Disclaimer: The works of Type-Moon and Jō Taketsuki are their own despite my most fervent wishes. This is a fan work and if anyone does pay me for it the only thing it will accomplish is to get me into trouble. This is being done purely for fun, constructive criticism is welcome, and flames will be ignored. Please be gentle though, this is the first fanfic I've put on the net.

Well, here's my latest chapter which I hope was worth the wait. Originally I had planned for this chapter to encompass the entire fight between the Campione as well as the following events, but once again the chapter just kept on growing on me and in the end I decided to split it up so that I could be sure to at least get part of it out on time.

Here's me wishing you all a very merry Christmas. Good will to you all and hopefully the rest of this chapter will end up as a greeting to the New Year.

Something that a lot of my readers have asked is whether or not the ritual to restore Andromeda's divinity has drained Shirou of his Perseus Authorities. The answer is that no, it has not. In the ritual the power of the god that sealed the Divine Ancestor acts as a key to open the lock, simply using that key doesn't drain or destroy it so Shirou still has all the Authorities he gained from Perseus.

SPOILERS.

Well, this chapter sees a lot of the much anticipated Noble Phantasms Vs Authorities that's always given me a bit of trouble. I've tried to keep things as balanced as possible between them, though in my view there is a great deal more variation in the ranks of the Noble Phantasms than there are in the Authorities. I suppose some of the Authorities without direct combat application such as Doni's reduction of civilization or Luo Hao's enhancement of prosperity are a bit hard to rank in the same way as a Noble Phantasm. On the other hand all the ones with combat application seem to be at A rank at the very least.

I also imagine that a fair number of people will have comments about the way in which Shirou is fighting, that will be touched on late in the next chapter so I ask for a little forbearance in that matter.

Once again I'd like to offer my special thanks to my Beta who has been an immense help in getting this chapter and the following one all shipshape.


Chapter Twenty: The Tempest: Part 1

It was the first time that she could remember that she'd been outside without wearing a skirt.

Strange, the kinds of things that one's mind would focus on when you were trying to avoid an unpleasant subject. For some reason Illya found her thoughts continually returning to the fact that as far as she could recall this was the first time she'd been out in public while wearing trousers as opposed to a skirt. Granted they were special spell reinforced lightweight Kevlar trousers to match the rest of her current clothing, but still . . .

The young Einzbern looked about the small base of operations that the History Compilation Committee had set up in preparation for tonight's confrontation. She had to give the organization credit; in the short time since they'd received the challenge from the goddess that had stolen away her adoptive brother what they'd accomplished was impressive to say the least. The entire neighbourhood near the site of the challenge, as well as the adjoining blocks, had been evacuated through a combination of manufactured crisis warnings and the liberal application of hypnosis where needed. Further wards had also been set up to ensure that no new civilians would enter the danger zone, the Kings would have a considerable area in which to battle where they wouldn't have to concern themselves with the ordinary masses being caught up in their affairs.

Of course if the Campione let loose with their full power then it was possible that the devastation would pass the evacuated areas and spill over into the rest of Tokyo. With three Kings and a goddess involved it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that the entire city might be reduced to ruins.

Shaking her head Illya tried to dispel such gloomy thoughts and instead tried to focus upon the present. Sunset was fast approaching and those that were going to take part in the upcoming battle were undertaking their final preparations.

Over in Godou's harem the two European knights were clad in their fighting clothes, each in the colours of the Order they represented. Off to the side Yuri was dressed in traditional Miko garb with her hakama in a shade of earthy green. By contrast Ena seemed oddly out of place with them given that she was once again clothed in the school uniform that she seemed to favour as her battle outfit. Godou himself was inside the tent being used by Sayanomiya Kaoru and the other members of the Committee leaders that were present. She wasn't quite sure what he was discussing with them, but at this point she wasn't really interested.

Off to the other side Lu Yinghua was alone as he waited for his Master to make her own appearance. The young martial artist was dressed in a simple set of Chinese clothes with a sleeveless shirt. He didn't seem to have any weapons on him, but given whom his instructor in the fighting arts had been he hardly needed any.

And that left the last of the three factions in this little alliance, herself, Kaida and Manaka.

It had been decided that though Godou and Luo Hao were the only ones that could take Shirou and the goddess that controlled him on directly the others would none the less join the fight in order to contribute their own strengths. Yuri, with her Spirit Vision, would be key in their plans to allow the Seventh Campione to negate Shirou or the goddess's Authorities as needed. The task of the combatants with her was to protect her from any indirect attacks from Shirou long enough for her to gain that information.

That was one of the more troublesome aspects of facing her adopted brother; while his personal attack capacity was enormous he could also use his subordinate Authorities to attack from multiple directions while he himself engaged the strongest enemy assets. Illya was well aware of this because she'd been the one to help him come up with the basic strategies of such a plan. Undead soldiers, curse monsters, even Snow, all of those could attack lesser enemy units while Shirou himself fought the champions. The idea was that the Einzbern heir would act as a general to the 'troops' while the King of Steel took on the heavies. Illya sighed slightly as she recalled how long it had taken for her to convince her onii-chan to let her take that role rather than stay back and be guarded by those forces instead.

That was another thing that the non-Campione combatants were meant to be taking care of, any of Shirou's subordinates that were brought out would be handled by them so that the Kings wouldn't need to distract themselves with them. Though the resurrected souls could be formidable and the incarnated curses could grow to equal the power of a Divine Beast, Illya felt certain that the assembled group could handle them. Both Liliana and Erica didn't hold the titles of 'Great Knight' in vain and were each at a level where they could battle minor beast divinities. Manaka and Lu Yinghua were of similar levels in their own styles while Ena was in a class of her own due to her ability to directly channel divine strength.

As for herself Illya could in all modesty say that she was at least on par with the Hime-Miko of the Sword. Her ability to command her puppet Berserker essentially granted her a Divine Beast that served her whims and the Noble Phantasm that Shirou had given her provided her with the martial skills to match any of the other girls. Throw in her enormous magic reserves and her skills in thaumaturgy and the resulting mix was formidable to say the least.

Bah, she shouldn't be letting herself get distracted this way. It was as though her thoughts were trying to focus on all the small things as a way of avoiding having to confront the main issue.

With a single mental command she materialized Beautiful Head Taker. She knew that she'd not be able to use it in the battle, not with Shirou being able to reduce it to ambient Prana with a single act of will, but right now the feel of it as well as the surge of skill that accompanied her taking hold of it was comforting.

She'd taken what measures she could to increase her chances of getting through this fight without major harm. This outfit she was wearing was one such example.

The idea of her wearing any sort of armour or protective clothing into the Holy Grail War hadn't ever really occurred to her before her participation. Certainly her family could have cooked something up with their alchemy, but at the time she'd had Berserker as a protector, and quite frankly the notion that anything could harm her while the great grey giant had defended her had seemed utterly ludicrous. Besides, anything that did somehow make it past the berserk Servant would be on a scale where wearing some protection wouldn't really make a difference.

The clothing that she was wearing was one of Shirou's side projects. Though the majority of his research of late had been into methods by which they might be able to return to their home world he had also been working on several smaller projects. One of them had been his trying to reproduce the strange futuristic material that had made up the armour and bow of his future self.

The material was quite intriguing in that it was not only extremely strong, but it could also alter its properties depending on how it was made, meaning that it could be as flexible as fabric, rigid as metal or anywhere in between. Her adopted brother had told her that his final goal was to see if he could recreate the battle armour that Archer had worn for the fifth Holy Grail War. He'd joked that while it might not be able to protect him from the attack of a god then at least there was the chance that it would make it through a battle reasonably intact, unlike most of his cloths of late.

The suit that she was currently wearing was one of the early prototypes, something Shirou had cooked up to put his mind a bit more at ease. Though not yet the equal of what he hoped to emulate the suit was still light weight yet a better defence than twenty times its weight in modern kevlar. Once Illya reinforced it using thaumaturgy it would probably provide better protection than even the most advanced modern armour.

She still didn't like it though; it just didn't look as cute on her as she'd have liked it to, not to mention that dark grey just wasn't her colour.

Thinking about her current garb made Illya think of one of her own side projects, one of the ones that she'd been working on for a while now.

Back in her original world one of the reasons that she'd been just a little too late to save her Onii-chan as she'd planned was that when she'd run into the cave where Shirou and Rider had fought the corrupted version of Saber she'd seen something that had made her pause for an instant.

It had been the tattered and blasted remnant of the Shroud of Martin that Shirou had taken off when he'd moved to aid Rider in her battle. It had been a foolish thing to do given the hurry that she'd been in, but the sight of that cloth lying discarded on the floor had forcefully emphasized to Illya just what peril Shirou had been in. Without the Shroud the forceful intrusion of the arm's power into her Onii-chan's body would only accelerate from its already dangerous pace. For it to be cast aside like that could only mean that Shirou wasn't planning on surviving the upcoming confrontation.

The Shroud itself hadn't been in good condition, after Shirou had cast it off it must have been caught up in the battle between the Servants, because almost half of its length had been torn off somehow, either blasted off by Saber's Noble Phantasm or caught up in Rider's own assault. Either way the holy cloth hadn't been in good condition.

At the time Illya wasn't quite sure why she'd grabbed it up before she picked up her pace into a full run once more. It had been a whim, an impulse. Looking back she supposed that in the end her action had been a childish desire to hold some tangible connection to her brother. Had her plan panned out as she'd intended then she'd have ended up giving her life in order to save his, so perhaps she'd simply wanted the remnant of the shroud as a sort of lucky charm.

Whatever the case she had it now and for the past few weeks it had been a part of a secret surprise that she'd been working on for Shirou since she'd heard his plans to recreate Archer's armour.

In addition to his armour the Servant of the Bow had worn a coat/cape that had been a conceptual armament that had possessed unusual properties. Rather than oppose the enemy it had instead defended against the external environment. When she'd mentioned this to Shirou he'd mentioned that according to the memories that he'd gained from Archer's arm the garment had been made from a Holy Shroud. That had interested Illya and she'd run some tests on the length of the Shroud of Martin that she still had.

She'd been interested to find that the shroud that had acted as a seal upon the arm of the Servant possessed properties similar to those that she'd observed in the vestments of Archer. In the case of Shirou they'd been inverted so as to contain the power of the transplanted arm, but the similarities had been there. Seeing that Illya had begun to perform some experiments of her own, the final product wasn't finished yet, but when it was she looked forwards to seeing what Shirou thought of it.

If she ever got the chance to see him get it.

And so once more her thoughts took a darker track. Would Shirou be able to see her planned gift to him? Would they be able to subdue him without harming him? Would they be able to subdue him at all? So many thoughts, questions and fears boiled around inside her head that she couldn't help but grimace.

With a shake of her head she tried to dispel the gloomy thoughts that threatened to swamp her. She needed some sort of distraction, glancing about herself she saw that Liliana had separated from the rest of Godou's harem and was apparently taking one last look about the proposed battlefield.

Yes, that could work. A little last minute discussion on their planned strategy might just be the thing to help her find her focus.


-()-


Guinevere sat upon her perch on one of the overlooking buildings and gazed down at the scene beneath her.

Such a . . . pedestrian location. A fairly normal spot along the riverside residential area of the city, perhaps a bit more picturesque than most locations but otherwise nothing special. Who would believe that within the space of a few hours it would be the site of a battle between three Kings?

