[If a single memory were enough to encompass a life of equal parts hardship and enjoyment, would you still remember me? No matter how long, no matter the time, the skies remain the same. The moon remains just as bright, the breeze upon the sloping hills laid across the scenery of a lone tree remains where I lie waiting for a miracle. A dream, a promise, I don't know anymore, but I wait ever still to say those words once more.]
"Welcome back," She murmured, the sound of breaking glass piercing in its intensity.
Tired eyes blinked open before blinking a few more times to ward away a feeling of disorientation until Arturia sat up.
She was in her bed still in her school uniform and with the blankets tucked in around her body. It was warm, inviting, absolutely nothing like the pressure she'd endured on her first day to Jounan Academy.
Beside her, she turned just in time to see Shirou frozen in place while regarding her. The cup of water he'd had in hand must have dropped and shattered into pieces judging from the wet floor and the shards of glass scattered everywhere.
"You, what did you just- no forget it. I was just careless." Shirou shook his head, creases marring his features as he bent down and quickly cleaned up the mess beneath his feet. He picked up the shards of glass, disposed of them, and then took a dry rag to clean up the water.
He then moved towards her, unmindful of personal space, and began observing her up and down for any sign of injury he may have missed. "Are you in pain anywhere?" He asked, raising her arms up then down like a parent inspecting for wounds on their child.
It had been a long time since anyone had ever done that to her, and more importantly, her mind had shut down when he started doing it. Then came indignance and embarrassment.
A flush of red gradually crept up her neck, obviously visible due to her fair complexion, and the burning feeling rushing to her ears was impossible to ignore. Her pupils dilated, heat getting to her head.
He was too close!
"Me?" He asked as if it was perfectly normal to be this concerned about another person.
She wrestled her arms free and pushed him back to get some breathing room. She couldn't endure the way he was looking at her like he was looking at someone else. Granted, he was clearly still befuddled from what had caused him to drop the glass of water earlier.
I'm right here. Me. So who are you looking at with such longing?
She pouted, if only because she already knew the answer based on the manuscript she'd read. It didn't help that Merlin had seemingly modeled her as the character.
A part of her didn't know how to feel about this, as it seemed like she was just taking advantage of him.
Was it being selfish to want him to look at her when he regarded her, and not at the image of another woman?
Her cheeks flared into a blush.
Bad. Bad girl. Down. Control yourself.
By this point Shirou had already shook himself out of his daze, and smiled wryly.
"Sorry if I made you uncomfortable." The dork appeared genuinely apologetic, his dazed expression clearing to stare only at her for her. Was it bad that her mood improved with just this small change? "Your appearance is something that- forget it. Sorry, how rude of me."
His eyes became somewhat downcast as if he should have known better. Arguably he should have, but one thing was for sure:
She didn't like it when he was sad.
It was inexplicable. People don't just suddenly care about another person from only a short time getting to know each other, but when she stood beside him, took in his figure, and watched his earnest actions, there was this vague feeling of recollection and longing.
She shivered, calling out on impulse if only to comfort him.
"No no. I-It's alright." She didn't know what to say anymore and just blathered. "You can stare all you want- actually don't get the wrong idea!"
She was anxious. This was much was clear, and it was making her muddled until she finally just clamped her mouth shut by biting down on her lips lest she blurt out anything more mortifying.
Staring at such a vibrant scene, Shirou gradually softened his nerves, easing away the uncertainty he'd been feeling.
She wasn't his Saber.
How many times was he going to have to repeat that to himself, and yet that phrase, the enunciation, for a moment, everything had been the same.
She isn't her.
He repeated inwardly once more.
Staring at Arturia in a fluster of her own making, the sight warmed his heart.
It was the small differences like these, emotional outbursts and bouts of childishness that made this Arturia different from the Saber he knew. Regardless, seeing her act in a manner that his Saber could never pull off due to her reservedness was like a breath of fresh air.
"I'm glad you seem to be doing okay," he changed the subject and saved her from digging a deeper hole for herself.
She clammed up immediately, her lips pursing, her gaze shifting to her feet. His eyes and his sincerity, coupled with the timing were devastating to her rapidly beating heart.
Almost desperately, she looked around for anything to divert his attention off of her, finally landing incredulously on a few plates of food left out on the side. Faint trails of steam were still wafting from the plates and bowls, half-Western and half-Asian.
