“Wow,” exclaimed Ritsuka to the air around him after finding himself in a pristine field of green grass, blue skies, and gentle weather after having his consciousness pass through a brilliant blue hue of existence. “A Rayshift while you’re conscious is pretty awesome!”
“Yes, we were Rayshifted by accident last time. This time it’s a proper Rayshift via Coffin with no physical anomalies.”
“Yes, I’m not sensing any problems with my body. I am ready to fight at anytime.”
It seemed Mash and Altoria were not really feeling the romance of time travel, though.
“Fou! Fou, fou,” went the sound from the mascot that was sniffing the air from its position between Mash’s legs.
“Fou? Did you tag along again,” asked Mash in surprise, lifting a leg to get a better view of the fuzzy cat-bunny-squirrel.
“He’s really attached to Mash, so maybe he snuck into your coffin,” asked Ritsuka. The creature was with them in Fuyuki, so the fact that it could Rayshift wasn’t a big deal. But the fact that it could sneak into a mission’s Rayshift was surprising to Ritsuka. Mash herself picked Fou up and gave him an up close inspection before declaring, “Luckily, Fou seems unharmed. Since he is attached to one of our Rayshift Coffins, when we return he will automatically return as well.”
Fou waited patiently to be put down while Altoria watched the creature with keen eyes. Whatever thoughts or emotions Altoria were feeling about the creature here hidden by her serious facial expression, but her whole attention was occupied by the fuzzy critter. Ritsuka brushed the matter aside and looked up some pertinent info on his Comm-Watch.
“In that case, there’s no problems as long as we safety return from the mission. Let’s see. If this info display is correct, it’s 9:45 am local time, June of 1431.”
“That means we’re in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. But this should be during the war’s respite period,” said Mash as she put Fou down. Altoria’s eyes kept following the animal as it lightly scampered around.
Ritsuka nodded and said, “I guess it makes sense for there to be respites. After all, it’s a little hard to believe that France and England were at war for a hundred years straight. Ah, sorry, Altoria, is this a subject that would bother you?”
“Hm? It is fine, Ritsuka,” said Altoria both offhandedly and sternly at the same time, somehow. “While I have no particular love for the French, I have no particular dislike for them either. But with that said, if any of the French try to detain us for being conspicuous I will cut them down without hesitation.”
“I’d prefer you not cut anyone down, Altoria,” said Ritsuka with a strained smile. Then Ritsuka caught something in his peripheral vision.
“If you order me not to, I will attempt to abide your command, Ritsuka. But given circumstances, I will do what I deem necessary to protect you.”
“We shouldn’t have much trouble,” said Mash calmly, as an imparter of knowledge. “The war during this era was pretty carefree, relatively speaking. Captured knights were released for monetary payments almost every day… Senpai?”
“Look at the sky,” said Ritsuka in a rare, fully serious moment. His eyes were held skyward while his other companions and Fou looked up as well. The two girls inhaled lightly in surprise at the sight of a band of light that could be seen curving at the far end of the northern sky, bending lightly as each end of the line disappeared into the distance.
* * * * *
The connection verification call from Chaldea was quick and unremarkable, except for their confirmation that what the investigation team saw was not an illusion. Some great Magecraft had produced a ring of light that surrounded the entirety of France and more territory beyond. The description brought to Ritsuka’s mind the beakers used in chemistry, where experimental compounds were held until required. The thought sent a shiver up Ritsuka’s spine. With the termination of the call, the investigation team were told that Chaldea would concentrate on analyzing the ring of light and the ground team was to find a leyline to solidify the connection to 15th century France.
Ritsuka was glad to leave something so massive for the Chaldea team to do, since it just reminded Ritsuka of the unimaginably large job he himself was tasked with. Instead, he shouldered the survival pack and followed Mash’s advice, with the team moving to find the nearest settlement for the sake of gathering information. It took little time to find a road, and before long-
“Eek! Enemy attack! Enemy attack,” shouted a member of a French army scouting party after Mash’s polite introduction. Since Ritsuka couldn’t understand French he asked Mash what had happened.
“…I apologize. My mistake. I should have greeted them in French instead of English.”
“That’s the problem? Not the fact that two out of three of us are wearing armor,” asked Ritsuka.
The soldiers immediately moved to surround the investigation team with swords bared and spears at the ready. Altoria pivoted lightly and took a step to place Ritsuka between her and Mash, covering him on both sides. After taking the flanking guard position, Altoria said, “It looks like combat is unavoidable, Rituska. Do I have your permission to dispatch them?”
“No killing,” said Ritsuka, partly resigned to the fact that he was immediately on the bad side of the locals. He’d been hoping he could see at least a little of France before bad things happened.
