The duel wasn't glorious in the least by Servant standards. There were no real precedents to go by, but it wholly lacked the pressure, aura, and collateral damage of a bout between figures of legend. What could be seen instead was a type of conviction and fervor derived from meting out the meaning of one's existence.
Both occupants were in no condition to be excessive in their use of magic energy, and neither were in optimum physical states, but none of that mattered.
The clanging of metal echoed as the clashing of sparks created showers of glowing embers.
Jeanne Alter wiped the side of her mouth where Jeanne had landed a punch to her jaw. Once again, the fires of bittersweet emotion welled from within her, urging her to press forward despite the shaking of her knees.
To begin with, her reason for fighting was leagues ahead of whatever paltry justification her original self had.
To be a Heroic Spirit, one had to be remembered in legend for the miracle of their feats and elevated to the Throne of Heroes beyond space and time.
Jeanne Alter was by definition of her manifestation, outside of this category, unique in that she was the only one. Where Jeanne could be summoned with her original self as a template from the throne into a spirit body, 'Jeanne Alter' had no such original to call from.
This in essence meant that there was no chance to be summoned again through ordinary means. No chance to be her own person, no chance to exist, no meaning in her identity.
To this end, she had to vie for it tooth and nail, carving herself into an alternative history as the anti-theses of the Maiden of Orleans. That was to be her calling, her reason for existing- the darkness of the Saint cursing at injustice.
'And that's why I won't lose!'
"A fake will beat the original!" Jeanne Alter gnashed her teeth and lunged.
Vaulting over Jeanne's retaliatory strike with the banner in her left hand, she twisted in the air and came down with a stab with the French rapier in her right.
Growing up as farm girls, neither of the two were unfamiliar with a brawl, but this also meant that neither of the two were really trained to handle weapons.
Reacting to Jeanne Alter's attack in the only way she felt she could, Jeanne stepped forward and directly bodied Jeanne Alter. Jeanne Alter's attack was flashy, but it didn't change that she was practically keeping her center of gravity stable by virtue of the banner she was using as support. The moment Jeanne chose to body her, the two ended up into a messy tumble of flailing limbs, curses, and groans.
No fire and no divine protections.
Their bout was not one of skill or fanfare, but endurance and grit.
Low on energy in the first place, and weapons ineffective in the midst of grappling, both combatants resorted to discarding them.
"Oh, dear, this reminds me of my early family life," Martha raised a hand to her mouth in alarm, none choosing to comment about why she seemed so positively nostalgic about it all rather than negatively.
In any case, Caster Gilles and Saber Gilles were also at odds not too far away from the Jeannes.
To accommodate the wyverns and Fafnir, Caster Gilles was using the final dredges of his magic energy to maintain them against the other Servants. This forced the Caster Gilles into an even bout with his human self.
In contrast, Shirou and Ritsuka, present Masters of their respective Jeannes, stood awkwardly from across each other. This awkward tension was primarily alleviated when Shirou divulged that the fighting was less a duel of life and death and attributed to more of a 'friendly' sparring match.
"I'll kill you!"
Jeanne Alter cursed as she and Jeanne tumbled past, grappling and pulling at each other.
"…" Ritsuka held his mouth along with Mash, Shirou's features stiffening.
"She doesn't mean it."
"I'll have you beneath my foot by the end of this, and then roasting on a spit!"
Shirou decided to just keep quiet by this point, a sigh escaping his lips knowing Jeanne Alter's particular vocabular repertoire.
As for Jeanne Alter herself, she twisted a leg around one of Jeanne's own and bucked, sending the two falling with Jeanne Alter mounting the top. A flurry of fists and nails came down a second later.
"She's going for the eyes," Archer dully noted.
"She's not being serious…" Shirou couldn't help but reply weakly.
Jeanne Alter snarled before trying to choke out her counterpart. A failed attempt if anything as Jeanne kicked her knees up and reversed the positions by rolling over. Rather than imitate Jeanne Alter's actions, she instead pinned Jeanne Alter's hands with her own and head-butted her Alter instead.
