Chapter 3: Inside the Grail
She hated herself for allowing the memory of the pain make her cry out like that, but she couldn’t help it.
Because the last thing she could remember was something – or someone – holding her around her waist, and then a wet, sticky darkness surrounding her and making her feel like she was drowning. And after that…
The most painful memories of her life invaded her mind, with pure darkness and despair being the centre of them all.
Arturia remembered… she had to re-live all the years of her kingship in a fast-forward, watching her kingdom slowly fall apart in spite of all her efforts… and her people and her knights and everything she had given herself up for… she remembered having to watch them crumble and die away.
At that point, her heart was aching so much she thought it was about to rip her chest apart and kill her in the process. And, at that point, she truly would have welcomed death.
But she saw what happened next…
The battle of Camlann.
All the corpses surrounding her, and she, the one lone survivor of the battle on top of the hill.
And the contract she had made with the world to become a Heroic Spirit… she was one of the very few Heroic Spirits who had never died. And that was all for her kingdom… to change its destiny and give it another chance to prosper.
But, even if the flash-forward of her past was finished, the black entity who had showed it to her didn’t disappear. It remained with her on the hill of her last battle, and insisted on showing her every single corpse, indulging on the ones of her knights, her loyal knights, almost with pleasure, and forced her to keep her eyes open to watch.
Arturia felt her chest hurting again, but she was powerless.
She also understood the message that the black identity was trying to convey – her kingdom was doomed, and it had been her doing.
It was her fault.
All. Her. Fault.
She was the one who had brought Britain to its demise. She had done everything wrong.
She had tried to be a good ruler by staying detached and becoming almost a deity for her subjects – but she had never understood them that way.
Believing that a true king should be alone and carry all the burdens on his own, she had kept her distance, thinking she was doing well… without knowing what everyone else thought about it.
She had truly done everything wrong.
She had thought that by giving up her own personal wishes, she could be a worthy ruler. But perhaps Rider had been right after all… she was nothing but a little girl. Even her most trusted and loyal knight, Lancelot, had ended up hating her…
She had failed her country. She had failed her knights and her people.
She had failed everyone and everything.
Understanding that made Arturia almost go mad with self-deprecation.
Frantic, her mind refused to give in to darkness… at least, not immediately.
What if Britain’s fate had already been sealed, and not a consequence of her rule?
That thought lifted the cloud of darkness from her mind… –
–…but only for a second. If her rule had not been able to change Britain’s already sealed destiny, then perhaps…
…perhaps another ruler could have done better?
Tears began to stream down Arturia’s face.
And her thoughts were of pure desperation.
I should never… have become king…
Did she even have something that made her a king? Was there anything in her that made her worthy of kingship?
What did she have that had ever made her think she was a worthy king?
She had seen other examples of people who called themselves kings, during the Fourth Holy Grail War.
She and Rider had clashed in their ideologies.
Iskandar had followed an impossible dream of Oceanus his whole life, leading his people towards it, too, and had died still following it and never achieving it.
She had led her life as a king on much more solid grounds than senseless dreams – but she had failed. And after all that, she had tried to reach for an impossible dream – the change of Britain’s fate.
It was ironic, almost. Iskandar had wasted his life around a dream, not really caring about giving a successor to his country nor giving it enough to make it a proper country. He had not understood the first thing about being a true king… but he had been a leader, and his people had been entirely loyal to him. With his death, Rider had accepted his mistakes and made the most of his good abilities – by creating a Reality Marble with his warriors.
Arturia had ruled with sincere love and care for her subjects, and had put herself at their service completely, disregarding her own wishes… and thus unconsciously sealing away her humanity and pushing them away from herself, becoming alone.
Her rule had been just, fair and honourable, and contrary to many other rulers, it had given victory and peace – but only for a while.
She had given prosperity to her kingdom for more than ten years… but it had not lasted longer than that.
In the end, she had been betrayed because she was no longer human… and she had not been able to understand the resentment of those around her. And since she had never died… she had also never accepted what had happened to her kingdom.
That was what truly made her different from other kings. She had still had her life… When everything around her had crumbled, she had still had her life and had had to be a witness to it all.
And perhaps… perhaps that was the root of it all.
The other kings had built a realm during their lifetimes… and even if their kingdoms had fallen apart, it had been after their deaths… therefore they had been able to accept the fact that they had wasted their existence around their ideologies. She had not been able to accept it because, even if her ideal of bearing the weight of her reign alone had been flawed, she had had to be witness to that ideal crumbling. Iskandar’s ideal was much more selfish than hers and had not been for the good of his people – but he had not witnessed its destruction… he had only learned about it long after his death, and had therefore been able to accept it.
She hadn’t. And that was when she had made a great mistake… instead of understanding that there had been flaws in her rule and accept her regret over that, she had selfishly allowed her regret to take over and decided to change her whole kingdom’s history.
