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Their Guiding Light - Excalibur Edition

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Important Preface

The following story contains spoilers for Fate/Grand Order. Knowledge of Singularity Camelot's story is highly recommended.

In addition, this is a supplement work for the series' core entry, Fragments of Chaldea, and reading everything up to Fragment 21 is also highly suggested for better comprehension and understanding. Some relations, concepts, and names will not make sense otherwise. Everything that applies to, and has happened over the course of, that collection applies here. It's background/foundation material.

Finally, the Sixth Singularity will be different in many ways from the canon chapter, including divergence, original scenes, and adapted plot points; This is not a novelization, but closer to a different route. If the original FGO Camelot is Fate Route in the Visual Novel, think of Their Guiding Light  as Unlimited Blade Works.

Credits for any translated lines that appear can be found on the Fragments of Chaldea Official Website .

You've been thoroughly warned , and with that, I hope you enjoy the journey ahead.

~GhostXavier


o==(=======- -I- -=======)==o


There was never just one path on the road of life.
There were countless possibilities.
….Infinite endings to a myriad of choices…
…Immeasurable differences to an uncountable number of realities…

One timeline could grow into a utopia, while another would end in apocalypse.
Billions of  possibilities to any such scenario all caused by the tiniest specks.

Sometimes the change was minuscule and unnoticeable…
…and others it was just a lone aesthetic that affected nothing.

Other times, an action seconds late would cause ripples that tore recognizable history asunder.
Those decisions and actions redefined every night and day.
And then there were those choices and actions that made the perfect difference…

A change that could be considered just right.
Neither changing the course of the timeline dramatically, nor having no effect at all.

…But to some, it made a world of a difference…

…and Gudao was unknowingly about to make that change.


o==(=======- -II- -=======)==o


When her last strike landed, Mordred coughed up blood as the grip on her swung blade loosened. Her tarnished helmet finally came apart from the last, rendering blow. Her lungs screamed with the newly gifted pain which swirled madly with inhaled smoke; The flames that surrounded the once dueling knights flickered in her peripherals like a jeering crowd. Though she gasped for precious air, there would be no reward beyond the throbbing pain.

With a desperate gasp, her shaken gaze fell towards the pierced, elegant spear that dripped with her blood. Once shimmering armor was shattered like glass around the protruding lance. Even if she were to break free, the treacherous knight understood it was already over. The rage and disbelief that raged through her like the surrounding flames slowly gave wave to a cascade of despair… and a last, lingering impulse.

Slowly, she looked up into the blank expression of the beautiful knight in front of her… the beautiful king who she'd idolized for so long. Even as the pain constricted, and her muscles yearned for the comfort of cold earth, she dared for one last look. Her blue cloth and armor were angelic and pristine, save for the vengeful slash from Clarent that sullied her unreachable majesty.

To think… the only time the Knight of Treachery managed to touch her father was through her stolen blade… "Father…"

She slid from the lance, left its cruel embrace, and fell to the ground in a heap. Tormented, emerald eyes gazed dejectedly at the king before her, but the royal's eyes shifted to the battlefield around them. Mordred was just another casualty among the countless that littered the hill and its surrounding landscape. The fire and smoke clogged the skies, bringing hell to reality as the King of Knights stared blankly over the fallen masses.

At her feet, Mordred weakly reached forward. Her vision grew blurry, but she reached across the rocky, blood-soaked ground. With a grunt, she tried to pull herself towar-

Arturia Pendragon turned away, as she had done to her so many times before. Whether it was the smoke and fire stinging her eyes or the lingering tendrils of frustration, Mordred felt the tears welling in her fading vision. She grit her teeth, grasped the earth, and pulled herself defiantly against the screaming pain. Slowly… ever slowly she came closer to the King of Knights, only for her to begin walking away. The Knight of Treachery coughed up blood. As the cold darkness reached out for the fallen knight, she cursed under her fading breath.

"Why..." she barely croaked out, eyes slowly closing. "Why... Father...?"

Mordred listened in despair as the footsteps... came to a stop? Even through the pain, Mordred felt something shift. That mighty presence… the gentle clinks of armor drew near. Was the king coming clo-

Like a hammer, an armored foot came down on her hand. It shattered the bone between the crushed gauntlet, and made the knight cry out in renewed agony. Her heart roared with new life as pain constricted her like a snake. With the last of her adrenaline, she stared with wide eyes and saw her father staring down upon her with golden eyes; The vibrant green and stoic expression had vanished. Her final breaths caught in her throat at the sight, but her disbelieving gaze failed to register Rhongomyniad being raised to the heavens.

'No... No!' Mordred screamed internally. 'This…! This was not how it had happened…! What is happening!?'

" Useless."

Mordred gasped for air, but only painful smoke filtered in. "Father...! What...!?"

The golden eyes of the King of Knights stared down at her son as the nightmare unfolded. Rhongomyniad's light slowly turned dark. It wreathed itself in shadow and spread its sickening tendrils across the crimson and ebony clouds above; It was the same tainted darkness she witnessed in London. Mordred's eyes widened even as her world spun and shook erratically.

Arturia only scowled with hatred brimming in her eyes. "Pathetic."

Her heart sank faster than Rhongomyniad's judgement could rocket down, but Mordred couldn't tell which had blessed greater anguish.

o==(=======-

Prologue

-=======)==o

Mordred sat up swiftly and gasped for air. Thanks to a small sheen of sweat that covered her body, she felt disgusting in the cool, night air. The blanket had long been thrown from the bed, and her pillows lay scattered like debris around her bed. She covered her eyes with the palms of her hands as she panted, yet no amount of breaths quelled the lungs' desperate thirst.

Slowly, she calmed herself down with deeper breaths and cinche-shut eyes. After she dropped her hands onto her bare legs, she slowly opened her eyes and looked at herself. The sweat had made her bra and panties uncomfortable, but there was relief to be found in the lack of any lance wound. A shiver still ran through her, but she suppressed it instinctively: Mordred was not weak.

