A shooting star soared across the heavens from up high, breaking through the convergence of golden swords seeking to bar its way. Intricate in make, unmatched in its sharpness, a weapon shone in the light of God Speed.
The spear of Hector, its peerless edge bore with it the Authority and origin of the Holy Sword of Roland, Durendal the Peerless.
Let no stone be unpaved, let no walls bar its way.
This spear pierces through all, blocked only by the shield of the Hero Ajax in the Trojan war.
This world's system differed from Shirou's own, and in turn, his own skills had shifted to accommodate. The action of Tracing itself wasn't merely a perfect recreation of something original, but a conduit to draw from the Gods and Heroes of myth and fairy tale their Authority upon a worthy construct…and what was Authority if it didn't represent the God or Hero his or herself?
Lightning writhed in the sky amidst the clouds, coiling and buzzing with the echo of thunder, and all too suddenly, light shot down, striking Durindana's blade.
'For country I took up arms.'
A story played out to hear within the fleeting span of a moment.
'For pride, I carried the weight of the title of the Trojan's greatest.'
Images came to Shirou's mind. Past glories and wonders of the man that was known as the Champion of the Trojans fueling Durindana's aura.
'My spear shines in the dark of besiegement and despair, granting courage, granting fervor!'
Power swelled into Shirou's being. Along with it, the presence and grandeur of a Hero of old beckoning him into action such that the legend of this spear's authority would not be tarnished.
'Speak its name, and call upon its Authority!
Shirou's mouth opened, a presence momentarily overriding his control of himself as a will descended into him in order to harness the full might of the borrowed Authority.
"In the name of Hector of Troy," a voice no longer his own intoned. "Blow it away, Durindana!"
Hellfire erupted from Durindana's shaft, exploding forth with the ferocity of a rocket. Pulsing rings of shockwaves were left in its wake, the superheated tip a miniature sun piercing through all.
The wall of golden swords stood no chance and peeled away like butter only to expose a vacant space behind it.
Durindana sailed through it all and exploded up high, a vacuum of air pulling in the clouds before the subsequent eruption revealed the blue above.
Raising ana arm to shield his face from the wind, Shirou tensed his muscles.
In all his experience, he wasn't one to be taken off guard easily anymore. Rounding his head to the left, then right, his eyes focused on the blur of a figure moving so fast that the figure's location itself was difficult to pinpoint.
A gleam suddenly flickered across his pupils, dying them a deep blue.
[The Raptor: Fear of the winged, both the evil and the powerful, all shall fear I who hold these feathered wings. My wings will bring you curse and those that are evil will never touch me!]
Information trickled into him from his Mind's Eye which allowed him to perceive danger and grasp his surroundings in battle. Yet, this was different from what he was used to. No, maybe it could no longer be considered the same.
In a way, his Mind's Eye had been upgraded to something common among most Heretic Gods known as Divine Sense.
From what he could perceive of 'the Raptor,' it was a skill Godou could only use on the condition that a strike exceeding normal human parameters was aimed towards him, granting him a type of instantaneous God Speed.
A frown marred Shirou's features while rifling through a plethora of effective weapons to Trace to counteract this new power, but all thoughts quickly came to a halt before he winced.
A hand pressed against his temples, his concentration breaking and Durindana fading away into motes of light. He almost stumbled, but refused to allow his moment of weakness to show. With Godou's current speed, failing to react in time was a certainty.
Lips thinning, Shirou shut his mind and focused inward at the root cause of his present ailment.
Shirou was a Heretic God whose descent was unlike any other. In fact, by nature of his magecraft, his inner world played host to a meshing of countless Authorities, one of which stood at the peak.
A pang emanating from his chest alerted him to the cause.
There in the midst of the hill of swords, a blade was calling to him.
He knew this weapon, but at the same time he did not.
[It was a sword whose Authority and symbol was tied to the King of the End.]
-It was a sword whose image carried the dreams, distant, past, and future of mankind.
Static buzzed in his ears, ringing louder and louder by the second until it was nothing but a chorus of radio noise. His eyes blinked open, narrowing on Godou as he understood what the sword intended.
The sword was reacting to the presence of a Campione, and that's when it happened. Golden light immitted from off of him, the sword urging him to take up its hilt.
The light bathed all, carrying an inexplicable presence that rooted Erica in place for reasons beyond Shirou's current comprehension.
Regardless, everything went contrary to any expectation Shirou had of a prolonged fight.
The Raptor granted Godou God Speed, agility, and lightness, but overuse led to extreme chest pain and paralysis.
As quickly as Godou had moved not only to dodge Durindana but also the subsequent explosion, the demerits of doing so suddenly reared its head. Godou had frozen in the air midstride before hurling towards the ground where he formed a crater with his convulsing body. Unused to the feedback of such agony, Godou's eyes rolled over and he fell into merciful unconsciousness.
