The French reclamation army was expecting to attack a city filled with the undead, so it’s military formation was all wrong for weathering the attacks of flying monsters who could breathe fire. The vanguard was tightly clustered to make use of numbers with weaponry meant to be used against human enemies. The sudden advance of a flock of wyverns caused the soldiers to fall into panic, the officers to begin shouting orders, and half the footmen couldn’t cope with the sudden shift in time.
In a wedge formation, the wyverns under the command of that white haired woman, Carmilla, began to dive.
Jeanne’s desperate long range sprint got her to the head of the French army just in time to leap at the first wyvern as it dove. Spinning her body, Jeanne used all the physical, magically reinforced, and centrifugal force her body could produce to smash the flank of the wyvern with her flagpole, blasting in into the ground to skid a few dozen meters away, the earth tearing as it bounced and dug into the soil. Jeanne’s sabatons also dug out the earth as she slid to a stop in front of the reorganizing French army.
Panting hard, drops of sweat rolling down her forehead, Jeanne said, “Made it…”
“Ohoo,” came the voice of the Berserk Assassin from above. The wyverns had broken off their swooping attack after Jeanne’s intrusion and began to circle about her. The wyvern carrying the Assassin serving the Dragon Witch moved forward, but remained well out of attack range. But well in range for Carmilla to taunt. “It looks like my prey has come to me, now hasn’t it? Wyverns, forget the soldiers. Play with that woman crawling about on the ground. Tear off her armor. Burn away her clothes. Leave her mudstained and laying in the muck. And then, drag her before me.”
The woman laughed in an unhinged manner, but her ranting had given Jeanne enough time to get her breathing under control. The first thing she did was turn to the soldiers near her and shout, “Run! I’ll fight those things, so get as far away as you can!”
“Don’t run,” shouted the commanding officer from the center of the half completed formation. “That’s Jeanne d’Arc, the Dragon Witch herself! If we bring her down it’s our victory! Whoever takes her head will definitely be rewarded!”
The fighting spirit of the soldiers returned immediately with the dual promise of victory and money. The spearmen at the front dropped their stances, and prepared for a charge on the girl who desperately tried to protect them.
“Don’t interfere,” growled Carmilla, who swung her metal staff, producing a swathe of red liquid that struck the ground between Jeanne and the soldiers with the force of a crashing tree, blasting the ground and flinging splashes of the liquid onto some of the soldiers, who recoiled in pain as their armor melted and the bits of struck skin were blistered and torn away in seconds. However, none of the soldiers collapsed. It was only a warning in the end. But if Jeanne stayed there, those soldiers would definitely be pulled into her fight. Her only option then, was to plunge directly into the enemy. Turning her back on the French army, Jeanne stepped forward to try and get closer to Carmilla.
A wyvern flew directly overhead, swinging its tail like a scythe which Jeanne had to deflect to the side. Another dropped to the ground on her side, opened it’s maw to spew out flames that she narrowly avoided from a clumsy leap that left her exposed to a dropping wyvern’s jaws. The impact of the flagpole against those jaws flung Jeanne back towards the ground, where she narrowly broke her fall by planting the flagpole like a lever and twisting her body to allow her feet to strike the ground instead of her unprotected body.
A set of wyverns had landed between Jeanne’s newly chosen battleground and the French soldiers, threatening them into inaction. It wasn’t ideal, but it would keep them out of harm’s way. But, confused and stationary as they were, the shouts of hatred the soldiers had for Jeanne still reached her ears.
“The people you’re protecting are saying all kinds of things about you, my Saint. Murderer. Ravager. Monster,” taunted the pale Assassin in sadistic glee. “Even though the only reason they can safely watch us is because you’re dealing with the wyverns in their place.”
Jeanne reset her combat stance, and pointed the tip of her flagpole at Carmilla who stood on the back of her flying wyvern like an empress watching over a colosseum match. Having resolved herself, Jeanne said, “I am not in the mood for talk.”
“Understandable,” said the amused Assassin. “Considering how outnumbered you are. Though if you are worried, then please, call out to your comrades in the French army back there. I may be a monster, but I am not unreasonable, my little squirrel. Call out to them for help, and let us see what their response is, oh Witch of Dragons. Let us see what they say to the stained Saint who rose from the dead to punish them for your execution. To you, who is nothing more than their reviled enemy!
