A fortress appeared in the sky…a Fortress. Was no one else seeing that?!

Arturia felt utterly out of her depth, standing frozen in the middle of the road back to her home, and wondering whether her encounters with the supernatural had finally driven her mad. Worse, she felt exposed and vulnerable with neither Shirou or Athena by her side to explain what was going on or protect her.

Swallowing, she staggered back into a walk when she realized that her abruptly stopping to stare at the sky had many disgruntled huffs raised at her from an already dense crowd. The person directly behind her had even bumped her at her sudden stop. Japan was small as an island, but its population was no joke. Streets were practically packed with people in the day's busiest hours, let alone the time right after classes when work ended and students would also go home.

Tucking her head between her shoulders, Arturia apologized lightly to the person who ended up bumping into her, and resumed her pace. Notably though, her gaze remained partly forward, and partly up towards the sky. She was exercising vigilance in the face of the unknown.

In the story Merlin had written, widescale events such as this often led to high collateral damage. There was that red spear wielded by Lancer in all routes that could level a Church with a casual throw. The fortress above, just by its sheer size and presence, may be far more damaging than what Merlin had written. Judging the structure's perimeter, it seemed to stretch around the entirety of Japan.

What exactly was it?

Worried and alone, Arturia subconsciously gripped at her Command Seals, and palmed the sheath of the Authority Shirou had passed to her. One thought, and she could have Shirou or Athena over, but was it worth it? She didn't seem to be in danger, right now, and was only worrying.

She'd hold off on it, she decided.

Quickening her pace, she pulled up the scarf over her neck to cover the lower half of her face to keep warm in the chilly breeze.

Shirou had told her that he'd put some sort of bounded field around her house, so it should be safe if she managed to make it back. However, fate had different plans.

From the clouds, a woman descended directly in front of her, riding on bronze wreathed laurels. In her hands, a scepter of sorts.

The woman was…she was beautiful.

Arturia had never seen anything like her. From the pristine white toga, to the sandaled feet snaking up to her calves that revealed painted nails coloured an enchanting blue. Then there was the long flowing silver of the woman's hair floating up like a crown at her descent. No, there really was a crown. A golden tiara.

Stunned at the woman's sudden arrival, Arturia didn't know what to say or how to react until the woman's image of nobility and elegance was shattered in the familiar manner in which she spoke.

"You've done well, Arthenia."

Dammit, there was only one person who would call her with such an absurd name in such an earnest tone.

"A-Athena?" The name escaped her lips, at almost the same time Athena nodded, pleased.

"Indeed, my champion. It is I, the one, the only. The child of the past is no more." Athena tilted her chin up in pride. How ironic that it only reminded Arturia more of her child form's vain smugness to prove herself noble after prior humiliating displays.

Arturia shook her head and got her mind straight, lest she blurt out her true thoughts and offend this prideful Goddess again.

"Done well? What did I do?" She asked off tangent.

Athena hummed in due procedure. "To have been able to willingly step into the vicinity of the Seventh Campione to distract him from occurring matters on your own. Truly, this one did not believe thy had the gall."

'I just went to school,' Arturia inwardly deadpanned. "Okay? What's going on? You're bigger."

"An astute observation, my champion. With your efforts and the aid from the God of Steel, I hath reclaimed my Gorgonian while granting thee the spoils of victory."

"S-Spoils?" Arturia dared not image what sort of direction this conversation was taking.

"Up," was Athena's simple reply, gesturing grandly at the floating fortress. "Look upon it, behold my Authority. Divine Fortress Andromeda. It now serves as our base of operations, and the prior magic users of Japan, our subordinates."

Arturia blanked, mouth opening and closing, but she didn't know where to begin to speak out.

"Come, allow me to show you in," Athena said amicably. Gesturing with her fingers, a divine force lifted Arturia off of the ground, and the two of them rapidly flew towards the Fortress above.

Arturia quieted down instantly, complexion pale as she realized how high off the ground she was. As a result, she didn't dare struggle until Athena placed her down within the interior of the fortress.

