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 the next chapter, though this time you didn't have to wait quite as long for it.
Before we get to my notes and spoilers, I have a small favour to ask of my readers. As you might know from my last chapter, the reason I've been a bit slower in writing my fanfiction is that most of my attention had been focused on the first books in a novel series I'm trying to write, Blood Divine. It is with some pride that I can say the first book, Awakened Blood, is finished and edited, I've even sent it off to some publishers. Sadly, initial responses haven't been as positive as I would have liked, but I wasn't expecting thunderous accolades from the first people I sent it off to and assurances that I was going to outsell Harry Potter.
Anyway, I'm still a ways off from trying self-publication, I still dream of seeing my book on the shelf of a bookshop. One thing that was recommended to me was that I should try to have more people read over my work and get their opinions. That's why I'm asking if any of my readers would be willing to read the first five or six chapters of my novel, Awakened Blood, and let me know what they think. Rest assured that I'm not looking for a multi-page review or anything like that, just a short description of how you found what you read and any thoughts you might have. If you're interested, then please send me a PM with your email address and your reason for volunteering, then we'll see where we go from there.
Here's the 'back of the book' as it were, so you have some idea of what you're looking at. I hope it grabs some of your interests.
It has been three months since the Black Sun. Three months since the way was opened for all the gods, angels, demons, monsters, and other legends of mankind to begin the return from their long exile from the mortal plane.
This is the world that Adam lives in. A world where gods can take over countries, run corporations, become Hollywood superstars, or re-establish old haunts. A world where angels can fight to protect mortals from invading demons. A world where old bloodlines have begun to reawaken, meaning that around the globe thousands of demigods, Nephilim and other descendants of the Legends have started to come into their power.
And it is a world where Adam learns that he is a demigod, one descended from unprecedented multiple bloodlines and has a destiny hanging over his head. Some want to protect that destiny, others want to eliminate it, and others want to exploit it.
In a world where divine power is growing to be evermore the deciding factor, Adam must awaken his own blood and learn to use the power it gives him so he can survive in this ever-changing world. Simple, right?
You'd be surprised.
I hope this proves eye-catching for some of you.
In regard to my last chapter of this fic. I'm pleased that for the most part it was well received. Yes, there were some people that weren't happy to not have any Shirou action in that chapter, but for the most part it went down okay. There were a couple of somewhat abusive reviewers, but as I have said before, flames will be ignored. I only pay attention to constructive criticism, not vile drivel that only remains on my reviews because I didn't notice it until months later. That's how much attention I pay to it.
Right, sorry, had to get that out of my system.
I want to thank you readers that sent in ideas for Authorities Godou might get, your suggestions were greatly appreciated. However, given how many different Authorities I already wrote into this chapter I decided to leave Godou's until the next one. Rest assured; I haven't forgotten about it.
Well, this chapter has been one that I've been planning to write from almost the start of this fic. Do you remember way back when I first introduced Odysseus as a character? Even back then I had this fight planned out, right down to the big finish in the waves.
So why was it so damned hard to write?
I suppose some of it was that I was coming back to this fic after concentrating on my novel for so long. It took me some time to get back in the swing of things, to remember all the little details and the plans I had. I ended up having to reread most of God Slaying Blade Works, and let me tell you, I'd forgotten just what a monster of a fic it was.
Anyway, I hope you folks don't mind a second big fight-scene chapter. Rest assured; this will be the last one for a while. The next few should concentrate on the aftermath, various preparations, and Shirou and Illya's plans to return home.
This chapter also sees the revealing of Odysseus' past. I hope that it proves interesting. Odysseus was my effort to make an enemy for Shirou who was dangerous rather than powerful. In terms of raw power Odysseus is actually on the lower end of middling. Sure, he's got some Authorities that are potent enough to make other gods back off, his greatest assets are his cunning and manipulation. He wins by weakening an opponent, not by strengthening himself. I wanted his past selves to reflect that, being mostly minor or relatively unknown deities. Feel free to wiki them if you're interested.
Some of my readers might be wondering why Odysseus didn't use his Sole Survivor Authority to escape like he did back on the island where he first fought Shirou. What you might recall is that though the Authority might ensure his survival it also had a number of costs, among them was sealing other Authorities, and these were Authorities that Odysseus had already used in the course of this battle. As such he didn't have the divine 'coin' to pay for the Authority and was unable to use it. Summoning his ship made for a decent substitute, but as you know it isn't a perfect replacement, not in the face of overwhelming power.
Also, some readers might wonder why there is no Trojan Horse Authority, given that it is one of Odysseus' most famous feats. Odysseus does have such an Authority, but its one better suited to infiltration and deception, not for all out combat. Odysseus did consider using it against Shirou, but it was best used in a siege style situation. Had he tried to besiege Shirou in his manor then allies such as Godou or the other Campione would have rallied from without and pincered Odysseus and his allies before it could be too useful. Scattering Shirou's allies and isolating him was a better strategy, but one that didn't need a Trojan Horse.
All in all, I feel quite pleased with how the fight ended, though I hope it isn't too similar to Shirou's final fight with Gascoigne. I felt it was appropriate for a travelling god like Odysseus to fall in the sea as he did, but at the same time I didn't want the battle to end in a massive clash of ultimate powers. A brutal struggle between foes that had exhausted their power and had nothing left but their fists seemed more visceral, more real. Maybe Shirou being able to conjure a blade at the end was a little contrived, but it cost him, and I liked the idea of a single simple blade being enough to decide the fight.
Chapter Forty-Two: The Long Night Ends
Illya ran through the streets, unsure of just where she was going, but driven to run all the same.
If one were to look at the city around her it would seem almost calm. This had been a shopping precinct, and with the windows dark, save for flickering displays and neon signs here and there, the only light to be had was from the streetlamps. The place was quiet, totally lacking the bustle and crowds of the day. Yet, for all its eerie emptiness, there was also a comforting familiarity. There were no fires, no smashed buildings, no crowds of scared and bewildered civilians trying to understand what was happening.
She'd seen far too many of those as she had fled the park. Illyasviel von Einzbern was no stranger to horrors, the old castle of her family had been filled with an array of nightmares for her. From the experiments inflicted upon her, that had granted her power at the cost of carving at her lifespan and searing her with pain, to the lake of rejected and melting homunculi, there had been so much. However, it had all been . . . personal to her. To see so many others, people she didn't know, people that had nothing to do with her, there was a strange surrealism to it.
What made it worse was that it came on the heels of her . . . encounter with Ahriman.
Just the thought of it made a shudder run up her spine and her small fists clench. The sad truth was that Illya was no stranger to suffering, indeed, she was more acquainted with torture that most normal people could be and yet remain sane. Her family had worked to make her into a monster of a magus, one that they planned to unleash in the Holy Grail War. The strongest master, with the strongest Servant at her side. If the war hadn't been riddled with unforeseen elements then it might have worked, as it was she'd ended up being saved after her Heracles was consumed. She'd suffered for that power, paid for it in pain, screams, tears and nightmares. Insanity hadn't even been an option, the skills of the Einzbern clan sufficient to forcefully keep hers intact despite her agonies.
But Ahriman hadn't been anywhere near as simple as mere torture of the flesh. What he had done . . . it had been all about the mind, the heart, the soul. The foul god had done his best to break her, to force concepts, ideas and notions into her mind that would tear her apart from within. He'd wanted to raze her down to bare foundations and build a monument to agony and despair upon what had remained, all while consuming what he ruined. She'd resisted, she'd fought back, but even so there was a memory of helplessness, of powerlessness that had wormed its way deep into her. She was shoving it down, burying it, but the young Einzbern knew that's he'd have to face it sooner or later.
Feeling a scowl touch her face she looked around, trying to find somewhere to aim for, somewhere to get out of this sudden ghost town in the middle of Tokyo. She didn't relish returning to the panic and chaos, but just wandering here wasn't going to do anyone any good.
It was an explosion that caught her attention, one that was fairly close by. She felt power rippling out, a sense of something breaking and contained power spilling out. She didn't know what it was, but it gave her a target, a destination. Reinforcing her limbs, she put on a burst of speed and headed in the direction the burst of power had come from.
It didn't take her too long to find something. Floodlights had been brought in to illuminate the area, an intersection of several roads that had been reduced to a trashed ruin. Traffic lights had been knocked over, craters smashed into the asphalt, nearby windows shattered and glass shards lying everywhere. Had mundane means been used to repair the damage it would mean days of work by dedicated specialists. However, when magic was brought into the mix . . .
Even as Illya arrived, she could see members of the History Compilation Committee working to undo the marks of battle. As she watched, a trench dug into the pavement seemed to fill itself up, then harden to perfectly match the other concrete and paving slabs around it. By the standards of her home world's magecraft it wasn't overly impressive, but Illya had to admit that the practiced and industrious way the Committee members were putting it to use was impressive in its own way.
Back in her world this level of magical activity would not have been so easily used, or at least not so casually. Damage from supernatural battles, from such beings as Servants or Dead Apostles, were normally covered up by being declared to be terrorist attacks or industrial accidents. Actually repairing the damage done was regarded as . . . well, either beneath the dignity of any competent magecraft user, or as too severe a potential secrecy risk.
As she drew closer Illya felt some sort of barrier, a bounded field designed to turn away interest and keep civilians from interfering. She had no trouble pushing through it, and soon she was standing in front of the man that seemed to be in charge of the group. She'd been prepared to have to explain who she was, maybe even make some show of force in order to get them to take her seriously, but instead the man inclined his head in a respectful manner.
"Von Einzbern-hime, it is good to see that you are safe."
For a moment Illya was taken aback by the sheer respect being shown her. Sure, she knew that Shirou had plenty of pull with the Committee, but she'd not experienced such deference in the past.
"Godou was able to get me free," She explained. "What's been happening though? What's the situation?"
Nodding in acknowledgement of her question the man gestured to the slowly repairing damage.
"During the attack on the city a great number of divinely created monsters were released. The allies of your brother and of King Kusanagi have been able to slay them, but there has been a great deal of damage."
"How bad has it been?"
Illya wasn't too concerned, but she felt she had to ask. At that moment she wasn't just being herself, she was also being Shirou's sister, so any callousness on her part might reflect on him. once she got the obligatory questions out of the way she could get on with the more important stuff.
"In truth, it was not as bad as it could have been, something we have your exalted brother to thank for."
"Really, was Shirou able to help so much? I thought he was caught up fighting one of the Heretic Gods."
She hadn't been able to see to much through the haze of pain and despair that had threatened to drown her during her possession, but Illya was sure that Shirou hadn't been in the best of shape when he left Godou to rescue her. Had he been able to take out many of the monsters before facing Odysseus? A chill gripped her heart as the thought ran through her head. Had her stupid and selfless onii-chan exhausted himself even further before going into battle?
"Some time ago your brother ordered Homura-san to tell the heads of the Committee to make plans on how to go about evacuating large portions of the city should it proved needed. At the time it more of a mental exercise rather than a true plan, but those in charge took it seriously. Plans were made, possibilities explored, and resources reviewed. When this attack hit those plans proved relatively simple to implement, though the success rate was not as great as it could have been. Nothing could go perfectly, and some of the monsters were just too fast for us. There have been . . . losses."
A frown touched the white-haired girls face as she nodded. She didn't have any details, but she had some vague impressions of the sorts of monsters that Ahriman had set loose. Shirou had told her about the monsters he could create using the Authority he'd gained from Angra Mainyu, Ahriman seemed capable of create beast of even greater horror.
"And where's Shirou now?"
That was the question she wanted answered. Even if she couldn't do anything to help, she wanted to at least know. The man before her grimaced slightly, and she felt a pit open up in her stomach.
"We are unsure," He admitted. "We lost track of him shortly after he left the battle with . . . with the Heretic God possessing you. The lady Guinevere has set to searching for him, but she has informed us that the spells hiding him are potent."
Despite her young appearance Illya had picked up a number of particularly sulphurous curses over the course of her life. The members of the Einzbern family might have left most of her education to their homunculi, but she had had some interaction with the rest of the clan. Though most tried to maintain the demeanour of the noble family they were more than a few were prone to swearing like sailors in the privacy of their workshops when things went wrong. Few paid much attention to the half breed daughter of the 'betrayer' Emiya, and even during the torture of her education and 'adjustments' Illya had been a curious girl. Some of the things she'd heard had been more suited to dock-side sailors or hardened soldiers rather than members of the 'noble' house of Einzbern.
More than a few of those curses ran through her mind as she heard the unwelcome news. It also sent a chill down her spine. This, all of this, her abduction, the chaos, Ahriman, distractions upon distractions, all of it had been planned, she was sure of it. All this chaos was being made to work in someone's favour, and she was certain it would not be Shirou who benefited.
"Take me to Guinevere immediately!"
She gave the command as imperiously as possible, allowing for no response other than compliance. She might not be quite as good as Shirou at pretending to be royalty, but she had experience in being scary. The man before her hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
"At once, von Einzbern-hime. I shall have one of my men drive you to her location at once."
As she was escorted to waiting limousine Illya mentally offered up a wish to any power that was listening that Shirou would be safe. The irony that she was practically praying while her adopted brother fought against a god was not lost on her, but it was bitter in that irony. Still, she offered the wish up to any that might listen.
'Be safe, onii-chan.'
Shirou knew he was up to his neck in trouble and sinking fast, but he kept on moving.
The eighth Campione continued to make his way around the building's corner, his back pressed up against the brickwork. His heart was thumping in his chest, his blood seemed to almost roar in his ears as he did his level best to remain calm. Memories were creeping in on his thoughts, recollections of a life that hadn't been his, but which all too closely resembled his current crisis.
His alternate self, the Emiya Shirou that had become the Counter Guardian EMIYA, he'd had to deal with something like this. It had been early on in his 'career' barely after he'd left his teen years. He'd been dodging assassins sent after him, hired killers meant to bring his head back to a man Shirou's alternate counterpart had caused to lose a lot of money. Saving some captured slaves had left a major dent in the crime lord's wallet and his reputation, so a skilled sniper had been sent to deal with that version of Emiya Shirou.
It had been a tense situation even though the sniper had been using purely mundane weaponry. At that point in his life the future Archer hadn't fully developed his Tracing and he'd only been middling in the other skills he'd have possessed, such as reinforcement or even common Gradation Air. Armour piercing bullets fired from a high-powered long range sniper rifle had been a very serious threat. He'd survived, but it had been close, close enough to leave some unpleasant memories.
Shirou was far more powerful than that version of himself had been, but the one out for his life was much worse than a mortal with dangerous hardware to use.
Another sound, another violent lurch to the side, and another arrow drove into the concrete where Shirou's head had been only an instant before! Ducking down the Emiya heir traded stealth for speed and dashed around the corner, his Authority giving speed enough to stay ahead of the arrow that tried to pierce his heart as he made the dash.
Tightening his grip on Kanshou, Shirou did his best to keep moving even as he mentally reviewed his options.
Odysseus had chosen this spot well. The layout of the apartment buildings meant that the eighth Campione couldn't make a run for it without making himself a clear target. Even with the enhanced speed of Dragon Slaying Hero he couldn't cross the wide park-like space separating the apartment building from the nearby streets fast enough. Without cover, without deep shadows, there was no way that his enemy would fail to skewer him with at least three arrows, if not more. Even getting behind the buildings wasn't an option, since a large car park and a small green made the situation pretty much the same back there.
Shirou could try calling in Snow and making a break for it on flying horseback, but he didn't like his odds. Without his rider the pegasus wasn't as fast or agile. It wasn't a huge difference, but against someone as dangerous as Odysseus it might make all the difference.
