One Singularity threatening the preservation of mankind had been resolved, leaving only six left, but these remaining six produced far larger readings than Orleans.
Time was of the imperative.
The world would end by the coming new year.
The actions carried out now would decide the very outcome of humanity's future.
"Is everyone in attendance?"
The crisp sound of Olga's impatient voice echoed in Chaldea's Command Room.
It was the following day after the events of Orleans and the subsequent follow up of a smaller Singularity. All things concluded, it was now time to redouble efforts on what mattered most, the completion of the Grand Order. To this end, Olga had called a Master's meeting with the former members of both Chaldea's A and B teams in attendance. DaVinci helped to organize a meeting template, and Romani was on standby in the simulation room, but he was present in a projection screen.
As for the others, Ophelia and Shirou were already here, but Mash and Ritsuka were still missing.
"Ritsuka's still on his way," Ophelia answered. "Mash went to rouse him. He apparently exhausted himself farming 'Altrium' in that dubious Singularity."
Oddly, Olga didn't press the issue of tardiness upon hearing Ophelia's explanation.
Olga still had a heart.
However, Olga showed approval where it was due and nodded at Ophelia. "Discounting Ritsuka who had problems from the beginning, you're as punctual as ever Ophelia. There was a reason you were on the A-Team."
Ophelia nodded back, but didn't speak from there on, focusing her attention on observing Shirou opposite on the table across them. He, like her, had arrived when Olga had called for a Master's convene. It was her first time seeing him in person, and she'd yet to even thank him for presenting her the opportunity to save her life in light of the Fuyuki Singularity.
She'd always been a reserved individual, and this personality was not helping her case. Though, it did enhance her observation skills. She'd taken note that Olga didn't even bother commending Shirou as if his presence was already a given. If that didn't denote some layer of trust, Ophelia didn't know what did. It almost reminded her of how Olga had tried to act around Lev…
Ophelia didn't miss the way Olga would glance at Shirou, looking for a reaction either for approval or if she'd done something wrong that he could help with. As it stood, Shirou remained silent, and Olga took it as tacit approval and gained some confidence in her act.
The sound of the sliding door soon announced Ritsuka and Mash's arrival to the Master's meeting.
"Sorry, sorry," Ritsuka bowed his head in apology, but in a show of progress, Olga didn't actually yell at him and settled on glaring at him until he took his seat instead.
Mash carefully grabbed her own chair and propped herself next to Ritsuka, nudging him before he could let out another yawn.
Olga had still seen it though.
T-This man. Give him an inch and he takes a mile!
A vein popped over Olga's temples as she recalled her first impression of Ritsuka before the start of Fuyuki.
"Well then, let's get things underway, shall we?" DaVinci smiled, clapping her hands to get everyone's attention on her. "Stern as she may seem, the Director called this meeting to collaborate with you all rather than spearhead everything on her own again."
Yes, well uhm, she did do that, Olga found herself puffing her chest out.
If DaVinci had planned on abating Olga's temper through explicit acknowledgment, it was certainly working.
Now if only DaVinci had capable teammates.
"She did?" Mash asked, stunned. Olga's prior impression on her employees was just too poor afterall.
Olga scowled at Mash's genuine surprise, undoing DaVinci's efforts to wind the director down.
"Yes," DaVinci changed her approach. "Believe it or not, the director is not always so abrasive, but has always been a rather shy person who's father often said she wet-"
"DaVinci," Olga narrowed her eyes to hide her embarrassment. She wasn't a fan of airing her dark history like dirty laundry. Besides, she wasn't that bad, right? No. It was DaVinci's fault for getting everyone carried away. "I didn't call you here for your personal input, but your professional analysis."
"Ah, no need to be so shy now," DaVinci chided with a cheeky wink.
Olga slapped the table, cheeks reddened in a fluster. "Enough! Now stand aside and let me speak for myself!"
"As you wish," DaVinci chuckled, giving Olga the stage.
"Ahem," Olga cleared her throat and immediately turned to address the others. "Since everyone's here, let me begin by saying we have a tough road ahead of us. We are the last Masters of humanity that can save our world as we know it, and that places a heavy weight on each of our lives. Each life lost is a step closer to the failure of the Grand Order."
