Chapter 22: Noble Phantasms and heritages
One afternoon, Illya and Rin met at the Tohsaka mansion to practice Magecraft. Since it was becoming late and they still wished to spend some time just talking, the white-haired girl called her guardian and asked her if she could stay over for the night. Knowing that she did not have anything to wear as pyjama, Arturia offered to bring her some clothes. There was a short silence as Illya whispered something with Rin, and then her ward happily told her that she was very welcome to come to sleep there as well. Arturia accepted the invitation, suppressing a smile at the girls’ antics.
She packed a few items for Illya and herself and went to the Tohsaka mansion. She was unsurprised at finding the King of Heroes there, too.
He and Rin had not exactly become… close, but the black-haired girl obviously respected him and he did not seem to mind her company too much.
A few days earlier, Arturia had gently enquired with Rin about what had happened the day she had been crying – and she had been told that Gilgamesh had offered her silent comfort. The thought had warmed the King of Knights’s heart.
His presence there at the mansion was in fact a good thing, because Arturia had a few things she needed to discuss with him and she preferred to do it directly rather than over the phone.
The four of them had dinner together, and then Rin and Illya went to the former’s bedroom, where they had taken another mattress so they could ‘sleep’ in the same room… most likely talk the whole night. Arturia would have probably objected to that plan if the following day had not been a Sunday and they had not been able sleep in.
The two kings remained in the living room, sipping on their favourite beverages, talking quite comfortably to each other. The conversation ended up on Noble Phantasms, especially the most powerful ones.
They talked about Berserker’s Knight of Honour ability, which could turn everything he touched into his Noble Phantasm, then they mentioned Rider’s Reality Marble, Ionioi Hetaroi, which was the embodiment of his great capabilities as a leader.
Gilgamesh was then quite matter-of-fact when he talked about Ea.
“When there is a stage worthy of using its power, nothing can even hope to resist against Ea.”
Arturia seemed to hesitate for a second.
“Something could,” she replied.
Before he could do more than just look at her with a raised eyebrow, completely unconvinced, she added, “My third Noble Phantasm… Avalon.”
He seemed mildly curious. Since she had to talk with him about other things that had to do with it, she began to explain.
“Avalon is the sheath of my sword… Excalibur. It was stolen during my lifetime and lost over the centuries. The Einzberns found it and used it as a catalyst to summon me as a Servant.”
She paused for a second, collecting her thoughts.
“I have come to suspect that it was then put inside Irisviel to help keep her alive until the time in which she had to become the Grail’s vessel.”
She remembered how fast the woman had been healing after having been gravely injured against Kirei, and how she had even had enough energy to help Maiya recover. At the time, she had simply accepted that the medical abilities of the Einzberns were greater than she had thought, but the truth had not been so simple. She continued in her explanation.
“Avalon is a very powerful defence Noble Phantasm. It has, among other things, great healing abilities, but since I am its owner, it works at its full potential when I am near it or the one to use it.”
Gilgamesh was silent for a while. He had never heard of a powerful defence Noble Phantasm, but it made sense that, if it existed, she was the one to possess it. Since he was the Heroic Spirit with the strongest attack weapon, it was only right that she was the Heroic Spirit with the strongest defence weapon. Even if he still doubted that a simple sheath could have enough power to withstand Ea.
There was something that she had not explained, though, and he proceeded to ask her that question.
“After the woman died, what happened to Avalon?”
Arturia took a deep breath. They were nearing the subject she wanted to discuss with him.
“I did not know… until today.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I received a sealed envelope from Kiritsugu’s will… he had given dispositions to have it sent to me, but only a certain period after his death.”
She looked slightly uncomfortable.
“He has left me a short letter. In a very formal but direct way, he thanks me for taking care of Illya, and then says he felt it his duty to inform me of Avalon’s fate, since it technically belongs to me.”
Looking the King of Heroes in the eye, she continued, “He used it the night in which the Fourth Grail War ended, to save the life of a boy he later adopted. And today it is still inside him.”
Gilgamesh’s eyes narrowed.
Kiritsugu had put Avalon, apparently one of the strongest defence weapons in the world, inside that Shirou mongrel?! A dumb boy without even any magic capabilities?
What had that man been thinking?
“You should take back your Noble Phantasm, Arturia.”
She gave him a short nod.
“That is exactly what I want to do. We might have need for Avalon when the time comes for the Grail to be destroyed, and its power is still tied to me.”
He directed a strange expression towards her.
