This is the second of two chapters uploaded today

Chapter Three – Soaring Eagles Searching for Freedom – Lake 51

[January 3rd, 2021]

Ritsuka glanced out the window. He could see nothing but clouds now, and those also seemed to be moving away, so fast the Border was going. And despite the speed, the ride was completely smooth.

"… You've been busy," he remarked.

Da Vinci's snort came over the speaker. [As if something like this would take me five years. For one, I've been swamped with so much paperwork that a new pile appeared out of thin air every time I turned around. For another, this toy here is practically medieval! High Command ordered me to test its flight systems now that they're complete. As if a genius's word isn't reassurance enough.]

"I thought you hated paperwork."

[I do! And even though Goredolf does his job there's just so much of this merda that I couldn't tinker nearly enough! You've gotta help me, Ritsuka! I need to be in my workshop more! I'm going through withdrawal!]

"Helping you means becoming a guinea pig for your inventions or a living dress up doll, so no thanks," he deadpanned.


"… Dress up doll?" Enterprise repeated. "She wouldn't do that … would she?"

Ritsuka thought about it. "Yeah she would. Unless you're a cute girl. Medea would get first dibs in that case."

"… Are you telling me the infamous Witch of Betrayal had a thing for playing house like a little girl?" Eugen asked.

"There's a lot history books don't cover."

"Are you an old Chaldean or something?" the tall girl asked. "I mean, you and D are chatting away like best friends, and you're bringing up Heroic Spirits like it's common knowledge."

"Now that you mention it … Herr Tohsaka never really answered my question," Prinz mused. "Care to enlighten us, O Venerable Savior of Humanity?"

"Wait, what?!" the tall pinkette exclaimed, staring at Ritsuka.

"You're exaggerating," Ritsuka said. "I was just in the wrong place at the–"

"No, no, no, we're going to need much more detail than that," Prinz interrupted. "You still haven't talked about why you have some pocket dimension on the back of your phone full of magic thingamajigs."

Ritsuka took a second to try and figure out how to answer that. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, he didn't have to.

"OH! Now I remember!" the shorter pinkette exclaimed, enthusiastically pointing. "You're the Grand Order hero!"

Ritsuka blinked. "… Wait, how did you know that?"

Da Vinci giggled. [Saratoga there stayed at Chaldea once for a week, and by the end of it, there wasn't a secret left that she didn't know. Heck, even I don't know how she found out some of it.]

"Another grandiose title, hm?" Eugen hummed, thinking. "You know, I'd expect a so-called hero to act more heroic."

"What's the Grand Order?" the tall woman asked.

"A battle to save the world!" the now-identified Saratoga sighed. "It's such a great story! And to think the protagonist of that is sitting right here. Oh, I've got to come up with a good prank worthy of you!" she gushed.

"You sound like Reno," the tall one commented, amused.

"What did he do, exactly?" Enterprise asked.

"I pointed fingers," Ritsuka explained shortly.

Da Vinci took over. [Ritsuka Fujimaru there is someone who's saved the world.]

"Yeah, we got that, Director. What did he do is the question?" Prinz retorted.

[Let me do proper build up, will you?] Da Vinci fired back, not really annoyed.

"Honestly, it's nothing special," Ritsuka tried.

[Don't try to downplay your role, Ritsuka, you know as well as I do that you were very important, regardless of your combat strength.]

"Stop dodging the question, D," the tall girl interrupted. "Explain, please."

[In July 2015, the world ended,] Da Vinci said. [This isn't hyperbole, this isn't something that only could have happened. Without doubt, the world ended. Save for a fraction of Chaldeans, everyone was dead. To turn it back, we had to travel to seven key points in history, fix the singularities caused by some uppity nutjob with a grail, recover the grails, and find and defeat the mastermind who'd incinerated all of humanity in the first place.]

"… Alright, that's a lot grander than what I was expecting," Eugen admitted.

"July 2015," Sheffield muttered. "Vice Director, isn't that…?"

[The start of the missing year? Yep,] Da Vinci confirmed. [There was a time limit. Chaldea had to save the world by December 2016 or we'd be wiped from existence along with everyone else. Ritsuka, humanity's last Master, the only person still alive who was capable of Rayshifting, was the person who saw the whole thing through.]

"Everyone you knew was dead and you had to live with that fact for a year, until you could beat someone strong enough to end the world and finally bring them all back?" the tall woman asked and then winced. "Yikes, that's harsh."

"What do you mean?" Enterprise asked.

"Think about it, Enty. Remember how you felt when … you know … Yorktown?"

Enterprise frowned, but nodded.

"Imagine that, but it's everyone. Literally everyone you ever knew is just gone. Now you're stuck in the middle of strangers, who you don't know or can't really talk to, until you can bring them back."

"You don't know if that's even possible," Ritsuka added. "You tell yourself and everyone around you that yes, you will save the world, but how exactly is an ordinary human who's never done anything more challenging than high school kendo supposed to win against someone who can and did end the world?"

"Ow, that's even worse," the pinkette said.

[You still did it, though,] Da Vinci.

"Of course I still did my best, but I'd be an idiot if I didn't have doubts. And my reward for all that? Forced to go undercover if I still wanted to live. I think it's obvious why I don't want to do anything like that again."

"Yeah, if anyone deserves a vacation from all this, it's you," the pinkette agreed, then blinked. "Oh yeah, I haven't introduced myself! I'm Bremerton, a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser! Nice to meet ya!"

Ritsuka blinked. He glanced at her coat again. He couldn't see it from this angle, but … "Is that custom made?" he asked.

Bremerton paused, looked down, then smirked. "Well, sorta."

"I'm Saratoga! Call me Sister Sara, please!" Saratoga introduced. "I'm a carrier like Enty here, but more importantly I'm a magical girl in training! Please take care of me!"

Ritsuka stared. Then he turned to the speaker. "She's not going to–"

[No Install cards or crazy perverted Kaleidosticks involved,] Da Vinci answered, predicting his question. [And while I'm enjoying this little chat, I'm afraid we'll have to cut it short. We're almost there.]

"Already?" Enterprise asked. "That was fast."

[Yep, Lake 51 is in sight. And if you think this is fast, just wait till I complete this baby~!]

Lake 51 was an artificial lake created in the middle of a wildlife resort. It was about a mile wide, and roughly circular. Many rumors had gone around at one point about people seeing strange lights or UFOs near the lake. Of course, those had all been debunked. Even the Sirens hadn't made any regular appearances near it. However, those rumors caused it to be nicknamed Lake 51 after the elusive Area 51 purported to deal with alien research, and the name stuck. To this day, even official maps identified it as Lake 51, whatever name it originally had was forgotten.

Until that day, there had been no Siren detections in that location whatsoever.

[Alright, get ready, ladies and – ah, merda.]

"What–" Ritsuka began, and was interrupted as the Sky Border violently swerved.

"D?!" Bremerton exclaimed, startled.

[Tch. Found the first one.]

Outside the window as she spoke, bursts of flak were visible as the Sky Border weaved past them.

And there on the coast of the lake, Ritsuka saw a black warship with glowing red lines. Some of its guns were firing continuous volleys trying to bring the Sky Border down.

[Siren battleship at the coast,] Da Vinci informed. [And a small platoon of twenty armed humans near it. The other two signals are coming from the middle of the lake.]

"Then let's keep going," Prinz said. "We're fast enough, ja?"

[Yes, but we can't just ignore this,] the caster answered, the Sky Border lurching again. [Some of us have to get off here. We still don't know what they're planning here. And for some of you to get off we need to get this thing close and slow down. That's not an option while that battleship is firing at us.]

"We're fast enough to evade the anti-air shots, aren't we?" Saratoga asked.

[Yes, but actually no! This thing can't take the stress of evasive maneuvers at those speeds!]

"Aren't there weapons on this?" Ritsuka asked.

[Not yet! But we don't need them!]

"… Right! D, get us as close as you can!" Bremerton ordered, undoing her seatbelt.

[Right! Got a plan?]

"Something like that. Fujimaru, when I say now, open that door and try not to fall out."

Ritsuka nodded, putting a hand on the door handle. "Got it."

"Sara, can you give me a boost?"

"Leave it to me!" A large metallic staff that looked to be made out of miniaturized ship parts materialized in Saratoga's hands. "Bibidi-babidi-boo!" she declared, waving it at Bremerton, who had stood up.

Pink energy streamed from the staff-head. It shaped itself into a globe around Bremerton. That done, it pulsed, flashing once, then faded into semi-visibility.

Ritsuka stared. "That's … not magecraft, but …" he said slowly.

"I told you, I'm a magical girl! In training," Saratoga said.

[Wisdom Cubes are pretty amazing, huh?] Da Vinci remarked. [As long as you have the power and willpower necessary, you can quite literally do anything.]

"… Okay, but why did you quote Cinderella?" Ritsuka asked.

"Why else? It's fun!" Saratoga cheerfully answered.

[Get ready, I'm just about to get in position!] the caster warned.

"Gotcha! Fujimaru, door!" Bremerton ordered.

