The French countryside blurred past the three ladies in the glass carriage that was traveling at modern highway speeds. Some time had passed since the teams broke off and went their own directions to investigate the remains of France. The departure had been quite emotional for Marie, and perhaps that was why she’d spent some time in an emotional reverie. But, with Jeanne’s nature, that was more than enough time for her to go into a dour mood when left alone.
“Jeanne, Jeanne,” said Marie to the girl that was looking out the window with an unnecessarily serious expression on her face. “You have a scary look on your face!”
Surprised, Jeanne turned to look at the others in the cabin and asked “What? D-Do I look scary?”
“Not really,” said Artoria Alter with her stony neutral features.
Marie giggled and said, “Sorry. Not so much scary as… stern?”
“Is that so,” asked Jeanne quietly while looking down. “I was doing some thinking.”
“About the Dragon Witch,” asked Marie gently.
“…Yes. Exactly. From the day I was born I’ve received God’s revelations, and I just ran off without even looking back. I became a Heroic Spirit after I died, and then was summoned as a Ruler. I accept this fact as part of the natural order of things. As such… I don’t understand anything the Dragon Witch says, not a single word. I wonder… who that ‘me’ is.”
The confusion and despair in Jeanne’s voice became rather heavy at the end of her spoken thoughts, but Marie brightened immensely as though she were glowing, and said, “Ah, you really are beautiful. Very, very, very beautiful.”
Jeanne fidgeted uncomfortably while asking Marie not to tease her. Marie smiled gently and continued on.
“Well, it’s the truth. If I were you I would probably accept the things the Dragon Witch said.”
“Marie,” asked Jeanne in worried surprise. Even Artoria Alter was surprised by the admission of the one who was solely responsible for uplifting everyone’s mood for the past couple of days. Marie released the thoughts that were held deep within her heart while her gentle smile slowly warped into an expression of pain.
“I don’t hate the people who executed me. It’s a fact that I’m ninety percent positive about. But the ten percent that’s left… Or, it might be much smaller than that. But I hated those who killed my children, even just for a short time. They killed my son Charles to hurt me. So, if my version of the Dragon Witch appears, I would probably think, ‘Oh, that’s the other me.’ And I would accept all the things she said.
“But that’s not the case for you, is it Jeanne,” asked Marie, her smile returning with admiration and pride in her friend. “It’s something really great and beautiful. It’s not because you don’t want to get dirty, or don’t want to believe you are soiled. Nor does that mean you are lacking something. You… like people, don’t you? People who try to move forward even if it’s on their hands and knees. The unreasonable. The accusers. All of them.”
“Yes, I do love them,” responded Jeanne automatically. She surprised herself with the words, and then smiled brightly in realization. “Oh, I see. There was no way I could hold a grudge against them, because I love them.”
“Hm,” uttered Artoria Alter in admiration. “A Heroic Spirit incapable of producing an Alter, huh? Even my own original never questioned my existence… even if she should have. A woman able to love even her own betrayers. It is truly praiseworthy.”
“Yes, that’s why France was saved by you. It’s okay, tell the Dragon Witch when you see her,” said Maire while leaning forward with the importance of her words.
“Tell her? Tell her what?”
“Just say what you want to say out loud,” continued Marie in earnest. “Say, ‘You’re not me.’ Or, ‘I don’t know you.’”
“Or, ‘I will cut you down,’” suggested Artoria Alter adding in a hand gesture. Jeanne smiled good-naturedly and said, “Yes, you’re right. Absolutely right. I certainly need to tell her my feelings after having heard her own. ‘Hers’ and ‘mine,’ huh?”
“Certainly,” interjected Artoria Alter. “It’s only right for you to tell her off after all the things she’s one-sidedly thrown at you. And after that, it would please me to blast that annoying woman to dust with Excalibur.”
“T-thank you for the support, Artoria Alter,” said Jeanne a little awkwardly while Marie started laughing.
“See, this is how a girl’s night out should be,” said Marie happily, but then she put a finger to her chin and wondered, “But I suppose it’s still daytime? Well, no matter. Now that we have a good mood again, let’s have some girl’s talk!”
“Girl’s talk,” asked Jeanne in wonder.
“I… have no experience with this girl talk,” admitted Artoria Alter. “What does it usually entail?”
“Why, talking about love and romance, of course!”
Jeanne laughed kindly and said, “I appreciate the offer, but that’s a little hard for me. I know of compassion, but not of romance.”
“Oh, Jeanne, you’re missing out on life like that! It’s not too late to start, though! You just need to fall in love with someone, Jeanne,” lectured Marie, the person who lived and died for love.
“Of course, Marie. But I don’t know if I’ll get the chance. After all, who would I even fall in love with,” asked Jeanne while her eyes drifted lightly to the north where the other search party was doing their own duty. “But enough about me. What about you, Marie?”
“I first fell in love with a boy who proposed to me at the age of seven. I’m pretty sure that child was my first love.”