Dazed, blood seeped into Jeanne Alter's mouth, the coppery taste belying the desperation she felt as Jeanne bent her limbs into a shoddy submission hold. "Give up!" Jeanne insisted, screaming.
"No!" Jeanne Alter tensed her muscles, her joints screaming in protest while trying to wrestle free.
"Give up!" Jeanne tried to reason again. "I have you pinned! You can't escape!"
"Your tits are just heavier!"
Scandalized, Jeanne's grip slackened enough for Jeanne Alter to snake an arm out to grasp an armour piece over Jeanne's waist. It never even crossed Jeanne's mind in her fluster that she and Jeanne shared identical physical attributes.
Tugging, Jeanne Alter shifted Jeanne's center of gravity enough to wedge her leg over Jeanne's stomach. Pushing, she then forcibly pried Jeanne of off her.
Rolling away, Jeanne Alter forced herself up to her feet at the same time Jeanne did. They stood roughly five-feet apart from each other, panting for breath and sporting bruises over exposed skin.
There were no disillusions in their eyes.
Wordlessly, the two shifted their feet to their discarded weapons and once more picked them up.
Neither of the two were backing down. However, there was one difference.
Jeanne features were pinched, beads of sweat forming above her brow.
Unlike Shirou and Archer whose capabilities and magecraft practically allowed them to involuntarily draw out their experiences, it was a tad different for the Jeannes. They didn't have anything as convenient as Tracing, but rather Jeanne only had her virtue as a holy woman.
The voice of the Lord had been distantly quiet and mute since the moment of her summoning, but in this instance, it was like she could hear the miracle of a voice. A yearning cry, desperate and anxious.
[I can't lose. I can't. I won't.]
Jeanne breathed out slowly, soon recognizing the voice for what it was as she stared at Jeanne Alter across from her.
Why was she hearing this? Why now?
Did Jeanne's death in the pyre carry a meaning to the Lord, or had the Lord's graciousness simply not reached her in time? Irrespective of her speculations, it didn't change what was no doubt a sign.
Was this the Lord's will?
To give the sinner who had never been saved or seen the light of redemption, salvation?
Shaking her head, Jeanne had a second to react in order to block a side-swipe aimed for her temples.
[Go down! Why won't you just go down already?!]
Sparks flashed. Jeanne had always been good on the defensive, her form stabler than if she was attacking. Jeanne Alter in comparison was obviously struggling, but kept pushing ever still.
What's driving her? What's causing her to be so determined.
[I just want to live…]
Jeanne mind stalled, nearly getting stabbed in her carelessness. Immediately, she was put on the back foot, barely keeping herself on her feet from an onslaught of pole-arm and sword.
What did Jeanne Alter mean by those thoughts?
For Jeanne it clicked all too quickly.
From the very moment she'd first laid eyes on Jeanne Alter, she'd felt that there was something 'off' about her. No matter what instance or class Jeanne was summoned to, Heroic Spirit Jeanne d'Arc would never manifest in such a twisted and hateful guise. A fake.
'I see. So that's how it is.'
"You never existed," Jeanne murmured only to herself, strafing from side-to-side. "Without a Master or a Grail, you simply cease to have any meaning."
The state of Jeanne Alter's existence practically hinged on this final bout alone.
[I have to win. Shirou said that a fake can beat the original. I can do that too. I must. I will…]
Jeanne felt her resolve shattering piece by piece. What reason did she have to win other than putting down a version of herself that may as well be considered a spoilt younger sibling?
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
'So be it.'
When next Jeanne Alter slashed out, she finally 'disarmed' Jeanne.
"Jeanne!" Saber Gilles called out in concern.
Ritsuka, Mash, Olga, and the others tensed. Jeanne Alter was still armed, and a single good thrust could have Jeanne skewered. This didn't happen.
Shirou sighed in relief that his trust in his newest Servant wasn't unfounded.
Jeanne Alter had discarded her own weapons the moment that Jeanne had lost hers. She then opted to slap Jeanne to the ground where Jeanne fell over her stomach, 'unable' to get up. This was all well and fine, until Jeanne Alter decided to make good on her prior words to Shirou.