Steak with peas, corn, and seasoned steamed potatoes on one plate, and rice katsu don on a larger bowl on the side. The portions were both large as if Shirou knew the size of her appetite.
"You made food?" She blurted out, swallowing with how savoury everything looked.
This caused Shirou to smile wryly. "I know a thing or two," he replied. However, he kept the plates of food away from her and acted nonchalant when her stomach gurgled and she subconsciously tried to reach over.
Thinking on the manner, she'd skipped breakfast today, and she'd been too nervous on her first day in Jounan to visit its cafeteria for food.
"I-If you made it for me then why aren't you letting me eat?" She wet her lips somewhat anxiously.
He peered down at Arturia's figure on her bed with rolled eyes, and somehow Arturia abruptly recalled a certain 'incident' this morning.
No. No surely not…
"I can't give this to you…it's not like it's anything decent."
He was holding a grudge.
Were his culinary skills that important? Seriously?
He was making an expectant face towards her, as if waiting for her to give way and concede, and she was abashed by it. She wasn't one to get stuck up on pride or anything foolish like that, but she did care about her image enough to feel burned.
She made one mistake. It wasn't like it had to be rubbed in like salt in a wound especially after what she'd just been through. The experience came flooding back.
Her lip twitched before she pulled up her blanket and shivered, causing any playfulness to vanish from Shirou's features.
He put down the food in front of her in offering and sat down by her bedside when she gingerly took a pair of chopsticks in hand.
"Are you alright?" He asked her.
"Of course," she played down the matter altogether.
She was strong this way, and could endure many things by repressing the emotion inside herself. Nothing happens if one cries or screams, so there's no point doing any of that. You may as well make yourself useful and try not to concern others with your well being.
Modern society was just like this, emphasizing personal strength by the ability to endure hardship, but sometimes strength isn't what you need to cope with something beyond all expectations.
Magic, the truths found in Merlin's story, it all turned her world in over its head.
Nonchalant as she was acting, inwardly, she was feeling overwhelmed, and as if he knew that she was saying one thing while thinking another, Shirou sighed and draped an arm around her shoulders.
Conscious of how close he was, she tried not to face him, yet it was impossible not to lean into him for support if only to ease her nerves when he pulled her closer.
"Be honest, Master. I won't judge," he said coaxingly, mindful not to force her.
She hummed, the warmth she could feel enough to calm her nerves.
"I'm still a bit rattled is all," she admitted, her chopsticks idly playing with the food in front of her. Now this was a sign that she wasn't feeling too well. A glutton playing with her food? What a joke. "I-I wasn't expecting things to be that intense."
"Erica Blandeli," he muttered out the name. "She's likely an enemy Master, and the bull was likely the Noble Phantasm of some Servant of renown. Before you argue not to jump to conclusions, you weren't there to see how calm she was acting after you fainted. She was tense, sure, but the way she looked at me and acted as if she knew I was a Servant was telling. Coupled with how she led you to an isolated area, I was tempted to intervene many times but didn't want to startle you as you were right next to her."
Arturia knit her brows, processing his words before craning her gaze up to stare at him. "W-What do you suggest we do? I still have classes tomorrow, and Kay will get suspicious if I suddenly just skip school. I've never skipped a class before let alone a whole day."
A model student.
'Is this really what you should be worrying about?'
Shirou found himself at a loss before recalling that he himself had once done something similar in his own Holy Grail War as a Master. Saber had once proposed postponing school for the two-week duration of the war, but he still ended up going, so anything he said to dissuade Arturia now would be hypocritical.
"School shouldn't be a problem," Shirou mulled the issue over to set Arturia at ease. "Participants of a Holy Grail War won't risk leaking the existence of magecraft and as such restrict their activities and battles during the day. Think of our situation for example. You were only attacked in a secluded location, so you should be safe if you stay among crowds during school hours."
Arturia sagged her shoulders in relief, absently picking at her food and taking that eye-widening first bite. She froze for an instant, only chewing noises escaping her mouth before she coughed when she realized he was staring at her intently.
Watching her manners, she tried to pry her focus away from the food and back to the topic.
"Okay, but that doesn't solve anything with Erica. A-Are you really sure she's a Master?" She asked for clarification.
"I'm sure, and that's why we'll have to be ready." A distant yet determined look crossed Shirou's features. "We'll need to make preparations. It's underhanded, but as a Servant, I can directly attack the Master if you so wish? It's often the best choice as a Servant is tied to the existence of the Master."