With a sigh, she ran a hand through her loose hair and looked up at her room with troubled eyes. Her sparsely decorated room greeted her. There was only a few maple dressers and cabinets around the room for extra storage, and a small trophy rack for random trinkets she found interesting enough to keep. Picture frames stood upright atop the furniture, but remained void of any photograph. Chaldea's standard table and chair set remained untouched near the center, save for a lone pillow that managed to land on top.

But her eyes didn't gaze to anything within save for what rested before her.

Besides the various trinkets, the only personal belonging in sight was her skateboard propped up by the door… and the lone armor stand that stood vigil across the room. Her trusted silver armor glinted ominously in the dark, and Clarent glimmered menacingly in its stand beside it. It was a terrifying set, yet its silver gleam still sang of duty and honor. It was both calming and fitting for someone like her, who fought with the viciousness of a berserker, yet a heart of chivalry… Yet, at this moment, it echoed with the terror of her most recent nightmare.

Mordred had dreamed of that hill too many times, though almost always the exact scenario. Sometimes, like tonight, it would be different, but the end result would always be the same. She would wake up in a cold sweat and panting to catch her breath. It was like this nearly every other day since she arrived, and she found it hard to get a decent night of rest without reliving the past. The lack of 'proper' sleep, whether the servants actually needed or not, didn't help her quick-fire temper either.

Almost every night was frustration. Every day was another solemn reminder. Her anger boiled, yet what would raging wildly against her fate do? What had it already brought when rebellion burned away the hopeful bridge so long ago? All she wanted was an answer and a solution, but it was apparent that was far more than Mordred would ever get. It was far more than she deserved.

Often enough, Mordred wondered if her father was haunted by that hill as much as she was.

Her glare was rock steady. Her fists shook, and a low growl escaped her grit teeth. She looked towards the video intercom near a dresser and saw the time read half past four; She had gotten an extra hour tonight, at least. She shook her head in frustration as she threw her legs over the side of her bed and onto a poor pillow. After she swiftly kicked it into the air, she caught it and tossed it onto her bed. A second later, she was practically stomping to the bathroom.

If she was up, she might as well get a few sword swings outside before most of Chaldea woke up.


o==(=======- -IV- -=======)==o


"One day, surely without any warning-" Roman didn't finish.

Gudao's fist slammed into the nearest wall of the office. Like a comet, the impact left a sizable crater in the aesthetic dry wall while sending painful shock waves through the master's nerves. He would have shattered his fist had he not partially reinforced it, but the redness and consistent pain was evidence of the shoddy attempt.

Gabrielle looked at her best friend with concern as he held his fist firmly against the wall and cursed under his breath constantly. She was also clearly angry at the revelation, but appeared more concerned with Gudao's unusual lack of control. On the other side of Roman's desk, the doctor sat solemnly in his chair as troubled eyes gazed to both of the uniformed masters. Like the blizzard outside Chaldea that morning, the tension was thick, and there was no sign it would let up soon.

It had been four hours since Mashu had collapsed from sudden bleeding and was rushed to the Medical Bay.

Confused at what had happened, they rushed to Roman for answers and found themselves meeting with him in private hours later. He had revealed her past to them and his introduction with their friend. Everything that they thought they knew about Chaldea had suddenly been tainted by knowledge of original experiments. Gudao's only current comfort was knowing the experiments had long since stopped, but the ramifications and consequences were still felt by their dear friend; It was a flickering candle on a frozen night.

"And you thought it was a great fucking idea to keep this from me for this long!?" Gudao glared towards the doctor with total fury. His voice was low, and his usual tact had fled from the fire of his wrath minutes ago. "And despite knowing all this yourself..."

"I'm sorry," Roman offered as calmly as he could. "I knew all along… I'm her doctor after all. Her life has an exact expiration, but that applies to all lives… Living is nothing but misery, and life is nothing but sorro-"

The punch was fierce. Roman caught himself before he could completely fall out of his chair from Gudao's strike. Gabrielle held her best friend back, though she shared his glare directed at Chaldea's acting director. Roman simply looked at the ground with a forlorn gaze before turning to Chaldea's last masters. Their growing anger was a breaking storm, yet his gaze met it firmly.

"Stop talking like that! Like she's some stranger! She's our friend!" Gudao yelled while struggling against Gabrielle's hold. She looked at him with thinly veiled surprise; It's been many years since she had seen him lose his composure so rapidly and without regret. He must look shameful… but he was furious.

Though, even if he was angry, Gudao could see it through the veil of red. Roman genuinely understood how they felt, and accepted his attack without a word. By the glimmer of shame in his eyes, he held himself accountable withholding Chaldea's dark secret. Maybe turning to distant philosophies and keeping a professional tone was his attempt to stop his panic and stuttering, but it had been a terrible idea. At least he understood that much.

"I'm sorry. I deserved that... I… Mashu deserves better..." Roman practically whispered in surrender as he rubbed his sore cheek. Gudao saw the briefest glimpse of blood, and a tiny pang of guilt raced through him. Secret or not, he had just struck his friend who'd been nothing but kind to him. "…where was I…?"

"Mashu was given approval by Olga," Gabrielle informed as calmly as she could. She kept her own anger in check if only because Gudao had loosed his first. They held a balance, like that, and he was glad she acted as a chain. She could understand better than anyone why he would be the first to lose his nerve at the news; This reminded him of a similar situation with his cousin.

"R-Right… Mashu managed to stay as the top in the master's aptitude test and became part of Team Alpha within half a year. Long story short, six months quickly pass, and Chaldeas' flame was gone." He groaned as he readjusted his position. "Olga Marie contacted the UN and Mage's Association for permission to investigate the anomalies. That's when Gudao and the other original masters were gathered… and you know the rest."

"She became a demi-servant," Gudao finished dryly as he forced himself to cool down. Still, he glared daggers that cut into Roman.

Roman frowned. "Though she now has the strong body of a servant… I'm afraid her cells still have a limited life span-"

The video intercom beeped, and the screen showed Nightingale in her battle attire. Her gaze was ever strong, but Gudao took comfort in the seeming lack of ferocity. "Doctor Roman, Mashu's checkup and treatment have been completed. No extra procedures are necessary."

