The first girl had an unnaturally red head of hair, an odd combination of a party dress mashed together with a tutu, and a frikkin tail on top of thin limbs and elongated fingers like drumsticks. The other girl had a far more believable anatomical structure, but with the kimono it was hard to make out specifics. On the other hand, her hair was an unusually pale green. Both of them had horns on their heads. It was pretty obvious they were both Servants even without the burn marks on the paving stones and buildings, or taking into consideration how out of place they both were. And after looking at them with his eyes’ other function, he could tell they had the same presence of magical energy in them that the Artoria sisters had.
The girls were Dragonic. And they were still hurling petty insults at each other. Valuable seconds for Ritsuka to come up with a battle plan.
“Siegfried, that sword of yours. Is it effective against all dragons? Even eastern ones?”
“Whatever the origin, if it’s a dragon, my sword is effective against it. But I’m sorry, I still have not recovered enough to fight a proper battle.”
“Can you deliver one good hit like at Lyon,” asked Ritsuka seriously. Siegfried’s reply was a solid warrior’s, “Yes.”
“Okay then, Mash on my left, Siegfried on my right. Don’t attack unless it’s necessary. Amadeus, please snuff out any fires if they crop up, we don’t want the city to be destroyed.”
“By all means, keep me as far away from that foul instrument as possible.”
Ritsuka descended from the carriage with Mash and Siegfried taking their places as the trio walked boldly up to the quarreling girls. The red haired girl was a lancer, her magical energy was very reminiscent of Cu Chulainn’s. The green haired girl seemed like she had Madness Enhancement, but it didn’t seem to be a curse entwining her like the Berserker Servants of the Dragon Witch. So she was probably a natural Berserker, which should make it more difficult to interact with her, if what Ritsuka had heard was true. But. The girl was Japanese. Which meant there was an immutable part of her that could never be overshadowed by madness.
“KNOW SOME SHAME,” shouted Ritsuka in Japanese when he got close enough for combat to start.
The western dragon girl turned and instantly shouted back, “Who do you think you are!?”
The eastern dragon girl twitched as though she’d been caught misbehaving before turning and replying, “Yes, who do you think you are to be scolding us!”
“A fellow Japanese who sees that you’ve forgotten the most important rule of our culture! Not bothering others!”
“Hey, why are-” started the western dragon girl, but was overshadowed by the sound of the eastern dragon girl snapping her fan closed and saying in a dangerously cold voice, “Oh, I’m the one being a bother? When I was just trying to remove a red speckled lizard of an eyesore?”
“Geh!? You Japanese grass snake,” replied the red dragon.
“Frill necked liz-”
“Enough,” interjected Ritsuka with real anger in his voice. “Just look around you. Look at the burned buildings and the people cowering in fear that you might just destroy their homes and their shops. Even if it’s to remove a disturbing factor, destroying the peace of others to do so is not allowed.”
Ritsuka wasn’t kidding about the disturbed surroundings. People were fearfully peering out from their homes, and a cutlery shop nearby had their product overturned with the shop owners fearfully hiding behind the pillars that their front doors were mounted to.
“Who’s a disturbing factor,” asked the red dragon in petty annoyance, but Ritsuka wasn’t paying attention to her. His full attention was on the green dragon he was lecturing.
“I- I’m not in the wrong here,” protested the green dragon girl. Ritsuka firmly responded with, “It doesn’t matter if you are or are not. As a proper young lady you need to face the fact that you made a mistake and do what a proper Japanese should do. Apologize to these people and get their forgiveness. That will allow the peace that was shattered to return.”
“Huhn,” grunted the red dragon in dismissal. “You keep going on like I’m not wanted here or something. Why all I have to do is sing and-”
“God, no,” cried Amadeus from afar.
“I am Kiyohime. You, what is your name that you would ask me to humble myself in such a way,” asked the green dragon with suspicious eyes.
“I am Fujimaru Ritsuka, and I will be lowering my head alongside you as you make your apologies.”
With a sigh, Kiyohime released her tension and said, “If you’re going this far there is nothing I can do. I admit my defeat. Who should we apologise to first?”
“How about me,” demanded the red haired dragon. “You should say sorry to me first! And my name is Elisabeth, don’t go forgetting it!”
“Are you still here,” asked Kiyohime with low key smugness. “We’re busy now. Please return the day before yesterday. Or better yet, you can become air and disappear, that would suit the current situation just fine.”
“Hold it,” said Ritsuka with his stern voice again. “I’m going to be apologizing alongside this girl. If you start fighting now, we’re all going to do what we have to in order to protect the peace of this town.”
Taking Ritsuka’s words as a signal, Mash and Siegfried manifested their Noble Phantasm weapons. As Balmung manifested and magical power surged through it as though it were one of Siegfried’s limbs, the man said, “Sorry. But I won’t have the luxury of holding back.”
The nature of the magical power in the sword caused both Elisabeth and Kiyohime to flinch in fear against their natural enemy, a Dragonslayer.
“But if you’re willing to let bygones be bygones, then there’s no need for us to fight,” said Ritsuka happily. “Now, Kiyohime-san, shall we go apologize to the shopkeepers over there first?”
