Fate/Zero:Act 14 Part 3
From a building far away, three pairs of eyes watched Rider’s flying Noble Phantasm as it appeared in the airspace above Shinto city, as well as Saber as she changed her route to pursue him.
One person’s eyes expressed satisfaction. One pair of eyes was extremely fatigued. And one more person —could those eyes, filled with violent frenzy, still be said to belong to a human?
“I did not think that the real Rider would actually appear… This is truly a good show. Matou Kariya, you often bring luck to your companions on the battlefield.”
Kotomine Kirei said this with a smile, in a tone that held a slight insinuation of sarcasm. At the same time, he slapped Kariya’s shoulder to indicate admiration. Kariya's good right eye regarded him with suspicion.
“Father… do you think it is worth wasting two Command Spells on such a small matter?”
Kariya looked at his right hand, which was missing two Command Spells, with some dissatisfaction. Kirei said to him, smiling.
“There is no need to worry. Kariya, as long as you are willing to help me, you need not worry about wasting Command Spells—come, stretch out your hand.”
Kirei caught hold of Kariya’s veined and withered right hand, softly chanting a Holy Word while tracing the mark of the Command Spells with his own hand. At his small ministration, the darkened Command Spells immediately regained their light and returned to the previous shape of three marks.
“Did I not already tell you? Kariya. I accepted the duty of Supervisor, so I have the right to redistribute the Command Spells in safekeeping of the Church at will.
Kariya was unable to surmise the other’s true intentions; he regarded Kirei unabashedly, then glanced with a sigh at his own Servant.
The large silhouette standing behind him was Rider, King of Conquerors, Alexander. Whether it was the crimson mantle or the curly red hair, or the burly physique—everything was the same as the driver of the chariot that had sped out of Fuyuki City with Saber. The only difference was the pair of eerie, blood-red eyes radiating resentment… Undoubtedly, this was a characteristic unique to a Mad Enhanced Servant.
Wrapped in his thickset arms was the slender body of Irisviel, who had lost consciousness and was still in a coma. This ‘Rider’ was the true culprit who had kidnapped the ‘Guardian of the Holy Grail’ from the underground storage that Maiya protected, and had also lured Saber to give chase toward Shinto.
“… That is enough, Berserker.”
Kariya nodded. The large body of the King of Conquerors turned into a pitch-black fog as if burnt, then reverted to the armored figure filled with an ominous air. The dark energy that imitated Rider’s appearance twined about his hands and legs, obscuring small parts of the black armor.
Seeing Berserker returned to his original form, Kirei said as if groaning.
“This sort of transformation ability… It is truly wasted as a Noble Phantasm of Berserker’s level.
“This guy initially had the ability to transform into many other Heroic Spirits that had won merit in military exploits for other people. Because of the Mad Enhancement, it has been reduced to the ability of ‘imitation’.”
The black fog that twined about Berserker’s entire body was originally a Noble Phantasm that had the purpose of not only hiding his visage, but also of mimicking any person in order to deceive enemies’ ears and eyes. Ever since Berserker had been stripped of his rationality, this ability could not be brought into play. Kariya had forced this ability to manifest through the power of the Command Spells and made it possible to disguise Berserker as a fake Rider. But this ability could only be used once.
Berserker stared after the light of Saber’s motorcycle headlights moving gradually further away into the east, his gaze full of hatred. A bone-deep hatred caused his shoulders to shake ceaselessly, the armor chafing with a creaking sound, but he did not do anything else out of the ordinary. That was due to the binding of the ultimate command, the second Command Spell that Kariya had used—“capture Irisviel, and let Saber escape”.
In order to make Berserker, who had an unusual stubbornness when it came to Saber, follow his own instruction, it was necessary to restrict him with a forceful command.
For Berserker, it appeared that those shackles were extremely difficult to endure. Although his task was now complete, the black knight seemed like a mechanical part that had malfunctioned; his limbs continuously convulsed, stubbornly resisting this command.
Kariya felt a chill run down his back at Berserker’s willfulness. As Berserker fell into a state of uncontrollability, Kariya forcefully cut off the prana connection with him. Having lost the prana that sustained his form in this world, the Servant immediately reverted to spirit form and the body of Irisviel, losing its support, was violently thrown to the rooftop floor. On impact, the sleeping homunculus gave a soft groan of pain, but nevertheless did not open her eyes. Since being forcefully kidnapped from the Magic Circle in which she had rested, Irisviel’s awareness had become even thinner.
“Is this woman really the ‘Vessel of the Holy Grail’?”
