Her senses were all alive at once, information flooded her mind as her knowledge was updated to the current age. That knowledge was tainted, though, by an onrush of anger so great that she had to clamp her discipline down upon herself to prevent being swept away. The moment awareness crept in, she heard the voice of her Summoner.
“-Thank you for coming, my fellow Servants. I am your Master. You know why you were summoned, yes? Destruction and slaughter, those are your orders.”
The saint gripped her holy staff hard as her mind reeled from the announcement of her Master. It was strange, far too strange. Summoned by a Servant. Summoned for the sake of Godless slaughter. Summoned with Madness Enhancement. And it wasn’t just a lone Summons. There were figures around her of other Servants, freshly Summoned like herself. As the Rider struggled to understand her situation, her summoner called out to the twisted Servant with alabaster skin next to her.
“-Now, then, Gilles. Please bring him here.”
“As you wish. Have you considered what you wish done with him? Oh, my. Do you require suggestions from me?”
The pale blond woman in the black armor responded, first in a kindly voice that was like music to the ears, which then quickly turned into guttural cursing that made her beautiful voice sound all the more profane for it.
“Oh, you have noticed my distress in your infinite concern for me? Don’t be absurd. If you continue this foolishness, I’ll kill you, Gilles. When you are eating a meal, do you think about how you use your fork? This is the same. What I do with him is a matter so trivial it does not merit any thought.”
The pale man, Gilles left the chamber for a short enough time that nothing else of importance occurred concerning Rider’s new Master. However. Rider was able to look around her. She was in a beautiful cathedral that had been tainted by merciless bloodshed. There were fresh bodies on the ground of clergy and marks of fire on many surfaces. Some of the ritual decoration in precious metals had been melted into twisted shapes, and the great ritual circle that had been used to summon Rider and the others was made from blood. Rider was able to see the exsanguinated clergy that were used for the process just off to the side.
The man who was undoubtedly her Master’s “meal” was brought in, confused and stuttering. He was thrown down to the ground in front of the black armored woman, entangled in his own opulent red and white robes. His demands for answers were cut short by his own girlish shriek of surprised recognition.
“Oh, Pierre,” called the black garbed woman as though greeting a precious friend. “Bishop Pierre Cauchon! How I have missed you! A day has not gone by when your face has not crossed the mind of Jeanne d’Arc!”
“I can’t be,” said the Bishop as the blood drained from his face. He then repeated the same words in near hysteria until his outburst of, “Impossible! This can’t be possible! I thought you died three days ago! I thought I killed you! I thought-”
“That you should be in Hell,” finished Jeanne, sarcastically spinning the Bishop’s words. The woman’s sarcasm gained greater steam as she curtsied as though in a position below the man who was her captive as she said, “Perhaps I am, Your Grace.”
“This is a dream. A nightmare. What else could it be but a nightmare!”
The alabaster skinned man backhanded the bishop hard enough for him to be thrown back to the ground to prevent the man from fleeing reality. Rider moved to restrain the man named Gilles, or she would have. Her body couldn’t move.
“What will you do, Your Grace,” asked the woman in a voice so kind that honey seemed to drip from it. “Jeanne d’Arc, whom you accused of heresy, stands here before you. Should you not grip your crucifix and offer up a prayer to God? Should you not mock me,” asked the woman, anger slowly creeping into her voice as her emotions were laid bare while creeping closer to the prostrate Bishop. “Scorn me? Abuse me? Trample me? And tell everyone the wicked Jeanne d’Arc is here!”
“Should you not roar like the brave lion you are,” called out Jeanne, shouting down on the man from directly above him. “Go on, do it! Do it! Do it!”
“Sp-” asked the woman back to the Bishop in the veiled catharsis of having given release to her pent up emotions.
“SPARE ME,” called the Bishop, crawling on the floor with tears streaming from his eyes as he knelt with his head on the ground in front of his accuser. With a voice sobbing in tears, he continued his begging. “Please, spare me. I’ll do anything. Spare me, I beg of you!”
