Oh, the soldiers had already surrounded D’Eon. They moved fast, didn’t they? It’s really too bad they had to die. D’Eon did not enjoy killing the protectors of France, mostly because D’Eon had once been a protector of France.
“That’s a nice sword,” said the one with a drawn blade. “Something a noble would carry. Meaning you have money. Hand it over!”
“Oh,” asked D’Eon, hopefully. “Am I to understand that soldiers are extorting the people now, or…”
“We haven’t been soldiers since Orleans fell. I couldn’t care less about France now, we’re just doing what we have to in order to survive,” said one of the spearmen behind D’Eon.
“Hey, this one is pretty cute,” said another spearman from beside their sword wielding leader. “Maybe we should have some fun with her.”
“Not a bad idea,” said the swordsman. “If you can entertain us, we’ll not only spare your life, but let you go with the clothes on your back. Sounds like a good offer, no?”
The swordsman stepped in to place the edge of his weapon on D’Eon’s throat to intimidate them. With a flash of movement, the sword and the arm that were holding it fell to the ground. The arterial spray of blood from the stump splashed some red on D’Eon’s placidly smiling face. The rest of the bandits were quickly cut down in much the same way. D’Eon had red smears and spots all over their body as they stepped away from the scene of carnage.
With a thought, D’Eon’s body dematerialized to allow the blood to fall onto the ground, and rematerialized some meters away, with D’Eon humming happily. For they had struck upon the ultimate solution.
D’Eon had been dutifully carrying out the will of their Master, slaughtering the people of France. But D’Eon had occasionally felt conflicted about it, and some few people had actually been able to slip away from D’Eon. But now, with France falling to ruins, people were turning to banditry. As a knight of France, it was D’Eon’s duty to rid the lands of bandits. So, if France was ruined further, all the people still alive would have to resort to banditry, and D’Eon could kill them all with an easy heart!
Yes, that was the perfect solution to D’Eon’s nagging moral quandary!
With a spring in their step, D’Eon continued down the road leading to Orleans, heeding the call of their Master as all the wyverns and undead of France flew and shuffled in that direction, to prepare for the inevitable showdown that was to come.
* * * * *
Ritsuka had naturally awoken from the sounds of the camp being cleared and very naturally had some breakfast passed to him, which he ate while Mash stored camping gear into her shield like it was a 4th Dimensional bag owned by a talking cat. Mash had daintily hefted the great shield and declared that it didn’t seem any heavier for having taken in so much equipment, and was pleased that her “logistical value” had increased.
“I’m lucky to have such a reliable Kouhai,” said Ritsuka with a smile. He still didn’t quite get the way Mash thought, but it was nice that she was so pleased.
“Ah, no, I’m the one who’s lucky to have such a reliable Master,” denied Mash in embarrassment.
“If the two of you are quite done, we have a war council to get on with,” stated Altoria with a frigid tone from the side. Ritsuka and Mash awkwardly apologized before the pre-battle meeting began with Siegfried humbly clearing his throat before quietly speaking.
“While there are several Servants here who have experience leading an army, we have decided that I will be placed in charge of planning today’s battle.”
Ritsuka looked over at the unassuming Jeanne and the competitive Altoria asking, “You’re all in agreement?”
“Yes, Ritsuka. After all, I was mostly a moral support for the French Army, so I personally am reassured by Siegfried taking on this role.”
After Jeanne’s sunny declaration, Altoria flatly stated, “My current role is to be your sword, Ritsuka. That is more important than being in command.”
“I also agree with that sentiment,” said Siegfried, who continued, “While my own nation’s military accomplishments were not so impressive, my proposal has been agreed on by the others here.”
Altoria and Jeanne both nodded. Siegfried continued.
“The Dragon Witch has a far greater numerical advantage than ourselves. However, the greatest number of her troops are significantly weaker than our own forces. Only the generals and the Dragon are able to stand against us. Therefore, we have two realistic options for attack. A frontal assault to capitalize on our greater individual strength, or an ambush from the rear of their formations to crush them during their confusion. However, the Dragon Witch has a full grasp of our position at all times.”
“Because of her trait as a Ruler,” surmised Ritsuka aloud.
“Just so,” agreed Siegfried. “So stealth and surprise are out of the question. Leaving us with only one option.”
“A frontal assault,” said both Kiyohime and Elizabeth at the same time. The two were on better terms than they themselves were aware.
“Exactly,” said Siegfried. “Our Master and I will see to Fafnir. I ask that the others protect us from Servants and wyverns. The entire outcome of this war hinges on whether or not we slay Fafnir.”
There was a murmur of acceptance to that statement that Elisabeth interrupted to state, “Puppy. There’s someone I must fight over there. Would it be all right if I just focused on her?”
