The following story contains spoilers for Fate/Grand Order.
Knowledge of Singularity Time Temple Solomon's story is necessary for full appreciation, but this piece adapts the situation due to the butterfly effect. Expect this to be similar yet different, but remember if some canon scenes aren't depicted in full, it's safe to assume they do happen.
In addition, this is a supplement work for the series' core entry, Fragments of Chaldea, and reading everything up to Fragment 75 is practically required for this supplement in order for half of the story to make sense. This is supplement is loaded with information, concepts, call-backs, and pay-offs for the series. Everything that applies to, and has happened over the course of, that collection applies here. It's background/foundation material.
You've been thoroughly warned, and with that, I hope you enjoy the journey ahead.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -I- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
I saw many sorrows.
I saw many sorrows.
I saw many sorrows.
I saw many sorrows.
Even if Solomon did not feel anything, I...
No… We could not bear it.
"Do you not feel anything? Do you not think of correcting this tragedy?"
His face remained undisturbed.
"Not really. God admonishes man, a king merely administrates.
You do not have to hurt yourself over the sorrows of others.
Humans are all living beings that will be judged thusly."
We could not understand.
Should such a rationale exist?
Should such a reason be permitted?
And thus, we acted.
For the sake of a worthy answer…
…let us bid farewell to everything.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -II- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
Roman gasped for breath and relished the sweet bliss of cool air. The sight of his small, messy office was a relieving gift from the sweltering flames of his nightmare. He covered his face with his hands, and breathed hard in an attempt to calm himself. So many faces, with many more tormented yells. Countless images had flashed before him, formed from a nightmare first glimpsed years ago… No, more correctly, the scattered fragments of a heavy revelation.
His last vision as the man he used to be.
No matter how calmly he breathed, Roman could not wipe the faded yet lingering horrors. He couldn't discern the images, nor separate them; They were the last, rushed revelations before his wish was granted. Scattered debris and frantic yells… A strand of orange and a scream… A flash of light among many screens… What stood out above the countless slithers was the slowly spinning Chaldeas, cradled in a haze.
Humanity's future was going to be jeopardized, but after years of searching he still couldn't understand why. He'd positioned himself in a prime position to help thanks to his friend Marisbilly, and placed his hopes with his organization's efforts. With the guidance of Alaya, everything should turn out alright, yet still he doubted. In the pit of his usually nervous stomach, he feared the what if… The small slither and chance that someone, or something, had managed to thread the needle and-
"You okay there, Mister Medical Head?"
Roman's self-controlled breathing stopped. He lowered his hands slowly as the convoluted web of thoughts faded into surprise. The stillness of his office greeted him, complete with the scattered paperwork for the new employees that arrived this morning. They were the first of a new wave Marisbilly had chosen, and Roman had been sorting through the packets and files on his laptop. He'd clearly passed out, and now he was behind; His daughter might even scold him!
Fleeting thoughts of Olga reprimanding him vanished as he gazed to his now open door, where the newest beauty stood. He'd never voice it, but those blue eyes framed by onyx tresses captivated him more than he'd confidently voice. She was the newest assistant of them all, but the powerful figure wasn't any mere employee. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of Chaldea's first servants… but he still couldn't wrap his head around the eccentric woman… or the fact she was a woman?
"At least you're not staring at my breasts again," she huffed with a blank expression. He blushed. Had she really seen him doing that in the chamber!? Though a bit exasperated, a small smile quickly formed. "So you're the head of the Medical Department? Aren't you going to say anything~?"
"Uh...! Yeah, sorry! I was just-"
"Falling asleep with all this work, clearly~…" she noted with that playful hum in her voice. "Maybe I should tell the Director you were slacking off, Mister…?"
"Please don't do that!" He quickly yelped, then after a small pause of realization, coughed into his fist. He quickly stood up, but sent a few papers on his lap sprawling to the ground. Paying them no heed, he held out his hand. "…Roman Archaman. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The renaissance clad woman looked at the outreached hand and blinked. She giggled, took a few playful steps to the desk and grasped the hand gently. He glanced into her amused eyes, and felt his heart skip a beat. "Pleasure is all mine, I can tell already~… Call me Da Vinci."
"…Da Vinci? But that's not a proper name… Not Leonardo?" he asked curiously.
"My, my~… You want to be on a first name basis, Supervisor Archaman?" Da Vinci hummed, and it sent him into a small pani- She laughed, and smiled at him again. "Look at you squirm… You're quite the unusual employee~! All disorganized and easily flustered like a little child."
"I-I'm not usually like this!" he tried to reassure, but failed horribly, as they released the shake. She laughed again, and he crossed his arms over his chest. "You just caught me at a bad- I mean you…!"
"You're going to be one of the interesting ones, I can tell already~!" she mused, then gazed at the scattered paperwork. "Though… I'm not sure how you got a doctorate with this level of organization. Is a squirmy, pitiful guy like you really the head of the Medical Department?"
"Ouch! I worked hard for this position you know!" he winced and complained, but it only made her giggle. "Sheesh… Are you always this wicked?"
"I'm just stating the truth, Roman. Olga made you squirm with just a glance. It's good to have a bit of composure in public, you know~?" As he sulked, Da Vinci merely smiled as she glanced around at the many different profiles strewn about the room. "But I must ask… What brought a mess like you to Chaldea?"
Roman's expression fell a touch serious, and it caused her to look up. In her eyes, he saw the fire of curiosity ignite, and Roman feared he had betrayed himself for a few moments; He couldn't raise suspicion, especially in front of perceptive beings like servants. He'd reprimand himself later for a potential slip, but quickly put up his mask. Roman smiled lightly, and scratched the back of his head. Still, the glint of curiosity remained in Da Vinci's eyes as he answered.
"Oh, you know… I just felt like I could really do humanity some good if I came here."
