I guess “real” Saints can smell the Holiness on each other. That faint hope of that Rider Saint and the other Jeanne D’Arc wiping each other out turned out to be short lived. Charles had the brief thought of trying to turn the refugees against the “Holy Maiden,” but quickly disregarded it. He wasn’t there for the Saints anyway.
Charles kept his attention on the four Servants while he helped a girl who couldn’t be older than thirteen onto the back of a wagon being overloaded by refugees who could not walk the distance to the next large town.
“Make sure you keep the cloth around your ankle wet. The coolness will help the swelling go down. Your pain shouldn’t last very long, child.”
The girl would be spared her pain after Charles caught up with the refugees and brought them the blessing of swift death. It was the highest pinnacle of the executioner’s art, one that Charles had been perfecting since his arrival in the France of the past.
“Thank you, Monsieur,” said the cute little thing, her face blushing to her ears due to Charles’ smile. “Might I see you again?”
“Oh, don’t worry, little one. You’ll see me again soon.”
Saying that, Charles disappeared into the crowd again, letting his Presence Concealment wash over him like walking into a cooling veil of mist on a hot day. Charles slipped through the bustling crowd like it was a dance.
Left one two, forward one two, stop one two, forward one two.
Charles could hear the music of the movements around him, the pattern of humanity he was sliding through. He did not scuttle like an ordinary assassin, but passed through the covering crowds like the dignified man he had been raised to be. With every step in the dance, Charles came closer to his goal. Not the Black Saber, the Rider Saint, nor the Ruler. It was true that Charles’ master wanted them erased, but Charles didn’t care about that. All he could really see was-
“Marie,” whispered Charles to himself as he saw the girl pushing her decision onto the other Servants. Her willpower and persuasiveness hadn’t changed in her current form from the days in the castle, when she forced the courts to cut back on dining expenses, unwilling to feast while her people went hungry. The divine child that grew into the glorious woman that Charles had beheaded. The woman he’d delivered to the bosom of God. And today, here and now, Charles would fulfill his divine mission, and deliver Marie to God once more with the greatest and most painless cut he’d achieve in his lifetime… because then… perhaps then…
The other Servants broke away from Marie. She remained standing there, alone in the plaza of the half ruined city. The populace were moving like a herd out of the gate, leaving her behind. The Ruler turned back, once… twice… with Marie waving her away. The other Ruler wanted to stay as the rear guard, sacrificing herself for the people. Even the Black Saber made the offer, saying she was the best fighter. But Marie got her way as she always did, with dignity, pressure, wit, and charm.
I understand your feelings, Ruler. I understand so well it makes me want to kill you, too. No one wishes to outlive Marie. No one. Not even…
“Sanson, you’re here,” said Marie as a statement. She did not turn around to face him as he released his Presence Concealment. The Executed must see their Executioner.
“Of course I am,” said Charles gently as he slowly approached Marie. “Execution needs qualifications. For both the executioner, and the executed. No other person has the right to execute you. You realize that yourself, Marie.”
“Hold on a second, Sanson,” said Marie as she lifted her hand in a courtly gesture. The noble blood in Charles caused him to stop at that range that was suitable for them to begin fighting in response to the movement of his queen. “I know that you are a wonderful executioner. I mean, you’re cruel, merciless, and inhuman, but you never once mocked criminals in your charge. You guarded the guillotine with great respect, so I do indeed trust you. But, does that mean you alone hold the right to kill me? Isn’t that a bit absurd?”
Ah. She’s being shy.
“It’s not absurd, my Lady. I was born into a family of executioners, and I was only taught how to execute. No compromise. It’s not only about dedication, I am particular about the method – The technique. It’s only natural for a good executioner to not inflict pain on the condemned. But… I see beyond that.”
His newfound insite, granted by his summoning in this land. It’s led Charles to the truth of death, the truth of taking life. And with that truth, he could see it.
“I see… the ecstasy,” explained Charles, to help his fated companion understand the pleasure that awaited her. “The moment it feels so good that ‘it will kill you.’ That is the type of beheading I dedicate myself to. The best slice of my life was my ‘kiss’ for you, Marie.”
Ah, Marie twitched. Just slightly. She’s already starting to feel it.
“So, this is destiny. I couldn’t help but want to see you so I could ask…” Charles-Henry reached out his hand, as though asking Marie to share a dance. “Please, tell me, Marie. How was my beheading? Were you able to climax at the very end?”
