“Un autre de vos alliés,” asked one of the soldiers next to Ritsuka. Not understanding the question, Ritsuka shrugged and turned back to the blonde Servant who’d appeared like a whirlwind. Actually, were there any Servants who didn’t show up dramatically? The blonde girl seemed a little thrown by Ritsuka’s complete non-reaction, which the wyvern used as an opening to shift its body and crane its neck. Ritsuka had seen that posture too many times in anime and games to not recognize it.
“Mash! Block,” shouted Ritsuka with an extended finger towards the unidentified Servant.
Mash’s explosive running power tore the packed earth under her feet as she quickly moved to place herself between the new Servant and the wyvern just in time to intercept the fiery breath attack. Both Mash and the new girl were completely enveloped in the fire that lasted a good ten seconds, showing just how good the lung capacity of a dragon is. It was also long enough for Ritsuka to start to get nervous for Mash’s safety when the wyvern’s attack came to an end.
Pivoting out from behind Mash’s shield, the blonde girl swung her long weapon striking the Wyvern’s head from below, smashing into the jaw like an uppercut and breaking the bone. The creature’s head went up, it’s long neck arcing like a garden hose. Mash charged forward under that uplifted head to slam into the wyvern’s defenseless body, knocking the creature completely off balance to land on its back, the wings flailing in disorientation. The blonde girl leapt over the body, spinning the flagpole in her hands to bring the decorative pointed tip down into the wyvern’s skull like an impaling spear, ruining the creature’s head and stabbing through the brain. It was at that point of landing, the fierce impact of her attack, that Ritsuka discovered something really important.
Ah. They bounced.
Westerners were really incredible! That girl couldn’t be more than 160 centimeters tall and she possessed such an impressive figure. Almost no one in Ritsuka’s high school had a body close to Mash’s, and the closest Ritsuka had seen to anyone his age matching that mystery girl were gravure models in magazines!
The heavy crash of the second wyvern hitting the earth, missing a wing and with a gaping hole in the chest, brought Ritsuka back to the present with a start. It also seemed to cause a stir in the skeleton soldiers that were marching on the fortress. With the two wyverns dead the skeletons came to a halt, then paused. Almost like machines that were booting up new instructions. The skeletons then turned and began to withdraw in the direction they had come, leaving a third of their number destroyed on the field of battle. It was an unearthly scene, with the cacophony and confusion of the skeleton invasion instantly receding like a wave on the shoreline. Ritsuka was so taken by the change that he naturally stepped forward out of the defense line to meet back up with Mash, who was saying something that included the word “Merci” in it to the unidentified girl.
The double chime of the Chaldea communications opening up coincided with Altoria’s landing next to Ritsuka, the soft clacking of plate mail over cloth accompanying her.
[All right, fine job everyone,] called out the man who did nothing but watch from the other side of time. [I was watching with sweaty palms and sweets in hand!]
Mash turned and locked onto the floating image of Dr Roman holding up a sweet biscuit like an eagle on its prey.
“Doctor. Those were the sweets I procured, right?”
[Huh? What? Is that right? I found them in the Command Room next to the tea, so I thought…]
“…I got them as a token of gratitude, for when we return from this Order. Needless to say, they weren’t for you, but for Senpai, who no doubt fought bravely on the front line.”
The blood lust emanating off Mash dwarfed the hostility she showed the wyvern. It was both somewhat frightening, oddly sweet, and very strangely timed. But mostly strangely timed. Did Dr. Roman have this kind of effect on events even when he wasn’t present?
[Mash… you’ve become such a thoughtful person…]
Dr. Roman proceeded to scarf down the remaining cookies hurriedly with a strangely emotionally moved expression on his face. Seeing that, Ritsuka had to comment from the side, “I don’t think destroying the evidence will help you at this point, Dr. Roman.”
“Master,” said Mash in her ‘warrior mode.’ “When we get back to Chaldea, please reserve enough combat resources for one attack. I’ve registered one more enemy that needs to be neutralized.”