“This is a closed off world, Master, and once the timeline is repaired all damage should be undone. It does not matter if these people die.”
To Altoria’s insistence on being efficient, Ritsuka unhesitatingly said, “Even if that’s true. I don’t want to see Altoria killing anyone.”
A small sound somewhere between a grunt and a sigh escaped Altoria’s throat before she said, “I will spare their lives this once, then.”
The French soldiers shouted something that seemed like a demand for surrender before they started tightening their encirclement. Ritsuka took a moment to resign himself to the fact that he was about to give the order to attack blameless people, and said, “Mash. Altoria. Please repel them without hurting them.”
The armored visor appeared over Altoria’s eyes as her dark Holy Sword appeared in her hands. The shield manifested in Mash’s hands as well. On seeing that, the French soldiers were visibly shaken, but with a single shouted command the men all pushed forward to thrust their weapons at the same time. Mash swung her shield in a wide arc from right to left, breaking the hafts of spears and knocking the blades of swords away. Altoria’s body blurred from a sudden internal explosion of her dragonic mana that allowed her to slice through all the remaining weapons on her side of the two person barricade around Ritsuka. It took only seconds for the French soldier’s to have been rendered nearly weaponless.
It was so quick that the men were unable to comprehend what had happened. The first one to do so, however, immediately gave a shrill cry and started running down the road the opposite way they had come. More of the French patrol broke rank and ran the same way, even while the man who was apparently in charge was shouting orders for them to stop. By the time over half the men has started running for their lives, the officer called out to the remaining men and they all fled at the same time.
“We somehow did it,” said Mash in relief at not having hurt anyone.
“But are you sure this was wise,” asked Altoria as her visor disappeared again, her hands resting on the pommel of her sword that was point first in the ground.
“What do you mean,” asked Ritsuka.
“Those men are undoubtedly retreating to their base. And they will either return with more soldiers to confront us once again, or spread word of how dangerous we are. Either way, there is nothing but demerits for our having allowed them to escape with their lives.”
To Altoria’s sanguin statement, Mash could only limply say, “That’s…”
“That’s how the world works,” stated Altoria. “By sparing those men, we will be forced to take more lives eventually. But I do not mind. The path of a Tyrant is drenched in blood.”
“Let’s follow after them,” said Ritsuka, not minding the serious mood.
“Excellent choice, Ritsuka. I will finish them off quickly.”
“No, Altoria. We’re following them in order to apologize for what happened. And then we’re going to explain ourselves properly. Those soldiers gave us a chance to surrender ourselves, right?”
“Then it means there is a chance for us to clear things up peacefully, by communicating with each other properly.”
“Yes. I’ll properly use French this time, I’m sure it’ll be okay,” said Mash, jumping on Ritsuka’s band wagon.
“The crossbow is a common military weapon, even in this age, Ritsuka,” persisted Altoria. “Just getting in range of their fortress or encampment will be putting your life in danger. Undertaking such a course of action is needlessly dangerous. I cannot recommend it.”
“Even so, I want to try and resolve things by talking.”
“…Such foolishness. It seems like I’ll be cutting those men down after all.”
“That won’t happen, Altoria.”
“And you know this how, Ritsuka?”
“Because if things look like they may turn violent, I’ll give up and run away.”
Altoria’s face was a mask of bitter surprise and betrayed expectation, with the furrowed brows of anger thrown in. Annoyance leaked into her voice as she said, “I cannot agree. I cannot agree. Ritsuka! You are needlessly endangering yourself by pursuing this pacifist solution. We should either wipe them out now, or dispatch any who chase us later. I am your blood drenched sword, Ritsuka. Stop asking me to act like a sheath!”
Ritsuka was silent and still from Altoria’s chastisement, looking her kindly in the face. After he was sure that Altoria was done venting, he gently said, “Your path doesn’t have to be drenched in blood, Altoria. I’ll prove it to you.”
Altoria’s emotionless mask that had already been broken twisted again in a way that Ritsuka couldn’t even guess the thoughts and feelings behind, and Altoria’s armored visor appeared over her eyes once more as she turned on her heel to face the opposite direction. Altoria quietly said, “Fine. I will consent to your plan. But I will protect you as I see fit.”
* * * * *
Dr. Roman had already made contact again, and completely flipped out over how first contact with the 15th century French natives was a one sided brawl by the time the French fortress came in sight. The now calmed Dr. Roman gave his analysis of the stone and mortar fortress.
[It’s a complete ruin on the inside… The outer wall is more or less intact, but you can’t call this a fort.]
