-An inordinate amount of time and effort later…
The required Altrium had all been gathered through the combined efforts of the Chaldean Masters and their Servants. To expand the range of their farming and accumulate the necessary Altrium through miscellaneous mission quests and rare enemies, Olga had taken it upon herself to summon more help. Using Chaldea's resources, several other Servants were summoned and deployed to help the farming effort.
Everything had congregated for the sake of reaching this point.
Finally passing through the entrance doors of the rocket that had impeded them, Saber Alter barged right on in, followed by Ritsuka and the others. Mash and Ritsuka seemed motivated enough, but Olga was hanging her head from farming exhaustion while Ophelia was still trying to register the importance of this all?
In any case, Ophelia was more of an observer in this Singularity after Romani had informed Olga that Ophelia may be pushing herself.
Travelling through the rocket's interior, the group would eventually come face to face with the final boss guarding the final command room behind her.
"You've finally made it this far. I commend you for your efforts, but-"
"Shut up and get on with it! You don't know what I've been through! I deserve my break!"
Olga was through with everything. If not for Martha insisting that this was all for Saber Alter's growth, Olga would have never put up with all the farming she did to acquire the Altrium.
The carefully planned monologue and villain speech Heroine X had practiced for in front of a mirror was instantly lost. Her mouth opened and closed, but nothing comprehensible was coming out. She pouted, kicking the floor like a wronged child.
"It doesn't matter. You're not getting past me! With the power of Altrium on my side, no one can stop me!"
Heroine X began to power up, her magic energy flaring as all the Altrium everyone had gathered and funneled into the ship was underhandedly supplied to Heroine X.
"Star of Saber deploying. On a quest to destroy all Saber faced fakes, my secret-caliber will cleave through the knock-offs! I'm the five stars! I'm the stronger one! The real one!"
"S-Senpai, why does she sound like she has an existential crisis?" Mash blinked at Ritsuka who shook his head dumbly.
"She's just an idiot. Hurry and deploy for battle, we have an Emiya to save," Olga pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Understood. Mash Kyrielight, on the scene! Awaiting orders, Master!"
Mash stepped forward, but almost at the exact same time, Saber Alter had already attacked.
The clang of steel echoed, sparks arcing up, but to no avail.
A film of blue light over Heroine X's skin, impeded Saber Alter's swing
"Muahhahah, useless! Your attacks cannot reach me!"
Tch. Saber Alter clicked her tongue, and was forced to block when Heroine X's swing which blew her back in the direction of the others.
"I'll provide support!" Jeanne readied her banner, Olga shaking her head and stepping to the side with Ophelia.
"Shouldn't we help? Maybe call on your Servants?" Ophelia asked stiffly.
Olga disagreed. "We already gathered the Altrium that could have made this place a singularity. We've practically resolved this already, and with the power in the Altrium now in that delusional Assassin's hands, there's nothing to worry about. She'll probably waste it all anyway. Let Emiya handle it in the end."
"Uhm, sure. As you say Director," Ophelia kept quiet, watching as the battle in front of her eyes intensified.
Seconds passed, then minutes, but nothing was changing.
Jeanne was taken out first, her flag that healed and granted invincibility too much of an annoyance for Heroine X not to incapacitate first.
This left Saber Alter, Mash, and Martha to contest Heroine X alone. Ritsuka considered requesting help from his other Servants, but the strain would be a tad too high on him after using them to help farm the altrium from the high-level areas.
No. They couldn't give up.
They could do this.
One look at Saber Alter's ferocity, and it was a far cry from how distracted she'd been when she'd first dueled against Heroine X. Her attacks were precise, her concentration raised to the maximum.
Shields were struck, the cries of swords resounding, and yet, the one who could view the situation the clearest of all could not see any hope.
No matter how Ophelia tried to wrap her mind around it, this situation seemed unwinnable?
None of Saber Alter and the others attacks were working, and Heroine X wasn't even guarding against them.
Indeed, all that Saber Alter, Mash, and Martha could do was defend.
Unknown to all, it wasn't that no one could defeat Heroine X after the power of Altrium flooded through her, but that the one who could do so had yet to arrive…until now.
High heeled steps began to echo over the rocket's metal floor, revealing none other than Jeanne Alter.
The fighting abruptly stopped, Heroine X pulling back while Saber Alter, Ritsuka, Mash, and Martha regrouped.
Staring at Jeanne Alter, there was an odd hobble to her steps, and her expression was entirely flushed as if drunk. Nevertheless, her eyes were focused intensely on Heroine X.
