The stink inside the dark interior of the castle had dwindled in the past day, maybe two, with the departure of the zombies that had been shambling inside of it. The Servant was still apologizing to them in his heart, for having been unable to save the human protectors of the city from their grisly fate. The time passed slowly but easily for the Servant, as he lacked all human requirements for sleep, food, and to an extent, entertainment. It was still a painfully boring experience. The Servant couldn’t even shed his flesh and become intangible to turn off the higher levels of his consciousness, since if he did the cursed wound that was eating into his body would immediately enter his Core.
All he could do was rest, and wait.
The sound of sabatons on stone entered his ears, at a pace far to quick for any living dead to have produced. The sound brought the warrior’s senses back into focus, and he realized he was being approached by multiple Servants. The warrior moved for the first time in a week to try and be prepared for their arrival. After all, there was no reason he would encounter anything but enemy Servants.
He was, however, too late to be prepared as the door to the chamber was kicked in by a tiny woman in black armor, yellow eyes, and pale features carrying a dark sword. An Alter, just like the one who’d inflicted the cursed wound on him. The Servant was still struggling to maintain his balance when the Alter called out, “He’s here alright.”
The other Servants gathered quickly, meaning the wounded warrior had no chance at a pre-emptive attack. So he staggered into a defensive stance and materialized his sword. He may be weakened, but he wasn’t going down without a fight.
“You must be the Dragon Slayer,” said a black haired human boy that slipped out from behind the figures of the Servants that had formed a line in front of him. A Servant with an unusual feel and light purple hair tried to restrain him with words, but he stepped to the front away. “My name is Fujimaru Ritsuka, the last Master of the Chaldea World Security Organization. Our goal is to protect humanity from being destroyed, and we desperately need your help to stop the Dragon Witch from doing just that. Will you join us?”
“Dragon… Witch,” mumbled the Servant to himself, almost as though he were suffering a fever. “So that’s why I was summoned here, and then attacked.”
“We don’t have much time as the enemy is already on it’s way. So we need to move quickly. Are you with us, Dragon Slayer,” asked the boy, cutting to the chase.
The Dragon Slayer nodded, said, “I’m sorry that you’ve gone to this trouble for me. I understand, and I am in your debt.”
Then the Dragon Slayer stepped forward, out of the shadowy corner of the room that had been his sanctuary for the last week.
“Wow, you have a lot of hair,” said the boy offhandedly.
“Ah, you’re right,” remarked the girl with purple hair.
“Almost as much as me,” said the blonde that looked greatly like the one who’d wounded the Dragon Slayer in the first place. The other blonde with twin tails energetically asked, “Can I braid it!?”
“Is it… really that much,” asked the Dragon Slayer, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“Yeah. It’s like a Kabuki wig. Long and spiky. It’s really cool,” remarked the boy while the black armored girl seemed like she was fighting a headache and the slim man was chucking to himself.
[Yeah, it really is awe inspiring hair. Wait, now’s not the time to be impressed, you guys have to hurry!]
“Right! Almost forgot! Mozart, take his right side and I’ll take the left! He looks like he can barely stand!”
* * * * *
The Dragon Slayer that they’d been looking for was in bad shape from a deep gash from the top of his chest wrapping around to his flank that had a purple hue to it that couldn’t be anything good. The tall and muscular man in leather and plate armor with his glowing chest markings exposed was decidedly heavy as Ritsuka helped him carry his large frame. The interior of the castle was too small to deploy Marie’s glass horses, so they had no choice but to use their own bodies until they got outside.
And when they got outside, what awaited them was-
The heavy sound of thick leather beating the wind preceded the impact of the creature landing in front of the path leading from the castle to the city, which was their one path to the city gates of Lyon. The buildings underneath the great monster that could only be described as the greatest and most terrifying form of the concept of a Western Style Dragon were crushed and reduced to their component parts underneath it. The pile of destroyed buildings couldn’t even be called rubble. The creature cried out once, announcing itself, causing the broken weapons, shattered armors, and fragmented defenses strewn across the surfaces of the battlements to rattle from the sonic waves that held magical power inside them. Ritsuka found himself cycling the magical power inside his body reflexively to avoid taking any damage from what was, in truth, just a purr from the black scaled monster that had dropped itself in their path.
