The clash of powers only lasted an instant, but Ritsuka was able to make out the movements as though they were still frames burnt into his eyes. And considering the light-show, maybe they really had been burnt into them.
The mass of black energy swallowed Medusa and her Pegasus whole, but the bright light of Medusa’s charge illuminated a section of the darkness into a pale grey, before exploding out. The twisting canopy of power around Pegasus struck Saber in the right shoulder, severing her arm and blasting through a large chunk of her torso. The contrail of spiraling power threw the body of Saber directly into the ground where she bounced once, with blood scattering everywhere while Medusa’s charge continued on, detonating against the far wall and causing the underground chamber to rattle.
Ritsuka didn’t have the presence of mind to chase Medusa’s figure with his eyes. His gaze was focused on the girl that his orders had caused to be dismembered while Archer approached her on the ground, an arrow knocked and ready to finish Saber off. Ritsuka found himself stepping forwards in a daze.
“Senpai, I don’t think you should get close to her,” came Mash’s worried warning.
“It’s alright, Mash,” said Ritsuka, watching as Archer lowered his bow solemnly. “She’s… already beyond saving.”
“T-Then we should hurry and ask what the heck she did here to muck up history so much,” said Olga Marie with as much false bravado as she could. She started walking over to Saber faster than Ritsuka could, since Ritsuka could barely walk straight. Ritsuka was tired to the point of complete exhaustion. It felt like his body had been completely wrung out to fuel those three Noble Phantasms in quick succession, with Bellerophon being the worst. But if Ritsuka hadn’t followed through with such a dangerous tactic there was no way they’d have been able to defeat King Arthur while she was being fueled with unlimited mana. It was the only tactic that held a chance of victory but…
Ritsuka stepped on a small rock, and began to sway dangerously. Just that little imbalance of his center of gravity was enough to threaten to bring him down. Mash grabbed Ritsuka’s arm to help him steady himself before he could topple, and Ritsuka’s mind was pulled away from the image of a young girl being covered in her own blood stains. Ritsuka looked down at Mash gratefully, and noticed that her legs were quivering from the stress of remaining standing. Mash had taken all those blows from Saber that could crush buildings, so of course she couldn’t have been alright either.
Ah, crap, how thoughtless of me…
Ritsuka felt Medusa’s condition through their link and it felt like Medusa was dangerously injured. Turning his eyes over to her, Ritsuka tugged at their Master – Servant link instead of raising his voice, since he didn’t feel like he had the energy to call out to her.
[Medusa, are you alright?]
[Yes, Mas- Fujimaru-sama. I will recover in time, only my body was injured.]
[I’m sorry. You ended up like this because of me…]
A part of Ritsuka felt that apologizing to only Medusa was not enough, so he started walking over to the limp body of Saber once more.
[No, Fujimaru-sama. This was a small price to pay. But regardless, I must ask that you not get any closer to that girl on the ground, it’s too dangerous.]
[Sorry, Medusa… but there’s something I have to tell her…]
Ritsuka covered the remaining ground to Saber, finding her giving her last words laced with a tinge of sardonic regret. Ritsuka let those words enter directly into his heart while he looked over her body that had both legs rent by spikes and thorns, one arm missing and the other ruined by an explosive arrow.
“Ultimately, no matter how my fate changes, I will always meet the same end if I’m alone.”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” demanded Caster who was within hearing range. He took a thuggishly large step forward and asked, “Bastard, what do you know?”
“Eventually, you too will realize it, Ireland’s Child of Light. Grand Order – the battle to obtain the Holy Grail has only just begun.”
Even at the end, as Saber’s body began to break into motes of light and grow dim, the girl didn’t allow any discomfort to show on her face, no matter how much pain she must have felt. No matter how weak she must have been from bleeding to death from massive trauma. It was the only chance Ritsuka was going to get to say those words he had to say.
“Arthur,” said Ritsuka to get the dying girl’s attention. Her fully aware eyes turned to meet Ritsuka’s gaze. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to kill you.”
Ritsuka was aware of just how hypocritical it was for him to say that. But they were his honest feelings. If he didn’t say them, he’d have regretted it for the rest of his life. And in response to his words, Saber’s eyes widened a little in surprise before narrowing while a slim, sadistic smile spread across her features.
