Chapter 1073: Reveal

Though it may have been unnecessary, Vahn lightly knocked against the door of Lakshmibai’s room before waiting for a soft and melancholic voice to answer, “Come in…” This caused Rin to sigh from the side but, without allowing his expression to change, Vahn slid open the sliding partition before making his way into the room. Artoria was sitting on the two-layered futon that could, if she ever chose to use it, serve as Lakshimbai’s bed. She was no longer wearing her armor, allowing Vahn to glimpse her old-fashioned but stylish dress in its full glory. Though the puffy shoulders looked a bit strange, he felt that the balance between the royal blues, pristine whites, and gold accents were all exceptional.

Even though Vahn’s eyes didn’t even flicker, Artoria’s intuition told her that he was ‘evaluating’ her, though in what way she could not discern. Thus, in the brief moments before Vahn sat down on a square cushion, Artoria was also evaluating him. She had already formed an initial impression after seeing him take action, as she was still aware of everything going on at the time, but it was a very different feeling seeing him now. Previously, Artoria felt as if Vahn was a bit too overconfident and, after seeing how he used [Enkidu], he seemed like the type to try and control the situation without taking decisive action. Now, however, the pressure he had emanated during the brief battle had all but faded, leaving a peculiar and gentle aura lingering around his body that seemed to both calm and inspire those around him. As a King herself, she recognized this as being an aura not all that dissimilar to the one people with high [Charisma] would possess…

Artoria ultimately decided that she had a relatively neutral impression that leaned more towards a favorable one when looking at Vahn. Thus, without spending too much time focusing on him, she quickly shifted her focus to someone she had recognized from the start. Since it hadn’t been that long since their parting, Artoria was surprised to see how much Rin had changed. Not only was she slightly taller, but she had become significantly more mature than the rather rash young girl she had been in the past. Though it wasn’t entirely her fault, as she had been possessed by the Goddess Ishtar at the time, Artoria still hadn’t quite gotten over the many embarrassing things they had done together…

Once everyone had taken a seat, Artoria decided to take the initiative as, once the conversation developed to the events over the last few weeks, she wasn’t sure her mood would hold out for very long. As there were a few things of a higher priority she wanted answers to, Artoria started by staring at Rin and asking, “Is Shirou participating in the War this time?” This immediately caused Rin to flinch before an apologetic and mournful expression appeared in her eyes. Since Artoria was not unfamiliar with loss, she simply closed her eyes before Rin even answered, muttering, “I see…” in a somber tone.

Though the pain in her heart wasn’t something she could simply get over, Saber did her best to bury the emotion deep inside of her before opening her eyes again and staring between both Vahn and Rin. The latter may not have intended to make it obvious, but she had sat a little closer to Vahn than simple associates would have, to the point that their shoulders would touch if either leaned a little bit towards the other. This allowed Artoria to deduce that Shirou had likely been dead for a few years and, given his heroic tendencies, she comforted herself by choosing to believe he had died trying to help people.

With Artoria falling into a temporary silence, Vahn decided to guide the conversation himself now, starting by asking one of the questions she would have liked to delay, “I know this may not be the best time, but we need to know how long ago you were summoned. If you have any information on our enemies and their plans, it would help our cause greatly. Rin and I have set out to put an end to the Holy Grail War for good this time so we could use all the help we can get…” Vahn felt that it would expedite things if he made their goal clear from the start. Based on what Rin had said, Artoria had a selfless and dutiful personality so it was almost impossible for her to refuse a sincere request for help.

