Chapter 1: Preface
The Lost Shards is a special supplement, because like the series core, Fragments of Chaldea, it's an episodic collection that lacks a set ending. It was forged as a potential answer for showing fan appreciation without throwing the series off track. Because of that design, this supplement works very differently from everything else because it doesn't follow any sort of chronological order.
Every entry contained herein are small glimpses into moments and parts of Chaldea left unexplored in the FoC-verse. Scenes that have been scrapped, moments that haven't been shown, and more can be found here, but there are some important points I need to explain before you series fans go off and enjoy the extra gems.
Lost Shards Preface
1 Necessary Reading
[A] It really shouldn't need to be said, but I'll put it out there anyway. The Fragments Series is required reading for obvious reasons.
2 Basic Collection Info
[A] Every scene here is canon to the Fragments Series.
[B] This collection will be updated very randomly and when I find time/extra inspiration. It does not follow the routine update schedule of the chronological series.
[C] Entries (called shards in this collection) are a scene long and can cover a wide range of genres. These will be much, much shorter than my traditional fragment or chapter lengths. The scenes may have minor time skips with a simple divider. The only exception to this rule are the paraphrased supplements that will be released from time to time. Since real supplements have been scrapped, their summarized forms will at least be available through this one.
[D] Every entry will have a chronological listing at the top since it's completely out of order. This will serve as both a spoiler warning and a frame of reference for the scene's proper placement within the series. This shouldn't need further elaboration as it's very straightforward.
[E] The collection will only ever contain random scenes with various characters set before or up to the latest entry in the series. This can include scenes set before the Fragments Series' Prologue, but none after the latest entry.
[F] Like the core collection, I'll be trying to space out focused character appearances. If someone starts appearing/being requested too much, they're taking a backseat for a long while.
3 Shard Requests
Yes. You read that right. I will be accepting requests for potential scenes you may want to see, but there are a few things to take note of when leaving a request (in addition to what is gleamed from the basic info).
[A] Post the short scene requests here, and not the core/other supplements. That shouldn't have been necessary to say, but you never know these days.
[B] There is no guarantee a requested scene will be written. I'm likely to get flooded by requests just by opening the door, and this is randomly updated. Don't take offense if it's not chosen or put off until later.
[C] Only scenes within reason will be considered. Avid fans of the series will understand what will be considered 'reasonable,' but I reserve the right to decide on what qualifies and what doesn't.
[D] The rating may be flexible. If there's enough fans requesting M scenes, I might just pull the trigger. The core series will only ever toe that line at the most.
[E] Be considerate by not spamming requests and using a civil tone. I really don't think it needs to be said, but I'm doing this out of appreciation for the fans' show of support. Don't go poking the bear to possibly ruin that.
Should be simple enough, right? Well, here's my thanks to the fans of the series! I hope this little fan-gratitude project turns out well, and you enjoy the extra ride to come!
Chapter 2: Shard 1: That Other Holy Grail
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 31 and Fragment 32.
With the scarcity of supply sorties to the twentieth century, Chaldea was limited in its diversity of modern entertainment; Whatever their employees tried to bring was all they'd have until they resettled in the timeline. That was hardly an issue with what they already had, but variety was the spice of life. Sooner or later, the same recreation would grow dull, and ensured anything new would be snatched up like golden eggs when encountered during singularities.
Sometimes, that gem would surface in Chaldea itself; Yesterday had been a lucky day. As Babbage and Tesla checked through robot parts crates, they'd found one contained a smuggled box filled with CDs and a handful of DVD players. Upon searching through its contents, they found quite a few new movies alongside some more… unsavory ones… But at long last, a rare and long-sought treasure had been found.
A treasure that now rested in Arturia's hands as she eagerly walked towards Bedivere's room.
Shard 1: That Other Holy Grail
"Aren't you!? It's a movie about us!"
Bedivere could only chuckle as Mordred bounced eagerly on his couch. It was a simple white one that the Furniture Department had on hand, and was one of the few pieces he wished for to make his room cozy. Compared to the other knights, his room felt warmer with his choices. Even the simple addition of potted plants and a bookshelf to hold his favorite photographs and craft coins made the room feel welcoming and lived in. It had only grown since then to include a fine fur rug, elegant coffee table, a few more sofa seats, and even a small minifridge.
Since his room was practically a small lounge, he'd volunteered it for their group to watch the movie together, but that was still twenty minutes from now. It left him alone with the eager Mordred, who was clearly much more eager about the movie than hanging out with one of her friends. The feisty saber sat cross legged in a set of comfy red short shorts and a loose, matching t-shirt. Her eager smile remained on the borrow television set and DVD player on his newest waist-high maple bookshelf, complete with more potted plants and his favorite books.
He'd dressed equally as comfortable for the fun evening ahead. His white sweater and matching sweatpants ensured he'd fall immersed into the film. While he smiled and hummed to himself, he was about to walk over to the fridge when he felt the approach of familiar presences. His eyes glanced to the door as Mordred did, and a knock soon followed. Lancelot spoke up. "Bedivere? I trust we're not too early?"
He quickly walked to the door, pressed a button, and let it slide open to reveal nearly all of the other knights. He chuckled, "Hardly. Mordred beat all of you."
As the air filled with greetings, he quickly stepped back to let them file in. Lancelot came first with the food bowls, wearing black track pants and a matching sweatshirt. As he removed his shoes at the door, he was followed by Gawain with the bags of newly cooked popcorn, who often dressed a bit too formally for such a relaxed occasion; The blonde knight would still feel comfy in his black button up tucked into tan slacks. Then came Tristan, who'd opted for his newly made, white noble robe with black sweatpants.
Finally, Mashu came in wearing a white sundress she'd recently received for Christmas. In her arms, Fou rested happily as Bedivere reached down to pet the little guy. It chirped happily back at him as he smiled to Mashu. "Looking lovely this evening, Lady Mashu."
"Thank you, Sir Bedievere," she giggled back as he felt the presence of their king. All eyes shifted to the door as Arturia appeared in one of her favorite blue sundresses with a white throw over sweater. In her gentle hands rested the small CD case with the movie nestled within. She smiled at her knights as they gave their customary salute, but she merely waved them off happily.
As she removed her shoes and the door slid behind her, she waved the disc. "I do believe it's time to see what Gabby has been so eager to show us."
"Movie time!" "I wonder how the modern world sees us." "It's a comedy, so we shouldn't take it too seriously." "Mashu, where do you want to sit?"
The mood had been perfectly set once the lights went out. With the king's simple speech, they understood this was just for entertainment. The throne had informed them dutifully of how fond the world thought of the tragic tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; They were legends known the world over, thus, this parody wouldn't be taken seriously. With that carefully in mind, they started their journey… and barely made it through the opening titles before they were already succumbing with laughter.
Artura sat in the middle of the couch, flanked by Mordred to her right and Gawain to her left. Lancelot and Mashu sat next to each other on the ground before them. Tristan and Bedivere had been content to take the two flanking sofa chairs as bowls of popcorn sat beside every one of them with accompanying beers. In Mashu's case, it was just water, which was occasionally shared with Fou like her popcorn. It's eyes, like the rest, were glued to the television as Arthur stood before the castle with his servant.
"The swallow may fly south with the sun… or the house martin, or the plumber may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?"
"…Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?"
"Not at all! They could be carried!"
"What? A swallow carrying a coconut?"
Mordred rocked back and forth with an ear-splitting grin as she giggled. "Father! We should get coconuts too!"
Arturia shot her an exasperated stare, coupled with an amused smile. While Bedivere chuckled, and before the king could retort, Gawain cleared his throat. "Mama Emiya can bang them together for you, my liege."
They had to rewind a bit to see what they missed with their ensuing laughter.
To everyone's relief, Arturia didn't seem shaken by this scene in the least; She believed resolutely again, and this was just a parody.
"Look, you can't just expect to wield extreme executive power, just because some watery tart through a sword at you!"
Tristan turned his amused smile to Arturia. "My King, did Viviane hand you Excalibur or throw it at you?"
"She probably threw it trying to kill Merlin and Arturia got a free sword in the process," Mashu joked, and the room filled with laughter.
~~We're Knights of the Round Table~~
~~Our shows are formidable~~
~~But many times we're given rhymes~~
~~That are quite unsingable~~
"Father! Can we-"
"No, Mordred, we're not making this our marching song." The others chuckled as Mordred pouted.
"I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"
"I sure hope Queen Marie doesn't get any ideas if she watches this," Arturia mused lightly as the French soldier continued to taunt King Arthur on screen.
"I don't think she'd try any of this," Mashu reassured, but then her smile turned a bit sheepish. "…but it may start a new rumor or two."
Arturia sighed into her hand, but still smiled. "…Marie and her gossip... I'll just ask Jeanne to keep an eye out."
The men of the group were enjoying the current scene for obvious reasons, but everyone gave amused glances to Mashu. Fou wagged its tail on her lap, all while she grew more and more aware of the teasing glances sent her way. It only made her cheeks flush brighter with every moment that passed on screen. Finally, Gawain decided to tease. "…I wonder if this is what Sir Galahad actually found."
"It's quite the grail," Tristan chuckled as the nuns on screen continued to try and coax Galahad into very promiscuous scenes.
"Maybe Mashu will turn out to be quite the ladies woman too!" Mordred chuckled, and Mashu finally turned completely beat red.
"I-I wouldn't do that to Senpai!"
Suddenly, the movie's Lancelot burst onto scene and tried to drag Galahad away from the seducing nuns. Gawain chuckles quickly grew into laughter as Tristan, Bedivere, and Arturia joined him. Arturia hummed teasingly, "Hmm… Usually it's the other way around, right, Mashu?"
"Hey, w-wait a second!" Now it was Lancelot's turn to stammer nervously as Mashu pouted at him playfully. The others laughed heartily.
It was a blood bath. Swords sand with bloody intent, yet they were useless against the foul beast. Like a vicious tornado, it whirled through King Arthur's men like it was nothing, and they could do nothing but flail helplessly against its authority. Though black was the color of death, white was its current herald as it shrieked and assaulted the knights relentlessly until the order was given.
"Run away! Run away!"
Unlike the other scenes, there was a lingering uncertainty that rode the currents of amusement. Mashu happily enjoyed the scene, as did Mordred and Arturia, but Tristan and Gawain made occasional glances towards each other. Lancelot and Bedivere were lost in their chuckles at the ridiculous scene, and though those two joined them, there was a strange glint of apprehension in Gawain's eyes as the knights completed their retreat. It was a sight Fou didn't miss as it looked around hopefully as it finished the last of its popcorn.
"How many did we lose?"
"Gawain, Ector, and Bors."
Gawain gulped as Arturia giggled at her movie counterpart's inability to count. It sure brought back some unnerving memo- "Fou, fou, fou?"
"AHHHH!" Gawain yelled out in surprise as Fou hopped onto his legs and casually strolled across to his bowl of popcorn, which had a lovely pile left with all the tension. Fou happily glanced towards the bowl, then back to the stiff Gawain as he calmed his breaths… all while his companions were crippled with laughter. He stared at Fou, and caught what seemed to be a mischievous glint as it stared between him and his popcorn. He gulped again. "…You can have the rest."
"Fou, fou!" it happily chirped as it stuck its head into the bowl and quickly began chewing away as it glanced to the movie.
The knights watched as the once marvelous charge from so many knights was brought to a screeching halt thanks to the timely arrival of the police. They chuckled as King Arthur was swiftly arrested as all the other gathered knights simply looked on in confusion. The movie's Bedivere was swiftly apprehended as well while a cop with a megaphone made sure the others backed away from the scene.
Finally, Tristan dared to voice. "…I wasn't there, but… I don't think this is how Camelot fell."
"I prefer if it fell this way," Lancelot chuckled, but Mashu quickly glanced to Arturia.
"But then Arturia and Bedivere would be in jail."
"Like Merlin? Or wherever Viviane threw him?" Bedivere asked and earned himself a few chuckles.
From the confines of Avalon, Merlin's laughter could be heard echoing from the ethereal, porcelain tower.
Chapter 3: Shard 2: Celtic Ambition
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 50 and 51.
As always on a weekday afternoon, the resort was almost scarce of patrons. The waves still lapped gently against the sandy shore, and the sun still wafted its warmth onto the glistening sands. At the far side, the Emiya family was enjoying a tiny picnic under the shade of Tropicana's leafy palms. At the docks, the distant figures of Helena and Edison were discussing further plans about potential wildlife and underwater additions.
On the almost empty beach, Gabrielle enjoyed a day off with Medb. The pair laid on their backs on a shared pink blanket covered in hearts and a small beer cooler nearby; They would have been the sole subject of interest for any passersby. Medb's skimpy white bikini almost resembled lingerie, while Gabrielle's own yellow bikini accentuated her own assets. Together the pair sunbathed with their eyes closed and nearly fell asleep as their previous conversation fell through for comfortable silence.
Loud, familiar laughter shattered that idea.
Shard 2: Celtic Ambition
Gabrielle peered an eye open, but Medb was the one to push herself up on her arms. She turned with a smile towards the signature booming laughter, but neither Ozymandias nor Gilgamesh paid her any attention. They merely continued their surprisingly pleasant conversation as they walked barefoot towards the lapping waves. The unusual approving glints in both their eyes was something no one could miss.
But Medb wasn't interested in their gorgeous smiles. Her eyes milked the perfect abs as they glistened under the light like enticing jewelry. Only a golden set of jammers covered Gilgamesh, and his companion's white pair hugged his own legs perfectly. She was already practically drooling as their matching white, unbuttoned tropical shirts waved in the wind like distant armies begging her to come conquer them.
As she hummed and licked her lips, Gabrielle sat up to join her stare. The pink-haired rider glanced over to her dear friend and winked. "Beach just got hotter."
"Scorching," Gabrielle nodded, and couldn't even hide her small smile, nor the appetizing glint in her eye. "God… They're so hot."
"You'd let them spit roast you. I would," Medb commented nonchalantly, and though Gabrielle hesitated to answer, the rider already knew. "Oh, come on! Don't try to play it off, Gabby! I know that mind of yours! It's like mine!"
"I didn't deny anything!" she quickly retorted, and they both fell into giggles. "…There's no chance in hell though. Oh well, a girl can fantasize."
As they talked, a third servant slowly moved into view. Following much further behind the kings, like he was giving them ample space, was Enkidu. He walked onto the beach casually with a calm smile and a hum. He tossed a curious glance their way as his loose white board shorts with golden accents flapped in the wind like his matching translucent shawl. The pair had yet to notice him.
"Gosh. We need to work on that ambition of yours," Medb teased. "You can have anyone you want, Gabby. You got those seals."
Gabrielle glanced at her hand nervously and shook her head. "You know I couldn't do that, Medb."
"I would, but that's why you're the master and I'm not…" she hummed innocently as she stared back at the two gorgeous kings as they walked further away on the beach. "Oh, what I wouldn't do for a night with either of those stallions. I'm getting jitters just thinking about it!"
Enkidu smiled and chuckled lightly at the overheard comment, even from his distance. His calm and excited gaze remained on his current hope as the kings strolled away.
"I thought you're working on Cu first," Gabby pointed out, but Medb merely smirked to her deviously.
"Ambition, Gabby, ambition... It matters not what they want, for a queen will lay claim to all the prizes she rightfully deserves!"
"Gil's not some prize. He's priceless."
Gabrielle and Medb's attention instantly snapped towards the new voice. In the split moment Medb had turned around, Enkidu had closed the distance and appeared between them and the view of the distant kings. With hands on the hips of his board shorts, his matching translucent shawl and green haired waved powerfully in the sea breeze; Combined with the surprising fierceness in his eyes, they looked like a flame of anger.
Though Gabrielle shivered, which Enkidu gently smiled to her reassuringly for but a brief moment, Medb only blinked. In an instant, Enkidu's unnerving glare was once more fixated on the queen. "You're not treating Gil like that on my watch."
"…Not even if you joined in~? The more the merrier, right?" Medb dared to tease with a wink, and Gabrielle could only stare in wonder at her friend's audacity.
It merely bounced off Enkidu. "No thanks. Gil's only interested in quality. You've yet to catch his eye."
That quickly wiped the small smirk off Medb's lips as she glared back at him. Gabrielle grew more nervous as she stood up. "Oh? You think both think I'm not worthy of writhing beneath him? I thought he likes proving his dominance?"
"There's nothing for him to prove by toying around with someone who's taken more loads than Chaldea's washing machines."
Gabrielle could only stare in horrified concern, but it barely even registered on Medb. Instead, she crossed her arms, winked again, and smirked with her glare. "You say that now, but sooner or later, you'll both be just another tick on my bedpost."
"You make it sound like you'll win when the only thing you've consistently managed to crush is your vagina. Stay away from Gil, whore." Though Medb glared back. Enkidu merely huffed and stormed off towards his best friend and companion as the androgynous servant's first cultivated friendship budded between them.
Gabrielle finally found her voice. "Medb! Medb, what're you doing!? They're Chaldea's strongest!"
"I know… and gods if that doesn't excite me," Medb dared to giggle as she glanced back at Gabrielle. Like lightning, she was calm again, but the glint of determination in her eyes roared like a forest fire. It only made the master worry with concern, the sight of which actually warmed Medb's cold heart.
"But you'll die! I don't want that! You know I'd have to call the Peacekeepers anyway!" she quickly countered, then actually dared to try and tailor the argument to her. "And if you die, how are you going to have sex with every hero you want!?"
To that, Medb merely placed a finger to her lips, sat down, and gently hummed. "Hmm… you have a point, Gabby… That's no good…"
After a small pause, and a glance towards the distant Enkidu, who shot another warning glare back at them, Medb merely smirked again. "…Fine. I'll just leave the best for last."
Chapter 4: Shard 3: I Can't
Series Placement: The following shard takes place during Fragment 43, after Scene VIII and partially during Scene IX.
"Sorry for taking you away from the Celts, but-"
"Oh, sheesh! I said it's fine! It's just a few minutes! Let's go talk at that bench!"
With a hand clutched to her vibrant blue strapless dress, Serenity glanced back to Rena as it floated quietly behind. The little robot bobbed its cute eyes silently in reassurance, and the assassin smiled lightly. As she was pulled comfortably by the hand across the boardwalk, Serenity glanced towards the resort's sun in the distance. Its wonderful warmth looked beautifully perfect for the moment, which only caused her heart to drum harder in her chest.
Smiling gently, she looked at her other hand, which lay grasped in Gabrielle's own; Her touch ever since that fateful day was always a sense of reassurance, and her skin tingled beneath its hold. She looked at the back of the humming master, who looked like an angel in her eyes with her white one-shoulder dress that sailed serenely with every step. She turned back to her with a bright smile that sent a flutter through her heart, and her own smile could only grow.
This was it… At Tyler's reassurance, she was finally going to reveal her feelings.
Shard 3: I Can't
"So! What's on your mind? I can keep a secret! Don't listen to Gudork on that one!" Serenity giggled at the relaxed apple of her eye, but slowly steeled herself.
After a lifetime of never being to hold anyone, she finally had a chance to hold her heart's hope. Gabrielle could have stopped after simply healing her, but she didn't. She made a lot of effort to talk and get to know the other assassin. Thanks to Mashu, she'd found someone who dared to hold her, and even did her utmost to ensure she was happy. Because of that, Serenity's appreciation and affection only grew like the first beautiful tree in a once desolate plain.
Her heart beat steadily, and her smile couldn't be ripped from her face. She sat happily beside Gabrielle on the bench while Rena remained perched on the ground within sight as reassurance. With both hands in her lap, Serenity let one final breath out and turned to the dear master. Her tangerine eyes shimmered in the light like stars, and her hair waved like the hopeful flame of her emotions. Serenity smiled, "Thank you for listening to me…"
She silently reprimanded herself for such a ridiculous start. As a practiced assassin, well versed in seduction and allure to bring down her targets, she was suddenly at a total loss of words when it came to her true feelings; To be fair, she never actually confessed before… especially not to someone she could finally hold safely. Gabrielle only giggled, reached over, and rubbed her bare shoulder reassuringly.
Steeling herself again by looking towards the beautiful shimmering sea of the resort, she finally began. "I've thanked you a lot. I know you like teasing about it, but I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done for me. I had to keep my distance for so many years that I never knew what it was like to be so close to someone… You've made me really happy, Gabby! Every moment spent with you I feel like I'm really living again!"
She'd brought it up a few times shyly, but she really did mean it. Any show of physical affection, whether friendly or not, was thunder in her heart. Gabrielle merely did it by the boatload. Anytime she was at all miffed or disappointed, the master was more than willing to fix that. They discussed it many times before: If she were down at all, Gabrielle would do everything in her power to fix that. It made her heart swell with unfamiliar warmth.
Still, Serenity didn't look back as the smile on her face grew. "I never thought I'd get to experience an actual life, but you've made it possible for me… You've become such a wonderful source of hope for me, and for that, I can't do anything to ever repay that… but I want to. I still hope I can, even if my heart selfishly requests for more… I want to make you perfectly happy just like you've made me happy!"
"Serenity…" Gabrielle whispered, and hearing her name made the assassin's smile grow. She finally turned back to complete her little speech…
…but she wouldn't complete it. Her once firm and unshakeable resolve fell like a deck of cards as her eyes gazed at Gabrielle. The strings that held up her smile were sliced by the master's uncertain and even fearful gaze. The look of happiness and ever-shining reassurance had disappeared in an instant as solemn and apologetic eyes stared back. Rena could only watch in growing horror as Serenity clutched a hand to her heart. '…Oh no… Gabby doesn't…!?'
"I… Serenity, you…" Gabrielle could barely finish a sentence as she tried to control herself. She placed a hand over her mouth in palpable fear. She glanced back at the assassin as she suddenly felt colder. It only fell as Gabrielle seemed to quiver and mumble angrily at herself. "…I'm sorry… I'm… I didn't mean to lead you on…! Oh god I'm so sorry…!"
Serenity felt cold. She didn't even have a chance, it seemed. She couldn't even find any words to whisper on her lips as Gabrielle shook. She could only watch with growing forlorn sadness and mounting confusion as the master fell at an equal loss. "Serenity I… I'm sorry… I can't! I can't do that to you-! I mean, I don't want you to hate me too…! We shouldn't…"
"…We can't even try…?" Her cracking heart managed to convince her to ask.
"I… No… I'm sorry, I can't… We really shouldn't," Gabrielle managed to stutter out as she grew frustrated and sad. Cold reality seeped across the assassin's skin, and was only fueled by the suddenly glinting eyes of her master; Her eyes also grew blurry with mounting sadness. "I've… I've lost so many friendships before like this… Friends I cared about just up and left me whenever we dated…! I always tried to make it work, but every time… every time!"
She'd been told of this before. Like Gudao, she was privy to some of her secrets, but not all. She knew she preferred men, but had a fling with a girl once. She thought she'd have a chance based on all the physical shows of affection, but she obviously thought wrong. It was Gabrielle being herself, and a dear friendship was one of the things she would never truly risk.
Gabrielle sniffled. "I can't, Serenity! I d-don't want to lose you too! You're so kind and innocent and… Dammit! S-Shit! I didn't want to make you cry!"
Except she was the one who cried first. Serenity placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder as she also started to shudder. "…I'd never abandon you! I'd never do that, Gabby…! Even if it didn't w-work… maybe we could try…?"
"I… I c-can't, Serenity!" Gabrielle practically shouted out, uncaring who heard from the nearby club. "You're like a little s-sister to me… and I don't w-want to lose you t-too! I d-don't trust myself!"
Her heart focused on a sole word, even as her friend was breaking down. "…Then… You didn't like me in that way…?"
"…I'm s-s-sorry…" Gabrielle muttered as her tears seized the reigns. She wrapped Serenity into a desperate hug. By now, the assassin was also succumbing to her own overwhelming disappointment. Her tears fell like rain, and even as she hugged Gabrielle back, it felt a bit colder than it ever had before. She covered her tearful face with a free hand, then shuddered terribly as Gabrielle shook. Rena could only stare back and forth in total distraught hopelessness. "…I w-want y-you to find s-s-some-wo-one… B-But it c-can't be m-me…"
They were unaware of the growing crowd at Club Cove's doors, nor the musician's working mind as it churned for a solution.
Chapter 5: Shard 4: One Step Closer
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 42 and 43.
Blown by the tropical breeze, the puffy cloud unveiled the resort's sun once more. The makeshift weather had far more clouds this afternoon, but they speckled the skies like the windswept plains she remembered with newfound clarity. In once more delivered, cherished memories, they were even nostalgic of a digitalized world in the future. As a passing gust tickled her short hair and flapped the edges of her white crop top, Altera felt her new radiant smile rival the shining sun.
"Sheesh… Tesla wasn't kidding about their upgrades to the wind systems…" a familiar voice called out, made only warmer and comforting with her recent memorial essence.
Altera only smiled brighter as another warm voice responded from her other side. "The kids wanted to try flying a kite but the breeze was too weak."
It'd only been a day since she got it, but this was already one of the best gifts she could have hoped for.
Shard 4: One Step Closer
"No, Altera! This is our treat for you in celebration of the muses bringing your memories back! We're doing everything!"
With an appreciative nod and smile, she kept still. Her hands remained a bit restless, but rested atop her tight jeans while the other two servants assorted the different hand-cooked meals. Across the white and blue checkered picnic blanket, the warm ceramic dishes wafted with steam. The mix of smells was intoxicating and brought a surge of once-lost memories as she gazed upon the Japanese and Italian dishes. Their scents mixed with the tropical flower garden that surrounded their setup.
Altera tossed a fleeting glance to the fluffy mound that was Asterios, who was snoozing on another grassy patch further away. Tamamo also peeked, then shared a small giggle with Altera as the big berserker let another happy snore loose. The caster in an elegant blue strapless turned her attention back to her own picnic basket to get another plate. Altera felt her mouth water as a plate of steaming dumplings appeared, and she could already taste the caster's custom soy sauce enveloping her taste buds.
At her other side, she eyed the newly placed plate of linguini as the alfredo sauce steamed and melted atop its warm surface. Speckled with perfectly diced bits of chicken and baby shrimp, her stomach didn't even care how perfectly arranged its strands were to form an art piece; She was hungry for nostalgic cooking. A proud little chuckle resonated from its owner as Nero noticed the sparkle in her eyes. "Umu~! Just as you remember it, Altera! All of it!"
With a glance towards the empress in one of her favorite red sundresses, Altera nodded happily. "Both your cooking… I didn't know how much I missed it!"
It was almost like that first time she laid eyes on them in the Moon Cell. They'd been arguing and promoting their work to their beloved master, and she had been caught in the net. She'd wanted to eat all the tasty foods, but didn't know which was good civilization back then; They both were, as they said themselves at her inquiry. She'd eaten so much that first day, but it was just a herald of the happy days to come.
"Nero…?" The empress paused after she placed down a choice bottle of Tuscan wine. Her hair, though braided at the top, was loose and waved like an untamed flag. She'd first started doing it in the Moon Cell, but occasionally, she'd sport the hairstyle here too, unlike… "Why don't you cook here too? You always said you don't feel like it but… You loved cooking. Sometimes just to try and best Tamamo, but you loved it."
The empress and the caster shared a blank look before Nero turned back with a smile. "I never did answer truthfully, did I…? I could grace Chaldea with my cooking, but that may put poor Leandre to shame. His Italian cuisine does the Roman honor."
"As if I could stop Nero from entering the kitchen…" Tamamo admitted with an exasperated sigh. "Miss Empress will barge in if she wants. You know that as well as I do, Altera. But she saves her best for our husband. I could respect that much from her."
"For Hakuno…" Altera mumbled quietly, and Nero nodded proudly, but shared the sudden shred of disappointment that raced among them. Though some like Cu and Emiya had yet to obtain those memories, those who do remember knew well: Hakuno was quite the master in his own way. Gudao and Gabrielle were rather ideal too, but it was hard to compare them to such a beloved figure. They all had their shining points, but he was the proverbial anchor that brought the three of them together.
"…Maybe…?" Altera quietly voiced as Tamamo busied herself with the last dishes. "Maybe he'll come someday?"
"He could have qualified… Heroic Sovereign of the Moon Cell," Tamamo remembered endearingly with a soft smile, then blushed with sudden eagerness. "Ohhhh~! He always had such a way with words! And his loyalty! How could anyone ever fault him for that loyalty!? Or his skill in the sheets!?"
Nero sighed. "Keep yourself under control, Fox Caster… You'll only wind up making the aches worse."
Though Tamamo narrowed her eyes lightly at Nero, her eyes shined with begrudging agreement. The fact remained he still wasn't here. He could be, even if it meant… Altera fiddled with her fingers. "If he does come… I just hope he's not a pseudo-servant. That won't really be him."
"Just like Ishtar isn't really this Rin Tohsaka," Tamamo added with growing concern. Her ear even twitched with frustration. "…If some god dares to…!"
"Hush, Fox Caster… Have faith in my Praetor," Nero scolded lightly as she started filling Altera's first Italian plate with different morsels. "Even if he's a pseudo-servant, he can be more hardheaded than Gabby! Have you forgotten what evils he's faced beside us in our times of need? He won't be taken without a fight, and he'll surely be in our arms again!"
Altera couldn't help but smile. As much as arguing over each other was tradition, they did come together quite a few times. It was mostly thanks to Hakuno, but even she acted as a small bridge for them to bond. Truthfully, it wasn't the ideal sole relationship Tamamo or Nero desired, but on several occasions, they did admit it was a blossomed garden in its own right.
"We'll keep waiting… and I'll keep you two from killing each other before he gets here!" Altera exclaimed proudly, then smiled sheepishly as Tamamo and Nero glanced to each other, then pouted towards her.
"I'm not as bad as her! The dumb empress usually starts it!"
"What's that supposed to mean, Fox Caster!? I wouldn't start anything if you weren't hogging my Praetor during my times!"
"You stole moments with my husband during my share too! Don't even try denying it!"
Though she meant it as a small joke, she'd once more underestimated how easy of a wick it was to light. As amusing as these moments were to always watch, this was supposed to be a celebration picnic… but wasn't this what they were celebrating? Another inch closer to the fond memories they shared together? Her stomach was rumbling though… "Tamamo! Nero! Please… your tasty food is getting cold!"
The two stopped their bickering to stare at her, then Tamamo sighed. "…You're right. We got carried away again."
Altera smiled, but then blinked when the two took the plates they were collecting for her and set them off to the side. She stared in confusion for a moment, then noticed the fourth pair of eating utensils and smiled. 'Right… Hakuno was always served first.'
"Don't keep us waiting, my husband," Tamamo smiled endearingly as she started on Altera's real plate.
"Otherwise your wives will have to figure out a suitable punishment for your tardiness," Nero added, and the two women shared a tiny smirk that made Altera blink. She had the strangest, fleeting feeling something flew over he head, but she ignored it for her growing comfort.
She merely stopped when she spotted Asterios peeking towards them from the distance. Tamamo saw it too, and the berserker tried to hide his eyes by burying his head into the grass again. Though Tamamo giggled, Altera smiled and called out. "Asterios? Do you smell the food?"
Ashamed he was caught, the berserker slowly lifted his head again to stare. With an adorable expression, like a kid whose hand was caught in a cookie jar, he nodded slowly. Altera merely glanced to Nero and Tamamo, then nodded towards him. "You could have a plate if you want. I don't think Tamamo or Nero will mind."
As his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, her two family members turned to her curiously, but with tiny smiles. She merely reassured, "I know all this was meant for me, but you two were always generous when I was around."
"No need for another word, Altera, we know," Nero reassured with a proud twinkly in her eye.
Tamamo nodded in agreement. "And it's what he would have done too."
Altera smiled brightly. The only thing missing now was him, and this timeline could become even better than the one she held so close to heart.
Chapter 6: Shard 5: A Jolly Season
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 27 and 28.
Scampering feet ran in several directions. "One… Two… Three…"
Jack kept her hands over her eyes as she faced the wall of the gymnasium. The sounds of running companions was drowned out by Fergus lifting weight aggressively nearby while impressing some of his favorite nightly companions; Jack wasn't interested in the least. The assassin in her black t-shirt and jeans merely kept her hands pinned between her face and the wall as she counted loudly. She was smiling with overwhelming giddiness.
The clumsy Astolfo's little accident had given her and the other girls more playmates! It was only temporary, but she was very excited to play with them as much as she could; A shame not every child joined in. The various spirits and muffled voices within her mind chimed in happy unison, only making their chosen manifested form even more giddy. She was squirming so much, it even had Fergus glancing over with a small adoring smirk.
Hide and Seek just got more fun for Christmas! "Fifty-eight… Fifty-nine…! Sixty! Ready or not, here I come!"
Shard 5: A Jolly Season
Boudica and Marie's coos could still be heard down the hallway as Jack skipped down merrily. Since she was a little too good at hiding for obvious reasons, she was always the first to be searching. On the few rare occasions Gudao and Gabrielle had reluctantly let her go scouting, she'd become very skilled at finding hiding spots. All the times they played helped too, but her adopted sister was always creative. Who knew what kind of surprises these new playmates wou-
"Kuro! Stop!" That was Illyasviel.
"Sheesh, Illya! You're making this more difficult than it should be!" That was definitely Kuro.
"Good grief… could you two let go, please? I can make a decision myself, you know." Finally came the younger, exasperated voice of Emiya.
Jack blinked in surprise, but carefully crept towards the next corner. As she peaked around, she saw a supply closet open. Illyasviel, in her own little white dress her mother bought her, was tugging on Emiya's bare arm. That was all Jack could see of him though. Judging by the tugging motions, Kuro was on the other side trying to drag him in… but those closets had enough room for all three.
Kuro's frustrated groan came from within. "He's only like this for a little while, Illya!"
Jack couldn't figure out why Illya had a concerned and almost blushing expression. "I know that! That's why…! No, Kuro! Just no!"
"…What are you two going on about…?" Emiya asked in confusion, making Illyasviel stammer.
"N-Nothing! I just think we should all hide separately!" Well duh. That's obvious! That'd be bad to hide in the same spot though… Why hide in the same spot? It made no sense to Jack.
"Oh come on, there's more than enough room to share, Illya~!" Ruby chuckled in the air above Illyasviel all while the small caster stammered again. "Just join us~!"
With a smile, Jack merely began skipping towards them to take advantage of the confusion: Three down, more to go!
"You sure one of them is here, Jackie?"
"Mhmm~!" the assassin happily responded as she carefully peeked through the many hanging wardrobes of the Clothing Center. Naomi followed along and watched with a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand and an amused smile on her lips. She'd toss an occasional, diligent glance to her reorganizing robots, but otherwise kept a vigil on Jack so she wouldn't make any mess. "Thank you for letting me look for my friends Miss Naomi!"
"Just be careful with the next rack. We don't want to upset Nero and Cleopatra," the supervisor reminded, then sighed under her breath. "…for the sake of my own migraine…"
"I won't~! Pwomise~!" The way she said it made one of Naomi's staff coo in delight.
As Jack carefully peered through the hanging clothes one by one, one of the robots hovered to one of the stacked shelves. Naomi glanced over, but her smile faded slightly as she froze. Her gaze shifted between Jack and the robot with baited breath before the robot quickly popped the top of the depleted crate. It should have only been half-filled with diminished cloth scraps. It made it a nice hiding spot though.
"Is it safe!?" the child Medea quickly called out as her head popped into view atop the create. She froze as she stared at the robot. "…Um… You're not Naomi…"
As the child caster glanced over to her, Naomi stared towards Jack, who now had a clear visual of Medea. The caster paled, but the robot spoke first. "Miss Stolarz, I regret to inform you there appears to be smuggled contraband in this crate!"
Naomi could only smile in sheepish, apologetic disbelief as the little Medea attempted to scramble away from the swiftly approaching assassin.
Jack stood outside the doors of the Camelot Room, quietly eyeing both Gawain and Bedivere. The knights looked dashing in their three-piece black formal suits. They kind of reminded her of butlers or bodyguards from some of the few kids movies she'd seen. That's what made them a little obvious to her, but she wasn't going to just barge in. That'd be rude!
She smiled at them innocently. "May I look inside? I'm trying to find my friends?"
"Not at the moment, Jackie. Mordred and Lancelot are arranging things for a morning surprise breakfast for our King and the Emiya family," Bedivere offered back with his own sincere expression. He then winked and placed a finger to his lips. "I pray you can keep that a secret from them?"
Jack merely smiled wider. "I can! But can I take a peek anyway? Pretty please?"
They blinked and glanced to each other in silent debate as her suspicion happily grew. With a hand behind her back, she swung adorably from side to side to turn up her charm; This was a secret weapon that worked wonders on the adults! Especially Auntie Marie, her mother, Auntie Boudica, and the like! "Just a tiny tiny peek? Please? Please please please please please please?"
"…If you're looking for children, none are hiding within, I'm afraid," Gawain tried offered carefully with a smile, but that's when Jack's smile grew.
"But Knight's of Chivalry shouldn't even tell white lies, right?" she countered with a giggle. They glanced to each other again as her gaze glinted with satisfaction. "Is King Arturia in there?"
They could only remain silent as she caught them in a bind. She grinned as she happily bolted to the door, swung it open, and heard Gawain cry out in despair. "Your majesty, we've failed you! Please make haste!"