“I do not accept your apology. If you want forgiveness for killing me… find another way… to make it up to me. And my name… is Arturia…”
With those final sarcastic words that made Ritsuka give a huff of laughter as some of the weight lifted from his soul, he told the dispersing pool of light, “I will if I can…”
Ritsuka, Mash, and Archer stood around the spot where the King of Knights had been in silent respect. Even the just arrived Medusa was offering a moment of silence. Not even a few seconds passed however before Caster cried out, “Whoa! Oh, crap, I’m getting sent back too?”
Ritsuka and Mash turned to look behind them where Caster was, indeed, disappearing into particles of golden light.
“Dammit! I don’t like this, but whatever. Kid, I’m leaving the rest to you! If there’s a next time, try to summon me as a Lancer!”
And with those words, Caster disappeared, returning to where he’d been summoned from.
“Confirming both Saber and Caster have vanished,” said Mash with a hint of regret before asking, her voice laced with hope, “Does that mean we’ve won?”
[Yes, you did a fine job, Mash, Gudao! The Director must be so pleased…]
“You’d think that,” muttered Ritsuka as he looked over at Olga Marie who was nibbling on her thumb while muttering with a voice equal parts confusion and panic.
“Grand Order… How did that Servant know that name?”
“Olg- Director,” said Ritsuka, fully intent on breaking in on her thoughts. “We’ve completed the mission. Isn’t it time for us to go home now?”
“Huh? O-Oh, right. Well done Fujimaru, Mash. Several points are unclear, but let’s call this mission complete. First, let’s retrieve that crystal.”
Olga Marie pointed to a large golden crystal that had appeared at the spot Saber had perished at some point while Ritsuka was too tired to notice it. It was about the size of a softball and levitating just barely above the surface of the earthen ground. And while Olga Marie said they should retrieve it, Ritsuka felt absolutely no sense of urgency or a desire to stoop over to pick it up. He just wanted to go back to Chaldea, sleep, and then go home.
“It’s clearly the reason why Fuyuki City became a singularity,” continued Olga Marie.
“That small thing,” asked Ritsuka absently. Yeah, he could feel that there was concentrated magic inside of it, but it seemed stable. Or was inert a better word for it? Mash stepped forward to pick up the item that was nearly at Ritsuka’s feet in his place, saying, “Yes. An immediate retrieval- What?”
The golden crystal moved like it had been fired by a cannon, forcing Archer to do a rather undignified dodge while bending backwards far enough to fall over to prevent having a hole open in his torso. The crystal came to a halt above the rim of the rock formation holding the now still and unmoving poisonous muck pool, floating just beside a figure that had no reason on Earth being there.
“Well, I didn’t expect you’d get this far. Beyond my plan’s expectations and my own tolerances,” monologued the sonorous voice with polite annoyance. “Master Candidate #48. It was my mistake to naively overlook you as an improbable child.”
“Professor Lev,” asked Mash who could not keep up with the situation.
Ritsuka’s body began to seize up to hold himself upright. A small shiver ran up his spine. Even if Professor Lainur was someone Ritsuka had met before, he knew the man’s presence and conduct were far too irregular to mean anything good. Medusa and Archer either felt the strange mood or took a cue from Ritsuka and pulled closer in to form a defense formation around Ritsuka.
[Lev! Professor Lev, you say? He’s there?]
“Hm, is that Romani I hear? So, you survived as well. I told you to come to the command room immediately, but it seems you didn’t listen. Honestly. Trash who can’t even follow orders. Just the mere sight of it makes me want to throw up. Why is it that humans always try to avoid their preordained destinies?”
Lev’s face grew tight with focused rage as a snarl came over his lips. Ritsuka didn’t dare make a move seeing a face like that. It was as if a predator was waiting for his prey to show an opening to attack. Mash finally caught onto the danger Lev presented, but there was someone who absolutely didn’t.
“Lev,” said Olga Marie as though she’d just seen a final ray of hope in a field of despair, and immediately began running up to the edge of the stone cauldron the man stood upon. “Oh, Lev! Lev! You’re alive!”
Ritsuka and Mash both called out, trying to stop Olga Marie from approaching the green suited man, but she didn’t hear them. Ritsuka even tried to chase after her, but Archer grabbed him by the shoulder and halted him immediately.
“Thank goodness,” cried out Olga Marie in relief as she approached the cauldron. “Without you, I don’t know how I could protect Chaldea!”