"Jeanne Alter?" Martha called out, only to be ignored.
"I'll take it from here," Jeanne Alter found her footing, and took a deep shuddering breath. "I have business with her."
"On your own?" Ritsuka asked, worried while Mash guarded in the front.
Again, Jeanne Alter ignored everyone else, and made it clear that she didn't care if they left or not.
Glancing at each other, Ritsuka, Mash, and the others all had questioning looks.
As for Heroine X, she thought nothing of being challenged. "Hmph, as if I'd be bested by another Saber-faced faker-"
"Captain's Log…" Jeanne Alter mumbled incoherently, tongues of fire igniting around her narrowed eyes.
Heroine X abruptly stilled in dread. "No, nononono. I-It can't be," she muttered, the energy around her beginning to fluctuate wildly.
"Talk dirty and blow."
Heroine X recoiled, flushing in shame.
Heroine X staggered back from a black stake that smacked into her temple. To the incredulousness of all, the barrier that had been protecting Heroine X was entirely absent. Concentration was required to control the amount of Altrium flowing through her, and was no longer able to maintain calm. Jeanne Alter was far from done.
While the others had spent the entire time farming, she'd spent the entire time in simulated heav- torture.
"Captain's log: Sloppy 69!"
Saber Alter and the others blinked dumbfoundedly, unable to process what was going on as Jeanne Alter was practically kicking Heroine X around like a ragdoll. It just wasn't making any sense considering the amount of trouble they had with Heroine X. To begin with, none could understand the hidden message in Jeanne Alter's words at all other than Heroine X.
Mash's brows twitched, her thumbs needling together as she asked the obvious. "Is it just me, or are her strikes weakening?"
"The Wrong Hole; the Revenger Sequel: ultimate roaring dragon inser-"
Silence stretched between Saber Alter and the others before Saber Alter had had enough of this farce.
"I'm done. I'm leaving."
The rest followed behind her, no one stopping them.
The wails of despair that echoed behind everyone were left largely ignored except by a recovered Jeanne who kept swallowing and turning her head back in puzzlement trying to make heads or tails of it all.
By the time Saber Alter and the others traversed through the door Heroine x had been guarding, they entered a wide corridor in the spaceship that led to what was likely the command room. A set of metal sliding doors sealed the area, but a facial recognition system was installed by a panel on the side.
Being that Saber Alter shared the same face as Heroine X, it wouldn't be a problem to gain entrance.
Moreover, from Saber Alter's connection with Shirou, she could sense that he was inside, meaning that her goal was now right before her, separated by a sturdy wall of steel. All she had to do now was step forward and open the walls, but she found the strength in her gait waning into uncertain steps that eventually paused without even reaching the proximity of the sliding doors.
"Saber?" Martha called out from behind, tacitly motioning to the others to give some privacy.
From here on, they wouldn't be following Saber Alter into the command room where Shirou was kept captive.
Martha was essentially Olga, Ritsuka, and Ophelia's proxy, the Chaldean Masters and their Servants hanging back as they knew Saber Alter would be annoyed if they all harped on her.
The only ones with any real chance of keeping amiable company with Saber Alter in her current state were the saints, Jeanne and Martha. As for why Martha was chosen, it was because she volunteered given that Jeanne would be of no help considering her own density in regards to Sieg.
Martha sighed, inwardly massaging her temples, but she was a woman of faith and virtue. She couldn't leave a lost lamb hurting on her own.
"Is this really a time to be getting cold feet now?" Martha with all due diligence. Emphasizing with Saber Alter would get her nowhere considering Saber Alter's character, but challenging her could prove effective. "What's the point of surviving the prior battle if you can't win the war that actually matters?"
Pursing her lips, Saber Alter took in a breath. "It's different."
With Shirou standing on the open side of the doors before her, Saber Alter didn't know where to start, let alone proceed.
The events of the Second Singularity still weighed on Saber Alter. Her failure to be by his side, her reaction to finding out that she'd left Shirou in a position where he'd had to rely on Jeanne Alter, all of it- it was fuelling a storm of mixed emotions within her.
Heroine X hadn't been wrong about her doubts and uncertainties dulling her sword.
How could you have confidence when you don't even believe in yourself? She constantly shied away at the thought of listing her personal appeals, let alone any redeeming traits Shirou could come to love over the original Saber.
"There's nothing different about emotions. Everyone feels them, no matter how you try to conceal them behind indifference," Martha consoled. "What matters is how you convey them."
Easy to say, harder to do if at all.