Jack skipped down the windowed hallway with a fingers against her lips. She wasn't too sure who was easier to find between the last two. Arturia's knights actually were preparing a party, but they weren't the best at trying to hide their king when asked innocent questions. On the other hand, all she had to do to find Medusa was shadow her sisters as they homed in on the 'cute rider' so they could play with her more.
This wasn't exactly how she would have liked hide and seek to go, but it was still fun!
As she slipped through the library doors, she barely acknowledged Shakespeare or Hans as they reorganized books in the central aisles. She merely quietly, but swiftly, speed walked down the aisles while running her fingers down the spines of countless books. Weaving up and down, she meticulously ensured her finger touched every book as her eyes gazed around with scrutiny. Of all the times they've played this game, her sister always had the trickiest hiding spots.
It was a long shot, but this was still a necessary check. She'd morphed into her book form on three occasions and hidden within, but it'd been months since the last time. She may be wasting her precious time, but on the off chance she was here, she-
A book poofed into a cloud of cartoonish, white smoke on the far side of the library. Jack turned to look as Nursery Rhyme, once more in her little white gothic dress, scampered towards the doorway. Jack quickly pursued as the caster giggled nervously but quietly. Jack's own mirth was locked behind her closed lips and a tiny hand. They sped walked towards the door, but she made it first.
It was a shame she couldn't just bolt after her, or Hans would yell at her for being rowdy in the library… again.
"I'm gonna to tag you! I'm gonna tag you!"
This is how their games of hide and seek usually ended, but she loved the transition. Laughing nervously, but with overwhelming excitement, Nursery Rhyme ran down the windowed hallway as Jack chased after her. It wouldn't be too long before she caught up to the less athletic caster, but she made sure to enjoy the whole run. Robots, staff, and other passing servants watched on in their own mirth as the gap was closed.
That's when the little Joan peeked her head out of an incoming intersection, just as Nursery Rhyme ran past. She hadn't joined them on the first round since she wanted to prepare something secret with her older sister, but new rounds were coming! The time was ticking, and she wanted to play with Joan while she still had time! Nursery Rhyme yelped back, "Joan, run! She's trying to tag us!"
"Wha- But I thought it was hide and seek!?" She ran anyway, and swiftly fell into giggles as Jack chased merrily after them. Who knows? No doubt, they'd drag some of the others in as they passed too. Maybe even the cranky professor and his childish king, who were still playing video games in the Game Room would join too?
Whatever the case, this was a season to remember, and it wasn't even Christmas Eve yet!
Chapter 7: Shard 6: One Last Chance
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 75 and Supplement III: Who We Are.
Roman hummed to himself, if only to keep his mounting unease at bay. Tomorrow was the fateful day, and he was unsure how that was going to turn out. It made him sweaty just thinking about it, so much so he'd removed his signature coat. His office just felt that much stuffier, but he had work to do, so he'd take the little comforts.
Wearing just his black undershirt, a small silver cross chain, and his white dress pants, he finished up the last of the paperwork he could. Should all go well, he'd been doing more after all this was over. Should things grow dire… He didn't want to think about it. It scared him knowing the worst, but he was terrified about what he may have to do to prevent it. His only hope was that they'd win.
The stress was getting to him… He needed an outlet. Looking around in hurry, he moved the scattered papers and folders in a haste. Midnight was approaching, and he needed at least some sleep before the operation started in the morning. It was then he finally realized his laptop had gone missing. After a small pause, he buried his face in his hands and groaned.
"Dammit, Da Vinci…"
Shard 6: One Last Chance
'She probably thought I was going to stay on all night…' he concluded quietly as he marched through the opening doors of the Medical Bay and into the cool halls. He didn't have to go far to find his laptop. Just across the hall, through the often-secured doors, his prize awaited… and he could use a bit of reassurance from Magi*Mari. Program-replicated live idol or not, he needed to take the edge off this growing tension.
He'd rather go to Da Vinci herself to hear her soothing voice, but she and the other geniuses were busy triple-checking all of Chaldea's systems. 'I shouldn't bother her more than I have to.'
With his special card key she gave him, he unlocked the door quietly and slipped in as he spun around to make sure it shut; She always yelled at him whenever it didn't close properly. He knew she was in there too. He had that tingly feeling whenever they were in the same room. "Da Vinci. I need my lap-"
"Asking for my lap? My, how far the coward has come~!"
He'd finally turned around, but froze. The tension in his body was quickly stomped into the ground by growing panic and disbelief. Among the tables of blueprints, schematics, models, and stacks of papers, his laptop was in plain view… yet it remained in her peripherals only. His quivering gaze remained locked incredulously on the inventor before he finally threw his hands over his blushing face. "What are you…!? Da Vinci! You're…!"
"Oh come now. It's not like you haven't walked in on my naked before. You know clothes are trivial when another genius thought comes to mind~!"
But she wasn't completely naked. He'd caught glimpses of her naked body before, sure, and he definitely fantasized about it more than once… and dreamed of going further, if he were to be honest. However, he'd never seen her in just a towel with her hair still damp. He could even smell the lovely lavender that wafted from her rinsed shampoo. It made her… that much more seductive.
His mind was already going wild as his heart raced in his chest. He couldn't afford to look; He had to get out of here… but his laptop! "I-I'm just here for my laptop! Then I'll be going! There's much to do!"
"Much to do with the idol, hmm…" she sighed out loud as the gentle steps of feet moved away. Moments later, they approached him. He steadied his breathing in relief that this would be over soon. "Alright. I suppose I can let you have one last gift before the final battle. Here you go, Roman~…"
With a sigh of relief, he dropped a hand to feel for… He grasped Da Vinci's towel-covered breast. His hand froze, but he didn't let go. To his chagrin, he acted on instinct and even squeezed a bit, but it only made Da Vinci giggle; At least he wasn't going to die, but he jerked his hand back just in case. Curious, he spread the fingers of his other hands to peak, but found her far closer than he expected… and without his laptop. "Da Vinci!? Wha- The laptop!"
"I said a gift, idiot, not the laptop~..." She'd said it so softly, it sent a massive shiver across his warming body. He could practically feel the heat of her freshly showered and still-glistening body flow over him; She stood so irresistibly close. As he shut his eyes again, he whimpered as she gently placed a hand on his chest and slowly trailed it down. The sensation of her light fingertips gliding so softly atop the thin fabric lit a fire as they moved closer to his belt. "Hmm~... Your muscles are a lot firmer than I thought."
Yet, as terribly aroused as he was becoming, another emotion was quickly rivalling it. Horror and despair melded together in a defiant reluctance. As much as he yearned to feel what it was like to have her body against his, to be enveloped by her warmth in affectionate bliss as she writhed beneath him and moaned his name, he couldn't. They shouldn't, less the possible parting be that much worse. The thought of leaving all of this behind was already a tall barrier, but a newly bloomed relationship too…?
"Well, Roman~...?" Her voice sent a conflicted shiver through his body. "It's not polite to keep a genius waiting."
"Da Vinci…" he began with a voice clashed with reluctance and doubt. "…I can't…"
She took another step further, and the gap between them vanished. Only the loosely-wrapped towel separated him from countless fantasies he'd had in his mind. He could feel her breath against his neck as she leaned in gently. "Don't be a coward, Roman. Just for one night, I'll let you experiment all you want~."
He was losing control. His desire to take her was overwhelming his reluctance. "…I can't…!"
Her fingers tugged gently against the silver Chaldea-logo belt buckle. "If you're a good boy, I could consider another one after… maybe~…"
One emotion finally gained total control with mounting fear. "Da Vinci! No! I can't! I-I can't do this! This never happened, okay!? This never happened!"
"Wait! Roman!" Faster than she could react, and with one hand still covering his embarrassed and anguished face, Roman had managed to open the door and fled out. His special key fell onto the ground in his haste, but he was already long gone as the door fell barely ajar. Da Vinci stared, both incredulous and in frustration. A small seethe escaped her lips as her fingers curled into fists. "…You coward…!"
She shook silently, but stared down at the special keycard. With furrowed brows, she closed her eyes, let out a sigh, and gently pushed the door shut. After locking it, she picked up the keycard, which was given out of curiosity if he'd pursue an intimate moment. Still, just before the final battle, where he might possibly have to sacrifice himself to help them win, he refused to indulge out of terror for making things worse… out of that ever-constant fear of seeing sad things.
Roman hadn't seen the sad glint in Da Vinci's otherwise annoyed expression for not taking the last offer.
She sighed, but would not admonish him for this decision. Perhaps less pain was for the best, but she'd definitely force his hand after they won.
Chapter 8: Shard 7: Choice Words
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 22 and 23.
"Ready to crack some skulls today, Fran!?"
The battle-clad berserker giggled as the eccentric, shorter blonde grinned her way. "Sure… Mordred…"
It was just them and Medusa for now, but the rider was quietly reading a book she had with her; She hardly seemed bothered. They stood by the panels in the vast Deployment Room, waiting on others to arrive like Astolfo. With his arrival, at least, the room would certainly lose all its serene silence.
Despite being a simple supply sortie, Mordred was extra excited. How could she not be? It had been only two weeks since they returned from the Sixth Primary Singularity, but her enthusiasm for her life's new course never dwindled. Her father was going to be joining her on this mission, and they were going to spend some time walking about town together! She was going to get even more family bonding time she craved!
She felt bad Frankenstein was going to be stuck with Astolfo, but at least they got along decently now. Although, the knight could never blame the berserker for wanting to rip his head off every now and then. The rider was always something else, but at least he was a loyal friend.
Upon hearing chatter coming from the opening doors, Frankenstein giggled as Mordred's eyes shot back with an eager grin in search of her father.
Shard 7: Choice Words
"If you remind me again, Saber, I might forget what you wanted to eat on your return."
"Oh? Are you sure?"
The battle-clad Arturia pouted lightly towards Emiya, who merely winked with a tiny apologetic smirk. He wore a simple black button up tucked into matching slacks, but a white apron covered the front. A moment later, as they kept walking towards the panels, her peaceful smile returned as a comfortable silence enveloped them.
Mordred looked over with a contained grin as she relished the sight. They were closely side by side, but nothing more; There didn't need to be anything displayed. Just watching them was enough of an indicator of an appreciation and happiness that swirled between them… Of a love the knight had been oblivious to until the very last moments of that dark singularity, now a little more apparent in these halls.
Seeing it only made Mordred satisfied. They meant the world to each other, as she'd come to understand. He'd even had a hand in helping the rowdy knight reconcile with the others and, much more importantly, her father. There was nothing she could fault him for, except maybe his sarcasm… but that was still infinitely better than how her mother often treated her.
…Funny. Mordred had started comparing the white-haired archer to her more often lately, but it was obvious why; She wasn't that dumb. Yet it was only now she realized the bigger truth. If her father wound up tying the knot with her lover, that would make him her step-parent. That meant he'd be related to her, but she wasn't sure what title that meant he'd get. Obviously he'd be the queen, but father liked her being informal so…
Mordred pouted lightly, getting Frankenstein's brief attention. 'This is making my brain hurt…'
"Is something wrong, Mordred?" Her father's words echoed through her ears and carried her back to reality.
With a blink, the knight quickly chuckled. "I was just thinking of some dumb question. Don't worry, father!"
"Ah, of course. Problem-solving isn't your strong suit," Emiya teased, earning him a quick but light glare.
"Calling me dumb…" she muttered to herself, but to her satisfaction, Arturia gently reached over and pinched Emiya's arm with her gauntlet. He winced, Arturia gave a light reprimanding stare, and Mordred chuckled in victory.
"It was just a tease, Saber." Now scratching the back of his head, Emiya sighed and glanced back. A few more battle-clad servants were making their way over. Gabrielle skipped past them in her master uniform and waved. As Arturia nodded, he returned the wave, then turned back to her with a smile. "I'll have your favorite snacks when you two return, so have fun you two. Maybe it won't turn into a mess like yesterday's."
"Awww, but then it'll be less fun!" Mordred complained and made Frankenstein and Arturia giggle. Emiya smirked, and they shared a quick nod. Sarcasm aside, he really was rather kind to her. Maybe it was partially because he was dating her father, but she didn't care. It felt genuine to her, and she appreciated it all the same. In truth, she honestly hoped Emiya would continue to be that other parental figure.
Without a word, Emiya leaned down and shared a quick kiss with Arturia. Frankenstein seemed to enjoy the sight as much as Mordred did; The knight couldn't help but stare at Arturia's glowing smile as he bade him off. "See you in a bit, Saber."
"But not too long, Shirou." Those warm words of reply drew a swift and clear line for Mordred. However, only after witnessing this act up close did it finally ring a bell. She didn't want to think about anything more than she had to, and was happy to have a quick solution dropped into her lap. As Emiya turned to her and nodded, she grinned back, making him raise an eyebrow curiously.
She only waved happily. "Have fun cooking, Mama Shirou!"
Emiya's expression twisted faster than the Tacome Narrows bridge. Arturia had to plant a gauntlet over her mouth to keep her laughter in check. Frankenstein was giggling as wildly as Gabrielle, and even Medusa was staring with outright amusement flaring from her smirk. She only grinned in triumph of nipping her growing problem in the bud with a swift, deceive, and obvious titl-
"Don't call me that!" Emiya's expression was full of incredulous disbelief and even some frustration. Yet it only made Mordred confused.
Mordred blinked as Arturia steadied herself. "Why not? You're just like a kind mother."
Gabrielle had collapsed to her knees in her giggle fit while Emiya gawked. "That…! No! I'm not a 'mama'! And only Saber and my family allowed to call me Shirou!"
"But I'm father's child! So I am like family! I'm like your child if you two get married… and father is father, so you're obviously mother! Or step mother…?" Mordred's head was starting to hurt again; Figuring things out sucked. She groaned, but stared in confusion. "You cook and clean! You're wearing an apron! Father wears the pants in your relationship…! How can I not call you Mama Shirou!?"
"Why are you insisting on that title!?" Emiya countered as she tilted her head in confusion and growing aggravation.
"Because you're special to father, and to me too! So I need to call you something nice, right? That's how people show respect and appreciation, you idiot!"
She didn't understand why her logic was just flying over Emiya's head, but it was true. He was a pleasant surprise. That wasn't something she just admitted so freely like she just did, so he should be appreciative of it. Instead he was having his own fit, and that just made her head hurt more… but he was making her favorite snacks later so he could easily be forgiven. One day, he was definitely going to be the proclaimed mother she always dreamed of being cared by.
He stared at her and groaned in frustration. "…We'll come up with something better when you two get back."
That day just wasn't today.
Chapter 9: Shard 8: Careful What You Wish For
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 10 and 11.
It wasn't unusual for the Gymnasium to be nearly empty. The exercise equipment on the outskirts remained still like a silent audience. Active hours were in the morning or evening unless Leonidas felt like whipping a few interested employees into shape. That afternoon's silence was just the norm, which Scathach had been banking on.
In the center, Scathach stood calmly as the lights highlighted her goddess-like figure. Clad in a tight maroon tank top and body-hugging black yoga pants, she no doubt would have attracted some stares from many men; It was on purpose. If she ever admitted it, which she wouldn't to anyone besides Gabrielle or Cu, she did it to feel young again...
…Not that she looked old by any means, but her jaded mind still certainly felt it.
Yet, today nostalgia called and beckoned to relive part of the brighter days long gone. Her calm and stoic stance was shattered when one of the double-door sets opened, making her present a tiny smile. "I came early!"
Shard 8: Careful What You Wish For
"Good. You're taking this seriously then." Scathach's compliment echoed through the room to join the quick clatter of approaching sneakers. As expected, Gabrielle ran over in tangerine fitness shorts with white accents and a matching sports bra. Her eyes glittered with excitement, making Scathach's own lips tinge at the enthusiasm. But what she relished most was the glint of sheer determination in her eyes.
Now she truly felt like the old days had returned in some way. It had been a long time since she taught anyone, and though Gabrielle's warrior prowess left much to be desired, the lancer understood, through her countless experience and wisdom, this often-crazy girl was destined for greatness in some way. Now, as the rest of Chaldea understood, that path was revealed. She'd be no warrior, but their new master alongside Gudao.
Which was why Scathach was content to accept her request. Yet, she still warned the master-to-be before her. "I'll offer you one last chance to back out, Gabrielle."
"What!? Hell no!" Gabrielle countered swiftly, though Scathach's smile held. "Gudao's way ahead of me in experience, and I need to catch up! I don't want to hold him back!"
"I understand. I simply ask it of all my students," she replied calmly as Gabrielle crossed her arms defiantly, but smirked. "I'll be teaching you all you need to know, but this will be far from what my other students have received. Your place is in safety amongst the servant, but I will make sure you're ready for the worst possible scenarios."
"Good! I don't wanna be some dumb damsel in distress!" she agreed, and Scathach's felt the genuine smile grow on her lips. Questionable impulses aside, Gabrielle was always a fierce one. Her loyalty and caring nature were undoubted. Despite not being among the perfect prodigies she'd only accepted before, the lancer could still see the steady heartbeat of ancient Celtic resolve in her heart. "So what do we start with? Polearms? Maybe teaching me a cool rune or two!?"
Scathach let out a small, amused chuckle. "We'll get to polearms in the future. Right now, I need to instill the basics into you. Now come. Let's go for a run."
A harsh wind tore across the chilly mountains that afternoon. The dark fog beyond in the distance loomed like an unnatural night, dashed only by the slicing blurs of flying snowflakes. With every breath, the blizzard roared around Chaldea, whose lights flickered further away. A trail of footsteps in the snow led from its nearest entrance and over the saddle, but the curtain of snow was slowly covering them up. They led to the training ground, then to the adjacent mountain siding beyond.
Over the howling winds, a shriek of metal echoed. The landscape groaned in agony, and a thick chunk of looser snow fell from the sloping side. It tumbled and gained speed as it glared down its path. An orange blur dashed to the side just before it passed, but struggled against smaller debris that followed in its wake. Despite the stream of snow, Gabrielle held her ground on the sloping approach.
A stoic Scathach stood on an outcrop further above, nearly a hundred meters above the training grounds. She watched her orange-haired friend glare up towards her as she yelled over the howling storm. "What the hell was that for!?"
"You must expect the unexpected. Battle is chaos. The land can turn on you at any moment." Scathach tutored calmly as she gripped her signature red weapon.
"I can't believe you told me to skip lunch for all this!"
"One doesn't know when the next meal may come. Priorities may dictate the worst. You must be ready for the worst, and shine beyond your best when found wanting!" The winter chill was bearable, but she imagined it was hampering Gabrielle; That was the idea. This ancient mountain provided a wonderful proving ground with its harsh weather. "Now come! Do not forget I'm timing you on your ascent!"
Without waiting any further, she thrust her deadly spear to the side. With a brief flash of a Celtic rune activating, another unstable snowbank detonated with a loud shriek. The chunks of heavily-packed snow charged towards Gabrielle like a curtain, but the lancer only watched curiously with scrutinizing eyes. Every action had its purpose, and this ascent was merely the gauge by which Scathach would base the rest of the hard training.
Without even an ounce of surprise, she watched as Gabrielle's magic circuits flared to life again. They hummed dimly through the snowy veil before she vanished amongst a shroud of flame. She smashed through the falling curtain with a powerful dash, leaving a small trail of refreezing ice on the slope she passed over. Her protective wreath of flame vanished, just as her hands grasped at an icy outcrop to hold onto. Her feet scrambled and slipped, but she managed to hold on.
Scathach was pleased and impressed with her first sight of Gabrielle's boasted magecraft, but that didn't stop her from holding her lance out again; She had to test her stamina and its efficiency. It could be useful for defense, but if infrequent, it was a one-trick pony. With another howling blast, a larger cluster of ice and snow shrieked towards the huffing magus. But to her surprise and approval, her fiery veil ignited again.
Like a comet, she roared past and gained new ground. She was making headway, but her time left much to be desired. She was still sixty meters below her outcrop even using her reinforced muscles. With a small sigh, Scathach pointed her lance to a bigger outcrop, but Gabrielle yelled incredulously. "What the hell!? I thought you were going easier on me!"
Scathach's face remained stone. "I am going easier on you. Ask Setanta. He's been through far worse than this on his first day."
"What kind of crazy…!?" Gabrielle didn't have much time to respond as her new threat approached. Scathach ensured this ice bank remained solidified to form a wall of ice and snow. It careened down towards Gabrielle, but her fiery veil clutched her form tightly. Her magic circuits flared beneath the distorting heat, and her eyes roared with an angry resolve that Scathach still saw from her high vantage point.
It made the lancer crack a smile. 'Good. Despite your disbelief… you're taking this seriously.'
Scathach would not apologize for this, and what rested in her future. As her friend, she would not let her face the dangers of the singularity lightly. Hell itself may await them in the future, and Gabrielle had to be prepared for even the worst. Thus, though her training was light, easy was unacceptable. That would disrespect the future master, their allies, and herself far more than the prideful Celtic legend would ever allow.
She was just glad Gabrielle was surpassing even her expectations. Today, she might even pass the planned impossible hurdle she set as her first lesson in- "WAAAHHHHHH!"
…Or not. Scathach stared and sighed as the giant wall of falling debris knocked the master off balance: She actually tried to burst through it instead of going around. Her fiery veil had run out; Her fuel held only so much. But she did well before she tumbled and spun out of control towards the debris-covered ground below. Yet, Scathach wasn't worried.
As anticipated, a runic circle far below flared to life amongst the winter debris. It slowed the descending of the falling girl and the large debris to a steady hover. Yes, she was going easy on her. If this was Cu or Ferdinand, she'd have only shaken her head and watched as the debris slammed them into the ground. Gabrielle actually got safety insurance; Seriously injuring a future master was one trophy the lancer didn't need in Chaldea.
"I'm going to get up there! Just you stand there and watch!" Even breathless, struggling to swim her way around the floating debris, and low on energy, she dared to yell that. Scathach's smile remained. Gabrielle had a long way to go, but at least her spirit was already refined. She knew her purpose and what she wished to do, and that stubbornness would prove to be a powerful foundation for her future training.
Her only hesitations, was that the impulsive Gabrielle would use her training experience in the most ridiculous ways…
…which, to be honest, was only to be expected from her.
Chapter 10: Shard 9: Uncertain Beginnings
Series Placement: The following shard takes place before Fragments of Chaldea's Prologue, between Fuyuki and France Singularities.
Slowly, the bright light in the Summoning Chamber faded, but the servant within was already on guard. Her first wary sign was her memories. Even before her eyes adjusted to the dimmer, unusual room, she felt the countless memories and emotions of a past summoning. She felt the emotions… frustrations of a controlling egotist, and a past love that followed thereafter. There were even impossibly fragmented memories of a young girl with straw-blonde hair, working with her and three other servants, but she paid that less heed.
Right now, the robed caster in hues of twilight, had been summoned again.
Beneath her cowl, Medea's eyes narrowed as she sensed the room. There were two mages within, albeit weak ones. A few other normal people too. What was most alarming was she could sense another servant in close proximity, but she didn't feel any hint of hostility that made her hair stand on end. However, her instincts flared. She had accepted the summoning to save the human order, but the lack of provided knowledge urged her jaded, calculating mind begin to churn.
Quietly, she gazed towards the approaching, black-haired man in an unusual uniform. He looked a bit stiff, though his eyes weren't condemning her by any means. If anything, he looked a bit concerned and uncertain. She nearly huffed; Of course this clearly weak magus would judge her right off the- "Hello. Thank you for coming! We need all the help we can get and… Is it alright if I ask your name? Or you could share your class if you're more comfortable with that."
Medea fell dumbfounded. 'He doesn't know who I am? What kind of situation is this…?'
Shard 9: Uncertain Beginnings
"We'll be coming up to the cafeteria soon. You're more than welcome to stay and eat with us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know servants don't need to eat but… I suppose every bit of energy helps?"
She cocked her head at the modern magus. "Even here, you still don't feel it? The overwhelming amount of energy in the air?"
"Um… Sorry, but I don't," he apologized and scratched the back of his head. "Is this place really special?"
Medea blinked, but didn't answer. It felt like the Age of Gods again. Whatever this place was, it was exceedingly mythical to have survived for this long into human history. Perhaps a spot that straddled the line between their world and the Reverse Side like a texture… Maybe a hidden site long since unnoticed? She doubted that… especially with the even stranger questions that rose with ever turn down a new hallway.
The sights in this bright facility were unusual. Robots instead of homunculi. Regular people intermingled with scientists and mages. Servants assisting with repairs to damaged corridors and rooms. Bright hallways that did terribly much to remind her of that disturbing laboratory from a former master…
Certainly, this place and the occasional servant put her on edge. It didn't help she recognized some of them, and they did her too. Her guard and calculating mind were on overtime. Manipulation and her art of saving herself became far more difficult. But her impulses were tempered with mild curiosity.
The look on the staff's faces was one of hidden devastation and hesitation. They'd recently lived through a chaotic event, so she'd been told, and it certainly showed. Some were even visibly nervous wrecks that contrasted the stoic and hard-working robotic workforce. She doubted any of them even had the time of day to judge or scheme against her; Some struggled just to keep themselves together.
And yet… despite the lingering tension and uncertainty, she could see this place was different. Most staff, when greeted, still seemed rather respectful but wary. A few servants, like Benkei or Da Vinci, were even genuinely courteous. Only those she recognized stared at her with quiet scrutiny; That young, cute shielder had been kind, if a bit meek and a stutterer.
It made her wonder if she'd reveal her true name one day, even if some knew but said nothing.
As they turned onto the windowed hallway, she looked around again at curious sights while following Gudao, who'd remained fairly silent after the first failed attempts to rouse small talk. She glanced to the inexperienced master again, who remained quite a bit nervous. She still doubted he was this very charismatic man Gabrielle had insisted in the Summoning Chamber, but she'd been surprised from time to time. That didn't mean she still wasn't going to doubt, nor drop her plans of disposing him should he turn against her in some way.
But in truth, as he turned to smile sheepishly at her, she allowed the tiny slither of hope to tell her this young man might be more like Souichirou than Atrum. So far, it actually seemed that way. "…Uh, sorry, Caster. I'm probably taking more time than I should, but I'm still getting used to giving a tour. My employer failed to note it in the job description."
Gudao's tiny attempt at humor made her lips tilt into a tiny, tiny smile. "It's fine. I wasn't expecting any sort of tour to begin with."
"We wouldn't be very good hosts if we didn't. Chaldea's sort of your new home, if you'd call it that."
'I don't think I ever will.' She didn't even respond properly again, but stared stoically. He winced, and unnerved a passing employee. Only the closest robot was unperturbed.
Her jaded mind knew it well. She traveled far too long… seen far too much. She'd experienced betrayal and manipulation, and committed such in turn. She was an anti-hero who shouldn't find any sort of comfort among real heroes and legends. At most, she was another tool for Chaldea to use to win back humanity's future. She'd be fine with that, and so long as they don't cross her, she would at least cooperate.
Again, that didn't mean her failsafe plans would be discarded so easily.
There was plenty of time to think anyway. This was going to be a long stay from what she was told. Yet, it was still only a week after they began summoning in earnest. She wasn't sure how long the stay would last, or if they'd manage to maintain any semblance of balance with Chaldea's growing servant count. She doubted it. The day would come when discord would reign supreme, and she'd be ready. Medea would probably stay and help, but keep her cynical distance for when everything inevitably fell apart with time.
'By the uncertain tension within the facility, it would be sooner rather than later…' she surmised, and kept her unnerving silence tight like a warm blanket.
Nevertheless, part of her wondered if this summoning might turn out different. Her last one had delivered her, quite literally, into the arms of a stoic former assassin who cared for her. It showed her a glimpse of happiness that she could hold, even if it never panned out; The small, warm fire was still cherished and nurtured in her heart's frigid tundra. Yet, maybe here too, she'd find someone, or some, who'd give that fire just a bit more fuel to remind her of what could be. If not her master, then maybe someone else might.
Medea quickly dismissed that as the most impossible thought of what could happen in this shaken and crumbling facility.
Chapter 11: Shard 10: Cancelled Supplement V
Foreward: This is the cancelled fifth supplement for Fragments of Chaldea. It will only ever see paraphrased form, so smaller details, plot points, example dialogue, and concepts are either not well-fleshed out or missing. It may even be missing some extra intricacies since it's more of a pre-writing rough draft than a story. This still tries to give the general gist of what occurred while noting important bits for development. As such, it is subject to minor changes and some extra additions, but otherwise is complete.
Since everything isn't fleshed out, knowledge and understanding of EOR1: Shinjuku is practically required.
Series Placement: The following scrapped Supplement takes place after Fragment 86 and partly during Fragment 87.
Cancelled Supplement V
Original Spotlight Servant: Moriarty
Summary Version: 1.0
▲▽▲ Section 1 ▲▽▲
Immediately, everything turns strange. The singularity's threat level drops to benign from primary-level. The pillar's presence in the singularity disappears as an unknown barrier goes up. The barrier also prevents most of the assembled team from leyshifting in. Those that were able to leyshift in are scattered on arrival like in Babylonia. On the brightside, thanks to the geniuses' upgrades, the scatter effect is diminished.
Only four of the original twelve make it through and wind up near the masters' location: Jack, Nursery Rhyme, Medb, and Achilles.
Achilles winds up the closest to the falling masters, but is only able to save Anishka. He's about to pull out his chariot, but an unknown elderly servant catches Gabrielle. They descend to a rooftop where Medb catches up to them, and though Achilles wants to protect the masters, he's also concerned over anyone else who managed to make it through. With a quick glance, they note Shinjuku is surrounded by a tall wall, shrouded in eternal night, and has a massive unknown building sprouting from the very far end.
The masters convene with the elderly servant, who seems to be on civil terms at least. They're concerned he knows who Chaldea is and what they've done, making them suspicious, but he eases their uncertainties. He gives them the gist of the situation and introduces himself as Shinjuku Archer.
When asked of any other reinforcements, Da Vinci chimes in that only 'the kids' made it through, being sure not to say their names to an unknown servant. It puts Achilles on alert. Gabby notices and tells him, by name, to pursue, but he's hesitant about leaving the masters. Shinjuku Archer is flabbergasted she'd spit out such a powerful hero nonchalantly, especially with his well-known weakness. The others are unperturbed, but Medb is annoyed at Achilles.
Medb: You think I can't handle an old man if I had to!?
Shinjuku Archer: I'm not that worn out! Give me some credit!
While Chaldea's Control Room figures out what's preventing the leyshift from targeting the singularity, Achilles leaves to save the girls. He pulls his chariot out to make things quick, even as Shinjuku Archer scolds him: They have to keep a low profile here. Achilles doesn't listen. He's a hero, and 'someone in Chaldea' will never forgive him if he didn't pull all the stops to save these two. He rushes off and leaves Shinjuku archer annoyed.
While waiting, and fearing they'll encounter the enemy servants because of Achilles' actions, he recommends the rest of Chaldea's servants also use code or class names, Gabrielle, as expected, ruins it immediately by nonchalantly calling out to Medb because they're so close. Cue Anishka facepalming and a laughing Da Vinci over the comm link.
To Shinjuku Archer's surprise, Achilles returns barely minutes later with the girls. He's only tardy because he didn't want to go full speed with them. Again, Gabrielle just nonchalantly calls Jack and Nursery Rhyme by their common names, making Medb laugh hysterically. Atalanta appears on the holographic link to show relief her children are fine. Anishka manages to slam her hand over Gabrielle's mouth before she manages to blow her cover too.
Shinjuku Archer is absolutely stupefied at the lack of precaution before an unknown servant, but nonetheless, very amused at how Gabrielle plays it off.
Gabrielle: Oh we'll be fine! Especially when the others get here! You should see Annie's closest friends!
▲▽▲ Section 2 ▲▽▲
If not for Shinjuku Archer's warning, Gabrielle would have gotten caught in a net by crazed thugs. The Chaldean teams are more surprised these guys would even try that with such overwhelming presences on their side. Shinjuku Archer quickly explains it's because you have to be both crazy and evil to make a living in this hell. Insanity has merely become another necessity for survival among the dwindling populace, who have all become spellcasters in some way.
Shinjuku Archer offers his aid, and the other servants are quick to note his strange fighting style. No one can piece together the clues as to what his identity is, yet he knows all of their present servants. He proves to be very observant and can come to swift, accurate conclusions faster than anyone anticipated. He even rivals Da Vinci in terms of analyzing clues.
Da Vinci: It's like you're a genius or something… but I don't recall there was ever one with magic bullets and missiles.
Shinjuku Archer: And I don't recall Jack the Ripper being an adorable child with a Greek mythological mother, so let's call it even, shall we?
For the many watching in the Roman Theater, gossip begins running about as to the servant's identity. Nobunaga sees that Mephistopheles takes the most interest.
Mephistopheles: This guy is no doubt a very cunning villain who earns trust to enact his plan flawlessly. Like a top tier puppet master. I'm starting to like him.
In the control room, Gudao and Mashu argue with Da Vinci that they can't keep Anishka and Gabrielle in the dark. The guy is certainly sinister and hiding his real motivations. However, Da Vinci is firm that its best not to make any mention lest he's actually a caster and can intercept their communications in some manner. He might even be one of the ones who built this 'trap'. Sergei and Vernier agree with her assessment.
Anton tasks Meunière and a Control Room robot to observe Shinjuku Archer carefully. Before Da Vinci could request, Touko volunteers to observe his actions and expressions.
Touko: I ran my own little detective agency, remember? Forming conclusions is just a Monday for me.
In the singularity at the same time, Jack is nearly done scouting the vicinity for roving thugs while Nursery Rhyme and Anishka have a talk with Shinjuku archer about if he's here to help the place as a world-summoned servant. He laughs at it, but still reveals he's uncertain. Anishka and Achilles' reservations grow, but they don't doubt how generally interested he is in Nursery Rhyme, who has started calling him 'grandpa,', much to his amusement.
Da Vinci finally reestablishes contact. She wants to know the true nature of the singularity since Chaldea's scanners are also being jammed and they can't detect the demon pillar. Shinjuku Archer offers to tell them at a cost: Trust. It's something he doesn't give freely, nor something he expects to be given to someone shady they just met.
Anishka, Medb, and Achilles remain quiet in uncertainty. Gabrielle voices her natural impulse.
Gabrielle: I want to trust you. You've been good to us so far, but I'm still suspicious. Can I both trust and not trust you for now?
It turns out to be a good thing Gudao wasn't the one to be negotiating since he accepts that as the ideal answer. Had Gudao been there, he would have likely said he would trust him like they have many others encountered on their journey, which Shinjuku Archer would only scoff at and leave. He's not the kind to just give trust freely; He knows this even with his absence of younger memories and fragmented older ones.
An unknown servant is watching everything unfold but is only observing. He's there to cleanse the evil of this place too, but his greatest advantage is that no one knows he's even there. He's forced to wait and watch for an opening while placing his trust in the Chaldean team to set the proper gears into motion.
▲▽▲ Section 3 ▲▽▲
Shinjuku Archer explains the chaos of the singularity. Celebrities keeping chimera as pets. Roving bands of Yakuza that can wield magecraft. His explanations are interrupted when a baby's cries makes Gabrielle and Nursery Rhyme run over to help. Jack starts to follow, but Shinjuku Archer tries to stop them before it's too late. Achilles does instead with his lightning speed and hurls the carriage away from Gabrielle. The three girls are horrified, but Jack's eyes spot the booby-trapped fake doll that explodes dramatically in midair.
Scathach scolds Gabrielle over her intercom for not thinking clearly enough about the suspicious situation, but Nursery Rhyme still praises her for her overwhelming concern. Shinjuku Archer insists heavily on observation from here on and to not just act on impulse.
Medb: Telling Gabby not to act on impulse…? Good luck with that!
Shinjuku Archer ushers them to a nearby parking garage when they hear opera music. 'Coloratura', automated attack dolls, appear to slaughter citizens on a whim, leaving no corpse to waste. The enemies purposefully injure a thug that escaped to try and lure others out. It takes all of Gabrielle and Anishka's wills to hold themselves back. Nursery Rhyme, Achilles, and Jack don't fair much better with their urges to act. Shinjuku Archer doesn't want them to attract too much attention.
They don't want to attract enemy servants. He only knows of three, but still doesn't know who their leader is or if there's more. Medb agrees they need to bide their time.
Medb: It's just an evil thug. You can just look past that worthless lowlife, Gabby.
They try to escape, but in her frustration, Gabrielle doesn't see a pile of empty food cans and accidentally rattles them. Shinjuku Archer sighs as Medb giggles.
Shinjuku Archer: You'll get what you want then. We've no choice but to make them pay!
They fight them off, but ultimately stop after the last one since Jack spotted dozens more on the way with a servant leader: Phantom of the Opera. Shinjuku archer insists they run because he's part of the alliance. Multiple servants engaging him will no doubt draw a much stronger response. The Chaldean servants have a few golden apples and good energy reserves, but Anishka agrees: They need to save their strength.
They make for the clearest escape route among the enclosing blockade, which leads them onto a freeway.
▲▽▲ Section 4 ▲▽▲
The Coloratura don't pursue, but Shinjuku archer is very guarded. Anishka asks what's wrong, and he asks her to shush as they run. He's listening for a sign, and he unfortunately hears it. There's a bone-chilling howl closer than he wishes.
