Jeanne d’Arc rested on the railing that overlooked the garden that was beginning to wither after being left unattended by human hands for just the past few days, almost like her very presence was draining the life from Orleans. The trees and flowers looked sadder, lonelier, and more pitiful being encased in darkness with only a faint moonlight to pick them out.
“Did Rider commit suicide,” wondered the girl, covered by darkness on the terrace. “It’s troublesome that she retained her sanity even with Madness Enhancement. Still, she likely fought with all her might. If that’s the case, we can’t let our guard down. Next time, the one I summoned in place of a True Berserker and I will mobilize. I will also be taking the Servants I summoned today. Please contact the Berserk Assassin.”
The girl spoke only to darkness. She didn’t know that he was there but there was just an undefinable sense that he would be, that he would always be there for her. That was why Jeanne was certain that man would be close by, watching over her. And the man was, in truth, there; speaking as he stepped out of the darkness.
“Understood. If I were who I was before, I would have stopped you,” said the Caster, Gilles de Rais, with a parental style of pride in his voice. “But now, you’re perfect, Jeanne. You don’t even need luck on your side! Please, trample over others as much as you wish.”
The blonde girl looked over the desolate darkness, hiding the vibrant flowers and verdant grass. With a touch of melancholy, she asked, “Gilles. Which do you think is the real one? Me, or her?”
“Of course it’s you,” said the man instantly, with a voice of gentle certainty. A voice that slowly gained strength and power as it wound through her history. Her origin. “Are you listening, Jeanne? You were burned at the stake. Betrayed… by everyone! Charles the 7th left you to die, because he didn’t want to pay the ransom! Not a single person rose to bravely fight for your return! And what was the cause of all this? It was GOD! It was our God, mocking us! Thus, we deny God. Don’t we, Jeanne?”
As Gilles’ voice took it’s gentle tone once more, asking for his charge to relearn the important lesson, she looked up at him with a pure, innocent, childlike smile on her face. Like a daughter that was just reassured by her father.
“Yes, yes you’re right, Gilles. I have nothing left.”
The girl paced a few steps away musing over the knowledge of what had happened to her.
“My soldiers are gone, and my admirers fled. The king betrayed me and the bishops burnt me in the name of God.”
The girl stopped pacing, and lifted her eyes to the dark night sky. And continued in a tone of voice like she was reciting a lesson.
“I was wrong. No, everything was wrong. Not just what I believed in. The very country that allowed me to exist was wrong. This mistake must be righted. The mistake that was Jeanne d’Arc. So let us do as they decided,” said the girl, gently lifting her arms as though to lead a congregation in service. “And make it all so it never happened. My salvation of the country was itself a fatal mistake!”
The hunched over Caster gently approached Jeanne, and setting a caring hand on her shoulder, gently admonished and reassured her.
“Jeanne, please don’t put yourself under such stress. This is a divine punishment. Nothing more. Your revenge is righteous. What you saved, you may destroy. Isn’t that all there is to it?”
Not noticing the hypocrisy of denying God one moment and then laying all blame for their own actions upon him the next, a relieved Jeanne nods her head and says, “You’re right, Gilles. What you say is extreme, but it brings me strength. I will rest for now. Make sure the new Servants are ready for tomorrow. As for the Berserk Archer, send her north to hunt that rat that’s been roaming around.”
“Only her,” asked the Caster. The implication of a swifter hunt with more certain results should more Servants be dispatched was carried in his voice.
“Yes. That one has been troublesome from the beginning. I don’t know what it is, but she seems to harbor some deep seated hatred against me specifically. Really, holding her back all the time is annoying and her core is already straining from the restrictions. If she stays here much longer, I fear she will break under her own stress. Better to get some use out of her. And if she is defeated, it is no great loss. I will just Summon another Archer.”
“Such incredible insight, Jeanne,” shamelessly complimented the Caster. “I shall see to it at once. Let me take care of all the troublesome matters, Jeanne. And please, have a good night’s rest.”
“Yes, good night as well, Gilles,” said the girl with a childlike sincerity and innocence. With lighter steps than before, the girl headed back to her chosen room, with all her doubts having subsided once more.
