Welcome to the final chapter. I have updated the Glossary; it's now in the same article as the Character Sheet, but as the 2nd chapter. Do read it for some reference.
Giuseppe: Ah, you've finally cracked it. Congratulations! Check out their stats and different backgrounds in the Character Sheet.
Thank you for all this time. Enjoy; I'll see you soon with my next project.
In front of these strangers, Scáthach-Skaði inhales quite a deep, nervous breath. Naturally; these people are at least as powerful as she is, and even though she hasn't explored the extent of her own powers, she can sense its profound depth, much more than her previous self.
It will also help that she does not have an empty brain right now.
In retrospect, what SHIROU has done to her previous self… well, the Scáthach-Skaði right now can't comprehend it, really, since she is not Scáthach, nor some other goddesses. She's her own person, born recently with this deep well of power and authority over the world around her.
In truth, she can barely recognize her own reflection, just like how a baby sees a mirror for the first time.
These… humanoids all claimed to be her acquaintance, but of course, she will have to build their relationship from the ground up now. She knows how to do it, inherently, it's just… Having all these new things to absorb and discover overwhelms her most of the time.
Plus, it's not like the man who birthed her is beside her right here, right now, to help her get a grip of her surroundings.
The black-haired mature woman in the middle – their leader, it appears – speaks to her, but she has only just now returned from her stupor.
"Welcome to the Reverse Side of the World, old friend. Or, should I say, 'old-new' friend? What do you think?" Sumiko approaches meaningfully, careful not to agitate the new member of their group.
"Eh? W-What do you mean? Who are you guys?" Confused, Scáthach-Skaði leans back in trepidation. "C-Can we at least start from our names?"
A young woman at the back, apparent only from the sheer width of her crimson-and-black gothic dress, mutters, "So she really did lose it, huh?"
"Do not belittle her that way. She is, in every single way, our equal," a gruff voice reprimands, coming from a gigantic wolf-man near the corner, seemingly disinterested in greeting the newly-born goddess to think of something. "And please control yourself. Your shrill voice is becoming irritating as I contemplate on things."
"Ooohhh… You're talking back to me, now?" The physically smaller girl grins dangerously, her eyes narrowing down to a crack.
Fortunately, before anything can happen, an androgynous person walks in from one side, and with a voice unbefitting of their appearance, heavily interrupts, "Alright, the two of you. Stop."
The first woman who spoke to Scáthach-Skaði earlier smiles apologetically. "I'm sorry for the ruckus. Of course we can start with our names, no? I… no, we seem to have too heavy of an expectation of you. I am Sumiko. You are… Scáthach-Skaði, correct?"
Her black-purple hair waves as she nods. "Yes. The two names from my previous self and my new self, combined. A slight mouthful, yes, so please feel free to address me simply by my last name."
"Alright, that will do. Do you also know of your current state, powers, and responsibilities?"
"Ah… not the last one, admittedly," she replies sheepishly, which strangely matches her mature appearance very well. Gone was Scáthach's usual sharp expressions and warrior aura; now, she was simply a lovely divine beauty with a sense of inhumanity coming from every pore of her skin. "I… realize my time here is short, therefore… I don't really know anything very well."
"It's understandable. Don't worry. However, the explanation will be a bit long, so are you up for it?" Mischievously, Sumiko eyes the still-bickering pair behind her, as well as a notable elf absentee. "Since there's some members here who can't do such a simple thing."
Naturally, her words go right over the people indiscreetly teased by them.
Indeed, for Scáthach-Skaði, a new deity altogether separate from her original selves, these last few weeks were quite literally how a newborn will behave. She did have a basic understanding of the history of her past selves, either from Scáthach, Nimue, or the other divine beings making up the [Chaos] seed within her. Regarding her inherited status as the ruler of the Land of Shadows, or as a partial Lady of the Lake, or the traces of Norse deities running within her…
Mix all that together, and if uncontrolled, it can be a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Her situation is perhaps the most similar to Rimuru, being an amalgamation of various beings, but with one difference: the slime chose to consume those beings and assimilate them to themselves. In contrast, Scáthach-Skaði's birth technically was forced by the circumstances, despite how ready Scáthach was to accept the [Chaos] seed as repentance for her mistakes.
Unfortunately, the androgynous person is busy calming down the two – almost literally – cat and dog fighting, so all who's left is Sumiko.
Cheryl is busy covering up the mess of Galahad's escape, not just from the perspective of a management and supervising failure coming from her. The elven territory is naturally shielded against the wild mass of energy separating the Reverse Side and the Outer Side of the World, and for a human – though an enhanced one – to breach said limit is alarming.
And the boy didn't even leave a dimensional scar at the place where he escaped.
If they can find him – and that's a pretty big 'if' – he can turn out to be quite the talent.
