Both of the dragon girls had volunteered to come with them, volunteered to fight against the Dragon Witch and her armies. Kiyohime even went so far as to enter into a temporary Master – Servant contract with Ritsuka. A pinky-swear contract, of all things. Kiyohime’s insistence on the penalty of swallowing a thousand needles upon lying was a bit… off putting… but that was something that could be put off until later. After all, it was only a temporary contract. Yeah, temporary. But with that came the logistics of transporting six people in an open topped carriage meant for four. A problem that quickly solved itself.
It had been deceptively easy to fit Elizabeth into the carriage. The self styled Idol was actually so thin that she fit between Mash and Siegfried in the back seat. In fact, Elizabeth’s frilly dress took up more room than she did. Ritsuka had wisely chosen not to comment on her beanpole body shape at the time, or afterwards.
But he couldn’t help but worry and ask about Kiyohime’s seating choice.
“You’re sure you’re fine sitting here,” Ritsuka asked the dragon girl.
“Yes, An- Fujimaru-dono. I can’t think of a better place for me to be seated, considering our circumstances,” said Kiyohime while draped across Ritsuka’s lap with her arms around Ritsuka’s neck to hold herself in place. Ritsuka was pretty sure Kiyohime meant to say, ‘considering the circumstances,’ but let it go. But was it really Ritsuka’s imagination that she was batting her eyes at him? And why did Ritsuka have a cold chill up his spine when a soft, pretty, nice smelling girl was sitting in his lap?
“If you want to trade seats, Kiyohime, I’d be more than happy too,” said Mash from the back, with what seemed like a hint of desperation. “In fact, I insist. Amadeaus, please stop the carriage so I can sit in Master’s lap!”
Amadeus didn’t respond as he usually would, with a chuckle and a mischievous word. Ritsuka looked over at him worried and asked, “Amadeus, is everything alright?”
“Hmm? Oh, no, everything is fine. The horse is just requiring some extra care right now.”
“Extra care,” asked Ritsuka to himself. He then looked around. Was it his imagination that the carriage was not travelling as far as it once was?
“Yes. I believe it would be for the best if we simply hasten to our rendezvous with the others. I apologise, Mash, but you will need to claim your Master’s lap another time.”
Ritsuka spared a glance to Siegfried in the back, and the man shook his head in a negative to Ritsuka. Seems Ritsuka wasn’t the only person who felt something was wrong, and also felt the subject should be left until later.
* * * * *
“Ritsuka! Mash! Everyone!”
Jeanne waved from the back of the white horse that was closing in on the carriage along the French highway.
The occupants of the carriage also waved back to Jeanne and Altoria. But Ritsuka felt that bad feeling of his growing stronger. His friends were crammed on top of a horse with a man who appeared to be a Rider Servant, if Ritsuka’s eyes were not leading him astray. Why were they not in a glass carriage with Marie?
As the open topped carriage and the horse closed the distance, Mash spoke to Altoria and Jeanne, saying, “Thank goodness we’ve met up again. This person is…?”
“My name is Georgios,” said the man in his pale orange armor, his long brown hair fluttering in the wind. Whelp, looks like we found our second Saint.
“Where’s Marie,” asked Amadeus from his seat in the driver side of the carriage. The length of the story that Altoria, Jeanne, and Georgios related lasted long enough for the group to disembark from their respective mounts and set Siegfried to rest under the shade of a tree. Georgios similarly saw to the well being of his mount in that time. By the time the retelling had come to an end, everyone present had become very quiet, even Elizabeth, unbelievably enough.
“I see,” said Amadeus at length. “That’s what she said when she stayed behind? Oh, well, it can’t be helped. You don’t have to feel bad. Even if we were all there, she would have done the exact same thing. Maria is an eternal philanthropist. That’s how she lives and dies. But nevermind that, why don’t you remove Siegfried’s curse?”
“R-right,” muttered Jeanne in an emotionally painful way. But she still turned away to kneel next to Siegfried as Georgios kneeled on the other side. Mash worriedly asked, “Amadeus…”
The man headed Mash off, frivolously saying, “It’s all right. I knew this was going to happen. Remember how Maria was talking about the piano earlier? That was her way of saying goodbye. She’d never been able to hear my piano when we were alive. If she’d said to me, ‘ Let me hear your piano,’ then I couldn’t have stopped her no matter what. But really, the second farewell hits hard,” said Amadeus, smiling in emotional discomfort. “Even worse than the first. All the more so as we’ll never meet again.”