"Ahnn," Jeanne squeaked, head shooting up in alarm when her Alter stomped down over her.
It wasn't the force behind the action that alarmed her, but the location.
Blood rushed to her head, feeling like it was going to explode.
'Calm heart. Serene mind. You can do this Jeanne.'
If Jeanne could read her Alter well enough, she could infer that the specific place she chose to plant her foot wasn't done for any ulterior motive, but rather because it was the most demeaning.
Jeanne felt her features reddening as the limits of her patience and virtue waned when Jeanne Alter kept digging her heel over her butt as if she was some captured trophy animal. It didn't help that it was dangerously close to a sensitive place, and then there was the way Jeanne Alter pulled her neck up by the hair to 'bring her to a heel' as if her long braids were lauded horse reins.
P-Patience Jeanne. You're the older one…
The length of Jeanne Alter's heel twisted and dug, setting off strange signals.
T-This brat! Stop pushing there! I-It feels weird!'
"I win…I win!" The sheer glee and euphoria of Jeanne Alter's voice was so melodious in its candor that barely anyone could focus on anything else.
It was a double-edged sword if anything.
"Shirou, Gilles!" Jeanne Alter slowly turned her head to her most trusted allies in celebration. "Applause for my victory- is that…oh fuck. Gilles! Stop her! STOP HER!"
Everyone looked blankly as a dark blur suddenly sailed overhead and spirited Shirou away without warning, leaving everyone including Jeanne Alter staring blankly at where her Master used to be.
Only wind and upturned grass and debris was left in the blur's wake.
Jeanne harboured no small amount of mixed emotions for Jeanne Alter, when Jeanne Alter decisively ignored her for a man. The worry on Jeanne Alter's face was difficult to describe, but it revealed a more human aspect that the vile witch of this Singularity.
"Gilles!" Jeanne Alter called out for assistance that she received without question.
Redirecting the magic energy supplying Fafnir and the wyverns away, Caster Gilles used it to bolster his and Jeanne Alter's own speed to give chase.
The sudden developments left everyone stunned.
Finding purchase with her fingers, Jeanne dug grooves into the ground beneath her while placing her palms beneath her shoulder and pushing into a seated position.
"That could have gone better," Jeanne inwardly squirmed, unable to meet anyone else's eyes for the time being. One breath, then two, she quickly tried to compose herself before clapping her cheeks and standing on her feet.
Across from her, Saber Gilles carefully hobbled towards her. The others kept their distance, feeling more than seeing that this was more of a personal matter.
"Jeanne. It's really true. I knew you weren't the Witch. I knew it. You were alive all along," Saber Gilles could barely keep his composure together as he spoke.
For him, it had barely been a few weeks since Jeanne's burning at the pyre, and the man was still reeling from it. However, his faith and God's compassion had clearly enacted a miracle he so yearned for.
"Marshall Gilles," Jeanne's smiled wanly at her dear friend's enthusiasm, misplaced as it was. "It's not quite as you think."
Saber Gilles shuddered. "What do you mean?"
Jeanne barely repressed a flinch. "I am dead."
"A ghost? B-But you're right here!"
"More of a spirit carried in all of us like the Lord had said," Jeanne's mouth opened and closed, not knowing what to say in the face of Saber Gilles's growing somberness. "I know what you're thinking Gilles, but don't blame them. Perhaps this was how the lord meant it to be. Why else would he allow my return to the Kingdom in it's time of need once again? A second chance to leave on better partings, maybe? I lived my life. I saved who I could save."
"But they couldn't see it. Those bastards-"
"Aren't all the people of France. Those who know in their hearts will never be deceived, and they still need you. Gilles, France still needs you."
"But France needs you more." Saber Gilles bowed his head, lips set in a thin line pf repressed animosity. "I know it, and you must know it too!"
"Perhaps that may have been the case before, but not now." Jeanne shook her head at the expression Gilles was making. "Dear friend, how many of our countrymen believe that there were two of me? How many instead now hold me in contempt as a witch that will go down in history?"
