," he said, looking at the girl in all seriousness and crossing his arms with a casual movement. The young heir of the Pendragon line stared back at him with a tense, expectant expression. "I know that you are interested in my story due to my condition. The War barely even started, but after everything we've been through in the last two days, it is only natural for you to feel that way. And believe me when I say that I feel honored to be held in such high regards by you. Trust me, I really do."
Artoria blushed and lowered eyes, trying to keep her face straight despite her embarrassment.
Seeing her flushed expression, Emiya turned his back to her, heading out of the bathroom. He motioned the girl to follow him with a nod of the head, and she did so without wasting a second.
"However, I would like to offer some advice," he said, entering the kitchen of the wide apartment and gesturing his Master to the table. Her breakfast was already waiting for her there, as usual. "Don't put too much thoughts on me. My past, my death, my problems… they're mine to deal with. There is no need to bother yourself with such inconsequential matters. You only need to focus on our mission, and nothing more. You already have your own burdens, and I do not wish to bother you further."
Artoria sat at the table, but ignored her breakfast completely. This fact alone spoke volumes about her inner turmoil. Emiya almost felt surprised.
"I-It's not a bother, Archer! I'm not forcing myself to do this! I want to help you, just like you did―"
"I know, and I'm grateful for that," he cut her off, quickly but gently. He stood on the opposite side of the room, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. "But there's something you've misunderstood, Master. I've sworn to be your Servant. I've sworn to fight by your side and protect you. But I never said I'd be your friend."
The girl's breath stopped upon hearing that, staring at him with wide eyes.
Sheer silence descended upon the entire apartment.
Emiya's face remained completely stoic. "I am you Servant, Master. Your safety and well-being are top priorities for me, because it's thanks to them that I can remain anchored to this world and fight alongside you. That is why I must ensure your well-being all the time," he explained, trying to make his point cross. "But you, on the other hand, have other matters to deal with. Dealing with the other Masters and strategize a way to win this War is your job, not mine. That is why you must focus on those matters instead of keeping your mind fixated on me and my problems. Just like my duty to you is to clear a path towards victory, your duty to me is to make sure I have a lead to follow. Servants are supposed to follow their Master's will, and fight together towards a common goal. That is the nature of the relationship we share."
Artoria's gaze fell more and more as she digested his words. Her shoulders dropped slightly, and her eyes became shadowed by her golden bangs.
"…so you're saying…"
"I'm saying that you must stop dwelling on needless matters and start focusing on your duty," he spoke with a stern tone, closing his eyes with a weary expression. "I understand your curiosity due to my memory loss, but I cannot ignore this matter any longer. Your interest about my past, my burdens, and my regrets is appreciated, but needless. Furthermore, it is distracting you from the objective. Our goal is not to deal with my problems, but to discover the truth behind this War and bring an end to the Ritual. Therefore, Master, I highly suggest you start focusing on your role instead of worrying about me and the life I've led in the past. Such matters are inconsequential, especially since I can still fight despite my memory loss. Dwelling on them is needless, and pointless."
His Master did not react. She remained completely still, with her gaze obscured and her head low.
Seeing her silence, Emiya sighed a weary sigh. "Do not misunderstand, Master. I honestly appreciate your concern, and I'm grateful for the interest and kindness you've shown towards me and my… peculiar situation. But the two of us are bound by a contract, not by a friendly relationship. As such, this matter is not relevant to our duty, and I cannot allow you to be distracted by it. As I said, I swore to be your Servant; but I am not your friend."
The silence that followed his statement was strangely deafening to his ears. Emiya knew he was being hypocritical with those words. He knew he was being hard on the girl, but he simply could not let this situation escalate further. He couldn't allow his Master to grow attached to him for any reason. Such a thing would only be a pointless, needless nuisance; as well as a weakness that could be exploited by the enemies. Servants were just tools, a means to an end, and nothing more. This fact had to remain unchanged, and it was time he reminded the girl of this truth once and for all.
No matter what the girl thought about it.
"…friend, huh?" Artoria mused after a long while of silence. Her voice was so low that it was barely above a whisper.
Archer fixed her with an unreadable stare.
She raised her head with a slow movement, staring into his eyes with a sad, knowing expression.
"Is that why you're keeping your past and your name hidden from me, Archer? Because we are not friends?"
Heroic Spirit Emiya froze, falling into a tense silence. He looked at his Master with narrowed eyes.
But Artoria didn't seem to be fazed by his glare. She returned his stare with a sad one of her own. "I had some suspicions for a while, but now I'm certain of it," she continued, looking and sounding completely certain about her words. "You don't really have memory loss, do you? You still remember your life, Archer, and you've deliberately chosen not to talk about it. Your current reaction has all but proved it to me… am I right?"
Emiya frowned, tearing his gaze away from the girl to stare at the window. His silence alone spoke more than words could.
The girl with golden hair smiled a sad smile. She knew she was right about that. "Why do you keep pushing everyone away, Archer?"
"…the same reason I'm hiding my name from you, I suppose."
Artoria's gaze dropped to the table, idly swirling a spoon in her tea. "You don't trust me?"
"That's not…" Archer paused, sighed, shook his own head. He donned a hand over his face in exasperation, trying his best to ignore the hurt inside her voice. "If it had been needed, I would have told you the truth. But in the current situation, knowing my name and my past won't change things, so it is pointless. That, and I just have a habit of… pushing people, as you've noticed. It is better that way."
The girl looked up at him. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Emiya exhaled another sigh, unsure of how to explain it. He wasn't quite sure why he was revealing this, in the first place. "I am not as good as you believe me to be, Master," he admitted with a cold tone of voice. He finally turned his head towards her again, and he almost flinched under Artoria's inquisitive stare. "Not only I am a secretive person by nature, but my 'past' is not the most exemplary one, as you've seen in those dreams. I do not enjoy talking about it, and I wanted to spare you from such a pathetic story. My life was not exactly a fairy tale."
The young Master observed her Servant for a long while, musing over his answer for a few seconds. Even if she didn't show it outwardly, Artoria was inwardly surprised by the current turn of events. After all, this wasn't what she had expected to hear from Archer. Upon being confronted by the truth, she had expected him to be more distant and secretive about this subject. She had expected him to lie and grow defensive. Heck, she had even expected him to deny her suspicions in some way… but instead, after being confronted with her honest words, he was just admitting the truth without batting an eye. He was admitting the fact that he had kept secrets all this time, without feeling ashamed or trying to escape the situation; and she could not understand the reasoning behind his actions.
She had to know. She just had to.
"So… why are you admitting it so easily now?" she asked him at that point, confused.
Much to her surprise, Emiya scoffed in self-mockery. "I don't enjoy lying, despite my attempts to fool myself," he answered with an empty voice. Then, faced by her unamused stare, his lips curved into a sarcastic smile. "That, and because Lancer already knows," he admitted, shocking her quite a bit with that statement. "Seeing how that woman has now become an ally, it's only a matter of time before she will say something. I guess I just wanted to admit this much before she spoils my fun," he shrugged.
Artoria widened her eyes. She felt something hot and vicious bubbling inside her chest upon hearing that answer.
"Y-You!" she stammered, outraged. "You've told the truth to Lancer… and not to ME?!" she yelled, standing up from the table with a full-fledged glare.
Emiya remained completely unfazed by her anger. "You're mistaken, Master. She figured it out on her own, just like I did with her," he answered, raising a hand in a placating gesture. "Besides, she still doesn't know who I am, so there's no need to be angry. Nobody knows my identity, and if there's one person I would like to reveal it first… that is you. Please do not doubt me about this."
His answer seemed to calm her down. Artoria relaxed slightly upon seeing the honesty in his grey eyes, taking a deep breath after a few seconds of blinding anger. She could see in her Servant's gaze that he was being honest with those words, so she decided to drop that matter and forget about the events of the previous night. Archer was finally being honest with her for once, so it was best to use this opportunity to learn more about him. That, and she didn't like thinking about Lancer. The way that woman had looked at her Servant the night before had greatly bothered her for some reason.
She shook her head, falling back on her seat with a weary sigh. "…good. I would have never forgiven you if you did," she stated in utmost seriousness.
Archer openly smirked at her words. "Hm? Is that jealousy I hear?"
Once again, her reaction did not disappoint.
Artoria blushed madly, her face becoming as red as it could be while her breath got stuck in her throat. Panic and shame flashed in her emerald eyes, her face began to sweat, and the poor girl barely even managed to stammer out a response amid her panicked rant. "O-O-Of course not!" she yelled, feeling deeply embarrassed by his words and – especially – by the implication behind them. "I-I was just e-expressing my disappointment! N-Not to be trusted by their own Servant would be an affront for every Master! Y-Yes, that's it! It would have been a great disgrace!"
Emiya just gave her an unimpressed stare, and Artoria felt like sulking in a corner. The fact that she had just resumed to talk in the male-speech pattern of her family was only aggravating the shame she was feeling inside.
Curses. He's teasing me again.
Nevertheless, she managed to recollect herself quickly due to the seriousness of the matter. "A-Anyway… is that why you're keeping your identity secret? Because you want to spare me?" she questioned him again, dismissing her embarrassment and replacing it with a frown.
Her Servant returned serious as well. He looked down at the girl again, feeling uncomfortable with the familiar look of sadness in her emerald eyes, and shifted the subject back. "You and I have our own duties to fulfill, and we must focus on those instead of dwelling on pointless matters," he stated again, trying to dismiss the slight feeling of shame he was feeling inside. "I'm a versatile tool, but in the wrong situation, one that can be easily broken. That is why I need to be certain that you'll be able to use me smartly."
"Stop saying such cruel things!" Artoria said, suddenly looking very determined. "You're not a tool to me!"
He smirked. "There's a balance to be struck, Master. The best kind of Masters need to be able to use all their allies like tools, but also protect all their tools as allies."
The girl looked like she wanted to keep disagreeing, and Emiya thought she was surely going to do so. But strangely enough, she stayed silent instead, chewing over the thought for a long, long while.
In the end, seeing her conflicted face, Emiya decided to elaborate. "I'm not saying that I don't trust you, but there are some things that take priority over others," he tried to explain, moving away from the wall and stepping closer to the girl. He stopped right next to the table, and Artoria looked up at him in seriousness. "Master, I swore an oath to you. I swore to be your ally, and to clear a path for your victory. That means that I care about you, make no mistake. And I also know extremely well how smart and capable you are. We already talked about this."
"However, I do sincerely believe that revealing my name to you would be a pointless move. No, it would be a distraction for us. And that is why I do not wish to talk about it… yet."
"But why?" Artoria pressed, unable to understand his reasoning behind this matter. "Why is it such a big deal for you?"
Her Servant closed his eyes. "I told you: I'm not as good as you believe me to be."
"That's not true! I've dreamt of your feelings, Archer. I've seen what you've been through. Ok, maybe I haven't seen the whole picture, but I know you are a Hero!" she declared seriously.
"I'm a killer," was his cold and immediate reply. Artoria scowled and rose on her feet upon hearing that, fixing her Servant with a challenging glare. The tanned man remained completely unfazed by it. "That's what it means to be a Hero," he stated with utmost certainty, his voice colder than steel. "If you care for the truth, you'd better not forget that, Master."
She stared him down, emerald eyes against steel, each one daring the other to keep arguing. He'd made his point. He could see that from the way her lips pressed into a thin, hard line.
It was the same look he remembered from the first morning after they'd met, chastising him inside the small flat of Bristol.
"But if you really wish to know the truth, then I'll tell you," Archer continued again, catching her by surprise with that statement. He parted his lips into a knowing smile, placing a hand over her head and ruffling her hair with a fond gesture. The girl blushed and sputtered at his actions. "One day."
Artoria grumbled and pouted when she finally managed to break free from his grasp. Regardless, she still shot him a doubtful stare. "You promise?"
He nodded, for once completely serious. "I promise."
"Will you give me a hint, then?" she pressed further, leaning towards him with a resolute frown. "Something to think and ponder about in the meantime?"