“But, as Heroic Spirits, isn’t there a chance that the two of you will see each other again,” asked Mash hopefully, trying to give a light of hope to Amadeus. “Just like now, the two of you may be called to the same battlefield again one day.”
“Mm, that won’t happen, I think,” rebutted Amadeus. “There are as many Heroic Spirits as there are stars in the sky. My coming across her this time was already a miracle. There is practically no chance that such a thing will happen again. Anyway, I’m a bit tired. I’m going to excuse myself, so do call for me when you’re ready to depart.”
Amadeus gave a flawless courtly bow and walked off towards a stand of trees in the distance. Mash called out to stop Amadeus, probably thinking she could give the man some comfort, but-
“You shouldn’t, Mash,” said Ritsuka while putting a restraining hand on Mash’s shoulder. “There are times when someone has to be on their own to properly mourne. There’s pain in this world one can’t process in the presence of others.”
Ritsuka himself was still processing through the loss of his parents, schoolfriends, the world…
“Let’s just see to Siegfried and the others for now, Mash.”
* * * * *
The process of removing the curse was incredible to watch, even if Ritsuka had not been looking with his Eyes that Can See. There were faint glimmers of light surrounding all three people involved, and the putrid flows of power inside Siegrfried’s wound were slowly melting away in an intricate pattern. It was like watching spiritual surgery, with the faith based magical power of one Saint complementing the other in fantastic ways. Ritsuka felt like he’d learned something precious by watching their efforts, but he had no idea what, or if it was ever going to be useful. But it was quite the intricate show for Ritsuka to watch while sitting on the grass and peacefully sipping from a paper cup of tea. For some reason, Kiyohime was placidly doing the same right next to Ritsuka.
After what had taken most of the remaining afternoon, Jeanne and Georgios finally sat back from their work and breathed sighs of relief, with Jeanne saying, “Siegfried, you will probably be fine from now on. Though this would have been impossible by myself.”
“Such a task would have been impossible for me alone as well, Jeanne d’Arc. It was truly the Lord’s guidance that allowed us to join together like this,” said Georgios humbly.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve put you through. Thank you for the aid,” said Siegfried apologetically.
Ritsuka immediately moved to hand the three people who were involved in the spiritual surgery paper cups and then poured them tea from a thermos. Jeanne had a sad smile on her face as she accepted her cup, and said, “It’s all thanks to Marie. We were able to survive because of her. What she risked her life protecting is something I want to protect, too. This era, this world, this country. And to do so, let us defeat the Dragon Witch and her dragon.”
“Sounds good, Jeanne,” said Ritsuka with a smile filled with camaraderie. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” asked Jeanne, thrown off by the non-sequitur.
“Yup, tomorrow. The three of you must be completely drained after what you’ve gone through, so Mash and Altoria have been setting up our camp for the night while you were occupied.”
“Ah,” exclaimed Jeanne, looking at where the others had set up tents and a fire pit in the distance. “I didn’t even notice! I’m so sorry, I’ll go help out right away.”
Ritsuka didn’t even have the chance to tell Jeanne she could rest up for tomorrow before the girl was heading off to help with the campground. Even though Jeanne needed her rest as much as everyone else for the coming battle that awaited them, she was the sort of person who could not rest while others worked. Georgios thanked Ritsuka for the tea, and once more went to look after his horse, Bayard. Siegfried stood up, finally looking whole for the first time since Ritsuka had met him, and spoke to Ritsuka.
“I want to thank you for your continued kindness. I very well might not be alive right now if not for you, Ritsuka, let alone healed. On second thought, not Ritsuka. But Master.”
“You don’t have to go that far,” said Ritsuka pleasantly.
“You’re right, I don’t need to. But… I choose to,” said Siegfried with a smile as though he were feeling a liberation, or a fulfillment of some long held desire. “I choose to serve you as your Servant, and fight against your enemies. After seeing your kindness and bravery, I am confident that I will not regret this decision. From now on, my sword will be yours. This body will be your weapon and your shield. My True Name is Siegfried. I possess no other skill other than slaying dragons, but I would be honored to be put to use.”
Ritsuka was touched by Siegfried’s earnest display, and Kiyohime said, “Very well expressed, Mr. Swordsman.” Then Elizabeth showed up next to them complaining loudly.
“Mou! Why are rabbits so hard to catch! You, Ritsuka, come over here and catch these things for me! I want meat tonight and I’m not about to work up a sweat to do so!”
“Should I help her catch rabbits, Master,” asked Siegfried, eager to be helpful.
“Ah, no. No need Siegfried. You can concentrate on resting for now. Our dinner is going to be sent to us by Chaldea.”
