It was a pretty hectic twenty minutes as the glass horse Ritsuka was on barrelled across the terrain with the speed of a car. Ritsuka had no idea how fast they were traveling, but it was definitely faster than any horse made of flesh and blood could have achieved. By the time the glass horses began to slow down Ritsuka’s legs were aching from holding a position safe for his anatomy from all the bumping, and his hand that had been holding the burlap sack the whole time was stinging like crazy. As the glass horses came to a halt, Ritsuka heard Marie Antoinette give a small sigh of accomplishment while wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, like someone who’d just finished taking a hot bath.
“Phew. Alright, are we safe now,” asked Marie.
“I can’t hear the footfalls of any pursuers. We should be fine for the moment,” said the oddly tall and skinny Servant that showed up on another glass horse shortly after the escape began.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. I’ll make something a little easier for us to travel in, then,” said Marie as she began gently dissolving the horses everyone was mounted on. When Ritsuka’s feet touched the ground and he began to stretch his cramped muscles, Dr. Roman’s voice piped up saying, [I’m not detecting any nearby Servants, either. However, I am currently detecting leyline readings from that nearby forest. If you could establish a connection there, our ability to support you would increase.]
“Sounds good to me,” said Ritsuka as he stretched his back and turned around to look for the forest, only to find that Marie had already finished constructing a six horse carriage out of glass. It was tall, wide, had an enormous amount of decorations on it, and enough space to fit at least eight people. “Ah, sugoi,” leaked the words from Ritsuka’s native language.
“Incredible,” asked Marie. Oh, the tall guy already climbed into the carriage and claimed a seat “I actually find it easier to guide this than to control so many horses at once. But I’m glad you like it! Now, is there anywhere you wanted to go?”
“Oh, yes, about that, um… Marie,” asked Mash hesitantly.
“Did you say, Marie,” asked the girl energetically.
“F-Forgive me,” muttered Mash, losing to Marie’s energy. Now that Ritsuka recalled, Mash was the withdrawn type. They were usually pretty weak to mood maker types like Marie seemed to be.
“You weren’t being rude,” called out Marie, her hands forming dainty fists from her overflowing emotions. “You made me so happy! The way you addressed me was so adorable! Please, splendid foreigner! Would you mind calling me that from now on?”
Still recoiling from the mood maker’s energy, Mash made the mistake of trying to treat her cordially by saying, “Then… Miss Marie, or Mademoiselle Marie, perhaps?”
“Nope, that won’t work at all. Just Marie! Like the sheep!”
Ritsuka had a small stir in his memory of his mother teaching him “Mary had a little lamb,” but since he wasn’t confident about it, he let it pass and decided he’d just distract the friendly queen to give Mash a chance to recover.
“Nice to meet you, Marie,” said Ritsuka.
Ritsuka’s diversion seemed overly effective since the girl rounded on Ritsuka and bombarded him with as much energy as the sun.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes! Nice to meet you! I’m Marie! I love understanding gentlemen. Let me guess. You’re very popular with the opposite sex, right?”
Altoria turned her head away, seeming to take a sudden and intense interest in the carriage.
Ritsuka smiled awkwardly, since it was the complete opposite in fact. He couldn’t risk civilians learning about magecraft or the Mage’s Association through contact with him and his family. So something like a girlfriend was impossible, because they would eventually want to meet his family, and clients sometimes appeared at their home. Ritsuka’s dispirited reply of, “Well, that’s not exactly true,” left Marie with visibly confused curiosity, as though her rock solid instincts were being called into question.
Like a perfect combination, Mash used her rebuilt will to interject immediately after Ritsuka’s had been destroyed.
“Marie, may I ask something?”
“Oh, my apologies,” said the exuberant girl gently, realizing at long last that her excitement had been running unchecked. “How rude of me. So, how may I be of service?”
“A strong leyline was detected in a nearby forest. I’d like to head there and make camp. Is that alright, everyone?”
