The Servant summoned was the spitting image of Nero. Wearing a black dress, red highlights were sewn into the seams, forming the impression of a bloody crown that wrapped around her shoulders and down her exposed back. Her hair was longer than Nero's, well passed the shoulders and kept wild like a beast's.
Silence continued as all just continued to stare.
It wasn't until Nero herself stepped forward and crouched next to the unconscious Servant that things appeared to start moving again.
"Should I be feeling flattered?" Nero asked while poking the cheek of the unresponsive Servant. "You have interesting taste, Praetor. Are these horns growing out and curving around my forehead? How exotic, I should fashion a crown with ivory in their fashion."
"They appear to be?" Mash broached tentatively.
"Umu," Nero nodded slowly while continuing to examine the Servant in front of her. "I look good in anything, don't I?"
"I don't think that's what we should be focusing on," Ritsuka said, glancing at Shirou sandwiched between a tense Saber and Jeanne Alter. "Doctor, I think we had a problem with the summoning."
["Odd, the readings are normal, but maybe it's a bit different since Shirou summons using himself as a medium rather than Chaldea's summoning sequence. Specifically, Chaldea relays the magic energy into Shirou to maintain Saber and Jeanne Alter's upkeep and- ah?"]
"Doctor?" Shirou raised his voice, Saber and Jeanne Alter perking their ears up for an explanation.
["I could be wrong, but based on Servant assumptions in uncatalyzed summons, the most ideal or compatible Servant is summoned to the Master-"]
"Umu, that means I'm best girl, right?" Nero preened, glancing at Shirou and sending a subtle chin raise at Jeanne and Saber Alter. "You all said it right? Umu- I heard it! Servants are outside time, so this could be a future me?"
Ritsuka shuddered as the air suddenly simmered with heat and magic energy.
"A-A potential you," Mash spoke up, pursing her lips while nervously standing between Nero and the Alters. The singularity was over before it even began if Nero perishes. "So, potentially most compatible, but Doctor Romani didn't finish speaking."
"There's no potential, if it's ashes, right?" Jeanne Alter muttered, big sis Jeanne frowning at her Alter and pressing a hand over her face while Martha encouraged Jeanne to be strong.
Mash's expression screamed 'help!' while she stared at Romani's virtual projection in the air for immediate support.
Ritsuka couldn't intervene, and Shirou speaking could set everything off faster than anyone.
["Ah, uhm, like I was saying, the Servant summoned in an uncatalyzed summoning reacts to the compatibility of the Master. This is usually assessed by the Master's character, personality, and…alignment. Considering Shirou summoned while contracted with, ugh, well you know who- something darker might have gotten mixed in."]
Saber Alter clicked her tongue while Jeanne Alter grimaced at the plausibility.
["To remedy this in future situations, I would suggest shifting to direct summons from Chaldea, but the last time I tried to suggest that…ah…I saw my life flash before my eyes."]
"Continue, continue healer!" Shakespear had pulled out a writing quilt and was busily making notes on a parchment of paper. "Let's see, this act shall be titled, the Lion, the Witch, and the Whore."
"Who is this man?" Nero pouted, visibly annoyed as she stood up and away from her potential self. "And who are you referring to as a whore?"
Shakespear raised a brow, focusing on Nero and the unconscious Servant's attire, and letting the silence speak for itself.
Perhaps, aware of the meaning, Nero grumbled. "Umu, I let them see."
"So, exhibitionist then?" Shakespear penned down the script. "I'll rectify it."
"Nero no!" Mash waved her hands, holding her shield tight to herself when a vein popped over Nero's temple.
"Nero yes! Kill the fucker!" Jeanne Alter always one for instigation.
Saber Alter's silence despite Shakespear being a subject of her kingdom, was grounds for her own approval.
Martha uncharacteristically stopping Jeanne and Sieg from stepping in was even more damning.
"B-But I'm not Anderson!" Realizing the board was not in his favour, Shakespear stammered. "H-He's worse! I was just uhm, right, enlivening the atmosphere! C-Comic relief! Truly!"
"Can we all just calm down?" Shirou finally spoke, bringing attention back where it mattered and earning Shakespear's unwavering gratitude. "We still haven't figured out why she's not waking up."
"A sleeping beauty?" Shakespear murmured. "Even the script is like that magnet for trouble's works."
Indeed. That was the biggest mystery, wasn't it?
Unable to come up with an answer, it was decided that the unconscious Servant be laid to rest on a spare guest bed in Nero's Golden Palace.
Meanwhile, the rest moved to discuss plans with Caeser.