The Queen of the Divine Ancestors had first been alerted to what was going on when one of the spells that she'd prepared to monitor the city had informed her that a large portion of it was being warded off by mortal magic. Curious as to why the local magicians were undertaking such a large feat she'd moved to investigate and had found that the ones setting up the spells were the History Compilation Committee.

She'd been aware of the existence of the large magical association due to her research into finding the prison of the Monkey King, she'd also been aware that this group was also closely linked to both of the local Campione. Desiring to learn more of what was going on Guinevere had quietly spirited away one of the worker, placed him under an enchantment and had demanded he tell her what was happening and why.

The answers that she'd received had been illuminating to say the least. Apparently Venus was flaunting her possession of Sir Shirou and had challenged King Godou to meet her in this very spot at sunset. What was of even greater interest was that it seemed that the young God Slayer that she'd christened the King of Steel had taken steps to prepare for the chance that he might fall under another's influence. At his request the Chinese King Luo Hao had agreed to lend her own strength to the force being raised to oppose the bewitched King.

With two Campione there was a chance that they might be able to defeat Sir Shirou, but the Witch of Britannia doubted it. The King of Steel was one able to wield the power of Excalibur, the weapon of Divine Salvation that knew no equal, if he were to raise that power against them then she doubted even Campione could survive.

Of course that was only if Sir Shirou could bring out the weapon's full power.

Guinevere felt a pout form on her face as she considered her lack of knowledge in regards to the young man that was consuming more and more of her thoughts as time went by. It could be that he wasn't able to use Excalibur to its full potential, after all none but Artus had ever been able to do so, not even when he'd lent his sword to his allies. Sir Knight, for example, had in the past used the Divine Sword, but even so he hadn't been able to match the King of the End.

Sir Shirou could definitely use a substantial portion of the weapons power, given the spectacular way in which he'd finished Mordred off, but there were still far too many unknowns in regards to him.

Still, that was one of the reasons that the Witch Queen was here. The young King of Steel was still her best lead on the location of her beloved King, so she could hardly allow him to be stolen away by some harridan like Venus now could she?

"Are you certain of your plan?"

The voice of her protector whispered in her ear. After learning of his near failure to protect his beloved child ward the Knight God had demanded that she perform the spell to half summon him before she left her manor. Now he waited beside her as real as a shadow and as insubstantial as mist.

Guinevere nodded in response as she kept looking down.

"It is the best path that Guinevere can take," she assured her guardian, "The other Kings shall engage Sir Shirou, but I doubt they will find him an easy foe to defeat. Still her Eminence, Luo Hao, is an elder God Slayer and has many Authorities to call upon as well as great experience and skill. Kusanagi Godou may be younger but he became a King by defeating the undefeated Persian Warlord. Neither of them is to be underestimated either."

The Witch Queen paused for a moment as she looked down at the location that would soon be the sight of battle.

"The key is Venus herself. If Guinevere can kill her or break her Authority then Sir Shirou will be free."

"A dangerous undertaking," Lancelot commented, "She may be without her war aspect, but Venus is still a goddess and not to be taken lightly."

"Have no fear Sir Knight," the golden haired former goddess reassured her protector, "Guinevere has no intention of being foolish in her attempt. I learnt my lesson after Sir Mordred nearly slew me."

"Then it was a lesson well learnt," Sir Lancelot said, a definite ring of approval in his voice like a parent whose child had displayed keen intelligence, "Be as the hawk that watches for an opportunity, do not risk yourself dear one."

The Knight's voice fell silent for a moment, but there was a quality to the silence that seemed to indicate that it would soon be broken.

"I shall be pleased to have this opportunity to observe this King Shirou in battle though," he confessed, "You have spoken much of his prowess in his battle with the betrayer. I look forwards to seeing if he is truly worthy of the high regard that you seem to hold him in."

"Sir Knight!" Guinevere sounded slightly outraged by his words, "I'm sure that even under Venus's odious control he shall give a fine accounting for himself. To think he would do otherwise is simply unthinkable!"

"Oh ho, so quick to leap to his defence," the suppressed mirth in Lancelot's voice was easily heard, "Me thinks that I may well be calling this Sir Shirou a friend and ally in the future if my lady has any say in it."

As Guinevere tried to splutter an answer through her embarrassment the immaterial knight turned his eyes downward to focus on the area before him.

Not long now.


-()-


Kusanagi Godou wasn't happy with how things were going.

Physically he was back in top health, a combination of his Campione vitality and a couple of healing potions provided by the Committee had seen him fully recovered from his battle with Apollo. All his Authorities had completed their regeneration and were ready to be used, including his new one that he hadn't even had a chance to learn how to use yet.

His real concerns were more mental and emotional than of the flesh, and all of them revolved around him having to face his fellow Japanese King in battle.

Facing other Campione wasn't something that scared him. Godou regarded it as immensely troubling and extremely dangerous, but despite that it wasn't something that filled him with fear. In a way there was the same excitement that filled him when he faced a god, that barbaric exhilaration that normally slept under his covering of civilization and respectability. It had been there when he'd faced Salvatore Doni, it had been there when he'd faced Voban, it had even been there when he'd faced Luo Hao.

However this time while that excitement was there it was also . . . muted. He could understand it to a degree, whenever he'd fought any of the other Campione it had been pretty much right after meeting them. With Shirou it had been different, they'd know each other for some time now, and while they weren't friends there was a certain regard between them. Both respected the other and, at least on Godou's part, there was a bit of admiration.

When he'd become a Campione the slayer of Verethragna had to all intents and purposes done his best to simply continue his life as though nothing had changed. Granted his life had been much altered, especially by the girls that seemed to sprout up about him from nowhere, but it hadn't been due to his own efforts, his own ambitions. To be sure he didn't regret any of the changes, Erica, Yuri, Liliana, Ena, Hikari, they were all precious to him and he was grateful to have them in his life.

Shirou, on the other hand, seemed to have seized his status as a Campione and wielded it as though it were just another tool. He'd amassed wealth, servants, influence and reputation in short order and with almost devastating efficiency, yet he'd done it without violence or oppression. Erica had come over to his home a few days after the Feast and had spent nearly an hour going over all the international effects that the event had caused. That had led into a lecture about how the eighth Campione was expanding his influence as well as her commenting on how atypical it was for a newly raised King.

Oddly enough the blonde Mage Knight had never criticized him or told him to be more like his fellow King. When he'd asked her about that she replied that while Shirou might be being an excellent Campione nobody could surpass Godou at being Godou, and it was Godou that she had absolute faith in.

The whole point was that out of all the Campione he'd ever met Shirou was the one that he got on with the easiest. The problem was that he was also the one that he wanted to face the least.

It was odd, in many ways there was no rational reason for his trepidation, not when he compared his schoolmate to the other Campione that Godou had fought. Doni might be an idiot genius of the highest calibre when it came to wielding a sword, Voban might be a monster that knew no peer and Luo Hao might be the supreme martial artist in the world, but in the end it was the reasonable and polite Emiya Shirou who was the one that he was most reluctant to face as an enemy.

And he didn't even know why.

He'd seen some of the eighth Campione's Authorities, his giant armoured self, his Pegasus, but it went beyond that. There was something there, something he couldn't put his finger on.

Before him he saw the sun begin its final fall as the sky darkened to red and night began its final approach.

Soon, soon things would start. With a shake of his head he dismissed his earlier gloomy thoughts. So what if he was apprehensive? It only showed he had some sense. When you got right down to it all the odds were in his side's favour. They had two Campione, as well as all their allies and several plans that could be implemented as opportunity allowed.

How hard could it be?


-()-


Oddly enough it was Kaida who spotted them first. Not the Mage Knights, not the powerful Illya, not Yuri with her Spirit Vision or the Campione with their Authorities. In the end it was the Hime-Miko of the Dragon's Roar that glanced nervously towards the bridge and saw the two figures outlined by the setting sun as they stood atop one of the manmade hillocks that made up part of the small park's manufactured landscape.

To her shame the first thing that struck her was the sheer beauty of the woman that stood next to her enthralled King. Even though she'd been prepared as she could be for the presence of the goddess as soon as she laid eyes upon her Kaida for an instant forgot about all else and was simply captivated by the inhuman beauty clad in a pristine white Greek toga that seemed to cling seductively to her every curve.

Still even if she was so struck it only took her a moment to shake the effect off and focus upon her King.

Shirou wasn't dressed in the same clothes that he'd worn when he'd gone out the night before last, at least not all of them. He still wore the simple jeans, but in place of his blue and white sweatshirt he now wore a hazy purple tunic under a white outer robe. The discordant combination of styles and colours was . . . strange. Still, Kaida did understand at least some of why her liege was so clad; this goddess was marking him with her colours as though he were simply property.

"So," the goddess's voice echoed about the suddenly hushed area, "It would seem that you have chosen to meet my challenge, and King Kusanagi has been able to gain another King to aid him, how marvellous, how splendid . . . now, entertain me!"

There was a sudden silence that eclipsed the earlier hush. Now it was as though nothing dared to make a sound for fear of drawing attention.

"You dare speak so to Kings?" Luo Cuilian's voice broke the silence as she strode forwards, her every movement radiating regal outrage. "Do you think that we God Slayer are mere pawns to dance to your amusement? Foolish, most foolish indeed. Have you forgotten your own nature? We are not kittens at your feet to be your entertainment; we are tigers pursuing you for our meal."

The last words of the Chinese Campione's statement were delivered in tandem with her snapping her fan out to point at the Heretic Goddess's throat as though it were a sword. However in response the unnamed goddess simply ran a hand across the shoulders of King Shirou as a smile that could only be called cruel made its way across her face.

"In ages past my worshipers in ancient Rome would entertain themselves by throwing criminals to starving beasts. They would howl and roar their approval as lions, bears and panthers tore helpless men and women to pieces in order to satiate their hunger.

"However such entertainment was never to my taste, after all where is the joy in seeing the helpless cut down? No, what I always found to be far more stimulating was when they pitted the beasts against each other. To see a lion bring down a fleeing cutpurse was utterly unsatisfying, but to watch a lion and a panther wrestle each other through the dust as they seek to kill each other . . . To see two bears clash with claws and fangs as they each seek to save their own life by consuming that of the other . . . Now that is entertainment worth watching!"

Her hand dropped and her smile broadened, becoming wider, hungrier.

"You are quite correct your Eminence, you and all your kind are not housebroken kittens, you are tigers, hungry and strong and deadly, and I would be a fool to think of you otherwise. But if I drew pleasure from watching lions in cages and arenas battle to the death, just think of the joy I shall gain by watching such as you battle for me."

She stepped back from Shirou and gestured widely with her arm.

"Go then, King of Steel. Battle and destroy them all, or be destroyed in turn, I care not. Simply show me your full power and effort, the same skill and strength that destroyed my lover Mordred. Show me how Campione fight and die!"

As soon as she had finished speaking the goddess stepped back once more and . . . pushed herself into the air? It was strange, all she did was push off the ground as though she were skipping backwards slightly but then it was as though gravity had ceased to exist for her. She simply floated back into the air as though she were light as a feather.

Then it was as though the air itself had wrapped around her like a veil and made her invisible. As she saw this Kaida allowed herself a muttered curse, not a very vehement one though considering that she didn't know that many. The goddess concealing herself in that way limited their options. One of the plans that they'd come up with was that Yuri-sama would use her Spirit Vision to determine the true identity of the goddess, then, while her Eminence engaged Shirou, she would pass that knowledge to Kusanagi-sama who would use his Authority to sever the goddess's divinity and thus free Shirou.