If it came to a straight fight, then he still had two trump cards to use. There was Snow's suicide attack, which was unquestionably powerful enough to hurt the god and level most of the immediate area. The downside was that he hated having to sacrifice his mount that way, and if there were any civilians in the apartment buildings then they were going to end up as collateral damage. So far, he hadn't seen any hint of any inhabitants still around, but Odysseus had set this ambush up well and Shirou wouldn't put it past the god to use hostages to limit his foe.
His other trump was to sacrifice his copy of Kanshou to use one of the Armours of the Knight. The Armour of the Champion, the Black Knight's Armour, and the Titan Knight were available to him, but he wasn't sure which to use and when. In a battle between Authority users the nature of the battle was normally to match Authorities until one of the fighters either ran out of useable divine powers or encountered one they couldn't overcome. Such battles were much more complex than they sounded, but being the first to use an Authority was a minor disadvantage.
Shirou knew he was already on the back foot. Not only was his Tracing disabled, he already had lost access to Curses Without End and had already summoned Snow. The Authority he'd gained from Angra Mainyu had always been a major asset in any of his fights, but it was the loss of his magecraft that was the greatest blow. Noble Phantasms had always made up the bulk of his arsenal, Authorities acting more like support than his principal weapons.
Now . . .
On the other hand, Odysseus had come into this fight with a full quiver, none of his Authorities exhausted, he'd also set the stage, chosen the battlefield, and was setting the tempo.
Shirou's thoughts were cut off as another arrow came at him. Kanshou came up, the Noble Phantasm deflecting the shot in a shower of sparks. He was moving before the first of them hit the ground, following the wall of the building, looking for anything he could use as cover. And as he did so his mind frantically worked.
How was the Heretic God continually able to shoot directly at him? Shirou had been carefully keeping track of where the arrows came from, but some of the angles made no sense. The first shots had come from the roof of one of the apartment buildings, but then the angle had changed, suggesting Odysseus had moved from one rooftop to another. That was to be expected, but then they'd started coming at him from crazy directions, direction that would have meant their shooter was standing on empty air when he released them.
The eighth Campione grimaced as he used a skip, that had been left behind one of the buildings, as cover. It looked like the Heretic God was already using an Authority, either to teleport around or to somehow redirect his shots. Odysseus had been a prodigious archer, that was right there in his legend. His bow had been too resistant for the suitors of his wife to string, and he was famous for having used a line of axes to practice his shots. Him having an Authority based on his archery was hardly a surprise.
An arrow struck the metal of the skip which rang like a bell. Shirou grimaced again but noted that the angle had only been off because he'd been moving. Had he been still then he had no doubt that it would have gone right through his left shoulder. Looking at the impact he saw that the metal was dented, but not deeply.
That was something else that didn't make sense. The power behind the arrows was inconsistent. Sometimes they hit with enough force to blast concrete apart and leave craters in the ground. Other times they only hit as hard as bullets, deadly to mortals, but barely a threat to a Campione. So far Shirou hadn't been able to work out any sort of pattern to the power behind them, it seemed to be random, but he could feel something behind them, something he couldn't put his finger on.
He needed to know more.
A plan rose up in Shirou's mind. It was a cold plan, a calculated one, and it was not a plan that should have come to someone like Emiya Shirou. Emiya Kiritsugu might have thought of it, had he the resources. Archer, the Counter Guardian, might well have cheered his younger self on for using it, as it was a major step away the rigid ideals and philosophy that had led him to his doom.
"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."
The 'battle bag' containing his reagents was still at his waist, stitched into the inside of his trousers so that there was no way he could accidentally lose them. They also weren't visible to a foe, save as a small bump on his right hip, hardly an obvious target. He felt the divine power of his Authority reach out, connect to the fragments of bone, weapons, stone, and wood that he carried. He could feel the links there, the connections that moved past death and reached into the afterlife.
They came into being about him with surprising speed, countless flickers of light coming together to form them. Ghastly skeletons with dried and taut skin stretched over easily seen bones. Eye sockets devoid of anything save for an internal golden glow turned to Shirou, even as robes and armour formed upon the skeletal figures. Vikings, samurai, knights, mages, there were plenty of them, just over two hundred in total, and all waited for his command.
"Disperse! Find my enemy. Harry him, hurt him, do all you can to disrupt him and let me know where he is."
There was no need to say more. Without a word the undead servants turned and charged off. Several of them, those that moved slower or less stealthily than the others, were immediately cut down by arrows to the head or heart, but most continued on.
Shirou didn't like this, using this power in this way. When he used the Authority he'd usurped from Hades he preferred to summon his undead servants as full incarnations, all their flesh restored by his power. Summoning them in this state, as clearly undead revenants, might be cheaper for him in terms of power, but he knew that it felt . . . wrong, incomplete. It was a cheaper method, but it felt like an exploitation, even if the souls he called had consented to it.
What he liked even less was that he knew he was sending them to their deaths once again.
He could feel the links breaking, the channels that let him share his magical power with his servants to keep them in existence. They were snapping one after another as Odysseus shot them down. His power was too great and his accuracy too sharp. Each time he fired another of the undead servants fell.
But not too fast.
A grim parody of a smile stretched Shirou's lips as he moved once more, past the skip and along the wall. This time there were no more arrows, the Heretic God having other targets to worry about for the time being. It hurt him, but he knew that they weren't really dying. How could they? After all, they were already dead.
He told himself that again and again, but somehow it rang false. Hadn't that been the case with Saber? Hadn't that been the case with Rider? They'd both been dead, simply brought back by the Heaven's Feel ritual, would he have treated them like this?
Pushing such thoughts from his mind he focused on the present, focused on his enemy. This was the god behind Illya's abduction and possession, the attack on the city, Ahriman's arrival. He needed all his wits about him if he wanted to win.
Even so, Shirou couldn't help but feel uneasy at the back of his mind.
Odysseus stood upon the edge of the mortal building and released another arrow.
The shaft cut through the night air, its course as straight as a ray of sunlight, skewering a skeletal figure in mages robes through the head. The travelling god did not pause to watch as the figure faded into flickers of magic that in turn disappeared, instead he was looking for his new target.
This had not been outside his expectations. He had known that the eighth Campione possessed this Authority. Pushing him to use it, or some other of his stolen divine powers, was simply another step in the plan. It was good that this had been the first of the Authorities that his foe had used, it was one of the easier to counter, if he was ready.
His thoughts were interrupted as a trio of the resurrected souls suddenly came at him, rocketing up the far side of the building. One was clad in middle-eastern robes, a talisman made of bones and crystals clutched in one hand. A visible aura of magic surrounded them, as well as the pair of knights that it was levitating beside it. The robed skeleton thrust the talisman forward, and the knights came flying at the Heretic God like a pair of sword wielding missiles.
Odysseus noted that their swords were glowing, most likely charged with some magic or other. Neither of them counted as a true danger to him, but as beings born of a divine Authority they were more of a threat than they would have been had they simply been mortal magic knights of the same level. As such he took them more seriously than he might have needed to.
His bow fell to his side as he drew his sword, a short and thick blade made of Greek bronze. It was not an Authority, it held no power of its own, but it was a familiar and trusted weapon, one that had been with him for many thousands of years. As the weapon of a god the blade was stronger and sharper than should have been possible for its materials. With effortless grace and skill, he turned in place, avoiding both cuts, then brought the blade about in an arc, the sword cleanly taking the head off one revenant before impaling the other where their heart should have been.
Not even pausing to watch the knights dissolving into sparks of magic the Heretic God let go of his sword, flicked his bow up with one foot, caught it, drew an arrow and released it, all in a single flowing movement. The shot tore through the air, and ran the mage through, impaling both its upraised amulet and its skull, essentially nailing the two together before both faded away.
As the last remains of his attackers faded away Odysseus took stock of his situation. The trio that had attacked had been the first, but they had been far from the last. Already he could see dozens of other undead climbing up the side of the building to reach him. Maybe they weren't a true threat to him, but they might be able to injure him, or force him to use one of his more powerful Authorities on them.
However, this was all within his plan.
He'd slain the first few of the undead servants with his arrows and blade because he had to clear the conditions for his next Authority, but now that more than ten had fallen he was free to use it.
"Come now, return to your rest."
Though he was no Campione, one that needed spell words to unleash their divine power, he still felt a need to say something. The words were whispered under his breath as his power manifested. Portals the colour of freshly spilt blood sprang into existence behind each of the undead servants, portals that exerted a pull upon the incarnated souls. Maybe the servants of the eighth Campione tried to resist, if they did it made no difference or so little that their efforts could not even be seen.
One and all, the undead souls were dragged through the bloody portals, their forms breaking apart into magical fragments as they did so.
Odysseus allowed a satisfied smile to touch his lips. Good, another of the King of Steel's Authorities had been sealed. With his resurrected souls pulled back to the underworld it would be a full day before he could summon any more, that aspect of the Authority essentially sealed off. The souls that weren't present for the battle, those minor servants that might be at the Devil King's home or elsewhere, would be unaffected, but they were of no concern.
What was of concern was the next move that his foe would make.
In all truth Odysseus was enjoying the battle so far. He still felt it, the endless all-consuming desire to GET OUT, to escape the prison the world had become, but it was muted, buried beneath other concerns. His mind felt sharper, not more focused since he had pursued his freedom with an intensity that cut through all, but somehow less cluttered. At this moment there was only the now, the foe to fight, and the path to seize victory.
The single word was spoke in a low tone, but power danced upon it. The travelling god felt his internal energy drain by a noticeable margin as his divine magic reached out, warping the mortal world, pulling a manifestation of his divinity into being. Above him the sky darkened, clouds so thick and heavy they might as well have been made of lead rushing in from nowhere to obscure the stars and moon. Before long the sky was like a ceiling above the city, a vast plane of clouds ready to fall in a pitiless deluge.
Again, he spoke the word softly, but the result was anything but soft. Above the clouds flashed, lines of light burning for an instant, then fading. Small rumbles could be heard, but nothing as loud or forceful as it should have been. Odysseus allowed himself another smile as he gazed upwards. Of course, the thunder and lightning were not yet sounding, nor was the rain falling. It was all being held, built up, prepared for when he wished to let it rain down on his foe.
His smile became a frown as he realised that while dealing with the undead servants and setting up his Authority, he'd lost track of the Campione. He was still in the area, Odysseus could vaguely sense the power of his presence, but his exact location was lost.
It would seem that though the Heretic God had won the first exchange the game continued.
When his resurrected souls had suddenly been forcefully removed from the mortal plane Shirou had experienced a feedback that sent him to his knees. It hadn't been pain, not exactly, but there had been a definite sense of something breaking, and then it had been as though a battering ram had crashed into his train of thought. Whatever he'd been thinking, planning, it was all gone, scattered, and he had to stop just to get his thoughts, any thoughts really, into some semblance of order.
For a moment he didn't know where he was, his eyes flicking around trying to make sense of what he was seeing, then his hand tightened around the hilt of the copy of Kanshou in his grip and he had an anchor. Memories clicked into place, and his scattered thoughts reordered. He knew where he was, and what he'd been doing.
After sending out his summoned servants Shirou had ducked around the corner and made a dash for the next building over, using what cover he could and keeping a careful mental eye on the links to his servants. He'd felt several of them wink out of being, but he'd been expecting it. They'd managed to get Odysseus' attention off him for a moment, and that was enough, the Emiya heir had taken the chance to get out of the open environment and into one of the buildings.
It was something of a gamble, but he had a plan. He was betting that Odysseus wasn't going to go straight to pulling out the big guns and just levelling the place via mass destruction Authorities. He'd been fighting conservatively so far, so Shirou hoped that would give him the time he needed.
Regaining his composure, he turned into a corridor, then kicked open the door nearest to him. It wasn't a wild action, the kick was well aimed and strong enough to snap open the door, breaking the lock without too much sound. Without hesitation he followed through, unmindful of his breaking and entering. As he did so he went over what he was feeling, the loss, the broken connection.
Curses Without End was still cowering within him, the Authority having been driven into inaccessibility by its encounter with Ahriman. Now Rule of the Underworld felt . . . incapacitated, the grouchy dragon it had always felt like in his head was now lolling to the side, one half of its body paralysed as though it had been anesthetized. Shirou couldn't reach the reagents in his 'battle bag' with the Authority, the normal sense that let him make that connection numb to the point of uselessness. He didn't know how, but his Authority had been temporarily crippled. He could feel that it wasn't permanent, but he knew it wouldn't be recovering in time to make much of a difference to the fight he was in.
Shaking his head, the eighth Campione dragged his thoughts back to the task at hand and scanned the set of rooms. As expected, the apartment was empty. Whatever Odysseus had done to prepare the area it seemed that getting rid of the occupants had been part of it. There were no signs of blood or violence, so Shirou was hoping that the inhabitants had somehow been driven off through compulsions or something similar. The alternative was that some Authority had been used to disintegrate them all before they could react, not a thought he wanted to give serious thought, even if he had the time.
His eyes and mystic senses darted around, trying to spot anything he could use, but found nothing. As fast as he could he was back in the corridor and kicking his way into another apartment a bit further down. Again, he looked and sensed, again there was nothing he could use!
Another apartment! Another search! Once again, nothing!
It was just as he broke into the fifth apartment that Shirou's instincts suddenly screamed at him. He didn't know if it was some intuition born of experience inherited from his Archer counterpart, or if they were new instincts born of becoming a Campione. All he knew was that before coming to this world he hadn't had them, but he was thankful he did now.
He was flinching to the side before he knew what he was doing, only after hearing the crack of glass and the rush of wind past him did it add up. The sound of breaking wood and concrete through the door he'd just passed through didn't hurt either. His eyes darted to the windows across the apartment and spied the crouched form of his enemy on the roof across the plaza.
He'd been found!
Inwardly cursing Shirou ducked back into the corridor, trying to cut the line of sight with the Heretic God in an effort to make his shot harder. A sudden searing pain in his left shoulder told him he hadn't been as successful as he hoped an instant before the full realization of what had happened hit him. The Campione was lucky that it was more of a glancing blow than a direct one, only an inch to the side and it might have gone straight through bone. As it was, he had a deep gash that was leaking blood worryingly fast.
Gritting his teeth and trying not to use any of the swear words he'd learnt from the souls he'd summoned as teachers, Shirou dashed down the hall, turning at the end, heading for the stairs, making his way up to the next floor. This time he was careful, kicking his way into an apartment facing away from other buildings. It wasn't much, but hopefully it would keep him hidden a bit longer.
Taking a moment, he grabbed a shirt that had been hanging on a heater and tore a long strip off. It wasn't neat or even, but it was long enough to loop under his armpit and over the wound on his shoulder. All in all, it was far from the best it could have been, but he hoped that between it and his Campione enhanced body it would be enough.
As he scanned the room, trying to see if there was anything else he could use, he mentally reviewed his assets that remained. All told it wasn't an encouraging tally. Curses without End was lost for the time being, Rule of the Underworld was crippled and had effectively taken Steel for the Legion with it. The Bloodstained Fields were also a no-go since they would only improve things for Odysseus, removing most of the cover so that the Heretic God would have a cleaner shot. Maybe if Shirou still had his Tracing available it would have been a viable choice, but as things stood it just wasn't suited for this sort of fight.
That left him with Snow, Dragon Slaying Hero, his three Armours, and . . . Golden Cupid.
Internally he felt his stomach roil at the thought of using the Authority he'd gained from Venus. That Authority . . . it was powerful, it could end this battle, turn Odysseus into a friend, make him obsess over some statue or painting until he didn't care about Shirou at all. The problem was that the thought of using such a power, even on an enemy like the travelling god, sickened him. He was willing to use the golden bow to help fire his modified Noble Phantasms, but that was all. The thought of using the heart-violating aspect of that Authority did nothing but-
His hands clutched at golden hair as nails dug into his back . . .