Smiling gently, Sumiko starts, "Alright, let's begin on how you should act from now on…"
Leaning on the door frame, Filvis lets her jet-black hair sway according to the air created by the pressure difference between the two rooms. Her eyes contain a hint of disappointment, not the least because the difference of the room she's looking into, between the past and present.
Originally, a magus's Workshop will have its air quality and condition maintained through various means, much like a normal scientist's lab will. At the very least, one will choose a suitable building with gap-less and solid walls.
Thus, why is her own teacher and master neglecting such a simple thing?
He doesn't even seem to register her own presence, leading her to rap her knuckles against the door frame to garner his attention.
- Knock. Knock. Knock.
Merlin's white mane shifts, revealing an obviously distraught man with a suicidal look in his eyes.
Somehow, it only enrages her; that look doesn't belong on the face of one of the strongest magi in history, much less an esteemed court magus. The more she grows during her adventures lately, the greater her own incense on people who lack the drive to surpass the wall called 'giving up'. She respected her opponents who fought until the very end without showing her their backs, such as the Romans, Galahad, and many others.
Merlin? He looks more like a street ruffian rather than a learned scholar.
From the rows of empty bottles lining his desk, his surroundings look the part, too.
The sweet scent of fruit liquor permeates the air, different from the suffocating cheap aroma coming from aged barrel-processed alcohol. Perhaps it's home-brew; Merlin's Magecraft certainly lends to it, plus she has heard of this secret stash of his, specially kept for special occasions.
"You look pathetic," Filvis spits out angrily, partly at herself, and partly at her Master's condition. "How embarrassing to call you my teacher like this."
Vivian's condition… is stable. She doesn't get worse; she just… doesn't change. At all. No matter how many resources and skill Merlin threw at it, her soul was irreparably damaged by Nimue's possession. Perhaps 'damaged' was too strong of a word – it's certainly 'changed', and not in a positive manner.
Which partially explains Merlin's condition right now, but what he's doing amounts to a weak man's escapism, not how a respected person would behave.
"I am, aren't I?" Merlin smiles wryly. His eyes are sober, a product of his inhuman blood raising his alcohol tolerance. "On the contrary, you've grown into a splendid person, Filvis."
"A 'person', huh? Not a 'magus'?" Filvis asks, raising her body off the door frame. "I do not come under your tutelage to learn your personality quirks, Merlin, but to further my skill."
He shakes his head. "It's included in it, you know? Why must those two terms be separate?"
Closing her eyes in exhaustion at his wordplay, she reaches out towards one of the smaller benches and places her lithe butt there. "I know, I know. An in-depth study of one subject needs to be balanced with another, right? I only… thought you're a stronger person than this, Master."
"I haven't heard you address me as 'Master' so many times before, Filvis," he half-heartedly teases. "Am I truly drunk and imagining your figure here?"
"No woman will take pleasure in such thoughts, especially with your perverted mind," she retorts cruelly, "Not even Vivian. So keep your jokes to yourself."
He winces. "Ugh! Even you have no mercy on me…"
"Because she won't be happy seeing you like this. A bum. That's what you are, Master," the elf bluntly admits. "Defeated. Losing hope. What kind of person are you, really?! This kind of loser?!"
Her voice raises sharply, much more than she intend to at first, but Merlin doesn't seem to mind. He simply raises one palm to stop her, before weakly surrendering, "Alright, alright. Call me however you want; use whatever taunt you wish. I know my condition, Filvis. Just… just leave me alone for a while, alright?"
With a slight slump of his shoulders, he turns away from her and pays attention back into the empty row of bottles in front of him, clearly eyeing whichever has the most droplets remaining.
Right now, Filvis can clench her fists until they bleed, but she understands his plight, deep down, though she will loathe to admit it. With progress on Vivian stalling, they have decided to freeze her body and mind until further research and development allow them to mingle with the streams of Akasha and regain her soul. Whether it'll still be intact or not is left for the future; right now, all of Europe's brightest minds are working on this singular objective, incentivized by Princess Mordred's prize money.
All magi's goals are roughly the same: reaching the Root. What they want to do with it when they get there varies; some are looking for power, others more abstract things. Even the most pragmatic ones out there will invariably be tempted to use the Root's power if available to them to accomplish their goals.
Looking forlornly at one's lover, right there by one's side, without being able to do anything? Yes, it's quite a depressing sight.
Which is why Filvis manages to restrain her fists from docking her teacher straight in the face in frustration.
Barely moments have passed since Merlin's statement, before a sudden burst of energy throws itself at Filvis's direction.
Shocked at the sudden attack, her time perception suddenly slows.
- Thump. Thump. Thump.
Just like it was in the battlefield.
How she can chant so quickly under fire. How she can identify enemies from allies. How she can load her Od and infuse Mana so accurately without excess.
Just like how Shirou showed her, so many times over.
