Disclaimer: I don't own anything in the Fate Series.
Author's Note: Thanks to Blind_Seer0 for editing this like always.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for part 1 of Fate/Grand Order.
Fate/Grand Order: Altered Destinies
Ritsuka looked around the ruined remains of ancient Babylonia. The sky was darkened by clouds and the flying hordes of laughing, deformed monsters. The ground was blackened by dark mud, slowly encroaching on the hilltop they were perched on. Once towering above sea level, the sea of mud was now lapping at their feet, splashing occasionally and spraying the grass around them. Where the droplets touched, it killed and blackened.
All of that would have been bad enough, but Ritsuka's attention was instead on the giant form of the goddess Tiamat, recently awakened and making her way to the city state of Uruk. The fight, and constant retreat, had been going on for hours and they were exhausted. But they needed to continue fighting. It was either win or all humanity would end, there were no other options.
They weren't alone though, as next to Ritsuka was Mash Kyrielight, Shielder class Demi-Servant and their partner in the correction of humanity. It was her presence that kept Ritsuka going, knowing that they weren't alone in the fight. If anything, Mash was the star, fighting in the frontlines while Ritsuka was her support; giving advice, pointing out dangers Mash was unable to notice and assisting with some well-timed magecraft. A flying monster, a child of Tiamat, tried to attack them, but Mash interposed her shield and followed up with a powerful kick that knocked the creature away.
"Thanks Mash,' said Ritsuka, giving a grateful smile.
Mash returned the smile. "Don't worry Senpai," she said, "I won't let anything hurt you."
"You two are almost there," said the voice of Dr. Roman from the command center in Chaldea. "Tiamat's magical signature is starting to fluctuate. Just hold on a little longer." His voice was a comfort and constant reminder that it wasn't just the two of them alone, they had many other people supporting them.
"Thank yo-," said Ritsuka, getting cut off and in their tiredness, they missed a step and slipped. Falling backwards, Ritsuka realized that they were falling right into the black mud. They knew if they touched even a little, they would die. Unfortunately, they were too tired to do anything about it.
"Senpai," yelled Mash, her arm reaching out and grabbing Ritsuka's. The Demi-Servant pulled them back up onto land but threw herself off balance slightly in the process. As Ritsuka reached safety, they saw Mash, dangerously close but with her enhanced physical abilities about to recover her balance.
Unfortunately, one of the dangerously clever flying monsters chose that moment to attack. They swooped down, attacking Mash. She got her shield up in time, avoiding any wounds, but was thrown off the hill. There was a moment as time froze, surprise on Mash's face as she reached out for someone, anyone, to take her hand. For Ritsuka to take it. But they were unable to, and without a word, Mash plunged into the black mud, completely submerged in an instant.
"Mash!" yelled Ritsuka, finally able to move, crawling across the rocky hilltop to where their partner had last stood.
"Do not let your guard down," said a commanding voice. As the voice boomed across the battlefield, a golden chain appeared from a portal above where Mash had fallen and plunged into the mud after her. Mash was pulled from the mud in an instant, unconscious, but otherwise looking fine, the golden chain Enkidu wrapped around her waist. Ritsuka looked to see Gilgamesh, standing proudly, defiantly, on the highest point of the land, his arms folded over his chest. "Neither of your roles are over yet. We have a fight to finish."
"But," said Ritsuka, as the chains brought Mash over to them and deposited her gently onto the ground. "Mash is…,"
Mash sat up suddenly, her eyes going wide. She leaned over and started to cough, black mud coming out and pooling on the ground next to her. "Senpai," said Mash, gasping for air.
"Mash," said Ritsuka, kneeling next to her. "I'm so sorry. Because of me…"
"We do not have time for apologies," said Gilgamesh, summoning portals and skewing enemies with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of weapons. "Save it for another time."
"It's fine," said Mash. "I'm fine. I'm able to fight. We…we need to finish this…"
Ritsuka wasn't sure they believed that, but what could they do? "Doctor?" they asked through the magical communicator. "How is she?"
A moment of silence that stretched out long enough that Ritsuka almost asked again, suspecting that communication had been cut off. But then Roman's voice crackled through. "Mash's vital signs are fine. She can still fight."
