Ritsuka was slowly ascending from his deep unconsciousness, where it felt like someone had been laughing his ass off at him. Awareness slowly invaded Ritsuka’s senses. The first was sound.
“Thanks for the tea. This is the first break I’ve been able to sneak- uh, take, in a while.”
Ah. That fluffy tone could only be-
“I don’t mind, Doctor. But is it really fine for you to spend so much time here? You’re the acting Director, aren’t you?”
Good point, Archer.
“It’s inevitable that such an undisciplined man would abandon his work,” said a harsh voice that belonged to-
Ritsuka’s consciousness rocketed out of the depths coinciding with a sudden sharp inhalation of breath. His eyes adjusted to his newly awakened state much more slowly than his mind. The lighting in the infirmary drowned out sight for a few seconds as Ritsuka was forced to concentrate on squinting to be able to see anything. In response to his movement, there was the voice of a cheerful girl that said, “Ah, he’s awake!”
“Artoria,” asked Ritsuka with confusion clearly audible in his voice. As was natural since the person looking at Ritsuka curiously from where she was leaning over at the foot of the bed with her hands on the mattress was a girl wearing armor over a pure white dress. She definitely looked familiar, her eyes and face were like the Artoria that Ritsuka had met, but she was already making cheerful facial features that Ritsuka could not image the King of Knights from that showdown in Fuyuki being able to make. Even her blonde ponytail hairstyle was energetic, as was the backwards facing ahoge on the top of her head.
“Yes, Master. We are here,” came the serious voice with a touch of bitterness to it from Ritsuka’s right. Looking over, Ritsuka saw-
Another version of the girl Ritsuka had met in Fuyuki was sitting there sipping a cup of tea elegantly in a blue dress. She looked exactly like the King of Knights Ritsuka fought, but her skin was flesh toned and her hair was a golden blonde like the cheerful version standing at the foot of the bed instead of the paler platinum of the one that was in the black armor. She seemed to have the mannerisms of an adult despite looking like a pre-teen with a slim and toned body that couldn’t have been taller than 155 cm if you discounted the forward pointing ahoge that was on top of her head. She seemed like she was stern and extremely self controlled. But why were there two of them!?
There was an audible clink as though someone was purposely exhibiting bad manners to make their presence known, which caused Ritsuka to turn to look to his left. There was yet another Artoria sitting there drinking tea. Her obvious elegance with the western style tea cup showed she did have table manners equal to the one to Ritsuka’s right, but that exemplified the annoyance the previous clink had suggested. With one glance, Ritsuka could tell it was the same girl he’d made his promise to in Fuyuki. The hair was less of a shining gold and closer to the pale white gold he remembered. Her eyes held that natural denigration of others, and… yeah, she didn’t have an Ahoge hair lick like the other two. Even the girl’s armor was the same as that time, jet black with red lines of power going through.
“Artoria,” said Ritsuka, with a touch of disbelief that he’d succeeded in summoning her.
“Yes,” said the girl in a naturally chastising tone. “And you are Fujimaru Ritsuka, the man who is apparently our Master and has the ill manners to fall asleep before even saying hello. Was it your intention to make the three of us wait nearly two hours for your self-introduction?”
Ritsuka looked around him. With three identical girls who were so obviously different from each other looking at him like that…
“Honestly, I’m not certain I’m not still asleep. Are there really three of you here?”
“I’m afraid so, Master,” said Archer as he deposited a cup of tea in Ritsuka’s hands. This entire process seemed pretty similar to his previous awakening in the infirmary. “You really did summon three of the same Servant, as crazy as that sounds.”
“Do you not remember, Fujimaru-sama,” asked Medusa.
“Umm, no. My memory cuts out part way through the ritual.”
“Excuse me,” asked a voice lamely. “Isn’t this the part where I, the doctor, check my awakened patient to confirm his condition?”
After basically being given permission to do so, Dr. Roman was given the room to do the usual doctor things. Shine a light in Ritsuka’s eyes. Check the heartbeat and breathing with a stethoscope. Tap some places on the body. Look inside Ritsuka’s mouth. Finally, Dr. Roman said, “Okay. As for your condition, you nearly suffered a full burnout from channeling more magical power than your body could handle. You have light bruising over many parts of your body from burst blood vessels, and minor organ damage. That should clear up in a few days of taking things slowly as though you were living a normal life outside Chaldea.”
“There goes the work out plan,” mumbled Archer.
“The surprising part,” continued Dr. Roman, “Is that you don’t have any permanent nerve damage.”