Gilles inhaled sharply. "I'll change things! I'll make them see! I'll-"
Jeanne hugged Saber Gilles, cutting the man off mid-speech if only to stop the descent to madness she'd witnessed first hand in Caster. She couldn't bear the thought any better than the experience of seeing it first-hand.
"Thank you, Gilles. Really. Without your support, I really don't know how we would have gotten through the war. Dear friend, we suffered much together, and I'd never forget your devotion to follow what others called an ignorant peasant girl."
Gilles snorted in a moment of levity. "Who were the ignorant one's now?"
Jeanne shared the small smile on her army Marshal's lips.
"C-Can I ask you a favour?" She asked, letting go and staring up at him with hands held over her heart.
"Anything," he replied.
"Please remember me as I am and what I stood for rather than how I ended up at the ploys of others."
Gilles's expression twisted. "B-But Jeanne. It was their fault! Their corruption! Their ability to make truth into lies!"
"And those men have gotten their dues, have they not?" Jeanne sighed in lament. "Perhaps the witch they had yearned and painted me for was summoned at our Lord's anger for their sins?"
This was a white lie, and everyone from Chaldea could see that given what Lev had described, but it was different for the locals.
"Retribution," Saber Gilles slowly mouthed, hands balling into fists. "Then the Lord truly was angry at your unjust passing."
"And his will meted out," Jeanne kept as solemn a face as she could. It always felt uncomfortable to deceive others, but if the alternative was Caster Gilles, then Jeanne could only persevere.
"Then this means that the Lord didn't remain idle, only that the bishop must have received his words and ignored it. This tragedy, everything, all of it makes sense now."
Saber Gilles suddenly didn't dislike Jeanne Alter as much as he believed that he did.
A twitch formed over Jeanne's brow, but it smoothed over as if it never happened.
"Peace be with you Gilles. Our countrymen still need you. Our comrades by the hills are still waiting for their commander's triumphant return."
"It was not my victory." Gilles shook his head. "It was yours and these fellow brave souls."
"True, but the people need an outlet for the pain they endured. They wouldn't take well to the supposed 'witch' taking credit. Don't argue Gilles, you've already tried. The Lord has passed his will, and we as his devotees know what must be done."
Gilles stared back.
Finally, Gilles took in a long shuddering breath, and in military doctrine, saluted Jeanne with the highest honours. "…Peace be with you then, my Holy Maiden. Saint of France. Your legend will never be forgotten."
Saber Gilles reluctantly turned around to make his way back to the army awaiting him, only to stop at the last moment when Jeanne called out to him.
"I know what you've always wanted to ask Gilles." Jeanne suddenly admitted. "It was why I never called you for help before the pyre, right?"
Saber Gilles stilled, his features hardening.
"I was aware that you would have led a contingency of our friends and allies to my rescue, but what of our country and its people? Would our enemies hold France in the same regard if both its 'Saint' and Marshall of the army turned traitor and perished under infighting? The Burgundians would have forgone any notion of upholding their end of their peace contracts against a weakened France. Is this enough of an answer, or perchance did you already know?"
Saber Gilles hummed, swallowing audibly. He didn't turn around. He didn't know if he had the strength to anymore. Therefore, he didn't answer and continued walking off.
His once proud back appeared incomparably small and destitute in the blowing breeze.
Jeanne could only watch, lips pursed, feeling heavily disheartened.
"History will correct itself from what Ms. Olga had explained. Likely this Gilles will not remember us, but I believe that perhaps this Gilles will not go down the same path as the other," a voice consoled. "Feelings connect, and the Lord's will watches over all."
Shifting her gaze to the side, Jeanne was met with Martha's reassuring smile. "Thank you. It means more to me than you may think for you to say that."
Martha's smile grew more radiant, mysterious even. "Oh, are you truly about that? I'm not the only one that was concerned on your behalf."
Not saying anything else, Martha gestured with her staff for Jeanne to look up.
"Jeanne, are you alright?" Sieg came swooping down to Jeanne's side the moment Fafnir and the other Wyverns dissipated. His large Dragon form had long since returned to its smaller Caster body.
"Sieg…" Once again, the name that escaped Jeanne's lips had her shuddering.