A smile and sigh of relief from Mash. "See, Senpai? I can still fight." She stood up. "Let's beat her."
Rituska still felt uneasy, but there wasn't a choice, and they trusted Doctor Roman. They nodded and stood as well. "Let's do it!"
Doctor Romani Archaman sat in his office, an empty cup of coffee on the desk next to him. He had several screens and tablets surrounding him, each packed with a dizzying amount of technical and medical information. Events of the past year were finally coming to an end, and it was up to him to lead everyone safely to the conclusion. It wasn't a task he'd wanted to undertake, but he was used to not having a choice in dictating where his life went.
His gaze kept drifting to one specific tablet, this one full of complicated medical data. He didn't want to dwell on what the information said, but he didn't have an option. Events were out of his control, and he could only hope for the best.
As if summoned by his thoughts, there was a knock at the door and a timid voice chimed through. "Doctor?" said Ritsuka. "May I come in?"
"Of course," replied Roman, pushing the button to open the door and let them in. Ritsuka Fujimaru, the final surviving and functioning Master candidate of Chaldea, the only one able to help them prevent the Incineration of Humanity. With the help of Mash, of course. Two teenagers, both much too deep in something that shouldn't be their responsibility. Roman didn't like forcing so much on either of them, but what he liked and wanted to do wasn't a factor. So, he put on a hopefully bright smile as Ritsuka entered and he greeted them. "What can I help you with?"
"I wanted to ask about Mash," said Ritsuka, taking a seat on Roman's bed. "How is she?"
"Tried," replied Roman. "She's going to be sleeping for quiet a while, that final battle against Tiamat was a drain on her physically." He wasn't lying, but he was skating dangerously close to doing so in how he bent the truth. "The fall in the mud took a lot more out of her than we could have imagined."
Ritsuka's head fell at that. "It's all my fault. Mash was saving me from a stupid mistake. If I just hadn't tripped, Mash wouldn't have been knocked into the mud."
Roman sighed, having known this conversation was inevitable. His own emotions were mixed, with part of him blaming Ritsuka, but with most of him knowing that it wasn't their fault. That was the part that he chose to agree with as he spoke next. "Maybe, but you both survived," said Roman gently. "And that was because of the many choices and decisions you made. You can focus on the one mistake you made, one made while at the edge of physical and mental collapse, or you can focus on how you led everyone to victory with your actions. You, Mash, and humanity all survived Tiamat because of you. That's worth something."
Rituska considered his words for a minute before speaking slowly. "I guess…" They looked up at Roman, an earnest look on their face. "Will she be better soon?"
Roman sighed at that, his hand falling on the tablet he had been looking at previously. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "I'm hopeful, but that's up to her. The most we can do is help make things easier on her and work towards preventing the Incineration of Humanity. Just like we always have."
A nod and a familiar determined look. "Understood," said Ritsuka standing up. They gave him a bright smile. "Thank you. Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
"Of course," said Roman, returning the smile.
As the door opened to let Ritsuka out, a woman stood in the doorway, feigning surprise. "Oh, something fun going on in here?" asked Da Vinci.
"Nope," replied Ritsuka. "I was just asking for advice."
"From Roman? You should have come to me first; I am a genius after all."
That got a laugh from Ritsuka and they bid Da Vinci and Roman goodbye as they left the room and headed down the hall. Da Vinci entered the room, the door closing behind her. She took Ritsuka's spot on Roman's bed, letting out a heavy sigh. Her expression turned serious. "Was that about Mash?"
Roman nodded. "It was."
"Did you tell them about the mental corruption?" asked Da Vinci. She of course already knew the answer.
"No," he replied. "I kept it to her physical condition and what could be done about that."
"Are you sure that was the right choice?"
He shook his head. "Of course not. But we're about to fight the final boss on home territory and we can't have our best hope blaming themselves for this. And I do believe that there's nothing for Ritsuka to feel bad about."
"Mostly," he admitted. "It doesn't help anyone for them to know that Mash's psychograph is all over the place."
Roman picked up the tablet, studying it for a moment. It contained the results of Mash's medical tests, none of which painted a good picture. Da Vinci held out her hand and Roman passed the tablet over. She studied it for a moment. "These are dangerously close to an altering of her spirit origin. A blackening could occur if an outside force exerts enough pressure."
