Chapter 26: The Grail ritual
The King of Knights walked to the altar where Sakura was lying. Gilgamesh remained behind her, while Kirei was on one side, impatiently observing her every move.
Arturia’s invisible sword disappeared from her hand, and she extended both of them over the girl’s body. Calling forth the gems that the Einzbern family had given her in Germany several years before and which she had continued to fill with mana, she allowed them to fall from her hold.
The precious little stones shone with the enormous quantity of magical energy that was inside them, and they positioned themselves around the girl, who still had her eyes closed. Kirei had not been informed of it, but Sakura had told the two kings that she was going to put herself into an enchanted sleep, from which she hoped to never awake again, in order to not feel anything as the Grail took possession of her body.
Hiding her sadness about the girl, Arturia began to use the proper symbols she had prepared.
They were ancient and mysterious, engraved into amulets that Kirei had provided, and they were placed around Sakura as well.
The energy that was being amassed around and on the girl was so powerful that light began to emanate from it, and the priest, still on one side of the room, had to cover his face from the intensity that originated from the centre of the room.
The time had come for the ritual to begin. Seven years had passed since the last Holy Grail War had ended… and the cup’s energy, still fuelled by the lives of five Servants and four Masters, had grown enough to be accessible from the world of the living.
With correct symbols, a suitable vessel and a massive amount of mana, all in a significant place in the centre of the city of Fuyuki, something was bound to happen.
And it did.
Little by little, the light coming from the gems and the symbols began to increase, as their power was being transferred to Sakura’s body. Her skin began to glow, and her form was lifted from the altar slightly, beginning to float in the air.
She didn’t open her eyes, still in her unnatural sleep, and Arturia was internally very grateful for that. Both she and Gilgamesh could feel the colossal amount of magical energy that was going to her body, and they knew it would have been extremely painful, had she been awake.
The glow from her form began to intensify, and a strange dark substance began to drip from her to the floor.
Kirei was fascinated by the scene, not having been witness to what had happened seven years earlier because he had been fighting Kiritsugu. But he did not know what was happening to the girl’s figure, whose radiance continued to increase.
But the kings realized what was going on. The Grail was using Sakura’s energy to begin to have a physical form… but to do that, it was purifying her body to make her a worthy container, killing all the Matou worms and the traces of the abuse she had had to go through her whole life.
Slowly, the contour of the girl’s form began to be more translucent as more and more mana flew into her… and the tremulous image of a golden, richly decorated chalice became visible.
The Grail was beginning to materialize itself in the world of the living, its physical and spiritual form starting to merge and become a single identity.
And that was Kirei’s cue to act.
Without warning, he turned away from the almost blinding light coming from the middle of the room, and opened the door.
Arturia and Gilgamesh turned abruptly towards him… and a person they had no desire to see appeared in front of them.
Surrounded by a dark cloud of insects, Zouken made his entrance, a cruel and satisfied smirk on his contorted face. It was obvious that he had an agreement with the priest.
There was only a split second before the vicious bugs began their assault on the two kings. Gilgamesh, who was nearest to the door, didn’t have to do anything more than throw two little swords from his Gate of Babylon, which had the ability to change directions. They did quick work of most of the insects coming towards him, and the few that escaped were cut down by Arturia’s precise invisible sword that she had called to her hand again.
But that worried the King of Knights. Why was the attack so easy to deflect and why at the same time were the bugs clearly infused with too much magical energy? Somehow, the old magician seemed to know that the two former Heroic Spirits were able to sense mana…
The reason why the attack had been so full of needless magical force became apparent when a figure emerged from the mass of insects. The dark cloud had taken advantage of the attack to move unnoticeably towards the centre of the room, and a boy’s figure jumped out of it.
Arturia recognized him as Sakura’s older brother, the one who had repeatedly been mistreating her. His levels of magical energy were almost non-existent… and the stronger mana of the bugs had hidden his approach.
Shinji was very close to the floating form of the girl, over whose stomach the shape of the Grail was becoming discernible.
He ran towards it and Arturia, comprehending what he was about to do, yelled out a warning before she could control herself… but he did not listen to her.
He stopped exactly in front of the huge light coming from his sister. Without a second thought, he extended his hands towards her… and touched the slowly forming silhouette of the golden cup.
His childish face grinned in triumph, and his voice spoke up in exhilaration.
“I did it, Grandfather! I took the Grail…! But–, … no…! What is–…?”
The light coming from the girl left her abruptly, and concentrated into the mass in Shinji’s grasp.