Blinking in surprise, Artoria answered Vahn’s question with one of her own, asking, “You have no wish you would like granted by the Grail?” Though she could understand why Rin would want to bring an end to the Holy Grail War, Artoria was curious about Vahn’s reasons. Few people would pass on the opportunity to have one of their wishes granted and, based on her discernment of Vahn, he didn’t seem like the type lacking in ambition and desire. At a glance, his eyes seemed to be fully focused on the present moment but, much like earlier, Artoria’s intuition told her that he was unerringly moving towards the future. She even had the distinct impression that, if she were to bar his passage toward his goals, Vahn would completely destroy her…

As her question wasn’t all that unexpected, Vahn smiled as, from Artoria’s perspective, an air of absolute confidence began radiating from his body as he plainly stated, “I do not require an object like the Holy Grail to make my wishes a reality. Even if it takes many years, I will take hold of the future with my own two hands…” Towards the end of his statement, Vahn envisioned the moment when he would reunite with his family, a vision that caused his smile to turn gentle in reflection. This was only for a brief moment, however, before he blinked and resumed his focus on Artoria’s crystal clear green eyes.

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Artoria was slightly taken aback by Vahn’s conviction but, seeing Rin at his side, she wasn’t all that surprised he had such a nature. For better or worse, Rin seemed to be drawn to men who would go to great lengths to make their dreams a reality. As this was a trait she also respected a great deal, Artoria returned a small smile over her own before, much like Vahn’s, it faded away a moment later. Then, without footing around the issue, she adopted a dour expression before explaining, “I was summoned twenty-three days ago within the basement of the Einzbern Castle. They used a fragment of the original Lesser Grail and a blue charm that I was unable to identify…” Reaching this point, Saber released a sigh before adding, “My original Master seemed to be a Homunculus created by the Einzberns for the sole purpose of having an affinity with me…almost immediately after I was called, that vile man was given my Master’s Command Spells before those fiends simply ‘disposed’ of my Master…”

Though she was a King, Artoria was first and foremost a Knight. Even if her Master had not been a natural-born human, her sense of duty and the code of chivalry dictated she do her best to support him. Seeing him unceremoniously stripped of his Command Spells and put to death was yet another failure that would weigh heavily on her heart. Because of this, even when she was being tormented by Alex Everdale, Artoria felt it was a just punishment for her failure. This didn’t mean her resentment towards her false Master was any lesser, however, as he seemed to be an irredeemable reprobate with qualities beneath those of the worms that made the soil their home…

With her expression having turned cold, Saber explained, “Due to the strain most Magus would experience as my Master, Alex Everdale was poor suited to the task of taking to the front lines. He was a scoundrel who lived in the dark and, after realizing I would not willingly follow his orders, his so-called pride was wounded. Instead of trying to obtain the Grail, he was more focused on trying to get me to submit to him, even going so far as to use two Command Spells to forcibly suppress my ego and greatly enhance my…sensitivity.” As the rather awkward word left her mouth, Artoria gave a small cough before continuing where she left off, adding, “I had prepared myself for even greater shame and humiliation but, after being bound by a pillory and forced into a compromising position, that man just stood there in a daze for several hours…”

Artoria could vividly remember being forced to bend over without being given any freedom of movement at all. However, after Alex had touched her for a bit, his hands stopped and he just stood there. This happened every time it seemed as if he were going to shame her completely, causing Artoria to quickly reason that someone was interfering with his attempts. It wasn’t until tonight that she understood what was going on, causing her expression to darken as she explained, “It was only during our previous battle that I came to understand what was going on. That man who appeared in the sky was my former caretaker and Mentor, the so-called Magus of Flowers, Merlin.”

Hearing Saber’s words, Rin showed genuine shock on her face as she asked, “That man was Merlin? How is he able to be summoned for the Holy Grail War? The last time you were summoned, you said that he was still alive…” As these words left her mouth, Rin realized that, other than Merlin, the same could be said for Ishtar, Ereshkigal, Scáthach, and, now, Saber. She knew that the latter two should have never been recorded on the Throne of Heroes as, regardless of the passage of time, they would never die through normal means. Both Ishtar and Ereshkigal existed on the Reverse Side of the World as well, meaning that the restriction of the Grail only being able to summon Heroic Spirits was obviously outdated information…

