There was a pregnant silence after the words escaped Arturia's mouth, but this had nothing to do with anyone else but Shirou whose countenance flickered in the limelight.

"…You're sword?" Shirou repeated, swallowing stiffly.

He didn't grow startled at all that his Master knew Caliburn's name from the 'dream cycle' she must have gleamed from him, but to specifically refer to it as hers with Saber's face made it difficult to keep his composure neutral.

Arturia did not answer. Instead, she remained as she was with Caliburn held horizontally with both of her hands. There was a glazed light in her eyes, her attention enraptured by the soft golden glow over Caliburn's steel.

"Arturia?" Shirou tried again for a response, but to no avail.

He could only watch mutedly, as Arturia ever so slowly slid her grip from the base of the sword to its pommel where she now held its hilt in a two-palm grip. She shuddered, a tremble running up and down her body until it settled with her shifting her blank gaze solely on him.

The way she stood; the way she regarded him; there was a type of recognition in it all that left Shirou's insides twisting into a painful knot that reached its zenith at two simple words.

"Welcome home…" she whispered fondly.

His eyes dilated, his breathing subconsciously quickening as the two words repeated over and over again in his mind.

It wasn't his imagination. Those words, she'd really said them.

When his head snapped down to her for verification, his eyes searching, hoping, yearning, all he got in return was one thing:

A bittersweet smile.

"S-Saber?" He didn't notice the cracking in his voice, nor the way he unsteadily reached his hands towards her.

The smile continued, but for as quick as it happened, it ended just as abruptly.

Arturia crumpled, her body lurching forward to be caught in Shirou's grasp. For his part, Shirou felt his composure hanging on tenterhooks while hurriedly inspecting the girl before him.

Arturia's eyes had shut closed, her breathing escaping in soft breaths. The aura around her had vanished, receding into Caliburn's blade which hummed contentedly in her grasp. It was almost inconspicuous in the way it was acting as if it were an ordinary sword, but this was the least of Shirou's dilemma.

With Arturia in his grip, he'd verified again and again that she was human. Was she his Saber or not? There was no magic core inside her, nor did she have any association with magecraft. She was perfectly normal by all account no matter how hard Shirou inspected her.

What had just happened then?

Was it all a coincidence; a lucid dream cycle that had Arturia mumbling by using Caliburn as a catalyst?

Her present state of unconsciousness meant that it was a possibility, and this filled Shirou with a sense of bitterness.

He knew the feeling of disappointment all too well to put all his hope in a single basket.

When Arturia woke up, no matter what, he wouldn't let himself reveal anything lest it all turn into another big disappointment. He would look into it on his own. The seesaw of emotions was difficult to endure. Honestly, he wasn't sure how much longer he could take all this, let alone suppress the doubt that his 'promised miracle' had yet to occur despite reaching the end of his journey and dying.

'Enough,' he chastised himself.

Looking at Arturia's unconscious features, he brushed a few locks of her hair away from her face and carefully picked her up into a bridal carry. The entire time, her grip around Caliburn didn't relent, leaving Shirou with no choice but to angle it in a way that it rested over Arturia's stomach, as he carried her back to her room.

"Now what?" He mumbled to himself while tucking Arturia into her bedsheets.

"That's it," Athena ended up answering.

He'd almost forgotten she'd been around from the beginning. However, it wasn't fully his fault. His emotions had gotten the better of him, and it didn't help that Athena had grown silent once Caliburn made its appearance until now.

"That's it?" he repeated, glancing back to Athena who stood calmly by the doorway.

"Indeed." Athena nodded, her feet carrying her forward to inspect Caliburn with a somber air. She huffed in frustrated confusion a second later, but then elaborated for his sake. "You've already granted the girl power. Her body will just need to time to adjust. Considering how frail humans can be, she may not wake up until tomorrow morning. In any case, the Authority will do the rest, so, you shouldn't concern yourself about training her to use it. Not that I'd advise that. As you can see from Campione, most Authorities don't do well for collateral damage, and the girl seems to care a great deal for human life."

The explanation was reasonable and simple to follow along, but it still made Shirou frown on a certain line. "This 'adjustment' you spoke of, is it dangerous?"

Athena pondered the question with a blank face. She was looking at him as if the answer was obvious, but his stern features said it all. "In the era of old, failure to accommodate a God's Authority by humans leads to death- don't try to take the sword away now. Little girl our ward may be, but if she can forge a connection between Gods like ourselves, then an Authority shouldn't be a problem."

Shirou sighed, pausing in his actions to forcibly dismiss Caliburn after Athena took notice. His concern couldn't help but bleed through, an air of uneasiness spreading over him.