"Which is why I'm not going to let Mash fight again," said Roman.
"Neither her nor Ritsuka are going to like that," said Da Vinci. "They'll want to fight together."
Roman stood from his desk and moved over to a bookshelf. He ran his hand across the spines of the books until he found the one he was looking for. He pulled it out, a book of fairy tales, and studied the cover. "I made a promise to Mash to let her live her life happily until the end. I plan to keep that promise."
A laugh. "You sound like an overprotective father," said Da Vinci, her voice teasing. "Going to set a curfew?"
He turned and smiled at her, the mood lightening. "If I have to, I guess. I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that though." Another heavy sigh. "It's all almost over, I wish I could see what the end held."
"Guess you'll just have to wait and see like the rest of us," replied Da Vinci.
"Yeah, I guess." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm getting good at that."
"What do you think, Mash?"
Mash looked around at all of the smiling faces. People, going about their lives in happy bliss. There were no fights, no arguments, no accidental collisions as someone moved too fast to an appointment. Everyone was on time and functioning at peak performance. Most importantly, no one was hurting anyone else.
"There's no ego, no useless negative emotions weighing anyone down. Everyone plays their part, working towards a better society, not concerned with the self. Selfishness is gone. Human failure is gone. This isn't a dream, but a reality about to come to fruition. Humanity will be erased, and then remade into a perfect image. As they should have been all along. How does that sound to you?"
Mash considered all the pain and suffering she had seen perpetuated in the Singularities, by both people and so-called heroes. The best of humanity concerned only by themselves, their selfish wishes hurting others. She looked back over the smiling town and felt her heart soar. What did she think of this?
"I think it looks beautiful."
Ritsuka was awoken by sirens. The blaring warning intruded into their restless dreams, waking them up instantly. Their room was covered in a dull red as Chaldea switched to high alert status. As they looked around for their clothes, a panicked voice came over the intercom.
"Unauthorized Rayshift initiating. All security report to the Coffins immediately. Repeat, unauthorized Rayshift in progress. All security-,"
They tuned out the broadcast while the information repeated, tying their boots quickly and heading to the Command Center. The halls were filled with activity as Chaldea came awake, everyone else trying to figure out what was going on as well. As they ran down the hall, the broadcast changed.
"Unauthorized Rayshift has been completed. Repeat, unauthorized Rayshift out of Chaldea has been completed."
The Command Center door slid open and Ritsuka ran through it, skidding to a halt behind Dr Roman and Da Vinci. The pair were staring at some screens, their backs to them. Ritsuka looked around but didn't see Mash.
"What's going on?" asked Ritsuka. Roman and Da Vinci turned to them, their expressions grim. "Who Rayshifted?"
"Ritsuka," said Dr. Roman, gesturing to a chair. "Please, take a seat."
They did so, confused. What was going on?
"Approximately eight minutes ago the Rayshifting apparatus was activated," said Da Vinci, her usual good cheer gone from her voice. "We tried to react, but no one was able to stop her as she Rayshifted not through a coffin, but instead opened a portal. She walked through the portal just now, but we're currently trying to analyze the coordinates of where she went so that we can find her."
Ritsuka's heart sank. "Who? Who 'her'? Who Rayshifted?"
Dr. Roman gave a heavy sigh. Ritsuka had never seen him look so desperate before. "Mash. She left."
"But," this couldn't be…, "where?"
"We don't know yet," started Roman, before he was interrupted by a beeping. He turned back around to the computer console. He looked over to a computer tech. "Are these readings correct?"
"We estimate an eighty-seven percent certainty rate," replied the tech. She frowned. "I don't see how this could be possible either though. This point shouldn't theoretically exist…"
Roman gave out a heavy sigh, collapsing onto his console. "No, these are probably right. Good job, this confirms my worst fear."
"And that is?" asked Ritsuka, not understanding what was going on. "What does all of this mean?"
"I don't know everything yet,' replied Dr. Roman, turning back around to face them. "But these coordinates match the data for where I believed the mastermind of Human Incineration, Solomon, would be residing."