Ritsuka complied, unlatching the door and kicking it for good measure. It almost didn't open at first due to the howling wind outside. The altitude combined with the Sky Border's motion meant that Ritsuka was blasted by high-pressure winds. He Reinforced himself just a bit due to that.


Bremerton grinned. "See you on the ground!" she declared, lowering her visor to cover her eyes. Taking a couple large strides, she jumped clear out of the plane.

Ritsuka watched her get smaller as she fell, two large hull-shaped riggings materializing around her.

"Should I…?" he asked, gesturing at the open door.

"No, leave it open," Enterprise said, summoning her bow. She stood up, bracing herself against the door opposite, produced a light arrow and aimed forward.

"She is definitely taking after her sister," Eugen mused.


Feeling the wind rushing against her face while falling to terra firma wasn't an experience Bremerton had had before, but she definitely liked it. Not enough to do it again, mind you, but it was certainly an unforgettable experience.

Setting aside the logistics of taking a picture like this, there wasn't a camera in the world that could capture the moment and do it justice.

For a moment, Bremerton wondered why she found this situation so exhilarating. She chalked it up to something about the Baltimore class, then returned her attention to the fight at hand.

"Right, here we go!" She summoned her large rigging.

Her rigging was divided into two parts on either side of her, each shaped like the front half of a ship's hull. She exerted her will and all her turrets took aim, adjusting as she fell.

Shells and flak exploded around her, Saratoga's magic barrier keeping her safe. Sara wasn't good enough to shield the entire Border yet, otherwise Bremerton wouldn't be doing this.

Keeping up her confident grin, her eyes, hidden by the visor, scrutinized the Siren battleship. It wasn't hard to find her targets: all she had to do was look for the guns shooting at her.

Destroying the entire battleship would take too long, so she had choose her specific targets. Having chosen that, her turrets all fired.

The distance and wind threw off her aim, many of her shells missing the mark. But just as many collided with the battleship guns.

Bremerton and the battleship continued to exchange shots as she fell. Bremerton was protected by Saratoga's barrier; the battleship was not.

Soon enough, things exploded on its surface. Bremerton's grin widened in triumph as the shells exploding around her dwindled to nothing.

"Anti-air guns down!" she called. Her report was heard due to the communicator in her ear.

[Copy that!] Da Vinci confirmed. [Enty!]


Far above Bremerton, an arrow of light shot out of the open door of the Sky Border. It then transformed into a fighter plane and swerved down at speed, until it was flying parallel to her. From the pink contails, Bremerton deduced that Saratoga had enchanted it to be accepted by her barrier. Sure enough, the barrier didn't repel it, allowing Bremerton to grab hold. It then swerved off again.

"Get me closer to ground!" Bremerton said.

[Understood!] Enterprise complied.

The plane began to descend, Bremerton standing atop it.

She only noticed the oddity when a man aimed it at her, just about to fire.

"A missile launcher?!" Bremerton exclaimed. "Where the hell were they hiding that?!"

The missile launcher fired. Bremerton fired her own guns.

The majority of the missiles were shot down by her shells. Bremerton warily eyed the remainder and then the cracking shield that had reached its limit.

Ship girl or not, getting hit by missiles would hurt.

"Crap. Dive!" she shouted.

The plane swerved vertically down.

She had made a small miscalculation. While her maneuver would avoid the missiles – they were fortunately straight-shooting – she didn't realize that she was also in range of the battleship.

At the last second, she saw the shot coming. "Oh, shi–"

It collided with the faltering barrier and broke through it. The explosion tore the plane and Bremerton was bodily flung a distance away.

She landed in a burst of dirt and mud. Both the battleship and the armed men peppered the location with bullets, shells and more.

Shells were fired from within the dust cloud, an unaimed volley meant to at least protect from some of the assault. Flak burst, scattering the armored humans. It was a wonder they weren't even seriously injured. It spoke of how well their armor was made.

The dust cloud dissipated, revealing a disheveled and pissed-off Bremerton. She tossed her broken visor aside. The strap holding her coat in place was torn as well so she shrugged it off.

"That is the last time I try to imitate Baltimore," she muttered, firing another volley at the battleship. Bremerton looked down at herself and scrunched her nose. "Ew."


"Bremerton!" Saratoga called.

[Don't worry, she's landed fine,] Da Vinci assured. [Sheffy, you're up!]

"Understood. Enterprise," she called, striding and jumping out of the Sky Border without hesitation.

"I've got you!" Enterprise said, releasing another arrow. It morphed into a different plane, one that was faster, and swooped below Sheffield, who nimbly landed on it.

Like she was surfing in the air, Sheffield balanced atop the plane. She summoned her rigging and began firing full force at the platoon below. The guns below the plane wings added to the assault.

Several of them went down immediately from the direct hits. The light cruiser kept firing as the plane descended. On the ground below her, a distance to the right, Bremerton added her two cents, the two sided attack keeping the enemies busy.

The Siren battleship was no slouch. It fired relentlessly at Sheffield. The light cruiser hastily muttered directions and Enterprise deftly maneuvered the plane according to them.

Bizarrely, the rain of bullets didn't abate at all. A glance led Sheffield to widen her eyes. The men she was sure she'd already killed got back to their feet. They seemed to ignore their obvious mortal wounds and kept their triggers squeezed.

"Oh, great," she heard Bremerton say. "B-movie zombies."

Once she had reached safe distance, Sheffield ordered, "Turn 90 degrees left and bomb everything." She jumped off the moment the plane swerved toward the battleship, dropping its whole payload. Sheffield heard the telltale sounds of more planes joining in for a powerful airstrike. Sheffield landed with a short roll, got to her feet and began firing again.

All things considered, it was going well, Sheffield wondered, dodging out the way of a hail of bullets. Despite that, she wondered why she was getting a bad feeling about the operation.

Humans working with Sirens was nothing new. Just last night, when they had first met Fujimaru, they had brought down an operation by the so-called Real Heroes. The captured men hadn't yet divulged anything, Sheffield was told. High Command had yet to order Da Vinci to look at the crystal tubes, but from hearing the reports, she'd deduced that it was some sort of energy harvest, be it through Siren technology, magecraft, or even both.

The question was, what were they doing here, anyway? This was a land-locked, artificial lake. It was an easy guess that the Sirens had portaled into it, but why? And what did the purported Real Heroes, or so Sheffield assumed they were, have to do with it?

Sheffield couldn't help but feel as though she was missing an important piece of the puzzle. That was nothing new, really. They could never really figure out what the Sirens wanted.

Another piece then showed itself, quite abruptly. Sheffield's senses shouted an alarm and she dodged aside an attack that ruptured the earth. Geysers of dirt went up.

"Hey!" Bremerton shouted. "You better not get that shit near me!"

Sheffield focused on their attacker.

It was a woman with long grey hair in a ponytail. She wore an expensive white shirt, black skirt and black tights. And more importantly, she held a very long sword in her right hand. The blade was segmented, attached on a grey backbone that appeared elastic.

"Useless," she clicked her tongue. "Get outta here."

She snapped her fingers and the twenty soldiers collapsed like puppets with their strings cut. Shimmering black mist emanated and dissipated from their bodies.

Some sort of necromancy? Sheffield wondered. No, they were already dead. Their corpses were just being moved.

"Hey, D? Trouble," Bremerton said. "There's a magus here."

"Worse," Sheffield corrected, eying the whip-sword. It had a presence, a sense of power that was different but eerily reminiscent of Atrum's staff. "I suspect she is using a Servant's powers, like the magus from last night."


[Copy that,] Da Vinci said. [Ritsuka, get over here!]

Ritsuka obliged without hesitation and made for the cockpit. "What do you need?" he asked.

Da Vinci was sitting on the pilot's seat. And was it just his imagination or were the controls very simple? There were far fewer buttons and levers than he'd think.

"I'm going to go deal with the wannabe Servant," Da Vinci said. "I need you to fly in the meantime."

"… Wait, what? Wait a sec! I've never flown before!" Ritsuka protested.

"Oh, don't worry! It'll be just like riding a chiropter. It's really intuitive!" Da Vinci dismissed his concerns, taking off her headset.

"Yeah, for you!"


[Just one question, Da Vinci,] Prinz Eugen's voice came from the headset. [Do you trust Herr Fujimaru?]

Da Vinci paused, raising a perfect eyebrow. "Wow, what'd you say to her?" she asked Ritsuka.

"Just my usual."

"Your 'usual' makes people really like you."

"That was years ago."

Da Vinci shrugged. "Still is. You just need to remember again." She brought the headset up again. "To answer your question, Prinz: yes. With my life. Anything else?"

[… No, nothing.]

"Alright, then." Da Vinci stood up, pulled into her previous seat, materialized her staff and pushed open the emergency door. "It's just like a video game!" she said over the rush of wind. "Just use that steering wheel to change direction and that stick to change altitude! Don't worry, I'll walk you through the rest!"

"While you're fighting?" Ritsuka said incredulously.

"I'm a genius, Ritsuka! Of course I can multitask!"

