It was a brisk walk through the forest after breaking camp, following the winding path of the brook to the southwest in their approach towards the areas closer to Orleans, but the Chaldea exploration team had successfully passed through the forest and found a road leading to a town. With flat ground under his feet again, Ritsuka went back to studying the discovery he’d made after breakfast.
“I still can’t believe you guys didn’t tell me about this thing,” said Ritsuka with a childish smile on his face as he played more with the screen that his Comm-Watch was projecting before him.
[Unfortunately none of us in the Command Room knew about that particular function, or we would have. We were all completely separate from the development of the communicator’s functions, or the training for the First Order. We only found out about the Spirit Records function when you did.]
“So, what, there’s no instruction manual for this thing,” asked Ritsuka as he swiped over Altoria’s image on the screen to bring up her information and abilities. Ritsuka tilted the screen to face Mash and Jeanne, asking, “You’re sure you guys can’t see this?”
“I’m sorry, Senpai, but I just see a fuzzy screen.”
“It’s the same for me as well, I’m afraid.”
[Dmitry was able to find some information on that function. Apparently the screen draws the information about Servants out of the Master’s subconscious mind to be displayed in a way that’s easy for that particular user to understand.]
“So this game-like status screen I’m seeing is a projection from my own mind? Like an optical illusion?”
[Closer to a self induced hypnotic suggestion. But it appears to be perfectly safe, it’s only drawing out the information you already know instead of trying to influence the user. Further, it appears to only function for Masters. Apparently there was a book that Marisbury found that did the same, and he used that for the basis of this function.]
“So, what else can this watch do, then? Shoot lasers, or a magnetic climbing grapple?”
[…Dmitry says no.]
“Darn. Hey, Altoria, ask me what your Skills are!”
The other three teens chuckled at Altoria’s instant rebuttal while Ritsuka pulled up Altoria’s abilities list. It was clear, concise, and not unlike the cell phone game Ritsuka used to play back in Japan. There was even a video that played when Ritsuka pressed on Altoria’s Mana Burst skill, showing the battle back in the underground chamber in Fuyuki when Altoria was swinging her sword so fast that she could overpower three combatants at the same time.
“…What is,” asked Altoria, trying to keep her inquiry flat.
“Oh, just looking at your information. Your height, your weight… other things.”
“…Other things? What other things,” asked Altoria, a bit of girlish worry creeping into her voice.
“Oh, I thought you weren’t interested in what was in your status,” asked Ritsuka, his voice heavily laden with teasing intent.
“I’m not,” persisted Altoria.
“Then I’ll just keep it aaaaaall to myself, then,” said Ritska with a mischievous grin. Just as Altoria’s gait began to become awkward from the tension of not knowing what Ritsuka was studying about her, Jeanne said, “Now, now, please don’t tease Artoria Alter too much, um, Master.”
“Where did that Master stuff come from,” asked Ritsuka.
“Well, I thought about it last night, and since I’m now your Servant, even temporarily, I should probably address you properly. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize it. I’m not very used to having a Master. But don’t worry, I’ve properly reflected on my mistake.”
“Ah, no, it’s fine to keep calling me by my name, Jeanne.”
“But, that wouldn’t be proper.”
“You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing with Senpai, Jeanne,” said Mash happily. “Senpai is very loose about names and titles. Half the Servants at Chaldea are using Senpai’s name instead of his title.”
“I actually prefer it that way,” said Ritsuka. “Having you suddenly switch over to calling me Master feels like you’re putting distance between us. So, please feel free to keep calling me by my name.”
“The annoying man-child is telling you that himself, Ruler. You should just go along with it before you get saddled with a nickname,” said Altoria. Her words and tone of voice telling Ritsuka that she wasn’t going to forgive him for having fun at her expense quickly.
“I understand. I will return to how I called you before, Ritsuka,” said Jeanne with a relieved smile.
“I’m glad,” said Ritsuka, returning his own smile. “You also seem a little more upbeat than you were yesterday, Jeanne.”
“…No, to be honest, I am panicking. No matter how you look at it, the other “me” cannot be in her right mind. What that monster will do by controlling the people; it’s easy to imagine. Overwhelming power and hatred can easily destroy a person, no matter how noble they are.”