Ritsuka nodded slowly and said as an aside, “Altoria, take note. This is a grudge born from food.”
“Yes, Ritsuka. So noted. I’ll take great care not to create such a grudge in the future.”
Some of the soldiers had approached from the main gate. Ritsuka only really registered that when one of them shouted something. Ritsuka caught the word “sorcière,” which Mash repeated in english as “Witch?” The soldiers panicked, shouted, and fled for their lives. A reaction they hadn’t shown to anyone who’d come from Chaldea, but only to-
Ritsuka turned towards the short blonde Servant, not sure what he was expecting, but what he saw was-
Surprise. Sadness. Resigned acceptance. Those were the series of emotions that played across that girl’s face. And with hesitation, that girl said to Mash in the same English that Dr. Roman and the investigation team had been conversing in, “Um. Thank you very much, with the fire breath.”
“Ah, no, I was just following Senpai’s orders.”
“I see. Thank you as well,” said the girl. Her voice seemed tinged with loneliness even when expressing her gratitude. As though she was readying herself to be abandoned even as she was going through her polite introductions.
“No, I’m the one who’s grateful to you for helping my kouhai. I’m Fujimaru Ritsuka. Fujimaru is the family name. And you are?”
“Ruler. My Servant class is Ruler,” said the girl automatically, the same way Archer and Rider had when they first introduced themselves. Then, the girl paused, and seemingly swallowed air before admitting, “My True Name is Jeanne d’Arc.”
“I thought you’d already died, though,” asked Ritsuka.
“We’ll talk about that later. It is nothing we should speak of in front of them,” said Jeanne, her gaze indicating the fort that was starting to show signs of gearing up to attack the four people conversing in front of it. A line of people was already being organized on the parapet wall. “Besides, I would like to try and finish off those retreating monsters before they can do any more damage. Will you help me to do so?”
“I agree with her suggestion, Ritsuka,” said Altoria immediately. “It’s looking like conversation with these people has become impossible. I also suggest withdrawal.”
Ritsuka looked at the fort wistfully and said, “Yeah. We can’t do any more good here. Let’s move. And Altoria, feel free to use your Noble Phantasm on that army when we catch up. I’ll leave the timing to you.”
* * * * *
The result of destroying several hundred skeletons was rather impressive. The field looked like one of those post apocalyptic bone yards you see in mangas like Fist of the North Star. Or the opening of Terminator 2.
“Yeah. More like Terminator 2,” said Ritsuka out loud as he roamed through the field. He hadn’t fought himself, but he was feeling pretty wiped out from the amount of mana that Altoria had drained from him to power her sword. And it took a long time to finish them all because-
“Altoria, why didn’t you use your Noble Phantasm on them? It would have swept them all away in minutes.”
Altoria was silent for a few seconds. She looked over at Mash and Jeanne approaching from the flanking position across the field where they’d been heading off any skeletons that attempted to flee the battle, and said, “I promised Emiya that I wouldn’t.”
“Come again,” asked Ritsuka.
“Emiya forced me to promise to hold off on using my Noble Phantasm, Excallibur Morgan. He said that you don’t have enough prana in your body to support the use of that attack.” Altoria looked over at Ritsuka, her amber eyes solid, but also appraising. “I agree with his opinion of your ability, Ritsuka. Using my sword to its fullest will only put your life in danger.”
Ritsuka was struck dumb, and then closed his eyes in shame. Once more he was being told that he was weak, and there was nothing he could say to refute it. The battle against Altoria back in Fuyuki was proof. He was so weak from supplying mana to Noble Phantasms that were only partially as strong as Altoria’s left him so weak that he left an opening for Lev Lainur to take the Grail, kill Olga Marie, and go off to wreak havoc elsewhere in time. The shame and anger Ritsuka felt, he knew it was the survivors guilt… but that didn’t make it hurt any less to constantly have to face the truth.