“Geh,” remarked Artoria Alter. “You mean that Amadeus was your first love?”
“Well, he was much cuter and less abrasive when he was a child,” admitted Marie with a giggle. The others in the carriage laughed in response, even the Alter. “And when I was fourteen I fell in love with the king I married.”
“Fourteen,” exclaimed Jeanne in surprise. “That’s kind of amazing. When I was that age I was working and playing in the fields with the other children.”
“I myself was traveling to work on my swordsmanship and chivalry. The thought of love had not even entered my mind at that time,” supplemented Artoria Alter.
“Oh, that sounds like fun too, both of your lives. I’m a bit jealous. It must have been such fun to be able to go wherever you want!”
“Yes, it was fun,” admitted Jeanne to Marie’s exclamation. “What I lacked in romance, I made up for in friendship.”
“For me it was camaraderie,”said Altoria Alter, trading the slimmest of smiles with Jeanne’s nostalgic one.
“Did all the boys fall for you two,” asked Marie. Altoria Alter responded with, “Not at all. They all thought I was a boy. Well, it was on purpose, though.”
“How rude, anyone can see you are a lovely girl with but a glance,” said Marie in admonishment to all the men of England and their petty vanity over gender. Then asked, “What about you, Jeanne. The boys around you couldn’t have possibly thought you were a boy, right?”
“Well, actually… my hair was short then, so they treated me like one of the guys…”
Marie was visibly deflated by the revelation, while Artoria Alter nodded and said, “I understand how that is. For some reason just changing the length of your hair can result in a big difference in how you are treated.”
“That’s it, I’ve decided that I will be dressing you two up when I get the chance,” exclaimed Marie out of nowhere. “Pretty dresses and makeup! I have to let the both of you make up for your time being mistaken for boys.”
Both the other girls were surprised by this outburst and tried to evade the suggestion, first Artoria Alter with, “But I’m already wearing a gown under my armor,” and Jeanne with, “I’m already wearing a proper dress, though.”
“Non! No matter how I look at you, you’re wearing battle garments. They may be cute, but there’s no way you’d wear those to a party or a dance ball. Isn’t that right?”
“I suppose… you’re right,” admitted Jeanne. However, Artoria Alter tried to squirm a little, saying, “Actually, in the past…”
“Non non non,” tutted Marie. “It’s decided, proper gowns and dresses will be of the highest priority once we have all this settled. No excuses. You’re both beautiful girls, so you should be allowed to shine. Oh! But I almost forgot. Altoria, it’s your turn to talk about love!”
“Ugh! Love. I really can’t say much about that… I loved my foster family, but of course that was familial love. I also cared about the well being of the people in my charge as King of England, but if I got attached to any of them it would reduce my ability to rule. The same for my wife, love was out of the question. Besides, I was King, therefore I was a ‘man’ in the eyes of the people around me. I never had the chance to be a woman in my life. Wait, a second, my name is Artoria Alt-”
“Well, what about after your life,” asked Marie, not allowing Artoria Alter to quibble away the subject. “You’re a legendary historic figure and a strong fighter. You must have been summoned numerous times. Are there any men you got along with in that time? Or perhaps women?”
“Not like that,” shouted Artoria Alter to prevent a misunderstanding before it came about. Then leaned back once again and coughed lightly to regather her icy exterior that Marie had shattered with a single quip. “I do not experience those feelings for women, so please don’t misunderstand me. As for my summons… My Alter form is not… the form I typically take. You could call me an aberration… someone who should not exist. So… I can not really answer your expectations of my having experienced romance.”
“Too bad,” remarked Marie while swinging her legs a bit to kick away the disappointment, then asked a leading question with a mischievous smile. “But you’ve been summoned here and now. What about Ritsuka?”
“He’s a nice boy, and pretty good looking as well.”
“And the two of you seem to get along well.”
“Marie, please restrain yourself a little,” interjected Jeanne kindly. “I think your insistence is bothering Artoria Alter.”
“Ah, sorry, Altoria,” apologized Marie sincerely. “Being incarnated in my teenage years, my passions seem to heat up when it comes to love.”
“It’s fine. But Ritsuka’s the only one who calls me Altoria.”
“It’s fine, right? You call me Marie, after all?”
“Ugh. I… can’t refute that.”
“So, no badgering, but I really am interested in what you think of your Master.”
“I’m afraid I am also curious,” said Jeanne apologetically. “You seem at times hard on him, and at times completely removing yourself from him. But at the same time, you seem to constantly be fretting about him.”
“It’s because of how weak he is,” said Artoria Alter self-importantly. “If Mash and I were to leave him alone, there is little doubt he will get himself injured, or worse. I am simply being a good Servant.”
“Hmm,” hummed Marie in slight disappointment. “So do you think Ritsuka isn’t dependable?”
“I never said that,” rebuked Artoria Alter.
“So he’s someone you can depend on,” asked Marie leadingly.
“I… suppose so… Even though he’s weak.”
“Can he become stronger, do you think?”