"Beautiful, isn't it? The wonders of the ancient world," Athena idly commented, watching as Arturia took in the structures made entirely of white marble. Greek columns and arches made way for later Roman variations imbued with integrated swords and steel.

"I think I'd like to know what's going on please?" Arturia steadied herself.

"Naturally," Athena said before she began to recount her and Shirou's endeavors.

Shirou may not like truly bringing Arturia into the fold, but he understood whether Athena explained it to him or not, that Arturia was destined to no longer live a normal life upon his summoning. Hence, the most he could do was create a means to allow her the choice to continue living as she was before, or find a way for her to carve her own path in the hidden society of the supernatural.

"…and that's why I've brought you here with Shirou's agreement." Athena concluded.

Arturia was silent. There was a lot to take in at present, and Athena's current presence and aura wasn't easy on her nerves.

"Can I take a look around?" She asked, Athena immediately sensing her intentions and agreeing with them.

"Of course, feel free. I'll have someone called to act as your escort while I deal with the probing Authorities of foreign forces and their Campione."

Arturia nodded without really thinking about it.

What she really wanted to ask though was if she could see Shirou, but Athena had explained that he was busy going around the fortress to fortify it with his magic. Hence, it wasn't all that convenient.

Knowing that this was all created for her sake, she had mixed feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and worries.

With Shirou and Athena doing so much for her, what could she ever do in return?

She was just…human.

A sudden complex feeling of inferiority left her listless.

/-/

With Athena occupied with other matters related to the Divine Fortress, Arturia found herself introduced to Kaoru Sayanomiya, the highest representative of Japan's committee not petrified.

Of course, Kaoru was taken aback at Arturia's presence, but she was quick to assume that Arturia was just another helpless member of the magic society roped in from Athena's whims. It wasn't the first example of such things happening.

Members of Japan's History Compilation Committee weren't always stationed at headquarters, and for the stragglers ignorant of what had happened, it was like willingly walking into a trap. Then there were the foreign powers visiting Japan, who would also have no clue of recent events. Judging by Arturia's European features, Kaoru judged that she was likely one such foreign power caught up in the machination of the Gods.

"I'll show you around," Kaoru said kindly. She was experienced with handling other women as she often played pranks by dressing as a man and flirting with them. It was her hobby, but right now she wasn't in the mood at all.

Sighing, Kaoru courteously ushered Arturia through the marble hallways of Divine Fortress Andromeda. Kaoru herself was still relatively new to the complex, but she had the advantage of being here several hours earlier. She'd had no choice but to stand in as representative again as the other remaining members were terrified of Goddess Athena.

Leading Arturia along, Kaoru began showing the areas Athena had had her look through prior.

"That's the plaza by the olive fields." Kaoru pointed in a direction. "Goddess Athena permits us to rest there as it has soothing effect."

"Over there's the ramparts. South of that are further battlements. Yes. Those are massive snakes along the walls. Don't touch them, they're likely a form of Divine Beast with sentience. Nearly scared the life out of others already."

"Oh, ugh, got it," Arturia swallowed, taken aback at the grandeur of the place, but more than capable of seeing how anxious Kaoru was despite Kaoru trying to hide it.

"Are you alright?" Arturia asked kindly. "Shouldn't you get some rest?"

There were bags under Kaoru's eyes, and she was certainly fatigued.

"Rest? I'd love to, but the Gods are surely watching." Kaoru shuddered, keeping her head low while pressing forward, Arturia on her tail.

The Gods? Arturia thought quietly to herself, knowing that it was likely that Kaoru was referring to Athena and Shirou. Her mouth dried, mood plunging. She wet her lips, an inch in her heart causing her to speak out if only for own sentimentality.

"Maybe you're just assuming too fast?" She broached tentatively. "Why not just give the Gods a chance-?"

"They're Heretic Gods. Few would dare to even raise their voices against them," Kaoru balled her hands into fists without looking back. She felt helpless for what had befallen the committee, souring her emotions further.

