What lies between grief and misery, if not for the torment of one's own demons?
-You failed again.
A harrowing cry of a bitter and repressed guilt ate away at the better parts of Saber Alter's judgement, and she welcomed it. There was no need to think of any elaborate plots or schemes. Nothing else mattered as much as blotting out any stray thoughts of mental anguish and sorrow.
It wasn't as if this was her first time.
Family left her early in her life, killed at the hands of her enemies and culling off any notion of blood running thicker than water.
She stopped smiling from then on, devoting herself fully to her reign.
The country faced a perilous invader and needed her leadership even if it was paved in blood.
She did her best; she pushed back any and all adversaries and ushered in an era free of invading forces, and for what?
Looks of scorn and fear? Rumours of a hinged personality bereft of any feelings such as compassion or remorse?
Those she killed deserved to die.
Thieves that turned to banditry and robbed or killed for the sake of survival didn't absolve them of their sin. No matter how such people begged or pleaded, she could never show leniency for the sake of fairness and proper law.
Though she may have been tainted and cursed by many, her reputation becoming notorious, she'd always been lawful. A lawful evil if one considered attribute.
Even still, sworn allies and once faithful Knights turned their backs on her and eventually placed their support in new blood. A more human King. A spawn by the moniker of the Knight of Treachery at the end of the Kingdom's reign.
She had no one.
The only direct blood family she had left, an elder sister intent on ruining her.
She was alone upon her vaunted throne even when she died in the final battle of Camlann.
No one understood her. No one tried, and even if they understood, they couldn't bear the burden of the blood on their hands.
Then Shirou came.
Of course, she'd never interacted with him personally in the events of Fuyuki, but she saw enough and understood the kind of person he was. It was no wonder herself from an original timeline fell in love with him before she was tainted in the Grail's mud.
She wasn't her original.
She understood this point keenly, but the difference was that she assumed and assimilated the feelings and last thoughts of her original self before her manifestation.
The sentiment of love was strong.
In another timeline where her original self was sidelined and didn't have the development of the True Path, love didn't develop as much as feelings of friendship and comradery.
In this regard, Saber Alter treated such sentiments as friendship and comradery as dirt simply because of how brittle her prior experiences revealed them to be.
If Knights could break their oaths to their King, then friendship and comradery is meaningless in the end.
Alas, the feeling in her heart upon her conception hadn't been friendship.
It was devotion, envy, and yearning all wrapped up in the single concept of affection that bloomed to fruition when Shirou reached his hand and called out to her despite knowing that she wasn't her original.
She was Saber Alter, and that hand which called out to her through vows and spoken oaths had been meant for her. Her.
He chose her, giving her a chance to see that, yes; she could actualize the desire in her heart. She already planned things out too after the completion of the overhanging ordeal.
A physical body and rebirth would only require an extensive amount of magical energy; therefore, she could find a means to obtain such energy, gain a new body, and start a family. A family that didn't have to be burdened by responsibilities, enabling them to live a full life free of worries.
-You failed at the start.
That recuring voice of blame and ridicule that constantly played in her mind came again, her eyes going bloodshot, her magic energy surging.
As it stood, her magic energy was like a blazing torch of black tinged with flecks of red making its way through the French countryside on a war path. The air shimmered in its sheer intensity.
There was no subtlety here, nor deeper meaning.
She marched forward with all the grandeur of an uncontrolled wildfire, her aura extending up into the clouds and parting them.
If not for the constant supply of energy Chaldea was providing her, she would have long since expended herself. As for efficiency? That concept had long since left her along with self-control and stability of mind.
She saw a future: a cherished one in which she could see herself devoting her all.
Before she could even dream of it, circumstances outside of her own hands robbed it all away without mercy.
At the very least, if she'd fought by Shirou's side and failed, she could blame herself, but it wasn't to be.
All these feelings; all this resentment; it was being funneled and directed ungoverned.
When you strip one of everything down to even their last ray of hope,
…. Then vengeance is all that's left until not a spec of herself remained.
Her irises flashed with an iridescent golden hue amidst the storm of her own power.