Shinuku Archer: Medb, Achilles. We needs your chariots. Now!
Now crowded on the chariots, the team rushes down the freeway where they speed past enemy bikers. They're not even attacking; Some are even helping some bystanders escape, confusing the Chaldeans. Shinjuku archer explains when the howl is close, the dreaded Rider of Shinjuku is near. It's more powerful than a servant should be, and its presence quickly registers on Chaldea's jammed scanners.
It's approaching fast. Achilles Chariot could make a getaway, but Medb's isn't quick enough. They look back and see the barreling wolf slaughtering anything in its path as it surges towards them, all without losing speed. Its eyes are clearly locked on them, and the headless rider on top points to them like an ordering executioner.
Shinjuku Archer gets on Medb's chariot and returns fire to try and delay. Nursery Rhyme joins him. Achilles considers getting Jack and Nursery Rhyme onto Medb's chariot so he can engage; This enemy's unnatural presence is very powerful. It rivals a top class servant.
That's when Da Vinci notices its eyes are locked onto Shinjuku Archer, and not both chariots. Shinjuku Rider is completely ignoring Nursery rhyme's attacks. It dives through the freeway, then explodes from the ground before the chariots to make them skid off course. When things couldn't get worse, Da Vinci warns over the line.
Da Vinci: You have another servant incoming! It's coming in fast-! Wait! We have a visual!
As Gabrielle and Anishka argue over a battle strategy, there's a growing roar of a motorcycle. Saber Alter appears from the way they were coming riding her cuirass. She skids to a halt to assist and calls out her intent to assist Chaldea, but Medb and Achilles have yet to dismount their chariots. Now all the Chaldeans are aware Shinjuku Archer is the sole target of Shinjuku Rider. Gabrielle and Anishka glance to each other in unanimous agreement.
Gabrielle: Hang on, pops! We're coming!
Shinjuku Archer: Pops!? Ah forget that! It only wants a weak old man like me! Just get out of here and save your energy! I'll hold him off!
Before they could argue, Shinjuku Archer detonates smoke bombs to conceal their fight. He tells them to escape and meet him tomorrow at Shinjuku Station. Gabrielle and Anishka are torn, but Saber Alter agrees.
Saber Alter: Leave him to die. It'd be better for us all if he did.
Knowing there's bigger threats, Medb and Achilles quickly agree. Though the masters and children are torn, the three race off down the freeway while Shinjuku archer battles the powerful enemy. Saber Alter gazes back in suspicion, but says nothing.
▲▽▲ Section 5 ▲▽▲
They make it to her hideout. Nursery Rhyme and Jack are sad and tearful they left the nice old man behind, and Achilles tries to comfort them. He does all he can, while Medb takes Gabrielle and Anishka aside to ask if they should really trust this Saber Alter. She might be the real cruel version they've encountered, not like the tempered, but fierce, one from the Vigil.
They get their answer when she opens the basement door and Cavall II bounds out happily barking. She's a bit blunt to it, but otherwise gives it dog food and pats it on the head. Though a bit cheered up, the two kids are very excited to see a puppy. They go over and start petting Cavall II, and it enjoys their affection, which makes Saber Alter notably jealous and peeved. She does nothing but calls her guard dog a traitor, while Achilles laments he's not as good at cheering up kids as he thought.
In the fast food basement, Saber Alter explains the situation. Phantom Demon Alliance controls the area. There were only five servants against Chaldea's larger potential numbers. Even with the ridiculous energy level spikes of each and their accompanying armies, Chaldea should sweep the floor with them easily. But the brains is not to be underestimated. She reveals it's Shinjuku Archer, which confirms the Control Room's suspicions.
Phantom Demon Alliance
Shinjuku Archer (Leader) – Shinjuku Berserker (Phantom of the Opera) – Shinjuku Rider – Shinjuku Assassin
Yet Saber Alter finds it weird he willingly helped them when they might've been able to fend off Shinjuku Rider with their numbers.
Saber Alter: That was not the man I fought before.
As they go over where they might find him at Shinjuku station tomorrow, and the reason it's not so easy, Jack and Nursery Rhyme admit they're a bit hungry. Saber Alter says that's ridiculous. Servants don't need to eat. Gabrielle points out there's a lot of fast food wrappers on the ground. Saber Alter tells her to shut up and mind her own business.
Achilles goes off to find them more food besides greasy burgers, and the children thank him. He uses it as an opportunity to scout too. Saber Alter insists the Chaldeans rest for tomorrow.
Da Vinci, David, Vernier, El-Melloi, and Sergei discuss Shinjuku Archer's strange behavior. Saber Alter said he's the mastermind, but he didn't need to sacrifice himself on the freeway. They had the firepower and numbers. They could've pulled a victory. It was a genuinely heroic move.
It even baffled the unknown allied servant who's still watching and trying to piece together the clues.
Achilles returns with the girls' food. They want to sleep, but someone usually reads them a bedtime story so they can sleep. Nursery Rhyme can do it, but Jack's heard all her tales too many times now. Saber Alter wants nothing to do with it; She goes to stand watch over the evil streets. Achilles offers to tell them some of his better stories, or some with his teacher. This excites the two, who were secretly trying to bait him into doing it as part of their plan. He begins to tell them a story excitedly while Atalanta watches from the Control Room.
▲▽▲ Section 6 ▲▽▲
They enter Shinjuku Station, but as Saber Alter explained, it is a manipulated labyrinth. There's no known paths because it was manipulated by an outside source. Scanners don't work properly and communication with Chaldea is cut off. They scour the area as a group, keeping within eyesight of each other. Saber Alter notices an encampment of thugs that she knows owns the place have completely disappears.
Saber Alter: Be on your guard. Someone made this into a trap.
They're quickly ambushed by the Phantom Demon Alliance's Army: Hornets. A mercenary army of former law enforcement and JSDF troops who are now spellcasters by Shinjuku Archer's manipulation. They're still quickly defeated, though their deadly fire proves a terrible threat to the masters. Achilles and Medb want to get the masters out of here ASAP. They double their search speed to find Shinjuku Archer, but he makes himself obvious.
He's literally destroying walls and troops in order to signal where he is. The team arrives to save him, and he's quite clearly destroying 'his own' troops. Upon being saved from an ambush, they see he took a few rounds, and Anishka comes up to heal him. He's grateful they arrived, and admits it was a terrible idea to meet them here.
Saber Alter, Medb, and Achilles are very suspicious because of that. They question him outright as soon as they exit the labyrinth and find a small secluded spot so Anishka could properly assist him. Saber Alter is especially confrontational when he calls her by name and she never introduced himself. He explains his thought process on how he arrived at his conclusion with all the clues, which surprises many. Gabrielle comments he's got pretty good skills like a detective, which he noticeably winces at.
Shinjuku Archer doesn't know his true name but admits he knows he's villainous to his core. Some suspicion falls away. Saber Alter notes his presence up close and admits he's very, very weak compared to the other him.
Da Vinci believes the one controlling the singularity wanted to be the perfect individual, and so cast aside any trace goodness by splitting; Shinjuku Archer is suspicious such a farfetched story would be bought. She explains it's similar to Mephistopheles during a past singularity they resolved. They fought an evil one with the help of the castaway good side. He's no longer surprised they trust that theory. At Gabrielle's insistence, they handshake to agree that he'll restore his saint graph for their benefit.
In the meantime, they need to grow their numbers and find a way to take down the barrier from the inside. Da Vinci theorizes there has to be some 'support columns' keeping it in place. They knock enough down, they'll be able to send in the 'Chaldean Army.' Shinjuku Archer agrees it's a good plan; Numbers mean everything in a game of chess with his evil counterpart.
It's decided tomorrow they will go out to find reinforcements, and Saber Alter knows of one. She's reluctant, but she'll lead them to 'that repulsive farmgirl.'
They break again for the night. Saber Alter keeps guard, while Achilles goes out to get them food. Jack and Nursery Rhyme bug Shinjuku archer to play with them, but he finds the notion ridiculous in such a tense environment. He agrees after a lot of their cute prodding.
Gabrielle, instead of sleeping earlier, joins them in playing hide and seek around the fast food place. He's tackled to the ground by Jackie, but laughs that he might have popped his hip. Gabrielle comments he seems to be pretty good with kids. He responds he's not quite sure, and that it just felt like the proper thing to do.
Achilles returns with food to compliment their chicken nuggets, then offers to read them another bedtime story. Shinjuku Archer watches on quietly, all while Cavall II still glares and barks at him.
▲▽▲ Section 7 ▲▽▲
They wake up to a bombardment: The Phantom Demon Alliance found the hideout. Saber Alter demands they leave, but doesn't abandon Cavall II either. She finds Jack already has the dog and is hugging the scared puppy. They quickly rally, break through the encircling hornets force, and make a run for it. The Coloratura are also closing in with numbers, forcing them to make a desperate escape on the fly.
Da Vinci is helping to guide them on a safer route, but the frazzled Chaldean scanners have to focus all their efforts on a single vicinity to get any decent view. They keep it on the escaping Chaldeans to direct their route, but they can't see too far ahead to help guide them down correct streets. The enemy units are out in full force trying to blockade roads and encircle them. Pressure mounts.
Sergei surprises the others by giving clear and concise guidance, freeing Da Vinci to try and calibrate the scanners better while he does so. The other Vigil advisors are still worried.
Lieutenant: This feels too much like Mogadishu.
Sergei: Well we learn from you Americans' mistakes. It will not repeat here.
They're letting Medb's chariot lead since it's the slowest mount. Saber Alter and Achilles are running interference to attack incoming units like helicopters and assault cars. Shinjuku Archer is providing fire support from the chariot's roof when he spots Shinjuku Rider just before it howls. They're at a loss; It'll definitely catch up to them again, and there's too many enemies shooting at them. The masters are in danger.
Achilles declares he's going to stop Shinjuku Rider. Gabrielle and Anishka try to persuade him otherwise, but he denies them. He's the fastest and strongest, plus he's still miffed he missed out on the Final Confrontation with Goetia. He promises the kids he'll see about getting them some food and toys when he comes back, then turns his chariot to slam into Shinjuku Rider.
The others split up to make a getaway. Medb's chariot goes one way while Anishka on Saber Alter's bike goes another.
Achilles begins to single-handedly win the fight against the enemy servant. He makes careful notes of the beast's possible identity, but still can't guess a name before he manages to deliver a lethal blow and force it to retreat. Proud and happy after his fight, he rides after the master through a different route.
▲▽▲ Section 8 ▲▽▲
After expending all his smoke bombs, Medb's fleeing chariot manages to lose their pursuers. They lay low in a destroyed car parking garage while a few patrols begin fighting with a very violent gang on the streets. Gabrielle and Anishka are asking Shinjuku Archer where to go next when a surprise guest unveils himself from a wrecked, hidden doorway.
Hans: If you need somewhere to hide, that fiend is the last person you should be asking. Seriously. How is one of the Chaldean masters this crazy?
Hans brings them into his secret lair beneath the destroyed parking garage. He reveals a strong biker and thug gang run this area, so not even the Phantom Demon Alliance likes to send troops here. It'll make leaving a pain, but it's secure. Gabrielle is about to telepathically tell Anishka and Achilles where they are, but the other master said Saber Alter had another better idea to save time: They're going to recruit Jeanne Alter before they return.
Anishka's team arrives at Jeanne Alter's last location to find it all on fire. Jeanne Alter is found, and Anishka quickly runs up to her to heal. She's too weak to even bat her away, and is stupefied when they'd just give her a golden apple to heal. Saber Alter complains she's not even worth that much, but Anishka insists it's fine.
Jeanne Alter reveals the enemy she fought was the other archer. After explaining his weapons, hair, and style, Da Vinci asks the Chaldean Emiya for confirmation. They quickly conclude Emiya Alter is the other enemy archer they need to watch out for. Jeanne Alter grows a vendetta against him, but quickly becomes more irritated with Saber Alter. They bicker and argue, and even almost start a fight, but Achilles manages to get them to stop by reminding them they have somewhere to be.
▲▽▲ Section 9 ▲▽▲
They return to Hans' hideout safely while avoiding detection. Achilles is finally able to tell them his observations from the fight, which allows Shinjuku Archer to come up with possibilities for both the wraiths: Hessian and Lobo. Da Vinci is perplexed how they formed a merged servant with two different backgrounds, but they likely won't be fighting them again anytime soon.
Saber Alter and Jeanne Alter quickly get into a spat again. They stop when it begins to rain, only because the rain pours through the damaged garage and into the hideout. Now it smells and feels miserable. The kids look disappointed, and Hans isn't sharing the only dry spot because his books would get wet.
In the Roman Theater, Artesia and Joan also get into a verbal spat upon witnessing it. The rest of the current audience laughs at the mirror situation, even if many of Vanguard Platoon, especially Skyler, are worried this will become a bigger thing.
Out of annoyance, Jeanne Alter heads over to an abandoned department store across the street to secretly acquire some clothes out of envy. Achilles follows her to try and get something to make the children happier; Shinjuku archer agrees to do the same. As they're searching for anything useful while Jeanne Alter finds a nice set of clothes, Shinjuku Archer noticeably winces upon seeing a discarded deerstalker in the hat section.
They return to the battered basement and the children are happy with the quick shelter Achilles manages to make. Cavall II barks happily. Shinjuku Archer makes some suitable living for Gabrielle and Anishka too. That's when a payphone rings nearby.
The unknown servant finally calls the basement. Gabrielle picks up the phone nonchalantly, which prompts Scathach to yell over the intercom she's being far too ridiculous while she's not there. She and Medb get into a small quarrel over Gabrielle's actions, but the master is listening carefully.
The unknown man on the line introduces himself as Edmond Dantes, which already ticks a warning mark in her mind. He informs Gabrielle about more of the situation, including that Shinjuku Archer is combining stories and myths incapable of being servants into 'phantoms' like Hessian Lobo. The servants they fight from here on will all have this concept, including the enemy. After giving the info, he warns she shouldn't be able to trust him either, but that's a decision she always made for herself.
She takes a nap wishing she could talk to Gudao about this mess, all while Achilles watches over the kids again. Jeanne Alter and Saber Alter quarrel on watch duty making Hans berate them for their stupidity over 'failure to maintain silence'. The night passes peacefully.
▲▽▲ Section 10 ▲▽▲
From Jack's quick scouts and Chaldea's scans, there's no doubt Achilles' defeat of Shinjuku Rider and the amount of damage to their forces has upped the alert level. Scouts are crawling all over the place, and are even starting to encroach into Yakuza held territories. They need Chaldean reinforcements fast before the enemy launches another serious offensive.
They plan to strike Shinjuku Berserker, Phantom of the Opera, at midday when the Coloratura return to their home base on routine. Their base is an abandoned theater, one of the three most heavily defended areas outside of 'Barrel', the massive mountain-sized building that is the Phantom Demon Alliance's HQ. If they're lucky, this is one of the biggest support columns for the barrier, so breaking it will allow Chaldea to finally leyshift in reinforcements.
There's a thousand Coloratura, and only so few of them, so protecting the masters is a priority. They have to be brought with them for safety because Shinjuku Assassin still wanders around and patrols have increased too. But they need a good opening to strike. Achilles volunteers to act as a decoy, but the two kids openly protest the idea. He concedes as Shinjuku Archer offers reservations.
Full frontal assault would be ridiculous. A long-ranged attack is likely to miss and draw unwanted attention. They are also unaware what the building interior looks like. He advises they should capture a coloratura so they can observe the area through its eyes. The team goes out and captures one for him.
He opens it up and the masters are sickened. Though Jack is unperturbed, Achilles still moves the girls away to tell them a story for the night. The others go to rest.
Gabrielle stays up to talk to Shinjuku Archer as he makes the bomb. He's surprised she seems so squeamish about what he's doing to it.
Shinjuku Archer: You're a magus, aren't you? You're quite the strange one.
Shinjuku Archer recalibrates the device into both a recon tool and a powerful bomb by the next morning, then they head to the fortified theater. He gives the detonator to Gabrielle, saying Anishka is far too kind to pull the trigger. He insists she'd be the one to decide when best to detonate it as a distraction, but for now, they view a small screen to see what they're up against. It shows Phantom and his amassed dolls with Christine, a Phantom doll accompanying him as their overall leader.
Shinjuku Archer, with only a bit more information, calmly lays out a battleplan that could work. Da Vinci is once more surprised at his speed, but he says it only feels natural. It's no wonder his evil side is the leader of the Alliance. All they need to do is detonate the bomb to cause the chaotic window they need.
Achilles makes Jack and Nursery Rhyme promise they'll play safe, even with their roles. They laugh and say they don't have to worry about them.
Nursery Rhyme: Even if we act like kids, we're still servants!
Jack: I'm going to dismember a lot of Coloratura! It'll be fun!
Gabrielle is hesitant on pressing the bomb, but she steels herself to do it. Shinjuku Archer activates the bomb a split second before she presses it. He compliments her, saying just that she was willing to do it was enough. She's stunned, but the servants are already moving to attack. He accompanies the masters with Medb to ensure they have ample guard.
▲▽▲ Section 11 ▲▽▲
The servants attack from all sides to try and breach through. The Coloratura file out at Christine's order to swarm the servants. Thanks to Medb and Achilles's chariots, the real strike team comes down through the roof. Shinjuku Archer shoots at the arches above each entrance, preventing the Coloratura from coming back to help. Christine and Phantom are infuriated, and try to kill the masters.
It's a one-sided fight. Achilles is far too fast, even with Phantom's boosted parameters and energy. Shinjuku Archer is always one step ahead in terms of planning, so they're never able to land a hit on the masters. Christine is killed first, and laments in her newfound mental freedom.
She apologizes to Phantom before he disappears, but thanks him for his dedication. Phantom accepts his death, saying he lived as a slave to Christine as a broken man who's wish made the evil Shinjuku Archer summon a broken woman. Emiya Alter appears and kills him outright, claiming a berserker should die like one. He's about to engage the Chaldean masters to kill on the spot as ordered by the Evil Shinjuku Archer, but is forced to pull back when Jack breaks through with a newly arrived allied Cursed Arm Hassan.
With his retreat, Shinjuku archer wastes no time identifying a powerful magic circle and promptly destroys it. It weakens the barrier, but only enough for Chaldea's sensors to gain more power.
Da Vinci: We need to take out the second location. Do you know who guards it?
Shinjuku Archer: A block of sin and indulgence of the rich. That's Shinjuku Assassin's domain.
They agree he'll be their next target after they reunite with the team.
▲▽▲ Section 12 ▲▽▲
They return to the base with the allied Cursed Arm Hassan who questions Good Shinjuku Archer's loyalties. Hans questions why his hideout has somehow become a dive bar. He also reveals the Phantom Demon Alliance's plan to destroy the world, Evil Shinjuku Archer's real goal. They immediately plan to take out Shinjuku Assassin's parlor to see if that will weaken the barrier enough.
Despite the tension added, they throw a tiny party to celebrate a strong victory. Shinjuku Archer takes the time to get to know Gabrielle more. He even jokes she must be real popular with the boys her age. She becomes sad how things never really went well with them.
Gabrielle: I guess the guy always just betrays me in the end. That's why I'm glad Gudao and I never dated. I don't think he would but... I'm just so paranoid about it...
She reveals she was always betrayed at the end of dates, and he questions why she kept letting it happen by trying again repeatedly. She doesn't answer, but Shinjuku Archer surmises it's in hopes for that one satisfying moment she finally wins. She nods quietly, and he admits he feels like he can relate to that. They shift topics and continue to drink with some others. They even play some games with the kids and Achilles.
Shinjuku Archer gets way too drunk and passes out after a few hours of fun partying. Gabrielle can handle her drink, but falls asleep anyway to sleep it off.
In the dark morning, the hideout comes under attack, and Hans blames the party they threw recklessly.
Hans: This is why no one can have fairy tale endings!
Nursery Rhyme: No! You're why!
Hans reveals he can summon a few weak phantoms of his own to at least divert their attention. It's not at the skill Evil Shinjuku Archer can do it to make entire servants, but it'll suit their needs. They bring out their mounts to make another getaway. Jack grabs Cavall II again since she refuses to leave him.
In the chaos of getting out of the danger area, the team realizes that Gabrielle and Cursed Arm are missing. They hope they got out fine, but that's when Da Vinci scans and spots Cursed Arm dropping his disguise while carrying a flailing Gabrielle: It was Shinjuku Assassin all along. He even managed to disguise his saint graph and actions as Cursed Arm to the point it fools King Hassan, who was watching in the theater.
Achilles is torn, but ultimately is forced to help protect their group as they make a run for it. The team is hounded by a lot of enemies, including Emiya Alter and several phantoms constructed by an enemy Shakespeare. King Lear and Prospero help spearhead the attack that has the Chaldeans wasting far more energy than they'd like breaking away. Achilles, Jack, and Nursery Rhyme tag team to force Emiya Alter to retreat, and they found they worked really well together.
The group makes a getaway, but they're still troubled they were stopped from reaching Gabrielle. Shinjuku Archer laments she's probably been taken to Barrel, and they don't have the strength to break through to her. Anishka is starting to freak out even as Rama and Sita try to calm her down over the intercom.
Rama: You have to stay calm, Annie! Don't let the stress get to you! Dammit! I wish I was there to help you!
Shinjuku Archer: Hmm… There might be a way. It's a Hail Mary and against my style but… Yes. Desperation calls for desperate measures.
He says they're going on the offensive, because it's the last thing they'll expect from the runaways.
▲▽▲ Section 13 ▲▽▲
In the Control Room, with everything they'd gotten to see, Touko comes to a few conclusions on who Shinjuku Archer might be. Of those, she's able to narrow it down even further thanks to how he reacted to the deerstalker hat and his hatred of detectives. She warns them that whatever he's helping plan next may very well be a trap too. Good Shinjuku Archer or not, this is a man that should not be underestimated, and he may be the double agent revealing their location to the enemy.
Mephistopheles appears in the Control Room. He came to the swift conclusion too, but it only made him really excited and wants to meet that sinister mastermind.
Gabrielle is held in magic-circuit constraining handcuffs at the top of Barrel. There she talks a bit with Shinjuku Assassin before she meets the Evil Shinjuku Archer. She's surprised it's actually him, but he says there should be no surprise. He doesn't kill her, but instead simply admits the world's destruction is his goal as a mathematician. It is possible, therefore he wants to prove the equation correct. He then leaves, and Shinjuku Assassin praises her luck before saying he has a banquet to be.
After he leaves, Gabrielle talks with an enslaved Shakespeare, who laments his condition but is glad to see her. He asks her why she's come to trust that good Moriarty. She reveals because he's genuine. Shakespeare is curious and asks why he let her get captured then. He asks her if he handed her a letter or anything, and to her relief, she realizes one was slipped into her pocket at the party earlier.
Good Shinjuku Archer's letter: I'm sorry, but you have to trust me on this. Someone I know will be coming to save you shortly! Please hold on!
They talk a bit more, and he admits he's been forced to help bolster their forces with some phantoms from his own work. He even fabricated a 'brief signal' strong enough to lure Chaldea in by making it seem like it was a demon pillar. They're being mass produced in order to properly stop Chaldea. She asks why Shinjuku Archer doesn't just kill him, but someone else answers.
Dantes: Because he's after something more than just destroying the world.
Appearing from the shadows, Dantes introduces himself again, but something feels off to Gabrielle. He still frees her, and Shakespeare bids them farewell and good luck on their escape. They manage to escape the tower the by breaking out the side and having Dantes carry her the whole time. They bolt from the large numbers of troops, but Gabrielle is suspicious about how seemingly weak and nervous this Dantes is.
When they finally reach a safe spot in a collapsed building near the tower, Gabrielle glares at him.
Gabrielle: Okay, Shinjuku Archer. What's the deal? Taking me out of eyesight to kill me because you feel like it?
Dantes: …Are you always so bold as to tempt death? You're quite something, Miss Rutherford.
The disguise is lifted to reveal Sherlock Holmes, and Gabrielle's mood swing. She immediately hugs him, and he laughs. He reveals how he was forced to stay hidden, and that this is his last current case. He explains everything he'd seen after watching Shinjuku Archer and can't comprehend why he'd do any of that, even if it was genuine. She demands if he knows who he is, she wants to know. Definitely.
Holmes: No doubt, the man you've been aiding is the Napoleon of Crime and my greatest rival… Professor James Moriarty.
Holmes: …You… don't know who Moriarty is?
Holmes is amused and exasperated, but says that they'll let him do all the explaining when they meet up with him. As another surprise, he's currently assisting Anishka break the final column for the barrier. Barrel serves only one purpose in its construction, but the three bases around it kept the barrier up. Once that one is down, Chaldea can invade Shinjuku properly. Gabrielle becomes really excited.
▲▽▲ Section 14 ▲▽▲
Anishka was very feminine, but Good Moriarty is a master of disguise. He manages to make her appear like a effeminate man, and she sneaks into a celebrity party with Saber Alter and Jeanne Alter to help scout for the barrier. Jack is sneaking around in the lower levels too while Nursery Rhyme is pretending to be a book carried by Anishka. Achilles, Medb, Hans, and Moriarty are waiting on the roof to strike.
Moriarty is a little annoyed the alters are playing around with Anishka by dancing, taking pictures, and otherwise pretending to woo her upon learning she's a lesbian. They succeed in flustering her a lot, which Rama and Sita worsen my explaining the Control Room is documenting it too.
Holmes reunites Gabrielle with the others on the roof, but confronts Moriarty about his actions. He reveals his true name to them all, making Achilles exceptionally guarded. It gets worse when he admits he was hoping Gabrielle would get captures so they'd have full confirmation the evil him really is leading the alliance. Gabrielle still insists they can trust him, and Moriarty is flattered by it.
They talk quickly about Moriarty's plan to destroy the world. Barrel's name is literal. The building is a massive barrel to guide a meteor to the earth's core to destroy the world. Moriarty's fused phantom allows him to make things he wills into conceptual projectiles, and he's going to use it to pull a powerful meteor that passes earth on that year.
Even if he has the meteor, Da Vinci says it's impossible to do so with so many failsafes. Holmes counters history removed from the world can be erased. That's when she realizes that's why this singularity drop off the radar as benign: It wasn't because it's an intricate trap, but because it's so separated, its resolution has no meaning for the greater history of man anymore. Shunjuku no longer has meaning, so the Evil Moriarty can destroy this singularity's world without interference from the Counter Force or something else.
That also means when the barrier is down, Chaldea can leyshift the masters back with no worries. They can leave this singularity to its fate and never look back. Holmes says they should convene with Anishka on what to do, but Gabrielle insists they're staying. Anishka would agree too, Rama insists over the line.
Shinjuku archer then fills them in on the actions below and what he's decided upon. Holmes actually compliments him, saying he was always a master of planning.
Saber Alter, Jeanne Alter, and Anishka are not able to find any hint of the barrier's intricate circle in the ballroom or adjacent rooms. Shinjuku Assassin, disguised as Saber Alter, enters the ballroom to greet the celebrity guests. He meets eyes with the real Saber Alter and Moriarty laments the situation from the skylight.
Moriarty: …This possibility was so low I tossed it aside.
Holmes: You getting a bit rusty there, Professor?
The hornets enter to begin evacuating Shinjuku Assassin's sponsors, giving the team time to break through the skylight. A battle ensues, and in all the chaos, Shinjuku Assassin manages to hide himself as one of the hornets. Gabrielle yells out for him to show himself, and he's momentarily stunned she managed to escape Barrel. That yelp of shock was enough for them to pinpoint who it was, and Jack quickly rips off one of his arms to permanently mark him.
On the verge of defeat and in total panic, he orders the building detonated, and it comes crashing down. The explosion destroys the magic circle supporting the barrier, and it finally collapses. Chaldean reinforcements are leyshifting into the rubble. Atalanta quickly rushes over to her kids who happily hug her, then she smiles warmly to Achilles.
Atalanta: Thank you for looking after them.
Achilles: Well, y'know… Just something a hero should do, right?
Some stand guard while others begin to help wounded people out of the debris. Mephistopeles goes over to Moriarty to compliment him. They seem to hit it off well. When Rama helps a wounded man to his feet, Moriarty quickly shoots him fatally with his coffin gun. Rama is infuriated at first, until the man drops his disguise and speaks.
Shinjuku Assassin: How did you know!?
Holmes: Moriarty and I have fought each other for a long time with disguises. We can tell a real dying man when we see one.
Shinjuku Assassin disappears as he laments his brief summoning filled with sin and satisfaction. Gabrielle and Anishka's teams are now fully assembled, plus some extra reinforcements.
Gabrielle's Initial Team
Scathach. Medb. Quetzalcoatl. Atalanta. Jack. Nursery Rhyme.
Anishka's Initial Team
Rama. Sita. Raikou. Kintoki. Fuuma. Achilles.
Extra Reinforcements with lots of Golden Apples
Shuten. Ibaraki. Arjuna. Karna. Parvati. Mephistopheles.
Before they can begin to plan the final assault, they hear the howl of Hessian Lobo, but Da Vinci detects their presence. They're more on par strength-wise with a merged pillar at this point. To make matters worse, it's a lot faster, and another phantom was merged because it's invisible to the eye; They're only spotting it with Chaldean thermals. Whatever they did to heal it, they're a total monstrosity, but Moriarty was already planning for this contingency.
They just need to buy time, which is easy for the present force.
▲▽▲ Section 15 ▲▽▲
They begin a hasty retreat if only so they can properly discuss the plan on the move. They have the firepower to take it down, but they're trying to minimalize collateral damage as advised by the UN observers. Gabrielle and Anishka agree with them. Whether the singularity matters or not, they're not monsters themselves. They'll try not to get innocents in the way. Moriarty's plan took that into consideration already.
Moriarty: Gabby wouldn't let me hear the end of it. Of course it's been factored in!
Holmes: If only you were completely good at heart, you could have been incredible.
Moriarty: And I'm not now!?
Saber Alter & Jeanne Alter: No. Now keep talking.
Lobo was first caught by a trap in its story, so it would likely be a weak point. Raikou, Ibaraki, Shuten, and Fuuma are slowing its progress while the rest of the team escapes to build the traps. They need another decoy to likely get through the now maddened and enraged looking avenger. Unfortunately, Bianca is not in this singularity as a phantom, so they can't use her. They agree the traps is the best way to secure an all-out strike unless they figure something else out.
As they're hastily building traps for the night attack, Jack comes into the room to ask Atalanta to read her and Nursery Rhyme a story before napping. The assassin is hugging Cavall II to her chest.
Mephistopheles proves to be the extra trap builder, but he waves compliments off and says all those times helping Nobunaga with prank bombs improved his speed. He and Moriarty talk a lot about different traps, acts of betrayal, and schemes as if it they were Sunday sports. It unnerves many. Holmes is merely inquisitive and ever watchful.
Everyone pauses their work, especially Moriarty and Holmes, to stare at the pure white dog. Saber Alter completely flips out that they wouldn't dare, and Jeanne Alter actually agrees with her.
Jeanne Alter: Leave the mutt out of this!
They lose. They wind up using Cavall II for the trap after Fou convinces it over the Chaldean intercom to help. Kintoki translates for both of them. The young dog is actually happy to help its friends. Saber Alter is mortified, and Jeanne Alter takes a moment to enjoy the sight.
Gabrielle, on Saber Alter's bike, is the lure. They race along the streets to attract Hessian Lobo's attention. Hornets move in to support, but Arjuna and Karna's personal contest of 'who can destroy the most' wipes out entire squads of their force with every little attack. This leaves Hessian Lobo as the sole chaser, but he's catching up quickly.
They speed past the traps, but they fail to catch the enemy duo; Even its mind is sharpened and agile. The final trap has Cavall II waiting curiously by it, and it barks in distress as Saber Alter's bike races by. The bark and sight of the dog moves through Hessian Lobo's mind, and causes a brief jolt of reminiscence. Jack quickly snatches Cavall II out of the way before it's nearly run over by the skidding avenger. The empowered pair careen into the conceptual trap that snares one of its front paws.
Achilles and Medb's chariots speed into the skyline to bring their archers onto the rooftops. Moriarty, Rama, Sita, Raikou, and Atalanta open fire to devastating effect. Hessian Lobo is quickly pulverized into a bloody mess with the initial volley. As Shuten, Kintoki, and Ibaraki charge in to begin the final strikes, they skid to a halt as a bloodied, dismembered Hessian leaps off Lobo's back to surrender. The headless man throws his lone arm's weapon away and raises it in surrender, standing between them and the bloodied Lobo.
Lobo, with its front paw torn off by one of the attacks, limps away miserably, though it still glares angrily forward. Gabrielle and Anishka call off the attack, but Raikou insists they should continue. Shuten and Ibaraki glare towards the fearsome hero, but she keeps her bow drawn and ready.
Raikou: This was supposed to be a quick decisive strike! My children… If for nothing else, we must put the poor thing out of its misery!
Lobo collapses onto the ground with everyone watching. Hessian dies standing after one last glance to its companion. Cavall II runs up to Lobo and barks towards the much larger animal. It stares to it, gives one last whimper, and Anishka tearfully orders Raikou to put it out of its misery. The arrow doesn't miss, and Cavall II runs back to Jack making depressed whimpers.
Achilles comes down, but can only watch as Atalanta tries to calm a crying Jack and Nursery Rhyme.
Moriarty and Holmes talk with the masters. If they're going to avoid anymore sad sights like that, they must end the singularity. It's time Moriarty let Gabrielle and Anishka coordinate the final attack.
Moriarty: Well, Chaldea? I've heard much about your victories. It's time to show me what kind of strategies you employ. I can't have all the fun!
▲▽▲ Section 16 ▲▽▲
The Phantom Demon Alliance has assembled their full force around the Barrel in an attempt to stop the Chaldeans, but it's futile. Their numbers would have meant something if there was less of them, but they've deployed a lethal strike force. A bombardment from the legendary archers alone begins to tear a hole right down the center. The bombardment continues, even after the force takes flight. Jack, as agreed upon with Saber Alter, carries Cavall II with them so it won't be left behind again.
The chariots and an armada of Quetzalcoatl's flying mounts tear through the sky towards Barrel. Their plan is to circumvent the countless troops and phantasms of Shakespeare's troops on the ground to land on the roof. Some servants will land on the floor just below Evil Moriarty's floor to cut off reinforcements. Arjuna, Morairty, and Raikou begin bombarding enemy anti-air emplacements and troops to keep their approach safe. Enemy helicopters are swiftly destroyed along the way.
They tear through the skies, but Emiya alter unveils himself. He begins firing from the rooftop and starts taking out Quetzalcoatl's mounts with unnerving precision. Rama and Sita are quick to keep him in check with their own attacks. He suddenly stops firing when he spots Parvati among their number. He can only stand on the roof as the Chaldeans finally land, but he stares at Parvati like he's just seen a ghost.
Parvati: If there's any good left in you, you won't try and stop us.
Emiya Alter is speechless but doesn't attack anymore. Parvati, Karna, and Arjuna stay on the roof to keep watch over the disturbed archer.
Kintoki, Fuuma, Shuten, Ibaraki, Raikou, Jack, Nursery Rhyme, Atalanta, and Achilles break into the layer below to hold the advance.
The masters follow Moriarty, Holmes, Saber Alter, Hans, and Jeanne Alter to confront his other self. Medb, Scathach, Quetzalcoatl, Rama, Sita, and Mephistopheles follow.
▲▽▲ Section 17 ▲▽▲
Moriarty confronts himself, and Mephistopheles shows open interest in both. He regales both of his time when he was split too, saying it was an unusual experience that made him learn a lot about himself.
Mephistopheles: I guess everyone has a little bit of good in them. Who knew? Maybe I could try casting my goodness away again too?
The Evil Moriarty ignored him and talks with his counterpart and Holmes. He doesn't deny he's going to end the world. It's merely logical. Holmes is skeptical though. If everything is still to his plan, why did Chaldea have such an easy time subduing him. He replies it's simply because his own fused phantom's special ability is already active. That meteor they feared is already on its way. Not even killing him will stop it.
They stop talking and attack.
On the floor below, the servants easily hold off the reinforcements. Jack, Nursery Rhyme, Atalanta, and Achilles make a great team. Shuten, Ibaraki, Raikou, Kintoki, and Fuuma look far more dysfunctional by comparison. Kintoki is begging half the time that Raikou and Shuten's occasional "missed" attacks shouldn't be trying to provoke the other.
On the floor above, Quetzalcoatl is getting bored while Arjuna keeps an eye out for the incoming meteor. Parvati talks with Emiya Alter, but he's being cynical and vague about his real mission. Karna flat out exposes him by saying he only considered Chaldea an enemy in order to keep a valuable position for himself. He's hiding his real enemy and asks who it is.
Emiya Alter: Isn't it obvious? You came here for them too.
▲▽▲ Section 18 ▲▽▲
The Evil Moriarty is defeated. He drops his empowered sword cane, which the good Moriarty picks up just in case. But the second their enemy dies, there's a spike of energy that explodes from the top floor. Baal, the hidden pillar, reappears from the disappearing corpse of the fallen ringleader. Its power exceeds regular pillars, and its taken on a humanoid form. The meteor called down is still approaching.