Shirou almost tripped as the sudden flash of memories made him stumble. Damn it! He thought he was past this, that he'd moved beyond the damned flashbacks to those missing hours when he'd been under Venus' control. They'd been coming less and less frequently, and some part of him had been hoping that maybe they were done with. No such luck it would seem. Some things you just didn't get over so easily.
Trying to distract himself from further thoughts about an impossibly beautiful goddess and the pearl sheen of equally impossible emotions that seemed to colour the memory, the eighth Campione refocused upon his situation.
He only had two real shots at breaking Odysseus' immortality and finishing him off, Snow using his sacrifice attack and the Titan's Armour. His other Authorities were more about support, increasing his strength or defences so he could match a Heretic God in a fight, but lacked any option to put one down. The realisation of just how limited he was brought a grimace to his lips. Shirou had always known that his Tracing and Reality Marble were his strongest assets, but it wasn't until now that he understood just how much they had helped him. Other Campione had to be careful how they fought, not squandering the trumps that let them slay gods. The Emiya heir had always had dozens of weapons that could serve to deal the final blow ready and waiting in Unlimited Blade Works.
Glancing down at the blade in his hand he was all too aware of how limited he was at the moment. The armours required a sacrifice to be used, a sacrifice of worthy steel. And right now, the only such steel he had was his only weapon. And even if he did use it, then which armour would he go for? Maybe if he-
Again, his thoughts were cut off. However, this time it was not a flashback to some painful memory that interrupted him. Instead, then the ceiling came crashing down in a wave of wood, plaster and concrete, all of it accompanied by the sound of thunder.
Odysseus had been hoping to wait longer, to harry the Devil King further before moving to this part of the plan. What he had not accounted for was the infuriating tendency of Pandora's children to overturn the odds set against them.
Had Emiya Shirou been any normal mortal then he would already have been skewered by more than a dozen arrows. The travelling god might not have used an Authority upon his bow and arrows, but his skill should have been easily enough. Yet somehow the Campione had always managed to find the right combination of skill and luck to dodge the shafts. Be it standing in shadows just able to throw Odysseus' aim off, or intuition enough to move just when the Heretic God had a bead on him, it always came at just the right time. To be sure it was not a flawless defence. Odysseus knew he had drawn blood, even injured his target, but it was not enough.
This plan hinged upon maintaining the pressure on the God Slayer, on ensuring that the only actions he could take would be the ones Odysseus had planned for. Eliminating his undead servants had been one such step, though his escaping into the buildings had occurred earlier than planned. It was not enough though, an inconvenience, nothing more. This too had always been part of the plan.
In response to the one word by the Heretic God the clouds above seemed to lash out at the building he stared at. Lightning fell like a descending spear, intent upon not merely striking, but rather sought to SMITE with the full wrath of the heavens!
Once. Twice. Thrice. One after another three bolts of lightning struck the block of apartments that the King of Steel had tried to hide in. The first bolt speared the building, the second began its collapse, and the third completed the destruction. In a cloud of dust and debris the structure seemed to almost implode, sliding inwards to a central point. Several small fires broke out, but they seemed unable to spread, the heavy atmosphere beneath the Authority hovering in the sky oppressing the flames too much for them to grow.
Of course, he had no expectation that such an attack had been enough to slay Emiya Shirou. If such meagre methods were sufficient then he never would have been able to become a Campione in the first place. Instead, he strung another arrow on his bow and waited as he allowed the bank of clouds above him to gather power once more. There were only so many ways that his target could react to being buried in the debris of the apartments. All Odysseus needed to do was see which one he chose.
Gaining Archer's skills had been a torturous experience. Having his mind come apart even as his body was impaled from the inside out was in a class of its own as far as horrific went.
That said, Shirou would always regard it as a price well spent to gain some part of the hard-won experience and skill of his Counter Guardian counterpart. Not just the vast store of Noble Phantasms and other magical weapons in their Reality Marble, it was his training and battle instincts that were almost as valuable.
Case in point, when the building came crashing down around him the Campione had been able to spot two support beams falling against each other, creating a safe space as debris piled upon them. The dust in the air had been choking, and the roar or falling wreckage had been deafening, but when the last stone fell Shirou had been alive and mostly unhurt. More than that, he could see the light of the streetlights through a small hole in the rumble, enough to let him know that getting out of the building's remains wouldn't be vastly difficult.
For a moment Shirou tried to review his options, to form a plan, but a rumble of thunder cut off any thoughts of doing so. Time wasn't on his side. That had to be an Authority that brought down the building, he was sure of it, and if it could unleash one attack then more would not be far behind. He hated being forced to move like this, but if he waited then he was just going to be a sitting duck for any further attacks. He'd survived the collapse as well as he had by luck and skill, but if he didn't move then all he'd have would be luck, and even that would eventually run out.
A Campione might be able to defy fate, but every Campione in history, save for those currently alive, had died to battle or treachery, defying fate did not make one invincible.
He did what he could, deliberately grinding dirt and dust into his clothes as he clawed his way out. It might not be much against a divine archer, but every little bit improved his odds. Still stubbornly gripping Kanshou in his hand Shirou forced his way out from under the rubble as quickly and silently as he could manage.
As it turned out, quick he could do, silent . . . that was another matter.
As the tunnel he'd used collapsed behind him with an audible crunch or falling wood and plaster the Emiya heir winced as the sound echoed around the park-like plaza that spread out between the two remaining buildings and the ruins of the third. This was why EMIYA was unsuitable for being summoned as a servant. He might know how to sneak around, but more often than not his efforts undermined themselves.
Or maybe they were both just unlucky that way. Hadn't Archer's luck been pretty much rock bottom?
It was at about that point that another arrow missed impaling Shirou through his throat by barely more than an inch, and all other concerns became irrelevant.
Shirou ran again, pushing his body as hard as he could to cover the metres that took him out of a direct line of sight, even as he scrambled to dodge more arrows as they came at him. He wasn't making for a graceful sight, that he was sure of. The sight of him throwing himself to the side at random moments, stumbling, almost falling only to regain his balance, scrambling to keep moving even as he fought against his own momentum. It wasn't graceful, but it worked.
At least, until it didn't.
The arrow went through his left leg after he took his weight off it, so he was able to keep going for a few yards on sheer momentum. Unfortunately, it had been a crippling hit, the shaft punching through his knee with enough force to go right through. As Shirou tumbled forward into a crashing tumble he did his best to keep from either cursing or screaming. The pain was sharp and searing, enough to let him know his leg wasn't going to be good for much other than dead weight for a while.
The only thing going for him was that the young God Slayer had just managed to reach cover as that last arrow hit. His collapsing tumble had brought him into the protection offered by the bricks of a stairwell. He'd more or less come crashing down in its shadow, just in time for another arrow to hit the bricks, sink in, but stop before penetrating all the way through. He had a respite, though it would be brief.
Gritting his teeth Shirou reached down and snapped the head off the arrow, then, biting back a scream as he did so, he pulled the shaft out of his leg. That . . . that had hurt almost as much as when the damned thing had gone in! His knee was still a burning ball of pain, but now that the arrow was out it could at least start to recover.
Above him the sky rumbled, and for the first time the King of Steel realized just how dark the sky was. Sure, it was night, but he could see no sign of the moon or the stars, instead it was as though a black roof had been placed over the city.
. . . A roof being lit by the occasional dancing line of lighting . . .
Suddenly, Shirou had no difficulty working out what had happened to the building he'd been in.
Another arrow sank into the bricks he was using as cover, this time hitting with the force of a small explosive. Mortar cracked and bricks broke in places, but the rest held strong, though he wasn't sure for how long that would continue. But the fact that the lightning flickers above were growing noticeably more frequent as time passed mean that it might not be a concern for too much longer.
Staring down at the sword he still held Shirou knew that he was being backed into a corner. If that lightning came down, then his only choice was going to be to use an armour to save himself. Even summoning Snow to try to ride for safety wouldn't work, either an arrow would get the pegasus or a lightning bolt would. But doing that would use up his only ready ace by consuming the traced Kanshou. He didn't have any other metal that would be an appropriate sacrifice, the reagents he carried weren't suitable, and Odysseus' own arrows didn't seem to count, he instinctively knew it.
Hells, the Root, and any other cosmic powers that wanted to pay attention, damn it! He knew how he'd ended up in this state, but was this really it? He'd tried to plan, to be smart about his fights, to give himself the best chance to live for Illya and to get back to Sakura. Had it all been for nothing? Did he have nothing left? The Gem Sword? No good right now, he had no way to access it from a distance. His home defences? The same problem. Everything he'd set up had been from the perspective of fighting off an invading force, not being caught away from his home territory like this. There was nothing he could use! Nothing he could call on to . . .
Shirou's eyes went wide as a memory clicked in his head, a memory that he'd tried to forget. When he'd been building the defences of his manor it had been before he understood what being a Campione meant. Back then his thoughts had been consumed by worry at this new power and the possible consequences. He'd thought that if the mages of this world were anything like those from his then they'd be eager to cut him and Illya apart while they were alive in order to learn what they could. The kind of boost in power he'd received would have been more than enough motivation to make almost any Clocktower mage dive headfirst into atrocities in order to duplicate it.
So, when he'd prepared his defences, he'd been vicious, a viciousness driven by fear of what could be and affection for the only person he could call family in this world. With Illya's help he'd built up enough wards, mysteries and magecrafted traps to give a small army of mages pause. And then he'd gone on to do more, to create a 'nuclear option', something he'd desperately never wanted to use, but which he couldn't help but create in preparation for the worst scenario his mind could come up with.
And now . . . now it was time to use it!
Reaching inside himself the eighth Campione felt the connection that had been sitting there for months now, tiny and seemingly frail, but still intact, waiting for him. Curses Without End still remained sealed, but even if he couldn't make use of its power, he could still use what had already been set up in advance.
*Here is your enemy! Here is your target! Come, I need you!*
He called, and his creations answered.
They had slept for so long, but when the call came it roused them from their slumber without effort.
In that room, where months before a Campione had suffered and strained to use his newly gained power to create monsters, one jar after another shattered as the creatures within stirred. One, three, five in total. Of the original eight more than half had been released. Weakness, misfortune, hunger, fear and rage, those were the words that had been written upon them, but the creatures that came forth were more than those words could properly convey.
Curses Without End had given birth to monstrosities, living incarnations of concepts into which Shirou had poured his divine power. Now they were free of their sleep and confinement, but the will of their creator still bound them.
Like wraiths their smoky forms passed through walls and dirt without a hint of impediment. They rushed up into the overcast night air, moving faster than any bird or machine could have matched, heading unerringly towards the spot where their maker had called them, where their foe and meal awaited.
And as they drew closer, they grew in size.
When the curse beasts had first been created, they had been small beings. Even rage, the largest of them, had only been as large as a bulldog, the rest of them barely being them same size as the average housecat. Now though, now they swelled in size as they passed over the city, growing larger and larger as they fed.
There had been a reason that Shirou had made them his last line of defence rather than his first. The curse spirits his Authority allowed him to create were not static beings. They could feed upon the same essence that made them up, be it emotions such as fear or anger, conditions such as misfortune, or even draining others to create their essence, such as hunger or weakness. In many ways they were similar to the monsters that Ahriman had unleashed upon the city, and now that was working to their favour.
The beasts that the evil god had unleashed had been meant as distractions, but they had been eager to consume all they could. They had attacked the city with single-minded ferocity, desperate to gorge themselves. As a result, there was a lot of anger and fear amidst the stunned and confused populous. There was plenty of misfortune about, there was plenty of weakness, and, due to another monster with the same essence, there was even a glut of hunger.
They grew as they fed, the air above the city a feast for them all. Before long they had swollen from the size of mere house pets to the bulk of full-grown cattle, and were still growing, though not as rapidly. All of this took place over the passing of a few seconds, as they covered the distance between the home of their creator and the site of his battle faster than the wind.
In mere seconds they were at the battlefield and could sense the potent divinity of the one their master fought. The creations of Curses Without End held no true loyalty towards the Campione that had forged them. He was their creator, the one that held their leash. He could choose their food, their freedom, their limits, but should he ever lose that leash they would just as easily turn upon him.
For now, though, they were content to descend upon their chosen foe like a collection of nightmares given form.
Odysseus split his attention between aiming his arrows and directing the storm above him.
His Authority continued to gather power. The first volley of lightning bolts had been powerful, but they had been insufficient to slay his target, though they had been able to pressure him.
Not enough though. The plan was holding, but the travelling god could not move onto the next phase before having forced the eighth Campione to exhaust another of his armour Authorities. It didn't really matter which one, Odysseus was prepared for either with the power built within his bank of storm clouds. What was important was removing another arrow from his foes quiver.
That was where the Heretic God had been wrong in his attack on the island. Back then he had been too eager for the kill, for his promised freedom. He had weakened his target after cutting him off from his allies. It had been a good plan, but it hadn't taken into account just how . . . troublesome a foe the King of Steel was. This time he was better prepared, and better understood the young God Slayer. This battle was not going to be won by overpowering him, that path was fraught with potential missteps. The power of a Campione to overturn ill-fortune or disadvantageous situations was never to be underestimated, and Emiya Shirou had so far proven himself . . . somewhat singular in that regard. No, this wasn't about overpowering him, this was about exhausting his power, taking away his options until death was all he had left.
Still . . . Odysseus was sorely tempted to take a final shot, to call on his strongest Authority as an Archer and end this battle now! The eighth Devil King was wounded and trapped behind nothing but a mortal construction. Thought the bricks and concrete were solid enough to withstand a few of his more mundane arrows, if he were to use his Authority then it and the God Slayer hiding behind it would be reduced to bloodstained dust.
Was it worth it? Odysseus found himself wavering, unsure as to the merit of taking the shot. Even if it didn't kill it might force the Campione to use an armour to defend himself, so that would play into the plan. However . . .
Above him the storm rumbled again, and the travelling god was reminded that he had to focus to continue to build its power. That was a problem, if he used another Authority he wouldn't be able to keep the precise control he wanted over the lightning. Yes, he was able to maintain two Authorities at once, maybe even three, but their fine control would drop as he used more. Was it worth it?
He drew another arrow against the strong of his bow and released it. With more force than an armour piercing bullet the shaft covered the distance and tore through more than a foot of concrete, rebar and bricks, only to miss as the Campione threw himself flat, the arrowhead sticking a few inches out of the brickwork and through the space his chest had occupied only instants before. Odysseus' teeth gritted together as frustration welled up within him. Mentally he reached up into the storm above him, gauging its power, seeing how close it was to having the strength he desired.
Not much longer now. Still, perhaps he could make it unneeded.
Placing one foot on the rim of the rooftop the Heretic God leaned over at a dangerous angle. Any mortal would have been terrified, fearful that they would overbalance and fall to smash upon the concrete below, but that didn't matter to him. Odysseus' eyes narrowed as he drew another arrow, the choice of whether or not to use an Authority balancing on a knife's edge in his mind. The God Slayer still had that sword, so he could summon an armour. It all came down to who was swifter, his arrow or the armour Authority. If he made the wrong choice then it was conceivable that the plan would spin out of control, but the chance was there to end things right here!
His thoughts balanced on that knife edge, and he could feel a choice starting to form. All of this took place in the space of only two or three breaths, as he drew a clearer bead upon his target. It would only have taken him another instant to make his decision and act upon it.
Just one more instant.
But he did not get it. before his mind could seize upon a path forward and unexpected force slammed into him from behind. Odysseus let out an oath of rage and startlement as he pitched over the edge, claws and fangs digging into both his bronze and leather armour and into his flesh.