Saber, Arthur Pendragon, was many things. A tragic King and stalwart Knight, and a man who carries oaths and responsibilities openly upon his shoulders. Tasked with a duty and promise to hunt and put an end to a certain Beast, his journey led him here in a world that may not even be his own.
He was grasping at straws, and following any traces, no matter how scarce they may seem. He'd thought his fortitude and mental stability to be a steadfast wall, but now it would seem that even he had his reservations and weaknesses. Rather, it was just something he couldn't bring himself to accept as an 'Arthur.'
Arthur's meeting with Saber Alter still lingered within his mind. No matter the adversary, or burden, it was unacceptable to fall into selfish depravity and tyranny. How Caliburn could have chosen such a wielder was beyond Arthur, but that only meant that Saber Alter could have just been twisted along the path to kingship…
The image of a blushing Saber Alter came to mind, contrasted by the murderous glare she sent him while wrapped in her Master's arms.
It brought to mind that no one was beyond help, and that perhaps things could have been different with Morgan if the right person had been there not to condemn her, but offer salvation.
Arthur had not been that man, nor could he ever be, but Saber Alter was different. Despite her obvious vile nature, she had her Master.
How Saber Alter could ever be an 'Arthur' was ridiculous even after she so tainted Excalibur's light, but her Spirit Origin mocked Arthur just by existing.
The fact that a common enemy stood against them was not lost on Arthur, but what was, was a sense of comradery born through inherent rejection. He felt as if he should slay her on principle, but integrity and honour was preventing him from acting on the urge.
Arthur frowned, but eased up when Caeser appeared and sat down on the marble slab he'd been using as a chair in one of Rome's amphitheaters in the Forum Romanum.
"Your mood doesn't appear to be quite so bright, now does it?" Caesar offered a smile while holding out a plate of grapes and olives as a little snack. "Listen here, swordsman, but us Sabers should stick together like debtor to creditor."
Arthur sighed, almost fed up with how man times Caesar had to remind him of their present relationship.
"Shall I hunt you a boar and finally call us even?" Arthur grumbled.
"You belittle yourself, Saber." Caeser spoke while stuffing grapes into his mouth. "Compare your services to a boar and see who would accept such a skewed offer? Considering the situation with the enemy intent on destroying my Rome, and I intend to milk your overinflated honour and integrity for all it's worth. Will you deny even this, King of Knights?"
"God help me, another one with a guile tongue," Arthur hung his head in recollection of others he knew of that were similar to Caesar. "You'd get along well with Merlin if she were around."
"Oh buck up," Caesar clapped a hand over Arthur's shoulder. "There's a lot to be done and a battle is lost the moment morale falls."
Arthur gave Caesar a flat look, the fat man shrugging and squinting in a direction Arthur already saw coming.
"Now that I see them, they don't seem so enthused either?" Caesar hummed before something clicked. "Did you have disagreement?"
Arthur reluctantly nodded at Caesar as Shirou and the others were approaching.
An odd air hung around them, a majority of which was focused on Shirou while Nero was thoughtful.
Arthur's expression hardened when he made eye contact with Saber Alter, but he would not air his disagreements with her where others beyond just her Master could get involved.
"I trust you're in better condition, Nero?" Caesar smiled and offered a hand. "I'd heard you were an aspiring artist, but fainting at my introduction was too much even for flattery."
Nero reciprocated Caesar's gesture, but was pouting. "I had a hole in my stomach. My Rome will not lose out to Lord Caesar's, now can you tell us the whole situation?"
Everyone was in stark agreement with Nero.
"I take it we are all aware enough about what Servants are which will make things easier." Caesar grew solemn. Jovial as he could be when striking a deal or using flattery, Rome was not a subject he would ever compromise on. "Rome is in danger of being wiped out. Before arriving here, I was entrusted by the great founder to fight in Rome's defense. Intended oversight or not, the magus who summoned me was not in a condition to think of using a Command Seal on me as he did with my fellow emperors before leaving urgently to a place called France. It was likely because I was either campaigning too far away, or he deemed me insignificant enough not to care. That bastard's hubris leads me to believe it as the latter option more than anything."
Caesar leveled his gaze on everyone present who knew full well that the man Caesar spoke of was Lev Lainur.
"Lord Romulus and the Mad Emperor Caligula are under Command Seal to annihilate Rome and kill Nero."
Nero hummed, concealing her thoughts on the matter by balling her hands into fists.
"They are resisting. No matter the intent to fight over Rome, no emperor would wish to destroy it, our pride, our empire, our Rome."
["If Rome or Nero fall, this Singularity is over. There's no fixing history in such a scenario."] Romani advised to Ritsuka and Shirou.