The sadness in Jeanne’s voice made Ritsuka think she was talking about someone she knew, but the atmosphere made it hard to inquire. Finally Ritsuka said, “If you ever want to talk-”
“Ritsuka,” called Altoria from Ritsuka’s side. Ritsuka followed the extended finger that the young tyrant girl was pointing to see black smoke in the distance. The shape and density of that smoke; Ritsuka had seen too many movies and historic dramas to not have a chilly inkling of the nature of it’s meaning.
“Oh, no,” uttered Ritsuka.
“That is the direction of La Charite! Let’s hurry!”
“You three go on ahead, I’ll catch up,” said Ritsuka. But Altoria immediately shot the idea down and said, “Mash, stay with Ritsuka, don’t leave him unguarded. Jeanne and I will go.”
* * * * *
The fighting was done by the time Ritsuka’s legs had carried him to La Charite. The draw of magical power through Ritsuka’s connection to the two girls who’d been the vanguard had given Ritsuka some hope that they’d been defending survivors, however, all Ritsuka saw were sliced apart zombies, scattered skeletons, and crushed wyverns. There were torn open bodies all over the place, military and civilian alike. The mingling of decaying flesh, torn bowels, burnt meat, and smoldering wreckage left a gut wrenching stink over the whole area. There was no movement aside from the investigation team, of which Jeanne could be heard calling out for survivors. Even the crows were avoiding this place.
“Dr. Roman, what readings do you have? Are there any survivors,” asked Ritsuka into his Comm Watch while holding his handkerchief over his face to help him breathe through the ashes. Jeanne must have heard what Ritsuka had asked, because she stopped calling out and turned to face the boy, hesitating and hoping for the reply.
[I’m sorry, but I’m getting a negative reading on life signs. There are no survivors in the area.]
“An entire city,” whispered Mash in astonishment. Jeanne nearly crumpled to the ground, leaning heavily on her flagpole. Ritsuka hurried over to her to try and support her. Taking one of her arms, Ritsuka heard the amazed gasp, “It was most likely ‘me’ who was behind this. I am sure of it.”
Ritsuka couldn’t find any words to say as Jeanne got her balance back and stood straight. Her full height was still so small, and her confused and lost eyes made her look unnaturally fragile.
“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” Jeanne said to Ritsuka from point blank distance with upturned eyes. “How much do you have to hate others to wreak such havoc? I can’t understand it.”
Mash hung her head, and Ritsuka was rendered speechless. There was no witty retort, no one liner, no glibness or even sincere words that could make this moment better. All he could do was stand there and share these painful moments beside a suffering girl.
[Hold up! There are Servants that have entered the area! They’re on a course directly towards you! This isn’t good, they must have realized you’re there!]
“How many,” asked Ritsuka immediately, his man brain immediately diverting to a crisis he might be useful for.
[You gotta be kidding. There are five! They’re fast, too. Are they all Riders or something? You’ll be outnumbered almost two to one, you need to run for it!]
Altoria stuck the landing of a great leap from the other side of the large burnt out remains of the city center, holding what appeared to be a soot stained burlap sack in her hand as she looked at Ritsuka, waiting for a response. She obviously heard Dr. Roman’s loud panicking over the link, and Altoria was definitely ready for a fight.
Ritsuka took a quick mental stock of what he knew about Servant combat… and it wasn’t good. The victories in Fuyuki were too narrow for his taste.
“If we had the same numbers as our enemies, I wouldn’t hesitate to fight,” said Ritsuka, his outrage over the crimes against humanity he was surrounded by pressing into his voice. “But not only are we outnumbered, we have no intel. If we lose here, we’re all done for. So, right now, we have to run for it.”
[That’s right, that’s the sane thing to do! It says so in the 36 Strategies of War!]
“Let’s go,” said Ritsuka. Mash and Altoria nodded. “Dr. Roman, what direction are we running towards?”
“I won’t run,” muttered Jeanne resolutely, following it up was a determined shout. “I must at least find out what their true intentions are!”
[It’s no use, you won’t make it,] shouted Dr. Roman in puerile terror. [Just run for it you guys! What? A direction? Oh! South, go south!]