The two kings were both forced to take a step back because of the sheer force erupting from it, and they were therefore unable to stop Zouken from coming closer to the boy.
The most sadistic expression ever was on the face of the head of the Matou family. Not giving anyone the time to act, Zouken extended a hand to push the shadow of the Grail inside Shinji’s stomach, whose eyes widened in shock and fright.
The light from the gems, the symbols and the forming chalice, which were previously on Sakura, disappeared from her still floating body and concentrated on the boy, beginning to grow from within him.
An unearthly scream left Shinji’s mouth as his body was quickly consumed by the magnitude of the energy that was invading him.
His personal strength and mana were nowhere near his sister’s, and he had never been meant to be a vessel… his fate was sealed.
Sakura’s figure, no longer infused with the light that was summoning the Grail, rapidly stopped glowing and being translucent… and also stopped floating.
But before her limp body could fall on the floor – Shinji had taken her place over the altar –, Arturia managed to catch her and take her to the other side of the room, where she gently put her down.
The woman felt for the girl’s pulse, and breathed in relief when she could see her also breathing faintly. She was alive… and the King of Knights put her hand briefly over Sakura’s stomach, knowing that with that gesture, Avalon would begin its work and keep her safe.
She then turned away from her to look at what was happening in the blinding light in the middle of the room.
Zouken looked at the boy’s disappearing form, and his horrifying grin only widened. Sakura’s strong personal energy had provided the basic draft as the Grail’s vessel, and Shinji’s body was being the real container for the mana of the five dead Servants from the war plus the one coming from the gems. The boy had no chance of surviving such a devastating force – he was weak.
And within seconds, as his expression was agonizing, the Grail’s light seemed to explode out of him – and Shinji was consumed by it and completely disintegrated.
Entirely unimpressed and unaffected, Zouken stared greedily at what had taken his grandson’s place.
The golden form of the Grail had fed on the boy’s life, and it was almost completely physically tangible.
The head of the Matou family had been counting on that.
His intention was nothing else than control the physical form of the Grail… and he knew he would not have been able to do so if Sakura had truly become the vessel. Her body was more than ready to be an adequate container, but – exactly as it had happened – the energy that had been released had eliminated the worms from her body… freeing her from his control. And without that, it would be very difficult to hold power over the holy cup.
But Shinji… Shinji was weak. He had not Sakura’s power by any means, and he would not become as strong a vessel – but his life would amply make up for that, and the fact that he was weaker, well, it was precisely what Zouken was counting on.
A less strong physical form for the Grail – something that would be compensated by the boy’s life in any case – would make it possible for him to control the Grail’s energy, and he would finally hold that supposedly wish-granting and legendarily valuable cup in his power, as its master.
Zouken extended his hand towards the almost fully formed chalice… but he turned around abruptly as he felt a menacing and very strong presence behind him.
And the next instant, a golden weapon stabbed him in the place where his heart was supposed to be.
The King of Heroes was standing in front of him. He had opened his Gate of Babylon and taken out a spear… a spear he had already told Arturia about.
It was the original form of the twin weapons that Lancer had wielded during the war… and it possessed both their powers. The ability to break through mana defences and the ability to inflict cursed injuries that would not heal.
And it was probably among the very few things in the world that could actually harm a being like Zouken.
Gilgamesh’s expression was cold.
“You are the lowliest of mongrels.”
But Zouken had not stayed alive for centuries only to fall so easily. His creased hands came up swiftly and through sheer physical strength, he managed to halt the spear – a mere millimetre away from the place his heart was supposed to be. He was not using mana to stop it, so the spear’s power was ineffective in such an occasion.
Gilgamesh increased the pressure, but without any achievement. Zouken, a master magician, began to use the rest of his considerable energy to the best of his abilities, beginning to magically attack the King of Heroes’s arm muscles. His first attempts were of course futile against the strong opponent, but it was not going to take a long time for him to break through the golden King’s defences.
Because the only, minimal weakness that Gilgamesh had was that his resistance against magic was not very strong… and Zouken was aware of that.
His evil smirk returned on his face.
The King of Heroes perhaps was not the strongest in terms of magic resistance… but in the same room, there was the Heroic Spirit who was exactly that.
Suddenly, Gilgamesh felt a pair of small but strong hands clasp around his and toughen his hold on the spear.
Arturia was next to him, and regarded the old sadistic monster with the King of Heroes’s same cold look.
Her words were simple.
Her second Noble Phantasm surrounded Gilgamesh’s spear, increasing its sharpness, and with one last powerful thrust forward, the two kings pierced Zouken’s chest.