An air of tension began to exude in the Command Room, many adopting contemplative expressions. Moreover, Olga wasn't about to pull any punches with their chances.
"The path ahead is fraught with danger," Olga stressed. She'd been thinking about this all night. "As such, we're gathered here today to discuss our approach for the remaining Singularities. The sooner they're resolved, the less influence they can exert on the main timeline."
Olga raised her index and middle finger up, before curling her fingers down one at a time for emphasis.
"We have two choices. Either we progress through the Singularities as a group, or we utilize our numbers to tackle the Singularities as fast as we can. DaVinci suggested each Master could begin work in a different Singularity for optimum efficiency."
By separating into four groups, they could hope to eliminate four of the remaining six singularities with maximum speed for the best allocation of manpower and resources.
"Should one Master resolve their respective Singularity earlier than the rest, they can be sent as back up to another Master having trouble in theirs. But like I said, we are mankind's last Masters. We can't just risk our lives by separating, so I've called you here for your input."
"Four of us entering a single Singularity at a time is our safest approach," Ritsuka ventured, Mash nodding in agreement. Neither of the two wanted to imagine coming back to a Chaldea where their friends and comrades were killed in action.
"The problem is it might take too long," Shirou spoke, recalling the information he'd read on the Grand Order. "The world ends for humanity on the eve of the coming year."
"Then what if we split into groups of two and each tackle a Singularity?" Ophelia proposed with clinical precision. "It would be safer than each of us going on our own, while being more efficient than all of us going together." Her voice suddenly grew softer. "And I ugh, would like to propose pairing myself with-"
"How should we decide the pairs?" Ritsuka hummed in thought, missing the way Ophelia glowered at him. It was her own fault for speaking so quietly.
"We need at least one capable Master in each pair, and that means Shirou and I respectively," Olga said matter of factly. "In which case, I'll pair with Ophelia while Shirou can pair with Ritsuka."
Ophelia hung her head in defeat, and just went with it.
"Director, are you sure?" Romani suddenly asked from the projection in the simulation room.
Olga was confused, but thought the question was asking her to elaborate on her choice. She did so. "I paired with Ophelia since I'm the only one who has any experience working with her."
"O-Oh is that so?" Sweat formed over Romani's brow, followed by relief. "Yes, you're correct as always, director."
DaVinci looked from Romani, then to Olga before a twinkle of mirth came over her eyes. "I don't think that's what Romani was implying," she said mischievously.
"Ah!" Mash's features lit up in realization first while Romani was trying to slink away from the screen.
"Hmm?" Olga huffed before she began thinking. "Then what did he- were you insinuating I'm not one of the capable Masters?!"
"It should be fine," Mash tried to assure Romani. However, her choice of words was less than ideal. "The Director has Archer."
"Oh, oh you're right," Romani put himself at ease, irking Olga further at the implication.
"I'm going to strangle yo-"
"Then it's settled!" DaVinci clapped her hands again before her fun could escalate into confrontation. "Ophelia and Olga, and Shirou and Ritsuka will form Chaldea's new A and B Teams. Operations will begin tomorrow."
DaVinci clicked a few keys on an interface in front of her and set alarms for each Master's 'My Room' space for the next day.
"A Team will strike the third Singularity, and B Team will take the second. Oh, and Shirou, report early with Jeanne and Saber Alter. They'll need their own coffins prepared for Rayshift."
Unlike Ritsuka and Olga who summoned their Servants through Chaldea's Summoning circle, Shirou had personally formed contracts with his Servants in person. Moreover, they weren't one of those 'temporary' contracts that Servants already summoned into a Singularity may opt for, so they practically followed him everywhere.
Of course, DaVinci had suggested transferring the contract terms to a Chaldea summoning circle so that they could be summoned interchangeably with Chaldea's registered Servants, but Saber and Jeanne Alter were resistant to the idea. Ritsuka and Olga however, had opted for this method so that Chaldea's facilities could maintain the upkeep of the Servants.
In their free time, the Servants were able to live their lives within Chaldea's various faculty spaces, though the music hall became a taboo ever since Elizabeth and Kiyohime started competing for best singer…
Anyways, Shirou's case was rather inefficient no matter how Olga considered it. Since he didn't transfer the contract onto Chaldea's summoning facilities, he would have to act as the main energy source for his Servants.