The tainted saint’s amused laughter cut all the more cruelly for how beautiful it was to the ears as she asked, “Did you hear that, Gilles? ‘Spare me, spare me,’ he says! This bishop who tied me up, mocked me, and burned me alive! As if that were nothing! The Bishop who told me with kind eyes, that I was going to be killed… Is now begging for his life! Oh- the Sadness is making me want to cry. After all, that won’t save anything. Your paper-thin faith won’t reach the Heavenly Father. Belief that is light as a feather won’t blossom anywhere. Someone who has forsaken God, and cling to his life by begging a witch, is unfit to be called a believer.”
The pale girl bent down and said in a voice filled with cruel kindness, “Do you understand, Your Grace? You just gave testimony that you are now one of the heretics. That is why I’m so sad. I think I might laugh until madness consumes me. Now, think back, Your Grace,” said Jeanne straightening her posture like that of a judge on a court bench as she slowly slid a dueling sword from its scabbard at her hip. “You know what sentence awaits heretics, don’t you?”
The melodic ring of steel, as clear as a bell, hung in the air as the sword came free. The Bishop who’d looked up in scant hope had the entirety of his pride crushed as he crawled forwards to grip at Jeanne’s sabatons and kiss at her feet begging, “No no no! Spare me.. Please, spare me!”
Jeanne D’Arc’s armored boot rose up to catch the Bishop’s face, tumbling him backwards as the disgusted voice and features of Jeanne said with the finality of a sentence, “I’m so sorry, I’m afraid I ran out of salvation today. Indulgences are not for sale in this era. Now- Shall we start at your feet? If I was burned alive by holy flames then your body shall be scorched by the flames of Hell!”
Rider tried to call out to her Master to beg her to stop, but the restrictions and compulsion upon her from the summoning was so great that Rider could do nothing outside the scope of her orders. She could tell as the restrictions clamped down on her mind and soul. Rider could do nothing but watch as a member of the clergy (however pathetic he was) was slowly incinerated from the feet on up his body. The process took a good five minutes for the flames that were so hot that not even the cremated bones left ashes behind. When Jeanne d’Arc’s punishment ended… her face somehow looked disappointed for a moment before she turned to the summoned Servants and revealed a smile of innocence that was completely at odds with the actions she’d taken until now.
“Rejoice, my ignoble Servants! Devour souls. Feast on flesh. Savor in the people’s blood. I, your Master, Jeanne d’Arc shall forgive you all. I have but one order. Wipe out this country, this mistake that is France. Overrun it, trample it, reap it. Les us begin with our dear Orleans. We shall return its fruitful land to a bare wasteland. Age. Gender. Religious beliefs are of no importance. Make sure you kill them equally.”
The thought of everyone being equal in death seemed to appeal to the girl named Jeanne, as she spread a crueller smile than before.
“That is the only order I give you as your Master. To that end, I have given you all the attributes of a Berserker. You may be a saint, or a hero, but now you shall dance with your broken soul.”
The clear blue eyes of the young man or woman had tears dripping while the pupils that were vacant of all thought from the horror that was impressed upon their owner’s mind.
The young maiden with cat ears stared at her Maser with such hatred that the only thing keeping her at bay was the strangulating power of her bindings as a Servant. The girl’s sanity was already cracking from this dichotomous fate, as was her Spirit Origin.
The pale haired and pale bodied man with disturbingly refined mannerisms and a lythe body had only one reaction to the events that took place around him. Mild amusement, as his lips formed an exceedingly small smile at the corners.
Rider hung her head slightly, the purple bangs covering her eyes just enough that her remaining resolution was covered by them. The knuckles of the hand holding her holy staff were bone white.
The pale man named Gilles gave a courtly bow, indicating his position as a toady to the self named witch.
The white haired and pale bodied woman who was covered in a twisted body armor of metal brambles watched her Master with full detachment. She obviously had no cares for anything but herself.
