Chapter 1050: Allegiance

After things had settled down a bit, Vahn listened as Catherine and Astolfo both explained their reasons for participating in the Holy Grail War. The former had been born into a declining Magus family who, other than Catherine herself, lacked a fifth-generation successor. This wouldn’t have been the worst thing if not for the fact that Catherine, due to her weak constitution, could hardly use Magecraft without injuring her body. What made matters worse was that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer in her teens, leading to a situation where her family had tried to arrange a marriage with another Magus family in order to obtain an heir. This endeavor ultimately proved fruitless, however, as the number of Magi in the world was already low and, seeing no benefits in helping a family on the decline, Catherine had ultimately been abandoned after the family finally fell apart due to a struggle over what little wealth and property they owned.

The one thing Catherine wished for was to, for the first time in her life, have a healthy body that was not plagued by sickness and disease. She wanted to travel around the world and experience all of the things in life she had missed out on due to her heritage. After learning about the Holy Grail War, she had used what remained of her personal savings to secure a plane ticket to Fuyuki to try her luck. When she managed to actually summon a Servant, Catherine had been extremely grateful as, not only did she get a kindhearted soul like Astolfo, but she was able to free herself from the feeling that she was incapable of succeeding. Though she harbored little hope of actually obtaining the Holy Grail, she was happy just to have experienced even a small amount of success before the end of her life…

Astolfo’s reason for participating in the Holy Grail War drew a few parallels with Catherine’s, even if the nature of their upbringing was decidedly different. His wish, if it could even be called as such, was to be allowed to continue his many adventures into the present. He was endlessly intrigued by the world and, even though there were many sad and heartbreaking things present within, Astolfo saw the potential beauty in all things. When he had been summoned by Catherine, he wasted no time in promising to fulfill her wish, even going so far as to swear he would escort her on a journey to visit all of the most beautiful sights and scenes the world had to offer. His own dream didn’t matter nearly as much as his simple desire to make her smile, even as they both knew it was a reality bordering on the impossible…

All the while Astolfo and Catherine were recounting their stories, Vahn was seated on a lavish leather sofa as he absentmindedly worked away at the contents of a wine glass. He was honestly more than a little upset about how Catherine had been treated and, if such a thing had happened in front of him, Vahn knew he would have stepped in. Since Astolfo had already ‘saved’ her from the darkness she had fallen into, however, he felt a little awkward before ultimately deciding to adopt a somewhat dismissive attitude. Though he was still intending to have Astolfo become his Servant, Vahn had no intention of interrupting their rather unique relationship.

With that in mind, Vahn waited until Astolfo had finally finished rambling on about the various places they would go sightseeing before saying, “As your wishes are something that can be obtained without the Holy Grail, I would like for you, Catherine, to remove yourself from the competition. In exchange, I will swear to completely heal your body before restoring its damaged vitality. Forget about having just a month left to live, you’d be hard-pressed to die before you’re one-hundred once I’ve completed the operation. As for you, Astolfo, I will require your assistance during the remainder of the Holy Grail War. There are several ways in which I can guarantee you will be able to remain in this world after the conclusion of the Heaven’s Feel ritual, effectively granting both of your wishes in exchange for your service.”

Catherine had started to tremble before Vahn had even finished his words while Astolfo, showing confusion at first, practically exploded into a vibrant smile as he jumped forward and tried to grab Vahn’s hands. Using an instinct he didn’t know he possessed, Vahn lifted his foot at the same time that Astolfo jumped towards him, effectively kicking the peculiar boy in the gut as a result. He then fell to the floor, arms supporting his abdomen as an uncommon amount of drool poured from the side of his mouth as he released a dry and pained laugh…