However with her now hiding herself it seemed that, at least for the moment, that plan was no longer a valid option.

"Trace . . . on."

Just like with the goddess's voice the soft words of her sworn liege carried through the suddenly still air. However unlike her scornful and hungry tone his were flat, monotone, devoid of any inflection or emotion.

She knew as soon as she saw the black and red sword that formed in his hands that it was dangerous. Every instinct in her body screamed at her the instant it solidified out of the golden light. This sword was dangerous! This sword was a threat! This sword was death! It all screamed at her at once.

"EVERYONE SCATTER!"

Illya's shouted order had a note of panic and desperation that Kaida had never heard in her voice before. Not even when Shirou had been sealed away by the Monkey King had she sounded so rattled.

Then Manaka's arms were around her waist and the witchcraft user was carrying her away from where she'd been standing in a single leap so swift that the world blurred around them.

Behind her the world was consumed by darkness edged with red.


-()-


Illya had recognized that sword the instant that she'd seen it. How could she not? After all it was burned into her memories and featured heavily in her nightmares. On more than one occasion she'd started awake from slumber shaking with fear, her body soaked in a cold sweat and the memory of that sword hovering in her mind. This was the sword that had broken her illusion that her beloved Servant was invincible. This was the sword that slashed the lives from her Berserker and sent him into the vile embrace of the Shadow.

The Sword of Promised Victory, blackened and corrupted and yet still a mighty blade, the strongest of all Holy Swords.

Excalibur Morgan, the black Excalibur.

She'd known that Shirou could Trace Excalibur; she'd felt him use it when he'd defeated and slain Mordred. She'd also known that he had seen the corrupted version that the altered Saber had wielded. Yet despite these two facts the notion that he'd ever Trace the darkened version of his first Servant's sword had never occurred to her. After all if he could Trace the unsullied version why would he ever choose to Trace its evil counterpart?

All further thought was cut off as she saw the weapon begin to glow with a strange red tinged anti-light. Instead of the brilliant radiance it was a light that was darkness, impossible though it seemed. Her eyes widened as she realized what it meant.

"EVERYONE SCATTER!"

Her words came only a second or two before the sword in Shirou's hands was suddenly obscured by a vast mass of the dark energy that it had been radiating. However unlike its unsullied counterpart the gathering power was not released in a blast, instead the young Einzbern's mystic senses screamed at her that an absolutely huge amount of Prana was being gathered about the sword.

No mortal magus could have managed this, the sheer scale of the amount of Prana involved were such that only a Servant or a very powerful Dead Apostle could have possessed the needed reserves.

Or a Campione.

Before her eyes her adopted brother raised the sword above his head . . . and suddenly he was no longer holding a weapon of blackened metal but was instead grasping a titanic sword composed of the red edged black light.

Illya gaped at the huge thing, easily twenty metres in length, and froze in place for an instant before her mind managed to get working once more. It was a sheath, a sheath of blackened Prana wrapping around the corrupted Excalibur and taking the form of a gigantic crude replica of its form.

All this flashed through her mind in an instant as she materialized her Puppet Berserker and mentally commanded the construct to pick her up and carry her away as fast as it could.

Even as the huge arms of her creation enfolded her Illya's mind ran over all that she could remember of what Shirou had told her of the battle between him, Rider and the altered Saber. The strength of this version of Excalibur's attack over the blasting version of its untainted counterpart was that rather than being released in a single all consuming rush it could be reused for blow after blow just like a real sword.

Of course, she thought as the wind of her puppet's movement tugged at her hair, that altered version of Saber had had access to pretty much infinite Prana due to her link with the Angra Mainyu possessed Sakura. Shirou's own reserves might be enormous but even they couldn't keep something like that nightmare sword up forever.

Any further thoughts vanished into the aether as the sword of blazing black flame came down.

It had only been three seconds since she'd shouted, some detached part of Illya noted as she tried to force even more speed from her construct. Her eyes flicked back to where the blade of dark energy would come down, and then they widened in shock.

There, right where the blade was aimed, stood Luo Hao who had not moved an inch.

The blade of Excalibur Morgan came down with the grim authority of the Grim Reaper's own blade.


-()-


The Ruler of the Martial Realm stared up at the descending blade of energy and drew upon her divine Authorities.

She was unworried, why should she be? She could sense the nature of this attack and knew it for what it was. This was not an Authority, not a usurped power of a god; this was an act of magecraft, the work of a mortal man. And to one that wielded the very powers of a god, of what possible threat could it be.

This must be one of the 'Noble Phantasms' that King Shirou's sister had spoken of, one of those weapons that she'd seen him create while they had been trapped in the cavern of the Great Sage Equalling Heaven. It was powerful, she supposed, and she had seen him blast his way out of the mountain amidst pillars of fire when he'd used another in his escape. However she was determined to prove that however advanced his spellcraft may be it was as nothing before the might of an Authority.

This had been her plan since she'd heard the white haired child describe the nature of King Shirou's magic.

She'd encountered other Campione who had done similar, who had sought to elevate their mastery of the mystic arts to a level where it would equal the Authorities that they had usurped. In the end such a path always failed since the might of mortal magic could never match that of an Authority, not even when backed by the power of a Campione's enhanced reserves.

The weapon that she'd been granted was magnificent, the only arm that she'd ever owned that was able to survive her using it with her full strength. Its ability to enhance her own strength and speed were also truly marvellous and a joy to experience.

And yet . . .

And yet she still could not hold the weapon to be the equal of an Authority. Peerless as the Chinese halberd was among all the weapons that she'd ever held in her life she didn't think that it would be a match for her divine powers. For that reason she had decided to prove this to all, to show the white haired child just why it was that the Slayers of Gods were known as the Supreme Rulers.

So as the great mass of black fire came down she held up a single hand that was grasped as though holding the hilt of an invisible sword and spoke in a voice so calm that she might as well have been commenting on the colour of the sky.

"Defending Godsword."

In response to her words an enormous sword, a curved Mongolian scimitar, more than ten metres in length materialized above her. The hilt was grasped by a huge feminine hand that had a slightly transparent quality to it. The sword itself though was as solid as could be and glinted in the street lights, a titanic construct of gold and silver with death seeming to dance along its every line.

This was the Authority that she'd gained by slaying the Mongolian god of war Dayisud Tngri more than a century ago. This was the sword that she'd use to crush this mortal magic that the Illya girl seemed to think could match the might of a god.

The great sword of black light met the silvery blade of the Godsword with such force that a shockwave rippled almost visibly from the point of impact and sent those of unsteady footing tumbling as it struck them.

A fine blow she had to admit. The Ruler of the Martial Realm could feel the pressure upon her blade, feel the force bearing down on it, her arm shook and even the divine weapon seemed to shudder as the huge blade of red edged darkness pressed down as though it were some sort of malevolent falling star.

The pressure was immense, incredible for a mortal magic, but this was an Authority, with it she would-

Tchink.

The Chinese Campione's thoughts were cut of by that small sound, small but distinct and clear as a bell. Automatically her eyes sought out the origin of the sound that she could not believe she was hearing.

Yes, there it was. At the spot where her divine sword had met the attack of the great blade of anti-light she could see it. Something that she saw but could not see because such a thing was utterly impossible.

A crack.

Right there, running from the spot where the two huge blades met and contested, was a tiny hair thin crack in the blade of her Godsword.

Tch-tchink!

Luo Hao's eyes widened further as the cracks lengthened and spread, the mirrored sheen of her silvery blade breaking up as the tiny cracks ran across it.

No! This . . . this wasn't possible. This was an Authority, the very power of a god, how could it be overcome by a mortal creation? This wasn't an Authority, the Ruler of the Martial Realm could sense the power running through it and that power, though huge, was undoubtedly that of King Shirou himself, of his magic. Certainly there was a 'flavour' to that power that she'd never encountered before, but even so-

KKKKCHHHATTCCHH!

With a sound like a mirror the size of a mountain shattering the Authority broke.

In the end it was only her ingrained reflexes that saved the Chinese Campione's life. Her mind had to all intents and purposes stalled into insensibility by the impossibility of what she'd just seen, but her body knew what to do, after all countless hours over more than two centuries had made her skills as much a part of her as her very nerves. Even as her mouth gaped and her eyes fixed on the descending blade of black fire her body automatically employed Jiǎo Qīng Bù. The Light Foot Step was an advanced technique ideal for shot bursts of speed and the manoeuvre proved just enough to save her life.

The turf upon which she'd been standing disappeared. The pavement beyond that turf vanished. The trees that had lined the pavement path ceased to exist. The destruction was absolute as all that encountered the down swung sword was annihilated in an instant; all that was left was a white hot gash running across the length of the small park. There were audible clicks and hisses as molten stone and bubbling tar cooled into a more solid state. However none of that registered with Luo Hao, indeed the only thought that ran through her mind was utter disbelief.

A mortal magic had bested a godly Authority?

That was absurd, impossible, unthinkable.

Except . . .

Except, wasn't that the very nature of a Campione? It was unthinkable for a mere mortal to defy, let alone slay, a god and yet that was exactly what Campione were.

That thought made her blink as her senses returned to her. Was that it? Was this a demonstration of a Campione that had surpassed divine Authorities with his own mortal skills? A slow smile spread across her features as she saw King Shirou turn from where he'd been standing.

This fight had just become more difficult and dangerous than she'd previously believed it could become.

But it had also grown more interesting.


-()-


"Th-That's not possible!"

Guinevere's voice was a hoarse whisper as she stared down at the huge gash in the landscape from which a dirty cloud of dust and smoke was billowing. The huge sword of black light had faded and the hands of the King of Steel were now empty, but that made no difference. The sight that she had seen was now burnt into her memory and she was certain that she'd forget her own name before that recollection of that black and red sword faded away.

"W-Was that what I believe it was?" In her eye the whispered sound of Sir Knight's voice sounded uncharacteristically uncertain and hesitant. "That . . . that could not have been our King's sword, surely!"

The Witch Queen could perfectly understand the turmoil that was tearing at her protector's normal calm. When she'd first seen that . . . that abomination form in Sir Shirou's hands the Queen of the Divine Ancestors had almost swallowed her tongue in shock.

That sword had been twisted and evil, stained black by some corruption that she could not identify but which screamed at her mystic senses of cruelty, hatred and all the myriad other evils of humanity. And yet for all that at the same time there was also something about the sword that shouted to her that this sword was Excalibur. Blackened and corrupted it none the less possessed a presence that thundered that this was the Sword of Divine Salvation.

How? How could this possibly be? She knew that Sir Shirou could wield the divine blade of her beloved King, but what could possibly have happened to tarnish that peerless weapon in such a way?

Was it Venus? Could her bewitchment and control of the eighth Campione somehow be responsible for this? Guinevere's eyes narrowed as she contemplated the thought. It was possible, she supposed, much of her recollections of just how the sword was bonded to Artus were lost due to the cycles of reincarnation that she'd been forced to undergo, but she could remember that there was something special about the link between that god and his weapon, something that went beyond what was customary for a God of Steel.

Could that be it? Had Sir Shirou somehow managed to forge his own link with the Sword of Divine Salvation, a bond so strong that when he had been . . . ensnared by Venus the link had somehow led to the sword itself being corrupted?

Arrrggghhh! She didn't understand, there was just too much she didn't know.

With an almost visible effort Guinevere took hold of herself and brought her unruly emotions back under control.