Saber Alter made a face, lips pursing into a frown, but Martha wouldn't give up here.
Martha may not be the most equipped to give advise in this sort of matter, but she may know others who might.
"Wait a sec," Martha nodded to herself before rushing back to Olga and the others and calling to Saber Alter over her shoulders. "I have just the people in mind."
Saber Alter nodded mutedly, eyes following Martha as she animatedly talked with Chaldea's remaining Masters, and then proceeded to run to fields where other Servants were busy farming Altrium.
Soon enough, Martha returned, and she wasn't alone.
Two others were with her, both of which didn't seem the most thrilled, but the shorter one looked entirely irked as Martha pushed them along.
The two were newly summoned Servants from when Olga and Ritsuka had opted to try the 'Free Summoning' pool using lower tier resources below Saint Quartz. The capabilities of the Servants summoned with such a means ranged from average to lower tier.
Their stats weren't as high, comparable only to Sasaki and Spartacus, but the two new Servants were still Servants nonetheless.
Upon recognizing the two Martha had brought along, Saber Alter cringed in contrast to Martha's enthusiasm.
The two were William Shakespeare and Hans Christian Anderson, both were Caster Class.
William was a rugged looking European man with a scruffy beard and swept back brown hair. A green tunic was worn above his breaches, and a blank book and feather quill were held in his hands. As for Anderson, he was a child, square wire-framed glasses over his face.
Anderson too carried a book and quill, but he was dressed in lighter shades of formal blues, matching with his hair and dress shirt.
Of the two, Anderson was the one who looked the most annoyed at Martha egging them forward.
"I'm sure these two will be of help," Martha beamed towards Saber Alter.
Saber Alter's lip twitched as she pointed at Shakespeare, then to Hans. "Them?"
"They're both novelists and writers with a plethora of interpersonal experience that they bring to life in their written characters." Martha nodded encouragingly, but Saber Alter wasn't having it.
Saber Alter pointed in silence, uncaring if she was being rude as she was already impatient enough. She thought Martha would actually bring help, but anticipation only led to disappointment when expectation wasn't met. "One's a countryman who specializes in tragedy, and the other, children's stories!"
"Ahem," Shakespeare composed himself and bowed. "Tragedies or not my distant Queen, I do know how to make the right mood for a setting."
Saber Alter supposed that made sense, but then her gaze landed on Hans.
The work of children's stories and fairy tales weren't going to be of help here.
However, literary work wasn't why Hans was here. Instead, it was for his astute observation, and though constantly cynical, his perception into human psychology.
Hans raised a brow and snorted, eyeing Saber Alter up and down. "How cliché. An exterior of cold steel and a murderous disposition, but an interior of cracked glass no more dangerous than a floppy piece of soaked toilet paper. I would commend you on at least not being a used tissue, but I rescind the thought on the basis that at least something as flimsy as wet tissue acknowledges what it is: Terribly Brittle."
"Oh dear," Martha swallowed, glancing from Hans to a suddenly muted Saber Alter who narrowed her eyes and balled her hands into fists.
Ever observant, Saber Alter's shifts in expression weren't lost on Hans in the least. His ability to read others as if characters from a book was unparalleled. Perhaps other writers such as Shakespeare could compete with him, but unlike them, he saw no qualms in laying it out how it was. He may die, or incur harm, but he would not be silenced.
"Oh, resorting to anger? How typical." Hans directly called Saber Alter out, grunting as her features contorted in mounting frustration. "You use anger as a front, duty as means to hide fragility, and justification to insist that your perspective is the only perspective. You tyrant, and you wonder why you struggle to keep a man?"
"No, Saber wait, he means well!" Martha strung into action, placing a hand on Saber Alter's shoulder in a bid to placate her, but the scene only further caused Hans to sneer.
"No, frankly, I was insulting her." Hans directly admitted. "Criticism hurts when it's true."
"…Step aside Martha."
Saber Alter shrugged off Martha's hand and stood directly across from Hans. Contrary to expectation however, the hand that had been reaching for her sword, fell weakly to her side, her jaw clenched.
"Go on," she forced out through gritted teeth.
Hans nodded, this time without a snort. "At least your decorum, propriety, and priorities remain straight. Then again, it could also be considered twisted as you're lowering yourself for your own aspirations. If I was deemed to be of no use to you, I wouldn't be standing here after insulting you now, would I?"
Saber Alter didn't answer, leaving the question open-ended.