Ritsuka suddenly felt cold sweat down his spine and carefully asked, “What do you mean by permanent?”
Dr. Roman continued on in a voice that didn’t seem to match the gravity of the situation, “Well, when Archer came to get me your nervous system was… well, in cooking terms it was pretty well done. Or is scalded a better term…? Either way, your magic circuits were definitely overloaded, but as I kept an eye on you they recovered at a quick pace. Only the magic circuits, mind you, as the damage to the rest of your body is recovering normally.”
“That’s… good, right?”
“Oh, extremely good, Gudao-kun,” said Dr. Romani. Oh, wait, he was speaking pretty good Japanese right now, wasn’t he? “In fact, it looks like your magic circuits have improved since you first came here.” Romani held up two sets of charts, with one labeled as ‘Entry Scan.’ Ritsuka couldn’t make heads or tails of them. “It would seem that although your skill in magecraft is practically non-existent, your magic circuits are top notch. I’d say your previous low valued abilities were due to your magic circuits having been left to atrophy for most of your life and they’re only now getting a work out. I can’t really get a baseline for what your maximum capacity will be in the future, but right now you’ve had a marked improvement in the quality of your magic circuits. As expected from a Master Candidate, I suppose.”
“Oh,” said Ritsuka, coming down from the panic. “So, I suppose it’s a good thing?”
Dr. Roman nodded a few times and said, “Yes. Except for the fact that you nearly killed yourself in doing it! What were you thinking, playing with an experimental chamber without supervision!”
When the usually quiet and lame Dr. Roman lost his temper, there was definitely some value to what he was saying. Ritsuka couldn’t help but look in on himself and he had to admit-
“…You’re right. I wasn’t thinking straight. I… can’t really understand why I felt like I had to try Summoning Artoria then and there…” The eyebrows of the three girls came together in an eerily similar fashion. “I think I knew it was stupid but… somehow I feel like I was finally able to save someone…”
Ritsuka showed a relieved but self-deprecatory smile at his own inconsistency. Archer promptly cut in.
“Survivor’s Guilt. I knew it.”
Dr. Roman leaned back in his chair and said, “That would explain it…”
The cheerful Artoria asked, “Um, what’s Survivor’s Guilt?”
Ritsuka was also interested, and he listened intently while Archer explained.
“You see it a lot in war or after disasters, wherever a number of people die. Friends, family, comrades… even random strangers. People who survive those ordeals will look around and ask… ‘why did I survive and other people didn’t?’ There’s no answer for such a question, of course… but it plants that seed. The thought of ’I should have died too.’ Or, ‘I should have done more to save them.’”
Ritsuka’s heart clenched.
“It can be as mild as a person having the occasional nightmare, or it can become bad enough to affect the course of your life. I… knew a boy who was so afflicted that he ceased to consider his own well being at all. He lived only to make other people’s lives better, even to the point of being willing to allow his body to be dismembered if it helped another person. Needless to say, he was a complete idiot who caused trouble to everyone around him. Master. Your case, at least, is not as bad as his. At least you are able to look back on your actions and recognize how foolish they were.”
Ritsuka was looking down at the thin bandages on the palms of his hands by this point. Reliving the fire and the stink of torn open humans in the aftermath of the bomb explosion the day he’d arrived at Chaldea. The tearing pain as his flesh was torn trying to lift that boulder off Mash. The emotional turmoil as he watched people die in front of him. The hollow solitude of the empty Chaldea. There was no doubt in Ritsuka’s mind that Archer was correct.
“What can I do about it,” asked Ritsuka in a small voice.
Dr. Roman crossed his arms in a parody of deep thought and said, “Unfortunately the therapist and his assistant were both present at the time of the bombing, and I have no training in that field.”
“Indeed, I cannot imagine you being able to be helpful to anyone’s mental health,” said Archer flatly. He then continued on, ignoring Roman’s groan of objection. “Now that we have a diagnosis, I suggest that we Servants keep an eye on our Master and prevent him from needlessly endangering himself. We won’t be able to let our guard down here in Chaldea either, as Fujimaru has demonstrated that he’s capable of doing intensely stupid and dangerous things inside this base as well. The best I can suggest is that we try not to leave our Master alone and assign an attendant to watch over him from our ranks at all times.”
“I volunteer,” said three voices in unison.
“I have been Fujimaru-sama’s Servant longer then the two of you, so it seems natural that I should shoulder the responsibility,” said Medusa.
“I may not be the first to be summoned, but as the King of Knights I will be a proper guide for my Master’s growth,” said the blue garbed Artoria.