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ Ω ]ΞΞΞR===•-
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ Ω ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"West wing two thirds neutralized." "Gabrielle's team almost has the east secured." "The beachhead is coming under assault again!"
A chorus of fast typing, clicks, and beeps chimed from every work station in the control room. Robots and employees worked dutifully and without pause, monitoring the progress of the deployed forces. Chaldeas spun in its cradle in the Deployment Room beyond its windows, towering over the many reserve servants waiting for the call to be deployed. Tension lingered in both rooms, though it was nowhere near as suffocating as Roman thought it would be.
He stood with crossed arms before the central control board, staring intently at the large screen above. His eyes scrutinized every little detail of the confusing mess that was Solomon's domain. The mass of blackened roots and crumbling ruins would throw the eyes into chaos unless viewed from above. From the chosen perspective, it became much easier to give detailed instructions without ensuing confusion; Any delay could be fatal in this final confrontation.
Roman eyed the very bottom of the horseshoe-shaped bastion, which was several kilometers in diameter. At the bending base of the horseshoe, a small outcrop of land jutted out. Barely a few hundred meters wide, it was separated from the other ruins and tendrils. This place served as the only landing zone Chaldea could access; It was a dangerous chokepoint, but it was their lone beachhead, or so it was named.
He glanced to a nearby monitor, where Anishka's team valiantly fended off another tidal surge of dark beasts. These demons were easily held off by the combined might of the defending force, which included the Four Indian legends. In particular, Rama vaporized hordes with mere waves of his sword, so Roman's concern didn't rest there.
The southern beachhead was secure.
As Da Vinci worked the primary console in front of him, he glanced to the left part of the horseshoe. It had been simply dubbed the west wing, and Gudao's combined forces were steadily making their way to the top. They also encountered the same demons that assaulted the beachhead. Gabrielle's forces on the east wing dealt with the same enemies, and although both groups had progressed very slowly, they made steady gains.
Roman would have liked to attack Solomon directly, but the circumstances prevented this. He let out a slow breath, "What's the barrier's strength?"
"Thirty percent and falling," Da Vinci answered calmly. "The last demon pillars should do it."
After a small glance to Shakespeare, who was diligently writing in the very back of the room, Roman turned to another monitor. It showed Gudao's remaining forces assaulting the last combined demon pillar on the west wing. The demon gods had combined into six merged-colonies that resembled a larger pillar, each based on a ruined island among the horseshoe. Between them and the hordes of summoned demons, the fight just to reach Solomon had been taxing.
The pillars were far stronger combined, and required leaving groups of servants behind to keep them suppressed. Due to the nature of this domain, the combined pillars would simply be reborn anew. However, if they were too busy trying to survive and focus on regeneration, they couldn't feed power to the central barrier. The strategy was to keep all the pillars suppressed in hopes the barrier would drop.
Gudao and Gabrielle would then lead the final teams in to finish Solomon.
"Brilliant, brilliant!" Shakespeare proclaimed from the back, making some employees chuckle. "Gudao will be victorious in this race! And when Gabby looked to be ahead too!"
"Maybe Gabby will make a last-minute comeback? Scathach and Medb hate losing anything," a smirking Tesla added as he entered the room with a new whiskey bottle. "I theorize everything is fine since there are no alarm bells?"
"Slow and steady~…" Da Vinci hummed at the monitor, but tossed a small glance to the still serious Roman.
Though he did appreciate the lighter atmosphere than he expected, he kept his arms crossed tensely over his torso. Part of him wanted to join in. He wanted to laugh and smile alongside them. Tense situations made him nervous, and a bit of mirth would solve the issue… but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
He glanced between all the screens, scrutinizing each one as his paranoia welled within. Solomon had proven only a fraction of his strength in London, and Holmes had warned them that he should not be taken lightly. He wished the detective were here to give his input, because that would likely help calm his nerves. For all the effort Chaldea was putting in, and making slow progress, he couldn't help but feel things were going a bit too well considering the scanned readings.
Every ounce of him urged the acting director to keep scanning the screens. It was proving to be a hard-fought battle. At points they struggled to gain any ground since landing in the late morning. As the early evening approached, they've taken far more ground than he believed they should have.
Maybe it was due to their strength since Merlin was providing Avalon's assistance. It could also be he heavily underestimated the quality of Chaldea's servants, which he'd never voice on fear of justified abuse. There was also the idea he had overestimated this Solomon's capabilities since he had far more curious powers than he believed the King of Magic should have; If anyone would know, it was Roman.
All that aside, he still remained confused about the sudden threat the forces remained vigilant for: There was a beast-level enemy detected in the singularity.
The readings still indicated it hadn't moved at all within the barrier, but they couldn't see it clearly. They couldn't even see Solomon past the purple field. It would remain a source of major anxiety, but he counted his stars it had yet to make any sort of move. It could be Solomon's bodyguard and final defense by the looks of it, but he hoped their luck held.
Whatever the case would be, he knew his nerves wouldn't be calmed until the overall threat was subdued.
"Gabby's team has reached the final pillar!" "West wing is almost completely suppressed, Doctor Roman!" "Beachhead receiving another attack!"
He felt a gentle hand on his arm, and he looked to see Da Vinci had placed her hand on him. She smiled softly, "Relax a bit. You'll stress yourself sick."
He was expecting a jab, but he didn't mind the genuine show of concern either. He smiled back, "Sorry… I'm just being me."
"Yeah… Just you being you," she teased back with a small giggle before she returned to the console. "Barrier at twenty percent and falling."
Chuckling from the back of the room caught Roman's attention. He turned back, and spotted Shakespeare's feather pen writing wildly as he stared towards him. "Wonderful! Humanity's valiant stand, with Roman and Da Vinci's secret love finally flapping for all to see amongst hopeful winds!"