“Let go of me, Archer! We have to stop her,” said Ritsuka, trying in vain to shake off the man’s hand while Olga Marie started pouring all her insecurities out to the man she apparently looked up to like a father, seeking his help to save her. After letting the girl talk for awhile he agreed that he’d help her.
“Yes, of course,” the patronizing words came from his cruelling smiling lips. “Honestly, all these complications have irritated me. And the biggest complication is you, Olga. I set the bomb right at your feet, yet you still live.”
As expected, even Olga Marie couldn’t ignore a clue that blunt and to the point. Ritsuka felt that shiver up his spine again, and there seemed to be a wisp of some power that Ritsuka could recognize as only something that was primordially wrong and unnatural leaking around the edges of the man’s conduct. Ritsuka turned to Medusa and said, “Please, Rider, grab Olga Marie. She’s exposed over there.”
“I’m sorry, Fujimaru-sama. I can’t run with my legs like this.”
Ritsuka looked hard at Medusa’s form and saw she was possibly having a harder time standing on her own two feet than Ritsuka was. It sounded like it was painful for Medusa to admit it herself, but she was right. She was in no form to exhibit her speed. Ritsuka looked at Archer, who had sword gashes and burns all over his body, and asked, “Please, Archer. We can’t leave her out there.”
Archer simply kept looking at Lev Lainur with the intensity of a hawk.
“Sorry, you’re not actually alive,” said Lev as he worked to mentally corner the girl he was unconditionally trusted by. “You’re already dead. Your body, at least, long ago. Trismegistus thoughtfully transferred you into this land after you’d become residual thoughts. You had no aptitude for Rayshift while alive, right? You can’t teleport while you have a physical body. Understand? You only gained the aptitude you so desired after you died.”
The man’s voice dropped a few sinister octaves while Olga grasped her upper arm while shivering convulsively.
“That’s why you can’t return to Chaldea. The moment you do, your consciousness will vanish.”
[Keep trying to get a lock on them,] came a quiet voice over Ritsuka’s Comm Watch. Ritsuka had forgotten about Rayshifting, but there were people working to save Olga Marie. Ritsuka could only wait and hope they succeeded. Olga Marie, though, didn’t know about any of this as she hugged herself in terror.
* * * * *
“It’s useless, Doc,” called the person working the sensor bank. “Whatever that thing is, I can’t cut through the interference with only the back up sensors!”
“Then… try focusing the sensors somehow,” called Dr. Romani.
“How? I was never trained for this thing,” replied the man who was normally assigned to the night shift observation team. He was only ever trained on observation and recording of readings, and was excused from the ceremony surrounding the first Rayshift simply because he was asleep from having worked the previous night. It was the same for the rest of the surviving staff.
Romani’s mind was working furiously to try and come up with a solution that didn’t involve laborious training of the mismatched staff, a miracle, or looking through tech guides to find the specific entry that dealt with a situation like this (which had the same probability of being done in time as that of a miracle occurring) when it happened.
It was like a hole was bored through thin air, opening a hole to another place. The view above the observation device known as Chaldeas showed an upwards view pointing down on red earth that was tinged in purple light so that when Romani looked up, he had the vertigo inducing sight of flat, solid ground. In the background of that view was Gudao, Mash, and the two remaining Servants, clumped together and ready to defend themselves. In the foreground was Lev Lainur and the Director. With that much evidence, Romani could only conclude that Lev had somehow created a wormhole and connected the points in time and space. Indeed, if he could do that it was wise to not attack the man. Especially since he seemed to be in a jovially sadistic mood at the moment. Through some act of power he was broadcasting his conversation with the Director so that everyone in the great chamber and the control room could hear it.
“Let me show you the fate of the Chaldea that you devoted your entire life to. Not a sliver of blue representing human survival remains. Nothing but a burning, bright, red. That is the outcome of this mission. Isn’t it wonderful, Marie? Once again, your incompetence had brought forth tragedy!”
“Don’t- Don’t be absurd! I’m not responsible! I didn’t fail! I’m not dead! Who are you? What have you done to my Chaldeas!”
It was like watching a train wreck. A power beyond one’s ability to influence was playing out and Romani could do nothing to stop the tragedy he could tell was coming.