“Can you tell me, Jeanne d’Arc,” asked the woman who was overthrown, imprisoned, and executed by the people she ruled. “How do you feel right now, after being forsaken by your own people? Do you wish to die? Or do you wish to kill? Do you wish to drive that flag of yours into those soldiers’ hearts like a stake?”
To Carmilla’s questions that held the touch of personal bitterness and revulsion for people whose kindness and courtesies were so quickly turned to violence and cruelty, Jeanne responded, “I would normally fall to distress and despair. But unfortunately I was an optimist in life. Look at those men, Carmilla. Their hatred of me is giving them the strength and courage to rise up against you and your master. And that… is a good thing.”
The Assassin that was held in the grip of Madness Enhancement was caught off guard, tilted her head, and asked, “Are you insane?”
“Good question. People questioned my sanity when I decided to bring salvation to France.”
“Yes. Whether light or dark, it just means both of us are insane! Now, let this battlefield without a shred of humanity or sanity be plunged into a sea of blood! WYVERNS! ATTACK!”
At Carmilla’s command, the Wyverns that had been circling like vultures changed their pattern. The closest one swooped down with its jaws wide open to blast the Ruler with fire when a black figure streaked by with a holy sword of darkness slashing through the wyvern’s unprotected flank, completely dismembering a wing and causing the creature to fall pathetically to the ground.
“Alter,” called out Jeanne in surprise as the wyverns broke off their attack run to re-evaluate the new enemy that came charging in like a cannonball. “Thank you for your timely assistance.”
The visor over Artoria Alter’s eyes prevented Jeanne from seeing any indication of emotions on the girl warrior’s face, but the tone of voice she replied with as she took a warrior’s stance made it clear. Artoria Alter was not happy. “We will be having words later, Jeanne d’Arc. For now, though, I need a moment to prepare.”
[Ritsuka, I need you to use a Command Seal for my Noble Phantasm. The wyverns are clustered here, and I can bring down the Servant at the same time.]
[Huh? Yeah, sure, but… it kinda feels like you have a lot of energy right now, Altoria. Maybe I can… is this enough?]
A jolt of magical energy entered Artoria Alter through her connection with Ritsuka, enough for the use of a Noble Phantasm if combined with her current excess magical energy. Has that boy seriously taught himself how to send packages of power to individual Servants since the battle yesterday? But that was a question for another time.
[That’s plenty, Ritsuka.]
Artoria Alter set her stance as Jeanne d’Arc swatted away a wyvern’s jaws as it passed by.
Vortigern, Hammer of the Vile King,
It wasn’t as fast as the one she fired earlier using only the power of the Command Seal Ritsuka had used for her sake, but the collection of magical power inside the voracious blade of the dark Holy Sword was swift and smooth as Artoria Alter lifted the blade.
Reverse the rising sun.
“Damn! Wyverns, scatter,” called out Carmilla in the second before Artoria Alter swung the sword down, releasing a shockwave of energy in the form of a black beam of destructive light.
The upward angled beam struck the area Carmilla had been, vaporizing her mount and the dozens of wyverns that had been around her, waiting for their chance to swoop down on the landbound Servants. Chunks of burnt lizard flesh fell from the sky in the passing of the attack, and the grass underneath Artoria Alter was flash fried and burnt away. The other wyverns, shocked by the outpouring of energy pulled away crying in rage as the chunky rain of ruined flesh continued. With a solid metallic thud, an inorganic object landed so hard in the ground that it dug partway into the earth. Steam smoldered around the object that looked like a great metallic coffin with a face imprinted on it. A second later, the metallic object opened a seam down the front and the surface opened wide on hidden hinges, allowing an uninjured Carmilla to stride out.
“Do you really think one such as I can be caught by such a simple Noble Phantasm after having seen it once before, little squirrel” asked the masked woman as the metal object sprouted cruel spikes in its interior now that it’s mistress was no longer inside. “Wyverns… please continue.”
Artoria Alter only had time to click her tongue before the first wyvern lunged from the sky. Another two landed nearby to snap continuously at the Servants and hem them in, reducing their available space to dodge the attacks coming from overhead. Jeanne d’Arc was struck full body by a blast of fiery breath, and then had to deflect the jaws of another wyvern that had closed in on her. The great metal construct, a torture device known as the Iron Maiden flew towards Artoria Alter independent of any kind of outside propulsion. Artoria Alter dodged it while planting a sabaton on the snout of a wyvern to kick off and dodge the swing of another’s tail.