It explains its hatred for the Chaldean masters while Hans comments this is actually an interesting twist for once. It spews its disgust that two weak mages and a staunch pacifist were the ones to defeat Goetia. This whole time, it plotted to kill them and justify its disgraceful escape from the Time Temple. To this end, it agreed to assist Moriarty with his own plan.
Before Holmes could question the act, Good Moriarty, the true one this whole time, stabs him from behind. He is quickly absorbed through his sword cane. Mephistopheles laughs in glee and claps as he unveils his true colors. Moriarty quickly jumps beside Baal to unveil his memories had finally returned: They'd erased their memories in order to lure the masters and Holmes into the perfect trap.
For his seventh bullet to work, the one guided by the devil to someone he close to him, Moriarty had to get close to someone, which is impossible for the evil mastermind. Thus, he wiped his mind so he could get close to a Chaldean master and have the seventh bullet, the conceptual meteor, target them without fail. It also allowed him to evade Holmes' radar to finally defeat him in the only way possible: By genuinely being on his side until the very end. They'd accomplish both Baal and Moriarty's goals, and the Counter Force wouldn't stop them.
Not everything went to plan though.
Even after all the threats and close calls, Da Vinci refused to let Gudao deploy 'just in case' things escalated further. Baal wanted all of them destroyed, but it'll have to suffice with two out of three. Emiya Alter and Parvati run downstairs to join the fight: Baal was his target the whole time, and he's more than content to lend a hand.
But the two enemies use the grail to empower themselves further, and the meteor appears overhead. The clock is ticking, but their enemy has a concept on their side now. Because Moriarty absorbed Holmes, he has the power of both, and is able to thread the proper needles to keep the battle going until the meteor slams into the singularity. Mephistopheles sees an opportunity, and switches sides to betray his Chaldean masters. They're horrified as he activates his noble phantasm to seemingly target the masters.
It never activates. Moriarty saw through the ploy and quickly shoots Mephistopheles through the stomach. Baal follows up by piercing it with its tentacle, just as the bombs fail to detonate around the two. Mephistopheles was aiming to assassinate or at least weaken Chaldea's enemies, but they prove too omnipotent.
Mephistopheles: Maybe I'm losing my touch…
Da Vinci scrambles to get the leyshfits working to pull all of them out, but it's too dangerous. They have to stay still to properly leyshift. It's too much of an opening with the assaults from below and above. They need a proper opening or they're the risk of a mishap, which has the potential for death.
Anishka saves Mephistopheles with a command seal by bringing him to her so she can heal. Gabrielle begins directing the attacks while Medb, Rama, and Sita guard them. The battle escalates even after Baal is defeated, but Moriarty is seemingly invincible through the combined concept of him, Holmes, and the grail. If he still lives, the meteor will continue to come down. It's only when Hans comes back with a now-freed Shakespeare, thanks to the real and newly arrived Dantes, that they pull their own tricks.
They summon the phantoms of as many known detectives as they can. Though only support, their real potential shines after the Chaldean team manages to provoke Moriarty into declaring that he was indeed the true culprit all along. The detectives are then able to prosecute him as 'guilty', and the conceptual mandate causes Moriarty to lose far more of his 'protagonist' power that he gained from absorbing Holmes.
Now weakened, he is quickly defeated while Arjuna, Saber Alter, and Emiya Alter destroy the incoming meteor. He curses his defeat, but Gabrielle points out he could have won far sooner. He's surprised she's still talking calmly to him as he lies dying on the floor.
Moriarty: You're within killing reach, you know?
Gabrielle: And also for another hug if I wanted.
Moriarty is confused once more. Gabrielle has known betrayal from many she's grown close to. Many pursued her just to get what they wanted, but she never truly hated them for it even if their bonds fell to ruin afterwards. She just hated herself for always falling for it. It's her fault, but she still enjoyed the times she'd spent with them when she believed it wasn't a lie. Even so, she believes this wasn't a lie either.
Gabrielle: You held back, didn't you?
Moriarty: Me? The Napoleon of Crime holding back? …Yea. I guess this was more fun than I thought. You're an unpredictable, crazy girl.
Instead of trying to pull a fast one, he willingly gives her the grail with his dying breath and says she'll probably just use it as a big beer stein to drink with her celt friends. Medb and Scathach chuckle and agree she would do that. He laughs and wonders if they'll meet again after all this.
Gabrielle: Maybe one day when I pull another servant and not weird Mapo Tofu. But don't be such an asshole if I do!
Moriarty: You're asking a lot of unreasonable stuff, but that's just like you, isn't it?
Moriarty disappears, the remaining enemies fall into total retreat, and the Chaldeans are left waiting for the leyshift. Gabrielle clutches the grail to her chest while happily talking to Anishka. Jack is holding on tightly to Cavall II while Saber Alter demands she give the puppy to her other self. She then gets into a little fight with Jeanne Alter as she changes into her formal dress.
Even as she's disappearing, she asks Anishka for a final dance she never got. They dance while others watch, and when they stop, she disappears, followed shortly by the Chaldeans.
▲▽▲ Thematic Title Insight ▲▽▲
Butterfly Effect implies there's huge rippling changes from one solitary event, but it doesn't appear to be present at first glance. Most of Supplement V's design is actually very close to canon with the addition of more relocating and guerrilla activity. This is misleading on purpose.
The title "Butterfly Effect" actually points towards Moriarty's development and not the singularity itself. Since he was supposed to be the focus, it was going to show his slow and genuine growth when he comes to like the Chaldeans, especially Gabrielle, who's sort of like a peppy out-of-control daughter he can't understand. The little moment was Gabrielle being the one present and answering about trust, and the dramatic change was simply bolstering what canon decided: Moriarty, who had never came close to anyone in his life, and saw everyone as tools, had finally bonded with someone. In particular, Gabrielle, who metaphorically moved a mountain.
Chapter 12: Shard 11: Supply and Demands
Area 51's underground complex would have conspiracy theorists spinning webs for decades. Though many rooms, technology, and equipment were among the highest secrets in the planet, much of the sprawling facility was the usual song and dance. Training rooms for soldiers, mess halls, barracks, and more were merely the essential parts of any military base.
With all the new surface expansion popping up ever since their task force themselves, it was only going to get bigger.
Supplying this massive branch of the United Nations was often easier than many expected. Increased funding from over a hundred countries had certainly steadied their future's foundation, and their warehouses had never been fuller. Their own supply issues were always small and easy to work out… by military standards at least. That's why Commander Pritchard was happy to add Chaldea to its logistical network.
…But they were a far bigger headache Pritchard only ever got a glimpse of.
Shard 11: Supply and Demands
It was just another large underground room. Typical metal bracings for the ceiling and walls. Industrial shelving plastered the wide expanse to make sorting fairly easier. Robots hovered to and forth to move boxes with the occasional help of an advanced forklift. A few supply soldiers in basic Vigil fatigues moved about too, but mainly in a supervisor role with clipboards.
Most warehouses at Area 51 were busy. Ever since last week, Logistic Warehouse 19 felt like Christmas was around the corner. The proverbial flood of orders and requests from the Chaldeans was an unholy bombardment… a Sodom and Gomorrah of supply and demand. If the workforce had been anything but robots, there may have been a mutiny. Yet the robots worked tirelessly and efficiently, while occasionally voicing a question.
The colonel really hated when they asked questions. Not because he hated robots, but because even he didn't believe the answers that spewed from his mouth. Yet, they were always right there, on the logistical form in front of him, in plain ol' English he grew up with. The robot hovered before him with a large package awaiting an answer, and he simply nodded.
"I don't know why it wasn't marked properly, but this is definitely fragile. Please be careful with it."
"Aye, Sir," the robot responded, then picked up the box with the help of another of its kind.
Yet, as soon as they moved away, he had another task. He turned to one of the newly installed consoles by the warehouse's desk. At the trio of monitors, two Vigil soldiers were quickly browsing different websites as dictated by the order forms in front of them. The one closest to him had Amazon pulled up, and she was by far the most efficient; He was ever grateful she also complained the least. Her humming was even a nice break from the massive grind.
Yet, it wasn't all bad. They got some curious insight into the possible interests of servants within. As protocol, Chaldea only gave them identity numbers instead of names. It offered some fun; He sometimes made it a tiny guessing game to figure out who ordered what before looking at the number. "…Any strange orders this time?"
"I had to individually order a bookstore's worth of Japanese comics, sir," one soldier piped up. As soon as the colonel turned to him, he saw a thousand-yard stare; It was unnerving. It was the kind of look one got after seeing war for the first time. "…They were all guy on guy. Can I take a smoke break early?"
"…Ten minutes, Sergeant… but I'm not counting."
The colonel stared into the maw of the medium-sized parcel again to ensure every item was present. Robots were efficient, yes, and he'd never say anything to incur a possible revolution from their metal team, but every box, its contents, and packaging must be double checked by him before it left for Chaldea. They already made one mismatched mistake, and though minor, he wasn't about to look bad for a building full of heroic spirits…
That didn't mean he didn't scratch his head every now and then. He looked over the checklist again. "….Yup, exactly seven pairs of red fuzzy cuffs… There's the sex swing… two petite schoolgirl outfits… two petite maid outfits… two, four, six, eight… ten edible candy thongs for men… So far so good."
He had to refrain from cracking a smile. Chaldea had a few orders like this in the past week, but they were mostly experimental. They were always by the same two numbers, who ordered together. From what he guessed, it was an Irish couple based on the Ireland style magazine and newspapers that came with their first order. It seems like the couple finally got more 'ordinary' stuff in this order too.
"September and August Issues of Sportstar… Femina… Pratiyogita Darpan… India Today…" He stopped going down the checklist and squinted his eyes. He glanced up at the order recipient numbers. He blinked. And blinked again. "…Wait… These aren't for that Irish pair? Who bought these…?"
The Colonel shouldn't be laughing, but he couldn't help it. He stared at the lone metal drum, whose lid was popped off for inspection. As expected, the lone item was there, and after a nod, the robot quickly secured the lid as another began tightening the ratchet straps to ensure it didn't spill its content. He imagined it would've been a nightmare if it did, but he could only chuckle at the thoughts as he walked down the warehouse to one of his soldiers waving him over for inspection.
"I can't believe someone actually bought a fifty-five-gallon drum of lube."
The colonel stared into the two small shipping containers as he slowly shook his head. A clipboard overflowing with order forms was pinned to his side. "…Alright. It's all there. An entire library of games released and compatible for Xbox One and Playstation 4, along with the consoles."
A robot hovered up to him dutifully. "Are you ready to check the Nintendo container, sir?"
"Well, no, but I'm getting paid to juggle this chaos, so let's get it over with."
…And to think, he still had the Arcade systems and computer container to check.
'At least it wasn't enough medical supplies to supply three hospitals for a year...' He still had nightmares about that order.
Six cups of coffee later, the colonel felt like his eyes were going to explode; That meant it was almost five in the evening. They had one more hour to wrap up the orders being shipped to Chaldea tomorrow. Everything else would wind up on the next day's shipment… but he still couldn't believe how much stuff they could order. 'Where was all this money coming from!?'
The Vigil may handle the logistics, but Chaldea still paid for it and their express shipping.
He carefully inspected one such bought item curiously. As a fan of motorcycles, he couldn't help but admire this one. He wasn't a huge nut by any means, but he quickly recognized the Suzuki Hayabusa sitting perfectly secured on the shipping palette. It was for a servant who had only ordered books previously, so this had been quite the surprise. A bookworm with a lead foot, it seemed.
Yet, he couldn't shake the real question from his mind as he ensured the straps were taught and the item in pristine condition. "Where the hell are they going to ride this?"
If it wasn't for the necessary secrecy and the logistical nightmare of getting something to the true location, most orders from Chaldea would have shipped just fine. Some would be under heavier scrutiny. This was one of them. It was uncommon, but there were orders that were best delivered by the United Nations since it meant they knew where the specific equipment was going. As for why a servant needed some of this was... another question altogether...
"...rhino mount... Ops Core carbon L/XL in olive... PVS-14... AN/PEQ 15... EO Tech 552..." The Colonel merely stared into the large box and slowly ran down his current checklist. "...This one's a mouthful... KWA SR10 9mm gearbox... Yup, that's it alright. Wow, they got themselves an FN sidearm too... and a ricebag of biodegradable BBs..."
He was always a bit envious of the Major; At least he got to fly back and forth while he was stuck on inventory just wondering who was getting all these strange boxes. 'Damn classified info... If only he could just tell me without getting court-martialed.'
"Someone arming themselves for a little game of high velocity tag, sir?" the robot quipped, beeped, and stared into the box with him. He's heard Airsoft players could get crazy with military simulation, but he had to wonder if that was going to be the same case with this servant.
"I guess so. I wonder if that order of paintball guns for that other servant got has anything to do with it... Strange arms race if it does. Could be worse..."
What made him really shudder were the orders that were denied by their Director before they even left Chaldea. He shuddered to think about how unreasonable those lists were.
He hated when it came to this, but it was occasionally necessary. The soldiers ordering at the monitors stared at the colonel as he held the phone in his hand. Soon enough, the dial tone ended. Pritchard's voice echoed through, "Lieutenant Colonel Welks? Is there an issue?"
"Requesting advice, sir. There's a priority order from Chaldea's top that we're unsure how to fulfill."
Pritchard sighed gently. "I've given you the necessary authorization to acquire what's needed. You don't need to ask. I know servants can be a handful…"
As if on cue, the Vigil caster's voice laughed in the background, but the colonel remained unconvinced. "You have, sir, but this extends outside my jurisdiction. I've talked it over with my staff and we've come to the conclusion this needs to be a small operation that requires the requisition of several transporters to fulfil in a timely manner."
Pritchard paused, and the caster made a confused sound in the background. Finally, he answered. "…This is Requisition order Hotel-Golf-Bravo, isn't it?"
"You're aware of the requisition, sir?"
"Very aware, I'm afraid. Da Vinci herself gave me a heads up before its arrival. I didn't think it would be coming earlier… And it will indeed be a small operation to fulfil. I already have some staff negotiating the export tariffs for the materials. I'll need you to make a team to handle weighing and quantity count."
The colonel looked to his staff in surprise, then spoke once more. "Understood, sir… But, permission to speak freely?"
"Sure. What's on your mind, Welks?"
"Why does Chaldea need ten metric tons of sand from the vicinity of Baghdad, along with other landscape material."
"I would've been as clueless as you, Colonel, but their Director insisted it's for a possible project. Something about an exotic Arabian garden."
No one said logistics was easy, nor made any sense sometimes… At this point, it was just the norm when dealing with Chaldea.
Chapter 13: Shard 12: Another Glimpse of You
Series Placement: The following shard takes place during Fragment 47, between Scenes II and III.
Jekyll double checked his cravat. Then his black suit vest. He fixed any uneven wrinkle on his white dress shirt. Then his cravat yet again. For the thirteenth time he pushes up his glasses, folded his hands on the table, then let out another sigh to calm his nerves. 'What are you doing…? Hyde would be tearing into you if he saw this.'
Mordred too, to be honest. But he couldn't help it. He was unbelievably anxious to make sure everything went right this time after that terrible misunderstanding between them. Even if she forgave him, and admitted her own fault, he didn't want to make another mistake again. It was even more paramount now that they were a couple and this was their first date.
"Good luck, Doctor. You'll be fine," Nightingale quickly greeted as she passed swiftly, bringing him back to reality. Their table, sprinkled with some rose petals and the full assortment of dinnerware for all courses, had been perfectly set by Marie herself. There was even a lovely silver candelabra atop the pristine white linens. The silverware had been precisely placed by the robots too. All that was missing was dinner and his often-feisty date.
Yet for every second that passed, and each glance his way from nearby tables, he was getting more antsy. Everything had to go right or he wouldn't hear the end of it. He rehearsed some lines in his head, made sure his throat was free of potential hiccups, checked his cravat yet again… Good heavens he was fidgeting a lot. He needed to calm that down before- "I didn't keep you waiting, did I?"
Her voice sent a shiver down his spine, but he quickly smiled and turned to greet her as she sat down… but he found himself speechless.
Shard 12: Another Glimpse of You
He wasn't sure how long he'd stared, but he couldn't help it. He's known Mordred well for many months. They'd grown close, and he'd seen sides of her others wouldn't even think of. She was a truly lively, rambunctious, yet straightforward person who was more than eager to show off when she could. But as she sat down, he was granted a new sight even he hadn't anticipated.
Every slither of her wild hair was tamed. Smooth like silk, it raced behind her back freely, past her bare shoulders. Painted in her favorite color, the red, off-shoulder dress with little frills on the edges clung gently to her figure. A silver necklace hung around her neck, whose gentle chain held a tiny replica of Camelot's emblem. They were matched by a set of earrings that dangled with little ruby teardrops. Though her hands were hidden, he was willing to bet her nails were also carefully manicured.
Jekyll breathed quietly, and felt the gentle smell of a pleasant forest river tickle his mind. Even her perfume was a play from left field, and stole more of his words away. He watched quietly as the lightly blushing saber fidgeted a bit, then finally turned her stunning emerald eyes his way. Beautiful couldn't describe her properly, but a voice in his heart also cried out something else.
"…Henry? Are you going to say something?" Her surprisingly soft voice finally snapped him out of his stupor, and he blushed sheepishly and fixed his glasses.
"Forgive me… I'm a bit speechless. You're absolutely beautiful." At least he managed to say something, but then quickly added. "You're like the spitting image of your father."
Thankfully, that got her to smile a bit. It was earnest and small, and told of her struggle to hold back the enthusiasm over a compliment like that. She failed anyway. The smile grew a bit more, and she let out a tiny chuckle he knew so well. "…Thank you. That means a lot."
"I mean it. You look so… pretty. I could barely imagine what you'd look like in a dress, uh, no offense!" She only glared playfully his way, though her smile was sincere. Still, like the voice in his heart, her eyes seemed to reflect exactly what he felt. "It's a lovely look on you. I wouldn't mind seeing you like this more often but… maybe just every now and then, and only when you wish."
She stared curiously as he sheepishly scratched the back of his head. He was very, very worried about screwing something up on the first date, but he just had to say it. He could tell even she was thinking it, so rude or not, he was honest. "But it still feels… not quite like you… I mean, it feels-"
"It feels wrong." His heart had skipped with concern when she answered, but she only sighed with a small moan. "I know what you're getting at, Henry. I'm not dumb. I feel so uncomfortable wearing all this and the makeup. I feel like some damsel. And this thing feels so fragile! Like I could rip it if I tried to run or something!"
"…Only you would try and run in a dress," he mused honestly, then smiled as she let out one of her more genuine, toothy chuckles. "Like some secret agent. Are you wearing boots and I just can't see them?"
"No, but I thought about it," she chuckled again, and her little blush slowly faded away. That settled it for him. That light flush was embarrassment and discomfort for being out of her element. Though she was a beautiful rose all dressed up, it wasn't quite who she was. But it was still a nice look on her. He couldn't help but let his mind wander a bit more, and think what she might look like in a ballroom gown, or a sundress, or even…
'No, Jekyll. It's far too early to think about a wedding dress.' Knowing Mordred, she'd opt for something daring and unusual anyway. He merely smiled as she looked at her crimson painted fingernails, then glanced back at him. "It was Asolfo and Fran's insistence… but I don't have to do this for every date, right?"
"How about just the fancy ones, your majesty. For a special date or two, just for me? That should be few and far between. I think a suit fits you better anyway." His offer earned him a grateful nod and that bright, toothy grin that made his heart quiver in all the right spots. "A deal it is then. But I'm piqued. Did they teach you etiquette too?"
She scoffed blatantly, and unknowingly already indicated otherwise. "I'm gonna be the heir of Camelot! Of course I know my manners! Father taught me!"
They were so caught up in their conversation, they missed all the amused stares now turned their way. He smiled teasingly, "Is that so? Then can you show me the dessert spoon?"
"That's easy!" she puffed her chest eagerly, then glanced at the dinnerware before her. She paused. It turned into hesitation as he watched the cute realization there were multiple knives before her. Her pout was both unrefined and adorable. Without an extra second, she reached to the side of her plate and snatched the spoon to hold like a sword. "This one! So you can have more with every bite!"
"...Of course you'd say something like that. And that's the soup spoon," he pointed out, earning him a fiercer, playful glare. He returned it with a fond smile, and her gaze slowly melted into an embarrassed fluster. Though a fully set table, complete with three different drinking glasses, was a rarity, she should've known that was the soup knife at least. Then again, was she one to ever care too much about specifics? He smiled apologetically to her, "You're still learning from your father?"
"And uncle too…" she admitted quietly as she sulked lightly and placed the knife back down. "Royalty is hard… There's so much little fancy stuff. It's so stupid sometimes!"
"But you'll get there. I can even help if you want. You know I believe in you." She gazed back into his eyes again with a warm smile, and three simple words flowed through her eyes and filled his heart. He returned the act with his own stare even as a robot began pouring them wine. "Your father does too… the knights… Mama Shirou."
She burst into laughter and presented another toothy grin. The sound warmed his heart just as much as it mixed beautifully with Jeanne's singing to form the perfect melody. Even her tiny little snort from laughing too hard made him chuckle, more so because it clashed with her current polished beauty.
Yet the realization quickly donned on him as all his rehearsed lines and anxieties were long forgotten. They'd already done so much together. There was no need to put on some sort of flawless courtship dance; His nervousness was unfounded when everything just fell so naturally in place. He felt silly, but also satisfied with his fate as his smiling lover recomposed herself across from him.
Fancy first date or not, it was still Mordred, no matter how beautiful she looked.
Chapter 14: Shard 13: Hidden Warmth
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 70 and 71.
High above the resort, the afternoon sun rained its warmth onto the beach. The sand looked inviting. Every wave beckoned for a dip in the cool sea. Some birds pattered about gently nearby, but the little assassin remained where she was on the boardwalk.
The resort was so very large, and Yedda felt so very small.
Countless whispers of the many other identities filled her mind, but her own worries drowned them out. She was allowed to stay separate, but she thought the others deserved more for all their contribution. Of all of them, she was the meekest, and she stood clutching her little Hassan mask to her tiny white dress while waiting. She was supposed to meet the other children here, but there was still some time to spare; She dared not be late.
Hesitantly, she looked about as the few beachgoers paid her no mind. No one passed near, and only a cleaning robot nearby could greet her. As it cleaned a bench, one of its eyes stared towards her, but shyness overcame her. She held her mask and stared back quietly until the robot looked towards its task again. Even a few seagulls coming closer to her feet made her a bit nervous and uncertain. She fed some yesterday with the others, but she was alone right now, and… and…
She froze as the seagulls took flight in a panic, but she still shivered at the familiar voice. "What business does thou have here?"
Shard 13: Hidden Warmth
Yedda quietly turned around to stare up at King Hassan's opposing figure. He'd appeared in his flash of blue flame, but its heat only sent shivers of concern racing through her. They'd talked very little after their pre-dinner encounter yesterday. Truthfully, even if he seemed accepting of her existence, he still scared her. His figure was like a true reaper before a mere lamb.
She shook noticeably as she struggled to find words. King Hassan merely stared back quietly, and she wondered what he was possibly thinking. "Still you tremble? Once more, I am no cause for fear, little one."
"…S-Sorry, Grandpa…" Yedda stammered gently, and nearly took a step back in concern.
"I ask again. What business does thou have here? Why dost thou linger?"
Gathering her courage for a simple question, she swallowed. "…I'm waiting for my… playmates."
He obviously noticed her pause. "Playmates? Are they not friends?"
"I…" she fiddled with her mask gently. "…I don't think they think I'm their friend yet…"
"Why is thou uncertain? The young ones befriend quickly."
"I-I don't know… I just don't think I'm worthy enough yet… I mean…!"
She trailed off as his silence unnerved her as she felt the heat of his gaze pour over her. She was getting scared again that something would happen; Big sister Asako, Serenity, and Cursed Arm were nowhere near to help her. She felt even smaller, and quivered. Finally, King Hassan's voice boomed firmly. "Thou art a Hassan. Thy worth is created by thy own hands. Thou knows this as but one of Hundred Face."
Now ashamed and fearful, she could only quiver and dip her head. She clenched her mask, and then squeezed her eyes shut in fear as King Hassan took a step towards her. She quivered, but felt nothing. Concerned but curious, she squinted an eye open and saw the taller assassin's move was stiff yet unthreatening: He'd knelt down awkwardly before her.
His scolding was light too. "Thou must be assertive and confident. Hassans are proud."
His calm demeanor calmed her shivering. Flooding with the resolve Hundred Face often formed in battle, she quickly nodded her head to try and appease him. "…I-I'm sorry. I'll try harder. I don't want you to be upset with me!"
He nodded once. "Then be confident. Act of thy own choosing, and pursue thy desires without tarnishing our sacred name."
"Yes, Grandpa…! I'll make you proud!" she nodded again, and relished in the suddenly instilled courage. It was slowly being overcome by her own natural shyness. The newfound silence didn't help as he stood back up to full height. Clutching her mask uncertainly, she glanced around quietly in the awkward stillness.
As the seagulls finally began flying back without concern, King Hassan glanced around, then stared at her. "When will thy friends arrive?"
Embarrassed, she fiddled with her mask and looked down. "…We're meeting at two but… I came early…"
"…Twenty minutes remain. You linger long."
She shamefully held her mask and blushed lightly. "…I was worried they'd be early… and I don't want to make them wait, and and… and I couldn't wait for the time and… I'm sorry."
"…Thy concerns are endless. Thou must work to remedy that." Again, she could only nod in embarrassed, shy shame. But his next words caught her off guard. "There is time. Would thou like a dessert? Thou hast tried the frozen delicacy, correct?"
"…Ice cream…?" she asked quietly, then watched as he nodded firmly. "…Um… Would it be alright…?"
"Remember mine words. Act of thy own choosing and pursue thy desires."
Ashamed she'd been meek yet again, she nodded shamefully, but quickly found her courage like the heat of battle. She had to make a decisive strike with all her missteps! "…Grandpa! I-I'd like some ice cream! Can you get me ice cream?"
His quiet stare made her flinch, but his next act finally knocked the uncertainty from her face. Her eyes glittered with small bits of hope and surprise as he nodded. "That's better. As a reward, I shall treat you. Come."
He turned towards the Club entrance and began walking. Hesitating for a moment, her mind screamed not to upset him again; Another scolding would embarrass the name of Hundred Face! Holding her mask, she quickly scampered over to catch up… then daringly reached up to his hand to hold it. Stunned by her own boldness, she froze as King Hassan stopped. He stared to her, and though she quivered with uncertainty that she made a mistake, she didn't let go.
A few seagulls cawed behind her as she stared and waited for a response. Finally, King Hassan stared to her hand holding his, but did not scold her. He let it be, even if his fingers did not move. He merely nodded again, and continued his walk as Yedda followed while holding on. They passed through the doors in comfortable silence.
His armor was cold, but her hand felt pleasantly warm as a tiny smile snaked its way onto her lips.
Chapter 15: Shard 14: A Lesson Learned
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 40 and 41.
"…This is one of the best singularities we've ever had." Mashu and Jeanne giggled at Arturia's wonder-filled comment. It'd been a few weeks since they got to explore as a trio, but this benign singularity gave plenty of opportunities. The biggest decider was when Edison dragged Gudao off so he could give him a grand tour, with Helena and Karna following to ensure his safety… mostly from the inventor's excited banter.
That meant they, Gabrielle, and the several other deployed servants, got to enjoy one of the most unique supply sorties to date: The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
Its air was relaxed but vibrant. The crowds were cheerful, well-dressed, and equally well-mannered. They kept their eyes peeled to help the scouting assassins, but Jeanne had to wonder if they weren't being distracted too. It was a proverbial sea of opportunity and design, where hasty pseudo-palaces scattered about held conventions and showcases for many country's advancements and cultural achievements.
There were over a fifteen hundred buildings over a thousand acres, and they likely only had several hours to explore.
Without a doubt, Jeanne was excited. She'd never gotten to experience such lively and crowded events, full of mirth and optimism. As the largest World's Fair, this was a cake topper. Mashu was having the time of her life as her eyes darted between passing stalls and many visitors. Their eyes were equally as perplexed and curious at the trio of beautiful, armored servants as they strolled down the aisle.
But none were as excited as Arturia, whose calm and dignified demeanor had crashed like the Hindenburg. With shining eyes, and barely contained hands, her eyes darted from stall to stall. Their colored fronts and awnings beckoned to her, but not more than the delicious aromas that wafted from their offerings. Few could defeat the King of Knights, but if her two friends weren't careful, this long stretch may become Camlann of a far different kind.
Of all the exhibits, they currently walked down a crowded mile of food concessions, restaurants, and cafes that few the World Fair.
Shard 14: A Lesson Learned
"Arty, can we go see the lagoons? I hear Italy brought some gondola rides!" With her mouth full, she made a muffled response to the saint's inquiry, but Jeanne giggled in appreciation. "Thanks!"
As legend depicted, this World's Fair was a blossoming field of modern American culinary treats. The hot dog, peanut butter, ice cream cones, and others were purportedly made here among other showcased inventions. To Arturia's obvious delight, one of those had just been proven since the stand selling steamed hotdogs ran out of plates, and had begun using warmed buns instead.
To no one's surprise, Arturia had quickly paid for a handful of hotdogs: The very first ones ever invented, or so legend it goes.
They began their stroll to the gondolas in happy conversation, though the occasional passing restaurant always caught Arturia's attention. Jeanne couldn't blame her, for they caught hers too. Between groups of regular stands, there were very-well made restaurants. Some flaunted the cuisine of France and beckoned for her, while others, like a Japanese installation, called out to Mashu. All of them undoubtedly called out to Arturia's stomach.
But one voice called out to them. "Jeanne!"
"Oh, Diarmuid!" Jeanne had to grasp a slightly sulking Arturia by a free hand to ensure she didn't escape. They quickly strolled past many food stalls towards a gathered crowd. Diarmuid, with hands akimbo, stood smiling and waiting for them while the towering Fergus eyed the stall's center; Many around him eyed the friendly, hulking mass of muscle instead.
As Arturia munched on one of her last hot dogs, Diarmuid tossed her an amused look. "Emptying the coffers of your kingdom?"
"The treasury will not drain here with these prices," Arturia reassured as a few witnesses tossed them strange looks for their words. They didn't care; The people would forget what happened here when the singularity was resolved, and it would be. A bit shamelessly, Jeanne just wished, like her friends, it wasn't resolved too soon so they could enjoy this. Fergus certainly seemed to as he cheered happily with the crowds, making Arturia tilt her head. "What's going on here?"
"It's a pie stall. They're hosting food eating contests to drive up sales," Diarmuid answered as Mashu tried to get a look over the many shoulders. "Fergus is joining the next round."
At the mention of his name, the big saber turned around, spotted the three women, and grinned. "It's classic American food! All you can eat apple pies for ten cents entry!"
The girls and Diarmuid quickly laughed when Arturia's eyes flared like supernovas. "All you can eat…? Ten cents? Is this food heaven?"
"No, it's Pie town!" Fergus chuckled back, and cheered with the crowd. "I think there's still room in my bracket? What say you, Arturia? Care for a friendly competition?"
A shiver went up Jeanne's spine, and she glanced to Diarmuid and Mashu with slight worry. They knew full well how competitive Arturia could get if pushed, but they had never seen it involving food. Their concerns faltered as Arturia's expression fell unusually calm and thoughtful. It seemed she would be- "I must warn you, I'm a big eater, and it looks like you've been feasting already! But if you just want all the pies you can have while I take the crown here, I'm all for it!"
Jeanne shivered as she felt the sudden, electric current that flared from Arturia's eyes. Thus, their gondola rides would have to wait a bit.
At the front of the crowd, Jeanne, Mashu and Diarmuid watched as their two friends calmly took their seats before a table. It was covered in a classic picnic blanket, but there were still some splotches of pie pieces on its surface. The first pies were already placed before them and their fellow competitors. Most often looked curiously to the calm, but small King of Knights at the end of the seats.
Fergus took up a lot of room with his build, but he was getting most of the attention while he cracked his knuckles and let out excited cheers to the onlookers. The announcer, an old man with a bushy beard and a bowler hat, chuckled, "Well now, looks like this man's ready to eat several dozen pies! We may know the winner already!"
"I don't aim to lose!" Fergus calmly chuckled as he eyed the stacks of pies at the stall behind them. Many more were still being baked, but a fancy red ribbon with a golden one remained the center of his attention. "That ribbon will look great in my room! No hard feelings, everyone, but it's mine!"
The announced laughed again. "What confidence! All those muscles need to be fed! We might have to give out two ribbons just to keep it fair for the others!"
Arturia's calm glance to Fergus only unnerved Jeanne. She then stared to her friends, smiled lightly, and then gazed to the pie before her. Jeanne glanced over to Mashu, whose clap of a shutter indicated she just took her first photo in memory. Without its flash, she wouldn't be gathering attention, but Jeanne had a feeling that wasn't going to be a worry. Fergus and Arturia would certainly keep the attention to themselves.
Yet, the saint had to wonder. Competitive or not, Arturia was still one to keep up appearances. She was a beautiful king with a calm demeanor, and pies could get messy. But Fergus challenged her to a competition, and she got really heated when it involved that; She still remembered their friendly game of football in the Sixth Singularity. Her feelings were mixed, but her optimism and belief in her friend kept her hopeful.
"Contestants, are you ready to begin?" Most were cheers, but only Arturia gave a calm and silent nod. The man noticed, and chuckled. "Don't worry if you don't take first, little miss! Everyone's a winner here!"
"Of course. Hunger is the enemy of all." Her calm declaration confused the man, but he merely shrugged, smiled, and waved to the audience.
"Ladies and gentleman, without further ado… Let's crown a new champion!" The ring of the bell was both the beginning, and the end.
The crowds cheered as Fergus quickly began eating a large slice of his pie. He chewed through it quickly, and easily, while trying not to be messy about it. One single bite tore through nearly half of a slice, yet he wasn't slowing down. It was made clear to the unknowing spectators his boasts about being a big eater weren't a lie. The Celts were known for partying, and Fergus' appetite, thirst for alcohol, and battle-enthusiasm were only ever rivalled by his libido.
Jeanne found his calm, but voracious, eating skills were impressive. They'd never had a competition quite like this, but the friendly saber was just as competitive as his comrades. But, with growing concern, her eyes were torn elsewhere; Many others were too. It was only when Fergus had to pause for a surprised assistant to bring over a second pie that he had a chance to observe the crowd. His eyes then turned towards Arturia…
…and fell equally as flabbergasted as the vast majority. Even his fellow competitors were holding their pies in unrivalled shock as Arturia destroyed her third pie; There was no better word to describe it. Though she sat straight, refined, and prestigious, there were pie smears around her lips as she practically shoveled half a slice into her mouth.
Barely a few quick chews, and it was gone. Jeanne, Dairmuid, and Mashu understood well Arturia's stomach was a black hole, but they'd never seen her eat with such ferocious intent. It was clear all the taunts and banter beforehand had only ignited the competitive flame. Jeanne's only salvation was that her dear friend was being as regal as she could about devouring entire pies like they were cookies. Yet, the little smears around her mouth tried to portray her as some sort of animal.
By all means, her appetite was best described as that too.
Determined, Fergus rallied. He quickly took his second pie, signaled for another from an assistant, and devoured it. He was messier this time, but he was determined and desperate. He nearly crammed it down his throat, and Jeanne saw him struggle. The contestant next to him stared in surprise and wonder as he did the same with the third. He nearly choked eating too fast, and was forced to go for his water. In the small pause, he glanced over and nearly spat out his water when he saw her stack of empty plates.
Despite the growing shock, and even horror, in the crowd, Arturia only continued on to her seventh pie, leaving the entire competition in the dust. After a small glance over to them, who stared like statues even as the clock ticked, Arturia smiled with satisfaction. Jeanne fell relieved; Her competitive hunger was sated. Her friend had sent a clear, and obvious, message Fergus would never soon forget: One does not simply challenge the King of Knights to a food eating contest and expect to win.
With a calm smile, Arturia eased up on the gas, and looked to be enjoying the victory lap that was her eighth pie.
Chapter 16: Shard 15: A Peace Offering
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 39 and 40.
"Oh I get it. You're just afraid to leave your boyfriend with two servants looking for a fun time? Is that it?"
"That's not…! No, I mean…"
"Thy nerves would quiver lest if thou speaks truly." Her words weren't a lie, and Mashu quickly faltered into a conflicted stutter. With arms folded across her Chaldean outfit, she glanced away. The uniform-clad Gudao quietly reached over and rubbed her shoulder soothingly, though she barely reacted. Ibaraki smirked beside her in victory, but that wasn't destined to last. "Ibaraki. Play nice. Must I remind you the little shielder is thy ally now?"
With a look of betrayal, the other Oni's gaze snapped to Shuten. She could hardly suppress her giggle, and she didn't. Her dear Oni friend reminded her of a child that had her candy snatched away. But Shuten only smiled calmly and continued following the pair down the hallway. "Much remains to grace our eyes. Our hands can be tied but a bit longer, no?"