“That’s fine with me,” said Ritsuka, since she wasn’t contracted with him or anything. Any help is appreciated after all. “But who is it that you want to fight?”
“Oh, a Servant I share a certain fate with,” replied Elizabeth dismissively before leaning back on the log she was sharing with Kiyohime. “If I can take care of that I’ll be quite satisfied. I’ll lend you a hand as well if I can spare the time, though.”
“For my part, I will, without a doubt, be facing the Dragon Witch in battle,” said Jeanne as a part of everyone hammering out their roles in the coming conflict.
“Can you beat her,” asked Georgios from barely outside the circle of participants where he stood next to his horse. It may have been Ritsuka’s imagination, but it seemed the horse was also following the flow of the conversation.
“Yes, I shall be victorious. Even if she turns out to be the real Jeanne d’Arc, I will still prevail in battle,” said Jeanne in a way that made it seem like she no longer believed that she herself was a false Jeanne.
“I don’t really have any issues with anybody over there, so I guess I will just try to get the wyverns’ attention,” said Amadeus frivolously.
“Can you do that,” asked Ritsuka with a bit of worry.
“I found the notes that repel the beasts, so it should be easy to find the ones that attract them. Just leave that part to me,” claimed the composer with a wink.
“In that case, I shall be by our Master’s side, and breathe fire as needed,” said Kiyohime as she stood up and stepped particularly close to Ritsuka’s right side. Mash moved oddly close to Ritsuka’s left while saying, “I’ll also be close to Master’s side.” Did the two of them have some kind of rivalry going…?
[Leave scouting the area to me,] said Dr. Roman, his image appearing in blue tinted three dimensional holographic technology. [This is do-or-die time. I’ve got lots of energy drinks and buckets ready!]
An odd thing to say, thought Ritsuka. But the Doctor did look pretty tired, like he’d been skipping out on his sleep.
“Doctor, those have the opposite effect,” said Mash in worry from very close by Ritsuka’s side. “They cause stomach aches, so maybe you shouldn’t drink them…”
Dr. Roman continued on as though he hadn’t heard Mash’s concern, though, saying, [I’m sure they’ll freshen me up if I just dunk my face in the buckets. Anyway, leave everything to me!]
“Wait, why does Dr. Roman need to be pushing himself so hard,” asked Ritsuka in worry. It seemed like there was something important he was missing.
[Oh, it’s just that most of us have been staying up nights to keep proving your existence.]
“Proving… my existence…?”
[Yours and Mash’s. So several of us need to remain on duty at all times.]
“What happens if you don’t keep doing that,” asked Ritsuka warily. Dr. Roman looked like he’d just been caught on a question he’d intended to dodge, smiling awkwardly while looking off to the side.
“Master, if our existence does not get continually proven by Chaldea while we are Rayshifted, then we will cease to exist.”
“That’s scary,” exclaimed Ritsuka without thinking. “Isn’t that something you should have told me from the beginning!?”
[Th-that’s- Um… please look forward to our assistance in the future, since we’re currently working our hardest.]
Dr. Roman’s image disappeared as the feed was cut.
“He seems to have run away,” muttered Mash in disappointment. Ritsuka was also palpably disappointed in Dr. Roman as well.
“If there are no other nuisances, shall we wrap this up,” asked Altoria with annoyance. She seemed to be giving Kiyohime a bit of a stink eye, there…
“Agreed,” said Siegfried. “Master, please issue your orders.”
Suddenly feeling awkward having so many great and important people looking towards him, Ritsuka was forced to take a breath before speaking.
“I agree with everything that was said here. I’ll be doing my best to follow up wherever you need me to be to fight to your fullest, everyone. So let’s go out there, and win!”
“Yes,” cried Jeanne. “Now, on to Orleans!”
* * * * *
The landscape whisked past Ritsuka from the back of Bayard as Ritsuka held onto Georgios for dear life. Ritsuka had no idea what to do from horseback and could only depend on the Rider’s ability to keep him safe. Despite that, Ritsuka almost lost his balance a few times just from trying to look around. Ritsuka really couldn’t relax even for a moment to enjoy Mash holding onto him from behind. Or maybe she was holding him up? Ritsuka’s riding posture really was that bad after all…
The jolt of the stop was enough to make Ritsuka grunt as he was pushed up against Georgios’ armor. After Ritsuka shook his head and looked around, seeing that all of the Servants had kept up with Bayard and that they were perched on a hilltop overlooking the future scene of battle, Ritsuka heard Georgios say, ”My apologies young Master. I am not used to having humans ride with me, and neither is Bayard. Are you injured at all?”
Ritsuka smiled and said he was fine, to which Georgios said, “That is good. But, I believe it is going to be for the best that you dismount. As I said, Bayard is not used to human riders, so it is highly likely for you to be injured should we fight while you are on top of my companion. Lady Mash, will you take up your charge of protection once again?”