“I may be inexperienced as a knight and a Servant, but, um, I’ll do my best,” exclaimed the Artoria in the white dress and armor.
Dr. Roman exclaimed happily, “My, Gudao-kun seems to be quite popular with his servants. …it’s somewhat depressing when I compare it to myself…”
Archer’s eyes and face that turned towards Ritsuka seemed to be giving Ritsuka his condolences, and more than a small share of understanding and pity. Then there was a single loud clink of tea ware that acted the same as a gavel in a courtroom. The black armored Artoria spoke afterward.
“The two of you are talking as though you have accepted this boy as your Master.”
“Of course I have,” said the girl to Ritsuka’s right. “As the one who has summoned us, we are duty bound to be his shield.”
The girl at the foot of Ritsuka’s bed said, “I may just be a knight in training at this point, but I’ll still do all I can for the Master who summoned me.”
“I see,” said the amber eyed and porcelain skinned girl to Ritsuka’s left. “So anyone is good enough for the likes of you two.”
“Ugh-” said the other two girls in revulsion.
“I however, am different. Fujimaru Ritsuka… no, Prospective Master,” said the cruel girl, removing Ritsuka’s right to have a name. “It was interesting to see you summon two Servants of the greatest power, plus an extra in training-”
“Ugh-” went the girl in the white dress again.
“-But you lost all of that accomplishment from the fact that you nearly killed yourself in doing so. Foolhardy, brash, suicidal… all of those words apply to such an action. Why on earth should this Tyrant who sits before you follow such a foolish child as a Servant?”
“Does honor mean nothing to you, other me,” demanded the blue dressed girl. “He risked his life to summon us, shouldn’t we reciprocate his good will?”
“Not if he did it out of his own twisted self-satisfaction,” retorted the black armored girl. The younger version at the foot of the bed kept looking back and forth between her elder selves in confusion and nervousness.
“May I say something,” asked Ritsuka raising one hand.
The dark armored girl looked Ritsuka up and down and said, “Speak.”
“It’s true. I summoned the three of you out of a sense of my own obligations. It was selfish and nearsighted. And while I regret putting myself in a needlessly dangerous position I don’t regret doing so. Because saying I did would be like saying I regret summoning the three of you. And while I’ve only known the three of you for a few minutes, I’m certain that I could never regret knowing you all. Therefore, I will never apologize for that. As for being your Master… I’m completely unworthy of that position.”
“Is this supposed to be reverse psychology,” asked Romani in confusion. Ritsuka ignored him and continued on.
“I’m a failure of a mage. I have no combat training. I have no experience as a strategist, and I lack any charisma as a leader. I’m just a highschool boy who thought he was taking a summer internship. But now… I’m the only person left who can stand on the field to fight against the one who has taken everything away. Not just from me, but from everyone.”
“The incineration of humanity,” muttered the Artoria to Ritsuka’s right.
“This, also, is my selfish wish. I’d already dragged Archer and Medusa into my battle, and now I’m one sidedly dragging the three Artorias into this battle as well. But because of how useless I am, I have no choice but to depend on those who are powerful. I have to ask that others fight in my place because I cannot. Therefore, Tyrant Artoria, the Black King of Knights, I ask you to fight alongside me. Not just as a Servant, but as a comrade and friend.”
Ritsuka felt that bowing his head to the dark Artoria then would be the absolute worst thing he could do. She was a girl who respected power and conviction. Ritsuka was sure of it. So he’d show her his own conviction.
After studying Ritsuka for a second or two, the jet black garbed Artoria asked, “You beg and you plead for others to fight on your behalf when you can offer nothing in return. Have you no pride?”
“Can pride fill your stomach,” asked Ritsuka in return. “Can pride protect you from a monster? Can pride be used as a weapon? If it could, I would gladly hold onto it; but if my throwing it all into a gutter would convince you help me fight I would do so ten times over. Artoria, you have shown me your strength in the Fuyuki Singularity and I would be crazy to choose my own self satisfaction over your cooperation. That is why, I humbly and forcefully request that you approve me as a Master and a friend. I… want to fight beside you, instead of against you.”
The Tyrant was silent, thinking, pondering. Then she indicated Medusa and said, “The dour girl in the corner spoke of a promise you made. It gratifies me that you were not blindly following some casually thrown about words, but actually see us as warriors. But know this, Fujimaru Ritsuka. It is best that you think of me as a different person to the one you met in the Fuyuki Singularity. You owe me no debt and no repayment. Instead, tread the path of bloodshed with this tyrannical king. After all, I don’t dislike the idea of conquering all of history. But beware. Should you prove to be a lacking Master who surrenders and bends his knee to that which you fight against, at that time I shall relieve you of your head.”