Ibaraki made a disappointed groan, and Mashu glanced back with guarded concern for her choice of words; That was reasonable for the demi-servant. Shuten was an Oni, and their threats were to be taken seriously. In truth, only the command seals served as any sort of leash, but there was nothing more dangerous than keeping Onis within biting range of their master.
Yet, what came with boredom could be curved, and there was much to be curious about on their little tour of this brightly lit, new home.
Quietly, as Ibaraki pouted beside her, she waited for Gudao to reach their next point of interest so he can enlighten them. They'd only just left the summoning Chamber and were approaching their first intersection, but what she'd glanced so far, she hoped Chaldea wasn't just corridors and rooms of futuristic- "Hey, Maste-! What!? No way! Those two Onis really came!?"
…All of a sudden, Shuten's interest, curiosity, and bits of hope melded together.
Shard 15: A Peace Offering
Shuten halted and gazed forward upon a long-lost memory, who'd turned the corner but moments before. In an instant glimmer, the blonde-haired berserker further down the hallway had reacted instantly. He'd donned his battle-attire again, and she couldn't help but stare at how outrageous it was. Black track pants with golden accents and an obnoxious belt buckle. An oversized coat with pristine white fur lining and golden accents. More golden accessories than one could count… It was an obnoxious and foreign wardrobe, without any doubt.
… but… 'My… The boy looks delicious in it.'
He met her sultry smile with a small flinch. Behind those black shades, his eyes were no doubt rivetted with guarded concern, just like that singularity. Stiff as a board and with clenched fists, they stared at each other in a fleeting second that lasted for an eternity. Even with Ibaraki beside her, she knew his gaze was on her. She could feel it, and it only made her roil with her own devilish desires. "We meet again, boy~…"
"Right, right… The annoying hero was here, wasn't he?" Ibaraki grinned maliciously with both annoyance and devilish intent. Like Shuten's own smile, hers was a window into her soul. Though hers was for a pleasure of a different kind. Her own Oni bloodlust was rising, and it was putting Kintoki on greater guard.
It unnerved Mashu, who'd quickly materialized her armor and turned between them and the onis. The master only looked on in careful concern, but he seemed to be waiting to see what happened… It was amusing, really. Such a naïve but charming boy was willing to give Onis a chance among others; His words weren't a front after all. She would have marveled at it more, but she had another Oni to calm down. "Now, now, Ibaraki… The boy wouldn't act without his axe."
Sure enough, Ibaraki scrutinized him for what Shuten's calm perception graced. He still hadn't summoned his axe, even after so many encounters with them. Yet he'd shifted to his battle attire instinctively. He, and everyone, were wise not to trust Onis. It was reasonable, but somewhere in her devilish heart, there was disappointment that went unacknowledged.
"Do we really have to be allies with this guy?" Ibaraki spat out as she folded her arms over her chest. Mashu was becoming less tense behind her shield, but Gudao only watched calmly as Ibaraki reached back to scratch her ear. "I think I could manage maaaybe not trampling over the others, but not a Minamoto, and definitely this one…"
It put Kintoki on his guard, and he squared up with muscles further tensed. "Hoy, Master… Are you sure this is golden? They're Onis… They're not exactly the most trustworthy beings. I would know. You have to keep your guard up around them or you're asking for bad news."
The statement was reasonable, but she felt the slightest inkling of a sting that time. The pinch didn't show past her sultry smile, nor in her eyes, but an Oni's feeling and impulses were overwhelming compared to humans. Even small, hidden desires were amplified in the heart and mind of an Oni. The craving echoed, and his hard words rattled, but it took far, far more to break an Oni. If anything… she was only further enticed. Kintoki flinched lightly as she giggled and calmly approached.
"Such harsh words… It's just like days past, isn't it, boy~…?" she teased with her devilish smile as she gently pushed Mashu aside; The demi-servant's eyes widened at the mighty strength behind such a calm act. But she was Shuten Douji, and even frail as can be, she was not to be underestimated. Still, she glanced to her master as she sauntered past him. "…Or maybe not… Thou shares a master with Onis now… does that trouble you~?"
He stared at her firmly as she continued her approach, but Mashu stared to Gudao with alarm. "Senpai…! She might do something!"
"I'm sorry, Mashu. You know me. Innocent until proven guilty." He had a small, apologetic smile. Shuten would've turned to stare in curious wonder he'd be so lenient, but she had a bigger interest in her mind.
She came to a stop within arm's reach of the muscular berserker. Further away, robots, a few servants, and some employees were already forming accidental blockades as they stared. Some of the humans were slowly being affected by her famously toxic presence, but the man before him didn't waver. Yet he didn't back up either. He only stared to her firmly with furrowed eyebrows as she stood dangerously close and placed a finger to her lips. "Thou shouldn't leave a lady waiting, boy~…"
"I don't think your presence is a golden omen…" he finally admitted quietly, and she finally felt a sting even as she giggled. He was clearly troubled and conflicted, and part of her heart sighed in disappointment. He was always a fun plaything, but it was apparent it was never the case of anything more. What signs showed from his childhood days had clearly vanished with adulthood… His shaking fists were an indicator, and a reminder.
It was a distant dream. An impossible and curious impulse in her demonic heart. He was a hero, and she was an Oni. Even if he was mixed blood himself, it wouldn't be. It could never be. Onis and humans were incompatible; He and Raikou were always right on that. So she didn't blame him for any of his reservations today. Her smile held easily, even as his fists shook. "Small or not, you're still Onis! I'll be keeping my eye on both of you!"
"I know so, because it's hard to take thy eyes off mine body~…" she teased with her devilish smile. Her battle attire was pleasantly free, and barely covered her. Even in this terribly younger form, she knew she was enticing. But, maybe if she had her more matured form, she might have swayed him more. Or perhaps not-
"That's the worst part!" Kintoki suddenly yelled. Shuten's smile finally faltered… but with surprise. Suddenly, the once firm and guarded boy had looked away with a light flush on his cheeks. Still recoiling with shock, she was still registering what was happening when he made a fine mess of fussing with his coat. "What's with that outfit!? At least that kimono that other time only showed too much leg!"
She blinked, but her sultry smile returned. "Oh~…? Thou hast seen me in far les-"
"Don't bring that up!" Before she could react, he'd finally ripped his coat off of him… then quickly threw it around her. Her smile collapsed again into a blank stare as surprise retook the helm. She stared about her as he gingerly ensured the coat was both snug, concealing, yet non-restrictive. The gentle care in his hands, even as he amusingly stared at his work with a light blush, was not lost on her. "Th-There! All covered! Now you won't be charged with public indecency by any other Peacekeeper!"
She looked into his eyes, past his glasses, with lingering surprise. He stared back firmly, then realized how close their faces were and quickly jumped back. He crossed his arms over his muscular chest, stared away with a blush, and nodded twice. Ibaraki blinked in annoyed confusion as Gudao and Mashu glanced to each other in surprise. Kintoki only cleared his throat awkwardly.
"…You can return it when you find better clothes… But until then don't take it off or you'll be hearing from me… I mean us! I take my Peacekeeping job… I mean we…" Kintoki paused, but Shuten took the moment to giggle at the flustered berserker. He was but a firm and strong hero moments before, but now he reminded her of the boy she first met back then. She giggled her sultry laugh as the flustered man jabbed a finger towards her. "Just follow the rules and don't cause trouble! Gudao is giving you a chance, so I will too!"
He began his march away, but the bundled Shuten only stared after him. He caught the smile and paused to stare, so she smiled deviously, "…Always the entertainer, boy… I'll eat you up one day."
Kintoki faced forward quickly and stomped away. The crowds began to disperse, but Ibaraki quickly hopped next to her with a sigh. "What the hell was that all about? That guy is such an idiot… Giving you his armor and all…"
Shuten only giggled lightly in response as she gently clutched the cloak with her small hands; It was the bandage she didn't know her heart needed.
The coat still lingered pleasantly with his warmth, and she wrapped it tighter to bathe in it.
Chapter 17: Shard 16: Unreasonable Satisfaction
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 86 and 87, during Cancelled Supplement V - Butterfly Effect.
Smoke choked the top level and burned within his lungs. Smoldering fires from the battle raging on lower floors crackled and heated the unyielding steel his crumpled body slammed against. His vision was blurry, and pain became his sarcophagus. Sounds fell muted, and he couldn't even hear his glasses slamming to the ground beside him with a crack. He could only see blurs of color and the vague light of the skyscraper's ethereal center column as warm blood wet his once pristine suit.
His breaths were shallow, but his old lungs still worked on whatever power he had left. The adrenaline had vanished just like the power from the grail. His grip on Holmes had crumpled to nothing with the authors' counter play. His mind searched for options, but all was confirmed when he spotted the shattered remains of his weaponized coffin a dozen meters away… crushed under the heel of a powerful and mighty Mesoamerican goddess.
…It was checkmate, against Moriarty... as he expected.
Baal's crazed ambition was impossible from the start. Chaldea could never break to a sole Demon Pillar and a handful of servants, no matter what phantom manipulations he had to pull. The pillar had settled for the death of the masters and several servants, but he secretly knew that was unmanageable too. But it enticed his mind with a challenge, and Moriarty could never resist proving something was possible.
That's what led him here, onto this cold floor where death quietly waited to cart him away. Even with the grail, he could not achieve Baal's wish… but he certainly achieved his plan. He always did. Even as agony strangled broken bones and twisted old limbs, his heart swelled with overwhelming joy. After so long, he'd finally defeated Holmes… his grand dream and aspiration grasped without doubt with witnesses.
Somewhere in his blurry vision, among Chaldea's many servants, there was a snap. He felt the instinctual loss, and knew his cane was broken. Freed, Holmes would soon reform as himself again, and the grail too. Moriarty cared not. He won, and Holmes would be forced to acknowledge it… but with fading breath and strength, the master weaver, the King of Crime, would gladly pass away with everything settled.
"Gabby! What are you doing!?" "Moriarty could still try something!" "He's too dangerous to approach!"
…Or perhaps, there was just one more account to close.
Shard 16: Unreasonable Satisfaction
Moriarty creaked his neck towards the familiar figure who walked up beside the mangled deceiver. He mustered his strength. "…You're within killing reach, you know?"
"And also another hug if I wanted." Gabrielle's quiet reply echoed through him. He merely stared as she knelt down, uncaring if her leggings drank from a growing pool of blood. He was not at a loss of words or breath, but he dwelled on her words as he felt a powerful aura begin to reappear. In one mangled hand, the grail reformed, and he could tap it for more energy if he wanted. Part of him wanted to out of curiosity over what he could still do…
…But his mind was set long ago. He chuckled, but his voice was cracked and ragged. "Still giving an… old man a headache, I see…"
They fell silent. He knew the other servants were watching keenly, and two began their approach. It was probably Scathach and Medb. Those two watched over Gabrielle well… just like he had. That integral part of his plan was the pillar to his success, but it came with far more than he anticipated.
"…Was it worth it, Pops?" Her voice was painfully quiet, and he turned to observe her again. He saw the glints of sadness in her eyes… the barely contained tears and disappointment he'd witnessed so many times in those who became his pawns. He never thought anything of it. It was of little concern to the grand schemes he made, and would never give a second glance to those he trampled and sacrificed on the chessboard to earn his goals.
He smirked with satisfaction. "…It was like fireworks… Magnificent… A careful choreography of timed explosions that entrenches itself in the minds of those who witnessed. An overwhelming display of precise calculation…! It was magnificent, Gabby… a better show than I ever imagined."
"But all that's left after is smoke and silence…" Her expression fell further as her first sniffle leaked out.
"I disagree… It is a fleeting but vibrant success. A grand moment to look back on." Slowly and secretly, he was tapping the energy from the grail. He needed just the little bits of energy to do what he needed to: One last act. He just needed to buy time, which was easy enough for such an often gullible and irrational girl. "…And what about you? Was trusting me so closely worth something?"
To his surprise, Gabrielle sniffled, wiped at a teary eye… but smiled lightly. "…Yes."
He lay there staring at her. Medb and Scathach had drawn close enough he could see them. The lancer was poised to strike in an instant, and the rider's legs were taut to make a leap to get her best friend to safety. They did nothing more. He did nothing either as he shared a silent gaze with Gabrielle.
The moments he spent in self-deceit rang clearly through his mind, even as he relished in the fading glow of his own personal victory. They were interesting times, filled with annoyance, irritation, and disbelief over the girl kneeling beside him. Every turn, she was always finding a new way to make him scratch his head or scold her for her impulsive ridiculousness. Of all the people who could help save humanity, he couldn't grasp that she was one.
Just like he couldn't grasp the answer to his question. After everything she told him… Betrayal from sex-seeking former friends. Being cheated on by several boyfriends. Other mages expectedly using her helpfulness at the Clock Tower to get at something, then discarding her. By all accounts, she should be absolutely furious, even if she should also be at fault for coming to trust someone so obviously evil!
Yet Gabrielle knelt here, beside him, smiling and weeping gently with tiny sniffles as the world smoldered around them. She wasn't strangling him. She wasn't giving the order or ripping the grail form his hands… the grail he still drew power from to hold on just enough. He could only stare in silence as he finally asked. "After everything you've been through… How? Why?"
"…Because it was still fun." Her smile grew a bit, even as she wiped a tear from her eye. "They were jerks… Everyone who used me to get something. I told you… but I didn't tell you I only blame myself for it. I'm the one who keeps falling for it, you know."
"You really need to fix that…" he mumbled back, and she giggled lightly with a nod.
"I know… but I can't help but keep chasing it. I enjoyed the moments… before it all falls apart. I had fun, so it wasn't all terrible. I still treasure those memories… and hope one day I'll find more that will stick around that let me enjoy more... Like Gudao… Medb. Scathach… So many who will make all this pain of searching worth it!"
He chuckled and shook his head. "…I suppose we'll never understand each other after all."
"Maybe… But I know this wasn't a lie like the others." Baffled, he stared at her as she wiped her teary eyes, then giggled. "…It was fun, wasn't it?"
Moriarty stared, stunned… and a bit amused. In his silence, she giggled again and pointed an accusing finger at him. "You held back, didn't you?"
"…Held back?" Finally, he scoffed and narrowed his eyes. "…Me? The Napoleon of Crime?"
To his disbelief and amusement, she only stared back confidently with those orange, optimistic eyes. Medb giggled, and Scathach rolled her eyes, but chuckled lightly too. Finally, Moriarty's surprised expression collapsed with a small scoff… but a content smile. "…Indeed. I guess this was more fun than I thought. You're quite the unpredictable, crazy girl…"
The memories flashed through him again. Never before had the Napoleon of Crime given anyone the time of day more than necessary for his plans. But with Gabrielle, he found himself pulled along like a youngster at a park. It was an impossibility at its core: Moriarty actually caring about someone genuinely.
Yet, it came to be. And in that moment, it was a challenge his heart and mind decided to keep.
With the last subtle trickle of energy from the grail, he had enough energy to do what he'd planned since her approach. In an attempt to sooth her pain over his betrayal, yet another on her growing list, he grunted lightly. Scathach tensed, but Medb was the one to hold her arm out to stop her. The queen smirked as Moriarty slowly lifted his mangled arm, with grail in hand, and calmly presented it to Gabrielle.
She stared at it, sniffled, and then quickly took it to hold tightly to her chest like a teddy bear. He chuckled, "…I won't be needing that anymore, but I'm sure you'd like to have it… Though, knowing you, it'd be a beer stein to drink with your Celt friends."
Scathach and Medb chuckled as the lancer lowered her guard. Gabrielle only giggled and nodded eagerly. "I don't think Da Vinci will let me!"
"And that would stop you?" he voiced quietly and accusingly, and she gave him a mock stink eye tarnished by her warm smile. He smirked back and shook his head at the first person to ever make room for herself in his cold, calculating heart. The pain was surging again, but it could not rival the pure satisfaction of his personal victory, and the surprise gift he found along the way. As he felt his energy drown further in a swirl of agony, Moriarty mused quietly. "… I won't go so easy on you next time... That'd be… very disrespectful to such worthy opponents."
"I hope we'll summon you soon so I can show you around Chaldea!" Again, he earned his surprise stare at her outright confidence and enthusiasm. Her eyes were tearing up again, but she clutched the grail happily to her chest and smiled with overwhelming hope that always made him cringe; It didn't with her. "Maybe one day when I pull another servant and not weird Mapo Tofu… But don't be such an asshole if I do!"
As a chorus of laughter echoed from servants scattered about the room, Moriarty wiped his shock away for the last time. He smirked at her, shook his head, and mustered the last of his waning strength. "You're asking a lot of unreasonable requests… but that's just like you, isn't it?"
The smoke in the room was dissipating, but his lungs burned. His vision blurred further as his body began to vanish in a swirl of gold and blue dust. But the pain was vanishing, and with it only satisfaction remained. He shared one last, warm smile with Gabrielle, just like the many they shared in so few days. His passing would follow the death of his last personal desire, but it gave way to a new one that flashed in his mind in his final moment.
'…I wouldn't mind watching after her again… Planning the demise of her betrayers would be fun…' He offered one last chuckle as his body vanished. "Until then… Congratulations, Chaldea… and be safe, Master."
Gabrielle smiled, clutched the ornate chalice to her chest, and nodded with a satisfied giggle.
Chapter 18: Shard 17: Growing Maturity
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 90 and 91.
Alone in one of the Shrine's rooms, Illyasviel sat under the cozy warmth of a kotatsu. She was even cozier wearing her comfortable purple, long-sleeved shirt with a matching scarf, a favorite of her parents and brother. It was very comfortable, so she could see why her other self liked it so much. She wondered if that Illyasviel would have loved the Japanese culture she grew up with, just like the magical girl sometimes enjoyed her noble wardrobe.
None could ever argue the Shrine wasn't atmospheric. For such a small area compared to the larger Chaldean rooms, it tricked the mind well. One could easily think they'd stepped out of Chaldea and into Japan. That was always one of the more surreal, but beloved, parts of Chaldea for Illyasviel. It also made her homesick.
At this point, the magical girl had gotten so used to hopping dimensions and points in time. Her sister likely felt the same, but there was always the small longing for their past home… a place with friends they'd never see again. It was a sore spot that would never quite heal, but as their older brother sadly said, it was a tragic part of growing up: Knowing some things in your life will just never be the same.
The trick was never letting go of what was, but ensuring it doesn't become an anchor as they accepted what is.
"Illya! I got the tangerines!" Thankfully, Chaldea helped ease much of the home sickness.
Shard 17: Growing Maturity
"Oh! So Chacha decided to join us, hmm?" Ruby pondered aloud as it flapped above Illyasviel's head. "What caused the change of heart?"
"Chacha pitied you all! You clearly needed a noble leader, so Chacha will rightfully take that position!"
Illyasviel glanced over to her sister across from her. Kuro glanced back as she sat down with a bunch of tangerines clutched to her new pink t-shirt. She began placing them onto the table as the young berserker finally strolled in from the sliding doorway. Kuro hummed, "We usually let Illya do all the decision making, so you'll have to get in line."
"That's because you didn't have a proper leader before, but now you have Chacha!" They sighed together as the seemingly always battle-clad Chacha sat down on another edge. She looked excessively prideful with her pompous posture and closed-eyed smirk; It made Kuro's eye twitch. Illya only laughed with exasperation and a civil smile.
She decided to shift the topic. "Um, Chacha? You were a grown woman before, right? So why did you manifest as a child?"
"Mmm… Does it matter? Chacha is still Chacha, so Chacha will never lose her elegance or authority!" she answered calmly with a proud smile, then held her open palm out to Kuro. The archer only stared at it incredulously. Chacha pouted at her, huffed, and pointed with her other hand. "This is a gesture of tribute! Chacha requires a tangerine to enjoy!"
"She sure didn't mature well…" Kuro grumbled under her breath, making the refined berserker fume as the archer casually tossed her a tangerine, then gently rolled one to Illyasviel.
"The nerve! I'll have you reminded of your proper place with time! Do not forget it's a privilege to be in Chacha's presence, to whom even the sun prostrates!"
Illyasviel giggled sheepishly. "Eh… Be a bit nicer, Kuro. I'm sure she'll get used to us."
Kuro only shot Illyasviel a simple, deadpan that said it all. Something like, you've got to be kidding me. Before she could even voice it, a small baby's cry echoed from the hallway. The three turned to look at the sounds of scampering feet and the gentle chatter of some adults; She could hear Elsa and Raikou among them. Kuro hummed, "Guess the others are finally here."
"Good! Chacha demands entertainment! You were to play some boardgames, yes?" Illyasviel didn't answer, but quietly got up, smoothed her white skirt, and walked to the doorway. She glanced back to Kuro, who only raised an eyebrow and looked like she was about to complain. It came telepathically.
"You're not leaving me here with her, are you!?"
Illyasviel smiled back reassuringly to both of them. "I'll see what's going on. We weren't expecting Gio."
As extra reassurance for Kuro, the pseudo-caster stopped in the hallway as she exited the door, clear within view. Ruby floated over as the white-haired Einzbern smiled happily. There was a gaggle of child servants by another door helping Elsa park her baby carriage, but Nursery Rhyme had carefully walked up to her. In her arms, clutched carefully against her black shirt dress, Giovanni was wrapped in a baby blue blanket. The baby glanced to Illyasviel and smiled.
"Elsa and Raikou are having mother talk in another room, but she's trusting us with Gio!" Nursery Rhyme quietly exclaimed. The baby cooed at her voice, reached up, and gently patted her cheek. The living storybook giggled. "Awww~! You want to hear a story while we're playing cards?"
The baby then turned back to Illyasviel and reached out with both arms. While the Einzbern smiled at the baby, she glanced back into the room when Kuro and Chacha began bickering about something; She sighed and hoped it wouldn't upset the baby. The concern was batted away as Nursery Rhyme stepped forward, and gently propped the baby between them. "He wants you to hug him! Here! Be careful~!"
"I know…!" She was confident, and this was far from the first time many of the children held Giovanni. Yet it was a blissful privilege, each and every time. As she gently cradled the baby, and the other caster cautiously and slowly released her hold, Illyasviel felt the full weight of the baby in her arms. He was so light and small. She'd been so light and small like Giovanni.
The pseudo-servant stared into Giovanni's happy eyes as he clapped, then reached to touch her face. His soft touch was like magic that wrote a million essays for her mind. He was so small, innocent, and naïve to everything that happened around him, or even before. All he wanted was to be held, appreciated, and cared for. Such simplicity must have been incredible bliss back then.
"Hi, Gio… Are you happy?" The baby nodded happily at the smiling casters, who giggled together warmly. She'd very rarely gotten to hold a baby until she came to Chaldea, but now, after all they'd been through with her new family, it felt… different. Every time after, it became more and more of an eye-opening experience.
Suddenly, she felt like her mother looking down at her younger self. She couldn't imagine what a mother's true feelings could encompass, but she always caught a good glimpse of it. A true, nourishing family bond was incomparable. Illyasviel was still so naïve, but she was far more aware than she'd been a year ago. How much further would she be a year from now?
Gently rocking and cooing to Giovanni helped ease her mind. These fleeting moments of happiness did wonders for her disappointment for their circumstances. Her normal life long disappeared after she first grasped Ruby, but the absence of some comfort was renewed by others. Yet, if she could be greedy, and ask for one wish… it was to have just one more piece of her home so Kuro and her could move on further and grow without regrets.
If not anything else, the sisters wanted to reunite with their dearest best friend.
Illyasviel was knocked from her small trance when Nursery Rhyme stepped aside for Jack. The happy assassin in, wearing a comfy black sweater and matching sweatpants, smiled at the baby, then stared pleadingly to Illyasviel. Her puppy dog eyes were still deadly, and the pseudo-caster already squirmed a bit under the stare; Whatever Jack wanted, she was probably going to get. "Illya? Can I hold Gio too? I'll be really really careful, I pwomise!"
The Einzbern smiled at her, then down at Giovanni. The baby cooed up at her, but then glanced to Jack and stretched out his little arms. Illyasviel giggled, "There's your answer~…"
"Yaaay~!" Jack cheered, and with surprising care and gentleness, wrapped her arms around the baby. Illyasviel gently peeled her arms free, then watched as Jack happily hummed a cartoon theme while rocking the bundle of warmth. He reached his little arms up to touch Jack's face, and she quickly held him closer into a warm, almost motherly-hug. "Here you go~! Just like my Mommy does for me~! Do you like it~?"
"I should take a picture!" Nursery Rhyme noted as she fished in her pocket for her phone. A moment later, a Hello Kitty case appeared as the caster aimed it to her sister. "Smile, Jackie! Hey! Jackie, c'mon! Cooperate! I wanna send it to Auntie Marie! It'll be cute!"
"Fiiine! But then we'll play with Gio and his toys! You wanna play with us, Gio!?" The baby's joyful coos were all the confirmation they needed.
Quiet but content, Illyasviel smiled back at them. They weren't the childhood friends she'd grown up with and missed dearly… but they were lovely. All of them. They cared for her and showed a level of friendship that border lined on family affection; Maybe it was. With every new addition, their little family of friends grew vibrant. Her brother's fiancé had a point too: That those of your past can still be loved and remembered, but there can always be room for those in your future to help you heal too.
Illyasviel's smiled turned warm as Giovanni nuzzled his head against her cheek. It was so peaceful here, she often forgot of all the subtle troubles or difficulties they faced. Difficult singularities. The healing grudges. The lifelong animosity that many tried to temper into civility. The new small bickerings…
…Speaking of which, Kuro and Chacha had been surprisingly quiet. Weren't they bickering?
As she turned to look, Illyasviel's blood ran cold. Her face paled, and she did everything in her power to keep herself from quivering. Ruby noticed, lowered itself to her shoulder, then held back its chuckle with one wing. It still did a surprisingly accurate George Takei impression. "Oh My~…"
Illyasviel, with eyes seemingly comatose and pale with shock, stared as Kuro pulled herself back out from under the kotatsu's embrace. She smiled contently as she smoothed her shirt and readjusted her sitting posture, then glanced to her sister calmly. A moment later, Chacha's shaking hand appeared from under the table's blanket, grasped the side, and slowly pulled herself out of it. Her headpiece was discarded to the floor, and her hair was an outright mess compared to its usual silky waterfall.
The worse part was Chacha's shell-shocked expression. Her lip quivered, and she shook like a cold cat. Kuro only wiped her mouth with her arm, chuckled, and glanced back to Illyasviel. After a quick glance to Atalanta's daughters to ensure they didn't notice… which they thankfully didn't… the pseudo-caster yelled telepathically. "K-KURO! WE HAD A DEAL! YOU CAN'T DO THAT! Y-YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO-!"
"Keep it to you only? Yeeeaaa… Well, Chacha was going on about being far more experienced and mature, so I thought I'd put it to the test~…" Kuro's smug reply only made her sister's eye twitch. Finally, Nursery Rhyme and Jack noticed. They stepped over and glanced within as Kuro winked to the shocked Chacha. She winced in fear, but Kuro only smiled happily and offered Chacha a tangerine. "Want another juicy snack?"
"AUNTIIIIIIEEEEEEE!" Chacha's scream made the entire shrine fall silent as Chacha bolted from the room like a blur; It was a miracle it didn't upset the baby. She ran down the hall, disappeared into another door, and made Illyasviel brace for the absolute worse. They'd done so well keeping Kuro's horrible tendencies out of the spotlight… but now… "Kuro attacked Chacha! She forced Chacha to kiss her again and again!"
"…What?" Nobunaga's shocked reply made Illyasviel brace further. At least until the warlord laughed incredulously. "Is this some kind of bad joke? Kuro? Doing what? She's mischievous, but she's not Medb!"
As Nobunaga bickered incredulously with a hysterical Chacha, Nursery Rhyme and Jack glanced to each other, shrugged lightly, and walked into the room to join Kuro. Conversations sprung back up down the hallway, and she could hear the other children coming to join them. Even so, Illyasviel stared at Kuro as blank-faced but incredulously as possible. She only winked back with a content smile. "See~? You had nothing to worry about… And I put that annoying brat in her place! She should be down a peg or two, right?"
…Even if Illyasviel felt they were slowly growing up, Kuro couldn't grow up fast enough…
Chapter 19: Shard 18: Cancelled Supplement VI
Foreward: This is the cancelled sixth supplement for Fragments of Chaldea. It will only ever see paraphrased form, so smaller details, plot points, example dialogue, and concepts are either not well-fleshed out or missing. It may even be missing some extra intricacies since it's more of a pre-writing rough draft than a story. This still tries to give the general gist of what occurred while noting important bits for development. As such, it is subject to minor changes and some extra additions, but otherwise is complete.
Since everything isn't fleshed out and there are multiple points that refer to canon dialogue, knowledge and understanding of EOR2: Agartha is practically required.
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 94 and 95.
Cancelled Supplement VI
"Once Upon a Time"
Original Spotlight Servant: Scheherazade
Summary Version: 1.0
Chaldea braces for the worst on landing, but it is flawless. It actually surprises Anishka how routine it almost seems with a demon pillar in the area, but only she apparently dwells on it. Shakespeare, who managed to convince the masters he could tag along, is miffed it wasn't more exciting.
Gudao is fast and precise with belting out orders to all servants from both teams. Arjuna, Ereshkigal, and Enkidu keep the masters guarded while search teams moved to canvas the area. While keeping them coordinated, Gudao stays in contact with Mashu and Anton as they try to troubleshoot the errors with the scanners.
Enkidu warns Gudao there's a lot of magical energy in the air, and even his sensitivity to the air can't quite pick up the others. If they're out there, he can't sense their signature properly among the rampantly changing, "unusual," mana-thick air. Gudao was hoping it would've been an easy find, but reassures him it's alright and to please keep a watch for unusual disturbances. The entire time, Gudao is calm, comforting, and confident. Anishka has been very quiet.
Arjuna: You're fine with Gudao giving all the orders?
Anishka: He has the most experience between us, and he's the best with planning. It's best I left it to him.
Her answer didn't sit perfectly with Arjuna, but he ignores it. Instead, they move on to talk about the very unusual place they're in. Servant telepathic reports stream in that this underground world is very strange and almost surface-like. Even the luminescent flora growing on the miles-high ceiling mimics the sky. There are also reports of roving bands that seem to be capturing prisoners for their own use, but Gudao insists they should stay hidden until they get a better idea what they're dealing with.
Despite the roving bands and potential slavery, Anishka says this place is almost too beautiful, like a fantasy world from a story. Ereshkigal agrees as she struggles with falling to her eager curiosity of looking around in order to protect Gudao for Mashu.
Gudao: It's fine, Eresh! Feel free to wander around a bit. The others have made a nice perimeter, so we should be safe for now.
Enkidu: And if anything serious approaches, I'd be the first to know. So how about we go look at those deer over there?
Ereshkigal carefully scampers off to look at the nearby deer, who wind up being far more curious about her. While Enkidu is trying to help Ereshkigal with some affectionate deer, all while Mashu is secretly snapping photos with Chaldea's scanners, Gudao comes over to Arjuna and Anishka for safety. Gudao reassures her they'll find their friends and bring them home just fine. Anishka has no doubts, but can't help but feel something feels very wrong.
Gudao explains exactly what the servants are doing, even as telepathic communication gives both of them more updates. They're slowly spreading out in a circle to search with all senses, and Hundred Face is offering the most covered ground by far. Only trees, wildlife, and the occasional beast have been encountered thus far. The two agree it feels almost too peaceful for a singularity, but Gudao reassures her they have plenty of backup plans should things go haywire.
Though Gudao falls amused watching Ereshkigal struggling with deer in the distance, Anishka and Arjuna share a quiet mental conversation. Arjuna suggest she's being far too passive, and that she shouldn't just let Gudao do everything. She insists he's the better between them, and that it's always proper to defer to the more experienced one in critical situations like this. She learned that in Medical School.
Arjuna wants to disagree further, but that's when Astolfo and D'Eon telepathically call in a report: They've found Fergus. They think.
▲▽▲ Section 1 ▲▽▲
Ten minutes later, Chaldea is still struggling to figure out what's causing so much scanner interference even compared to Shinjuku. While they're doing that, the teams have regrouped and formed a perimeter in a small clearing. Gudao is currently scratching his head as Anishka stares in outright disbelief at a young, blue-haired boy. Enkidu confirms his presence feels very much like Fergus, but even he's confused why he's suddenly a child. Cu, surprisingly, seems to be taking it the best.
Cu: Might be like that youth potion? It could wear off in time... Right? Until then, I guess this is going to take some getting used to… We may want to keep him away from the children though. Don't think the parents would feel, uh… comfortable about that.
The comment sparks a curious phrase from Fergus: He has no idea what they mean. Apparently the younger Fergus is solely focused on training to be a good warrior and leader, but is clueless as to what his older self became. While Blackbeard, Anne, and Mary openly discuss whether they should 'open his eyes' to who he really is, Gudao says they can discuss stuff like this later. Right now, they've only rescued one of the four missing Chaldeans, and he's now worried what other problems might have affected the others.
Gudao: Therefore, we need to speed up our search and rescue operation. I won't tolerate them being out there longer than they need to be. Let's find them, bring them home, crush that pillar, and fix what sort of messes that thing did.
Shakespeare is idly making notes the whole time. Chiron quietly insists he doesn't do anything more to stir up trouble, and the playwright merely insists these revelations are promising so far. It's proving to be fertile grounds for inspiration as he listens in on everything and everyone as notes for future reference.
As Gudao talks with Chiron to discuss possible worst-case-scenarios with manipulating Saint Graphs, Arjuna once more telepathically questions whether Anishka has anything to say. She says no, and said Gudao's in perfect synchronization and control. Arjuna mentally sighs, and Anishka gets a bit nervous.
Anishka: Arjuna… May I ask why are you insisting I should be more active? You've never questioned me about this before.
Arjuna: Because I should've said something sooner. You always let Gudao or Gabby take the lead if either are with you, and if you ever deploy alone, you're often checking with every other servant before you make an order. You even let Da Vinci take charge in Korea. Do you not see anything wrong, Annie?
Anishka: I'm just doing what Gudao does!
Arjuna instantly disagrees, and his assertiveness makes her more uncomfortable. He points out Gudao asks for opinions from the experts on certain information he's missing, then uses that to fine-tune his drafted plans, something El-Melloi taught him well. Anishka is gathers opinions from everyone, then makes a plan taking into account everyone's opinion so she doesn't step on anyone's feet. The difference is Anishka isn't truly leading, but slowly feeling her way forward out of concern she'll mess something up and upset someone. But Arjuna calmly rubs her shoulder in reassurance.
Arjuna: That's just like you. A kind healer. Always thinking about the wellbeing of others and the situation… to the point you'll silence any disagreements you may have. But there's a big divide between forcefulness and assertiveness, Annie, and like Gudao, you should find where your voice sits somewhere in between. You're a master. Your word carries more weight than you often let it.
She starts to ponder his words when Enkidu suddenly stares tensely towards the perimeter. Alarm suddenly flares through the Chaldeans as Ereshkigal and Arjuna step before the masters in defense. With weapons at the ready, they stare down a completely frozen dark-skinned woman who had approached to the edge of the clearing. Enkidu is unbelievably tense, but offers an apologetic frown to Gudao.
Enkidu: I'm sorry, Gudao… But for some reason, I couldn't sense this servant's approach at all.
The tensions shatter in exchange for shock when the scantily clad woman collapses to the ground quivering with fear. She begs for her life and pleads for them not to kill her. Her apologies are endless, and D'Eon and Astolfo quickly rush over to see if she's okay, even while other servants are saying it might be a trap. Anishka looks between all the chaos with worry as Arjuna quietly gazes at her expectantly. Among the growing chaos, Gudao gives the overall order to stand down, and motions with a smile for Anishka to follow him to greet this new servant.
Arjuna follows with a calm expression while Anishka's head hangs a bit low in disappointment.
▲▽▲ Section 2 ▲▽▲
It takes nearly an hour just to calm down the frantic servant. By then, nearly all the Chaldeans are perfectly calm realizing this new caster is no threat. She'd even openly revealed her name to them in her terror: Scheherazade. While Chiron keeps Shakespeare from bombarding Scheherazade out of enthusiasm over another fellow storyteller, Gudao finally gets her to talk about something besides endless apologies.
Gudao: Allies have nothing to fear from each other, right?
Scheherazade admits she would like that. She's scared of death, and the best way to ensure she can't die was to find safety with the strongest. She begins another tirade of apologies for spying on them, which Gudao quickly diffuses. She then shifts back to admitting she grew curious and scared when so many strong servants appeared at once under one banner.
It terrifies her that they could be an enemy, and the other factions already refused her help. So she risked approaching in hopes she could find shelter; She nearly fainted at their first sign of possible aggression, thinking she was doomed. Gudao reassures her once more, if she's willing to help, Chaldea would always love more allies than enemies.
Gudao: A caster of your grace and prowess who knows the area? We both benefit, so I can't imagine how we'd say no to a genuine plea. We can certainly use a hand trying to find our friends!
Even though Gudao's diplomatic skills and reassurance prove flawless, Scheherazade still looks uncomfortable around so many new allies. Curiously enough, some servants noticed the caster's sole sense of comfort seemed to be being closer to Anishka rather than Gudao. Arjuna ponders if it's because Anishka only offered kind smiles, agreement, and a comforting presence while staying near-silent.