* * * * *
“Yes, many of the refugees of Orleans went to Lyon, and once being attacked, the citizens and refugees in Lyon scattered further,” said Marie, who’d been the one to gather the information in the first place. “But before Lyon’s destruction, they had a protector. A knight with a large sword, who defeated wyverns and skeletons.”
“I see. Perhaps that’s the Servant that Martha spoke of before,” said Jeanne thoughtfully from her seat in the glass carriage everyone was traveling inside of. The vehicle was traveling at it’s customary swift speed and dodging around the wagons and obstructions on the road they moved. Marie continued her retelling of the information she’d gathered in the town the group had stopped at earlier.
“At the end of the evacuation of Lyon, that knight was overwhelmed, however, by a group of scary people. Servants, most likely. And that knight is now missing. With that, Lyon was finally destroyed.”
“I hope he’s alive,” muttered Mash, who then shook her head to toss out the pessimism. “No, let’s believe in the words of St. Martha.”
“Yeah, Martha seemed rather sure about him at the time. She didn’t seem like she was guessing,” interjected Ritsuka. Oh, they’d just left another town behind them. They were making really good time.
“Also,” said Marie energetically, “It seems General Gilles de Rais has marshaled the routed soldiers and he’s attempting to attack Lyon and take back the city from the monsters that have been nesting there.”
“Gilles,” exclaimed Jeanne.
“Is… there a problem with that person,” asked Ritsuka carefully.
“I don’t see why,” said Marie, equally curious. “Gilles de Rais should be an admirer of Jeanne’s, right? If Jeanne were to ask for it, then I’m sure he’d lend a helping hand.”
“That’s precisely the reason it’s a problem. He knows that I’ve become the Dragon Witch. He wouldn’t accept me like that,” said Jeanne in her completely even tone of voice. Ritsuka was getting to know Jeanne well enough that he could see when she was denying herself from feeling. She was probably declaring the idea of asking the French military for help a failure ahead of time to keep from being denied by them again. Just like what happened when she swooped in to save the fort that day they’d met. Ritsuka saw that series of pained and resolved faces flash through his memory again as Marie continued on.
“I see. I’m not sure that’s quite right. But I understand that you might not want to see him! You’re a girl, after all. Yes, I agree we don’t need to see him! We’re in a hurry, after all. I don’t think normal soldiers can handle all those monsters in Lyon, anyway…”
Catching onto the new track, Jeanne left her insecurities behind and moved onto tactical analysis. “You’re quite right,” she said. “Let’s defeat them on our own.”
“We can do it, no problem,” said Ritsuka. “But we should move fast so that we don’t run into the French Army. If anything, we’re a suspicious group. They’ll probably arrest us on sight like what happened our first day. It’s not like they can stop us, but I don’t want to hurt people who are just trying to protect their home.”
“Ritsuka,” muttered Jeanne lightly. Altoria nodded slightly and said, “I understand that cowardly aspect of you well enough now, Ritsuka. If it comes to that, I will simply fight them with the back of my blade.”
“Uh, you have a double bladed sword, the back of your blade is still sharp,” said Ritsuka lamely. No one seemed to mark the observation, as Mash cheerfully said, “I’ll strike them with the back of my blade as well, Master. So please don’t worry!”
“No, Mash, you have a shield. It doesn’t have a blade to begin with,” said Ritsuka, afraid that the common sense in the carriage was going right out the window. “But yeah, we’re going to push right through the problem in front of us, so let’s all do our best.”
Amongst all the affirmatives the people in the carriage spoke, Marie said, Yes, that’s what it means to be a boy! Here’s your reward!”
Ritsuka was caught completely unaware when the Queen of France bent over to plant a peck on his cheek. All the other girls in the carriage froze with extreme shock on their faces. Marie, however, had a kind smile on her face as she asked, “Well, was it good?”
“Yes, thank you,” replied Ritsuka with a goofy grin on his face while he rubbed the smooched cheek in happy embarrassment.