The entire group quickly agreed with Mash’s request, with Marie saying something about sleeping outside for the first time, and everyone was quickly ushered into the carriage. When everyone was inside, Marie asked, “What direction am I going in?”
[The forest is about four kilometres South by Southeast. The Leyline is near the center. You should naturally begin to feel it’s location once you get nearby.]
“Oh, how convenient,” remarked Marie as she produced a glass bell in her fingers, and gently shook it to produce a light ‘ting-a-ling-a-ling.’ The bell disappeared and the carriage began to move, slowly at first but quickly picking up speed as the horses moved in tandem. Before long, the four kilometers had been reduced to nothing without so much as hardly a bump. The glass supports for the carriage had better shock absorption than Ritsuka had been expecting. Now all they had to do was slow down before reaching the forest’s edge.
…They were going to slow down, right?
“Um, Marie,” asked Ritsuka, as the nervousness began to climb inside the carriage cabin.
“Yes,” asked Marie back. She obviously saw nothing wrong with the situation despite the fact that in just a few seconds they were going to crash!
The angle of the terrain shifted suddenly as the wheels of the carriage left the ground for the upward angle the glasswork road underneath them took. Up and over the trees and shrubbery of the forest the carriage cruised, accompanied by the clatter of glass horseshoes on a glass road that was being created just ahead of their passage with support pillars reaching into the ground to keep it aloft. Ritsuka snuck a peak behind him and saw that the travelled road was dissolving into nothing in their passage. It was like a Noble Phantasm highway of glass.
“Are we- Are we riding over the forest,” asked Mash in wonder. Indeed, everyone but the man sitting quietly at the end of the carriage was amazed by Marie’s ability to control her power as a Heroic Spirit.
“Of course we are,” said Marie in that way where someone used to splendor can’t understand the viewpoint of someone who isn’t. “While it would have been easier to travel through the forest itself, I would have felt so bad for wrecking the trees. After all, this place must be home to a lot of fuzzy critters, and I’d be a poor house guest if I were to make such a mess. Ah, I think I feel that Leyline. Just a moment.”
The carriage banked, and the glass highway tilted like the raised side of a racetrack to allow unimpeded turning speed, and then curved more and more with a downwards turn until the carriage came to a rest on the ground in a clearing. After coming to a complete halt, the door of the carriage opened on it’s own, probably because a French Queen has no concept of opening a carriage door herself, since servants were a thing, and everyone stepped out of the carriage in turn. Once the last person stepped off, the carriage itself disappeared, and Marie asked, “Was that alright?”
“It was incredibly helpful,” said Ritsuka, with a smile. Really, it was probably the most pragmatic use of a power Ritsuka had seen, and it was a Queen of all people who accomplished it. Marie must really have been a person to mind other people if her power could be used so unselfishly. The others echoed the sentiment, with even Dr. Roman chiming in.
[Yes, we were able to make very good time thanks to your aid, Marie. And this is a rather perfect place to set up a summoning circle. Mash, if you would do the honors?]
“Shall I help,” asked Ritsuka.
“Ah, no Master, please use this opportunity to rest,” said Mash generously. Altoria also spoke up saying, “I will use this time to set up our camp. I also request that you rest yourself, Ritsuka.”
“May I watch you set up camp,” asked Marie with excitement. “I’ve never done such a thing so I’m very interested.”
“As long as you don’t get in the way.”
The tall and thin man accompanied Marie, leaving Ritsuka with nothing to do but rest. Which, after reclining on the soft ground with his back against a tree, his body was very grateful for. The muscles in Ritsuka’s back ached and the soreness in Ritsuka’s neck was very loudly declaring that he was going to have finger shaped bruises there. After settling down, Ritsuka lifted his right hand and watched it.
The tremor of nerves and an overabundance of adrenaline continued, despite Ritsuka’s efforts to hold the hand steady. Ritsuka gently let the hand come to a rest in his lap as he mulled over how slightly ridiculous it was for him to still be trembling from his near death experience at Vlad Tepes’ hand when he’d had even closer calls in Fuyuki. The memory of the muzzle flare of Assassin’s bullet and the whistle of its passage past his ear put a fresh tremor through Ritsuka’s body.