"Th-This changes nothing Sir Knight," She assured her companion, with only a slight catch in her voice. "We shall continue with our plan to save Sir Shirou. After we have freed him from Venus's influence he shall be substantially in our debt, and what better way could he have to discharge that debt other than to enlighten us as to why he can wield the sword of our King?"

"As ever my Queen is most cunning." Lancelot commented, a smile almost audible in his voice.

Pleased that her protector approved of her plan the blonde haired Divine Ancestor turned her attention back to the battle below.


-()-


Perhaps Luo Hao's recklessness hadn't been totally pointless. The thought ran through Illya's mind as she saw the black form of Excalibur Morgan fragment back into Prana which in turn dissipated into the air.

It would seem that even with the improvements that Shirou had made in his Tracing he still couldn't create a perfect replica of some of the higher level Noble Phantasms, at least not to the point where they'd last after releasing their full power. A blessing at the moment given that it meant that he couldn't continue his assault with follow up attacks.

"GET HIM!"

Her shouts sounded so . . . juvenile, like something a young school child would shout to their friends rather than an instruction on the battle field. Still it was enough to sting those that had frozen in stunned awe at the sheer destructive power that her adopted brother had used.

Unfortunately her shout came too late, Shirou was already moving, and moving at the kind of superhuman speed that meant that he'd activated the blessings of Dragon Slaying Hero.

Damn, she'd never before appreciated just how fast he was when using that Authority. The original Berserker may have been even faster, but due to his size he hadn't been as manoeuvrable, as agile. Where her Servant had thundered across the landscape like a juggernaut Shirou shot like a bullet, the ground beneath his feet caving in from the force of his steps.

But what was even more of a surprise than his speed was his target, instead of continuing his attack on the elder Campione or striking at Godou he was instead charging at . . . Liliana?

That made no sense, why would he go after her first? No, wait, his target wasn't just the pale haired Mage Knight alone; near her were Erica, Lu Yinghua and Ena. It looked like he intended to take out a sizable portion of their more skilled non-Campione combatants.

The three fighters didn't panic, despite being the target of an oncoming God Slayer. Instead the three of them broke apart so as to present a less vulnerable target while still staying close enough to each other to offer what support they could. Shirou stayed on course for Liliana, but at the last instant veered off to the side, aiming straight at Erica instead.

"Oh? King Shirou you do me honour by granting your attention thus."

Despite the gravity of the situation the Diavolo Rosso managed to retain her traditional air of absolute confidence. However even so it was grimly tested as the twin swords Kanshou and Bakuya swung at her. Steel rang and sparks flew as she just managed to raise her own sword in time defend herself, even so the force of the blow sent her tumbling backwards with her hands stinging from where they gripped her sword as the strength of a god struck her.

Fortunately for her relief came in the form of Liliana who attacked the enthralled Campione from the side even as the blonde Mage Knight was sent stumbling. Her attack was deflected with almost contemptuous ease, but that defence gave Erica the opening she needed to get her sword in the way of a blow that could have sliced her heart out while at the same time jumping back to open some more room between herself and the King of Steel. It was a clumsy and graceless move by her normal standards, but in the face of an attacking God Slayer that she managed it at all spoke volumes about her skill.

Lu Yinghua shot forwards, his arms raised to deliver a palm strike at Shirou's other side taking advantage of the opening caused by one arm defending and the other attacking. Even from where she was Illya could sense the strength of the move, the flow of internal energy that made it capable of shattering boulders. The blow never struck though because the black Noble Phantasm in the God Slayer's right hand came round in an arc swift as lightning to intercept the oncoming palm. The young student of the Ruler of the Martial Realm was barely able to arrest his movements in time to avoid having the fingers cut from his hand.

But the split second distraction he'd provided had given the two Mage Knights the chance to regroup themselves. In Erica's hands her sword had altered form and become a lance while the sword in Liliana's hand had assumed the form of a spear. Both young women charged in once more, the tips of their weapons aimed at his torso. At the same time Lu Yinghua shot forwards again, this time with both his arms using barehanded knife strikes, the limbs visibly glowing with the Qi energy he was channelling into them.

At the centre of the three way attack Shirou didn't even try to evade them, instead he whirled in place performing a strange circular movement that let the matching black and white swords form an orbit around him. Sparks exploded about him as all three of the attackers were thrown back, their tumbling forms cast away like leaves before the storm. Both of the Italian Mages only just managed to hang onto their weapons even as they were sent rolling, while Lu Yinghua tucked himself into a tumble and was the first to regain his feet despite the deep gash across his right arm. Illya winced as she saw the blood flowing from it, had he not been focusing so much of his inner strength into the limb before the clash then he would probably have lost it all together.

Shirou stood in the centre of their downed forms, seemingly taking a moment to decide his next target, but before he moved to take any sort of advantage he had to spin to meet the charge of Ena. The Miko of the Sword was wielding a traditional Japanese straight sword and her face was an uncharacteristic mask of concentration. About her body was a flickering aura that Illya recognized as being Divine in origin. By the looks of it the black haired Hime-Miko had pulled out all the stops and was going full out from the onset of the battle.

By the looks of things that was the smart choice because she was managing to stall her foe as he crossed his blades in order to defend against her stroke.

With Shirou pinned, however temporary it might be, the young Einzbern took the time to glance around the battlefield to see where everyone else was. From the looks of it both Luo Hao and Godou were somewhere inside the huge cloud of dust and smoke that her brother had thrown up with his initial attack. Kaida and Manaka were off to the side closer to the river and seemed to be unsure of what to do. Yuri was on her own some distance from where Shirou and the rest of Godou's harem were and seemed to be watching the battle intently, no doubt trying to use her Spirit Vision to learn the nature of either his Authorities or that of the Authority that bound him.

What shocked her was just how little time had passed since Shirou had begun his attack. Even though it seemed like ages the truth was that that was an illusion brought on by adrenaline and shock. Really it had been less than thirty seconds, ridiculous as it might seem.

Taking a deep breath Illya directed her puppet to set her down by one of the still standing trees. Right now she dearly wished that she could pull out the Beautiful Head Taker, but knew that to do so ran the risk of the Noble Phantasm being unmade by its controlled creator. Instead she steeled herself and directed her Puppet Berserker to join the fray.

This had been something that she'd been reluctant to do but had acknowledged that she'd probably need to do. Her creation was too valuable a combat asset not to be used, but at the same time she was well aware that under her control her imitation Servant was not yet able to live up to its full potential. Still, it did possess speed and power beyond that of any human, and even though the copied God Hand Noble Phantasm was degraded it was still potent. With any luck at all her puppet's participation would be enough to keep anyone from getting killed.

"▄▅▄▅▂▂▃▃▄▄▅!"

There was something venting about letting her creation roar as it crossed the distance separating it and her adopted brother. Granted, Shirou wasn't exactly in the kind of frame of mind where any sort of intimidation tactics might work on him, but her Puppet Berserker's wordless war cry might serve to rally the others as well as draw the eighth Campione's attention from the fallen or injured.

In that at least she was successful. Just as he succeeded in throwing Ena from him despite the power she was channelling Shirou seemed to forget about the humans that he'd been fighting only an instant before as he spun around to face the giant form of his attacker.

In some strange way the scene that she could see through both her own eyes and those of her titanic familiar reminded her of the last battle between her usurped Servant and her Onii-chan when he'd removed the seal on his arm in order to protect her. However despite the superficial similarities the situation was considerably different. This time Shirou was the stolen protector who'd been turned against those he cared for, that and this time it was the giant that was outmatched.

Sparks flew as the weapons that she'd carefully chosen for her Puppet slammed into the crossed Noble Phantasms that Shirou wielded.

Illya was well aware of her lack of martial skills without her Noble Phantasm to impart them upon her, and that was something that she was planning to address as soon as she had the opportunity. She had spent quite some time practicing with the control of her puppet, but that had mainly been so that she could use the thing without it tripping over or her smashing something that she wanted kept in one piece. In a fight she could afford to let her creation cut loose since it didn't mater what broke, but as a Magus fine control was something she well knew the value of. But since that training had meant that she couldn't work on improving her fighting skills she'd chosen the weaponry of her puppet to compensate for that lack as best as she could.

Rather than wielding a sword she had instead equipped her puppet with two huge war-shields. Each was large enough to protect an entire man, thicker than battle armour and was lined along the edge with sharpened metal spikes as vicious as any swords. They were huge tower style shields and were strapped to the arm in a cunning method that allowed their wielder to wear them either along or across their arm as they saw fit and would let them switch between the two positions with ease. Each enormous slab of metal had a black design upon it with a single golden lightning bolt standing against the darkness, a design that Illya thought suitable for a false son of Zeus.

The shields had been gifts to Illya from one of the European magic associations that had been trying to curry favour with her. In the wake of her extremely hostile takeover of the Circle a fair number of the organizations that had previously paid only peripheral attention to the emergence of the eighth Campione suddenly found that they weren't as removed from the situation as they'd thought they'd been. As the Circle had steadily grown into a genuinely powerful and wealthy organization under Yusuke's care the lesser associations had begun to worry about the apparently overpowered child that had absolute control over the increasingly powerful organization. The fact that she'd gained that control by killing the previous Head Speaker and then flat out enslaving the surviving leaders hadn't done anything for their peace of mind.

As a result many gifts and not so subtle bribes had been delivered to the Emiya Mansion over the past couple of months along with offers of allegiance, promises of neutrality or flat out pleas for mercy. Illya had come up with a number of standard documents that she sent off, all of them saying more or less that she wasn't interested in expanding her influence at this time and that she had no desire to make any enemies that she'd have to crush at some later point in time. Perhaps that had had something to do with all the gifts, but in the end they'd stopped bothering her apart from the occasional delivery turning up every now and then.

Among the gifts that she'd received had been a number of weapons meant for her colossal puppet, who had himself become something of a minor legend after the members of the Circle that had seen him deal with the previous Head Speaker had returned home. Most of them had been too small for the false Servant to use properly, but a number of the larger ones had been of a more suitable size. Though none had been on anything like the level of even a minor Noble Phantasm the two enormous shields had caught her attention due to both their size and their solid construction. Already infused with a number of spells to increase their strength and durability Illya had done what she could to further enhance them in her spare time. Though not quite as good as even the Traced copy of Berserker's stone weapon the enchanted shields had proven to be strong weapons in their own right, so the young Einzbern had put them to the side in her workshop to work on more later.

Now it was these weapons that her imitation Servant was wielding, given that Shirou could dismiss the usual great stone sword with a glance. In all truth Illya wasn't sure how they would stand up to being used against the kinds of weapons her adoptive brother could call upon. But she'd spent the major part of the morning reinforcing them as much as she could, so they would hopefully be able to hold out until the end of the fight as long as they wasn't forced to defend against anything on par with Excalibur or Caliburn.

A shower of sparks signalled the first clash of weapons as the spiked edge of the right hand shield was blocked by the Traced Noble Phantasms. Through the eyes of her puppet the snow haired Magus saw that at the very least the huge barrier had survived the first clash.

Then she had no time for further thoughts because the eighth Campione was pushing forwards with his crossed swords, forcing his larger foe back. Illya barely had time to set her creation's stance before Shirou uncrossed the swords in another shower of sparks and then lashed out with blows that would have disembowelled a mortal foe.