"T-That's not it at all! Don't write about us!" Roman quickly complained as laughter raced through the control room.
"Oho! But it got you to calm down, or do my eyes deceive like hungry beggars?" Shakespeare pointed out with a small smirk.
Roman blinked, but quickly sighed with small relief. Truthfully, that small distraction did make him feel just a bit better. Perhaps he was just being paranoid like he usually was. It had been several hours of stressful observation… maybe he should check up on Magi*Mari-
'No, Roman… It's not the time to be that laxed.' That could come later with significantly less stress.
He glanced back to the main monitor as the brief silence allowed the tension to seep back in. The horse shoe was almost completely secure… but why was it a horseshoe to begin with? Most rituals acted on the basis of a circle, so the missing point at the north, which would complete the circle, worried him. Staring at the vacant space only served to reignite his paranoia, but the numbers that the scanners were picking up weren't a lie.
The barrier was coming down, and Solomon would soon be confronted.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -IV- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"Incoming assault! Hold the beachhead!" "They never learn, do they!?" "I'll beat your score this time, Leonidas!"
Were it not for the endlessly writhing tentacles, whose blackened bodies housed occasional rows of crimson eyes, Anishka might have found this place eerily beautiful. The living roots, which served as the interweaving threads that held these massive, floating islands together, did not attack. They merely existed and writhed in unnerving silence. Their stable ground allowed the waves of demons firm footing to launch their ground assaults at the lone, separated island.
Thanks to their number, it was hard to discern what these demons looked like when they first landed. As the battle raged on, everyone understood what they were dealing with. They were like blackened humanoids, wreathed with a shadowy mist and crazed to the point of blindly assaulting the invaders. Though their midnight, muscular bodies appeared as giant humans, their reptilian heads bore vicious fangs and goat-like horns. Dreadful claws on hands and feet formed their main, vicious means of attack.
What they lacked in quality, they made up for in sheer numbers.
With a hand clutched to the chest of her blue-accented Chaldean battle suit, Anishka overlooked the battlefield. She kept her breathing steady and under control, ever cautious of losing her own composure and missing something important. She stood on a rocky outcrop at the beachhead island's center, flanked atop the ruined mound by Sita and Arjuna. Their bows weaved arcs of lightning and fire through the war-torn air. Each hit detonated into the hordes of demons, thinning their numbers while conserving energy.
A defensive line of servants held the edge of the beachhead island, composed of some of humanity's greatest defenders. Hector led some allies in fending off a pushing horde, while Leonidas bolstered the defense on the other side with more heroes. While nearly a dozen servants defended, Rama and Karna were running amok among the masses. Explosions of gore and severed limbs tore through the sky before vanishing into sickly mists of ebony and crimson.
Anishka watched the fleeting glimpses of Rama as he dove deeper into the swarm of demons with no concern. She merely smiled with Sita as the saber destroyed another bushel of enemies with a chuckle. It was incredible to see the fabled stories of Rama, destroyer of demons, in person. Karna's attacks were also majestic, but Rama made this look like a walk in the park. For him, it likely was.
"Did you see that, Sita!? Annie!?" Rama cried out happily over the hordes as he dove in again.
Sita giggled at him, who was clearly showing off for his wife. "Keep it up, dear! You're doing great!"
Anishka glanced over the defending perimeter. A few servants rested at the base of the mound, ready to act, but otherwise not doing anything to help. Iskandar, Tamamo, Ereshkigal, Altera, and King Hassan conserved their energy for when Gudao and Gabrielle returned to this landing zone; They would be part of the final strike force that would attack the throne. Her team, on the other hand, was more than welcome to expend their energy defending Chaldea's only landing zone.
Feeling a little tired, Anishka pulled a golden apple out of her small satchel. She took a bite as Arjuna launched a powerful volley that zipped past Karna. It detonated into a cluster of demons he charged towards, incinerating several hundred in an explosion of blue prana. Karna tossed a simple glance back towards them with a disappointed smile. Arjuna merely smirked back and aimed for another target. Anishka giggled at the rivalry's healthy exchange.
The master's intercom buzzed, and she held the wrist-mounted device up to click a button with her pinky. Da Vinci's holographic face appeared before them with a cheery smile. "The barrier will be down shortly~! Gudao and Gabrielle will be making their way back to you in no time~!"
"No casualties?" she asked hopefully, and Da Vinci's simple nod raised her spirits. Defending this point was grueling and concern-filled work.
"All suppression points are handling the situation fine~! I'll be sure to let you know if we're leyshifting reinforcements!"
"I hope the next call is our victory then!" Anishka happily replied, making Da Vinci giggle before the transmission ended.
"It's good to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant. The battle is far from over," Arjuna reminded, though he was as calm and composed as ever. Even still, he smiled lightly when he stole another group of demons from Karna's advance. "Solomon likely has more defenses within the barrier."
"With so many out here now… He definitely believes we're a threat," Anishka mused in agreement. However, the train of thought led her to another question as she supervised the battle around her. Besides the demon pillars, what else did he have to fall back on?
No one expected these demon hordes, so the possibility of even stronger enemies at the throne remained. That didn't even count Solomon himself, a Grand Servant with enough power to take out a normal one with ease. There was also that beast to consider, and just thinking about it made her shiver; Watching Tiamat from the control room was terrifying, but now it was her turn to possibly see a beast in person.
Though she remained worried and a bit paranoid, Anishka clung to her hopes: The complete final strike team were no pushovers.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -V- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
To any normal viewer, the demon pillars could only be described as madness incarnate. Protruding from the ground like tentacles that rivaled small skyscrapers, they varied in color, but their composition remained the same. Diamond, crystalline eyes of crimson red speckled their forms, constantly twitching, observing, and learning; Some were intact on this one, but many were shattered and oozing black liquid.