“Yes, Georgios, I would be honored to do so,” replied Mash in matching seriousness.
“Most reassuring,” said the man as the two Chaldeans dismounted, Ritsuka getting some help from Mash. After the two teenagers were on the ground, Ritsuka noticed Georgios looking a bit distracted while looking at Orleans in the distance. After being asked if something was wrong, Georgios said, “Nothing is wrong. I was just… losing myself in the moment. This scenery that is minutes away from being a battleground is transcendentally entrancing. If there was a way for me to immortalize it for eternity, I would happily do so. Unfortunately, the best I can do is emblazon it in my memory.”
“Don’t be distracted for too long,” said Altoria tersely. “The grounds around the city are already filled with the Dragon Witch’s army. It seems they intend to meet us in the field.”
“The large open spaces will give their wyverns and Fafnir greater ease of movement. It makes sense,” replied Siegfried the Dragon Slayer. “I can only assume there is someone amongst the enemy who understands warfare.”
“Vlad Tepes the Third,” said Ritsuka quietly.
“…Yes, if it is that man, I can see him being able to form a solid defense despite such unusual soldiers,” said Altoria as she stepped in close to Ritsuka as a guard.
The thoughts of the group were interrupted by the chime of contact from Chaldea. Ritsuka lifted his wrist to give the incoming hologram room for projection, and asked, “What have you fou-”
Ritsuka instinctively pulled back from the shouting face of Artoria who had tears of frustration in her eyes.
[Please, Miss Artoria, we need the channel clear for-]
[Master! We need your intervention! We need you to punish this big fat cheater!]
[I am many things, Saber! But fat has never been one of them!]
[Shut up! I’m talking to Master! Not some cheatty fatso!]
Ritsuka couldn’t keep up with the intermingling of Artoria’s, Dr. Roman’s, and Gilgamesh’s voices until Emiya took over the broadcast.
[I’m very sorry for the bother just before battle, Master, but we need you to act as an arbiter or things will devolve further on our end. And by that, I mean things may turn violent.]
“Do we have the time,” asked Ritsuka. Georgios responded with, “It seems the enemy is waiting for us to come to them, so we should be fine for now. But I will let you know should there be any movement.”
“Just take care of it quickly, puppy,” said Elizabeth petulant while studying her nails. “I have things to do, after all.”
While this was going on, the feed from Chaldea was switched to a wide shot, showing more people, but all of them were smaller than the usual projection to fit them all into the space available. After some adjustments of the camera, the three Servants were visible. Emiya was the first to speak.
[Now then, Master. I will explain what I can understand so far. Apparently, Artoria has been going around Chaldea working hard at becoming better at Jan Ken.]
Ritsuka heard the audibly disappointed sigh from Altoria beside him.
[Eventually coming up against Gilgamesh. In the process, the two of them wagered something-]
[A favor from the loser,] interrupted Gilgamesh.
[Just so. And apparently Gilgamesh proved to be the victor-]
[He cheated! He admitted it!]
Emiya sighed, and then finished with, [And now Artoria wants the competition declared void so that she doesn’t have to owe Gilgamesh any favors. I can understand why, though… but Gilgamesh says he’s in the right as well.]
“And I have to mediate,” asked Ritsuka, all tension for the upcoming battle having been drained.
[…Yes, Master. They both said that they will abide by your judgement, but… who knows.]
“…It seems Artoria is the one who’s the most wound up. Can I hear her side first?”
[Yes! Thank you, Master! Ahem. So Archer gave a pretty good summary of my position. Except that the wager was not for a favor, it was for anything the victor requests. And… I already know the sort of things Gilgamesh would request from me.]
[Oh, you would be surprised, King of Knights.]
Artoria tamped down a spike of disgusted rage caused by the smugly smiling Gilgamesh’s interjection.
[If that was all, I could withstand this dishonor. However, when I demanded to know how Gilgamesh won one thousand, two hundred, and eighty-six games in a row- he actually told me! He was using his Clairvoyance the entire time!]
[I was pleasantly surprised it took you that long to ask, actually.]
Muttering that, Ritsuka opened the status interface on his watch and concentrated his attention on the connection with Gilgamesh. With the screen being pulled up he skimmed until he saw-
“Sha… Naqba… Imuru…?”
[Just so, Mongrel. I’m surprised you were able to read that deep into me, but I suppose you had your technology to help you out. Yes, it’s a type of Clairvoyance that can discern all things. It makes things so uninteresting that I try to keep it under control as much as possible, otherwise life gets so interminably boring. However, when I issued my challenge, I said it was a battle of skill and foresight.]
“And the type of foresight your highness meant was Clairvoyance?”
The King of Heroes shrugged with false humility.