Before the bolt of light even reaches halfway to her, she has already finished constructing a counter spell.
One to kill Merlin, and one to protect herself.
- Thump. Thump. Thump.
'Cancel that thought!'
She modifies her spell just in time. Chantless, of course, and even faster than a Single-Action spell.
The light approaches one foot from her face, before rippling off with a 'flop' against her barrier.
- Thump. Thump. Thump.
A rush of energy infuses through her Magic Circuits, through her veins and nerve cluster, as Merlin's attack is safely absorbed.
"Haa…" She reflexively exhales the breath she doesn't realize she's holding. "You don't often use a [Light] spell, Master Merlin."
From behind his lowered bangs, she can see a smile forming on his laid-back face, seemingly feeling irresponsible towards trying to kill or maim one of his brightest students just now.
Again, that damned mocking smile is still plastered all across his face, partially covered by white tuffs of his hair. "You've gotten a lot better, Filvis. Nay, should I say… your defense just now was perfect."
"Tsk, trying to butter me up right now? I now where I am as a magus compared to you; the earlier complaint was simply idle chat," Filvis huffs, though her level of annoyance does dip down slightly. "So, any reason for that attack other than for trying to kill me?"
"It was your final test, and you passed."
"Ah…" Merlin's words leave her dumbstruck. Quickly recovering, she replies while slightly trembling. "What… d-does that actually mean?"
This time, a genuine expression of happiness emanates from Merlin's visage.
"Go. You are free of my teachings, now. Spread your wings, and create your own story." He playfully rearranges the bottles in front of him, continuing, "There is little more of Magecraft I can teach you."
Despite her best efforts, she can't help but stop her fists from clenching and unclenching out of excitement.
She… isn't really expecting this from him. Yes, she wants to go on her own adventures, as the missions the court gave her the last few months has spurred desires she didn't even know existed prior from meeting Cecilia. With her sole remaining family found, a stable backing, and ample combat experience, as both a magus and an elf, there was little she could achieve right here in Camelot.
But is she really ready, this fast?
Well, if her teacher has said so, then why not?
Withholding the sudden welling of tears – completely unexpected – she nods, carefully standing up and avoiding to create a loud mess from a chair falling over.
Perhaps her teacher already knows what she's going to say about Vivian and himself. Perhaps he has foresighted this event with his [Clairvoyance]. Perhaps he had other plans he didn't want Filvis to be around for.
Whatever the case, just that simple demonstration from him has lifted all her worries, strangely enough.
Only he, Merlin, can do so while appearing as infuriating as ever.
But… that's her Master. For real.
Wordlessly, she gives him a deep bow as she goes through the door she previously leaned on.
'Master… Thank you for everything. Whatever that is…'
The ground shakes and creaks all over a large area, shaking down several quintals of dirt and stones. It's perhaps fortunate no one is around, especially those from the Roman consuls, to see the magnificent sight of a golden airship descending on their palace.
…or whatever remains of it.
It appears after Shalltear and Rimuru's assault that the Romans have abandoned this building and chosen to erect another seat of power somewhere, an indication of Emperor Anastasius's true popularity. I can't care less about the placement of his corpse – or whether those two left behind one – as I focus my energy into controlling Vimana.
It does feel just like yesterday. As if I can still smell the particular scent Gilgamesh is fond of using on her skin. Like how I can feel the heat of Babylon during the day, as the divine sun bathes Vimana's golden hull with its glory.
I close my eyes forcefully, as the image of a dying golden queen, whose life was taken from her by fate, crosses my mind.
"Sir Shirou…" Ellis mutters worryingly behind me.
As always, she's quite sensitive to the emotions of others. Well, there's that, and the sudden shake from the ship as my telepathic control slips.
Gently, I land it near the rubble of the former Roman imperial palace, before hopping down and immediately using my Pure Eyes.
"Leave him, Ellis. This… is something he needs to do by himself." Imina's rational voice stops his wife from following me; something I'm grateful for.
Even if Mordred has healed much of the pain and nightmares away, the first cut still cuts the deepest, indeed.
It's not as if the whims of the Babylonian deities drove Gilgamesh to ruin. No, as long as I was there, taking the place of the individual named Enkidu, I have guarded and guided her well. The ideal her other selves chased after, shown to me by my own other selves, was achieved long before she passed away.
Babylonia had become the first true great empire, far before the Egyptian finished building their own. No disasters could wipe it out, no conflict could tear it apart.
Through me and Alaya, the gods were kept in check.
Yet, her death was eventually necessary. Having found the secrets of eternal life, her rule was exemplary, even with her personal idiosyncrasies. I didn't control her fully; both of us pushed each other's growth, and it wasn't an exaggeration I am who I am today due to her influence.
But the human evolution has stopped.