Let it be said that a single Servant would ordinarily be too much for a regular magus's reserves to maintain, let alone two without a Holy Grail. The strain on Shirou's body and magic circuits would have killed him by now if it weren't for Chaldea.
You see, much in the same way a magus could lend energy to another through their magic crest or thaumaturgy, Chaldea was doing the same for Shirou. To dumb it down, rather than provide magic energy to the Servants directly through Chaldea's summoning facilities, that energy was funneled into Shirou instead, who then funneled it into Saber and Jeanne Alter.
See? Utterly inefficient.
Shirou was just adding an extra step, but Olga didn't dare voice this as Shirou's Alters were quite content with their arrangement when they weren't bickering with each other- which was practically always.
Whether or not Shirou understood the headache Saber Alter and Jeanne Alter's antics had on Chaldea's staff, he was certainly sheepish about it.
"I'll let them know to come early." He spoke solemnly before his eyes glinted when he realized the meeting was likely now over. "If that's all, excuse me, but I've got to go."
Pushing his chair out, Shirou quickly departed the Command Room, features pensive as he muttered 'handicaps' under his breath. His entire demeanor was burning with a spirit few if any had ever seen on him apart from when he was in a warzone.
The others could only blink in stunned bafflement.
Were they unaware of some pressing development?
"What's got him so hurried?" Olga frowned, displeased more at the fact that Shirou didn't even give her the chance to invite him for a less formal gathering to wind down. Whether this was because she wanted him to be there, or not didn't matter anymore as he'd already left.
Her good intentions to send Shirou and the others off with rested spirits was thwarted from the start.
Was it too much to just want to get to know him a bit more? You know, for the sake of better understanding as comrades and obviously nothing else?
In fact, look! That ignorant ape didn't even notice how much effort Ophelia was putting into trying to call out to him the entire meeting!
Irritated the more Olga thought about it, she soon focused on a matter she'd only partially suspected Shirou of.
"It looked like he was only half-focused?"
Olga leveled this question on DaVinci who had a knack for knowing developments across Chaldea's entire facility.
Indeed, she had the answer.
"You wouldn't believe it even if I told you," DaVinci could barely hold back a snort.
"Try us," Olga grouched, Ophelia tuning in just like Mash and Ritsuka.
What could be so pressing?
DaVinci pulled up a monitor that displayed a certain location in Chaldea currently in a din of activity.
Saber Alter was there butting heads with Jeanne Alter, while Martha was egging Jeanne to speak with Sieg on the far corner of the room. Sieg himself was being harassed by Elizabeth and Kiyohime who'd convinced themselves that only Sieg could judge who had the better Dragon trait, as they'd seen him turn into a Dragon in Orleans.
Sasaki was leisurely drinking while somehow getting along with Spartacus's drivel on 'love.' Moreover, a defeated Heroine X was beside Sasaki, staring at him with a gaze from one who understood to another. So long as they were Sabers in their hearts, their Assassin Classes meant nothing! Nothing!
It was chaos; the only constantly recurring aspect, the mounds and mounds of food served on large platters buffet style.
Saber Alter and Heroine X, though glaring sparks at each other, had signed an armistice in favour of stuffing their faces.
Shown in this moment was the instance Shirou re-entered the battle zone and glared at the man at the center of it all.
"Shirou's competing with Archer for lead chef of Chaldea's kitchen. Loser becomes the sue chef for the other. Neither are backing down. Saber Alter and the Servants in the canteen are the judges. Whoever's food gets eaten more is the winner. This meeting has had our Shirou at a disadvantage."
"Ah," a gasp of utter bafflement escaped Olga's lips. Just when she thought she knew the guy.
Among all priorities he could have had.
"It's just a kitchen?!"
True to DaVinci's word, the recommencement of the Grand Order began the following morning. A-Team consisting of Ophelia and Olga were to be Rayshifted into the Third Singularity while Shirou and Ritsuka were to tackle the second.
A benefit of Shirou's arrangement with Saber and Jeanne Alter was that they would be with the group from the start. They wouldn't have to be summoned through Chaldea's summoning system that required a leyline in order to set up, and as such, could protect the group from the beginning.