After Astolfo finally recovered, Vahn found himself in a situation where the youthful Paladin was kneeling solemnly before him as he pledged, “Henceforth, I, Duke Astolfo Ada Mercia swear, so long as these lungs draw breath, my allegiance will belong to the Sage Emperor, Vahn Aldrnari Mason.” As a True Knight and Paladin, Astolfo was very aware that he owed Vahn a great debt for saving the life of his charge, not once, but thrice. Not only did he prevent Assassin from succeeding in his task, but Vahn had also started healing Catherine’s various ailments. If he truly managed to emerge victorious in the Holy Grail War, Astolfo believed he would do everything within his power to make good on his promises. Even for someone as whimsical in nature as him, he knew what he ought to do in exchange for the favor Vahn had already paid them…

Vahn didn’t really know how to feel about the fact that a man that was prettier than most women was currently kneeling before him. The fact that he wore a skirt only exacerbated the situation as, if he looked just a bit lower, Vahn was certain he would be able to see something he did not wish to bear witness to. Fortunately, Astolfo was close enough to him that it would require craning his neck a great deal to accidentally expose the Paladin’s secret. For reasons he would never fully understand, Vahn’s mind was filled with a powerful sense of incongruity as, even though he didn’t ‘want’ to look, he was simultaneously curious to know if Astolfo wore normal underwear, or if he pushed his peculiarity to the extreme and dawned panties…

Hearing Astolfo complete his oath, Vahn used the former’s sword to tap both of his shoulders before saying, “Rise…” in his ‘Emperor’ voice. As if being liberated from a great pressure, Astolfo bounded up to his feet fast enough that both of his feet left the ground for a brief moment. He had a radiant smile on his face, laughing in an easy-going manner as he said, “So long as someone didn’t end up summoning Charlamagne as their Servant, there shouldn’t be any issues. I always was an outlier among the other Paladins so I don’t think they would freak out too badly knowing I pledge my allegiance to another Lord, ahahaha~.”

With Astolfo’s words ringing in his ears, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly since it almost felt like the whimsical Paladin had just set in motion something that would trouble him in the near future. This was a sense he had been honing since his time in Danmachi, making Vahn keenly aware whenever ‘something’ had been set in motion. As a result, Vahn pinched the bridge of his nose before shaking his head in exasperation as he said, “Just make sure you don’t run off without conferring with myself and our other companions. Even if your speed is bolstered as a Rider-Class Servant, we’ll all be troubled, Catherine included, if you end up falling into the enemy’s trap.”

In response to Vahn’s words, Astolfo gave an exaggerated salute as he loudly exclaimed, “As you will, my Lord~!” Immediately following this, Astolfo turned to Catherine and appeared to be on the verge of asking a question before Vahn preempted him by explaining, “She can seek refuge at the Fuyuki City Hyatt Hotel. The Mage’s Association has established the entire building as a neutral territory where conflict is strictly forbidden. The representative, Lord El-Melloi II, will see that she is well protected until the Holy Grail War has come to an end. After that, both of you will be free to move about at your leisure. Though you will obviously need to plan accordingly, that is something to worry about once the War has drawn to a conclusion.”

Understanding that Astolfo was still concerned about her, even though she had already relinquished her Command Spells, Catherine gave a gentle smile before stroking his cheek and saying, “Your care has already saved me…now go, be the Hero I know you can be. I will wait for you…” By the time she had finished her words, Astolfo had overlapped her hand with his own, solemnly nodding his head. From Vahn’s perspective, it almost appeared as if the two were deeply infatuated with each other. Observing more closely, however, would reveal that Catherine obviously didn’t think herself worthy of Astolfo’s concern while, as much as he genuinely seemed to care about Catherine’s well-being, she was not someone he could dedicate himself to…

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Knowing it wasn’t his place to intervene, Vahn gave them some privacy as he moved to the roof, pulling out his radio before turning it to the proper frequency and saying, “One more Master has been removed from contention. We now have a Rider-Class Servant to provide support…over.”

