Chapter 4: A life to live
Arturia had still her trembling hands on the sides of her head. So… she had apparently survived? Or was she in the Heroic Spirits’ realm? But if she was, what was he doing there?
She slowly lowered her hands, forcing them to stop trembling. Weak she may feel and be, but she was the King of Knights and she would hold her head high.
Looking at the King of Heroes again, she addressed him.
“What is this place, Archer?” Her voice was slightly hoarse, but she was pleased to find out that her tone was not wavering.
The arrogant man raised an eyebrow. Even after waking up naked in an unknown place, with him of all people beside her – she had made him wait, even if not for long –, she didn’t take a confused or subdued pose. She didn’t sit with her shoulders slumped, and her gaze was not submissive. She had the stance of a true king even in such an unfamiliar situation.
So far, she acted and talked as Saber would.
He allowed the briefest flicker of a smile to ghost on his lips, before conceding her an answer.
“Hmph. You should have recognized the place. We are in the Einzbern Castle outside Fuyuki.”
Arturia didn’t change her expression except for a slight furrow of her brow.
“I thought that the castle suffered extensive damage when Lancer’s Master attacked Kiritsugu.”
Gilgamesh was more amused than annoyed at her questioning his words. He decided he could give her an answer, again.
“The damage did not reach the upper floors.”
Arturia gave him a slight nod, understanding.
Suddenly she realized that she wasn’t the only one who was naked. Archer had something draped around him, similar to the blanket that was on her, but she could have sworn that he was wearing nothing underneath. While she mentally rolled her eyes, she became aware of something else.
No one was supplying her with mana.
She was no longer a spirit. She had a human body.
Her eyes widened at the realization. She immediately looked up at Archer, for the first time losing her composure. She could still sense him, but he very obviously wasn’t a Servant anymore.
“Archer, what is the meaning of this? How are we… in real human bodies?”
“I assume it’s the Grail’s black mud’s doing… Arturia.”
He observed the King of Knights with satisfaction. She seemed to be herself… she almost startled at his casual way of addressing her by her name, and all her actions up until that moment were exactly the ones he would have expected from Saber.
Gilgamesh felt reassured. If she had been taken over by the Grail, it would have meant that she was weaker than what he had given her credit for.
He gave her another one of his best smirks.
“So, how did you enjoy meeting the true nature of that filthy cup, King of Knights?”
Arturia gave him one long, measuring stare, staying silent for a while. She chose to be diplomatic.
“If you are talking about a strange, malicious and dark entity, I did make its acquaintance. I cannot say that the experience of meeting something that enjoys feeding on despair was a welcome one.”
His smirk did not waver.
“Ah, but that’s where you are wrong. That entity was the Grail… and for some reason, it gave us human bodies.”
Ignoring his irritating way of speaking, Arturia looked at her hands in half-wonder.
“It’s an unexplainable development. Apparently, we are no longer relying on anyone else’s mana to stay in this world, but we haven’t lost our powers.” She narrowed her eyes at him, in an inquisitive gaze. “Or have you, King of Heroes?”
The arrogant man only smirked at her impudence. He casually raised a hand and the Gate of Babylon opened next to it. Arturia eyed him warily, but he only took out a chalice filled with wine and sipped on it. Then he seemed struck with a thought… and he took out another chalice, handing it to her. Lifting an eyebrow and still on guard, the woman hesitated for a moment before accepting it and cautiously taking a sip. It was the same delicious wine from the meeting of the kings from not too long before.
While she was drinking, Arturia could not help remembering something. When the dark substance had exploded from the Grail, there had not been only her and the King of Heroes around.
“Archer, were we the only ones to survive the Grail’s darkness?”
Normally Gilgamesh would not have answered any questions directed at him, but he had already gone against that rule a few times, and it had not been bothersome so far, therefore he supposed he could give her another reply. He remembered the priest telling him not to speak about him to Saber, but he mentally snorted. As if that human had anything to say in what he did. Sure, Kirei had been an interesting being to observe and to bring to self-realization, but now he had become quite dull. Recognizing his true goal in life had not made Kirei a superior person, nor had it made him a more intriguing one. For Gilgamesh, the fascination with the man had ended.