“To be precise, it is this homunculus. If one or two more Servants are finished, then it will probably show its true form… I will prepare the ritual to receive the Grail as it descends. Until that time, let this woman also be temporarily under my protection.”
The robed man picked up the weak body of the woman; Kariya wordlessly communicated his question with his eyes.
Kirei noticed his gaze and replied as before, with a leisurely and self-satisfied smile.
“Don’t worry. I will give you the Grail as per our agreement. Because I have no need to pursue that wish-granting machine.”
“Before that, you seem to also have promised me another thing, Father.”
“Ah, that thing… Of course there is no problem. You just have to come to the church at midnight tonight. I will make the preparation for you to meet Tohsaka Tokiomi then.”
Exactly what did this priest intend? — It made Kariya’s heart very troubled to not be able to discern his true intention all this time.
Though Kotomine Kirei had once been a disciple under Tohsaka Tokiomi, for the sake of participating in the Heaven’s Feel he had split ways and become a Master—a hypocrite. But from the perspective of the Matou family that had also participated in the previous Heaven’s Feel, the collusion between the Tohsaka house and the Church had long been known. In this case, it was also obvious without needing to be said that this son of the Supervisor, who was also an Executor of the Church, had summoned Assassin as Tokiomi’s lackey.
At noon today, Kirei had actually come running all of a sudden to knock on the door of the Matou house, saying that he hoped to discuss the establishment an alliance. According to him, the responsibility for Supervisor Kotomine Risei’s death fell on Tohsaka; as the man’s son it was necessary for him to avenge his father, and so he wished to use the hand of the Matous to kill Tokiomi.
Although Kariya knew that this intention was suspicious, the conditions laid out by Kotomine Kirei were truly too alluring to him.
This man had not only planned to trap Tokiomi, but also investigated the location in which Einzbern, protector of the ‘Vessel of the Grail’, was hiding and secretly succeeded the right to safekeep the Command Spells as Supervisor; it could be said that he held the most important trump card to the latter half of the Heaven’s Feel.
To Kariya, holding the ticking time bomb known as Berserker, isolated and unable to trust even his own kin, Kirei’s assistance was greater than an army of thousands; his heart was immediately grounded. However, the condition was that he had to trust everything that this man Kotomine Kirei said.
Kotomine Kirei could ensure that the homunculus of the Einzbern family was in his hands. He even generously replenished his consumed Command Spells… But even thus, Kariya was unable to completely trust this priest whose smile surfaced as leisurely and self-satisfied.
The attitude of this man was truly too relaxed. Perhaps it was due to the confidence brought about by the secret he held, which was the most important deciding factor. But if he were only to look at it thus simply—that indicated that he had no sense of danger in the face of battle, or a sense of anxiety in needing to consider tactics.
If it were absolutely necessary to describe, that smile was closer to that of an excited child playing a game. In the name of betraying his benefactor to avenge his father, this man had formed an alliance with him. It was very obvious that this man found great joy in this sort of situation…
“It will be too suspicious if both of us appear at the same time. Kariya, why don’t you go back first?”
“… And you?”
“I still have some small things to do… Don’t forget, Kariya. Tonight at midnight, your wish shall be accomplished there.”
The priest seemed to be even more concerned over the whole affair than Kariya himself, reminding Kariya again in a voice filled with anticipation.
Kariya once again regarded his smile with a suspicious gaze, then slowly turned around and walked toward the rooftop staircase.
Without the slightest carelessness, Kotomine Kirei listened closely to his ally’s footsteps moving into the distance. After confirming that the sound of footsteps had entirely disappeared—he again moved to a corner of the rooftop and shifted his gaze to a pile of discarded material covered by many sheets of water-resistant material.
“… I have already sent him away. I don’t know who you are, but isn’t it about time you revealed yourself?”
This voice carried an authority that did not permit compromise. After a period of silence, a hair-raising and suppressed laughter rang out, seeping into the icy night air.
“Oh, already noticed, have you? Indeed, you are worthy of being an Executor who has experienced battle. Much more sensitive than that kid Kariya."
From the darkness appeared a shadow without definite form. At first glance Kirei had even thought that it was a large pile of worms, a collection that would send a chill through anyone—but the bright moonlight immediately chased away this misconception; it was an old man, thin and small of stature, that quietly walked out.
“Executor, you have no need to worry. I am not your enemy. I am the kin of that kid who is cooperating with you.”
Since he named himself thus—in Kirei’s heart surfaced a suitable person.
“Matou Zōken… is it not?”
“Indeed. You even know my name. It seems that Tohsaka instructs his disciples well.”
The old magus quirked a corner of the lips deeply hidden in wrinkles, revealing an inhuman smile.