"Good..." Gudao growled under his breath to vent out frustration as Gabrielle sighed with relief. His fists remained tight.

"Thank you, Nightingale. I'm glad you're with us," Roman offered with his own breath of relief.

"Providing timely treatment is undisputable. It's what must be done… I'll help her get changed for discharge, but that's no excuse for work. Be sure she gets ample rest for the day. I wish to avoid a potential relapse." The video intercom shut off. Roman let out a sigh as he rubbed his cheek and winced as it stung. The tension remained suffocating. The silence was deafening. Roman met the glares of his friends with an apologetic, sad smile.

"You can hate me all you want now, but... I'm just glad I could finally tell you," he admitted with a soft voice. "Please... Just one favor, which is probably more than you're willing to give me right now..."

They remained silent but did nothing else, so he continued. "I wish you and the servants can keep treating Mashu the way you have been… You especially, Gudao. The friendly interactions she's had with you have become an irreplaceable treasure. It's been evident in her brain wave scans since the Grand Order began. So please, don't show any hesitation to-"

"As if you needed to tell me to do that for her," Gudao spat, though it lacked venom thanks to rebuilding composure. He gently pulled himself from Gabrielle's cautionary hold.

"She's our precious friend," his best friend agreed with a small nod.

"Thank you," Roman nodded slightly with a tiny smile. "And… I hope you keep this conversation secret as well."

"What!?" Gabrielle asked incredulously, her glare returning tenfold. "You mean she doesn't know her own condition!?"

"No- I mean… No, I don't… She only knows what she is," The doctor answered as his smile faded away under their new incredulous scrutiny. "I don't agree with it either, mind you...! But… Olga believed it was the most appropriate decision..."

"Yes. Hate it or not, that was the best decision to make at the time," A female voice came from outside the office and startled them all. "Despite being Roman, you tied the knot rather nicely."

The doctor stared with wide eyes. "Da Vinci, you-?"

"Don't act all surprised," she ordered calmly as she opened the door. She offered a tiny wave to the still frustrated masters with a faint ghost of her usual smile. "I stood by in case I had to prevent them from killing you. Or wipe your office clean of your remains. Whichever could be more amusing."

Roman sighed as Gudao felt the tension lift ever slightly with Leonardo's tease. "How very reassuring of you…"

"In reality, if chicken Roman was going to suddenly get stage fright, I would have come in to inform you myself. Thankfully it didn't come to that," Leonardo declared as she strolled inside to stand beside the masters. "No complaints though. You're one of Chaldea's top, and to distance Mashu from the battlefield due to emotions would have been an 'Uomo Universale' tier of stupidity."

"I wish you didn't consider me so naïve…" he sighed as he looked at her. "I do what I have to when necessary… Ah! But please…! I understand your frustrations, but we need to keep this a secret."

Gudao and Gabrielle shared an incredulous look with each other. They were on similar wavelengths, so he knew just how unfair she thought all of this was. Yet, as much as he didn't want to agree, Gudao wasn't sure how Mashu would change if she did know. Would she be the same? His heart beat with terror at that possibility for the cheerful, inquisitive girl he… he… They needed to think more on this. 'Maybe just for now…'

Reluctantly and begrudgingly, their eyes flashed with agreement, and they turned back. "…Fine… Understood."

Roman let a soft smile grow with reassuring hope. "With all the problems we've had to solve and endure, there must be equivalent rewards for us. Didn't Jeanne tell a story from a past war about a homunculus gaining a longer lifespan thanks to a benevolent servant? What about a grail's power then? Perhaps we can extend Mashu's lifespan as a wish."

At the sudden glint of hope in the masters' eyes, Roman's smile brightened with growing optimism.

"That could be possible~… If Solomon turns out to be weaker, or we get enough powerful allies, then… if we don't need all our grails to defeat him…" Leonardo chimed in as another breath of fresh air. "We may be able to use one to make a happy ending, won't we~?"

"Da Vinci! You can find a way right!?" Gabrielle replied with a quick cheer back in her voice. "We'll give you that opportunity!"

She looked towards Gudao who still had a concerned and frustrated expression, but nodded silently anyway. She gave her best friend a reassuring smile before Roman stood up, rubbed a hand on his cheek one last time, then spoke. "How about we continued this in the hallway in case Mashu comes by? My office is a little cramped, you know…?"

In silent agreement, the group filed out of the office and into the empty corridor. One of the white medical robots floated by while towing a small cart of medical supplies. Gudao glanced after it as it past a row of many vacant chairs lined against the bright walls. Another further away was repositioning a set of gurneys. As Gudao walked out of the doorway to make room, he heard the familiar approach of a Chaldea's little mascot.

He turned down the opposite hallway just as Fou swiftly leapt onto his pant leg. It clambered up swiftly, then parked itself on his shoulder. As it began licking his cheek, the master found his persistent irritation slowly melt away with his new, tiny chuckles. "Kyuuuu! Fou!"

"…Hey Fou. Happy as always I see," he observed as it quickly clambered onto his other shoulder to stare at Gabrielle.

The other master reached out and took turns petting Fou with Gudao, just as a door opened further down the hallway. As he looked up, Gudao felt his heart seize for a moment upon seeing Nightingale exit the door while holding carefully onto a familiar sleeve. The berserker's gaze was narrowed, and a stark contrast to the bashful shielder's expression. The pink-haired woman sighed, "You should be getting more rest."

"I'm fine, Nightingale, see…?" Mashu pointed out as she smiled brightly at the berserker; Gudao felt his heart skip a beat. Though the berserker's gaze seemed to lighten, her grip didn't. She remained clamped onto Mashu's arm as she led the girl over to the group. Mashu's smile only grew, though she remained bashful as she waved lightly. "Were you having a fun conversation before Fou interrupted? May I know what it was about?"

"Mashu, are you alright!?" Gudao asked quickly as his feet carried him overly swiftly. The demi-servant looked at him in surprise at his abrupt change of pace, but he couldn't help it. He'd just been through a rollercoaster of emotions, and now it banked along a track of worry. With his newfound concern, he even missed the tiny smile Nightingale gave as she watched them.