"T-They're not heretics," Arturia reacted tersely on reflex; feeling not for the first time, the apprehension and doubt in Kaoru's features. The fact Kaoru seemed to think that she could relate was disgruntling for Arturia. She pursed her lips and made a face away from Kaoru's view.

"They're heroes," she muttered softly.

Kaoru paused in her steps, regarding Arturia with an air of confusion before she slowly began nodding. "Looking at it from a mythological perspective, you're probably right. One's a God of Steel, the other named after a city known for her benevolent rule. Of course, they're heroes. The problem is what they are now for society. Worse, the two combined are difficult to handle and-"

"Stop," Arturia gnashed her teeth, unwilling to hear anymore.

Kaoru, blinked, stopping once again to regard Arturia in befuddlement. "?"

"Please," Arturia forced out through her teeth.

Kaoru frowned. "Is there something wrong?"

"Is there something wrong?" Arturia echoed, incredulous, agitation bleeding through her tone that even she wasn't aware of. Carefully, she cooled her features and glared with a huff, no longer interested in Kaoru giving her a tour of the fortress.

"Ms. Arturia-"

"You're talking bad about my friends, and you expect me to be receptive to you?" Arturia forced out in frustration, sick of the oblivious expression on Kaoru's face.

"F-Friends?" Kaoru stammered, shocked. She swallowed and stepped closer, hands placing themselves on Arturia's shoulders. "Do you not know the identities of those two? What they've done? They're dangerous!"

"No. No they're not," Arturia squirmed out of Kaoru's grasp, batting her hands aside, then dusting her shoulders. "I'd sooner believe one would sass you while the other would give you a bento out of concern for your health, than listen to your warning."

"…" Kaoru immediately became taken aback at the conjecture, unable to collect herself for a period of time.

The description was just so accurate it was scary.

"You, you're not a foreign mage, are you?" Kaoru came to realize this only now. No sane mage would ever call a Heretic God a friend, knowing the type of disasters they brought with them. History spoke for itself.

"I'm just Arturia," she said, shaking her head firmly. "And those Gods you're speaking badly of are my friends."

Kaoru had no response. There was a lot to take in with that statement alone. The implication that Arturia seemed to have some deeper relation with the Gods that took over the committee was appalling.

"T-That God of Steel," Kaoru inevitably found herself venturing. Knowing Athena's identity was one thing, but the other God's was too much of a mystery. Without knowing, there could be danger for the Campione or even committee members themselves. Underhanded as she felt she was being, Arturia didn't look the defensive sort. Perhaps key information could be gleamed?

Kaoru wet her lips, took a breath, collected her tone, and decided to take a chance for her mother's sake, for her friend's sake, and for the committee's sake. "If you really know him, who is he?"

Silence. Not outright denial. A good sign for Kaoru.

Arturia was mulling the decision over.

She thought it over some more, but didn't really see much of a harm to answering. The only one who really knew Shirou, was her anyway. She opened her mouth to answer, but someone else spoke up in interjection.

"True names carry weight, Arthenia," Athena's voice interrupted sharply, her words echoing aloofly throughout the fortress Andromeda's interior, but her figure, nowhere in sight until she just appeared through a veil of mist. "Friendly as humans can be, some questions aren't merely asked out of curiosity, but shrewdness hidden behind honeyed words."

Kaoru lowered her head, preparing for the worst as she felt Athena's gaze on her back, but unexpectedly, it was for naught.

"However," Athena drawled in the tense silence. "…you, Arthenia, may be right to offer an olive branch. Trust is a stronger connection than fear in regards to subordinates."

Kaoru sucked in a breath, but dared not refute her newly designated label despite feeling conflicted inside. Even though Shirou and Athena had taken over the committee, it was also true that they weren't tyrants, or showed any signs of becoming one. Hell, Kaoru had seen her fellow colleagues warming up to Shirou due to his general friendliness, promise to eventually free the petrified members, and his proactive approach to make them feel comfortable. Of course, some believed that it was all a ruse, but they dared not raise such alarms now.

Bolstered by Athena's presence and approval, an air of confidence abounded Arturia.