The thickness of the darkness spread about the mountain road was already incomparable to that of evening; it seemed that it was already night.
In the darkness that was black as ink, you would not see your hand in front of your face. The brilliance of the headlights ripped apart this patch of darkness. Saber was still driving the steel beast as if her life depended on it.
She had traveled this path when escorting Einzbern out of the city. When they had left, it had been Irisviel driving; returning, it was Saber who tightly gripped the steering wheel of the Mercedes-Benz, sure of the road. Though it was only two times that they had come and gone, it was enough for Saber. Her memory was above average; be it the width of the road or the angle of inclination or even when to make a turn, she could clearly recall it all.
Saber saw that Rider’s ‘Gordius Wheel’ had only just descended from high in the air and landed somewhere far away. For some unknown reason, the King of Conquerors had not continued to flee, but had landed on the ground, seemingly intending to respond to Saber’s challenge of having a competition of riding skills on the ground.
His air of heroism seemed not to be miscible with his sneak tactic of kidnapping Irisviel, but perhaps this was exactly the conflict between Rider and his Master. The actions of Servants restricted by the contract often brought about many contradictory results; this was not surprising.
This was exactly the personal experience that Saber herself had gained through her conflict with Emiya Kiritsugu.
It made Saber very happy that Rider could make a decision based on his own agenda in this final battleground. Between these two fast-moving riders, Kiritsugu had no way of interfering even if he wanted to. To Saber, this was something she wanted very much.
The key of the problem lay somewhere else—the vibration of the handlebars she was tightly gripping sent a message of danger.
As a man-made machine, the V-MAX had already fully manifested all of its ability. What was sad was that what was driving ahead was a quick-moving Noble Phantasm that transcended normality. Although the V-MAX was already being towed along by its rider Saber’s internal prana, the strength of its material composition and structure was definitely limited.
The engine and acceleration system, which from the city to here had been continuously used to their greatest capacity, were already showing signs of breaking down. Saber’s excellent driving allowed her to be aware of this vehicle’s internal situation as well as she would have known an extension of her own physical body. It was already possible to clearly hear the dejected cry of almost having reached its limit.
“It’ll be terrible if this goes on…”
There would be nothing more to say if she were to decelerate in consideration of the vehicle’s burden, but if it were necessary to force the motorcycle to continue at its high speed, this vehicle would fall apart within a few minutes. If no measures were taken to strengthen the innate capability of the vehicle…
Saber herself had difficulty judging the feasibility of the plan that had momentarily flashed into her mind, but there was no way to hesitate further. Saber made up her mind and entrusted everything to all the possibilities that had been given to her as a Servant.
The full-body platinum armor that she wore while fighting— she now intended not to put the armor on her own body, but to fuse it with the body of the V-MAX through intense psychokinesis. The concept was similar to the armor that protected beloved horses on the battlefield. With the sense of unity of riding as the mainstay, this time she must definitely turn this steel beast that could not speak into her own limbs…
Her prana continuously being released, the various important parts of the V-MAX that could ensure maximum speed of movement were completely covered and protected; the flexible and strong armor increased the capability of the motorcycle.
“—This is great!”
Though this usage was unexpected, Saber’s great skill made this difficult task possible. The entire structure of the V-MAX was wrapped in brand-new silver armor, beautiful and majestic to behold. This hard structure of the vehicle was in no way inferior to that monstrous, extraordinarily strong horsepower; this time, the mechanical lion had finally become a real magical beast. The exhaust pipe thundered.
Saber released the Invisible Air like an arrow directly in front of her, completely covering the body of the vehicle. Using the compression of the pneumatic umbrella to decrease air resistance to zero, the V-MAX was finally released from air resistance.
The needle of the speedometer was already damaged and could not be used. Saber’s prana had caused the rushing vehicle to transcend the laws of physics; already the speed was more than 400 kilometers per hour. The pressure released by the magecraft pressed the rear wheel firmly against the cement; even when making turns, Saber did not release the throttle and turned the body of the vehicle round by force.
Like this, it might even be possible— it made Saber extremely excited to have captured this thread of victory through so much effort.
The distance from the ‘Gordius Wheel’ in front gradually shortened. Originally it had looked like only a point of light, but now it was already possible to clearly see the entire likeness of the thundering vehicle that was releasing lightning bolts and also turning at high speeds.
On the other side, Waver, who had been sitting in the charioteer’s seat since having touched down, was constantly watching the rear. Seeing the brilliance from the headlights of the motorcycle that was suddenly approaching, he could not help but hold his breath; he tugged at Rider’s cape.