“I’m sorry, Altoria. I’m sorry for being so weak.”
“Then become stronger.” Ritsuka’s eyes snapped open in surprise to hear words of encouragement from Altoria. The girl’s voice remained flat and slightly hostile even as she continued speaking. “I know for a fact that you are capable of becoming stronger, Ritsuka. There are things that only you will be able to do. You just have to find them, and then work hard at that role. The you of right now… is not who you are destined to always be.”
Those words of Altoria’s did not seem like platitudes, but genuine and firm knowledge. She said it as fact. And you know what, it was probably physically impossible for Altoria to give empty praise to anyone. She was far too blunt and aggressive to do something so empathetic for anyone as to tell a white lie.
“Thank you, Altoria. That… gives me hope.”
Ritsuka’s fond gaze fell over Altoria, whose flowing mana seemed to shine in his eyes under her perfect alabaster-
Wait a tic.
“Ah, Senpai. We’re done on our end.”
Ritsuka turned to the recent arrivals and said urgently, “We need those dragon bodies!”
“Fou,” cried the mascot in surprise while everyone took a startled step back.
* * * * *
“Welcome back, Mash. Altoria,” said Jeanne to the two young girls who were dragging a wyvern body each. At the voice, Ritsuka looked up from the work he’d been doing on his hands and knees and echoed the greeting happily.
At Ritsuka’s insistence the female members of the investigation party returned to recover the corpses of the wyverns that were killed at the fort. Ritsuka wanted to go himself, but Altoria’s insistence that someone vulnerable to crossbows shouldn’t return to a military encampment they’d already fled from once, and that the arrow proof Servants should go instead. And Jeanne was left behind as Ritsuka’s guard. While Mash and Altoria were away, Ritsuka was busy with preparations. By the time everyone was assembled again, the ritual spell circle was prepared in chalk on the clearest and sturdiest ground in the field.
“It’s good to be back, Senpai, Jeanne. Uh, what is that, Senpai.”
[Yes, we’re wondering about that on our end as well.]
“You’ll all see shortly, but first, did those soldiers give you any trouble, Mash?”
“Oh, no, Senpai. They were actually quite reasonable. Altoria only said that the ones who actually killed the dragons were the ones with the rights to the body and they let us take them away. In fact, they seemed very happy when we left.”
Ritsuka felt that Mash’s kouhai nature caused her to miss some details, so he asked, “Altoria. How much did you intimidate those soldiers?”
“I would hardly call what power I allowed out to be intimidation. If just that much was required to force their cooperation, they can’t be called true warriors. And Mash, only Ritsuka is allowed to call me Altoria.”
Ritsuka sighed and said, “I thought so. Well, I’ll demonstrate the circle after lunch. It’s already late afternoon and I’m sure everyone is hungry. I know I am. Ah, Jeanne, we only have three of Emiya’s bentos, but you’re free to share mine.”
“Ah, you can share with mine as well,” added Mash, her eyes gleaming from being able to do something that seems to be a page out of high school life.
Altoria very solidly did not go with the flow, and ate all of her lunch herself.
“So, Ritsuka, Mash, and- um?”
“Saber. Artoria Alter,” answered Altoria. “Ritsuka is mine and Mash’s Master.”
“Master,” asked Jeanne, more in confirmation than confusion. “I’d suspected, but it’s good to know. So there really are Masters in this Holy Grail War.”
“I’m not a true Heroic Spirit, either. I’m actually a Demi-Servant,” admitted Mash. It seemed it was getting easier for her to say the words ‘Demi-Servant.’
“We’re actually not connected to a Holy Grail War,” corrected Ritsuka. “We’re here as part of a Grand Order. We’re investigating, and hopefully correcting, what’s happening in France. Can you help us out with that? Oh, try some of this side dish,” indicated Ritsuka with his chopsticks towards some water chestnuts.