"Shirou is just Shirou, and Athena is just Athena," Arturia said to Kaoru in all seriousness, Athena snorting in the background.

Athena will admit, it was the first time someone had ever referred to her as 'just' Athena.

A melodious chuckle escaped Athena's lips, oddly humanizing her from Kaoru's perspective. Quietly, she noted Shirou's name down to mind, but her thoughts became rampant a second later.

"Athena, I thought you were busy," Arturia mouthed, shying away when Athena tried to pat her head as if she were a child.

"I finished," Athena replied, smirking when Arturia failed to dodge her head pat. "Yes child, my champion. Your actions in my defense have been received."

Arturia flushed in embarrassment and squirmed until Athena stopped patting her.

This sort of friendly interaction between God and human only stunned Kaoru further, shock taking away her ability to formulate words to express it all. The overall impression Athena was giving was a far cry from the cold Goddess that mercilessly crushed all voices of opposition.

Then came the next shocker that would change everything for Kaoru.

"Master, you're here," a baritone male voice called.

The other Heretic God, the God of Steel, Shirou arrived in motes of golden sand. Modern black armour adorned his torso, while combat pants and boots were enshrouded by a flowing red mantle latched onto the lapels on his shoulders.

Athena crossed her arms and huffed at the title Shirou had used. "Hmph. I prefer we call her Praetor," she argued, her Roman aspect speaking. Calling Arturia 'Master,' in Greek and Roman context, made it seem as if they were slaves.

As for Kaoru, it felt as if everything had stopped.

Trembling, she pointed at Arturia. "W-What did they just call you?" She asked stammering. "M-Master?" She glanced at Shirou before shifting to Athena. "P-Praetor?"

"She is my Master," Shirou had no problems replying, heat immediately colouring Arturia's complexion out of shyness.

In contrast, Athena was sighing as if reluctant, a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. "Yes, unfortunately, my champion, dear Arthenia, is also my Praetor."

Master, Praetor, both those words denoted and implied a single key detail Arturia had never mentioned in conversation.

"D-Does this mean they listen to you?" Kaoru felt her mouth dry.

The answer was given less than a second later.

A bashful nod from Arturia, was the answer. However, it was the lack of refusal and denial from the other two that cemented the arrangement in Kaoru's mind. Their reactions weren't lies. To begin with, why would Gods bother lowering themselves to the beck and call of a human let alone lie to one under such circumstance? No Heretic God would ever truly do so even if it was for a ruse. Their pride and position would never allow it.

Yet here it was- wait…they'd never do so for a human?

Kaoru blinked. No no no, it can't be, but once the trail of thought began, it was impossible to forget. However, the notion was absurd, unbelievable even, and yet once all possibilities are eliminated, the least likely may just prove itself to be true.

The only ones logically capable of commanding Gods, are those that naturally stood on their level.

"You, I, ugh," Kaoru wet her lips staring at Arturia with mixed feelings until she finally got the words out. "Are you a Campione?"

Utter silence descended over the area, everyone taken aback, but one reacting far quicker than the rest.

Of course, Arturia blushed in heated denial, lips opening, but her voice was effectively muffled as Athena covered her mouth with a thought.

The light of wisdom glinted in Athena's eyes at this sudden opportunity. Her thoughts whirred; logical processing enhanced by divine sense until a suitable a scenario was created.

"Yes," Athena answered decisively, stepping forward in earnest. "Yes, she is, but please do keep this information restricted to the committee. It's confidential until we say otherwise…the Praetor's situation is unique. She seems like a regular human, yes? But one that can command Gods? Surely there's a trade off? Forgive our rash actions, but there's reason to believe Japan's committee would hardly trust the words of 'Heretic' Gods so easily."

Kaoru suddenly felt tongue tied, trying to find something to deny the growing suspicion within her. "Then, her Authority-"

"'Denial of Madness,' an Authority related to Mankind's Wisest King. Strictly speaking, his Authorities never lied in combat, making him no different from a human like the Praetor herself, but direct combat is unnecessary." Athena dubbed without batting an eye. "Contracts are formed and made in mutual exchange instead."