“Rider, at this rate they will catch up to us! Eh, idiot, look out behind!”
Hearing Waver’s frantic voice, Rider snorted. As a Heroic Spirit who had appeared in this world and gained the throne of Rider, even without turning back he could clearly feel the presence of Saber gradually closing in.
“This fellow, Saber. On the account that she can catch up just using that gizmo, I cannot but praise her. On the other hand…”
Rider roared, the corner of his lips twisting, showing the smile that had always seemed somewhat sinister.
“Sorry, but this is a war chariot. Now I can no longer play nicely in this game of competing speeds with you!”
Then Rider slid the enormous structure of the car to the side, arriving at the side of the road.
On the two sides of ‘Gordius Wheel’ whose dimensions were greater than an ordinary truck were fixed two large, fiercely curved sickles. On the two sides of the national highway on which Rider was now speeding were dense forests that almost covered the path. If the wheels of the chariot were moved to the very edge of the paved road, then the blade of the sickle would definitely pass into the lush green forest—
“So, Saber, pursue me from behind!”
The electrified wheels of the chariot crushed the forest as easily as if it were cutting through paper; Rider had begun a brutal deforestation.
Though the tree trunks were all very thick, for the sharp sickles flying at 400 kilometers an hour, it was as easy as sawing wood. The tree trunks that had been instantaneously broken all snapped back and were swept into the air. The sight was like shredding wood shavings, only it was a nightmare a few hundred times more majestic.
Seeing this tremendous scene of destruction, Saber could not help but hold her breath.
The trees that had been swept up into the air descended like rain upon their target, which was obviously the head of Saber who was catching up from behind. To say nothing of being directly hit—at this speed, even if the steering wheel should be gently brushed across, it would be a matter of life and death.
Deceleration—was impossible. This was not a test that could be avoided just by retreating. The only path of survival was to rush on forward.
Saber made up her mind; after making thorough mental preparation, she rushed into the rain of continuously falling trees without any timidity whatsoever.
These things fell toward the ground like an avalanche. The V-MAX advanced forward in a twisting manner like a snake, passing through narrow spaces. Saber thought that braking to make the motorcycle stop was an act of stupidity, so not only did she not decelerate, she also made use of the momentum from acceleration to make the front wheel leave the ground, relying only on the rear wheel to maintain balance and performing the consummate stunt of controlling the driving of a motorcycle using magecraft alone. That beautiful one-wheeled dance incited Waver to stare, completely forgetting his fear; on Rider’s face also appeared a very satisfied smile.
“Hahahahaha! Fabulous! Indeed the King of Knights of consummate dignity! Only you are worthy to be named flower of the battlefield!”
Laughing, Rider continued to deftly slide the chariot from side to side, closing in on the next object to be cut down.
“Here I come again—next up after the trees is a rain of stones!”
The next prey of the sickles was surprisingly the solid asphalt and concrete that covered the surface of the road. Rock had a density and hardness much greater than tree trunks. But the sickles nevertheless mercilessly crushed them to rubble, sending them flying in all directions like droplets, blocking Saber’s way.
A fatal baptism of rocks much more lethal than tree trunks. But— Saber stared ahead, moving forward bravely, the corners of her mouth suddenly showing an undefeatable smile.
“King of Conquerors, you underestimate me!”
Rocks were more dangerous than tree trunks only when first assuming that they must ‘hit’. If she could dodge it all, then it would make no difference even if it were raining rockets or bullets. Saber entrusted the last hope of victory to the V-MAX which she completely trusted, using valiant and yet beautifully skilled riding ability to pass through the gaps between the stone and concrete.
On the other side, sweeping the surface of the road with its large sickles, Rider’s war chariot had already lost its ability to accelerate. The concrete was much more difficult to cut through than tree trunks and was an obstructing force to the divine bulls, one that could not be overlooked.
Saber’s sixth sense predicted the arrival of a divine opportunity for victory. From then on, the priority was to pass through the next few successive tests safe and unharmed; there would definitely be a chance to rise again from death— A large concrete slab that had broken off the surface of the road obstructed the path of the V-MAX. The large flat stone slab, measuring more than two meters in both length and breadth, was just like a stone screen.
Facing the blocked path right ahead of her, Saber’s gaze was unwavering; driving the V-MAX forward, she raised Invisible Air over the edge.
Along with her roar, the clump of air pressure—which had the momentum to sweep away an army of thousands and was supported by the release of prana – impacted heavily on the top of the stone slab; the slab, which looked as if it must weigh at least several tons, was easily flung into the air. It completely defied the laws of physics that the slender wrist of a young girl could carry out such a grand feat; this was the godly skill transcending normalcy that only a Servant could possess.