One moment everyone was staring through the orderly blue walls of the rayshifting coffins, and in the next, Shirou and the B-Team were standing on a lush plain of rolling hills and tall grass.
"We've successfully Rayshifted this time," Mash beamed while looking around and confirming everyone's presence. "The feel of the wind, the scent of the air and land amidst a vast blue sky. It's strange. I've seen it so many times in movies, but standing here, it feels much more vivid."
"You didn't have enough of it in Orleans?" Shirou asked while taking a moment to establish his bearings. There was just something about rayshifting that left the mind groggy immediately afterwards.
"Our rayshift wasn't exactly the most pleasant then," Mash made a face at Shirou while moving over to help Ritsuka. "And I was just a bit antsy."
"Rayshifting makes you nervous?" Ritsuka asked as Chaldea's B-Team reorganized.
Mash nodded fervently, but not quite for the reasons everyone assumed, least of all was Shirou and Jeanne Alter who winced.
"Yes, but I don't think my state of mind has anything to do with that. I mean, it's a bit overwhelming. France was one shock after another, and we lost Emiya-Senpai to Jeanne from the beginning so it's only now that I feel like I'm finally able to face this landscape."
The reminder had Saber Alter seething, while Jeanne Alter, preened at her English rival, made a face, and then rubbed it in.
Shirou pinched the bridge of his nose. The two were going to go at it again.
"It's good that we're all here safely." Ritsuka said, trying to steer the conflict of the Alters away from each other. "I doubt Saber Alter's patience for Romani would last a third blow."
"Naturally. Continued incompetence can only be rewarded by the sword." Saber Alter shook her head. She was on full alert.
There was no way she would ever let the incident at Orleans repeat. Her vigilance was spurred to its maximum.
"That ring of light in the sky. It's the same as the one that was over France," Mash made idle observations of their surroundings. "I mean it looks the same, not that I've examined it precisely. I wonder what it is? It's such a huge anomaly."
The sound of an intermission echoed in everyone's ears.
"It's an intriguing phenomenon, Mash, and Chaldea will continue to investigate it from here," Romani spoke from the other end.
Romani was B-Team's primary support operative while DaVinci kept an eye on Olga and Ophelia as A-Team's operative.
"Weren't we supposed to be in Rome?" Saber Alter cut in, looking at the landscape with a critical eye.
"That's weird." Romani sounded nervous whenever Saber Alter addressed him. "The coordinates are confirmed, and the teleport position was fixed...fortunately, it seems that you're all just in a suburb of the Roman capital instead."
"Is the era correct, doctor?" Mash ventured.
"It is correct. Definitely the 1St century where this singularity exists during the reign of Nero Claudius, Fifth Emperor of Rome. Still, if it's not the coordinates, why are you all so far from the capital?"
From as far as the eye could see, it was just countryside. All that was missing were the braying of sheep or cattle, and it would be no different from a place where shepherds herd their sheep.
"Empress Agrippina should have only been poisoned the prior year, and Nero's reign isn't yet in dangerous decline." Romani grew perplexed, already missing DaVinci's insights to try and explain a situation. He shook his head. "Rather, this is when the Emperor was most beloved under the prosperity of Rome. Are you sure there's nothing else?"
"Doctor, it's just rolling hills," Mash verified.
"Anything unusual then?" Romani kept trying to piece an explanation together.
"I hear it," Shirou suddenly interjected.
Carried in the soft breeze were the shouts of heated screams and echoing metal.
"The sound of a large battle. My kind of place," Jeanne Alter heard it next and grinned, readying her war banner.
The others turned to Saber Alter, and her subsequent nod confirmed it.
"A war? Impossible." Romani said in disbelief, his voice carrying traces of apprehension. "There were no full-scale battles near the Roman Capital in this era. Which means-"
"A historical anomaly," Ritsuka concluded. "Let's get to that noise."
At this, the others fully agreed.
Reinforcing his legs, Shirou kept pace with Saber and Jeanne Alter while Ritsuka had Mash carry him. Until they could find a suitable leyline, Ritsuka would just have Mash to depend on.
Compared to the speed of an ordinary human, the group moved rather quickly, soon arriving at their intended destination.