"Wisest King…The rings…The seventy-two…contracts," Kaoru trailed off pursing her lips.

Without waiting for Arturia to catch up to whatever fabrications Athena was creating, Athena grasped Arturia's arm and revealed the Command Seals brewing with unfathomable magic energy to Kaoru. The tie linking them to both Athena and Shirou was distinct for anyone of magic background.

"Marks of the contract," Athena concealed the smile playing on her lips.

Kaoru's pupils were dilated, teeth biting down hard in thought. Her shoulders, which had been constantly hunched since Athena and Shirou's takeover, suddenly broadened. Heretic Gods forcibly occupying the committee, and Gods acting in accordance to the will of a Campione were two different scenarios.

They didn't kill anyone either, and truly seemed sane.

Denial of Madness? That name for an Authority was as explicit as it comes. It was true enough that the amiability Shirou had displayed to Kaoru appeared nothing like a God clouded in the Curse of Madness.

Wisest King? Solomon, he with the power to control demons, but didn't possess much physical capability himself?

For a moment, Kaoru scrutinized Arturia, pausing again at the visible Command Seals Athena had revealed, but more importantly, the manner in which she was treated by Shirou and Athena. She was their 'Master,' and the concern and care in Shirou's eyes looked all too genuine to be fake. Then there was lofty Athena taking actions with Arturia, a 'human' constantly in mind. Then-

…Oh God. An Eighth Campione?

'Checkmate,' light glinted over Athena's elegant features.

"T-That's," Kaoru shut her mouth, mortified at her prior behaviour towards Arturia, yet ignorant of the lost expression on Arturia's face.

"Take the Praetor's Authority as literally as you can. On her own, her Authority is weak, but in the future, should more contracts form? Truly you should understand our need for secrecy. She's practically a hen laying golden eggs for any Campione that would try to exploit her before her maturity. Her Authority attracts Gods, the Campione reaps the harvest. A dove forever caged. A vicious cycle."

Arturia's eyes suddenly widened at the look of realization Kaoru was giving her, until her mental state finally caught up. From her angle, she could see the thinly veiled smile Athena was concealing.

No! No it's nothing that complicated! Arturia wished to deny. D-Don't believe her!

Arturia tried to struggle, to make a sound, but Athena effectively shushed her as the 'adults' talked. Dammit, she was treating her like a child.

Worse, Kaoru was sucking it all up.

Goddess of wisdom, no! She's a snake!

/-/

"Was that not impulsive?" Shirou asked, staring at a listless Arturia still trying to reach her hand out to Kaoru to solve the misunderstanding.

Sadly, Kaoru had long since left.

"No." Athena denied Shirou soundly, numerous calculations flittering across her mind. "It was brilliant, and couldn't have come at a better time. Unity is a vital aspect in any organization, and now we have it. Should we dispel the petrification on the committee's higher executives, Kaoru, that girl, can reveal the 'truth' of the matter. From now on, Japan's History Compilation Committee will be an exclusive organization of the Eighth Campione. With the reveal of the Praetor's Authority and weakness, they wouldn't dare divulge the Praetor's identity and may even actively seek to protect her as a Campione affiliated with Japan."

Upon elaboration, Shirou didn't have any complaints. More and more, Athena was starting to remind him of how convenient intelligence was, and how much of Rin's advise he'd taken for granted in the past. Still, there was something he felt was neglected.

"What of Kusanagi? He's also a Campione of Japan?" Shirou asked.

Surely, if Godou or Erica made an inquiry, the committee may disclose Arturia's 'identity.'

"Relations between Campione have always been complicated. To have the favour of one may earn the ire of another. At present, we are the ones who made first contact. Our potential for growth is also more prospective. If the leaders of the committee are wise, they'll see our Praetor as a greater investment than the Seventh unweaned Campione. They will likely adopt a stance of silence until the Praetor is strong enough to protect herself."

"I see," Shirou hummed, a hand placing itself beneath his chin he glanced at Arturia. His expression softened before he shifted his attention back to Athena who arguably doing her best for Arturia's sake. This was enough for him to regard her as a friend and comrade. There was nothing to argue here. "Is there anything you need me to do?" He asked.