It wasn’t just a defensive battle. The two Servants had smashed and cut down a half dozen wyverns in the short amount of time their battle lasted before the difference in numbers and the wyvern’s resilience began to show the disadvantage the two Servants were dealing with. Then the thunderous pounding of cannonball impacts rang around them as dirt flew in the air, and wyverns in the air and on the ground were pounded to meat by direct hits. The French army had used the time their vanguard and the fighting Servants had bought them to set up the artillery, and great lumps of metal being fired from the hills behind the army were raining down on the battlefield with well trained precision.
“How dare those pigs try to dirty my dress,” called out Carmilla as a cannonball impacted near her, and she used the red liquid from her staff to form a corrosive sheet to protect herself from the exploding earth. Jeanne and Artoria Alter did not miss that opportunity, and closed in to attack. Jeanne was met with the wide jaws of a manifested Iron Maiden that she had to batter away, losing her chance to strike Carmilla herself, but Artoria Alter’s path was clear. Artoria Alter’s thrust was moving faster than Carmilla’s staff that she’d used to protect herself from something as insipid as dirt.
The sound of metal being deflected by metal resounded as the black metal figure surrounded by a miasma of hatred and insanity struck away Artoria Alter’s sword with his gauntleted fist, and then followed up with a back breaking somersault to kick her in the flank, sending Artoria Alter flying back from her intended target. The black garbed girl used her sword as a pinion on the ground to bodily pull herself out of her uncontrolled flight and back onto the ground into a fighting stance.
“Obtrusive Black Knight,” spat Artoria Alter. “Prepared to be struck down for the sin of laying a hand on this tyrant.”
“Excellent timing, Berserk Saber,” said Carmilla with only a small hint of a sigh of relief. “But the tide of this battle has turned, we will be withdraw-”
The miasma burned with the red of the visor as the Saber’s insanity hit its peak, causing the unidentified knight to charge the Chaldea Servants empty handed and shouting it’s strange warcry, utterly ignoring the protesting Carmilla. Like a rag doll with loose joints, the knight struck at Artoria Alter. Straights, hooks, somersaulting kicks, scything low blows, and even a headbutt to Artoria Alter’s sword edge to deflect it and follow up with a short upper directly into her stomach.
“It would seem he’s been consumed by his insanity. Very well then. Lancelot, Knight of the Lake! You will be our rearguard! Fight until you burn yourself out and kill those who would pursue!”
The laughter of Carmilla echoed the battlefield as she leapt onto the back of a wyvern and took flight, leaving the loss on the battlefield behind.
“Lan..celot,” questioned Artoria Alter in shock at seeing what the peerless knight her memories showed her had become. A ball of metal and rage, howling with the release his new orders gave him. The shock was so great that she couldn’t move as the dark monster charged her, howling.
The resounding impact of the flagstaff against the Berserk Saber’s body sounded out as Jeanne’s blow knocked the dark knight into the ground. The dark knight flailed its body to use the impact like he was made of rubber, doubtlessly causing even more damage to his limbs by wrenching them to continue fighting seamlessly than if he’d accepted being pushed into the ground by the strike. Lancelot flipped backwards as one of his limbs cracked back into place and used a hand to support his continued back flips, constantly keeping just outside the attack range of the pursuing Jeanne. Lancelot mixed a mighty backflip into his dodging to gain altitude, and snatched a falling cannonball out of the sky. The force of the catch twisted the knight’s angle of descent as though the man was caught by a windstorm. His tumbling fall was semi-corrected by his throw of the cannonball, now glowing with putrid red power, at Jeanne herself. The cannonball smashed the ground that Jeanne narrowly vacated and exploded into a blast more powerful than it should have been by far.
Jeanne was knocked off balance, which Lancelot took advantage of to charge in close and strike her hard with a fist in her solar plexus, knocking the wind out of her and causing an automatic retch reflex. The other hand of the Knight of the Lake grabbed onto the haft of the flagpole Jeanne carried, with black and red lines of corruption sneaking along the surface he held. As Jeanne’s panicked attention was taken by her flagpole, a Noble Phantasm that was being eaten away by the strange abilities of the knight, Lancelot’s free right hand gripped Jeanne’s neck and started to squeeze. Lancelot pulled in close to the choking, dying, Jeanne and growled “Arthuuuur” into her face.