"So," said Da Vinci, "you believe Mash's mental corruption from the Black Mud made her susceptible to interference from Solomon and she's now left to meet him?"
A nod. "Correct."
"We need to rescue her," said Ritsuka, clenching their firsts tightly. "We need to go after her."
"We will," replied Roman, sounding surer of himself than Ritsuka had heard before. He stood up and looked around the Command Center. "Everyone, I'm sorry for moving the timetable up, but we now know where the enemy we've been searching for is. He has one of our own, and we're going to get her back. We're going to stop the Incineration of Humanity. We need to. Please, prepare yourselves, we'll be heading out immediately. Thank you."
As the Command Center burst into a hive of activity, Rituska could only stare at the data screens, completely lost. They muttered to themselves, "Mash…please be safe…"
It was unbelievable. The greatest meeting of heroes that had probably ever been seen by anyone had come in answer to Ritsuka's call. Everyone they had met and fought throughout the Singularities had appeared one by one, taking on the demon pillars who guarded and ran the Temple of Time. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight witnessing these heroes and legends fighting together to save humanity.
At least, it should have been, but Ritsuka was too focused on running through the temple. As each new hero appeared, they yelled their thanks, but they couldn't stop to say or do more. Not with Mash waiting at the end of the temple for them. They needed to get to her side, to rescue her. So, Ritsuka kept their head down and ran, tears of gratitude and regret streaming down their cheeks. Understanding calls of encouragement followed them.
"We have this you idiot!" yelled Mordred, sticking his sword into the side of a Demon pillar and sending bolts of electricity down their side. "Get to her side and give her a strong smack for me!"
Mash. Mash. Mash. Ma-
"Senpai," Ritsuka stopped, looking up finally. Before them was a dais on which sat a throne. Sitting in the throne was the Solomon, looking down in contempt at them. At his side was someone familiar.
"Mash…," said Ritsuka. Their breath caught as they got a better look at their constant companion over the past year. Mash's armor had gone from the familiar dark purple to completely black. Her skin was ash grey, magical red lines running down it to beneath her armor. The most jarring aspect for them though was her eyes. Gone were the soft, compassionate purple eyes. Instead her expression was cold, her irises red and glowing with an inner light. "Are…are you okay?"
A cold smile. "Of course I am, senpai," replied Mash, slowly descending the steps of the dais. "In fact, I've never felt better. But I guess it would be hard for a regular human to judge something like that, wouldn't it?"
"It would be," said Solomon, laughing. "They cannot see as far as you or I. What we know as the truth they are blind to. What we know to be good and just, they believe to be looked upon as evil. Truly, mixed up creatures."
"Which is why they need to be incinerated," finished Mash, nodding sagely. She stopped mere feet from Ritsuka, smiling cruelly at them. "I really wish we could take this road together Senpai, but once this was all over, we were never going to be together regardless. We were on different roads from the beginning. You were on your path, and I was on my own. We are completely different types of beings. Born differently. Raised differently. Set to die at much different times. This separation was inevitable. No one else could ever understand what my life has been like. I have been alone since the beginning."
"No," yelled Ritsuka, taking a step forward. They held out their hand to Mash. "That's a lie. We're both humans, who have loved and lost. Eaten together, journeyed together, fought together. Together, by each other's sides."
Solomon shook his head. "But you have never been truly together. You saw similarities where there were none. Humans can never truly know each other, and your worlds have been radically different from the beginning. Any similarities were a lie, a delusion."
"That's the lie," yelled Ritsuka. "And not just about me. Da Vinci, and Dr. Roman, we've been there too. By Mash's side, and her by ours. We love you Mash. We just want you back home, at Chaldea, with us."
"Chaldea is not home," said Mash, scowling. "It has just always been a prison. The place I was born, the place I was set to die. Lots of smiling faces of people who have never understood me or my destiny."
"Maybe so," said a new voice. Ritsuka turned and was surprised to see Dr. Roman walking up to them, an affable smile on his face. Under his arm was a thick book, but they couldn't make out the cover. Roman walked to Ritsuka's side and put a comforting hand on their shoulder. "Thank you, you've done well to get us here. Let me try to deal with this."
A cruel laugh. "Are you finally joining us outside of the comfort of Chaldea Doctor?" asked Mash. "You cruel, cruel man, leading me on. Giving me hope where you could offer none. How dare you!"