Tainted venom spilled out from a dark, lifeless carcass of a body, while all the insects still flying around the room fell on the floor, dead.
The spear’s power ensured that the head of the Matou family could not recompose his body – and since the worms he had placed into his latest experimentation – Sakura – had been exterminated as well… he could not survive in any possible way, and Zouken met his end.
Carefully avoiding the dark poison on the floor, Arturia went to Sakura, making sure the girl was still breathing. She doubted that her life was connected to Zouken’s in any way, but it had been a possibility.
To ensure her safety, she used her knowledge about magic to build a barrier around her using a gem with mana she had kept on herself as last resort, in case there had not been enough energy to summon the Grail. It would be more than adequate to protect the girl, because Avalon’s regenerative powers were considerable, but Arturia was not going to risk Sakura’s life when she had just survived in a miraculous way.
Then she made Excalibur appear in her hands again, allowing the invisibility spell to leave her sword.
The Grail in the middle of the room was becoming more concrete by the second, and the light that was flowing towards it coming from the gems was gradually decreasing.
What had previously been the body of the Matou boy was continuing to absorb energy, and it was obviously near the point in which the Grail would be fully materialized.
The two kings exchanged a glance. It was time to put an end to everything.
Gilgamesh made his Anti-World ultimate weapon, Ea, appear in his hand.
At the same moment, they raised their Noble Phantasms. And in the same instant, they shouted their names as they released all their energy in a double attack against the Grail.
It was too late to stop it when they saw a form dressed in black come up in front of the fully physical cup.
It was Kirei.
After opening the door to let Zouken in, he had simply waited next to the entrance, observing the events unfold. He had been completely dismayed by the turn of events, from what the boy had done to the old man’s demise, and he could not believe what the two former Servants were about to do.
It appeared that they intended to use their Noble Phantasms on the Grail.
And that meant… that they intended to destroy it.
It was exactly what Emiya Kiritsugu had decided to do seven years earlier as well.
Kirei could see that he had been wrong when he had thought that the woman, Saber, had a wish to make on the cup.
All she wanted was to destroy it.
He could not allow it. He would not allow it. But there was nothing he could do.
Instinctively, he moved when they struck. And he found himself between the Grail and an immensely powerful destructive attack coming towards him.
Completely ignoring the latter, his eyes landed on the chalice. Longing appeared in his eyes, and his hand extended towards it…
But it was too late.
The striking force of the two formers Servant’s blow outshined the blinding light coming from the Holy Grail… and the combined power of Excalibur’s pure brilliance and Ea’s omnipotence vaporized everything.
The release of the attack caused a huge light to erupt, and Arturia saw it exploding from the Grail and expand from there, enveloping everything. She felt comforted by the thought that Sakura was safe from it… and then she saw it coming towards her as well.
Strong arms wrapped around her body, pressing her to a familiar form, and made her turn away from the blinding brightness. She could sense that the energy from the cup was being consumed by the strength of the attack with shattering brutal force, but the body around her was shielding her from its intensity.
But that meant… that he was on the receiving end of the blunt power of it.
He was getting hurt while defending her…
Even if she had a strong magic resistance, she knew that such a destruction would have probably hurt her… so what was going to happen to him, who had a slightly lower magical resistance than her?
She knew that he was strong, but not even his strength would be enough against what the Grail was unleashing.
She clutched tightly on the arms around her and allowed her armour to dissipate. With the last of her strength – she had given most of what she had in Excalibur’s attack – she willed her remaining mana to flow towards him, to help him withstand the shock wave.
His hold on her became securer, and the next instant the two kings were surrounded by the exploding light.
The Grail in both its physical and spiritual form, Shinji’s disintegrated residues, Zouken’s poisonous remains and Kirei’s body… all vaporized and completely annihilated.
When the explosion finally subsided, Arturia had only enough energy left to absentmindedly reflect on the fact that she had actually managed to give Gilgamesh her strength…
…just a second before everything in front of her became dark and, completely exhausted, she passed out.
When she regained consciousness and slowly woke up, she could feel pain everywhere in her body.
Those were the sensations that usually came after a battle… and that was what made everything come back to her.
With an odd sense of déjà vu, she noticed the King of Heroes next to her. She had already woken up once with him near her… seven years before.
Cautiously sitting up, she realized that they were still in the room where the Grail had been destroyed. The altar in the middle had disappeared, demolished in the blast, and everything was covered in rubbles. The walls had been badly damaged and the entrance door had been obliterated in the explosion, but the roof of the church had miraculously remained intact.