She could see them coming in the distance, four shadows obscuring the visage of Servants besot by Madness Enhancement, the hallmark of Berserker-Class Servants.
She was already making her intentions blatantly obvious and would reach Orleans in her current pace in mere hours.
The way she saw it, they'd be fools not to notice the disturbance she was causing. They sought to kill her here, and she welcomed them.
Four Servants against just herself?
Saber Alter felt nothing but contempt.
Bear your fangs.
Her hands gripped the hilt of her sword, drawing it from its sheath and revealing the fiery crimson once golden symbols of the Fae now blackened under rivers of blood and violence.
Scream your grievances.
Black light swelled over her sword's edge like swaths of smoke igniting and erupting with a roar of jetting provocation.
Raise your paltry resistance.
The malefic energy suffused the blade in its entirety, forming a black cross held in her grip which instantly channeled the aura around her and assimilated it. The air pulsed with her at its center, creating a storm of turbulence uprooting the very ground beneath her in an overbearing show of rage.
The Black Dragon roars in the deep.
This blade will swallow your light, and drown you in its darkness.
Fierce wind and a suffocating pressure forced the incoming Berserkers even in their addled state of mind to reconsider a frontal assault.
Veins burst over her skin, her muscles screaming in protest as she channeled magical energy far beyond her normal limitations. She just didn't care.
I'll shatter your walls.
Her gaze locked in on her targets even as she felt her body begin breaking down from strain.
Pulverize your ilk.
Her four adversaries dispersed, picking up speed and homing in on her from different directions entirely as she tracked them with her eyes.
Rend your souls from your severed bodies, and scatter your remains in the wind.
She grabbed the sword intending to pierce her neck without a change in her expression, unmindful as the edge dug into the fingers of her left hand. The nearest foe had arrived before her in seconds, an effeminate Servant wielding a rapier.
"Although I find myself on the side of injustice, I can tell that you will kill all in your wake to reach my Master," the Servant spoke, possessing some semblance of rationality despite the curse of the Berserker-Class. "I do not blame you, but will you not reconsider and take a different approach for the sake of the people of Orleans and France?"
Saber Alter disparaged those words.
Did your Master not consider the consequence of harming what was mine?
"Your words will not reach me," she spoke icily, her aura flaring behind her.
There was no compassion in her features; no sign of leniency or clemency.
She was what the wise Wizard of Camelot symbolized in prophecy:
A Black Dragon of tyranny and oppression, wielder of the bloody sword that marked an era of fear and absolute order.
"I see," the Berserker could only mumble out, unable to move as Saber Alter pinned her in place.
The black sword came down, cleaving the earth and rending all life in its wake.
A head flew, spurts of blood arcing up into a shower that splattered over unremorseful and pallid features.
Just as a Servant could flood their Noble Phantasms and break them by channeling more energy than they could handle, the power released in doing so was unimaginable. Now replace the concept of a Noble Phantasm with the Servant itself, and this was the result.
This was what allowed Saber Alter to contend against the disadvantage of numbers and remain steadfast on her warpath.
The Servant before her faded into motes of golden sand.
"That's one," she said coldly, her gaze shifting towards the Berserker with the executioner's blade next.
The Rider and Lancer variants cursed with Mad Enhancement had wisely retreated out of her sight by taking cover beyond the hills, but this wasn't the case for the Berserker with the executioner's blade.
Distance meant nothing now that he was within her view and locked on.
She spoke two words.
A tempest of cutting wind burst forth from her swung sword, fueled by her unrelenting energy. This wind was as sharp as any blade, and faster than most magical projectiles.
It reached before the Berserker could react and defend himself, the wind bisecting the man at the waist.
"Now two," Saber Alter shifted her attention to the two rats hiding in the hills. In terms of magical energy, she practically dwarfed her present adversaries at the cost of self-deterioration.
Planting her feet on the ground, she bent her knees and pushed off with enough force to crater the earth, immediately elevating herself beyond the hills.
Wordlessly, she glanced down at herself, then towards the direction where a dark light had struck her.
"An Archer," she narrowed her eyes while pulling the arrow that pierced through her stomach and shattering it in her grip.
Another enemy then. It matters not.