Death, apparently, was what was needed to understand fully what one’s life had been about.
It didn’t mean it was enough, though.
As she was forced to look back on her life again, Arturia felt it… someone, or something, was hidden in that dark mud that had surrounded her earlier, and it was malicious.
It was ready to take possession of her mind, body and soul, she was certain of it.
…she was going to let it do just that.
She felt the glee of the malicious darkness coming nearer, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Now that she was again so close to death, she could see more clearly. She had given her life for her country and her people – and it had been in vain. She had become a Heroic Spirit – only to be summoned to fight in a war in which her Master refused her and ultimately forced her to destroy her hopes herself…
If everything she had done had always been in vain… why continue to fight?
The powerful darkness enveloped her whole body and Arturia closed her eyes, no longer caring about fighting it away, even though it felt somehow unpleasant when it met her skin…
After all, why should she care about what happened any longer… she had done everything wrong, everyone had repeatedly told her so…
No… someone… someone had told her that her beliefs weren’t wrong. Someone had told her she should hold her head high with what she believed in. It had been said in mockery--- perhaps.
Rider, the King of Conquerors, had dismissed her without taking the time to listen to her – in the end, he was no different from Kiritsugu.
But the other one… Archer, the King of Heroes… He had told her with an evil laugh that he would enjoy seeing her crush under the weight of her ideals, but he had not dismissed them. He had told her he expected her to lose herself to them, because they were beyond human reach, but he had also implicitly admitted that those ideals were worthy of a ruler.
So… what would happen if he were actually right? If her ideals, in spite of not having been able to save her kingdom, were actually worthy of a ruler…?
Was she going to lose herself to them?
Was she going to let their weight, the weight she had carried her whole life, crush her then, when she was so close to death?
No. She was not.
One split second was enough to allow her to make that decision. She was not going to give up – not now.
She had fought for so long – she could continue to do so.
For her country. For her people. For her knights. For everything she had ever fought for…
For her most trusted knight against whom she had had to fight just a short while before…
The thought of Lancelot made her mind abruptly go back to the battle with him… and his last words, murmured after he told her about the guilt he felt, hit her in full force.
…I can say this much with certainty, King Arthur… You were the greatest among all kings. All who served you… felt the same way.
He had not hated her… he had been loyal to her until the very end.
Was she going to let down those who, in spite of the mistakes she felt she had made, believed in her?
Her decision finally made, the King of Knights opened her eyes and stared down at the darkness, which halted its assault on her.
Her bright green eyes narrowed at the form and her gaze turned ice-cold.
So, that was the darkness’s play. It – whatever it was, she didn’t care at the moment – had tried to make her surrender herself to it by showing her what she considered her greatest failures, knowing that she had never forgiven herself for them…
Arturia slowly stood up.
She looked at the dark mass in front of her and focused.
Yes, she thought that her life had been full of failures – she had failed many times, and the last battle had been her ultimate breakdown. The time of her country, Britain, was over. She had tried her best to save it… she had given her all to fight again and again… only to fail. And yet, she had survived the demise of her life’s work.
She had not accepted it – she could not accept it – and she had made a contract with the world, to become a Heroic Spirit, to have the chance to change fate.
But she could see it now – it wasn’t possible.
That was what had ruined her spirit: she had not been able to let go of the already happened past… she had clung to it like a fool, in love with an idea of a kingdom that had existed, and had in reality prospered under her rule, but was no more.
So that was her true mistake… the one Iskandar did in fact have the right to judge, because he had done the same thing.
He had followed an impossible dream in life; she had followed it in death.
With a deep sigh, Arturia steeled herself internally.
And she did what she had never allowed herself to do until that point – begin to accept that her kingdom’s time was over.
As soon as that thought entered her mind and began to take form, the dark mass raged. If it had been something human, Arturia felt it would have hollered in fury…
…and it attacked her. It surrounded her and squeezed itself around her body tightly, making it impossible to breathe and making her feel like every inch of her skin was on fire.
And, oddly, that only gave her more strength.
If that dark thing was now attacking her ferociously, it meant that her acceptance of her kingdom’s demise – as painful, heart-wrenching and desperate as it was – was the right thing to do. Arturia was more than wise enough to understand that.
Therefore she opened her eyes again and began to struggle against the darkness. Its rage only seemed to increase – and Arturia, having been through many battles, knew then that she was winning. She fought with all the strength of her mind – and the blackness slowly began to disappear, becoming a grey cloud that gradually became smaller and smaller…
…until it vanished.
Exhausted, Arturia let herself fall on her knees again, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her whole body hurt… but she knew she had defeated the dark filth, even if she did not know what it was.
It didn’t really matter.
There was a more important question to be answered… what was she to do now?But before she could find an answer, her mind fell into unconsciousness.