Athena hummed, the way she looked at him turning strange.

"Art thou intent on bedding her?" She abruptly blurted out. "It's been centuries since the birth of any new Demi-Gods."

He gave Athena a flat stare, choosing not to deign the inquiry with a response despite his eye twitching incessantly. "Is it so wrong to just be worried?" He asked instead.

"Your gentleness towards humans, particularly our ward, run parallel to how my own father and uncles treat their mistresses. First you beguile with honeyed words and actions, and then you partake of the maiden's purity to bestow essence into mortal flesh. God and man mix, bolstering the maiden's longevity in order to incubate and sire the birth of divine heroes."

"You're thinking too much…"

"This Goddess doth not simply think, but ties meaning in observation. The look in thy eyes in the dojo when the girl spoke, thou appeared ready to ravage her tender flesh and spread her-"

"Okay, enough." Shirou interjected, pinching the bridge of his nose and forcibly dropping the subject. "Just stop. I'm not like your old man."

"He prefers the title, 'Ruler of all.' Attach a 'Grand' to that title and you may even earn yourself an honorary seat in the Pantheon." Athena jested flatly, but she did drop the matter. "If you're done coddling the girl, God of Steel, perhaps it's time we get to business, yes?"

"We're leaving? Then who's going to watch over her and-"

"Coddling," Athena hissed again, lips pursing. "Thou should know better than anyone that I've set up a sacred boundary around the manor. It's the safest place she may stay without our presence, unless you'd mean to bring her along, right now?"

"No," Shirou found himself relenting, but honestly, he was still on edge. "It's just, why can't one of us stay behind with her?"

"Do you know what my Gorgonian feels like? Do you think that if you stayed and I go, I'll be able to contend against a Campione on my own?"

No answer. Shirou knew he was up against a God of Wisdom.

Yes, indeed. There was no doubt that Athena was wise, but Shirou's first mistake was letting a God of Wisdom talk in the first place.

"You hesitate and falter over the machination of the magic societies that may target our ward, yes?" Athena was getting straight to the point here, her arms crossing, features limpid. "Then why not deal with them first? Take them underfoot even. The omnipotence of Gods is greatly reduced once descended from legend, and as such, there's benefit in annexing an already existing magic community."

The point was logical, and without much room for knit picking. Gradually, Shirou's taut features were lightening.

Athena pressed on.

"We could use the extra hands and feet, and furthermore, even introduce the girl to the supernatural aspect in a controlled environment. Using the organization's resources, we can spread a wider net to locate my Gorgonian while simultaneously creating a base of command for future endeavors. This would also eliminate the need to constantly constrain our ward to her own abode. Give her a 'normal' lifestyle if possible."

The last point practically broke much of Shirou's defences. "You, you make a lot of sense here…"

"Then we're agreed?"

Shirou tentatively nodded, and this was all it took.

Athena didn't give him much time to reconsider when she snapped her fingers and the two found themselves floating in the air above a metro station.

Arturia was left alone, and this time Shirou didn't have much qualms. Considering that he and Athena were about to raid the main organization in Japan that may seek to do her harm, his lack of concern was justified.

So was his resolve.

/-/

"Where are we?" Shirou asked, glancing around at the bustling cityscape.

"Near Tokyo at a suburban district called Shinjuku prefecture," Athena replied without turning towards Shirou. "I've descended for longer than you have, and have had the time and means to scout Japan's magic society with their base in a museum. They're called the History Compilation Committee."

Shirou nodded while listening, making preparation for a decisive battle that only had Athena grimacing when she felt the magnitude of the Authorities brewing beneath the surface of Shirou's aura.

"Do you think we're up against a God or God Slayer?" She chastised warningly.

Shirou frowned, cutting off his concentration to the projections he had in mind. "What do you mean?"

"Thy ignorance bleeds through again," Athena turned and stared him flatly in the eyes. Her petite stature didn't take away from the gravity of the presence she was exuding. "We are Gods. They are humans. You're caution against them is grating, as you're failing to realize the greater danger that we're already in."

"What danger?"

Athena sighed, realizing that whatever ailment affecting Shirou's understanding of the world as a Heretic God was more severe than she'd assumed.

"I didn't say this before, but you should think twice before using your Authorities that tie with others," she murmured before glaring at him.

"Are you going to get to the point?" Shirou scratched the back of his head.

"Gods and Campione," Athena said bluntly. "They're surely coming, and they're the ones you should focus on for out Master's safety rather than humans. As a Mother Earth Goddess, I can feel their presence approaching. It will only be a matter of time. I've said this before, but your descent into the mortal world was felt throughout. Your Authorities only make things worse."