She rules the battlefield.
My sword rejects this world's light.
"Cry out and weep your grievances."
She leveled her blade with her waist in preparation to swing in a wide semi-circle.
My sword will flatten all obstacles.
"It is time to fall to the ground."
Let shadows stretch across this misbegotten land.
A thunderous crackling roar erupted from around her as baleful energy exuded from the tip of her blade and exuded out like vapour.
"Sink into a heap of corpses and collapse!"
Her fingers tightened their grip, her muscles coiling and building strength.
Her Noble Phantasm was unleashed in full. The vapour like energy exuded from her blade rippled and shifted into a red jet of power cleaving the hills and distant forests with a single swing to force out the rats into the open.
Ash and soot wafted up into the horizon, as the three Servants appeared within range.
This was a good thing. With her present magical energy, she could fire her Noble Phantasm at least three more times and full power. She may end up damaging her Spirit Origin as a consequence, but without Shirou around, there was nothing holding her back.
Just as she prepared to swing once more at the figures now in her sight, a chill travelled down her back as her intuition alerted her of danger.
"Everything is an illusion."
A voice, sultry yet sadistic echoed from behind her, managing to slip through her perception before she felt it.
A sixth Servant?
There was only a single explanation as to how this Servant got this close without her notice.
An Assassin-Class with Mad Enhancement? A lethal combination, yet Saber Alter had no time to muse a counter.
An illusory image of an Iron Maiden manifested before her with the motif of a crying woman, the doors already open and revealing the pointed blades awaiting inside.
"Maidens shall enter here."
She hastily turned around to escape, but a volley of arrows pelted grated against her armour, obstructing her movement.
Damn it, this nuisance.
She craned her neck in time to see the glowing eyes of a breathtakingly beautiful masked Assassin wearing a dress of thorns before she was kicked in the back and into the clutches of an iron cage.
[Phantasmal Iron Maiden, a curse upon all maidens that enter here.]
There was no longer any time to escape.
The heavy doors of the cage shuddered closed, and Saber Alter found herself ensnared by a restrictive force limiting her resistances through the mere virtue that she was a woman.
The blades within pierced into her from across her entire body and barely missed her heart and head. Spikes were specifically absent from vital areas as if the intent was to allow the victim to suffer. Blood gushed out of her in viscous and vibrant streams of red.
"Ah, irresistible," the voice of the Assassin entered her ears.
She felt her strength fading, the holes in her limbs cutting off any feeling that she had in them. This cage was a death trap, and worse, its effectiveness against women sapped her strength further.
Her head lulled back and forth as she gnashed her teeth.
Not yet. Not yet. I-I haven't avenged you.
In her bleary state of consciousness, the will to resist burned ever more.
In a rash and utterly insane decision, she detonated all that was left of her magic energy all at once. Her already ruined state became even worse, blood pooling from every exposed orifice like a leaky bag of water.
For a second, she blacked out from overload, yet in this instance, she was aware enough to feel the explosion of magical energy that destroyed the Noble Phantasm around her and sent her spiraling through the sky.
Air whipped across her with the furor of a storm, but like a sail with its wind cut off, she could hardly lift a finger. She was almost in a paralyzed state even as she ruefully that her inner gown was burning from the heat generated from the explosion of her energy.
A second later, and she smashed into the ground, tumbling and rolling as her limbs flailed uselessly until she came to a stop when her back smashed into a tree.
She groaned softly, pursing her lips while fighting to keep her consciousness.
Suddenly, she felt hands grasping at her body.
She'd surmised that the blast had careened her far from the epicenter of the blast, and yet the enemy was already upon her?
She thrashed and resisted. If she would perish here, then it would be by her own terms.
It was then that exasperated voices filtered into her ears.
"Stop struggling, we're trying help you, you feisty woman!"
"Be nicer! She's injured! There's blood everywhere."
What? She just barely managed to register the fact that the people near her may not be hostile.
"Oh, fine. I suppose we have the time to bother with curtesy before those Berserkers come and kill us off, yes? Ah- no, don't be angry. I was just talking to myself. A gentleman's joke."