"Very well, let's just get this over with." Hans crossed his arms and incessantly tapped a foot over the ground. "As my fellow writer often exploits in novels and writing, communication and stubbornness is what leads to tragedy. Let me ask you, what will you do after stepping into that room- don't answer I already know. You'll do the same thing as you've always had; put up a front to hide your insecurities all while stubbornly fumbling again and again on conveying what you really want. In the end, you'll strong-arm it because it's comfortable, and what you're used to. Nothing changes. A game of cat and mouse running in circles, I tell you. Anything to say for yourself?"
Saber Alter inwardly struggled, but in the end, the words left her lips.
"…I don't have experience."
"There. Humility." Hans nodded, hands clapping in the most pretentious manner anyone had ever dared grace Saber Alter with. "If you can be that forth coming without pushing yourself up to a wall, you'd reach a state called 'progress.' Bravo."
'Don't kill him. You need him.'
Saber Alter's features hardened. Hans's sarcasm and unrestrained criticism of her was infuriating at the most, and utterly grating in the least. Either way, enduring it was a severe test of her waning patience. She didn't know how many more veiled or explicit insults to her face she could take.
"What are you suggesting?"
"Stop being so stubborn. Your character's the problem. Truly a case of idiots courting idiots. How can anyone tell if anything is wrong if you don't say anything? How could you be confident when you've never expressed the 'real' you to the one you care for? Is love a façade of the appearances one puts out, or is it the action of embracing someone for who they are and fighting for that? Even the little mermaid has- you know what, forget it."
Hans took in a breath and stared directly at Saber Alter.
"Showing weakness is not a demerit in a relationship, but a strength," Hans said sighing. "Do what he expects, and nothing changes."
"Exactly, my Queen," Shakespeare coughed into his hand, puffed up his chest, and gingerly hopped into the conversation to provide his input. "The disparity between a stalwart and headstrong woman suddenly revealing her insecurities fosters more trust and faith than lashing out with force."
"Now if you get it, stop wasting my time and go already." Hans made shooing motions to Saber Alter.
Whether Saber Alter agreed with what was said or not, she knew that there was no point in delaying. Calming her nerves, Saber Alter wordlessly turned around and entered the command room where her Master was waiting.
When the sliding doors of the rocket's central room shut behind Saber Alter, Martha clasped her hands and prayed for Saber Alter's success.
It was a prayer of encouragement.
From this point on, it was all up to Saber Alter now.
"Well…that went well, right?" Martha nervously asked the two beside her.
Unfortunately, Hans was not done being reproachful.
"And you," Hans rounded on Martha who took a step back in shock. "Not only did you drag me, a non combatant here, but your reputation is not but a lie!"
"You are nothing more than a smiling snake whose fists have sinned behind a façade of hypocra-mmph!"
Shakespeare was always one to observe, but he felt muffling a hand over Anderson's mouth was somewhat justified in this moment, no matter how infuriated Hans became.
Martha's smile had cracked, her hands slowly freeing the upper bindings of her cloak, and neatly putting aside her habit to reveal what seemed to be a pair of combat gloves.
Shakespeare stilled as he remembered how he and Hans were 'willingly put' into this mess to begin with, giving Hans the opportunity to break away, but Shakespeare was too focused on Martha who was approaching step by step.
"M-Milady, might we reconsider this barbaric approach again?"
"I knew you were only second-rate at best, William; this approach is clearly up her alley." Hans dusted himself off, adjusting his glasses. "Her only alley."
Saber Alter felt her heart hammering in her chest all at once, her blood rushing through her veins faster than it ever had in any battle.
The inside of the rocket ship's command room was filled with random screens and devices that Saber Alter couldn't even begin to understand the use of, but none of that mattered.
Standing across from her was Shirou with his arms crossed and leaning his back against the far wall. Rather than distressed, he appeared more disgruntled and exasperated at his captivity if anything. The moment he laid eyes on her, his features lit up as if saying 'it's finally over?'
It didn't matter.
Saber Alter squirmed, one arm rubbing on the other as she silently approached.
Don't lash out.
Already, she could see Shirou bracing as if he expected her to be angry with him. Considering her temper, he may as well have every right to think so, but she had to step out of her comfort zone.
Even now, the advice hidden within Anderson's barbed words and insults stuck in her mind. The fact that he'd even been able to predict how she'd have reacted had she not spoken with him, made the outcome he portrayed credible. It was just going to be another game of cat and mouse if she didn't do anything different.
Weakness was not a demerit.