Silence reigned before Shirou dismissed the urge to Trace Excalibur, the light around him fading.
Solemnly he shook his head in pity for Godou before walking over to Godou's form.
As Shirou passed Erica, she tried to stop him, but one look rooted her in place from the ferocity of his presence as a Heretic God alone. This was the suppression of lifeforms, from one grade to a superior one.
"Y-You're not Fergus," Erica stuttered, swallowing audibly as Shirou passed.
"I never said I was," Shirou replied before Erica gathered her courage and stood in-between Shirou and Godou, her arms stretched out on her side.
"I won't let you kill him!" Erica said heatedly, a gilded rapier drawn from a red magic circle held in her grip.
Such devotion was another blow for Shirou who never enjoyed in the action of taking lives, yet it didn't mean that he'd never done so in the course of his lifetime. The fact that it was for Arturia's sake only further hardened his resolve.
Erica's obstruction wouldn't hinder him. In fact, with his reinforced body, he could shrug off any attack she dealt that didn't possess the Authority of a God.
Shirou knew this, and Erica must have known this too if the trembling of her grip was any indication.
Alas, Shirou simply dematerialized outside of Erica perception, and then reappeared over Godou, sword drawn and causing Erica's countenance to pale into something almost pleading.
Shirou couldn't look at her.
Instead, he focused on Godou who'd fallen into blissful unconsciousness.
This was for the best.
There would be no pain in this sort of death- a mercy kill if anything.
So then as the sword descended, why did it suddenly stop? Why could he no longer follow through with his resolve?
A hitched breath was the answer.
Stiffly, almost robotically, his senses perceived a change to his surroundings before he then gradually craned his neck to see Arturia standing in the distance nervously watching him. Her mouth kept opening and closing, yet no words would come out despite the look in her eye. It was the very same kindness and nobleness Shirou had once seen in the shared dream cycles that he'd had with Saber so long ago; back when she was younger, dressed in the battle garb of a white lily, and adventuring across Britain with Merlin, Kay, and Sir Ector fighting against the unrighteous.
It was a Saber that had yet to lose the innocence of youth. A Saber that had yet to come to terms with the necessity of killing one's enemies.
Right now, an Arturia akin to that Saber of the past was staring at him, watching what he'd do with bated breath.
From their link to each other, Shirou could feel the tiniest shifts in her emotions, the various nuances in her character and personality that made this Arturia, well, Arturia. Her thoughts and feelings were practically exposed on the surface: the anxiety of what she'd do if he followed through with murder; the compassion to do what she considered the right thing; the resolve to endure which ever decision he made, it was all there.
Arturia's silence and inaction itself spoke volumes about her trust in him, or that she was willing to believe in his judgment despite looking like she couldn't bear to a stomach a death on conscience.
Shirou felt muddled. The very reason he was fighting and going to such lengths was to protect Arturia, and now it felt like either choice he made in this situation would indirectly harm her.
If he let Godou and Erica go, then what if news of Arturia's existence leaked to this world's magical societies?
On the other hand, if he killed Godou and Erica…well, death changes anyone, and he didn't want to ruin the image of an Arturia free of mental demons and hardship like this one. Something that was precious should obviously be protected.
'What should he do?'
His countenance flickered; the change vividly apparent to Erica who was the tensest of all.
Erica stared at Arturia, then back to Shirou, then settled back on Arturia once more. Somehow, someway, it seemed as if Arturia, a normal human, had sway over a Heretic God. More and more, the suspicion that there was something about Arturia to warrant the attention of Heretic Gods grew stronger. Yet, now wasn't the time for theories or conjectures.
Erica shivered, unable to make a move out of fear for Godou's behalf while watching askance as Shirou stood with a blade over Godou's unconscious body. The Authority of the Ram would not activate in a state of unawareness. Erica feared that any sudden movement may break the tentative respite and cause the blade to fall.
She swallowed, inwardly praying that Arturia had a means to appease this Heretic God like in the legends of myth and old without having to go as far as a sacrifice in the case of Andromeda.
"Arturia," Shirou spoke after a long moment, voice solemn. "Why did you come?"
Ignorance was bliss, and there would be nothing to weigh on Arturia's conscience if she didn't know about it. Now though, she was here, and would know how the end would play out.
"…ah," Arturia let out a voice that was more a fleeting and pitiful quiver of air than anything intelligible while her eyes widened and complexion coloured. Nervousness coupled with the sad look Shirou was giving her practically debilitated her oratory faculties. Fortunately, someone else spoke up on her behalf, but not without a certain degree of godly exasperation born of chagrin bordering on vexation.