Marie showed a sad smile, as though seeing a favorite portrait that had lost it color with age, and said, “I can see that you seriously showed respect for me Sanson, from the bottom of your heart. But, I’m sorry. That’s just impossible. It’s something that I cannot possibly say. You see, I already know enough men with perverse hobbies. So, I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t accept a second ‘kiss’ from you.”
Ah, she’s being bashful. Well, it’s only gentlemanly to step back a bit here.
“I see. Yes. Well, even so, I’m sure you will be delighted. I’ve gotten even better than back then, you see. It is why I’ve been summoned as a Servant, to the here and now. So that I might give you your final ecstasy once again.”
A two handed sword appeared in Charles’ extended hand, one with a perverse half moon blade at the end to denote his bond with the guillotine. Marie’s hand also extended, as though accepting Charles’ invitation to dance, but four crystal horses were born from glistening air around Marie, and dashed towards Charles.
Back one, spin left, the backside of the crescent caught the neck of the leading horse, separating the head from the body. As the headless crystal shattered and scattered, forward two three, bow with a sweep of the arms. The second horse lost the front legs above the knees, causing it to fall and skid forward. Turn to the right, the flat of the blade rotated to catch the kick from the hind legs as the horse slid past. Charles was knocked off balance for a moment but turned the momentum from the kick into – Right one two. Forward one two. Kneel with the flat outstretched to catch the impact of the charging horse as its chest met the blade.
Cobblestones broke under Charles’ feet as he was pushed back half a meter. But the Madness Enhancement worked it’s wonders. Even as Charles’ bones felt like they would break, the cracks refused into solid bone and the arms pushed back, stopping the horse dead in its tracks.
Accepting the contact from his dance partner, Charles pirouetted left, the crescent head of the executioner’s sword stuck in the horse’s chest, and the sword was pulled through the body, cutting the glass beast in two through the ribcage. The fourth horse was already positioned, since Marie apparently had guessed the next dance step ahead of time, the elegant lady that she was. The rear kick of the fourth horse caught Charles in the shoulder, destroying the armored pauldron of his great green coat and sending Charles spinning into a turn and – Back one two.
The fourth horse lost a hoof at the ankle as Charles blindly swung his blade during the backstep. The crystal horse stumbled to a side and was delayed by a half step, allowing Charles the opening he required to finish the dance. The second horse had restored it’s legs, but was too far to catch up as Charles – turn right and forward five six seven eight – closed the distance to Marie and presented the best ornamentation for her neck that could be asked for.
The lower half of the stock formed in Charles’ empty hand as he moved past the surprised Marie; the speed of an Assassin was not to be underestimated. As Charles lifted it up to Marie’s neck, the other half formed itself to seal around Marie’s beautiful, thin, frail neck. Then the base of the guillotine formed, the extra weight to ground the construct pitched Marie forward, her hands reached out to catch her fall, but Charles was already helping to guide her body, to protect her from impact. Marie’s hat fell from her head and rolled along the ground, just like her own head would soon be doing. As the guiding rails formed, manifesting the towering height of Charles’ implement of choice, Charles bent forward, taking hold of the rope that appeared in his hand and felt the weight of the steel blade.
The two remaining horses stopped moving when Marie saw the sturdy cord that Charles held, the only thing preventing the manifested guillotine blade from dropping. Charles held his deep bow, thanking his partner as well as allowing him to look directly into Marie’s crystal blue eyes.
“Thank you so much for this dance, Marie. As a sign of my gratitude, I shall be giving you the best ‘kiss’ of your life.”
Le Mort Espoir
Charles released the rope, and looked deeply into Marie’s eyes to make sure he did not miss that moment of bliss as her head went flying. But nothing happened. When the dangling strand of rope lightly swung back into his field of view, Charles finally looked up. There, he saw crystal rose vines tangled around the blade of the guillotine, jamming it in place and preventing it’s humane drop.
The swift kick of one of Marie’s horses about Charles’ head and shoulder sent the man flying. He rolled over a shoulder, spun around by kicking a leg at the air, and slid to a halt with his great blade under his chest. Charles stood up soon enough to see the two remaining horses stand guard between him and Marie as great roses budded and flowered in the crack of the stock restraining Marie’s neck, opening the chock of wood and releasing the beauty to stand upright again. Soon after, the guillotine began to creak and groan as the vines wrapped tightly around the frame began to squeeze and crush.