Without pressing for more information, Rin just gestured for Saber to continue, the latter obliging by explaining, “Merlin is no mere man, but the product of forbidden love between an Incubus and a Witch hailing from a Kingdom in Wales. As a result, he has dominion over Dreams and Illusions, to the point that he could even create an entire village whose inhabitants believe they are actually alive. He must have used his magic to beguile that wicked man into believing he was actually doing all the twisted and disgusting things he had intended. As a result, my mana has constantly been draining since the start of the Holy Grail War, forcing my false Master to spend his time tormenting me and trying to replenish my mana…”

Though Merlin had prevented her from being completely defiled, Artoria didn’t feel all that grateful to him as, if he was already interfering with Alex, he could have prevented all the sexual harassment and other shameful acts he had forced upon her. At the same time, due to the increased sensitivity of her body and the ‘urges’ that came when a person was mana deprived, Artoria felt like she was on the verge of having a mental breakdown until Alex had used one of his Command Spells to replenish her depleted reserves. Fortunately, now that she had been freed from his control, the spell increasing her sensitivity was no longer in effect, even if the nightmare of the last twenty-three days was still fresh on her mind…

With Artoria’s explanation closely matching the assumptions he had already drawn, Vahn wasn’t all that surprised. He had experienced the power of Dreams and Illusions within Danmachi, including the terrifying power of the Goddess Maya. What he was most concerned about was the question he asked almost as soon as Artoria seemed to recover her composure, “Is he our enemy…?” To this, Artoria frowned slightly before shaking her head and answering, “Merlin may be an unreliable and licentious Magus, but he is undoubtedly an ally to humanity. Even if all the Masters participating in the Holy Grail War combined their Command Spells, I would not believe for a moment that man was under their control. When he is involved, dream and reality become almost indiscernible from each other…however, the fact remains that I cannot even comprehend an existence beyond Merlin’s…”

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Since Vahn also got the impression that Merlin bore no ill-will towards them, he didn’t doubt Artoria’s words, concluding, “That means there is a good chance he has been summoned as the Ruler-Class Servant.” The moment these words left his mouth, Artoria surprised everyone by suddenly bursting into laughter. Then, when she saw the looks Vahn and Rin were giving her, a brief hint of a blush colored her cheeks as she said, “Sorry, I couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous the thought of Merlin as any kind of ‘Ruler’ was. However, I do not doubt that your intuition is correct. That girl, Ilya, is undoubtedly the vessel for the Lesser Grail once again. She also has a non-standard Spirit summoned into her body, though I am unaware of its identity.”

Hearing Saber’s words, Rin released a profound sigh while supporting her head with her hand. Then, with an empathetic yet frustrated voice, she muttered, “That girl just can’t catch a break.” Following this, Rin raised her head and, seeing the confusion in Vahn’s eyes, explained, “Illya had been the vessel for the Lesser Grail during the previous war as well. She was intended to be the Einzbern’s trump card as, using normal means, no other Master would have a chance at victory if they went out of their way to kill her. If not for Gilgamesh appearing and throwing a wrench into everything, there is a good chance that Ilya would have been the final victor of the Fifth Holy Grail War…”

Even without Rin going into too many details, Vahn could fill in the rest of the blanks on his own. Since Illya had been the Einzbern’s trump card previously, there was no reason they wouldn’t try the same tactic. They even took it a step further by making her into the vessel for a non-standard Servant while, if his intuition proved correct, there were other secrets contained within her body. There weren’t too many things his [Eyes of Truth] were unable to see through and, considering that Merlin had come to her aid, his intuition had a high chance of being vindicated later. The problem was, much like Rin stated, Illya really couldn’t seem to catch a break. Vahn felt terrible to see such a small girl suffering through such tragedies, regardless of her actual age…

Since mulling over such things was a fruitless endeavor, Vahn set aside the matter of Illya’s tragic fate before stating, “If we are afforded the opportunity, we can try to help Illya. For now, we need to focus on our primary objective and thinking about our next course of action. Tonight has revealed a great many things and, with the exception of the final Caster and Archer-Class Servants, we now know the identities of every participant within the war…” Though Vahn had more to say, he saw Arotria furrow her brows in response to his words, followed by her claiming, “I know the identities of the final enemy Archer and Caster…”