Athena raised a hand before Shirou could get a word in. She was explaining, and she'd get her meaning through to his head.

"Who is the most renowned enemy of Hector?" She abruptly questioned.

"What does Hector have to do with anything?" He replied back.

Athena ignored the question and asked another of her own. "Who are the enemies of Achilles?"

Shirou sighed, allowing Athena to just carry on. She'd get to her point, surely.

"Yours is a tricky legend, God of Steel," Athena glowered when she noticed his attitude.

"You can call me Shirou," Shirou answered back absently.

An odd expression flittered over Athena's features at the utter lack of information she could gleam from the name. It wasn't her first time hearing it, but it was still the same.

"'Shirou' then." In any case, Athena was skeptical. In her mind, there had to be an explanation for the root of Shirou's origin. Gods can have many facets, and Shirou should be no different.

A mystery. Athena always adored these types of problems.

'No dammit. She was getting distracted.'

Athena went back on topic. "Your Authorities tied to the domain of others attract the attention of Gods," she revealed, causing Shirou to stiffen.

"Who is the most renowned enemy of Hector, if not the rage of Achilles? Who are the enemies of Achilles, if not the prideful warrior Queen of the Amazons and his bested foes?" Athena stated. "Even now, with your prior use of your Authorities, should Achilles, Hector, or anyone related to them descend, they will come straight to you and to the Master."

Shirou's mouth clenched shut.

He got what Athena was saying now. He definitely understood.

"Now focus," Athena relaxed, seeing that she got through, and leaving a mental note to relate problems with Arturia in the future so he'd take them seriously. "You may not even need to use any Authority here."

With her piece said, Athena gestured to the Japanese culture museum at the end of the street. This was their destination.

Floating down from the sky, she landed on the street before gesturing with her hand and producing an unseen wave of magic that encompassed the entire area. Ordinary humans and people unrelated to the supernatural began to clear the area immediately, much to Shirou's approval.

Dropping down to Athena's side, Shirou could see the panic bleeding over the members of the History Compilation Committee.

"H-Heretic Gods!" They exclaimed before sounding some sort of alarm that caused the entire organization to go a stir.

Shirou braced himself, expecting all kinds of mysterious magic and attacks, but grew disgruntled at Athena's carefreeness.

Without putting up any sort of defence, Athena leisurely ambled forward, the people before them parting, and not daring to draw close. Awkwardly, he followed behind her only to notice the briefest flash of a grin she directed at him.

"This isn't what I was expecting," he said flatly.

"Too easy, isn't it?" Athena eyed a pair of committee members for half-a-second longer than usual and watched them crumple to the ground gasping for breath. "Most don't even bother to put up a fight for they know it's futile. Who would dare strike us from the common rabble? It's the heads of the organization and their aces that actually have a backbone. Do you see it now? How unnecessary your caution is against these hidden societies?"

Shirou was incredulous.

"Like I said before," Athena mused. "Human magic is derived from the borrowed Authority of Gods. Their power isn't truly their own, and against a God with full control over their Authority, human magic is practically worthless. Though, I do concede that they may pose a danger to our ward given enough incentive, but this will change after tonight, yes?"

He didn't answer.

He didn't need to in order to express his unwavering agreement.

A smile tugged at Athena's lips, but she soon focused herself.

Directly walking into the building without opposition, Shirou and Athena eventually arrived within a central room where several elders stood behind many trained magic practitioners. The wariness in the eyes of the elders was blatantly obvious, but to Shirou, he was more interested in the girl holding tightly onto a sheathed sword.

The girl was beautiful with long silk-like black hair that stretched down her back which contrasted with the red of her eyes. Her figure was hourglass shaped, large bosom, wide hips, and thin waist. She was wearing a red and white sailor uniform belonging to some private school in the area.

Shirou's eyes narrowed as the weapon the girl was holding rattled in his presence.

-[Don't test me, God of Steel. Let this girl go.]

A voice sounded in Shirou's mind before vanishing as the girl carefully covered the sheathed sword with a sacred cloth.

Shirou furrowed his brows, glancing towards Athena to if she'd heard the same message, but there were no signs whatsoever. His attention soon fell back towards the elders when one of them boldly stepped forward.

"Please state your business, esteemed Gods," one of the elders spoke; a woman with features similar to the girl with the sword.

Athena walked forward and took center stage.

Without prompting, Shirou acted as deterrent for any brave enough to act.

"Perfect. Right to the point then," Athena cleared her throat and hardened her features. "Submit." Her voice echoed with divine Authority, buckling the knees of those nearest to her.

