“How wasteful,” remarked Vlad to himself, but loud enough for the other two Servants with him to overhear. “I was planning to dispatch those wyverns to harry the French army until we could annihilate these Servants. And that’s not even including the loss of Berserk Archer.”
“Well, I suppose this is what happens when you send only one Servant out at a time. Truly, I cannot fathom what that girl is thinking,” remarked Carmilla.
“That we are all disposable,” said D’Eon with their insanely placid smile and gentle tone. “But I for one am welcoming today’s follies. Let my Summoning be punctuated with death, either my own, or that of the nation of France.”
“Is what that one says. Berserker or no, vampire or not, it seems that you and I are the only sane ones on our side of the battlefield. Or even perhaps all of it,” quipped Carmilla while remembering her earlier meeting with the non-fallen Ruler. Then her eyes narrowed under her mask seeing a distinct red figure amongst the enemy ranks.
“To be called sane by one such as yourself is both a compliment and an insult, my dear,” said Vlad. Over the past few days, he’d grown a bit used to the woman’s automatically vitriolic tongue. “For the coming battle, the three of us will need to attack together if we wish to see things to their conclusion. These disposable undead will be used to distract most of the Servants while we concentrate on a key few. Our part in this war will come down to winning our individual duels. Hopefully before our Master decides to annihilate the entire stage as an act of petulance.”
“Fine with me,” said Carmilla. “I’ll happily turn that pink haired Lancer into a red smear on my Noble Phantasm. No one is to even try to get in my way, understood?”
“That is fine,” said Vlad sonorously. A Carmilla who was actually motivated, that was a first sight for Vlad. He did not want to risk her ire without need. “As for myself, I shall take that Alter with the Dark Holy Sword.”
Vlad gently touched the part of his arm that had been cut. It had taken longer to heal than other wounds, most likely because that dark blade was indeed something that contained holy power. It piqued Vlad’s curiosity, and the girl wielding it roused his warrior spirit. The entirety of his Summons this time had been unpleasant, even down to the fact that he had to be the monster that fiction had portrayed him as. But if he was to be the villain, he would be the best that he could be. His pride would allow no less. And a fitting prize to motivate him-
“I shall look forward to tasting that Saber’s blood, and that of her Master.”
The unshakable confidence in that lad’s eyes when Vlad held him, his neck like a twig in the vampire’s grip. The faith in his Servant and willingness to stare death in the literal eyes. The blood of those two would be the most delectable of banquets.
“Should you accomplish that task, I will salute you,” said D’Eon, positioning their rapier in a salute already. “For my part, I care not who I face. I… am already beyond such cares.”
“Do not worry, D’Eon,” said Vlad placatingly. “I know your sword was meant for defense. As long as you can keep even one Servant fully occupied, it will be to our advantage. Even I… cannot show my true strength in a land I have no wish to defend…”
The leathery flap of wings so massive that they could blot out the sun grabbed Vlad attention, for they signalled the arrival of the Dragon Witch and her mount. The Vampire savior of Christendom ordered for the undead army to make an appropriate clearing for the great dragon’s arrival. Most of them were able to clear the path before being crushed by the uncaring monster.
* * * * *
“There is Fafnir,” said Siegfried as the party walked at a pace that Ritsuka could comfortably maintain. “I apologize to everyone. But in order to have the best chances of bringing that monster down, I will be leaving most of the fighting to all of you.”
“It’s alright, since that was our plan from the beginning,” said Mash reassuringly. “In the meantime, we’ll be counting on you to keep our rear guard tight.”
“Well, I’ll be wishing all of you luck from here on out. I can already see my own target from here, so I’ll be setting out,” said Elizabeth feigning a bright attitude. However you could feel a hint of loneliness in her voice.
“Elizabeth,” called Ritsuka before she could move more than a few steps away.
“Oh, what is it, puppy? Are you going to beg me to stay? Sorry, not that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I really have no time to spare right now.”
“No, just, good luck,” said Ritsuka sincerely. “We’ll be waiting for you to return.”