With that, she jumped out of the window. As she fell, Da Vinci raised her staff and her mechanical bird grabbed the top. Bizarrely, it was able to hold her weight and safely fly her to ground.

For a moment, Ritsuka stared. "I'll have you know, that makes no sense," he eventually said. He then shut the emergency door.

[Herr Fujimaru, we need to get to the middle of the lake,] Prinz urged.

"Right. Hold on!"

Da Vinci rattled off instructions and he followed them to the letter. He would grudgingly admit that Da Vinci was right. The controls were really intuitive.

Ritsuka entertained an idle thought that maybe the Sky Border had been designed with him in mind as well.

They sped over the lake, away from the fighting at the coast. Eventually, the other two Sirens came into sight.

One was a mass-produced model, a black ship with glowing red lines similar to the battleship at the coast, except this one seemed to be an aircraft carrier. The flight deck had a runway marked on it with red lights.

And standing on it was a humanoid female.

Yellow eyes, white hair, sleeveless green form-fitting vest. No doubt, it was the same Siren whose creation he'd seen the previous night.

[Oh, it really is that one,] Prinz remarked. [Gut. I've been wanting a rematch.]

[Hold on, I'll go first,] Saratoga said. There were noises like the propellers of several miniature planes which flew out. Ritsuka spotted them as they exited through the open door of the plane and flew towards the Siren Demi-Servant.

The Siren – Lancer, Ritsuka recalled – seemed to not notice at first. She stood unmoving in the middle of the flight deck, head tilted upwards.


He couldn't clearly see her face from this distance. "Is there some sort of magnifying option?" he asked. Da Vinci told him what to press and an image appeared on the screen.

Lancer was resolutely staring up. Ritsuka quickly followed her gaze, but saw nothing.

Wait, is she…?

His train of thought was cut when Lancer moved. She saw the planes coming but showed no surprise. The red spear appeared in her right hand and she leapt to the edge of the flight deck, spinning it. Only a moment later, the planes fired their guns. From the pink bullet trails, Ritsuka assumed that they were enchanted somehow. Reinforcement, maybe?

Whatever the case, Lancer successfully blocked it. At the same time, spectral red shapes appeared at the rear end of the flight deck. They zoomed forwards, solidifying as they moved, and launched off the carrier as ten red-and-black jet planes flying in pairs. They swerved, scattering into a random formation, and flew toward the Border.

Saratoga's planes turned around to pursue them but a sudden barrage of missiles obliterated them. Following their disappearing contrails, Ritsuka saw that her previous shoulder-mounted machine gun had been replaced by a miniaturized missile launcher.

That was all he saw before having to turn the Sky Border around and fly off, pursued by the Siren aircraft.

[Oh, great, she upgraded,] Eugen groused.

[We have bigger problems,] Enterprise reminded. [Prinz, Sara, disembark.]

[Aye, aye, captain!] [Jawohl~!]

[I'll take care of the planes,] Enterprise continued. [Fujimaru, don't stop.]

"Wasn't planning on it!" he fired back, pushing the Sky Border to go faster.


Once Prinz and Saratoga jumped off Enterprise took a deep breath and walked to the open door. She kicked it and it broke off the hinges. She took her hat off and tucked it behind a seat, and then fixed her coat on properly.

"Mr. Fujimaru," Enterprise began suddenly. "I'd like to apologize."

[For what?]

"I was being quite rude to you. That was unbecoming of me."

[Nah, forget it,] he quickly dismissed. [No need to apologize, it's not like you said anything wrong. And besides, Prinz was the one being confrontational, not you.]

"Still," Enterprise insisted. "On her behalf as well. Prinz would die before she said sorry."

A light snort came over the speaker. [I figured as much. But really, neither of you said anything wrong. And in any case, there's more important things to do,] he reminded.

Enterprise nodded. "Right."

Producing a light arrow, Enterprise closed her eyes. She concentrated on her hearing, listening to the sound of the Siren planes in pursuit. She slowly visualized a model of their flight paths.

Enterprise waited.

Just about … now!

Enterprise jumped and there was nothing below her.

She twisted her body to the left as gravity took hold and released her arrow.

The plane it struck didn't immediately explode. The golden energy of her arrow arced wildly and connected with three other planes from within the first and then all four burst and careened down in trails of smoke.

Enterprise spared just a glance to the result of her attack, immediately drawing and firing another arrow into the blue void. This one turned into a plane which swerved around and sped to just below her. Enterprise neatly landed and immediately got to her feet. She'd taken down four planes in one fell swoop but there were still six to go.

As a carrier, Enterprise carried no guns, anti-air or otherwise. A carrier was supposed to fight from a distance by launching planes, but with Enterprise's willingness to jump headfirst into the frontlines, she had to improvise. Luckily she had her bow, and she eventually learned how to fight without planes.

Projecting another arrow, Enterprise eyed a pair of planes which had swerved to a side to evade. She nocked the arrow and waited a moment. Even though she stood on top of a speeding plane, her footing remained stable.

The moment passed and she loosed the arrow. It drilled through both consecutively. Both went down, smoking.

Three of the remainder were bearing down on her. Enterprise crouched down, taking her right hand off the bowstring to hold on to her plane as she willed it to make a sharp turn.

Several seconds passed as high speed aerial tag. Enterprise flew wildly, making sharp turns every now and then to avoid the Siren planes' laser barrage. Once she was flying in a straight path again, Enterprise slowly took her hand off the plane, drawing her bowstring and producing another arrow.

A second later Enterprise jumped straight up just as her plane swerved down.

Twisting herself downward, she released her arrow. It struck the middle of the pursuing fleet just as it passed below. The light arrow burst on impact, shards and sparks flying in every direction, taking down the other two as well.

"Grr … so you can do trick arrows, fine! Hawkeye still does it better!"

Enterprise would fervently deny having been struck by a flare of competitiveness upon seeing Reno showing off the trick arrow set she'd personally made. She would also deny scouring the very same comics for ideas.

Right, nine down, Enterprise thought, nocking another arrow. Her plane was circling back to arrest her fall –

The tenth and final Siren plane, with a burst of speed, crashed into it. Both went down, destroyed.

Enterprise clicked her tongue, but she didn't panic yet. She wasn't planning on falling, and even if she did, with the lake below her she would be mostly unharmed.

She heard jet noises approaching. Turning as she fell, she spotted a second fleet of ten Siren planes approaching.

No time to waste, she loosed the arrow. Immediately she generated a new one and fired, repeating this several times in rapid succession.

Her aim was a bit off considering the moving targets. Some of the planes dodged, some attacks she missed, but that was as planned.

Three of them went down, struck by light arrows. The rest reached closer, the laser guns just about to fire.

Gunfire from behind shot them down.

Enterprise had set all of her arrows to turn into planes. The ones that hit, of course, exploded prematurely, but the ones that missed were able to do so, turning into the fastest fighters Enterprise carried. Around half of them swerved around, and attacked the Siren planes from behind.

Still falling upside down, Enterprise trained her sight onto the Siren carrier. She began to draw back the bowstring.

Black-and-red shapes materialized as the carrier prepared to launch more planes.

And suddenly the flight deck was lit up with numerous explosions, shredding the runway and disabling the carrier.

The other half of Enterprise's missed-arrows-turned-planes had gone for the carrier. Once it looked like it was about to launch another group of planes, Enterprise's fighters all dropped their entire payload on the carrier, forestalling all further launch attempts by destroying the flight deck.

It would only buy her time. Siren ships did not conform to the restrictions of man-made ships. No doubt it had missiles or lasers or something.

Enterprise would not let it do anything like that.

I'll finish this in one shot!

She drew back the bowstring.

Focusing all of her concentration on her Wisdom Cube, Enterprise began to siphon out energy. Unlike last night she didn't stop at just a powerful but stable arrow. This time she poured in everything she could.

Golden energy crackled violently in her hand, forming an unstable arrow that sparked and shot out small arcs incessantly. The light of the arrow intensified further and further as she continued to fall.

As expected the Siren 'carrier' began firing lasers from a hidden backup cannon, bringing down the majority of Enterprise's surviving planes. Sparing as little of her concentration as she could, she willed all of them to fly back to her. The 'carrier' fired a laser straight at her and she defended herself by having one of her planes in the way.

It gave her just a second to shoot but it was enough.

"It's over!"

Enterprise let the arrow fly.

It sparked violently, so unstable it was. It actually gave up the ghost and exploded just before it struck the ship. But the explosion was mighty enough to do the job.

A burst of blinding light went up, as if a lightning bolt struck the surface of the lake. A huge geyser of water rose to cover the ship, and when it splashed down it was clearly visible that the large vessel had been torn in half.

Enterprise's sole surviving plane came under her at the last second. She collapsed onto it, tired, and nearly fell off. She struggled to move her tired limbs and looked back.

The two halves of the carrier were sinking into the water. Her job was done.


There was a loud sound as the aircraft carrier was destroyed in one powerful shot. It wasn't important to Lancer.

What was important was that she continued to dodge.