He'd been so frustrated, angry, and dismayed… yet the sight of her happy smile was the best medicine. He took in the hot cup of cocoa after a rainy day, and his heart warmed with her sip of her healthy appearance. Even if the emotions lingered, they'd been buried under the avalanche of relief. Though satisfied with what he saw, he still found himself waiting for the sweet chimes of the simplest answer.

"I'm fine, Senpai. Thank you," Mashu giggled warmly at him, and he finally let his breath out.

"Geez, Nightingale's right. You must properly rest, Mashu!" Roman practically chastised as he approached her.

"I'm glad you're looking peachy, Mashu! We were all really worried!" Gabrielle said softly as she pulled the demi-servant into a warm embrace. Mashu looked slightly taken back but soon returned the gesture as Nightingale finally released her iron shackles.

"Thank you, Gabby... I'm sorry for worrying all of you."

Behind the group, Leonardo stood with arms akimbo but a small smile on her face. She watched as Mashu suddenly noticed the growing bruise on Roman's face while the doctor simply passed it off as an accident; The doctor made a few reassuring glances towards Gudao as he did so. Feeling partially guilty for striking his friend out of impulse anger and helplessness, the black-haired master looked away with shame when Mashu wasn't paying attention.

The inventor continued to smile as she observed from the side. She hummed to herself as she turned and walked away from the group. "Honestly… All that talk and minutes later they're all worry warts once more~..."


o==(=======- -V- -=======)==o


Gudao rested his hand on his head and looked at the intercom in his room. He groaned with frustration as he read the clock face: quarter past eleven. It was nearly lunch time and he still hadn't figured out how he was going to properly compose the teams for the primary singularity deployment. The master was angry, and he was glad neither Mashu nor Fou was there to concern themselves over it. Without a doubt, it was the mixed feelings he had about learning Mashu's condition from the doctor yesterday that made his usually smooth workflow grind to a crawl.

He sighed and threw his pen onto his desk. It came to a rolling stop amid dozens of crumpled up sheets of paper, yet dozens more crammed a recycling bin or were scattered amongst the floor. Gudao would normally be neater about this, but his concentration had long since vacated the room. He thought taking the day off with Mashu yesterday would make both of them feel better, but it only made him feel more distressed and restless. At least she had enjoyed a peaceful night's rest, because he certainly wasn't enjoying the new morning so far.

Two hours ago he had also been informed that they've finally locked the location of the next primary singularity. Its significance demanded an immediate deployment, which he'd never argue over. It'd been too long since the last major deployment, so no one wanted to waste more time. And yet…

There was a knock on the door. "Coming to lunch, partner?"

"Go on ahead! Just making a small revision."

"Sure, sure then. Just don't drag your feet!"

Gudao looked once more towards the next blank sheet in front of him. Beside it was a list of all servants in Chaldea and their current statuses. It is commonly known that servants do not get injured like normal humans do, but they need time to recuperate their dwindling magical energy to fight without hindrance. The more servants that are in need of a recharge at once, the longer it takes the Fate System to replenish everyone.

Thankfully there was no worry about the system itself breaking down. However, the system was currently crawling along thanks to a deployment to Japan three days ago. It nearly incapacitated most of the servants… and that was supposed to be a minor malignant singularity. He pushed the thoughts of a terribly overpowered blonde oni aside and he glanced down the list.

For the hundredth time, he noted who was ready for deployment and who he might be able to deploy in the days after. The system healed them evenly and couldn't prioritize one heroic spirit. As convenient as that would have been, it was designed to heal multiple masters' servants. If one was less injured than another, they would be ready faster. It would still be at least five days before a team of reinforcement could arrive to their position, however, and a lot can happen in that time.

In the past two hours, he had been making new deployment options simply based on who wasn't recovering; All of the best formations couldn't be fielded properly.

Going over the list again, he felt his eyes straining. The teams needed to be self-sufficient for the initial landing since it was unknown what they could possibly run into. Thankfully, Gabrielle would be there on her first primary singularity to help with combat management; They could bring in double the servants than before. Unfortunately, he did not know if Solomon may still make a surprise appearance. With so many potential variables, he stood by all the lessons and advice: He had to play the safe cards.

'Offense is the best defense,' he repeated again in his head as he jotted down a new team.

He grabbed a handful of berserkers and threw them onto his newest list. They'd be harder to coordinate, but their sheer power let them handle almost any landing, as proven in previous incidents. When properly supported by an equally large caster and archer contingent, they were a mighty force to be reckoned with. France and Rome were taken smoothly with such a strike force, and while he tossed this idea out several times already, he felt he finally had the revisions to make it wor-

Several concerns came to him yet again… His previous hesitations for using a force like this. A berserker heavy team would be able to shatter past a slightly weaker front line, but if the America Singularity taught him anything, it's that they could land in the worst possible location; Landing in the middle of another war zone was not on the to do list, but they had little say in the matter. Back line heavy forces like this one weren't ideal when surrounded. Most berserkers also had slower response time due to their madness, so if something went wrong…

The master sighed as he crumpled the paper. He'd gone through so many options. Each one was thrown out like the last, but… There was one powerful possibility he never wrote down. Truthfully, he was rather reluctant to field it; Yet, compared to all the other options, it held the most weight.

It was a flexible, powerful force that could handle its own in smaller numbers. The two masters didn't need to be limited to just two separate teams if they divided the group even further. There could still be a small fire support group that can form if necessary, but it could also be formed as a powerful, mobile strike force. It was well balanced with very strong close combat capabilities that could react swiftly to various threats without concern. Even with his hesitations, he finally acknowledged the truth.

Gudao grabbed a new paper and made the rippling change.

With mixed feelings, he scanned the list for the hundredth time, silently cursing at what he knew he would find. There was going to be no way around some problems if he was going to have that all-around strong task force, and a strange, gut feeling was very adamant about having one this time. He always trusted his instinct, but not more than Gabrielle's own. And so, he decided to take the risk in favor of being prepared. They would handle the potential problems as they came.