Under Illya's mental command the Puppet Berserker was able to bring its other shield about to block the blows in time, resulting in another shower of white hot metal shards. However Shirou didn't stop nor did he hesitate, the blocked blow seemed to flow effortlessly into another attack that came at a different angle while his other hand did the same. Once more Illya used the superhuman speed of her creation to barely block, but this only led to another set of attacks, these coming even closer to succeeding despite her frantic flailing. In an attempt to get some room the huge form of the false Servant backed away from the enthralled God Slayer, but was relentlessly pursued as the red haired man kept up his attack.

Damn it, this was just what she feared was going to happen. In terms of speed and strength her creation might be a bit slower, but his size and weight gave him the leverage advantage, if only slightly, that meant that when looked at from a purely stats based point of view the battle should have been fairly even. The problem was that Shirou was able to use his own physical abilities to their best due to his personal skill and his faked ones. Illya, on the other hand, had no such skills and was as such unable to fully employ the abilities of her Puppet Berserker. Given that her creation was matched in strength and outmatched in speed the result should have been a one sided battle to say the least.

But Illya had been aware of her shortcomings and had prepared her creation accordingly. The purpose of the shields wasn't to serve as weapons but rather to bolster her creation's defence. The huge slabs of metal weren't the kinds of shield that humans could normally wield without the aid of a strong mount, say a rhino or an elephant, but for one of her puppet's strength and size they were ideal. Their huge size meant they could shield great areas and his strength allowed the false Servant to move them freely and without losing his balance.

Quite simply the young Einzbern was well aware that her puppet's chances of winning against her adopted brother were practically nil, not when he wasn't holding back, so she'd decided not to try. Instead her objective was to keep him focused on her false Berserker as long as possible so that the others would have a chance to regroup and recover. That was the entire reason for her purely defensive strategy.

At least, that was the plan.

Her borrowed eyes widened with alarm as another blow sent her stumbling back; franticly she looked over to see how the others were doing. Behind her controlled Onii-chan Erica and Liliana were getting to their feet while Ena helped Lu Yinghua tie his wound closed with a piece of torn cloth. Her plan was working, all she had to do was keep his attention for a little longer and they'd be able to get to safety.

A sudden blow to her left shield caught her completely by surprise. She'd been off balance and the arm had been at the wrong angle, as a result the force of the blow ripped the shield from the reinforced leather bands that had been holding it and sent it spinning off to the side. She was able to recover in time to bring the right hand shield up in time to block the next blow, but that didn't change the fact that half her protection was gone.

This was bad; she needed something, some edge she could use, some advantage she could gain, some-

The idea hit her just as one of Shirou's blows finally found its way past her increasingly shaky defences, perhaps she didn't need to block.

Kanshou screeched across her puppet's side, but rather than slicing into it there was instead a burst of sparks as the sword was deflected by the leaden skin of her creation. At her hiding spot a tight smile crossed Illya's lips, though it might be degraded it looked like her Puppet Berserker's God Hand was potent enough to defend against these Noble Phantasms at least.

For the first time since her first stroke Illya sent her false Servant onto the attack, trusting to her imitation Noble Phantasm to protect her creation. As the huge shield swung at him Shirou was forced to dodge and defend rather than press his own assault. Behind him the fighters were making their getaway, just a few more seconds and they'd be safe, all she had to do was-

"Trace: Overedge."

The words were spoken so quietly by her adoptive brother that even through the enhanced senses of her false Servant she almost missed them. There was no inflection to them, no emphasis, no emotion; they were more like the words of a machine than those of a human.

One thing that she couldn't possibly miss though was the way the swords in his hands suddenly seemed to surge and grow to twice their original size as well as develop a strange growth of feather-like splinters along the back of each blade. It was reinforcement of a sort, of that she was sure, but she'd never read or seen a Noble Phantasm that underwent such radical physical changes when such was employed.

Then there was no time for any further contemplation because he was coming at her creation again. Once more she tried to counterattack, relying upon her imitation God Hand to defend her imitation Servant, but that plan was brought to a crashing halt as a sudden red hot line of pain drew itself across her abdomen. Wincing at the sudden agony Illya's hand instinctively went to her belly seeking the wound; it was only when she found nothing there that she realized that the source of the pain was her puppet rather than herself.

It'd been hurt. The thought struck her like a thunderbolt as she realized that in the entire time that she'd been using her false Berserker this was the first time that anyone had managed to inflict damage upon it. The wound was only a shallow one, but she was experiencing the pain from it as though it were her own flesh that had been cut.

Instinctively the puppet recoiled in response to its mistress's sudden distress at the unexpected pain, but the eighth Campione wasn't about to show any mercy. Both augmented swords lashed out in an intricate series of slashes that took full advantage of their increased length and weight. For her part Illya was trying to maintain her control and keep up her defences despite the pain she was experiencing, but it just wasn't enough. Her shield was succumbing to the assault, no matter how many spells she'd had laid upon it its edges were starting to chip and she knew it wouldn't be long before chips became cracks.

More and more slashes seemed to be getting past the defence that her false Servant held no matter how fast she moved, and more cuts were being made to her puppet's body. They were shallow rather than serious, but the pain they inflicted was mounting. The young Einzbern was used to dealing with pain; she'd endured months of constant torture as she'd supported Berserker's existence without the Grail to aid her after all. Still even if she could bear the pain it seemed that once again her lack of skill was betraying her.

With a sudden change of tactics Shirou ceased to use the swords independently and instead swung them together in a single massive chop. Off balance and unprepared for the crushingly strong blow Illya found her puppet hurled off its feet and its shield sent flying from its hands. On pure instinct she sent her creation rolling to the side even as it impacted on the ground, a move that only just managed to keep it from being impaled right through as both the augmented swords came stabbing down.

She continued the roll, making sure to open as much distance between the Puppet Berserker and her adoptive brother as she could manage. Once more the move only just saved the construct as the impaled swords ripped sideways through the concrete and slashed through the spot where its neck had been only an instant before.

The roll turned into a frantic scrabble for her creation to get to its feet, but even as it did so Illya realized that the odds were now even worse for her. Her puppet was wounded, unarmed and facing a foe armed with weapons that could overcome its defensive abilities. Granted she was sure that even reduced her God Hand would be good for at least three or four full resurrections if needs be, but against an enemy like Shirou, one that could produce many different high level attacks, then the use of that ability would only delay the inevitable. Of course there was also the problem that Illya wasn't sure how her mind would be able to handle the mental stress of a fatal injury and a resurrection. Berserker had been insane, so that wasn't an issue for him, but even if he'd had his own mind he'd been one of the greatest heroes in all of known history so it would hardly have been a chore for him to bear it.

Frantically the young Einzbern Heir cast about with her puppet's eyes trying to find something, anything, that could be used as a weapon. Shirou was turning back to face the false Servant and would soon be attacking. She needed to find something to use, something to-

Her frantic search was suddenly cut off as the eighth Campione was suddenly sent flying as a miniature horizontal tornado crashed into him.

"Ah, so this is the great Black Giant that I've heard such tales of from my young Hawk," the clear and sweet voice of the Ruler of the Martial Realm echoed across the suddenly hushed battlefield as she came striding out of the cloud of dust and smoke that had still yet to settle. "Indeed it is as formidable as has been said, but I fear that you lack the skills to fully direct it young Illya Einzbern. Perhaps once this matter has been settled and my sworn ally has been returned to his senses I shall take the time to provide you with some suitable instruction. After all, is it not the duty of the experienced to show the ignorant how they may correct their errors?"

Not for the first time Illya was struck by how Luo Hao could be so condescendingly insulting while at the same time being completely without any sort of malice at all. Indeed she made her comments with such a benevolent smile on her face that once again Illya couldn't even bring herself to dislike the woman.

Still, this aid came at a most opportune time, frantically casting her puppet's eyes about the Einzbern heir spotted where her shield had fallen and retrieved it.

Not a moment too soon as it turned out. No sooner had her Familiar's hands closed about the weapon then it had to bring the shield up to deflect a trio of flying blades that shot at it like arrows. Off to the side Luo Cuilian flicked her wrist in a gesture vaguely similar to one waving away a bothersome fly and a screen of wind enfolded her causing the seven swords that flew at her to be diverted harmlessly to either side of her.

"I admit that the sheer power of King Shirou's earlier attack caught me off guard," the beautiful God Slayer admitted, "But I believe I have the measure of it now. Inform King Godou that I shall continue with the plan as we previously agreed."

With those words, and not waiting for any kind of reply or even acknowledgment from Illya, the Ruler of the Martial Realm bounded off in the direction that the swords had just come from. It probably didn't even occur to her that the snow haired young woman would do anything other than readily obey her commands.

With a shake of her head Illya dispelled her puppet and returned it to its astral state. That way it would have a chance to repair itself, if only a bit, and the cost to her Prana for maintaining its activity would be reduced.

Now, where had Kusanagi Godou got to?


-()-


Luo Hao made another slashing gesture and another sword was diverted to the side. As it struck the ground it exploded with enough force that were her balance any less perfect than it was she'd have been blow off her feet. However she never slowed down nor missed a step, instead she bore down on her foe with a sweet and elegant smile upon her lips.

Yes, this was what she wanted. This was the type of contest that she'd been longing for, the chance to test her power against that of others that were her peers or even her superiors, if such a thing existed. There was no longer any joy to her victories over the shallow mages and martial artists that from time to time allowed their egos to overwhelm their reason and so chose to challenge her.

But this . . . this was sweeter than the finest wine could ever hope to be. Her blood sang in her veins as she closed with King Shirou, her every nerve primed and ready in case he should produce a power similar to the one that had shattered her earlier Authority. Her heart raced within her breast at the thought of that dark blade and at the possibility that he might have more such weapons to draw upon. That power . . . she wanted to face it once more, this time with her more favoured Authorities, the ones that she'd honed her mastery of for decades.

That was challenge, that was adversity. Those were the very things upon which she'd thrived when she was mortal, the very things that had led her to become a King in the first place.

There!

She could see him now. The kicked up dust and smoke were making him a little hazy, but that was certainly-

"Ah, Nee-san, is that you?"

The God slaying martial artist came to a halt in her charge as the figure that she was about to attack spoke to her.

Kusanagi Godou? But . . . how, this made no sense. The dust and clouds might well obscure things from the naked eye, but she had decades of refining her other senses as well as her instincts and mystical senses. She should have been able to tell that she wasn't facing her target even if her eyes had been blindfolded, so how . . . ?

There was no time for further thought though; indeed she was barely able to dodge in time to avoid the golden edge of a spearhead slicing out her throat. Stepping back with perfect precision the Ruler of the Martial Realm avoided the following slash from a longer crimson spear that seemed to be familiar to her, though she couldn't quite place it.

King Shirou came out of the smoke cloud, his clothing stained by dust and wielding a pair of lances. Even as she summoned the winds to protect her Luo Hao couldn't help but admire the skill with which the red haired young man was wielding the weapons. Spears were not arms that one would normally use one handed, as a result she couldn't recall ever having faced a foe that dual wielded them with any level of competence. King Shirou though wielded them as though he had been using them his entire life, as though he were a musician with a favoured instrument. This must-

The red spear came into contact with her shield of wind and seemed to slash right through it. A slight cry of surprise left her lips as she was forced to step back once more to avoid the weapon cutting her. How? How had he done that? It was as though the force that had been directing the wind simply came apart as soon as the crimson lance came into contact with it.

No, that wasn't quite true. There was a definite lag between the lance encountering her wind and it passing through. It was brief to be sure, a bare split second, but the weapon was definitely not able to dispel her Authority instantly.