Lancer was constantly on the move, trying to avoid attacks from several directions at once. The pink-haired individual, designated Adversary Unit 03, had sent several planes to pursue Lancer. In any other situation, Lancer would have the option of shooting down the planes.

That option was unavailable due to the second attacker. A ship girl with grey hair. Lancer had designated her Adversary Unit 01 as she was the first enemy Lancer had come across. 01 was hovering in the air, precisely bombarding Lancer's location with shells. This forced Lancer to constantly stay on the move.

There was one more form of attack.

"Sara Shot!"

A bolt of pink energy blasted out of the head of 03's staff, heading straight for Lancer. Lancer slashed at it with the red spear and it dissipated like mist.

The anti-magic properties of the red spear was a discovery Lancer had made around two hours ago when her new command unit had attempted to tie her up with a cursed rope. It was a reflexive action, one that, in hindsight, should not have been done. Lancer's new Master was unstable in a different way from her first command unit. Displeasing this Master would mean ter–


Lancer's thought processes ground to a halt. She came to a stop for just a moment as an attempt was made to restart.

It was a moment too long.

01's shots landed true, blasting Lancer back. Water erupted from the spot in a tall geyser and more followed, giving Lancer no time to recover.

"Come on, is that all you got?!" 01 taunted.

"Negative," Lancer answered blandly. She canceled the water walk and submerged.

"Hm? Prinz, didn't you say she wasn't a conversationalist?" 03's voice was heard.

"Who cares? Maybe her new command unit or whatever she wants to call it is more agreeable and she's in a good mood or something," 01 said.

That was a negative as well, but Lancer wasn't trying to give her position away so she stayed quiet.

Momentarily Lancer wondered why she bothered thinking about replying but that was irrelevant so she let the thought go.

Under the water Lancer's vision worked just as well. She could make out 03's silhouette.

Lancer activated the water walk again. Underwater, this caused a repulsion between her feet and the water, propelling Lancer forward. Lancer zipped under 03, brought her legs back under her, and was poised to leap at 03 from behind.

"Sara Shot!"

Pink energy coalesced at the bottom of 01's staff and blasted backwards at Lancer. Lancer didn't react fast enough and was blown back.

Slowly getting back up, Lancer ran a self-diagnosis. Evaluating the damage, she scanned her two opponents.

Neither looked worse off. Lancer was losing.

It was incomprehensible. Lancer had come out well from a two-on-one fight not twelve hours ago. What was the cause for her struggling now?

It was incomprehensible. She should be doing better. Failure meant ter–


Once again, her mental processes crashed and she had to effectively reboot herself. The regeneration of her clothing stopped for a moment before resuming.

"Huh?" 01 uttered.

"What is it?" 03 asked.

"For some reason, it's … not exactly weaker, but not doing as well as last night," 01 said.

"Yeah, I was wondering how something this weak held you back."

Weak? That was incorrect. Physically, none of its attributes had declined.

But in that case, what was it?

Was Lancer so bothered by the possibility of term–


Lancer shook her head as if to clear it. She did not understand where that habit had come from.

Perhaps thinking about something else would be better.

"Query," she said.

Reflexively, 01 and 03 made to attack. They paused upon seeing Lancer not moving at all.

"Reason for vocalization?" she asked.

There was silence for exactly 4.89 seconds.

"… Pardon?" 03 eventually asked.

"Observation indicates that vocalizing the attack's given name has no effect on its efficacy," Lancer elaborated. "Reason for such vocalization is therefore unclear."

There was silence for a further 3.68 seconds.

"There … isn't a reason?" 03 eventually answered. "It just … sounds cool?"

Interpretation failure. Lancer tilted her head. "Meaning unclear," she said. "Query: definition of 'cool'?"

"… Prinz, why do I feel like I'm trying to explain things to a little kid?" 03 asked 01.

"She was created yesterday, so I suppose that explains it. But this is weird. She was nowhere near this curious before–"

01 activated her shielding function without pause and blocked the sudden missile assault from Lancer.

"Sneaky," 01 remarked, just a hint of approval in her carefree voice.

Lancer paused. Since when did she know what carefree sounded like?

"Distraction and trickery. You're actually being cunning like the average Siren now. That's very different from last night when you were fighting directly and just wouldn't stop for anything. Yet here you are, stopping for a small chat," 01 remarked. "Well, if you're willing to talk, tell me, Siren: what are you doing here?"

"Unspeakable," Lancer replied. "The command unit cannot be betrayed."

01 shrugged. "Worth a shot."

Without any further warning, she fired. Lancer leapt to the right to dodge.

She jumped right into the path of falling bombs from 03's airplanes. The explosion knocked her towards 03.

"Sara Bind!"

Circular bands of pink energy materialized and constricted around her. Lancer struggled to move. If she could just touch the blade of the red spear to them –

"Too easy!" 03 chided. "Sara could read you super easily! Well, I can't blame you, you're clearly in turmoil over something … actually, no, I can. You're a Siren after all. We exist to kill you."

Kill … ? Did that mean term–


Lancer once more attempted to reboot.

"I'm guessing you were meant to be a blank slate," 03 deduced. "But since you're a Demi-Servant, whichever Servant you're bonded to has started influencing you, filling up that blank slate. In that case … answer this. Why are you fighting us?" 03 asked.

"The command unit has designated all ship girls as enemies," Lancer answered. "This unit is a tool designed for combat, to obey commands."

"Tied up like that, you're not doing a very good job of that," 01 commented.

"Hush, Prinz, I'm interrogating," 03 chided. "Look, Siren – do you have a name?"

"This unit has been designated Lancer."

"Okay, Lancer, I get that your boss has ordered you to fight, but why are you fighting?"

"… Personal reasons are unnecessary," Lancer answered after 1.42 seconds.

"Oh, but it is bothering you, isn't it? Hey, Prinz, look at that: we found a Siren with a conscience!"

"Is that important? This Lancer or whatever isn't going to just stop fighting us. It has orders."

"Affirmative," Lancer agreed. "This unit is duty-bound to serve the command unit."

"Is that so? Well, guess I've got no choice," 03 said, dramatically sighing. "I feel like I'm bullying a baby, but you are growing. Evolving. And at this rate, you'll be plenty dangerous even later today, provided you get over whatever your issues are. Ugh, we should've brought Bremmy," 03 grumbled.

"True, this is right in that wannabe shrink's ballpark," 01 agreed.

"You could stand to be a little less rude, Prinz," 03 complained. "Well, whatever. Gotta take you out now. Get ready, Lancer; I'm going to befriend you."

… Error. Interpretation failure.

"… Clarify?" Lancer asked.

Adversary Unit 03 clarified. Non-verbally and quite painfully.

03 raised her staff high. Pink energy coalesced at its head, a density that completely overshadowed the previous attacks. It grew bright enough that were this night, it would have lit up the vicinity as if it were daytime.

It was dangerous. Lancer could not allow herself to be hit by it. She redoubled her struggle to break free. The bands began to crack. She had time. It was taking a while to charge. If Lancer could just get out of the bindings …

Unfortunately for Lancer, it was too late. "Sister Sara Superstar Strike!" 03 shouted, and swung the staff down.

There was a sound like a large thunderclap. The waters parted beneath the falling hammer that was 03's attack. Pink-tinged white light burst upwards in a geyser almost equal to what Enterprise had just produced.

It felt like a landslide had fallen right on top of Lancer. There was an impact of such a scale that Lancer couldn't quantify it.

Perhaps that was because of the pain. There was so much pain, Lancer couldn't think clearly. The impact was momentary, but everything else felt like it would go on forever.

The thunderous explosion continued to ring in Lancer's ears. Her nerves were alight with signals, transmitting that everything hurt. A lot. Her clothes were half-torn with charred patches, smoke coming off them.

Lancer could feel her consciousness wavering. She could see her vision darkening.

Is this … ter … mination?

The thought brought with it a sense of immense alarm, but it was not enough.

Lancer blacked out.


Prinz Eugen hovered lower to let a completely exhausted Saratoga lean against her rigging for support. "Whew!" Saratoga panted. "I'm so glad she didn't break out in time!"

"… What is with you Eagles and exhausting yourself in one ridiculous attack?" Eugen asked rhetorically.

"I had the chance and I took it! It was too good to pass up. Besides, that was supposed to kill her, not…" Saratoga trailed off. She stared a distance away from them, to where Lancer lay on her back on the water, unconscious. After a second, her eyes narrowed. "You ever seen a Siren go unconscious before?" she asked, getting back up.

"You noticed, huh?" Eugen said, eyes never leaving the prone Siren. She aimed her cannons and first shot just over Lancer. The shells landed in the water beyond her in loud bursts. "Try anything, and that'll be you," she warned loudly.

There was no response.

Carefully, Saratoga walked up to the defeated Siren and crouched down. She made sure Prinz could still clearly see Lancer from her angle and cautiously put a hand to the Siren's neck.

"Well, she's al – wait. Huh?"

"What?" Prinz asked.

"… Until now, all the Sirens we've met have been androids, right?"

"What about it?"

"This one's fully organic."

"… And she talked like the most robotic of all," Eugen muttered. "Let's take her back with us, and have Da Vinci look at her. We might make a breakthrough."

