“The Holy Grail was never meant to be filled with blood. For as long as it has existed, its purpose was to be the manifestation of our hopes and desires; it was meant to be a pure and sacred object. When it was filled, it attained the power of gods, powerful enough to shift even reality itself. That’s why it’s sad; for as long as we have existed, all we have wished for are needless, material things.”
Preface from “Fate/Prototype”
Chapter I: The Mage and I
In a forgotten morning,
the battle-worn soldier marched forward,
the vain magician donned the prop cap,
the keeper closed his gates,
the child retold the story of an adventurer,
the judicator placed a poppy seed before an empty mirror,
the baker burnt her first batch,
and the hero was placed under the tutelage of the sun.
Thus begins the tale of the Holy Grail War.
Dawn broke over a waking town, its inhabitants just beginning to stir, its birds beginning to sing their familiar song, its clouds parting of their own volition; but in spite of that, an unfavorable wind blew through the trees. Fall was around the corner: the leaves of the trees began turning a brilliant orange hue, the air was chilly, and at home, comfort was found in company around a fireplace. The light of the rising sun gave the waking town a rose-pink color and certain warmth to those willing to bask in it. Of those, Twilight Sparkle found herself on the balcony of her tree house library, enjoying an account of Star Swirl the Bearded from a book on obscure unicorn history, “In Regards to the Old Dominion.” It was one of her favorites, and she usually turned to it whenever she wished to refresh her memory on her roots as a unicorn.
More often than not, she found herself engrossed in the tales of kingdoms rising and falling, in the exploits of remarkable mares and colts, and in the seemingly fantastical world where magic of particularly strong unicorns held the kingdoms with a vice grip. Through unicorn rule, magic was used to unify the separate kingdoms of the time until only one existed: the rightly-called old dominion, the Kingdom of Northrein. The pages of the aged book chronicled its rise to power, spending significant time detailing its political structure, the very same “structure” which led to the Kingdom’s inevitable downfall. From Twilight’s point of view, the details of the book served to warn the present of past mistakes.
One unicorn held absolute power and earned that seat by doing battle with his or her predecessor. A sort of honor system was developed over time, but without official rule the position of “high ruler” had been subject to rather bitter debate, both from inhabitants of the time and historians of the present. There was, however, a single unicorn that commanded such respect so as to be considered the kingdom’s “keeper:” Star Swirl the Bearded.
“Star Swirl the Bearded is noted today as the most important conjurer of the pre-classical era and the father of the amniomorphic spell,” So detailed the book, “Which in turn can be described as the first account of manipulating artificial objects. For example, though unicorn smiths have the ability to shape metal and metal alone into battle-ready armaments, the ability to turn any object, which may be something as simple as a scrap piece of wood or something as intricate as a clock, into a bowl was considered a breakthrough in magical advancement. In notes recorded over many volumes, many of which are speculated to have yet to be discovered, Star Swirl the Bearded details the process of turning simple objects into bowls with one’s mind and magic alone. Today, his research serves as the basis in which both magically-attuned artisans and crafters hone their craft.” Twilight believed that her young assistant would at least find that much interesting and gave the aged tome to him. To see his unfazed reaction to her dressing as the Bearded during Night Mare Night was disappointing.
The book goes on to detail the historical context in which the spell was discovered. Star Swirl the Bearded was born before border disputes between the unicorn factions erupted and faded into obscurity after the Kingdom of Northrein fell, which gave rise to the Unicorn Tribe. Within this “tribe” there was an accepted “Unicorn King,” though in title only. The “Fall of Northrein” is marked as the landmark which immediately preceded the Great Winter in which peoples of all kingdoms of all races were forced to come together, a series of events which culminated in the founding of the Kingdom of Equestria.
“Star Swirl the Bearded, in his adolescence and during the border disputes was noted in records recovered from archaeological digs as having exceptional aptitude in all things practical and academic. He was eventually fielded by his native kingdom and displayed an unmatched tactical prowess; during his time in the military, the force under his command was unmatched by rivaling kingdoms. After the borders were dissolved to form the Kingdom of Northrein, he retired from military work and began his research and experimentation on the cause and effect of magic. It was during this time he took on a single apprentice, Clover the Clever. His military performance and his effective leadership earned him the respect of nearly all of the Kingdom’s citizens, despite retirement. Even with extensive hand-written tomes and volumes, there is not much known about Star Swirl’s personal life, as there is not much mention of it even in records from historians of the time.”
“Twilight.” A familiar voice beckoned.
