Rome.

Ah, dearest Rome.

Nero tensed her muscles and hardened her will into a sharp knife that manifested into a torrent of magic energy that surrounded her like a billowing flame. Generated winds pushed back those that were near her while the emitted energy quickly charged the area with tension.

Arche fell backwards, screaming as she shut her eyes and felt her brain throbbing from overload.

The rest were more fortunate and merely basked in the glow.

"...There it is," Jaldaboath whispered, feeling the magic energy in the air before releasing his own demonic energy. "Nero Claudius, Emperor of the Roses and leader of the greatest coalition among the warring Emperors."

In sharp contrast to Nero's blue, black and red coalesced and twisted around Jaldaboath.

Jircniv and the others shielded their faces as dust and debris were swept up and violently expelled outward as the energies vied for dominance.

A clear line was drawn, Nero's energy pushing Jircniv and the allied army behind her while Jaldaboath's energy gravitated behind towards the demons being birthed from sacrificial black spheres.

Hundreds were pouring down from the black spheres and creating lesser demons, red imps, and malformed monstrosities. Others created greater demons with back jointed legs and hooved feet that towered over the common man.

The longer the battle continued, the greater the number of the enemies produced, in a demonized wave tactic.

In contrast, Jircniv and the Baharuth Empire stood with Nero raising the flag of the twin laurels to rally the army.

Re-Estize did the same by using Princess Renner as a figurehead.

Yet, neither leader was truly under the spotlight save for one.

"Bandum Campta!" (Observe the banner!) Nero swung her sword to the sky, flames spouting upward and shaping into the symbol immortalized on the Roman aquila.

The cry of an eagle echoed amid the shaped magic flames.

"Ad Fulcon, shields forward! Form the wall!"

At first, the commands sounded off, but the older relics of the Baharuth army consigned as field generals and even Jircniv himself recognized the wording as an old Empire dialect for certain war formations.

"Forward!" Jircniv echoed Nero's cry, urging the legions with shields to the front where they created a turtle formation.

Large tower shields were rammed into the ground before other shieldmen from the back raised their shields overhead to form a dome.

"Listen to her lead." Renner was quick witted and immediately urged the members of the Re-Estize army to listen to the Baharuth Empire general. Tower knights with large great shields reinforced the Baharuth Empire's lines.

Climb stayed by her side while Gazef was charged with her father's protection.

"Bando Sequute!" (Follow the Banner!)

Nero lowered her sword, and with it, the flaming eagle unfurled its wings and swooped onward against the encroaching horde.

"Form eight in a row! Become the spears that ravage the enemies of the empire, the shields that protect our brothers, and the swords that lead the way! Unbending! Immovable! Unconquered!"

Nero spurred her magic energy to blanket all she deemed an ally, rose petals floating down from above before she led the charge with a deafening shout.

"INVICTA!"

'Let us show them our dance.'

Nero leapt head first into the foray, a spinning circle of flames and death as her rallied allies lost their hesitation and followed her into hell.

Meanwhile, a volley of arrows and swords mowed down a great number of the flying demons that spawned and pressured the ground troops and Magic Caster divisions.

As a commander, Jircniv was thankful for any aid, but inwardly he noted down the Re-Estize Archer as a person of interest to watch out for in another war. Right now, the cover fire was used to help their cause, but it would be different when kingdoms stood opposed once more.

Was that Archer Re-Estize's trump card?

Jircniv forced his thoughts to focus on the present. Allies and enemies must be distinguished with the two armies united under the banner of 'fellow humans.'

"Flowers to the earth!"

Nero's figure had grown obscured in the violence, but her radiance still shone in the coloured petals that touched upon her allies.

The white petals gave rise to increased magic reserves, stamina recovery, and mental protection.

"Roses to the sky!"

The red petals coated their weapons and bodies with enhanced attack parameters, enabling even the weakest to temporarily become the strongest. Imps and lesser demons were felled by a single sword, bifurcated and left at the wayside of the allied army's charge.

"Tears to the people!"