"Roger that."


In hindsight, perhaps starting the fight with a rocket punch was not the best idea, but it wasn't as though that mattered.

While still in the process of flying down, Leonardo Da Vinci aimed her armored gauntlet at the magus and the fist blasted out at high speed.

The magus woman sharply cracked the rope like sword. With a sound like a whip crack, it slammed into the rocketing fist and sent it careening towards the lake.

Now Da Vinci had several options. She was a genius, after all. A single magus wielding Servant powers was not going to be any trouble.

For the moment, she decided to play along.

The magus flicked her wrist and the whip sword. It zapped through the air far faster than either its dimensions or the speed of the flick would suggest. Da Vinci blocked it with her staff, curiously noting the strength behind it.

Homing blue lasers then shot from the head of her staff. Quick as a flash, the magus' sword retracted as she made it spiral in front of her to defend.

"… Oh, now I remember!" Da Vinci finally realized. "That's Astolfo's sword!"

"Oh? So you've met whoever it is?" the magus commented.

"Sure have! A shame, though," Da Vinci sighed. "I'd have loved to meet him again. You're nowhere near as cute as he was."

"Is that so?" the magus smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "Sounds like just my type. Pity, I'll have to make do with that maid over there later. We're going to have fun," she said, licking her lips. "You and the big one can go die. You're not my type."

"Firstly, I am insulted! You did not just pass over my perfect body!" Da Vinci exclaimed. "Secondly, ew. Astolfo definitely wasn't anything like you."

"My name is Celenike Icecolle. You best remember that all the way to the Throne, Servant. Now that I think about it, I can always have you as an appetizer after you're dead … hmm, no, that won't work. If I kill you, you'll just disappear. I'll need you alive."

"Oookay, let's just go back to passing over my perfect body, shall we? I don't need a BDSM psycho lusting over me," Da Vinci said.

All throughout that conversation, the fight hadn't abated in the slightest. Blue lasers blasted from her staff like machine gun fire, sometimes swooping in from odd angles. Celenike slashed at them with her whip-sword, it moving in a blur of speed to deflect most of them. Grazing shots apparently didn't do much damage despite each individual laser being quite powerful. Da Vinci theorized that that was probably due to Astolfo's Magic Resistance.

Celenike grinned. This was going easily, she thought. Da Vinci was using repetitive attacks that, while not easy to defend against, weren't very difficult either. Once she dealt with her, she could get rid of the bigger ship girl, incapacitate the maid, and have a good time. "Heh. Surely, this isn't all you can do, is it?" Celenike taunted.

"Who knows?" Da Vinci said dismissively. "But should you really be worrying about that?"

Celenike's grin slipped. "What?"

Da Vinci smiled. It radiated smugness. "On your left~!" she sang.

Celenike whirled around just in time to block Da Vinci's mechanical fist flying back with a sharp swing of her sword.

And completely missed the mechanical bird swooping in from her right that bowled her over and slashed out her right eye.

Celenike howled. She snapped her hand wildly at Da Vinci. The caster blocked it with the mechanical hand – now back in place on her arm, and easily caught it, holding the whip-sword in place. Something clicked, and a jet of sub-zero gas blasted out, instantly freezing the sword. Ice rapidly travelled up its length, reaching for Celenike.

The magus quickly let go of the weapon and scrambled back. "You … YOU!" she screamed.

"The proper form of address is 'you genius, you'," Da Vinci admonished. She aimed the glowing staff head at Celenike. "Now then; are you willing to answer my questions or do I have to play the guessing game?"

"Fuck off!"

"Guessing game it is. Well, at least there's something fun in all this," the caster absently grumbled.

There was a series of quick explosions in the background. Da Vinci spared a glance to see the wrecked Siren warship beginning to sink. "Good job, girls!" the caster called. "Take five!"

Both Sheffield and Bremerton were too careful to take a break just then. Sheffield methodically checked the corpses Celenike had been moving with magic. Bremerton continued to shoot volley after volley at the ship, making sure that it was well and truly destroyed.

"So, Celenike Icecolle, age irrelevant. What were you doing at Lake 51?" Da Vinci asked, not really expecting an answer. "No, don't bother refusing to answer. I can guess. You've got Siren escorts with you and you're obviously not a Siren, which means you're here to help them with something. Question of the day is what?"

Of course, Celenike didn't give anything away.

"My acquaintances here are telling me all about you," Da Vinci said, tapping an ear. It was true; from the moment Celenike divulged her name, people back at Chaldea had looked her up. It was laughably easy. "And wow, you're an idiot," Da Vinci continued. "You did everything short of putting a neon sign over your head saying 'look at me, I'm with the Real Heroes now!' At least you had some brain cells seeing that you didn't give your location away."

Da Vinci paused to listen to the rest. She hummed in thought, moving her staff as if scanning her. "Hmm … what happened to that Wisdom Cube you were using? I can detect it all over you but I'm not seeing it. Don't answer that! I like puzzles!"

She tossed the staff to a higher grip. The glow diminished. "Now then, back to the main topic: given that it's the Sirens that we're talking about, I'm guessing they wanted you to test a weapon. Since you didn't use it on us, that means you don't have it and it's somewhere else around here. Our sensors would have picked it up if it was above water, which means it was in the lake. Most likely somewhere near where the other two Sirens were detected."

Da Vinci smiled at Celenike's expression. "That about sum it up? We've been dealing with Sirens for a while now, we know how they work. Mostly."

The caster nodded. "Thank you for your assistance, Signora Icecolle. Sweet dreams!"

With that, Da Vinci stepped forward and before Celenike could react, rapped the staff onto her head. Hard. Celenike went down immediately.

It wouldn't have mattered to her if Celenike died, to be completely honest. But the fact that she was using a Wisdom Cube for a pseudo Install was a mystery, and Da Vinci could not leave a mystery unsolved. She welcomed intellectual challenges.

Which is why everything else about this incident was a disappointment.

[You look bored,] Sheffield said.

"That's because I am," Da Vinci replied. "Honestly I didn't even need to come down here. The two of you would have been plenty."

[Was it a weak Servant or somethin'?] Bremerton asked. In the distance, Da Vinci saw her dematerialize her rigging.

"Or something," Da Vinci confirmed. "Astolfo was a bit zany but he was very competent. Signora Icecolle on the other hand was a complete rookie. I don't know how she did it – yet – but looks like she only Installed a small part of the Servant unlike Atrum last night who carelessly took in all. That stopped her from going mad – well, more mad than she already was – but she didn't practice at all with what she did take. Sheesh, this whole fight was a drag."

Da Vinci heard a sound like a muffled jet engine and glanced. "Oh, they're back," she observed, watching the Sky Border return.

The aircraft slowed as it approached the coast. Da Vinci instructed Ritsuka on the landing and it did so smoothly.

One of the doors was gone to her curiosity. It wasn't that hard of a battle, was it? Prinz, Saratoga and Enterprise disembarked, and Da Vinci's eyebrow rose when she saw what Prinz held in the jaws of her rigging.

"Why'd you bring her back?" Da Vinci asked curiously.

"Despite appearances, this one's body is organic," Prinz remarked with the air of someone talking about the weather. "We were going to ask you to look at her."

Saratoga called over Bremerton and began relaying her guesses about the Siren's psyche.

Da Vinci stared at the downed Siren. It's unusual alright, I've never seen or heard of a Siren losing consciousness.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ritsuka exit the plane. He glanced at the Siren before asking, "What now?"

"Now, we wait," she replied, looking out at the lake. "They had something in the lake for some reason. A weapon or something, I don't know."

"Then shouldn't we go back and find it?"

"No, no need," Da Vinci said absently, setting her staff to scanning mode again and holding it above the Siren. "Who'd you say was put in this girl, again?"

"Irish Lancer Diarmuid."

"That could be why," Saratoga spoke up thoughtfully. "Diarmuid was a pretty good guy, right?"

"That's an understatement," Ritsuka deadpanned.

"And Lancer is basically a day old homunculus, so it makes sense that his morals are seeping into her. Any ideas on why she kept freezing up, Bremmy?" Saratoga asked.

"Nope, sorry, I haven't even met her, so I can't say," Bremerton answered.

"More importantly, why don't we need to depart?" Sheffield asked.

"Hmm? Oh, because I already sent someone. That and none of you are subs," Da Vinci answered.

Ritsuka blinked. "… What? When did you–?"

"Oh, she's back," Da Vinci commented. The others followed her gaze.

A lone figure was walking out of the water and towards the coast. The woman had black hair with a white streak tied in a side-tail, and red eyes. She wore a black leotard with a zipper down the middle that was open to expose some cleavage. Her mouth was covered by a scarf with teeth patterns.

Under her left arm she carried a cylindrical metal contraption about as big as a beachball. It was a mess of non-uniform plates and cables, with a screen the size of a smartphone.

"Package received," she said blandly, as she walked up.

"Good job!" Da Vinci praised. "Knew I could count on you."

"Whatever," the woman brushed off. "Can we go home now?"