“I must humbly refuse, monsieur,” said Marie brightly as she stepped around the guillotine to pick up her fallen hat. “For you see, as you are now, I have no desire to give you a kiss.”
A jolt like electricity ran through Charles, burning him up from the inside. A small gasp of the girl’s name escaped his lips before he shouted her name while rushing towards her.
Marie didn’t respond as she placed her great hat back upon her head while a replacement horse manifested under her, placing her on its bare back. The three horses leapt up high and glowed brightly as the sunlight struck them and they were filled with magical energy. Charles reached out to his guillotine to retrieve as much of the magical energy as he could from the device, because he had a fatalistic instinct that he would soon need all the magical power he could get.
The sound of the guillotine breaking under the ruinous strain of the vines and flowers coincided with Marie’s declaration.
Do not worry, Sanson. For I shall continue to bloom,
and I shall continue to dance!
The world exploded into multifaceted crystal geysers as the horses landed on all sides of Charles. From those impacts, secondary geysers erupted, and tertiary geysers. There was nowhere for Charles to go from the beginning, all escape was cut off as the blades of clear glass pierced him from all sides, and then a crystal geyser impaled him from below.
Suspended on those clear spikes, Sanson’s cry was cut short as his body went numb. He was able to choke out the words, “A surprisingly… destructive attack… from you…”
“Yes,” said Marie sadly as the crystals dissolved away and the horse she rode sank out of existence under her feet. “For there was a time where even I wished for everything to be destroyed. No matter how briefly.”
“All the more reason… Marie, why? Why do you not… let me execute you? I’ve killed so many since that day… become so much stronger… So why…?”
Marie’s features shifted from pain to sympathy as she gently said, “Charles-Henry Sanson. I should have told you when we reunited. Our relationship ended that day. Because your blade now is truly… rusty.”
Charles gasped, choked a bit from the blood that was infiltrating his lungs, and shivered.
“You’ve killed too many people that your blade has lost its way, lost track of its purpose. You’ve increased your proficiency as a killer, Sanson. But executioners and killers are not the same thing.”
Sanson’s vision started to blur as tears welled up from the depths of his soul. He was dying, he could feel it. And the Madness Enhancement was abandoning him as quickly as his life force.
“The more skilled your killing blade became, the rustier your blade as an executioner, the savior of criminals, became. By the time you came under the Dragon Witch’s banner, you were no longer the Charles-Henry Sanson I knew.”
A rattling gasp reached Sanson’s throat as he pushed out the air to say, “No… that can’t… Marie! I had faith that you would come! That’s, ghuh! That’s why… I kept honing my skills! Just to see you! To… behead you with more skill- to give you a better, the greatest… moment of ecstasy! Because… if I could do that…”
The tears overflowed and ran unchecked down Charles’ face. The hot flood of his deepest regrets laid bare before the woman he never wished to see die. The woman he resolved to execute himself rather than let an amateur stain her end with their foolishness. The woman who once gave him a kiss in the halls of Versailles.
“I thought, for sure… that you could forgive me!”
Charles choked those sanguine words out of his stained mouth as he coughed up his lifesblood. Tears and snot streamed down his face as his regrets washed out of him like the scarlet trickling down the impaling crystal spires. Marie slowly closed the distance and reached out, like she was gently touching a skittish mare, and brushed some of the ash blond hair from Charles’ forehead as she said, “Geez, you really are a pitiful, adorable person. I don’t hold a grudge against you. From the very beginning, you never had the need to be forgiven by me.”
Something deep in Charles’ heart broke on hearing those words, and his Spirit Origin broke immediately after. The flood of grief, relief, and self recrimination flooded through him so greatly that it chased him back to the throne as his body broke down into shimmering dust.
* * * * *
“That makes three,” said the figure that was astride the great dragon that had contented herself with merely watching the final moments of one of her minions. “It’s ironic how the ones who show potential are the first to fall.”
Marie linked her hands behind her back and turned to face the spectator, conversing with the last person she’d ever meet with in this land. “Yes. Perhaps the two vampires you loathe so much may be the last ones standing. Good day to you, ‘Dragon Witch.’ It seems you got here a little too late.”