The shimmering light falling down like rain closed wounds, mended bones, and spurred the injured to hold fast for victory.

A deluge of buffing effects were being poured relentlessly over the armies, boosting all parameters and even healing the injured. As one, the armored centurions and legionnaires were turning into a well oiled killing machine with growing fervor baptized in the blood demons.

"Open ranks and charge in!" Nero, cutting the head off a demon, bounded up its large body while yelling commands. "Let our steel open the way-!"

"Not so fast."

"Gh, tch." Nero clicked her tongue as she raised her sword to block.

Sword met claws in a collision of sparks and groaning metal before Nero grimaced and staggered a few steps back.

"Hold!" She yelled, glaring at the demon before her.

The momentum of Jircniv and the others monetarily stalled as Jaldabaoth personally intervened as a mask of composure and calm continued to pervade around him.

"Don't get carried away, emperor. Your adversary is me." Jaldaboath said, fingers splayed outward and revealed to be morphed into razor-sharp claws.

Nero hardened her expression, nodding to herself with full confidence.

"All the better." She tightened her grip on her sword. "Umu. If the head is culled, the body follows!"

Without waiting, Nero engaged.

Her golden pauldron clanked as she rammed into Jaldaboath with her shoulder before aiming her metal-heeled boot at his jaw.

She was intercepted with a hand that grabbed her shin and threw her weight to the side. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of scales that she glimpsed forming underneath Jaldaboath's clothes.

A polymorphic ability?

Pivoting after her missed kick, Aestus Estus, her flaming sword, came next.

Nero was sure her follow up blow would land, but there an eerie premonition caused goosebumps to rise over her skin.

Primarily suited for leadership and supporting roles, Nero knew as an NPC, her parameters weren't as high as the others in the Mausoleum, but that didn't mean she was a pushover.

She could fight as well as she could dance. So then why?

Jaldabaoth dodged left, leaving just enough room to counter as if he knew where she would strike.

Dammit.

Nero's pupils dilated while tracking the follow up blow coming her way from a clenched fist.

She clenched her teeth, and hurriedly bolstered herself with magic energy as she was punched in the jaw.

However, a rose has thorns.

Light glinted in Nero's eyes and she subtly extended the reach of her sword by condensing the fires into a sharp blade.

Spittle flew as Nero backflipped into a recovery arc while Jaldaboath grumbled at a cut across his chest.

The exchange hardly lasted more than a couple seconds, and yet their movements and strength were at a level that few present could even begin to keep up with.

Wiping the cut on his chest, Jaldaboath revealed that it was shallow before suddenly appearing in front of Nero.

The order of attack initiative had reversed.

Unflustered, Nero calmly shifted her stance to defend, but again, that sense of suspicion crept up. She danced left, then right, trying to shake off Jaldaboath through a series of footwork and movement patterns, but none of it seemed to work.

Finally-

Nero's eyes widened as a tail protruding from Jaldaboath snaked past her sword and stabbed through her abdomen.

It hit her at a blindspot, aiming for the moment she spun in the air while waving her sword. A part of her insisted it was coincidence, but doubt was forming.

Few would know Nero's habits let alone how she fought.

Nero grunted, cradling the wound that pierced through her liver before it gradually began to heal under the astonishment of those she led.

Jircniv even swallowed back his words of concern from afar before he could even voice them.

The liver was a vital organ.

One could not live without it and yet Nero had just shrugged it off.

Silence stretched, encompassing even the sounds of the Re-Estize army who had rallied with Baharuth in a temporary alliance. Both had watched the duel between a human and a high demon.

For a moment, a prevailing sense of confidence emerged at the thought of an immortal leader.

Army morale heightened considerably until the Demon appeared all too aware of the specifics of Nero's immortality.

"That's one." Jaldaboath said knowingly, tail whipping back and cleaning the sharpened end of bits of flesh and blood. "Two left."

-Battle Continuation tied with the sun that sets thrice.

Nero gritted her teeth. "Umu, you sly demon."

How much did this Demon know of her to not only predict her attack and movement patterns, but also be able to discern her inherent skills?