“During pre-classical times, a beard was considered by some a sort of social stigma, but many considered it to be a badge of honor and an indication of wisdom, as very few unicorns had the ability to even grow one. In Northrein mythological accounts, those with a beard were considered blessed by the Sky Father, a deity worshipped as one who brought about the sky and the gifts of the sun and the moon. The Sky Father was most often depicted in art as having a magnificent beard, and according to some depictions, it was as long as his mane. Earning the title ‘the Bearded’ was thus considered one the highest honors bequeathed onto a…”
“Twilight!” The voice called once more, pleadingly, this time accompanied with banging upon the wooden door.
“…journal pages from what is believed to be Clover the Clever’s personal journal notes Star Swirl as having a ‘curious mind’ with a ‘tendency to experiment with all things, social or scientific…’”
The wooden door opened and Twilight’s spoony assistant came onto the balcony, two packages in his arms. The purple-coated unicorn sighed quietly, and then turned her attention to Spike. “What is it?” She asked, before noticing the fairly hefty parcels. “Oh! What is it?” She got up and trotted to her assistant, lifting the packages with her magic and inspecting the boxes for a return address. “They were at the front door. I don’t know for how long.” The young dragon said, simply. The packages only said one thing on the side: “FROM ME.” Twilight pondered for a bit.
“Well, it can’t be Princess Celestia, or else you would be complaining about having to deliver this.” Twilight poked Spike in the stomach. “Hey!” He replied. “Who’s to say I didn’t?” Twilight looked into his eyes and smiled. “Fine, fine.” He said, grumbling slightly. She chuckled lightly. “Thought so. Let’s ask the girls if they got anything like this.”
“Sugarcube, you know I’da hoof-delivered you a gift.” Applejack was out and about her business, kicking down apples alongside her brother, Big Macintosh. Twilight caught her in the middle of her break and was offered a spot of cider, to which she politely refused.
“Anyways, I better get back to work. Winter’s just ‘round the corner and we still have a bunch ‘a apples to boot before the weather turns sour. I’ll catch ya’ later, Twi.”
“A tacky little package with such hasty wrapping? Twilight, that’s simply not my style.” The white-coated unicorn said.
“If anything, I’m slightly insulted you would think I would just leave you a gift like that. It’s just so…” She thought about the correct word to use. “Boring. Oh, but don’t take offense, dear. I’m in the middle of making these fabulous scarves that I know you would love. Would you like to try one on? Silk is simply ‘in’ this season.”
Twilight smiled and shook her head. “Some other time, Rarity. I’d love to, but I can’t right now.” The fashionista then turned her attention to her bench.
“Tsk. Well, I suppose we’re all a little busy now that fall is here. When I’m finished with these, I’ll show you the proper way to gift somebody.”
“Twilight, I wouldn’t have had the time to just drop you off a gift, you know? I get up in the morning to move the clouds and I make sure that we are on schedule for the fall season. As much as I like you, egghead, I just don’t have the time.” Rainbow Dash flew off to resume her duty as the chief weathermare of Ponyville.
“Oh, is that so?” Fluttershy was seen tending to the birds, giving them each the right amount of feed after their lovely morning chorus. “I don’t think I sent you a package recently. If I did, then… do you like it?”
Twilight kept pace with Fluttershy as she flew between the bird nests. “I haven’t opened it yet, Fluttershy. If you didn’t send it, then I’m just curious if you received a package like mine as well?”
The yellow-coated pegasus turned to Twilight in midair. “No, I haven’t. Sorry, Twilight.”
“No need to apologize, Fluttershy. I’m just curious. Anyways, sorry for bothering you. I’ll let you get back to your business.” Fluttershy nodded and then resumed feeding the birds.
“Say hi to Spike for me, if you would…”
“A gift? Is it your birthday, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie was seen baking something in the oven. “Wait, it can’t be your birthday. I would know!” The pink pony appeared to be beaming with energy, as per usual.
“Well? What was in the box?” She asked, inquisitively.
“I don’t know yet. I was going to ask if you-” Pinkie gasped and then started pushing Twilight outside the door of the Sugar Cube Corner. “Wait, Pinkie, I…”
“Open the box, silly! If it’s a package, you need to open it! If it’s a gift, even worse! You just need to know what’s in the box! That’s the number one rule!” Twilight was struggling against the apparent might of the party pony, and when she was before the door, the pushing power suddenly disappeared and Twilight stumbled backwards.
“Before you leave, do you wanna blueberry muffin?” Pinkie Pie suddenly appeared in front of Twilight, balancing a batch of freshly-baked muffins on her head. “They’re a morning favorite!”