Spinning rapidly in midair, the stone slab fell forward along the fatal parabola, aligned exactly with the top of the war chariot in front. Hearing Waver’s terrible scream, Rider turned his head. Raising his sword, he stared wide-eyed at the rock over his head.
As if saying ‘In a competition of strength I will definitely not lose to you’, Rider boldly brandished the bronze sword level with the stone slab. The slab’s trajectory was once again changed, spinning even more wildly in midair. At last it fell down like a boomerang, embedding itself deeply in the surface of the road behind the chariot.
Seeing this scene, Saber’s entire body was electrified by a revelation.
The concrete slab embedded into the asphalt road surface—the smooth side facing the sky, it was embedded diagonally into the ground at an angle of slightly more than thirty degrees. It was like a key that foretold the presence of victory.
“Now is a good time—“
Under the thumb of her right hand, which was tightly gripping the steering wheel, was a button that she had always been acutely conscious of. Saber drove the V-MAX with extraordinary riding skill; though she did not know that button’s ‘function’, she did know that button’s ‘effect’. That was the deepest secret hidden within this horse of steel, and also the most powerful trump card.
Without the slightest hesitation, Saber pressed down on the red button; the two-wheeled beast let out a provoked roar.
Within the interior of the rapidly rotating engine, inside the valve that had switched to atomization mode and filled with oxide fuel, the nitrogenous oxide expanded under the high temperature of 300 degrees Celsius and reached the boundaries of its limit. The V-MAX, suddenly increasing acceleration twofold, sped forward; this could only be called rapid acceleration. Saber used a great deal of strength to control the body of the vehicle; her target was a slope that had just appeared before her eyes.
The front wheel had already moved onto the concrete slab which was giving out creaking sounds resembling screams. Then the body of the vehicle was propelled upward; the force of the madly spinning rear wheel suspended it in the air. Even the restriction of gravity had been broken, as it flew high into the air—
To Rider, this was definitely a surprise attack that he had not anticipated. Complacently flying his Noble Phantasm in midair, he had not at all expected that the enemy would appear right above his head.
Taking advantage of the lapse as the chariot slowed, due to a great acceleration from the V-MAX’s turbocharger, as well as having made a springboard of the slope that had come about only through coincidence, Saber found Rider’s weak spot at last.
And this position above the enemy’s head was one of absolute advantage in crossing blades. This was indeed the grace of the goddess of victory given to the sword-wielding Heroic Spirit; this time was a chance of certain victory.
Invisible Air, which had been lifted as if she gambled everything with this one blow — slowed slightly with hesitation at that time.
Rider raised his own blade to block. The blades that clashed together—considering only power, Saber should have had a greater chance of victory due to the advantage of her position; however, the outcome was an even match. Invisible Air could not break past Rider’s defenses, and had at last been deflected away.
There was no opportunity for the swords to clash again, not between Gordius Wheel and the V-MAX which had fallen. Saber let off the speed that had been increased by the instantaneous prana release, sustaining the balance of the vehicle in midair only with great difficulty; as the rear wheel touched the ground, all the force of impact was absorbed by the rubber tire and suspension.
Thus was an excellent opportunity to seize victory lost in vain, but Saber’s unease was for another reason.
“Einzbern is not here?!”
There was no mistake. In the instant that the V-MAX had leaped, she had seen that in the charioteer’s seat of Gordius Wheel, aside from the driver Rider there was only his Master.
In that case, then where had Irisviel, who had been kidnapped from the underground storage, gone?
Saber braked with all her strength, restraining the vehicle that weighed more than 300 kilograms. The tires skidded on the surface of the ground, stopping the violent revolutions of the two wheels. All this time, she had pursued Rider without the slightest hesitation, but now the clouds of doubt surfaced in her chest.
Exactly where was Rider’s destination as he moved?
From the city street he had moved east to pass through the national highway… His final destination was the Einzbern forest.
Rider had already walked this path once, holding a bottle of wine. After kidnapping Irisviel, why would he specifically choose an escape route that led to the enemy’s territory?
Feeling a chill that made her restless, Saber gritted her teeth.
What if this was not an escape?
And how would the Master of Rider have known about the underground cellar at Miyama—yes, it was basically impossible for him to have known. Rider’s camp had not in fact known that the Einzberns had changed their location. He had definitely thought that Saber and the rest had still been in that forested citadel, and so had, in the middle of the night, driven his chariot in midair in a blind rush there.
In that case, then who was it that had attacked Maiya and kidnapped Irisviel in the underground storage?