Much to her surprise, he decided to comply.
"…let's just say I was a sheath for a sword a lifetime ago," Emiya said as he closed his eyes.
Her brows furrowed at his cryptic words. Her eyebrow was visibly twitching. "I believe it would pain you to be straightforward for once, Archer."
"It's just not the right time to reveal myself to you, Master," he said with a slight grin that quickly vanished. His hawk eyes opened suddenly, flickering in a certain direction with an unreadable stare. "Besides, now it's not the time for that. We have company."
Artoria blinked, utterly confused his sudden statement. However, she didn't miss the way her Servant's attitude had shifted out of the blue, just like the way his eyes had suddenly moved to glance to the right, staring at something she couldn't quite see yet. When she turned around to follow his gaze, her eyes fell on the window facing the right side of the kitchen, and her lips parted in stupor all of a sudden.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Emiya furrowed his brows. "It appears we have a visitor," he mused with sarcasm.
Like many other times before, he was right… although the sight of said 'visitor' was extremely different compared to what one person would expect to see at the thought of receiving a visit. Even the way this so-called visitor had decided to reveal their presence was extremely unusual, in fact. Artoria nearly gaped in shock at the sight.
Just outside the window facing the kitchen, the intruder was there. It was none other than a large, odd-looking ball made of liquid, which possessed a slimy consistence and a silvery-white color. The ball appeared to be glued to the outer wall of the building in some way, stretching its gluey body slightly to the right and tapping over the window with a gentle movement, almost as if it had a life of its own. It was a literal sphere of liquid that moved and acted on its own initiative, waving and stretching itself with its liquid body in order to be noticed and grab their attention.
Artoria stared at the ball with wide eyes. Emiya remained calm and focused instead.
Faster than a man could blink, the visitor suddenly reacted. With a slow, almost animalistic movement similar to that of a snake, the sphere of liquid stretched forward all of a sudden, crawling along the outside wall of the building and slipping through the window's infix thanks to its liquid and shapeless body, entering the apartment with disarming ease. Not even five seconds later, the intruder was already inside, and the silvery liquid began to coagulate and pile up on the floor, agitating itself in an unpleasant way and assuming the shape of a sphere again.
The girl with golden hair took a step back out of instinct. "W-What is that?" she whispered, hiding herself a little behind Archer's frame.
Emiya fixed the odd-looking ball with narrowed eyes. "Remote control. The art of manipulating a liquid flow," he explained, looking completely calm in spite of the unexpected intrusion. His body remained relaxed as before, and he didn't even summon a weapon upon being faced by that so-called visitor. "What you see before you is liquid mercury filled with Magecraft. A shapeless cluster of energy that can be sculpted into any shape and controlled at will. It's a Mystic Code."
Artoria's eyed widened. "A unique Code created from mercury?" she breathed in shock, realization dawning upon her features. "It's the Supreme Mystic Code of the El-Melloi Family!"
Indeed, her Servant knew that she was right. Although he had never seen such a weird and peculiar Mystic Code during his lifetime, Emiya had heard a lot of things about the El-Melloi Family in the past… especially during his life, when he had gone to London in order to study at the Clock Tower for a short time under Ciel's suggestion. Thanks to that, he was aware of the fact that the El-Melloi Family excelled in the art of manipulating flows and liquids, and that it possessed this Mystic Code. It was said that Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald (the previous head of the El-Melloi Family) created it in his early twenties long before the Fourth Holy Grail War, and that the ability to control it was shared between the rare dual elemental attributes of his relatives.
However, Lord El-Melloi II was not a true member of the family… so that left only one explanation.
Before Emiya or Artoria could speculate, however, something happened. The ball of liquid mercury suddenly trembled on the floor, and with a recoiling movement and a hissing sound, it suddenly shifted form out of the blue. Gone was now the large and odd-looking ball of silvery color, replaced by the shape of a human being dressed in a maid outfit with long hair and skin completely unsuited to human beings: a shining silver.
It was a maid. A living, breathing maid made of liquid mercury. Artoria almost couldn't believe her eyes.
"Greeting, Miss Pendragon. I apologize for the unexpected visit," the maid spoke – it actually spoke – with a calm, emotionless tone. Her voice was soft, and it carried a strange metallic ring to it that was honestly odd to hear. "My name is Trimmau, and I am a multi-purpose maid golem currently serving under Reines El-Melloi Archisorte. It is a pleasure to meet you," she said with her eyes closed, making a curt bow with her – its? – body in a respectful gesture.
For a few moments, only silence followed the maid's words. Artoria stared at the Code with narrowed eyes, unsure of what to do, while Archer stepped slightly to the side, observing the scene in cryptic silence.
In the end, the heir of the Pendragon line managed to recollect herself from the stupor. "A golem," she mused to herself with a frown, returning to assume her usual stoic demeanor. "What is the meaning of this? Why is a golem belonging to Lady Reines here in my apartment?"
The golem maid, Trimmau, kept its eyes closed as it straightened itself. "My Master has temporarily assigned me to her older brother, and ordered me to aid him in his mission in order to ensure the unfolding of the Clock Tower's will. I was sent here under Lord El-Melloi II's request," she stated matter-of-factly, like a robot capable only of carrying out orders.
"I see… but what for?" she pressed.
This time, the maid didn't answer right away. Instead, she bowed again and took something from her pocket, offering it to the girl with one hand.
It was a letter.
Emiya and Artoria shared a silent glance. Then, slowly and tentatively, the girl made a few steps forward and took the small piece of paper from the golem's hand, looking both curious and wary all the while. Trimmau remained still and lowered her head in curtesy upon delivering the letter, waiting for their reaction in silence.
"What is it, Master?" Archer questioned, glancing at the young girl as she opened the letter and began reading its content.
Artoria's eyebrow rose slightly in stupor as she kept reading the words written on the paper. "It's from the Lord. I recognize the handwriting," she said in a serious tone. Her emerald orbs narrowed the more she kept reading the letter. "He's asking us to join him and lady Bazett for a meeting. He wants to discuss the current alliance with us."
Emiya digested the news in silence and without surprise, since he was already suspecting this kind of outcome. After all the events that had happened the previous night, it was understandable that Lord El-Melloi II wanted to re-discuss the matters regarding the current situation. Having both Bazett and Lancer on their side was surely going to change things in a lot of ways, after all, and the three Masters still hadn't talked much about their new alliance. Everyone had been too exhausted yesterday to be able to discuss that matter fully, so this outcome was in no way unexpected, in Archer's opinion.
He nodded in a silent acknowledgment, eyeing his Master with an unreadable stare. "I figured. So? What are you going to do?"
The girl with golden hair closed the letter with a resolute expression. "That is obvious, Archer," Artoria answered without the slightest hint of hesitation. She returned the piece of paper back to the golem, fixing the odd-looking maid with a narrowed gaze. "Lead the way. We will go to the Lord's meeting."
Trimmau nodded in satisfaction, keeping its eyes closed all the while. "Marvelous," it spoke, its emotionless tone unchanged from the beginning. "Then please follow me outside. I will guide you to the meeting point right away."
However, before the golem or the girl could speak further, Archer suddenly coughed loudly, grabbing everyone's attention.
The tanned man with white hair sighed when everyone's gaze turned to him. "Master, I approve your resolve… but I believe it would be wise for you to wait a moment before heading out to the meeting," he said in all seriousness, glancing at his young Master with one eye closed.
Artoria just stared, blinking owlishly at him without a clue. "Huh?"
Emiya nearly sighed at her clueless expression. "Good grief. Surely you wouldn't want to get out dressed like that… am I right?" he pressed, sarcasm clearly present in his tone.
The young Master froze at his words, blinked a second time, and then lowered her eyes slowly to stare at her body.
Until, upon finally realizing that she was still dressed in her pajamas, the girl let out a squeal of embarrassment and dashed towards her room at maximum speed, with a cloud of smoke following her head all the while.
Archer donned a hand on his face, while Trimmau stared at the scene in silence.
"…the Lord was right. She's indeed an unusual Mage for a Master," the golem maid commented with no emotion in her tone.
Emiya shook his head. "You have no idea," was his only answer as he headed for the door once again.
The two of us are staring at the sight below. From the rooftop of the Central Building, the view of the city is quite the sight, especially during night. Even the soft and warm breeze caressing our skin is quite enjoyable for us.
However, that is not why we are here.
"I neglected to ask you something."
Rin turns towards me as I break the silence, tilting her head to the side. "What is it?" she asks.
My eyes narrow slightly as I stare at her frame from my seated position. "Rin… were you trained from an early age to be a Master, and did you go along with that?" I ask, catching her by surprise for a moment.
When she manages to recollect herself, she nods. "That's right. For generations, winning the Grail has been the Tohsaka's dream," she answers, her voice carrying a casual yet firm tone.
"In that case, I expect that you know your goal," I say, fixing the girl with a serious frown. "Unless I know your wish, I cannot entrust my blades to you."
I stand up from my seat, staring straight into the girl's eyes. "Rin, what is your wish?" I demand to her directly.
Her next answer is not the one I expect. "Wish? I don't really have one," she says, placing a hand on her hip.
I am baffled by her reply. "What? That isn't possible," I say. "The Grail is an omnipotent cup that can grant any wish. It has the power to conquer the world for you."
Of course, my reaction is a bit exaggerated, and the words I'm saying are not entirely true; but this a necessary test. I need to know what this girl is up to, and why she wants to fight in such a pointless battle.
Once again, her answer surprises me. "Well, conquering the world seems like a pain in the ass, and there's no point in wishing for dumb things like that," she shrugs, almost with a casual tone.
I close my eyes to hide my inner agreement. "I fail to understand. Why, then, are you fighting?"
She turns to me fully this time. The smile on her face is both confident and amused as she speaks. "Because there's a battle to be fought, Archer."
I widen my eyes as I begin to grasp the meaning behind her words. "So you're saying…"
"Yes. I'm fighting to win. That's all."
I stare at her for a few seconds. But in the end, I can't help but snort in amusement.
Honestly, this girl…
"Good grief," I sigh, shaking my head with helpless resignation. "You are indeed an ideal Master for me, Rin."
Location: Fuyuki City (Japan)
Shinto – Shopping District
The walk towards the meeting point was not long.
As Heroic Spirit Emiya and his Master followed Trimmau along the hidden alleys and pathways of Fuyuki, they soon realized that the location for the meeting with Lord El-Melloi II and the others was not far from Artoria's apartment. The maid golem led them to the shopping district of Shinto, which was not far from the area where the Semina Apartments were located. More specifically, Lord El-Melloi II's familiar guided them to the main attraction of the district: the towering and wide-spread shopping center of Fuyuki City, also known as "Verde".
Hidden from view thanks to his spirit form, Emiya narrowed his eyes as he followed his Master and the golem towards the entrance of the building. He was extremely familiar with this place thanks to his own experience, since he had been there countless times in his youth, even without taking into account his memories of the previous Holy Grail Wars. Verde was the biggest shopping center of Fuyuki City, after all, and it was also the very same building which housed a certain tea shop that Rin had been particularly fond of in Archer's past experiences. His previous Master had often been quite adamant about coming to this place because of that, and Emiya had had no choice but to follow her as well, back then.
Luckily for him, though, today's destination was not the tea shop which Rin used to adore in those past timelines. In fact, both Archer and Artoria remained quite surprised when they realized that the Lord's golem maid was not leading them towards a specific shop or store of the mall, but rather towards the building's very own rooftop. Once they had taken the elevator and slipped past the security guards without being seen, the three of them quickly found themselves on the vast, empty rooftop of the shopping center, gazing at the breathtaking view of Fuyuki that could be seen from the elevated position of the towering building. Sure, it wasn't as tall as the Center Building, but the view was still nice thanks to the sunny weather of the morning.