Saber Alter tried to open her eyes, yet failed to do so. In her efforts, she'd only managed to lift an eyelid high enough to take a peek before she began losing the fight to remain conscious.
What she saw from that small glimpse alone was the worried face of a petite girl in an oversized hat, and an eccentric man who seemed to be in what she thought was a jester's attire.
Who were these people?
Were her last thoughts before she was hastily carried away.
The winds blew softly across verdant plains of grass and swaying reeds, flowers blooming over the hills. It was almost idyllic in the sense that even for a moment, the beauty of rural France could remind Jeanne so much of her beginnings before she heard God's call and fought for her country.
Thoughts of what her life would have been like had she remained an ordinary farmer's girl, fell in love, and started a family couldn't help but come to mind. The existence of The Dragon Witch only made the sentiment that much more important, as the Dragon Witch wouldn't have existed in such a scenario.
Was all of this misery, grief, and heartache, her fault?
Jeanne pursed her lips ever so slightly, doubts and speculations momentarily marring her self judgement, but in the end, she warded off her troubles through optimism. She'd never give in to despair, or fall into vengeful ruin.
Or at least she once believed so with all her heart and conviction, but again, the existence of the Dragon Witch was cause for anxiety.
"We're almost at La Charite." Jeanne called out while trudging ahead of Ritsuka, Mash, and Sieg, the enthusiasm in her tone obscuring the turmoil of her inner thoughts. She wiped her brows with the back of her hand, and took in a deep breath as a cool breeze blew back tresses of her waist-length hair.
Meanwhile, her hands balled into fists out of sight.
Believe Jeanne. The Lord is with you. Nothing will come from pessimism. What matters is the will to keep trying.
Resisting the urge to clap her hands over her cheeks, she instead clapped her hands and psyched herself up while nodding towards her travelling companions.
"We've only got a bit more to go," she encouraged. "When we get to town, well ask for any information on one of the Dragon Slayers Archer spoke of. If we can't get any information, we'll have to just try our luck and trek to the nearest town over."
Jeanne was all too eager to take action after witness the atrocities her other self committed. As it was now, she didn't feel right taking on a passive stance. Still, in the face of her enthusiasm, she ended up faltering in realization while observing Ritsuka.
Embarrassment clouded her features when she looked at Ritsuka's exhausted states while being supported by Mash and Sieg. Only now did she remember that a human didn't have the same stamina as a Heroic Spirit, and as such wouldn't have been able to keep pace with the speed she was setting.
In her inner turmoil's, she'd neglected to account for Ritsuka's condition, and felt even worse as Ritsuka hadn't made a single complaint. Sweat matted his face, sticking his bangs over his forehead, and his knees appeared wobbly much to Mash's concern.
"Sorry, I'm really slowing you guys down, aren't I?" Ritsuka said while panting.
"Senpai, I'll carry you," Mash offered hastily, a hand already trying to lift Ritsuka up from the waist, but Ritsuka sluggishly waved Mash off.
"I'm not at the point of exhaustion yet," Ritsuka politely refused with a small smile. "Besides, Jeanne says we're nearly at Le Charite, so I should be fine to take a small break there."
"At our pace, it should be another fifteen minutes," Sieg specified while mimicking Mash and wrapping one of Ritsuka's arms around his shoulders. "Can you hold on that long?"
"Yup," Ritsuka's expression set into one of resolve while Jeanne slowly nodded.
On one hand, she didn't want Ritsuka to push himself any more than he already had, but Ritsuka had one of those stubborn looks she'd seen on the faces of soldiers in war. There would be no point in trying to convince him otherwise.
"Speaking of which, why do we have to gather more information when Archer already gave us an idea of where to go?" Ritsuka asked.
Indeed. It was a rather good question all things considered.
La Charite wasn't the town that Archer had specified the Dragon Slayer being at. Instead, it was Lyon, the next town over from Lyon.
It was through Jeanne's leadership that the group had veered off course and decided to visit this nearby town, but now that Jeanne thought of it, she'd hardly explained herself yet. Her newest travelling companions had followed without a word likely due to trust alone.
Cheeks flushing with a tinge of red, she cleared her throat and began to elaborate on her thoughts.