The words barely preceded the diagonal slash that cut into Lancelot’s pauldron at the shoulder in a shower of black sparks, even though it should have taken off his head. The nimble knight had pushed Jeanne away hard enough to throw himself back and avoid a fatal blow. The defiled Knight of the Lake bent low on his legs facing Artoria Alter, the person he was hunting so that he may rip her apart with his own hands. With a shout, he amped himself up for the duel fate had prepared for him.
Then the knight was lost to the sound of hooves.
* * * * *
Ritsuka was using his belt and a handkerchief as a makeshift bandage and tourniquet on his bleeding leg. The expedition team had lost the supply pack the previous day during the battle at La Charite and Chaldea couldn’t Rayshift a medical kit into a combat zone, their accuracy wasn’t that good. And even if Ritsuka had the kit, he couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the battle in front of him.
His role as a Master had him watching a multi-front battle with two teams consisting of three Servants. It was something of a crash course but the battle was going on long enough that Ritsuka had learned to fine tune his distribution of magical power to the Servants who needed it. Mash was mostly covering her own magical energy, but Ritsuka was now finally feeling his role as the one adjusting her output to keep Mash from burning herself out, and with fine tuning her needs for speed, strength, and the defensive aura about her body that her Servant form was giving her. Ritsuka also found he could supplement Mash’s magical power with his own, the timing was everything, in order to allow Mash’s blocks to turn into counterstrikes.
“Mash, 60 degrees left!”
Ritsuka was also having to give Mash directions to make sure she kept the dark knight separated from Sanson. Mozart and Marie were still working in concert to try and bring him down. It’s not that the Assassin was a skilled fighter, though as a noble he must have been taught the art of dueling. It’s that the dark knight kept butting in.
The crack of one of Marie’s horses falling apart following the strike of the strange black and red rocks the dark knight was throwing during his battle with Mash resounded. Sanson used that opportunity to completely destroy the horse with a cleaving blow to the neck. With the opening the loss of a horse gave him, Sanson once more stepped in to close the distance with Marie. Mozart’s bombardment of sound halted the man for the moment it took for the horses to surround him again, and the dance between the fighters continued on.
There was a crack as Mash’s shield intercepted another of the knight’s thrown rocks. The impact of the rocks alone pushed Mash back. The battle had been going on long enough that Ritsuka was worried about Mash’s stamina.
“Mash, how are you holding up,” asked Ritsuka, though it was a moot point. There was nothing he could do and Siegfried was too wounded to do anything more than rest in a heap in the corner of the glass carriage.
“I’m fine, Master,” came Mash’s reply. “Somehow, it feels like this knight is taking it easy on me.”
“Gaaaa… Laaaa,” grunted the dark knight.
“If anything, I’m full of energy! It feels like the Heroic Spirit inside me really wants to beat this guy up!”
“HAAAAAAAAA,” called out the knight in agony as he fell to his knees.
“Somehow it seems like you’ve done a lot of mental damage to him, Mash! Keep it up,” called Ritsuka from the sidelines.
[Ritsuka, I need you to use a Command Seal for my Noble Phantasm. The wyverns are clustered here, and I can bring down the Servant at the same time.]
Altoria’s contact came out of nowhere. It took a second to catch up with the request, but she knew her business.
[Huh? Yeah, sure, but… ]
Something about the feedback from the connection told Ritsuka Altoria was full of energy. That using the whole of a Command Seal would be wasteful. If Ritsuka could just slightly alter what he’d been doing with Mash…
[It kinda feels like you have a lot of energy right now, Altoria. Maybe I can… ]
Ritsuka formed a lump of his own Od, and pushed it into his connection with Altoria. It felt like it was fired into his bond with her like a bullet from a gun. It left Ritsuka feeling a bit drained, but the lump of magical power definitely went to Altoria even from this distance.
[Is this enough?]
[That’s plenty, Ritsuka.]
A few seconds later, a black beam of light darkened the sky. The dark knight’s full attention was snapped up by it.