"Maybe," replied Roman, rubbing the back of his head. He took a few steps towards Mash. "It was cruel of me, wasn't it? You were going to die, and we both knew it. A short life, one we couldn't prevent. I wondered if maybe I should've never opened your eyes to the outside world, to introduce you to happiness and wonder. It was probably a cruel action of a selfish man to let you eat from the tree of knowledge, wasn't it?"
"Of course it was!" yelled Mash. Her face was twisted in anger. "I was once happy to die, but now I'm afraid! I know what I'm going to miss when I die. I'd hoped to live a full life in the time I had left, but that's impossible. The world we have now is one where I could never live the life I want to. Only by starting over, can I truly have a chance."
Roman shook his head, still steadily approaching Mash. "No, you won't. You may find you have longer to live, but it would be an inauthentic life. A life without meaning. Maybe, in a cruel twist of fate he would make you ruler of the world, managing it for him. A lifeless king managing a lifeless world." A sad smile. "I know exactly what that is like."
"You know nothing!" yelled Mash, taking a step back. "You could never understand me. Only he can understand me!"
Roman stopped walking towards her and held out a hand. Ritsuka realized that this was the first time they'd ever seen him without gloves. There was nothing notable about them, except for the subtle imprint on his hand where a ring had once rested. "You probably won't believe me anymore, but I do understand, better than you might think."
"Ngh," said Mash, visibly struggling to decide. She looked back to Solomon and Ritsuka followed her gaze. They were both surprised by what they saw.
"You…," said Solomon. On his face was a mixture of anger and fear. "How could you be here? How could I not know you were here?"
"I know you pretty well," replied Roman. "It was difficult, but clearly not impossible to keep out of your view. You can't see something if you don't know to look for it."
"Get away from me," muttered Solomon. "Mash, get them away from my sight, now! No one else can understand you, no one else will build a world for you. If you do not stop him now, then everything could come crumbling down!"
"Well, you're not wrong," admitted Roman. He kept his hand extended to Mash, his attention never wavering from her. "Please Mash, come back with us."
"I…I…" muttered Mash, looking back and forth between Roman and Solomon. The anger and hatred in her eyes wavered. She took a step towards Roman, her hand coming up from her side.
There was a flash of light, and Ritsuka could only stare in stunned horror as a magical bolt shot through Roman's chest. They observed the scene briefly as if in a dream, unable to accept the reality of what had just happened. Solomon, hand extended, fear on his face. Roman, a hole in his chest, falling to the ground. Mash, surprise on her face as she reached out to grab him.
"Doctor…," muttered Ritsuka.
Mash knelt, cradling Roman gently against her armored chest. Tears formed in her eyes as she muttered to herself. "No…Doctor…"
Ritsuka glared at Solomon. "You won't get away with that!"
"My procedure to wipe out humanity is already underway," he replied, sounding mildly surprised himself. "What is one human going ahead of time?"
Ritsuka moved slowly to Mash's side. She had lowered Roman to the ground and picked up the book he had been carrying. Ritsuka saw that it was a book of Fairy Tales. Mash fumbled with it and it fell to the ground, falling open to the beginning of "The Little Mermaid". Something shone between the pages.
"Now, there is nothing that can stop my plans," said Solomon, rising from his throne. He held his hands up into the air. An unbelievable amount of magical energy started to build up around him. "My power is greater than any other, my plan perfect. I shall show you the end of your journey. The demise of human history that will redo this planet. The moment my great undertaking is completed!"
A determined voice cut through his words, interrupting him. "No." Ritsuka and Solomon both looked in surprise at Mash as she stood from Roman's body. Her hand was clenched tightly in front of her as she turned to face Solomon. "I won't allow it."
"My dear, you cannot stop it," replied Solomon, his tone softening. "You may as well embrace it. Embrace the death and rebirth of the human filth. The filth that led to the creation of both of us. The filth we will now mark our superiority over."
"I understand now," said Mash softly. Her cheeks were still wet, but her expression was determined as she spoke. "I was foolish to go with you, but my eyes have been opened. I know what the Doctor meant now. Both in his words, and to me. I wish I had realized sooner but…I will gladly accept his gift."