"The biggest blunder in any war or battle is to go in blind. As long as we are still uncertain about the enemy forces compared to our own, we cannot engage carelessly," Jeanne spoke from her own experiences in the Hundred Years War. "Often, we lose more than we gain in such scenarios, and therefore, I figured it prudent to ask the nearest towns around Lyon if they know of anything unexpected."
Word for word, everything was making sense, such that everyone began to feel that the situation was manageable. This was the mark of leadership Jeanne often carried on her shoulders, but sometimes what you see on the outside, isn't what's felt on the inside.
"You're really calm and level headed," Ritsuka was impressed, but Jeanne found herself swallowing down the lump of nervousness in her throat.
She grasped onto the hem of her battle skirt unseen by all.
To convey weakness as the French Army's standard bearer was ordinarily unacceptable to her. Even in a losing battle, she would never reveal unease or anxiety because she was the army's symbol. The on that the soldiers looked up to for support.
No matter what, even if everyone else despairs, she must persevere in order to actualize the miracle of victory, and it had worked time after time.
The fact that she was considering to show weakness and perhaps confide in her new allies just went to show how much of a blow her resolve had taken after encountering her other self.
No matter how she went about it, she could no longer trust fully in her own judgments any longer; not after what had become to her own country and its people in her name.
"…No. I'm anything but calm," Jeanne shivered as she decided to be forthright with her new allies and speak the truth. "To be honest, I'm panicking. No matter how you look at it, the other 'me' can't be in her right state of mind. What that monster will do to the people of France is easy to imagine. Overwhelming power and hatred can easily destroy any person, no matter how righteous or noble they are. I simply worry at the prospect of failure. The other 'me' is strong, terrifyingly so, and I don't know if I'll have the means to stop her. I feel like I'm floundering in the dark where even the Lord's voice doesn't seem to reach me."
Her countenance dimmed along with her air of calm. She inwardly derided herself, and gently rubbed at her arms until she stopped in wonder from such a simple yet truer response.
"Then don't think about trying to do it on your own. You have us, don't you?" Ritsuka said before Sieg could speak out, causing Sieg to gradually close his mouth on the side, but he nodded at Jeanne with all seriousness nonetheless.
A touched feeling emanated from within Jeanne akin to pleasant tingles running up and down her skin.
"Yes. Indeed, you're correct." She grinned in bemusement, her mood uplifting. "I'm not alone in this. Its times like these that I miss Gilles who would have reminded me of such things before I made a fool of myself. He was always a stalwart and dependable friend even when I first took up arms in the Hundred Years War."
She regained some vigour and chose to look past her doubts at this moment.
"Let's march on ahead," a soft glow of charisma seemed to exude from her. Truly she was fitting of the Ruler Class.
Offset by the glow sunlight on her back, her appearance was both charming and endearing.
For Sieg who watched on, he couldn't help but grow wistful.
"Is there something wrong, Mr. Sieg?" Unlike Ritsuka who was too exhausted, Mash noticed Sieg's behaviour due to their close proximity.
"No, nothing. Just a bit captivated is all." Sieg answered while continuing to stare at the saint before his eyes with a sense of nostalgia. He turned to face Mash in a chipper mood. "I'm truly fortunate to have been summoned in this era and with a relatable Master," Sieg reasoned with a small laugh.
The air around the group lightened into something jovial, at least for just a moment as the missions continued.
The jubilance and pleasant mood didn't last long for one reason alone.
The town of Le Charite came within view with the fiery glow of embers.
The town was burning, chimneys of smoke wafting up into the sky where they dispersed and permeated out with an acrid scent. Closer inspection would reveal that there was nothing left in the fire but ashes, even the bodies of the deceased eaten away until only grey-dust like remains lingered over a once bustling market space.
Jeanne felt her mouth dry, forcing her to swallow down the lump of guilt that assailed her.
Based on the still burning flames, the attack had been recent.
"No. Why? Why would she do this? Was that first town before not enough?" Jeanne murmured forlornly while biting down on her lip.