Though Vahn was pleased by this revelation, Rin seemed to understand the meaning behind Artoria’s expression as she practically jumped up from her cushion and exclaimed, “Is it that arrogant asshole…!?” To this, Artoria nodded, her own expression just as fierce as Rin’s as she explained, “Last night, the Einzbern Forest was invaded by the Archer-Class, Gilgamesh, and the Caster-Class, Circe. The latter was the one to set the forest ablaze but, after I was sent to repel them, Gilgamesh forced her to pull back. When he saw me…that reprobate said he would be back to ‘collect’ me at a later date. After that, they disappeared into the sky with Circe clinging to his arm like a nymph…”

Rin seemed to take Artoria’s words hard as, shortly after rising to her feet, she clutched her side as a pained expression contended against her anger. This was enough to make Vahn’s decision for him so, even though Artoria looked at him with an accusatory gaze, Vahn guided Rin to his lap before slipping his hand under her shirt. Before she could have a panic attack, he explained, “I am going to heal your scar. Sit still and behave…” Though he had intended to heal her scar after she asked, Vahn felt like that notion was rather silly after seeing Rin suffer from its existence. Thus, after a little under three minutes, he had completely repaired the damaged nerves in the area, leaving behind nothing but a slightly paler white spot on Rin’s smooth abdomen.

Since she didn’t seem capable of moving on her own accord, Vahn lifted Rin’s body by hooking his hands under her armpits, lifting her as if she were weightless before planting her on the square cushion to his right. Her face was already red before but, after being ‘manhandled’, Rin’s complexion had become scarlet as her eyes darted around in their sockets, words completely failing her. At this time, Vahn turned his attention to Artoria and said, “Welcome to the team, Artoria. It may be a little late for introductions, but my name is Vahn Aldrnari Mason, known better by my former title as the Sage Emperor of the Aldrnari Empire. You need not call me Master, but know that I have high expectations for the famed King of Knights. For the time being, you should catch up with Rin so she can get you up to speed on our operations. There are many things I’m not suited to comment on, so I will excuse myself for the time being…”

As Artoria had even greater bearing than many of the other Kings and Queens he had met, Vahn felt the need to speak politely now that the conversation had come to an end. He knew that, after seeing what he had done to Rin, such words would make her feel a little conflicted in regards to how she should treat him. It wasn’t his intention to exploit her, especially after what she had experienced, but Vahn knew it was to all of their benefits if things were smoothened over a bit. By entrusting her to Rin, at least for the time being, Vahn intended to cultivate Artoria’s intrigued by having her hear about him from the others instead of revealing everything himself. At the same time, he intended to do much the same when he was alone with Rin, at least until Artoria herself began to speak on the matters of her past…

With that in mind, Vahn didn’t wait for Artoria’s response as he quickly, but calmly, exited the room It felt a little strange, using the techniques Loki had practically forced into his brain, but Vahn was already feeling as though he had passed beyond the point of no return. Now, he was focused on forging powerful bonds with the people that would likely become his allies over the next few years. He still lacked the method to travel to another timeline and, though the ‘wish’ granted to him after destroying the Grail might facilitate the transfer, Vahn had no intention of using it. He had barely gotten his feet wet in this new world and, until he was absolutely confident in his capabilities once again, Vahn intended to bide his time and endeavor to increase his strength as much as possible over the next few years. To facilitate his growth, Vahn was already formulating a plan within his mind to create a small organization comprised of the Servants he was able to obtain during the Holy Grail War. With individuals like Scáthach, Paracelsus, Artoria, and potentially even Merlin, Vahn believed he could create an organization that could shake the foundation that had corrupted this world with its greed…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘RIP little homunculus bro…’,’Merlin half-assing things…’,’The moment Vahn starts getting his d*ck wet, he immediately starts plotting world domination…Sis, where you at!?’)

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