Suspicion had turned into a certainty.

"Jircniv," Nero called, thoughts running rampant. She gave the best order given new revelations. "Command and coordinate the army against the lesser demons."

Jircniv's eyes widened. He was no fool.

He'd been the first to realize the meaning in Jaldaboath's words and the mystery of Nero's miraculous recovery.

Recovery was limited, and the enemy seemed to know Nero's capabilities. It was like walking into a trap.

Worry finally bled into Jircniv's expression.

"You can't mean to-"

"Umu, who else can?"

Nero had always appeared to be carefree as a dancer and performer, but only now did she appear with the bearings of one who led an empire.

Moreover, Nero would not allow the Praetor to bear the brunt of this battle when he was the Master she ought to protect.

This was her battle.

"Dammit! Reform the line!" Jircniv gnashed his teeth and issued orders.

Standing alone, Nero raised her sword.

She had no idea how the enemy knew her. She was certain that Jaldabaoth was not one of the 'warriors' who raided against her armies in YGGDRASIL, but nonetheless, this demon still knew her.

How disconcerting.

But would she balk? Never. She was Nero.

"I'll show you how this rose dances!" Nero dashed forward, invoking her skills all the while. "Fountain of the Saint! Fountain of the Flame!"

Migraine B Skills and Goblet of Wealth were activated, increasing her mental protections and recovering her stamina and health. Her overflowing Imperial Privilege empowered her further.

Like a blaze, Nero was now moving at full power.

In the background, Jircniv and the allied army were fully impeding the approach of the other demons.

The only ones in the vicinity were Nero and Jaldaboath.

Digging her heels into the dirt, Nero unleashed a barrage of strikes, blows, and stabs, listening as Jaldaboath muttered under his breath.

"Keep your distance while she winds up."

Nero knit her brows. It could have been a psychological game, but Jaldaboath was not making it difficult to hear his words mid battle. In fact, it was rather jarring as it was off putting.

Like a snake, the bastard refused to engage while the flames over Aestus Estus roared over her blade. Instead, he kept backpedaling and evading where possible. When he couldn't dodge, he'd harden a limb and then shoot out a sharpened nail to dissuade trading a blow for a projectile,

Gritting her teeth, Nero leapt into the air, swinging her sword horizontally to form a lethal dancer's top spin.

"Do not be fooled into thinking it's an opening when she lands. A swift thrust follows."

Tch, Nero clicked her tongue as she landed and tried to stab her flame coated sword forward towards a target that was no longer even there.

She charged, spurred by a feeling of dejection and mounting frustration.

"Strafe left on the first swing, back step on the reverse swing."

Nero could hear everything, but the bastard would only say it after carrying out the dodge. She swung in a downward cleave, but her opponent mirrored her actions in parallel, always just out of range.

Then how about this?!

Planting her feet, Nero brandished her sword with both hands.

"She moves like a pendulum in motion, but the attacks are weaker as she winds up. Its possible to defend."

Hardened nails extended from Demiurge's fingers and began parrying. Attacks that normally would have shattered his polymorphed blows were considerably weaker in favour of speed.

Grated sparks illuminated the faces of both. Jaldaboath's mask was expressionless, but Nero was growing increasingly wary.

If not speed, then power!

Nero raised her sword and channelled her magic energy to the tip of her blade. Light gathered, condensing as the heat singed the surroundings and burned the oxygen in the air.

"Once she charges her sword when normal attacks aren't working, her attack pattern resets on the fourth extra attack and leaves -an opening!"

Nero gasped as Jaldaboath plunged his fingers into her stomach and crushed her insides before retreating.

"That makes two." Jaldaboath cleaned his hand, the sweat hidden behind his mask revealing that he wasn't quite as comfortable as he portrayed.

"Be aware, but if she hits you once, burn damage will be substantial to the point of incapacitation."

Jaldaboath did not mutter the last line out. Rather, he put on a bold front.

"The next one will be final," he said.