Therefore, he replied, “Kotomine Kirei and your former Master survived, too. The latter also seems to have saved a child from the rubble.”
Arturia digested the information. Kiritsugu was alive. She had to fight down a sudden feeling of revulsion towards the man who had forced her to destroy her last hopes with no regard at all for her thoughts on the matter. She didn’t realize that she was frowning until she felt Archer stare at her.
She returned his intent look with a blank one of her own. The King of Heroes smirked.
“You truly are a beautiful woman, be it on the battlefield or in a domestic setting… Arturia.”
Those words bothered the King of Knights. She was reminded of the other occasion in which he had told her something very similar… and it had been when he had made her that absurd proposal. She had to stop herself from rolling her eyes – and she realized that she had had to do that quite a few times already in the King of Heroes’s presence.
Should she confront him about his last words before the Grail’s destruction? Or was it better to leave the matter be? He hadn’t brought the subject up, after all… And aside from making that questionable statement right then, he was not repeating his earlier demands again. He hadn’t tried to stab her with his Noble Phantasm because she refused to accept his marriage proposal, to name one.
Finishing her refreshing drink, the woman handed the chalice back to him, but he only waved a hand and it disappeared in thin air. “Oh? I take the trouble to compliment you, and you arrogantly refuse to say a word?”
Arturia did not bother to say anything. That he of all people should talk about arrogance… the urge to roll her eyes became more insistent as she seriously wondered what was wrong with the man’s ego. Luckily, he didn’t seem to really expect a reply from her and just continued to drink his wine.
She took her attention away from him and looked around herself, paying more attention to the details. Even if Archer had very evidently given his personal touch to the décor of the room – and she didn’t wish to think about the reason he had done so –, she recognized it as her personal bedroom from when she had been staying there.
If it was her personal room, then there were going to be clothes in the closet – she was sure Irisviel had given her some. A pang of sadness hit her when thinking about the white-haired woman… but she couldn’t afford to mourn her right then. She had to assess her situation and determine her next move.
She turned around in her bed, still keeping herself covered with the blanket, and looked pointedly at the King of Heroes. He didn’t seem to get the hint, and she sighed slightly in exasperation.
“Archer,” she said evenly but with an underlying tone of impatience. “I wish to get dressed. Be so kind as to leave. The third room on the right should be Kiritsugu’s, so you can find clothes for yourself there, if you so wish.”
The golden king’s eyes fell on her, weighing her, while still sipping on his wine. She held his gaze firmly, not backing down. The ghost of a smirk appeared on his face.
“It’s Gilgamesh,” he said finally.
Arturia’s expression did not change.
He took the trouble to elaborate. “Stop calling me by my class’s title, Arturia. The war has ended, and for some reason we are the sole surviving Servants. We have been given true bodies, and we are therefore trapped in this world. I foresee a great deal of boredom in the midst of all these mongrels, and that is why you have the honour to remain around as my amusement. And if you are to be around me, I’m calling you by your given name – and so are you.”
She let out a small huff. “We can talk about this matter once we are clothed again. Kindly leave the room, Arch–… Gilgamesh,” she amended after catching his displeased look. If giving in to such an inconsequential demand would make him go away, she might as well humour him – for the time being.
The arrogant man reluctantly left to go looking for clothes he could find acceptable to wear in Kiritsugu’s old – and probably never used – bedroom. Arturia found her own clothes, as she expected. There was a suit among them, but even though she had found it useful during the war, she preferred to put it aside for the time being and instead wore a simpler attire.
A white shirt with a blue skirt and black leggings underneath, and a pair of practical booties did her outfit, and she stepped out of the room ready to examine and take control of her new life.
During the following months, Arturia slowly began to come to terms with her fully human body.
She still had all her powers as a Heroic Spirit, and could use them without problems, but the exertion now began to be more apparent. She had to begin to train a bit – to make sure her human physique didn’t forget the agility and the speed of her spirit form.
In order to train, she needed a place for it – and that meant that the large Einzbern Castle, half-destroyed as it was, was perfect. Some rooms had to be fixed and repaired a little – and with her powers as a Heroic Spirit, it was a work she was willing to do, because she could find out the limits of her body at the same time.