But now, that did not matter one bit. Their allies were already waiting from them, after all. Lord El-Melloi and Bazett Fraga McRemitz – along with their respective Servants hidden in spirit form – were already there, seated in front of each other on the concrete floor of the rooftop. As soon as they stepped closer to them, Archer could clearly feel Artoria tensing through their Master-Servant bond, preparing herself for the what was about to come.
Waver Velvet turned to her with a raised brow. "You're late," he noted, fixing the girl with golden hair with an amused stare while Bazett remained silent.
To her credit, Artoria took the jab like a champion. "Preparing myself took me longer than expected," she defended herself with a stoic tone, closing her eyes and taking a seat between the man and the woman. She placed her faithful katana on the floor next to her, joining her hands on her lap with a graceful movement. "I'm still getting used to Japan's time zone. My apologies."
Her convenient lie was accepted without complaints. Emiya was inwardly impressed.
Seeing the silence that followed the greeting, Trimmau decided to excuse itself. Its body trembled and swayed, and then the golem shape-shifted back into a sphere of mercury which immediately moved to hid itself inside a small suitcase for travel placed next to Waver, disappearing from sight entirely.
Bazett whistled a bit in amusement. "That's quite the familiar you have there, Waver. I didn't know you possessed such a complex Mystic Code," she mused, impressed.
Lord El-Melloi II merely shook his head. "It's not mine. Trimmau was formerly the Mystic Code of Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald, which now belongs to his niece. People believe that it was made by me, but in truth the Code was reprogrammed as a multi-purpose maid golem by Reines herself. I only gave her a few advices here and there during the process, but in regards to that she has temporarily given the Code to me to aid our cause. She said she wouldn't feel worried that way," he explained slowly, patting the suitcase with one hand in a fond gesture.
Artoria and Bazett exchanged a glance. "And you've kept such a weapon hidden until now," the hair of the Fraga family commented with no small amount of sarcasm. "It seems you are full of surprises."
The man snorted in response.
Rider was the first to reveal his presence after that quick exchange. His armored body appeared out of the blue in a dust of prana, placing himself right next to the black-haired Magus with a cheerful grin on his face.
"Come on, Master. There's no need to be so stiff and dismissive all the time. We're here to talk and discuss as allies! You should be more accommodating with your comrades," the King of Franks – Charlemagne – teased him with a sly tone, taking a seat next to Waver. The poor man almost blushed in both shame and annoyance at his Servant's jab, and the armored Knight patted him on the shoulder with a laugh.
Bazett shot a quick glance to her left. Following Rider's example, the woman's Servant dismissed her own spirit form as well, revealing herself in a dust of purple and allowing her beautiful and sinuous body to be bathed by the light once more. Both Lord El-Melloi II and Rider tensed as the Servant of the Lancer class laid her crimson eyes on them, while Artoria watched the scene with a narrowed gaze.
"Do not jump to conclusions, Rider," the Witch of of Dún Scáith – Scathach – spoke with an empty tone. Her voice was cold, commanding; despite being soft and suave as well. Staring at her frame was like staring at the pale moon, making everyone feel as if the spear-woman's beauty was something both pleasing and dangerous to witness. Her imposing presence alone had made the air drop a few degrees around them. "Having formed a temporary alliance does not mean we have become comrades. You'd do better not to forget that," she mused, as both a statement and a warning.
Charlemagne and Waver gulped and stared at her with a tense face.
Sheer silence followed Lancer's dismissive words. The spear-woman took a seat next to her Master without saying anything else, and everyone soon found themselves seated on the floor in a circle, falling into a tense silence.
Well, almost everyone.
Bazett and Waver's eyes turned to Artoria with an expectant face, and the heir of the Pendragon line immediately realized what their gazes were saying.
The girl with golden hair glanced to her right. "It's fine, Archer," she spoke to her Servant, softly. "You can show yourself."
In all honesty, Emiya would have preferred to remain in spirit form and avoid a direct confrontation, but he knew that it would be rude to do so when both Rider and Lancer had clearly decided to openly participate in the discussion. And since he didn't want to bring shame or disgrace to his Master, he had no choice but to comply.
His body materialized in a dust of blue, and Heroic Spirit Emiya revealed himself with his eyes closed and arms crossed.
Lancer narrowed her eyes when Archer appeared without saying a single word of greeting to anyone, but her lips soon parted into a veiled smile as she watched him taking a seat next to the Pendragon girl despite his lack of enthusiasm. He really was loyal despite his looks.
"Greetings, Archer," she greeted him with a formal tone. "As expected, you are silent as usual."
Emiya shot her a flat stare, unfazed by the sarcasm. "Lancer," he grunted in response.
The spear-woman widened her smile. His lack of reaction was only making her amusement grow. "Have your wounds recovered from last night?" she asked him casually.
Once again, the only answer she received was another noncommittal grunt. Bazett, Waver and Rider openly sweat-dropped at the scene.
For some reason, Scathach seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. "Too bad… it seems I still have a long way to go before I can pierce through that empty heart of yours," she mused with a sly smirk, without even bothering to hide her sarcasm.
This time, the white-haired man shot her a full-fledged glare.
Artoria decided that that was enough. She raised an arm in front of her Servant, like a child who was trying to shield her favorite toy from a dangerous stranger. "Leave him alone, Lancer. I won't allow you to have your way with him as you did yesterday," she warned with a stern tone, sending an enraged glare to the older woman in spite of her inner nervousness. "Archer nearly died last night because of you. Do not think I have forgotten about that," she spat, unaware of the – quite substantial – amount of venom in her voice. The fact that she was openly threatening a Servant didn't even cross her mind, to be honest.
But she just couldn't help it. The blonde girl could not fathom why, but the way Lancer was looking and speaking to her Servant was irking her to no end.
She would not, could not, allow that dangerous woman to get close to her Archer ever again.
Her words made everyone tense all around the girl, Emiya included. The Nameless Hero watched in silent alarm as Scathach's gaze landed on his Master in slow motion, while something cold and unreadable flashed inside those crimson orbs. Something that made the woman scowl slightly, as if a flicker of annoyance had passed through her stoic expression after hearing Artoria's words. And Emiya didn't like that fact. He didn't like it at all.
Immediately, he leaned forward and opened his mouth to interject before Lancer could say something to the girl, but there was no need.
For another one broke the silence for him.
"That's enough, Lancer," Bazett suddenly cut in the discussion before it could escalate, sending a cold stare to her own Servant. "As Rider said, we are not here to foment hostility, but to discuss this so-called alliance that Lord El-Melloi II has offered to us," she said, grabbing everyone's attention. Especially Lancer's. "We may not be comrades yet, but there's no need for sly innuendos or futile provocations. You've already lost the duel yesterday, so I trust you'll be able to restrain yourself from now on; especially for today. Is that clear?"
Scathach stared at her Master with a cold stare, long and hard. Then, much to everyone's shock, she closed her eyes and nodded in acceptance without even an ounce of hesitation or shame.
"My apologies," the immortal Queen decided to relent in the end, shrugging a bit. "I was merely teasing him. I hope I haven't offended you because of that, Archer."
Emiya forced a neutral expression on his face. His well-developed instinct was still keeping him alert, however. "Of course not," was all he said.
Bazett nodded in satisfaction as the two Servants fell silent after those words. As if on cue, Lancer and Archer closed their eyes and crossed their arms at the same time, and their Masters stared at both of them with a stern expression for a few seconds.
All the while, the other Master-Servant duo exchanged a worried glance with each other.
"And I offer my apologies to you as well, Miss Pendragon," Bazett continued soon after that, catching Artoria by surprise and prompting her wide eyes to fall on her. "Lancer usually struggles to contain her obsession to fight, and as we know, last night she has caused a lot of trouble to your Servant because of that. I apologize for her actions, and I'll make sure something like that won't happen again… as long as this truce remains, of course."
Emiya and Artoria stared at the woman, the former with narrowed eyes and the latter with mouth agape. Next to Bazett, Lancer kept her eyes closed and her expression stoic all the while, like a Queen to whom words and accusations could not faze in the slightest.
Bezett kept staring at Artoria with a serious face. "Is this compromise acceptable for you, Miss Pendragon?" she pressed, looking as serious as before.
The girl with golden hair blinked in astonishment. "A-Ah, yes. Of course," she readily agreed after a while, nodding her head slowly in acceptance.
"Good. This is settled, then," she stated, putting an end to that feud once and for all.
That being said, the air finally began to lose the previous feeling of tension, and everyone relaxed slightly after that quick exchange.
Charlemagne narrowed his eyes, leaning to the right with his body and raising a hand over his lips to whisper to Archer in a not-so-subtle way. "Man, she sure is scary," he murmured in a hushed tone, glancing at Lancer's stoic face with a wary expression. "I've never said this, but I don't think it was wise to rouse that woman's interest. I feel sorry for you, bud."
Archer felt his left eyebrow twitch. "You don't say," he whispered back at Rider, annoyed. If that woman's aid wasn't strictly necessary for the sake of the mission, Emiya would have loved nothing more than have nothing to do with her.
However, just as Archer finished processing that thought, Scathach suddenly opened her eyes and flashed him a sly smirk from the other side of the circle, making him flinch slightly in nervousness; almost as if she had been reading his mind all along. The man dressed in red nearly sighed in defeat under her amused stare.
Good grief. He was really tired of dealing with troublesome Lancers.
Lord El-Melloi II coughed loudly, grabbing everyone's attention before the moment of peace could be broken again. "Now that this is settled… I believe it is time for us to begin our discussion," he began to say, looking at each and every one of them in the eyes. "I haven't called you guys here to foment discord or create a new dispute. On the contrary, as we've thoroughly discussed before, I have proposed this unusual alliance because our task at hand is quite troublesome. And an extremely hard one at that, too."
Artoria and Bazett turned to the man after hearing that, followed by their Servants. "You mean the Dismantlement of the Greater Grail?" the heir of the Fraga lineage demanded, narrowing her eyes as she recalled his words from the previous night.
The Lord of the Clock Tower nodded. "Correct. That is why we must set aside out previous hostility, Bazett. The legacy of the Holy Grail War has shaped our world for long enough. Whether the Grail is really corrupted or not, this Ritual has brought nothing but death in the past, without achieving completion even once in over two hundred years… and that much is undeniable. As such, it must be stopped for good, or it will only bring forth more death and destruction. If we want to succeed in this arduous job, then we must work together. There is no other choice."
Next to him, Rider agreed to his reasoning with a solemn nod of the head.
Lancer and Bazett seemed to ponder Waver's words for a while. "I failed to ask this yesterday, but what makes you think the Grail is corrupted?" the woman with magenta hair demanded, staring straight into Waver's eyes.
Heavy eyelids closed as Lord El-Melloi II crossed his arms.
"That is a question I would like to answer once our final guest joins us," was his resolute but cryptic reply.
Everyone tensed slightly at his words. Artoria and Bazett widened their eyes.
"Final guest?" Archer repeated, doing his very best to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. Since both Artoria and Bazett were already here, and since no one knew the identity of Berserker's Master, the likeliest other person he could possibly imagine Lord El-Melloi II inviting to such a meeting was…
"Hoh? It seems everyone is already here."
A familiar and nostalgic voice suddenly echoed from the side. Upon hearing that, everyone stiffened and turned towards the door leading to the rooftop on the right, staring at the newest arrival with narrowed eyes and a tense silence. Especially Artoria, whose hands instinctively moved towards the hilt of her sword.
But among those present, unbeknownst to everyone, Emiya closed his eyes, clenched his fists and gritted his teeth slightly in order to stop himself from react in any noticeable way.
He really should have seen this coming.
Just like he had feared, Rin Tohsaka stepped on the rooftop of the shopping center with a solemn step, followed closely by her Servant – King Arthur Pendragon himself. They were heralded by the clanking of Saber's armor and the prickling at the back of their necks from raw mana output as King of Knights made his way through the roof, escorting his young Master in stoic silence.
And as soon as those two moved close to the group seated in circle, the air grew tense and heavy once again.