A distant memory, and an eternal yearning, all things incomprehensible yet unknown had her heart doing funny things. This was until she heard what Sieg opened with next.
"Are you injured. I saw you fighting with the other Jeanne."
"Dandy," Jeanne whispered, high-pitched, mortified at the reminder. She was fighting back the shame creeping up her cheeks at the thought of what Sieg may have seen. "Just still feeling a 'little' humiliated."
"Humiliated?" Sieg echoed cluelessly.
No one missed the way Jeanne instantly stared flatly at them to keep quiet. Sieg had obviously been too distracted pinning a massive Dragon down to be paying much attention to her bout with her Alter.
"It's nothing," Jeanne smiled sweetly. Expertly shifting the subject. "So, I guess you're going back to this Chaldea place?"
"If it's as my Master wills," Sieg replied sheepishly before growing hesitant. "A-And you? Say, would you happen to want to join us?"
"An interesting proposal," Jeanne whispered softly. She felt warm; a tingling sensation growing from the pits of her stomach and sending goosebumps down her body.
['He's here. Don't leave him. A miracle.']
"I-If you would have me," she twiddled her thumbs out of nervous habit she hadn't felt in a long time. "T-Then I'd be more than glad to offer my aid to humanity."
Ritsuka could practically feel the intensity of Sieg snapping his head in his direction. It felt just short of begging even without words.
"O-Of course." Ritsuka stammered, Mash tugging on his sleeve and shooting Olga a pleading look. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Olga nod and let himself sigh in relief. "Our temporary contract is still in effect anyway, so welcome aboard!"
No one missed the radiance of Sieg's smile at this moment. More than anything, the scene of Jeanne blushing at the sight of it turned many suspicious if the two actually knew each other in life. The way she and Sieg acted seemed too natural for strangers meeting for the first time.
In any case, Ritsuka wasn't the only Master around who'd made knew Servant contracts.
"Archer?" Olga called out tentatively to her most aggravating Servant.
"With my luck," Archer shrugged while rolling his eyes. "I guess I'll be in it for the long haul."
"Joy," Olga's brow twitched.
"How about you, Mr. George?" Mash asked politely.
Rider, Saint George perked up at the call. Out of everyone who'd been keeping the wyverns at bay, he'd contributed the most. He smiled softly. "Ascalon's blade will be there for humanity's use, and so too will I."
Mash beamed, turning hopefully to the next Servant nearest to her. "Ms. Martha?"
"Oh, you'd value my meager capabilities even still?" She blushed, coughing into a closed hand. "Well now, if my fellow Saints will fight for the integrity of mankind, then the strength of my fist- excuse me, my faith cannot be as lacking as theirs."
Mash didn't bother asking Kiyohime or Elizabeth the same question. Their choice was already evident to her anyway. Apart from the new Servants already summoned, this left only two who were part of the Singularity.
"How about you Ms. Marie, Mr. Mozart? We only really met at the end of this all. Would you like to join us on our mission?" Mash asked excitably, only to wilt as the pair shook their heads.
Mozart bowed elegantly. "Much as we'd like to, perhaps we'd agree at another time and at another summoning," he said without truly elaborating.
Marie pouted and nudged him in the shoulder in chastisement.
"What he means is that we want stay in France and help my people recover until our Spirit Origins cease to function." She smiled warmly at Mash. "France has suffered too much damage as it is, and it wouldn't do if its present state led to another invasion by foreign armies."
Nearby, Jeanne winced at the reminder, guilt quickly eating away at her.
"T-Then I should do the same." Jeanne stammered, Sieg paling. "It can be said that I'm partly to blame for all of this."
Sieg opened his mouth to convince Jeanne otherwise, but someone else did so with far more energy.
"No! No can do! Queen's orders. Leave this to us," Marie instantly chided, waving a finger back and forth at a stunned Jeanne. "You've done much for France and have never been rewarded justly. As Queen, I can't stand it! I know we didn't have a girl talk, but I can see it!" she giggled. "Your springtime is coming! And I won't be the one to block it, right Amadeus?!"
Jeanne had no words, her complexion a tomato.
