Arturia shielded her face with an arm as a clash of Authority created a shockwave of wind that violently pressed against her. Her hair whipped back, and she could feel her cheeks beginning to flap. Clenching her jaw, she barely managed to stop Athena from giving her a displeased glare.
Fighting was important, but image and finesse were also key.
Composing herself, Arturia drew Caliburn out of its sheath and held its hilt with both hands.
"Follow my lead."
Arturia glanced at Athena who didn't move her lips at all, and yet the words were heard.
Athena was speaking directly into Arturia's mind to prevent Ishtar from guessing their intentions. However, it was mostly to properly convey her words to Arturia who couldn't see through the curse Athena was under.
"I will be the primary attacker, and you'll only strike should an opening present itself. Am I understood?"
Arturia nodded, but froze mid step as Athena shot her with a disappointed squint.
"Do not react. It gives away that we are communicating, granted that whore isn't exactly the wisest, but I'm not taking chances."
Arturia raised a thumb up to show she understood, but then quickly realized her actions were counter intuitive.
Athena grudgingly let the matter go as she brandished her scythe and decided to charge Ishtar before she could get any ideas. Half of Ishtar's attention was still on the big bull below the clouds, and Athena wouldn't permit Ishtar the luxury to intervene.
"Why does nothing ever go my way?!" Ishtar ground her teeth while hastily avoiding Athena's maddened frenzy of slashes.
With a murderous gleam in her eyes, Athena was ruthless, forcing Ishtar to hang tightly to her floating boat, Maanna for dear life. Around Ishtar, arrows of divine energy were continuously fired off at the point of her fingers.
Watching the Goddesses exchange blows on the sidelines, Arturia calmed her mind.
Her turn would come.
Blood rushed within her, adrenaline pumping through her veins and dilating her pupils.
As she was now, she had no place to directly intervene between Athena and Ishtar, but the sword in her hands was her sole means.
'When fighting an adversary, a well-timed strike makes the difference between a hundred strikes and one.'
Arturia thought back to the advice of Lancelot when he'd first taught her how to use a sword.
Caliburn thrummed in hand, resonating with her sentiment.
Authority began to gather around Caliburn's blade like fireflies dancing in the misting mist.
To banish the wicked was the purpose of this growing light.
"For victory hasten forth before me," Arturia murmured, expression hardening. "Sword of Selection, show me the path of the Victorious."
Caliburn glowed, heat rising within the blade and making the steel shine with a white radiance that encompassed her eyes.
When next Arturia looked at Athena and Ishtar's battle, clear cut lines highlighted in gold appeared within view.
"Why is there always someone getting in my way?!" Ishtar grumbled, dodging Athena's lethal swipes by peppering Athena with a hail of divine arrows. "I'm not the trouble child. Humans portrayed me wrong!"
"You're mad." Athena said flatly, glowering from the agility Maanna was granting Ishtar.
"Hehahaha, am I mad to seek entertainment and pleasure?" Ishtar swiveled around another of Athena's swings before kicking Athena in the gut. A shield with the motif of a gorgon, Aegis, blocked Ishtar's strike.
"Tch." Ishtar clicked her tongue, but used the recoil to push herself further away from Athena. "The only curse we Gods fall under in our descent is one of misunderstanding! Why must we act as we're portrayed? I do what I want when I want. What's the point in restriction?! Love has no bounds!"
"I am not your- The world is not your drama." Athena quickly corrected herself, a flock of ethereal owls swarming Ishtar.
Ishtar turtled up in a seashell, hiding inside until Athena's Authority passed before she peaked her head out like a clam and gave a derisive smile.
"It's useless, sister." Ishtar goaded. "Clams are a symbol of perseverance and immovability. Your strikes won't reach me unless you can strike at the narrowest gap-?"
In her clam, Ishtar was stationary as she endured Athena's onslaught of owls, but in that short instance, a sword of light appeared within her periphery, targeting the tiniest gap in her seashell.
Panicking, she leapt out and watched as the light pried open a small crevice in her seashell, and tore the entire thing open. Worse, the light was familiar, the very same one that had interrupted her fun before.
"T-That damn sword," Ishtar cursed, finally turning her attention on Arturia who squeaked when Ishtar glared at her.
Athena smirked, putting herself between her pupil and Ishtar.
"Good work Arthenia," Athena praised. "I have taught you well."
Arturia's lip twitched, but now wasn't the time to air grievances about who taught who with Athena now.
"Ah, you," Ishtar leveled her stare on Arturia, momentarily ignoring Athena. "Have you come to take my offer?"