Rin stared at all the Masters and Servants with an unreadable face. "So you really had the audacity to invite me to such a meeting," the girl with raven hair mused, serious, staring at Waver Velvet with a piercing gaze. A small piece of paper was grasped in her right hand, similar to the one Artoria had received as well. "When your familiar delivered this letter to my house, I thought it was a trap… but that isn't really your style, is it, Lord El-Melloi II?"
The sheer amount of sarcasm and distaste in her voice was just too obvious to miss.
Much to his credit, Waver didn't seem fazed but the girl's blatant disrespect. On the contrary, his lips parted into a knowing smile in spite of everything. "I'm glad to see you've decided to join us, Miss Tohsaka. Such courage is indeed impressive for your age. Not everyone would comply with an enemy Master's request," he replied back with ease, unfazed.
The young heir of the Tohsaka line didn't react to the praise. She merely moved a strand of raven hair from her shoulder with a casual movement.
"It is a known fact that fighting during the day is disadvantageous for both Masters and Servants," she stated, her aqua orbs scanning through each and every one of them with a cold intensity. Her eyes openly narrowed slightly when her gaze landed on Artoria's face, making the younger girl tense in nervousness. "And I know the Lords of the Clock Tower well enough to say that you wouldn't have called out to me if it wasn't important. The fact that you've invited me to this meeting proves that you're either more desperate than you seem, or a complete fool. I just came to satisfy my curiosity."
Waver took the not-so-subtle jab like a champion. This time, however, he couldn't quite stop the twitching of his brow. "I see… I appreciate the honesty," he replied through gritted teeth.
Rider and many others of the group sweat-dropped at the Lord's attempt to restrain his annoyance.
On their part, instead, Archer and Artoria could not tear their eyes from Saber, watching in silent wariness while the King of Knights and his Master took a seat on the floor to their right, looking both confident and resolute as they did so. They knew it was unwise to stare at their enemies directly, but they just couldn't help it. Emiya was extremely wary of Saber due to his past duel with him, and also because… well, because he was a male version of the King of Knights, who was supposed to be a woman. This fact alone was more than enough reason for him to be wary of him. Artoria, on the other hand, couldn't help but stare at the Servant since she was a Pendragon herself, and she still didn't know how to grasp the fact that she was standing right next to the founder of her own lineage. Everyone would have done the same, in her shoes.
But all of that didn't matter right now. As soon as they took a seat next to them, the Servant of the Saber class glanced in Emiya's direction, and his emerald eyes narrowed on him while Archer remained completely stoic, doing his best to ignore that piercing gaze thanks to his countless experiences. The two Servants stared at each other, cold and emotionless, but said nothing… and that was enough for them.
Rin, on the other hand, didn't seem willing to drop the formalities. As expected of her.
"So we meet again, Master of Archer," the girl spoke, offering a polite smile in Artoria's direction. Although the expression on her face seemed relaxed and polite, Emiya knew Rin well enough to realize that the smile on her lips was far from polite right now. It was the exact same smile she had often showed to him during his previous Wars, the one she would always wear when she was plotting something –– something bad, most of the times. "What an unexpected surprise, don't you agree?"
Poor Artoria looked extremely uncomfortable under Rin's stare. Her trained instinct was alerting her despite being nothing but a fifteen-years-old girl. "…indeed," was all she managed to say, trying to compose herself under Archer's reassuring gaze. "I must admit this is quite unexpected."
Emiya had had enough. He turned to Waver with narrowed eyes, his expression clearly showing his disapproval about the current situation. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, going straight to the point.
Waver didn't seem fazed by his reaction. "What?" he shrugged. "Miss Tohsaka, too, is a participant of the conflict. She has the right to know our goal."
"That's not what you said last night," he countered, deadly serious. "You said we needed to discuss, but you never mentioned inviting an enemy to our meetings."
"Enemies can become allies under the right circumstances," Lancer interjected at that point from the other side of the circle, grabbing his attention. The woman with purple hair shot him a sly smirk, placing a hand under her chin with an elegant gesture. "Isn't that right, Archer?" she asked with sarcasm, clearly amused.
Emiya fixed the spear-woman with a narrowed stare.
Rin turned her attention to Bazett. "You must be one of the Lord's acquaintances," she spoke to the older woman after an initial moment of tension, breaking the ice with a serious, but polite, tone. "My name is Rin, heir of the Tohsaka family and Master of the Servant of the Saber class. I apologize for not introducing myself earlier."
She shook her head. "It's fine, Waver already told me about you two," she acknowledged, eyeing both the girl and her Servant warily. "I am Bazett Fraga McRemitz, Lancer's Master. I hope we can get along… at least for the duration of this meeting."
"But of course," she agreed, albeit ironically.
While their Masters exchanged a formal greeting for the first time, Lancer and Saber stared at each other as well, both of them studying the other with the eyes and a narrowed frown. But apart from that, they said nothing, nor reacted in any noticeable way. And so, once everyone was finally done with their greetings and introductions, silence returned to reign amid the group of Masters and Servants for a long while.
That is, until Rider couldn't contain himself anymore.
"Come on, guys! What's with this tension?" he exclaimed out of the blue, looking around with confusion and a bored expression. "We're here to talk peacefully, aren't we? Why are you all glaring as if you're about to jump at each other's throat?"
Flat stares and cold shoulders was all he received in answer. The King of Franks flinched a little with a chagrined smile under the oppressive stares of the others.
"Ooook… this is awkward," he whispered to Archer, looking genuinely confused about the tense mood in the air.
Emiya nearly donned a hand over his face in exasperation.
Rin decided to get straight to the point, as always. "I must say, though, this situation seems to be quite unfavorable for me," she spoke, shooting a glance to all of those seated around her. "All of you already know about me and my Saber's identity, and although I'm aware of your names now―" he pointedly pointed at Artoria, Waver and Bazett. "―I still know nothing about your Servants. That's rather unfair, is it not? Especially if you wish to discuss with me in a peaceful manner, as you've mentioned in your letter."
Emiya, Scathach and their respective Masters fought back a rude smirk from their faces while Rin and Saber scowled in visible annoyance. Good. Tohsaka was competitive and stubborn by nature, no doubt, but at least she was aware of her place now. They were the ones who held the advantage in the current situation, and it had been only due to her own mistakes during her battle against Artoria – and also due to Emiya's cunning, to be fair – that Rin had fallen in an unfavorable position right now. This meant that she knew she couldn't act too brashly from this day on, since not one, not two, but three Servants were aware of Saber's strength and True Name. The King of Knights was an extremely powerful Servant, perhaps the strongest one amid the Saber class, but even he would surely have a hard time in a battle against three Servants combined.
In other words, it was Artoria and her allies that had the upper hand for now, and both Rin and Saber were aware of it. That was the true reason they'd decided to come to this meeting: because they didn't have a choice. They only thing they could have done was either come to the meeting and risk everything at their own expense – like they'd wisely chosen to do, given their current presence here – or choose to ignore the invitation written on the letter and face all the three of them in battle at a later moment.
This fact alone had brought a huge advantage for their faction. That much was undeniable, and Archer was finally starting to realize it now.
I'm sorry, Rin, but it seems you'll have to compromise now, he thought to himself with a sad smile.
Emiya struggled to keep his expression neutral at this point. Indeed, he had to give credit to Lord El-Melloi II now. That man had sent the letter to Rin knowing all of that. He had already foreseen this situation, and he'd promptly decided to act to the best of their interest ever since Bazett had agreed to join their cause. That man was clearly smarter than he looked.
"It feels so odd," Artoria's words echoed inside his mind all of a sudden, rousing the red Archer from his musing. The girl was speaking to him through their bond, and when Emiya turned to her slightly, he found himself captivated by her face morphed into a pensive expression. "This Tohsaka girl was always so confident during our battle, but now she seems more reticent. I can hardly understand her reasoning from coming here."
Heroic Spirit Emiya almost smiled at his Master's childish innocence. This girl really was different from the cold and emotionless King Arthur he knew. Seeing how innocent and naive she was – how human she was – compared to her alternate self or the Saber seated next them, it felt oddly reassuring for him. And despite these opposite differences, he soon realized that he much preferred seeing Artoria like this, uncorrupted and innocent, rather than the cold and rational one who had fought countless battles only to end up corrupted by her own pain and regrets.
However, no matter what he preferred, this was a War. And since one could never be truly "human" in a War, he decided to grasp this opportunity to teach his Master a bit about how things worked in the current situation. It was better to be safe than sorry, after all.
"It's not that hard to understand, Master," he explained curtly, albeit patiently. "Last night, that girl tipped her hand, while failing to defeat us in combat. By doing so, not only she has revealed her Servant's True Name to us, but also his overall strength and weakness, along with his Noble Phantasm. This fact alone has put them at disadvantage, because not only us, but also the Lord and Lancer's Master have gained a general grasp of Saber's stats and abilities now."
Artoria pondered his words for a moment. "So you're saying that they're treading on thin ice now?"
"Yes. Things are going to become harder for Saber and his Master from now on."
"And all of that happened because you were able to guess Saber's name!" Artoria realized, pride and excitement dripping from her voice. "I knew it! You really are the best, Archer!"
Warmth dwelled in his chest upon hearing the girl's praise, but Emiya dismissed it immediately. "Don't be too confident, Master; our advantage is only temporary," he said to her with a serious tone. "Having the upper hand doesn't mean that success is guaranteed, and the tide could change at every moment during a war. One can never be too careful."
Artoria knew he meant those words in full, but the way he had stubbornly tried to devalue his small success in order to make her wary of the dangers was still too endearing to her. No matter how gruff and distant he tried to appear, her Servant was really childish sometimes. His behavior was simply too contradictory not to notice.
Before she could fully realize it, her lips parted into a smile even in spite of herself.
Unfortunately, though, their enemy did not fail to notice her odd reaction. And they didn't like it.
"Oh my, did I say something funny?" Rin asked to the blonde girl with a sweet tone and a smile of her own. One that was anything but reassuring.
The heir of the Pendragon line tensed and kept quiet, pursing her lips immediately under the older girl's glare.
Seeing that scene, Archer did not waste time. He swiftly moved closer to his Master, tense and protective like a hawk ready to attack its prey, sending a stern glare to Rin and Saber with his steel-grey eyes while his fingers twitched slightly in a warning gesture. The silent threat was clear, and both the girl and her Servant didn't fail to realize it, since they openly tensed a bit under his warning look.
Of course, as it was due, Waver Velvet decided to take action before things could escalate. "You will forgive us, Miss Tohsaka, but the current situation is the result of your own choices," he readily intervened with a placid tone. "You were aware of my intentions from the beginning, and yet you decided to attack my allies all the same. Now you must face the consequences, whether you like it or not."
Rider nodded with a cheerful face next to him. "That's right! Besides, if you really want to know our True Names, I can share mine with no problem!" he declared without hesitation, light-hearted and carefree as ever.
Everyone widened their eyes upon hearing that. Literally everyone.
Don't you dare! was everyone's unanimous thought (except for Rin and Saber, of course).
"No, Rider!" Lord El-Melloi II denied sternly, fixing the King of Franks with a serious stare. "You will do no such thing."
The young King pouted. "Oh come on, Master… it's not a big deal," he tried to deflect, waving off his concern with a smile. "Knowing my name won't make a difference in the current situation. Besides, we could offer this gesture to them as a token of trust. An incentive, in order to encourage them to listen and ponder about our cause. We can't ask for an alliance without offering something first, and since you are the one who suggested this whole meeting in the first place, it is only right that I, your cool and faithful Servant, reveal myself as a token of goodwill. Don't you agree?"
That… actually made sense. Waver and his allies seemed to pause while they pondered Rider's words for a while.
It's not like knowing that will make things easier for them, Waver mused to himself, donning a hand over his temple. Besides, he would have done the same as well, regardless of my approval or not. There is no doubt about it.
After a long while of pondering, in the end, the Lord of the Clock Tower decided to appease him. He shared a nod with both Bazett and Artoria, before exhaling a long, weary sigh.