Pained moans and screams of countless, soulless bodies, interwoven to form the carapace of each demon god. Though this one appeared a gaudy gold, it barely masked the trapped departed within. Blinded and senseless, they suffered so their writhing host may draw the energy it needed for its task. Its eyes flashed brightly, and those trapped within screamed as one as a wave of malignant energy surged out towards its attackers.
Rocky ground and ruined marble pillar were sent flying, but Mashu grit her teeth and held her shield firm. "Senpai! Fou!"
"I'm fine, Mashu!" the battlesuit-clad master reassured from behind her, placing a firm hand on her exposed shoulder for comfort; His other clutched Fou closely to his chest. She only tensed further as a boulder deflected off the shield. They had stood amongst ruins only minutes before, but the demon pillar had quickly reduced their cover to a rugged plain. He sent the telepathic order, "It's recharging the attack! Make it pay for it!"
As the hurricane of malevolent winds died down, Merlin and Bedivere slid back into position near Gudao's back. Some of the remaining horde of the demons, bolstered by the passing gale, charged towards them. After a swift incantation from Merlin, he motioned his staff towards the demons. Several bright orbs fired from its tip as his robe flared from the burst. The densely packed energy cannonballed into the vanguard then detonated, steamrolling everything behind them. The few that remained were quickly sliced apart by a strum of Tristan's bow.
Gudao glanced over the safety of the shield to view the silently obeyed command. Arturia flew by on Dun Stallion, sending a focused blast from Rhongomyniad careening into one of the pillar's eyes. It shattered, making the tentacle scream as the Vimana soared past to deliver a volley. A charged prana shot from Ishtar's boat slammed into the opposing side. As it writhed and screamed, earthen weapon from Enkidu raked at its golden form.
With the demon pillar staggering, Gudao was free to safely survey more of the field. Arthur and Brynhildr kept Arash defended as he struck eyes with pinpoint precision. Lancelot and Gawain were thinning the remaining few clusters of lesser demons. It was still a slog, but it got easier with each pillar they managed to suppress. It seemed Solomon had a finite number of these lesser demons, so the more spread out the Chaldean forces were, the less appeared at each island due to dispersion.
If only they didn't resurrect infinitely like the pillars.
The demon pillar, Amon, shrieked as its final eyes were shattered like glass. "Regenerate! Restore! Regenerate! Chaldea must be expunged!"
"That's it, Senpai! It can't keep it up anymore!" Mashu cheered as the bleeding pillar glowed with purple energy; That was the visual cue. The pillar would no longer be providing energy to the throne's barrier in order to replenish itself. There would be a minute of down time before it would start attacking again, but its damaged state could be suppressed once more by a smaller party. Fou barked in celebration as it scampered onto Gudao's shoulder.
"Great! Arturia, Arthur, you're in charge here now! Thanks for all your hard work!" Gudao relayed, then sighed in relief. He gently rubbed Mashu's shoulder. "How're you feeling, love?"
She beamed back at him, and though her eyes were fatigued, she did her best to hide it. She had been very adamant she would be okay to come, but he couldn't help but worry more. Even now he still worried for the smiling, wonderful girl who enriched his life than he could ever properly voice. She nodded happily, "I'm finishing this with you, Senpai. At your-"
"Your side, where I want to be as long as I can…" he recited, as she always loved to whisper to him before they fell asleep. As he glanced around briefly to survey the battlefield, Fou looked between them with a pleased twinkle in its eyes. The master smiled warmly back at her, but his gaze remained troubled and worried. "…Just as long as you keep your promise."
"Then you keep yours," she winked playfully, then placed a quick peck on his lips.
Merlin coughed playfully as he sent a burst of lightning through an approaching horde. Fou glared at the caster, but Merlin only grinned. "Hey, now~! We're still on a battlefield you two~!"
"Mayhaps we chalk it up to their confidence in us!" Bedivere chuckled happily as he eyed the closest, charging demons. The furthest they ever got was only fifty meters before Tristan's eviscerating strikes or Merlin's bolts would fry them. This time, it was a tidal wave of earthen weapons that the last of their resurrected rank as Gudao finally realized he'd yet to give the confirmation report to Roman.
He clicked the intercom on. "Chaldea, western wing suppressed."
"Shit! You only won because you got Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Gudork!" Mashu and Gudao chuckled at Gabrielle's incredulous cry: She lost the unofficial race, but neither of them would actually dare rush to put their servants in danger.
"Confirmed, Gudao~!" Da Vinci's voice chimed in as her winking face appeared above his wrist device. "The shield should drop as soon as Gabby finishes the job!"
Gudao clicked the device off as the area fell mostly silent. He let out a long, relieved breath as he gazed about the still battlefield, where only Amon's writhing form remained and regenerated. In a few minutes, the attacks would begin anew, but the demon pillar would only be at about half its original strength when it'd renew its attacks; These combined pillars were roughly twice as strong as an individual one, and that was while most its power was diverted into the defensive shield around the throne.
That was a scary thought, and far too unnerving for the master.
Gudao had been racked by nervousness and caution ever since they started the western assault. It grew every time they suppressed a pillar, since it meant leaving a group of servants behind to keep it locked down. The possibility that someone could fall was very real, yet they were scraping by. That fear only lightened at this moment, when nearly all of the combined pillars were subdued.
Even so, the paranoia remained. The what ifs circled his mind like vultures, ready to tear him apart. He was always cautious, and he'd remain that way to the grave. As much as he appreciated every gift he got, in whatever form, there was a part of him that still worried about any terrible surprises. In particular, he began to sharpen his mind for whatever nasty ambush Solomon at the throne.
At worst, the numbered beast wasn't the only thing he had ready for them.