Elizabeth blushed faintly, and a tiny smile crept on her face. Then Kiyohime said, “Though I would prefer if you just disappeared forever.”
“Then I’m definitely coming back just to spite you, you crazy garden snake!”
Kiyohime gently waved Elizabeth farewell, with Ritsuka wondering if they actually got along or not.
“We are almost upon the enemy,” remarked Altoria curtly. “We’re going to need to change our formation now that we’ve lost that loud one.”
“I can still hear you, you know!”
“Please allow me, Master,” said Medea just behind Ritsuka’s back. Medea stepped forwards and pulled some objects out of a pair of pouches at her waist. In the right hand were the teeth of a wyvern, most likely from the head that had been sent back to Chaldea earlier. In the left were some uncut gems that were shining with an inner light.
“What… are those,” asked Mash, entranced.
“I’ve been experimenting with capturing high densities of mana in the environment, recently. While I’ve met success, I have yet to find a way to stabilize the crystalline product outside of a dedicated container, such as the pouch at my waist. I am tentatively calling them Mana Prisms at this time. While they are meant to operate as a type of ‘battery’ for Servants while they are away from Master, they are still too unstable for anything other than acting as a supplement for magecraft. Like so.”
Medea tossed the hand full of wyvern teeth in her right hand up and ahead of the traveling group, and then blew on the Mana Prisms in her left hand. The crystallized mana broke apart and were carried on the gentle wind of Medea’s breath as though it was a brisk torrent. Then it curled around the falling teeth, which then explosively grew in size while dully shining. By the time the teeth hit the ground, they had expanded into skeletal human life forms but with a large mis-shapen monster jaw for heads that started pacing alongside the Servants of the party, forming into a wedge formation.
Several of the Servants in the group exclaimed in wonder, mainly the ones with knowledge of Magecraft.
“This is the true reason I dispatched, Master,” said Medea proudly. “While Assassin is merely an inexpensive extra sword for your current Magical Power capacity, I am here to supplement your numbers. This is a war, after all, and numbers matter. They are not as strong as Servants, but these Dragon Fang Warriors will be more than enough for such crudely made undead.”
So it’s not that they’re undead, but that they’re shoddy workmanship, pondered Ritsuka.
An audible thud from the other side of the expansive battlefield could be heard along with the tremor of the earth as the great dragon Fafnir landed, crushing its own soldiers under it’s great mass. The figure of the Dragon Witch could be barely seen standing atop it. The imposing sight sent a shiver of primordial fear down Ritsuka’s back, that he was barely able to fight off thanks to knowing he had so many capable friends around him. Mash gulping in fear beside him also forced Ritsuka to pretend at bravery for her sake; a small smile spared towards her being faintly returned before the girl refocused herself for the battle to come.
[Hello, trash I left behind,] came the call from the distance, the Dragon Witch obviously using some magecraft to act like a megaphone.
“If what you say is true, then I would be a vestige,” retorted Jeanne from her position at the head of the attacking party. “More importantly; I’m not you, Dragon Witch.”
[But you are me,] was the smug reply. It would seem the witch could hear from this long distance as well. [What are you talking about?]
“No matter what I say, I can no longer reach you. But after this battle is over, I’m going to give you an earful,” challenged Jeanne, manifesting her polearm and pointing it towards the enemy formation.
[SILENCE! Behold these dragons! Behold this horde of dragons!]
The blue of the sky found itself blotted by the forms of at least a hundred wyverns, circling, screaming, and eying their prey.
[We have turned this nation into a nest of dragons! They will devour everything. And nothing will ever live in France again!]
Several dozen wyverns broke away from the wheeling hunting pattern to start coming together into a hovering strike formation, to meet the Servants head on before they could reach the main ranks of the undead.
[Then this world will be complete. Then this world will be destroyed. The dragons will fight one another for eternity. Endless war. Endless devouring. That will be the true Hundred Years War- A Hundred Years War of Evil Dragons!]
The dozens of wyverns moved to some unseen signal, barrelling forwards with fire and smoke trailing from their mouths as they prepared to drop a carpet bombing blast of fire on the charging party. Jeanne’s flag unfurled itself and began glowing with an inner light as she prepared to activate her Noble Phantasm to shield everyone from the coming blast.