“What,” complained Elizabeth loudly. “Why didn’t anyone tell me that before I stomped around in a dusty field!”
“If we’d told you, then you wouldn’t have wandered off, gotten lost, and been buried in a shallow, unmarked grave,” said Kiyohime with a seriously unnerving amount of kindness and dignity.
“Don’t go killing me off in such a terrifyingly detailed manner,” complained Elizabeth.
“Let’s all just pitch in with setting up the camp, shall we? It’ll go faster with more hands,” compromised Ritsuka.
* * * * *
“Ah, Amadeus, I’ve brought your share of food,” said Mash to the Servant who’d yet to emerge from the copse he’d wandered into.
“Ah, thank you Mash. Don’t worry about me too much, I’ll be heading back shortly.”
“I understand. …Um, Amadeus, it may be imprudent for me to ask questions at this time, but do you mind?”
“Of course not,” said the Servant with a smile on his face. “Be it trivial or important, ask away. Tomorrow will likely be the final battle. It’s important to wrap up any unfinished business.”
Mash sat down on the hardened stump that Amadeus was sitting on, and said, “Right. I hate to bring this back up, but it’s about what you said when we heard that Marie had died. ‘Humans choose what they love.’ I don’t understand what that meant. Rather, I understand the meaning of the words, but it’s the ‘choose’ part that I don’t understand. I mean, things we should view favorably are morally just, and things we should reject are socially bad. That’s what I was taught. I feel deep down that it’s right.”
Amadeus hummed for a moment as he opened his boxed meal, and asked, “What do you consider ‘right,’ then?”
“Well, something that saves many lives, and sees value in many lives, I suppose.”
“That’s rather ill-defined,” said Amadeus as he took up the reusable plastic spork, and gave it a curious and thoughtful look. “For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Ritsuka was not the good and kind person he is. What then?”
“Th-that’s,” stammered Mash in confusion and panic.
“Forgive me,” said Amadeus, heading off the forsaken tangent before it could come to fruition. “That was a cruel supposition to propose. However, keep that hesitation and discomfort you felt in mind. Mash, I suspect that you are a person who has only recently gained her freedom. As such, you freeze in the face of hard choices and have doubts about the person you are becoming.”
Mash looked down and twisted her feet against the ground uncomfortably as she admitted, “Yes, I think you might be right. I, uh… didn’t know much about the outside world. …No, maybe I never had the right to care for anything in the first place. I mean… I…”
“Oh, dear. You truly are pure, aren’t you,” asked Amadeus as he used the spork to cut into the lasagna that was inside the boxed lunch. “You’re like a music sheet without a single note on it. But heed my words, Mash. Even if you are a doll created for the sole purpose of fighting, you have the obligation to care for something. You may not have freedom, but you have obligations.”
Amadeus broke off by taking a bite of the lasagna. In that momentary downtime while Amadeus chewed, Mash asked, “Obligations? Not rights or privileges?”
“No. Obligations. Or duties, if you’d prefer. Humans have that responsibility, for they possess intelligence to think. What to care for, what to dislike, what is considered precious, what is considered evil. Those are the things you must choose for yourself. Not by the influence of others, nor by conforming to your environment. Every human is unique. So too is each one’s values. We learn and see as much as we can. By doing so, your life will be enriched. Listen, the world is not what you make of it. You are what the world makes of you. Then, when you become you, become more than this world. You must leave proof that you existed, whatever it is. I have, after all. All the music I left behind is proof. Even though… that itself is insignificant.”
“Insignificant,” asked Mash, confused by the words of one of the greatest musicians who ever lived.
“After all, I am a man who couldn’t even bear witness to the death of his one and only first love. My legacy may have been loved by many, but my actual life was nothing special. Still, I am content with that. Human beings are filthy and unpleasant. My conclusion stands. There are sinners who shine brilliantly, and saints that make one retch. So there is no need for you to fear your own future. You are created by the world, and you expand and improve the world. That is what ‘being a human’ is all about.
“Begin by absorbing all you can from the world and then return those flavors to the world as you see fit later. Worrying over what results that will have is a matter for another day.”
“That is,” mumbled Mash, who was absorbing a lot of philosophical thoughts at once.
“However,” said Amadeus after swallowing another bite. “Most things in this world have a fair value, and a result fit for such value. As was the case with my music and my life. As long as humans are human, evil will not prevail. After all, humanity will be unable to flourish otherwise. It is said that evil is the hindrance to the prosperity of life. The species cannot survive with it there. If humanity cannot purge itself of that evil, that is the day of humanity’s extinction. It’s that simple.