The others all glanced at each other with varying levels of stunned acceptance. The significance of the events of France were too distant for them to feel any real feelings of loss. For Jeanne, it felt as if she'd just woken up from a dream; this timeline's singularity practically weeks or days after her execution on the pyre.
These cities, these people, the memories of them were vivid in her mind.
"Lord grant them mercy under your light and guidance," Jeanne swallowed before moving towards the city and kneeling down to offer a devote prayer.
No one spoke thereafter, not even to point out that Jeanne's pace had once again increased almost to the point of sprinting for a Servant which was far more than enough for Ritsuka to be unable to keep up with.
Ritsuka was forced to take up Mash's prior offer and allow her to carry him just to keep up.
Jeanne's intentions were evident considering the direction she was taking by following the familiar dirt roads to the next town over from Le Charite.
Only another charred ruin awaited her, a dismayed whining escaping her lips as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing.
She performed the symbol of the cross and left for the next town, then the next, then the one after that to the same result. Each ruined town caused her features to dim further and further until she appeared pained.
Sieg had half-the-mind to stop her from running to the next town, but it was Mash who saw his discomfort on the issue and chose to intervene.
"M-Ms. Jeanne," Mash stuttered. "I-I think it's time we stop delaying. Information or not we should trust in Archer and head to Lyon."
The implied, 'the other towns were probably burned down already' went unsaid for Jeanne's sake.
Jeanne weakly nodded as she just seemed to wilt in on herself.
So many people dead. So many innocent lives taken.
Her dear France was burning, and soon enough there'd be nothing left.
With the skies now darkening from the wasted time the group had taken to visit every ruined town, they were forced to make camp and visit Lyon the next morning for Ritsuka's sake.
The crackling of a camp fire illuminated Jeanne's listless features.
She sat off by herself away from Mash, Ritsuka and Sieg who were propping up make-shift tents. Her legs were pulled up to her chest while she wrapped her arms around them, and rested her forehead over her knees.
The night was beautiful under the glow of a full moon, but this tranquility grated on her patience.
The calmness was unsettling.
It was odd that they hadn't run into any real opposition so far, but at the same time, she recalled Archer's words about Chaldea's Saber posing as some sort of distraction, creating a prime opportunity to act.
She couldn't help but worry as a further feeling of guilt assailed her from exploiting the actions of an ally on top of her already disheartened mood.
The leaves rustled beside her, and she glanced up to see Sieg taking a seat beside her while Mash and Ritsuka were in communication with that virtual magus fellow from Chaldea.
Their small smiles were likely a result of that kind-heart making a jester of himself, or at least the impression the scene gave her.
As for Sieg, he looked worried, but seemed somewhat awkward too, doing his best not to seem like he was intruding.
"Is something wrong, Jeanne? Are you tired?" Sieg asked.
Mentally, she supposed that she was considering how the group's problems just kept stacking higher and higher despite how simple the solution seemed.
They would recruit the Dragons Slayers, gather back up at camp, and then mount the attack to retake Orleans and her other self, thereby saving the country.
She didn't quite believe so.
Realizing that she'd yet to answer Sieg, and seeing how earnest he was, she became somewhat sheepish.
Outside of her county's troubles, Sieg was another mystery to her entirely.
What was he to her to make her feel like she should know him?
In any case, she should probably answer.
"No. Nothing of the sort, I'm a Servant after all..." she trailed off, almost listlessly, her features subdued. "Was it that easy to tell that I had something on my mind? Sorry, seeing all these familiar towns in flames is a bit hard to bear."
Her eyes drooped along with her shoulders.
Sometimes, being optimistic all the time was difficult, but she had faith and hope that she could preserver through this tribulation besieging her country.
It was just that she couldn't see that hope at present.
The day had just given her blow after blow.
Sieg shifted uneasily. "I-If it helps, you were able to grant the deceased prayers in each town we passed," he tried in his own way to see the good in things.
If it mattered, his words did manage to let her see some light in the dark.
"May they reach the Lord in Heaven up high," Jeanne solemnly made the symbol of the cross, her features softening.
"May their souls rest in peace," Sieg was quick to imitate.
One look was all it required for Jeanne to see that Sieg wasn't the religious sort of man. He could imitate the actions, but faith was where it counted.