The clashing of two armies appeared in sight. Aquila were hefted on both sides, kept secure by dozens of infantry and shield's men. Ballista were being openly fired, and determination of both sides was swelling to an apex.
"No doubts about it now, two armies are in combat," Mash reported back to Romani while observing what was before her. "The larger force wears a regalia of red and gold, the smaller force wears the same but with different motifs."
"Roman colours," Saber Alter confirmed. Early British colonization itself originated from Rome's march into the isles, and the founding of Londinium.
"Anything else that's descriptive?" Romani inquired.
"A woman in red. The smaller force defending Rome seems to be led by her." Ritsuka answered, Mash letting him down from carrying him. "She alone is taking on the enemy forces herself. A Servant perhaps?"
"No. I'm not getting any Servant readings." Romani shot the notion down. "None of you sense it either, right?"
Mash, Saber Alter, and Jeanne Alter all shook their heads in the negative.
"That means that woman is a human of this era. In any case, a war that should not have happened is occurring, which means…"
"We must stop the capital from being overrun and aid the smaller force."
Shirou was already in the midst of readying himself for action, but was stopped when Jeanne Alter placed a hand on his shoulder and grinned.
"Allow me," Jeanna Alter said. "I need to vent a bit."
"Jeanne, wait a sec-"
Jeanne ignored Ritsuka's suggestion to plan a better approach and sped off into the fray of the larger army, cackling in excitement all the way.
"And she's gone," Mash sighed, knowing that Jeanne Alter wasn't the type to really listen unless it was Shirou insisting.
"It's fine. She knows what she's doing," Shirou vouched on Jeanne Alter's behalf. Whether Jeanne heard and started beaming because of it, it was hard to tell past her flushed features.
Walls of flame and black stakes began to wreak havoc in the enemy line, giving Shirou and the others the opportunity to draw closer to the smaller army.
When Shirou and the others finally got close enough to see the woman in red's face, they all took a moment to pause in disbelief. They then glanced from Saber and Jeanne Alter's faces, then to the woman's. Afterwards, they then considered that the present era was from a time before Saber and Jeanne Alter.
-They practically all had the same face.
The Romans came first, which meant to say that this woman in the flesh may be an ancestor of the two…?
Now was not the time.
Shirou shook his head while Saber Alter's lip twitched. By now, she was almost becoming habituated to others stealing her face.
"Saber, aid Jeanne!" Shirou instructed while looking at Ritsuka.
"Mash, help guard the smaller army with your shield," Ritsuka got Shirou's cue.
"Understood! Mash Kyrielight, at the ready!"
Saber Alter merely nodded before black mana encompassed her sword. Each swing reaping through the enemy's defenses without resistance. In contrast, Mash's towering shield halted the arrows and javelin's of the enemy, saving the lives of many from the smaller army.
The sound of a transmission abruptly echoed in the air.
"Careful! I've detected a single Servant!"
Everyone narrowed their eyes, growing tense while waiting for Romani to point them in a direction to guard against.
"It's rapidly approaching your location just over the- huh? It retreated. Could it be that he or she has a Master?" Romani mumbled in contemplation.
"Whatever. If it's gone it's gone. Burn!" Jeanne Alter sent wave after wave of scorching flames to the point none dared approach her. The only time she was forced to duck was when a blast of Saber Alter's mana burst nearly cleaved at her head.
Jeanne Alter retaliated by accidentally burning a lock of Saber Alter's hair.
The two silently glared at each other in the midst of the enemy army.
It was on from there.
Seeing this scene, Shirou could no longer muster the will to get involved when the enemy was already desperately fleeing in wake of Jeanne and Saber's collateral damage.
The battle was over from the moment Mash, Jeanne Alter, and Saber Alter got involved.
With the retreat of the enemy, the tensions plaguing the smaller force vanished all at once to be replaced with the urge to chase and massacre. However, their actions were halted at the behest of a single individual in command of the smaller yet tight-knit Roman force.
Shirou noted the level of discipline the soldiers displayed despite the almost childish antics of their leader smiling from ear to ear while trying to be solemn.
"Sheathe your weapons! It's over!" The woman in red called out.