“She finally went and did it, huh? Sorry, just ignore that,” said Mozart with a self-amused smile on his face. “Maria has a bad habit of kissing everything. It caused quite the chaos in the palace. There were actually factions formed of people she’d kissed and people she hadn’t. There’s no playwright who would touch a story about a court that almost destroyed itself over kisses before a revolution could.”
“Huh, you guys don’t do kisses,” asked Marie.
“A t-tyrant doesn’t do something like ki-ki-ki-kiss,” muttered Altoria before becoming extremely preoccupied with staring out the window. Though Ritsuka supposed the entire carriage was a window so Altoria just had her head vehemently turned. Mash was occupied with gently shaking Ritsuka. Ritsuka couldn’t understand why, it’s not like he was that lost in pink fluffy fluffiness from being kissed by a beauty. Even though the kiss felt niiiiiiiiiiiiiice~ Uuuuhuhuhuhuhu~
“Maybe like when your heart feels like someone’s squeezing it,” continued on Marie, trying to find a consensus with the girls in the carriage. “You do it too, right Jeanne?”
“I-I do not! I do not,” called out Jeanne desperately before she started fiddling with her index fingers, which looked extremely odd considering she was wearing plate mail gauntlets. In a fading voice, Jeanne said, “Only with someone I was going to marry…”
“Ah, we’ve arrived,” cried Marie with a mix of excitement and trepidation. All the various people in the carriage snapped out of their individual little worlds and proceeded to dismount. In front of them stood the shattered gate of the city of Lyon, the debris and broken wood scattered everywhere. There was only stillness inside the city that could be seen through the front entrance like a bad painting. Destroyed homes, ruined streets, and crushes lives.
Ritsuka pressed the connection button on his comm watch and called out, “Dr. Roman, can you do a sweep for any signs of life?”
The reply was low grade static.
“Mash, can these watches have bad signals? Like, are we too far away from a tower?”
“I… don’t think that’s how it works, Master. But yes, we appear to have poor signal strength right now. Since we can’t ask for Chaldea to scan the area, perhaps we should split up and search for that ‘Dragon Slayer’ that St. Martha mentioned?”
“Right. Let’s see which of us finds that person first,” said Marie, trying to make the search into a game to keep everyone’s mood up. “Amadeus and I will take the west side.”
“Then we who are contracted to Ritsuka will go east,” decided Altoria arbitrarily.
“I’m alright with that,” nodded Jeanne, as Mash said, “Let’s go, Master!”
The teams broke apart and began to skulk through the town. Jeanne’s abilities as a ruler had been stunted, but her ability to sense other Servants was still better than the others in the group, so the team was centered around her. Mozart’s ears were going to be the search function for Marie’s team as he had hearing at the level of a supernatural being even amongst Heroic Spirits. So neither team had a need to call out for survivors to respond in their search. Which was why the bleak ruins were so quiet.
During their search, the team found what they could only consider as wyvern nests. Bowls of ruins with large cushions of torn apart trees inside them. But those nests were empty as well, their occupants apparently having been called away for some purpose. There weren’t even any bodies of the slain on the streets. The corpses either having become undead soldiers or meals some time ago. It was in that strangling stillness that Jeanne spoke.
“This was once a beautiful town. Why would that Dragon Witch do this…”
“Because she’s a fake,” said Ritsuka, stating fact. Fact that he couldn’t share the reason behind. That he’d studied the flow of magical power in the three Artorias, and the intense similarities between the three forms with only minor differences between Artoria Prime and Artoria Alter and Lilly. How the underlying construction of a Heroic Spirit doesn’t change that much despite the form or portion of their legacy they are summoned to represent. And how the flow of magical power of the Alter form of Jeanne d’Arc, The Dragon Witch… was completely different from the girl standing before him.
It would be really nice if Ritsuka could tell Jeanne that…
“That’d be nice,” said Jeanne, falling deeper into her self-blame. “But-”
Jeanne stiffened, Mash stopped moving entirely, and Altoria rushed at Ritsuka with her sword drawn. The black metal of her sword flashed before Ritsuka’s eyes as the clang of metal against metal rang just behind Ritsuka’s ears. Somehow, Ritsuka was instinctually aware that he’d come dangerously close to having his throat cut.