Ah, now she remembered, this was the very same spear that King Shirou had gifted to John Pluto Smith at the end off his now famous Feast. What had he called it? The Crimson Rose of Banishment, something like that anyway, and he'd mentioned that it could . . .

"Severe any Magecraft."

She finished the thought out loud as she finally retaliated with three back to back gusts that were each strong enough to uproot a tree. The red lance twirled like a bloodthirsty baton in the eighth Campione's hand and the winds were ripped apart as they came into contact with it. No, there was some effect; even though the vast majority of their power was lost a certain amount did make it through, enough to send King Shirou skidding backwards in the loose earth.

Alright, that got her at least a little room to work with. The red spear was a problem, but it was one that she could overcome, already strategies and ideas grew in her mind. The real problem was the other lance in his left hand, the shorter golden one.

She had absolutely no doubt that it also had some kind of power, if it didn't the she doubted that the younger Campione would have brought it to the fight. The question was: what was that power? At the Feast Shirou had mentioned the spears that he'd considered gifting to King Godou but had forgone, spears that sought out the hearts of foes without fail or delivered wounds that would never heal. Was that what this lance was? Whatever the case, she couldn't afford to let it strike her.

He came at her again, but this time she was better prepared. Rather than smaller gusts she instead began to draw upon the full force of the Dragon's Roar and Tiger's Howl.

"Last year we fought where the Sang-kan flows / This year it was Onion River Road. We've washed our swords in the Eastern Sea / Grazed our horses on Tian Shan's snowy side. A thousand miles are not enough for this war / Our armies grow old in their armour."

As she sang the lines of the Tang dynasty poem the wind around her picked up and grew. Both her arms rose to the starry sky and she spun in place with a grace that would have made the most accomplished ballerina weep with jealousy. In response to her movements and her song the winds about her grew in force, the young red haired King stabbed the red lance before him, its power fighting against the magical winds that pushed at him.

Luo Hao could feel it now, feel the tearing as the power of the crimson spear tried to unravel her winds. However this time the weapon wasn't having as easy a time of it. Even as its power cut at the magic of her Authority fresh force flowed into it, reinforcing it, repairing it. Quite simply the spear couldn't sever the Authority faster than she could repair it. Against a mortal magic it might have been different, but this was a divine power backed by a force that no normal human could ever hope to equal.

Her twirling came to an end and her arms came down and spread in a single motion, as though presenting something to her foe with a great flourish. As she did so the winds that had been whirling about her all suddenly changed direction and flew directly at King Shirou.

"Soldiers' blood on the dry grass stained / While generals map the next campaign. Wise men know a war having won / Is no better than losing one." The beautiful Slayer of Gods sang as she jumped to another line of the poem, one more suited to her aggressive actions.

This time it wasn't a mere gust that struck the eighth Campione, such a word was utterly inadequate to describe it. The wind pressure piled up upon itself as physics would not allow it to suitably carry its force. Instead the wind became something else.

A shockwave.

With an almost visible ripple the wave of sheer force crashed into King Shirou. For a brief instant he seemed to freeze in mid-step, held in place as his own divinely enhanced strength contested with the force working against him. Then the moment was gone.

Both the weapons in his hands exploded into golden sparkles of energy which in turn faded away, the constructs of his power unable to endure against her assault. The eighth Campione himself was sent flying backwards as though he'd been struck by some giant invisible hand. His form sailed back into the clouds of dust that had once more been kicked up, this time by her own Authority, and faded from view.

"Ah, so that's what it looks like when it happens to someone else."

It was all Luo Cuilian could do not to automatically take the head off the speaker that had managed to get so close to her without her realizing it. Even as every nerve in her body screamed at her to instantly lash out she suppressed the impulse with her usual Martial Mastery. After all what was a martial artist that could not even control themselves?

Still it rankled her that once more her senses seemed to have failed her. She didn't understand what was going on; normally she'd be completely aware of all that was taking place on the battlefield to the point where she could pluck arrows coming at her out of the air without even turning to look at them. Yet for some reason she kept on losing track of both her friends and her foes in this dust cloud that obscured her sight, and what was even more worrying was that she wasn't even aware of it until it was almost too late. It was a . . . disturbing experience, something akin to realizing you were blind only after you'd taken down a book and had opened it to read it. It just . . . didn't make sense.

Banishing the troublesome thought from her mind, but vowing to return to it later, the beautiful martial artist turned to face her sworn brother.

"Are you prepared for your opening little brother?"

In response the seventh Campione patted the sheath at his side. It was marked with a number of formulae and runes that had been carved or marked into the leather by almost all the magic users that had been present. Those wards ensured that not even the most sensitive of magic users could have sensed the nature of the sheathed blade without the use of a Divine magic specifically geared towards detection. It would ensure that there was no way Shirou would know that the dagger set there was the Rule Breaker he'd given to Illya. There was even a covering so that he couldn't see the hilt.

It had been entrusted to Godou because he was the compromise that made the most sense. They'd all agreed that Luo Hao was going to be the main fighter in this battle with the younger King acting as support, her martial skills were the more suited to subduing an opponent as well as for countering the kind of close in fighting that Shirou favoured. By contrast Godou was more suited to distant attacks as well as being ready to use his Warrior with a Golden Sword Authority to negate Shirou's if needs be.

Now . . . where was King Shirou?


-()-


The Remnant that was currently all that remained of Emiya Shirou 'thought' through the pearl hazy that clung to its every thought.

It didn't have a sense of self in the way that most humans did, that had been stolen by the Heart Thief, but it did retain the intelligence, skill and judgement capacities that it had possessed when it had been human. Threats could be recognized, strategies could be analysed, plans could be made.

In what could be called its mind the facts of the opposition were lined up.

It was outnumbered.

Only two of the opposition were vastly more dangerous than the others. There was one other opponent, one that had vanished for now, that could also be considered a danger, less than the two major ones but higher than the others, all others were merely temporary obstacles at worst. Within the Remnant's recollections were such labels as names and experiences, but with the absence of an identity the Remnant had trouble making the connection.

There was basic information about capabilities and past actions, these were connected to and plans were made.

The first step had already been taken, shortly after the female main target had reengaged the Remnant it had Traced a Noble Phantasm and left it embedded in the ground up to its hilt. The Fog of War was a cursed Noble Phantasm that was normally more trouble than it was worth to use, however in this situation, where the user was outnumbered and had no allies in the immediate vicinity, those negative aspects were considerably mitigated. For the enemy this meant they would have to be hesitant with their retaliations lest they end up striking an ally.

Still, the battle only just underway and as yet none of the foes had been dealt any sort of lasting damage.

That had to change.

Ahead of it the Remnant could see the outline of the female strong one that it had been engaging only a few instants ago. It noted that the weapons it had used before had been at least partially effective before they had been overpowered by her Authority. For a brief second it contemplated how the engagement had gone, then it formed a course of action.

"Past the jaws of Cerberus, down the twisting path to the kingdoms three, before me lies the domain over which I am monarch. Beneath the earth, beneath the darkness, all within is my possession."

Even as it spoke the spellwords that connected its Authority to the small pouch in its pocket its hands came up as it began to Trace.


-()-


Godou was finding it very hard to keep Luo Hao in sight. It was as though every dust laden gust of wind or billow of smoke seemed to be doing its best to obscure the other King from his view. It even distorted her outline a bit so that it looked as though her hair had fallen out of its previous style and made her look a little bit shorter. Another billow of dark smoke broke the line of sight, but he quickly stumbled forwards determined that he'd somehow managed to stay close enough to her to-

"Ah, Kusanagi-sama? What are you doing here?"

The respectful address was definitely not from his sworn older sister. Instead it was that Hime-Miko that served as one of Shirou's maids. Umm . . . Kaida. That was her name. Yuri had spoken quite highly of her when he'd asked if she knew the girls that were acting as aids to the eighth Campione, apparently she was quite a hard worker and-

Wait, if she was here then that meant that he'd been separated from-

As the sudden explosion cut his thoughts off once more he noted that some idle part of his mind was wondering if he'd ever be able to properly finish a mental train of thought.

Of course that was only a small part of his mind because the much larger portion of it was concerned with the source of that quite sizable explosion.


-()-


When the first of the skeletal warriors had attacked her Luo Cuilian hadn't been so much intimidated as she had been irritated.

Was this the best that her fellow King could send against her? Oh, to be sure that this kind of Authority could be terrifying and devastating against mere mortal sorcerers and mages, after all to have those once dead rise up against you would unsettle even the strongest heart. However against one such as her or against a god the power was of minimal use since by its nature it could only return those it brought back to the same level of power they had possessed when they were alive. As such they were still not on a level where they could be a threat to her even if they had possessed some form of magic before they perished. If they had been purely mundane warriors then they were even more hopelessly outmatched.

Certainly such revenants could be a threat in sufficient numbers if she was careless, but there couldn't be more than sixty or so of them and she could see them coming with ease. There was no strategy here, no cunning ambush or the like; this was simply cannon fodder being flung at her in a crude and senseless manner. She wouldn't even require an Authority to deal with this; her martial supremacy would be more than sufficient.

That particular thought lasted right up until she blocked the weapon of the first skeleton to attack her. It had been a European soldier, she guessed, judging from the simple leather armour and the type of sword that it was wielding, most likely from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Whatever the case might be the bony attacker might have credible skills, given its decent stance and swift movements, but the quality of the sword it held let it down. Her expert eyes noted tiny hair thin cracks running along the length of the blade and decided that a single skilful touch would be more than enough to shatter the faulty weapon. Once that was taken care of a single Tiger's Palm blow to destroy the warrior, then she could simply move onto the nex-

The sword exploded as she struck it.

As she was sent cart wheeling through the air Luo Hao's slightly stunned mind idly noted that even though the sudden blast had been totally unexpected she'd still succeeded in instinctively channelling her Qi into the protection of her body. That, combined with the natural toughness of a Campione's flesh, had kept her from receiving any serious injuries, but even so her right arm was covered in shallow burns and scratches and her clothes were seriously singed and blackened.

With a shake of her head the Ruler of the Martial Realm regathered her thoughts, and just in time as her spinning eyes caught sight of a tree coming up fast. Reflexes honed by decades of practice came to her aid and her mad tumble became a controlled flight. Her soft shoed feet touched the bark of the trunk as lightly as a drifting feather and she pushed off it and drifted to the ground with the stately grace of a descending angel.

Still, despite her external poise on the inside her emotions were a tumultuous mix. On the one hand she could feel her blood singing with the joy of battle, this was how it should be, surprise attacks from every quarter, unexpected power, danger, the addictive thrill of uncertainty. On the other hand was her wounded pride. Not even her sworn brother, the only man to defeat her in battle for over a century, had inflicted this kind of damage upon her. Not even the sword genius Salvatore Doni or the Black Prince Alec had managed to do more than soil her clothing during their short bouts, and here the youngest of the Devil Kings had not only ruined her garb but had also succeeded in drawing her blood. Her blood, hers, the blood of one of the oldest and most experienced Kings on the planet.

"Y-Your eminence, are you alright?"

On hearing the voice Luo Hao briefly considered eliminating this witness to her unfortunate state, but decided against it after a moment's consideration. It would hardly do to dispose of the witnesses to her grand battle after all; her tarnished state would only serve to bring more glory to both herself and to King Shirou given that she'd been able to crush Heretic Gods while sustaining less disarray than this.