“I see that you are now breathing more calmly. Our break is over Mash, let’s return to the others. Most likely this is the last time we shall chat. For some reason, it turned into a bit of a lecture. Still, I’m happy that we were alone for this final talk. From start to finish, you’re a charming young lady. In this battle, I would have proposed to you had Maria not been there.”
“I see. Thank you great composer Amadeus. I won’t forget what you said,” responded Mash, letting the comment about a proposal sail directly over her head, though she probably wouldn’t have minded hearing the same words come from her Master.
Deeply satisfied that his words had taken root in someone’s heart, that those words would outlive him, Amadeus gently smiled and said, “Indeed. You pass, Mademoiselle. I want you to remember one last thing. There’s nothing more beautiful than a parting smile.”
* * * * *
The Dragon group, Altoria, Siegfried, Kiyohime, Elizabeth, and Georgios, sat around the fire enjoying the after meal tea. But there was someone who sat further apart from the others on a felled and forgotten tree. Approaching her, Ritsuka asked, “Mind if I sit?”
“Oh, no! Be my guest,” responded Jeanne, who had been so deep in her own thoughts that she actually hadn’t paid any attention to Ritsuka’s approach. With a small, ‘yoi-sho,’ Ritsuka sat down next to Jeanne and let the silence linger. It was both an uncomfortable silence, in that it felt like there was something missing, and a comfortable one, in that there was a tranquility under the surface of it. But there was something that Ritsuka needed to talk about with Jeanne.
“It’s a lot more quiet than it was last night,” said Ritsuka, out of the blue. The two dragon girls were bickering back and forth like always, but it was a lot more friendly than it had been. The edge of true malice had worn off, so it was just a way for the two to pass the time. Mash was taking food to Amadeus, and the three others were wisely keeping out of the conversation the dragon girls were having.
It wasn’t a silent night, by any means. But there was an energy that had been present that was now missing.
“Marie,” said Jeanne quietly. The loss of the mood maker in the group was truly painful.
“Amadeus isn’t the only one mourning her, you know,” said Ritsuka, driving the conversation forward.
Jeanne turned her wondering eyes to Ritsuka and asked, “You too?”
“Well, of course,” said Ritsuka wryly. “Marie was an incredible and kind person. And she decided I was someone who was worthy of being kissed. I want to be a person who’s worthy of having received that kiss. More than anything else, though… I miss Marie. I miss my friend.”
After a moment, with her head down, Jeanne quietly said, “I miss her, too. As a friend.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ritsuka. Jeanne looked back up at Ritsuka in wonder. “Jeanne, I wasn’t talking about myself when I said ‘Amadeus isn’t the only one mourning.’ I was talking about you as well. It’s pretty obvious you’re trying to conceal your pain.”
Jeanne nibbled on her lip, trying to continue to contain herself. But Jeanne just looked… lonely in Ritsuka’s eyes.
“Would you like to talk about Marie,” asked Ritsuka gently. “Because I’d like to talk about her. About our lost friend.”
After a few seconds, Jeanne started talking at a point of reference that made sense to her, only because she had obviously been mulling over Marie in her own mind for a while.
“Marie was very kind to me. She said… that she was going to support me. I’m still not sure what she was talking about, but it made me happy. Knowing that Marie would be there for me. But… in those final moments… I wasn’t there for her.”
“Because she sent you away,” said Ritsuka gently. In the same tone of voice Emiya had used when he’d helped Ritsuka work through Medusa’s death.
“I know,” said Jeanne miserably. “Marie told me so many things to make sure I went. But even so, I wanted to stand by her, stand up for her, the same way she’d stood by me. Given the situation, there was nothing else that could’ve been done. But I still wish I could have been there at my friend’s side.”
“I think Marie would have been happy to have heard that,” said Ritsuka. “We’ve all only known each other for a short time, but it’s obvious Marie held you in high esteem. Not just as a hero, but as a friend.”
Jeanne nodded as though she’d made a new determination, saying, “Yes. As a friend. Tomorrow, I will protect everything that my friend left behind. I will make her wish to protect everyone into a reality.”
It was good that Jeanne was no longer moping, but it felt like her temperament had swung too much the other way towards duty, almost like a coping mechanism. So, Ritsuka thought, perhaps it was a good time to ask what he’d been wanting to know.
“Say, Jeanne, there are some other things I’d like to ask if you’re alright with it?”
“Please, go right on ahead, Ritsuka. If it’s something I can share, I won’t hesitate to do so.”