Twilight shook her head. “No thanks, Pinkie. I don’t have much of an appetite right now.” Pinkie looked slightly disappointed, her smile fading for but a moment, before she appeared spritely once more.
“That’s okay, Twilight. I understand.” She hopped into the bakery, muffins still balancing on her head.
Twilight was then seen pacing before the packages. “None of the girls neither gave nor received a package like this, Spike.” Spike, unfazed, was seen reading the latest edition of the local school newspaper, the Foal Free Press. Despite minor debacles regarding privacy and hierarchy, the Foal Free Press was still seen as a respectable source of information with unbiased information, especially given that the writers are, after all, foals.
“I’m not one to turn away a gift, but isn’t this strange? All it says is ‘FROM ME,’ and I don’t know who ‘ME’ is. Perhaps it’s an anagram or a sort of key to a secret code?” The purple unicorn let out an audible sigh. “Or maybe it’s a trap? What if Queen Chrysalis wants her revenge? What if these packages are actually… changelings?” She approached the packages apprehensively and prodded one box with her hoof before backing off quickly. She appeared relieved, though her assistant was seen giggling behind the newspaper.
“Spike, this is serious!” She whined.
“Twilight, just open the boxes. Worse comes to worse, you can use the elements of harmony or the power of love or… time magic to solve all of your problems.”
Twilight grimaced at his words. “Be that as it may, Spike…” She shrugged off Spike’s callous comment. “I hate not knowing who it’s from or their intent. You can never be too careful.”
“I’ll open it for you if you don’t.”
She groaned loudly then trotted to the boxes. “Fine.” She surrendered to both curiosity and Spike’s disingenuous offers for assistance. Raising both boxes with her magic, she carefully opened the boxes, removing the crude adhesive which sealed their tops. After doing so, she placed them on the ground, opened the tops, and peered into both of them.
“One of boxes has… a bowl in it?” She picked up a slightly dented wooden bowl with her hoof. She dusted it off then inspected it closely. “It’s an ordinary wooden bowl. The inside is almost completely red, meaning it has been used before as… a punch bowl, perhaps?” She turned to her assistant, who was still hiding his face behind a newspaper. “It also seems to be made of different kinds of wood. There appear to be seams where the material differentiates, but it’s not held together by thread or magic.” She thought aloud then turned her attention to the second box, which was significantly smaller than the other, but also much heavier.
It contained an old, musty book; its cover almost completely covered in dust. Picking it up with her magic, she blew the dust off and rubbed off the remainder of the dust of her hoof. The cover had only one word printed in a red ink on its top right-most corner: “Star Swirl.” Twilight gasped.
“Spike... this is…” Opening the book, she read aloud the inside of the front cover. “This is my three hundred and eighty-eighth account regarding my research and discoveries on magic.” Twilight almost jumped up and down in glee, but she restrained herself. “Spike! This is one of Star Swirl the Bearded’s journals! And I have it! Here!” The dragon assistant simply minded his own business, shrugging silently.
The purple unicorn didn’t mind, nor did she care. She simply wanted to see for herself what the Bearded had written in the aged book. Taking both packages with her to the uppermost level of the library tree house, she sat on her bed and began reading the book to herself. Spike followed Twilight upstairs, not saying a word, taking his spot in his prepared beddings. Twilight opened the book to its first page.
“I would be lying if I said I knew the truest nature of magic, or its origins, or its future, for I have yet to experience it. My many years of research and, dare I say, bloodshed, have brought me to a point in my life where even I myself have more questions than answers. But there exists many fundamental truths of magic and they are comparable to our fielded sciences; in an example, ‘an object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an external force’ is one the underlying theses behind the study of physics. How magic fits into the equation is simple: it can be the object in motion or it can be the external force, but the fundamental truth is magic is the motion itself. In a word, magic is movement. The questions that follow are equally simple to answer, but it is in their simplicity that they find their insolubility. Movement of what? Stemming from what? Answering to what? I don’t know because I can’t know.” Twilight took a moment to reflect on the words written in the aged tome.
“In my years of research, and dare I say, bloodshed, I have concluded that the fundamental truths point to the fundamental nature of magic.” The text cuts off, and Twilight flips the page.
“The Holy Grail exists.” Twilight gasped aloud. “What…?” She said, in a hushed voice.
“The object in question, however, has always existed. It is the question as well as the answer. Why have countless innocents been massacred in swaths? For the Holy Grail. Why the Holy Grail? Because it is. Perhaps in my research I should have realized that such concepts as war, peace, death, and life were merely the catalyst in which the Holy Grail can exist. Indeed, it is the embodiment of force, but force of what? That is what I intend to find out.”