From atop the back of the dragon, the Dragon Witch spoke with a voice touched by boredom.
“I was wondering what you found, turns out it’s just a dying Servant. Very well, you can all die together!”
The Dragon Witch lightly jabbed her foot into the back of the dragon as her signal. The dragon began to take a large breath as magical power gathered at the base of its throat. Ritsuka didn’t even need to call out a warning this time, everyone there felt that massive build up of power. Mozart began to panic and tried to protect Marie as Marie thought to try and intercept the blast, leaving Ritsuka as the only person propping up the Dragon Slayer. Mash and Jeanne instantly volunteered to be the vanguard to block the incoming attack. The two girls rushed forwards, their weapons shining with power.
Incinerate them! FAFNIR!
The Dragon Slayer twitched perceptively despite being carried by Ritsuka’s shoulder as the gaping mouth of the dragon began to belch forth a flame so intense that Ritsuka’s eyes narrowed to almost nothing to protect himself from the light. The flag of Jeanne’s standard unfurled, glowing brightly with holy light, and Mash’s shield shone pale blue as makeshift conceptual fortifications sprung up around her.
The hurried deployment of their defensive Noble Phantasms meant a severe drop in their efficiency. Ritsuka instinctively understood that from the motes of wasted magical power that sprung up from the bodies of the girls and their defensive auras. The dragon’s breath struck those fortifications a fraction of a second after, and the world was dyed in liquid heat. Mash and Jeanne’s combined Noble Phantasms barely held out as the flowing power dyed out all details from Ritsuka’s eyes, kicking up the winds like he was in the heart of a tropical storm. Dust, debris, and wreckage went flying everywhere. Marie was screaming in panic, though her voice was drowned out by the shrieking of the winds and the rumbling of the destroyed stonework behind them. Then Ritsuka himself could barely breathe through the winds as he held his hand up to protect his eyes, then he felt something impact his leg and he fell to the ground as Altoria hurried to his side to try and shield him from further shrapnel.
The breath attack came to an end. A quick look around showed that the castle behind them was gone except for the framework of the first floor, the stone that remained was tinged by a molten red. Looking forward, Mash and Jeanne were both slumped over from exhaustion. The dragon though, didn’t look like it had even exerted itself with its first attack that had changed the landscape itself.
“Ugh, just as I thought, this is…”
Even Jeanne was forced to admit defeat from a single blow of the monster. The Dragon Witch stood on the creature’s back, smugly composing her words of ridicule. Before she could say them, however, the Dragon Slayer who had not fallen over once Ritsuka had dropped, spoke first.
“I’ll take it from here.”
The Dragon Slayer stepped forwards, forcing himself to stand straight and proud. His great sword tinged with a noble blue power manifested in his right hand.
“It’s been a while Evil Dragon Fafnir. Though you’ve resurrected, I will send you back to your slumber.”
The great dragon before Ritsuka’s party seemed startled, taken aback, and shifted back a few great steps. The Dragon Witch atop the creature’s back was obviously confused and flustered.
“Hear me, One Who Rules the Blue Sky,” shouted the Dragon Slayer as his sword’s luster grew in intensity. “My name is Siegfried! He who once defeated thee! Noble Phantasm Release!”
The man who named himself as Siegfried brought the sword up into a ready position before his eyes in a two handed grip. The blue light inside his blade released itself into a pillar of power attached to the sword, swaying and moving with his sword’s movements. Bringing the blade upwards into the position for an overhand strike, the man shouted the name of his Noble Phantasm.
The evil dragon Fafnir had used it’s few seconds of grace to retreat at the behest of the Dragon Witch, leaping up and then climbing altitude to try and escape it’s natural enemy. The sword descended, and from it a beam of blue light shot out just like with Excalibur. The blue beam streaked into the sky and struck the evil dragon on the side, a glancing blow that still showed incredible effect. The Dragon Witch waved her arms and shouted something, and the great Evil Dragon Fafnir flapped its wings and flew away to the north where the occupied Orleans sat.