The grass and pavement of the path by the building came at him in a rush, but the travelling god didn't have any time to pay it attention. To a mortal the fall might have been fatal, but to a god it was a mere inconvenience. The impact hurt no more than a slap to the face by a child, painful, startling and irritating, but hardly a threat. No, what was a pain was the cloud of talons and teeth, the whipping tendrils and the chitinous blades, all of them swinging at him in a frenzied whirl of aggression and death!
Roaring with defiance Odysseus swung his bow at them, using the weapon as a staff, scattering the strange misty forms that had been trying to overwhelm him. The damned things seemed to be made of smoke, but when they tried to hurt him they proved to be all too solid. They hadn't cut deep, but their efforts had been more than enough to leave more than a dozen shallow wounds leaking blood from his arms and shoulders.
There were four or five of the things, whatever they were. It was hard to tell, their defuse forms seemed to flow over and through each other, making it hard to tell where one ended and another began. Limbs of different types seemed to emerge and then fade, their edges too indistinct to get a good look. He could see faces though, or at least what he thought were faces.
One was vaguely wolf-like, the jaws too wide, the eyes too staring, the fur more like a multitude of spikes. Another was something like an octopus or a squid, lashing tendrils arrayed about a snapping beak, all set below a nest of slitted eyes. The most human of them had mostly recognizable features, but all of them were stretched, elongated as though they had been melted and then pulled. Another might have been close to a swine, had the jaws and snout not been slitted and spread to reveal a forest of chaotic fangs that seemed to be in constant motion. The last face that he could see was almost a blank mask, devoid of any features save for insectile eyes that seemed almost crystalline and swirled with dim and muted colours.
He was able to throw them off, but the next instant they came at him, a boiling tide of thrashing limbs and gnashing jaws, all feral fury and fervour. Still, an instant was long enough for him to have his sword out, and as the onrushing avalanche of aggression drew into range the blade was out.
Odysseus was a traveller, but he had also been a soldier, a reaver, a pirate in all but name for a short time. He had battled heroes, fellow gods, immortal monsters and more in the course of his journeys, he was no easy meat to be claimed! Limbs came at him, claws, bone blades, thick paws more similar to clubs than they were to functional limbs. He met them all, his sword dancing through the air in a metallic dance of death as it parried, stabbed and slashed.
For a few brief seconds the space between him and the monsters exploded into a shower of sparks and misty blood, then they were on him again, slipping past him and surrounding the travelling god. Their mist-like forms merged, ringing him in a wide circle of grey, yellow and red vapour that spun about him as though he were at the centre of a miniature tornado.
Internally Odysseus cursed. This was not part of the plan!
Gritting his teeth, he tightened his grip on his sword, then swung about, deflecting one set of claws that tried to rake his back even as he dodged wide slavering jaws that tried to close about his neck. The plan was still viable, he just had to finish here quickly.
No choice then, he didn't want to do this, but it needed to be done.
"Cut. Break. Tear it all down!"
The words were short, but once more power danced upon them. He could feel his control over the storm above waver as he had to split his attention, but he was able to keep gathering power, even as the sword in his hand, a familiar but simple blade born of a tiny fragment of his magic, was replaced by a new one, one born from the power of an Authority.
Power shot through him as the new blade settled seamlessly into his grip, letting him continue his attack without a step being lost. Speed, power, precision, all of them leapt as the might of his Authority, of his Steel, surged through him. A savage grin split his features as he lashed out, and this time he was able to catch one of the faces, the insectile-eyed one. A keening wail echoed through the plaza as the blade bit deep into the spot where the nose would have been had the creature had it. For a brief instant the roiling of the mist ceased, the other beings seemingly shocked that they could be harmed at all.
The Heretic God felt something as the mask-like face crumbled, a lightening of the atmosphere, a lessening of a pressure he hadn't even noticed begin to crush him. His grin grew more bloodthirsty as he charged forward, swinging his sword viciously as he tried to dispatch another of the faces. He had some vague idea of what they were now, spell-born beasts, creations of an Authority.
How! He didn't understand! He'd been-
He had no time to finish the thought as the remaining beasts closed in on him, their fury undiminished by the loss of one of their own. Indeed, it seemed to have only grown.
Shirou allowed a vicious grin to touch his lips as he dragged himself into an apartment after hammering the door down. Once again, he silently offered thanks to the universe in general for the increased robustness his body had received after becoming a Campione. Had he still been his old self he probably wouldn't have been able to make it this far, even using bodily reinforcement magecraft, if he could manage it. As things were, his knee was still one huge ball of pain, but at least the leg held enough to let him hobble along. It was torture, but it was something.
Shirou could feel the curse beasts he'd created fighting. The link he had to them wasn't as strong as his link to Snow, but it was there. He felt it when a link snapped, one of his creations destroyed by a superior force.
He also felt the creature . . . return? It was strange. When the link broke it wasn't as though the path between them snapped and the other end had been lost, rather it was as though the other end came loose and snapped back to him. He could feel Misfortune sinking back into Curses Without End, rejoining with the original curse from which it had been spawned. It wasn't dying, not really, and that was something that assuaged the shards of guilt that had been stabbing at him. He wasn't sending his creations to their deaths, something that would have bothered him, even if they were semi-demonic spirits spawned from all the evils humanity had been able to accrue.
He didn't know how they'd be able to handle a Heretic God though.
The beings born of his Authority weren't Authorities themselves, they weren't akin to the Faceless Queen or the Furies that served Alexander Gascoigne. Instead, they were more on par with the false deities that Guinevere had conjured out of the Holy Grail, only weaker. They were dangerous, but to true gods they were like weasels to men, painful and dangerous, but unlikely to be lethal unless one was stupid in dealing with them.
But a group of weasels were a more deadly proposition, especially weasels maddened by hunger and anger. That was his hope anyway. They just had to buy him some time. Dragon Slaying Hero still ran through him, reinforcing his strength, his endurance, and his recovery. They just had to hold out long enough . . .
Dragging himself into the kitchen Shirou grabbed a jug of water from a kitchen top and greedily drank it down. The night had been long, and he'd been fighting for most of it. His body could recover, but he was running low on basic materials to do it. Given how much blood he'd lost dehydration was a real danger.
The simple act of pouring some tepid water down his throat did manage to refresh him though, made him feel slightly less like a victim of a dead apostle that was well on his way to becoming an undead. His leg still hurt abominably, but there was a bit more strength there now, despite the pain. Gingerly putting some weight on it the eighth Campione gritted his teeth but was able to move a bit more freely than before.
A loud crash from outside, loud enough to make the walls of the apartment shake slightly, reminded him that he was on borrowed time.
Limping heavily, but still mobile Shirou searched the apartment as fast as he could. Again, there was nothing that he could use. The next apartment was the same, and the next. He was moving as fast as he could, but even with the speed of his search it had already been more than two minutes. How much longer did he have? How much longer could his creations last? Already two more fallen, he could feel their links snapping back to him. A pit of dread was starting to grow in his stomach. Had he made the wrong choice? Was he just squandering precious time?
It was in the fifth apartment that he finally felt the response that he'd been seeking! Letting out an exultant 'Yessss' Shirou grabbed what he'd been looking for.
That was when the far side of the apartment came crashing down.
Odysseus let out a roar of pain as the wolf-like head bit into his left shoulder, the wicked teeth tearing into his flesh and drawing a stream of blood. Instantly his sword came up, stabbing at his attacker, but the wretched beast was as hard to catch as smoke and faded back before the blade touched it. He snarled in frustration but didn't have time for anything else as the tentacle faced monster came slashing at him, tendrils lined with claws eager to flay the flesh from his bones.
These creatures had proven to be difficult. He'd been able to kill two more of them, but the last ones seemed to be the strongest, and from what he could see they were getting stronger. Individually they weren't a match for him, but they'd developed some animalistic teamwork, enough to cover each other and divide his focus. And on top of that they were infernally fast!
Claws raked at his back, screeching across his armour, raising sparks and leaving grooves in the leather and metal. In an instant he'd spun about, his sword slicing through the air, but once more all he hit was the mist-like trail left by the creatures.
This wasn't working, Odysseus had to admit that to himself. Using Taxidiotis had been a mistake. To be sure, the enhancing Authority had been able to grant him the strength and endurance to weather the monsters' attacks and retaliate, but it was an Authority unsuited for this kind of fight. It was meant for battle against more human foes, gods, Campione, even mortals, not creatures such as these. Against them he needed-
Another attack came at him, this time a fang-filled mouth clamping down on his left arm. His bracer prevented most of the damage, but the needle-sharp teeth still found some holes, enough to drive the fangs in enough to draw more blood, enough to hurt!
It was the last straw! With another roar, this time of anger and frustration rather than pain, Odysseus hurled the sword that was the manifestation of his Steel Authority into the swirling mist. He heard a loud crash as it impacted something, but he didn't care in the least.
The two monsters surged in again, but this time they weren't met by a sword, instead the pair of misty bodied creatures fell back before the arcing blades of a dozen axes.
The Heretic God practically bellowed the single word as a huge metal bow materialized in his hands. It was a magnificent weapon, double curved and nearly five feet in length. It was crafted from metal that at first seemed to be a dull grey, but as the bow moved colours danced along its length like some superior imitation of colours on oil. It was beautiful, it radiated power, it was deadly.
In a single smooth motion Odysseus drew an arrow, nocked it upon the gleaming wire that connected the ends of the bow, and released it. This time the very air seemed to tear in the passage of the shaft, as though the speed and power behind it were too much for the simple atmosphere of the world to endure. The arrow shot into the mist and in the next instant there was a scream of pain.
A large portion of the mist fell away, the smoky form tumbling to the ground revealing a shape as large as a full-grown crocodile. In form it was humanoid only in the most basic sense. It had a torso and shoulders and a head, but that was where any similarity ended, where the arms and legs should have been there were only nests of tendrils, some as short as fingers, others as long as adult boa constrictors. The head could be recognised as the squid-like monster he had seen before, the one he had grown painfully familiar with. Its body seemed to be trying to dissipate into smoke once more, but the arrow sticking out of its side was preventing it. the same went for its movements, the creature was clearly trying to rise, but was having trouble mustering the strength.
The travelling god didn't hesitate for an instant. Other deities might have taken time to crow or gloat, but he had no such desires. Another arrow was drawn and strung, and in the next moment it had buried itself in the bulbous head of the monster with enough force to smash it like a ripe melon.
Odysseus barely had time to feel satisfaction before a roar of rage echoed out from beside him and the last of the monsters came charging at him like an avalanche of claws, smoke and fangs. It was unquestionably larger than it had been at the start of the battle, and it had been pretty big to begin with. Now its smoky form loomed over him more like an elephant than a bull, huge horn-like claws were growing out of its body a seemingly random locations, and its jaw was splitting, dividing into several parts. All in all it now less resembled the wolfish creature it had been and looked more like some sort of living weapon.
He took all of this in at a glance, then his view was obscured as the twelve axes that had been hovering around him all flew at the beast. More sparks erupted as the misty monster suddenly swirled in place everything about it except for its fangs and claws becoming mist again. For a brief moment it was a tornado of spinning smoke and organic blades clashing with the flurry of axes, the divine weapons damaging the huge claws but not breaking through them. Then it was through, charging at the travelling god and reaching out with claws and jaws.
Reacting with almost maddening calm Odysseus reached out and plucked one of the axes that had rebounded close to him. As he did so he turned on one foot, rotating to the side even as he crouched down, his bow now held parallel to the ground. The axes hadn't hurt the monster in any meaningful way, but they had slowed it down enough for him to see how to dodge. As the huge bulk of the creature sailed over him the Heretic God took the axe and held it to the wire of his bow. Instantly the metal making up the weapon shifted as though liquid, flowing out and becoming an arrow. Without hesitation Odysseus drew the shaft and released it, aiming for the dead centre of the monster's mist and solid mass.
As soon as the arrow left the bow all the metal, save for the arrowhead, shifted into angry white lightning. If the first arrow that the Heretic God had fired before had torn through space, then this shaft seemed to shatter it. There seemed to be no moment of separation between its release and it, impaling the once wolf-like face. For a moment the misty form just stood there, as though surprised at the sudden change, so much so it hadn't realised it was dead, then faded away like smoke in a breeze.
In the sudden stillness that followed the travelling god took a moment to take stock of the situation.
The monsters had caught him completely by surprise. He'd had no idea that the eighth Campione was able to command such creatures. There had been no hint of such beings in any of his previous fights, and Odysseus had been careful in his preparations. Circe had scried the past for him, letting him witness the other battles of the King of Steel. He'd seen his tricks, seen what he did when pushed to the brink. The Heretic God had known his tricks, and he'd known that he had yet to grasp his true Steel. As long as that was true the Campione was vulnerable, and Odysseus had known how to bring him down.
It had been hard, manipulating the situation, manipulating Ahriman, manipulating Circe, but in the end it had all begun to click into place. His foe had been weakened, his greatest asset sealed, many of his Authorities sapped. Everything had been going according to the plan, his foe had been whittled down, injured, slowed, weakened. All he need was a bit more pressure, force him to exhaust his remaining Authorities.
Then these monsters had come out of nowhere!
Was the plan still viable? Casting about Odysseus tried to see or sense the presence of the God Slayer. Where was he? Where was he? Where was h-
The charge came from his side, and it was only the remaining eleven axes swinging to protect him that saved the Heretic God. The divine weapons clustered together to form an improvised shield between him and the white blur that came charging at him. There was a sound of rending metal, a bright flash, then the shockwave hit him, sending him tumbling like a toy kicked by a vicious child.
His careening roll was brought up short as he smashed into a large stone flower trough that had been used to decorate one of the paths across the park area between the buildings. Looking up through the dust thrown up by the shockwave he saw a large white blur stumble backwards.
Using his bow as a crutch Odysseus struggled back to his feet, some distant part of him noting that three more of his axes had been broken defending him, but most of him was swept up by a growing feeling of outrage.
Another flaw? Another surprise? His plan was more or less in shambles by this point, but he could work past that. Was he not the hero that had brought down the city of Troy? Was he going to let this stand in his way?
No! the Campione was going to die!
Shirou hung onto Snow's neck and did his best not to fall off his mount.
He honestly hadn't expected his mount to be able to do something as sophisticated as being sneaky, but once again his Pegasus Authority had surpassed his expectations. The winged horse had managed to use the mist thrown up by the arrival of the curse monsters as cover to swoop in without being sniped from the sky. Shirou had still been trying to get his bearings after the side of the apartment he'd been in had seemingly collapsed without reason when the winged horse had flown in through the new hole.
Though the young Emiya wasn't any sort of trained rider he'd decided that getting on his mount's back would take at least some of the strain off his injured knee, a decision that proved correct. Once he was on the Pegasus' back, he'd felt the strength of his Dragon Slaying Hero increase, gaining vigour that it seemed to have lost. It was strange, he had grown so used to thinking of Snow as his mount and friend that he'd all but forgotten that the Pegasus could serve to bolster the other combat Authority he had gained from Perseus.
His body boosting Authority had been running practically nonstop since the start of the fight. It was one of his Authorities with the best endurance, but few divine powers were meant to run for longer than a couple of minutes. Most started out strong but then ran out of stamina, growing noticeably weaker as time went by. Dragon Slaying Hero was efficient in its power use, especially when Shirou wasn't tapping it to reinforce his Tracing, but he'd been using it this whole fight, and been using it when he faced the possessed Illya-chan.
The steel horse that represented the Authority in his mind was starting to flag, steam leaking from it like perspiration. When he'd mounted Snow that had changed, the metal steed in his mind cooling, regaining strength. That was what had led him to try for an all-out attack.