“Ritsuka? Is it alright if I sit with you?”
Ritsuka looked up to see Jeanne standing beside him. Ritsuka reflected that he had been so distracted that he hadn’t heard her coming close, despite her platemail, sabatons, and decorative chains. After Ritsuka said, “Please, feel free,” to the girl, she gracefully turned around, squatted down, set her back to the same tree Ritsuka was using, and let her legs lengthen out in a smooth motion that kept her modesty covered at all times despite the large slit in her skirt. Was that an ability that was inborn in women, or did they have to practice it?
Jeanne didn’t say anything, and neither did Ritsuka. They sat, let the breeze gently blow, and heard the sound of leaves rustling. Ritsuka watched Mash setting up the summoning circle with a tool shaped like a chisel, while Jeanne seemed to split her attention between the other people in the camp, and Ritsuka. Finally, Jeanne said, “I wanted to apologise for my conduct at La Charite.”
“Oh,” asked Ritsuka languidly so as not to cut Jeanne off. It felt like she needed to express it all in her own words. After a few long seconds, Jeanne continued talking.
“I… knowingly placed you and the others in danger, demanding to stay and confront my other self. You especially. The rest of us are Servants, so we are able to protect ourselves. However, you, Ritsuka… have no such power. The fact that you are also my temporary Master… I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m sorry for that.”
“…I’m also sorry for trying to remain there, even after you created an opportunity to escape. Even after Vlad Tepes nearly…” Jeanne stopped talking entirely. Ritsuka chose to let the silence last. Just as Ritsuka thought, there was more to come. “And when you told me that if I stayed behind, you would be killed… I considered staying anyway. Even knowing that it would cost you your life. I… am truly sorry, Ritsuka.”
Ritsuka waited silently, just to be sure. After a little bit, Jeanne said, “I understand that you cannot forgive me for my selfishness. But I still wanted to-”
“I forgive you, though.”
For the first time since she sat down, Jeanne was looking directly at Ritsuka, whereas before she was speaking in his direction.
“Jeanne, you commanded an army in a campaign to expel invaders from France. It’s natural to look at any given battle and wonder how many deaths are acceptable. Given the life you had, it’s to be expected. I am surprised at how little regard you have for your own life, though. But I’m just glad that when I pushed you to make a decision back there, you chose to do the right thing and withdraw with us.”
“…While the choice you offered wasn’t fair, I understand why you said it, Ritsuka. Were you really going to sacrifice yourself alongside me if I chose to stay?”
“Heck no. I was going to put you over my shoulder and run for the hills.”
“What!? What’s with that,” demanded Jeanne, all her composure having gone out the window.
“Well, I don’t have any confidence in my upper body strength or it would have been a Princess Cradle.”
“T-That’s not the part I was objecting to,” said Jeanne, her cheeks growing hot.
“I probably would have only made it a dozen steps before I had Mash carry the both of us. It probably would have ended with me sitting on Mash’s shoulders like a toddler while carrying you over my shoulder like a bag of rice.”
Jeanne cradled her face with both hands as her knees came up to make herself as small as possible while muttering, “The mental picture alone is enough… to make me want to disappear…”
“You’re not carrying it all yourself, Jeanne.”
Jeanne slowly pulled out of her embarrassment coma at those words of Ritsuka’s to look back over at him.
“If there was someone running around doing horrible things using the name of Fujimaru Ritsuka, I’d be taking a personal interest in stopping them, so I understand that. It’s all the worse that that imposter is using your face and voice to do it with. That’s why you have that misplaced feeling of responsibility. A desperation to stop her before she does anything else. Which is why it feels like you have to do it right away, even if you’re by yourself. But Jeanne, we’re all here with you. The three of us you met yesterday, and another two today. You have friends and allies gathering around you, Jeanne, so that we can take some of that weight, that burden from your shoulders and carry it alongside you. And while I agree we need to stop the Dragon Witch as soon as possible… you’re not responsible for her actions. Because she isn’t you.”
