Chapter 25: Last preparations
When Sakura woke up the following day, she found Arturia sitting on the armchair, sipping on her morning tea calmly. They had a brief conversation, in which the King of Knights explained that the ritual for the summoning of the Grail was going to take place in about ten days.
When Gilgamesh entered the room as well, Arturia addressed the problem of what they should allow Zouken to know. Sakura was tense when speaking about him, and Arturia was a little on edge too, but it was the King of Heroes who told the girl what were the best things to say to him.
Taiga, Shirou, Rin and Illya were quite saddened when they heard that Sakura would not be accompanying them to Germany, but the purple-haired girl reassured them serenely, encouraging them to go and have fun.
So, the day after, the four of them took a plane to Germany. And when Illya gave her a phone call to inform her that they had reached the Einzbern Hotel in one piece, Arturia could breathe in relief, knowing that they were safe.
The time was coming for the Grail to finally be destroyed.
Seven years since the end of the Fourth Grail War were almost over, and that would be the best moment to perform the summoning, as they had researched in London. A lot of mana had been stocked in the gems the Einzberns had given Arturia in Germany. The King of Knights knew how to correctly use magic to do the ritual properly. And they had a vessel.
Everything was ready.
There were some details, however, that needed to be discussed.
Arturia was aware of the fact that she was going to have to use Excalibur in a direct blow against the materialized Grail, but she knew that her sword would probably not be strong enough to destroy both the incarnation of the cup and purify its essence. A double attack, as she had already realized a long time before, would be necessary to truly erase that corruption from the world forever… but she did not have enough power on her own to do that.
She needed Gilgamesh, who happened to be probably the strongest Heroic Spirit existing, to help her.
She was a little uncertain, though. She did not know if he would agree to use his Noble Phantasms to destroy the Grail… but she had to ask.
Therefore, the day after Illya had left for Germany with the others, Arturia gathered her courage – internally reprimanding herself for having to do it… she knew he was very unlikely to hurt her or actually refuse her – and asked Gilgamesh if he would be willing to use Ea on the day of the ritual.
His expression was strange, so she quickly continued, “I know how precious Ea is to you, and I am aware of the fact that destroying a corrupted artefact is probably not worthy of its power. But… Excalibur alone is not enough, and you are the only person with an attack Noble Phantasm more powerful than mine.”
He was silent for a long while, making Arturia quite nervous, even if she did her best to hide it.
He was considering. When they had been doing the necessary research in London, he had already realized that not one, but two very powerful attacks were needed to be able to overcome the Grail.
Arturia’s sword could doubtlessly purify the darkness of the substance once the cup was properly summoned into the world – and not in the imperfect way of seven years earlier –, but then there would not be enough energy left to also annihilate the Grail’s power.
The strength of Ea would be more than appropriate to give the coup de grace.
After all, the Grail was supposed to be a part of Gilgamesh’s immense treasures… but it could no longer be considered such because of its corruption.
He had to get rid of it – therefore, helping Arturia with the final blow was something that appealed to him.
And he couldn’t help considering that Excalibur, in its pure brilliance, and Ea, in its powerful glory… well, it would be very interesting to see their immense power combined.
Slowly, he nodded with his head.
“The presence of Excalibur is what makes the setting worthy enough for Ea… and having our Noble Phantasms unleash their abilities together instead of against each other is probably something that has never happened in history. Something that even I have never been witness to. It will be spellbinding to see.”
Arturia had not expected him to agree so quickly. And she had not considered things under such a perspective.
But she had to admit… she was curious to see such an event as well. It was certainly historically unprecedented, and it would be without question intriguing to observe… even if hopefully from a safe distance, because she doubted that the Grail would be overpowered without a huge explosion.
Another matter that needed attention was the role of Kirei and Zouken.
They were unpredictable factors, but unfortunately dangerous ones. Gilgamesh knew that Arturia was very troubled about them. He did not want, however, for her to waste time worrying about the risk Kirei represented, so he persuaded her to come to the Church with him to see the priest in person and form her opinion on the reality of the situation.
Arturia thought about it, and then cautiously agreed.
Before they left through dematerialization, the King of Heroes also instructed her to speak as little as possible to the mongrel, because he did not want her to be in his nauseatingly boring company for longer than necessary.
The old, wrinkly man had just allowed the girl to leave the dungeon for the day, and he exited it as well, walking through the dark alleys of the mansion.
A cruel grin crept on his face. He had received a piece of news he had been very gratified to hear.
The Grail was about to appear in the world of the living again. And Sakura was indeed the best person to be the vessel, therefore everything would go according to his planning.