Most of her days were spent inside the castle, either exploring it, repairing it or cleaning some rooms in which she trained. She rarely went outside – there were still the signs of the atrocities Caster had committed with the innocent children, and she didn’t know if members of the Church, like Kirei, were supposed to come and dispose of the evidence about them. If they were indeed going to do that dirty work, it was in her best interest not to meet them.
The King of Heroes didn’t really interact with her in that period of time. He had chosen what seemed to have been a living room as his personal space, and usually remained there, leaning on a couch. He sometimes left for a short while, but she didn’t exactly observe him closely, therefore she wasn’t entirely sure.
He had been detached from her – not that she minded. It was actually a relief to see that he didn’t try to do anything to her. She was well aware of the fact that he had asked – or rather, demanded from – her to marry him before the end of the war, but he didn’t seem interested in bringing the subject up again… something she was actually both glad and relieved for.
The only rare remarks he had ever made so far were on how much she ate. He had strangely been generous enough to use his Gate of Babylon to provide food for them both – when she was hungry, the Gate would open beside her with a golden tray coming out of it, filled with a complete meal. What had both amused and annoyed the King of Heroes was her surprisingly humongous appetite – and that was among the very few things he had made comments on.
One early afternoon, though, after they had just eaten lunch and the trays had disappeared as usual, he suddenly sat up from the couch he was lying on and looked at her.
Bluntly, he said, “Are you going to just continue eating and training the whole time? Not doing anything?”
Startled, she was not able to give a prompt reply. He didn’t give her the time to put her thoughts together though, because his next words were even more startling.
“Wasn’t your goal saving your country, King of Knights?”
She looked coldly at him. So, he intended to bring out the full force of his arrogance that day. What was the best way to answer to such an attack? She narrowed her eyes.
She was going to retort… with the truth.
“I can’t save my country… not with the Grail, at least.”
Oh. Now that was something he hadn’t expected her to realize – nor accept. Gilgamesh’s eyes betrayed his interest in her words, and she continued.
“I understand my former Master’s last order – he must have realized the true nature of the Holy Grail and therefore decided the best course of action in order to destroy it.” She had had to think about it for a while, but she had understood enough about Kiritsugu to be certain that he would not have given her such an order if he had not known that the Grail was corrupt.
And using that artefact to change her country’s fate was not possible – not to mention that she had destroyed it herself, with the blast from Excalibur.
Unsurprisingly, Gilgamesh gave a short chuckle.
“Oh, now this might prove to be interesting.”
He came nearer, stopping right in front of her and leaning forward slightly to be on eye level with her.
“What purpose has your life now, then? Because now you have a life – with a fully human body…”
Arturia’s eyes widened, because of both the proximity and his words.
He was not done, though. “If you don’t have the hope to use the Grail to save your country anymore… then what meaning does your life have, Heroic Spirit Arturia?”
That question hit her hard.
If she could not save her kingdom… what purpose did her life have?
Her eyes, with a vaguely lost look in them, suddenly hardened. Arturia took a step back from him, turned around and left the room.
She had to get some order inside her head.
Gilgamesh looked at the woman leave, knowing he had said the right things to push her buttons.
He had observed her during the past weeks, and it had been quite entertaining to see her adjust to the human body she had… and he had also been reassured about the fact that she truly hadn’t been tainted by the Grail.
Still, he was aware that the true entertainment was still to come. Having a body entailed having a life to live – something that Arturia did not want.
What was she going to do?
He was actually looking forward to observing her behaviour in that new life, because he had decided that seeing her survive the Grail’s corruption was not enough.
He wanted to observe her actions to see if she was truly worthy of being his wife.
Arturia spent several hours in her room, seated on her bed with her eyes closed, thinking. Having a real body and a life to live in front of her, the matter seemed… complicated.
She had not asked for such a thing, nor had she desired it. When trapped inside the corruptive dark substance coming from the Grail, she had finally begun to accept that her time as a king had long ended. Begun being the keyword – she had not accepted it fully yet. She still felt that she was to blame for her kingdom’s demise… and she would probably never forgive herself for that.
But she had begun to see that using the Grail in an attempt to alter the past was nothing more than wishful thinking. She would not, however, accept the fact that there was no hope to change her kingdom’s destiny… not until it was proven beyond any possible doubt.