Shirou's tone was strangely flat.
Arturia thought back to the story she'd read, and slowly shook her head. The Shirou Emiya that she'd read of wasn't the sort to be comfortable with such methods considering he let off a woman named Rin Tohsaka despite knowing that they were enemies. The fact that he'd even suggested such a means revealed the extent of his intentions to keep her safe.
'I won't exploit your kindness. You don't deserve that kind of Master.'
"No." She shook her head. "Think of something else."
He looked at her, and she looked back stubbornly until he flicked her on the forehead, causing her to nurse the blow while glaring. "Uncalled for," she grumbled.
"And you shouldn't refuse a viable solution if it means keeping you safe, but alas, I'm you're Servant and your words are worth their weight in gold to me. If we don't strike the Master, then we deal with the enemy Servant, neutralizing the threat as soon as possible. The problem is the five other Masters who may or may not be nearby to exploit the situation. Would you be comfortable if I drew them out myself in open challenge? They're all heroes, and I doubt many would allow their pride to suffer a blow by hiding away from an open duel."
'Wouldn't that put you in danger?' Arturia stared at Shirou again, but she wasn't saying anything. The upward tilt of her brow, and her pursed lips made her thoughts evident regardless.
"C-Can I help?" Hiding away while Shirou took the brunt of the action didn't sit right with her. No, she couldn't accept it.
Shirou didn't immediately answer, resisting the impulse to outright refuse. Servants were powerful and far outclassed any human contenders. Even Saber in his Holy Grail War had once lectured him about the stupidity of standing up to Berserker on her behalf. Still, it didn't stop him, and now as if karma was rearing its ugly head, he didn't think he'd be able to convince Arturia not to fight a Servant either.
This being the case, he didn't deny her and instead stared deeply into her eyes.
"Will you be alright?" He asked her. "The pressure a Servant can give may be tens if not hundreds of times stronger than the bull from before, and by openly challenging them, there's the chance that they may all come at once."
Arturia found herself holding his hand rightly before she realized it, seeking comfort and protection. "I-I'll manage for sure. This all just took me by surprise this time and I wasn't able to draw my sword is all."
'Lies. You were trembling like a leaf.'
Shirou was tactful enough not to call his Master out on anything and instead direct her attention back on the food which she quickly scarfed down in the silence. The finer point that was omitted, was that he'd lost the chance to extricate himself from her side as she used him as a backrest as she ate.
When she eventually finished and realized what she was doing, she smiled sheepishly before he silently stood up and put away the dishes.
"Now get some rest," Shirou said firmly.
Shirou shook his head. "I am a Servant, and you are my Master. I won't judge you even if you're not at your strongest." Just like Saber had done for him.
If before, she was the one who protected him, now it was him that would protect her.
Arturia furrowed her brows before slowly nodding. "Thanks," she murmured while burying her face into her pillows.
A good few minutes later and she fell back asleep, utterly passed out from the day's stress which was a good thing considering Shirou had just about used up the majority of his patience.
Time seemed to slow, the sounds of cars and people passing by on the road muting as he focused on the one thing that had been keeping him on edge since the beginning.
"Have you watched enough?" He asked pointedly.
His stare was directed outside Arturia's window where a girl with a beanie over neck-length silver hair was unassumingly blending into the crowd. She was in a yellow school uniform with a blue skirt, and she hardly reacted after he'd called her out.
This was the closest thing he could attribute the girl to due to the uniqueness of her magical signature.
Glancing from Arturia to the Servant outside, Shirou quickly made up his mind and left the house, directly confronting the girl outside.
"Thou art astute in awareness. Doth though possess a scrying type Authority? No, no mine senses tell me that thou hath not used such a means. Have I been too careless?" The girl questioned. Her voice was soft, neither overbearing nor arrogant. Instead, it was coldly analytical.
Shirou didn't know what to make of this Servant yet.
Ever since he'd left Jounan Academy, he'd been feeling her trailing behind him. It wasn't that this girl was unskilled in tracking, but that she didn't know how to mask the distinct aura she exuded from the magical energy within her. It was like how Servants could detect each other even in Spiritual form if they were in close enough proximity.
In any case, he hadn't apprehended her prior firstly to save Arturia anymore grief, and because this girl hadn't shown any indication of attacking.