“Imposter… you say.”
“Yes. That girl is an imposter.”
“…What makes you believe that,” asked Jeanne, while hugging her own knees. It was the singularly most vulnerable moment Ritsuka had seen Jeanne experience.
Because I have eyes that can see, Ritsuka desperately wanted to say.
The memory of his father, giving him “the talk” echoed in Ritsuka’s memory.
“Listen well, son, because this is something you can only ever repeat to your future children. You can never tell anyone else. Not even your mother, or your future wife. Because if the Mage community at large ever found out about the Fujimaru bloodline trait, we’d be hunted to extinction. And we’re never going to be strong enough to prevent that from happening. So all we can do is hide it, and hope no one finds out.”
And so, instead of telling Jeanne the truth and easing her pain, Ritsuka lamely said, “Because Jeanne could never do such horrible things.”
“I wish I could believe that,” said Jeanne softly.
A painful silence fell on the two, and did not lift until Mash’s task was complete.
* * * * *
Medea had grown to enjoy green teas during her time at the temple in Fuyuki. She especially enjoyed them after a task well done, to help her unwind from her labors. With her hood back, she slowly sipped the green tea in the eastern style teacup she’d fabricated for herself. After a long sip, she exhaled gratefully. Then the proximity alert triggered inside Medea’s web of safeguards, sending the sensation directly to her mind. Medea set the tea down and pulled her hood into place in time to be covered when the door opened and that brunette Caster walked into the workshop.
“Ohya? This is quite the set up you’ve created in such a short time,” said the brunette Caster. The name was… Da Vinci, wasn’t it? “It seems like you’ve completely created a territory of your own in here. Though, I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything less of a legendary mage from the Age of the Gods.”
“I appreciate the compliment,” said Medea carefully. “But may I ask what brings you to the workshop of a witch? Have you come to inspect my research already? I’ve hardly even started, though.”
“Oh, no, I’m just bringing what you asked the exploration team to procure. They Rayshifted it over just now,” said Da Vinci as she placed a stained burlap sack onto a vacant table surface. Medea couldn’t help herself but to quickly move over to the table and open the sack to view the quality of the specimens.
“Oh, how fresh,” remarked the witch as she withdrew one of several of the severed jaws of the wyverns slain in La Charite that the bag contained. With the eye of an antique appraiser, she checked the teeth embedded in the jaw with great relish. They would serve perfectly. The scales, jaw bone, flesh, and remaining blood would also be able to be used. If not now, then for something later on, no doubt. “I hope you don’t mind if I get to processing this right away.”
“Not at all,” said Da Vinci sunnily. “But there is a request for a Mystic Code I’d like you to take care of.”
Medea froze up just a little. She hadn’t expected anyone to be so careless as to request to have something made by the Witch of Betrayal. Indeed, Medea was hoping that the people of the installation would just quietly forget about her workshop so she could continue in peace. In fact, this was a time Medea would rather just be left to her own devices. Being a mage goes hand in hand with preparations, and there was much still that Medea wished to accomplish.
“Is there a reason why you are unable to fill this order,” asked Medea amicably to deflect the conversation without giving an outright refusal.
“Weeeeell, not really. I’m busy making the equipment to house the cryopreserved Master Candidates to free up their Coffins, but this request is rather simple by nature. It wouldn’t take much time for a genius like me to accomplish it. But the thing is, Ritsuka specifically asked you to take care of it.”
Medea fought the urge to slap her forehead. That child and his baseless goodwill…
“I… still have my research to conduct. So it might take some time for me to make this Mystic Code. If that is acceptable, please leave the details of the project with me whenever it is convenient.”
A few folded pages flopped lightly onto the table at the corner of Medea’s peripheral vision.
“The details and Ritsuka’s measurements are in those papers. And I doubt Ritsuka is expecting a rush job… but you might want to hurry anyway. Ritsuka was nearly killed by a Servant today, and this request is his insurance against it happening again.”