Artoria Alter began to hesitate in her answers to Marie, her instincts kicking up that there was some unseen trap there.
“I am certain that he can…”
“So you want him to become stronger and more dependable?”
Marie was squirming with delight by this point as she asked, “Okay, now, do you like Ritsuka?”
“T-thats… I.. don’t dislike him. But as for liking him… he is my Master, so such things don’t enter into my duties.”
With a sidelong glance, Marie asked, “What about you Jeanne, do you like Ritsuka?”
“Well, he’s a kind-hearted and forgiving person. I like him very much,” said Jeanne with an innocent smile.
“Is how she feels,” said Marie to Artoria Alter. “And Mash seems very much attached to him as well. As I said before, he’s a man who is popular with women.”
Artoria Alter lightly clicked her tongue, crossed her arms while looking away, and said, “That sort of thing has nothing to do with me. He is just my Master.”
“Of course he is,” said Marie brightly. “But there’s definitely more to your relationship with him than that. My maiden senses are tingling!”
Color had long risen to Artoria Alter’s cheeks in embarrassment, and the shade deepened another tone as she said, “I.. suppose you are sensing my…” Artoria looked back and forth from Marie to the empty air trying to figure out what to say before sighing and saying, “I’m grateful to him. He’s the reason I exist. But I’m also angry with him, for doing something so dangerous as creat… making a contract with me. He literally endangered his own life to do so. Not because he knew me, or needed me. But because he felt guilty over something he couldn’t change. Which is why… I don’t know how I feel, because I’m still trying to figure out how he feels. Is there a purpose to my existence, or do I just simply… exist.”
Jeanne looked at the pale girl sitting next to her in the carriage, saying “Artoria Alter,” in sympathy. While Marie wiped a tear away from her eye, pulled her arms and legs into her body, trembled a little, and then exploded them outwards while saying, “How wonderful! Altoria, you have definitely captured this queen’s heart! I have decided! I will support you, not as French royalty supporting the King of England, but as a girl supporting another girl!”
Marie said this with great determination while bending forward to grip the right hand of Artoria Alter, making her passion known. The outburst was so daunting that Artoria Alter merely said, “O-okay.”
“And I’ll be supporting you as well, Jeanne,” called out Marie excitedly while gripping Jeanne’s left hand.
“With what,” asked Jeanne bewildered.
“And I’ll support Mash as well,” called out Marie triumphantly.
“Hold on, aren’t you supporting too many people,” called out Artoria Alter to bring Marie back down to earth.
“Of course not, King of Knights. How can I choose between three such beautiful girls to support! And besides, I’m French. It’s only natural that I should try and promote as much love as possible. Don’t worry, I’ll be doing as much as I can to help all three of you!”
While Artoria Alter sat flabbergasted, Jeanne asked, “I’m happy to be supported by you, Marie, but what will you be supporting us in? I’m afraid I’m not quite following.”
Marie exploded in glee once more saying, “That’s another adorable part of you, Jeanne!”
“P-please don’t make fun of me too much, Marie. It’s embarrassing.”
“Now now, it’s just the simple truth, but anyway, let’s put all that aside. We should start planning out your dresses right away. Now, both of you, what are your favorite colors?”
Both the warrior girls paused, looked down at the clothing they were wearing at that time. One in blue platemail and the other in black platemail. Then they both indicated the colors they were wearing.
“Non non non. I can’t possibly have you wear the same colors at all times. To dazzle the eyes you must change your palette on occasion. Now, let’s see… Altoria, what do you think of violet?”
“I think your fashion sense is frighteningly accurate,” said Artoria Alter in amazement as the carriage cruised the road, dodging around all obstacles in its path.
* * * * *
The glass open topped carriage was slowed by Amadeus as it approached Thiers, which was thankfully still intact as a city. It seemed to have not suffered an attack by the Dragon Witch’s forces.
“Doctor, any signs of Servants,” called Mash from her seat in the back of the pony cart.
“Let’s see… Yes! Sylvia says there are two Servant signatures in Thiers. Let’s make contact right aw-”
A blast of fire erupted like a geyser into the air behind the buildings of the hillside city.
“That definitely wasn’t a natural occurrence,” muttered Ritsuka.
Amadeus, the driver, protestingly said, “This noise… I hate it!”
“Noise,” asked Mash.
“An unprecedented noise, the premonition of an unprecedented demon! Oh, Muses! Please show mercy! My body can’t stop trembling from fear.”
“Even so, we have to hurry,” said Ritsuka, feeling for Altoria’s connection to him so that he could teleport her to his side if he had to. “We can’t allow the city to be burnt if we can stop it.”
Amadeus sighed in resignation and urged the pony cart forward while people rushed away from their destination. Ritsuka couldn’t be sure, but he thought Amadeus’ teeth were chattering. After reaching the street where the flame geyser went up, ready for battle, Ritsuka and the company found two girls pressing their foreheads together calling-
-petty insults back and forth at each other on a vacated street with burn marks on the paving stones and walls.