“Hey, Altoria,” asked Ritsuka dumbfounded. “Do all Sabers shoot laser beams from their swords?”
Altoria’s face went from a respectful awe to a face of rattled discomfort as she carefully said, “I.. don’t have much experience meeting other Sabers, so I can’t really tell. Anyway, Ritsuka, your wound.”
“My what? Oh.”
Looking down, Ritsuka saw what had impacted his leg. The shaft and fletching of an arrow were visible from his left thigh. It must have been caught up in the wind…
“Grit your teeth, Ritsuka,” said Altoria as she took a hold of the arrow shaft. Ritsuka had enough time to grit his teeth before the tug of the arrow being pulled from his flesh caused him to bite hard and grunt in a flash of agony. He was light headed for a second as his body readjusted to not having an alien object embedded into it. In Altoria’s hand there was the arrow with the round pointed tip. Ritsuka realized it was a crossbow bolt.
“Heh, you kept warning me about crossbows, now I see why.”
Altoria’s face showed that she found the joke to be decidedly unfunny. Then Siegfried fell to his knees as his sword disappeared.
“I’m sorry. This is the best I can do,” said Siegfried through his heavy breathing. “Get out of here, before they come back.”
“Too late for that,” said Mozart. “I could hear that woman give instructions. She’s sending her Servants after us along with their wyverns.”
“Master, can you walk,” asked Mash worriedly as she approached.
“Screw walking, I can run,” Ritsuka said as he forced himself onto his legs. The wound was small and he wasn’t bleeding much. It also felt like the muscle was intact. It was just a matter of if he could work through the pain of a damaged muscle. And the adrenaline was helping with that alot. “Marie, can your carriage take a direct attack from a wyvern?”
“I’m sorry, but no. Like Amadeus said, my Noble Phantasm isn’t suited for defense.”
“Then we’re making a run for it. Altoria and Jeanne are vanguard, bring down anything in our path. Mash is sticking with Siegfried and me, I don’t think either of us can safely take a wyvern attack. Marie, use your horses to harry any chasing wyverns. Mozart, help me with Siegfried… and wyverns probably have different ears than we do, see if you can find a frequencing that will drive them away.”
With those concrete instructions, everyone began moving. A flock of wyverns was visible in the sky in the distance, in a holding pattern outside the city over the open plains that packs of wyverns broke off from to approach the city. The first group of four was met by Altoria and Jeanne, engaging and swatting them away. The first wyvern had a wing slashed and then was thrown away by Altoria, it’s angry cries could be heard from the other side of a ruined building now that the creature could no longer fly. The second was knocked by Jeanne bodily into a building to have it crumble on top of the creature, pinning it for the time being as the team made its passage. The third broke off its attack run from being harried by glass horses that pranced from rooftop to rooftop, leaping up to give flying kicks before rebounding to do so again. The fourth wyvern took the impact from a horse’s hooves and still dove in to attack Ritsuka and Siegfried.
Mash’s shield intercepted the wyvern with a full body block that turned into a parrying blow, destroying at least one of the wyverns teeth before Mozard extended a hand with a conductors baton in it towards the wyvern’s head. The brassy blast of a tuba was heard and the wyvern’s head shook as though it had been struck by a sound wave. Its brain was probably concussed as it dropped to the ground and shivered and writhed at random like it was fighting unconsciousness.
“Master, don’t fall behind,” called Mash.
“Sorry, but my leg… is slowing me down more than I thought,” replied Ritsuka as they entered the plaza that led to a straight shot to the front gates of Lyon. The second wave of wyverns struck just as hard as Ritsuka put all of his attention into putting one foot in front of the other. Siegfried was moving slightly better now, it seemed he’d recovered some of his strength and the effort of carrying him had been reduced, but Ritsuka’s leg was nearing its limits. After the third and fourth wave of wyverns had been repelled, the fifth one broke off even before they struck. Ritsuka looked up wonderingly at Mozart who nodded slightly and said, “What a truly disgusting octave. No wonder they don’t like it.”