While waiting for Rin’s response, Vahn slowly ascended to the sky to both increase the reception and get a better vantage over the City. Even if he drew attention towards himself in the process, Vahn’s urge to experience a ‘real’ fight had reached a critical point. If he couldn’t find someone to vent on, Vahn felt like he might not be able to resist Scáthach’s ‘direct’ nature if the two of them were to do battle against each other. His instincts told her that she would be even more overbearing than Tsubaki during their training, almost guaranteeing that his ‘habit’ would act up as a result. He had an instinct bordering on a compulsion that, whenever a strong woman put him through the wringer a few times, Vahn ‘needed’ to tease them in return…

Amidst his straying thoughts, Vahn heard Rin’s words over the radio, explaining, “We managed to track down a Master-Servant pair in section D-11. They’re currently holed up in a warehouse that has been surrounded by a few powerful trap spells. As some are a little ‘too’ complex, there is a good chance the enemy Servant is a Caster-Class…over.”

Hearing Rin’s words, Vahn released an involuntary sigh as, regardless of hower powerful the enemy Caster might be, it wouldn’t be much of a fight once he managed to close the distance. Unless they could pepper him with A-Rank Spells and higher, which was extremely unlikely, he wouldn’t even need to worry about taking damage. This was one of the things he was struggling to adapt to as, even compared to his high durability in the Record of Danmachi, the ‘protection’ granted to him as a result of his classification as a ‘Greater Divine Spirit’ made him almost invulnerable. Even someone as powerful as Scáthach, striking him directly in the neck, was only able to make his skin itch a bit…

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Deciding to give Rin and Fenrir a chance at personal-redemption, as they were undoubtedly still thinking about the previous night, Vahn held up his radio to say, “I’ll move to support from a distance. This is yours and Fenrir’s time to shine…over…” Even without hearing Rin’s response, Vahn could feel ‘excitement’ in his heart, not due to his own emotions, but the direct result of how excited Fenrir was at the prospect of getting a second chance to fight. She had been excessively frustrated after Scáthach dealt with her with extreme ease so Fenrir ‘needed’ a battle just as much as Vahn did. He even credited some of his building urges to what she was going through, a testament to how synchronized their emotions were at times…

Having heard her Master’s voice over the radio, Fenrir’s ears immediately angled backward as her hair began to stand on end. She turned her glowing red eyes towards Rin, causing the latter to produce a wry smile before saying, “I can create a hole in the formation surrounding the warehouse, but there is no guarantee this will provide you any advantages. Many Caster-Class Servants are capable of a phenomenon known as ‘Territory Creation’. The moment you step into their territory, you will already be put into a disadvantageous position…”

As Fenrir was familiar with the concept, the result of her ‘eternal’ rivalry with Terra, she knew better than most how troublesome such an ability could be. However, knowing that she should have the edge against most ‘real’ Mages, Fenrir wasn’t afraid. The Magecraft she had seen after being summoned by her Master was nothing compared to the magic system she had studied under Eva. Even if the Caster-Class Heroic Spirit was capable of using Magecraft that bordered on True Magic, Fenrir was confident she could evade even large-scale anti-army abilities before severely injuring them with her claws…

After her embarrassing failure with a spear, Fenrir was now equipped with a pair of sleek black gauntlets that had A-Rank [Magic Resistance] and [Shock Resistance] as their primary boons. She should be fast enough to evade most spells but having the means to defend against any stray spells sent her way was never a bad thing.

Seeing that Fenrir was a little ‘too eager’ to battle, Rin released a tired sigh as she muttered, “You and your Master are both battle junkies…” Though she had gotten this impression after seeing how ‘serious’ Vahn took training, Rin constantly found herself being surprised with how attuned to battle Fenrir and Vahn were. She knew that battles were a daily occurrence in the world they had originated, but it was still a little abnormal from the perspective of someone that lived in the ‘modern era’. Most Mages proactively avoided direct combat, choosing to hole themselves up in their workshops as they performed their research in secret. The only time Mages would proactively seek conflict was if both sides coveted the same resource or wanted to steal the research of the other party…

As being compared to her Master could only be a ‘good’ thing, Fenrir ignored the frustration in Rin’s voice as she said, “Master will probably be close by, but you should transform when the battle begins. There is no point in trying to conceal a secret if it will result in your death…” Though she wasn’t trying to be harsh, Fenrir had felt her Master’s anxiety when Rin was pierced through the heart. This was accompanied by a profound sense of ‘failure’, a feeling far more prominent than the frustration she felt after being tossed aside by Scáthach…