The truth was still unclear, but now an intense premonition rushed forth into Saber’s heart that she had been tricked. That feeling made her restless. While Saber had been pursuit Rider, the culprit that had set Rider up might be fleeing with Irisviel even now.
She could not stay here any longer. She needed to return to Shinto as quickly as possible to search for Irisviel.
And yet—though this judgment was entirely accurate, Saber did not move. There was a tense aura about her body, like the rising wind that heralds a coming storm; no useless action was allowed. She gazed upon the danger before her eyes, taking her stance and preparing to go all out at any time.
About a hundred meters away, Rider’s chariot also slowed to a stop. And it had reversed the direction that it was facing, too. All this time, it had moved straight forward to let Saber trail in its dust, but now it actually turned around; the eyes of the two divine bulls, as well as their master the King of Conquerors, were filled with a feeling of the joy of battle; he looked upon Saber with a captivating gaze.
There was no need to guess. Rider’s intentions were very obvious—he intended to fight.
From his eyes could not be seen the slightest shadow of deception or scheming; he had truly been set up. The fires of rage burned in the eyes of the King of Conquerors as if demonstrating his might and saying ‘No matter how you may stab me, I will return it in equal measure’.
If Rider had moved east because he had the intention to challenge Saber, then his situation was different from that of Saber who had been led into a trap; he was in no way opposed to the current situation.
Precisely because of this, if she were to ignore the problem of Rider and return to Fuyuki City, this would mean that she would be victim to Rider’s attack from behind while she was completely unprepared.
She could only make an immediate decision now—it was a moment with no room to choose, in which she must quickly make her choice.
The small hands of hers that gripped the hilt of her sword suddenly gave out a creaking sound.
Waver huddled on the charioteer’s seat of the Gordius Wheel; he could feel that the fighting spirit of Rider, who stood beside him, had already reached its peak.
The target of the King of Conquerors was definitely ahead of him by a hundred or so meters: Saber, riding on the large motorcycle, staring in this direction with a serious expression.
She had chased Rider fervently from Shinto till here; why would she suddenly stop now? But Rider, upon seeing that his pursuer had stopped, did not take the opportunity to flee and widen the distance, but instead immediately turned the chariot around and pull it to a halt, as if intending to have a face-to-face confrontation. It stood to reason that this was a matter of course. Because to have a showdown with Saber had been Rider’s intention from the start. If the other had given up the pursuit, then it would be necessary for this side to take the initiative.
But—although Waver was not yet very mature, he still bore the burden of being a Master; feeling restless and uneasy, he could not help but bite his lip.
This distance, and this position, was all terrible.
Saber’s Noble Phantasm, which had taken the life of Caster at Mion River—ever since witnessing the ‘Sword of Promised Victory’, the war situation in front of him was clear at a glance. This was a straight road that was not obstructed by anything. There was no worry that unrelated people could be affected. Both sides were still as they stared at each other—without a doubt, the current situation was a uniquely advantageous condition for Saber’s Noble Phantasm.
Small things of this magnitude would not have gone unnoticed by war veteran Rider. He had also witnessed the might of Saber’s Noble Phantasm at Mion River. Although his judgment was more often based on emotion than reason, in matters of war strategy, this Servant would definitely not judge wrongly.
If, at this moment, the mechanical energy of the Gordius Wheel had been manifested at the largest capacity possible, perhaps it would have even been possible to evade for a time. But for some unknown reason, Rider just had to abandon the advantage he had in leg power and choose instead to confront Saber directly.
“Nn. Even if it is to you, my Master, I must first make this clear.”
As if seeing through Waver’s doubt, Rider surfaced an irrepressible smile; nevertheless, his gaze never shifted from Saber as he said to the youth beside him.
“From now on, I will put aside my thoughts of winning the Grail; I intend to raise the stakes. If you wish to use a Command Spell to stop me, then perhaps now is the time?”
Because he knew the haughty personality of this Servant, he could understand his intention.
A rational Master would definitely use the power of the Command Spell to stop him; the Servant himself knew this well, too, but he wished to act recklessly anyway. Was this the case?
“You… are you really going to initiate the attack? From this angle? Rush straight over?”
“That sword of light that we saw at the riverside. When Saber has taken her stance and is preparing to use it, we shall see if my Gordius Wheel can use the time lapse to cross this distance. This is what we are contesting.”
Waver’s expression changed drastically; he began to recalculate the distance between both sides.
It would be just in time; this was so alarmingly dangerous.