True to her description, she was wearing a red battledress similar to what Saber Alter wore beneath her armor. However, the design left little to be imagined at the front and rear. The sword in her hands blazed with the heat of fire, and it was with it and her skill that the woman had been holding back the momentum of the larger army.
"You there! Are you reinforcements from the capital?" The woman asked, looking towards Ritsuka then to Shirou. Jeanne Alter and Saber Alter were still making their way back from chasing down the enemy.
"Well, something like that," Shirou said.
The woman nodded fervently. "I'd thought it sealed off, but no matter. I commend you! For now, let us return to the eternal city of Rome!"
It was around this time that Jeanne Alter and Saber Alter returned, each cursing at each other while moving to stand on either side of Shirou.
This immediately drew the woman's notice, and she paused along with portions of her army to stare.
"By the way, you people." The woman eyed Jeanne and Saber Alter's faces with a flicker of suspicion. It seemed that she too was stunned by their stark similarities. "I don't doubt that some of you are foreigners, but where are you from? The far east doesn't seem likely. Then, surely not…Britannia?"
"Britain," Saber Alter corrected before she realized, simultaneously shoving Jeanne Alter away from Shirou with a grunt.
The woman in red's eyes glinted with uncertainty at the affirmation, but it went unnoticed at the sheer exuberance of the woman's personality.
"Is that what it's called now?" The woman was quick to pick up where she left off. "Nonetheless, you are a citizen of Rome! It's heartening that you would come in its defense all the way from the distant isles. You even strike with such ferocity…"
"Let's say I have a severe dislike for invading barbarians," Saber Alter replied flatly.
The woman seemed to agree, seemingly reminiscing of the past. This only made the way she regarded Jeanne and Saber more subtle.
"You all, come with me through the praetorium. We will return to my commander's tent while the praetors of each legion organize a return to the capital. We must hurry though."
Saying this, the woman quickly led everyone to where her forces had made camp to face off against the larger army. Separating from her soldiers, only an attendant quickly followed after her.
"Why the rush?" Mash asked.
"We don't know if the enemy will mount a counter offensive," the woman answered, only to pause at the sound of Chaldea's transmission system.
"Rest at ease." Romani took the moment to interject with the majority of the army now too far away to hear. "I've detected no signs of enemy movement across the entire battlefield. They won't be mounting a surprise attack."
The woman's eyes widened before she calmed herself.
"There's a man here who can be heard yet not seen. From the feel in the air, a mage?"
"I'm glad you know of magecraft," Romani answered. "Saves the trouble of explaining. Everyone here is from an organization called Chald-"
"That's alright," the woman replied flippantly.
"Hey, I-I was still speaking you know?"
"I'm not sure about the one with no body, but the rest of you fought marvelously. I praise you again! Before I ask for your lineage to honor it with military service, I'll offer my own."
The woman paused for theatrics, rounding back to face Shirou and the others who had been following behind her.
"I am the true Rome, yes! I am Rome itself!" She boldly declared. "I swear to the Gods, my ancestors, to me, and to the people, that I will rebuild the Empire!"
She flourished her hands, the grip she had on her sword carrying it up to form a graceful arc as she spun on the balls of her feet.
"I am Nero Claudius! Fifth Emperor of Rome- ahem. Where are the rose petals? My introduction cannot be complete without them."
An attendant hurriedly ran and whispered into Nero's ear, her expression drooping while everyone reeled from this new piece of information. Still, Ritsuka and Mash were no longer as surprised after the reveal that King Arthur was a girl.
"He died in battle?" Nero's shoulder dropped as the attendant continued to whisper into her ear. "Oh, oh it's fine then. You're dismissed. I wish to speak in private with Rome's new friends."
The attendant stiffly nodded, glanced at Saber and Jeanne Alter's faces, and dared not speculate on his own before running off.
Nero continued leading everyone away.
Soon enough, they arrived at Nero's personal tent.
Out of the public eye, Nero's demeanor suddenly dimmed as she sighed. The healthy flush of her complexion had also paled rather considerably.
"Somehow, we're safely out of danger. You all ended up saving the day," she sounded like she was wheezing, but she pretended as if she wasn't. "I'm sure it's not uncommon to be outnumbered, but being on the inferior side is no fun. So tiring."