“And him, whom I summoned instead of Berserker, and myself. I shall pass down judgement as this world’s Ruler. Humanity has no value, for it failed to prove its love for our Lord. They are guilty to a horrifying extent. Humanity is equally guilty, sinner and saint alike. So we shall kill them all. I will not tolerate a single one escaping.”
“Oh… Oh! Such resolve,” exclaimed the ass kisser. “Such truth without the slightest doubt! Such is the saint of salvation! The saint who believes in our Lord, and saves our people! You have returned,” said the disgusting man with the constantly changing tone of voice, as though he was swinging swiftly back and forth from zealotus reverence to joyous weeping. “My light has returned… You have truly been reborn, Jeanne! Then I too, shall rise again as your general! First, we need a symbol… Our army must have a flag! Jeanne, what shall we use as our emblem? A demon, perhaps? Or what about-”
The tainted saint cut the man off quickly.
“Let’s make it a dragon. Be it coincidence or providence, this summoning has brought many with close ties to dragons. In the name of dragons, the symbol of catastrophe, we will burn this world to the ground. Oh,” uttered the witch as though a wonderful idea had just entered her mind. “I have one more order. Laugh. As if you are enjoying yourselves from ‘the bottom of your heart.’”
Laughter filled the cathedral. Some broken and hollow. Some dignified and sardonic. Some distorted and echoing. The laughter of the dragon witch was filled with childlike glee. Rider moved forward quickly while disjointed laughter ripped from her throat. Rider decided that she would waste no time to “fulfill” the orders of her Master.
“Wonderful! This is wonderful, Gilles,” called Jeanne d’Arc. “I’ve never enjoyed myself this much in my entire life!”
Rider heard that behind her as she manifested her mount under her feet. The great turtle dragon Terrasque rammed the great doors of the cathedral and reduced them to splinters. Outside in the brilliant sunlight, Rider called from atop her roaring mount.
“Let all know the coming of the Witch, Jeanne d’Arc and her cursed Servants! Any who wish to die, come forward! All who wish to live, run! Run for your lives!”
The laughter she was ordered to utter continued to pour from her throat as the people of the city of Orleans scattered. The military appeared soon after with platoons valiantly attempting to hold the monsters gathered under the Evil Dragon banner at bay the civilian evacuation was ongoing.
* * * * *
“Let me go over what is required once more,” said Dr. Roman in the briefing room to the assembled staff and Heroic Spirits. “First, the investigation and correction of the singularities. It is humanity’s critical turning point in that era. So Gudao needs to travel to the pivotal ‘event’ in human history, investigate it, and then correct its flow. Otherwise 2019 will never come. Humanity will go extinct in 2018. That is the first objective, and the basic principle of the upcoming operation.”
There were some murmurs from the humans, but the Servants were mostly quiet. Artoria Lily gripped her hands into fists and had an overly earnest look on her face.
“The operation’s second objective is Investigate the ‘Holy Grail.’ This is just my speculation, but the singularities must be related to the Holy Grail. The ‘Holy Grail’ is a relic that can grant wishes. A vessel that contains tremendous amounts of magical energy. Lev probably got his hands on the grail in some form, and misused its power. Rather, it’s impossible to travel through time and change the past without the Grail. Seriously. You will run into intel regarding the Grail during your investigation of the singularity. Even if you correct history, leaving the Grail behind will just put us back to square one. You must either secure the Holy Grail, or destroy it.”
Ritsuka reflected on that point briefly, about how everything in Fuyuki took a turn for the worst when Lev Lainur Flaouros got his hands on the Grail that was just sitting at their feet.
“Those are the two objectives of this operation. Is everything clear so far?”
The room was silent.
“Alright. Now there is one other thing I want done when Gudao arrives on site for the mission. It’s nothing major, I just want you to find a leyline and make a summoning circle. Just like you did in Fuyuki. Unlike Fuyuki, we could probably make do as-is if it’s just communication. But the establishment of a circle will stabilize our link and make things a lot easier. It’s also integral to transporting supplies. Understood?”