...He hoped.


o==(=======- -VI- -=======)==o


"I'm glad we'll be fighting together!" Jeanne cheered happily as she walked with her three friends towards the salon. Most of them wore their battle uniforms though their weapons remained de-materialized. The only one casually dressed was Diarmuid, who wore black slacks and a matching polo. He was still recovering from the last deployment, though he faired better than half the servants.

"I wish I could join you this time," Diarmuid admitted calmly as he looked towards his fellow knight-class allies. "It would have been an honor to accompany you on your first primary singularity, Arturia."

"Perhaps next time," she replied simply with a nod and tiny smile towards her fellow knight. It would have been wonderful to fight with all of them, but there was always a next time. On the few times they did in benign singularities, she felt wonderful glimpses of something unique. It was a far cry from the serious, tense conflicts she sought to end decisively, both in her former life and during grail wars.

War would always be hell, but battle felt calmer, so to speak. There was a nostalgic sense of unity and purpose, but it was combined with uplifted spirits and comradery she'd never experienced so personally. Freed from her own stalwart demeanor with new, close friends, she'd been gifted a revelation of… what could have been… What may have been if she had been a better ruler. How things between her knights would be if she hadn't-

"That troublesome, American-Irish war would have gone smoother with an occasional swing from Excalibur," Emiya chuckled behind her, and snapped her from a solemn spiral.

Jeanne giggled next to him, and shook the thoughts further away. "But which Diarmuid would Arty know to aim for?"

Her little smile returned, and the Irish lancer groaned. "Please don't remind me... It was difficult enough fighting myself until Nobunaga added her indiscriminate volleys."

The group chuckled to the lancer's expense, but they fell into idle chatter. Snow blew fiercely outside the windowed hallway, but it did little to dampen her revitalized good mood. Before Arturia knew it, minutes flew by in a blink, and Diarmuid waved good bye. He received pleasant farewells in return, as he wandered down another corridor to the Residential area. A robot hovered out carrying a few cleaning supplies and disappeared towards the Party Cave, likely as part of its patrol route.

To break the silence, Jeanne readjusted her head piece before pondering out loud, "I wonder who's joining us."

"Gudao said we'd still have two full squads for the landing," Emiya chimed in. Knowing the master, who had become quite the tactician thanks to good teachers, she would have faith in his choices. He'd managed five primary singularities as the sole master, so he was far from a novice. He also loved keeping anyone who butted heads away from each other when he could, which was also a plus. All that remained was finding out who would aid them.

They approached the entrance just as the sole Chaldean avenger walked out with a small newspaper under his arm. The count's gray suit shimmered in the afternoon light as he strolled their way. They caught his attention, and he gave a small wave and nod as he made his way past them and towards the elevators, though his expression remained composed. "I hope the curtain rises uneventfully."

"Thanks, Dantes!" Jeanne responded with a smile as he passed.

The group turned into Salon de Marie and walked through its doors, but found no one else had arrived. They walked towards the vacant grand piano and glanced at the few robots cleaning the booths and floors. It was an unusual sight for roughly two in the afternoon, but the monthly deep-cleaning did tend to drive people off because of the noise. Even Vlad and Medea hadn't hung around today.

"More robots than people for once," Emiya observed as he looked towards the kitchen to see Boudicca and Tamamo poke their heads through the swinging doors. The two groups exchanged waves before they disappeared; Dinner prep wasn't going to coordinate itself.

"I wonder what we would have had for dinner," Arturia pondered quietly. She could practically smell the food already.

"Dinners, you mean?" Jeanne corrected. "We're not going to be back here for a while if the previous ones were any indication."

The Maid of Orleans turned to her blonde friend with a smile before a look of concern swept over her features. Normally Arturia would have made quick comments when food was the topic, yet she became so quickly confused by her friend's demeanor. The King of Knights quickly noted that Emiya was also now looking in that direction as uncertainty took root in his eyes. Deciding to join the staring contest, she turned towards the door and felt nervousness inch its way into existence.

Her strong green eyes met Mordred's disbelieving stare.


o==(=======- -VII- -=======)==o


The two masters waited quietly as the elevator rose to the requested level. The male pulled a small clipboard from his pack in the meantime. For the deployment, Gudao didn't change out of the latest version of the Chaldean Master uniform while his best friend opted for something very different. It was more commonplace to see the two of them in their respective, form fitting battle suits, but Gudao decided on master versatility and spell coverage since flexibility was his forte.

Gabrielle's version had an orange and white color scheme with black accents which, much to Gudao's joking, came with a small opening above the chest. Previous versions had full coverage, but the tiny lack of material was… well, her personal choice. She declared it was a fashion statement, but he often teased it's a 'boob window' to easily check if her precious sex appeal was still intact; Gabrielle never did argue against that.

With a sigh, the female master looked down and admired her new battle suit version once more. Thanks to Medea and Naomi's teamwork, the new and improved, carefully crafted mystic codes let the masters use specific spells with considerably less magical energy consumption. While they had complete access to their magical repertoire, they chose the uniforms for each singularity based on what they'd likely rely on. Any additional support was welcome since they were only average mages at best.

As they always did, they based their decisions around each other. They worked well together, and that would not be different with the servants. Though the Chaldean heroes were usually left to manage the fight, the masters supervised the entire situation and offered support as needed… preferably in a way that didn't draw attention. They could fight if they need to, but they were better off playing it safe.

It definitely beat the days when Gudao had to worry about everything himself. Gabrielle giggled, "The battle suit feels a little snugger on my butt than version four."

"…You sure you just didn't ask Naomi to do that?" He chuckled as she smacked him on the upper arm.

The elevator doors opened slowly in front of them. The pair stepped out and began walking towards the salon, and passed a robot and a few employees who waved in greeting. One male did a double take as Gabrielle passed, undressing her in his mind before a companion knocked his senses back into him with a slap. The female master took no notice of that since she was more concentrated on the very slight, new tension she could sense from her best friend. They only walked for a minute, yet her curiosity grew with every second.