It was only after she'd come to this conclusion that the voice registered in her mind as that of the eighth Campione's snow haired sister. Movement at the corner of her eye then caught her attention and Luo Cuilian saw several skeletons come running out of that wretched smoke that had concealed them just before. A wave of her hand and a surge of her Qi sent them toppling backwards off their feet, but as their weapons clattered to the ground they burst into great explosions that cratered the ground and sent of shockwaves that might have knocked her off her feet had she not firmed her stance.

"Wha-what was that? Shirou's souls can't explode!"

Glancing back down the Chinese Campione saw that the young girl had managed to keep from being knocked over by grabbing onto the very tree that Luo Hao had used as a step mere moments before. Her face was a mask of confusion as she stared at the freshly blasted craters.

"Indeed not," The Ruler of the Martial realm agreed, her voice every bit as regal as ever despite her less than perfect state, "It would have been beneficial had you informed us that those weapons your brother creates can explode at the slightest touch."

It had only been after she'd seen the weapons of the group she'd just toppled explode that the Chinese Campione had worked it out. There had been a residue of magic about the weapons that had only become apparent after seeing it once more, a signature that she recognized from the weapons that the younger King had used to such odd effects back in the Monkey King's cave when they'd both been trapped. It was shared by the great black sword that he'd used to break her Defending Godsword and had been about those strange spears that he'd used against her earlier. If it was about these weapons that were exploding then it almost certainly meant that they were also creations of the enthralled King.

"I-It was the weapons? B-But that can't be right, Shirou said that he hadn't gotten the hang of making Broken Phantasms."

The words were low and muttered, more as though the young one were speaking more to herself than to the God Slayer.

"A Broken Phantasm? Explain yourself."

Even as she spoke Luo Hao brought her hands together in a wide clap directly in front of her. In response to her movements her Authority unleashed a hurricane gust that sent the second group of skeletal warriors that had appeared flying back. The distance was enough that when they struck the ground and their weapons detonated the resulting blast had lost much of its power by the time it reached her and was barely more than a breeze.

"It's when you overcharge a Noble Phantasm with more power than it's meant to handle." Illya Von Einzbern explained as she seemed to regain her composure. "You can make them out perform their usual output, but then they are destroyed afterwards. It's normally a move of last resort since it destroys the Noble Phantasm it's used on, but for someone like Shirou who can just create new ones . . ."

Her voice trailed off as a thought seemed to strike her.

"But I've never heard of them being like this, so fragile that they'll explode at the slightest touch. Normally they're just Broken or fine, not somewhere in between. And not only that Shirou told me just the other day that he still hadn't perfected the art of Breaking them properly, not like Archer could, he's not that good yet, so how can he be doing this?"

Hmmm, so this was a skill of King Shirou's? One that he had yet to perfect? Ah, she could see the reason why it was now available to him, a reason that seemed to escape his sister though. Well, it was her duty as the senior of her brother to dispel her ignorance.

"If he is underneath the influence of an Authority it may be that since his mind is not his own he can overcome his limits," the advised, "It is not unheard of for such to take place. At the command of a god a child might overturn a cart or an old man may recall something he has long since forgotten. When under the sway of a Heretic Deity their victims can surpass their limits in many ways."

Her smile turned razorblade sharp as another trio of the skeletons appeared only to be sent flying and be destroyed when their weapons exploded on contact with the ground.

"However that same control limits them in other ways. King Shirou may well be able to perform feats that were previously beyond him, but he shall have lost in other areas such as independent thought or skill."

"I don't think Shirou's lost any of his combat skills." The young Mage opined, a statement that met with a nod of agreement from Luo Cuilian.

"Indeed, my ally's skills are certainly still most formidable; perhaps it is his tactics that have-"

Another explosion cut her off, but this one was from some distance off. The violent eruption was followed by a burst of colour as the darkening night was lit up by flashes of brilliant illumination.

Realization struck the Ruler of the Martial Realm like a falling star, the resurrected souls hadn't been meant to defeat her, they'd simply been meant to pin her in one place while the bulk of the others went after the other targets, the ones they could handle. That was why they'd only been coming at her in small groups; it had been to keep her in place while she dealt with them. Without a word the Chinese Campione shot off in the direction of the battle, her Jiǎo Qīng Bù covering the distance in rapid and graceful steps. The sister of her fellow King could follow if she was able; right now Luo Hao had no time to waste.


-()-


It was only Kaida-sama's startled reaction that had kept them from being overrun immediately.

When the first of the skeletal warriors had come charging at them out of the smoke Manaka's first reaction had been to whip out her combat rods and prepared to handle them herself while quietly cursing the fact that they'd been separated from King Godou. Had she done so then she'd probably have been killed when she accidentally detonated one of those explosive weapons that the resurrected souls were wielding.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it, Kaida-sama had been feeling more than a bit highly strung due to them having been separated from their allies, their visibility having been cut down to almost nothing and the sounds of battle seemingly coming from every direction. She'd been getting increasingly jumpy despite the witch warrior's assurances, as such it was hardly a surprise that when the undead fighters had come bursting out of the smoke and dust the black haired Hime-Miko had let out a sharp scream and reflexively unleashed a Dragon's Roar.

The force of the roar had struck both Manaka and the skeletons, but while the witchcraft user had been knocked into a nearby bush the small group of undead had been sent sprawling, well at least for a few seconds anyway. That had changed when their weapons had cracked and then erupted into a series of explosions of different properties and elements. As she'd been fighting her way out of the clutches of the bush Manaka had been sure that she'd seen fire, ice and even lightning mixed into the blasts as they went off.

Kaida-sama had been very apologetic, but her bodyguard had waved it off knowing full well that had that Roar not taken place then there was a good chance that she'd have been gravely injured if not killed. This strategy of turning his undead servants into mobile bombs wasn't something that her King would use under normal circumstances, of that Manaka was absolutely sure. One thing that she'd always found admirable about the red haired young man to whose service she was sworn was the fact that he'd never abused the total command that he had over the souls that he called up. He treated his servants with respect and dignity and always was respectful to the warriors that he called up so that he could spar with them or enlist them as future soldiers.

This treatment, to turn them into suicide weapons, it was something that she imagined her King had conceived of as a potential use of his Authority and then summarily dismissed it as unacceptably cruel.

It would seem that under the influence of that Heretic Goddess's enchantment he had no such compunctions any more.

As soon as the next group of skeletons had appeared they'd been met by a hail of spells from her rods. The destruction of the first group had shown her that the best way to deal with these kamikaze attackers was to take them out at range by targeting their weapons. The fragility of those exploding arms might make them a nightmare to fight in close quarters, but so long as you could see them coming it was possible to use it against them. After all not much more than the lightest blow was needed to detonate them, as long as you kept that in mind then they weren't too hard to deal with.

That particular thought lasted right up to the point where a warning cry from Kaida-sama alerted her just in time to twist to avoid a cutlass slashing as her back. Damn it; she'd been so focused on the main group that she'd been outflanked by a couple of smaller groups sneaking up on their position. For a moment she was shocked by the absurdity of seeing skeletal pirates and ninja coming out of that blasted haze of dust and smoke that seemed determined not to dissipate. The sight of them together managed to draw a strangled chuckle from her even as she backed closer to Kaida-sama. Pirates and ninjas working together? Wasn't that against the rules? By all rights they should be slaughtering each other rather than coming after her.

"Manaka, when I say 'now' drop to the ground and hold onto something."

The calm, though slightly tremulous, voice of her friend caught the young warrior witch by surprise. She was well aware that despite her courage Kaida-sama wasn't a fighter, indeed the only person that Manaka had ever seen with less aptitude for combat was the infamously gentle Mariya Yuri. Still, she didn't have too much more time to think about it because the Hime-Miko's voice suddenly rang out, clear as a bell.

"NOW!"

There was nothing to do but trust her friend. In response to the shout Manaka dropped to her belly unmindful of the dirt that was soiling her suit. Not a second too soon it would seem, barely an instant after she hit the ground she felt the force of a Dragon's Roar wash over her. It pushed her along, but with her spread eagled like a starfish there was little area for it to affect and she was able to bleed off its force by digging her fingers into the dirt to anchor herself.

The skeletal warriors, on the other hand, were nowhere near as prepared.

The earlier expression of Kaida-sama's power had sent the resurrected souls that it hit sprawling as though they'd been hit by an unexpected wall of glass travelling at high speed. This time it was more like they'd been struck by the invisible hand of some titan. Far from being sent tumbling they were instead launched into the air as though they'd been fired from a cannon. Their flights formed shallow arcs through the air and culminated in a series of explosions as they came crashing down.

Manaka scrambled to her feet once more and shot a quick smile at her friend before snapping out her rods once more and glaring around to see if there were any more attackers.

The hush was broken by the sound of soft clapping as another figure emerged from the infernally persistent smoke and dust. It took all of the witchcraft user's discipline not to fire off a salvo of spells as soon as she spotted the outline of the figure. Then she nearly bit her tongue as the outline resolved itself into the form of her Eminence Luo Hao. She'd nearly attacked a Campione? Thank gods that she'd managed to restrain the urge because Manaka was pretty sure that if she had so cavalierly attacked the Chinese King then the warrior witch might well not have survived her chastisement.

"Quite impressive for one without any sort of formal training," the female God Slayer commented as she stepped forwards with all the regality of an empress addressing adoring crowds. "It would seem that King Shirou is indeed skilled in the selection of his retainers."

Turning Luo Cuilian glared at the smoke and dust that obscured the battlefield as though it were some sort of direct insult to her.

"This is most unsightly!" She declared, "A battle such as this, a battle between Kings, should not be obscured by this petty veil of airborne debris. It should be for all to see, for all to marvel at since on this occasion I am permitting the rabble to gaze upon my imperial self. Such generosity on my part should not be hampered by this . . . haze.

"Away with it!"

The declaration was made with the same degree of imperiousness that would have been due to a queen passing a death sentence upon a troublesome rebel. With a wave of her arm she gestured at the clouds and summoned up a great gust of wind. For a moment the bank of dust and smoke seemed to resist, seemed to hold together despite the force pushing against it. A tiny frown fell upon the Campione's features and she gestured at the clouds once more, this time with more force and emphasis.

In the distance there was a small metallic breaking noise, then the bank of obscuring debris seemed to give up its futile resistance and blew away.

For a moment Manaka wondered what it was that had held the dirty mist together, one of those 'Noble Phantasms' that Illya had mentioned perhaps. That thought was swiftly dispelled though as she saw what the billowing clouds of smoke and dust had been concealing.

At the other end of the small park, close to the bank of the river, Godou-sama and her sworn liege were locked in combat, and if the blood running down the seventh Campione's right side was anything to go by then her enthralled King had the advantage.


-()-


Kusanagi Godou had been close to death before. He'd felt it breathing down his neck every time that he'd faced a Heretic God, after all when facing a being of vast age and power like them how could you expect anything else.

He'd come close to death on several occasions, times when only the Authority of the Ram had saved his life. Being struck by Melqart and receiving Athena's deathly kiss, both of those would have sent him to the afterlife had he not used his Authority of resurrection and healing. So death was something that, while he wasn't dismissive of, he did feel that he had more familiarity with than most people could claim to.

Well just a few seconds ago he'd been closer to death than he'd ever been before.

About five or six inches, some detached part of his mind noted.

The attack had caught him completely flatfooted, there'd been no warning, no tells, in the end it had just come straight out of the fog of dirt and smoke too fast for him to even think of activating an Authority.