Jeanne had stepped away from the others and was facing west. It seemed like the other Servants were close enough for her to sense.
“If she chooses to stay, it would delay their pursuit, Ritsuka,” said Altoria. The question seemed like it was probing Ritsuka rather than being Altoria’s true thoughts. Mash just voiced the word, “Senpai.” as a worried question. As always… the decision seemed to hang on Ritsuka alone.
“If we stay, we might be defeated in total. If we run, we’re going to lose Jeanne, which would be a definite defeat in detail. We’re going to weather this together. Mash, concentrate on intercepting attacks. Delay the enemy as long as possible until we see our chance. Then, Altoria… use your Noble Phantasm to open a way out. I think I might be able to use a Command Seal in place of my prana to help fuel it. But most importantly, when the time comes to run… I’ll need someone to carry me.”
“Very well, Ritsuka. Now, hold this.”
Ritsuka took the burlap bag that Altoria handed him, asking, “What’s this?”
“It’s what Medea requested.”
Ritsuka and the team rejoined Jeanne and made sure she knew the plan in time to face the coming of the five servants. The flapping of leathery wings heralded their arrival as all 5 were mounted on wyverns with another half dozen accompanying them. The Servants landed their wyverns on the ground, but did not dismount, which seemed to agitate the lesser dragons as they growled and shuffled in checked aggression. The two up front were a pale man and woman. Flanking the left was a fashionable knight with a thin sword, and the right was a long haired woman carrying a staff with a cross. In the center…
Was Jeanne d’Arc.
“What… on earth,” exclaimed the other Jeanne d’Arc as the exploration team stared in disbelief. “Who knew… Who knew such a thing could happen? Could someone please pour some water on me. This is bad. It’s awful. I think I’m really going to lose it. It’s so funny I might die from laughing!”
And true to her word, she laughed. Bright and beautifully clear, as though she was watching something as joyous as children playing a game.
“Take a look, Gilles,” called the black clothed and short haired version of Jeanne d’Arc to the air. “Look at that pathetic girl! What is she, a wimp? A mouse? A worm? Either way, they’re all the same! So puny, I can’t even muster any sympathy! Ah, truly. A country that could only cling to ‘me’… comparing them to mice is an insult to mice. Hey, Gilles, don’t you think so-”
The black clothed girl finally turned around looking for the presence she was speaking to and uttered, “Oh, I see. We didn’t bring Gilles along.”
This behavior is… too strange, thought Ritsuka.
“You,” asked Jeanne. “Who are you?”
“I could ask the same of you,” retorted the Dark Jeanne. “Right, as a leader, let me answer that. I am Jeanne d’Arc. The saint devoted to France… the other ‘me.’”
“What? That’s nonsense,” called out Jeanne in confused denial. “You are no saint, just as I am no saint.”
Jeanne really hasn’t ever called herself a saint. She always seemed uncomfortable whenever one of us called her that…
“But, that is already a thing of the past. More importantly, why did you attack this town?”
“Why, you ask? As the same Jeanne d’Arc, I thought you would understand. Are you stupid now that your alignment has changed? The reason I attacked this city? What a foolish question. It’s obvious, isn’t it,” asked the Dark Jeanne, honestly thinking her motivations were easily understood. “It is for the sole purpose of destroying France. I am, after all, a Servant. Political or economical destruction takes too long. Is it not better to simply physically crush everything?”
“Such foolishness,” screamed back Jeanne in anger.
Something is off. Something is wrong. They’re not acting like the Artorias or the Cu pair. They’re too different. …Let’s really look at this Dragon Witch…
“Such foolishness,” repeated Dark Jeanne in wonderment. “The foolish ones are ‘us,’ Jeanne d’Arc. Why did you want to save this country? Why did you want to bring salvation to these people? All the while knowing that they are the ones who spit on and betrayed us!”
“I will be fooled no longer. I will be betrayed no longer. I no longer hear the voice of the Lord. The fact that I cannot hear His voice, means the Lord no longer blesses this country. So, I will destroy it, in accordance to the Lord’s grief. I will cut away all the bad seeds at the roots. As long as the human race exists, so will my hatred. I will remake this France into a land of the dead. That’s how I will save this country. By the hands of the new Jeanne d’Arc, reborn through death.