Even at a distance, Ritsuka could tell that the men walking around were limping and favoring one arm or another. Nobody seemed like they were anything but exhausted. The words, “Nothing but wounded soldiers here,” slipped out of his mouth.
“Yes. A highly unusual amount of injured for peace time,” observed Altoria as the investigation team closed in on the shattered timbers of the fortress’ ruined front gate. Finally, one of the few dozen soldiers posted at that vulnerable point saw Ritsuka and company and shouted something panicked in French. Mash said something to the man in French, but Ritsuka only caught the first word, ‘Bonjour.’ Noticing Ritsuka’s confused face, Altoria leaned in to translate into Japanese.
“She said, ‘Hello. We are travelers. We are not here to harm you. Please put down your weapons, monsieur.”
“You know French,” asked Ritsuka.
“I’m a Servant. I know every language worth knowing, and then some.”
“Chalk up another point of cool for Servants,” said Ritsuka with real wonder. Then, seeing the act he said, “Ah, they really did put their weapons away.”
[Hm, that was rather easy. Perhaps they’re more rational now. Or-]
“They have no more fight left in them,” concluded Altoria, who tipped her head to listen more intently to Mash and the soldier that seemed to be speaking for the disparaged party at the front gate. “Mash is asking why Charles the 7th didn’t sign a peace treaty.”
“The soldiers seem confused by the question though,” observed Ritsuka.
“For good reason. King Charles the 7th of France is dead. Burnt to death by the… flames of a witch, it seems. …How ridiculous,” stated Altoria.
“What is,” asked Ritsuka.
“He’s claiming the one who killed the king and pushed out the occupying English forces was the ‘Dragon Witch Jeanne d’Arc.’”
Ritsuka was shocked to near insensibility to hear that claim. That the saint recognized by the church and was a commonly known historical figure for her righteousness and patriotism even in Japan was somehow responsible for acts of atrocity. Mash kept conversing with the soldier during that time.
“Mash is asking if it’s just a rumor that Jeanne d’Arc has been resurrected, or if the soldier is sure of it.”
“Resurrected,” asked Ritsuka to Altoria. “She’s been burnt at the stake already?”
“Yes. She died in late May. It seems we just missed her,” said Altoria flatly. Ritsuka was a bit disappointed. It would have been nice to meet such an important historical figure. But then again, he’d already met a lot of them all at once, but meeting them in their own time period, their everyday life, was just such an enticing concept. “But the soldier claims to be certain. It seems he fought under her command, so he saw her himself before her execution. And the woman claiming to be the resurrected Jeanne d’Arc is definitely the same person with only minor differences.”
“Pale skin and short hair. He’s certain she made a deal with the devil in order to return for her revenge.”
“Why the devil,” asked Ritsuka.
“…Apparently she’s now practicing necromancy. Her new army is one of the dead and… dragons.”
[Magical energy signals are heading there! Familiars created using human bodies… skeleton soldiers. And large creatures are in their ranks!]
Mash turned back hearing the shouts from Dr. Roman through the Comm-Watch and asked, “Senpai?”
Mash was obviously waiting for instructions. Meaning Ritsuka had to decide what to do. Ritsuka gave a quick glance to Altoria, seeing if she had an opinion, but she was more closed off than Emiya had been in Fuyuki. Ritsuka had to decide alone. His eyes flicked up to the ruined gate and to the harried and battered men guarding it, and the decision was made.
“Mash, tell them we’re going to help defend this fort. Altoria, we’re going to help hold the gate. We can’t let a single enemy through.”
Mash gave a determined nod and spoke again to the soldier who’d been peering behind Mash curiously, who then called something up to the top of the walls. Someone returned the yell from a high point on the wall, and then a battered iron bell began clanging. Soldiers began to scramble in every direction. Ritsuka, Mash, and Altoria took position alongside the line of men that formed at the ruined gate, their extended polearms forming a bristling line of steel, as the army came into view. There were a few hundred bodies carrying weaponry, but no armor. The unearthly sight of so many creatures in the shape of human skeletons marching in a loose formation haunted Ritsuka’s imagination for a moment. Especially the knowledge that every one of them had been a living person at one time.
The sound of their movement was not the thudding of many boots under heavy feet, but the clackity clack of dice as bone struck bone, multiplied hundreds of times over. The men on either side of Ritsuka were sweating, and Ritsuka felt beads of wetness crawling down his face as well.
After the bone army reached shouting range, it came to a dead halt… and waited, allowing the stragglers to catch up. Once they were one great mass, the dead started running lightly on their bony feet faster than any creature made of flesh and meat ever could. And all of them were heading for the broken gate. Arrows rained down on them as they closed the distance, but did nothing to decrease their numbers. Upon getting closer, larger rocks were hurled at the horde which shattered what was struck, but the number of destroyed skeleton soldiers was far too little to make much difference. As the guardians of the gate braced for the clash of hundreds of fearless bodies, Altoria leapt forward, followed closely by Mash.