"Gh." Nero took a knee, clutching at her stomach as her insides healed. She knew that throwing herself at the enemy a third time would only net the same results if she didn't change anything.

"Cease and desist." Jaldaboath said callously, inwardly unwilling to risk a good blow despite everything.

Lowering morale would increase his odds. Doubts even more so.

"As intended, you lost the moment you separated yourself from your army."

Nero pursed her lips, sucking in her breath. Although able to revive, it didn't mean the pain was any less.

Jaldaboath capitalized on her hesitation and started an assault.

Hastily, Nero raised her blade to defend.

"You are not the Founder with his spear poised to carry the weight of the Empire."

Clang!

Nero blocked a blow from Jaldaboath's tail, but was pushed back by rough shove.

"You are not your berserker of an uncle nor the strategist that was Caesar."

Correcting her stance, Nero managed to leverage her feet into the ground just before Jaldaboath could swipe at her neck.

"In fact, everything about you is an act to elude your own weakness!"

"...!"

Nero might not have been as unaffected at Jaldaboath's words as she portrayed. Ablow managed to work its way through her defence and catch the pommel of her sword, knowing her hands up and exposing her abdomen for a body blow.

"You can't do anything on your own!"

It was all preordained in Nero's design within YGGDRASIL.

Jaldaboath knew it all.

Unlike other Raid Bosses, a single Player was enough to Solo Nero assuming one got through her faction's armies and buffs.

A timed burst of magic energy aimed at Nero's opening sent Nero careening through the sky and tumbling over the ground until she stabbed her sword into the earth and halted her momentum.

Nero came to a stop near Jircniv and the commanding army, coughing out blood and rasping for breath.

"Nero!" Jircniv disregarded command and raced to help steady Nero while his Four Imperial Knights tentatively guarded them.

Yet none were able to hold their heads high.

A moment later, and Jaldaboath landed before Nero and the army, fending off the 'Archer's' sudden volley of arrows and swords by raising an unwilling individual up as a shield.

Intelligence from Narberal Gamma and Pandora's Actor hinted at the Archer's penchant to highly regard another's life, especially if they were innocent or an ally.

Expectedly, the volley of arrows and swords aimed at Jaldaboath vanished into motes of light before they could pierce through the body bag used as a shield.

It didn't help that said body bag was no one else but a Golden-Haired Princess Jaldaboath had selectively picked up from the joint army command when Jircniv gave up his position.

"Do you see, Emperor Nero? You cannot win." Jaldaboath approached step by step, tension mounting as he boasted.

"I know everything. Your habits, your motivations, and your ambitions! All of it was observed and pre-recorded by the efforts of a Supreme Being! There is nothing you can do that has not already been planned for!"

"Supreme Being?" Jircniv murmured. A horrid realization dawned on him as the implication that someone stronger than Jaldaboath existed.

Nero just stared, sucking in labored breaths and glaring at Jaldaboath with bloodshot eyes too egotistical and proud to submit- a female equivalent to that of Gilgamesh.

She was trying to recover as fast as she could.

Jaldaboath was unperturbed.

"Just as many kingdoms of man fall into ruin and are ravaged by time or superior adversary, yours too must fall-"

"No." Nero shook her head.

"No?" Jaldaboath for once gave pause.

The nature of the energy around Nero was taking on a shape and phenomena not recorded in the observation manual.

A connection was found in order to reach the stars and connect with the throne beyond time and space.

"Roma."

Nero's bangs shadowed her face, lightning crackled in the sky before unwavering strength filled her expression.

"…Unconquered."

Now and forever, the image of the glorious Rome within her still stands.

Rome defeated? In ruins?

She would disabuse all who entertained the thought.

"Nero?" Jircniv called out in concern as he let Nero lean on his shoulder.

Nero coaxed Jircniv aside, carefully balancing on her own feet and pushing off of him.

"Step aside Jircniv," she said.

"Do you not see yourself?! You're -!"

Nero shook her head again.

The enemy knew her patterns. Even when she tried to mix it up the second time, the enemy still knew everything ingrained in YGGDRASIL's parameters.