The small group looked up as Gilgamesh's Vimana slowly landed beside them, accompanied by Ishtar's boat and a horseback Arturia. Enkidu playfully summersaulted onto the wing of the ancient aircraft, making the golden armored king clap for his best friend. Gilgamesh glanced over to Gudao. "A rather boring stroll among the stars… If only the scenery wasn't such an eyesore to the King."
"I'm glad you came anyway! Thank you!" Gudao smiled and nodded, which made Gilgamesh smirk and Enkidu chuckle. "It's about time we end this though."
"There's always a seat for you, Gudao. Mashu too, for this rare occasion," Gilgamesh commented as he motioned to his aircraft. Mashu nodded gratefully to express her thanks while Gudao walked over to the wing. Enkidu stepped over to help the master up, just as Gilgamesh eyed the grinning Merlin. "You can teleport yourself. I, the King, know very well you are capable of that much."
"After all I've done for you in Uruk?" Merlin scoffed, but then Fou jumped onto the wing with a small frown while Enkidu and Gudao helped Mashu up. He eyed the tiny beast, who slowly smirked his way, and grimaced. "…Teleport it is. I'm not getting on with that damn thing."
"Fou, fou," the fluffy critter responded smugly before following Mashu and Gudao to their seat. As the small seat unfolded before the king, the one Mashu and Gudao would share, Fou quickly clambered onto Mashu's shoulder. It turned around and glanced towards Gudao. "Fou, fou?"
Gudao blinked out of his small reverie to look at it. He smiled, "Yea… Sorry, just running possibilities through my head."
Fou nodded in understanding as Gudao took the seat first. As Mashu sat in his lap, he watched Enkidu simply hold onto Gilgamesh's seat for stability. Shortly after his girlfriend was secure, the Vimana began to hover. He was still lost in the many rampant possibilities running through his mind as the demon pillar reformed behind them. In a realm where the enemy could infinitely restore itself, what other terrible concepts waited in the shadows?
He didn't want to think about it much longer than that, but he had to: He knew better than to discard even the most absurd possibilities.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -VI- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
Once the barrier shimmered with strength and vitality, but now it flickered and threatened to fade. The translucent shield around the central island… the heart which resided at the temple horseshoe's center, the throne, was due to break. The cold, grey rocky ruins would be fully exposed to attack from Chaldea. Though the pillars had destroyed the lone access arch long before the invaders' arrival, Chaldea had a predisposition for airlifting its forces around.
They would surely attack the throne by air once Sabnock's channeling node was compromised.
Within the fallen outline of a ruined, blackened temple, the throne stood atop a grand, marble staircase. Though it was chipped and cracked in places, it was far more pristine compared to the ruined columns and ground around it. The throne itself was akin to a white pillar, flanked on both sides by concentric rings that reached for the skies above. It was a lone symbol of prestige in a darkened domain… a hated yet memorable monument that served as their seat.
Before the throne, they stood within a flame of purest white. It flickered and waved gently with an unseen wind, yet towered before the throne in its controlled release. They prepared within, and managed what needed to be done while their consort pillar monitored the situation outside. Everything had been prepared long ago, but still they checked and rechecked… waited and observed…
Yet, they were calm. "Baal. Do not let any suspicion or doubt be ignored. Prepare the throne's defenses."
"Yes, my King."
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -VII- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"Gabrielle's team is victorious! Combined pillar Sabnock is suppressed!"
Roman allowed himself a tiny smile as he watched the primary monitor. With raging sparks from crackling lightning, the barrier collapsed and left the throne unguarded. Gabrielle was organizing the final suppression group before returning to the southern landing zone to join up with Gudao. Though many celebrated lightly in anticipation for the final push, Roman would not get carried away.
The beast was likely going to defend Solomon on the throne. If the Grand Caster was doing necessary preparations, then that would be ideal; To fight both at once will require the reserves to be deployed immediately. That was likely to be the case considering how much energy Solomon seemed to be committing to the fight. It's fair to guess he saw all of this as an unfortunate necessity to stop their unchecked rampage.
But they would win. They must win.
Roman glanced briefly to one of the nearby stations, where a robot was actively checking Chaldea's interior surveillance system. "Terrance. How's everyone?"
"All scattered and moving sporadically, as you requested," the robot beeped back quickly. One of its three eyes shifted to him. "I feel I must question this once more. My calculations indicate a minimum fifty-percent increase in safety if they were all in the bunker. Are you suffering PTSD from the Fuyuki Incident?"
"…Maybe I am," Roman replied calmly as Tesla and Shakespeare eyed him firmly. As much as he knew the robot was right, he couldn't shake the knot in his stomach. Just the idea of clumping them together when Solomon held unknown cards in his hand shook him. As Acting Director, he was responsible for their safety, but this unusual decision sat a bit better than most. "Servants are with them, and they're a quick run to the bunker. I'm going to trust my gut on this one."
"A fair decision from our resident coward," Da Vinci approved with a small smile. "Let's hope our forces have his hands full to even think about a counter attack."
Except if it still was Solomon, then Roman knew he could likely think of a counter attack easily. Visions and revelations came like water in a stream; That clairvoyance is what Roman truly stressed about. To glimpse what could happen and circumvent it… It was the ultimate maneuvering tool in their chess game. As long as that was in play, and Solomon's state was still undiscerned, any surprise attack from him and the beast was possibl-
His eyes widened. Why the hell didn't he think of that possibility before!?
From what the scanners indicated, the domain was crafted and built using the magic circuits of the real Solomon. This pointed to the idea this Grand Caster was not fake… but to say he was the real deal was also incorrect. It was strangely reminiscent of a situation in the last singularity, though on a much more nerve-racking scale. Paranoid over his newest theory, that held far more water than he wished, Roman was compelled to action.
"Da Vinci, I need you to open up a channel to Gudao once Gabby gets to the landing zone."