Was she perhaps trying to make contact with him?
Anyways, the rest of the passersby acted as if they couldn't even see them.
"Who are you?" He got right to the point.
The girl sized him up with her stunningly pure violet eyes, and soon nodded ever so slowly.
"My name is Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War," she curtsied using the hem of her skirt, looking utterly harmless, but this had the opposite effect.
He grew wary instantly.
Most Servants would hide their True names from their adversaries to prevent weakness of their legends from being exploited, and the fact that Athena had revealed her True Name without hesitation spoke volumes of her confidence.
Then again, the concept of a True God summoned as Servants was already terrifying enough for him to consider counter measures immediately. However, Athena didn't appear hostile. Instead, she took the initiative to peer up and scrutinize him again while remaining utterly defenceless.
Of course, he could be misreading her, but she didn't feel as imposing as her name implied.
For a God who was somehow made a Servant, her Divinity levels felt inadequate.
At the very least, it wasn't enough to pressure him which was odd.
He kept his doubts to himself, and soon focused his mind.
"What are your intentions? Have you been sent by your Master to scout? If so, I doubt your suited for the role as you don't appear to be an Assassin with Presence Concealment. By sending you regardless, does your Master intend to make contact with mine to form an alliance?"
Athena was strangely perplexed, her head tilting to the side as she regarded him as if he were an exotic product or animal.
"Master? Assassin? Thou art strange indeed for a Heretic God."
A what? He suddenly found himself frowning while feeling out of his depth. Something strange was going on here, and based on how Athena was looking at him, perhaps it was a result of his botched summoning?
Nothing about this Grail War had felt right from the beginning.
"Servants, wish, and Grail War; do these words mean anything to you?" He pressed. His urgency and hard tone weren't appreciated by Athena who grimaced.
"Are thou trying to befuddle me with irrelevant blather?" She knit her brows and stared him right in the eyes, searching for something but evidently not finding it. "How incorrigible, but thou appears genuinely taken aback. Doth thou words, may chance, mean something relevant?"
He didn't answer.
No Servant would be summoned without any information about the Grail War or the goal and mechanics behind it at all. Something was obviously wrong here.
They weren't operating on the same page.
Rubbing at his temple, Shirou decided to fish for information, but was forced to hold his words after Athena narrowed her eyes. She was staring at a grey-suited man with square-shaped glasses keenly observing the movements of the crowd and focusing on the place no one seemed to notice.
It just so happened, that this space influencing others to stay away from it, was all to glaring for those in magical cabals and communities.
To Akamasu Touma, this was a red flag prompting him to investigate.
It just so happened that this investigation coincided with where Shirou and Athena were standing.
"Human Sorcerers." Athena scowled before considering their options. "Let us alight. They're weak but also displeasing in their inability to hide their apprehension. Thou understandeth, yes? They act suspicious of every action and doubt any form of sincerity from our kind. If they see us, it will become bothersome."
Shirou could agree with Athena's last point. It would be bothersome if he were detected by this world's magical community, but wasn't that a good thing? Now that he was half-convinced that he wasn't in a Grail War, shouldn't coming into contact with this world's magical organization not only allow him to ascertain their nature, but garner more information?
Then why did Athena appear so unwilling to be caught?
"You almost sound frustrated with these 'Human Sorcerers.' It's not like they'll be able to ascertain our identities upon sight unless we give ourselves away." She gave him a flat look devoid of amusement knowing just how naïve that statement was.
"They're never friendly," Athena scorned. "Especially to Heretic Gods. They'll find someone to try and kill us, and if you don't believe me, then why don't you go and test it to see for yourself?"
He clicked his tongue.
He was the one at a disadvantage here with a lack of information. Athena may very well be speaking the truth.
"Fine, let's go," he conceded.
She nodded, and leapt up to the roof of Arturia's house in a single stride, not that he was any different.
They were just in time to bypass the gaze of Amakasu Touma of the Japan History Compilation Committee.
"Persistent man. He's been here ever since the magic disturbance prior." Athena narrowed her eyes while watching Touma's figure blend in with the crowd of passersby before shifting her attention back towards Shirou. "I take it the magical disturbance was your descent?"
If by descent she meant summoning, then yes. It was likely him.
Shirou gave Athena an odd look and nodded, but soon focused his thoughts. They weren't operating on the same page here, and it felt like he was the one out of his depth. It was best to play passive and get up to speed.