It had seemed like the logical choice. The curse monsters were falling, but they'd been able to keep Odysseus distracted and off balance. He was hurting too, not much but enough. The link between Shirou and his creations hadn't allowed him to see through their eyes or anything like that, but he'd been able to get some impression, vague though they were. The sight, the feel, and the taste of blood had all managed to come through. Enough that he knew they hadn't been going down easily. The Heretic God had still been fighting the last two, and Shirou had chosen to take a chance.
Th simple fact was that he only had one weapon, and he wasn't sure of his odds of taking down Odysseus if things kept going as they were. He couldn't afford to play safe, he had to do something to change the battle's tempo, or he was going to lose, plain and simple.
So, he'd guided Snow out of the trashed apartment building, gliding out of the hole and positioning them as silently as he could. The noise of the fight covered them, and he doubted the Heretic God was paying too much attention to anything other than the monsters trying to eat him. it had only taken them seconds, but in that time Shirou had felt his link to Fear retract into his Authority once more, then a few moments later Anger likewise returned to Curses Without End.
He'd taken his shot, spurring Snow into a full charge, combining the power of his mount and his Authority of Steel in order to hit his enemy as hard as he could. He knew it wasn't ideal, Kanshou wasn't a weapon meant to be used from horseback, and the more mundane advantage of mounted combat, namely the added mass, wasn't really a factor against a god. Still, it was his best shot, and he took it.
Then those damned axes got in the way!
He'd had to swing Kanshou at them, if he hadn't then both he and Snow would have run straight into them. At best they'd have been hurt crashing into the improvised shield, at worst the axes would have taken the chance to hack them apart.
The strike packed all the power he'd been planning to use against Odysseus, the combined power of both his Authorities concentrated into the Traced Noble Phantasm. Maybe it wouldn't have been enough to kill the Heretic God, given that he was still being protected by his immortality. But it would have hurt him a lot and made the job of figuring out how to deal with his immortality a lot easier. The Axes . . .
They hadn't been protected by the divine immortality that made deities so difficult to slay, but they had been weapons crafted from divine power. Kanshou might have been reinforced with the power of divine Steel being pushed into it, but at the end of the day it was a C-rank Noble Phantasm. Yes, it was an existence that towered above all but the greatest of mortal-made Mystic Codes, but it was not crafted to handle these types of powers or forces.
The shield of axes had broken, but the force released had sent the charging Pegasus tumbling back. Had either horse or rider been more mundane then they would have ended up with crippling broken bones at best. Fortunately, each was made of hardier stuff, and were quickly climbing to their feet in short order. Unfortunately . . .
Shirou stared down at the broken blade in his hand. Looking at it he couldn't help but be reminded of a fight that was never his, a memory of another Emiya Shirou facing an older version of himself inside a reality Marble that both was and was not Unlimited Blade Works. Shirou could remember his pain, his desperation, and his iron-hard resolve. A small grin touched the eighth Campione's lips at the thought, then he pulled himself back to the present.
A lack of resolve wasn't his issue, but a lack of a weapon was. The remains were still suitable sacrifices for the use of his armours, but aside from that it wasn't going to be much good for anything. Maybe if he got in very close he could use the remaining inches of jagged blade, but that was about it. It wouldn't be a true weapon, only a step or two up from a sharpened rock or a pointy stick really.
He could see Odysseus getting up, and he could see him focusing in on him and Snow. Despite the distance separating them the Devil King could practically see the moment that things clicked in the Heretic God's mind, a thought that was confirmed as the deity brought up his metal bow, a fresh arrow being drawn on it.
There was only a split second to decide. Shirou could see that the shaft was aimed at his mount, not himself. He only had a brief instant to act, and he didn't hesitate for an instant!
"Invincible and Unbreakable!"
He didn't have time to utter the full chant of his Authority, but he didn't need to. Those first words were enough, and the remains of the Noble Phantasm in his hand dissolved into golden sparks. Sparks that immediately engulfed Shirou, then faded to reveal him clad in the golden armour decorated with white and blue. One hand sheathed in metal came up to block the arrow aimed at Snow's neck. The shaft struck the armoured palm and failed to scratch it or even move the hand by an inch as the arrow dissolved into dust, unable to maintain integrity as its energy was forced back into it.
"None may stand before the champion of all!"
He continued to speak the spell words of the Authority, even as he started to charge towards the Heretic God. The Armour of the Champion had done more than just protecting him, donning it had immediately started to heal all of Shirou's injuries, restoring his strength. For a moment he thought it had also purged the taint from his circuits, but all he needed to do was flex his prana channels to know that they would still not allow him to Trace anything. Still, that didn't change things right now.
The eighth Campione covered the distance separating him from Odysseus at speeds that would have made the most accomplished athlete stare in disbelief. Dragon Slaying Hero had flagged after he'd lost contact with Snow, but the Armour of the Champion was also a powerful Steel Authority, and one that also imparted a boost to physical power. Shirou could feel it would soon fade, but for the time being he was back to full strength.
"My armour will not yield, my strength shall not fail, all glory shall be mine."
Another arrow came at him, this time aimed at his head, but the God Slayer didn't even bother to block it, instead letting the armour take the attack. He felt a minor impact, as though someone had thrown a small foam ball at his forehead. The distance between them was more than halved now, and barely a second had passed. In some distant part of his mind Shirou marvelled at how time seemed to have slowed as he pushed himself, and idly wondered if this was what it was like for Rider or Saber when they turned on the speed. The rest of him was completely focused on the Heretic God before him.
"All honour in my grasp, alone I stand before all that follow behind me!"
He completed the chant just as Odysseus grabbed one of the axes that had fallen near him a brought it to his bow. Shirou just had time to see a flash of light, then felt an impact as though someone had just swung a baseball bat into his chest, and not when he'd been wearing any armour. The impact was enough to pause him in his charge, the impact negating his momentum, and caused him to gasp as much of the air was forced from his lungs. Stumbling back his hand instinctively came to his chest, and through the metal fingertips of his gauntlets he felt jagged folds where there should only have been a smooth surface.
The armour was dented! Not deeply, not severely, but it had buckled in enough that a shallow crater now marred the breastplate. For a moment Shirou simply stared down at the armour, stunned by what he was seeing. Sure, he was aware that the golden armour wasn't invincible, but he was also aware of how tough it was, being able to completely break it needed something on the order of Saber's Excalibur or Gilgamesh's Ea. That the arrow had been able to do this much damage meant that it was comparable to an A ranked Noble Phantasm, maybe even an A+.
Odysseus watched the armoured form of his enemy stumble to a stop and allowed himself a small internal nod. The plan . . . it was not yet a total loss, but he would need to follow it loosely now, the original pristine path was lost.
He had anticipated the King of Steel using his last blade to summon one of his armours. In all truth this was the better option, at least as far as the Heretic God was concerned. Had the God Slayer instead become the armoured giant he would have been harder to deal with, but an easier target. As things stood Odysseus already had an Authority ready that was well suited to piercing an armoured defence.
Still, the Greek hero was surprised at how well the armour had endured an arrow from the Many Coloured Steel of the Sky. A single arrow from the Authority was potent enough to slay a divine beast with relative ease, but all it had done to the golden breastplate was to punch a dent in it barely the size of fist. With the arrow he had just fired Odysseus was down to nearly half of his potential shots, five used and only seven remaining, even less should he choose to invest more than a single axe into an arrow.
Like his enemy the travelling god was playing a game of conservation, trying to force his enemy to use up his weapons first. That was how this fight could be won, by exhausting the enemy's ammunition. Getting him to use his only weapon to summon it was a big step, but it wasn't a victory condition.
Destroying his armour though . . .
One, two, three. With a single thought he summoned nearly half the axes remaining to him and merged them into a single arrow. Emiya Shirou was already moving again, closing at a speed that even a god would regard as fast, but it wasn't fast enough. In a single practiced motion the arrow was drawn and released, striking out at the King of Steel, lightning driving a tip of iron with enough force to shatter the greatest fortifications ever built by mortal hands. It was too fast for the Campione to dodge, even with his enhanced speed. All he had time to do was brace himself and endure.
This time the impact didn't halt him in place, instead it sent the flying back as though he had been struck by an invisible mortal train. The crack of fracturing metal echoed about the ruined plaza as loudly as a church bell that had fallen from its tower. Then the Rakshasa King's flight ended as he struck the only undamaged building of the trio, ending that state as his armoured form ploughed into a wall and brought down a rain of bricks and concrete.
The Heretic God strung another arrow, though this time it was merely a manifested shaft, rather than a transformed axe, and released it. Then another, and another, and another. Unrelenting Odysseus rained down a hail of arrows into the cloud of dust and rubble that obscured the fallen Campione.
He didn't expect any of the shafts to actually kill his enemy, but that arrow of iron and lightning had clearly done some damage to the armour. Even if the sheath of metal protected him there was no way that he could have endured such an impact unharmed. The stream of arrows would build upon that, maybe a fortunate hit would find a chink or break in the armour. If nothing else the sustained attack would keep him off balance, pin him down long enough for the dust to disperse and his cover to fade.
It wasn't a tactic the Heretic God had much faith in, but it was of low risk. He could not afford to sacrifice further axes in a shot that might miss, after all.
A wise choice as it turned out. Only a few seconds after the barrage began the golden form of the eighth Campione came barrelling out of the dust, weathering the rain of arrows as though they were nothing more than hail. Still, it seemed that the lightning arrow had not been so easily dismissed.
Much of the armour he wore was now cracked, like an eggshell that had taken a blow but was somehow managing to hold together. The chest plate, arms and helm were all in a sorry state, having taken the iron-tipped lightning straight on it would seem. But they still held, and the man beneath them was not so hurt that he could not move. Indeed, he had resumed his charge and was closing the distance between them.
Frowning Odysseus called another axe to his hand, though even as he did so he was splitting his attention. In his hands he drew back the string of his bow, the axe ready to become another arrow of lightning and iron, but in his mind he reached up to the storm clouds, feeling the growing power within them. The massive bank of lead-black thunderheads crackled with pent up energies just waiting to be unleashed. They weren't quite there yet though, not charged enough to unleash their greatest strike.
Odysseus could feel the maddening excitement hammering at the back of his mind, the desperate need for freedom that had driven him ever since he gazed through that gateway. Some part of him, a large part at that, wanted to abandon all caution, to unleash all his power on his enemy now, to tear out the God Slayer's throat with his teeth. It wanted, that was all, no thought, no consideration, no judgement, it just wanted mindlessly. It would have been so easy to let that part of him take over, it almost had before. But though it was his driving force he refused to allow it dominion, it might drive his sails, but it was his will that steered the ship. He would keep to his plan, he would follow his strategy, he would-
His internal mantra was cut off just before he managed to string another axe as an arrow, a large white form slamming into him.
The other axes had moved to protect him, their keen edges slashing and leaving deep arcs of red upon the pristine white form, but it had not been enough. The pegasus let out a shriek of pain, but did not turn aside, barrelling into the Heretic God with enough force to put a speeding car to shame!
The impact didn't hurt Odysseus, but it was enough to send him tumbling, enough to make him miss his shot, enough to let the King of Steel close with him. As the armoured form slammed into him the travelling god cursed himself for losing track of the divine beast. He should have known better, should not have let himself get distracted by the larger threat. The winged horse might have been passive, but it was not a power to be underestimated.
Both the deity and the Campione fell to the ground, rolling over and over again as each tried to pin their foe down. They came to rest in a ruined flower bed, The King of Steel on top, his armour dirtied and his cape ragged, but his strength seemingly undiminished. Odysseus still held his bow and was able to get it between them, but the eighth Campione refused to relinquish the advantage.
The Heretic God hissed as he was barely able to block a blow aimed at his face, the metal bow deflecting a gauntleted fist swung with enough force to pulverise concrete. The Authority born weapon flexed under the impact but did not break, then Odysseus had to use it to defend again as his foe continued his assault. All in all, it was a brutal and unwieldy exchange, neither of them really able to bring their skills to bear. The god was pinned, unable to shift his enemy despite his strength, nor was in a position to effectively use his bow as a staff. The God Slayer might be in a more advantageous position, but he had none of his weapons and could only hammer away with his fists.
Odysseus was the first to make a mistake, his bow catching on the remains of the cape and getting caught. It was only a momentary delay, but it was enough, and the King of Steel's fist slammed into his jaw unobstructed. The impact shook his head, and the Heretic god felt something crack in his mouth, but he was able to respond, even as a second blow impacted his cheek.
The axes were not idle during this exchange, but they were proving insufficient to penetrate the armour, even if it was damaged. The flying weapons came in wickedly fast, only to bounce off the golden protection leaving only deep scratches behind. Still, they bought their master a moment of time as one slashed at the face of the helmet, making the Campione flinch back for a moment.
That was enough! With a grunt of exertion Odysseus shoved the bow into his enemy's chest with all the strength he could muster, sending the armoured figure staggering back, his balance broken. Grinning savagely the god kicked the off-balance Campione away, opening some distance between them. The armoured figure was charging at him again in an instant, but it wasn't quite fast enough!
Another axe was in the hands of the travelling god, then strung upon his bow as an arrow. Before his enemy could close the distance the arrow was fired and had struck him in the stomach, sending him flying back. It wasn't the best shot Odysseus could have managed, but he had been rushed. The armour of the lower torso had been less damaged than the chest area, and had been able to take the impact easier, so the God Slayer was not hurt in any meaningful way, but it was enough!
Reaching out to the storm above him Odysseus felt the waiting power. It was ripe, glutted and ready to be harvested. The power there was enough, enough to strike a blow that would leave the King of Steel broken, if not dead. Now! Now was the time!
A tight smile touched the deity's lips as he threw himself back, opening as much room as he could. For what was coming he had no intention of being too close to the Campione when the Wrath of the Heavens released their full power.
Then the sky exploded above him, the night becoming day as divine power roiled above the two combatants. Stunned Odysseus stared upwards.
That had not been his doing!
Snow flew into the cloud knowing that Snow would not be able to come out. Snow did not mind though, because Snow knew that Snow would return.
Snow could feel the forces within the cloud starting to gather. They had been growing ever since Master began the battle with the other strong one. Snow knew that Master often fought strong ones, but this time the fight was different. Master was hurt, broken in some way that Snow did not understand, but which Snow could sense. Being broken had made Master weaker, but Master had still fought.
Snow had had to fly up high, had had to watch as Master fought, even though Master was weak. Master had not been able to use his shiny fighting sticks, not like Master normally did. Snow knew that Master had many shiny fighting sticks, that he was very strong with them, but this time he had only had the one, and it was now gone.
Snow hurt, hurt where the strong one's flying shiny fighting sticks had cut Snow. Snow could still fly, but every beat of Snow's wings hurt more. Still, Snow flew on, because Snow had to!
Master was broken, and the strong one was . . . wrong. Snow could not understand it, could not frame it in a way that fitted in Snow's world, but the strong one was not as the strong one should be. The strong one was . . . sick, not of body, but of essence. It was a sickness that ran even deeper than the twisted one that Snow had first helped Master fight.
The strong one, the sick one, had power in the sky. Snow could feel it and knew that soon it would strike at Master. It would strike Master hard enough to hurt him, even with Master's new shiny hard skin.
Snow would not let that happen!
More pain flared in Snow's side, and Snow knew that there wasn't much more time. Snows wings beat harder, fighting past the pain, pushing Snow up higher until Snow was amidst the roiling black of clouds. All about Snow light arced, flashing and snapping between the clouds, angry and trapped. Some of the angry arcs of light tried to lash out at Snow, but even hurt Snow was still strong enough to push them back.