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -VIII- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"You heard me right. I believe the beast is the lone culprit. You likely won't be fighting the real Solomon."
Anishka's teams held the line against the newest wave of demons. Safe and far behind the line, Gudao and Gabrielle's teams circled Gudao and the projected Doctor Roman. Some, like Joan and Dantes, quickly murmured to each other while others, like Quetzalcoatl and Altera, silently listened in. Time was ticking, but Roman deemed the possible information important enough to share, so Gudao delayed the attack; He found the news itself both alleviated tension yet generated confusion.
"But even if he's not controlling the beast, how is he not an enemy? It feels like he sided with the enemy, like Archimedes did in the Moon Cell," Altera inquired, sending yet another wave of concern through Gudao. Mashu squeezed his hand beside him to calm him as Roman adamantly shook his head.
"That's not possible with Solomon. He wasn't raised like your typical person," Roman began firmly yet quickly to save time. "From what we've researched, he was completely indifferent to everything. He was a life offered from birth as a superior king that would even surpass King David. His subjects revered him, but saw no resemblance of life or thoughts that could be considered human. He wielded so much divine and royal authority, yet he lacked no sense of being human at all."
Iskandar scratched his chin. "To be either good or evil, you have to understand and have either to begin with. You can't make something from nothing?"
"Precisely!" Da Vinci chimed in. Her holographic body nudged Roman over so she could appear. "That's why even if he's altered, he can't become a bad person… Though no matter how you look at it, his indifference was cruel."
The possibility they weren't fighting the real Solomon relieved Gudao; Fighting a Grand Servant and a Beast together made his hair stand on end. On the other hand, he was starting to understand what Roman's real message was. He asked, "Solomon is being used as a puppet then?"
"Exactly. I feel it's a similar case that we had with Kingu in Babylonia." Roman's holographic projection nodded. "Someone is using Solomon's corpse in order to achieve their goals, and I strongly believe it's the beast lurking in this singularity."
There was a brief pause in thought, but Gudao nodded slowly. "That does make more sense."
"I'd buy it," Gabrielle pointed out flatly while keeping her hands akimbo on her battlesuit. "One of the seven beasts that want to destroy humanity."
"So we won't be dealing with a Grand Caster and a beast at the same time," Ereshkigal sighed with relief. "That makes our life easier."
"Or harder," Dantes warned with narrowed eyes. "That means this beast is graced with clairvoyance. That's what you wanted to warn us about, yes?"
Gudao's concern and anxiety rose as Roman nodded firmly. "Exactly. If this theory holds true, it's not Solomon, but he has access to a Grand Caster's powers. He is not to be underestimated by any means."
"Then it's a good thing we weren't underestimating this fight to begin with!" Gabrielle grinned as she looked around confidently at the gathered group. He was always glad his best friend's choice way of countering pressure was to boast confidently; It always did help him back up in their childhood. Gudao glanced around too, even if his face was mostly blank in an attempt to hold his mounting concerns. The sight of his allies soothed him.
Gilgamesh. Enkidu. Ereshkigal. Merlin. Altera. Lord El-Melloi II. Dantes. Joan. Tamamo. Quetzalcoatl. Shuten. Siegfried. Iskandar. King Hassan. Medb. Scathach. Mashu.
Seventeen servants, many of which were among the strongest within Chaldea. Some of Anishka's own powerhouse team would remain in immediate reserve, but the throne was not out of strike range for Arjuna, Rama, and Sita. That didn't count the archers and casters evenly dispersed around the suppression points, ready to send supporting fire when possible. With the added powerhouse reserves that remained safe in Chaldea, ready to deploy as a final ace up the sleeve…
…Gudao was filled with confidence, but he did not let it get to his head. He merely smiled and nodded to Roman. "Thanks for the heads up. We'll be on our guard for the worst."
"We won't have communications with you once you approach the throne. That space-time fault doesn't play nice… so I'll say it here," Da Vinci warned, but smiled confidently. "Go show the enemy what Chaldea is made of! We'll be waiting to welcome you home, so bring good news!"
"Good luck, everyone!" Roman nodded, but made lingering eye contact with Mashu, then Gudao. He smiled. "Make sure she doesn't push herself too hard, Gudao. We don't want her too tired for the promised procedure."
"We'll be back safe and sound," Gudao reassured as he squeezed Mashu's hand one last time. She and Roman smiled as he signaled for Quetzalcoatl to bring her mounts out for their assault. He felt better, even as the stress remained. It was at a level he could manage, and he'd place his trust in his allies as he always had.
He missed the small glance shared between Gilgamesh and Roman, and the smirk from the king to the acting director.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -IX- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"They should be regenerating soon!" Irisviel yelled from her position atop a ruined pillar. Illyasviel floated beside her, with Ruby clutched readily in hand. Their gazes remained focused on Sabnock, the gray pillar that attempted to regenerate from Heracles' recent, devastating strike; The force of his attack had cleaved into the demon pillar's base like an axe to a thin sapling.
Heracles, Jaguarman, and Kiritsugu waited at the base of the pillar, keeping eyes on the locations where waves would regenerate. If there was any consolation to their endless attacks, it was the predictability of where they'd appear. It made Kiritsugu's bomb laying that much easier.
On two other nearby pillars, Emiya and Kuro kept their bows out in preparation. The tanned archer swept his keen eyes quickly over the entire domain. The Celts had once more subdued their combined pillar on the adjacent island, and he spotted Ishtar and Arturia ready to make another bombing run once theirs regenerated. He gazed at the strike force mounting up on the faraway beachhead and frowned. Kuro eyed him, "It's bothering you too, Onii-chan?"
"Yea… It's far too quiet," Emiya scrutinized as Gudao's voice echoed into their heads.
"All ranged servants! Prepare to assist the landing operation! We're assaulting the throne!"