Ritsuka gave a rosy smile as though he heard a completely different message to a threat on his life just now, and replied, “Just as well. Since surrendering to the one who incinerated all of human history means I’d be dying anyway. So, with that out of the way, I’m glad to have you as a new friend and ally, Artoria.”
Ritsuka offered a hand to shake, which the black armored Artoria snubbed by looking off to the side and said, “A Tyrant has no need for friends. A Tyrant needs only their equals and those who are useful to them. I doubt you are the former, so I hope for your sake you prove to be the latter. Anyway, you two over there. Is there not something you should say now that I have approved of this man as our Master?”
Having the subject forcefully changed to them, the blue clothed Artoria spoke next.
“Yes. Ahem. I approve of you as my Master, and I will be your shield against those forces that would do you harm until this campaign is at an end. Fujimaru-dono, I look forward to fighting at your side.”
Artoria then looked at the younger version of herself, who took the cue and said, “Ah, yes! Master, even though I am a knight is training, it is a pleasure to meet you. I swear I will do my best as a Saber in your care.”
“Thank you, all of you,” said Ritsuka with true gratitude in his voice. “I hope that you’ll all take good care of me from now on as well.”
“Wow that whole thing gave me goosebumps,” said Dr. Roman, breaking the mood with his quavering voice. “But all’s well that ends well. But… hmm…”
“What is it, Dr Romani,” asked Ritsuka.
“Oh, it’s nothing much, but… what should we call all of you? I mean, if we just call all of you ‘Artoria’ then things could get confusing fast.”
“You may call me Artoria Alter, since I am a tainted version of that other one over there.”
“Artoria Alter,” repeated Ritsuka. And while in not so deep thought, he said, “Then how about Altoria? Short for Altered Artoria. It’s short and it’s cute, too, so it’s a double win.”
Archer and Artoria started suppressing their laughter.
“Don’t go giving me strange nicknames, you!”
“Well, you can call me Gudao if you want. A lot of my classmates back home did, though I don’t really know how it got started.”
“As if I would call my Master by some strange nickname like that! But then again… Master, if you are going to call me by that random name, then I will call you by your first name. As a Japanese it is the most awkward thing your people can experience, isn’t that so? Ritsuka-san?”
In return to Altoria’s smugly satisfied declaration, Ritsuka brightly said, “Oh, I like it. That’ll really shorten the distance between us quickly. Yes, feel free to call me by my given name.”
“Isn’t that nice, Altoria,” said Archer in a teasing tone.
“Call me that again, Red Giant, and I’ll take your head.”
“Come now, it’s a perfectly fine nickname, Alter,” said the one that was apparently the base Artoria. “Let Master use it for differentiation at least so we can move on.”
Altoria grumbled menacingly as the girl in the white dress raised a hand and spoke.
“I… don’t think I deserve to lay any claim to the name of Artoria since I lack both the strength and the experience of my more adult self…” Artoria lifted her nose in childish pride at that remark. “But then… what should I be called? Saber?”
“I’d rather not call you by your class name unless you insist on it like Archer does,” said Ritsuka.
Romani cut in and said, “How about Lily?” When others echoed the name, Romani continued. “Yes, like the flower. The girl is as pretty and cheerful as a blooming flower, and her dress reminds me of a lily specifically. I think it’s a fitting name for her.”
“Artoria Lily, or Lily for short,” repeated Ritsuka. “I like it, but it really depends on you. What do you think?”
Being asked that, the young Artoria’s face lit up in a smile that would have had blooming flowers behind it if she were in a manga and said, “I… like it very much, Master! Thank you! I’ll try to live up to your kindness as the Knight of Flowers in your service! Artoria Lily!”
Several people remarked the words, “How cute” inside the room, including Medusa. Artoria began to sink down in her seat as though she were facing that particular embarrassment of having a parent show their friends childhood photos of a past self they didn’t want to be connected to.
Roman took over the initiative in the room by saying, “Well, all’s well that ends well! I’m glad its all over!”
“We still have Singularities to clear, though,” quipped Ritsuka. Romani carried on like he hadn’t heard it.
“Gudao-kun is recovering, we have new friends, and Gudao-kun won’t be carelessly summoning any more Servants!”
“There you are, Ritsuka! I need you to summon as many Servants as you can,” shouted Da Vinci as she burst into the infirmary.