"Mash…," said Ritsuka, stepping to her side.
She smiled weakly at them. "Senpai…"
"What nonsense do you speak now?" asked Solomon.
"I know your true identity," said Mash. "You aren't King Solomon, just a fake in his form. No, your words make it clear that you're Goetia, the manifestation of Solomon's demons."
The fake Solomon frowned at that. "You may choose to believe that, but whether it was true or not would not invalidate what I am about to undertake. I am disappointed in you, and tire of this conversation now."
"Does this catch your interest?" asked Mash, holding out her fist and opening it. The fake Solomon's eyes widened as he saw what was there. Ritsuka was confused. A ring? Where had that come from? "This is a gift, from the real Solomon, Romani Archaman. The tenth and final ring of mythology."
"Child; give it to me," said the fake Solomon menacingly. "You cannot use it properly, only I can now."
Mash shook her head. "I don't plan to use it. I plan to complete the myth."
A harsh laugh. "You are not the owner of that ring. Only Solomon could return it and that fool is now well and truly dead. You can do nothing."
A smile. "Are you so sure about that? He who has sought and found will also be he who returns to the rightful place. It is with this prayer that I gracefully let go of the world as beloved companions go their separate ways."
Magical energy built up around Mash as well, the ring in her hand glowing brightly. The fake Solomon's eyes widened in surprise at what was happening. Ritsuka could only watched, mesmerized by the proceedings as Mash finished chanting. "The Time of Parting has come. Ars Nova."
A flash of blinding magical energy. The ring in Mash's hand shot off into the sky as if launched on a rocket. The similar rings that decorated the Fake Solomon's hands glowed and dimmed, magical energy diminishing around them. The ritual he had been casting was cut off as the catalysts for it were removed. As the light faded, Ritsuka saw Mash, looking back to normal in her casual clothes. The effects of the corruption she had experiencing were gone, and so were any signs of her being a Demi-Servant.
"Do you know what you have just done?" asked the Fake Solomon.
Mash nodded, smiling wearily. "I do."
"Truly unbelievable," said Da Vinci, her voice crackling through Ritsuka's magical communicator. "Roman was Solomon's reincarnation, or something similar. He had the tenth ring of legend all along. In the myth, Solomon returned the rings to heaven, and in this case that would result in the remaining rings losing all their power. In theory, only Solomon or Roman should have been able to do so. But if a Heroic Spirit who in their myth was famous for returning a famous magical object to heaven was to exist, then they would hypothetically be able to complete the myth instead."
"But," said Ritsuka, trying to process the information. "What does that mean for the person to do so?"
"You are no longer a Demi-Servant," said the Fake Solomon. "In completing that myth, the spirit of Galahad that inhabited your body has ascended and left you behind. You are just a regular human now."
"But your plans have been stopped," replied Mash.
A harsh laugh. "No, they have not been stopped. Only delayed. I do not need the rings to complete my ritual, they were only a catalyst to speed up the process. It may now take years instead of moments to cast, but that only means time has been bought for humanity, nothing more. Once I kill the only Master of Chaldea and wipe out any survivors, there will be no one able to stop my plan, or even to be aware of it. On your death, resistance will disappear."
Mash moved in front of Ritsuka. "I won't let you hurt Senpai."
Ritsuka felt emboldened by their partner's words. They clutched their hand tightly, their Command Seals still glowing with power. "And I won't let you destroy humanity. We'll stop you here!"
"And how do you plan to do that?"
"Senpai," said Mash, looking back at them. She smiled at them. "You orders?"
They nodded, holding up their hand. The Command Seals on the back flashed brightly. "Mash Kyrielight, complete what Dr. Roman started. Complete the Grand Order, prevent the Incineration of Humanity and defend humanity. Move out!"
A Command Seal disappeared from their hand and a red flash of light burst from Mash. Ritsuka had to look away for a moment, but when they turned back, they saw Mash leaping away, closing the distance and engaging with the Fake Solomon. Familiar heavy white and red robes covered Mash now, a braided red belt tied around her waist. Large golden rings encircled her neck and wrists, while her arms were covered in black tattoos of magical formulas. Her feet were bare and bore signs of similar tattoos.