“I suppose you could never understand,” sneered Dark Jeanne while Ritsuka really studied her, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two Jeannes to compare them. “I suppose you could never understand. Always playing the saint. Impossible for a pretty little holy virgin who pretends not to see hatred and joy and is incapable of human growth!”
Jeanne was fully taken aback by this outpouring of hatred, and only uttered, “I… are you really ‘me?’”
“…I have played my part for you so clearly, yet you still have doubts? This rage is an ugly justice. It’s not that you cannot understand it, you do not even have the will to try. But I understand. Seeing you, I have realized all there is to the Heroic Spirit that is myself. You are neither Ruler nor Jeanne d’Arc. You are nothing but some leftover residue that I threw away.”
Jeanne gasped from the implication, the accusation of the dark reflection of hers. And just as Dark Jeanne was sure, just as she ‘understood’… Ritsuka was sure. He understood.
That girl… is not Jeanne d’Arc.
“If you were the same existence and Class as I, then I should have felt something,” said Dark Jeanne in disappointment. “But you are worthless. Nothing but a ghost with a misguided effort to recreate history. Berserk Lancer, Berserk Assassin. Finish off that country girl. You’re getting tired of small prey, aren’t you? Rejoice, they are strong. Among all the Servants I summoned, your thirst for blood is the strongest,” cadenced Dark Jeanne as though she were reciting poetry or bible verses. “You exist to crush the brave. Devour them to your heart’s content.”
“Very well,” said the tall and lithe man dressed as though he were a militaristic noble. “Now, I will have your blood.”
“Not so fast, my King,” sarcastically said the pale woman in the mask and metal briar covered evening gown. It was like a twisted S&M fettish with so little fabric covering her body under the woven metal cage. “I would like to partake of her flesh and blood, as well as her insides.”
“So greedy,” said the man as his long and pale blond hair swayed in the breeze. “And her soul? Who gets to take her soul?”
“There is no gain in taking her soul. Do you think honor or reputation can maintain my beauty,” asked the woman, boredom evident in her voice.
“Very well, then I shall take her soul. It’s quite ironic though,” said the man in clear melancholy. “I am only now able to understand ‘that one’s’ beauty, after having fallen so low as to be a blood-sucking devil.”
“Yes, that is precisely why I cannot hold back my emotions. I will not forgive anything more beautiful than me,” said the woman in strained jealousy.
With experienced movements, the two Servants kicked the back of the creatures they stood on, spurring the beasts forward to attack.
“Master,” asked Mash in confirmation.
“Let’s do this,” said Ritsuka, his indignation burning at seeing this pretender abusing the likeness of someone as kind as Jeanne. “Focus Jeanne! This is the time to fight!”
* * * * *
“Lady Astolpho, there are no words I can say to express our gratitude,” said the mayor of the town at the send off meeting for their hero.
“Lady, eh,” repeated the dainty, slim, pink haired, and miniskirted Servant as he scratched his cheek. Not unhappily.
“But are you sure you must leave? Without you here, I fear there is no way for us to properly protect ourselves in these dark times,” said the old mayor manipulatively. The young warrior had beaten back two attacks by unnatural enemies, and the townspeople were already starting to grow dependent on him.
“Yes, please stay and marry me, Lady Astolpho,” loudly cried a man from the gathered townspeople.
“Uwah! Why marriage all of a sudden,” shouted Astolpho in return, but then shifted gears quickly to say, “It’s fine, I have a feeling you guys are going to be alright. And besides, I have to go. As long as that villain occupies Orleans, this won’t end. So, I should probably do something, I guess? Nahahaha…”
Saying his final farewells while mumbling, “Besides, it feels like it’ll be dangerous for me to stay here any longer,” while eying the man who called out for marriage, Astopho brought his fingers up to his ears, twirled them around in circles in deep concentration with his knees bent until they touched.
“My sense of adventure is telling me to go… That way!”
And taking off at a dash, Astolpho continued his journey to fight for the people and bring down tyranny!
“Lady Astolpho,” shouted the Mayor towards the dwindling pink figure while pointing in a completely different direction. “Orleans is that way!”