He knew at least this much, but it would seem that his ignorance was wholly exposed under Athena's violet eyes.
"Might I inspect thee?" She inquired, reaching her hand out and waiting for him to reciprocate the gesture.
He hesitated in the case that Athena may have ulterior motives, however, this prompted her to click her tongue and take the initiative to grab his hand herself. Fortunately, she didn't do anything other than furrow her brows as a weak pulse travelled through his body.
"Thou art complete, whole and independent. However, thou art different from other Heretic Gods. Why doth thou not fall into thy Curse of Madness like all the rest? Doth thou not have the impulse to slaughter, to rebel? The strength of Heretic Gods doth not come from their legend, but from their will and determination often eroded by the curse. Which Heretic God art thou that thou art able to resist the curse?"
The more Athena explained, the more confused Shirou become. He needed to clarify things before he got lost any further. "What do you mean by Curse of Madness, and before even that, what's a Heretic God?" He backtracked to the beginning.
Athena gnashed her teeth, feeling as if she wasn't being taken seriously, granted she wasn't at peak form at the moment. Her situation itself just made her feel helpless, but she refused to be mocked.
"Do not play coy," she almost snarled, violet eyes glowing with Divine Power and repressed Authority. "Thou shan't believe that I will trust in thy act so easily. Gods of Steel like thy self are known for their treachery if only to kill Mother Earth Goddesses and usurp therein Authorities," she scorned. "Perseus, Hercules, Jason, each knew to exploit in order to achieve a goal, and I know not of thou's, and thus I must remain vigilant especially against one who hath boldly calleth thyself the Strongest Steel."
Shirou wisely chose not to delve into the topic of what Gods of Steel or Mother Earth Goddesses were, considering his presently limited knowledge.
A second ripple of energy pulsed through his body from where Athena held his hand.
This time, Athena's expression changed, shifting from a neutral calm, to a flabbergasted disbelief.
"Thou hath me perplexed," she finally admitted after a long time. "There hath never been a case in which a Heretic God hath lost the ability to distinguish thyself and therein history. Thy case is unprecedented. Thou hath stepped free from thy myth, yes?" Athena pressed, intrigued.
He had no idea whether to nod or not, but it didn't matter as Athena continued her prompt investigation before her pupils contracted and she pushed away from him. Pursing her lips, she began walking.
"What is this strange contract that binds thee? It trails within this dwelling…it's the human. What hath thee done?" Athena's steps quickened, but Shirou was faster.
The moment Athena had said contract, he already knew where she'd be heading.
Dematerializing, he rematerialized in Arturia's room just as Athena forced her way in.
"Not any closer," Shirou cautioned in warning, watching as Athena paused in her steps if only to peer at Arturia's sleeping figure.
Again, Shirou wasn't all too concerned as he'd placed himself between Athena and Arturia, preventing Athena from getting anywhere close if he had anything to say about it. However, this didn't seem to matter because she didn't care about her own well being and walked past him without any caution whatsoever.
The action dumbfounded him in how controversial Athena was being. A God of Wisdom should understand not to leave herself open to harm, but yet here she was.
He grabbed her shoulders, his strength enough to hoist her up into the air where she showed no signs of resistance. Instead, he could see her skin purpling into a bruise from how tightly he held her.
For a Servant, or a Heretic God as she had implied, she was far weaker than anything he was expecting.
"Any harder and my arms will pop off from the shoulders," Athena said in monotone, unmindful of her present state as she continued onward using magic. She looked at him squarely with the vacant expression of a wronged child in pain. "It hurts. It hurts a lot you brute."
"You…" He trailed off, having no other words, but inadvertently loosening his grip until her expression eased.
In contrast, Athena appeared smug in her monotone as she stopped by Arturia's side under his supervision.
"Wisdom is mine keenest weapon." She gestured to her head, almost beamingly almost as if she was trying to rub in the weight of her achievement while he glared at her.
She was taking advantage of him; of this he was clear.
He didn't know whether he should feel offended or not, but he didn't make any careless moves now that Arturia was effectively before them lightly snoring away.
He cursed inwardly, not for his carelessness, but for his hesitation and moment of respite.
"That. That feeling right there is the feeling of losing the upper hand to one's own folly," Athena shook her head almost lecturing. "Mine ability to read others is unparalleled. Thou stood no chance from the beginning after I hath observed thy character."