Athena nodded. "Let us prepare for war. As it is right now, the existence of the 'Eighth' Campione is not known. Therefore, our stance remains that of Heretic Gods occupying Japan. Retaliation will be swift. We must take the initiative lest the ruse of Fort Andromeda's actual numbers be discovered. I need you to act as vanguard, God of Steel, while the Praetor and I consolidate the organization beneath us."

Shirou nodded without complaint. It wasn't the first time he went solo.

"Waarrr?!" Arturia just now seemed to break out of it at the use of a certain word.

Athena gently patted Arturia's shoulder in a show of comfort.

"I have a plan. A God of Wisdom's plan. Trust the great me. Only with sufficient means, justification, and power will one ever hope to gain anything…Ms. Eighth Campione."

"Y-You, I'm not!"

"How's your acting?" Athena asked instead, smiling.

Arturia was far from comforted.


-Hours later:

From the moment Erica had received instructions from the Copper-Black Cross organization and escorted Godou to a yacht floating far passed Japan's harbours, he still felt conflicted. Just staring at the massive Divine Fortress hovering across Japan from where he stood left him feeling anxious both for his family, and the friends still in the country.

Godou wouldn't have been feeling so antsy if he was given the instruction to start trying to fix this mess, but he was advised to stay put by the Yacht's friendly Captain, until the other Campione arrived.

Here existed the problem though. The existing Campione were spread across the world, and it was practically wishful thinking with their personalities that they'd respond right away to a summons. Godou was the bonafide anomaly to even consider the opinions of ordinary magic users, let alone comply to their requests.

The yacht Erica had led Godou into was massive. The interior was made of lavish design, and an entire galley room facing a central plaza with a hanging glass chandelier was filled with an assortment of cuisine.

Neither Godou, or Erica who sat across from him was in any mood to be eating though.

"So, you are the Seventh Campione?" An old man called out, drinking a glass of champagne swirled in a wine glass.

The old man had his grayed hair swept back, a business suit with a white shirt and black tie over a long grey coat, hugging his body. The air of an apex predator exuded from him in stifling waves.

Next to the old man was a woman with silver hair with her head kept low. She wore a patterned garment similar to Erica's combat attire but blue and black. Her hair was done up in a pony tail, and she gave a passing nod of acknowledgment to Erica, but dared not do anything else.

"Godou, that's the Balkan's King, Duke Voban, the oldest Campione," Erica informed Godou from their table.

The fact that Voban was already here was only due to formality. He'd been intent on coming to Japan as it was the epicenter of the divine disturbance that spanned across the world. Then the sudden appearance of the fortress caught his attention. Hence outside of Godou who had come to a proposed alliance of Campione, Voban was likely only present for a pre-battle meal before moving onto the main course.

"I am the Seventh," Godou answered tactfully. He'd had his experience with how unpredictable Campione could be with Salvatore Doni. He had no intention of testing the oldest, especially when he may need the man's help for the Heretic Gods inhabiting his homeland. "I thank you for coming on behalf of my country," he said in earnest.

Voban grunted. "Do not be so quick to assume. I am here for my own purpose, and merely spoke up to give you a warning. Don't get in my way. The hunt will begin, and I alone will be enough."

"Lord Voban I must interject. The Heretic Gods that may inhabit that fortress are numerous. Let us wait for a day or two for the other Campione to arr-"

Voban glanced at the silver-haired young woman by his side, and immediately, the knight from the Bronze-Black Cross flinched, perspiration matting her brow. She bit her lips and focused on her feet.

Godou frowned at the display, his impression of Voban plummeting while Erica pursed her lips at the plight of an acquaintance that she could call friend. Serving as Voban's knight was no easy position.

"So that's it? You're just going to attack?" Godou somehow managed to hold back a growl in his voice. In the end it still came off as less than pleasant. Erica pinched Godou's side, but to no avail.