Arturia looked around her. Gilgamesh was no longer wearing his armour – she wasn’t either, she noticed… she had apparently consumed too much energy to make it appear again – and his levels of mana were a little lower than normal, but he was otherwise completely unharmed.
In one corner of the room, Sakura was still sleeping, a faint energy surrounding her. The woman went to her, seeing that the gem’s power had been used almost completely to deflect the shockwave from the attack, and only Avalon’s presence had ensured the girl’s safety. Her pulse was normal and her breathing regular; she was immersed in a deep sleep, but it was no longer a magic-induced one.
Her expression was peaceful and even relaxed.
Arturia could not suppress a small smile. Sakura had been purified from the worms in her body and she had survived… she could have a normal life, finally free from her abusers and able to be with her biological sister and her friends.
Thinking of the girl’s sister made the woman remember that Kirei – the man who to an extent controlled Rin’s life – had tried to interfere when she and Gilgamesh had unleashed the power of Excalibur and Ea.
The priest had been caught in the blast and had died. Rin was free as well… and that fiend had had his final judgement.
Arturia breathed slowly as she wobbled slightly on her feet.
She heard the King of Heroes’s voice.
“You were foolish to completely consume your energy to give it to me.”
She did not look at him and quietly replied, “You needed it… otherwise the Grail would have hurt you.”
He scoffed slightly. However, he did not deny the statement and she knew that he acknowledged the fact that the mana she had given him had indeed helped him withstand the immense destruction.
She could not believe it… they had actually made it. They had actually destroyed the Grail.
They had succeeded.
That corrupted cup no longer existed.
She felt… content.
And completely drained.
She had done what she had to. She had completed her work. Everything that she had set out to do from the moment she had been given a human body, seven years before, had been accomplished.
She had looked after Irisviel’s daughter, who had grown and had become free from her cruel destiny and from Justacheit’s control, and now was in charge of her life and of her Einzberns’ inheritance.
Illya had also had the opportunity to see her father one last time, and had met her adoptive brother, becoming friends with him.
Rin was no longer a slave of her selfish father’s desires, had grown as well and was no longer under the tutelage of the person responsible of the death of her parents.
The cruelty of both Kirei and Zouken was gone forever, and all the children – Illya, Rin, Sakura, Shirou – could grow as friends together and finally be free from the dark shadows of the past.
Arturia took a deep breath and finally exhaled. Other than making sure that the survivors of the Fourth Grail War had a better life, she had also come to accept her former time as a king.
She had really done everything she could… her existence was no longer needed.
She could finally die.
The thought was… almost comforting.
But it lasted less than a second… because there was someone she had consciously tried to avoid thinking about.
And that same someone had come to stand in front of her, looking at her face intently… and seeming completely aware of what she was thinking.
She did her best to keep a calm expression, at least outwardly, and discreetly avoided looking at him.
But she knew, by then, that he was able to see through that kind of façade easily and would not be fooled.
She was caught completely off guard and could not help looking up at him, however, when he literally hissed.
His eyes were afire, and his expression was fiercely determined.
“Don’t even think about it.”
His words were said darkly, and she instantly knew that he had realized what she was deciding about her life.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. Even though his reaction was something she had never witnessed from him before, that did not change the fact that it was not his place to decide for her.
If she felt done with her time in the world, what on earth did he have to say in it?
Her voice had a hint of coldness in it.
“I no longer have true regrets. I can be proud of what I have accomplished during my life… both my lives. And now, I no longer wish to have it.”
For the first time, he truly glared at her… and his voice rose as he snapped at her.
“Arturia, you have been given a chance – the chance of another life to live–..”
“I didn’t ask for it!” she screamed, feeling her anger grow. “I was given this life I didn’t want!”
He actually yelled back, “That’s exactly the point, you stubborn woman! You were given the incredibly rare opportunity of living a new life – therefore you should make the most of it!”
She shot back, “But I did! I did my best to look after Illya, and help Rin, and Sakura, and then destroy the Grail to rid the world of it–..”
He looked as if he was about to slap her – and he interrupted her brusquely. Their argument was quickly escalating.
“That is again the point! You are not listening! Make the most of it – for yourself, for once! You have the right to do that! Stop being such a martyr and living your life for others! Stop giving up your personal desires for the sake of everything else and continually sacrificing yourself, Arturia!”
Her expression was shocked, while his… his was strangely undefinable.
And his next words… pronounced in a whisper… touched her deeply.
“I will not… let the greatest treasure of the whole world slip right through my fingers.”
He could not lose what was most important to him… not again.