With that shout, the dark knight abandoned the fight and his comrade, and dashed to the battlefield that Jeanne and Altoria were on at a speed that was incomprehensible. The turn in fortunes was so great that for a moment Ritsuka’s brain stopped working, it could only take in information. Mash suddenly being left without an opponent, Sanson being pushed to the brink of defeat by the loss of his support, Marie’s horses, the wounded Siegfried, his own wounds, which battlefields had who fighting on them-
“Everyone, we’re withdrawing! Knock the Assassin back and let’s go!”
Even if it was a good opportunity to defeat Sanson, the Berserk Servants were never the priority. Siegfried was the priority and everyone else’s safety. And something told Ritsuka that the dark knight was the most dangerous player on the field, and with his moving from one battlefield to another, he couldn’t be ignored.
Mash instantly moved to follow the command, her whole faith placed in Ritsuka. From Sanson’s flank, Mash charged into his personal space. The horses also backed Mash up with hind kicks. The combined flurry of knock back attacks caught the white haired man and threw him backwards, giving Mash, Mozart, and Marie time to turn around and climb into the glass carriage. All but one of the horses leapt over the carriage to have harnesses of glass appear connecting them to the vehicle, with the last horse engaging Sanson further.
Sanson quickly put all his power into cutting through the neck of the horse with a swift decapitation, while shouting Marie’s name to try and grab her attention. The amount of time the attack took gave Marie all the time she needed to reform the last horse attached to the carriage even as the other members of the horse team had started pulling the carriage into motion. Sanson’s cry of lament could be heard behind them as the carriage took off over the rough plains.
“Follow that knight,” shouted Ritsuka desperately. The dark knight had a head start and, unbelievable as it sounded, he was moving faster than the carriage. There were great blasts of power every time the knight’s feet touched the grown, and at some points the man used his hands as though they were the forelegs of a running wolf. Ritsuka almost lost right of the knight from the distance he took. But the knight did not get far enough that Ritsuka was unable to vaguely make out the battle between Jeanne, Altoria, and the knight even as the Assassin withdrew with the remaining wyverns. The battle was two on one, but Jeanne and Altoria were definitely at the disadvantage.
“Marie,” said Ritsuka as he gripped a handle on the carriage’s roof for stability. “Trample him.”
At the last second, Marie turned the horses causing the carriage to skid in a circle. The back end of the carriage bounced up slightly to impact the torso of the knight from behind and push him down so that the wheels could run over his body. The sharp skid kept the carriage turning as the horses came back around, trampling the knight with their four sets of hooves multiple times as the Berserk Servant was rolling along with the blow, until the carriage’s continued skid brought the back wheels over the body of the knight once more until the accumulated impacts, kinetic force, and rotation of his smashed body caused the knight to be ejected from under the rotating carriage to fall in a crumpled heap on the ground.
Ritsuka had to shake his head to clear his dizziness to reach for the door and open it. The desire to retch rose for a second until he saw Altoria standing before the dark knight, who was disappearing in a shower of golden motes of light.
“I’m sorry,” said Altoria. “But I’m not the one that can give you what you seek.”
With one last weak lamenting cry of “Arthuuuuur,” the dark knight disappeared.
Ritsuka’s mouth felt dry for a second, it felt like something really important that he couldn’t understand had just happened. But he raised his voice anyway.
“We’re done here, we have to go!”
Altoria and Jeanne trotted wearily towards the carriage. Ritsuka fell back onto his rear to make room for them. Altoria entered first and hastily took a seat while her sword dematerialized. Jeanne took a second to dematerialize her flagpole. That second of hesitation allowed a voice to reach them.
“Jeanne,” shouted a pale and helmetless man who was riding towards them with all the speed his mount could muster, his long black hair flowing in the wind. “Jeanne d’Arc! The real Jeanne! Wait!”
Jeanne’s whole attention was taken by the calling figure.
“Jeanne,” asked Ritsuka quietly. It wasn’t forceful, but it snapped Jeanne’s attention away from the rider. Ritsuka question was about what Jeanne wanted. Because whatever Jeanne wanted, Ritsuka would do.
Jeanne’s eyes focused on Ritsuka. Then down to Ritsuka’s bleeding leg. She closed her eyes for a fraction of a second, and she stepped aboard the carriage, closing the door behind her. Jeanne then took a seat and bowed her head in a resigned manner as the carriage built speed to race off into the distance, leaving the rider behind.