"Fine. You can introduce yourself, Rider," he relented in defeat.
The armored Knight grinned in exuberant satisfaction. His blue eyes shone with proudness as he patted his chest in a theatrical movement while he turned his focus back to Rin and Saber. "Well then! In that case, here I go: my True Name is Charlemagne, the class is Rider! I have a more major name, but I'd like you to leave that aside… anyway! It is a pleasure to meet you under better circumstances, King of Knights. I hope we can get along!"
Rin mulled over the information with a narrowed gaze, looking understandably stunned by the fact that Charlemagne – also known as Charles the Great, the renowned founder of Western Europe – appeared to be nothing more than a teenager like her. Next to the girl, Saber did the same with a serious frown.
"Charlemagne, huh?" the King of Knights mused out loud, speaking for the first time ever since he had joined the discussion. "I see… the Holy Roman Emperor. It was said that he was a particularly frivolous –– excuse me, I mean friendly King. I guess those rumors were right, after all," he spoke with a soft tone, studying the fellow monarch with an emotionless gaze.
For once, everyone agreed with him. In full.
On his part, however, Charlemagne shrugged off the jab with a laugh, scratching his neck in a sheepish way.
"Hahaha! Yeah, I guess the King of Britain would call me that. And here I thought I was frank!" he said, stressing on the last word with a strange emphasis.
Sheer silence descended after that statement. No one moved for a few seconds.
King Arthur seemed taken aback for a moment. Then, it finally dawned upon him.
"…Ah, I see. It's a pun on the kingdom of the Franks and the meaning of the word 'frank'," he realized after an initial moment of confusion, his serious and calm voice unchanged from the beginning.
Another moment of silence, which stretched for an eternity of awkwardness.
Archer massaged his temples, doing his best to ignore the feeling of cringe with a sigh. Next to him, Artoria's face had become a mask torn between pity and chagrin after hearing that lame joke, while Bazett and Rin were covering their respective sneer with one hand. Heck, even Lord El-Melloi II was blushing in shame right now, while Scathach's only reaction was a disappointed shake of the head.
The cringe. The cringe was too much to bear.
Even Rider was covering his face with his hands. The embarrassment oozing off his frame was almost too pitiful to witness. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please forgive me!" he cried in shame. "Now that I hear you explain my joke, it sounds horrible!"
Saber remained unfazed as before. "You shouldn't use your own people's name for such jokes, Rider," he scolded him with a stern tone, completely unimpressed by the embarrassment that was drenching the air.
Charlemagne pouted and sulked, lowering his head in shame with a whimper.
Luckily for the others, Rin decided to cut to the chase right away.
"Enough with the nonsense. What is this meeting about?" she demanded amid the silence, going straight to the point, just like Archer knew she would. He knew better than anyone here how impatient and direct his previous Master was. "I presume all of this has to do with this alleged 'alliance' of yours, right?"
Lord El-Melloi II returned serious as soon as everyone's eyes fell on him.
"That is correct," he acknowledged without missing a beat, taking a cigar out of his pocket and lighting it swiftly. "As you've surely guessed at this point, the three of us have formed an alliance and a momentary truce, since we share the same goal. And since our goal is not easy to reach, I have opted to put aside our previous animosity for a moment and invited you here to discuss our mission with you as well, Miss Tohsaka."
The girl shared a glance with Saber. She narrowed her aqua eyes. "You mean the Dismantlement of the Greater Grail," she sneered in a dismissive tone. It was more a statement than a question. "I thought I've been abundantly clear yesterday. The disbandment of the Holy Grail Ritual was decided by the Lords of the Clock Tower, but I – as the sole heir of my family and only rightful protector of this land – have never agreed to it; nor did the other two Founding Families either. Thus: there is nothing to discuss."
Many amid the group frowned upon hearing those haughty words, but not Archer. He knew better than anyone how resolute and competitive Rin was, and despite the obvious differences this version of her had compared to the girl he had met in the past, it appeared that this trait of hers had remained unchanged even in this peculiar timeline. In fact, even though his previous Master had diligently strived to act calm and composed on the outside in order to earn the admiration of her peers and divert the attention from her private life, in reality she was secretly stingy, tomboyish, and a perfectionist. And just like in the past, this highly-competitive trait of her personality was only accentuated when she faced a conflict. Therefore, Emiya knew this result was bound to happen. It was simply inevitable.
But he wasn't the only one who felt amused by the girl's behavior. On the contrary, Lancer seemed rather intrigued by the scene unfolding in front of them as well. The Scottish spear-woman was staring intently at Rin while her lips quirked upwards ever-so-slightly. "Hm? She's quite resolute for her age… I like her," she mused, feeling slightly amused by her behavior.
Saber shot her a warning glare, but Scathach ignored him. Rin, however, kept her eyes focused on Waver and the other Masters. "The Heaven's Feel is a Ritual established by the Tohsaka, the Matou and the Einzbern families in the 1800s," she kept saying, undeterred. "It is the greatest and most ancient Magi competition of the world; whose true purpose is to reach Akasha by coalescing the energy of the fallen Servants into an energy source powerful enough to burn a hole to the Root. As such, its fate and unfolding rely on the Three Founding Families' decision, not in that of the Mage's Association. The Clock Tower does not possess the right to decide its Dismantlement," she stated with utmost decision, stern and resolute.
"And yet the entirety of the Mage's Association has taken that decision. You can't just dismiss their judgment so easily, Miss Tohsaka," Lord El-Melloi II retorted, no less resolute than her.
Rin scoffed, narrowing her eyes. "And what about the Church, then?" she pressed, unconvinced. "Surely, since the Grail is considered a "Holy Relic", the Church would not remain silent on this matter."
Waver just shrugged. "The Holy Church is and will always be a neutral faction," he answered with ease, his voice laced with calm and reason. "And while I do admit that many Arbiters who were sent to Fuyuki City to oversee the previous Wars have often plotted to confiscate the Holy Grail at the first opportunity, I can assure you that this time, things will be different. Caren Hortensia is an acquaintance of mine, and she's made her intentions clear from the beginning."
"This still doesn't justify the Tower's decision. By dismantling the Greater Grail, you would deny us, and the whole Magi world, the most effective method to reach the Root," the young heir of the Tohsaka lineage objected, scowling in annoyance.
"You say that, but there has yet to be even one true winner who actually claimed the Grail in all four Wars," Lord El-Melloi II countered, impassive. "Besides, you know as well as I do that the Ritual is flawed. The Grail cannot reach full completion since only a Servant is able to touch it, and all of them must perish in order for it to achieve its true form."
Bazett, Waver and Artoria glared at Rin with a solemn nod, who remained unfazed despite being in numeral minority. At the same time, Archer, Lancer and Saber stared at each other in silence with unreadable faces.
Rider, instead, sweat-dropped with a shiver. "Huh… Master, you know it's not nice to speak of our required death in front of us, right?"
He ignored him. "Besides, there's another reason behind the Tower's decision," Waver continued, glancing at both Rin and Bazett as he took a drag from his cigar and exhaled a cloud of smoke. "In fact, there is a concrete likelihood that this Ritual has become even more dangerous than it already was."
Emiya and Artoria listened close. Rin and Saber narrowed their eyes. Lancer and Bazett looked intrigued as well.
"What do you mean?" the latter asked, moving a strand of her magenta hair.
The Lord steeled his expression, staring straight into the others' eyes. "Due to Angra Mainyu being summoned in the Third Holy Grail War, there's a chance that the Grail has become corrupted," he explained, looking and sounding as serious as he could ever be. "The Grail is supposed to be an Artifact created by an enormous amount of magical energy. A colorless, pure agglomeration of prana without will and form. However, since Angra Mainyu was trapped inside the wish-granting spiritual Grail during the Third War, the Artifact has become stained. It has become corrupted. It would impossible to restore it as it was, at this point."
Bazett looked baffled upon receiving the news. It took her a few moments to digest the info in full. "I did hear some strange rumors about the Ritual becoming weird… but I didn't image something like this," she whispered, shooting a lost glance in Lancer's direction. Her beautiful Servant just shook her head, unable to confirm or deny that hypothesis just like her Master. Emiya did not fault them one bit.
On her part, however, Rin looked completely unconvinced.
"That is just a speculation," she stated matter-of-factly, unimpressed. "We have no way to know if that really happened. The way I see it, you're just trying to justify your case without any concrete evidence, Lord El-Melloi."
The black-haired Magus narrowed his eyes. "Are you telling me that you would be willing to disregard this possibility just because of your family's role in the foundation of the Ritual?"
Rin scoffed, crossing her arms. "If you're so sure of what you say, show me proof. There is no evidence that proves that the Grail is truly corrupted as you claim. The Fourth Holy Grail War was concluded without problems, and there is no recollection of any major incidents or unexpected events. It ended just like the previous ones, and we all know it," she kept arguing, unwilling to relent.
That was the moment where Artoria decided to intervene. "That is not correct," she interjected, speaking up with all the resolve and decision that were expected of a member of the Pendragon family. "And we do have some evidence. The day we went to register as participants of the conflict, me and Archer questioned the priestess of Fuyuki Church about the unfolding of the previous War. She said that the man who managed to win the conflict died upon making contact with the Grail… and I hardly believe that was supposed to happen."
For a few seconds, Rin seemed taken aback by the news, almost as if she hadn't expected Artoria to talk until now.
But the detail that really caught everyone's eye was the way in which Saber – the proud and stoic King known as Arthur Pendragon – frowned and lowered his eyes abruptly upon hearing those words.
Emiya knew that face. He had seen it countless times in his previous experiences.
The King of Knights tensed. His head rose, and the blond Servant turned to meet Archer's unreadable stare with a narrowed one of his own.
"You were summoned back then as well, were you not?" Emiya demanded, stoic and direct as always. "We know you still possess your previous memories. If there's something that you know, this would be the moment to speak."
The male King of Knights frowned, glaring at the tanned Archer with a cold intensity.
Waver Velvet nodded as well. "Archer is right. Saber and I have met in the past, ten years ago. And he clearly remembered my face during our previous encounter last night, so there's no point in denying it," he pressed, quickly grabbing everyone's interest on the matter with those words. "Back then, me and my Rider were defeated before the War could properly reach its conclusion, but you… you must have seen the end of it, Saber. You know what happened that night. I know you do."
And this is precisely why I've decided to call Tohsaka to this meeting, he mused to himself.
King Arthur's face remained stoic and cold in spite of the others' suspicious gaze. Next to him, Rin was starting to grow tense.
"Answer us," Waver pressed, turning to Rin's Servant with a serious face.
No answer came from the male King of Britain.
Emiya would not allow him to remain quiet. "The man who won the previous War… his name was Kiritsugu Emiya," he spoke with an emotionless voice, still trying to use his own knowledge to their advantage. "He was your Master, am I right?"
Saber's head snapped in his direction. Emerald eyes widened as his lips parted. "…how do you know that?" he demanded, incredulous.
Archer did not care of his disbelief. Nor he would say that he knew the fact because that man was his adoptive father, and the very same person who had steered him towards his ruinous, accursed path. All that mattered to him was getting answers, and he could not relent until he would get some.
"If that man died upon making contact with the Grail, you must have been aware of it. You were there, after all," he kept pressing, deadly serious. "Tell us what you know. You can no longer deny the importance of this matter."
Saber remained silent for a long, long while after hearing his request. But in the end, seeing that all the Masters and Servants gathered around him were glaring at his face with an inquisitive expression, he swallowed his own pride and decided to relent. There was no point in trying to keep the truth hidden anymore. It was already too late for that, and Archer had made it abundantly clear.
With an imperceptible sigh, the King revealed the truth to the others. "…I will not deny it. Kiritsugu Emiya was my Master from the previous Holy Grail War," he admitted with a serious frown, sparing an apologetic glance towards Rin who merely closed her eyes. Apparently, she was already aware of that, and Emiya did not fail to realize it. Arthur must have told her about it, he summarized. "The two of us survived until the end of the conflict, and the Grail nearly fell into our hands that day."