He had nothing to say in response. Any argument or counterpoint he could make was thwarted as Athena continued speaking.
"Thou art a simple man. Had I any notion of doing harm, you likely would have stopped mine approach. However, I hath not shown thy any discourtesy and all thy hath against mine-self is suspicion. Of course, suspicion is more than enough to guard thy against mine approach, but thou art soft for a God of Steel. Hath mine quaint and doleful appearance caused thou to quell thine blood thirst and underestimate mine-self? Or perchance, thou art truly blinded by thy own ideals that thou hesitated to strike a killing a blow without ascertaining an enemy?"
He was starting to feel unnerved with how accurately she was describing him as if anyone wouldn't feel burned when their flaws or mistakes were being pointed out.
A smile tugged on Athena's limpid yet strikingly elegant features.
"How righteous. How cute." She laughed into her hand, her features revealing mirth if only for a moment. "Thou art amusing if none else, but alas, hold thy worries to thyself. I doth not intend to do this human harm lest you brutalize mine-self."
Okay, now he was mildly offended. She wasn't wrong in that he'd attack if she did anything untoward against Arturia, but she made it sound as if he was a savage.
Stewing to himself, he watched Athena inspect Arturia's right hand where the Command Seals were placed before soon falling silent.
"Thou hath truly bound thyself to a human? How doth this work? Why doth thou do it? Unless…" she trailed off as if coming to her own assumptions. She looked at him deeply, but he was unable to discern what she was thinking.
Instead, he paid more attention to what she was doing.
"From the seventh heaven, attended to by three great words of power," Athena murmured, tracing the design of the command seals before her with interest. "Come forth from the Holy Restraint, protector of the Holy Balance."
The room shook from an onset of wind, blowing back fabrics and toppling loose clutter to the floor.
On Arturia's left hand suddenly appeared another set of three seals.
"What did you just do?" Dubious, Shirou couldn't help but ask.
Athena squinted before pulling away from Arturia to regard him.
"Doth thou not have eyes? I've made mine a contract in order to test a conjecture that merits the worth of giving a human reign over mine self through three absolute commands. Indeed, thou art different, but in retrospect, thy difference stems from this human, and therefore there is merit in accepting these binding terms, yes? More importantly, thy hostility towards mine-self hath lowered considerably."
It was an astute observation on Athena's part, because he could no longer maintain as much vigilance at present now that he was certain that Arturia wouldn't be attacked. What replaced vigilance however, was a migraine of confusion and distrust.
Athena's next inquiry wasn't helping, especially when a tint of excitement or anticipation, either or, bled into her tone.
"Doth this not make us allies…and allies help each other?"
Indeed, this would be the case ordinarily.
Since Athena willingly bound herself to Arturia, then that alone intertwined their fates with one another. Moreover, due to the odd laws of this world, it wasn't the Master supplying Magical energy, but the Servant supplying energy to the Master in the form of a link. In this case, it was understandable how Athena had connected herself to Arturia.
Using Shirou's pre-existing contract, Athena merely copied the mechanism involved and 'attached' herself in a figurative sense to Arturia using the same means. Therefore, Athena now had the same limitations as Shirou and everything that came with it through the contract.
The question of why she'd done such a thing still eluded Shirou's mind, but he had other concerns.
He wasn't ignorant enough not to be wary of Athena's intentions.
So, then what should he do?
Athena had given Arturia power over herself which was the strongest safeguard Shirou could hope for. In the case that Athena was to have ulterior motives, Arturia could effectively restrain her. Given that he would also be around, the odds of Athena doing something to Arturia pre-emptively were minuscule.
He sighed. There was just too much he still didn't know.
What was the use in overthinking?
"Perhaps, perhaps not," he answered vaguely. "If you believe that you can use me and my Master, then you're wrong," he warned.
"Thou doth not need to worry." Athena expected this outcome and shrugged. "Mine self believes in mutual benefit, and if I'm to interpret this correctly, thou art lacking in the common senses of a Heretic God, and I happen to know many, many things."
"You plan to help me?"
"That is mine intention, and I hope in turn that thou will aid mine-self, but I will not force thee. That this Goddess swears."
"Is that so?"
The 'I'm not sure I can trust that,' was left unsaid, but a Goddess of Wisdom knew better.