“Can you tell me about yourself?”
Jeanne tilted her head sideways and said, “Well, I don’t mind. But most of my accomplishments were left behind in the history books, so I’m not quite sure what else I can say.”
“I’m not asking about your accomplishments,” said Ritsuka with a chuckle. “I’m asking about your life. I’ve always been curious about great people during the times they weren’t known for being great. The homes they grew up in, the things they ate, the friends they had. It’s because historians only focus on the events that so much about people’s lives get lost. So, I was just wondering how you lived, is all.”
“I see,” replied Jeanne, blinking at the unexpected line of questioning. “Well, what would you like to know first?”
“Well, how about some of your favorite foods?”
“Hmm. Favorite? Well, my mother had this one recipe for onion soup…”
Jeanne started talking about her home, her family, her life, the sunny fields and the piles of hay she would nap in whenever the mood struck her. She talked about the years when the harvests were poor and everyone had to cut back on meals or starve. She talked about the years when they had a bumper crop and harvest celebrations were held. Jeanne talked about the boys going off to war, and many of them never returning. One of her dearest childhood friends was one of those boys, who she never saw again. Before Ritsuka knew it, he was swapping stories about his own youth with Jeanne.
“-And then, with tears in his eyes, Tatsu shouted, ‘I don’t stink! I’ll prove it to you!’ And then he chased the girls around the playground while they shrieked in fear, shouting ‘SMELL ME! SMELLLLL MEEEE!’”
Jeanne doubled over in laughter, and Ritsuka wasn’t much better off. The two of them were causing enough of a ruckus that the people around the campfire were looking over in interest. Noticing that, Jeanne and Ritsuka started stifling their laughter as though they were caught misbehaving but were in no fear of punishment.
“I feel bad for Tastu, but really, how many embarrassing stories can one child produce,” asked Jeanne as she giggled again.
“It wasn’t always his fault,” explained Ritsuka, covering for his primary school buddy. “There are just as many times when he came through, either on a test or by standing up for someone else… but somehow, with the world destroyed and my being thrown into a war for the sake of… all existence… it’s silly things like that I’m remembering. But if anything, that probably is what makes the people in my memories all the more precious, and worth fighting for.”
Jeanne’s eyes went wide as though she’d had a small epiphany, and muttered, “The precious people of my memories…”
“Jeanne, is something wrong,” asked Ritsuka, worried.
“No, Ritsuka, nothing’s wrong,” said Jeanne with a glimmer of relief and understanding in her eyes. “If anything, you’ve helped me to realize something important. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” responded Ritsuka, confused but happy that Jeanne finally seems like she was emotionally stable for what was going to be coming their way the next day. “Well, it’s getting late, and I think we should both turn in… but if you want to talk about Marie some more… then I think he might be willing to oblige you,” said Ritsuka pointing towards Amadeus who was in a conversation about what classified as beauty with Georgios.
Jeanne was momentarily stunned by the presented opportunity, and then turned warm eyes to Ritsuka, thanked him for the idea, and jogged off to Amadeus like the teenage girl she really was for once. If Ritsuka had seen anything in her from the stories she told about her youth, Ritsuka understood that Jeanne was just a normal, stubborn, kind hearted girl at her core. What she’d accomplished and what she could do had nothing to do with her core personality.
“And just like a class president, she tends to overwork herself,” muttered Ritsuka to himself as he stood up, resolving to himself that he’d support her from behind again if she needed it. And headed for his tent and sleeping bag. On the way through the camp, Ritsuka whispered to Altoria, “If you want to talk about Marie as well, I’m happy to listen.”
Altoria froze up from the surprise of having her emotions seen through. She’d done her best to remain inconspicuous the entire night, but she’d been too quiet, too introspective. Marie’s death had affected her, too.
“That is unnecessary, Ritsuka,” said Altoria bluntly. “Just concentrate on rest. I will do the same.”
Ritsuka nodded, and left the parting line of,“The offer stands if you need it.”
Altoria watched Ritsuka enter his tent, and then puttered around the camp for a while, and almost entered Ritsuka’s tent once. But in the end, Altoria decided to go to her own tent. Jeanne and Amadeus spent a good hour talking about Marie before the girl retired to get some rest, with Amadeus having volunteered to be the night watch. The next day came without incident, though there was a surprised cry from Ritsuka’s tent when he woke up with a sleeping Kiyohime nuzzling up against him.
And as the sun revealed the land, at the roadside where the open topped carriage had been parked was nothing more than a misshapen puddle of melted glass.