His occasionally squeezing pinkies and a nearly imperceptible furrow of his brow indicated he was in uncertain thought; Had she been anyone besides his best friend, she wouldn't have even noticed. Whether it had to do with the recent revelations about Mashu or something else entirely was the mystery. She could read his body language perfectly, but mind reading was, sadly, not something she could perform. Regardless of what it was, a visibly nervous Gudao meant it at least had him more concerned than usual.

"We'll be deploying two full teams," he started suddenly, breaking her from the train of thoughts. At least he didn't sound the least bit uncertain about this, and she knew it wasn't an act. "I already told the servants in question, but I'd like to talk a bit in the salon before we go to the Deployment Room."

Gabrielle chuckled. "Should we hold pre-deployment briefings there from now on?"

"Maybe. It's more relaxed, but I prefer it for this one." That answer felt like it had more to it than she would like.

"Mmm… So what's the team composition you cooked up this time?"

Gudao hesitantly looked at his clipboard before he glanced towards Gabrielle, and she raised an eyebrow in both curiosity and suspicion; He never hesitated to share this info before. After a few seconds, he handed the clipboard towards her without looking. She took it and began glancing at the roster, and instantly realized his uncertainty was what she was currently reading. "I made it based on experiences with the past primary singularities. If Solomon shows up again, we'll nee-"

"Hold. Up." Gabrielle placed a hand on Gudao's shoulder to halt their movement together.

They were a few dozen meters from the almost silent Salon as the two turned to face each other. She shot a skeptical look straight at him which he received resolutely, but breathed out and crossed his arms. Turning the clipboard to face him, she pointed at multiple names with quick taps of her index finger before placing the hand on her hip.

Gudao remained firm, but didn't bother using his usual persuasive ways; It was absolutely useless against her and their parents. "I knew you'd react like this… Look. I chose most of the group based on their passive magic resistance. The sabers also-"

"Quit dodging the elephant in the room, Gudao. What are you thinking putting them together!?" She demanded, keeping her voice low yet firm and commanding. "You know as well as I do this is dangerous ground! How many times have we told them just to… you know!"

Gudao was bedrock. "I didn't have much of a choice, and we need a strong saber front line. Siegfried, Okita, and D'Eon are still recovering from that singularity thanks to Ibaraki! They'll need a long time to recover and we don't have that luxury!"

She narrowed her eyes in uncertainty. "This is still dangerous. Why not swap one for Nero or Caesar? They're not fully healed but-"

"That and the magic resistance, remember... They're our best sabers and if past singularities were any indication, we're going to have contact problems with the initial landing. I don't want to get caught unprepared, or with slightly weakened servants, so this will have to do. I will not stand for Solomon wiping the floor with us like he did to my friends in London!"

Gabrielle remained silent as she met Gudao's unwavering gaze. She was frustrated he thought this was a good idea… but she could see it. He was as resolute as she was, and he was impossible to budge when rarely stubborn; He got that from her. He reaffirmed, "I trust them, Gabby. They may not get along anymore, but they did once. I believe they can again, if only for necessity's sake."

Gabrielle studied her best friend carefully before she turned the clipboard around to stare at the names once more. The frown remained on her face as Gudao kept his arms crossed and stared at her. At the very least, she was glad to know the slight tension Gudao had was revealing the list to her and not the actual list itself. Nevertheless, the list had her concerned despite his unwavering belief. 'But did he even consult El-Melloi if this was a wise idea…?'

Gudao
Mashu. Arturia. Gawain. Jeanne. Medusa. Emiya.

Gabrielle
Scathach. Medea. Mordred. Lancelot. Jekyll. Nobunaga.

She couldn't complain about his choices. The vast number of servants listed had magic resistance, with most ranking high in the specific parameter. Medea could easily tap into leylines for the necessary logistics and was capable of aerial reconnaissance; Medusa could also provide aerial recon, though the method of summoning always made Gudao uncomfortable to call on her noble phantasm. That handled most of the coverage requirements, so the rest were added bonus.

Nobunaga and Emiya could handle ranged threats, with the former also capable of clearing swarms with cackling ease. Jekyll, with Medea, could deal with any medical and alchemical requirements the team needed. Everyone else was self-explanatory in their purpose or benefit. The real problem was large and blatant. "…I'm still worried about the synergy. This is a powder keg, Gudao. I'm scared it will go off at the wrong moment."

"With those currently available, there's not much else I can manage," Gudao proclaimed, uncrossed his arms, and took the clipboard after Gabrielle offered it back. "We're taking a risk, but we need their strength for this landing. If things get bad, we can send some back once we re-establish a proper link. By then we should have more servants back to full strength… But until then, I will place my confidence in them as the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table.

Her reservations persisted. She felt there was a little more needed than just trust from Gudao to make it work. Yet, she relented to him, as she usually did on deployment. He was always the strategist of the pair after all. If not them, she trusted him. "…Fine. We'll make do for now. Now, c'mon… they're waiting."


o==(=======- -VIII- -=======)==o


The chandelier above lit them and their standard battle attire with its warm illumination, yet it did little to soften the tension.

One could drown in the sea of near-silence, but Arturia's careful composure gaze kept her afloat. She could feel Jeanne and Emiya's concerned glances occasionally fall on her back, yet she didn't look. Like Gawain beside her, she only remained quiet among the tense group. No one had anything to say.

The blonde man occasionally passed composed, yet firm gazes towards the other two knights. Lancelot returned the gesture with a blank look of his own as he sat nearby, with his purple helm resting on the table. She wanted them to get along, and though they could occasionally be in each other's presence, they'd never speak a word. It was sadly far more promising than what the other knight seemed to offer.

Mordred, with her helmet dismantled, occasionally glanced in her peripherals. Her light scowl burned her skin and made it tingle, but she wouldn't yield. She'd received that gaze many times before, and she was an expert at receiving it. Even if her rebellious anger still boiled at the decision over the crown, Mordred would not unnerve her. She'd only remain silently disappointed that her decisions carried all of them to this point.