Enkidu is still quietly uncertain about Scheherazade, but it only shows in frequent glances her way with a calm expression.
Whatever the case, Scheherazade finally connects the dots of this singularity for Chaldea. There are three factions vying for control in this underground world, each with their own doctrines of rule.
Pirates of Y's
Led by Pirate Noblewoman Dahut
The Nightless City
Led by the "Empress"
The Amazons of El Dorado
Led by the Berserker Queen
They're empires of women, who capture any men who are forcefully summoned here. Their servant leaders are powerful and rule with unhindered authority, but the territory wars are ceaseless. Scheherazade apologizes that she doesn't know their identities or classes. The evidence the servants have been seeing in the distance all suddenly connect to paint a much darker world that the colorful landscape hides.
Gudao: Is negotiation possible with any of the factions?
Scheherazade: They enslave men like cattle and use them as breeding stock, yet you still wish to negotiate? You're an unusual man, Master Fujimaru… No. I don't think they'd be willing to negotiate with men. Not the Enforcers of the Nightless City, and certainly not the Amazons of El Dorado. And the Y's would only lend an ear long enough for you to get tricked… But there is rumor of another group. A band of freed men known as the Resistance who wander under leadership of a rogue rider. If we meet them, they may be the most willing to cooperate.
At Gudao's request, Scheherazade explains what she knows of each faction. When she talks more about the Y's and their pirate-born demeanor, Blackbeard, Anne, and Mary quietly talk with each other. Shakespeare is making a giant web of possibilities in his notebook, biding his time. Though the others are keeping watch or discussing, Gudao takes note and gauges the atmosphere swiftly.
Gudao: …If the Resistance's base is unknown, then our first trip will be to the Y's. A den of debauchery, thieving, and women pirates? Where ephemeral bliss flows like tap water? I'd be stumped if Drake somehow didn't wind up there.
Once more, Gudao's quick to formulate a plan. Astolfo, Chiron, Quetzalcoatl, and Robin will be taking to the air to get a lay of the land with a camera. From there, they'll form a quick and subtle route to the river delta where the Y's port town resides. While Gudao discusses roles and steps with the others, Anishka quickly notices Scheherazade inched closer to her and remained there. The caster stares around in worry at many other servants, especially Enkidu, whose eyes constantly gravitate towards her. Anishka quietly reaches out to touch Scheherazade's arm, which makes her flinch initially. The master's smile slowly eases her.
Anishka: Please relax, Miss Scheherazade. You're safe among us now, and we'll definitely do everything in our power to keep you safe. Danger will become a distant worry.
Scheherazade: I'm sorry… but I don't believe it ever can be. When one is alive, there is always a chance of death. Always danger… but thank you… your words are more comfort than I often get…
Arjuna: Do you still doubt us, or is your fear that strong? Many of us are powerful, and more can answer the call if need be. There's little you need to worry about as an ally of Chalde-
Arjuna couldn't finish his sentence. Seeing the gap, Shakespeare quickly burst through to eagerly meet and greet Scheherazade. He's very excited to meet another storyteller. He then swiftly begins talking about his own prestige as usual, then insists they have plenty of time to talk on their walk to the port city. There's apparently much to discuss and collaborate with, and reiterates his enthusiasm that this singularity's circumstances could lead to an intriguing story.
Scheherazade looks around in confusion, only to find all stares aimed her way were now filled with the same emotion: Apologetic regret.
Arjuna: …I'm sorry. This is one 'worry' we often fail to stop.
▲▽▲ Section 3 ▲▽▲
In the Command Room, Mashu is aggravated the sensors are having issues again. It was never this difficult before. Da Vinci reassures her as they begin piecing together fragmented pieces of what the scanners can photograph. Da Vinci muses this world of Agartha is strange and shouldn't exist, yet it's so corporeal. The fact the demon pillar's signature is present, but hidden, makes her wonder if there's multiple working in tandem.
Vernier and the current Mage's Association representatives are openly taking notes of this singularity, which Frankenstein keeps an eye on cautiously.
Holmes remains quiet in his own seat beside Touko. The high-class Magus studies him quietly, but they share no words. It's clear to her the detective is in deep thought as he stares directly at a monitor featuring only Scheherazade.
In the theater, Medb is openly pondering whether she should pop into the singularity and sleep with Fergus as a 'wake-up medicine.' Bazett is openly stunned at the comment, but Gabrielle says she should be used to her by now. She's more concerned it can be corrected at all, but then lightens the mood by wondering if Anishka will find someone hot in a world full of women. She then places a bet she'll probably get along with Scheherazade the best.
Along their route to the city, the Chaldean teams have a small stroke of luck. Chiron spotted an erupting battle between an enslaving band of Amazons and the Resistance. The rogue Rider spoken about before seems to be present. The Chaldean force halts as Anishka asks Gudao if he has a plan. He replies he does, but then says what's her take on this. She quickly defers to his plan, since they likely match. Gudao nods, and immediately calls on many servants to commence an attack. Anishka and Scheherazade will remain perfectly safe in good company until the all clear is given.
With Enkidu and Ereshkigal giving close guard, Gudao rushes off. Scheherazade is finally free from Shakespeare's endless chatter as he casts his own scrying orbs to watch and document the fight eagerly. Unbeknownst to any of them, he's also carefully listening in for any juicy side details from their group. He is not disappointed by Arjuna as the conflict escalates in the distance.
Arjuna: …You look conflicted, Annie. Is something wrong?
Anishka: …I didn't think he was going to order an outright attack on the Amazons. I thought Gudao was going to start with diplomacy as usual…
The two get into a small quarrel while Scheherazade, Fergus, Cu, and D'Eon watch on curiously. Arjuna is now making no hesitation to hide his disappointment, saying she's letting her own voice get trampled out of insecurity. She complains back that she just made a mistake. She thought the two masters had the same plan: Get both of them to stop fighting and negotiate. She believes even if the Amazons are doing cruel things to men and likely won't negotiate doesn't mean they should try to understand their point before showing aggression. She thought Gudao knew that.
▲▽▲ Section 4 ▲▽▲
With the assault force, Gudao watches as his plan unfurls smoothly. Maybe too smoothly.
As confirmed by Enkidu, the Amazon seem to have a nearly exact magical energy signature, which is impossible for normal humans: They felt more like familiars, constructs, or summoned minions. With that in mind, Gudao ordered a vicious attack on the Amazons to thin their numbers, stop the fighting, and send a clear visual statement to one of the three major factions.
They make grounds towards that. Minutes later, even though they were enraged, the Amazons pulled back momentarily to regroup. They stayed cautiously within sight as the Chaldeans stopped their attack among the praises of the Resistance men.
Once the battle stops, Gudao telepathically sends words it's safe to regroup. He then amplifies his voice to open up a discussion with the wary and enraged Amazons. Anishka and Arjuna arrive amid the diplomacy. Though Anishka is perplexed, Arjuna slowly nods in understanding. Gudao did intend to negotiate, but that master's experience with previous Amazons prove they will only listen after initial shots are fired; He ordered the attack to earn respect as a worthy opponent so they could negotiate from a position of power.
Negotiations quickly break down anyway due to the Amazons' amplified insistence on the inferiority of men, but the they choose a temporary retreat rather than a futile battle against the newly appeared Chaldeans… Something the Resistance Leader openly yells in commendation as they run off.
? ? ?: Ah! So you have brains after all, do ya? Well if you have good ones, you'll know not to mess with these guys ever again! Thanks for lending a hand! I was confident my men could've handled it, but you've saved many more lives with your intervention. Won't ever say no to a better end to a struggle!
The old, gray-haired servant is quickly gleamed by the present servants. Quetzalcoatl is the only one openly showing near disgust at his "Conquistador-like" appearance, complaining he reminds her too much of Cortez. The man shamefully admits he's sorry to hear that, but is curious by her words. He has no clue who his identity as a servant is, and only knows his class. Many refer to him as the Rider of Resistance, or Resistance Leader, in a name's absence, but says that was thankfully enough for his men.
He showers them with praise and thanks, and exclaims his genuine glee that such a powerful force of servants seems to have similar goals. Negotiations begin, and Gudao quickly and firmly establishes that their original purpose here is to destroy a dangerous opponent and to rescue some lost companions. Though the safety of the men transported to Agartha wasn't an initial concern, there was no way they were going to turn a blind eye to that either. They'll help rescue as much as they can since they have to search the area anyway.
Negotiations are quick and near unanimous: Chaldea and the Resistance join forces. Bonds even grow quickly as Blackbeard, Anne, and Mary hit it off rather well with the amnesiac rider. Shakespeare takes notes all the while, but shows his first hint of annoyance things are panning out too smoothly.
After discussing Chaldea's current plan, Rider of Resistance shows open interest in leading their current band to the Y's port. Controlling the river delta it sits on would mean easier movement for the resistance, and would be a strong signal fire to the enslaved or running men that liberation is on its way.
While he discusses with Gudao, Anishka is still helping Medea heal wounded men in the area. One of them calls her an angel, and says he wished his wounded friends back at their home base could get the same treatment. Arjuna stares at Anishka expectantly, and is about to voice his suggestion.
Anishka surprises him. After finishing up the man's treatment, she takes a temporary break to rush over to Gudao. She explains the situation and the number of injured reportedly at the Resistance's hidden base. She then requests that they make a detour back there to improve their conditions. Gudao says he's worried about their other servants, and Anishka nearly falters. She looks to Arjuna for backup, but he only silently stands behind her in support. After only a small pause, Anishka apologetically nods.
Anishka: They're out there. I know they need us… but I can't turn a blind eye knowing there are those I need I can help. I request we split the force, or at least call in some reinforcements.
Gudao is on the fence, but after Rider of Resistance's silent observation, he sides with Anishka. He's quick to explain helping the sanctuary's conditions would bolster his men's morale, and that the base isn't too far from this river. They're also allies now, and it would be ridiculous not to offer something, even if a little, in return for all this support. Gudao then agrees it is a wise move if the others are okay with it. The Chaldeans are content with a minor detour.
As they start moving towards the hidden base, Arjuna compliments her. To their surprise, Scheherazade was watching Anishka curiously the entire time, and quickly does the same. She quietly praises the master's heart, and says she's a compassionate soul. Anishka humbly brushes off it's just what her family has always done: Mend the mind, body, and soul of problems. She said she wouldn't hesitate for a second to do the same for Scheherazade, which the caster quickly replies she hopes she never gets hurt in the first place: It would be a signal of danger, and possibly imminent death.
▲▽▲ Section 5 ▲▽▲
In the Control Room, there are new concerns raised by the Mage's Association representatives. The normal men in the singularity seem to have been abducted like the Chaldean servants. If they were to return to their proper times with those memories, the mysteries of the world could be in jeopardy. Magecraft would weaken, and that's not something that the Mage's Association would allow. They're insisting Chaldea do something since it will likely affect them too.
Tension rises when some of the Mage's Association members state retrieval of the servants is the only true priority. Should they retain memories, letting the captured men die or vanish would be ideal to protect Magecraft's secrecy, but the Vigil representatives are completely against that notion. Da Vinci and Lord El-Melloi II diffuse the situation, but the tension and issues have been raised: The impact of this singularity may be greater than many expect.
Moriarty surprises most of the room at his arrival. He insists Holmes asked for him, and he wasn't about to dismiss such a rarity. He also reassures the Mage's Association representatives that with all the research and planning he had to do in Shinjuku, there shouldn't be a worry. The World will set things as they should be with this resolution.
Moriarty: Although, if the events compound enough, the world could be affected… That demon pillar should be found soon if you want to avoid that.
But there's no need for worry. The Chaldean team, now with new reinforcements, are almost ready to move out. It eases the representatives for now, but the morale difference between two visiting parties in Chaldea became more obvious.
The sanctuary is safely nestled among the mountains, but Gudao made it a point to ensure they were absolutely fortified. He doesn't want a repeat of Jerusalem or Uruk. Medea tethered a few servants to the powerful leyline beneath the sanctuary so that a garrison of servants could be left as reserve.
Sita – Amakusa – Semiramis – Spartacus – Tota – Xuanzang – Hector – Vlad
The singularity will definitely drag on, but the masters are content with the current situation. Most servants are split between building shelters and keeping lookout. Medea's familiars are warding off monsters while Robin set plenty of traps at the entrances. Cu is acting like a mentor to the child Fergus. Chiron is lending a hand teaching some resistance members better fighting techniques for survival. Enkidu and Ereshkigal are playing with some new deer while keeping watch.
Gudao is observing Rider of Resistance as he bolsters his men's morale while embedding his own fighting philosophy. His motives seem genuine, and even Quetzalcoatl is feeling a little better about him. She still doesn't like the look of him, but definitely respects his resolution, wisdom, and sagely advice to his men. She points out to Gudao she especially likes how Rider of Resistance actually managed to talk with Spartacus on even ground. Though Spartacus tried to rally the men's spirits into a ferver of rebellion, Rider of Resistance insists they must act accordingly and avoid casualties so more will be safely free in the end.
With Blackbeard, Anne, and Mary's help, Rider of Resistance also keep Spartacus convinced not to run off and free slaves recklessly. They talk about the concept of pirate freedom with Rider of Resistance instead, which surprisingly keeps Spartacus enthralled and curious.
Anishka finished healing the last of the wounded an hour ago with Scheherazade's help. She clearly feels most comfortable near Anishka or the other women, so she's practically glued to the master. Enkidu still keeps a wary eye on her, but otherwise seems more accepting now that Sita is by Anishka's side too. Hers and Anishka's combined kindness put Scheherazade at further ease, especially when anywhere near Semiramis.
Gudao divides the teams up, and Xuanzang openly protests that she's stuck on garrison duty because she wants to explore this beautiful place. Tota instead just promises Gudao he'll keep her on a leash and see if they can't entertain her here with so many beautiful blooming trees. Hector promises Rider of Resistance his recovering and training men will be fine with the Defender Prince heading the guard.
Hector: You don't seem like the kind of man to sit in one place, so tread out there with a lighter heart. These mountains may as well be Troy's walls.
They're about to leave when Scheherazade surprises the Chaldeans: She wants to come. Gudao is outright confused. He planned to leave her so she would be safe among the guard. She counters she feels safer with the larger group of servants. She also feels most comfortable around Anishka and Sita. Though she appreciates his consideration, as a strategist and one worried for her own death, she believes she should be the one to choose where she goes in the end.
Gudao relents and agrees to let her come. He gives one last radio call to Chaldea, then whispers a quiet line to Mashu which she silently confirms. It goes unheard by Scheherazade, but it puts Enkidu at further ease.
Back in the Control Room, Moriarty and Holmes share a quiet glance in silent deliberation.
▲▽▲ Section 6 ▲▽▲
Just as the sun sets, the Chaldeans reach the Port City of the Y's. They're keeping their distance at Scheherazade's advising while Anne and Mary stroll about the streets on recon. They're pirate women, so they fit in perfectly as spies. D'Eon also infiltrated under disguise while the Hassans are skillfully moving about the rooftops. The masters are waiting with the rest of the force across a river while Chaldea's scanners sweep the area.
Shakespeare now appears bored as he takes notes. He considers spicing things up, but Chiron quickly shoots that idea down.
The company of men Rider of Resistance brought are getting antsy. Reports keep coming in of how atrociously the men are being treated. Even Gudao and Anishka are at wit's end. Blackbeard plays it off almost casually, saying this just looks like a reversed caricature of how the Caribbean was like at times. Though it draws some glares, especially from a barely contained Spartacus, he shrugs and stares at Gudao, then notes he's not the kind of master to just let things go like this for the sake of secrecy.
Blackbeard: I think we got all the info we need for the raid, don't you? Drake will certainly come running once the powder kegs blow. That'll fish her out.
Gudao and Anishka agree. They launch the attack, but Anishka decides to let Gudao lead the fight. Arjuna is about to question it, but she insists she should remain hidden in reserve with a few others. She can't help but feel something feels 'off' and that they shouldn't reveal their hand completely. Plus, she wants to make sure Scheherazade stays safely out of the fight. The caster gratefully thanks her while Shakespeare gets excited for a hopefully interesting twist.
Moments later, Gudao coordinates a single, city-wide strike headed by Quetzalcoatl and Hundred Face. The entire city is put under siege by several servants and mounts running amok, freeing as many men as possible. Rider of Resistance is leading the main convoy to gather as many men as possible while capturing any ships in their path. Gudao, Astolfo, Blackbeard, Ereshkigal, and Enkidu fly in to regroup with Anne, Mary, and D'Eon.
The only problem is all the buildings look the same; There's no real sign of a leader's house.
That's when a long lavender-haired, unknown child, calm among the chaos, comes up to them. Enkidu warns she's likely an assassin servant since she masked herself among the thick mana air, but she doesn't seem hostile.
They're surprised she openly states she knows what they're looking for and where to find them. Though on guard, they're led directly to the mansion while Gudao calmly tries to pull information from her. The unknown servant still acts innocent and childlike, but refuses to reveal any information about herself. She's still unusually friendly.
She was also honest. After dispatching many pirates, the servant points at a building in the distance and assures them that's it. Before it's even confirmed, Gudao quickly pats the unknown servant's head and she tries to hide her embarrassment. Enkidu can confirm it: There's a powerful servant presence hidden among there. The others wouldn't have felt it.
Enkidu: It feels… No. This is Drake. This is definitely Drake!
Blackbeard: We're coming, baby, we're coming!
Anne & Mary: Can you not start this cringey stuff!?
The female pirates are loose gravel before a steamroller as the servants barge their way into the mansion. Once inside, they easily dispatch the guards. Rider of Resistance arrives to help liberate many of the enslaved men that are yelling for help in the basement.
That's when 'Drake' appears, but even Enkidu is outright confused. He insists this pirate woman with white hair and black clothes is Drake. Chaldea's scanners confirm it's Drake too, but she doesn't look like her at all. But she introduces herself as Dahut, the lead pirate Scheherazade told them about. She has no recollection of any Chaldeans or her experiences, and says she's not the legendary Drake, though she'd like to meet her one day.
Blackbeard asks what kind of sick joke is this. His tense seriousness unsettles even Anne and Mary.
Dahut: Joke? I don't find anything funny about a bunch of servants running my perfect city into the ground under my watch!
She goes on to explain the Y's premise of constant theft for fleeting pleasure. She explains it's a perfect community where happiness reigns freely even compared to the other two factions. Whether it's prized belongings, sex, slaves, entertainment, or something else, she indulges in it freely and lets it be stolen and shared among her followers so all reach satisfaction.
As she goes on and on, Blackbeard hears enough and boils with anger. She's not Drake, but she's supposed to be. Holmes adds in over Chaldea's communications that this is clearly a more offensive case of total saint graph manipulation.
Holmes: Whoever did this is exceptionally skilled to manipulate a saint graph to this extent without fracturing the servant's core.
Blackbeard: Whoever did this will wish walking the plank is all I had in store for them!
Dahut heard enough. These Chaldeans need to be punished, and she seems completely delusional about how much of a chance she stands. Anishka informs them through telepathy that Schehrazade insisted there was no way to talk to her; She would rather die than give up her claim. Battle was always inevitable.
It was also horribly one sided, and though she's fighting with all she's got, Dahut is no match at all.
But the Chaldeans aren't there to kill. On Gudao's order, Enkidu wraps up Dahut in chains to subdue her completely. Ereshkigal summons a giant cage as an underworld precaution. Tied up, unconscious, and completely subdued, Dayut sits in the cage Enkidu picks up as Blackbeard glares with angered wrath.
Anne: Hey Teach… It's okay. We'll get her all fixed up, just like Fergus! And we'll gut the one who did this to Drake in the meantime!
Blackbeard: Not soon enough.
▲▽▲ Section 7 ▲▽▲
Gudao's team exit the mansion, but as they're consolidating, the locks that keep the city free of water are smashed apart. Flood waters tear through the fiery city streets as the Chaldeans take to the skies. Quetzalcoatl is coordinating as many of her mounts as possible to rescue resistance members and freed slaves. She manages to save many, but the city is outright destroyed in the flood.
The lavender-haired servant reveals herself again among the floating debris. She announces herself as the Empress of the Nightless City and thanks the many servants for helping her wipe out one of her rivals with ease. She compliments Gudao, but also warns him of his vile act of daring to touch the Empress' head. Gudao shrugs it off easily as he tries to open a negotiation with her, but she bats it away swiftly. She merely states if they want to talk, then they're invited to her city where they'll be shown true hospitality and a proper rule, should they choose to call her Empress.
After she vanishes, the Chaldeans decide to return to the Resistance's base for the night instead.
Back in the Sanctuary, the Resistance is having a giant feast in celebration for the victory. Tota's given plentiful food alongside all the beasts Robin hunted. Morale is exceptionally high, but some are sitting elsewhere rather than partying.
Fergus is having a quiet conversation with Cu about what Medea showed on her scrying orb. He was very uncertain about fighting women and their strength in leadership, but expressed he wanted to watch. Cu mentors him a bit about some of the things he learned in his older days, and mentions he's met several powerful women. Cu keeps it away from the womanizing parts, but otherwise acts like a guiding father to Fergus as he did for him. Robin joins them later with drinks.
Elsewhere, Scheherazade distanced herself since the attack on the Y's, but Anishka, Arjuna, and Sita were quick to try and fix that. They're eating dinner with her beneath one of the cherry trees and she finally admits the intensity of Blackbeard, Anne, and Mary frightened her. Arjuna merely offers that's the strength of the bonds they'd formed in Chaldea: The wronging of any friend is met with a passionate response.
Scheherazade asks if they really did leyshift Drake back to Chaldea in that twisted form. Anishka explains it was done moments ago, and Scathach is currently looking into how to heal her. Scheherazade looks uncertain about this act, and when questioned about it by Sita, reveals that maybe the one who did it might be the only one who can undo it. That Drake should have stayed here in the event they found them.
Anishka replies if that's the case, they'll bring her back if the conditions demand so. But until then, she should be where she's safest: In Chaldea, under close guard, and among those who care. Scheherazade muses Chaldea must feel like such a safe and warm place, one which she never felt before. Anishka reassures her, if she really wants, maybe she can see for herself.
Scheherazade: To come there I'd… Then I'd have to die! I don't want to die!
To ease her sudden panic over dying and having to be resummoned, Anishka immediately reassures they could try leyshifting her back so she won't have to die. They've done it with several servants before, and if she absolutely wants to be safe, that would be the safest place.
Scheherazade counters no place is truly perfectly safe, and points out how some servants were abducted out of fear. She apologizes, but no one takes offense. They merely reassure her they're striving even harder to make it perfectly safe so insicidents like this never happen again. One final time, Anishka reassures her if she'd like, she's more than welcome to come.
Scheherazade only replies she doesn't think she should. She's unaware Enkidu and Blackbeard were glancing at them from the dining buildings while Cu, Robin, and Fergus walk over to join the quartet in conversation. Though Anishka winds up sleeping, Sita, Fergus, Arjuna, Robin, and Cu stay up and talk with Scheherazade through the night.
▲▽▲ Section 8 ▲▽▲
Morning arrives. The Chaldeans are en-route to the Nightless City, but Gudao was having issues forming a plan. The enemy seems to be an assassin type who knows what he looks like, so he would be a top priority target for her. It's partially why Mashu is constantly complaining to Ereshkigal that she's almost too close to Gudao.
As they bicker over the comms, Anishka had been in silent thought. Finally, she offers to head the recon team in Gudao's stead, saying if this is another city where women reign supreme, then she should be the one to head in. The Empress also knows who he is and will be looking for him, but not her. It also allows Gudao to lead a reserve team in case his worry comes to fruition: The Amazons take advantage to attack.
Gudao agrees, and Anishka gets help from him to form her own plan. Arjuna looks on in approval, but Scheherazade is stressing. She's most comfortable by Anishka's side, but she's going to potentially be in the thick of it this time. To ease her worries, Fergus, who decided to come along, volunteers to help bodyguard Scheherazade. Astolfo and D'Eon agree too. Gudao points out there's going to be a problem since men are used as slaves in the Nightless City, but Astolfo says that there's no need to worry with improvisation.
With that out of the way, Rider of Resistance and Gudao begin formulating a rescue plan for the freed men when recon and negotiations are over.
In the Nightless City, Anishka is a bit baffled at how things turned out. Astolfo looks like a schoolgirl. D'Eon is a maid. She's holding one of Ereshkigal's weaker chains tied around Fergus' neck. Scheherazade is practically right up against Anishka's back out of fear. Arjuna is beside her, dressed to kill like an Arabian dancer and pulling off a very convincing female. Sita can't stop giggling. Shakespeare was likely recording all of this from the safety of Gudao's team.
Anishka: This is going to be a photo in Memorial Hall somehow. I just know it.
When a pair of female residents, Asian women known as Enforcers, approach, they compliment the 'foreign entertainers' on having such a young slave. Anishka replies he's a worthy trophy. Arjuna calmly points out that Anishka handled her acting well. Before she would've been trying to shy away completely from anything that makes her remotely uncomfortable. Now she's putting on a fairly convincing slave owner act without flinching, but she simply replies that doesn't mean she won't apologize profusely after all this is over.
They're able to move through the streets gathering intel through simple conversations as they make their way towards the town center. Hundred Face and Cursed Arm get the lay of the land hidden from the rooftops while keeping them observed. Though Anishka is still a bit stiff and nervous, her joking with Astolfo and D'Eon is a new change from her usually silent, respectful consideration. It seems less like recon for lost servants or key enemies, but more like a walk with friends. A very, very strange walk.
As they move through the city, they learn much about the culture and lifestyle while trying to locate the other two lost Chaldeans. So long as the men are obedient, they are treated fairly. Should they step out of line, a horrendous show of an execution is put on to remind them of their place. It's a veil of citizenship which just oppresses men into servant playthings of the Enforcers. It unsettles Fergus the most, but the group doesn't like it at all. Like with the Y's, many are on wit's end and wish to act.
It's when an execution is slated for a man right in front of them that Anishka pulls the cord. She calls for the servants to rescue the man, and surprises Sita when she doesn't even flinch at giving clearance to kill any Enforcer trying to stop them. It doesn't sound like something the pacifist Anishka would say.
Anishka: Shri Sita, please don't worry. I'd never wish harm on another person, and these enforcers are only puppets of magical energy. But the men are hurting, and we must help them!
She quickly coordinates with Gudao, and though he's calling most of the shots with the reinforcing servants, Anishka is finally giving her say and even disagreeing on some orders. Gudao merely goes with the flow since she has seen what's happening on the ground. The growing commotion and assault finally draws out the Empress Assassin.
Like Dahut, she throws a tantrum at having her perfect city come under assault, and gets drawn into an argument over ruling with Fergus and Astolfo. During the revealing philosophy of her rule and past, Holmes quickly points out her identity: Wu Zetian, the only Empress of China.
Though the fight with Wu is even more one-sided than the one against Dahut, there is a split moment where several Enforcers close in on Anishka. She doesn't flinch when servants help her, but she's surprised that instead of running or cowering, Scheherazade casted a few illusionary spells to confuse the enemy. For the rest of the battle, Scheherazade lends her aid for the first time while sticking close to Anishka.
Soon, she's on her last breath, but the ground begins to shake. Gudao is worried it's an Amazon attack, but Enkidu's face matches Da Vinci's in grim realization.
Enkidu: I hope Heracles is friendly.
▲▽▲ Section 9 ▲▽▲
He's not. He bursts from the ground and kills Wu Zetian with ease. His magical energy signature is off the charts and he's absolutely massive. Anishka's nerves are further unsettled when Arjuna, Sita, Ereshkigal, and Enkidu stare cautiously at the now massive berserker. To make things worse, his mad enhancement seems to be blinding him with a furious glare as he stares towards them as his next targets. Gudao quickly tries to fire a command seal, but it has absolutely no effect in stopping him.
To Enkidu's horror, even his omnipotent chains are struggling to hold a divine hero back. Heracles is slowly gaining more leverage regardless of his chain's effect, and most attacks thrown at him are practically meaningless. There are new conceptual defenses applied to him they have yet to figure out. Blackbeard is still very tense from before, but even he's not trying to vent anger by attacking.
Rider of Resistance: You Chaldeans are hardly weak… so if this isn't a clear sign to retreat and fight another day, I don't know what is!
Gudao and Anishka quickly agree. The Chaldeans masters call a full-scale retreat just as the Amazon flood into the city to turn the battlefield even more chaotic.
Enkidu senses a new powerful presence going wild with seeming madness. Gudao is worried this new servant will hamper their retreat from Agartha's Force of Nature, but to their surprise, the young, muscular woman charges straight towards Heracles yelling bloody murder. Her eyes are pitch black with fury, and the only word to escape her lips is a loathed name: Achilles.
Thanks to the seemingly crazed new berserker, the Chaldeans are able to break contact and flee back towards the Sanctuary. En route, Da Vinci offers some good news. Artemis was watching from the theater and can confirm that was definitely a young Penthesilea, one of the Amazon's Three Queens. The fact she seemed powerful enough to go up against the empowered, mad Heracles could only mean she'll be their toughest opponent yet.
Anishka openly states she's more worried about Heracles and Helena. Scheherazade remains quiet as they fly back to base.
In the Santuary, Shakespeare is laughing happily at the possibilities that can come from an even stronger Heracles, but is still a bit troubled he hasn't found any real key center point for the story. Chiron says he'll find it sooner or later while Amakusa does his best to prevent Semiramis from throwing a few bolts 'accidentally' his way.
Gudao is trying to decide on a strategy. They want to end this travesty by today, and it's going to take more effort since that empowered Heracles is not on their side. Regardless, he's quick to make several plans, but is uncertain which one to go with. Anishka was sitting in and listening while Scheherazade stays really close for comfort. The caster even offers some advice, which curiously point towards being as aggressive as possible.
Scheherazade: The Amazons are powerful. Heracles is powerful… I'm sorry. I'm very fearful of those berserkers. The longer they are alive, the more chances remain I will die.
Blackbeard: That thantophobia of yours is seriously starting to grate on my nerves…
Gudao calmly disagrees with her. They're in a dilemma. They can't be too aggressive with Heracles because they're here to save him, but they require serious force to deal with him. He wants to do a capture operation first then attack the Amazons after instead of trying to start a fight between both of them and sweeping them out after. If this was a real war, that's what he'd prefer to do, but they have a friend to save.
Anishka offers her own plan after hearing enough. They should do both at the same time. Gudao is perplexed, but she reiterates that he wants this over as soon as possible. They all do, and the men here are aching to be with their families and live their lives. Therefore, with a demon pillar still unknown, they should really give it their all like it's a true primary singularity.
Anishka: It's good you're trying to spare Chaldea's resources in preparation for the worst, but I don't believe any should be spared when it comes to helping our friends and others. Let's end this swiftly, Gudao!
Rider of Resistance: Does that mean I won't have to lift a finger? Because that doesn't sit too well with me. I may not know who I am, but I know I'm not dead weight.
Gudao agrees, and reassures Rider of Resistance that he'll ensure he plays a good part. They'll also call in a few more reinforcements to boots, complete with a feisty third master.
▲▽▲ Section 10 ▲▽▲
In an unknown but regal location, Scheherazade and Anishka stand before an array of scrying orb visions projected for them. Anishka remarks they're on schedule. In the comfortable silence, Scheherazade replies how thankful she is that the masters have been doing so much to keep her out of harm's way. Anishka responds she feels she hasn't been doing enough, and that she hopes someday she can help Scheherazade with her issue. The caster says it's impossible, but Gabrielle skips over to say nothing is when it comes to the Chaldeans.
Scheherazade: …You're all so very friendly and considerate. You're still willing to invite me to your home?
Gabrielle: Of course! We got a lot of quirky people, so you'd be in good company!
Anishka: Gabby… Please don't call her phobia quirky. That's just wrong.
Scheherazade continues to watch on the many views as Gabrielle talks with Chaldea. Just behind them, Shakespeare is eagerly writing in his journal as he stares at the views, still a bit upset he hasn't quite found the piece to tie everything together. His eyes shift between the views and the people before him often, but his growing excitement for the next part is obvious.
A small flotilla of ships makes its way down one of the larger Amazon rivers, led by the Queen Anne's Revenge. They're making no attempt to hide their presence, nor keep their speed in check, as they barrel towards El Dorado. Rider of Resistance remarks how comfortable it feels to be on a ship, and agrees Scheherazade had great insight when it came to his nature as a ship's captain. Blackbeard says he's been saying that the whole time, and the two happily talk more about the pirate's past to make the time fly by.
Gudao is quiet on the bow with Ereshkigal and Enkidu flanking him. Enkidu's eyes are trained towards their real target while Astolfo circles above to keep a visual. With the aid of the many servants on the ships, the small force breaks through several barricades the Amazons were using to halt the Y's raids in their territory. After successfully destroying several larger barricades with little effort, they finally lure out an angry Penthisilea.
She boards the Queen Anne's Revenge, but Gudao calmly states that was the whole point. He wants to talk before things inevitably come to blows.
Gudao: Or to be more specific. We have someone who wants to ask you a few things, if we may, Queen Penthisilea, Might of the Amazons.
Gudao's ever respectful tone buys them a few moments from the otherwise proud queen. Fergus steps forward, flanked by Cu and Medb. He asks about the rule of the Amazons, and Penthisilea explains what Gudao already knew. They are the culture of the strong, where the weak are disposed of so the rest of their society does not suffer. Strength is prowess and an honored destiny, which is something the three Celts easily agree with. Medb even openly states the enslaving of men is kinda appealing in its own way, but dismisses the Amazon's point that they're merely cattle.
Medb: Obviously you can't tell the finer points of men. No reasons we can't share a battlefield or a bed, you know~…
This upsets Penthisilea and her amazon escorts. They don't see men on equal footing, and negotiations are clearly going to be impossible since the Amazon queen won't accept anything less than slavery of the strong and culling of the weak. Gudao understood that since they've fought Amazons before. That's why he acted accordingly yesterday, because he always makes an attempt to exchange words and understanding before the fists fly.
Gudao: You said it for us, your majesty. Amazons prize strength above all, so to even have a chance of negotiation or a discussion like this, we had to prove our worthiness… by negotiating from a position of superior power. You will do well to remember that we're not the ones surrounded by you. We have you right where we want you, but we respect you enough to offer a parley. Never say we didn't offer you a chance to stop the avalanche.
Penthisilea is impressed with Gudao's insight and understanding that they will only come to blows. She offers one nod to him, but then declares the Amazons will now commence their attack to remove the invaders from their land. Far more Amazons than the Chaldeans expected appear from the surrounding jungles. There are thousands, but Gudao is still completely calm. To Penthisilea's surprise, he's even a bit more hopeful as he orders a counterattack.
The battle is fierce. Penthisilea's strength is even more powerful than a regular servant due to some meddling in the singularity. Chaldea is attempting to find out if she's backed by the demon pillar or grail, but they're struggling for an answer. The Chaldeans and Resistance forces are easily holding their ground, but the commotion drew the attention of Heracles. He barrels through the jungle in search of the fierce struggle, bursts through an entire rank of Amazons, and crashes right onto the Queen Anne's Revenge.
His appearance sparks a light in Rider of Resistance. He's on a ship, facing a metaphorical 'storm' that prevents him from reaching a destination he desires. It sparks his true name, and he laughs happily as he calls forth his own ship to ease the burden on his new pirate friend Blackbeard: The Santa Maria.
Blackbeard: Ah… Now it all makes sense! You were our predecessor. One of the first raiders of the Americas! Christopher Columbus!
With the Santa Marie on its flank, the Queen Anne's Revenge finally opens fire to smash hundreds of Amazons attempting to assault the flotilla. At the same time, Columbus and Enkidu are using their chains in an attempt to hold down Heracles, who is waging a fierce battle with a suddenly madness-blinded Penthisilea. Their struggle is too powerful, and Columbus worries the flotilla will meet its end in the crossfire to subdue either of them. Gudao merely reveals his next step of the plan in hopes it works.
The ground rumbles, and momentarily has Penthisilea looking around in confusion.
▲▽▲ Section 11 ▲▽▲
At El Dorado, thousands of Amazons await the order to reinforce their queen when the ground begins to shake. They wonder if it's the Force of Nature their queen despises, but it's not. In the distance, a large, flying construct appears, surrounded by swarms of feathered flying dinosaurs. It begins floating rapidly towards them as they can only stare in shock: It's the Chaldeans real main attack force.
At Semiramis' command, the Flying Gardens of Babylon opens fire with a mighty volley.
The bright beams and archer attacks firing from the Gardens of Babylon captures Penthisilea's focus. Even with the scent of her hated foe before her, her pride as a Queen of the Amazons shines above her shame. Her people are under attack. Her home faces greater danger that must even shelve her own personal pride. Her core as the Amazon Queen breaks her madness long enough that she is forced into a decision.
Penthisilea: I'll be back for your head, Achilles! And you too, Chaldean master!
Penthisilea makes a hasty retreat to El Dorado with nearly all of her Amazons. Everything still going according to plan, Gudao calls hopefully for Enkidu and Columbus to secure Heracles just long enough. He's constantly breaking through their holds in his unbelievably powerful state. As they distract him, Gudao calls for their trump cards to appear. As Heracles struggles to rip through new binds yet again, a voice cries out from the ship.