"When, exactly, did you get over here?" Prinz asked.

"A short while ago, I lost track," the woman answered, looking at Ritsuka with slight curiosity. "Who's this?"

"Someone who claims to be a hero."

"Everyone else does. I don't," Ritsuka retorted.

"Everyone, hmm? You've sure got a high opinion of yourself," Prinz fired back without pause.

Ritsuka shook his head. "Ritsuka Fujimaru. Acquaintance of Da Vinci," he introduced.

"U-47," the woman said shortly. She put down the device on the ground in their midst.

"Also known as the best submarine ship girl in the world," Da Vinci added. "Sure, the others are no slouches, but Shiina here is on another level."

"Don't call me Shiina," U-47 said in a resigned tone that indicated that this wasn't even close to the first time she'd said that; nor would it be the last.

"How did she get here?" Enterprise asked.

"Rayshift," she explained. When she saw Ritsuka blink, she elaborated, "Well, we call it that, but it's a bit different. Closer to long-distance teleportation than anything. I used this little guy," Da Vinci indicated the mechanical bird on her shoulder, which raised a wing in greeting, "as a beacon to lock onto. Sent it over the lake and Shiina got Rayshifted from Chaldea to here, using those coordinates. Well, it's only a one-way thing, so we only use it for urgent matters."

"… Anyone can do that now?" he asked.

"Sadly not! We still need people with high enough compatibility to do it. So it's still you, me and all the ship girls, plus a few others you haven't met yet."

"Wait, hold on," Bremerton interrupted, "So you'd already figured out what was going on even before you jumped into the fray?"

"Genius," Da Vinci reminded, before fixing her attention on the cylindrical device. "Now then, what do we have here?"

She waved her glowing staff over it again. "Hmm … Ritsuka, what do you see?"

Ritsuka took a moment to figure out what she meant, then muttered something under his breath. He then looked at the device and immediately winced, looking away. "Too many colors," he said. "Way too many colors. I don't know what most of them are. And it's ridiculously bright; about as much as say one of the ship girls here."

"Enty or the others?" Da Vinci asked.

"I'd rather not find out; I prefer not being blind, thanks."

"… What?" Enterprise asked, totally confused.

"Is this about what you mentioned back at the Nest?" Sheffield asked. "As inferior version of Structural Analysis, was it?"

Ritsuka looked a bit surprised that she'd remembered. "Yeah, actually."

"Why would looking at Enty make you go blind?" Bremerton curiously asked.

Before Ritsuka could answer, Eugen interrupted in an amused tone. "There's only one way to interpret that. So she's your type, then? Flatterer."

"Were that the case, I'd go blind looking at any of you," Ritsuka fired back easily. He didn't notice the coughs and the embarrassed aside glances from some of the ship girls, or Eugen's highly amused grin.

Da Vinci smirked. Look at that, he's still got it.

Ritsuka just looked straight at the device. "What's your take on this, Da Vinci?"

"Well, I did assume it was a weapon, and I don't see a reason to assume otherwise," Da Vinci pondered. "My best guess? It's a bomb."

Instinctively, everyone other than Da Vinci took a couple of quick steps back.

"I think they were planning to test it in the lake. Probably remote-controlled from the looks of it."

"What kind of payload are we talking?" Enterprise asked urgently.

"Considering that it was at the bottom of this lake? Big."

"… You just made me carry an armed explosive through half a mile of water," U-47 deadpanned. She didn't sound amused.

Da Vinci waved off her concerns. "Already handling it, don't worry. I set up a Bounded Field around it that doesn't let electromagnetic waves of any kind enter."

"I don't see it," Prinz said dubiously. "I didn't see you doing any hocus-pocus either. And what's a Bounded Field again?"

"In this case, just think of it as an invisible barrier," Saratoga explained.

"… Come to think of it, if it's blocking all EM radiation, how come we can see it?" Sheffield asked.

"Magecraft is weird," Da Vinci offered an 'explanation'.

"You can say that again," Eugen muttered.

"Why?" Ritsuka asked. Da Vinci looked to see him frowning.

"Why it's still visible? Well, in layman's terms–"

"No, not that. Why was it at the bottom of a lake? And if it's remote-controlled, why wasn't it set off sooner? They could have triggered it even before we arrived. So why wait? It doesn't make any sense."

"Of course it does! Just not common sense!"

The new voice made everyone wheel around.

There, just in front of the trees was a girl with pale skin, yellow eyes and long blue hair in a ponytail. "Hi-hi!" she greeted cheerfully.

"Siren Purifier!" Saratoga said.

"Oh, it seems my reputation precedes me! Hehe, I always wanted to say that! Anyway–"


One moment she was casually standing there, the next she was engulfed in cannonfire and explosions. Da Vinci also blasted a laser from her staff several times more potent than she used on Celenike.

"Tch!" Enterprise clicked her tongue when her yellow energy petered out between her fingers and an arrow failed to form.

"Rule number one of fighting Sirens," Da Vinci explained to Ritsuka. "Shoot first, ask questions later."

"Or not at all, cause the average Siren sure as hell won't answer," Eugen added. She shot a couple of torpedoes at Purifier's location for good measure.

When the smoke cleared enough for visibility, the Siren was nowhere in sight. Despite that, her voice echoed from all around them. "Now that was rude!" she huffed. "Haven't you heard that talking is a free action?"

"Everyone, form a circle," Da Vinci ordered. "Make sure she can't sneak up on us from any direction."

"Roger." "Understood." "Ja."

"Ritsuka, pick up the bomb and start moving toward the plane. The rest of you, keep formation around him." Ritsuka wordlessly obliged.

"We're running away?" Eugen asked.

"If you want to put it that way Prinz, yes."

"So! As I was saying," Purifier's voice continued. "According to Tessy, that doohickey is supposed to be strong enough to vaporize the whole lake. But just blowing up a lake is boring! So since she gave me free rein with it, I decided to have fun."

"Why does that sound very not fun for us?" Ritsuka muttered.

"And by fun, I mean … this."

Nothing happened.

"… Ugh, I got the timing wrong. I mean, this," she repeated hurriedly.

Nothing happened.

"Oh, for the love of–"

The device beeped.

All eyes turned to it. The screen was lit. For a moment, '60.00' was visible, and then the number began decreasing.

"As if your 'hocus-pocus' is gonna stop us. Have fun now!" Purifier said.

"Shit," someone uttered.

"Don't panic, I can–"

Whatever Da Vinci was going to say was cut short as Ritsuka acted.

His Magic Circuits hummed to life, Reinforcing his entire frame. At the highest speed he could move, he jumped more than ran to the Sky Border.

Carrying the device with him, he vanished into the cockpit and a second later, the plane lifted off. It took off vertically, accelerating like a rocket into the sky with a roar.

"Did he just–"

"What the–"

"Figlio di puttana," Da Vinci cursed her breath. "His recklessness hasn't changed a bit." Putting a hand to her ear, she called, "Ritsuka! There's a parachute below the pilot's seat!"

He didn't reply but Da Vinci was sure he heard it, even if he'd not put on the headset.

"D?" Bremerton asked, staring up. "Is he seriously planning what I think he is?"

"Probably," she agreed, following her gaze. The Sky Border had ascended far enough that it was almost invisible.

"That's suicide!" Enterprise exclaimed.

"Probably," Da Vinci repeated, this time distinctly annoyed.

"I would estimate that he has to ascend at least two kilometers to be safe," Sheffield said.

"Safe for the rest of us, but what about him?" Eugen asked. "Isn't there an auto-pilot system?"

"Not yet," Da Vinci said in a clipped voice. "The best he can do is make the plane keep ascending without his input for a short while."

"Does he know that?" U-47 asked.

"He should, from the piloting he did today."

In her mind's eye, Da Vinci imagined what was probably going on. Ritsuka sitting in the pilot's seat, pushing the Sky Border to its limits. He kept an eye on the bomb timer all the while.

For a second, Da Vinci wondered if he was actually trying to kill himself. After everything he'd been through, it unfortunately made sense. She wondered if someone like Ereshkigal had laid a claim on his soul.

Despite that, Da Vinci refused to believe he had no attachment to the world of the living. She still had faith in him.

Da Vinci counted down. She waited.

She was both a Servant and a genius, so her countdown was flawless. Just as she mentally hit zero, it happened.

There was no sound, given the distance. At least at first. Eventually, a sound like deep rumbling washed over them.

But before that, there was the visible explosion. It looked very large even from this distance. A nova of blinding red, yellow and white that kept spreading and spreading.

And with its illumination, Da Vinci was the first to make out a dotted silhouette.

She let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding and watched as the dot slowly grew. A few seconds later she was hit by a surge of panic.

Don't tell me he jumped out without the–!

A moment later a rectangular white square many times larger than the silhouette appeared behind it. Finally, Da Vinci managed to relax for real.

"… He is insane," Prinz Eugen said slowly. "He is actually insane."

"Oh no, he's perfectly sane," Da Vinci refuted. "He just has a habit of frequently giving people heart attacks."

"I think he's got a bit of a martyr complex," Bremerton suggested.