"It cannot be," said the Fake Solomon, defending himself as Mash sent a powerful kick his way. It struck and he went flying from the dais, her physical abilities outshining his own. He waved his hands and his flight halted midair. "How?"
Mash planted her feet on the Dias and held out her hand. A plain wooden staff appeared in it. "Dr. Roman was like a father to me. Even now, he's willing to fight with me to defeat you." She stuck the ground twice with the butt of the staff. Where she hit, a small crack appeared and then a jet of water shot out, hitting the Fake Solomon midair. He was knocked out of the air and fell to the ground.
As he did, Mash threw her staff on the ground and it turned into a large snake. The snake lunged several times, biting at the Fake Solomon. After several attempts, the snake succeeded, biting into his arm and latching on. He tried to shake it off, but the snake refused to let go. With a wave of his free arm he cast a minor magecraft and the snake combusted, turning to ash.
While the struggle with the snake had been going on, Mash had closed the distance between them again. She was only a few feet from her foe when she planted her feet and clapped her hands three times. On the third clap, a powerful blast of sound shot out, hitting the Fake Solomon dead on. He was knocked into the air once more. Mash held her hands out at her side and chanted something Ritsuka couldn't understand. A large pillar of fire shot from the sky above the Fake Solomon and engulfed him.
There was an unearthly scream as Mash's foe was immolated, his silhouette disappearing inside the pillar of flame. Mash let out a tired sigh of relief, her body slumping slightly from exhaustion. But Ritsuka didn't even have enough time to congratulate her before the silhouette inside the pillar expanded, becoming larger than before. There was a shout and the pillar of flame broke apart, revealing not the Fake Solomon, but a new type of monster. A towering broad-shouldered monstrosity of swirling gold, black and red hues. From his bald head were branches of golden leaves extending far outward in the mockery of a king's crown. His chest was a cavity, from which stared out a blood red eye, looking out with intent and malice.
"So," said Mash, standing up straight and preparing to fight once more. "You finally reveal yourself, Goetia, the Demon God King."
A deep reverberating voice came from the mouthless form. "I see that your new form has come with knowledge of my true self. But no matter, now that the corpse shell I wore has been stripped away, you deal not with an imitation, but the true form of perfection."
In the blink of an eye, Goetia appeared in front of Mash and punched her. It was nothing special, but it sent her flying through the air and off the dais. She flipped through the air, seemingly hurtling off the edge for good. But before she could, the air around her glowed with magecraft and translucent angel wings sprouted from her back. The wings flapped, halting and righting her in midair, leaving ephemeral afterimages as they moved. Ghostly blue fire glowed around the wings. Blood ran down from a cut over Mash's eye, but the chime of a harp rang through the Temple and the cut healed instantly.
"Halt the Incineration of Humanity," said Mash, hovering. "There's no reason to do this. I know now what your real purpose was. It was to look after humanity. You're not meant to be a destroyer but a protector."
"I am no protector," replied Goetia. "I am no destroyer either. I am a shepard for humanity and an architect of proper reason. The flock has been corrupted since the beginning, so I will break them down and rebuild them into what they should be. You agreed with this thought, did you not Mash?"
Mash shook her head sadly. "I wasn't in my proper mind. Through the corruption I could only think of myself. But I see clearly now. This isn't the way to save humanity. I can never agree to a plan like this."
Goetia raised his hand towards Mash. "Then we shall have nothing else to talk about." Massive magical energy built up before him, a golden shine surrounding a black void.
In response, Mash held her hands out to her sides and a pentagram appeared behind her, silver light glowing at the tips of each point. The four points to her side shot out one after the other, each missing Goetia and striking around him.
"That was your last attempt," said Goetia. The ball before him exploded in Mash's direction, sending black and gold energy toward her in a large, inescapable wave.
"No," replied Mash, shaking her head. "That was your last attempt to halt this plan. Hamesh Avanim!" The final silver star above her head shot out, striking the center of the wave. With no hesitation it tore through the wave, creating a safe zone for Mash as it passed her. The silver star flashed brightly through the center of the magical wave, tearing right towards Goetia. He didn't have time to respond as the star struck him in a brilliant flash of silver light.