Comparing the time he remembered it would take Saber to activate her Noble Phantasm and the acceleration power of Rider’s Noble Phantasm... No matter what angle he looked at it, it was very difficult to guess at the final result. The distance across which the two confronted each other was really very opportune.
“… How sure are you of victory? Rider?”
The King of Conquerors replied with a dignified air, in a tone that was nevertheless very relaxed. To one who managed military affairs, this statistic was not in fact very optimistic.
If the chance of victory was half, then the chance of failure was also half. It was as absurd as flipping a coin to decide between life and death. This sort of thing was definitely not worth being called a ‘strategy’. If one absolutely had to name it something, then it could only be called ‘the stratagem of gambling with one’s life’. Only under conditions in which there was no other way out would one adopt such foolish action.
“Why do you want to… act irresponsibly like this?”
“Precisely because it is acting irresponsibly, therefore.”
The Servant said softly, showing a somewhat sinister smile; his eyes were filled with the belief in victory— while gazing fixedly upon an uncertain future of which he was only fifty percent assured.
“If a challenge is made under conditions like this when both sides are evenly matched, then the side that loses will definitely be left with no excuses or face. This is the true ‘ultimate defeat’. I don’t actually think that that the sword of that girl who’s always trying to show off her cleverness can use this opportunity to bring me down. If I can completely defeat her in this way, then perhaps this time she will feel fear at her own incompetence, and from then on become my subordinate and serve me.”
Waver furrowed his brow; he could only sigh. There were truly no words that could be said.
In the end, it was only thus. Compared to the war centered around the Holy Grail, they placed even greater importance on the open and aboveboard competition between themselves as Heroic Spirits.
“…You... want to win against Saber so much that you are willing to do something like this?“
“Mn, indeed, I would like that very much.”
Rider nodded his head without the slightest hesitation.
“On the battlefield, she is certainly a star on earth. Rather than letting her make those jokes about whether or not she is actually an ideal king, it is better that she emit true light as a subordinate under me.”
This despot had defeated countless nobility and war generals; ignoring their power and wealth, he had obtained their ‘souls’.
It was for this reason that people called him the King of Conquerors.
He did not eliminate the enemy, nor belittle them; he subdued a standing opponent—this was what he thought was the true form of victory.
What right had one who relied only on the Grail to connect and establish a contract to be concerned with whether this was right or wrong?
“… Forget it, Rider. If you can win by your methods, then that’s okay too.”
Waver had given up; exhaling frustratedly, he threw out such a sentence.
This was not a case of sending the helve after the hatchet. To Rider, whose prana had been replenished through a day of rest, this was an excellent opportunity to make a challenge; it was an opportunity that would definitely not come again. No one could guarantee that the next time he confronted Saber, his physical condition would be better than this.
In that case, instead of believing in a statistical chance of victory, it was better to place his bet on Rider’s fighting spirit.
Compared to attempting to convince the King of Conquerors through logical reasoning, it was better to let him do things on his own grounds—it was precisely that transcendent personality that was afraid of neither heaven nor earth that perhaps formed a chance of victory one could believe in.
Waver’s expression was serious, as if having said these many reasons in order to convince himself. Rider maintained a confident smile.
“Hehe, kid, you seem to be starting to understand this idea of ‘supremacy’.”
His confidence was not hollow. Though he had said that it was a large gamble, Rider himself had full confidence in his victory.
“Light is at the other end of the world—conquer! Via Expugnatio: Distant Trampling Domination!”
The true name of that which had finally been released, the chariot drawn by divine bulls from which lightning suddenly burst forth. The majestic braying of the divine bulls under whose feet Berserker had been trampled in the first battle could never compare to this.
“—Let the wind come!”
Seeing her opponent rush towards her, Saber also hurriedly pulled out her sword under the protection of the air pressure.
Opening the vortex of the hurricane, a golden light shone forth as if to show the kingship of the knight; prana was continuously roiling.
Accompanying Rider’s roar, the bulls stamped hard once on the asphalt ground; their cloven hooves rushed forward like raging billows. Waver, though overwhelmed by their majesty, nevertheless made an utmost effort to open his eyes wide, so as not to pass out again like the last time. At the fore was a very strong anti-city Noble Phantasm about to be released; in order to gain the initiative, Rider rushed as if his life depended on it, definitely unwilling to give up an opportunity to defeat Saber.
The King of Conquerors’ direct attack sent a shiver down Saber’s spine. By the rushing of the divine bulls, the hundred-meter distance had instantaneously been decreased to zero. In the blink of an eye, the might of Gordius Wheel manifested before her eyes.