Arturia felt the others watch on carefully. Jekyll stood beside the armored red knight with crossed arms and an apprehensive gleam in his eyes. Medea's mage robes shifted slightly as she took a seat next to the blindfolded Medusa. She glanced once more around the group with guarded, jaded eyes. The only one who wasn't worried was Nobunaga, who sat on the piano and swung her feet impatiently with a random tune on her lips.

Were it not for her humming, the silence among the battle-ready servants would have been dreadful. 'This is not what I expected of Gudao…'

Movement caught her eye. Marie, wearing gray yoga pants and a white sweater, strolled over to the doorway where the battle-clad Mashu and Scathach waited. She glanced at the two masters as they entered, and they gazed back firmly. After quietly greeting the rider, the pair of masters turned to their personal servants, who glanced to them with wary expressions.

"It's been like this since we fully assembled ten minutes ago," Scathach explained quietly to Gabrielle as they walked over. She nodded and crossed her arms.

"While I'm not exactly… pleased, I understand that this was the best available, masters?" Gawain turned towards the pair with a small frown clear on his face. Lancelot and Mordred glanced towards Gawain, though the rowdy blonde's gaze turned to a glare. Medea narrowed her eyes ever so slightly at the handsome knight and the rebellious girl. Arturia only grew warier in case she had to step in.

"I'm really sorry for inconveniencing many of you, but so many are still recovering. Ibaraki really set us back, so I'm at least grateful we still have so many reliable servants," Gudao declared without hesitation or room for argument. "I understand this composition is... unusual, but it's the best we have to work with on such short notice. Fixing the primary singularities is paramount, and we always ask for the best available to handle the landings."

Gawain nodded slowly. As Arturia knew all too well, he would not argue with either master's word because of his loyalty and sense of honor, but that didn't mean he'd like the decision when it came to this. He turned to stare at the berserker, and several in the room tensed at the potential outcome. Thankfully, much to Gudao's bolstering confidence and Gabrielle's surprise, Gawain simply turned away without saying a word. He only narrowed his eyes slightly.

The female master sighed quietly as she looked at the frustrated Mordred who was now having a glaring contest with Gawain; At least physical trades weren't igniting, let alone verbal spats. Turning her attention back to Gudao, he turned to face her almost instinctively before giving her a small, reassuring smile. She returned the gesture with her own, but Arturia could tell she'd need a lot more reassuring than that.

There was no telling how they would act on the battlefield… but Arturia remained surprisingly hopeful. Maybe it was because of all the new, fond memories she'd created here, but she held that possibility close. If she'd built her own satisfying life here, than who is to say the others didn't? Gawain was newly arrived, but Lancelot was trying. Mordred may have made something nice for herself too.

Maybe, with the sake of humanity in the balance, that would act as enough of a buffer to at least cooperate again.


o==(=======- -IX- -=======)==o


"We're ready to go, Doctor," Gudao informed after Gabrielle entered the Control Room with Mashu and Fou. He'd only gotten there a few seconds before.

"We've almost got the system fired up," Roman stated. The bruise on his cheek had vanished quickly thanks to some… swift treatment from Nightingale. It had been rougher than Gudao's punch, but he deserved it. The doctor was more than happy to smile. "I hope for your success and safety!"

Roman strolled up to the central console positioned in front of the large window overseeing the Deployment Room. The window was tinted black, matching most of the accents on the white consoles scattered about the room. The consoles had been rebuilt after the Fuyuki incident, along with other parts of the rooms' many electronic control panels, terminals, and switches. Virtual screens flickered above the consoles to provide data, and showed the system swiftly charging to full.

It mimicked the typical command center for a space agency, but it was partially manned by robots since some of the staff perished. The mechanical assistants had to operate with humans for safety purposes, so he and the remaining staff still found work. Roman flipped a few small switches and turned a dial on the master console, bringing the central machine within the adjacent, massive chamber's floor to life. "Anishka, please handle the initial landing sweep when we get the connection."

"Of course, Doctor Roman," came the respectful reply over digitized beeping, other working staff, and operating robots.

He turned back and found the spot next to him vacant. He then turned with confusion towards the masters to find Leonardo not at her usual spot. Instead, she stood and talked with the masters before they began filing out. Mashu led them into them into the hall, but his disbelief grew when he saw that Da Vinci was not simply slacking off and chatting: She was following them out the door and humming cheerily to herself! "H-Hey! What do you think you're doing, Da Vinci?"

The inventor looked back at him with a playfully faked confused look. "Oh~? I'm just going for a stroll in Jerusalem~! Plus, it's an EX Anomaly this time, so the masters will need assistance from a genius like me since El-Melloi is feeling under the weather~!"

"Not because you're bored, right?" Gabrielle asked teasingly. Fou was making a laughing sound on Gudao's shoulder?

"Noo~… Of course not~! I'm just interested in their infrastructure~! Their cultures as well~! Even their importance to humanity itself~!" she playfully and cheerfully mused out loud, much to the amusement of some control room staff and the masters. He didn't find it funny though. Not at all.

Roman shot an incredulous look towards the inventor. "Idiot! I won't allow that! What will Chaldea do if something happens to you? You've made countless revisions and additions to the syste-"

"Hey. Roman... Even I will get angry at you if you go any further," She practically growled as she crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes back at him. He instantly flinched and got a small chuckle from Gabrielle. Gudao even smiled a tiny bit. "You have Tesla and Babbage who have done just as much as me! They have you too! I'm just another Merry-Go-Round servant here and it's about time I deployed as well to do my part!"

Roman narrowed his eyes at her, but he could tell. That look in her eye was an untamable flame. There were few times she would give in to his begging… and this was far from one.

Yet, he was a bit hopeful as he caught her quick, indicative glance and tiny motion towards Mashu. They'd barely managed to get Nightingale's approval for her to go, but Da Vinci could watch over her. Maybe she'd even help find out which heroic knight granted their power to her; The inventor could manage since her head wouldn't be shoved in various paintings and projects. Maybe… Yes. Perhaps it was alright if she went this time.

He let out a dramatic exhale, and made the genius roll her eyes. He frowned, "…Like I can stop you anyway..."