By now, it was easy to tell that there was obviously something wrong.
The facade didn't even last another minute.
"Ugh, blasted!" Nero crumpled, clutching at her sides to reveal blood seeping through heavily wound bandages beneath her red dress. "It seems my acting skills can only take me so far," she lamented.
"Nero, you were injured!" Mash moved to support Nero, catching her before she could fall over. She then carefully moved Nero to lay on the matts near the center of the room.
Nero winced from pain, but she acted as if it hardly mattered.
"I admit," she said grudgingly. "I was sneak attacked by some dastardly tan mage before all this, so forgive my current distrust of them mage with no body, but morale must never fall in battle. More so when you lead the smaller force."
"She won't be fit for battle for a long while," Romani analyzed in the stunned silence of the crowd. "What's worse is that she isn't a Servant, so the wounds will have to heal naturally unless we can find a skilled healer."
"Nero! Nero! Nero! Nero!"
The cheers of the army were calling to her.
It was likely that preparations to return to the capital had already been made. All that was left was for Nero to lead the triumphant legion back to the heartland of Rome.
Spurred by the adoration of her army, Nero struggled into an upright position, before buckling back onto the bed Mash had helped lay her on. It was the only time she ever lost her exuberance and gave into listless frustration.
"The people, they call, and I lay here unable to answer the adulations of victory."
The sounds of the cheers were only getting louder and louder.
"It would be devastating to not appear in such a time as the Empire's current crisis, let alone to show a weakened appearance."
Nero looked like she was struggling. Worse, she was stubborn and refused help. If she was going to greet her army, she wasn't going to do it looking weak while supported in the arms of another. Such an image wouldn't do for Rome's current dilemma.
She swallowed, and finally gave up, but not because of despair, but to ask for a favor.
"Fortunately…an alternative to this problem has presented itself."
"An alternative?" Ritsuka echoed before it clicked for just about everyone what Nero was hinting at.
All eyes turned to the Alters, none more scrutinizing than Nero who was humming to herself, looking from Jeanne Alter to Saber Alter and then focusing on Saber. Jeanne Alter had the face, but the bust was too large, and the stature a tad too big.
Salter however could be managed.
"The chest will need a bit of work, but it can be stuffed with cotton or padded…" Nero muttered with a performer's critical eye.
Saber Alter blanked.
"No," she immediately refused, tipping Jeanne Alter off to what was happening.
A fatal, fatal error.
Jeanne Alter realized what was going on and grew increasingly amused.
"Now listen here English Bitch, no I mean, Saber; you have to consider the bigger-"
Nero nodded, pretending as if she couldn't hear Saber Alter's growing denials. "Open the storage chest over there. I always come prepared with a spare gown and battledress."
Jeanne Alter was all too willing to comply with Nero's instructions while Saber Alter stood utterly rooted. Shirou, Ritsuka, and Mash grew increasingly awkward.
Opening the storage chest, Jeanne Alter picked up one of Nero's red gowns and aired it out with a couple flicks. All eyes focused on the back of the dress that had an opening that crested dangerously low past the hips and into the scandalous twin hills.
Jeanne Alter held back no punches.
"Oh, exposed butt cheeks? I think it suits you, Saber."
"French bitch. Absolutely not."
Jeanne Alter then turned the dress to the front side and started madly cackling. Big sister Jeanne would not be proud.
Mash was blushing. "Isn't this a bit too-"
"Umu, it's not see-through. I let them."
Nero took the way everyone turned to stare dubiously at her as a win.
"What is there to be ashamed of when I'm perfect? She may not have my pert and supple breasts, but her face and butt should be just as beautiful to woo admiration from Venus herself!"
Shirou tentatively placed a hand on Saber Alter's shoulder, but didn't know what to say anymore. Based on proper human history, Nero's reputation and achievements had to be safeguarded. Acting as her double would bring more benefit than harm.
Regardless, this was out of his field.
"…This can't be happening."
Saber Alter stiffly turned to Shirou who had grown painfully silent; she, grasping at straws.
Second Singularity: Human Foundation Value B+
A.D. 0060: Septem of the Eternal Empire of Madness
'The Black Emperor of Roses'
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The Lonely Peak
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