Twilight noticed that in the pages that followed there were maps, some seemingly hand drawn, of not just the kingdom of Northrein, but of its neighboring kingdoms which housed the pegasi and the earth ponies and even the landmass to be called the Kingdom of Equestria. She turned the pages until she came across a page with text.
“The Holy Grail War..." The text fades slightly. "...is the true reason for the Holy Grail. War. Death, destruction, mayhem, chaos… it’s all so perfectly simple. I have traveled the kingdoms in search of the Holy Grail only to realize all too late that it is not I who must search for the Grail, but it is I who must be chosen to fight for it. Such is the nature of war. We are chosen. As my kingdom’s keeper, I must fight for the Grail…” The ink trails off.
The faded text that follows becomes unintelligible, save for a few lines and words. The legible text fades with each passing page.
“… I have been chosen, and imbedded with knowledge…”
“The words flowed from my mind to…”
“Her name was Lancer. No more, no less. She bore a resemblance to…”
“Six other masters… six other servants…”
“I… another master. Only four including myself remain.”
“Two now. Lancer… condition. I shall… on.”
“…Last one standing…”
The pages following the faded text were completely blank, until the second-to-last page, which was written in a deep red ink.
“I have seen the true nature of the Grail. I have experienced the true nature of magic. I have known the meaning of existence. In doing so I become a hypocrite. I have signed away my soul and became a Servant to this end. With my last sane thought, and with my years of research, and dare I say, bloodshed, I conclude thusly: the Holy Grail must be destroyed.”
Twilight turned the page. What followed were the writings of a madman.
“The Holy Grail has chosen me. I hear its call but now I cannot. But that is good. All is good. I have been washed with its gifts. I see the error of my ways. I see the error of all ways. I see everything and I see nothing. I cannot destroy a concept what was I thinking what a silly thought but thoughts are powerful things and I THINK but I can’t and I want to but shouldn’t because these THOUGHTS are EVIL EVIL EVIL EVIL so I signed my soul to the WORLD and the GRAIL CAN’T HAVE ME for I am an EVIL thing and MUST BE PUNISHED so I must die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die and no one can help me me me me help me help me help me because it hurts so much it burns my throat and my body they burn but nothing is like this sea of flames before me the children burn the women burn and the men burn what more could I want the town is in flames the town is in flames the town is in flames the world is in flames because I WISHED FOR IT because I am my kingdom’s keeper and I HAVE CHOSEN but that’s my two daughters, I am coming the world is aflame and I have behold, I stand at the gate and knock if any of you FOLLOW and I saw a new heaven a a a new earth and and and the fruitof of fruit of”
Twilight closed the book before reading on any more. She put it back in its box, sealed it, and sighed. “This… has to be a joke. The Holy Grail? Bloodshed? Star Swirl the Bearded? This… all has to be some joke.” She turned her attention to Spike, who was seen still reading the paper. She picked up the bowl which was in the other package and ran her hoof across the rim.
“You’re a joke too, aren’t you? It’s a fake wood bowl…” She caught her hoof on a splinter. She yelped, removed the wooden entity from her hoof then placed the two of them down as she tended to her wound.
“Well, that much is real…” She trotted to the wood bowl then noticed something was different about the inside: instead of a red lining, there appeared to be written text on the inside. She read it aloud, as though to confirm to herself there indeed was something legible.
“I hereby propose… you shall come under my command… and your sword shall control my fate. Abiding by the summons… of the Holy Grail… if you accede to this will and reason… answer me. I hereby swear… I am all that is good in the eternal world. I… am the disposer of evil in this world. You, bound by three chains… come forth… from the ring of constraint…”
The bowl began shaking violently then shattered into three pieces. A purple glow filled the tree house. A powerful gale blew each of the windows open, throwing books and papers everywhere. From where the three pieces of the bowl fell, a white pulse surged through the library. All the lights in the library flickered out. Then, as though to reverse time, the bowl pieced itself together, the glow subsided, the gale dissipated, the windows closed seemingly of their own accord, the books and papers returned to their rightful places, and the pulse faded away, leaving behind a silhouette of a colt standing before the morning sun. The library lights flickered on, and standing beside the bowl was a purple unicorn with sagely facial hair, donning a magnificent cape and a worn cap. The colt revealed his brilliant amber-shaded eyes and locked his gaze into Twilight’s. She tried stammering out words. “Y-you… you’re…”
“Are you my Master?” Star Swirl the Bearded asked Twilight Sparkle.