How could Athena not see the caution in Shirou's eyes. She smiled regardless.
'Yet,' was the key in the prior phrase.
Athena hummed lightly, and soon extended her hand in formality.
"A pleasure to be working with thee."
Shirou had his reservations, his gaze shifting from Athena, to Arturia's new Command Seals, then back to Athena. He grumbled.
Nonetheless, they clasped hands, utterly stunning Athena when a buzz of unknown Authority sparked between them and invaded Athena's conscience.
A world unlike anything she'd ever seen stood before her.
The link between Master and Servant was unique in that it tied two individuals on the spiritual level such that they may even glimpse parts of each others lives and hardships through visions.
This was a concept perhaps known more widely for those that existed in a moonlit world, but an altogether different experience for those in another. The laws were as different as the origin of magic stemming from the favour of Gods granting their Authority upon humans.
To Athena, this meant that a foreign source had instigated what she associated to be Divine foresight, something humans consider to be in line with prophetic ability. This was a vision of a world, a reflection of the origin of a Heretic God.
Where was this place?
When Athena had copied the link of the Command Seals, and branded herself using the same pathways, she had inadvertently formed a link with those already connected.
What was this place?
A hill of swords stretched throughout the horizon in a never-ending expanse. Swords existed here that shouldn't be here, many of which she could even recognize from her own mythos.
Harpe, the Immortal slaying sword.
A black slab of obsidian rock carrying the aura of mighty Heracles.
Authorities across time and pantheon existed all at once in this single boundless space.
Steel. Steel beyond measure.
Out! She needed to get out!
This place was suffocating, an utter bane for all Mother Earth Class Goddesses subdued by crystalized legends of Steel such as herself, but she couldn't help but remain riveted in place.
"I am the Strongest Steel!"
Those words. That prior bold claim came to mind.
Athena felt her vision swim, a hand coming up to her temples to stabilize herself even as prophetic words discerned the nature of this world.
Don't say it. DON'T SAY IT!
The words were being forced out of her mouth, just like how Hime-Mikos enter a trance-like state.
"I am the Bone of my Sword-AAAHHH!" She screamed, sharpened blades piercing through her skin and threatening to tear her apart from within as the Authority of Steel acted as poison in her nature as a Mother Earth Goddess.
T-This was too much!
Her vision was swimming despite knowing that this nothing more than a vision cast through her as an unsuspecting medium.
Endure. Just endure.
She gritted her teeth, tears spilling from her eyes as she forcibly supressed the next set of words.
"Steel is my body."
No. NOO. She couldn't say that.
Words were the Authority of Heretic Gods, and that statement alone would cripple her in the subduing nature of Steel against Earth Gods.
"St-st-st-…" she kept stuttering, biting down on her tongue to keep her mouth shut.
Just as her strength and mental fortitude were reaching their limits, she sagged in relief when the world around her began to fade.
The vision was ending.
She collapsed on her feet, panting while staring blankly at this accursed land of Steel.
Had this been a Domain of Immortality? But for which God did such a domain belong to? How strong would this Heretic God be? At the very least, she knew that she'd be unable to stop this.
Then she stilled.
She was a Goddess of Wisdom.
It didn't take long to understand what had likely caused this vision: The contract she'd just made.
D-Did she make a mistake?
The fact that Shirou hadn't fallen to the Curse of Madness indicated that there may be a tying factor in the contract Shirou had with a human.
Thinking of the future, Athena had decided that she'd rather take the chance to maintain her normal mental facilities. After all, once she regained her strength, the curse would surely affect her, but perhaps the contract would counteract the curse?
This was the reason she'd decided to bind herself to Arturia in the first place.
By right of the contract, she'd forged a deeper connection with the contractor's other Servant, namely Shirou.
Then this place, this world of Authorities was Shirou's true nature?
The thought was chilling, but not as much as a rather dire concept.
Assuming her conjecture was right and the only reason the Curse of Madness didn't assail Shirou had to do with his contract to a human, then what happens if that human dies or the connection severed?
If Shirou ever fell pray to the Curse of Madness, the world would burn and everything along with it.
As the vision ended in its entirety and she found herself staring vacantly into Shirou's naively optimistic eyes and compared it to the true nature of the world she'd envisioned, she pulled her hand away as if burned.
"Are you alright."
"…" She swallowed, flinching when he reached out to her.
This Heretic God was terrifying.
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