But no.

No longer.

"While we wait for life, life passes, and that is why an emperor must act."

A burst of magic energy had Nero standing straighter, her wounds mending as a vision unraveled within her.

"We are the Empire!"

She yelled, voicing the words not only to herself, but for Jircniv and Jircniv alone to hear.

"Our will is that of thousands!"

Jircniv stared.

"Our voice is that which echoes the sentiment of our people!"

Nero's image began to grow larger and larger before the bloody emperor's eyes.

"Our actions are the source of our empire's admiration or disgust, but we hold our heads high!"

The rumbling lightning gave way to uproarious thunder amid a turbulent battlefield.

"That is what it means to be Emperor!"

Lightning struck, echoing the timing of Nero's admonishments and willful urging.

"Do not bend your knees!"

The line of emperors that led the city that was Rome flashed before Nero's mind, and with it, the aspects of what made an emperor of Rome, an emperor of Rome.

"Do not let your body shake, nor let your eyes wander!"

Nero gritted her teeth, persevering through the pain of recovery through sheer stubborn will and petulance.

"Blood? Bruises? Stabs? Umu -Flesh wounds!"

From the great empire to the southern Niles where the sands grow larger than mountains spiraling into an endless barren land.

The borders of the empire covered all.

"Stare into the sun! And even the sun will submit with their fabled wings shorn and adorned with the golden standard of our empire!"

To the furthest reaches of the kingdom, to the great treasures and wealth it generated, there was no equal.

"The tribes of the North tried; the kingdoms of the south fared no better. For a mere Deamon, will the Empire bow?"

"Bow?" Jaldaboath chortled. "I can accept that and even prepare a suitable position should you submit."

"Fwahahaha!" Nero laughed; vision clouded with indignation. "A comedian…tch."

"A pity then. You would have been quite favoured." Jaldaboath said in all truth.

"Pity?" Nero slowly shook her head. "Indeed. It is a pity you Demons seem to revel too much in gloating."

"Nero! Stop!" Jircniv could see that no matter how much Nero had recovered, her complexion was still pale, and her knees wobbled with every step from phantom pains.

"Jircniv," Nero coughed out blood, wiping it from her lip as she found strength in her resolve. "Watch closely."

Nero could see it in Jircniv's eyes, the concern and doubt.

He was a person Nero did not regret meeting, an emperor she would never regret mentoring!

Nero swallowed down the blood welling up in her throat.

One more lesson.

One more lesson had to be learned, and Nero would not fail to impart it from one emperor to another.

Who was she but a Thespian of the highest order?

Show them.

Yes.

Show them all.

Roma Invicta!

She raised her sword and stabbed its tip into the ground.

"Open the gates."

Her Rome- its Golden Palace, and the empire that stretched throughout the known world of an era began to unwind and expand within a bounded field.

Spiraling out, the borders began to swallow the entire area.

"Raise the curtains."

She flourished a hand, throwing rose petals into the air that multiplied into a storm blown in the ensuing wind.

"See my talent!"

The air began to shimmer within the enclosed space, Roman columns rising within a grand amphitheatre lined with the red and golden colours of Baharuth.

Marble replaced the grass; a flowing red carpet created the stage which represented the peak of the empire's extravagance.

"Hear the thunderous applause!"

Tapestry fluttered in the breeze with the echo of a thousand cheers calling her name, and drowning all who took it in.

"This place…" Jircniv and the people of the Baharuth Empire were all taken aback before all gazes were naturally drawn to the center.

"Then Praise Me!"

Nero stood with a golden laurel wreath adorned over her head, the symbol of her rule and what marked her as the owner of this space that glimpsed past glories.

"Praise my Golden Theater!"

Her Golden Palace.

What appeared before the eyes of all, was the vision that was Rome preserved in Nero's heart. Her greatest treasure.

The Glory that was her Rome.

"Laus St. CLAUDIUS!"

.

.

.

From within the bounded field, Shirou stood rooted as numerous implications set in within his mind at the emergence of a Noble Phantasm.


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