There was another murmur of understanding. Mash spoke aloud to give confirmation of understanding the orders from her seat next to Ritsuka.
“Understood. Before all else, we’ll try to establish a place to relax, a structure with a roof, a home to come back to. Right, Master?”
With the last part spoken directly to him, Ritsuka felt he needed to respond. Even with the current situation, Ritsuka felt Mash’s words were slightly poetic.
“Right. You have a way with words, Mash.
Blushing from the compliment, Mash said, “H-Hearing you say that, really means a lot to me. I know I’m still an inexperienced Servant, but you can count on me. I’ll be giving it my all!”
Dr. Roman sniffed loudly and wiped away a phantom tear as he said, “To see Mash, who’s serious, quiet, and frankly, kind of mysterious, grow to be such a fine lady…”
Mash instantly cringed into her seat. Dr. Roman might have devolved even further into a pathetic adult if Cu Chulainn Lancer hadn’t shouted, “You can be pathetic on your own time, Doc! We already know most of this junk! Why did you call all’a us Servants here?”
“Ah,” uttered Dr. Romani as he returned to the correct time-place-occasion. “You see, we’ve been working hard to get Chaldea’s Rayshifting system back to optimal levels and training the staff. Also, it took a bit of time and effort to chart the Singularity Gudao and Mash will be investigating. But we have finished all the preliminary preparation necessary for the beginning of the Grand Order.”
“You only mentioned Master and Mash by name,” said Medea warily. “Is there a reason for that?”
Dr. Roman looked sheepish as he fessed up, “Yes, actually. All of our resources were put towards repair and preparation. We have not had time to repair any of the Coffins aside from the three that were used with the Fuyuki singularity.”
“Coffins,” asked Sasaki.
“They’re the nicknames for the pods used to hold those travelling through time. I’ve seen them myself, and the description is mostly accurate,” said Emiya.
“Yes,” said Dr. Roman, trying not to lose his place as the person giving the briefing. “Those. The other Coffins are… indisposed at the moment. As soon as they are freed up for service we’re going to be restoring the rest to active duty.”
Ritsuka could only assume that all the other Master Candidates were still inside those things, cryogenically preserved and waiting for help. Which meant that the staff would have to safely remove them and transfer the people to a holding area before the Coffins could be used again.
“Which means only one other Servant can travel with Gudao and Mash on this mission,” summed up Dr. Roman.
“I will go,” stated two overlapping voices instantly. Artoria and Altoria, the sources of the voices, instantly turned to face each other. Several of the other Servants quickly began to leave during the ensuing argument.
“I have already sworn to be our Master’s shield, Alter. Therefore, I should be by his side to protect him.”
“He already has Mash with him. She has a better shield than you could ever produce. So what our Master needs is a sword to cut through his enemies with. That’s why I’m much better suited to the task.”
“My Master has no need of such a violent sword!”
“Have you conveniently forgotten that, as your Alter, my sword is stained by the blood you let in life? If that’s not base hypocrisy then I don’t know what is.”
“I take it that words will not sway you, Alter?”
“What Tyrant would be swayed by such worthless words as yours, Failure King?”
“Then let us decide this like knights!”
Just as the two Sabers were taking identical combat stances and manifesting their weapons, Ritsuka sternly said, “No dueling, or neither one of you will be coming with me!”
“But, Master,” exclaimed the pair, once more in unison.
“Then perhaps I should-” asked Lily, raising a hand gingerly.
“No,” called the supposedly more adult Artorias. Lilly dropped her hand and her head in dejection. Medusa next to her gave a reassuring pat on the head, also seeming a little dejected about the situation. Ritsuka decided he’d have to make it up to them both sometime. After all, they were the only Servants who’d not left the room out of a self-preservation instinct. Actually, Emiya had mumbled something about the situation wasting time and lunch preparations…
“Doctor,” asked Mash, “Is it possible to prepare another Coffin so that both Sabers can go with us?”