If the hilt of her precious sword had still been in her hand, then she would definitely have been certain of victory; facing the golden radiance that Rider raised, there was only one thing that she could shout out, one true name.
In the moment that the rushing incarnation of thunder was about to trample upon Saber’s small frame—
Golden lightning, as if radiating countless comets, made the night as bright as day.
Waver’s gaze was drawn by this, dazzled by this, and he could not help but turn around—within the intense attack, he rationalized extremely calmly and realized one thing.
He had personally witnessed the light of Saber’s Noble Phantasm, and that meant… the result was that, before the Gordius Wheel had reached its final step, the King of Knights had taken the first step to initiate her attack.
But even thus, the touch of the thickset arm that extended all the way to his shoulder nevertheless did not disappear.
To be aware of one’s own defeat at the same time indicated the truth that one was still alive and clearheadedly conscious.
Waver gingerly opened his eyes and saw the appalling condition of the battlefield.
Due to Excalibur's blow, the surface of the road had instantly been burned away; even the forest a little way away had been instantly blown to waste. The road was scarred, carved in the likeness of a single straight line. The molten asphalt gave off a revolting stench; it was extremely pungent. Waver felt as if his body was floating through the universe… no, carried by a strong man on his shoulders. Who was it that carried his young Master like a small luggage bag— it was not necessary to ask to know.
“Ah… we’ve failed.”
Rider said softly, as if remorseful from the heart. But considering the current situation, it did seem like too much of an understatement.
It appeared that Rider was not hurt, either. But the chariot in which he rode, as well as the two divine bulls, had all vanished without a trace. The Noble Phantasm ‘Gordius Wheel’ had borne the might of the ‘Sword of Promised Victory’ and so had, like Caster’s sea monster, vanished and left no trace, not even a speck of dust.
In the moment at which he had bordered the line of death, Rider, who had understood his failure, had quickly plucked Waver from the charioteer’s seat and narrowly escaped from under the attack of the anti-city Noble Phantasm. It could really be said that the two had cheated death. But the price was high enough. The flying chariot, which Rider had used as his main weapon all this time, had at the last minute gone up in smoke.
But this was not yet over—using his will to fight, Waver immediately chased away his frustration at failure. Even if the ‘Gordius Wheel’ had been taken away, the King of Conquerors still had one last real trump card.
“Rider! Use ‘Ionian Hetairoi’—“
Toward Waver who spoke thus, Rider lightly but very firmly shook his head. The King of Conquerors seemed to not yet intend to dismiss his foresight regarding the latter half of the war, which he had come up with while resting. If Saber was his opponent, it was best to use the chariot. As for the summoning of the Hetairoi, which could only be activated once, it was necessary to save it for the showdown with Archer later.
But no matter how physically strong and unwilling to admit defeat Rider was, to engage in a battle of blades without mechanical force was clearly a definitively advantageous position for Saber. Though the build of the two were vastly different, this was a battle between Servants that transcended normalcy. Though Saber looked weak, she had a monstrous fighting ability; from the battles so far, Waver had long since become aware of this.
Very obviously, Rider understood her strength well. But the King of Conquerors still did not look at all afraid; he confronted Saber open and aboveboard by raising his sword, without the slightest indication of retreat.
In this closely matched staring competition, it was Saber who lost first.
She slid the sword wrapped in windstorms back into its sheath, then released the throttle and slid the rear wheel around to turn the vehicle, speeding away with her back to Rider.
Saber did not show off her weakness to Rider at all; at the same time she was moving the rear wheel, she also quickly accelerated, leaving behind only a tremendous roar of exhaust and moving quickly in the direction of Fuyuki City in one breath.
To Waver and Rider, this was certainly unexpected; now Saber needed to quickly search for Irisviel and had no time for a showdown with Rider. She needed to find the culprit who had led her to clash with Rider, then snatch Irisviel back from that person; for this goal, even if she had to throw aside the showdown with Rider, she needed to retreat as soon as possible.
In the blink of an eye she had disappeared from sight, leaving only the roar of a motorcycle that was moving away. Waver and Rider stood there stupefied, listening to the sound of the motorcycle. Rider, who had been listening intensely to the sound of the exhaust, nodded, showing a knowing expression.
“A motorcycle… Nn, it is truly a good thing.”
“—You—after being defeated, this is really the first thing you have to say?”
In the aftermath of battle, all the strength had drained out of Waver’s body; angrily questioning Rider, he suddenly became aware of an important problem and became dismayed.
“Hey, Rider—how are we ever going to get back?”
“Ah, that… We shall have to walk.”
In the darkness, Waver gazed upon Shinto which shone with light in the distance, and sighed heavily.
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