In the end it had only been his instincts that had saved him. The same instincts that had always served him well in his previous battles, that had let him survive and endure. They'd screamed at him to move, even though the dust and smoke around them seemed to be still and calm, even though there'd been no hint f the oncoming attack. They'd screamed at him and he'd trusted in them and obeyed.

He hadn't been able to move far, he hadn't had time to even think about calling on the Raptor Authority to grant him Godspeed. Instead all he'd been able to do was lunge blindly to his left.

It had been enough though, the straight bladed rapier that would have run him through just below the throat ended up impaled through his right shoulder instead as the full force of the charging Shirou's lunge drove it into him.

Godou didn't hesitate for even an instant. To hesitate was to die, to freeze up was to be killed. He didn't need anyone to tell him that, he knew it as instinctively as he knew how to breathe. Instead he ignored the pain and twisted sharply to his left and used the hilt of the very weapon that was impaled in his flesh to strike the eighth Campione in the face.

It was an utterly desperate move, not to mention an insane one, but all of Godou's instincts shouted at him that it was the only way to survive the next two seconds. He'd been able to avoid the killing stroke that the ensorcelled King had aimed at him, but even though he'd startled him by moving at the last moment all he needed was a split second to realize what had happened and another attack would be coming at him, and this one he wouldn't be able to dodge.

So Godou attacked him in the only way that had even the slightest chance of success. Shirou had been leaning forwards slightly so as to grant more momentum to his charge, but the sudden give that he'd encountered due to striking to the right of the shoulders rather than the centre had made him lose his grip on the blade that he'd only been lightly holding. Before the King of Steel had had the chance to fully evaluate the situation the young Kusanagi's sharp twist brought the hilt of the sword rushing back to strike him right across the bridge of his nose just below his eyes.

When one becomes a Campione one's flesh and bones are augmented and reinforced. The bones of a Devil King are stronger than any mortal steel, muscle and flesh are like industrial strength kevlar and one's ability to endure pain is greatly enhanced. Even so there are places, fragile places, upon the human body that remain fragile despite such enhancements, and the thin cartilage of the nose was one such place.

The blow wasn't very strong, but it was utterly unexpected and even in his enthralled state Shirou was still vulnerable to the kinds of automatic reflexes that required no thought. As the metal pommel of the hilt hit him just below the eyes his body reflexively flinched backwards, that combined with him already being slightly out of a proper stance was all that was needed.

Godou's frantic shoulder ram caught him at just the right time to take full advantage of it. There wasn't much strength there, but there didn't need to be. Caught at the worst possible time and fully off balance the strength and speed of his Authorities were for just that brief instant inapplicable and the eighth Supreme Ruler tumbled backwards.

Of course he didn't stay there very long, almost the instant he touched the ground Shirou was springing up once more, but that split second was all that the seventh Campione had needed.

"For I am gallant, and what I display is the sigil of the fierce Camel!"

In truth he didn't even have time to finish the short incantation, but fortunately the power of the Authority kicked in as soon as he spoke the first word. Even as another sword formed in his enemy's hand Godou's left foot lashed and struck it, causing it to explode into metal shards that in turn dissolved into golden motes of energy. Even as he did so the seventh Campione grabbed the sword with his left hand and dragged it out of his shoulder. There was pain, lots of it in fact, but the Camel boosted not only his abilities of recovery but also his ability to handle pain, useful traits to have given that he could only activate it after having received a certain level of damage.

Before he could even think of using the blade himself though, the sword also dissolved into golden energy motes that in turn faded. The sudden loss of its weight almost threw him off his balance, but he was able to recover just in time to avoid being disembowelled as Shirou came at him again, this time wielding the same black and white swords that he'd used when the Feast had been attacked.

A sudden gust of wind blew over them carrying thick clouds of dust and smoke, but Godou didn't allow it to break his concentration as he dodged and retaliated against a flurry of sword strokes from his fellow Japanese immediately King. The young Kusanagi was immediately dodging franticly as the combat skill imparted by the Camel proved just enough to keep him alive. He knew he couldn't afford to get distracted, if he lost his focus for even an instant then those blades would claim his life. He'd be killed by one that he regarded as something of a friend while he was under the control of some cruel and spiteful Heretic Goddess.

To Hell with that!

He saw it just an instant before it happened, the way that the flow of the battle made that one split second opportunity that he could use. It wasn't any sort of skill or training beyond that given to him by his Authority, it was simply the same raw instincts that had saved his life not a few seconds before, and once again he trusted them.

The kick came straight at Shirou so fast that he didn't have time to retaliate; all he managed to do was cross the two Noble Phantasms across his chest to serve as an improvised shield. Godou's heel smashed into them with all the power that the Camel Authority could provide him with, and that was a level of strength that even the Heretic Gods that he'd faced couldn't dismiss.

Both the swords managed to hold rather than shatter, but they were pressed against the enthralled God Slayer's chest and acted as little more than armour as the force of the kick went straight into Shirou's body. The force of the blow lifted him off his feet and sent him flying backwards through the air for a distance of over twenty metres, but even as he fell he was able to orient himself so that rather than coming down in a tumbling mess he instead managed a controlled landing on his feet.

Fighting down a grimace as he saw his fellow Devil King get ready to charge Godou experimentally rolled his right shoulder to see how far its recovery had come along. It still hurt, but at least it looked like he'd be able to get full use out of it. If he could hold off on switching Authorities for just a little bit more then he might be able to get it almost fully recovered.

"That was most excellently struck!"

The strident and enthusiastic words came from behind him as his sworn older sister strode towards him. He couldn't help but note that the right sleeve of her outfit was half blasted off and the arm it had covered was scratched and burned. That was unsettling; out of all the foes that he'd ever fought Luo Hao was right up there as one of the most serious that he'd ever taken on. He was well aware that even though he'd managed to fight her to a draw it had been the fact that she'd handicapped herself by only using two Authorities as well as her underestimating him that had allowed him to pull it off. If she ever chose to go full out against him then it would probably be a more desperate battle even than that against the Great Sage Equal to Heaven. Not a pleasant thought.

The fact that she was hurt to even this degree was simple proof of how dangerous the situation was. Glancing around he couldn't help but note how devastated the area was, the fight had only been going on for two or three minutes and already the small park was a blasted and cratered mess. Still, better here than a residential area he supposed.

"Your skills have not rusted in the short time since our own match," Luo Hao commented, drawing him out of his thoughts, "To be able to match and retaliate against a foe of King Shirou's skill and resourcefulness is an accomplishment to be proud of."

This final declaration came as she stepped up to stand next to him as her gazed stayed firmly upon the other Campione. A sort of hush had fallen upon the battlefield; this seemed to be an important moment. The other combatants had pulled back as the three God Slayers faced off, the sworn siblings against their valued and respected ally.

"There has been enough testing of each other!" the Ruler of the Martial Realm declared as she stepped forwards and settled into a ready martial arts stance. "As of this moment there shall be no more holding back. This shall be a battle of Kings, let us shake the heavens with our splendour."

Oh boy, this . . . this could get messy.


-\-/-\-/-\-/-


Luo Hao's Newly Revealed Authority.

Defending Godsword – My foes shall be struck low, my enemies shall become my prisoners and my vanquished opponents shall feed my strength. All who stand against me shall become fodder for my power.

This Authority was gained by Luo Cuilian when she defeated Dayisud Tngri, a Mongolian war god from the 99 tngri, at the very beginning of the twentieth century. When manifested this Authority takes the form of a huge sword wielded by a phantom puppet hand connected to Luo Hao's own hand. The phantom extremity will perfectly imitate the movements of her own hand, though at a vastly increased scale in terms of both size and power. In practice this is an extremely hard Authority to use, however with her long life and immense martial talent Luo Hao has mastered the art of controlling the phantom hand that wields the blade to such a fine level that she is perfectly capable of using it to peel an apple to perfection if she so chooses.

In regards to the powers of the blade itself it has several at its disposal. First and foremost is that the edge of the weapon is supernaturally keen to the point where it can easily cut through almost all mortal materials. When backed by the raw strength of the phantasmal hand that wields it this allows the Godsword to cut through even mystically enhanced substances.

However it is when facing multiple foes that the Authority's full potential can be used. Incapacitated foes that fall under Luo Hao's control are counted as 'captives' by this Authority. Since Dayisud Tngri was ritually worshiped by having captured enemies sacrificed to him this Authority allows her to drain the lifeforce of those that are her 'captives' to further increase the power of this Authority. When well supplied with ample amounts of energy the Godsword develops the ability to release blasts of crimson energy on contact with a target that will further enhance its attack capacity. If taken to its maximum potential by draining the 'captives' to death then it becomes possible to use this Authority to unleash a single wide scale attack as all the accumulated energy is unleashed in a single instant. After using this attack the Defending Godsword will become unusable for a period of time dependant upon how great the release of power was.

It should be noted that while Luo Hao likes the primary aspects of this Authority she both dislikes and disapproves of the secondary abilities. As such she rarely ever uses the tactic of draining captives. The sole exception to this is when she is faced with an Authority that produces servitors such as Shirou's Demons or Voban's wolves. If faced with such creatures then she'll have no moral compunction against capturing them and using them as fuel for her Authority.

Another limitation on this Authority is that it cannot be manifested as an attack. Since Dayisud Tngri was a deity of a protective function it is only possible to manifest the Defending Godsword when using it to block or parry an attack. Once it has been manifested it can then be freely used as either a defensive or an offensive weapon.

It should be noted that unlike Godou Luo Hao is unable to combine her Authorities since they originate from vastly different gods. This means that she can't, for example, combine the wielding of the Godsword with the strength of the Divine Might of Vajrapani.


- \ -


Fog of War: Cursed Blade of Slaughter

Type – Anti-Unit/Anti-Army Rank – C+ Range – 1-50 No of Targets – 1(50)

The weapon of a nameless hero that sought vengeance upon the soldiers that destroyed his home village by mistake due to poor information. Over time the hero succeeded in tracking down those that had wiped out his home and exacted great retribution upon them killing them and their families. Unfortunately a great number of innocent lives were caught up in the Hero's quest for revenge and it was their blood that stained the blade black. None the less the Hero also performed various deeds of valour and generosity during the course of his quest and so was able to gain a place in the Throne of Heroes despite the deeds he committed.

This Noble Phantasm takes the form of a simply forged steel sword with a medium length blade that has been stained black with dried blood. This staining has caused the blade to become blunt, meaning that any damage it inflicts by cutting is halved. Should this sword be employed against a foe that can be identified as a 'soldier' then this negative effect will reverse itself and the sword will deal double damaged with each successful strike.

Due to the clinging resentment and rage that led to many innocent deaths attached to the sword this Noble Phantasm is also subject to a potent curse like effect. Once in an area the sword will begin to exude a curse over the region called the Fog of War. This curse will spread out further the longer that the weapon remains in an area to the maximum size of a small battlefield causing visibility to drop as all impediments to clear vision, such as smoke, dust or fog, will be reinforced and made worse. The curse has the ability to interfere with the ability of those caught within it to recognize friend from foe.

The effect is not overt, merely an elimination of the kinds of instincts that experienced warriors develop after a certain length of time. What does make it potent is that since the curse targets the presence of those caught in it, the tiny signals that everyone puts out on the battlefield, the effect is able to bypass such protections as Magic Resistance or Bravery that would normally cause such a spell to fail. The negative aspect of this curse is that it will affect the wielder of this Noble Phantasm just as much as it would their enemies, meaning that the wielder may also lash out at an ally on pure reflex where they otherwise wouldn't.