It was at that point that Ritsuka noticed a slight tinnitus in his ears. Looked like Mozart had found the frequency to send wyverns running. The last mad dash out of the gates was uneventful, and on reaching the mostly clear roadways outside of the town’s gates Ritsuka called for Marie to form a carriage so they could make a quicker getaway.
“Wait, please,” called Jeanne as she looked at the hills in the distance. “I see something up ahead. That’s the… French army!”
“All the more reason for us to go, right,” asked Ritsuka. “You yourself said you didn’t want to meet that Gilles guy.”
“But they’re being attacked by the wyverns,” called Jeanne who could not ignore people in need. “We need to go help them!”
Ritsuka looked from Jeanne to the French army and the flock of wyverns that were descending on them, to Siegfried over his shoulder and to the carriage that Marie was forming. Ritsuka knew there was a priority of objectives there but…
Jeanne had already turned and begun running towards the French army.
“Jeanne,” called Ritsuka to her back. The least she could have done was wait for Ritsuka to come up with a plan. “Altoria, go back her up. We’re going to secure Sigfried and then support the two of you.”
“I’m sorry, if not for me then…”
“Then we never would have driven Fafnir off in the first place,” said Ritsuka instantly. He was becoming way too good at retorting. Altoria took off to follow after Jeanne while Ritsuka and Mozart carried Sigfried to the carriage, where they deposited him into one of the open seats inside, where Ritsuka joined him. It was a relief to get his weight off his leg and to put pressure on the wound. There was a large bloodstain on his pants that trailed all the way down to his calves.
Then there was the loud thump of two bodies striking the ground after a long drop from the wyverns they’d dismounted. Ritsuka turned to look at them. One was a knight in dark armor, leaking a mist of corruption around his entire body. His red visor glowed like a warning sign in the darkness. The other was a white haired man in a long brown frock coat and a sword of unusual shape in his hand, like a crescent blade had been attached at the tip of the sword to form a cutting pendulum.
Upon seeing those two, Marie spoke to the white haired man.
“My, what a coincidence. I’ve never forgotten your face, you lazy artisan,” said Marie as though she was greeting an old friend with an inside joke. The white haired man stood up tall, his blue eyes tinged with an obsessiveness that caused wrinkles to form from how intently he was staring at Marie.
“That’s good to hear,” said the man in a gentle voice that underlied a distorted mind. “I’ve never forgotten you either. Your face, and your pale white neck. At the same time, I feel like this is destiny. That you and I share a special connection.”
The man reached out his empty hand as though to invite a lady to dance.
“Don’t we? The fate of an executioner killing the same person twice, I feel like only we share that kind of connection.”
“Who is he,” asked Ritsuka coldly to the Servants since he was unsure if the man would even hear anyone but the one his Madness Enhancement was obsessed with. Mozart answered.
“Charles-Henri Sanson. Not only in life, but even now you are eager to execute Maria? Could it be that you are genuinely mad?”
Ritsuka was more familiar with ancient histories than more modern ones, but it sounded like the man was a notable executioner from the French Revolution. Meaning he was historical fact and not known for legendary exploits, so his abilities should not be too much to handle. But that didn’t mean it was going to be pleasant dealing with him. As an example, Sanson looked over at Mozart like he was a disgusting presence as he responded.
“As a human, it pains me to discuss our relationship with a low-life like you. Amadeus, you claimed all lives, all humans, are filthy. Not I. Humans are sacred, precious things. That’s why we executioners respect life. We are incompatible, you and I. Trash who couldn’t even love humans, trash who couldn’t understand her, has no right to be next to her. My sword of execution is pure.”
Ritsuka made his judgement quickly.
“We’re not in a position to make a clean getaway. Marie, it might be unpleasant, but I’d like you to fight Sanson along with Mozart. Mash, delay that knight as much as possible until Sanson is taken care of.”
The four horses hitched to the carriage came free and trotted over next to Marie, who gave them a kind pet to reinforce her will as she said, “It’s alright. I understand. Come Amadeus, will you fight beside me?”