"Always the willful one aren't you, milady." Mozart snorted before addressing everyone else. "Well, you heard her. Any protests? None? Good. Now get going."
"Romani, start Ray-shift procedures," Olga called out.
"Roger," Romani said in relief. "Good work you all."
"Uhm, ah, Aren't we forgetting something?" Martha abruptly raised her arm for attention. "Weren't we supposed to rescue Mr. Shirou as well?" She reminded.
"That man's beyond saving," Archer snorted in response.
"Beyond saving?" Martha looked appalled. "Wasn't Saber the one who took him? Correct me if I'm wrong, but Saber should be his Servant to begin with? No harm should come to him? Moreover, even if Jeanne Alter and Caster took chase, they're too drained of energy to even hope of catching up?"
"It's complicated," Ritsuka said nervously, knowing all too well that Martha was out of the loop.
Mash with a distinctly flustered expression gingerly walked up to Martha's side and whispered into her ear.
Martha blushed as she gradually understood the implications and circumstances surrounding the wayward Master of this First Singularity.
Elsewhere, Shirou winced when he was unceremoniously dropped onto his feet in the middle of a grassy plain. The wind blew over his face, a warm summer's breeze, but in this case, he could hardly feel it.
Saber Alter stood before him, back facing him.
From his view, he could see the way her shoulders were trembling, the silence cutting bone deep.
Different from the original Saber, she was forceful and blunt, but it didn't change what actually mattered. The events that transpired in her Fuyuki weren't entirely known to him, but regardless, one thing was for sure the moment he saw her cry at first sight.
She cared for him. This much was evident.
Saber Alter had made an oath to him, and he to her. She would protect him, keep him safe, and in turn, he would never let her suffer alone ever again.
Yet here they were now. It was one thing at the beginning to be unable to call on her when he was first captured, but like Jeanne Alter had pointed out before, he could have called out to her the moment he was freed.
He obviously didn't.
It was another tick to add to his list of impulsive actions in the face of his ideals, but he knew very well what would have happened had he done so. There was no way he'd made the wrong choice.
How could it be wrong to help another in need?
Except when it felt like it was.
Instead of contributing to the fight against Lev, she more than likely spent her time digging through what remained of Castle Orleans for his sake. She'd probably only stopped because she'd found nothing there only to stumble into him right afterwards.
He hadn't paid attention to it before, but her hands were smeared and caked with dirt, dust, and mud.
Saber Alter still wasn't talking, her stout form appearing incomparably frail.
His mouth opened and closed, guilt and overhanging apprehension eventually getting the words out.
"I know you're angry, but I can explain, I-"
She socked him in the gut, neither too hard nor too soft, but more than enough to leave an impression and wobble his knees.
He didn't fall. His feet had instead planted firmly into the ground if only because he noticed Saber Alter's posture slacken; the fist she'd used to punch him grasping around him and mutedly bringing him into her embrace.
"I thought I failed again. You bastard I thought I failed again…"
Her face pressed to the sternum of his chest, preventing him from noting any expressions she was making, but the desperation and anxiety bleeding off of her was apparent enough. Then came the wetness seeping into what remained of his clothes, followed by muffled sniffling.
Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around her shorter frame, resting his palms over the small of her back to better secure her which she allowed. Excalibur Morgan clattered to the ground as the grip she had over it with her right hand slackened in favour of clinging to the warmth surrounding her.
"You were supposed to call me," she accused, swallowing audibly. Her words were garbled and mumbled into his chest.
"I was supposed to be there," she wilted before he could even respond, warbled features worsening as she pursed her lips. "And then…and then the bitch said you…"
She glanced up sharply at him, finally craning her neck up to reveal moist eyes and quivering lashes. It was a mess. An emotional mess that struck harder for the sheer virtue that emotion was actually bleeding through her King's poker face. It left him breathless, regretful that he was definitely the cause.
"You're not allowed to die. Do you hear me?!"
"That's," he trailed off.
"YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED!" She tugged him by the scruff of his collar, her hands cold.
He stared into her eyes, and she into his, sniffles escaping her nose. He glanced at his feet, eyes closing, before he took a breath and let the words flow out softly. "Then I won't."