Altoria’s sword cloaked itself in a dark black mass of power that shaped itself into a blade longer than her own height. Altoria swung her sword horizontally, sweeping aside the skeletons she struck with the ease of sweeping up sand. Several skeletons were destroyed with each of Altoria’s swings, but the number of enemies did not seem to diminish. Some even made their way past Altoria, such were the number of invading dead, and Mash had her hands full smashing them. Back handed swings of her shield, chopping creatures in half with the bladed sides, roundhouse kicks to take advantage of previously built momentum, body drops with her shield first. Mash’s battle moves and instincts were sharpening by the second, but a few skeletons made it past her as well.
The soldiers alongside Ritsuka were nearly stunned by the display of the Servants’ battle prowess, but apparently having a powerhouse on your side is more readily acceptable than otherwise as the soldiers still had the presence of mind to stab and swing with the halberds they carried. The skeletons were being stopped by impalement and then crushed with chops as the French soldiers operated as though they were fighting against a human army. Ritsuka was also able to keep his nerves down as skeletal bodies were being shattered in front of him, somehow.
Then everyone heard the roar, echoed by a second.
The soldiers at the gate flinched, and had to be called back to their duty by the shouting of an officer.
Then another roar, and the heavy sound of air being displaced by leathery wings. And the large monsters that Dr. Roman warned about swooped down from the sky.
It was a scale covered monster with wings instead of upper limbs. It’s great wingspan blocked out the sun in its passing, and Ritsuka saw the arc of it’s dive as it approached the fortress’s walls, diving back into the air with an armored person in it’s grip. The man was screaming even as the beast released it’s grip to allow the man to plummet with a sharp and wet thud into the earth below.
“Dragons,” shouted Ritsuka in shock.
[Yes, it’s a subspecies of dragon called ‘wyvern,’] called out Dr. Roman over the Comm-Watch. [That is definitely a creature that should not be in 15th century France!]
The great beast descended back onto the wall, landing with a hard thud, and screams began to echo from up top. The nearby officer shouted again, this time more shrilly with terror.
“Altoria,” cried Ritsuka. “Get up there and kill that thing! We’ll handle things here somehow!”
Altoria looked back, gave a sharp nod, then ran up the side of the walls. The sound of intense battle and blasts of power echoed from the wall where Ritsuka could not see. Then the source of the second roar landed with a loud crash before Mash, where several skeletons were crushed beneath it. Some of the men beside Ritsuka screamed in terror, and one or two fled. The rest barely held their position with the officer shouting and pointing at Mash. It seemed the little purple haired girl had become something of a moral support for the French. What was the joke Ritsuka had heard? The French only won wars when led by someone other than a French Man?
The wyvern lifted itself off the ground again with a cry and a flap of its wings, and began striking out at Mash with it’s taloned feet. Mash was instantly on the defensive against the hovering opponent, fending off the taloned feet, the lancing bites of the head on the long neck, and the lashing strikes of the tail. All of the attacks came from above Mash, and she was being hard pressed to take them all with her shield being held so far above her head. Being slapped around left and right by the wyverns attacks, it was apparent that Mash was struggling to hold out until Altoria could return and help defeat the creature two on one. But the bravery of the French forces was disappearing at an alarming rate with their having to hold off all the skeletons that were passing by the occupied Mash. It felt like it was only a matter of seconds until everything fell apart.
With a geyser of bones launching into the air repeatedly and growing closer, a blue and yellow figure blasted through the skeletal army to strike a polearm against the head of the wyvern attacking Mash. No, not a polearm, but an actual pole! A flagpole with a flag wrapped around it! The sound of the sturdy metal striking the wyvern’s noggin was closely followed by the sound of earth being torn by the falling body of the beast.
The girl who had knocked a wyvern into the ground wore blue cloth and shining plate armor, with a strange crescent plate guard on her forehead with a long and thick braid of golden blonde hair running down her back. She seemed like she was roughly Ritsuka’s age, but a little older, and was oddly accustomed to combat. Ritsuka instantly saw the mana moving about her body and any doubt was instantly dispelled as he recognized her as being a Servant.
The new Servant girl called out to the soldiers, her voice reaching the walls up top as well. It sounded like an order. Then she pointed a finger at Ritsuka and shouted another order in accustomed authority with a clear and beautifully stern voice. Kind of like a female Class President.
“Vous y! Veuillez prendre une arme et combattre!”