"Unfortunately, I can't disagree."

"Trouble!" Saratoga called urgently.

Ritsuka hadn't gotten clear in time. The aftershocks of the powerful reached just far enough to touch his parachute.

It caught fire.

"That's not good," U-47 remarked.

"Prinz!" Da Vinci barked.

Without a word, Prinz Eugen crouched and then took off.


The only thing Ritsuka could think at that moment was Ah, shit.

He thought he'd timed it well enough. Putting on the backpack, flying the plane to a reasonable height and then jumping out in around 30 seconds was a tall order. He couldn't jump too early or too late.

It all seemed to be going well for a few seconds. The worst of the colossal explosion seemed to have passed by the time he ejected his parachute. It was an extremely harrowing experience, but at least he would live.

And then the parachute caught fire, and suddenly there was nothing to arrest his fall. The ground was far below. Far, far below him, and he was caught in freefall with no options left.

Truthfully Ritsuka had no issue with dying. He was tired and done. Death would be a release. He'd wondered if he felt this bad after only five years he couldn't even begin to imagine what Scathach had gone through.

However, even though he had no problem with an ending, that didn't mean he wouldn't try his damnedest to avoid it.

If I Reinforce my body to its absolute limits, and have my arms and legs take the brunt of the impact, I'll be forever crippled, but maybe, just maybe, I can stay alive!

Ritsuka was forced to close his eyes due to the wind.

Guh…! Doctor, Mash, I guess I'm on my way…!

He didn't dare try to think about the inevitable abrupt ending to his journey through the sky. Even if he'd accepted it, even if he knew there was an afterlife – and he'd already been there more than once! – it was still absolutely terrifying. His heart was hammering like bass speakers at max volume right next to his ears.

Therefore, he could be forgiven for reflexively yelling when he felt a collision.

That was odd. He didn't think he was even halfway down, was he?

"Oof! Wow, that felt like running into a wall!"

The ground wasn't supposed to be this soft.

And most importantly, he was still conscious? How?

Ritsuka cracked his eyes open. Strange. The ground was still far below him, yet he felt no wind rushing against his face. He heard mechanical sounds, a couple of snaps, and the pull of the parachute on his upper body abruptly vanished. Also…

"This doesn't feel like the ground," he said, with a calm he didn't quite feel.

The same voice from before huffed. "Of course not. I'd be highly offended if you compared my perfect body to hard, flat ground. I'm not Hipper."

Ritsuka turned his head to the right.

Prinz Eugen smirked at him. "Nice weather we're having, isn't it?" she said airily. "The sky is blue and clear, the sun is shining bright, not to mention decently attractive men falling from the sky."

"Thanks. I think. Didn't know you could fly."

"Ironblood science is the best in the world," she said with a perfect straight face.

Ritsuka looked at her.

After a second, Eugen snorted. "Reverse-engineered Siren tech. Still a work in progress; only me and my flat schwester can fly as of now."

"Cool. Thanks for catching me, though. I was sure I was a goner."

"You're very welcome. Oh, but that's not what you really want to thank me for, is it?"

"What do you mean?"

Eugen smirked. It was a familiar smirk. It reminded him of Shuten. "Enjoy the landing, Herr Fujimaru?" she teased.

Ritsuka paused, pretending to think, but mostly giving himself time to calm down after that near death experience. "I've had better," he eventually said.

That startled a laugh from the Ironblood cruiser. It grew to the point where she was visibly shaking, her grip on Ritsuka tightening. "You – you just – not only did you not deny it, but …!" she managed to get out between breaths. "Ahahaha! Do you know how rare that is?"

"Nero and Mata Hari corrupted me," Ritsuka said.

"Hah! Okay, okay, I'm done. For now," she said. Her smile had morphed from a hollow sly smirk to a genuine grin. She shifted her grip. "I'm going to descend rather fast now. Hold on tight. Ah, but do be mindful of where your hands are going."

"You don't need to tell me that. Your rigging glaring at me says enough," he retorted, watching the metal creatures intently staring at his hands.

"Aw, they're just protective. Hmm, but are you saying you would do something if they weren't around?"

"There'd be something entirely different stopping me then."


"My personal sense of integrity."

Prinz Eugen snickered some more. Ritsuka felt the rush of wind and realized they had begun descending quickly again.

The silence that followed was by no means an uncomfortable one. It was strangely companionable.

"By the way," Eugen said after a while, "by Nero, did you mean the Roman Emperor?"

"Empress," Ritsuka corrected. He didn't have to turn to know that Eugen was shooting a disbelieving look at him. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Real history is a lot more entertaining than the recorded one. Turns out Nero was a short girl with a very high opinion of herself. Couldn't sing worth a damn, though."

"Hmm. Any more historical genderbends I should know about?"

"We'd be here all day if I started."

"Oh, that's not so bad. I can think of less interesting people to share an intimate embrace with." Ritsuka wondered if she was actually incapable of not making teasing remarks.

"There's certainly better places to do so than falling through the sky."

"Hehe." Her honest giggle was quite endearing. "Oh, and I believe you now. About being a hero and all that. There's certainly not many people crazy enough to jump off an exploding plane while over a mile in the air."

"Thanks. I think."

"Don't thank me just yet. You still have to deal with Da Vinci once we're grounded. I've never seen her so mad before."

"… You know, on second thought, thanks for the save, but you can just drop me now."

"I think not. I really want to see her yell at you."

"Should've guessed you had a sadistic streak."

"Careful what you say to your savior, Herr Held," Eugen lightly reprimanded. "I might actually let go."

"But that's exactly what I want."

"Really? Okay, try this."

Eugen let go.

Ritsuka, however wasn't too fazed as he saw they had descended all the way. Time had a funny way of passing quickly when you weren't paying attention. He let go as well, fell a few feet, and promptly collapsed onto his back. He took a long, slow breath, as he finally registered what he had done and how close he had come to ending it all.

"You are an idiot," Da Vinci snapped. "Cazzo idiota."

Swearing at me in Italian? Okay, yeah, she is pissed.

"I've been an idiot since Orleans," Ritsuka shrugged as best he could while lying on the ground. "What else is new?"

"I can think of at least six different ways we could have solved that issue without you attempting a grand suicide."

"Old habits die hard," he said for the second time that morning.

It was true. Ritsuka Fujimaru was loath to step into this world again. He thought he truly wanted to live out the rest of his days in boring peace.

He should've known better. From the very first time in the past five years when he'd acted without thinking to save someone, he should've known that he couldn't just leave that part of him behind.

The undeniable fact was: he missed this. He missed the rush, the thrill that came with the adventure. He'd forgotten how good it felt to thwart a scheme that would've cost someone their life.

Maybe that wasn't a good mindset to have. Maybe he really was an adrenaline junkie that just couldn't get over the high. Still, facts were facts. For better or for worse, that was the kind of person Ritsuka Fujimaru had become.

EMIYA would want to stab me right now, he mused wryly.

"Did it even occur to you that I could've just defused it and prevented this whole mess to begin with?" Da Vinci demanded.

Ritsuka sighed. "Can we save the lecture for after I'm back at Chaldea?"

That made Da Vinci pause and blink. Anger evaporating, she smiled. "So you are coming back?"

"What? Didn't you – and everyone else for that matter – already assume I was gonna say yes?"

"Assuming something happens and it actually happening are two different things," she retorted. "It'll be good to have you back. Chaldea's just not the same without the forty-eighth Master candidate."

"So…" Bremerton spoke up. "What now?"

"Good question," Da Vinci replied. "We would have taken the Sky Border back by now, but someone saw fit to blow up our ride."

"There was no–"

"If you say something like 'there was no other option', then so help me, I will shove an Uomo Universale down your throat," Da Vinci interrupted Ritsuka menacingly.

Wisely, Ritsuka shut up.

"Luckily I called ahead, so our backup ride is on its way. What're you girls planning to do?"

"I'll go back to Chaldea with you," Enterprise said. "I've got an appointment."

"I'll stick around the Nest. I promised Cooper a tennis match," Bremerton supplied.

"Me too," Saratoga chimed in. "Big sis Lex demanded I spend time with her today."

"I shall return to the Royal Navy," Sheffield added. "Her Majesty will want a report of these recent incidents."

"I think I'll take this one to Eisenherz," Eugen said, poking the unconscious Siren with a foot. "It's the best place to lock her up; you can't get any more secure than that. After that, well…"

She trailed off. Ritsuka curiously turned to look and found her staring at him.

Slowly, she smirked. "I think I'll come hang out in Chaldea as well. I am very interested in all the stories you no doubt have."

"I'll take her back then," U-47 offered. "You go enjoy your chat."

"Make sure Roon doesn't see a still-alive Siren inside the base," Eugen advised.

U-47 scoffed. "Please. I can sneak around. I'm more worried about what U-81 was up to while I was away. She better not have messed up my room…"

"Say hi to Z35 and 36 for me!" Saratoga added. U-47 shrugged.

Ritsuka heard a sound like a camera shutter. He glanced in that direction to see Bremerton pointing a smartphone at me.