Everyone widened their eyes as they listened to Saber's recalling of those events. Among them, Emiya narrowed his gaze, forcing his face into an unreadable expression in order not to let anything slip away. He could even feel Artoria's rapt interest thanks to their bond, and he didn't need to turn towards her to know that the girl was staring at her ancestor with all the attention in the world.
But the King of Knights did not notice the piercing gazes glued on his frame. He was too busy clenching one of his armored hands, glaring at his fist with a distasteful glare. "However, in the end, Kiritsugu betrayed me. As soon as we defeated the last remaining Servant, that man turned his back on me. We never really went along during the conflict, but in that fateful night, everything collapsed completely. He rejected my reasoning, my loyalty, and at the very end, just as we stood in front of our final prize… he denied me of my wish, and ordered me to commit suicide."
Sheer silence greeted his revelation. For what seemed to be an eternity, no one knew what to say.
Rider and Bazett were fidgeting. Waver and Lancer were pondering. Artoria was staring, and even Rin was listening with rapt attention in spite of her composed expression.
But Emiya… Emiya was panicking.
Because the tale he was hearing was different from the one he had experienced. This world, this War, this reality… it was all too different from what he had seen in his previous timelines. Too different to be accepted. In this world, there was no fire, no mud, no bloodshed. There was no Shirou Emiya. Instead, all of that had been avoided somehow, because that night, Kiritsugu Emiya hadn't ordered the destruction of the Grail… but the death of King Arthur in its stead.
All those deaths, all that destruction: avoided. Even his very own existence: erased. All of that did not exist here, just because of his father's different order to Saber.
This had no sense. It didn't make any sense.
Why would Kiritsugu give that order? Why would he wish for something like this? Emiya mused, unable to understand.
And more importantly… what happened to the corrupted Grail?
Unfortunately for him, those questions would remain unanswered.
"Suicide?" Lancer repeated, shooting a narrowed stare to the King of Knights.
The male version of King Arthur nodded in barely restrained rage. The sheer amount of indignation oozing off from his frame was simply impossible to contain. "I was ordered by him to kill myself. He used his last Command Seal to force me to commit suicide, just as we were about to reach the Grail and make our wish," he explained, closing his eyes in distaste and bitterness. "I must confess; I have never cursed the existence of Command Seals nor anyone who had betrayed me as much as I did that day."
Upon hearing that, Waver Velvet glanced at Rin with an inquisitive face. "You already knew this, didn't you?" he asked. He hadn't missed the way the girl had remained calm and poised through all that confession.
She nodded. "Saber already told me his previous experience in the Fourth Holy Grail War. And just like I said, this doesn't prove anything."
Rider fixed the fellow King with a raised brow. "So... in the end, you don't know what happened to your Master, after all?"
Saber shook his head. "I do not. I was forced to kill myself before I could even understand what was happening. And without an anchor to sustain themselves, Servants cannot remain in this world," he admitted. "I was unable to reach the Grail, nor to question Kiritsugu, who betrayed me. My memories end there."
"And this means that we don't have a true witness to the scene," Lord El-Melloi II sighed, donning a hand over his temple. "Damn it. This is not what I was expecting to hear."
Indeed, Emiya could relate to him. Just like in the Lord's case, this outcome was clearly not the one he had hoped for. According to his words, Saber had been forced to commit suicide back then – for whatever damned reason – and thus, he hadn't been able to see what happened to Kiritsugu when he touched the Grail. And because of that, there was no way for them to confirm or deny its alleged corruption. The only clue they had was Kiritsugu's very own death at the end of the War, and nothing more. There were no other witnesses, no other clues; nothing.
In other words, they were back to square one.
Emiya exhaled a sigh, following the Lord's example.
"B-But that man died upon touching the Grail!" Artoria tried to protest, unable to accept that outcome. "The priestess confirmed it, so there's no way it can't be true! This has to mean something!"
Rin turned towards her with a cold face. "This fact alone doesn't prove anything. The death of a single individual is not enough to make me believe in the supposed corruption of the Grail," she retorted, stern and resolute.
Even Bazett couldn't help but agree despite her doubts. "I hate to admit it… but she's right," she said, turning her head to stare at the Lord. "The death of this so-called Kiritsugu Emiya does not prove anything. For all we know, that man could have died for any reason. Perhaps he was killed by someone soon after reaching the Grail; or maybe even before that. We have no way of knowing if his demise was caused by the Ritual or not."
"Besides, if what Saber said is true, that man wouldn't have been able to make contact with the Grail in the first place," Lancer added at that point, crossing her arms in an unimpressed way. Her crimson orbs were fixed on Emiya's scowling face, her eyes studying his reaction with close attention. "Only a Servant can touch the Grail, not a human. Since all seven died at the end of the Fourth War, nobody could have achieved victory and made their wish. The Grail would have simply disappeared in that case."
Rin smirked, wide and confident.
"My point exactly!" she agreed, raising her chin under the Lord's annoyed gaze. "The Fourth Holy Grail War ended without a true victor. Therefore: your theory has no foundation. The Mage's Association has no way to prove the Grail's corruption, and we all know it. That hypothesis is baseless."
Sad as it was, she was right. There was no way for them to be sure of their previous conviction, and it was undeniable. Whether they liked or not, they all had to accept it.
Oddly enough, though, this fact did not feel too surprising for Emiya; not even one bit. It was unexpected, yes, but not mind-blowing… for he had kept his expectations low from the beginning. And besides, he had always been aware of his previous Master's ability to turn the tables in her favor in some way or another. In fact, if he had to be honest, Archer was ready to bet that that troublesome girl had come to this meeting already knowing all of this, and it was precisely for this reason that she had always looked so confident and unshakable so far. Though outnumbered at the moment, she knew extremely well that this alliance of theirs was not going to last unless Lord El-Melloi II managed to prove his cause. This outcome had been in her plans all along.
Not for the first time, Rin Tohsaka was proving herself to be smarter and more prepared than she looked at a first glance.
However, there was one thing that the Rin of this world hadn't taken into account.
That is: if there was one thing Heroic Spirit Emiya truly excelled at, that was making things more difficult for her.
It was time to take action once more.
"So in the end, it all comes down to us," Archer spoke with a slightly amused tone, closing his eyes and laying his arm across the knee. He nearly snorted in derision as everyone shifted their focus on him, shaking his head in a disappointed gesture. "Good grief, what a mess. I knew this was bound to happen sooner or later."
Many eyes narrowed on him as he spat those words, including those of Saber and his Master.
Artoria fixed him with a questioning stare. "Us? What do you mean, Archer?" she asked him, confused by his words.
He opened one eye, his lips curving into a smirk. "What I meant is that the only thing left for us to do is to question our own motives. Our personal resolve and drive to fight in the War," he explained, not even bothering to hide his amusement. "Why do we fight? What is the reason that forces us to participate in the conflict? Why do we need the Grail? In the end, that's all that matters. Since we are unable to prove the truth behind this conflict, the only thing we can do is to question our resolve. Our own personal reason to fight in the Holy Grail War."
Everyone tensed upon hearing that, both Servants and Masters indiscriminately. No one failed to realize the meaning behind the words spoken by Archer, for they all knew extremely well what he was implying, deep down.
Now that there was no way for them to know whether the Grail was truly corrupter or not – and, consequently, if this battle was worth fighting or not – the only logical and rational thing to do was to lay bare their truth in front of the enemy. To put aside all pretexts and masks and admit the true reason behind their fight, behind their cause; in order for them to see if it was really necessary to fight. To discover once and for all if this accursed Holy Grail War was worth the effort or not. In the end, despite what many would have said, everything would always come down to this, no matter what kind of excuses they could come up with to cover this fact.
So, it was time to put aside all excuses, all pretexts, all preconceptions… and simply admit the truth once and for all: why did this War have to be fought?
No matter the world, the timeline, the differences… this one question would always remain the same no matter what.
At the end of the day, that was what really mattered, right?
Just as expected, Rin immediately opted for the most logical – the most rational – answer. "Hah, what a useless excuse. You're just trying to stall for time, Archer," the girl with raven hair snorted, not even bothering to hide her sarcastic smile. "We fight because all of us have a wish we want to see fulfilled. Even Servants are no exception."
Heroic Spirit Emiya smirked. Just as he had foreseen, this Rin was different from the one he knew. He knew that girl too well not to notice the difference.
Because that was not the answer his previous Master would have given.
"I hate to break it to you, young lady, but you're wrong," he retorted with obvious sarcasm, ignoring the girl's indignant glare. "To immediately assume a Servant would fight just to fulfill a personal whim is foolish, and childish. And here I thought you were smarter than that."
Her reaction was immediate, and exactly the one he was expecting from her.
Rin's eyes widened in silent incredulousness, her eyebrows shooting up as her face and cheeks flared in warning. "W-What did you just say?!" she hissed, offended. She sounded incredulous, to be honest.
Archer's smirk disappeared, replaced by a serious scowl. He teared his eyes away from the girl, and instead turned to stare at Saber's glaring expression with an unreadable face. "I already said this yesterday, but I have no wish for the Grail. That malevolent wish-granting cup doesn't interest me at all," he spoke, looking and sounding both casual and resolute with that statement. "So, as you can see, that assumption is wrong."
"As if! Just because you're weird it doesn't mean everyone is the same as you!" Rin spat back heatedly. Her aqua eyes glanced around all those gathered around them, waving a hand with a haughty movement. "My Saber told me he has a wish he must fulfill, and I'm ready to bet that you guys have one too."
Emiya's smirk returned. "Oh? Is that so?" he raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and Rin struggled to remain calm under the tanned man's gaze. His face didn't show the faintest hint of worry, despite her tone. In fact, the only emotion she could find was amusement, like an adult dealing with a child.
Argh, curse that Archer! He was really getting on her nerves!
The girl with raven hair was about to answer him in kind, when suddenly… someone spoke before she could.
"I believe Archer is right. I don't have a wish for the Grail either," Waver Velvet declared, fixing the heir of the Tohsaka line with a knowing expression. Rin looked downright baffled by his declaration. "What I want is to fulfill the task the Clock Tower has assigned to me, and then leave this accursed place at once. The wish-granting power of the Grail doesn't interest me anymore."
Charlemagne snickered next to him. "Yep! Me neither!" he exclaimed, raising a hand like a child who had no worries in the world.
Rin narrowed her eyes upon being faced by their declaration, and turned her face towards Bazett and her Servant. The two women just shrugged off her stare like nothing.
"While I do admit to have a wish I would like to see fulfilled, I'm not foolish enough to rely on the Grail alone. Especially during these… ambiguous circumstances," Bazett stated matter-of-factly. Her magenta eyes glanced in Waver's direction as she exhaled a sigh. "Regardless of that, I have lost my duel with Lord El-Melloi II, and he's promised me to aid me in my quest. So, I will prove myself in another way, without relying on the Grail. That is what I've decided," she stated resolutely, nodding her head.
"And what about you, Lancer?" Saber spoke in his Master's stead. The royal King of Knights stared at Scathach with a narrowed frown, studying her cold and beautiful face with a deep intensity. "Are you going to say that you don't have a reason to fight as well?"
The Queen of the Lands of Shadows remained completely unfazed by his question, not even a flicker of emotion crossing her elegant features.
In the end, however, she closed her eyes and idly played with her hair. "I have several reasons to fight… but the Grail is not one of them," she stated with an emotionless tone.
Then, the woman opened her eyes suddenly, fixing the red Archer on the other side of the circle with a long, deep stare. "Besides, I believe I've found another way to fulfill my wish. One that is much more fun and intriguing, at that," she stated in a cryptic tone, staring at Emiya with a veiled smile. The man didn't back down from her stare, but the cold intensity of her gaze, coupled with the shiver running down his spine, was making him extremely uncomfortable. "I will have my wish fulfilled, regardless of the unfolding of this War. That much I can assure you."
To Emiya, the silent message was clear: he was in deep shit right now.