“It isn’t ‘yours.’ Honestly-” complained Lev at the unbreakable will, or impenetrable denial, of the Director. “What an annoying girl you are!”
Olga Marie called out on feeling the weightlessness and being lifted up into the air. Her bodily position was being twisted and turned like she was a marionette in Lev’s power. After being positioned, her body began to move at a constant rate towards the fiery red burning Chaldeas observational device. While the Director was being sent towards her fate, Romani called out to the worker at the sensor bank, “Can you lock onto her now? She’s inside the installation, not the Singularity!”
“How!? Do we even have any sensors inside this place,” called the staff member in confused despair. And Romani found he had no clue if there were internal sensors in the first place. Being left unable to do anything, Romani’s attention was pulled back to the Director’s slow descent, being cruelly commentated by Lev.
“I could kill you now, but there’s no grace to that. I will grant you your final wish, instead. Go ahead and lay hands on your treasure. Think of it as benevolence on my part.”
While Romani was in the medical department, he was still a senior member of the staff, so he knew all about the warning to not touch Chaldeas. It was a high density-body of data that had become something like a dimensional anomaly. It was on the level of an uncontrollable natural phenomena like a sun or a black hole. The system merely fed it power and observed it from a safe distance. Which was why-
“A human touching it would be a hellish disintegration on the molecular level,” said Lev, as he left the Director a final parting taunt. “By all means, have a taste of infinite living death!”
The Director began shouting for help and openly crying, her pleading voice filled with tears. Her calls for help quickly turned into her final complaints.
“I don’t want to die here! I’ve never been praised by anyone! No one ever valued me! Everyone hated me!” The Director hung her head, her last sob filled with her lifetime regret. “I’ve never been accepted by anyone-!”
In that final moment before the Director’s body touched the surface of the giant globe structure of Chaldeas, there was a call from beyond the rift that was loud enough to be heard by the entire staff of the ruined operations room.
On the other side of the wormhole, being held down by the shoulder and neck by the red clothed Servant, was Gudao. Shouting in desperation with his free arm stretched out helplessly trying to reach the Director who was already beyond anyone’s ability to save. And in that last fraction of a second, the Director reached her hand out in return. Then her back touched the surface of Chaldeas, she cried out in pained surprise before the Director’s eyes rolled back, closed, and she limply was absorbed into the liquid seeming mass that was the dimensional data anomaly.
In the following stunned silence, Romani thought he heard someone in the back of the control room be sick on the floor. Taking advantage of that stillness, Lev called out in a cheerful voice, “Now. Shall I reintroduce myself? My name is Lev Lainur Flauros…”
A chill of recognition at the tacked on name went up Romani’s spine. Lev continued speaking over his shoulder at the cavernous Chaldea main chamber.
“…In charge of the year 2017, sent to dispose of you humans. Are you listening, Dr. Romani? As a friend who studied magecraft with you, let me give you some final advice. Chaldea is finished. You humans have reached the moment of your destruction.”
Romani gathered his will for a moment and pressed a button to speak over the loudspeakers so that his reply could be heard. After all, it’s not a conversation if both parties cannot hear one another, such was his mild thought of resistance in the situation.
“…Professor Lev. No. Lev Lainur Flauros. What do you mean? Is it related to our being unable to see the year 2019?”
“It’s not ‘related.’ It’s the reality that this is the end. Unable to observe the future, you babbled that it had ‘disappeared.’ That was truly wishful thinking. The future didn’t disappear. It was incinerated. The moment Chaldeas was dyed crimson. Your end is certain. Your era no longer exists. Chaldeas’ magnetic field may be protecting Chaldea, but any outside it will face the same fate as Fuyuki City.”
A cold calm certainty unlike he’d felt in a long time washed over Romani as all the knowledge he had lined up all at once. After a deep breath, he said into the microphone, “So, that was it. We didn’t lose contact with the outside world due to interference or equipment failure. We simply lost the outside world itself.”
“Hmpf, you really are perceptive. A shame I didn’t kill you immediately. But that too is futile resistance. If the time within Chaldea passes 2018 it will be wiped from this universe. No one can change the outcome now. This is a rejection of human history. You didn’t perish because of your inability to evolve, nor did you perish due to war with a foreign species. Rather, it was your own foolishness! Your incompetence! Because you lost the grace of our King! Like a bunch of worthless scrap paper, you’ll be burned away without a trace!”