As Ritsuka spun around he saw a man in dark clothes land some distance away on the main road they’d been travelling on, that was strewn with rubble the size of a man from the destroyed high end businesses that the city of Lyon had to offer. The man slowly stood up, and as he turned, his profile went from being that of a man who was chronically melancholic to a psychopath that had the other half of his face sealed behind a gleefully grinning blood smeared mask. He swayed lightly as though he languidly allowed time and life to continue for himself as he spread out his hands that held scarlet stained blades attached to his fingers.
“You cur,” shouted Altoria as she took a guard stance between Ritsuka and the assailant. “Name yourself!”
Mash ran up to guard Ritsuka uttering, “Servant,” while Jeanne took a flanking position next to Altoria. The man said, “Correct, I am a Servant,” as he spread his hands and bowed like a performer at a national theater. All grace and madness. “People call me Phantom of the Opera. By order of the Dragon Witch, this town is under my absolute control. And you trespass in the middle of Hell, that gives rest only to the dead. That means… you must either depart, or join the departed. What shall you do?”
“We’ll crush you,” said Ritsuka instantly. “I think it’s pretty clear, everyone, but this one is an Assassin. Don’t let him slip away.”
“Understood,” said Altoria as she moved forward, and “Oui” as Jeanne advanced.
“Will it really be so easy, though,” called out the Phantom in a singsong voice as his center of gravity gave out, he slipped backwards while pivoting on one foot and turned an ungainly and tendon tearing awkward fall into a dashing start to swiftly outflank his opponents. However, Altoria and Jeanne’s bodies were high spec enough for them to keep up from sheer output of magical energy strengthening their legs. Altoria closed enough to take a slash at the Phantom who spun at just the right timing that his gentleman’s cloak covered his dodging body from view and he slipped away with only a slice in the fabric. Jeanne took the long way around to intercept the Phantom’s path, and swung a widowmaker of a horizontal smash that pulverized the stonework of a half destroyed building after the Phantom leapt over the weapon, and then kicked the building’s side to go even higher.
“Be careful with the backdrops, mademoiselle,” called the Phantom happily as the building tumbled over. Mash pulled closer to Ritsuka, lifting her shield up to bodily smash away the falling brick edifice. Jeanne was caught off guard and fully buried, but pushed up and through the pile on top of her in a small explosion of rubble. Altoria slashed at the falling building in a way to make the air around her detonate with her magical power and fling the bricks away without opening her stance to attack.
The Phantom had jumped off the falling chunks of masonry twice before flipping over to disappear behind the ruins of another building. For a brief second Ritsuka hoped the Assassin was making a run for it. Then the Phantom’s voice rang out like a ballad from off the stage, echoing and haunting the area.
Oh, Christine, my Christine!
“I’m his target. Alter, Mash, stay with me and intercept. Jeanne, flush him out but stay in sight,” said Ritsuka quickly forming a plan while looking around. The debris in the street had been thickened, with even more places for someone to hide behind.
Just as roses are the color of blood,
“Master, I… I don’t know where he is,” said Mash nervously as Jeanne systematically destroyed pile after pile of masonry to remove hiding locations around the area. Ritsuka could swear he’d seen a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye, but even before he turned it was gone and there was a flicker coming from the other corner.
Their blood shall be the bouquet that I offer to you, Christine!
“You don’t have to know, Mash,” said Altoria. “There are limited paths the Phantom can take. Wait for the moment your instincts tell you he’s coming, and then act.”
Advice befitting one with a natural and powerful fighting instinct, Ritsuka thought. But it helped calm Mash, who muttered the word “Instinct,” and slowed her breathing without pulling her attention away from the area or relaxing her guard.
Another pile of rubble was blasted away by Jeanne, frantically searching for the murderer Servant.
Oh Christine, my love!
A black blur slid from behind a chunk of masonry before kicking off from it to turn itself into a dark torpedo, silent and streaking towards Ritsuka. His eyes caught the motion just in time to flick over to the attacking Phantom. The man’s clawed hands were extended like a panther, ahead of him and stretching out to be the first part to come in contact with his prey. Those claws with the man’s entire force behind them came to a sparking halt as Altoria’s sword moved to block them, Altoria’s feet sliding some centimeters in the loose ground before the Assassin’s momentum came to a halt while still suspended in the air.