"Offer?" Athena scowled while Arturia's expression darkened at the realization that the dream she had, hadn't been just a dream.
"It was you?" Arturia asked.
Ishtar nodded. "Well of course, there's no way I won't watch something so juicy when placed in front of me. Say the word, bigger breasts, wider hips, plumper butt cheeks, advice, this Goddess can help."
Arturia's face reddened as she grew flustered. "S-Shut up!"
Arturia glanced at Athena who looked less than amused.
"But dear oh dear, defeated by someone who isn't even there." Ishtar jovially picked at hidden wounds. "A pity."
Arturia froze, anger bleeding into her expression for the first time as she felt her chest constrict and hands ball into fists.
"…Athena." She called.
"Hmm?" Athena spared Arturia another glance.
"Let's fuck her."
'A good fighting spirit.'
Athena inwardly grinned. "Naturally. I'll take the front, and you take the back. I'm sure that sword shows you exactly what I mean."
Arturia remained expressionless in a silent show that she understood. Caliburn's Authority indeed showed her when and where to strike.
The edge of Athena's lips curled. Her pupil was learning.
Athena and Arturia perked up as Ishtar suddenly screamed, staring down from where they fought in the clouds above Sumer, to the ground where Shirou and Godou were facing their adversaries.
It was just in time to notice an attack that tore through the fabric of space itself.
Golden chains that bound the heavens, and a sword of rapture that reset all to the beginning through annihilation.
The figure of the massive bull under Ishtar's control was shattered in a single blow, the mocking jeer of a Golden Clad figure persistently appearing within Ishtar's view.
"D-Damn Goldy- NOOOO!" Ishtar seethed before snapping her attention back to Athena and Arturia. "You. If you hadn't blocked me-"
"Is this not called karma, sister?" Athena spoke through thoughts. "My ally was better than yours."
A vein popped over Ishtar's brow.
"Athena, damn you!"
It was unclear what Ishtar's goal had been to Athena and Arturia, but what was clear was the sheer pettiness Ishtar was known for when things didn't go her way.
"You think this is over?" Ishtar ground her teeth. "And you."
Ishtar narrowed her eyes on Arturia. "May you never see through the envy that blinds your eyes until it tragically hits you in the face…"
Words imbued with Authority bore over the area, impossible to block as they drew more from a target's emotions than took on the form of any attack.
Athena was quick to shield herself and Arthenia, but just the words alone caused Arturia's expression to darken.
Ishtar raised her hands and called upon another of her Authorities stemming from the Goddess of Love Aphrodite herself.
Athena would not stay idle. A sea of snakes writhed and slithered to form a bulwark against Ishtar's threat, but what appeared hovering above Ishtar's palms was none other than seafoam.
Athena narrowed her eyes, her inherent wisdom analyzing the properties and intent imbued in the opposing Authority.
Seafoam and the origin story of Aphrodite were inexplicably linked.
Authority stemmed from legend, and history mattered in the way of effect.
Athena tightened her grip on her scythe, moving closer to Arturia to protect her.
The birth of Aphrodite from the seafoam of Uranus found parallels with mother earth goddesses. It was a seed of Uranus that symbolized potency and the possibility of new beginnings, it was also the castration of a man and the birth of new life.
Tied with the domain of time with Cronus, and the sanctity of the heavens from Uranus, the seafoam of Aphrodite's supposed mythological conception carried distinct properties.
It would return all submerged within it to their original form, representing the stage between birth and adulthood.
Athena had no intention of reverting to her child form, and cursed that Ishtar had somehow grasped the one thing she'd never be able to bear if struck.
In instant, Athena willed her snakes forward, accompanied by a fleet of owls that prevented escape.
Simultaneously, Ishtar threw the seafoam at Athena.
Tensing, Athena immediately dodged, pulling Arturia with her and depositing her a safe distance away. She then narrowed the distance between her and Ishtar to pressure Ishtar into a one-on-one match.
"Thy aim is as steep as your wit." Athena heckled as she drew near, a coat of silver Authority channelling into the divine nature of her eyes.
If Shirou had eyes of Structural Grasping, then a God of Wisdom's eyes were the ultimate instruments of perception.
Within those eyes, everything was laid bare. Every minute movement, the arm, shoulder, and legs, would create a prediction of how the enemy would act. It was the closest Authority to precognition that any God could have in a battle.
Known as Minerva in her Roman aspect, Athena too carried properties of a God of Steel.