The gears of nature ground to a halt under Gilgamesh's ultimate influence. Before long, we stagnated, stuck in the realm of pseudo-perfection which the people nowadays called 'heaven', 'nirvana', 'Eden', and so on. Death grew scarce, before stopping completely. The human value rocketed, resulting in difficulties in cultivating more births, as more and more people delayed their destiny to enjoy life.
If continued, Alaya would cease to exist, just like how it predicted would happen to itself if she persisted with the Counter Guardians program.
Thus, I and Gilgamesh made the call.
I can still remember the exact feel of her hands – smooth and wide, the perfect skin filled with determination – as she guided my Knight Arms straight to her heart.
It is too much, and even the rush of information from my Pure Eyes is momentarily blinded by it.
She was happy.
Does that justify everything? Viewing it objectively, yes. Humanity's evolution continued through its usual peaks and troughs, leading to the world of today, where the Age of Man is flourishing. Her passing opened many doors for me and my various missions after that, as her [Divinity] returned to the Akashic Records.
Subjectively? I distinctly remembered damaging my tear ducts in my then-physical body from crying so intensely, something I doubted was even possible to do with Reinforcement.
It was worse when I sincerely evaluated myself and came to a conclusion: I had succeeded.
Thus, Gilgamesh's legend was set in stone, forever immortalized in the Deluge Tablet, while my own influence was erased as Alaya restored things back to normal to avoid discrepancies in future writings. It was my first experience with this curse.
'Will she remember me for who I am? Or will I be 'Enkidu' for her?'
The 'Gilgamesh' in Unlimited Blade Works tearfully told me this wasn't true. But what about herself in the Throne of Heroes?
To this day, I have never ventured there out of… many negative emotions. Countless ones.
I loved her. I wish she will love me too, forever.
I brush my fingertips across the chamber underneath the palace, where Rimuru and Shalltear first found Vimana. My Pure Eyes pick up many clues: light parallel indentations on the ground, differing age of masonry, uneven discoloration of the surrounding surfaces.
'Gilgamesh is never here.'
Somehow, Vimana was carted all the way here from where I last saw it – buried in her tomb which I built myself – to here. By someone of great power, I presume; my enchantments and traps lining it were the best and most vicious I knew of at the time. The Roman Empire's rule stretched quite far back into history – certainly more than a few generations before Emperor Anastasius took the throne. It could be his predecessors, or the entire Empire's precursors, or the people before that.
I don't particularly mind the ship was carried here in the first place. Unlike most heroes, I'm not too particular about the ownership and usage of Mystic Codes and Noble Phantasms – perhaps owing to the nature of Unlimited Blade Works. I do, however, mind things done to mar the weapons' owner's soul.
And raiding Gilgamesh's tomb is a certain way of irritating me, to put it mildly.
For security, I myself has set the tomb to periodically shift its location, calculated from a lowest value of specific human density. It will randomly choose places with the least amount of habitation, to prevent outsiders form even noticing its existence. Building oneself a great tomb is one thing; another is to safeguard it for eternity.
…which means even I myself don't know its current location without scouring the world.
Looking around, there's nothing of particular interest to me. Most of the riches are gone, likely taken after the commotion of Anastasius's death settled down. There's no traces of peculiar prana, either; the place was perhaps magically cleaned up as well.
Taking a deep breath, I exit the place, returning to the throne on top of Vimana, where the husband-and-wife pair is waiting for me.
Should I look for the tomb?
Once again, Ellis looks at me, troubled on what to do. It seems she often takes care of her husband and his friends in her youth, which makes her quite the busybody nowadays. Imina isn't even helping her cure this particular weakness; heck, she probably got it from him in the first place.
Shaking my head, I weakly smile at them. "Let's return. There's nothing here but old memories."
"Bad ones?" Imina frankly asks, much to his wife's astonishment.
As we soar to the sky over the curious gaze of faraway observers, one decision is slowly making itself clear in my head. Whether I have to safeguard Gilgamesh's body or not, or her treasures and possessions, or her tomb, it all matters little right now.
I have somebody else to protect this time, and she will surely order me to do so with a haughty smile plastered across her face.
Just like how Ea's phantom by my side is doing, folding her arms for good measure.
[What a perfect sentence,] she quips confidently, and I smile in return, this time much sincerer in nature.
Let legends lie, and be legends onto itself.
"So this is where you are, Grandfather."
The female voice coming from behind him feels equally familiar as it is foreign. He must've been delving too deep into his memories of the past… of his father and mother, of his mentors, of his opponents…
The past of millennia ago, when Galahad was still a young, two-year old homunculus thrown into the deep end by the plans of an evil being.
Looking back while straining his aching back, the silhouette of a well-developed teenage girl enters his view. It's not as good as it was in his youth, obviously, but he stubbornly refuses to use prescription glasses, mainly because he doesn't even 'see' with his eyes anymore.