“I…see…” said Medea carefully. What was this other Caster trying to do, telling Medea something like that. He’s a cute boy, but that’s about all. “I will still have to balance it with my research. It’s at a delicate point, after all…”
“Yes, I am quite interested in your research. Crystalizing mana in the air into a solid magical battery, correct? Something like that could revolutionize the world of Magecraft. But you knoooooow… it seems to me like your experiment is rather stable. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could already produce them whenever you wanted. They would make a great replacement for the magical energy a Servant required to be supplied by a Master if a Caster that was skilled enough to use them were to come along.”
Medea laid her work aside for a moment, turned around to face the interloping Caster and asked, low and serious, “May I ask if there is a point in there somewhere, or are you just sleep talking?”
“I’m just saying, that until the Grand Order is accomplished… there’s nowhere for any of us to escape to. And it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for us to reach that goal. We’re not in a race, Medea. This is a marathon. So a short sighted view won’t get any of us anywhere. I don’t really mind whatever you research or produce, as long as it’s not harmful to Chaldea or it’s staff. But the more you help us, the closer you will come to whatever your goal is.”
“Duly noted,” said Medea stoically to the carefree and smiling brunette Caster. “Now, if that is all?”
“Yup! That’s everything,” said the woman as she turned to leave Medea’s workshop. At the door, she turned around as though she just remembered something and said, “Oh, that’s right. The reason Ritsuka wanted you to be the one to make his Mystic Code was because he thought that if something you made saved his life, then the other Servants would warm up to you a little. Bye byeeeeee~”
The door closed behind the brightly clothed tart, Da Vinci, and the wards sealed into place to give Medea her full privacy again. Once that was assured, Medea instantly shouted-
“MUKIIIIIIIIIIII, THAT BITCH,” while biting her thumb while pacing back and forth.
“Who does she think she is, coming into my workshop like that as if she owned me. Even if she’s a patron, that doesn’t give her any rights, NONE whatsoever! If I wasn’t trying to be on their good side in this place I’d have sliced those smirking lips right off her face, RIGHT OFF HER FACE! Patronizing ME of all people! Do you really want to do that, huh, you bitch!? I can flay you, skin you, rend you, destroy you a hundred different ways and then use you for spare parts! And use that garbage you call an arm for a backscratcher! And what kind of immodest woman walks around with a skirt that short, you fat assed tramp! You claim to have an eye for beauty, but what kind of garishly colored rags are you wearing!? There’s a reason those poofy garments went out of style in the seventeen hundreds, you unfashionable trollop! Genius beauty this and genius beauty that! Even if you can recognize my work, there’s no way you would have been able to make something like it yourself, so why don’t you just recognize I’m your better and shut your fat face instead of trying to lecture MEEEEEEEEE!?”
Medea finally ran out of breath, and standing in the center of the room, panted heavily after letting her emotions run rampant. Her shoulders slumped, she said, “Well, whatever. Let’s see what the boy is asking for…”
Sitting down in her chair, Medea took another sip of tea, though she had become too upset to taste it. Medea opened the request and perused it. It really was not a very big job. It could be done quickly. Just grabbing some left over fabric, her sewing supplies, maybe a pattern? No, that uniform the boy wore was monochrome, so a solid color would be best. Black probably. It wouldn’t take long, just a couple of hours and Medea could get back to producing magical energy gemstones. The more she had squirreled away, the better off she’d be. The Mystic Code would be rather flimsy, though, and would only be able to be used once.
“He was nearly killed, huh,” muttered Medea out loud.
Medea went back to studying the request. Looking off to the side at her research and the raw materials once in a while, before saying, “Well, it wouldn’t do for a Medea product to be so flimsy. My professional pride can’t allow it after all. And since I have some dragon skin here, I may as well use it. That would most definitely solve the durability issues. It might take a few days but… well, it can’t be helped.”
Medea poured out the cold green tea and began heating some water to prepare a dark tea, as she found those helped her to concentrate when she had a task at hand. Since time was important, Medea wasn’t going to be resting much for a little while.