"The child was needlessly worried," Athena said curtly, features flat, limpid eyes hollow in their accusatory intensity before staring Shirou in all seriousness. "Be honoured. It's not common that a Goddess such as I would stoop to action on the whims of a child. I expect satisfactory offerings, and will increase the mandatory and agreed day and night offerings to three as compensation. An additional third will be added in the afternoon for my partaking."
O-Offerings? Erica's breath hitched in her throat upon hearing Athena's words, not as privy to the context as Shirou was who grudgingly nodded.
"Now, art thou killing the Campione or not?" Athena went straight to the point, causing the tension to spike yet again and Arturia to maintain her stare on Shirou, lips pursed, breath bated.
On his part, Shirou nearly cringed at Arturia's action. The hopefulness of her features all but screamed at him what outcome she wished he'd take, never mind the fact that she could simply use a Command Spell and order him not to kill.
All things considered, if he had to choose one bad thing or another, it made sense to pick the one with the least demerits. Shielding Arturia from the intrusiveness of the world's magic society was more doable than trying to fix the guilt or regret in her conscience.
Innocence once broken could never be repaired.
Much to Athena's disappointment in Shirou as a Warrior God of Steel, Shirou ended up dismissing his sword, the weapon fading into particles of magical light.
Shirou then appeared next to Arturia and Athena in the blink of an eye. "Let's go," he decided.
Arturia let out a breath of relief, her features beaming as if screaming 'I knew you weren't that sort of person!' even as she let Shirou carry her and leap away out of Erica's view.
In contrast, Athena was exasperated as she was left behind, Shirou trusting that she'd be able to keep up. Obviously, she could, but she was too indignant to follow right away as she thought of Shirou and Arturia.
Athena resisted the urge to throw up her arms in defeat.
Those two were perfect for each other…equally naïve.
One due to her own softness, and the other in his willingness to acquiesce to preserve the other's innocence. Not that it wasn't admirable, but in this world of combat, magic, and Gods, the preservation of such innocence would never last.
Athena's brow twitched before she reigned in her composure and devised how the dynamic of the group that she found herself in would be working.
Athena supposed it would be her role to be the voice of reason.
Every light would cast its shadow. Every good would have its necessary evil.
Athena made a small gesture unseen and unheard.
Unbeknownst to Erica, but a tiny ethereal serpent appeared behind her. It slithered to her ankle where it made contact and wriggled into her leg, then forming the symbol of a tiny owl on her back.
Athena left to catch up to Shirou and Arturia a moment later, satisfied.
For the first time in a long time, Erica felt stifled, fear stricken, and apprehensive. Recalling the events that had just transpired, it was practically a miracle that she was able to last this long.
Making sure that the odd trio of human and Heretic Gods actually left, Erica finally let her knees give out, and she crumpled panting on the ground. The pressure she'd been feeling with Godou unconscious and only herself to rely on against a Heretic God was an unimaginable burden.
Her concern for Godou's safety over her own had been her most compelling reason to hold on. The Earth already had too few Campiones able to stop the rampage of a Heretic God, and the loss of the Seventh newest one would be a heavy blow both emotionally for Erica who'd developed affection for Godou, and humanity for the loss of one of its protectors.
Taking in several deep breaths, Erica placed a palm over her heart to calm herself and began to shakily make her way to Godou, her knees still wobbling. As Godou's Knight, it was her duty to get him to safety and attend to his needs.
Still, just the thought of the Authorities displayed by Shirou unnerved her.
Arriving by Godou's side, she fell on her knees and used her lap to rest his head on. She was still too much of a state of shock and unease to carry him elsewhere and as such would have to make due until her composure could recover.
This gave her all the time to think.
Erica bit down on her lips, the frown on her face growing more and pronounced as her disheveled hair blew in the wind.
From an early age, Erica had been raised with a purpose. Her father was a Great Knight of the Copper Black Cross magical organization, thereby ensuring her upbringing. Knowing that the strength and properties of a God's Authority resided in their legend, education about the world's various mythos had long since been drilled into Erica's mind in preparation for her future occupation.
Regardless, no matter how she thought about it, nothing made sense about Shirou.
The sword of Fergus, the spear of Hector, and then there was that golden radiance, warm yet terrifying in its means to have had incinerated Godou's body out of existence.
Legends were convoluted things, some even the ramblings of mad men taken as truth and distorting facts, but there was no way a story could be convoluted enough to be mistaken as another.
Fergus of the celts had no relation with Hector of the Greeks, nor they with whatever wielder owned that golden light. Said light carried a presence and weight beyond any God of Steel Erica had ever heard of or seen, no wait. Wasn't there one already?
Let's think about this again.
W-What sort of God could possess that level of steel unless…!
'Steel that knows no bounds.'