“Y-yes, Fujimaru-dono,” said the girl with a touch of awe in her voice. With that, Siegfried and Mash dispelled their weapons and followed Ritsuka as he led the eastern dragon girl Kiyohime to the front of the shop and properly apologized to the owners. All four of the people in Ritsuka’s group lowered their heads until the shopkeepers started lowering their guard and responded to the group’s intentions.
In the background Elisabeth was making a clamor all on her own.
“Hey, I’m still here, you know. Don’t go ignoring me. What’s even the point of making nice with these puppies and squirrels, huh?”
The group had started helping right the wares that had been knocked over by fleeing people when Mash nearly broke off to confront Elisabeth, but Ritsuka said loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s fine, Mash. If she doesn’t feel like apologizing to the people she bothered, then there’s nothing for us to talk about with her. Help me with this display table, please?”
“So-so what, you’re just gonna pretend I’m not here?”
“Ah, please leave these to me, Fujimaru-dono. I was a little hesitant at first, but cleaning a shop is unexpectedly fun.”
“What’s so fun about being a laborer, you loser snake…”
“Thank you all for settling what was happening,” said the shopkeeper with the tiny paunch of fat under his thin ribs after the clean up had finished. “But really, there was no need for you all to go this far.”
“Of course there was a need to go this far,” said Ritsuka in English, which Mash translated into French. But she paused for a second in her translation at the next thing that came out of Ritsuka’s mouth. “If Kiyohime decided to stay in Lyon then I want the people here to look favorably on her.”
“Eh!? You were having me apologise for my sake from the beginning, Fujimaru-dono!?”
“Somewhat. But really, I just thought it would be a shame if the people here were afraid of a cute girl like you. It would just leave a bad taste in my mouth if I just left it like that.”
“How wonderful, Master,” muttered Mash in admiration. Kiyohime muttered something too, looking up at Ritsuka with her eyes wide and her face with a hint of red at the cheeks. Ritsuka could be wrong, but it sounded like, “Anchin.”
“A cute girl,” repeated Elisabeth in surprised outrage while she continued to hang about for no real reason. “That creepy stalker!?”
“I’m not a stalker,” said Kiyohime as she was pulled out of her own little world to explain herself in an offhand and matter of fact manner. “I’m a devoted bodyguard who acts like a spy. I, Kiyohime… am a woman who lives for love.”
A small shiver ran up Ritsuka’s spine at Kiyohime’s words that she spoke while looking up into Ritsuka’s face. That felt like it could have been a statement or a low key love confession. So why did it feel like Ritsuka had just survived a brush with death?
“Ha…hahaha,” laughed Ritsuka to shake off his discomfort. “I think you and Marie would get along well together. She lives for love, too.”
“Don’t compare Maria to these two,” shouted Amadeus from as far away as he could be.
“Is this girl Marie,” asked Kiyohime politely while giving Mash a side glance that seemed to have a bit of bloodthirst in it for some reason. But that was Ritsuka’s imagination though, right?
“Ah, no. I’m Mash Kyrielight. A pleasure to meet you.”
“And you as well,” said Kiyohime. That sense of danger just dissipated, right? Or was it never there?
“I’m Siegfried. Sorry for having startled you earlier.”
“No, it was partially my fault. Thank you for staying by Anchin- I mean, Fujimaru-dono’s side.”
There was that word again? Well, best to leave that until later. People were starting to leave their homes and gather to see what was going on after the party that had been in danger of burning the town down turned into shop helpers.
“Kiyohime, this is a good chance. Let’s apologise to the rest of the people here. Things will go a lot faster if we take this opportunity.”
“Yes, Fujimaru-dono. I agree.”
Kiyohime stepped forward elegantly, said something in French, and bowed her head. The crowd of people had something of a split reaction, some nodding in approval while a few were taken aback by surprise. One person spoke up, probably saying something like, “You think we’d believe you’re sorry,” or something. Kiyohime said something else that was filled with sincerity, and bowed again. Feeling the mood, Ritsuka stepped forward and bowed next to Kiyohime to the gathered people. Taking that as a cue, Mash and Siegfried stepped forward and bowed as well. Siegfried seemed to have a great posture for giving an apology, somehow. The surprise came when Elisabeth lined up and also bowed in apology.
“What,” asked Elisabeth indignantly. “It’s not like I’m actually sorry, okay? It would just be weird if I was the only one not doing this, alright?”
The crowd seemed like they accepted the apology at last, and things ended jovially as the shopkeeper started a selling speech, probably giving a discount to the accumulated crowd. Some people started looking at his wares, while others broke off to live their regular lives. Some others came forward and started talking to the group, more than one asking the girls about the strange horns they had, and one woman blushed while asking Mash about her outfit while making gestures like she thought Mash was some kind of female knight. There were also a number of women blushing while talking to Siegfried for a different reason, however. The guy was tall, buff, gentle, and handsome after all. It’s not like Ritsuka was jealous of that ikemen nature… much.