At the very least, he was trying.
She laughed, a small laugh if anything as she understood his intentions clearly.
"You're trying to comfort me?" Her lips tugged upward on her face.
Sieg blushed at his actions being directly pointed out, but he didn't deny it. This revealed that he could be deceptively stubborn if he so wished. The fact that he was doing so for her sake caused no small amount of inexplicable nostalgia.
If it was him, you can trust him.
Her inner voice seemed to whisper.
She stared at him deeply, shifting her position to sit straighter.
"Say, would you care to listen for a bit?" She felt something inside her stir, and suddenly it was like butterflies were churning in her stomach. "Y-You don't have to if you don't want to. I know, I'm just a boring farm girl from out in the sticks who was only ever good at not minding her own business and was treated as a boy because I had short hair in my childhood- I'm going to stop this line of thought now," Jeanne pinched the bridge of her nose, unable to understand why she was acting so flustered.
This steady beating in her heart gradually raising the heat of her body, what sort of sensation was this? It was maddening, yet endearing. Heart warming yet mortifying.
She couldn't seem to gather her composure, as if something inside her was screaming that some miracle was at play and her own ignorance was the only obstacle.
"I'm all ears," Sieg laughed with a broad grin. "However, would you care to listen to a few of my stories first? You've spent enough time with a heavy cloud over your head, and I just feel that I should find a way to take your mind off of things if even just for a moment."
Staring at Sieg trying his best to appear nonchalant despite his own nervousness, her heart suddenly felt at ease.
"I'd like that," she answered gently.
Sieg looked invigorated at her agreement and began speaking of random bits and pieces of what she presumed was his own experiences.
"You might not believe it, but I had a friend who looked more charming than the average woman, but he was a guy who just liked pretty things." Sieg gesticulated animatedly, as if talking with her was the most valuable action in the world. "I think even you would have mistaken him for a girl."
"As if," she felt a feeling of coyness rear its head from within her. "I consider myself a pretty good judge of character. At the very least, I wouldn't mistake a man for a woman."
Sieg just gave her the most dubious look at her response as if he was laughing at some inside joke, but he didn't elaborate.
They then moved on to talk of more unrelated topics until she realized that Mash and Ritsuka had already turned in for the night.
Well, as Servants, it wasn't as if they needed to sleep anyway, and it would only be safe to have a Servant stand watch in the night.
"Would you like to know more?" Sieg's question snapped Jeanne attention back to him.
Sieg's sincerity was reaching her in full.
She had many troubles at present weighing her down mentally, but at least at this moment, she felt a feeling of relief.
She smiled softly under the cool sensation of an evening breeze.
"If you would please, then I wouldn't be opposed."
In the end, she didn't end up getting the chance to speak her piece, but perhaps it had been for the best.
For the first time since her summoning, she felt at ease.
It was more than enough to keep her low spirits up.
The town of Lyon should have been a peaceful town where merchants hawked their wares, and the community of people was tight-knit and uniform in character and faith. This was what Jeanne remembered of a town she'd once visited on a war campaign with Gilles.
It had high walls, artistic murals, and a festive atmosphere at this time of year in the midst of spring. Winter was over, and the bountiful harvests of warmer weather was always a cause for celebration. She knew this by heart as a rural farmer's girl who'd seen her fair share of harsh winters where cloudy skies masked the warmth of the sun.
Upon seeing that Lyon wasn't a burning ruin like the other towns, the first emotion Jeanne felt was relief, then determination.
"The Dragon Slayer should be inside. The sooner we can recruit him and put an end to the Dragon Witch terrorizing France, the more people can be saved," she hardened her features. With a goal in mind, there was nothing that could match her faith and stubbornness.
-Nothing except familiar faces she was too self-conscious to meet.
"French soldiers?" Ritsuka apply surmised while staring at numerous units of French soldier in chainmail and conical helmets battling within Lyon's town walls.
On closer inspection, numerous wyverns and undead roamed prolifically within the town.
It was likely that Lyon had already fallen, but had been spared from being reduced to cinders on the Dragon Witch's whim. More importantly, the presence of French soldiers fighting against the wyverns and undead denoted another variable.