Then there was no more time. Snow could feel the power being pulled together, into one big lump that was being crushed and sharpened. Soon the strong one would call the power down to hurt Master, and broken as Master was it might hurt Master until Master was dead.
Snow would not let that happen!
That thought repeated in Snow's mind again and again as Snow forced Snow's way closer to the centre, closer towards the gathering power, the light now arcing about a tight ball of crackling force. It was so strong! So big! And it was all aimed at Master.
Snow would not let that happen!
Snow was there now, almost on top of the crackling light. The light tried to strike Snow and it was taking all of Snow's strength to push it back. Still, Snow strained closer.
Closer . . .
Almost . . .
With a final loud neigh of triumph Snow broke past the last of the clouds! Snow could feel Snow's coat and feathers being turned to smoke simply from being so close to the crackling ball, but that did not matter. Before the power could hurt Snow further Snow reached deep into Snow's core and let loose the power waiting there.
The dark clouds and the blinding and crackling ball disappeared into the light that Snow let loose!
As Snow's world faded into darkness Snow felt only contentment in the knowledge that once more Snow had fought for Master with all that Snow had.
Above the ruined plaza a pale blue sun momentarily bloomed into existence. It was a massive orb of power, easily large enough to hold an entire city block within it. As high up as it was it was none the less dwarfed by the sky about it, but that didn't detract from its sheer presence.
About it the massive bank of storm clouds seemed to . . . tear, coming apart like a sheet of cloth being pulled in too many directions with too much force, repelled by the orb of light. Lightning arced between the fading wisps of clouds, but even though they were bright and potent Shirou could see them losing power, fading away and dissipating into the atmosphere. For a moment the sky was still, the stars twinkling, the moon shining down with peaceful serenity as it shared the heavens with the blue sphere of power.
Then the shockwave hit!
Both God Slayer and Heretic God were sent sprawling as about them the damaged building collapsed, and the undamaged ones groaned and cracked. The huge sphere of azure power was gone now, the force of its detonation scattering the remnants of the clouds, utterly dispelling the Authority that had been dominating the sky since it was invoked. A feeling of oppression, one that had been subtly building ever since the storm was called, faded away, leaving the large plaza cooler and more open under the stars.
For his part Shirou simply stared up at the sky and felt guilt coil up into a ball in his guts.
Again! Snow had sacrificed itself to save Shirou again! It galled the young Emiya that the mount once more had to use its sacrificial power to save its master because the Campione wasn't strong enough. To Shirou the pegasus wasn't some construct of divine energy, he was a living being with a distinct mind and personality of its own. Yes, he was subordinated to the Campione's will, but Snow was unquestionably alive, and even if he could return from this sacrifice Shirou didn't like that the pegasus had to die in the first place.
Such thoughts vanished from his mind as he saw Odysseus' features twist into a rictus of anger and frustration, right before he summoned the remaining three axes to him. the sight of those weapons moving towards the Heretic God were all the impetus the God Slayer needed to get his thoughts organized. Later he would return to them, if he had the chance, but right at that moment more urgent matters demanded his attention.
The last time he'd been hit by an arrow made from three of those axes it had almost been enough to pierce his armour, and that was when his armour had been at full strength. Getting hit again would not be a good thing.
Unfortunately, it didn't seem as though the Campione had much choice in the matter.
Odysseus recovered first, and already had his bow and arrow trained on Shirou before the Campione had fully regained his feet. Even as his adrenaline spiked and time seemed to slow Shirou was already pushing himself to the side, his legs bunching under him and uncoiling even as he tried to stand. It wasn't graceful, or even coordinated. All it was was a frantic effort to get out of the way of the coming arrow.
It was a valiant attempt, but for all his effort the King of Steel failed.
Odysseus was able to alter his shot just in time, and the iron-tipped lighting smashed into the golden armour a few inches above the navel! It was too fast to avoid, too fast even to block. All Shirou could do was watch and brace himself as the potent Authority struck home.
The impact was tremendous, and this time the full power of his armour wasn't there to protect him. The young Devil King could feel his armour . . . fragment as he was thrown back. The world was still in a strange slow motion, and the Campione could see it in his mind's eye, a vision imparted by his connection with his Authority.
The iron arrowhead at the tip of the lightning impacted his breastplate at a point where it was mostly intact, but there were still plenty of cracks around it. The golden metal resisted for a moment, then began to slowly shatter, like a pane of glass struck by a bullet. Even so, the arrow didn't penetrate, something held it back. As he watched Shirou saw that the rest of the armour was also breaking, but rather than shattering it was as though it was withering, breaking down. Energy rose up from the shell covering him, and where it left golden metal grew dull and grey, then began to slowly break apart like ash in the wind.
The golden energies released by the armour weren't idle though, instead they flowed and gathered at the point of impact, the point of the arrow. There, the armour that had shattered fused back together, a single plate or golden metal that stood firm between the divine weapon and the God Slayer it aimed to kill. The two divine powers clashed, the irresistible force meeting the invincible object, neither able to relinquish supremacy. In the face of such a struggle there was only one possible outcome.
For the second time in less that a minute Shirou found himself tumbling across the ground as though struck by the winds of a hurricane. He hit the ground and bounce, almost like a stone skimming across the surface of a pond. Once, twice, his flight was then brought to an abrupt end as he slammed into the side of the mostly undamaged block of apartments. The impact should have been far greater than it was, but even as it collapsed into nothing the Armour of the Champion proved its worth.
The blackened ash that it had become clung to his form, even as it began to disintegrate into ambient mana. It clung to him as he flew through the air, and with each impact it acted as a cushion. When he struck the wall of bricks and mortar what remained of the armour exploded into a cloud of dust, the softer eruption serving to dampen Shirou's impact on the wall, sparing him from further injury. In short order the dust in the air faded away, and the young Emiya was able to shakily stand once more.
Across the plaza he could see the Heretic God making his own way to his feet, Odysseus seeming to have weathered the shockwave a bit better than the Campione.
"You . . ."
The sheer venom in the single word was rather impressive, as was the way it reached across the distance between them despite not being too loud. Through slightly blurred eyes Shirou looked up to see the limping form of Odysseus drawing closer. The Heretic God had unquestionably seen better days, the armour he wore was a dirtied and torn affair that looked as though it belonged in a refuse bin rather than being worn on the battlefield and blood was leaking from a dozen small cuts. The bow in his hand was visibly bent, the once taut string of the weapon was now snapped in two, the whole thing nothing but a bent staff now.
"You . . . you . . . just die!"
The last words were practically a screech, one devoid of any sort of control or restraint. Both of his arms rose up, the palms facing the starry sky above, then the hands clenched into fists, and the arms came down, moving as though to pull something out of the empty air. Above them the air seemed to fracture like damaged glass, then splinter as a large ancient style Greek war galley broke through. For a moment there was a hole in the sky, then the space repaired itself as reality re-established its hold, but that mattered little to the ship hovering in the sky.
Shirou grimaced as he felt power radiating from the ship like heat from a bonfire. This wasn't an overwhelming power, but it felt layered, refined, something that had been built up over time until the foundations, walls and ceiling were all solid as a mountain. The word 'fortress' rose up in his mind, not as a literal castle of stones and metal, but as a concept. Many of the most powerful Noble Phantasms in his arsenal were Anti-Fortress types, and that was because fortresses were next to impossible to crack.
This did not look good.
Rage ran through Odysseus' veins in a red tide, one that threatened to drown him if he wasn't careful.
So much had gone wrong so quickly that it beggared belief. His storm had been broken, his arrows spent, even his bow had been rendered all but useless in the span of less than a minute. Yes, he had been able to exhaust his foe as well, but things were not meant to be . . . so close. The travelling god was himself far more spent than he had planned to be at his point. Too many of his Authorities had been used up when they should still have been available to him.
He had underestimated the Campione, it galled him to admit it, even if only to himself, but it was true. The plan had been a thing of beauty, but it had not been able to match up to the God Slayer's wretched ability to upend the situation. The pegasus, the armour, those curse-borne beasts, all of them had been either unexpected or more powerful than anticipated. The beasts should not have existed, the armour should not have been so enduring, the pegasus should not have been able to act so independently!
Still, Odysseus had reached the end point now. He might be flagging, but the King of Steel had nothing left in his quiver. The only options left to him were Authorities unsuited for the situation, such as the field that drove foes berserk or the blessing that strengthened the lifeforce of those he had saved. The field was a slow burning power that slowly gathered strength, a weapon best suited for many weaker foes rather than a single strong enemy. Even if the Campione invoked it, it would not break the Heretic God's control fast enough to be of use. As for the other Authority, it was useless when the Devil King fought alone.
There was only one wildcard left, the Authority that the King of Steel had gained from slaying Venus. As far as Odysseus had been able to determine the eighth Campione had never used it. Even Circe using every spell she could to scry the past had been unable to find any instances of it being used. Even more, her efforts to scry the Campione directly had been thwarted, or at least distorted to the point of uselessness. The manor he lived in was protected by a number of potent defences erected by his surprisingly gifted younger sister, the Queen of the Immortal Ancestors, Guinevere, and even by Tiamat, the Mother of Dragons herself. Even when he left his dwelling the protections lingered upon him. Circe had been strong enough to overcome them but doing so would have alerted far too many to the presence of the Witch Goddess and her 'allies' at a time when secrecy was paramount.
Odysseus had taken precautions though. Since the Authority came from Venus, he could make some guesses as to its nature. A Campione's Authority was shaped by both the source and the recipient, so for one such as the King of Steel the new divine power most likely took the form of a mind-altering weapon. Venus was a deity of love and beauty, subtle powers, but potent in their own way. She had been a goddess almost devoid of any combat ability, yet she had been able to turn a powerful Devil King into her toy. The King of Steel's Authorities seemed eclectic in their range, but from what the Heretic God could tell they generally seemed to follow a theme of war. Armour, weapons, battlefields, servants, and supplies. It was more of a guess than a solid theory, but with the information available to him it was what he had come up with.
Divine spells of protection had been cast upon him by Circe, spells to ensure his mind remained clear and vision unclouded. Such spells might not be able to stand up to the power of an Authority for long, but that was why he had planned the battle out as he had. Whatever the power the Campione had gained from Venus was he was clearly reluctant to use it, but if pushed to it . . .
That had been the last part of the plan, to push the King of Steel to exhaust his other, better, options, then slay him when he tried to use his last Authority only to find its effects blunted.
It had been a good plan, one he had put so much effort into setting up. But now, now that he had reached the end, he was being forced to use all his self-control to keep his rage in check!
Above him he felt the divine presence of his beloved ship finish materializing, the familiar feeling of his favourite Authority washing over him. this might not be his most powerful Authority, nor his most versatile, but if any of his Authorities embodied his spirit as an adventurer then his Ship of the Endless Voyage was unquestionably it. he hadn't been planning to use it this way, he'd planned to use either the storm or his divine arrows to slay the Campione, but both were gone for now.
This would not be how he'd planned to end the battle, but it would do well enough.
At his mental command figures began to form upon the deck of the floating ship. At first there were only a handful, but with every passing second their numbers grew. Soon no less than eighty slightly see-through warriors stood upon the Authority borne vessel, each of them different, each of them distinct, but all recognisable as ancient Greek soldiers. As the last of them finished materializing they all moved to the side of the ship, their movements coordinated and professional enough to make the most crack military unit shed green tears of envy. With almost eerie synchronization the front ranks raised bows, nocked their arrows and then released the shafts. Before the first arrows even began to arc downward the first rank had stepped back and next rank stepped forward, loosing their arrows then stepping back to allow others to take their place.
In only an instant the sky was filled with a veritable rain of arrows, all of them aimed to come down on the Campione that was still trying to recover!
This was it! Odysseus could practically taste victory! Victory, and the freedom that would follow. It was all out there, waiting for him. Worlds! Worlds beyond imagination! Worlds without end! An eternity of freedom and travel, and all he needed to do was kill this annoyingly persistent mortal inse-
The arrows came down, but instead of the sound of metal and wood punching through flesh there was only a sound similar to hailstones hitting a tin roof.
Odysseus could not believe what he was seeing, his mind was simply unable to accept the sight his eyes assured him was in front of him. There, in place of the weary and battered Devil King, was the crouched form of a metal colossus. In one hand it held a massive sword, in the other it held an enormous round shield. Pristine white and polished steel grey made up every surface, the only difference being the molten gold eyes that burned from the slit in the facemask.
The rain of arrows struck, but then scattered, skittering off the armour without even leaving scratches!
No. No! NO! This was impossible! The thoughts chased themselves around the Heretic God's head, even as he stared at the sight before him. This should not be possible! He had planned so carefully, measured every step, accounted for everything! This Authority was a major threat, that was why he'd moved to either eliminate it or remove the chance of it being used. Circe had scried it meticulously, seeing the Campione's use of it at his feast, in his battle with his fellow God Slayers, and on the rare occasions when he trained. Always the sacrifice was one of the potent weapons he created with his magic, just as it was with his other armours.
Ahriman should have sealed that Steel, depriving the eighth Campione of the sacrifices he needed. With the weapon in his hand the only one he could use all Odysseus had to do was force him to summon an armour and there would be no sacrifices of Steel left to offer. He'd used his sword to invoke the Armour of the Champion, there should have been nothing left to invoke the Titan Armour!
But even as Odysseus railed at the world in his mind, time moved on, and not in his favour.
The giant in armour stood up, unfolding until he stood taller than a house. There was more to the huge figure than simple size though. The Heretic God was not a true deity of Steel, but Steel was a part of his nature. Through it he could feel the resonance, the call of Steel to Steel. And such Steel it was!
During his time in the Trojan War he had fought beside Achilles and felt the power of his nature of Steel. It had been . . . huge, heavy, brutal even. There had been a simplicity to it that somehow equated to strength. This Steel was different, more refined, more tempered, not as huge, but sharpened to a far keener edge. Not brutal, but certainly deadly.
The sword stabbed out as though it were trying to put the lightning that had earlier graced the battlefield to shame. More arrows clattered off it, futilely trying to damage armour that could have turned aside the fury of a dragon's flames. Some of the servants aboard the ship lashed out with magic, but even the likes of fireballs and icicle spears failed to even mar the sheen of the giant's armour.
The sword impacted, but rather than sheering through metal and wood there was a flash of light as the blow was deflected as sparks of magic rained down about both the figure and the divine war galley. The floating ship shuddered and groaned; the stress of the magic reflected in the materials that made up the Authority. Still, his vessel was not so fragile as to break from one blow, not even one from such a titan. The sounds of protest faded, and the armoured giant was sent stumbling back a step and for a moment Odysseus felt elation begin to well up.
Then the giant regained his balance, the pavement cratering under his foot as he put his full weight on it, and the attack resumed.
The night exploded into a strobing barrage of flashes, and then a cacophony of explosions rang out, the sound of Steel clashing with magic briefly drowning out all other noises. Once again, the ship groaned like a wounded being, the power it was drawing in order to defend itself increasing with every passing second.
The Heretic God felt panic begin to rise as he watched the battle. His mind raced trying to find an angle he could exploit, a weakness with which to turn the tide of the battle, anything!
Nothing, that was all he saw.
The plan had failed! That was all there was to it. Too many of the travelling god's Authorities had been exhausted too soon, and now an Authority that should have been inaccessible was in play. An Authority that was too powerful to fight with his current array of powers remaining.
There was only one choice.
The protective field about the ship flared, the last blow from the armoured titan being reflected with enough power to send the giant stumbling back several steps, caught unprepared. It was a brief opening, but Odysseus seized it!
In a single bound the Heretic God leapt from the plaza and landed on the deck of his Authority. Physical contact made the link between him and the Ship of the Endless Voyage stronger, let him empower it with greater ease than he could have from a distance. He also had greater control and could force the craft to move in ways it could not without its captain aboard.