Feeling a shiver run along her spine, not because of Fenrir’s words but because she could still remember the sudden and intense ‘heat’ that had spread through her body the previous night. If not for the [Effigy of the Hero], Rin knew that would have been her unceremonious end. Even though she had two Goddesses within her body, she had almost been eliminated without even having the chance to show her hand. Thus, understanding the inherent truth contained within Fenrir’s words, Rin opened up the large carrying tote she had brought along with her and said, “Give me a moment…”

After having a few sets of clothing destroyed, including a set of [Aegis Mk 5], Rin was better prepared for Ishtar and Ereshkigal taking control of her body. Using a cashmere poncho to cover her figure, she quickly stripped down until she was standing naked as the day she was born. With this finished, Rin closed her eyes as a purple hue spread across her black hair. In less than two seconds, Ishtar had completely taken over her body before she effortlessly lifted from the roof and began floating in the air as if it was perfectly natural. While Ereshkigal was a Goddess presiding over the Earth, her fundamental purpose was as one of the Goddesses presiding over Heaven. Though she made an ‘exception’ when it came to being indoors, Ishtar refused to tread upon any grounds that had not been sanctified in her name…

Seeing Fenrir staring at her, Ishtar giggled playfully before muttering, “Boat of Heaven Maanna…” in the Language of the Gods. As a result, Fenrir winced as both of her ears laid flat against the top of her head, all whilst an enormous bow formed from the void before floating alongside Ishtar. It had two distinct arcs, the first of which curved like a blue serpent adorned with gold, while the second looked like half of a circular gateway. The two sections were linked together, not by a bowstring, but a braid made from the hairs of a Celestial Stallion. Instead of firing normal arrows, though it also possessed that functionality, Ishtar’s bow had the ability to open a gate between the two aligned circles located at the very center of each arc. If she was serious, even wiping out entire mountains was not beyond her ability as an Archer second only to Artemis herself…

Fenrir didn’t like feeling ‘beneath’ anyone except for her Master so, from the moment Ishtar’s bow manifested, she began to feel an itchy feeling over her entire body. She knew, on an instinctual level, that Ishtar would be able to kill her with great ease. Now, even though she was the one to tell Rin to transform, Fenrir was regretting it a little as she gave a curt nod and said, “I’m going…” This caused Ishtar to laugh in mild amusement before laying down on the arch of her bow and saying, “You are that man’s most precious person. Have more confidence in yourself, dear Fenrir…”

Having Ishtar suddenly trying to ‘encourage’ her, the hair on Fenrir’s tail became slightly pointy as she leaped from her perch without comment. Ishtar didn’t seem to mind this much as she leaned her arms against the second arch of her bow and began to playfully dangle her legs. She had been tempted to just destroy the entire warehouse but, remembering that Vahn wanted to try and recruit the enemy Servants, Ishtar felt it would upset him if she did something so ‘selfish’. For reasons she didn’t quite understand herself, Ishtar felt intrinsically drawn to Vahn as, for the first time in her long existence, he felt ‘bigger’ than even she was. This was a feeling she only ever experienced with her Father, the King of the Highest Heaven, Anu…

Thinking of her Father, Ishtar ran her finger along one of the golden lines of her bow before staring off into the distance. Just as she was in his range, Vahn was well within her own. As a Goddess that ruled from the Heavens, Ishtar had a natural awareness of all things beneath the infinitely vast sky. Though she, like most other Gods, completely ignored this awareness at most times, Ishtar was now using this ability to locate Vahn atop a roof a little under 4km away. He almost immediately looked back at her, causing Ishtar to giggle playfully before licking her lips in an overtly seductive manner…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘I can’t help but imagine a Vanargandr version of Astolfo…’,’Fenrir’s desire to prove herself is like a constant flag (O,…,O)…’,’Some things change, others stay the same…’)

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