Illyasviel: Berserker! Berserker, please stop!
It doesn't work. Heracles is too mad, and the Chaldeans' gamble that he'd recognize her falters. Gudao curses to think up a new strategy. As the situation degrades rapidly back into chaos.
Suddenly, Illyasviel, who wasn't paying attention to warnings, gets struck by a few well-placed arrows from the remaining Amazons. Miyu and Kuro rush to their bleeding friend as she tumbles towards the river. Heracles breaks free from the chains, ignores the many surrounding servants, and dives for Illyasviel. He catches the crying caster as she looks up in fear and worry. But his eyes are no longer glaring red. The monstrous storm of a berserker remains still in the river holding her while the Amazons pelt him with arrows. The other Chaldeans watch carefully.
At Illyasviel and her friends' pleading, Heracles' angry glare turns towards the Amazons. It was late, but it worked. They've managed to reason with him on a hopeful theory, and he listens to Gudao's request to join the attack against the Amazons. Now with a superpowered Heracles back on their side, the remaining Amazons are swiftly decimated. Gudao then quickly gives the order for the flotilla to join with the main attack.
They've rescued Heracles, so now only Helena needed to be found.
▲▽▲ Section 12 ▲▽▲
El Dorado is in flames. The Chaldean attack is absolute, and even the empowered Penthisilea can only do so much against the massive army aiming to crush them. She ponders if her kingdom could have been saved if she did take Gudao's parley more seriously, but doesn't hold it as a regret.
Penthisilea: Be proud, my people! If we must die, then let us fight to the last breath so they will never forget our strength! It is our pride as Amazon warriors!
The three Chaldean masters are on the ground behind a small task force of servants. She quickly loses her cool once more as Heracles' blinding presence spearheads their ground attack. With the aid of so many other Chaldeans, she's easily defeated. She doesn't lament on her defeat, but realizes Heracles was not Achilles when Chiron points it out. Though her madness subsides so she can see the truth, she's quick to denounce both of them as Greek Heroes. She points out Hector too, who she says smells like another one of those damn heroes. He gawks at the accusation.
Hector: Hey, hey! You came to help my city! Troy! I'm Trojan! Don't lop me in the same bireme as that guy!
In the end, she still thanks them. Then she thanks Gudao for ordering the servants not to be easy on her, even while Anishka was requesting they take it easy. He respected her pride, and gave her a fighting death to be proud of. One certainly better than her real one. She vanishes, but glares incredulously at Gabrielle at her last words.
Gabrielle: Maybe we'll see you in Chaldea some day! On better terms too!
▲▽▲ Section 13 ▲▽▲
The servants are sweeping the area. The Control room is scanning too, but there's still no sign of Helena or the demon pillar. Gudao orders a wider search as Columbus' men move to free the many slaves. They detect a small abnormality in the waters nearby, and Gabrielle leads a team to investigate.
Shakespeare is now openly groaning that this singularity wasn't quite as exciting as he hoped it'd be and openly considers luring in some of those hydras to coax a possible new development. A far-too-close bolt from Semiramis' Garden of Babylons makes him swiftly apologize and discard his idea.
Scheherazade is now openly nervous again. Anishka and Sita try to soothe her nerves, but she makes a point to stare towards Columbus the entire time. Moriarty openly voices over the comms his disposition makes him very suspicious with a demon pillar still in play. Columbus hears it, and openly agrees with him.
Columbus: I won't deny it. My dream is finally within reach, and Chaldea has done much to help me get here! I can't thank you enough for this beautiful gift!
He goes on to shamelessly explain his dream. The many now leaderless women in Agartha are ripe for slavery. He admonishes modern humanity's virtues against slavery and explains why his time had the right idea. He's excited at the amount of profit he can make on them, which only enrages Spartacus. Columbus' chains are quick to ensnare the berserker, which turns a lot of Chaldeans against him to attack…
But Blackbeard stops them, making Anne and Mary gawk at him. He only shakes his head.
Blackbeard: He's a terrible man who fondly remembers his past. I am too. But's he's not stupid. He knows what he's up against. You heard him from before. He won't fight a battle he can't win, and this is one he'll never win. He can't fight Chaldea.
Columbus: Exactly! I'm only going to hope you're just as negotiable and diplomatic as you make yourself out to be, Gudao! What say you turn a blind eye to this singularity and let an old man live his dream? It's separate from the world, yes? Then where's the harm letting an ally relish in a bit of gold?
Gudao says even if his moral compass was that askew, that's not possible. With the conclusion of the singularity when they find the demon pillar, it will collapse. He'll be sent back to the throne anyway.
Columbus mulls that he doesn't actually have any real choice about this. He doesn't have the power to even rival their military might. Yet his dream is right in front of him. He curses his luck and openly admits he should have done more to secure more points for a stronger position of negotiation. Gudao only smiles cheekily.
Gudao: Why do you think we were so careful about what you got your hands on? Thanks for the heads up, Blackbeard.
Blackbeard: He's the same kind of guy as me. You were right to be wary.
Columbus laments if the end is guaranteed, he may as well go down fighting. But he requests it to be a battle between him and the three present pirates who he'd shared many laughs, stories, and talks with in such a short time. They agree, though it takes a lot to keep Spartacus and an irritated Quetzalcoatl from joining this 'raider duel'.
It ends with the swift defeat of Columbus, who curses his luck once more and says Chaldea would make for a fine enemy to anyone. Blackbeard and Columbus still shake hands before he vanishes civilly. His last line is a hopeful wish next time will be far more accommodating for his old world dream.
▲▽▲ Section 14 ▲▽▲
An hour later, Gabrielle's force returns with Helena in tow, who reveals everything she went through. She even has a shiny new grail and is excited she gets to explore this world a little longer while they search for the pillar. The strange energy anomalies were a bunch of boxes in a secret underwater fortress that Gabrielle's team collected for their return.
Gabrielle: Maybe we can use these things as pseudo-grails? Helena says they're really strong! Imagine how many more rooms we can make in Chaldea!
Moriarty laughs over the comms and insists one thing at a time. First they need to confirm the pillar, and with Chaldea's scan complete, and Gabrielle's force back from the hidden unobservable area, it's now very obvious what it is. Blackbeard openly agrees, pulls out a flintlock…
…and levels the weapon at Scheherazade. The panicked caster is frozen with fear as the many Chaldeans turn to face her. Holmes and Moriarty look to each other on the virtual hologram, nod, and agree. It's obvious who the culprit of this singularity is now that Chaldea's scans produced no other results and confirmed no other servants. Moriarty compliments her strategy of hiding in plain sight, but like Holmes, questions what exactly she was trying to accomplish by doing this.
Moriarity: We're having trouble piecing together whatever plan you had… because it appears to have failed spectacularly. The number of holes was… Hmm. You may want to stick to stories, miss.
Holmes: But to her credit, her setup was impressive. You forged this entire singularity, didn't you? The intricacies… the mixing of concepts and ideas… even directly tampering with servant saint graphs. It felt like a story, something you are famous for weaving. Certainly not suspicious as a caster. Certainly not… which begs the obvious. Why walk among us and make yourself so obvious to a detective-?
To many's skepticism or shock, Schaharazade collapses into a total dogeza pose while frantically crying. The tears won't stop. She's pleading outright for her life. She'll offer anything, even her body, if it means she can't die. She doesn't want to disappear from the singularity. An angry Blackbeard snaps at her and demands she straighten herself out. They want answers, not her worthless crying.
Blackbeard: So you either start answering, or I'll have some fun dipping into an old past time of mine! You ever hear how creative pirates could get with torture!?
It only rattles her further, and Anishka quickly steps in the line of fire between Blackbeard and Scheherazade. This shakes the caster from her fear to stare in confusion at the master. Nearly all the other servants and masters are glaring judgingly at Scheherazade, but Anishka is now symbolically defending her. Scheherazade can't help but ask why.
Anishka merely says because this is who she is, and outright refuses Blackbeard's demand for her to move out of the way. To everyone's shock, she even uses a command seal to force Blackbeard and others to lower their weapons. The pirate stares at her in shock as his hand involuntarily throws his flintlock to the side. He pauses in silence and demands to know why Anishka is defending someone who's offended Chaldea to such a degree.
Blackbeard: Of all times to stop being so timid, why now!?
Anishka: Why!? Look at her! Does this look like someone who was given a choice!?
She stands her ground and explains how genuinely fearful she is. She had multiple chances to kill the masters. She didn't. She had multiple chances to do whatever she did to manipulate the other servants. She didn't. Scheherazade is pulled by her fear of death, and will do anything to prevent it.
When they first met, she was just as scared, and Anishka was compelled to help her. She's a healer. It's what she does. Even now, her diagnosis hasn't changed. She's a healer, and Scheherazade is now much more obviously a patient seeking a cure. Her fear is death, and she would do anything to avoid that. Even if it meant working with a demon pillar who was willing to manipulate a valuable target for its own means, and at any cost to save herself. So if they're to blame anyone, it's the demon pillar.
Gudao, who had been as calm as Enkidu the whole time, quickly agrees, and says it's right the servants should stand down. Many don't like it as Gabrielle argues what they're supposed to do then. Gudao says it's what Anishka says: Kill the demon pillar. Without flinching, he tells Enkidu to strike.
Scheherazade screams as chains rocket towards her, but Sita, Rama, and Arjuna quickly dash in to carry Anishka and Scheherazade out of the way at the last moment. Anishka is stunned. Scheherazade more so.
The chains pierced the air behind Scheherazade, where a now formed, humanoid demon pillar has taken form: Phenex. Enkidu has been keeping an eye on the strange disturbance that lingered around Scheherazade since yesterday, but it was only now that he could confirm what it was since they've searched everywhere. Phenex is a demon pillar that governs life and death, and so its presence straddles that line like a concealing cloak. It kept close to Scheherazade this entire time.
Scheherazade, finally finding her voice, reveals Phenex's plan at Anishka's encouragement. That it promised if she created a mock grail war, they could find a way to reveal the mysteries to the world and destroy the concept of summoning servants from the Throne of Heroes. She would be free from countless deaths, while Phenex would reach its own goals of vengeance.
Phenex had urged Scheherazade to join up with the Chaldeans to ensure they went around killing every servant in the singularity. It should have been easy because Chaldea was far too powerful, and they'd unintentionally do the work for them. They might even lose some servants trying to save Heracles. With Scheherazade's tampering, the killed servants couldn't escape the singularity and return to the throne, but their energy trying to do so would generate what they required for their grand act. But nothing went to plan.
Instead Chaldea saved too many, which meant the energy needed to complete their true plan was never reached. Phenex talks in poetic verse, but throws aggravation and disbelief that the Chaldeans had managed to make Heracles see through his overwhelming madness they'd worked so hard to ensure. Gudao admits it was almost like a fairy tale that it worked.
Gudao: It was a wild chance… but I guess Illya really does mean a lot to him. The same can be said for all our friends, really. Our bonds are what make many stick around and want to enjoy tomorrow.
Since the demon pillar can't see eye to eye, Gudao merely orders their secret reinforcement to do the honors. King Hassan steps forward, severs Phenex's unique connection with life and death, and promptly beheads the captured pillar before it can transform.
Shakespeare complains this was all really straightforward and anti-climatic. He practically throws his notebook in irritation. Helena tries to calm him down, and Semiramis takes amusement that the playwright 'wasted so much of his time' here on 'zero inspiration.'
As he picks up his notebook, Da Vinci confirms the singularity is beginning to decay. They'll be able to bring them home sooner if they wish, and then she apologizes to Helena since she can't spend more time exploring Agartha. Now it's Shakespeare trying to calm Helena down while nearly everyone else laughs.
Scheherazade is hyperventilating. Her death has finally come. She begins crying again and whimpering that she didn't even get to choose her death. All she wanted was not to die again. That's why she was willing to go to such world-altering extremes to try and destroy the concept of the throne of heroes. She cries over her doomed fate, but is stunned when Anishka offers her an open hand. Scheherazade looks up to see the other Chaldeans staring, but Anishka still smiles.
Anishka: Well? We haven't formed a contract yet, and we need to do it if you want to come home with us.
Scheherazade: After knowing my hand in all this… You still want to bring me to Chaldea…?
Blackbeard cuts in and says she has a lot to answer for. He openly admits he wants to wring her neck, but that would defeat everything. She can atone in other ways, like speeding up the recovery of their corrupted friends. Anishka interrupts him to reassure her that ill will fades with time. They've had many former enemies join them, and Scheherazade joining sooner just means grievances dissipate faster.
Anishka: I'll leave my hand out as long as I can, but I can only meet you half way. I don't want you to die either… Let me save you! Let us save you and offer you something better, so you'll never have to fear again!
Scheherazade looks at her hand hesitantly as a spark seems to resonate in Shakespeare. He's now quickly eyeing the other caster and writing in his journal swiftly. Scheherazade, finally and fearfully, grasps onto Anishka's hand.
Theme, Premise, & Design Insight
Fragment 95 was the planned original epilogue for this supplement. It is now converted to its own fragment. That's why it doesn't feel truly 'complete' with closure.
The curious thing about changing around bits of Agartha was its whole premise. It was very straightforward, and most claim it was very much 'boring' compared to the other EORs. But the emphasis on character development was both obvious and profound, and that was an angle everyone knows I often work with. So the trick was simply focusing onto the theme of character development rather than making some notable thriller. After all, in the end, every supplement was supposed to be another narrative depiction to focus character development and introduce/create concept advancements for the series' core.
So, while inserting reference points where the character development interactions from canon Agartha take place, I went about ensuring it was a simple, small journey for two more in particular: Anishka and Scheherazade. For one, it's finding their voice beyond timid passivity, and for the other, that's a conclusion that will be reached with the next fragment's release. Otherwise, Agartha remains mostly intact, though the ending and some developments were rightfully shifted due to Chaldea's actions. Some of the 'questionable' stuff will be addressed in the next fragment too.
Chapter 20: Shard 19: What's Finally Held
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 87 and 88.
For months, she had many friends to brighten her day, yet her heart always longer for a certain, caring touch without fear. To many, it was a simple act to be held so close and appreciated, but none desired it more than Serenity. How could she not? After all, had it not been for Chaldea's aid, she would have remained a hazard to all.
But now was different. She had been gifted something she thought only a grail could provide: A chance at her dream, which was becoming reality.
Tyler had always kind to her. He had that laidback and friendly presence she slowly took comfort in, but he kept his respectful difference. Serenity still wasn't too sure when she started seeing him in a different light. She was well aware he found her attractive; Iskandar even mentioned the employee secretly had her on a much higher pedestal. It was that thought that made it far more crushing when she failed to protect him from harm during Chaldea's invasion.
Yet… Tyler lived. He forgave her immediately, because he never blamed her. And he never lost that smile that now made her heartbeat so much faster with warmth.
They'd drifted closer quickly, but there was never a defining moment when they became 'official'. After many 'friendly dates' and a lot of playful flirting, it just became an accepted notion, even if neither of them ever mentioned it. It just sort of happened without any official declaration… but she did love how gradual and peaceful it was. After a seeming eternity, everything fell into place.
All that remained was to consummate their love completely.
Shard 19: What's Finally Held
It started as a calm night. They'd sat on her couch as she asked for an opinion on her new project. Not long after, the prototype book of paintings had been discarded onto the couch, forgotten in favor of each other. He fell to her affectionate embrace; She fell harder. Yet their feet carried on in the blurry haze until she was pinned lovingly to her own bed.
Tyler had dimmed the lights, but her own haze already blinded her. Her senses were overloaded as her heartbeat became deafening; His soft breaths against her neck rivalled it. One of her arms desperately clung to his back, keeping the desired warmth of her lover pressed against her. Her other gently unbuttoned yet another barricade, then gently slid beneath his white dress shirt. She giggled as she felt a shiver under her lustful tease, but her victory was short lived.
Serenity gasped his name lightly as he skillfully unhooked her lacy black bra. Her dress had long been lost to the abyss surrounding her bed, but it clearly wasn't enough. His other glided gently down her side, and the jolts of electricity made her back arch into him.
As she ground her hips into him as an invite, he only managed to groan out her name before she captured his lips in her own. Her bra straps were drifting for an escape, and only their bodies kept it in place as she undid the final button on his shirt. Tender, loving heat radiated between them. She yearned for it to fill her. She craved it.
"I love you... I want you." she breathed into him.
His breathing grew just as ragged, but his whisper was fine wine to her ears. "I love you too… God, you're perfect. You're like a… uh-"
She silenced him with a quick peck, and gazed her hungry, wanting eyes into his own. "Don't be a dork~… Just complete me~…"
Lustful desire overtook her. Lost in their kiss, her eager hands fumbled with his shirt; He surrendered it. Barely a blink later, she didn't even hear it fly to floor while their tongues caressed. The warmth of his defined, firm chest pressing her into the bed made her mind sink deeper. She couldn't even hear their gasps for breath. But she could feel every sensation of touch her body had longer for.
His gentle but needy caresses lit her skin on fire where they touched. As she felt his hand gently slide between beneath the side of her panties, she glided her own softly down his chest to slip beneath his boxers. His hot breath escaping their lips while they moaned each other's names was greater than the strongest alcohol. They fell intoxicated, but they only drank more of each other. Yearning lips beckoned her lover further, as her heart and mind fell numb amid the sweltering room.
…Yet Tyler fell surprisingly still. "…Tyler…?"
Slowly, Serenity opened her eyes with confusion; There was no fear accompanying it. Her special talisman was still firmly pressed between them, but her lover's attention had been stolen. Quietly, Serenity followed his gaze to her nightstand to find the answer: A beloved little robot, who sat happily in its little donut pillow.
Rena's eyes were looked between them curiously, swiveled, then stared at Tyler. "What?"
He cleared his throat softly. "Uh… Rena. Do you mind?"
"…Huh?" Rena's eyes titled sideways in confusion. "Why would I mind? No, I don't mind! Keep making her happy~!"
Serenity smiled. Tyler blinked, but then shook his head and stared dumbfounded at the little robot. "No, that's not what I meant!"
"Oh, don't mind her, Tyler~…" Serenity tried to reassure as she glided her hand eagerly down his torso. He quivered lightly. She leaned up, and he quickly shook when her hot, sultry breath caressed his ear. "You don't want to keep your lovely woman waiting, do you~…?"
He was still certainly aroused; She felt his firm lust trapped between them, and nearly within her reach. But he looked conflicted. It was honestly cute, and made her giggle more as he complained. "I-I don't, but…! It's awkward, Serenity! It's like the dog watching its masters have sex!"
"Did you just call me a -BLEEEEP-!?" Rena's sensors blinked incredulously. "Oh for -BLEEP- sake, Tyler! I thought you and Ant tossed this stupid censor!"
"Never mind that right now, you're killing the mood!" he cried out, even as Serenity laughed beneath him. "Can you just, oh, I don't know, turn around!?"
Rena's sensors narrowed to stare at Tyler like he was a toddler ruining the fresh paint on the walls. "I knew you can be dumb, but not this dumb."
Tyler blinked. "What?"
"How am I supposed to monitor when my visual sensors are aimed the wrong way!?" Rena spat out like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I'm just doing my job, Tyler! I'm supposed to watch over Serenity in case something bad happens! You know, stick you with the big needle if things go bad-bad?"
Tyler gawked and paled. "Rena! Don't go bringing up needles right now!"
"I'm explaining things to you, you baby! If you go die-die while making love to Serenity because I failed to antidote you, I'll be turned to scrap parts and Serenity will be heartbroken! I'm not actually teasing you right now! I'm serious! I don't want to see her sad so just let me DO. MY. JAY-OH-BEE. JOB."
Their squabbling escalated, and though the sweltering mood was fading, Serenity couldn't help but smile. Many became close to her, but these two became the most important warmths in her life. The little robot friend who did everything to ensure her happiness and wellbeing. The talented but dorky employee who'd finally granted her the loving embraces she desired. Together, they were the gift she'd long thought impossible, but was now hers to claim.
With one last giggle, Serenity shifted gears. "Tyler~…"
As if coordinated, Rena fell silently as he turned back. He nearly gasped as Serenity's slender arm glided across his glistening back to pull him closer. Her hand slid for the long-awaited prize, and she smirked happily against his lips as she felt his lustful moan; She liked what she found too. She loved his reignited, carnal cravings more.
It became her turn to moan blissfully into his mouth as his hand tugged at her panties. His other kept her pinned against him as she ground her hips desperately into his own. Once more, they fell to the growing haze of love. Their eyes were bolted shut, yet all they could see and feel was the warmth held in their arms. Moments later, the air grew suffocating with their desire, and no scrap of cloth came between the lovers any longer.
…And for the rest of the night, Rena fell thoughtfully quiet too.
Chapter 21: Shard 20: Fated Guardian
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 16 and 17.
"Illyaaaa..! Illya? …Sheesh, how did I lose her?"
The last thing Kuro needed was for her headache to get worse. They'd been in Chaldea only a few hours, but the number of explanations had been ridiculous. Somehow, they wound up in a far more dangerous war, like something out of one of her other half's animes. They had family here but… they weren't quite the family either expected. Hell, their brother sure was a bigger stud, but his younger self had a bit more charm. Then there were the other heroic spirits, a facility filled with magecraft and robots…
'I need some sleep…' Kuro groaned in her own mind. There was too much to digest all at once. But Illyasviel wanted to go exploring, so there they were, touring the halls even though the masters were going to give them a tour tomorrow morning. They haven't even seen their room yet, for crying out loud!
"Illya! Let's just go back to our room! We're just spoiling the tour!" she cried out incredulously as she jogged down the hallway. She swore she saw her chasing Ruby down the next intersection. A robot eyed her as it passed with cleaning supplies, but she didn't pay any heed. Instead, she was getting used to her strange new senses after becoming a 'pseudo-servant'… or whatever happened to them. Being able to feel magical energy signatures that much clearer was really something…
…Yet it made Kuro's hair stand on end feeling that mighty one just around the corner.
Shard 20: Fated Guardian
"Illya! Is that servant threatening you!?" the small archer panicked as she dashed forward, then tried out the strange telepathy ability she'd gained. 'Hoy! Onii-chan! We could use some help here! I don't know where though!'
Kuro had turned the corner and spotted the school uniform quickly; The scantily clad archer noticed the hulking servant not a split second after. There was no mistaking that powerful behemoth with dark skin. They'd fought it before… or more specifically, Illyasviel had fought it with Miyu since Kuro had yet to take form from the class card. That berserker card was mighty, so if this was the real deal, then the possibilities unnerved the archer.
Sliding to a halt in the empty hallway, Kuro stood battle ready while Illyasviel remained frozen in a gaze. With her hands open and ready to summon her blades, she nearly cursed under her breath as she looked to the potential threat. "Illya! Now's not the time to freeze up again!"
"Kuro, calm down! The berserker hasn't done anything but stand there and stare!" Ruby chimed in as it flew to Kuro's level. After blinking, Kuro carefully studied the tall, muscular behemoth. Its breaths were like a waiting dragon, and its hardened face seemed to prove its aggressive state. Yet it did nothing. Kuro gazed back to Illyasviel, and noticed she wasn't actually frozen from fear.
She just gazed curiously, with just a hint of concern. Kuro blinked. '…Well, at least she's not falling on old habits.'
Though Kuro relaxed her guard a bit, she noticed the berserker eyeing her curiously. She couldn't read his intense gaze; It frustrated her. She just wanted it to speak already. Illyasviel did instead. "Um… Hi? It's nice to meet you."
The battle-clad Heracles gazed back to Illyasviel, but only offered a small grunt. It put Kuro back on edge for a moment, but he did nothing else but stare. The caster tilted her head in confusion. "Um… Sorry, I didn't understand that… I'm Illyasviel von Einzbern, but I'm often called Illya… Can you talk?"
To Kuro's surprise, the berserker shook his head. She hummed in thought, 'So a mute? At least he's not wild with madness like that black knight.'
Kuro noticed Illyasviel look to her in confusion about what to do. Frankly, she wasn't too sure what to do either. He wasn't hostile. He couldn't talk though, so yes or no questions had to be done. She also just wanted to go to sleep instead of trying to work through an awkward introduction… but then their brother arrived in haste. The battle-ready archer appeared from spirit form, but the tension in his eyes quickly subsided.
Like sunbeams through a fading storm, his sigh pierced the air. "My, my… You had me all concerned. I trust everything is fine with Heracles?"
"Um… I think? We didn't really talk much…" Illyasviel answered uncertainly.
"My bad… It was a knee-jerk deal. I thought Illya got into a mess," Kuro waved off, and earned a quick pout from the caster. Ruby snickered above her head, but Kuro turned back to see Heracles seemingly examining her again. "Heracles, huh? Well… We're probably just two girls who don't mean anything to such a big name, but nice to meet ya'? I'm Chloe von Einzbern. Illya's twin sister. You're more than free to call me Kuro but uh… yea. That."
Kuro raised an eyebrow as Heracles' gaze seemed to turn contemplative. Still, it only left the two briefly to notice Emiya's arrival. For the most part, he seemed content enough just to stare at them, but she didn't know why. Hopefully it wasn't anything bad, but supposedly things were kinda-sorta civil in Chaldea?
Emiya's small chuckle earned Kuro's stare. She caught him looking at Illyasviel's confused expression, which turned between Heracles and him. The older archer answered the silent question. "Illya… Hm. Both of you, maybe, mean a lot more to Heracles than you think."
Again, Illyasviel only scrunched her eyebrows further. Emiya only smirked calmly and leaned against the hallway side. "I think we've talked your ears off enough for tonight… but try calling him Berserker, not Heracles. I'm sure he'd like that from you."
The two girls glanced at each other for a moment, then shrugged; They've certainly had to sing and dance to worse. Illyasviel glanced to the hulking man and cleared her throat likely. "…Berserker? Do you really like for us to call you that? It feels a bit rude and… impersonal…?"
Illyasviel lost her voice as quickly as Kuro's mouth opened. Heracles' aggressive gaze had cracked to offer the tiniest twitch of the mouth. It wasn't quite a smile you'd see from Miss Universe or the Pope, but it was a smile. He nodded, and the two turned to each other again curiously, only for it to be torn away by the first footstep forward.
Though her concern grew, Kuro felt no animosity in the giant's approach. He towered over them as a mountain of muscle, but the worry of any rockfall subsided. Instead, the mountain yielded to them by stopping within arm's reach. Slowly, he offered one open hand to Illyasviel, and she gazed at it curiously. After a quick glance to Kuro for reassurance, to which she only shrugged with confusion, the caster gazed back.
Illyasviel took a step forward and gently laid her hand on Heracles' large pointer finger. His strange smile remained, and his gaze seem far, far lighter. It almost seemed… friendly? Caring? Kuro still wasn't sure how to describe this hulking behemoth's attention, nor did her sister, clearly.
Instead, it was her turn to be confused when Heracles gazed to her. She wasn't sure, but he seemed almost contemplative as he glanced between her and the small caster. Illyasviel noticed, and after a moment of hesitation, quietly spoke. "Kuro is my twin... but it's more complicated than that. Please be nice to her too, Berserker!"
That seemed to clear the last of any confusion from the big hero. Again, after turning back to the little archer and studying her, he slowly offered his hand. It was now a bewildered Kuro's turn to stare at Illyasviel. She finally gazed back to the hand, shrugged, and grinned.
Kuro patted the index finger before laying it gently on top. She grinned up at the big man. "Berserker it is, then! Nice to meet ya!"
A few paces away, Emiya smiled with satisfaction.
Chapter 22: Shard 21: In Times of Need
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 77 and 78.
Calm, crashing waves. Clouds like cotton candy stretched across azure skies. A tickling breeze. The thick scent of briny comfort hugging his senses. All that was missing for the perfect nap was to be in the field of flowers surrounded by the lovely butterflies. But any time spent in the resort was refreshing under its blazing sun.
If only their conversation was just a bit warmer. "Euryale say I can play games on this. Do you know any fun games?"
"Sorry. I haven't paid any attention to that," came the quick but quiet reply from his companion on a boardwalk bench.
"Oh, okay. I guess I look in my own time." Asterios didn't want the following pause to last. Sitting cross legged on the boardwalk, with a large tablet nestled atop his red Hawaiian shorts, he tossed a small glance to Medea; His concern was thinly veiled, since he was bad at hiding it. But he was worried for her. In recent months, Medea's smile would have been as bright and beautiful as her purple wrap dress.
Now it was like a wilted flower, if it ever showed at all.
Shard 21: In Times of Need
Asterios spotted her sitting alone on that park bench. He'd spent most of the morning trying to figure out how to use his tablet without bothering Euryale; She didn't know how to use her phone either. Figuring he'd pet two birds with one hand, he strolled over to spend time with his cousin. It'd been a few weeks since they got to enjoy that!
Yet, what he discovered was lingering sadness from the bad events.
Quietly, he tried to think of a new conversation, but he couldn't think of one. His mind was too sad for his cousin. He could only imagine how she felt. Just having Euryale so injured in his arms was enough to send his emotions into a spiral. How was she managing while her best friend remained in a sad sleep?
It was making him sad just thinking about it; Naomi was so kind to him and made really comfy clothing. He wanted her to wake up so his cousin could be happy again. She deserved to be happy here after her troubled past. Everyone did! Chaldea may have some cold pricklies here and there, but it was a home of warm fuzzies where most were practically family.
He scrunched his eyebrows trying to brush aside his sad thoughts. He had to find a way to cheer up his cousin; Family was there for family! That's what he learned from the Gorgon sisters. Even for just a few moments, he wanted Medea to smile genuinely. But how?
An answer came from nearby. "…Tohsaka? What are you doing?"
Emiya's loud call had caught both Asterios and Medea's attention. They glanced further down the boardwalk, where Emiya and Lancelot had paused by the railing. He only paid enough attention to the casually dressed men to follow their gaze to the shore. He quickly saw Ishtar, but tilted his head when he saw her hovering above the water's surface in her battle attire. In her arms, he could see her tablet… but it was dripping with water?
"I'm giving my iPad a bath!" Ishtar yelled back calmly. Asterios fell more confused while Lancelot and Emiya glanced to each other.
After a pause, Emiya finally asked the real question. "And why are you giving it a bath?"
"I got a virus clicking on advertisement. The nerve of some humans! Hiding viruses behind interesting offers!" Asterios hummed quietly. He should warn Euryale and Stheno about bad online salesmen too. "But Gilgamesh actually had a quick fix! Just like the robots should be treated like beings, so should devices. A quick bath should help it recover quicker!"
Medea slowly turned her head to stare at Asterios. He shared her dumbfounded look; Ignorant of technology or not, even he knew something that obvious. Emiya just raised the point for them. "…Rin… I know you're well aware electric devices don't fair well in water… You do know that, right?"
"But Gil said these tablets were modelled after Uruk's stone ones! They… would be…" On cue, Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Ereshkigal's overwhelmed laughter echoed from the outdoor cafeteria. With every passing second, Ishtar turned more and more red. Though she fumed in growing ditress, Asterios couldn't help but chuckle. Even Medea did as Ishtar's voice thundered. "HOW DARE YOU DECIEVE URUK'S PATRON GODDESS!? MY IPAD…! YOU'RE PAYING FOR IT, YOU STUPID KING!"
As Ishtar quickly sped towards the source of laughter, Medea let out an amused sigh while rubbing her forehead. "And she's an ancient divine…"
"Her actions funny," Asterios offered as he recalled her Valentine's Day shenanigans. She wasn't too good at hiding it, especially after Mata Hari joined in. Though a silence was picking up, he did have a curious question he never did get to ask… mostly because if he did ask it, the twins would get mad. "Medea? Why were gods so cruel in our time? Why can't they be more funny and weird like Ishtar?"
Medea glanced over to him and blinked; It was a manipulated fate they both shared. She offered a small, sympathetic smile at his child-like, curious expression. There was only a hint of disappointment in both their eyes as she sighed again. "Ishtar was just as bad then too. Her pseudo-servant state is likely the only reason she's more negotiable. Divines simply… don't see things like we do. Their perspective is skewed."
"All of them? Would Auntie Circe be like that too?" Family was important to Asterios, but now more than ever. Though the Gorgons meant a lot to him, he would never abandon Medea or any other family that came here; That'd be too mean, like what his father did! But he was worried if their aunt, who Medea sometimes talked about, would be… "Auntie Circe was nice, wasn't she? She helped Odysseus!"
"That's was a bit complicated in and of itself…" Medea admitted quietly, but then tried to smile reassuringly. "She wasn't quite like the other divines. Not to me, at least… I'd like to see her again too. And I'm sure she'd like you. If you ask nicely, I think she'd even try to explain a divine's view and stance better."
"I hope. I don't want to ask Euryale or Stheno," he stated, but let his smile grow. "Do you have catalysts for Auntie Circe? I'd like meet Auntie sooner!"
"Sorry, Asterios, but we'll have to wait."
"Okay… I can't wait to meet her or other family!" He's said that for every recent time Circe or someone else was mentioned. But it was the truth. "More family and friends! Ones who are kind and loving! Not mean and sad bringing! Close people make Chaldea comfier!"
"It does…" Medea agreed quietly as her smile seemed to fade. Quickly realizing where her train of thoughts were returning to, Asterios frowned sadly. In an instant, he'd gently put his tablet safely on the ground, then leaned in to pluck Medea from the bench. The caster gawked. "Asterios!"
"Please don't be sad, cousin! Sad is bad! No sad time!" He was firm, yet gentle as he wrapped Medea into a hug, whether she wanted it or not; Rhetorical really. Medea usually avoided hugs, especially in public. But he wasn't about to let her cousin spend more time sad! "She'll wake up! Naomi wake up and everything be happy and smiles! So please don't be sad! It make me sad!"
Medea remained still in his hold, so he rocked her gently. "There are many friend and family here for you, Medea! Right now it me! Your cousin here and he loves you. I promise everything will be happy again!"
As he gently rocked her, he felt his heart lurch upon catching a rare sound: a tiny sniffle from Medea. The berserker felt two hands on his chest in a gentle return of appreciation. His heart nearly cracked when he felt a lone tear wet his chest. "…Thank you, Asterios…"
To think it was affecting her this much. Asterios was nearly on the verge of tears too as he held Medea warmly. No more tears fell, but she was doing her best to keep her tears locked tight. Then he would do his best to keep her reassured while she let some pain out. He'd gladly do it for the Gorgons, or for her. Even future family and friends who he'd come to love. He'd do all he could to ease their plights or make their smiles brighter.
After all, that's what family is for.
Chapter 23: Shard 22: A Count's Aria
Series Placement: The following shard takes place during Fragment 93, between Scenes XIII and XIV.
Had she not been staggered with surprise, Joan would have been chasing after that little runt of a lancer. Janna could count her blessings instead; Minutes after tripping, Joan was still in a slight daze. Words had left her, but thankfully, her body moved on its own. With her hand in his, and the world a blur, she followed automatically while eyeing him once again.
Formal was Dantes' signature style. Whatever the occasion, he was dressed well, but favored darker tones like her. She thought she'd seen all of his pizazz over countless meetings in the salon, events, and more. Clearly she had been wrong, yet this was the first appearance he had that truly floored her.
The way his coat trailed after him was like a retinue of faithful followers. Such a simple but regal ponytail pronounced his nobility just by its presence; His hair never looked primmer. Even with his perfectly tailored fabric and filigrees aside, the way he strolled had never screamed so loudly to her.
It was… foreign. Such orchestral grace was alien to a farmgirl, but it coated him like a fine-tuned spotlight. For a man who firmly denied he was the true Edmond Dantes, he sure felt every bit that perfected noble… complete with the lingering feeling of a refined, vengeful tingle in the air.
He flashed his pearly whites to her again, and Joan couldn't stop her heart from skipping a beat. "Does this table interest you, Mademoiselle?"
Joan only nodded in her first attempt to recompose herself; Hopefully she wouldn't take too long. This was ridiculous. It was just a formal dance, not a date!
Shard 22: A Count's Aria
Though the contest began barely a minute after they took their seats, they were thankfully not called yet. And, she supposed, her frustrating daze had been wiped clean by the revelation of the contest's surprise rule… One she was hoping wasn't the case as she kept her face buried in her hands. "I'm going to burn whoever thought of this…!"
Apparently heroic spirits were skilled. Apparently they learned fast. And, apparently, that meant they should be able to improvise without a hitch. Thus, the coordinators adopted a 'bystander's idea' that the song should be randomly chosen from their genre instead of ones they practiced with.
"Just relax, Joan. Don't forget I'm your partner." His calm tone made her part her fingers to stare across the table. True, she had a nobleman, and though he let Mata Hari teach, his knowledge of dance was never doubted. In their few solo practices, he'd practically led. He didn't even look unnerved in the least as he stared amusingly towards the night's next victims.
In her concern her plot would fail, Joan hadn't realized the Holy Maiden and her partner had been called up. Suddenly, her sadistic hopes grew, and she sent rare prayers to someone or something that Jeanne and Diarmuid would wind up embarrassing themselves to an unknown song. Part of her skeptically prodded that Marie had helped Jeanne master the noble dance, so the chance of them messing up was slim; Most of Joan told that portion to shut the hell up.