The world on the other side of the wormhole began to shake and make rumbling sounds, and what appeared to be a large crack appeared on the far wall.
“Ah, is this Singularity at its limit,” asked Lev rhetorically. “Cursed Saber. If you’d just obeyed, you would have been allowed to live. Even when given the Holy Grail, she caused trouble by wanting to sustain this era. Farewell, Romani. And you Mash, Candidate #48. Believe it or not, I have other things to do. My enjoyment of your destruction ends here.”
The wormhole began to slowly close as Lev lost his concentration on maintaining the effect. Romani turned to the Chaldea staff and started calling out, “Snap out of it everyone! We have to get those kids back right away! Man your stations!”
Like the voice of a phantom, Lev’s words fell on the ears of the impromptu control room staff.
“Now, be swallowed by the dimensional warp. But I’m not that evil, I’ll allow you to say a final prayer.”
The figure of Lev Lainur Flauros disappeared along with his golden crystal before the last of the wormhole faded. The man had left the Singularity behind, and abandoned those remaining inside it to their fates.
[Doctor,] called Mash’s voice over the communication line. [Perform an emergency Rayshift! At any rate, we can at least save Senpai!]
“Understood! I’m already doing it,” called Romani into the mic. Then to the staff, “How’s it looking!?”
“Not good,” called the dark skinned man from the Cairo Mage Collective at the Rayshift control console. “I can’t fix the proof of existence with these readings. The data is stabilizing now that Professor Lev is gone, but not fast enough. The Singularity may collapse faster than I can prove their existence!”
Romani called into the mic, “Please take measures on your end, Mash! Humans should be able to survive in space for a few dozen seconds, right?”
[What kind of doctor are you,] cried out Gudao’s voice, followed by Mash’s. [Sorry, but please shut up, Doctor! I’m so mad, I’m about to lose my cool!]
[Look out, Fuj-]
There was a loud crash and static over the line, prompting Romani to call desperately into the mic, asking what had happened. No one answered him but the line remained open.
[Please… escape… Fuji…ma…]
“I’ve lost a reading,” called the ponytailed brunette from the Parisian Magecraft Institute. “I can only confirm three now, but I can’t tell who’s still-”
“The entire Singularity is coming apart at the seams,” called the American blonde with the bob cut at Astronomy. “What even are these readings! It’s almost like another Rayshift-”
The entire command room was alive with hard work, panic, and desperation. Romani was also working hard trying to parse the information coming his way like he’d been instructed by the installation’s resident genius who was busy inventing bypasses and workarounds for the vital systems in the heart of the installation. Romani was sweating bullets trying to maintain contact with the kids on the other side of the line while nothing but the sound of falling rock and shattering earth filled the connection.
“Just hang onto your consciousness! If we don’t lose that I might salvage-”
Romani’s voice was cut off by the fearful and desperate cry of Mash in return.
[We won’t make it!]
As if that was the trigger, the man at Sensors shouted, “Gottverdammt,” and pushed all the remaining sensors to maximum power, overriding their safety cut off systems. The power at Astrology went dark, and sparks flared into a flash fire in a bank of respliced wiring behind Romani as someone left their station to hose it down with a fire extinguisher. There was a flood of data through the analysis consoles that everyone desperately worked on, including the blonde who abandoned her now useless Astronomy console.
“I can confirm the three signals, their vitals are in a crisis state!”
“I have a projected 82% chance of Rayshift success!”
At the reports from Telemetry and the Rayshift Control console, Romani did a quick calculation of three people versus a one in five chance of failure and called out, “Good enough! Initiate the Rayshift!”
“Yes, sir,” shouted the Cairo mage as he turned the heavy safety release lever for the Rayshift station with an audible chunk before pressing the button to initiate the Rayshift.
The three repaired and installed Coffins thrummed dangerously from the power surge of an Uncertain Rayshift, as the lighting inside the command room dimmed. The Rayshift process took seconds, but the humm of power going through the coffins seemed like an eternity. Then the coffins status lights turned green, and the protective shields retracted. First the heavy guard shields, then the clear safety shields as the coffins stood themselves up vertically.
Mash stepped out of one in a disoriented manner.
The tan man in red stepped out of the second, his sharp eyes checking every corner of the chamber.
Gudao fell face first out of the third, white as a sheet and twitching.