“Okay, so from King Gilgamesh’s point of view he gave Artoria fair warning that she’d have to overcome your Sha Noc- Sha- …Clairvoyance, but she just thought it was about predicting the next move you’d make.”
[That appears to be the case, Master,] said Emiya from the side.
“So, really, it’s just a big misunderstanding. Can’t both sides just agree to call the whole thing off?”
[Yes, Master, it’s a misunderstanding. But the result of the misunderstanding is what must be clarified. The two involved in this are too proud to forget it ever happened. Thus, they require the intervention of a Master. We Servants are that kind of entity. The ruling of a Master carries that much weight.]
“Oh,” uttered Ritsuka after hearing Emiya’s explanation. Ritsuka lapsed into silence for a while as he looked over Artoria and Gilgamesh’s images in the projection. Everyone else around Ritsuka was silently waiting for his decision… kind of like when they wanted his “orders” at the end of the strategy meeting earlier. Servants really are reliant on Masters for decisions, aren’t they. So, now, Ritsuka had to come up with something that would satisfy the pride of two… very overpowered warrior kings. What he came up with was-
“Okay, let’s consider what King Gilgamesh did as… something like a prank. The terms of the Jan Ken match were worded in a way to cause misunderstanding, after all. So, we’ll just consider that the match was inconclusive. So that means the original wager will have to change.”
[Inconclusive,] asked Gilgamesh in a probing tone.
“Well, yeah. It sounds like Artoria didn’t actually say she was beaten. Just that she was unable to win. So, that’s something of a grey area, right?”
[Hm. I suppose. Now, you said something about my initial wager being changed?]
“Well, yeah. If this becomes a prank instead of a battle-”
[Duel,] corrected Artoria.
“-Duel. Then the stakes also have to drop. And since the one who had the advantage was Lord Gilgamesh, I think having Artoria do one thing, that is very reasonable, in exchange as a penalty game for falling for the prank is perfectly practical.”
[Please, define reasonable,] asked Artoria.
“Something… you can easily do without causing harm to yourself or others…?”
[I accept these conditions,] shouted Gilgamesh. Everyone was somewhat shocked, almost like the very turn of fate the man wanted all along had come around for him to snatch up. [Ahem. And how about you, King of Knights?]
[…I will abide by my Master’s judgement. Well, Gilgamesh? What is the reasonable act you wish for me to do?]
[I want you to thank me for a pleasant evening with a smile.]
[HOW IS THAT REASONABLE!?]
Ritsuka was surprised by Artoria’s vehemence. In a whisper, Mash said, “King Gilgamesh sure seems to be disliked.”
“For good reason,” muttered Altoria.
[Come now, Saber, how will thanking me cause harm to anyone? Don’t you agree, Mongrel?]
[Leave me out of this,] quipped Emiya.
With fierce hatred burning in her eyes, Artoria’s mouth curled into the most forced smile that Ritsuka had ever seen.
[Th- aaaaaank… you… for the game.]
It was a bit difficult to make out through the blue tint… but Ritsuka was pretty positive that Gilgamesh’s face took on a look of surprised happiness along with his face turning bright red. After the initial surprise wore off, he turned around so no one could see his face while he squirmed lightly in joy and said, his voice betraying bottomless happiness, [You’re quite welcome, King of Knights.]
“It actually doesn’t take much for him to be satisfied, does it, Master,” asked Mash from the side.
“Has to be from the right person, though. Which is why those meagre scraps were enough,” observed Altoria.
On the other side of the projection, while Artoria was recovering from the stress of her words that left her as limp as a rag doll, Dr. Roman stepped into frame and said, [I have to say, that was a welcome display of wisdom. But putting all that aside, we’ve analyzed your condition, Gudao, and some reinforcements are on their way now that we have some more Coffins repaired and ready for use. You should be able to support them alongside your other contracts.]
“Oh? Who is it that’s coming?”
[That would be-]
The sound of a door opening ever so slightly preceded the words that sounded like Cu Lancer, saying, [Oh? Has the battle- Dowaa!? What’s with that face!?]
[Shut up, Mongrel!!]
There was an audible explosion, the picture cut, and Dr. Roman said, [Uh, please give us a moment to sort this out!]
In the awkward silence that followed, Kiyohime said, “You were wonderful there, Master. I can’t wait for you to introduce me to your home. It seems so lively.”
With a quiet voice, Siegfried said, “I’m sorry for your troubles, Master. Please continue to do your best.”
And Amadeus was snickering his ass off in the back.
After a minute, two pillars of golden light appeared like fireflies from thin air and began to coalesce into human form. It seemed like Ritsuka was seeing what it looked like when he himself would Rayshift. It was flashy and fascinating at the same time. After about ten seconds, the forms resolved themselves as-
“Sasaki-san, Medea, it’s good to see you, thank you for coming.”