It would be difficult for his plans to go the way he wanted them to if she fully became the embodiment of the cup… but he had a way of going around that obstacle.
The sadistic tilt of his mouth widened.
The boy had been waiting outside one of the rooms, throwing his sister a dirty look as she walked past him.
Zouken indicated the stairs to go downstairs with a slight tilt of his head, wordlessly ordering the boy to follow him.
As they were in a barely lighted room next to the worm cellar, the head of the Matou family explained the situation in a way that Shinji could understand it.
The boy was not aware of the real nature of his family, but he had enough knowledge about the Holy Grail Wars to understand what his Grandfather was telling him. And he had enough idiocy to be animated at the prospect of what was going to happen.
Zouken’s expression was serious as he laid down more details for the boy.
“If you do as I say, exactly as I say, we will be able to obtain the Grail.”
Shinji nodded zealously, obviously eager to please his Grandfather.
“Remember, boy: follow my instructions with exact precision.”
When the older man came to the details of what was needed to do the day of the summoning, he was very blunt when saying what was going to happen to Sakura.
“She will die.”
Shinji seemed to hesitate for a second, but his expression immediately became contemptuous.
“She never was anything special anyway.”
Dismissing his sister’s life with a mere few words… the youngster at least proved to be related to him in some ways. But his value was not higher than that in Zouken’s eyes.
Yes… the boy would serve his purpose, and he was going to do it splendidly.
Finally, there could be a Matou descendant who was worthy of completing his plans… at least for the last seconds of his otherwise utterly useless existence.
Shinji felt very proud. He could finally prove how much better he was than that wench… and he had the opportunity to show it to his Grandfather, who was trusting him to help him. He was going to give his all to make his worth evident.
Zouken saw those thoughts clearly in the fourteen-year-old’s expression.
The boy was so easily manipulated.
The head of the Matou family would have rolled his eyes… if he had still had eye sockets to do so.
Meeting Kirei was quite a strange experience for Arturia. She felt more than a little repulsed by him, and only the fact that Gilgamesh was by her side prevented her from attacking him.
More than once, hearing the man scornfully ridicule her and what he supposed were her reasons for summoning the Grail, she was about to lose her patience and at least give a sharp remark, but the King of Heroes’s hand was on her arm the whole time, strangely keeping her calm and collected.
She knew it was useless to try to say anything to the priest to take him out of his misconceptions – he was not worth it. And it would be even more useless to get visibly annoyed at him.
What made Arturia keep her cool façade the most, however, was the fact that whenever Kirei directed an insult at her, she could feel Gilgamesh’s grip tighten slightly, and she knew that he was angry on her behalf. That was… almost… sweet of him.
She pushed those thoughts away and concentrated on observing the priest. Being able to stay calm allowed her to see the situation very keenly.
Kirei was an arrogant and disdainful man – and Arturia could clearly see the difference from Gilgamesh.
The King of Heroes was arrogant and sometimes disdainful as well – but he was not rancorous, nor traitorous, nor intentionally cruel. The arrogance he possessed had a reason behind it – he was wise and knowledgeable beyond his years as he was the first Hero and therefore king of all of them –, Kirei’s had not.
As soon as they left the Church so that he could dematerialize Arturia back to her apartment, she proceeded to disclose her thoughts and considerations to Gilgamesh. And, to her surprise, he gave her an impressed smirk.
“Very interesting, King of Knights. It appears that not only I am able to understand you… it goes the other way round as well.”
His voice lowered as he stared at her. “You constantly continue to prove how truly admirable you are.”
Their eyes met, and he suddenly came closer to her, one of his hands going on her shoulder. In instinct, since his actions had been abrupt, she took a step back… and she saw how that seemed to actually upset him.
His hand retracted from her, and he looked away.
His voice seemed to be strained.
“I can see that, no matter the circumstances, you are never going to let anyone close to you.”
Her breath caught in her throat.
He… he actually thought that she did not let him close?
After all that had happened between them, he still thought that she was not letting him be closer than anyone else had ever been to her? That she wasn’t opening up to him more than she ever had with anyone else?
Did he really think… that he hadn’t proved to be worthy of being close to her?
Although… she had to admit that the step back she had taken in instinct was not exactly a proof of the fact that she had faith in him.
Before she could consider her actions carefully, she took a step forward and put her hand on his cheek, making him turn his head to look at her again.
And she smiled at him, with a small but earnest smile… allowing her words to slip out.
“I trust you now, Gilgamesh.”