He grumbled and scratched his head as he faced elsewhere… anywhere but the caster he was worried about. "You'll be a good support for the teams… Just… be safe please…?"

The smile she gave him in turn rattled him in a different way. She winked, "The world can't get rid of me that easily~!"

"Seems we found the answer to Waver's vacant adviser spot," Gabrielle concluded, then looked towards Gudao who nodded back.

"Yes~! Then as a fellow caster, leave front line asset support to me!" Leonardo smiled happily and tapped her staff against the floor in a celebratory manner. "Let's go Gudao, Gabby, Mashu! Let's join your chosen teams! …Who are they by the way~?"

Gabrielle looked towards her best friend with a blank expression, causing him to release a sigh at having to explain. Mashu gave him a reassuring smile.

Roman glanced out the Control Room window at the unusual team as Gudao began, "Well, you see..."


o==(=======- -X- -=======)==o


To say the room was large was an understatement; A large mall could fit within Chaldeas' underground chamber. Lower than even the generators, it was separated by layers of reinforced material in case of an incident. Clearing the room of debris from the first incident had been a chore, but the newly summoned servants did most of the heavy lifting. Since then, the chamber has seen significant renovations with certain heroes' help.

At its very center, a spherical cage housed the miniature version of the earth in the center. At its base, the logo of Chaldea was engraved in the floor. Chaldeas spun slowly in its makeshift cradle, while the arms rotated around the room's unique centerpiece. It confused the mind if one paid too much attention to the dark, asymmetrical walls whose digitalized, sapphire lines confused the eyes. A central platform and bridge linked Chaldeas to the equally raised section where the master capsules used to be submerged.

The master capsules were salvaged with the completion of the very first anomaly. Some advocated for their repair since the failure rate was higher for leyshifting without it. The timely arrival of Scathach and her runic expertise, combined with Leonardo's ingenuity, led to a breakthrough that removed the need for the capsules altogether. The failure rate was now nonexistent due to the new system which also allowed for a higher initial deployment count. Since the arrival of Tesla, Babbage, and several others, the system only received further upgrades to its efficiency and deployment count.

They may very well need those upgrades if this anomaly proved as difficult as its rank declared.

Both teams had filed into the Deployment Room only a minute ago, and casually took their spots upon the artificial magic circles built within its floors. These pads were arranged in two rows of three, and they flanked a diamond of four more panels before them, like a spearhead formation. Only the masters and Mashu's spots were vacant as the trio finally made their way towards the center three vacant pads; The fourth and rear most was occupied by Leonardo.

Gabrielle and Gudao hustled to the pads, but Mashu hesitated. Only a few strides into the room, she stopped and turned around. Fou, nestled in her arms, gently glanced between her and Roman, who had been drawn into the hallway for some reason. Her pause made the two masters stopped to look.

"Doctor," she softly spoke. Fou's ears twitched as it observed quietly. "We'll see you again upon return. Gudao didn't say it today but… Thank you for everything."

Without waiting for a reply she bowed slightly and gave a tiny smile before she quickly hustled after the masters. Though Gabrielle ran ahead, Gudao waited. She smiled at him, and he answered in turn before they raced to his position. Behind them, Roman stood with crossed arms and a sad smile.

"Have a safe journey, Mashu…" he mumbled, thinking she couldn't hear him, but she did. "I hope you have another unforgettable adventure."

He turned around and walked the few steps to the Control Room's doors. As they slid open, he gave one last glance towards the pink-haired girl. They'd swiftly made it onto the pads; It was time. After seizing her gaze one last time, he smiled gently. She smiled back as he vanished through the door.

"Ready?"

Mashu turned her gaze back to Gudao who was currently looking at Gabrielle from his pad. She did not look nervous in the least bit, but she assumed their near sibling connection let Gudao see things others could not. The shorter master simply smiled back and nodded. Gudao faced forward once more as the whirl of mystical machinery started up and echoed through the room. Fou quietly made its way from her arm to her shoulder in preparation as she too turned forward.

Team one stood within their circles on the left, waiting patiently. The center back circle remained vacant since it was under repair. The group stood quietly, though Jeanne passed occasional glances to her left at Arturia and Emiya. If the smaller woman was still a little troubled at the team composition, it didn't show on her face. Behind her, Gawain tried to gauge his king's mood. His own expression was composed, yet the uncertainty and frustration welled in his eyes. In contrast, Medusa stood on her circle casually as a statue of calmness.

The second team stood on their pads, though much more restlessly. Jekyll was giving Nobunaga a slightly incredulous look as she stood with arms akimbo and a constantly tapping foot. Mordred stood on his other side, and occasionally threw a glance over to Arturia in the other group. Lancelot glanced the occasional stare from behind her, but voiced nothing and waited patiently as the system finished their final start up procedures. To his right, Medea and Scathach simply stood and waited as they occasionally threw glances at the very impatient Nobunaga.

She didn't have to wait much longer.

- Authorization Codes Confirmed. Target Singularity, 13th Century Jerusalem -

- Unsummon Program start -

- Molecular Reversion start -

The pads beneath the teams lit up brightly. Their white light illuminated the dim room like ethereal columns. The still air grew steadily turbulent as the culmination of science and thaumaturgy activated. In the center, Chaldeas rotated before halting at the Middle East. A white light appeared on the map, above the holy city's location, and the growing orchestra picked up with the incoming crescendo.

Gudao gave one last glance to his best friend, then to the opposite side of him at Mashu. He studied her determined look while she gazed towards Chaldeas as it rotated. Looking forward once more, he adopted the same look as the two on his flanks as he felt a tingling sensation slowly creep onto every inch of his skin.

It hardly bothered the master anymore, but it masked a nervousness that hadn't been present since the first primary singularity. Whether it was his decision involving the teams, his worry for Mashu's health, or something else entirely, he hoped it was a future issue he could accept and handle smoothly.

…But Fate was usually not so kind.

- Leyshift commencing -

- 3 -

- 2 -

- 1 -

- Process clear -

- Grand Order -

- Commence –