The turf between the party and the undead army became a field of geysers as cannonballs pounded to ground and tore apart several wyverns, causing their survival instincts to override their master’s command and break off from their charge.
* * * * *
“Fire at will,” called out the scrawny man atop his horse, decorated with his position as the leader of France’s reclamation army. It had been divine luck that the Saint’s party had been so slow in their charge of the capital to allow Gilles to get the artillery in place. The cavalry were escorting the infantry into position while the supply carts were being hurried up the hill to provide the cannons with more than the sparse rounds that individual soldiers had bodily carried with them. It was a logistical nightmare.
But by God’s providence, he’d made it in time.
As the soldiers crested the hills at Orlean’s south-east, General Gilles de Rais started calling out to them at the top of his lungs.
“Today! We fight for the survival of France! Do not be afraid! Do not sorrow! Do not falter! If you have human blood, now is the time to die! I will say it again! There is nothing to fear! For we have the saint on our side!”
An ear splitting cheer erupted as the fighting men of France moved forwards to their designated positions and began their coordinated march, the light of the Banner of the Saint that was about to plunge into the midst of the Dragon Witch’s forces reflecting in their eyes.
For if the Saint they’d once failed was still willing to fight, returned to their midst by a miracle of God… Who amongst them could turn away in fear?
* * * * *
“Gilles,” called out Jeanne in relief and happiness.
[Hmph! Such stubborn belief. It makes me want to vomit! Gilles, wipe away that disgusting worm, along with that army, those Servants, and the whole of this nation! I want everything burned to the ground!]
Several companies of undead broke formation on the right hand side of the battlefield to march on the French army. Jeanne instinctively paused, her face showing concern and she took a step towards the French army.
“No, Jeanne,” called out Ritsuka immediately. The blonde haired French girl turned to look at Ritsuka, surprised and desperate. “They’re here to support our attack! Breaking off to help them would be putting the cart before the horse! If we truly want to help them, then we have to defeat Fafnir and the Dragon Witch as fast as we can! Until then, believe in them, Jeanne! Believe that your comrades can hold out until we can defeat the enemy of France! Believe, Jeanne! In them! And us!”
A medley of emotions played out on Jeanne’s face. Pain, despair, helplessness, then solidarity as her belief, her faith, rose up, to be replaced with confidence, conviction, and gratitude. Then, Jeanne had the eyes of a warrior as she turned back towards the undead horde and shouted, “Plunge into the enemy! We must get Siegfried to the Dragon!”
The greatsword in Siegfried’s hand glowed blue, and even from across the great divide of the battlefield, Ritsuka could swear he saw the Great Dragon shiver. As Jeanne’s first scything blow smashed away a dozen zombies and skeletons, the Servants were in amongst the enemy formation, with Siegfried calling out, “Fafnir! I am here, wicked dragon! I, Siegfried, am right here! Once again, you shall taste the twilight. I swear by my righteousness, and by my beliefs!”
[Servants! Destroy them!]
A wyvern wheeling down to strike was struck by a bolt of lightning. Cannonballs exploded all around, a pot shot competition where it was impossible not to hit a target. The shattering of metal, bone, and putrid flesh was a cacophony around Ritsuka. A hair of arrows from boney archers was knocked away by Mash’s shield. The Dragon Fang skeletons hopped like animals as they pounced and destroyed enemy after enemy. Entire platoons were hewn in half by Altoria’s sword that would expand its size at a breath. Three lightning fast streaks severed the body of a wyvern that was diving at Sasaki. Bodies were annihilated under the hooves of Bayard. There was too much happening around Ritsuka for him to keep up.
But amongst all the chaos, there was something that Ritsuka could in fact follow.
Walking boldly through the ranks, Vlad Tepes the 3rd reduced parts of his body to smoke again and again to keep an uninterrupted flow to his movement despite the ranks of undead around him. Passing around bodies like mist, the man closed in on the party, and with a final flash of movement, blocked one of Altoria’s wide hewing slashes cold. With just that, the party’s momentum was stopped.