Kiritsugu stared to the throne. "He probably understands what's coming… full effort in defense of the throne."
As if to confirm Kiritsugu's theory, countless magic circles appeared in the skies around the central island. Stones etched with runes emerged from them, then turned towards the southern beachhead as the first of Quetzalcoatl's flying mounts took to the skies. Emiya swiftly raised his bow, traced a Caladbolg II, and primed the shot. "Kuro!"
An arrow tore through the sky towards the first target. "Two steps ahead of you!"
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -X- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
The starry space was a minefield of projectiles flying in both directions. The summoned defenses shot violet orbs of concentrated mana towards the incoming strike force. One of them slammed into a shielding dinosaur, but imploded with absolute destructive force. Gilgamesh's Vimana banked sharply to avoid the blast radius, while Enkidu ensured Gudao, Mashu, and Fou stayed in their seat. Gudao grit his teeth as Merlin fired a concentrated blast of electricity to detonate another incoming strike. "Don't let those attacks glance you!"
Several icy chunks formed in the air before her flying mount as Tamamo weaved her spells. She sent them cascading forward, blocking an incoming volley from the defenses before they could reach the spearhead of flying mounts. Quetzalcoatl flew beside them on her larger beast, coordinating the body-blocking dinosaurs while chewing on a golden apple. Even if the gap between the domain's horseshoe perimeter and the throne was short, the defenses ensured it would not be easy.
Fortunately, the supporting fire was slowly destroying the floating defenses.
A flash of lightning from Arjuna's bow weaved perfectly through the formation before slamming into one of the floating boulders. Its rune imploded, sending shrapnel into nearby stones as they were struck by incoming arrows and spells from Chaldea's forces. A broken phantasm destroyed a few more, followed by another in a fiery detonation when one of Tomoe's arrows slammed home. A beam of lightning from Helena raked some, and one of Gilgamesh's golden axes cleaved through two at once.
"Nearly halfway there, Gabby!" Medb yelled out over the chorus of fire as she maneuvered her flying mount among the pack. The master held onto her seat as best as she could as the carriage rocked; Scathach looked perfectly balanced and calm on the roof. "He's sure angry at us!"
"We're flipping all the furniture in his house! Of course he's pissed!" Gabrielle joked back, and even Scathach found herself smirking as Medb laughed.
Gabrielle's confidence was soaring as high as her optimism. She was nervous, yea, but that was something she got used to after so many battles. There would always be that worry; It's when mistakes piled up that it got to her though. However, in this final battle, she felt content. They'd fought a terribly difficult battle, but this was the final push! They took all the precautions, and it was paying off! She couldn't help but feel confident in their future success!
…But to be honest, she clung to that high spirit to distract her from the thought that the situation, even if difficult, was going far better than it should.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -XI- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
'Please be safe…' Anishka's heart pounded in her chest.
Beside her, Sita and Arjuna kept up their precision bombardment. They were joined by Rama at the base of the mound, who had summoned his own legendary bow to display his unique battle prowess. Karna still danced among the swarms of demons as the other servants held Chaldea's sole extraction point. She fought the urge to marvel at the sight and remained glued to her stressful task.
Far from complacent, Anishka's eyes diligently scanned the beachhead along with the horseshoe perimeter. With Gudao and Gabrielle closing in on the throne, the space-time fault it sat on disrupted long range communication. She was now in charge of the defense while they handled the final opponent, and she was not going to fail them. Thus, she scrutinized every node as best as she could with her eyes and sent telepathic confirmations to the others.
"Everything's fine at Halphas!" "Barbatos stomped in yet another new record!" "Orias nearly down again! No need to worry, Annie~!"
She did worry a bit about that pillar in particular though. The lead pillars in charge of the singularities seemed to be the focal points, but there were only six instead of seven. Orias was also not one of the present pillars; If the pattern continued, that was supposed to be Flauros. Maybe something happened for its failure to deal with Chaldea? Its perceived absence worried her, but she couldn't dwell on it too long with the battle raging around her and a job to do.
Then again, it was yet another mysterious circumstance that would poke at the back of her mind. The island before the Beachhead was also strangely vacant save for the constant waves of lesser demons. It was likely yielded due to the proximity. Her closest servants would have easily suppressed it from this distance. She chastised herself for possibly overthinking again, but she couldn't help it with how much 'idling' she had to do.
After releasing another pinpoint strike, Arjuna glanced to the Indian master and smiled. "Bored? You've yet to lift a finger."
She smiled back at him. "I'm happy that's the case."
"Then let's hope it remains that way."
Something screamed within her that hoping wasn't going to change anything.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -XII- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
It was a grueling push, but Roman breathed in relief as the final floating defense crumbled. Anishka's voice cracked over the communications line. "Chaldea, please confirm the strike force has landed!"
Da Vinci smiled. "That's a bingo for you, Annie~! They're re-consolidating as we speak! Tell everyone good work! That was a lovely display of firepower!"
He watched Gilgamesh's Vimana land at the edge of the island along with the many other mounts. Mashu was quick to head onto land to take up a defensive posture as the teams reorganized. He smiled lightly at Mashu's diligence, and nearly chuckled as Fou's barking at Merlin made the caster flinch. It did well to soothe the paranoia that had overwhelmed him for the past few hours.
The situation felt lighter, even with the final tense anticipation in the air. He observed the primary screen as the strike force quickly got their bearings and advanced down the once massive corridor, now marked only by the ruined columns and walls. He allowed himself to stare at familiar designs he once helped create, and slowly breathed at what's become of it. It was now a monument to a beast's desire, or so he still firmly believed.
Da Vinci blinked and stopped typing for a second. "…Oh? I think we can get comms!"