His best friend had been taken from him… but Enkidu had not been the one who had wanted to go. Enkidu had not wanted to leave him, and that was what had eventually made it possible to survive the loss, to continue with his life as a king.
But with Arturia… he knew that it wouldn’t be the same. She was choosing to die. She was choosing to leave him.
And that… that would make her loss a pure and excruciating agony.
He would not be able to ever overcome it… or accept it.
The realization hit him hard.
He would not be able to continue living if she died… and if she chose to leave him… that would be the worst of it all.
She had become so important to him that he, the King of all Heroes, could no longer truly live without her.
She was the only person in the world who had ever made him feel that way… and she was the only person in the world worthy of such feelings.
All the treasures of the world were nothing compared to her.
She had him completely at his mercy… she had his love… and she didn’t even know it.
She had the right to be told… he should tell her.
He could not force her to have his same feelings… but he would not allow her to give up on herself… or her life.
From what he had seen in the seven years he had observed her, she had not given up – ever.
She had constantly fought and she had come out on top, victorious – only to now suddenly decide to surrender after all that?
Gilgamesh felt anger, frustration… and desperation.
He could not force her to stay with him. He was the first almighty king, he was the strongest Heroic Spirit, he had more knowledge than anyone else, all the treasures in the world belonged to him… and yet, he felt something that by human standards would be powerlessness.
He could not make Arturia stay in the world of the living. Because ultimately, it was her own personal choice that would determine it, that would determine if he was worthy of what he desired.
All his power would not be enough to change that.
He wanted her to stay with him. He wanted her… her everything. Everything that was her. Her time, her care, her attention, her… love.
He wanted all that… and he knew he could not impose those wishes upon her. But he did not want to. He wanted to deserve her, and he wanted her to give that to him of her own free will.
But he would not be able to prove he was worthy of that if she turned away from life, if she turned away from everything, if she was selfless again…
He would not just stand by and watch, though. He had the right to tell her what he thought.
And he took a step towards her, to be face to face with her.
“You have always, always done everything for others. You have fought for Illya – and now the girl has a future. You have made sure that Rin grew up from her delusions and became a stronger person. You have struggled to save Sakura’s life even when everything was against her, when there was no hope at all. You have never given up on anyone, Arturia… Do you honestly think that I will simply watch as you give up on yourself?”
His eyes were pools of fiercely burning blood.
“I will not allow you to stop being true to who you are. If I can prevent you from leaving me… then I will.”
Her eyes were wide as she was pulled into his arms.
And the next instant, his lips crashed against hers.
His mouth was demanding, strong, considerate, passionate, desperate… it was everything that he was, as a king and as a man, in that instant… and always.
He accepted and respected her, for who she was. For seven years, he had never left her side, broken through the barriers she had built around herself, seen everything about her… and he was not intimidated nor repulsed. No. He, who had knowledge, who had wisdom, who had strength, who had the whole world at his feet… he had chosen to stay by her side.
And all he asked was for her to consider to remain with him, too.
That man she had once only been able to respect as a fellow king but condemned for his arrogance and apparent cruelty… not only had proven to be much more than she had expected, but he had also proven to have strong, deep feelings towards her.
Feelings she now knew she returned… whole-heartedly.
She was aware… she had never had the opportunity nor the desire to think of herself. She had never allowed herself such a luxury.
But falling in love with him was not something she had allowed herself to do, either.
He had changed, she… had changed as well, and she had learned to know him, and he had become… precious to her.
She, who had never truly confided in anyone and never let anyone close to her… had ended up caring deeply about him and trusting him more than anyone in the world.
But… she could not tell him.
How could she tell him… when she had just realized it?
It had been hard enough to merely acknowledge what her true feelings for him were… telling him was another matter entirely, especially when she was in his embrace, his arms around her to hold her securely, and his lips against hers in a bruising kiss–..
There was a perfect way to let him know. It was so obvious… she would have reprimanded herself for not having realized it sooner, had she not been starting to get lost in the sensations he was eliciting from her.
Arturia closed her eyes.
…she kissed him back.
The instant she responded, Gilgamesh felt an electric shock run through his body.
The emotions the woman in his arms was making him experience were entirely new and unfamiliar… and yet, they were perhaps the closest thing to perfection he had ever felt.
His hold around her tightened, his eyes closed as well, he feverishly deepened the kiss… and she welcomed it.
If his mouth had not already been occupied, he would have smiled.
In a true, earnest, wide smile.
Because he knew in that moment that she had made her choice.
She had chosen to accept her life… and stay with him.