Which was why he has realized her approach – this granddaughter of his – far before she reached his location. Not that he'll tell her anytime soon – in her line of work, hands-on experience is vital, not simply taught-down education and skills. Let her think for herself, for her own sake – and her team's, as well.
"I am not so weak for you to babysit me, Mash."
His voice is raspy, a far cry from the silky young voice in his memories.
However, despite his light scolding, this granddaughter of his apparently inherits his stubbornness as well.
Without speaking another word, she approaches him casually and places her own glasses onto the bridge of his nose. It's quite a meaningless gesture, simply because their prescription is different, as well as how the stalks are shaped differently to suit each of their differing ear shapes.
But the warmth overflowing from the depths of his heart is incomparable, enough to crack a smile on his weathered face.
"I'm loaning you mine. Don't forget yours next time, okay?"
Despite the glasses, her teasing smile still looks blurry if viewed from his physical eyes. Shaking his head, he replies, "I've already said this to you many times…"
"…that you don't need glasses. Yes, I know. But it's better now, right? That's enough for me."
Once again, her words elicited a strange emotion from what he thought to be his long-dead heart.
It also appears she has found herself a boyfriend recently. Maybe he should pay the boy a visit sometime?
A chilly wind blows through them at that moment, though their magical constitution completely shields them from the cold. However, it does bring into attention Mash's purpose of coming here… or even coming into this country, as a matter of fact.
"You know; you should stop sneaking off into planes to go to Britain. Why not live here, anyway? We can… or, rather, Dad and Mom don't seem to mind to move here, if you like it here this much." Twirling around to feel the biting wind through her lilac-colored hair, she adds, "Also, you don't even go to the tourist-y places; instead, we are… uh, here? Wherever this is called?"
Chuckling, the elder answers, "Yes, indeed. Here… is nowhere, really. Simply a place with good memories… and also a source of nightmare at the same time."
"Muuu! Stop speaking in riddles! What do you think I am, fifty? Geez!" Mash cutely stomps on the ground, annoyed, showing a kind of face exclusive from strangers. "In any case, it's getting dark soon! Don't let the wind get into your body, or you'll get sick."
"Yes, Mother," Galahad sarcastically replies. Naturally, his granddaughter fails to notice the ironic meaning behind his words.
"Don't trip yourself, Mash," he warmly warns, "You don't want to miss your big day tomorrow."
Like most youngsters, she simply ignores his advice and strutted off.
Closing his eyes and absorbing the chilly dusk air – 'Oh, it's getting even colder now!' – he stirs from his sitting position, once again revisiting his old nostalgia. Well, 'old' doesn't even begin to describe it; he's practically thrown into another reality. Therefore, there's little sense for his presence here, where dubious reports claim is where Castle Corbenic once stood.
And where his mother is buried, once and for all.
He knows it, simply from the Holy Grail shards inside him reacting with joy the most right in this very spot. He doesn't need scientific proof or industrial and meticulous archaeological digging; he knows.
Perhaps, in a perfect world, his father would've been buried here as well, but rumors have it his body was destroyed during or after his execution. Perhaps for the best, as he thinks with very little negative emotion, as Lancelot wasn't exactly… sane when the now-old man last saw him. Despite his defeat at the hands of Sir Shirou, the sheer conviction in the redhead's eyes told Galahad plenty regarding the man's character.
Besides, how did he fare? Try as he might, Galahad couldn't gleam any kind of information regarding this individual called 'Shirou' in Britain's Arthurian era, despite using the Animuspheres' vast wealth and information network. It's one of two options: either Galahad was, indeed, thrown into another reality where 'Shirou' didn't exist, or another major power has successfully covered up his existence.
Well, he's old now, and about to die in a few years anyway. Just the chance to see his beloved granddaughter, who inherited the most of his skill and talent, earning her scholarship into Chaldea is good enough for him. To be a prized member of the planet's best and brightest company… it's a simple dream, but a beautifully achieved one, nonetheless.
It seems she, too, has met a decent enough boy over there. Again, a sense of urgency to meet this young man invades his being, but he tempers it with a well-honed patience, derived from experience.
For him, now simply wasting away while waiting his timely departure, seeing the next generation bloom is a satisfaction in and of itself.
The world's not ending. Humanity isn't going into extinction every few months. Gaia isn't grinding down on human's foolishness, and neither is the latter harming the former.
For Galahad, everything is good.
'Now, careful not to snap my back when I get up…'
Smoking in the middle of a graveyard, at some time past midnight.
It's a setting commonly used in horror movies, usually to portray a victim right before some sort of supernatural being dragged them someplace unpleasant. Not even scary-looking gangsters, if they have any sort of brain power at all, will dare attempt such a brush with fate.
Well, for one, Kairi Shishigō isn't a gangster, despite how religiously he dresses himself up as one.