Voban chuckled darkly, it was the first time he'd felt such amusement in years. Truly only the ignorance of greenhorns could let them bark in the face of their betters.

"Yes," Voban acknowledged simply, finishing the wine in his hands and getting up to walk towards the Yacht's upper deck. The full moon was up tonight, and under its glow, a mysterious green hue shone over Voban's pupils. "The thrill of the hunt calls- no. It's already started."

Voban flashed his canines, blood lust shrouding him from head to toe as he stared in a certain direction illuminated by moonlight. His age, experience, and senses weren't simply for show. He was a monster over four-hundred-years old.

"Isn't that right, God of Steel?"

The words echoed, giving enough time for Godou and Erica to stand on their feet, their chairs clattering behind them.

"H-He's," Erica and Godou's eyes dilated.

A familiar figure in a red mantle had manifested at the helm of the Yacht.


Shirou should have made contact by now, Athena determined idly. Now it was her end that needed to be completed.

Nothing was worse than an incohesive force, and she'd rue the day she'd ever be at the head of one. Therefore, if she could nip the problem at the bud, then she wouldn't hesitate to do so.

Standing within the room where she had petrified the executive members of the Japan History Compilation Committee, Athena gestured to Kaoru to get herself ready. A shaky nod was Kaoru's only reply, but Athena hardly minded whether she was truly ready or not.

Stepping towards one of the petrified statues, Athena touched it lightly with a finger. Immediately, the stone began to peel off piece by piece, revealing healthy skin and the slightly aged features of Kaoru's mother, the current head of the Sayanomiya family.

Upon regaining mobility and sentience, Kaoru's mother took note of Athena and quickly raised her guard, taking several steps back in precaution. Then her eyes caught sight of Kaoru hesitantly stepping towards her, and gesturing to calm down.

"Mother," Kaoru called out softly.

"Kaoru, what's going on?" the older woman was expectedly rattled, but after taking a deep breath, Kaoru began to recount her findings word by word.

Suddenly the air changed, incredulousness and doubt expectedly bleeding out from the older, more experienced woman. Kaoru could be convinced, but her mother wasn't so easy to fool. Kaoru didn't have Athena's persuasive power, but at least with Kaoru, her mother was willing to listen. Whether Kaoru's mother believed it or not, well that banked on one crucial factor.

The most important variable required: a show of proper elegance, demeanor, and grace befitting of one claiming the title of Campione…

Athena's advice was for Arturia to merely imitate her bearings. This alone would be enough if she could imitate just have a fraction of her presence and demeanor.

All according to plan then, Athena could already feel the sweet taste of victory. Her image was one bound for success, and admittedly, Arturia already had the looks to come off as elegant if she wasn't so flustered at developments.

In any case, Athena had faith, she'd seen Arturia's poker face, and will admit it was devoid of emotion. Be that as it may, Athena didn't know that such a face was only able to be pulled off if Arturia thought herself in the right. A lie though? Well, Arturia's conscience would eat too much at her to be manageable. No one knew what would happen from there.

Ignorant, Athena felt all the pieces coming together like a master strategist overseeing the entire board.

"E-Eighth Campione? Her?!" Kaoru's mother abruptly pointed sharply at the end of Kaoru's explanation.

Silence.

It was all in Arturia's hands now, Athena nodded expectantly, stepping aside to reveal the magnificence of the Praetor shrouded behind her.

All eyes turned towards a single individual no longer hidden under Athena's shadow.

Acting? What acting?! She'd never acted in her life!

Arturia blinked owlishly, cheeks colouring as she tried and failed to keep her composure under the old woman's heavy scrutiny and disbelief. Her shoulder's sagged, embarrassment causing her to want to jump into a hole.

She settled on the next best thing.

"I-I'm not here, I ugh-" Covering her face as if she was avoiding cameras, she desperately waved one arm to signal for them to stop looking at her. Finally, she helplessly settled on giving Athena an aggrieved look. "Y-You said I was invisible!"

-Invisible until your cue!

"Y-You liar!"

Athena slapped a palm over her face.


Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas! And have a wonderful New Year! Stay safe you all!

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