Now he used both those aspects, driving divine power into the floating vessel, empowering it even as he ordered it to MOVE!
As though a rocket had been ignited at its stern the divine ship surged forward, ploughing through the remains of one of the apartment buildings. It was not the most graceful of escapes, but the action put space and obstacles between him and the giant armoured Campione. As more distance was covered Odysseus concentrated upon gaining height even as he steered the flying galley towards the ocean.
The Heretic God grimaced as he felt the acid taste of failure in his mouth. He had been so certain that he had accounted for everything, but clearly there had been some elements that he had overlooked. He had been so close! SO CLOSE! Freedom, it was to be his! All it would have taken would have been one blade, one arrow, one blow in the correct place! So close! So . . .
No! No. Odysseus forced his wild thoughts to calm as the buildings of the city passed by beneath him. This was a loss, but it was not the end. He could learn from this, return with new allies, a new plan. Ahriman had been valuable, but he had been a mad dog, a beast that needed to be put down. Circe . . . she would pay for her treachery, but that could come later.
Yes . . . the roar of blood in his ears faded as his fury eased. He may have lost the battle, but the war was far from over. Through the darkness of the night, he could see the moonlight reflect off the sea, the sight lending him resolve. Yes, he could return, try once more, succeed where he had just failed. All he needed was time and-
No more thoughts were to be had, the Heretic God's mind going blank as he looked up to see the descending form of the titanic armoured God Slayer!
Shirou watched the flying ship open distance with increasing frustration.
Things had been so close to fatal, but he'd been able to pull off a reversal, all thanks to that one all-important find that he'd made just before the apartment had come crashing down on him.
Honestly, it had been a wild gamble. Ever since he had gained his various Armour Authorities, he'd always used Traced Noble Phantasms as the sacrifices of Steel needed to invoke them. Why wouldn't he? They apparently counted, even if they were just magecraft constructs, so it was more convenient than carrying around suitable artefacts. But when his Tracing was no longer available his ability to judge the 'worth' of every metal object he saw had become much more valuable.
That was why he'd been dashing between the apartments looking for, anything that would ping on his sense for 'worthy steel'. He'd been gambling that somewhere someone would have something he could use. A medal, a model, training equipment, anything that would do. He rushed from apartment to apartment looking for something he could use to summon an armour, and in the end he'd found it.
It wasn't anything special, just a long thin chisel that he'd found on top of a chest of draws in that last apartment. Shirou didn't know why this particular tool had called to him, but as soon as he'd laid eyes on it the wood working tool had practically sung of dedication and care. He'd managed to grab it just before the side of the apartment started coming down and had shoved it into his belt just as Snow had arrived. He'd been planning to use it instead of Kanshou but hadn't had time to reach for it when he needed it, forcing him to sacrifice the copy of his Noble Phantasm.
When he was faced with the oncoming rain of arrows, he'd managed to grab it and offer the metal tool as payment for his Titan Armour. He'd felt the power run through him, seen the world shrink as he grew in stature, a heady experience no matter how many times he went through it. He'd watched as the arrows bounced off his shield and armour without leaving so much as a scratch and for a moment he felt invincible.
That was one of the dangers of the Titan armour, one of the traps it was all too easy to fall into. The power of the armour was intoxicating, so much so that it was easy to lose oneself in it if you weren't careful. Any Authority was powerful, but none of Shirou's other divine powers gave as much immediate and exhilarating rush, not even Dragon Slaying Hero could compare.
Of course, Emiya Shirou couldn't be described as a 'normal' person. Normal people weren't used to wielding weapons blessed by the world or cursed by humanity. They weren't used to using weapons so steeped in bloodlust that they could drive a weak wielder mad. They weren't used to holding weapons that granted power, bestowed strength, victory and glory. In that regard the eighth Campione was uniquely suited to wielding and enduring the power offered by the Titan Armour.
He'd attacked furiously, but not wildly. He'd remained in control even when it would have been easy to lose himself. He hadn't had access to any skills via faking, so he'd been reliant upon what he'd learnt the old-fashioned way. That was something he'd prepared for though, a good portion of the training he'd been undergoing with resurrected souls had been in order to learn how to fight with the sword and shield that came with this armour. He'd been doing well, he'd been able to feel the protective power of the ship straining against him, but he'd also been able to feel he was breaking through.
And then the ship had forced him back and before Shirou could get back on the attack it had fled.
Honestly, he shouldn't have been surprised. Every encounter he'd had with Odysseus so far had painted a picture of a god that wasn't simply powerful but also cunning. His attack on the island had been well planned and executed, separating Shirou from his allies, then stacking the deck against him. This night's mess had been similar, simply on a grander scale. The King of Steel had been isolated, weakened, and lured into a battle where every advantage had been stripped away.
What was more, Odysseus had shown enough judgement to be able to recognise when the situation had become unsalvageable. Back at the island he'd chosen to run rather than keep fighting when things went too far against him. Was it really a surprise that he'd do the same thing now?
Once again, the pavement cracked under his armoured boots as Shirou started running, chasing after the fleeing vessel. A line of craters marked his passage as he sped up, but he paid them no mind. The ship was fast, easily as fast as an aircraft, but after its brief burst of speed to start with it seemed to be slow to accelerate. The Titan Armour was fast, and not just simply for its size. Each stride covered more than a dozen feet easily, but it wasn't just that. The speed and strength that Shirou possessed while using it were incredible, easily on par with the likes of Berserker or Saber from his Holy Grail War. Sure, Shirou wasn't yet as proficient as they had been in using that speed, he hadn't had enough experience for that yet, but he didn't really need it most of the time.
Now was different though, now he needed speed!
Memories from Archer's life pressed against his mind, memories of running across sand dunes, through cities, between the trees of a dense forest. It was all half-formed, indistinct to the point of incomprehensible, but some of it was slipping through, and Shirou could feel the skills that weren't his becoming vaguely familiar. It wasn't immediate expertise, but it was an improvement!
His steps grew firmer, his gait more measured and his stride more flowing. Sparks began to be kicked up in his passage as his footwork drove into the concrete under him with more force than before. The ship was gaining speed, but so was Shirou.
There was only one problem.
Shirou could feel his reserves of magic starting to flag. The irony was that as tough as this fight had been for him it hadn't been as costly in terms of pure prana as normal. With his magic circuits disabled he'd been primarily using his Authorities, which were normally more efficient than his Tracing of high-power Noble Phantasms. Also, Curses Without End had also been taken out of play, one of the most prana intensive devourers of his Authorities. Of the ones he'd used Dragon Slaying Hero had been the one that had consumed the most, and even then, the Authority had worn out due to overuse rather than exhausting his magic reserves.
Physically he'd been doing worse, his body exhausted from the pounding it had taken and the exertion it had been forced to endure. Summoning the Armour of the Champion had helped, accelerating his healing and repairing the damage he'd taken, but it hadn't served to replenish his stamina by any great margin.
Summoning the Titan Armour hadn't been a gamble, not when it was the last card he could pull, but it had been a risk. He hadn't known how his physical state would impact the transformation into what was essentially living molten metal inside the giant armour. To his relief Shirou had been able to feel his tiredness melt away as soon as the Authority took hold, but that had only been half the problem.
Restoring him had taken power when he first changed, and he was now running his gigantic metal form at full speed through the city.
The Titan Knight wasn't meant for this kind of activity. The Authority was born of Steel and was meant to be a warrior, a mobile fortress able to deal with anything that came at it, any challenger, any monster. Speed of this nature, sustained pursuit, was meant to be used in short bursts, not be kept up for mile after mile. The energy needed to move such a massive form so far and so fast was colossal, enough to daunt even a Campione.
Shirou could feel the drain, feel how the effort of pushing his massive frame was eating away at his reserves, but he refused to give up. If Odysseus got away again then this whole thing would happen all over again. He'd set Ahriman after Illya-chan this time, what would he do in his next attempt? And beyond that, the Heretic God had what the Emiya heir wanted, a way back to his home world. A way back to Sakura!
He was gaining on the ship, but he knew they were getting close to the ocean. Once there Shirou knew he wouldn't be able to continue the chase, the ship could sail on, but the Steel Authority would simply sink under the waves. If he was going to do anything he had to do it soon.
Maybe it was the pressure, maybe the eighth Campione had simply pushed himself hard enough to gain some greater mastery of his Authority, whichever it was it all came together in a crystalized instant.
He saw it, an old building, crumbling and condemned, just off the waterfront. He saw how the ship was going to fly right over it. And he saw how he'd arrive too late, at least he would if he didn't do something new.
Shirou had only ever used the Titan armour in battle twice. Once against the monstrous creatures that had attacked his feast, the other time had been against his fellow God Slayers while under the control of Venus. Both times had been brief affairs, neither giving him too much chance to experiment with his powers in that form.
The powerful Authority imparted more than simply great size and strength; it also gave its user a skill similar to the potent Mana Burst skill that his Saber had been so skilled with. The ability to release a powerful burst of power to reinforce an action was invaluable to a fighter, Saber had proven this when she'd gone up against Berserker in her weakened state and still managed to hold her own, despite the sheer difference in stats. Back then she'd been weakened, hamstrung by being saddled with a Master that didn't know what he was doing or how to supply her properly with mana. She'd been fighting with a handicap, and she'd still managed to hold off the strongest enemy Servant in the war.
Later, after Sakura consumed her and resummoned her as her altered self, Shirou had gotten a glimpse of what Saber would have been capable of with a proper Master, he'd seen her rip through the seemingly unstoppable Berserker with terrifying ease. True, back then her Master had been Sakura backed by a nigh infinite amount of mana, but it hadn't been as though her Mana Burst skill had become stronger, it had simply been free to be used as Saber wanted.
Measure for measure the Titan Knight armour wasn't as potent as Saber had been, its output only just over half of hers, if Shirou had to guess. The thing was that though it was half as potent the giant form of the Authority was more than four times as large. The output might not be as concentrated, but in sheer force and volume it was not to be dismissed. It was not a skill the King of Steel had much practice with, his few attempts during training in an out of the way abandoned quarry being so destructive he'd been unsure of how to proceed.
Now . . . now he saw his opening, and he didn't hesitate for an instant!
Shirou's first leap left a crater in the road and sent him arcing towards the abandoned building. Steel boots came down on the half-collapsed building that might once have served as an entrance foyer. It didn't survive long, the weight of the multi-ton colossus of Steel coming down on it completing its collapse, but it held together long enough for Shirou to push off it. His second leap brought him up to the main roof, closer to the flying ship, but not close enough. Even with all the strength of the Titan Armour he wouldn't be able to reach the fleeing vessel.
But with the Mana Burst-like ability . . .
As the huge, armoured form kicked off the roof of the building, releasing a blazing burst of pale blue energy as it did so. Shirou could feel the drain, feel his well of power begin to run low, but he didn't hold back. Beneath him the remains of the condemned building collapsed as though crushed under a giant invisible hammer, but he paid it no mind. Instead, he remained focused on his target. The target he was now above and only a bit behind.
If he hadn't done anything else then he'd have missed the ship, fallen behind it and come crashing down on the beachfront. Shirou hadn't exhausted his tricks though, and a second burst of energy lit up the night as he used his power to shoot himself down at the fleeing vessel.
The eyes of the Titan Armour were sharp. Despite the size difference between them the young Emiya could still see Odysseus' eyes widen in shock as he looked up to see the huge form of the armoured giant crashing down on his ship. The Heretic God threw up his hands, and as Shirou drove his Authority's sword down at the ship with both hands the protective barrier about it flared into life.
For a moment they both hung in the air, the giant bearing the sword held back by the shield of divine power it could not break.
Then Shirou threw every last bit of prana that he could muster into one final surge through his sword.
The divine protection about the ship shattered like glass. Between the sheer size and weight of the Titan Armour, its raw strength and that last burst of destructive force it was just too much. The Heretic God's Authority might have been powerful, but even a divine power had limits to what it could endure.
Both ship and giant plummeted from the sky, the power keeping the vessel aloft broken as the huge sword stabbed down through ropes and wood, shattering the keel of the ship as surely as if it had struck submerged rocks during a storm.
As they hit the shallow waves below both divine manifestations began to fade. Shirou's broke apart as he no longer had the prana to keep it going, the ship dispersed because it had been broken. The remains struck the ocean, sending up a small geyser of spray.
Both Heretic God and God Slayer disappeared beneath the waves.
The god had once been a god to a pantheon in the east. There he had stood with Chandra and Indra. He had been married to the daughter of the sun. There he had been the knower of paths and the guardian of roads. He had guided mortals and cattle in their lives, and then in their deaths he had guided their souls to their destination. In those days his name had once been Pushan, and for centuries he had fulfilled his duties and kept to his role.
But time passed, and with it came an ache, a dissatisfaction had grown within him. Though he had loved his land he had come to want more, to see what was beyond the horizon. Wanderlust had found root in him, and he had little choice but to follow it. He had left his wife, his family, his friends, his enemies, he had left them all and chose to chase the horizon, to chase the sunset.
He went west, the sunrise at his back, the sunset ever ahead. He followed the coast, sometimes travelling by foot, sometimes by boat. He took a slow journey, never allowing impatience to overcome him and drive him to use his Authorities. He travelled as a mortal would and found great joy in it.
In time he came to new lands, different lands, lands that had never heard of him. There he took a new name, one given to him by the locals as they included him into their pantheon. He was now a different god though. His ties to the sun were changed to ties to weather, his bow now tied to the rainbow brought to the sky by both sun and rain. Thus, Pushan became Quzah, and for a time he was content. However, as time passed the wanderlust returned, and with it his dissatisfaction.
This time, when he tried to leave, his departure was not a gentle one. The other gods of his new pantheon were unhappy to see him leave, feeling his departure would lessen them, and sought to stop him. Some of them had been stronger, some of them had been more terrible, but none of them had been as driven as he. The mortals had learnt to fear the storm that day, and even his fellow gods had felt fear before him. For his transgression his name became associated with the great enemy, but he did not care.
West and north, he travelled, once more finding new lands. This time he was not greeted as a god, instead he became a king to a small island nation. The novelty was a joy, and for decades he was entertained by the simple pleasure of living as a mortal, of exploring the myriad islands and kingdoms of his new lands. In time the god became a hero, and the hero travelled and had many adventures. To him it was a joy, a new experience, a new horizon.
But then had come the war, a war unlike any he'd been involved with before. Gods that were heroes fought upon both sides while other gods weighed in from on high. Mortals died by the hundreds, then by the thousands, then by the tens of thousands. Caught by both threats and obligations the god become hero was forced to spend years trapped in the war, watching as those he respected died deaths that even a god could not easily recover from.
Eventually the war ended, brought to a bloody finish not by might but by cunning. The god become hero took no pleasure in it, instead he just boarded his ship and set sail once more. However, his was not an easy voyage, the curses and debts he had accumulated over the war set him at odds with other gods, making his return home into an odyssey. The journey cost him in power, in companions, in will, and left him exhausted. His legend faded, and for a time he simply rested living the life of a hero, then returning to the realm of the gods to enjoy the pleasures of divine paradise for a few mortal lifetimes.
However, in time his wanderlust returned, and he descended to the world of mortals to travel once more.
As a Heretic God his descent caused problems. Mortal champions rose against him, warriors and mages both, but he chose not to fight them. He was a traveller, what reason had he to seek out battles where they were not barring his way? Even God Slayers failed to catch him as he chased the sun, seeking out new horizons, new sights, new lands.
But in time, there were no more new lands, no more new horizons. The world had been seen, and even though the world changed, bringing new sights, new cities, new countries, they were not the fresh journeys that the travelling god sought. Without the journey, without the unknown beyond the horizon . . . something within the god began to wither, like a plant denied the sun.