“Fighting this one is annoyance on top of further annoyance, but I suppose I must.”
“I will properly hold this one off, Master. So don’t worry about anything.”
“Good. We have to finish things here as quickly as possible to help the others and the French army. Don’t rush things, though. I don’t want anyone injured through carelessness, so concentrate only on your own battle!”
With those words of Ritsuka acting as a signal, both sides moved to strike like the release of an arrow. Above every other sound was the intense war cry of the black knight.
* * * * *
“Sasaki Koujiro. Thank you for meeting me like this.”
“Not at all,” said the man elegantly from the position he took opposing Artoria in the room that was dedicated to combat practice. It was reinforced and able to handle the impact of Servants fighting one another to a degree. “I was quite curious to receive an invitation from you. Might I ask what your business with one such as I could be?”
“I have invited you here to train with me.”
“Yes. I have heard something of it. Jan Ken, training, correct?”
“Hmm. I’m not opposed to it, but I have the duty of a guard I must live up to…”
Koujiro closed his eyes in thought, dipping his head slightly. Then he looked at Artoria again as if having come to a decision.
“King Arthur. I am required to resume my activities as a guard in thirty minutes. As such, I cannot accompany you longer than that.”
“That is fine.”
“I also must prioritize my swordsmanship for the sake of fulfilling my duties. Which brings me to my suggestion. Will you hear it?”
“Please, go ahead and speak.”
“I will accompany you on your training, if you first accompany me on mine. In these thirty minutes, we will have a training bout with our weapons. We will aim to avoid killing the other, by accident or design, but aim to force the other out of bounds of the dueling circle shown on the ground before us. The one to step outside of the circle will be the one to lose. And with what time remains afterward, we will train in Jan Ken. Is that satisfactory?”
“I see. As a knight I have no hesitation in accepting your suggestion,” said Artoria as she manifested her holy sword.
“Very good, though may I make a further request?”
“And what might that be?”
“Could I ask you to cloak your sword in wind to conceal it’s form once more? I find that with the threat of death removed from our bout, I will need that much to keep me fully focused.”
“Are you sure that your request is to be put at a disadvantage?”
“I am the one who proposed this match, am I not? Therefore you are entitled to at least this much of an advantage.”
“…Very well. I shall accept that request.”
Artoria spent a few seconds compressing and molding the winds around her sword, causing it’s form to vanish. Sasaki Koujiro slowly pulled his sword free from the scabbard, the metal releasing a long melodic ring as he did so. The two warriors slowly stepped into the large dueling ring, and as though the moment for their bout to begin had been prearranged, the two lunged at each other with ferociously skillful intent.
The ringing of metal on metal continued on, both circling each other to try and keep their back towards the center of their arena to minimize the chances of being pushed out of bounds. The back and forth attack and defense of the two continued with a constantly shifting equilibrium having been established while actively trying to be destroyed. Innumerable small cuts had accumulated on both of their bodies as they implicitly tried to avoid fatal wounds on the other without taking advantage of the fact that neither one could aim for those openings. It was a true battle of swordsmanship alone.
After a particularly intense exchange, Sasaki Koujiro stepped back and dropped into a particular combat stance, one that prefaced the release of his most polished killing move. The bloodthirst and killing intent in his form and body was nearly palpable even though it rested in the air as gently as a morning fog. As Artoria steeled herself to charge in and break that technique, or die trying, Kojirou gently released his stance and stood up straight.
“I apologize, King of Knights. That technique is not suitable for this occasion. It seems I lost my head there for a moment.”
“There is no need to apologize, Sasaki Koujiro. The fact that I pushed you to using it is already a compliment to a swordsman like me.”
Kojirou laughed lightly and said, “Just so. Thank you for the rousing bout. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must return to my duties.”
Both parties gave a deep and formal bow. Then Kojirou departed the room with a satisfied smile on his face. Artoria remained inside, seeing off her opponent. A minute later, she gasped and cried, “I forgot all about the Jan Ken!”