"The French Army should be nearby." Da Vinci's solemn transmission was uncontested by all. "It appears as if they are trying to take the town back. Granted, they likely have no choice considering the Dragon Witch has torched all the nearby towns, leaving nowhere for the army to take refuge from wind, rain, and Phantasmals. They must have endured much so far."
"Oh Gilles," Jeanne was conflicted at the news, yet her eyes darted left and right as if searching for an escape should the French Army appear beyond the hills.
"You don't want to meet them?" Sieg was quick to realize Jeanne's concerns as if he could read her mind. "If you asked, I'm sure that they'd give a helping hand."
"That is, ugh," Jeanne felt herself become tongue-tied before growing helpless.
"I'm sure it would be…difficult to meet them," Mash spoke up with a frown, striking right at the heart of the matter.
Jeanne wilted at being so easy to read, but nodded regardless. "Given the circumstances, it's not the best idea. Right now, I-I'm the Dragon Witch. Gilles, let alone the army wouldn't accept me like this."
"You're not," both Sieg and Ritsuka cut in sharply, causing Jeanne to purse her lips.
It's not that easy.
After all Jeanne could feel that somewhere in the depths of her being, was a smidgen of resentment that may or may not be at the root of the Dragon Witch's manifestation. In a sense, the Dragon Witch could be her, and there was no way to eliminate this possibility in her mind at present.
"It's fine." Ritsuka made a decision for the group as a Master. "We can help in our own way while looking for the Dragon Slayer."
"Thank you," Jeanne could only express her gratitude with those words alone before they departed into Lyon without the notice of the French soldiers.
The only problem now aside from warding away the horde of wyverns and undead, was how to locate the Dragon Slayer that Archer had mentioned was in this town.
This issue troubled everyone, Jeanne more so, as she was indecisive about revealing herself to the French Army after what Jeanne Alter had done to France.
It was unexpected then when Sieg, generally reserved and unassuming, suddenly grew agitated.
There was a pulsing in his chest, sigils flaring from beneath his skin which drew the attention of everyone to him. He was a Caster, but not once did he display the bearings or magical ability of a famed sage or magical practitioner of myth and legend.
Jeanne had already felt something odd about Sieg, and now, an air of mystery surrounded him.
Sieg slowly looked in a certain direction and began walking.
[To you the hero whose legend stemmed upon the wishes of others, the action you took upon your own beliefs gave hope and strength to this life worth no more than a magus's failed experiment.]
"I know where this Dragon Slayer is," he said calmly. "Please follow me."
[This gratitude is beyond mere words.]
His pace increased without another word, a power resonating from deep within him.
Locked in the confines of a dark hidden chamber, a man with silver hair and draconic accentuated armour furrowed his brows. The man was tall, reticent, and solemn in features, his chin sharp, and angular face poised with a type of noble bearing.
Alas, injuries dyed the man's stalwart figure in a sheen of red that reflected dully in the dim lighting streaming in from a tiny window propped with metal bars.
The blood was dried, caking in a few places where large wounds still festered over a sun-kissed body hailed to possess the hardness of steel in legend.
The man stirred, listless eyes gaining clarity and resolution as a familiar swell of power urged him into a bout of reminiscence. On sturdy legs he hefted himself up from a seated position and began to walk to peer outside the barred window.
Heavy chains that bound the man's arms and legs clinked with his movements, but as if they weighed nothing, the man just disregarded them. Something more pressing demanded his attention.
The light of a twilight shone in the dark.
The archaic markings and runes etched over the man's bare chest were flaring with vibrant teal.
An uncanny presence and aura teemed in the air, similar yet different- impossible to ignore.
Singing the song of a tale of old was the oldest and fiercest enemy of the saga of the Nibelungenlied.
A black Dragon of Greed and Poison.
A fated foe.
The name slipped out from the man's mouth ever so softly.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patron Jeff inabag!
Author's note: This chapter was pretty branched out in order to get all the perspectives in to get a background of what's happening, but it will be streamlining from here on with Ritsuka's team for this Singularity.
Next updates: Vasto of White
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King of the Lonely Peak
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