Existence

By : Joak Drysso

Little could be said of the moans and sighs and grunts that came from the room of the temple that Assassin stood guard outside of that would not qualify as pornographic. While he knew precisely what was going on – his master was supplementing her already considerable mana supply by obtaining some from the man that had rescued her, he never had anything more to do with her than he absolutely needed, so he tuned them out.

While Assassin had very little to say about Kuzuki Souichirou, having never had a chance to actually talk to the man nor much of an inclination, what little he did have to say was positive. The way he walked, the way he moved, it reminded Assassin so much of…

Of a warrior. He frowned. What was he going to think of? Himself? He didn’t even know who he was. His existence in this Grail War was a dire perversion of the rules, a perversion so grandiose that a fake assassin class had been created solely to give birth to him. He was someone who had been summoned under the name of “Sasaki Kojiro” to fight in this war. However, his master not actually being a proper master, he was bound to the temple where he drew his prana.

The fact that he wasn’t even a real person, merely a collection of rumors and inaccurate records, meant that he had no Noble Phantasm. The only reason he had been selected was because he had mastered a technique that was associated with the legend of Kojiro. This prompted a little smile from Assassin. He was a nameless farmer, and when not tending the field, he had practiced and practiced until one way, he finally found the secret to the ability.

The Tsubame Gaeshi, the sword that cut three times at the same time, one from a straight horizontal, one straight vertical, and one diagonal. The technique was completely unavoidable. And to think that some simple farmer, in his off-time, had discovered the secret to that ability and then died a simple farmer with no claim to fame. When Assassin gave the matter any thought, he tended to quickly grow irritated and move off in another direction.

Most of the time this new direction was what his name would have been. He wondered if he would have been a Tanaka, or a Machida, or a Maeda, or whatever peasant names they had started handing out. Though this particular path of thought often led to him wondering what his own name was. The world constantly hammered into his mind that he was Sasaki Kojiro, the man who dueled Musashi and perfected the Tsubame Gaeshi. But Assassin knew, through his tie to the Holy Grail, that he was merely “Sasaki Kojiro”, one spirit of many who fit this legend who was selected to be him. A representative of a myth that should have died long before now.

The sheer audacity of the Grail was something that Assassin would often consider. It summoned him into a world that tried to equate him with a famous mythological swordsman, and then constantly surrounded him with reminders that he was only a stand-in, a cardboard cutout that just so happened to fit inside the shape called “Sasaki Kojiro”. He hated this. He was human, after all. No human wanted to live in the fame of another. To be called by a name that wasn’t his, but the only name that people would recognize him by. And yet he had no choice but to accept it because he had no name of his own.

When nobody was around to witness it, he would truly show his anger. Not physically, of course. He had at least that much restraint. But his body would tremble, his fists would clench so tight that his knuckles turned pure white, and by the time he was able to calm himself down, the simple act of opening his hands was one that took about five minutes from the amount of tension gathered.

He shielded this well, he thought. His natural easy-going nature rubbed his Master the wrong way enough as it was. Knowing that something could faze that infinitely-enduring surface, well, Assassin feared what she could do with that knowledge, especially if she ever found out what it truly was that plagued him. The only person who might have ever noticed anything was that man, who had once walked past him in the middle of his trying to contain it.

The only word that had passed between them was the deep, soothing voice uttering one word. “Calm.” The effect of the command was profound, as Assassin felt his body instinctually relax. He had known that the man had more to him than first came to mind, and the fact that he could issue a command like that, could have even sensed Assassin’s inner turmoil in the first place, spoke volumes about what this man might have been hiding.

The only way Assassin could clear his head was by training. It was a time when his entire concentration was focused on what he was doing. His body knew the motions by heart, both because of his own memory and because of his spiritual nature, so if he wanted, he could train while thinking about entirely other things. But his swordsmanship was not about that.

His swordsmanship he had developed during his time on the farm. When he practiced, he focused on every motion, making sure everything was precisely toned to be as lethal as possible. This focus did two things. It helped him to instinctually develop proper posture and technique, and it helped to distract him from an otherwise dull and unbearable existence. He had dreamed of so much more, of someday being worthy of a Fuji-something family name that meant that he was a noble, that waking to another day of backbreaking labor meant that he sought escape. Which he found in his training.

Such was his eternal struggle. He struggled in a meaningless world, dreaming of a world that was beyond his station in life with no way to get there, escaping through a tool that narrowed his focus down to a fine edge. Now that he thought about it, it was really not surprising at all that he had come to understand the secret to the true Tsubame Gaeshi technique. He had no preconceived notions about swordsmanship. His education was solely enough to farm, sell, and buy things as necessary. He had had no need for anything else.