His red eyes widened for a split second before darkening slightly, but not in anger… no, not this time.
This time… his eyes darkened in yearning.
He had waited for so long to hear something, anything, from Arturia’s lips that would indicate that she had truly come to care a little about him… and what she had just said exceeded his best expectations.
To know that he had earned the King of Knights’s trust, and hearing her say that to him with a smile… it made something awaken inside him, something warm and wonderful that had been growing inside him for the past years together with that woman.
Leaning forward, he swiftly took her into his arms, a hand going behind her head to pull her face close to him and the other surrounding her waist.
Their eyes were deeply focused on each other, green on red, and their lips… their lips were millimetres apart…
And in that moment Arturia’s mobile rang.
Slowly, reluctantly, the two kings separated. It was not the first time they were interrupted, nor was it the second.
And they both felt more than a little disappointed.
They… would have liked for something more to happen.
Arturia turned away slightly to answer the call, which was from Illya, and had to be kept short because of the high cost of an intercontinental phone connection. The girl happily talked about the hotel, briefly describing how well it had been built and how the other guests were enjoying their stay.
As she listened to the girl, Arturia felt something against her hand… and noticed the keychain Gilgamesh had given her as a gift. She could not help smiling, and replied warmly to her ward before ending the communication.
She had not noticed that Gilgamesh had seen her look at the keychain, but she did not miss the powerful glance he gave her.
He reached forward to touch the key-holder, his fingers grazing her hand as well. The contact sent electricity through her, and neither of them broke their intense gaze.
After a few seconds, however, he turned away from her, raising a hand in goodbye, and telling her he would be back on the following day. Then he disappeared.
The King of Knights stared at her mobile, before collecting herself and entering her apartment.
Her mind went inexorably back to what had almost happened between her and Gilgamesh… and she had to admit that she had wished for that moment between them to last a little longer.
Because she knew that if their lips met, it would not be just a simple touch.
It would be much, much more.
And for the life of her, she could not understand why the thought was both frightening… and superbly fascinating.
She almost had to bury her face in her hands. He had become so constant in her life… that she was even taking up his vocabulary.
Among all the last preparations that had to be done for the summoning – Arturia spent quite some time in meditation, to stabilize her mana levels so that she could perform the ceremony correctly –, time passed quickly, and the day of the ritual came.
In her dark blue dress with her silver armour over it, the King of Knights held her invisible sword in her hand as she materialized in the yard of the Church with Gilgamesh. The King of Heroes was wearing his golden armour as well, and his expression was unreadable.
After exchanging a glance, they entered the building, going towards the room Kirei had indicated as the right place to have large concentrations of mana required for the summoning.
The room was quite big, with an altar in the middle, and otherwise empty and without unnecessary decorations.
Escorted by Kirei, Sakura entered the room right after them. She was wearing her normal school uniform, and she appeared to be much calmer than usual, and without her usual shyness.
When she saw the two kings, she gave them a nod in greeting, but both could see in her eyes that she was grateful for their presence and relieved… probably by the fact that the ritual would indeed take place.
A small, content smile came on her face, and it was then quite obvious how much she was looking forward to finally being able to be free.
Kirei, who had not seen the girl’s expression, briefly went out of the room to lock the Church and make sure they would not be interrupted. And as the girl climbed on the altar to prepare herself to become the vessel, Arturia and Gilgamesh looked at each other.
Bright green and blood red eyes met, both by then used to those penetrating stares they had shared more than once.
He gave her a tiny smirk, and his hand came closer, clearly going up to cup her cheek, but she intercepted him midway, grabbing it with her own.
They were in front of each other, with Arturia grasping his hand, near to her face, where he had been aiming to go.
Her eyes were conflicted, but she decided quickly.
“We have to start the ritual.”
Gilgamesh gave her a short nod, but he could not stop himself. Since she was holding his hand, he turned his into her grasp… and intertwined their fingers.
Her mouth parted in surprise… and his eyes were drawn to her lips immediately. He had been so close to them only a few days before…
But what she had said was true… it was time to start the summoning. With her hand in his, he squeezed her briefly but firmly, wordlessly making sure she remembered that he was right there by her side.
He knew she understood – and returned the feeling – when she squeezed back.
And before she could end the connection, he fleetingly brought their intertwined fingers to his lips… and kissed the back of her hand. Her eyes were on his the whole time, and he knew that, somehow, she had actually appreciated the gesture.
Without another word, every contact between the two kings ceased and, as Kirei entered the room again, they turned towards the altar, where Sakura was lying with her eyes closed.
It was time to begin the ceremony.