Dr. Romani peeked out from behind the desk he’d taken cover behind and said, “No, not really. It’s going to take a few days to get more coffins online. And, well, we’re kind of on a tight schedule for the Grand Order. Gudao-kun! It’s up to you to select the last member of your team! That way, no one will blame me!”
“So I guess I’m going to be selecting my team for every mission then,” remarked Ritsuka in resignation.
“Yeah, that sounds good, let’s go with that,” said Dr. Romani irresponsibly.
“Then it’s simple, Alter. We’ll just have Master choose which of us is superior,” said Artoria with confidence of being chosen.
“For a Failure, you sometimes say good things,” stated Altoria flatly, but confidently. “Do try to not be too disappointed by our Master’s decision.”
Saying thus, the two Kings of Knights looked Ritsuka’s way fervently. Ritsuka would have liked to say that such an event was unexpected… but he’d seen too many animes to not have seen the situation coming the moment Dr. Romani passed the buck to Ritsuka. So, after a moment to sigh, Ritsuka confidently stated, “Jan ken.”
To the confusion in the room, Ritsuka continued, “The two of you will play one game of rock-paper-scissors. The winner of the game will be the one who joins the current mission. The loser will join the next mission.”
“Ah-,” lightly uttered Medusa in despair from behind Ritsuka. He turned and said, “Medusa can join the next mission as well. There will be more Coffins by then.”
“Ah, yes, Fujimaru-sama!”
“Now, Artoria. Altoria. Prepare yourselves!”
The two Sabers nodded seriously and then wordlessly took their stances to throw out their hands. Ritsuka stood between them with his attention on the duelling grounds like a referee for a kendo match. “Ready,” called Ritsuka. “Jan! Ken! PON!”
There was a crack as the two competitor’s hands broke the sound barrier and the displacement of air rustled Ritsuka’s clothing. And the result was… paper for Artoria. Scissors for Altoria.
“This is my win,” said the alabaster skinned Saber with a smirk on her face.
“Winner! Altoria,” called Ritsuka while lifting his hand like a flag to signal a match point.
Artoria’s hand trembled a moment before saying, “Master, I demand this match be rendered null and void! Alter cheated!”
“Oh? How so,” asked Ritsuka. He was honestly curious about how anyone could cheat at jan ken.
“As Alter extended her hand, it was definitely curled up as a ‘Rock.’ That was why I selected Paper for our battle. But as her hand came close to finishing it’s extension, she switched to scissors having seen my own selection. She altered her choice mid throw.”
“Altoria,” asked Ritsuka in the voice of an official asking for clarification on a call.
“I never changed my selection, Ritsuka,” said Altoria with a confident smile. “I was going to throw scissors no matter what. However, I knew my opponent would be observing me, so I did not reveal my attack until the last moment. It is not my fault my opponent would mistake the neutral position as being ‘Rock.’ It just means that my opponent is simple minded to fall for such a simple strategy.”
“Guh-” went Artoria, as though she’d taken a verbal bodyblow.
“I see,” said Ritsuka, having fun with his referee mode. “There are no rules against changing up your hand position before full extension. If the change had been after full extension, Altoria would have been found in violation. The decision stands! Altoria is the winner!”
While Altoria silently crowed her victory with her fists on her hips and her nose held high, Artoria crumpled up in defeat.
“Try not to let it get you down, Artoria,” said Ritsuka kindly. “Just try and use this time for training until the next mission.”
“Yes. Yes, you are right, Master. If I have time to feel sorry for myself, then I have time to grow stronger. Alter. By the time you see me again, you will not recognize me.”
* * * * *
“Emiya,” called out Artoria fiercely as she slammed the door open and brashly entered the kitchen. “You will accompany me on Jan Ken training!”
“What the hell, Seibah! Get out of my kitchen with that crap!”