“Is that the only reason you want Avalon back?”
She looked at him questioningly. He raised an eyebrow at her.
“You are not concerned about the fact that that mongrel is undeservedly making use of your Noble Phantasm?”
Arturia rolled her eyes at him.
“Gilgamesh, Avalon was lost during my lifetime, therefore, even if it still counts as my Noble Phantasm, I can’t rightfully see it as mine. Aside from that, if it was what helped save an innocent life, why should I be upset about it?”
Before he could object again, she changed the subject.
“But Avalon’s whereabouts is not the only thing that Kiritsugu wrote in his will. He said that a few years ago, after the end of the war, he tried to go visit Illya in Germany and, when the Einzberns’ protective field did not allow him access, he took a few precautions against them.”
That was not enough to placate Gilgamesh’s irritation against the boy, but he decided to set it aside for the moment.
She went on, “Suspecting that another Grail War might happen in the future, he placed bombs all around the castle, set in a way so that in about twenty years they will blow up the place completely.”
That was more pleasant news for the King of Heroes. If the Einzberns ever tried to be sneaky or manipulative in any way…
“Interesting,” he said slowly, already with some ideas in mind.
He would have been reluctant to use his Noble Phantasms against those mongrels… but using bombs placed by the King of Knights’s former Master was something he found a good alternative. He had not forgotten the way Jubstacheit von Einzbern had insulted Arturia.
She could see the destructive direction his thoughts had taken, and deemed it wise not to ask anything about it. She cleared her throat lightly to get his attention again – even though, when she looked into his eyes, she realized she had never lost it in the first place.
“We will take that matter into consideration when we will go back to Germany… which will be quite soon, I presume, since almost enough time has passed.”
She seemed thoughtful.
“It’s been a little more than six and a half years since the end of the war. When it will be seven years, we will have to begin the ritual to destroy the Grail. I would like to settle the matter with the Einzberns swiftly, so that Illya will have a safe place to stay when that time comes.”
Gilgamesh did not have any comments to add to those words, so he simply looked at her.
Her expression turned a little grimmer.
“Speaking about the ritual… you already know that we will need a lot of mana to complete it. I have been stocking it inside the gems the Einzberns gave us – but I am worried because it might not be enough.”
Her eyes found his and held his gaze firmly.
“Technically, the mana equivalent of six Servants’ lives is needed for the ritual to start… but only five Servants are inside it. It might be that the Grail will try to claim another life to be properly summoned. And we will be the only two Servants around.”
The look in her eyes was troubled, and he knew why. It meant the either or both their lives were going to be in danger when they would be dealing with the Grail.
Not breaking their gaze, he spoke.
“The life of one of us might be needed to materialize that filthy cup.”
It was obvious. He had just stated a fact.
She did not look away from him, either, and her expression suddenly turned firm.
“I would never sacrifice you, Gilgamesh, and I would never even want to. I swear to you, I will not let you die.”
She would not allow his life to be taken if she could do anything about it.
The look in his eyes, however, became a glare.
“I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself, Arturia. Never.” His red eyes were burning on hers, and his voice was icy. “I have not been around you for almost seven years only to watch you throw your life away.” He leaned forward in the couch, eyes boring into her soul. “Do not presume that I will allow that.”
Even though she was taken aback at his intensity, she was not deterred.
“Gilgamesh, if a life is needed to complete the ritual, I will not let yours be taken! And if my own is what will make us able to rid this world of that corrupted chalice, then I will give it!”
Her green eyes were determined, but his red ones were even more resolute.
“You will not die while I’m with you, Arturia. On this, I will never compromise.”
The two kings glared daggers at each other, neither willing to give up and both stubborn enough to make the disagreement last for a long time, if not forever.
Their tenacity, however, was brusquely interrupted as there was a loud crash from the upper floor. Both of them immediately sat up, alert but still as regal as ever.
Two giggling girls came out of a half-burnt place that only held some vague resemblance to Rin’s bedroom.
It turned out that they had been practicing Magecraft, but since they were tired their aim had not been perfect – to say that they had missed completely would be more accurate – and they had ended up blowing up the room.
Gilgamesh scoffed at them and Arturia was strict in her scolding, mortifying the two girls, who apologized, feeling ashamed for their carelessness that could have destroyed the house. Softening her stern expression, Arturia took out a few blankets and suggested for the two girls to stay on the couches, which could be opened and made into beds. Excited, Rin and Illya quickly helped setting them, and then unexpectedly dragged both kings on them, too.