Some people spoke with Ritsuka, but he couldn’t understand French, so he smiled and nodded until they got tired of him. When Ritsuka was left alone, Kiyohime gently broke away from a housewife that was feeling the texture of her kimono sleeve and approached Ritsuka, saying, “Thank you for the kindness you showed to me, even though I don’t deserve it, An- Fujimaru-dono. Was there something I could do to repay you?”
“Ah, no. Well, actually we came to this town looking for something. Have you or the other girl seen any other Servants?”
“Hmm? Well, I’ve seen crazy Servants like this one here,” said Elisabeth while pointing at Kiyohime with one of her unnaturally long fingers.
“Would you mind not lumping me in with them,” asked Kiyohime with a tone of annoyance, followed by a tone of pride. “I’m a Berserker with my reasoning intact.”
“I see,” said Ritsuka to intentionally change the subject. “So neither of you have encountered Servants other than the Dragon Witch and her group? That’s a shame.”
“Hey, what’s that about shame,” asked Elisabeth indignantly. “You met ME, how is that a shame!?”
“‘Cause we’re looking for a Saint,” responded Ritsuka off the cuff.
“Gnunununu,” mumbled Elisabeth while grinding her teeth. “I have a lot of attributes, but Saint isn’t one of them. Ah, don’t tell me Saints are popular right now? They’re in vogue? Maybe I should become one…?”
“I think it’s best you didn’t,” replied Ritsuka. “For many reasons.”
“But in any case, a Saint,” wondered Kiyohime aloud to herself. “I know of one saint, one whose teachings took root deep within this nation.”
“Really,” asked Ritsuka, feeling a glimmer of hope.
“Yes. I met him before coming across that Elisabeth over there. We almost fought, but he realized I was a ‘genuine’ Berserker, as he called me. Then he sheathed his sword. His True Name was Georgios. I believe he is a famous Saint in this part of the world.”
[Georgios! The Saint referred to as St. George. …Yes, he would be perfect.]
“Perfect in what way,” asked Ritsuka.
“St. George is famous for having fought against a dragon, Master,” said Mash as she’d crept close enough to join the conversation. Siegfried was still surrounded by French women, and he seemed to be looking around desperately for a lifeline. Ritsuka was tempted to offer one… but without immediately skipping town afterward it would probably amount to nothing. Stay strong, Siegfried, and bear with your popularity!
[Do you know where he went?]
“Unfortunately, he went the opposite direction to me, and went to the west.”
“The west,” repeated Mash. “That’s where Jeanne and the others went. Master, I will now be commencing communications!”
“Oh? Uh, yeah, please do, Mash.”
* * * * *
Atalante’s fingers twitched. She’d found herself unable to manifest her bow and had found she’d developed a desire to rip, rend, and tear with her clawed fingers.
She was now fighting against that feeling with all her heart and soul.
“Hey, are you okay, lady,” asked the little boy who’d leapted off his family’s wagon to approach her. He was the typical fearless youth because he didn’t know enough about the world to realize it was the absolute worst thing in the world to approach Atalante at that moment.
The order pounded in Atalante’s head as she held herself back from using the claws she’d developed in her transformation to open a bloody hole in the child’s chest.
“Julien, come back here, stay away from that woman,” called the mother who was desperately hugging her daughter in the back of the wagon. The father was handing the reins of the plow horse guiding the wagon to his wife as he dropped to the ground and cautiously approached his boy, trying to retrieve the child before Atalante could do terrible, horrible, wonderful, bloody things to him.
Atalante was trembling with desire and horror at herself, the nature that was ingrained by the summoning and the madness of the Calydonian Boar pelt. The feral heat was climbing her spine and boiling her brain. Atalante could taste the blood in her mouth from clenching her teeth so hard that she bit through the flesh of her cheek.
“But papa, don’t we help people? Isn’t that what you taught me?”
“She doesn’t need our help, Julien, so come back. We need to leave her alone. Come on now, Julien, hurry.”
The world dissolved in red, and then darkness. A furious flurry of movement, strenuous activity, and then complete stillness.
Dark stillness for… how long?
Atalante’s eyes slowly opened? Or did they regain focus? She was in the woods, somewhere. It would take time to regather her bearings, but she felt the pull of the return order in a specific direction. No way to know if it was south, east, or even if it was on the other side of the world. But what Atalante knew was that she was scared.
She was scared to look down at herself, to see if she was covered in the blood of that little boy and his family, killed just because they were trying to be kind to a person in need.
Atalante summoned up the courage to look at herself three times, and the dauntless huntress’ will failed her each time. Finally, she closed her eyes, causing a tear to roll down one cheek… and lifted her hands in front of her face. Eventually Atalante was able to open those eyes and see…
Hands covered in dirt. And nothing else.
Atalante snapped her head down to see her dirty, torn, furry, discolored clothing and dust coated skin. No blood. Atalante hadn’t killed the children, or their parents.
In relief, Atalante started to cry. Loud and long, as tears spilled onto the ground in her bottomless relief.
Atalante lost track of how long she’d spent mourning her lost sanity and pride, as she built the resolve to murder her master.
Author’s Note: Whew! Shit! I actually feel really bad for doing this to Atalante.