He's a magic user, and a necromancer to boot – so if there's anything willing to break through the ground and show their rotting, smelly faces to him, it'll be just another day in the office.
Heck, it may turn out to be a good sign, if his magical power manages to reach its peak in a few short minutes and is able to directly influence his surroundings like so. He's heard of those monsters in human flesh who can terraform every place they place their feet on, simply by the amount of their Conceptual Weight alone.
For instance, the scamming bitch who sold him this very expensive, limited-edition Taiwanese cigarette. Fine, he'll admit the tobacco used inside it is quite unique, but far from top-class. Plus, she's an Aozaki, and far above his league, so he'll settle for silently cursing her and hope a plant pot fall over her head or something.
As the red glow of the ash illuminates the tip of his sunglasses – worn at 2.00 a.m., nonetheless – he re-checks his work. Magi, by nature and nurture, are meticulous people, and Shishigō is no different, though his style of work more closely resembles a magic user rather than a pure magus.
After all, this is a job from the Association, and he doesn't want to explain why a significant chunk of Bucharest suddenly disappears from the map because of a rookie mistake.
During his rounds, his eyes are drawn to the center piece of this ritual – a cut from the infamous Britain's Round Table, acquired for an enormous price. If an avian suddenly decides to shit on it while he chants, then he will wake up the entire city with his scream… so fingers crossed.
Though the fingers he's using are already a part of the ritual circle, so he can't cross them one more time for good luck. Being a necromancer sure is hard.
- Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
His phone's alarm vibrates, letting him know it's precisely 2.00 a.m., when his powers are at their peak. There is no better time now, since he's done his homework regarding daylight savings and all that.
Shishgou begins his chant, one provided by the researchers in the Association.
Let silver and steel be the essence.
Let stone and the archduke of contracts be the foundation.
Let red be the color I pay tribute to.
Let rise a wall against the wind that shall fall.
Let the four cardinal gates close.
Let the three-forked road from the crown reaching unto the Kingdom rotate.
Let it be filled. Again. Again. Again. Again.
Let it be filled fivefold for every turn, simply breaking asunder with every filling.
A blinding light covers the sky right above the cemetery, blowing with furious vermilion energy. Earlier, there is barely any wind, giving the cemetery an even greater creepy mood, yet the sheer release of power from the ritual circle nearly tears his skin off his flesh.
As it turns out, he is 'merely' blown backwards into some trees, breaking some of his bones in the process.
With his sunglasses – yes, worn at night – smashed into smithereens, his vision is somewhat clearer when peering through the pain and dust, though he lacks the ability to stand up.
- Clink. Clink.
What is unmistakably the sound of metal boots clanking on the ground as the user walks towards him restores his stupor somewhat. Groaning in pain, he at least tries to lift his upper body as a show of respect, since there's rumors some Servants can forgo their contracts and harm their Masters if they simply dislike the latter.
Even before the dust completely settles, he has his breath stolen even further by his Servant's beauty.
Glittering golden hair tied roughly in a bushy ponytail at the back. A feminine perversion of a knight's pragmatic armor which leaves her creamy shoulders bare, with her bare armpits teasing the male imagination. Bright crimson thin dress, blooming around her thigh like fresh camellia petals, saddled by a sword containing such might Shishigō can feel the dread building in his stomach.
Among those who has ever sat around the Round Table, only one individual matches this description.
Mordred Pendragon, the Dragon Knight Princess.
"Ya' don't seem very reliable for my Master," she cheekily comments, not even bothering to offer a hand for him.
- Creak. Creak. Creak.
Owing to his recent injuries, Shishigō can only hobble back towards his 'secret' headquarters while wincing. His Servant's reputation means he doesn't have it in him to tell her said place is simply a hole in the ground in yet another cemetery. It's a simple sign of pragmatism, matching the sawed-off shotgun he carries in his coat, much to the dismay of other magi.
She's following closely behind him in spirit form, far quieter than the personality he gleamed from their first meeting. However, a sense of buzzing elation does make it through their Master-Servant bond, indicating she's indeed impressed and excited of the modern era.
- Creak. Creak. Creak.
"Tch…" he grits his teeth as his ribs croaked against his muscles. It's getting better after a rudimentary healing spell – he's at least a magic user, after all – but still far from fighting shape. It's even likely one shot from his shotgun will worsen his injuries from the recoil alone, much less more strenuous movements with his necromancy.
[Ah, a message.] Using telepathy, Mordred quips from behind him, making him look up to an approaching dove. Any magus worth their salt will be able to tell it's a simple familiar, but quite stealthy in its own simplicity. [Is it from our allies or enemies? A challenge letter?]
Her enthusiasm for combat is palpable even to the dove itself, making it nervously shake while perching on Shishigō's finger.
[C-Calm down. It's from our Red Faction!]