“Oh, thank you,” remarked Jeanne, who was using the survival spork that was supplied by Chaldea. She let the chestnut hang on the utensil as she pondered and then said, “I suppose I should clear something up first. I am indeed a Servant, and as I said, my class is Ruler. My role is to be an arbiter, a judge, in Holy Grail Wars. But… A majority of the information about this Holy Grail War that should be provided is missing. It’s not just information.”
The water chestnut at the end of the spork was beginning to shake from the anxiety of Jeanne’s confession as she continued.
“My strength as a Servant has been severely ranked down. I’ve also lost the anti-Servant Command Spells. I can’t even reveal the True Names of other Servants anymore. At this point… I suppose I’m lucky that this is my homeland where I was born and raised. If nothing else, I can still speak the language…”
Lunch had pretty much come to a standstill, with everyone but Altoria having paused in their meal to listen to Jeanne. With Jeanne’s pause, Mash took the opportunity to ask, “The soldier I spoke with earlier. He said that Jeanne d’Arc had turned into a ‘Dragon Witch.’ Do you know anything about that?”
Everyone was sitting on the ground in a tiny circle, which made it easy for Jeanne to let her spork rest on her right knee as she reconcentrated herself on answering questions.
“…Having just materialized a few hours ago, I am not sure what’s going on. It seems there is another Jeanne d’Arc in this world.”
The words ‘this world’ caught Ritsuka’s attention. But he allowed it to pass. He couldn’t afford to interrupt Jeanne for fear of losing relevant details by derailing her mental track. Jeanne continued on, her voice even, but with an underlying tone of confusion as she recounted the facts she’d learned.
“A Jeanne that murdered King Charles the 7th of France, and committed the slaughter at Orleans…”
“Cu said something about being summoned in the same Grail War twice. Could the same thing have happened here,” asked Ritsuka aloud while Altoria sipped tea from her thermos cap.
[Hmm… If we access the Holy Grail War records we have, then there should be corroborating evidence to support the possibility of simultaneous summons. But one thing is for sure. Charles the 7th is dead, and Orleans has been occupied, which symbolizes the collapse of the nation of France. In history, France was the first nation to declare human liberty and equality. Many countries followed suit. Delaying recognition of human rights would stagnate civilization. Without that progress, we might still be stuck in the Middle Ages to this day.]
“To this day,” repeated Jeanne, her thoughts jumping on that last line. “I’m sorry, but could I ask you to tell me about yourselves now? While I’m grateful for your kindness… that magecraft produced voice, your self stated mission, your food and even your clothes… I am feeling more confused now than I was before we met.”
“Oh, absolutely,” said Ritsuka, nodding to Jeanne’s request. “So, Dr. Roman, please explain everything while we finish our meal.”
[What!? Why do I have to explain it all!?]
Ritsuka gave a slightly sarcastic shrug as he said to the air, “It can’t be helped. You’re the only one who’s finished eating, after all.”
Altoria gave a firm nod, then placidly sucked on her tea again while Mash said, “Yes. It’s only right that the Doctor works off his sentence.”
[I’ve already been found guilty!? What about my trial!?]
“Give it up, Doctor,” said Ritsuka with a placating tone. “This is the fate of Snack Thieves.”
[Ugh. I just have to do it, then? Fine.]
* * * * *
“…I see, I understand now,” murmured Jeanne. “To think the world itself has been incinerated. My worries were so trivial. But now, I-”
“You had no way of knowing,” said Ritsuka, adamantly. “The only reason Chaldea knows is because we were told by the enemy. Our best guess is that something we’re calling a ‘Holy Grail’ is the center of what’s happening in France, and that it’s a part of whatever caused the Incineration.”
Jeanne’s self-pity party halted for a moment as she said carefully, “The other me. The Jeanne d’Arc that occupied Orleans. The one controlling the dragons.”
“The one people are calling the ‘Dragon Witch,’” asked Mash. Altoria was conspicuously absent from the conversation, having gotten bored and started taking practice swings with her black holy sword some distance away.