Ritsuka stared that Assassin unflinchingly in the eyes as Mash’s backhanded swing caught the Phantom before he could rebound himself to align another attack. Like a pop fly, the Phantom drew an upward curve as he tumbled end over end, to be met with Jeanne’s flagpole as the short girl leapt upwards to intercept and slam the Phantom into the ground. Then upon the Phantom’s brick breaking impact, Jeanne turned her fall into another body breaking downward strike. With grunts of exertion, Jeanne slammed her pole down on the Phantom’s torso another four times before she stopped her onslaught and stood over the mangled body, panting from exertion and stress.
The Phantom’s spine was beyond twisted and his arms were shattered like his ribcage. So Ritsuka said, “Good job, everyone,” and walked closer to the Assassin to hear the man’s last words which were croaked out of broken lungs, “You were within claws reach… why did you not flinch…?”
“I had three excellent Servants protecting me. I was never in any danger.”
The three Servants that Ritsuka had rightly entrusted his life to revealed various forms of satisfaction from Ritsuka’s completely valid complement, and the Phantom croaked out a chuckle finishing with a grunt of pain.
“Ugh! Still, my mission is accomplished… Though I shall never be rewarded… never… This is where my song ends… but the real Hell… starts now… Rejoice, oh Holy Maiden, for your evil… has grown even more than you…”
There was a clattering of horse hooves tinkling with the sounds of glass. It seemed Marie and Mozart had heard the ruckus and were coming to help out. Jeanne however had her full attention on the fallen Servant and was not risking his having a trick up his sleeve. Instead of getting heated up by his words, she simply said, “Be silent. It must be hard to talk even now.”
“These are not words… This is a song… To lament your future… and to mourn it… Forget about the Dragon Slayer…”
Oh shit, thought Ritsuka at that moment and started pressing the call button on the comm watch again and again, trying to get in contact with Chaldea.
“Master, what’s wrong,” asked Mash.
“They already knew the Dragon Slayer was here. This guy was an early warning system,” replied Ritsuka. It was all one big damn trap!
“Run to the ends of the earth,” croaked the Phantom with a twisted smile on his face. “If lady luck is on your side… you might just have a chance to escape…”
Marie and Mozart arrived asking about the sounds of battle at the time the Assassin disappeared into golden motes of light. And at that same moment the Servant died, the connection with Chaldea was opened.
[Finally, I got through to you! Everyone, I recommend that we evacuate! There’s a reading, way beyond a Servant, indicating an “ultra-size lifeform.” It’s approaching with incredible speed!]
“Beyond a Servant,” called out Mash in surprise. “Can such a lifeform even exist in this world?”
[Of course they can! The world’s a big place!]
“Enough about that, Dr. Roman,” called Ritsuka, cutting through the chatter while there was time. “We lost all contact with Chaldea for a time, this city is a trap! But the Dragon Slayer is here, the Assassin all but confirmed it. If we find him and get away, it’s our win, trap or no! Where is he, Dr. Roman!?”
[Huh!? Oh!? Celeste, do you have the data parsed? Uh, aside from the three Servants closing in with the ultra-sized lifeform… There’s a faint reading from the castle up ahead!]
“Marie, mounts,” called Ritsuka urgently. The girl produced them and the Chaldea team dashed helter skelter up the battlement stairs towards the ruined fortifications astride their glassy steeds.
Author’s Note: The Font limitations of wordpress are quite severe. There were a few things I did in this chapter in my word processor that didn’t translate into WordPress. The first was Jeanne’s disappearing voice, where I actually originally used smaller and smaller fonts to reduce the size of her words as they faded. The second was using a flowing, fancy font for Phantom’s offstage singing to make it more hauntingly elegant and out of place. Whereas with WordPress, all I could do was put it in italics and then bold fonts.
There are dozens of free fonts out there used in universal programs of all kinds. It wouldn’t kill WordPress to have a few of them.