The church in Sighişoara is simple and out-of-the-way, befitting the calm atmosphere around the smaller town. Away from the hustle and bustle of Bucharest, where the nightlife has picked up recently due to increasing modernization, it's a good testament to the old ways, where everything was simpler and less garish.
On the contrary, those two adjectives are the complete opposite of what Mordred will use to describe the 'leader' of the Red Faction in front of her and her Master.
What irritates her the most is his name: Shirou.
For her, it's something equivalent to blasphemy. Only the training she received and the experiences she endured allows her to suppress the killing intent bubbling underneath her.
Oh, it's not because this person is clearly a bad one. No, he's something worse: an egocentric maniac who thinks in such an extreme it can't be categorized into 'good' or 'bad'.
In essence, an insane person. The most troublesome one to deal with, compared to a clear bread-and-butter 'heroes' or 'villains'. That's what her [Instinct] is telling her.
His Servant, most likely of the [Assassin] class, is calmly sitting nearby, just across from her. Her Master seems to fail to notice them, which is fair enough; she herself doubts her younger self would've possessed a keen enough sense to detect them. It's simply a method of viewing the 'negative' space from the 'positive'; the human brain has evolved to study the latter so much they subconsciously ignore the former. Not her, though.
Because she's the strongest Saber.
Also, this tanned white-haired man… is a Servant. It's not based on any apparent evidence, but she simply can feel it. The same scent and aura as that kid who had parts of the Holy Grail inside of him… it's fleeting, but she can never fail to recognize an individual based on their 'feel'.
Perhaps he used the power of the Holy Grail to grant him a permanent human body instead of a spiritual one? Is the Holy Grail initiating this summoning process even the same thing she observed and experienced back when she's still alive? Are they both real, or is one of them fake?
There's too much questions right now, and not enough answers.
"Could you please materialize your Servant?" Shirou Kotomine asks Shishigō.
"No, I don't-"
Before he can finish his denial, Mordred has already revealed herself, coolly matching the surprised gaze of both her Master and Kotomine.
"Then can you show your Assassin as well?" She challenged, eliciting a further gasp of shock from the dark-skinned man. His eyes are focused on her… something, but it's not her physical appearance, though…? "What? Do you think their [Presence Concealment] is enough to fool me?"
After a few seconds, without Kotomine's agreement, a black-clad mature beauty shows herself across the table.
"Whoa!" Shishigō nearly jumps, before wincing at his still-tender body.
The woman – Assassin – smiles daringly. "I see you have found yourself an excellent Servant, Mr. Shishigō."
"So much so I'm thinking of leaving him here, ya' know?"
"H-Hey!" Shishigō sweat-drops, before turning his attention back to Kotomine. "So? What are we truly doing here?"
Folding his fingers together in a half-prayer, Kotomine explains, "As our de facto leader, I would at least like to know what our Servants' appearances are like. Don't want any friendly fire, right?"
By now, even Shishigō has realized this red-robed priest is hiding something from them. Something from his eyes… He's realized something about Mordred; perhaps her identity? She's certainly eye-catching, thus a well-read scholar will be able to discern her identity with reasonable success… If that's so, then showcasing her form here is a grave mistake.
'No, no, what am I thinking? We're on the same side, for goodness sake…'
Even the voice in his head sounds unconvinced at the situation.
After a brief face-off between the two incredibly beautiful Servants, Shishigō and Mordred leave the place, trekking in the midst of the cooler morning air than expected. She's in her corporeal form, seemingly out of preference rather than trying to make a statement, while walking under the gaze of Kotomine and Assassin – or, rather, Semiramis.
"What do you think of her?" The black-haired woman asks, though she's certainly already come up with her own answer.
With his hands clasped behind his back, Kotomine ponders on for a few seconds. "Mordred Pendragon, the Dragon Knight Princess. She's… troublesome, to say the least."
Perhaps the greatest ruler of the Isles of Britain, back in the Dark Ages of Europe. For a woman to be able to surpass the achievements of her father and grandfather, both of the same Pendragon lineage… it can be assumed her actual abilities are far more frightening than her legend.
Viewed from his abilities as a [Ruler], Kotomine himself shudders when thinking of her status. The [Saber] class already has an advantage over the others, and her abilities are even more ridiculous than that. Unlike her father, Arthur Pendragon, there is no rumor of her weakness. Personality-wise, she had enough keenness to take the initiative in their previous conversation, completely overturning Kotomine's flow.
"Master… can she summon an actual dragon, just like in her legend?" Semiramis questions, a slight nervous tinge tainting her voice. "If so… perhaps it'll be best to try and earn her respect and trust. She seems… unconvinced of us."
"Indeed," Kotomine admits. "With her and Lancer at our side… this Holy Grail War is as good as won."
"Vlad III… That's the Black Faction's trump card," Shishigō mutters. "Are you confident in fighting him in Romania? You do know his legend, right?"