The silver light from the impact washed over the Temple, warming Ritsuka as it passed by them. They turned and saw the light continuing outward. It spread to the distant but still visible arenas in which the heroic spirits they had summoned were fighting with the Demon God Pillars. The fighting ceased as the wave met the Demon God Pillars and something Ritsuka couldn't see happened. As if in response to their thoughts, Da Vinci's voice came through the communicator.
"This reaction…," muttered Da Vinci, gathering her thoughts. "The Demon God Pillars have ceased their activity. Monitors show that every last one of them has been turned into a pillar of salt. In response to the lack of a threat, the Heroic Spirits who answered your call are disappearing. It seems to be over…Wait! There's still a weak signal remaining behind you!"
Ritsuka turned back around and saw where Goetia had been standing was a new being. Not quite Goetia but not quite Solomon, what instead looked to be a golden, and naked, mix of both. His long hair flowed and flickered like a flame in the wind, about to blow out at any moment. The right side of his body was destroyed, his arm missing and angry black and red magical energy covering him like hardened blood. Just how persistent was he?
Mash flew back down to the Temple, her wings disappearing and depositing her gently onto the marble floor. When her bare feet touch the ground it changed, turning from marble to clear crystal that made Ritsuka think they were now standing in a pool of clear water. They had to resist the urge to lift their pant legs to prevent them from getting wet. Mash approached this new Goetia, the crystal rippling as she walked across it, then stilling once she was gone.
"You will not defeat me with your copied miracles," said Goetia, his reverberating voice sounding different. Tired, desperate. Afraid. He raised his hand and pointed a finger at Mash. A small but powerful amount of magical energy built up at the point. "I am the most powerful of creations, and my path is the only one available to end the suffering of humanity. The suffering humanity inflicts upon itself."
"You really do care about humanity, don't you?" asked Mash, cocking her head to the side. She flicked her wrist as a simple sword appeared in her hand. She held it up perpendicular to the ground. "I wish this could have ended differently. But I've been tasked with defeating you by someone I can't disappoint. Not again. So, I ask of you Goetia, in your love for humanity, will you once more attempt to destroy it, or let it live on its own?"
Goetia frowned, the first real emotion Ritsuka had ever seen on his face. "This is not destruction but recreation. There is no other option."
Mash let out a sad sigh. "I'm sorry to hear that."
She swiped the sword through the air, letting it fall to her side. Ritsuka at first thought nothing had happened, but then they realized that there was golden magical energy dripping off the blade of the sword like fresh blood. The magical energy Goetia had been summoning dissipated and vertical cut opened perfectly down the middle of his body. Golden blood started to leak slowly out as Goetia's expression changed to surprise.
"How?" said Goetia, his voice hollow.
"The wisdom of Solomon presented you with a choice," replied Mash, unsummoning the sword. "And you chose wrong. I'm sorry."
A laugh. "So…this is what it means to die?" A frown cut in half. "I do not like this feeling at all." Goetia's body broke apart into golden motes of light. Within moments, Rituska found only themselves and Mash standing in the Temple, everything else still and quite around them.
As they looked around for any last signs of trouble, they noticed Mash shyly approaching them, her hands fiddling with the thick folds of her new white robes. They smiled at her, grateful to see the corruption from the Black Mud was now fully gone. Mash flinched at the look, looking unsure of herself.
"Congratulations," said Ritsuka. "You did it. You prevented the Incineration of Humanity."
"Only at the last moment," replied Mash sadly. "And only after I killed Dr. Roman…"
"But you pulled through in the end," said Rituksa, approaching her. "And that's what matters. I don't think Roman would blame you. That's why he approached you and gave you the ring. He believed in you."
Mash was silent for a moment. Then, tears started to roll down her cheeks and she smiled at Ritsuka, her expression glowing with happiness. "Thank you Senpai. He…he was like a father to me, and I only realized it when he was gone, but I can feel his pride through our link and I'm just glad that it's all over. Finally, he can rest."
Ritsuka smiled. "We can all rest." They held out their hand to Mash. "Mash, let's go home."
Author's Note: There needs to be more content with Roman and Mash having a father/daughter relationship. It's super wholesome and fun. I probably shouldn't say that while writing a bittersweet story though, should I?