"Swear it to me," she pulled him down to eye level, faces mere inches apart. "A Knight's oath."
"I swear," he whispered, shifting one arm to cup the back of her head pressed to his chest.
"Mhm," she mumbled in some form of acknowledgment. "I'm sorry that I couldn't reach you earlier. If-If I'd just been there, then this never would have happened."
"I think that decision was out of your hands. Don't blame yourself."
"Oh, I already know who I'm blaming."
A chill travelled down Shirou's at the expression Saber Alter was making.
"I-If you say so," he stammered before pausing as the both of them noticed a new key detail.
They were fading away into spirit particles.
With the Grail secure and the timeline stabilized, Romani and Davinci had likely begun the rayshift procedure back to Chaldea.
"Seems like it's mission accomplished," Shirou said while inspecting his fading hands.
"Already?" Saber Alter frowned.
She hadn't exactly been paying much attention to general circumstances regarding this singularity from the beginning; granted, her destabilized mental state was a deciding factor that practically jeopardized her performance from the get-go.
Ah, what was the point of that when all she wished to do was annihilate everything?
"A shame," Saber Alter grimaced. "I have yet to settle scores with a new enemy."
Shirou shuddered in ill foreboding. "By settle scores, you don't mean to-"
"Slaughter the wretch who dared harm what's mine? Of course. I knew that you understood me best, Master." Saber Alter preened.
By her attitude, it was becoming abundantly clear that Saber Alter was unaware of the latest developments. She'd likely seen Jeanne and Jeanne Alter fighting and thought it had nothing to do with him. Even Olga and the rest had to be clued in that he'd become Jeanne Alter's Master, let alone Saber Alter.
T-Then didn't that mean…
Shirou looked down at himself, and then to Saber Alter.
If he was Rayshifting back right now along with his contracted Servants- oh. Oh dear.
It happened in an instant. One moment he and Saber Alter were in France, and in the next they were back in Chaldea with him emerging from a dive coffin.
Cold sweat immediately traveled down his back.
"Oi, Master!" A voice called out to him in an irritable tone from within Chaldea's return strip known as Chaldea Gate.
Shirou knew that voice. He knew it all too well in his captivity.
Evidently, Saber Alter knew it too.
There, before the both of them, and separated from Olga and the others who'd also just returned, was a smirking Jeanne Alter. A wide chasm formed between the groups like the red sea, none daring to draw close, with only Mash and Ritsuka mouthing Goodluck.
Saber Alter stood, dazed into inaction.
Mechanically, she turned her expressionless face towards Shirou who could hardly get a word out beyond a strangled cry.
Jeanne Alter boldly sashayed beside him and leered provocatively at Saber Alter with her chin rested firmly over one of his shoulders. From their close proximity, he could feel and see the way red was creeping up Jeanne Alter's cheeks from her own bold actions, but she wasn't shying away from it either. In fact, a part of Jeanne Alter appeared happy, victorious, smug even.
If she ended up pushing her luck and trying to give a peck to his cheek as well? Well, she aborted when her face grew too hot and she pretended to clear her throat instead, practically dying from embarrassment.
The irony wasn't lost on Shirou that Jeanne Alter was the one subjugating herself to her own mortification. At the very least, she was being a good sport about it. It would have been a different story altogether if he called her out on it, but he was a wise man and dared not.
Besides, Jeanne Alter wasn't the main issue.
There was something strangely peculiar about Saber Alter's lack of retaliation; made worse by the knowing glint in Archer EMIYA's eyes who passed him by with an unrepentant clap of the shoulder.
"Welcome to hell, hero. Give it a bit. Let her process."
Archer's tone wasn't comforting in the least. Then again it probably wasn't meant to be as he walked off as if on signal.
A prelude if anything.
"Romani- Chaldea lockdown procedures, code red! Hurry!"
A.D.1431: Hundred Years War of the Evil Dragon: Orleans.
Thanks for reading!
Next update: Vasto of White
P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious
The Lonely Peak
New Book: Out on Amazon (Remove dash on link)
Survivor's Log Reflection: Amazon.c-om/dp/B08VDDGN7Z?