Instead of taking his question as a challenge, Mordred replies with a confusing statement, "That's not a question for me, but for Assassin's Master."
"Just my [Instinct]."
His sunglasses-covered eyes narrow momentarily, before casually replies, "Alright. I'll trust in your judgement. However, can you at least humor the question?"
At the sound of Mordred's footsteps suddenly stopping, Shishigō turns around… and is greeted with a ferocious grin.
"Have you forgotten who I am? No matter where my enemy stands, I shall march in there and cut him down. It is simple."
Shishigō smirks. "Oh, I love your confidence, Your Highness."
"Fumu!" Mordred snorts happily.
To be honest, Shishigō doesn't expect to be pulled into his Servant's flow like this. In the Holy Grail War, the most optimum type of partnership is a mutual feedback loop between the Master and Servant, continuously improving each other and covering their respective backs. It's a stance he's prepared to take, or even wrestle the lead with a more reckless Servant, but…
Well, Mordred Pendragon is simply overwhelming as an individual.
Judging from her usual expressions, one can't help but be surprised when they learn of her analytical and methodical side. However, when he thinks deeper of it, it all clicks: she's a ruler of a nation, and no one holds onto such position for a time as long as her – decades – without a series of complimenting intangibles.
They're currently on top of a random skyscrapers – one good enough to provide a decent viewpoint of most of the city – but knowingly stepping into a Boundary Field set up by the Yggdmillennias.
"Oh, here they come." Almost giddy with excitement, Mordred's sexy exposed back trembles in suspense. Several fast-moving shadows are already approaching their location – big, bad, and mean. "Let's do it according to the plan, shall we, Master?"
Without waiting for his reply, as always from her, she disappears from his view, leaving the pseudo-gangster shaking his head. It's faster than he expected, but he's prepared. Most of his tools are here. His injuries – mostly – are healed, with only some slight stiffness remaining. Oh, what he'll give to have Mordred's father's Noble Phantasm – Avalon – which was famous for its healing potential.
He cocks his sawed-off shotgun at the approaching golems, before taking half a step back once he gets a proper look at them.
"Shit, they're big…"
Darnic Prestone Yggdmillennia widens his eyes in surprise, not at the sight displayed at the screen, but at the owner of the voice.
"My Lord…?" The old magus mutters in disbelieve at his Servant's comment.
However, he only receives chuckles in return. Initially, they're stuttered and infrequent, before escalating into a full-blown laughter.
"HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA! Magnificent! Truly magnificent!" Vlad III bellows, an attitude unbefitting of the usual Lancer.
Even Caster – Solomon ibn Gabriol – shares his sentiment, nodding in approval at the destruction viewed from the eyes of his golems.
…well, whatever remains of them, anyway.
The Red Saber is simply too fast. Before they can identify who they are and their status, flashes of light has already filled the golems' field of vision, before every single one of them disconnecting at an alarming rate. From start to finish, Caster is sure no more than 10 seconds passed before dozens of his meticulously crafted golems are annihilated, before the Yggdmillennia homunculi following soon after.
From one of the few remaining connection, an image makes itself clear: the heads of the golems and homunculi, perched on top of various common garden and park spires.
The not-vampire has a dangerous glint in his eyes. Clearly, it is a letter of challenge from someone who knows full well who he is.
"I shall be waiting, then, Saber of Red…"
"That was reckless."
"It worked, doesn't it?" Mordred casually replies at the girl in front of her.
Now separated from her Master, who has spent a not inconsiderable amount of energy and resources to get rid of the homunculi and is now resting, she decided to take a stroll around town. Hopefully, from the pattern of erected Bounded Fields, she can discern more about their enemies' camp: location, habit, strength… anything, really.
Halfway through her walk, she detected Archer of Red observing her. It seems she accidentally triggers the other girl's field of vision, but Mordred's level of perception surprises once again, as she quickly found the perched Archer and addresses her.
Or, rather, Archer never had any intention to leave Mordred to her own devices. In a way, it's a sign she wishes to speak to the red-clad blonde; thus, Mordred obliges.
Atalanta first remark was about Mordred's escapades last night with Shishigō, one which the latter quickly counters.
"Come to think of it, where are the rest of the Red Faction's Servants? Are you here on your own?"
"They are stationed at different places by that man," Archer spits out, with Mordred immediately catching on the person insinuated by the lion girl's tone. "I am here of my own accord… to greet a fellow friend."
"So you noticed too? So it's not just me…"
From the outside, the two have little in common. The taciturn and cool Archer against the boisterous Saber. The lion and the dragon. Both come from royalty; one rebelling against the wishes of her father, and one complimenting it. One displays her bestial nature openly, while the other has it hidden away until the moment necessitates it.
In fact, they only have one thing in common.
Both are SHIROU's women.
Grinning, Mordred asks, "So… can you tell me your story with SHIROU?"