"Over our dead bodies!" A wizened elder with fierce features and a flowing beard glowered in protest.

"So, be it," was the only response.

The elder's eyes widened before hurriedly back tracking when he noticed Athena suddenly appear next to him. However, it was already too late, a single finger pressing over the elder's sternum.

"For I am the patron Goddess of snakes, sovereign of their domain. Thy will to resist, thy body to constrict. Hear this Goddesses' decree and petrify enshrouded in a tomb of stone." Athena spoke word for word under the horrified eyes of those around her.

From the elder's sternum, cold grey rock started to encompass him in full, rapidly crawling over his body and freezing on his face an expression of despair.

"Now for the rest of you," Athena turned her attention to the next one.

She'd never intended to reason with these people from the start. What she wanted were the organization's resources, not people with the capability to rally the lower ranks. Sure, in the long term it was better if they aided them willingly, but she could sense their unwillingness from the beginning. They'd plot a resistance and force her to exert more effort. It wasn't worth the trouble.

Moreover, by gathering up all the important people here all at once, it was quite convenient.

"Y-You're insane!"

"Esteemed God, please reconsider!"

The members began to back away, the noble families that comprised the core of the committee shuddering in alarm. Their efforts were futile.

An entire barricade of nameless swords caged everyone in despite the face Shirou was making. He'd already lived a life chasing his ideals, and although he didn't discard them, Love and a promise was all that he had left. Still, this left a bad taste in his mouth.

"They're not dead if that's what you're worrying about. I'm merely preserving them." Athena rolled her eyes while Shirou's features softened at the admittance. However, a flash of guilt flickered across his features a second later as he knew Athena would soon notice what he'd just done.

"Honestly, Gods of Steel and their sense of righteousness." Athena snorted, remaining ignorant to Shirou's changing expressions while leisurely poking the terrified people around her and turning them all into stone.

It was here when Athena froze, staring dumbly at a 'gap' in the cage of swords that was meant to trap everyone.

The sudden tension had Shirou trying to keep his composure and justify his actions.

Letting one person go shouldn't have been that bad, right? There was no need to provoke the ire of another God, but the way Athena was glowering at him said otherwise.

"You let one get away," she accused, rounding on him. She shut her eyes and used Spirit Vision to assess the one who got away. The sheer indignation she leveled on Shirou a second later made the Heretic God wince. "Worse, it was the one who carried the scent of another God! This Goddess can't believe you! She was a Hime-Miko, we could have used her as leverage for whoever bestowed her an Authority!"

Growling, Athena turned accusingly on her partner.

Shirou had the decency to blush, but he didn't say sorry either. He was only sorry that he learned that Athena wasn't killing the people in front of her too late.

Athena sucked in a calming breath. "Heroes, and of course the one who got away was a maiden…" she sneered.

Athena reaffirmed one of her long-held beliefs: Gods of Steel would be snot-nosed protectors and white knights if not for the Curse of Madness. Shirou's current awkwardness spoke for itself, but she supposed there was a type of appeal. Every legend had fair maidens of great renown and beauty falling for the would-be hero.

Aphrodite had always been a schmuck for those, Athena thought before suddenly jolting.

Athena shivered, her divine senses carefully sweeping beyond Japan's islands just to be safe as a realization came in. It was the first time she'd used her Authorities in a while, and it may have its own consequences.

Just as she'd explained to Shirou and his use of the Authorities with ties to other Gods, her presence would surely garner the interest of her compatriots if any of them descended from their myth.

Now she was growing paranoid.

Aphrodite was not someone she wished to fraternize with again. Her origin was related to Venus, which in Rome tied her to a God of Steel, but worst of all…Ishtar. That epithet was poison incompetent.

Athena shuddered, subconsciously suppressing her aura even further to that of a human. Of course, there was no guarantee that any member of her pantheon had descended in the era, but it wasn't a risk she wished to take until she was strong enough to handle it.

She'd rather die than be belittled by Aphrodite for being weaker than a Goddess of Love in her current state.

"You best not let another get away!" Athena glowered at Shirou before increasing her pace to petrify the rest.

After this task was settled, then they'd have to see how administration would work as the new defacto leaders of this organization.

Athena frowned, staring judgingly at Shirou when she understood he'd be no help in this field.

This was going to take longer than she thought.


Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Tyd Podz, Leaored, and Gambo T!

It's a shorter chapter, but I do have another story update coming out in less than two days. It's a bit too difficult to make two large updates consecutively.

Next update: Fate-In Time Chaldea Alternative Records (November 5th or 6th, 2021)

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