That meant that she was now in the world of the living, not as a Servant formed by mana, but as a real part of it.
What was she going to do?
It wasn’t like she had people she knew or cared about in the world of the living… not anymore. The only person she had known who was still alive – at least according to Archer – was her former Master.
However, she had no desire to see Kiritsugu again – ever. They were too different to interact beyond common civility, and even that had proven to be difficult more than once. For that reason, she was not interested in meeting him… but, her logical mind reflected, it was better to keep tabs on him nonetheless. She didn’t know what he had decided to do after the war… and he wasn’t, after all, known as the ‘Magus Killer’ for nothing. The best way to handle someone like him was to observe him from a distance.
Everyone else she had known had died during the war. The honourable Lancer, the impassive but dutiful Maiya, the kind-hearted Irisviel…
Thinking about the only person she had come close to calling a friend, Arturia’s eyes snapped open.
Irisviel was dead – she had become the Grail vessel as she had been destined to be and then was obliterated in the blast that had come from her own Noble Phantasm.
Irisviel had left people behind… one was Kiritsugu, but the other one was her daughter – Illyasviel.
The young girl was still in Germany, at the Einzbern Castle. Who knew what would become of her, now that the war had ended and Kiritsugu had not been able to win.
Arturia stood up. She knew exactly what was going to happen to Illyasviel, if her mother’s destiny was anything to go by.
Angry because of Kiritsugu’s failure, the Einzberns were probably going to ‘train’ the girl for the future… both as a weapon and as a new Grail vessel.
The King of Knights took a deep breath. There was nothing she could do for Irisviel anymore. However, out of respect for the bond of friendship they had shared, the least she could do was make sure that her daughter would not be forced to follow her down the same path.
She knew, however, that she was not aware of what Kiritsugu was doing – or going to do – about that same matter. Perhaps he had already taken his daughter away from her cruel future. It was best to enquire about that with Archer… after all, he seemed to be in contact with Kotomine Kirei, and Kirei had always been interested in Kiritsugu. It was highly likely that he knew what her former Master was doing… or at least had more information about him than she did.
Mind made up, the woman went to her closet. Other than clothes, inside of one of the closet’s drawers there was also quite a bit of money in cash. Maiya had given it to her to make sure that Irisviel had everything that she needed, but it had almost never been used. Arturia took it all out and put it inside a bag. She also added some spare clothes and a few accessories, but she kept it as minimal as possible, selecting only the strictly useful things.
She was going to get some information from Archer and, if nothing came up about Kiritsugu, she would travel to Germany.
There she would go to the Einzbern Castle and find Illyasviel.
Bag in her hand, she left the room.
Downstairs, Gilgamesh was on a couch, for once sitting instead of leaning down, but with the usual wine glass in his hand. He looked up with a bored expression when she came in, his red eyes shortly lingering on the bag she was carrying. Arturia seated herself in front of him, on another couch. There was a small wooden table between them.
The woman knew she had to be careful in bringing up the subject on which she wanted answers – the King of Heroes was too arrogant to simply give a reply if she asked.
Perhaps a direct approach from a different side would work, though.
“Was Kotomine Kirei the judge of the war after his father died?” she asked unexpectedly.
Gilgamesh’s eyes narrowed in amusement.
“Interesting that you should ask such a question, Arturia. I thought you had realized the truth.”
His eyes challenged her, but she didn’t falter and simply looked back at him with a neutral countenance.
Gilgamesh heaved a sigh.
“Hmph. You disappoint me, King of Knights. I thought you knew that Kirei became my second Master.”
A flash of shock and disbelief appeared in her eyes, but it was quickly gone, and a look of understanding replaced it. It wasn’t a real surprise – it actually made sense.
After Irisviel had asked Tokiomi to send Kirei away, the priest had undoubtedly killed Tokiomi and then become Archer’s new Master – all with Archer’s help, probably. Disgusted, Arturia shook those thoughts away for the moment. She had other things she needed to know.
“And your new Master is not concerned about you being alive? Or me being alive?”
Gilgamesh inclined his glass of wine, looking at the dark red liquid. “He is no longer my Master… and he has more important things he’s interested in rather than worrying about two former Servants becoming human… things like that Master of yours.”