The pair of friends stood silently in the center as all eyes watched. Jeanne looked like an icy blue winter bell in her gown, and her partner wore a frosty white suit with a matching undershirt. Jeanne stood calmly in his arms, though there was no stiffness of worry; Diarmuid was hesitant by comparison… until Mozart began to play. They beamed at each other, and Joan quickly cursed that luck decided to shine on them…
~~Some day my prince will come~~
~~Some day we'll meet again~~
…Or they pulled strings with Marie, who currently sang remarkably well. She was willing to bet Jeanne d'Arc, miss pristine beautiful perfect saint be damned, would definitely try to tell her salon friends to-! "Don't scowl, Joan. Let your sister enjoy yourself."
The beautiful avenger glared lightly at her partner, but countered with a hushed voice. "I want to enjoy myself too! And nothing will make me happier right now then seeing victory in my grasp!"
"All this for sibling rivalry bragging rights…" he sighed calmly and quietly, but smirked a touch in amusement as he eyed her. Joan nearly bit her tongue at the chill it sent down her exposed back. "I told you already. Don't worry. I'll make sure you beat her, and maybe take the competition too. How would that be for bragging rights?"
Joan smirked back eagerly, and they shared a tiny chuckle… which was lost when she turned back to see how well Jeanne and Diarmuid were doing. Though there was some stiffness and missed timing, they swirled beneath the grand center chandelier like courting tropical birds. Joan scowled. Dantes sighed.
It's funny, really. One moment, she was a brimming chalice of confidence, ready to take the stage. The vengeful action and purpose of her soul was molded with experience into ambitious drive; She was taking revenge, of sorts. Revenge on how much more attention Jeanne often took even if they worked equally as hard. Tonight, she'd be getting the new attention and praise she deserved…
Not that she'd admit to wanting any of it. She just deserved it. Rightfully.
Yet, the second she heard her name called, her legs turned to a terrible, chilled jello. It took all her willpower to move her anxious body elegantly and strongly as Dantes led her by the hand to the floor. Truth be told… this was the first time Joan was actually being watch by so many servants. Yes, she always dreamed of showing off and being acknowledged but…
'Damn it all! Is this what stage fright feels like!?' This was ridiculous! She'd fought against unbelievable odds. A powerful adversary was no pause for worry. She didn't fear her own death by the painful licks of accursed flames. But the second so many servants clapped and watched her and Dantes move to the Ballroom center, she quickly turned into a pre-schooler presenting to a class without their parents.
As if she'd let that show though! Instead, though she quickly came to face Dantes in patient waiting, she held a light scowl. He nearly eased it outright with that dashing smile of his… Did she just call it dashing? "You shouldn't scowl. Doesn't suit the waltz."
"I wouldn't be scowling if I knew what song was coming…" she grumbled lightly. There was some laughter from the audience; Curse servants' enhanced hearing sometimes.
Her mind quickly ran the list again. Of the seven competing pairs who came before, she shamefully recognized five songs: They were all Disney songs… Not that she'd ever watched a Disney movie of her own volition. She watched two with Janna and Jeanne just to shut them up, but that was it. She definitely didn't watch Cinderella half-drunk on wine and feeling lonely. Definitely not.
After a quick curtsy, and his masterful bow, they stepped to each other. As Dantes clasped her hand gently, he slid his other onto her side. With her other hand now on his shoulder, the waiting game began. Her heart pounded in her chest with ample nervousness; Maybe something else too.
She gazed into Dantes eyes as he looked back. It soothed her. They trusted each other, but she possibly laid more in him. Dependable, always there… It was a silent grievance that he was always helping her while she could barely return the favor. Even this waltz was another show of her vulnerability, but, again, he gladly carried her through without complaint.
The dance could come automatically at his lead, but she wasn't about to be dead weight. First, she needed to calm her mind to think clearer. With slow breaths, she took the first step; She can do this. She then fought worry with soothing thoughts. They'd practiced well. Mata Hari praised her grace. Dantes' hand felt warm on her side- 'Wait, what did I just…?'
Her mind couldn't ponder it as a duet of piano and someone's flute sang through the air. Her mind fell at ease at its rhythm; This song sounded slow. Her practiced instincts were already moving in rhythm to the song, and her body followed. Perhaps she wouldn't have to rely on Dantes yet again. Her scowl quickly faded into a content smirk, which was matched by his. "Fate smiles."
"And our victory soon after," she dared to return confidently, uncaring who heard her hushed declaration. After a tiny twirl, They got this. That's all that mattered… until Phantom of the Opera's voice sailed beautifully through the air.
~~There's a calm surrender~~
Joan nearly flinched; She recognized the song. Though her eyes betrayed no worry, Dantes embarrassingly felt the change as his gaze softened and his voice entered her mind. "You okay?"
"Fine, fine! Just thinking ahead," she quickly buried, but the song's lyrics were already bothering her. Slow song? Yes. Awkward lyrics? Definitely yes. But she wouldn't crash! "I'll let you choose when to use the advanced moves. All of them. We're doing all of them!"
"All? You're sure you want to-"
"We precited and I wasn't that clumsy! Let's win this!" she blurted back, if only to hide a new sense of growing discomfort. This awkwardness was only marginally better than the worry, but it was acceptable. More acceptable than she cared to admit as her heart slammed against her chest.
~~It's enough for this restless warrior~~
~~Just to be with you~~
Though they'd whisked, spun, and stepped their way perfectly around the center, Dantes picked up the pace upon predicting the chorus. Joan was quietly relieved. She was too concentrated on the embarrassing lyric- Joan nearly yelped, but her eyes widened.
~~And can you feel the love tonight?~~
They'd practiced it, sure. If it was anyone other than such a well-dressed Dantes, she would have immediately burst into embarrassed outrage. Instead, she found herself swept off one foot. The warmth of his firm hand held her aloft, and her back floated over the floor like an angel. Her other pivoted as practiced, but her gaze fell stiffly into his eyes. With her hand trapped in his, he stared into Dantes' calm, elegant smile and strong eyes as he completed their dip.
The audience quickly applauded as he moved them into another beautiful maneuver. Joan was lost in thought, and more so in his gaze. It was ice on blazing summer. The promised breeze in autumn. It saw her through her stiffness as her mind fell scattered among the lyrics while he saved her… again…
Joan failed to see how perfectly she was performing her part of the moves. She only fell lost in the moment; Only so much. Her core grumbled in prideful discontent. The scales fell further out of balance. Dantes seemed to notice, but he tried to assuage her with a little smirk. "No scowling. We have this. You can always rely on me."
"I do it too much…" Her mouth slipped quietly, and though surprised, she didn't take her words back. She merely glanced back into Dantes' calm but curious eye as he gently bent her them to the floor at the audience's applause. "I'm always relying. You're always helping… I can never repay you. Help you in need. Save you. Anything."
Though she knew how Dantes felt about the saving part, her grumbling admittance was fueled by shame. She was an avenger. She was a mighty powerhouse, yet how many times has her headstrong need to prove herself put in her in a bad situation? How many times has he had to save her? How many times has he helped her though every bit of drama, confusion, or misgiving? All with only so few gifts or acts in return…
To her surprise, he didn't flinch or grunt with annoyance; His presence didn't flare. He only chuckled. She gazed incredulously as he chuckled with a tone rarely ever graced to Chaldea at large. It was aimed at her, along with that smile and reassuring gaze as he twirled them across the floor. "I see… I held a hunch you'd feel indebted. Frustrated… But don't mind me, Joan. I'm just being selfish."
His words had drowned out the music, and as she pondered them, she was forced to bat down the warmth in her cheeks. She couldn't strangle the beating of her heart, or the warm the chills down her spine. Dantes' hand felt a touch warmer. His confident smile and voice that much more noble, "There's this… flare of satisfaction when I save someone. I'd gladly fly your side whenever you're in need."
Though her misgivings remained, it stayed veiled beneath their beautiful waltz. Every impetus was flawless as their feet kissed in motion. Their telemarks felt familiar, yet part of her swore she leaned deeper. In truth, she moved automatic at his lead while her mind swayed within.
She wasn't certain of their elegance from afar, but the audience was already on their feet; Dantes sure was saving her again. With all her rampant emotions and thoughts, she couldn't hear herself anymore. She only heard him as he leaned in to whisper quietly. "But if it makes you feel better… In some fashion, you save me every day. Thank you."
It didn't. It nearly sent her into cardiac arrest and flop onto the ground like a caught fish. Her cheeks flared with unstoppable warmth as her eyes widened. Dantes only smiled at her with a hint of apology, laughed, and led her into a fleckerl, chased by the next swooning twirl. Once her back began gliding over the floor in another elegant spin, the beet-red avenger was forced to use all her might and prowess just to hold back a squeak.
~~When the heart of this star-crossed voyager~~
~~Beats in time with yours~~
In her outright embarrassed state, she missed Marie and Jeanne, who gushed and pointed to them while smothering giggles with blockading hands. Lost in a daze of even more confused thoughts and feelings she'd rather not acknowledge, Joan held only two rational thoughts:
That she was somehow still waltzing perfectly to his lead…
…and Dantes, holding her just a bit closer, with that impossibly dashing smile, had never looked more powerful in her eyes.
Chapter 24: Shard 23: Spirit of Competition
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragments 42 and 43.
Helena let out a content sigh. Sun, blue skies, and a summer breeze: The perfect recipe for a picnic.
All that was really missing were the caws of flying seagulls; Many agreed. Some even wondered if she could make some sort of automata like Colonel Olcott. Perhaps she could, but she didn't think they'd want cartoonish animals like the little Nobus. But that would have to bless a future picnic.
With the resort still fairly new, there was still much to enjoy. The picnic made it moreso. She'd arrived a little late since she was trying on her new frilly, black one-piece, but she clearly didn't miss anything. By the looks of it, there was already a growing crowd beneath the outdoor cafeteria's cabana, and she was drawn to it as if willed by Mahatama.
"My money is on the saint!" "It feels wrong to be betting on this." "Let the battle begin!"
Helena wasn't quite sure how it started, and thought she wanted to ask, she wasn't going to get an answer after the cheering erupted. Instead, she calmly tried to find a way to the front. Spotting no way, she sighed, but then heard a loud chuckle behind her. "Miss Blavatsky! Need a lift?"
"Huh-? Uwaah! Edison!" Before she completely turned, Edison had hoisted her onto his shoulder with a proud grin. Now perched on his shoulder, she took a moment to glance down at the lion-man in a red and white striped jumper. He only flashed her a thumbs up. "Now we can both see!"
She smiled gratefully, nodded, then turned forward. She was quick to blink in surprise.
Shard 23: Spirit of Competition
"Go Martha!" "You got this Xuanzang!" "…Will that barrel be alright?"
Over the crowd of spirits and staff, Helena stared at the two servants leaning over a barrel; She hoped it was empty. In near-matching white bikinis, they stared at each other with focused eyes coupled with friendly smiles. On the barrel before them, their hands were locked with knuckle white and taut. Creaks echoed from the barrel as the two women breathed steadily.
"I'm afraid you won't win this, Xuanzang," Martha pointed out. Helena would agree. She must be holding back or other rules were in play, because she was definitely the stronger one… Or Martha was being Martha, by not embarrassing herself with a brutish display of force. Maybe one day she'd be more open about it, but this sight was already a pretty interesting step forward in that poise.
"It doesn't matter if I win or not! Buddha has already decided the course!" Xuanzang cheerfully responded. Though their expressions were equally pleasant, the muscles on their arms told a different tale. Sprouting with tension, they made the barrel shake beneath their perceptible might as one tried to outdo the other. Still, their hands only swept to one side of the barrel or the other like a gentle pendulum.
"I wonder how long Martha is going to hold back for…" Helena's quiet musing was answered by Martha calmly pushing Xuanzang's hand down over the edge. It was done so slow, it looked like a fair competition; Trust the two saints to still resolve this peacefully. Helena smiled and clapped as Xuanzang pouted in defeat. Martha, quickly forgetting her poise, jumped onto the barrel and raised her arms like a champion.
"There was only one clear winner," Edison laughed heartily as he placed Helena down. As he puffed his chest, Helena readied a sigh. "Just like with me and Tesla! He'll always come second!"
"Oh, what have we here?" Helena sighed even louder upon hearing that voice. "I was planning on showing my superiority by remaining civil, but it's only a matter of time until Edison bites his tongue."
"Can you two please not bicker here? It's supposed to be a fun picnic!" Helena's sigh was loud, but failed to stop Edison and Tesla from stomping towards each other.
With arms akimbo, they glared each other down; It was even more ridiculous to look at. Just like Edison, Tesla had his own navy-colored jumper with lightning bolts. They looked like two kids staring each other down! To add to her growing headache, the crowd that once surrounded Xuanzang and Martha was slowly moving to form around them. Helena had to stop herself from covering her face and groaning. 'Mahatma spare me…'
"Nice swimsuit you got there. Did it take you far too long to invent the design?" Edison challenged, earning some chuckles from the audience.
"It was likely less time than it took for you to steal that design off a toddler. Still can't think of something unique for once?"
"Oh, they're going to fight!" "Arm wrestling?" "Yea! Let's see them arm wrestle!" "Get the barrel!"
Helena blanched; Some of the crowd was egging them on now. It was just arm wrestling, but knowing these two, it would definitely escalate; Their competitive spirits weren't reasonable like Xuanzang and Martha. Maybe a slapping fest at the minimum, but it would escalate! As a Peacekeeper, she was definitely not going to allow that on her watch. But what alternate means…?
Looking around quickly past gathering Chaldeans, she stared curiously towards the grills. Emiya, Boudica, and the kitchen team seemed to have lunch nearly ready, but…
Wait a second. There's some grills open. It was a ridiculous idea but their fight was about to break out and… Yea! What better way to prove superiority than to make them fight in a foreign field?
Maybe it'd even work out better than their wrestling match… She cleared her throat and stomped to the two, whose growling foreheads were now practically touching. "Edison! Tesla! If you two are so keen on fighting again, then I have a challenge for the both of you!"
To her relief, though their foreheads remained locked in struggle, their eyes turned to her as one. "Madam Blavatsky?"
Twenty minutes later, and this spontaneous idea was already proving to be one of the better one's she had. Not that she often got much wrong, but it had so little thought put behind it. Currently, this fleeting decision had gathered quite a few onlookers, including an amused Karna who stood beside her. With arms crossed over his black rashguard, he acted as another referee…
…not that they had to do anything but ensure the two didn't start throwing food or fists. But that was an instant disqualification. Words could be thrown though.
"Stop looking at my sauce, Edison! It's not like you can steal the recipe with your eyes anyway!"
Edison's voice roared angrily into the air. "Why would I copy that whiskey swill? I only adapt good ideas!"
It's not like Helena or Karna could have stopped their words; They didn't need to. It helped to entertain the many watching around the grassy lawn. Helena even believed it would be the best takeaway, since she wasn't expecting the best dishes from whatever ingredients had been hastily gathered. They only had half an hour with shared items too, so no one likely expected anything.
…Which was probably why Helena was still staring at their grills in shock. They weren't fighting over their ingredients because they were making two very different dishes. The few things that were shared were some sauce fixings and some pieces of meat; But there was a lot of meat, which Edison only used too much of anyway.
The lion-caster scoffed at Tesla's steaming grill. "What a waste of energy… If these ran on electricity and not coal, I could have scolded you for days on cooking greens!"
"I don't expect a meathead like you to understand balance anyway!" Tesla shot back as he quickly flipped the small skewers on his grill. Quickly, he picked up the mixed bowl of dark barbecue sauce from his side table. With a gentle spoonful, like he was calculating a mixture, he calmly checked for consistency before moving to the skewers. It poured slowly from spoon in a gentle trickle, making perfect lines across the delicacies. It was almost like slow-motion.
Perfect cubes of brown meat shimmered with its new coat, joining slices of gleaming bell peppers in their nourishing light shower. Golden potatoes, shaved and trimmed like perfect chips, were married to their other companions above the light flames. As they sizzled beneath the sun and beckoned to the eyes with trickles of steam, Tesla rotated them perfectly to keep their godly glimmer. The aromas, which sang of summer vacation and dipping one's feet in cool waters, wafted to Helena.
The seduction of piquant delights, mixing with the charcoal-fed smoke and sweet summer air, was making her mouth water. But it was rivalled by the smell of Edison's own wood-fired grill. The lion-caster grinned, even as Tesla scoffed. "Your meal is basic and rudimentary! You expect to win with just meat?"
"I don't need to do anymore to beat you!" he countered with an animalistic smirk. Helena stared as Edison grasped one steak with his tongs, but spun it a perfect ninety degrees as planned. Tesla was right; His own dishes were mostly meat, but gods if he didn't surprise her with how enticing they looked. The slabs of succulent beef sagged gently atop the burning grill bars as they enjoyed their smoky bath.
Dark lines criss-crossed the steaks' browned skins, but the wood-fired grill hadn't marred their tenderness. The baked potatoes beside them fared well as the occasional flame reached up to lick them too. They sizzled beneath the smoke as chips crackled and snapped beneath the grills' bars. A minute later, Edison nodded with contentment, and quickly placed all the steaks and potatoes onto a large plate. To her surprise, that's when the magic truly began.
Edison cut the potatoes open, letting them breath with released steam and reveal their perfectly golden cores. They glowed even more as he calmly poured a helping of garlic butter on top, letting it coat the potatoes in small streams that pooled within their recess. He then placed the small bowl aside to grab another.
The mustard-wine sauce was far darker, and almost crimson in hue. It was poured generously atop the steaks, but the mouthwatering sauce only slipped from the bowl slowly. It pooled, raced, and slowly slipped off the sides gently as it took some peppercorn seasoning for a ride. Together with the perfectly cooked steaks, they shined beneath the sun as Edison grabbed a pinch of salt to gently coat the surface.
Helena glanced back to Tesla's shish kebabs, which were now perfectly lined on his own lengthy plate to form lightning bolts. They were joined by a growing, diced menagerie of coriander on the outskirts. One side at a time, he formed the laurels of a wreath with the garnish. Like Edison, he leaned down to plate level, narrowed his eyes, and carefully scrutinized his plate.
"Wow…" Helena breathed. The Kitchen group could certainly put forth better dishes with more fabulous garnish, but this was far better than she thought either of the inventors could manage; She wasn't even aware they could cook decently. Though she'd never tell them, part of her feared they were on the same level as Gawain.
Perhaps it was the spirit of competition that did it. Maybe they knew, and were given an excuse to show off. Whatever the case was, she'd been wrong. She couldn't help but smile at the two of them as they did their finishing checks. Some other spectators were already clapping as she admired what these two could manage when their need to outdo the other was so focus-
Edison laughed heartily. "Looks good, Tesla! Trying to distract from how bad your prototype tastes?"
"Just because I'm vegan doesn't mean the meat isn't cooked perfectly!" he countered with a scoff. "And what of you? Too scared to dare something new so you go with the generic, American Steak and Potatoes?"
"There is nothing wrong with steak and potatoes! It's the perfect dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!" Edison roared, and before Helena could sigh, the two were already butting heads again and roaring wild accusations.
…Indeed. Their competitive spirits would always be something else entirely. 'Mahatma help me…'
Chapter 25: Shard 24: Checkpoint Reached
Series Placement: This shard takes place between Fragment 62 and 63.
It was a bit sad, really. All but one of the monitors were gone. Most of the furniture too. Save for the lone couch and the sole smuggled playstation, all that decorated the rather bare room was some dust from the previously hard to reach places. It was the final hours of the Gaming Room, but its sunset would be followed a few days later by the new Arcade.
Tyler was way too excited for that, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to get one last fix. In a set of comfy grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt, he lounged on the nostalgic couch. It may have been temporarily replaced after it broke once, but this refurbished sofa had lived a great life. It'd enjoy a new chapter in the Arcade, but before then, it'd let the employee close the Gaming Room's saga with the lone video game that began it all.
…Except it wasn't quite the transition he'd been hoping for as he gripped his controller a bit nervously.
Shard 24: Checkpoint Reached
Love it or hate it, Assassin's Creed had become a classic. It'd always remain one in Tyler's heart, even if Ubisoft was a little too greedy on the business front. Playing as Altair had been his introduction into the gaming world beyond Nintendo, and he'd been trying everything ever since. It was only right he took it with him as a hopeful memento when the recruiter said some have managed to sneak modern entertainment in.
He just never expected that the actual assassins it was based on would one day be watching him play. Cursed Arm, Hundred Face, and Serenity found it curious, but he was otherwise relieved they weren't offended; If anything, impressed the modern world 'praised' them. That was them… but King Hassan was a completely different story.
Tyler quietly glanced behind him, where the silent assassin stood like a statue. Though the employee found him amazing and badass, he was currently extremely nervous the powerful grand servant had just waltzed in and begun watching. It was supposed to be a relaxing last hour before Iskandar and Kintoki came to help move the last stuff. Now Tyler was silently fearing for his head should the big guy be offended.
'I wish he'd just say something,' he pondered nervously as he made the virtual assassin jump off a roof and cleanly execute his target unseen. As if the request was heard, he nearly dropped the controller when King Hassan exhaled. Tyler quickly mustered a natural voice. "You alright there?"
"Thou art the one who pulls the strings?" King Hassan asked as he pointed his gauntlet to the screen and glanced at Tyler. The assassin's gaze turned to the controller, and Tyler felt his voice catch in his throat. Though his presence was nearly unfelt, everyone in Chaldea would agree: His lack of presence was like a suffocating shadow of impending doom. It was triply so for the employee… but he wouldn't freeze! His buddies might never let him live it down!
"Yea. It's a video game. Modern entertainment. I think I told you about it one time?" Tyler's question went unanswered as King Hassan stared to the screen again. Though part of him wanted to run out of the room to breathe, his instincts took over. He unpaused and kept playing. Video games were always his stress relief and escape, so it would be no different here…
…Just a mighty grand servant judging a depiction of his order in a video game. No biggie…?
A minute passed in silence. Another passed as he killed an unmoving guard within a haystack. After two more minute, King Hassan breathed again. "Wisdom shows in thy strategy. But thou art sloppy."
Was that a compliment? "Um… Thank you?"
"The merits of this concept are apparent, though leaves much to be desired in accuracy," King Hassan noted, then walked towards the room's exit.
"…You didn't find it offensive or anything, right?"
King Hassan stopped in the doorway and glanced back. "So long as it is believed as fiction, mine anger remains tempered."
As he walked out, Tyler felt like he dodged an arrow; At least their lone playstation was spared execution. That… probably wouldn't have been the best way to close this room. He grew relaxed quickly, as he should have beem. Yet, as he kept playing the game, he couldn't shake an unnerving feeling. His eyebrows furrowed. '…How did he know I was playing it…?'
"So he just walked in and started watching you? Wow. I'm impressed you held your ground!"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Brotoki." Though Kintoki laughed, Tyler groaned. With one hand, the battle-clad berserker was already hefting the lone monitor through the doorway. He quickly disappeared to bring it to its new home.
"He's right, you know. His presence unnerves servants," Iskandar chuckled. With crossed arms, he stood beside the couch in a pair of weathered denims and an impossibly tight, black muscle shirt. His grin turned to a smirk at Tyler. "Oho… Any reason you kept your cool? Trying to show some backbone to impress the father?"
"I mean, I guess it helped?" Tyler shrugged, and Iskandar chuckled again. "Ah well. Let's get this couch moved. I'll grab this side."
"You sure you want to help?" the rider asked again as he lifted his side of the couch easily, probably even with just a pinky to show off.
"Hell yea I do! If you guys joke I'm the Arcade manager, I need to pull my weight too," he replied easily as he lifted his side. He needed both hands, but he was far from unfit. He felt a bit of strain on his fingers, but that was it. "Nice! Well… Sayonara, room. It's been fun, but we're a needy bunch."
"Onward to glory!" Iskandar chimed in, making the two chuckle as they maneuvered the couch to the first door. Their couch's back was inclined for comfort, but it made squeezing through doors more of a hassle. After some silent gauging and adjusting, they found a proper angle on the first try. It was a tight fit, but they were slowly easing it through. All that remained in the room now was the playstation, but the rider's retainer would be swinging by shortly to fix that.
Iskandar hummed. "I wonder if there are other servants out there interested in playing."
"Play seriously? Besides who we scrapped together? Didn't you say Gilgamesh taught a Togo woman what video games were?" he quickly asked as they crossed through the empty second half. "Togo Mozah or something? How did that even work? I don't think Babylon had circuitry."
"Tomoe Gozen?" Iskandar corrected with a chuckle. "I didn't ask him about it. Hmm… Maybe blondie himself will come some day. You best be on your best behavior?"
"Pssh. When am I not?" Tyler quipped as they got to the hallway's door. Tyler eyed it, then motioned with his head. "Same angle, big guy."
It never ceased to amuse the employee he got to call so many powerful heroes of the past unique nicknames. To be so friendly with them was even better. It made him wonder if he actually did have a fair chance of asking out Serenity sometime since his buddy Anton got so close with another. He was pretty sure she just wanted to be friend thou-
Tyler was jolted from his thoughts by a snag. He stared at the couch. He got his end's legs through just fine, but Iskandar stared at his side that had yet to pass through. After a bit of fidgeting and looking around, Iskandar stared back. "A bit of the leg got stuck. Let's turn it more to the left."
Tyler did as told, but Iskandar quickly laughed as the employee tried to pull but found nothing. "Your other left, Tyler."
"I didn't know!" he countered and quickly turned it the other way. Iskandar chuckled, moved to push the couch through and… it was still stuck. Confused, Iskandar glanced at the other side of the doorway now. The couch's other leg was now stopped it from going through the door. Tyler lifted his side of the couch to dare to peak under. He blinked at what he saw.
This door was just a bit smaller than the other one, but the couch's legs were a bit asymmetrical. Whatever the hell they managed to do, the legs on Iskandar's side bowed out more than his. Maybe it was from all the jumping onto the couch in excitement…? Tyler pondered. "Maybe tilt it back again?"
They did as suggested. Now the other leg was snagging the door frame again. As they lifted it more to try and fidget a new angle, the couch's back slapped against the top of the opening. Iskandar and Tyler glanced at each other and chuckled. The rider brought one hand to his chin in thought. "If the pass is too tight, one formation at a time. Let's get one leg through first."
"On your lead, big guy." They tilted the couch to try and get the first leg… aaaand the couch's bottom frame was now wedged against the door. Still not enough room to squeeze the leg through. Tyler stared in disbelief as Iskandar hummed. "How did the robots get it through here?"
Tyler shrugged. "Maybe we should just remove a leg and put it back."
"We will not be defeated by a couch!" Iskandar declared, and they both laughed. "Turn it the other way! We will defeat this adversary!"
They tilted it again. Nothing. They raised to try and- Nope. The couch's back hit the door frame at a new angle. In another new angle, Iskandar was trying to squeeze the leg past the door frame. It was too tight, and its squeaks of refusal almost sounded like jeers to Tyler's ears. Tyler shrugged. "If we back it up a bit, maybe we can flip it upside down for a better view?"
Iskandar gave him a curious look, but Tyler shrugged. "I'm out of ideas otherwise."
"By the bloody… What are you doing, Tyler?" The employee blinked and glanced back. He blinked again. No question, he was expecting Lord El-Melloi II's incredulous scowl. The caster, with arms akimbo on his business suit, levelled an exasperated glare at him. So, just the usual from his gaming rival.
What the employee wasn't expecting was the gaggle of robots, other employees, and even a few servants waiting on both sides of the hallway. He blinked a third time, and El-Melloi slapped a hand over his face. "You're causing a traffic jam! Just get the couch through already!"
"The hell do you think we're trying to do? Salsa in the moonlight? It's not cooperating!" Tyler shot back as he nodded with his head to the couch. Paracelsus and George's laugh echoed from one of the groups, rousing a few chuckles from the opposite side.
"Then how did you get this side through!?" the caster countered, but quickly walked over to look at the trouble. He nodded to his king, who only laughed at his retainer. After scowling at the offending pair of bowed sofa legs, El-Melloi shook his head. "It looks like it bent more and won't pass through."
"You don't say." The caster glared at Tyler, but Iskandar only laughed harder. "You mind lending a hand then?"
His scowl lightened as he bent down to grab an offending couch leg. "I would quickly bend it back to-"
"No, don't break it!" Tyler interrupted. "This couch has history! It can be a catalyst!"
"I said bend, not break!" El-Melloi fussed back. "Honestly, sometimes I wonder if Flat was a better listener!"
Though their bickering continued, and the traffic jam lingered a little longer, nothing felt wrong. This ridiculousness was probably one of the better ways to say farewell to the old Gaming Room. It wasn't quite what Tyler, or maybe anyone else, expected that day… but then again, wasn't that just par for the course?
Chapter 26: Shard 25: Morning After
Series Placement: The following shard takes place between Fragment 88, between Scenes VII and VIII.
Everything and nothing felt real. Sights and sounds flashed and swirled before her. Sometimes muted, often hazy, but always delightful. A movie played out, yet its plot failed to whisper to the mind. Not that it mattered.
They say servants shouldn't dream, yet it was far from uncommon, at least for her. She could still feel this one vividly. Some dreams were intangible, but this was almost alive. It breathed to her, and danced across her neck with surreal bliss. Her skin tingled as her mind succumbed to this weightless ecstasy.
But the eyes remained teased. A sight would offer a glimpse. Maybe another shadowed smile. Fiery orbs of red that smirked from the darkness. Even the sounds stayed feint. Yet, like her baited eyes, her mind would pick up few clues… like a familiar voice whispering her name hungrily.
She'd shivered every time. She'd feel the flame across her skin where two bodies kissed lovingly. A hot breath across her ear sent a shiver down her spine to join the warmth at her core. A warmth kindled by the skillful touch of her captor. She'd only hear her own muted, begging cry for more as she sank further into a silky sea of linen. Gasps for air were silenced by the renewed embrace of their tongues. She drowned in bliss.
As she felt the cool air rush between them as they parted, the haze lifted for but a moment to frame Nobunaga's hungry face.
Shard 25: Morning After
Not long after, Okita stirred. Her head pounded uncomfortably, but a servant could never suffer the worst of hangovers. It was still an annoying thrum. The only thing more annoying was not knowing what happened the night before. Only her fading dream.
Her cheeks were terribly flushed as she gripped her blanket closer to her chest; The heat made it worse. Her own hot breath against the comfy pillow was the first sensation the dream had ended. Her embarrassment wasn't keen on following.
With a gentle moan, she picked her head up and stared into the darkness of her room. Feint, growing twilight from her Sunscape window provided the dimmest light; The silhouette of Mount Fuji rested dominant within. Dominant like blushing cheeks and the few clear images that flashed in her mind… Oh lord, the images!
Gripping the teal and white blanket in one hand, Okita covered her face with both. Humiliation, disbelief, and… lingering delight… poured from her fluttering heart. She took a deep breath, then groaned lightly. This… wasn't the first time she'd had such an intimate dream about her best friend.
To her dismay, she knew it wouldn't be the last.
Okita didn't know how to feel. Nobunaga had been a former rival, then a close, awkward friend. Then best friends, best rivals… the rotation continued. All that remained consistent was their constant bickering, battling side-by-side, and collecting fun memories in equal measure. Okita was happy to be on great terms with Chaldea's premier prankster… but was she seriously wishing for something more?
Her mind seemed to think so. Her heart fluttered, and Okita groaned again into her pillow. Despite her headache and her flushed cheeks, at least she felt great this morning… Really great, actually. She felt a few pounds lighter, and though fatigue lingered across her body, it was joined by a blissful tingle across her core. If her room wasn't dark, Okita might have thought she was glowing.
Now that she thought about it, her skin was unusually sensitive…
'Hmm…?' Even the gentle caress of the blanket on her bare skin felt delightfully ticklish…
Okita blinked. Then blinked again.
…Growing horror filled her pupils as she snaked a hand down her form, yet her nightgown found another hotel to stay the night. She never slept without it or its companions! Hastily, she glanced around on her bed, praying she'd suddenly sleepwalked. Yea, that was it! Just a new, horrifying act of dreaming and mastur-
A groan from beside her made Okita fall pale. "…Mmmm… Cut it out, Okita… My head hurts and I wanna sleep more…"
A pin dropped in Alaska and Okita heard it in Chaldea. Her eyes stared forward in disbelief. The saber's mind was completely blank with shock. Only her heart continued to flutter, but her incredulous mind quickly attacked it with a katana for its insolence. Still, she remained frozen as Nobunaga, still happily curled in her peripherals, tried to take more of the blanket for herself.
…Okita's eyebrow twitched. Then twitched again.
Finally, she did the only thing her mind, heart, and body agreed upon: She screamed.
Covering her face with her hands and blanket, she screamed even louder. The few Chibi Nobus sleeping peacefully in the room were now running about it a confused panic after being startled awake. Anarchy reigned, but the now-flailing, irritated Nobunaga was not having any of it. "What're you doing!? The sun isn't even up yet, you crazy hitman! Shut up and get some sleep!"
"You! We! I! We! You-we…!" Okita was certainly giving Shakespeare's prose a run for its money. Stuttering with bewilderment, the flushing saber hyperventilated and groaned. "It wasn't a dream…!"
"Huh? What wasn't?" Nobunaga growled out as she sat up completely and rubbed her eyes. She didn't even care she the blanket fell onto her lap, exposing most of her own naked form to Okita; There was no denying the evidence now. Still, Nobunaga only glanced at the shivering Okita, who clutched the blanket to her chest like a defiled maiden. The archer didn't even blink. "Were you that drunk? You don't remember the sex?"
"Don't say it so casually!" Okita blanched as her lip quivered. "Sex… We had sex, Nobu! Sex!"
"Don't say it like I raped you!" the warlord gawked. "You're the one who wouldn't let go and nearly tore my varsity jacket off! I wasn't going to let that rip you know! That's quality leathe-"
Okita's whining cry of disappointment and disbelief filled her room. Nobunaga's eye twitched. "Oh stop that! If you should be upset about it, be upset you don't remember squat! Because I had you squirming and panting real goo-!"
"Stop the details! Just stop!" Okita blanched in horror, then covered her face again. "Oh god oh god oh god… Did anyone else see!? What will everyone else think!?"
"You don't remember we…?" Okita, with mind gripped by a headache and turmoil, gazed at Nobunaga. The archer stared back before sighing. "…Nothing. It was about the sex again. Is this really something to get worked up over? I can understand some of my pranks but, it's not like Marie hasn't been gossiping we're together or anything. What's the big deal if we actually are?"
"I-! No! But we're not!" Okita complained, even as Nobunaga dryly eyed her own covered body, then her naked form. She stared blankly back at the saber, who only fiddled with her fingers. This was all way too sudden; She didn't know what to think of all it. "I don't… I mean, I do like you, but… What we did was-!"
"Ahhhh, I get it!" Nobunaga grinned. Okita wanted to wipe it off her face because of how stupid, carefree she was taking all this. "So the maiden's heart isn't ready."
Okita blanched again. "No! That's not-! Nobu, we can't tell anyone what happened! Please don't tell anyone! Just pretend none of this happened!"
"Hmmmmm…" Again, Nobunaga just scratched the top of her head and stared. Okita's heart couldn't take this! As if to soothe her explosive nerves, the archer finally shrugged. "…Fine. I won't."
"Eh? Really?" Okita stared with a different shade of bewilderment, but Nobunaga nodded. "Just like that?"
"Hai, haaaai… You're an important person to me, and the Peacekeeper Captain dating Chaldea's troublemaker would look strange to Hijikata, huh?" Okita's mouth was falling open again. "I'm not a good actor like Eric, but I guess I'll tryyy to be embarrassed about this. So I'll do what I can until your heart's ripe for the taking."
Okita was about to complain further, but Nobunaga was quick. She closed the gap, pushed the saber onto her back so her head almost tipped over the edge. Flowing black locks cascaded to cover her bare chest and slip past her neck like a collar. With her arms pinned, the flushing Okita could only stare straight into the devious, powerful red eyes of the warlord as she smirked down at her. "But once it is, the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven is conquering you. And you. Will. Owe. Me... for this favor. Hai?"
The saber felt it again. Warmth of their touching skin, causing her skin to tingle. The power of an unabashed stare from the archer, which set her cheeks alight like her rampant heart. The outright embarrassment and confusion that welled within, wondering if she really did crave more from the warlord.
All of it fell to silence… at least until Okita's body found an answer to her captive state.
After a brief cough and a tiny shower of blood, Nobunaga squeaked in disbelief. "Don't just cough blood on me!"
"You're saying it like I have control over this!"
Nobunaga complained and wiped the speckles of blood from her face. "It never made any sense to begin with! How am I supposed to go back to sleep like this!? I have to wash this off!"
Okita gawked. "Why're you telling me, you know where the bathroom is!?"
"Your mess, you're helping! Now get up, Okita, and help me fix your mess so we can get some sleep again!"
"Wait no! I'll help you wash up, but go back to your room!"
"No way! Your sheets are comfy! And you make a good body pillow so I'll just leave later!"
Amid their bickering, Okita failed to realize just how many neighbors had woken up to their usual antics.