Maanna was the only reason Ishtar had been avoiding Athena's strikes because Maanna did not disclose any sign of movement before dragging Ishtar to safety. Its flight path was unpredictable.
However, the wisdom of prediction was different from intuition.
"I wasn't aiming for you." Ishtar said.
But never doubt a God of Wisdom's computational speed.
Athena's pupils dilated, before she halted her charge and willed a wall of snakes to surround her pupil.
"Arthenia!" She yelled.
"?!" Arturia frowned as Athena summoned a wall of snakes around her.
Although the wall protected Arturia, it obscured her vision.
"Arrow of the Heavens, Inanna!"
It was impossible to react as 'something' shattered the wall of snakes in an instant.
A sudden burst of divine energy blasted Arturia into the distant white seafoam, making her spiral out of the sky covered in bubbles.
Her consciousness blurred.
Arturia was dreaming again, the world around her hazy and obscured in a dull gray before it all stretched out into a vast expanse encompassing a verdant plain and a green hill of grass.
A soft wind blew from behind, the echo of rustling leaves on a summer's day creating a temperate ambiance of tranquility.
She knew this place.
It felt familiar as if she'd been here before, and not just because she could recognize the description from a certain excerpt in Merlin's manuscript.
Her steps felt lighter, the texture of the grass beneath her feet giving her a sense of deep immersion.
How did she get here?
The last Arturia remembered, she'd been aiding Athena in battle before she was struck by one of Ishtar's attacks.
Wasn't this all an illusion?
Swallowing, Arturia attempted to snap herself out of it, but quickly became aware that she wasn't the only one in this metaphysical state.
A woman in a pure blue dress stood waiting at the top of the hill, back turned to Arturia. Yet, even without facing her, Arturia could already imagine that the woman possessed an appearance identical to her own.
It was the appearance of the very woman that had been plaguing Arturia's dreams as a source of envy and jealousy for the past few weeks.
But Arturia knew the truth. Her mind was just playing tricks on her.
She knew everything about the character Merlin had written about in the manuscript she'd read- well, mostly. Her knowledge wasn't completely thorough, but all the same. She knew enough.
"Y-You're not real." Arturia murmured. Denying what was before her.
A song of the stars echoed in her ears, gentle and soothing, as if trying to remind her of things lost and found. Of promises and miracles waiting to be actualized.
The woman on the hill turned to face Arturia, but her eyes were momentarily focused beyond the horizon before turning to Arturia.
"What?" Arturia said, feeling vaguely anxious. "Why are you looking at me with that expression?"
The mirror of her was silent and undeterred.
Slowly, she outstretched her hand while mouthing words Arturia could not distinguish.
Apprehensive, Arturia tentatively approached.
What she could see in the reflection of the woman before her was longing, patience, and an unwavering will that Arturia had no choice but to admire.
"Y-You're not real," Arturia stubbornly denied, realizing how small she would be in contrast to the woman.
Shirou would never glance her way with this sort of perfect woman as the competitor.
Then what was with that earnest expression?
The woman continued to hold her hand out to Arturia, traces of urgency taking root.
Hesitantly, Arturia took the offered hand, and finally she could hear the words the woman was saying.
An ebb of power suddenly pulsed through the shimmering seafoam surrounding Arturia as she fell from the sky above Sumer, causing a temporary cessation of hostility between the Goddesses.
Athena and Ishtar's eyes widened at the sensation as they floated down from the sky.
A suffocating presence of 'Steel' was pervading the air as Ishtar's seafoam began to bubble and hiss from an internal explosion. Breaking apart, the foam formed a haze that rapidly dissolved from a turbulent aura that instantly removed all obscurity.
Crashing into the earth from the heavens, a golden light shone on the ground.
In the silence of the wounded members of the local cabals and the floating clay figure of Enkidu, that light continued to shine, stunning even Godou and Perseus in the distance.
A crater had formed on impact of the heavenly body.
A pair of regal teal eyes stared back through the billowing dust, trained on Ishtar above.
The sword in hand lost its distinction.
Arthurian Legend had long since blurred the lines between what was real and fake.
Often, there was a depiction of a sword in the stone being one and the same with the sword that granted sure Victory.
A sheath of wind covered the sword, swirling violently until fading away to reveal an Authority beyond just Caliburn.
Indeed, the image of a different sword was overlaid upon Caliburn's blade, emanating with a pressure that could only have been likened to-
The Strongest Steel.
C-Could this be…?
In a distant location, far and unknown, the bearer of the Holy Grail, the Witch Queen, perked her head up in wonderment, staring towards the east.
The Grail in her hand had never shone so bright.
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