Arturia lifted an eyebrow, to express her mild interest. She knew that if she was too eager to know, he would not say anything more in annoyance, but if she wasn’t interested in the least, then he would bring up other subjects – subjects more of his liking but not of hers.
Swirling the glass in his hand, Gilgamesh continued, “Your former Master has adopted the boy he saved from the Grail’s destruction, and has settled down in a house heavily protected by a bounded field. Quite clever, for such a mongrel.”
Well. That meant that Kiritsugu was still in Fuyuki, and appeared to have no intentions of going to see his daughter. Information coming from Archer may not be entirely reliable, but he was no liar – that, Arturia knew for sure. He had too much pride to lie.
That meant that her next move was decided. She gave the man in front of her a nod and stood up.
“I’m leaving,” she said calmly, but with a very firm tone.
The King of Heroes arched an eyebrow.
“Oh? And where would you be going?”
Arturia considered. What was he going to do with anything she would tell him? He did not appear fond of Kirei, so she doubted he would send that man after her. And she couldn’t think of any other repercussions if she told him something generic.
So she took a few steps towards the door, looking at him over her shoulder. “To Germany.”
At that, Gilgamesh’s expression became the closest thing to curious she had ever seen on his arrogant face. He stood up as well.
“Interesting,” he said, his eyes now fixated on her and slightly calculating. “And why Germany, King of Knights? Could it be…” and his eyes flickered, “that you have now figured out what to use this new life for?”
If Arturia was perturbed at his perceptiveness, she did not show it. She simply turned away from him and made her way to the door. He spoke again.
“And how are you going to arrive there, stubborn woman?”
Her hand, already on the door handle, paused for a second. When he called her that, it usually meant he was both annoyed and about to say something that would make her angry at his arrogance. She decided to give an answer.
“I hope you are aware of the fact that there are airplane tickets that can be bought in this era, King of Heroes.”
She was about to open the door, but his next words made her stop completely.
“Ah, now that is interesting. I was wondering how you were going to travel there, since you are not able to dematerialize. And the even more interesting thing is… that I can.”
The woman turned around to face him and gave him a hard stare.
“The main point of all this talking, Archer-” he lifted and eyebrow and she rolled her eyes internally, “-Gilgamesh, is that you are not coming. So you boasting about your abilities is only making me waste time.”
He clicked his tongue.
“An insulting reply, woman. And also wrong. I am coming to Germany – and I refuse to step on those filthy flying machines who can’t even hold a candle to my Vimana.”
Arturia’s eyebrows went up.
“You are not–”
“Don’t you think you can order me around, Arturia. It so happens that life around here is an incredible boredom, and you so happen to be one of the few people who can interest me. Whatever you intend to do in Germany, observe you will provide sufficient entertainment for me. Not to speak of the fact that I’m giving you the rare opportunity of dematerializing with me – not something I offer lightly.”
The woman stayed silent. If she dematerialized, it would take her much less time to go to Germany and she could save the cost of the ticket… who knew if she ever needed money again.
The downside to that was that Archer – fine, she told herself in exasperation, Gilgamesh – would be accompanying her. And… what would he do there? More importantly, what would he do to Illyasviel?
However, she knew that he was not going to accept no as an answer. If he said he would go with her, then he would. The only thing she could do was make the most of the situation. If she was being forced to accept, she would at least make sure that her terms were understood.
Arturia walked back towards the couch and stopped right in front of him. Her expression was stern.
“Are you going to interfere with what I do, or will you only observe?”
The King of Heroes knew he had won then. So he supposed he could give her the answer she wanted.
“As long as you keep me amused, I intend to watch.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“No killing,” she said, with a deadly tone.
“Hmph. Quite the conceited request. But I suppose I can spare the mongrels… if they know their place.”
Arturia suppressed her irritation at his usual arrogance and gave him a short nod. Then she extended her hand to him. If they were going to go to Germany, they might as well leave immediately. Gilgamesh smirked at her and took her palm. He was mildly surprised to find out that her small, soft hand possessed a strange mixture of a gentle, determined and strong grip, but after a second, he realized that it was perfectly suited for someone like her.
Squeezing her hand, he closed his eyes and activated his dematerialization power.The two kings disappeared.