"I was worried," she opened with, watching Shirou blink in confusion for an anger that didn't come. Instead, what appeared before his eyes was a Saber Alter that looked subdued and morose. Her hands were trembling while clutching onto the hem of her dress, her eyes refusing to meet his.
At least wet tissue knew what it was, terribly brittle.
Saber Alter Acknowledged it. Contrary to her exterior front, her interior was fragile.
"In Fuyuki, Orleans, and even now, I couldn't be of help even until the end."
The repressed words began to spill out now that she'd already started like a broken dam.
Her anxiety was such that she couldn't muster the courage to stare up and see how Shirou was reacting to it all. She was evasive.
"I'm scared that I'm not good enough," she swallowed the lump in her throat, head hanging low and bangs shadowing her features. "All my life, everyone that I know goes away."
She stared at herself, her hands letting go of the hem of her dress to fall silently at her sides, palms clammy.
"I'm a woman whose hands just can't seem to hold onto anything. It's funny, right? The harder I try, the more others are pushed away, but I wanted it to be different this time. When you called out to me, I was happy, but the happier I am, the more the thought of losing that happiness hurts. I want this to work. It was my fault I couldn't reach you in time, but the only way I knew how to react was through violence. Barbaric, aren't I? I wasn't there when you needed someone to rely on, and because of that, you formed another contract. In the end, I thought to myself, will you leave me too?"
Not a word was being said in the heavy atmosphere, until Saber Alter tensed.
A pair of warm arms had wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her close.
She hugged back, burying her face into a broad chest and saying not a word.
"Don't say anything." Saber Alter curt Shirou off. "Just give me this moment and pretend nothing ever happened."
Shirou's mouth shut, but he wouldn't comply with the request that he'd just heard. To blindly save others without considering the sentiments of those by his side was a mistake he'd made far too often.
The relationship between him and Saber Alter was one that was built upon a white lie. He was not the Shirou she thought he was, and Saber Alter was not the Saber that Shirou remembered. Nevertheless, it didn't change a thing.
The bond between them was real.
Anderson and Shakespeare were right.
Without communication, there can be no progress.
"By the power of this Command Seal-"
Saber Alter abruptly glanced up, stunned by what Shirou was doing as red light bathed the area around them.
"Never leave my side."
The magic stored within a rechargeable crest compelled compliance, fueling all endeavors to fulfill the order. Any and all of Saber Alter's efforts to stay by her Master's side would elevate her status and skills.
"I swore an oath. Until the day you grow tired of me, I'll always be here, no matter the distance."
Colour suddenly filled Saber Alter's world of grey and black, revealing the glimmering of stars in a distant horizon, and the mortifying blush of her cheeks.
Nibbling on the bottom of her lip as the red light died down, Saber Alter quickly pressed her face into Shirou's chest to avoid showing the expression she was making. It was unbefitting of her image and reputation, but all the same, a distant Wizard spying on the progress of an alternate King nodded in gratification.
"You know the fate that awaits you, don't you?" She mumbled, the warmth of her breath tickling Shirou's skin, her hands wrapped around Shirou's back, gripping onto his shirt. "Devote your everything to me."
Saber Alter didn't utter another word. Her poker-face had broken, but more than anything, her insecurities had vanished in their entirety, bringing a close to this odd event.
[Instinct - Twilight Star]
[Description: Maiden love fueled by a Command Spell. Increases magic energy and heightens insight when in battle with a certain Master…]
Jeanne Alter and Heroine X had fallen to the ground across from each other in utter exhaustion.
"You're pretty good," Heroine X breathed out, wiping the sweat off of her brows.
"Do you think I need your praise; you freak of a perv?!" Jeanne Alter huffed back, clambering back onto her feet on shaky knees. In the end, her legs gave out, and she fell back onto the ground.
Silence stretched between both combatants who could no longer bring themselves to throw another blow.
Heroine X lamented the failure of her plans, but Jeanne Alter's reaction was somewhat telling.
Hesitation all but marred Jeanne Alter's face, her eyes constantly glancing to Heroine X, but then darting away an instant later.
"What?" Heroine X asked, after one instance of catching Jeanne Alter in the act.
Jeanne Alter's complexion grew so red that it looked like she was overheating from her head to her toes.
"S-So, ugh…you got anymore copies? Maybe some Doujins?"
"You know, that. I-I'll buy them if I have to."
Heroine X blushed, complexion tomato red as the two women shared a knowing look at each other.
It was always the innocent looking ones.
Once you took a step in, there was no turning back.
That, and as the French put it-
Jeanne Alter had been…la tainted.
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The Lonely Peak
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