“Greetings warriors of Humanity,” said the vampire cordially in his sonorous voice. “I’m afraid I can not let you through.”
“You are a truly insipid fool if you think you alone can stop us, Fallen Protector,” jeered Altoria.
“There is no shame in becoming Fallen,” retorted the pale man with a gleam in his eye. “And I need only delay you all here to obtain victory, even if I do not live to see it. You have experienced the Great Dragon’s breath once already, have you not? Should that girl decide to use it in this field, we shall all of us be destroyed. And that shall be our mutual defeat.”
“Crap,” muttered Ritsuka immediately. He couldn’t let Seigfried fight his way to Fafnir if the Dragon Slayer was to fulfill his namesake. But most of the forces present were acting as bodyguards, for him and Ritsuka alike. It made their progress slow.
“Oh, you’ve already realized, haven’t you,” said the vampire towards Ritsuka. “Yes, your only chance is to split your forces. And to that end, I have a proposition. You, Dark Saber. Have a duel with me. You and your Master both. The rest are free to go as you please.”
“And what benefit do you get out of such an arrangement,” demanded Jeanne. There was a moment of peace around them all as the undead were seemingly called to heel to allow this challenge to be issued.
“Oh, Maiden of Orleans,” said Vlad politely. “I obviously am hoping to split your forces, to allow you to be crushed by numbers and power alike. I am wagering on my victory here in order to be able to defeat you in detail. The real question is, are you willing to wager your imminent defeat for the safety of keeping your forces whole?”
It was a devil’s proposition, and Ritsuka could feel the weight of its meaning. Life, death, victory, and defeat all on the balance of a knife. And because of the nature of Servants… they were all hesitating to give an answer. Ritsuka had to decide. He had just one question.
“Alter. Can you beat him?”
“Hmph. What a foolish question Ritsuka. I will completely crush him.”
With Altoria’s confident smirk towards him, Ritsuka had decided.
“Mash, stay with me. Everyone else, get Seigfried to Fafnir.”
“An- Master, I don’t want to leave your side,” said Kiyohime.
“Then come back for me after you get Siegfried to the dragon,” said Ritsuka with a smile.
“Ritsuka, you don’t need to-”
Ritsuka cut off Jeanne’s protest by saying, “Believe in us Jeanne. Like I believe in all of you.”
Jeanne was stuck where she stood, her hands gripping her staff in indecision. Then Amadeus flippantly said, “Come now everyone, nothing will start if we are afraid to lift the curtains. Ritsuka has made a decision, both as a Master and as a Man. It’s time for us to follow his will. Come now, children.”
“As much as I hate to agree with such a shifty eyed miscreant, I will do as you request Master,” said Medea, as she moved to walk past the area where the upcoming duel will be held. “Dragon Tooth Warriors.”
The creatures turned Medea’s way as though they could hear her words.
“Guard that boy over there, and follow his orders. They are equal in importance to my own. Understood?”
The creatures bobbed like dogs instead of nodding like humans. But it seemed like they understood. Then they moved into a circular outward facing formation, preventing any of the undead from getting close enough to strike at Ritsuka.
With the group of Servants moving to depart, another figure showed up in their path.
“I too would like a duel,” declared the mad eyed and placidly smiling D’Eon. “I care not who. As long as they don’t mind dying at my blade’s edge.”
“Then I shall gladly take you up on your offer,” declared Sasaki as he strode forwards. “The rest of you can go on ahead.”
The party quickly agreed and left Sasaki behind. After their dust began to settle, Sasaki painfully admitted, “It would have been nice if at least one person had hesitated to leave me behind. But it matters not. Knight of France, I assume, I await your blade.”
“And I yours,” said D’Eon, who stepped into Sasaki’s field of reach. Their swords began to flash as Vlad declared, “I also grow tired of waiting, Saber. Show me your qualities as a warrior!”
“And I demand the same!”
A lance that was little more than a bladed stake struck out, to be met by a holy sword that was as black as midnight.
Chapter 2-22 | Chapter 2-24