'A garden of eve forever waiting.'
'A sword will shine at the world's end.'
The prophecy spread by the world's seers came to mind all at once, and gravitated Erica towards an inevitable conclusion, but she couldn't rush to assumptions.
"Godou-" she tried to speak and explain her conjecture when she noticed Godou showing signs of rousing. Even if it was just a suspicion by this point, she couldn't allow Godou to go up against such a veteran God of Steel anymore as a fledgling. Too many things can go wrong, and this situation just proved it.
As Erica felt Godou stirring over her lap, she strangely found that she could not speak up regarding her intended subject no matter how hard she tried. Whenever her mouth opened, her body physically recoiled and shut it closed as if it sensed what she was trying to say and obstructed her.
Confused, and growing more than a little wary, a suffering moan escaped her lips as a symbol flashed over her back and she bent over from a spell of dizziness.
"Those two may be forgiving, but this Goddess is not so naïve," a voice whispered into Erica's mind without a hint of levity despite the amusement in the tone.
Erica had heard this voice plenty enough in one of Jounan Academy's own classrooms, and even just a couple minutes prior.
Athena, Greek Goddess of War and Wisdom.
"W-What did you do?" Erica smoothened her skirt and straightened her back, trying her utmost to maintain her composure. Weakness and panic would get her nowhere.
"From this day forth, you belong to me under a curse," Athena clinically informed.
Erica echoed until she felt a trace of magic on her back, causing her to take out a palm-sized hand-mirror and using its reflection to see the sigil of an owl glowing on the small of her back.
Her eyed widened, her breath coming out short as her rather retentive memory pulled out the necessary information regarding what she was seeing.
"Y-You made me into a familiar?"
Erica forcibly swallowed down her growing nerves at Athena's silence. It might as well have been verification, admittance, whatever you'd like to call it, but Erica was understandably unsettled, turmoil clawing up from deep within her.
"Do not fret." Athena said as if Erica would actually listen. "I am of sane mind and am not as 'maddened' as you humans believe at present. Circumstances have provided mine-self with startling clarity."
Was that supposed to reassure Erica and make her feel better? It really wasn't happening, and only seemed to Erica as if Athena was gloating. Then again, since when did Heretic Gods care for the thoughts of humans?
"Henceforth, thou can consider yourself my handmaiden. If I request your presence, you come; if I forbid you from divulging sensitive subjects such as the one you were trying to share, you obey whether you like it or not."
How does this sound any different from being a slave? Erica bit down on the inside of her cheek, her expression easily read.
"Doth thou believe I enjoy the company of ordinary humans? The concern so blatantly plastered upon your features is rather presumptuous, yes? At most times, you may do as you wish, but any thoughts of crossing me, and I will know, and you will suffer. Of course, this extends to tampering with the curse itself or speaking on the matter of the 'child' under my supervision."
Nothing of what Athena said sounded too reassuring as it didn't change the fact that Erica could basically be considered to be bound to Athena's whims. Already, Erica was desperately attempting to think of a method to break the curse placed on her. Most of her conclusions banked on the fact that Athena was no longer a fully fledged Heretic God in her present state as a Divine Ancestor, but Athena was a step ahead of her.
Not many things could elude a God of Wisdom.
"Yes, I am presently a Fallen Goddess on the path to reclaiming full right to divine Authority, and yes your Campione may likely be able to best mine current self and rid you of my curse, but do not forget of my newest 'Aegis.'" Athena said in all confidence while Erica grew ashen.
Erica knew full well whom Athena was referring to as her newest shield.
"That God of Steel?" Erica swallowed audibly. "To have such faith in him, then my prior conjecture…?"
"Do not bite more than thy can chew," Athena's tone hardened in warning, but grew softer when next she answered. "Alas, thine assumption may prove valid. Let me tell thee, but the confluently large magical storm days prior was the mark of his descent likely foretold in thy prophecy and divinations."
Erica bowed her head, features dimming as her bangs shadowed her face.
"I'll let you decide whether it's in your best interest to divulge our little arrangement between us and pit your Campione against my Strongest Steel. Now do as thou wish until I have need of thee."
Erica fell silent, her shoulders slumping in defeat and resignation as the presence of Athena's voice vanished entirely.
Truly a cunning Goddess.
Was this the strength of wisdom, or the vileness of snakes…
It was hard to tell.
"Heretic God…The Strongest Steel," Erica murmured out, the mystery practically solved.
She hugged Godou close for comfort, but even then, it didn't stop the quivering of her hands.
The heralder of the end had descended, and what she should do with such a revelations, she no longer knew nor did she have any right in deciding.
The mark of Athena's owl shone on her back, reminding her of what she could and couldn't say.
She was a caged dove, trapped, and with no foreseeable way out.
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