“Yes, it seems the other Me has already escaped. How pitiful,” said the girl in disappointment and disapprobation. It would have been simple to leave the misunderstanding, but there was something about the girl astride the great dragon that was also cute. She was, after all, a child of France, no matter who she was.
“No, that’s not true. She left here embracing hope,” stated Marie warmly, opening up her arms as though to hug.
“Just by gaining one Servant? How ridiculous. And speaking of the ridiculous, it’s amazing that you are still here. Are you so intoxicated with the idea of saving these citizens? You? The person killed by her citizens. A woman put to the guillotine, beheaded in ridicule!”
Ah. So she was hoping that Marie would share the same hatred she herself had for her executioners. But-
“So disappointing,” said Marie sadly. “Witches don’t understand such simple logic? It’s true that I was executed. There was ridicule, and there was disdain. However… that gives me no reason to murder them in return.”
The Dragon Witch grit her teeth and her lips twitched as though she’d bitten into a bitter plum.
“I became a queen because the people asked me to,” continued Marie proudly. “A queen cannot be without her people. Thus, it was inevitable. If they don’t want you, then you exit the stage even if you don’t want to. That is the destiny of those serving their country. I believe my execution led to my people’s next smile. No matter when, Vive la France! Stars glimmer, and that will do. That’s all we need. And so, now I am certain. Say, Dragon Witch.
“Who are you, exactly?”
The Dragon Witch made a face of surprise, which shifted into understanding as the question’s meaning became clear. Then worry, and fear crossed her features. Then rage.
But Marie had had the time she required.
Deploy Noble Phantasm
The great dragon breathed it’s fire that washed over the cityscape, reducing the houses to ash and blasting the stone into magma. But Marie was no longer there in it’s path. She’d been encased in a layer of crystal, and then shattered by the preceding blast wave of the attack, and scattered to the winds.
And then Marie’s Noble Phantasm started to take form using all the power she’d expended and had soaked into that place.
The ground took on a reflective sheen as though a layer of the smoothest ice had covered it. The air around the city condensed as though it were surrounded by a greenhouse. A garden of transparent plants and flowers bloomed across the ground as angel statues and benches of the purest crystal appeared as ornaments. The smooth and flawless walls appeared around the Dragon Witch and her great mount with matchless brickwork forming the walls outside the building. A domed ceiling rose above the dragon and its rider, closing off the sky while letting the blue light in without blocking it.
An ornate fortification that could only be called a work of art surrounded and imprisoned the Dragon Witch, fueled by all the power, life, and identity that Marie Antoinette possessed. It was a cage made by sacrificing her all. A sacrifice she made for France.
“You think this will hold me, you idiot princess! I’ll smash all of it, and France will soon follow!”
The dragon roared, and thrashed its limbs. The beast dared not to use it’s breath in a confined space, it’s mind more cunning than to self destruct. Instead, it crushed, smashed, and rent every surface in its path.
From the trembling petals of the flowers in the garden, a small vibration carried the last remnants of will the future queen possessed.
[Goodbye, Jeanne, it was lovely meeting you. If I can help the Saint who saved France… No, if I can help a friend… Then I will gladly shed the last of my radiance and fall. Like a star, like a flower, like a fleeting dream.]
[But not alone,] said the statue of a penitent angel, praying for the souls of sinners with the voice of a repentant executioner. [It is my greatest shame, Marie, to have been the tool of your passing. But now I understand. I did not kill you. You are someone who cannot die. You are only able to sacrifice yourself for France. And this time, I will sacrifice myself alongside you. Please, accept the last of my power as well. Even if I cannot save you, cannot protect you, I can give my all protecting what you love.]
The flowers giggled, a small chorus of delight.
[You are much cuter when you are honest. I might just give you another kiss should we meet again. Someday, somewhere. Ah, but a regular kiss, okay? But until then. Anytime. Anywhere. Vive la France!]
[Vive la Fr-]
The garden was reduced to splinters by the thrashing tail of a great dragon as it’s master hurled abuses at it. The rent walls regrew. The ruined garden was replanted. The scarred ceiling was healed. And for the rest of the day, the Crystal Palace held out, accepting the abuse of the child that lashed out at it in rage and fear, before the last of its magical power dispersed and it fell apart to the sound of twinkling crystal bells.