“Yes, I don’t want to admit it,” said Jeanne, “but the person controlling those dragons must be ‘myself.’ I have no idea how she’s controlling them. I never even thought about such things during my life. Summoning dragons is the highest form of magecraft; and for her to have this many-”
[I’ve already confirmed with Medea. It’s an impossible feat for modern mages, and would be incredibly difficult even in that era’s magecraft. Which means-]
“All signs point to a Grail,” quipped Ritsuka. “So we have a goal. The Dragon Witch and Orleans. Jeanne?”
“What are you going to do from here on out?”
“…My course is clear. I must take back the city of Orleans. And to do so, I must exterminate the Jeanne d’Arc who stands in my way. The Lord didn’t show me the path, but I cannot turn my back on this.”
“Even alone, you will fight,” remarked Mash in wonder, before turning starstruck eyes to Ritsuka. “She’s just like history says she is, Master.”
“Yeah. It’s actually really nice to meet someone who’s exactly how they were recorded in history.”
Altoria paused in her practice swings to arc an eyebrow at Ritsuka. Ritsuka purposely turned away, pretending he didn’t notice and said with false cheerfulness, “In that case, Jeanne, will you join our investigation team? We both have the same objective, so we may as well work together.”
“Oh, the pleasure will be all mine,” said the girl, the happiest that Ritsuka had seen her yet. “I cannot possibly thank you enough. Ritsuka. Mash. Roman the Dreamer.”
Altoria paused her practice swings.
“And Artoria Alter, as well.”
Altoria continued her swinging.
“I honestly thought I would be fighting all alone.”
“I’m glad,” said Ritsuka, blushing a little at how happy Jeanne was. She had a really nice smile, it suited her much better than her Leadership face. “Now that we’ve decided that, what would you say to my becoming your Temporary Master?”
In response to Jeanne’s confused expression, Ritsuka asked, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed you didn’t have a Master since you were so surprised by my being one. If that’s the case then I apologise for overstepping myself.”
“Oh, no, I don’t have a Master. In fact… I don’t recall ever having one. But you already have two Servants, Ritsuka. Isn’t it dangerous for you to have a third?”
“Not really. I was contracted with three Servants in addition to Mash back in Fuyuki.”
“No, Fou, she said ‘four,’” said Mash to Fou while holding up the correct number of fingers.
“And yes, Jeanne, Senpai was able to supply and coordinate all four of us at the same time. He’s truly a wonderful Master.”
[As the Medical Officer of Chaldea, I’m also giving the go ahead for forming a Temporary Contract here. So if you’re worried that you’d be putting a strain on Gudao, don’t be.]
Ritsuka smile bashfully and told Jeanne, “It’s something of a nickname. I can’t really remember where I got it from.”
“I also believe you would benefit from making a contract with Ritsuka,” said Altoria. This time she did not pause her practice swings or look over. “After all, your mana presence is this faint. If you wish to be able to fight long enough for it to make a difference, I suggest accepting Ritsuka’s offer.”
“I see. It seems everyone believes in Ritsuka. So, I shall also place my trust in you. I humbly accept you as a Temporary Master. …How do I do that?”
The embarrassed blush and tilted head of Jeanne’s was so unexpectedly cute that Ritsuka blushed himself as he said, “Well, umm, first, please extend your hand.”
Jeanne extended her right hand out, flat with the palm facing down. It would be hard to shake her hand in such a position, so instead Ritsuka fought his embarrassment and took her hand in between both of his own. The result was that Jeanne’s hand was enfolded by Ritsuka’s two, like he was proposing an engagement to her. Jeanne’s face turned redder, and Ritsuka’s followed suit. Ritsuka started the process in a hurry before he locked up.
“If you heed the Throne’s call and obey my will and reason, then answer me. I hereby swear that I shall be all the good in the world. That I shall defeat all evil in the world. What say you, Guardian of Balance?”
“Oui,” came the quiet reply.