"Umu, if you intend to defend my Rome, why did you try to siege my Rome?" Nero frowned, pursing her lips. "If Lord Caesar proposed an alliance, I would have considered it against the United Roman Emperors."
Caesar snorted. "Is there any emperor who would willingly go under another? If you failed to repel my siege, how could you hope to defend and defeat the founder and your uncle? Worse, Lev wasn't a man who didn't prepare contingencies. Lord Romulus had made it clear that he'd never willingly destroy Rome. Could such a Lev, the sly snake he is, have confidence then? Surely not. It's best to keep our eyes peeled, and ears open."
Nero opened then closed her mouth, her expression hardening as she was unable to answer.
Nero's mental health was going to be a distinct variable in this singularity. Shirou could already tell.
Noting Nero's reaction from the start, Shirou nudged her side in a gesture of support that got him odd stares from Saber and Jeanne Alter, but a small smile from Nero.
"If you came here to defend Rome, then do you have any suggestions?" Ritsuka asked, everyone perking up.
"Naturally," Caesar puffed up his rotund stomach, but soon wilted at his current form. If only he were summoned a Rider, even Cleopatra would swoon in his full glory. Thoughts differing from his words, Caesar proposed the countermeasures he'd already considered. "Before arriving at Rome, I was actually campaigning near the Gauls against another pair of Servants. Given the situation now, I intend to recruit them. For this, I suggest not sending you, you, you, and you."
Caesar pointed at Saber Alter, Jeanne Alter, Jeanne, and Nero herself.
"Why?" Jeanne asked.
"Your face would complicate things," Caesar said bluntly.
Jeanne tilted her head, but Nero's face started to glow.
"Ah, such is the sin of beauty," Nero flattered herself, twirling in her new black dress. "The Rose of Olympia is known even to the barbarians!"
No one else thought that was quite it, but Nero's enthusiasm wasn't something anyone wanted to damper.
"Ritsuka, Mash-" Shirou barely got the words out before Ritsuka and Mash already nodded at him.
"We'll do it." Ritsuka said, asking Caesar for directions. Jeanne had no choice but to either stay in Rome or support Shirou's group. Jeanne Alter sneered at the very suggestion.
"That leaves us." Shirou turned to regard Ceasar while Arthur and Nero did the same.
"The best defence is a good offence." Caesar grinned. "Caligula's forces do not move with Lord Romulus. From what I recall, Caligula is marching his forces from the Samnium plains. Rather than deal with two headaches, why not eliminate one altogether? I will entrust my debtor to you for this endeavor."
"…" Arthur grimaced, but his word was his word.
"Will you stay in Rome, Nero?" Caesar asked.
Nero thought about it, and sent a curious stare at Shirou.
"Umu, allies need to show trust. I will leave my Rome in your defence Lord Caesar. If we are to face my uncle, I cannot remain idle." Nero said.
"Then we're settled," Caesar clapped his hands before shooing Arthur to stand with Shirou and the others.
Grumbles continued to escape Arthur's mouth, but he held his tongue when he stood right in front of Saber Alter.
It was like cats and dogs.
Arthur still didn't trust Saber Alter, but he at least decided that he'd base his judgment on her actions.
"You best stray away from the path of treachery." He warned while gearing up for travel.
"And you best wash your neck if my blade so finds it." Saber Alter didn't bat an eye, black armour appearing over her legs and chest.
"Hehehaha." Jeanne Alter snickered while everyone made preparations. She was too busy watching Saber Alter and Arthur's interactions with amusement.
"Something funny?" Shirou inquired, putting on Chaldea's combat suit.
"What do you think, hubby?" Jeanne Alter pointed at Arthur and Saber Alter, muffling her giggles.
Shirou didn't get it, but Martha did and wasn't as amused.
"Ahem," Martha cleared her throat. "Jeanne!" She called.
"Yes?" / "What- oh this virgin bitch…!"
Jeanne tilted her head, but Jeanne Alter clued in, and started scowling.
It was the case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The Samnium plains were to the southeast of Rome.
In the hills on route to Bovianum, an army had set camp under the lead of a man who sat alone on a rockface overlooking the night horizon. A red mantle fluttered behind his back, and the bronze tan of his skin revealed a life away from a sheltered palace.
The man muttered, clutching at his head in his madness. A golden lorica lamminata, or Roman segmented armour was worn over his chest, while sandals adorned his feet. His hair was cropped short, and his eyes were bloodshot.
"Uuoh... Aaah... Goddess!"
The man growled and raved, trying to restrain the impulse as best he could.
Yet spurred by Command Seal, there was no stopping his own body.
He cried toward the moon.
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It's been a while since I updated this so I had to recall the plan for Septem and smooth things out.
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