So he never knew that he was bound by any kind of reality that prevented the sword from striking from three places simultaneously.

He couldn’t honestly remember how he had done it at this point. He still didn’t understand how he did it now. His body knew the motions it had to perform and he left it at that. The Tsubame Gaeshi, the true Tsubame Gaeshi, was his and his alone. Others pretended at the technique, he knew that much, but only he had the outright strength and technique required to execute it. This was his sole mark of pride in existence.

It was perhaps the one reason why he existed anymore, as well. Assassin often wondered whether he would have been better off being forgotten by the world, rather than abruptly dragged back into a world where he was not himself. He considered his situation laughable; he was a liar, masquerading as a man whose very existence was a lie. Was it worth forgetting everything that had made him himself to be alive again?

Could he even really consider himself alive again if he wasn’t anyone but the false image?

A small sigh escaped him.

It was during times like this that he sometimes wished another Servant would come. Not even for a fight. An honest wish for conversation dominated Assassin at times. He wanted to talk to a hero with an identity who would take time to discuss with him, genuinely, the need for identity. How knowing oneself was a strength, if it was a weakness, why it gave such strength, why without identity a man could feel so lost. However, he did not know if he was the only one who entertained these ideals. Caster, if he ever told her anything about his quandary, would probably have said yes and laughed at him, mocked him mercilessly, and turned that question into a button by which she could control his actions, promising the sweet reward of his true identity should he do as she ask, and then turned on him when he was no longer useful.

A rock and a hard place, indeed.

Assassin frowned. There was one thing he was precluding, in all of his thoughts. What could he make of himself now that he was here? His swordsmanship would never become more legendary than it already was. His name would never be returned to him. So what, then, could he do to make this worth it? All of the effort that would go into protecting this place when the enemy discovered whom it was rested here, what would the point of any of it be if he could not find a reason to do so?

The sheer weight of this question brought him short of breath momentarily. His eyes bored into the floor as he thought. His existence here was meaningless. He could not leave this spot, could not hunt for the Holy Grail to make himself real again. He could only defend. What, then, kept him from giving up immediately? Because something was. And he could not, for the life of himself, identify what it was that continued to support him even as he contemplated giving up.

All at once, the answer struck him, left him entirely breathless. He was a warrior. He had not served, had never fought, never drawn blood, but he was a warrior. His bloodless record was because during his time there was no war to fight, no blood to draw. He had fought the most devastating foe of all, and had come out on top once before.

His life as a farmer had been meaningless. He left no impact, no record of living or dying, only a plot of tilled land that passed into another’s hands when he finally did die. But while he had lived, farming was not the only thing he had done. His swordsmanship had given him meaning. Had given him purpose. He had, for those hours every night that he could exhaust himself swinging the blade through the same patterns thousands of times just to get it right, glowed brighter with purpose than any official, than even the emperor himself.

So what was it that was keeping him from reapplying that here? He could not seek the Holy Grail. He could only fight opponents that came to him. But that was enough, wasn’t it? It justified him being here. He could clash swords with the greatest of their ages, the representatives of humanity at its apex. And if he could defeat them, what would it say? The greatest swordsman of the Holy Grail War, some nameless peasant farmer, the man who took on heroes of old and defeated them in honorable combat, even with such a huge disadvantage.

A carnivore’s smile flickered across Assassin’s lips. Yes. He could do it. No. He would do it. A renewed strength flowed through him, as the burden of identity was lifted. He may not have a name or title of his own, he may not have been fated for greatness like the rest of the Servants, but that was precisely why he could fight, and could win. He had gotten here on his own merits.

Slowly, but steadily, Assassin stood himself up. The commotion inside the room had stopped, as had the commotion outside. Caster would be along shortly; Assassin decided to retreat to the Gate for a few more minutes of peace before she would come along to harass him as she always did. He wondered what the man would say when he sensed Assassin’s stillness.

Even, deliberate steps carried him out of the temple, towards the Gate that led down the steps to Fuyuki City. Assassin understood now. He had been brought here without a purpose. He now crafted his own. All it required was the strength he knew he possessed.

Infamy, the kind of knowledge that would be written on his soul forever, knowing that he would conquer kings, crush knights, destroy anyone who dared approach him, would come of its own accord when he was done here. Nobody who participated in this war would doubt that he was, without a doubt, the greatest swordsman ever.

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