"Don't worry, it's just a picture!" she reassured. "I'm not gonna upload it anywhere; I just wanna have something to show Balti."

Ritsuka shrugged as best he could.


"Ohh, that's interesting," Purifier said to herself, watching the proceedings. "Not many humans are crazy enough to do that. This guy looks fun!"

She idly stretched. "So, who should I go to with this first?" she wondered. "I know I'll have to tell Tessy … oh yeah, Observer would prolly wanna know. Maybe this is the same guy who killed that Hallway guy to death. Or, whatever his name was. Atrium?"

Having decided her course of action, she waved the screen off. "Oh, yeah, they took that experiment with them," she remembered, then shrugged. "Meh. Should be fine."


The ride back to the Nest was mostly uneventful. A small aircraft arrived to pick them up within half an hour, and soon enough they were all headed back.

Lancer was kept in a specially secured compartment used for carrying prisoners. U-47 wasn't one for conversation, so she volunteered to keep watch. Celenike was kept in a similarly secured compartment.

The plane ride passed companionably. Prinz Eugen had all but demanded anecdotes about the historical figures he'd met. He didn't think himself a very good storyteller, but he did his best.

One thing Ritsuka made sure off was to mention Mash as little as possible. He wasn't ready to talk about her with people he'd only met less than a day ago.

Enterprise and Bremerton also curiously asked questions from time to time. Sheffield was more interested in the various types of magecraft he'd seen. Da Vinci joined in from time to time, 'helpfully' offering corrections that made him seem more ridiculous.

As for Saratoga, she was enthusiastic enough to begin with, but the moment he mentioned Elizabeth's 'idol thing', it was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly she was almost right in his face, ordering him to spill every little detail that he remembered about her.

Sheffield dryly remarked that perhaps they should get their Queen Elizabeth involved in the idol business, to which Saratoga happily offered to be a mentor.

Arriving at the nest, they immediately parted ways. U-47 silently dragged Lancer off, Sheffield going with her. Celenike was handed to men at the base with a word of caution on containing her. Saratoga and Bremerton also hurried off, leaving the remaining four to make their report to Tohsaka.

Curiously, after they went over Ritsuka's part in dealing with the bomb, she rubbed her temples, looking as though she had a headache, muttering, "Not another one."

She then spent ten minutes calmly but severely lecturing Ritsuka on the waste of valuable military resources and disregard for his own life.

It was several minutes later that they were free to go. Da Vinci promised a detailed description of the events, and that she'd handle all the necessary talking and filing. Finally, she led the other three to a pure white door that led to an equally white room.

It wasn't a very large room. There were computers lining the walls to either side, and five grey cubicles up front. Ritsuka did a double take when he noted the similarities between said cubicles and Chaldea's Rayshift Coffins.

"Get in, I'll explain later," Da Vinci instructed.

Ritsuka obliged. He had the distinct feeling that Da Vinci was not going to be tolerating any shit from him today.


A few minutes later, a featureless ash-grey door slid open in Chaldea, Antarctica. Four people walked through. The sole male stayed quiet, looking around as if trying to convince himself of what he was seeing.

Eventually, they passed a window. Ritsuka Fujimaru stopped, looking out at the raging blizzard.

"So," he finally said, "Rayshift terminals."

"That's right," Da Vinci nodded. "I first got the idea back during the Axis War. After it ended and everyone was ready to cooperate, I went up to the newly formed ALWSC with the plan. People who know about magecraft understand it for what it is, while people who don't just think it's reverse-engineered Siren tech that allows teleportation. They greenlit the project and we set up a whole network, with Chaldea as the central hub connecting to all the bases."

"Is that why there are magi in High Command?" he asked.

"Well, not exactly. People with good intelligence, leadership and planning skills were wanted for the positions. Also wanted – out of necessity – were people who are very knowledgeable about magecraft. And finally, they had to have a high Rayshift compatibility so they could use the network we set up between the bases. High Command just happened to find magi who fulfilled all those requirements."

"Isn't Rayshifting really expensive? Even if you're not blasting someone back in time, you're transferring the body too, this time around."

"Not a problem," Da Vinci dismissed. "Chaldea had all these mana generators lying around collecting dust, so we redistributed them. Since we can't summon Servants, there was no reason to keep them here."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Prinz Eugen turn to Enterprise. "Did you get all that?"

Enterprise shook her head. "I'm as lost as you are."

Ritsuka missed the byplay because something else caught his attention. "'Can't'?" he repeated, confused. "What do you mean?"

"I'll explain that later," Da Vinci said. "For now, I think you should go rest in your room. I'm sure you still remember the way–"


"Oh, there's your appointment, Enty," Da Vinci smoothly continued.

Ritsuka turned towards the voice. It was a woman with long brown hair in a ponytail, wearing a red one-piece dress and a black-patterned white coat over it. Her eyes shone with eagerness, her left hand gripping the hilt of a katana.

Enterprise sighed. "Hello to you too, Zuikaku," she said, though she failed to conceal a slight upturn of her lips.

"I've been waiting for this!" she said, and Ritsuka marveled at how an indoor voice could pack so much enthusiasm despite staying at a level volume. "Today's the day I win!"

"You realize you've said that every day, and you haven't won yet."

Zuikaku frowned. "Grr, don't rub it in, damn you! Just you watch, I'll make you eat those words!" she promised.

"… She's not your illegitimate son, is she?" Ritsuka asked.

For a few seconds, everyone was silent. "… What?" Enterprise finally managed.

Da Vinci snorted. "Relax, Zui is much more stable and saner than Mordred was," she said.

Ritsuka nodded. "Good to know, but that doesn't answer my question."

"Nope. Probably," Da Vinci answered.

"What do you mean 'probably'?!" Enterprise yelped.

"Who're you, by the way?" Zuikaku asked.

"I'll fill you in later," Da Vinci answered for him. "You two go have fun now."

"Right, thanks! Grey Ghost, we're doing close combat today! Training ground 1, I'll race you there!"

Just as abruptly as she'd arrived, Zuikaku ran off.

Ritsuka blinked. "Like a whirlwind," he eventually said.

"I swear, she only gets more determined day by day," Prinz commented.

Enterprise sighed. "I'll see you two later. If you'll excuse me, Vice-Director."

Da Vinci waved it off. "Sure thing. Go have fun!"

"There's that at least," Enterprise muttered, jogging off after Zuikaku.

Once she was out of sight, Ritsuka voiced, "Grey Ghost?"

"It's a nickname USS Enterprise had back during World War II," Eugen explained. "When you seemingly come back from the dead not once, but twice, you tend to get infamous."

Ritsuka hummed. "I should brush up on my history," he mused.

"Anyway, as I was saying," Da Vinci began, "Go take a breather for now. I'll call you once I've talked to Goredolf."

"Sure. See you in a bit," Ritsuka said, walking off. Prinz Eugen followed without a word.

"So, do you plan on sleeping?" she asked. "Want me to join you in that case?"

"Nah, I'm just gonna lie down for a bit." Ritsuka gave her an aside glance. "How bothered would you be if I said yes?"

"Mm. Quite. Despite appearances, I happen to be quite innocent, you see."

"Color me shocked," he deadpanned.

"Okay, seriously, how are you so unfazed by teasing?" Eugen asked curiously.

"I had to learn how if I wanted to survive men and women of legend jokingly making passes at me."

"Are you sure it was jokingly?" she asked lightly.

"For the sake of my sanity, I refuse to entertain that possibility," Ritsuka deadpanned. "Besides ..." he trailed off.


"... Never mind."

Eugen didn't push. "I don't suppose you were even halfway done on the way back," she changed the topic.

"Probably not."

"Say, do you drink?" she suddenly asked.

Ritsuka paused mid-step. "... I'm not opposed to it," he said carefully.

Eugen grinned. "Wanna join me in the bar?"

"... it's still morning."

Eugen shrugged. "Like I said before, it's evening somewhere."

"... You and Drake would have gotten along swimmingly," he commented. And despite all common sense telling him otherwise, Ritsuka decided, "Sure, why not? I could use a drink or two after that fiasco."

"We'll see about 'a drink or two'," Eugen replied airily, sauntering ahead to the bar.

Ritsuka remembered his hangover only yesterday morning. He also recalled meeting Prinz Eugen this morning with an entire bottle in her hand.

This, he realised, would not end well.


A single chapter my ass, this ended up freaking huge. It's a damn good thing I separated them.

I don't really know what to say about this, and perhaps I don't have to with a chapter this large.

The nickname Shiina comes from the Japanese of 4 and 7 (shi and nana). Da Vinci thought it was cuter so that's what stuck.

Celenike Icecolle went down like a chump.

Anyway, feel free to ask me questions in reviews. I'll try to answer them by next chapter.

And for reference:

Everyone here is in their base outfits, except for Saratoga, who's in her retrofit outfit.

I guess that's all for now.

I intended to wait until I finished the next chapter of my other fic (it's been 70% done for months) and post them all together, but meh, inspiration just wasn't striking

Punitor567 out. El Psy Congroo.

Bremerton character tag when.