Roman's eyes shot to Da Vinci as she quickly fiddled with the console. Several minute of typing, working variables, and setting parameters, a crackling and barely audible feed opened up. They could hear them among the occasional static, but it was there. Da Vinci smiled and hailed, "Gabby? Gudao? Can you read us?"
Silence. "Hello? Gudao? Gabby~?"
Again, nothing, and Da Vinci sighed. Roman patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay, genius. One-way audio is better than nothing."
She beamed at the nickname, and he chuckled freely. Tesla chuckled from his seat in the corner. "You lost some stress, Roman. Thought we were back to the early days for a second."
Da Vinci eyed Roman with a dissecting eye, and he chuckled nervously. "It'll never go back to that! I promised!"
"Good." Da Vinci turned back to the main monitor and glanced at it. "They're about to meet the culprit again. Let's see if your theory holds water."
Roman stared up at the screen. The throne's platform of ruined rock way pretty large, but the team made good time. They were only half a kilometer away from the marble staircase, the one he'd ascended so many times. Brief nostalgia was subdued by his newfound relief. It was good not to be gripped by crippling paranoia now; He hated it whenever it popped up, but could anyone blame him?
He'd been around Chaldea for so long, but it was the past year that he witnessed the greatest moments he could ever hope for. There were bad times, surely, but what he'd come to witness was something he believed could not be replicated anywhere else. It was an impossibility, but it was their impossibility… and he dared not think of losing it.
He wanted to see it grow more, and relish in the happy smiles and atmosphere he'd come to love waking up to every day. Maybe he could play tag with Jack, Nursery Rhyme and the other kids. He was still down a few card games with David, and he wanted to even that score. Altera and Nero also want to plan another dinner with him and Da Vinci sometime. There was so much on his plate already, so the future looked bright.
That's why the paranoia for what could possibly go wrong would remain, but he was glad it wasn't choking him.
They'd taken all the necessary steps to ensure the final confrontation went their way. Even so, vigilance was kept the entire battle. Though everything was secure, they remained watchful and flexible enough to answer any possible shift with lightning proficiency; The first reserve teams must be horribly bored since they still waited on the leyshift pads in the other room.
With the enemy now cornered, Roman allowed himself to release just a little bit more of his paranoia.
-•===ЯΞΞΞ[ -XIII- ]ΞΞΞR===•-
"This isn't suspicious at all…" Gabrielle muttered as they walked in the center of the servant formation. She eyed a nearby tendril that knit itself into some ruins. Its small eyes merely watched as they passed, but did nothing more.
Like the many other eyes in this domain, they watched, but it was the silence that truly unnerved Gudao. Mashu walked in front of him and Gabrielle, and the remaining servants formed the defensive ring around them. Only Iskandar and Medb remained on their beast-drawn mounts as they moved at the formation's flanks. Gudao remained silent, but eyed the column of light ahead… where the unyielding presence roared like a forest fire on a cloudy night.
Tiamat's overwhelming presence had partially conditioned him to this aura, which was suffocating in its own right. Though this one was equally as potent, it was how it felt that confused him. There was no malice or malevolence, anger or discontent. It just felt like a constant pressure that cast a sense of inferiority through his body. Goosebumps instinctively made their way onto his skin, and he could feel his natural flight or flight instincts trying to kick in.
Whatever this beast was, it was unnerving him in a different manner.
Lord El-Melloi II grumbled. "Something that small with as much power as Tiamat…"
"Her other form was small too," Scathach voiced to break the unusual stillness. "This one will likely be faster."
"Then we'll just have to hold it down," Enkidu chimed in quietly, but his and Gilgamesh's eyes remained firmly locked on the grand staircase.
After two more minutes of a cautious advance, the formation stopped. They gave enough room between them and the foot of the stairs to maneuver should the need arise. Yet, their cautious approach was met with nothing, as if the opponent merely invited them in after such a hard defense. As if to further Roman's theory, Solomon didn't even appear to greet them. Only unnerving stillness lingered in the air.
It was confusing, concerning, and his own paranoia rose again. As he glanced around at the firm gazes of the rest of the strike force, he could tell it made them just as uncomfortable. The only one who seemed to take it easily was Fou, who simply stared at the fiery pillar.
A minute passed in tense vigilance, yet nothing happened.
Even as the servant prepared for battle, there was only stillness. In the distance, he could hear the sounds of distant combat as the other servants fought off the pillars and hordes. He could see occasional flashes of projectiles that streaked through the sky like shooting stars. They were distant, but they were the closest source of conflict. He remained tense for a possible ambush, but as time ticked by, there was no response from the column of fiery light.
The silence of the void was starting to get to him. He couldn't allow his thoughts and emotions to compromise him in any way, so he sought to break the eerie standoff. He opened his mouth to call out, but he was cut off by a deep voice called out from the white flame.
The column of light quickly faded. The swirling blindness temporarily outlined the unusual figure within; Gudao thought it was a tree at first. Some gasps rang through the group, but many only tensed as the unusual being turned its lone eye towards them. Whatever this was, it was definitely the beast, and not Solomon.
Like a mismatched painting, the large humanoid gazed towards them with the lone, demonic eye embedded in its torso. The white and gold, armored skin covered every unusual muscle and left its human-like face void of any features. Atop its head sprouted countless antlers that mimicked leafy branches at its ends. It was difficult to comprehend the many markings and patterns on its body, let alone its whole existence.
All Gudao could understand, was that he was left temporarily speechless as the lone eye gazed towards them along with the featureless face. The tall beast, nearly twice as high as Iskandar, merely stood there high atop the staircase where the light used to cover it. It made no further movement nor intent to act, but calmly stood waiting; The sheer overwhelming pressure of its gaze sent a shiver down Gudao's spine. What felt like only a few seconds felt like an hour before it spoke once more.
"Allow us to congratulate you. We've decided to take you seriously."