They enjoyed their time with the two adults, chatting animatedly until they fell asleep, more tired than what they realized.
The King of Knights gently tucked the blankets around the sleeping forms of the two girls and stood up to go take a look at the mess that was Rin’s – former – bedroom before going to sleep as well. As punishment, she would make sure that the following day, when they were properly rested, they would clean up everything.
Before she could leave the room, however, Gilgamesh’s hand shot out from nowhere and grabbed hers.
Surprised, she turned around to face him.
He was giving her a meaningful look, letting her know that he had not forgotten their earlier discussion, but he would not be insisting on it for the time being.
He smirked slightly.
“Inform me when you intend to go back to Germany. It will be… interesting.”
The following day, while the two girls cleaned up the destruction they had inflicted on Rin’s bedroom – without magic, as Arturia had sternly instructed – with Gilgamesh present as observer, the King of Knights went to the Emiya residence.
She found Shirou and Sakura together talking, the girl shy but dedicated and the boy oblivious but caring.
Arturia spent time with Taiga, not minding her chattiness, because she knew that the brown-haired woman, even if a bit weird, was a good person at heart. She made sure to stay quite late in the evening, until Shirou and Sakura had fallen asleep in one of the living rooms. It had happened a few times already, and the girl had permission to stay over.
Gently and quickly, Arturia used magic to extract Avalon from the sleeping form of the boy while Taiga was going around turning off the lights, and then she helped her closing all the windows and doors before taking her leave.
For the time being, the King of Knights kept Avalon sealed inside her own body, but she knew that, when they would go to Germany, she was going to put it inside Illya, to protect her against any possible threats coming from the Einzberns.
As soon as they had a morning together without school, Arturia sat down on a couch with Illya, to have a serious talk.
She explained that quite some time had passed since they had left Germany – a year and a half – and the moment had come to decide how to settle matters with the Einzbern family.
While in Japan, Illya had continued her studies with Arturia, a little bit with Rin and at the private school she had been attending. She had also met her adopted brother and had become friends with him, with Rin and with Sakura. She had enjoyed her time there, very much, and Arturia could only be happy about it.
The King of Knights knew that the girl would have very much liked to move to Japan permanently, and she would have had no objections, if there had been no threats to take care of.
However, there was one very problematic threat, and it was Jubstacheit. Arturia explained to Illya that his influence, even if it could not reach her directly, was not to be underestimated, and it was best if they neutralized him before he could prepare an attack. Furthermore, the girl’s Magecraft education had reached a very good level, and Arturia believed her to be ready enough to face the head of the Einzbern family, especially because they knew for a fact that many homunculi would side with her should it come to an actual fight.
Illya discussed everything with Arturia in detail, and agreed with her. Therefore, they booked a flight to Germany and the woman called Gilgamesh on the phone to inform him of their decision. He complained only briefly about having to travel by plane, but then considered that it would be better than having to endure Kirei’s boring company.
The three of them went to say goodbye to Taiga, Shirou, Sakura and Rin, before leaving for an unspecified amount of time to settle some ‘family matters’. None of the four people they had become acquainted with was happy to see them go, but they were reassured about the fact that it would only be temporary.
After a long but luckily uneventful journey, during which Arturia put Avalon inside her sleeping ward, they arrived at the perpetually snow-covered land where the Einzbern Castle was.
As soon as the homunculi recognized Illya, they immediately allowed her access, and since they knew Arturia and Gilgamesh as well, they had no reason to forbid them to go through, even if they were in their armours. Besides, the former Heroic Spirits would have been more than able to make them allow passage.
Illya briefly looked over her shoulder to exchange a glance with Arturia, receiving a firm and reassuring nod from the King of Knights. So she determinedly asked to speak with the man she had always called Grandfather.
When Jubstacheit came to meet them, the girl was quite taken aback by his appearance. He seemed to have aged incredibly, looking much older than usual. But she was not going to let that fact deter her from her objective.
She greeted him and then respectfully and straightforwardly informed him that she intended to live her life on her own terms and stay away from anything regarding the Grail.
Jubstacheit was obviously very angry at her words, and stood up to vehemently protest.
Illya, however, listened to his anger and then let him know that she had already made her decision, and she added that Arturia, the only person whose opinion really mattered to her, supported her fully.
The King of Knights was indeed standing by her side, in her full armour and with the invisible Excalibur ready in her hand; she was silent though, allowing Illya to speak on her own.