Archer narrowed his eyes, doing his best to resist the urge to sigh. The fact that Artoria was frantically glancing between him and Lancer with a massive scowl on her face was not helping his nerves either.
Yep, it was official. He was definitely not going to enjoy this War. Warranted, he supposed.
However, now it was not the time for this. Right now, Emiya had another matter to deal with, one that included an alternate version of his previous Master and a male version of the King of Knights; and as such, he couldn't afford to waste precious time at the moment. He had to strike while the iron was hot.
Thus, he dismissed Lancer's words and pressed his advantage right away.
"So, as you can see, among all of us present here, only your Saber is aiming for the Grail," he stated evenly, returning his focus back on Rin and her Servant and crossing his arms with a solemn movement. "I already suspected as much during our previous encounter, but your current reaction is making it even more clear. Saber there is the one who fights because he needs the Grail. I could even sense his desperation during our battle. There is no point in denying it."
King Arthur narrowed his eyes, clenching his hands into fists. Next to him, Rin was openly bristling in anger, unable to accept such an inconsequential reason to avoid the conflict.
However, much to Emiya's surprise, Saber recollected himself quickly, and eyed the tanned Archer with an analytical gaze for a few seconds. "I was right about you, Archer," he spoke with his elegant, soft tone of voice. "You are a cunning sort, and quite capable in both swordsmanship and words. The way you manage to turn things in your favor is quite admirable… albeit deeply irritating."
Emiya remained silent; his expression didn't change in the slightest.
The blond Servant was not willing to relent, however. "Do you really wish to destroy the Grail rather than win it fairly and make a wish? Does this chance mean nothing to you?" he pressed, narrowing his eyes.
Just like the previous times, Archer didn't back away from the challenge. There was simply no way he could ignore a question coming from the King of Knights himself. Whether it was Arthur, or Artoria, or any other different form those two could possess, their respect and words still meant much for him. That girl's image was still engraved in his soul even after all this time, after all. This fact alone was making it impossible for him to dismiss that question. To ignore this Servant was simply out of the question.
This time, however, his answer came after a few seconds of pondering. "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you, Saber. I have no interest in the Grail. And even if I had a wish to fulfill, I don't trust a wish-granting cup filled with malice to do the job for me. That much remains unchanged," he replied, his lips curling up mysteriously.
King Arthur did not relent. "And what about your Master, then?" he pressed, turning his gaze towards Artoria. The poor girl physically startled upon being addressed directly by her ancestor, her complexion paling in an almost noticeable way. "Let's say the Grail is not corrupted. What if your Master has a wish that can only be granted by the Grail? What will you do in that case?"
Archer tilted his head sideways, laying his arm across his knee. "I'm a practical man. I'll go where my chances are best, regardless of my Master's wish for the Grail," he spoke, deadly serious.
Through their bond, Archer could feel Artoria stiffen with sudden worry next to him. Even the others were staring at him intently right now, especially Lancer.
"But I'm afraid that, even if I did want to break free from my Master, I'm only a Servant. I have no way to counter Command Spells," he admitted soon after that, unfazed. "And I know my Master well enough to say that she would never let the Grail's corruption threaten the world, no matter what her wish is. She has my complete trust on this," he said, glancing at her and smirking with a light-hearted expression.
Artoria's face brightened immediately with a wide blush. Relief flooded her body like a tide.
Emiya turned his focus back on Saber's narrowed eyes. "So as you can see, Saber… unfortunately for you, those half-baked attempts won't work with me. I fight with my Master, for my Master; not for the Grail. Rider and Lancer here will do the same."
Charlemagne nodded with a grin. Scathach smirked amusedly.
Rin and Saber deepened their scowl.
Emiya's smirk returned. And it was as sly and teasing as ever before.
"It's six against two," he spoke, shifting his weight from his seated position with a casual movement. "Now what will it be, young lady?"
Rin fell silent under that straight provocation, just like her Servant. This whole thing was new to her. She had never heard or seen a Servant being so direct with her before; and even if she didn't show it on the outside, the current situation was making her feel uncomfortable. Not even Saber had been so direct and straightforward to her during the entirety of their current pact. But this Archer was addressing her so casually and yet so boldly, just like the last time… whoever he was, that guy really was a man of extremes. One instance formal and distant, and the next so casual and direct it made her feel foreign.
It was an odd combination. One that was irking her even now, for some reason.
But she had no time to recollect herself and form a reply. Someone beat her to the punch.
"Wait… don't tell me you're still chasing that misguided dream, Saber?"
The words of Lord El-Melloi II echoed in the air for what seemed to be an eternity, catching everyone by surprise. In the sky, the morning sun was growing higher, starting to become covered by the clouds above.
Everyone turned to Waver Velvet with a questioning stare, unable to understand what he was referring to.
Everyone… except for Saber and Archer.
"What?" Rin frowned, looking just as confused as the others. "What are you talking about?"
Lord El-Melloi II kept his eyes glued to Saber alone. The armored King of Knights met his gaze unflinchingly, his emerald orbs devoid of hesitation and feels.
"Ten years ago, during the Fourth Holy Grail War, my Rider confronted Saber about his wish for the Grail," the Lord of the Clock Tower explained, his voice stern and solemn as he took another drag from his nearly finished cigar. "They talked for a long time, and during that discussion, we learned that the King of Knights wished to erase his legend. He wanted to change the past, and erase all his efforts as the King of Britain in order to put someone else on the throne."
Sheer silence greeted that revelation. The entire group quieted and stilled.
Seconds passed, followed by minutes.
Then, slowly, the others began to react, each in their own different way. Rider gaped in stunned shock, flabbergasted by such a mind-blowing news. Bazett did pretty much the same, widening her eyes nearly out of human proportions due to the disbelief. Even Scathach, the cold, inflexible Queen of the Land of the Dead couldn't help but narrow her crimson eyes with a frown, taken aback by the revelation. It wasn't that they cared much about Saber and his wish, but they just couldn't help it. After all, why would the renowned and proud King Arthur wish to erase his own legend and deeds? What reason could there be behind such a drastic goal? It didn't make any sense for them, no matter how long they thought about it.
Emiya, however, did not react like the rest of them. Not only he was already expecting this outcome – since he already knew all about Arthur, thanks to his own experience with Artoria Pendragon – but right now, his major source of concern was not the King of Knights. In fact, his grey eyes were not focused on Saber and his stoic expression, but they were currently narrowed on the face of his young and inexperienced Master.
Said Master who, much to his growing concern, had her whole expression frozen into a mask of cold disbelief, with her eyes shadowed by her golden bangs.
This wasn't good. This couldn't mean anything good, and he knew it.
"Master," he spoke to her through their mental bond. "What is it? Are you ok?"
No answer came from Artoria, although his voice managed to reach her all the same. Her silence was honestly unnerving.
Archer did not like it one bit. "Master, answer me. What's wrong? Why aren't you saying anything?" he pressed, his voice carrying more emphasis than before.
Still no replay came from her. The girl with golden hair did not react to his worried thoughts. Instead, she lowered her head further, and her fists clenched on her lap with so much force that her arms were visibly shaking. Emiya felt his concern grow exponentially upon seeing that.
He was about to reach out and grab her shoulder, when the others finally began to react all around.
"Change the past?" Charlemagne repeated with no small amount of astonishment. His blue eyes were as wide as they could be as he stared at the fellow King in what could only be described as wariness. Even one as open and carefree as he was struggling to digest his Master's words. "What does that mean, Saber? Do you really want to erase your deeds as King?"
Arthur Pendragon remained quiet as ever, his stern expression unchanged. His silence spoke more than words ever could.
"W-What do you mean?" Rin whispered in barely contained shock. The girl with raven hair startled right in front of the entire group, rounding on her Servant with a face filled with surprise and stunned disbelief. "Saber… is it true? Is this really what you wish?" she demanded, unable to believe it.
Apparently, Saber hadn't told her about his wish. As expected.
Some things never changed, it seemed.
Lancer exhaled a sigh, her beautiful face morphed into a frown. "My, my… who would have thought that the renowned King Arthur possessed such a conflicting desire?" she mused, more sarcastic than anything. She didn't really care about that man's wish at all, to be honest, but she just couldn't help herself. This news was simply too unexpected to dismiss it so easily.
But Emiya heard nothing of that. All his senses were focused on Artoria and her trembling frame. Her silence was worrying him more and more by the second. "Ohi, Master. Talk to me!" he kept trying to call out to her, in vain. All his efforts were for nothing.
No one seemed to notice her inner turmoil, however. The news they had just received was just too mind-blowing for them.
The Lord of the Clock Tower was still staring straight into Saber's eyes. The sternness in his expression clearly showed his thoughts on the matter. "It's true, isn't it? Your wish for the Grail is the same as back then," he inquired, going further and further with the questioning. "You still haven't managed to wake up from that sad dream of yours. Ten years are nothing but a useless notion for a Servant, and your soul has remained anchored to that wish… am I right?"
This time, Saber's eyes narrowed at his words. A small glare began to form itself on his features. "Are you going to criticize my wish like the King of Conquerors did that night?" he asked right back at him, deadly serious.
Waver shrugged, but his expression did not change. "I am not my King," he replied. "But I'm still free to have my own opinion about it."
"Your opinion is irrelevant. You know nothing about me, just like your King knew nothing about my rule," he affirmed, stoic and adamant about his conviction. The proud King of Chivalry met everyone's stares with a gaze of ice, daring each and every one of them to go against his cause. "There's no one who can judge me, nor my wish. All that man did that day was imposing his view of kingship on me, while berating my choices and rule without even knowing what he was talking about. But I guess it was my fault, after all. I shouldn't have expected anything else from a monarch who only fought for his own greed, and whose rule immediately collapsed upon his death. His whole kingdom was on the verge of rebellion many times, and it had no unity whatsoever. It was a mistake to even entertain such a discussion with him in the first place."
To his credit, Waver listened to Saber's accusations about his King without flinching in the slightest. After all, despite his undying loyalty and admiration towards the King of Conquerors, he knew that the enemy was right. Alexander the Great had been a great many things during his life, including a twisted and morally questionable monarch from start to finish. That much was unquestionable, and there was no way to deny that King Arthur had been a better ruler in every aspect compared to him. It was just too obvious to deny that fact.
But, alas, that was not the point of the discussion. Even back then, despite his brash and excessive words, Iskandar hadn't meant to criticize Saber's rule. That had never been his intent at all. And now, as Iskandar's faithful – and only – subject left on the world, he needed to do his best to make that point cross to the King of Knights, once again.
"I think you are mistaken about one thing, Saber," Lord El-Melloi II cut the blond King off, impassive. Saber stared at him with narrowed eyes as soon as he was interrupted, surprised by the way this man had changed so much compared to the frail and cowardly boy he had once been in the past. "Back then, what my King berated you for was not the way in which you ruled your country. He berated you for regretting your own decisions. Your own deeds. Your own legend. It appears that you still haven't figured this out, despite being summoned a second time."
King Arthur clenched his armored fist, glaring at the black-haired Lord with a cold intensity.
Next to him, Rin was still struggling to digest the news in full. "So it's true. You really wish to undo your own rule, Saber?" she asked, her aqua eyes fixed on her Servant's face with an unreadable expression. Upon being faced by that fact, she had no idea of how to process the revelation.
Saber turned to his Master, stoic and unflinching as before, and nodded without the slightest hint of hesitation. "My dream only reflects what any King should wish for, Master," he answered evenly. "The salvation of my people. I have devoted my entire life for the sake of my land and subjects. I cannot stand the fact that I was unable to protect them in the end, as I should have done until my last breath."
"But why change the past? Why wish to erase your own legend?" the young Master pressed, unable to understand.
Everyone stared in stunned silence as King Arthur Pendragon steeled his face in what could only be described as utmost resolve.
"It is the duty of the King to protect his country. Due to my inevitable failure at the end of my rule, it is undeniable that I was not a good enough monarch. My powers were not enough, and I was not fit to be King," he admitted right in front of everyone, without any ounce of hesitation, or shame. "Therefore, the least I can do to remedy my mistakes is to ensure that another one, a proper King, is chosen instead of me. At least that way my country will have a chance at survival. My people would be spared of the suffering my failure has brought upon them. That is what I desire."
In that moment, amid the stunned silence echoing all around the rooftop, something happened.
"…how dare you?"
A question. A denial. A whimper, barely above a whisper. But the King of Britain heard it all the same, and he turned towards its direction with a royal eyebrow raised above his elegant features.
And all the while, Heroic Spirit Emiya stared with wide eyes as Artoria Pendragon raised herself from the floor, drawing her katana with one hand and pointing its tip towards the King of Knights.
"How dare you, Arthur Pendragon?" the girl with golden hair cried, fixing her own ancestor with an enraged scowl.
There was no way to describe the amount of rage and betrayal she was showing on her face right now. Her overwhelming outrage was so obviously displayed on her face and so uncharacteristically unexpected that everyone – literally everyone, including Emiya, Scathach and Rin – could do nothing but stare at the girl in wonder, falling into a silence filled with shock and intrigue in equal measure.
Even the King of Knights himself watched the young girl with a frown, taken aback by her sudden outburst.
"Change the past?! Erase your history?! I have never heard such a conceited blasphemy in my entire existence!" she roared, keeping her sword pointed to the Servant in a blatant gesture of outrage. "My life! My whole life has been cursed by the legacy of the Pendragon name! Your entire legacy has brought naught but pain and loneliness to me so far, and now you just want to throw all of it away? To erase our name, our struggles, without the slightest hint of shame?!"
Clearly, this fact did not sit well with Artoria. At all.
Saber stared at the sword pointed at him, long and hard. Then, his eyes fell on the girl who was wielding it, and Emiya saw a countless myriad of emotions flashing inside his emerald eyes as he stood up from his seated position.
But in the end, the King's face only settled into a frown.
"My Master told me about you," he spoke with his soft, elegant voice devoid of feels. "I see… so you really are Artoria, heiress of the Pendragon lineage, carrier of my very same bloodline. Morgan's descendant," he mused, fixing the young girl with a long, calculating stare that not even Archer could fully decipher. His frown deepened as the girl kept glaring at him. "Even in this distant future, my failures keep haunting me still. It appears that your lineage has brought you a lot of suffering because of my name. It must have been hard for you."
The glare Artoria sent him was absolutely withering.
Rin and the others tried to interject, but the King wouldn't let them. He raised one arm, silencing them immediately. Then, he fixed the heir of his bloodline with an unreadable expression. "I do not understand… why can't you see my reasoning? Do you fail to understand that when my wish is granted you will be freed of your fate? That you will no longer be bound by my name and curse?" he questioned her, deadly serious. "Your life will blossom anew, with your own identity, and you no longer will go through such a meaningless suffering."
"It is NOT meaningless!" Artoria yelled, outraged and furious as never before. Emiya was already standing next to her in worry, but the girl didn't even notice him. "It was because of that suffering that I became who I am today! It was due to my struggles that I've decided to break free from your curse!"
"If I can change the past, you won't have to go through all of that anymore―"
"You have NO RIGHT to change it! Who do you think you are, to erase all of that?! To erase everything I've been through in order to reach this point, to come this far?!" she all but screamed at him.
Saber narrowed his eyes, his face twisting into a scowl. "I am Arthur Pendragon. I have every right to fight for my people," he stated, unyielding and resolute.
This time, Emiya had had enough. He couldn't just stand by and do nothing anymore.
"You are a fool," Archer snapped on instinct. He placed himself next to his Master, shielding the girl from her ancestor with one arm while he glared scornfully to the King of Knights. Artoria took a step back in stunned confusion, but Arthur glared back at him in full. "Even if it were possible, seeking to undo your entire life for the sake of others isn't just betraying yourself, it's betraying all the people who cared for you, all the trust they put in you. It's betraying the very own lives that came after your sacrifice. Changing the past would erase their whole existences, and the people they became for good or for ill!"
King Arthur looked at him, wide-eyed. Even Bazett and Scathach seemed to agree with the Servant of the bow. "Stay out of this, Archer. This has nothing to do with you."
Emiya's glare flared. "Your misguided dream threatens to undo my Master's very own life. I'd say it has everything to do with me," he spat back, perhaps more fiercely than he intended.
"That's right!" Lord El-Melloi II stood up as well, followed by Rider and the others. "You can't just change the past because of your failures. That's not how it works."
Saber took a step back, taken aback by the sudden turn of events, but he quickly matched everyone's glares with his own. "The Grail is an omnipotent wish-granting chalice. Its power goes beyond what mortals and Servants could ever imagine. If I were to grasp it, not only I could avert Britain's fate of destruction, but I could also make sure that no one will end up suffering because of my mistakes," he tried to explain.
"You don't know that," Lancer interjected, stepping forward in a blocking gesture along with her Master. "What you are trying to accomplish could threaten the very stability of the planet, Saber. Only a fool would follow such a path."
"That's right. Your wish is nothing but a folly," Bazett asserted as well.
Behind the two women's frame, Emiya was struggling to keep Artoria still.
"Let me go, Archer! Let me go! I shan't let that nutter get away with it!"
"No, you fool. Calm yourself."
"Whoa-whoa-whoa! I wasn't expecting things to escalate so badly!" Rider exclaimed, unsure of what to do.
The situation had clearly gone awry, and it was impossible to revert it back to the previous discussion. Even Rin was starting to grow increasingly worried right now.
"S-Saber, maybe we should―"
"Master, please stay out of this."
But then, just when it appeared that chaos was bound to unfold, something unexpected happened.
Every Servant and every Master tensed out of the blue, their entire bodies going rigid upon hearing an unfamiliar and yet extremely distinct sound coming from an uncertain direction behind them.
"Well, well… this sure brings back some memories."
The effect was immediate. Artoria, Rin and Rider startled. Bazett and Lancer flinched. Emiya, Arthur and Waver widened their eyes.
"But that's quite enough nonsense, fools."
Immediately, Archer, Lancer, Rider and Saber tensed out of instinct. Their heads snapped to the right, stunned and alarmed by the fact that none of them – literally none of them – had been able to detect the new presence before hearing that voice. Then, as soon as their stupor was replaced by instinct, they all reacted at the same time, summoning their weapons and placing themselves right in front of their respective Masters, shielding them with their bodies. The humans of the group looked no less stunned than them.
From the opposite side of the rooftop, right below a ray of sunlight, a new Servant had decided to make his presence known. Revealing himself through a dust of gold, the intruder appeared near the edge of the rooftop, stepping on the concrete floor with golden sandals and a regal step. Every Servant and Master observed him warily, preparing themselves for a battle if such a need were to arise.
Crimson-blood eyes of royal lineage narrowed on the motley group, gazing upon each and every one of them with a distasteful glare.
And as soon as he met those eyes― no. As soon he registered that voice… Heroic Spirit Emiya felt his own stomach drop in spite of his efforts to remain focused. Unbeknownst to him, both Saber and Lord El-Melloi II were having his exact same reaction, but Archer did not notice it.
Because when he looked upon the new Servant, and as soon as he saw his perfect, golden-proportioned body covered with red tattoos and garbed in golden gauntlets, blood-red pants and a royal-blue vest which revealed his chest; along with the two-horned crown resting above his golden hair… the Counter Guardian who had faced countless battlefields and who had been through hell and worse felt like cursing his whole existence all over again.
Because no matter how different he looked, there was no doubt about that man's identity. He could recognize him anywhere, despite how much he loathed the man with a passion.
And the King of Heroes stepped into the realm of mortals once again, fixing the group of humans and Servants with an unimpressed sneer.
"I believe it's time for you lots to finally learn your place, mongrels."
(I know it's long, but please read it)
Hi, guys. How are you? I hope you're all good and healthy, and I wish you all the best for this new year.
First and foremost, I deeply apologize for the wait I've put you through. It's been nearly 3 months since the last time I've updated my stories, and I'm sorry for making you guys wait for so long. I'm currently going through a very tough period – I can honestly say this is the toughest period I've ever faced in my life, so far – due to some personal issues with my job and some health problems regarding my family, which are making this a nerve-wracking time for me. I'm still trying to write when I can, but so far it's been very hard for me to relax and focus on that due to those issues.
I do not intend to drop my stories, make no mistake, but I honestly don't know when I'll be able to update next time. It could take weeks, months… I honestly have no idea. But please rest assured on this: I WILL keep writing, and I do NOT wish to drop my stories. That much I can assure you. I can only hope you guys will be patient, and bear with me in spite of my delays. Hopefully things will become easier for me with time, but as of today, I can't say for sure. I'll still do my best, though. I promise.
Now, onto the chapter itself… finally, we've learned the identity of another Servant: Caster Gilgamesh.
Surprised? You shouldn't be, since I had hinted his presence a long time ago, in Chapter 3. I was honestly surprised by the fact that almost no one managed to guess he was an actual Servant of the War and not the Gil who remained stuck in the present days. If you think about it, I revealed his presence in the exact same chapter in which it is clearly stated one thing: in this world, there was NO fire and NO mud… so how could Gilgamesh possibly be here? He had to be a new Servant, obviously. The mud couldn't have touched him… because there was NO MUD in this timeline! It was a hint I had deliberately left there for you to guess this truth. Some of you readers did, though, and I applaud all of those who have reached out to me to share their speculations. I'm glad you guys had fun with that little clue XD
But how is Gilgamesh a Caster in this world? it shouldn't be possible. Well, it'll be explained in due time, just like Charlie and Scathach's summoning.
With this, only Assassin is left to be revealed. If you manage to guess who's gonna be, you have my sincerest admiration. It's not very easy, but it's not impossible either.
For those wondering: "Ocean of Memories" is an OST from Unlimited Blade Works. I chose that soundtrack as the title because the concept of -Memory- is the main theme and leitmotif of this chapter. As you've noticed, many of the things that happened here are related to certain memories: the discovery of Archer's death; the Servants' meeting which is a callback to the banquet of Fate/Zero; Rin's attitude which is a contrast/reminder of Emiya's past wars; the fact that Gilgamesh comes back to haunt us once more; and especially Saber's questionable wish, which is the thread that remains unchanged even in this timeline, just like in the FSN routes. As you can see, everything in this chapter revolves around the character's memories, in some way.
On another note: some of you have complained to me in private about the unfolding of the story, since you are worried that the plot could go awry by having Archer, Lancer and Rider fighting together in the same faction. Well, I'm going to say just one thing: you guys have NO IDEA of what is going to happen in the story. As I've said, this Holy Grail War is DIFFERENT from the ones we see in the FSN routes (and that includes some characters like Rin, who are going to be slightly different due to the weird events that happened in this timeline), and it's also a battle of "Impossible Realities". This means that the true plot twists are yet to be revealed, and trust me… things are going to become messy when that happens.
My story won't be extremely complex or hard to follow, though. There will be surprises, yes, but please lower your expectations, for I'm not able to write masterpieces. This ain't Fateless, people. But I have a very specific plot and conclusion in mind, and I ask you to trust me on this. At least, I ask this to those of you who are willing to read this weird fic of mine. I'm not a talented author like many others on this site, my English still sucks, and there's still A LOT for me to learn about Fate; but I'm trying to stay true to the vision I had when I came up with the idea for this fic, and I will continue to do so until the end. I hope you'll bear with me.
I repeat, once again, that I don't know when I'll be able to update my stories. I'll do my best to write when I can, but please have patience. This period is really tough for me, and real life issues take priority over fanfictions. So, if I disappear for a long period of time again, please do not worry too much. I thank all of you who have reached out to me during these months, and I'm extremely grateful for your support. I hope I won't disappoint you guys in the future.
As always, please forgive me for any eventual misspellings and grammar mistakes. If you point them out to me, I will gladly correct them as soon as I can.
See you next time.