That was when Jubstacheit lost control and yelled at the girl, with hatred burning in his aged eyes.
He reminded her that she was nothing but a homunculus, a tool created for the sole purpose of materializing the Grail in the world of the living.
Illya became angry at his cruel words, but Arturia’s hand, lightly touching her shoulder, helped her keep her senses. She calmly but resolutely told him that he had twenty-four hours to decide whether or not to accept the life she had chosen for herself… then she would destroy the castle.
Jubstacheit was left speechless as she gave him a parting nod and left the room together with Arturia and Gilgamesh, who had not spoken a word the whole time. They left the property to go stay in the nearest town for the night.
The following day, to Arturia and Illya’s slight surprise – Gilgamesh did not really care – they found the majority of the homunculi in the forest outside the castle, waiting for them, together with most of the treasures there were in the residence… especially all the books. They explained that they did not wish to follow Jubstacheit any longer, and if Illya was really going to destroy the palace, they knew that she would like to have the books saved.
The girl was moved by their loyalty towards her, and then asked them to take everything they needed or valued from the castle, because it was going to be demolished shortly.
Then she went to meet the head of the Einzbern family again. He seemed even older than the day before, eyes looking dead, and inflexibly refused to accept to listen to Illya any longer. She tried in vain to explain to him that he would die in the crumbling castle if he was not going to be reasonable. He refused to even look at her, but his gaze accidentally met Arturia’s.
And it was then that the King of Knigths understood – Jubstacheit was broken.
All he had wanted was to be able to reach the Grail – and he had created hundreds of homunculi to finally produce an especially strong one, Irisviel. When Irisviel had had a child with a human, it had meant that the head of the Einzbern family finally had his trump card in hand.
But the homunculi could do their job properly only if they were willing to obey him… and Illya was very clearly stating that she was not going to obey him.
She also had two former Servants on her side… and that meant that she would never submit to him.
And that meant… that if his trump card was no longer his, he had lost everything he had fought for his entire existence.
For a split second, Arturia felt pity for him.
But it was only a moment. She knew that what he had done and tried to do was wrong, heartless and cruel. For that selfish desire of his to obtain the Grail, he had discarded countless lives, and had never stopped one second to think about them.
He was not deserving of even an ounce of her sympathy.
Without another word, Arturia, Illya and Gilgamesh left the old man and went outside. There, Arturia used her detecting powers to locate the bombs that Kiritsugu had hidden around – about which she had spoken with the girl earlier – and, together with Illya, activated them.
The Einzbern Castle collapsed on itself in less than a few minutes, only proving how precise Kiritsugu was with his explosives. Jubstacheit von Einzbern remained inside, and met his demise together with every stone of the castle, completely destroyed.
With him, the cunningness of the Einzbern family would come to an end.
All the other members were homunculi who had agreed to pledge their loyalty to Illya; the very few who had chosen to stay with the old leader had died with him.
As the castle was tumbling down, Arturia stayed by the girl’s side, her invisible sword in her hand, ready to intervene in case something unexpected happened.
Gilgamesh was in his armour next to her as well, arms crossed, observing the scene in amusement.
He admitted to himself that he would probably get involved in what was going on if something were to happen to Arturia… or even to the girl, because Arturia cared about her. He refused to allow his thoughts to go in that direction, however, and simply settled for being a silent witness.
When nothing was left but a huge crumble, Illya went to talk to the homunculi, who had seen everything. She explained – it had been Arturia’s idea – that they would build a new mansion in the same spot. But it would no longer be a cold and unwelcoming castle… it would contain all the books and valuable objects that had been saved, of course, but they would then turn it into a hotel. A hotel for people to go and stay and spend vacations there. It would be a way of having an honest income, and the homunculi would be able to interact with normal humans. Illya had been very excited about Arturia’s suggestion, and asked the homunculi if they agreed.
Most of them cared deeply about the girl, not only because of how they were created, but also because she had always been kind and considerate towards them, even when they had been her mere servants. They looked forward to beginning to live normally, and having jobs among humans.
Arturia, Gilgamesh and Illya remained in Germany for a few more weeks, to supervise the construction of the new mansion – which would also have a private wing for Illya – and obtain the legal permissions they needed.
The hotel would be part of the Einzbern girl’s heritage; therefore, Arturia had the responsibility for everything. With Illya’s help, she chose two of the homunculi to be general overseers and report to her regularly.
The King of Knights guaranteed they would come again when the construction works were going to be over, and then she, the girl and the King of Heroes left to go back to Japan.