He retreated back into his legend, living within memories of his past victories, his past discoveries, even his past tragedies. Decades, then centuries, passed and he once more descended to the mortal realm. Once again it had changed, this time more drastically than he could have imagined, but still, for all their differences the horizons remained familiar and unsatisfying.
Was it any wonder that when the Heretic God called Odysseus saw the infinite world to be had within the kaleidoscope of alternate realities his mind fractured?
Such hunger, such desire, it was not a thing that could relent, not in the face of what he so desperately craved!
Shirou gasped for breath as he surfaced, his eyes stinging from the saltwater and his body aching from the dispelling of his Authority. Still, he didn't relinquish the grip he held. Not even as Odysseus struggled, clawing at the Campione's hand where he held on. The Heretic God tried to pull away, but he was even groggier from the destruction of his ship, for a few precious moments he couldn't bring his strength to bear, and Shirou wasn't letting go.
Thrashing through the water, dragging his struggling enemy behind him, the eighth Devil King saw the lights of the city before him. The world was blurred by his swimming vision, but he could see the shore, see the lights!
Suddenly, his foot came down and there was sand beneath him. The water was still up to his chest, dragging at him, slowing him down, but he had traction under his feet, something to push against. With renewed energy he pushed on heaving Odysseus through the water behind him.
"No . . . NO!"
The sputtered exclamation was all the warning he got before the fist impacted the side of his head. The blow wasn't skilfully thrown, nor was it particularly strong, but it hit him in mid-step and caught him by surprise. Shirou reeled back, losing his grip on the god's shirt and almost losing his footing. He recovered though, just it time to raise his arms to block another swing.
"NO! You don't get to do this! You don't get to beat me!"
Any hint of the travelling god's earlier poise and control was gone. The face that came at the red-haired young man was a wild and red mess, the voice raised in a strangled scream. More blows came, a wild flurry that had strength behind them, but no more than would have been expected from a large and fit man.
"You do not get to keep me from my freedom! YOU DO NOT GET TO STOP ME!"
The last words were more like a mindless shriek than anything understandable, but Shirou didn't care. He blocked the last blow with his left forearm, an instinctive move from his time training in unarmed fighting that he could only half remember at the moment, then his right fist lashed out.
The water around him was barely below his ribcage, and waves kept it rising and falling. The sea dragged at his blow, forcing him to raise his arms, but he still drove the hit home. His knuckles crashed into the left side of Odysseus' face, and he felt something give slightly as the Heretic god was sent stumbling back, a spray of blood dripping from his mouth.
It was ironic. The two of them were beings of power that let them loom over the mortals of the world, he was a god and Shirou was a Supreme King. Yet here they were, their power exhausted, their Authorities spent, Shirou divested of his magecraft, Odysseus without his immortality. This was how they ended their battle, not as gods, but as men struggling in the ocean water, no different from any of the millions of inhabitants of Tokyo city.
"You do not get to take this from me! It is mine! MINE! I deserve it! I WILL BE FREE!"
Limited though he was to the strength of a mortal, Odysseus remained dangerous. He was bigger than Shirou, more muscled, and had centuries of fighting experience.
"GET OUT OF MY WAY!"
This time there was nothing weak or unsure about the blow. The Heretic God's fist drove into the Campione's cheek as though it was trying to smash through it. Shirou went stumbling back, losing his footing and slumping into the sea, his head ringing and the taste of blood on his tongue.
Another blow, though this time he was able to get an arm up to block it, only to have his own forearm smash into his face. It wasn't as bad as taking the blow straight on, but it still hurt.
Another blow. Shirou was doing his best to back away, to open room between them, but Odysseus pursued him, wading through the water as it grew shallower, relentless. The King of Steel regained his feet, retreating in better order, but the blows kept on coming.
Another blow, this time lower, striking him in the side. The water was at their hips now, and with his arms unencumbered by the seawater Odysseus grew more wild, more aggressive. Shirou hurt, but he was enduring. Even without any magic left, even with all the Authorities he was willing to use exhausted or unreachable the physical enhancements of being a Campione remained. Maybe they weren't as potent as they would have been had he more power left to him, but they were still keeping him on his feet where a normal mortal would have fallen.
"DIE AND GET OUT OF MY WAY!"
Another punch, this time a straight to his head. Shirou could see it coming, even though one eye was hazy from a combination of blood and seawater. He could see it coming, and this time he could do something about it.
"I'm not in your way."
Unlike Odysseus his words weren't shouted or roared, they were barely more than a mutter. Still, saying them helped firm something up inside him, and his left arm came up in a firm block, managing to push the Heretic God's punch to the side, making it miss.
"YOU'RE IN MINE!"
This time it was a roar, as Shirou's right fist slammed into Odysseus' face, the god's nose flattening and then breaking under the force of the blow. As his knuckles dug into flesh the young Emiya felt a surge of visceral satisfaction, a feeling uncharacteristic to him, but one he didn't dislike.
This was the reason for the attack on the island, for the attack on this city, for Illya's abduction, for her possession. But more, beyond all that. He was the one standing in the way of a path back to Sakura!
The travelling god roared a wordless howl of rage as he surged back at his enemy. Blood was running down his face from his nose, but he was paying it no mind. He just came in swinging at Shirou, a savage and brutal assault that left no room for any defence on his part, just all-out attack.
The God Slayer responded in kind.
In some distant part of Shirou's mind he felt the situation vaguely resembled his last battle with Kotomine. Even though his mind had been collapsing at the time, his body giving out as his internal world of swords was encroaching on his flesh and slowly killing him, he could remember. The fake priest had been dying as well, his grail granted heart giving out, but that hadn't kept him from fighting. It had been the same back then, Kotomine stronger and more skilled, but Shirou made durable by the swords coming out of him and too stubborn to go down. That distant corner of his mind was almost amused at how the past seemed to enjoy being repeated.
The rest of him was focused on doing his best to beat his foe to death with his bare hands.
Maybe they were at it for minutes, maybe it was just seconds, to the young Emiya heir it felt like hours. It was just one impact after another, his teeth rattling in his head, his eyes clouded by stars and blackness. All he could do was to take it and lash out in retaliation.
Then a fist was driven into his chest, and he could feel something break under it. Suddenly he couldn't breathe, his mouth gaping, his lungs heaving, but nothing seemed to be moving as it should! He couldn't catch his breath! He couldn't breathe!
Even through eyes swimming with tears Shirou could see the next blow coming. His dodge was more of a collapse backwards as he desperately tried to get his chest working again, but it worked. Odysseus' last swing missed, sending the Heretic God stumbling as the wasted force of his blow sent him into a stumbling spin. It gave the red-haired young man precious seconds.
His side felt as though a spear was being driven in with each heave of his chest, but after a moment Shirou was able to get air to stay in his lungs long enough to do some good. The respite was not to last long though, because before the Campione could fight his way back to his feet his enemy was on him again! With a wordless roar of rage Odysseus threw himself bodily at the floundering God Slayer, tackling them both into the surf.
The fight lost any semblance of skill or even humanity at that point, the two of them thrashed at each other without thought or plan. They rolled over and over, each trying to force the other under the water, but each unable to overpower the other enough.
Then Shirou was on top, his hands wrapped around the god's throat and holding his head under the lapping waves. The Campione could taste blood in his mouth, could barely see through one eye, and felt as though a serrated blade was being slowly driven into his lung after having gone through one of his ribs. Still, he held on, tightening his grip even as his fingers started to grow numb!
He was going to end this! This night was over! This was-
Somehow Odysseus managed to get one foot up between them, and a sandal sole pressed into Shirou's chest for a moment, before the leg behind it flexed and the God Slayer was sent flying back! When he came down there was less than a foot of water below him, not enough to keep his back from slamming down into the wet sand. He tried to scramble up, to get to his feet, but he was too late.
Fingers like iron wrapped around his throat, and Shirou found himself forced back onto the wet sand as his enemy bore down on top of him. Around him the water was shallow now, barely reaching his ears as he struggled, but it didn't matter.
He couldn't breathe!
Shirou thrashed, but this time more wildly, less control, less aggression, just a mindless animal drive to escape. He still hadn't recovered from the earlier blow that had left him breathless, only able to get in shallow gasps after he was able to breathe at all. Scrabbling his hand came down on a stone half buried in the sand. A nice large stone about the size and shape of the mango he'd tried the other day. His fuzzy thoughts swam for a moment, memories of how excited Illya-chan had been to try it crowding to the fore, then falling back again. Then his fingers tightened and there was only action.
The impact of the rock on the side of his head would have been enough to send any mortal reeling if it didn't straight up knock them out or kill them. Odysseus grunted in pain, but he didn't fall, and he didn't relent, his grip remaining as tight as it had been.
Shirou swung twice more before he felt the strength starting to go out of his limbs. He tried to raise the rock again, but his chest was screaming with the growing pressure of desperation, his ears and his head were ringing as he struggled. Everything felt . . . off, uncoordinated.
"Not much longer now," It took Shirou a moment to recognize Odysseus' voice. "Just a bit more now, and then it will be over!"
The young Emiya wasn't sure if the Heretic god was speaking his enemy or to himself, but he didn't really care. Both his hands had come up and were weakly grasping the wrists of the hands that were clamped on his throat.
"Freedom! Freedom from this world! Instead, all worlds! All worlds to travel, to explore!"
Shirou could barely make out what the god was saying, the whole world seemed to be swimming. Worlds? All worlds? Worlds like his home? Foggy thoughts drifted for a moment, then seemed to find an unmoving grain, a core to crystalize around.
He had to save Sakura!
Once before Shirou had to fight as his mind and body died around him. He'd kept going, even as he forgot where he was. He'd had to save her, he had to!
"Just die! Die, break and get out of my way!"
Break? Break . . . ? No . . . no, Emiya Shirou wouldn't break. Steel didn't break, not the good strong core that made him up. He was steel! Refined and forged, hammered and tempered . . .
In Shirou's mind the world fell away and was replaced with another one, a world of unlimited blades. So many weapons, the arms of the great, the terrible, the famed and the forgotten. And at the centre of them all was a statue, not huge, not monolithic, but there in the middle of it all.
Sakura . . .
Without even thinking about it he reached for his blades. Pain shot through him as his poisoned magic circuits rebelled, burning him from within. At any other time he wouldn't have been able to continue, he wouldn't have been able to bear it. But now . . . his brain was dying from oxygen starvation, his divine powers were exhausted or inaccessible, his body was beaten more brutally than it ever had since becoming a Campione and he was operating more on instinct than thought. Pain was not a factor that could reach him, all there was were Sakura, his world of blades, and the one that stood before him, even as those fingers dug relentlessly into his throat.
"DIE, DAMN YOU! DIE! DIE! DI-"
Through eyes that were losing focus Shirou could see the look of surprise that crossed the gods face as a blade emerged from the palm of his left hand. The blade belonged to a very simple Noble Phantasm, a nameless sword that possessed no unique powers or attributes. It was simply a sword that held magic, simply steel touched with power. Its legend was pitiful when compared to such legends as Durendal or Excalibur, simply the favoured weapon of a hero the world forgot. It was an E rank Noble Phantasm, barely worthy of being acknowledged as such. In the final analysis, it was one of the weakest weapons that existed within Unlimited Blade Works, a weapon that he would never have drawn, not when there were so many its better available.
Now, his magic circuits burning as though they wished to rip themselves free from his flesh, his prana exhausted to near nothingness, his body only precious moments from death.
What Shirou did wasn't Tracing, it was cruder, simpler, but was something only a human that had fully manifested and mastered a Reality Marble could have achieved. When Archer's arm had been invading the young Emiya's body the overwriting effect had caused swords to manifest inside him, exiting his flesh impaling him from the inside out. It had been a slow death, but one that had taught him this trick.
The sword tore its way out of Shirou's palm, jammed through the Heretic God's wrist and impaled his left eye.
At any other time, Odysseus could have ignored such a weapon. It was a weak Noble Phantasm, one that should have barely been able to prick his skin, let alone penetrate right through his arm. Had a mortal wielded it against him he could normally have laughed it off, seen it as barely more dangerous than a knitting needle. But now . . . now his plans were ruined, his Authorities were exhausted, his immortality was broken, he was reduced to the level of a mortal.
As the blade dug in and his eye burst into blood and other liquids he howled.
He howled and he loosened his grip.
The breath that Shirou drew made his side burn with renewed fire, but it was sweeter than the finest wine ever brewed by mortal hand. With it he felt the pressure in his head and chest fade, his eyes narrowed, and strength returned. Gritting his teeth, he surged up, trying to drive the sword sprouting from his hand in deeper.
Amazingly, despite his pain and confusion, Odysseus was fast enough and strong enough to clap his right hand around the Campione's wrist and braced his left arm, keeping the blade from advancing. It was as though steel clamps were holding Shirou's arms in place. For a moment both of them froze there, straining against each other in the surf as the waves played about them.
Then with a snarl of determination and frustration the eighth devil King stepped in close and drove his knee into the travelling god's groin with all the force he could manage.
Odysseus was a god, but at that moment he had been dragged down to mortality for the first time in millennia, for the first time in centuries he was feeling pain. Real pain. And getting hammered in the testicles by a TRULY angry God Slayer wasn't something a mortal could ignore even at the best of times.
His grip slipped as he involuntarily flinched.
Shirou surged forward again.
The sword went in.
Odysseus went down.
The pair of them collapsed into the sea, the surf black in the night, but the nearby streetlights bright enough for Shirou to see the waves being stained with red. He could see where the sword had gone all the way through, the tip of it poking out of the back of the god's skull. His enemy was dead, of that there could be no question.
As for Shirou, he was still breathing, but he felt more dead than alive. His throat ached, his side was on fire, his right arm was going numb, and his head felt as though a colony of dwarves had set up residence in his skull and were trying to mine their way out. All he could do was rest on his hand and knees over the corpse of his foe, the hand with the blade coming out of it still pressed against the dead god and take great shuddering lungfuls of air as he did his best to hold onto his flagging consciousness.
It was a losing fight though, and Shirou could feel the darkness closing in. The last thing he managed was to flop to the side, falling on his back so he could keep breathing, even as the surf washed by him.
Had there been a mortal witness to the aftermath of the battle between the Heretic God and the Campione then they would have been spectators to a grand sight.
Odysseus had gathered the remnants of the power that had brought Shirou and Illyasviel to this world. In its own way this power was not itself significant, it had simply been a remnant of the True Magic used by the Holy Grail. Both the magic and the artefact were significant, but the power . . . It had just been prana, a portion of a far vaster power, but which had been incredible in its scope, not its nature. The prana remnant was just normal prana, the sort that could be found anywhere in Shirou's home world, if one had the skills to find it.
Common prana, but prana from another world.
That was the important part, that it was foreign to the world of gods and Campione that it now found itself in. More than that though, unremarkable as its nature had been it was still part of the great magic that had torn a path between worlds. It was a memory, an imprint, nothing more, but it had called to Odysseus, a being whose mind and senses were not so limited as those of a mortal. What he had harvested from that street in Naples had let him see the edges of a power he had come to crave, but what he had gained had been incomplete.
So, he'd stored the prana within himself and nurtured it, fed it power and made it grow, a feat only a god could have accomplished. When this power had encountered its missing aspects in the eighth Campione upon the island Odysseus had felt how they could complete each other on an instinctual level. Of course, those remnants of power had sustained themselves by latching onto the weakest of the three travellers between worlds. When they'd passed Angra Mainyu had just been birthed into his full power, Illya had been ready to use her own absurd levels of prana, and Shirou had been literally seconds from death. Out of all of them only his lifeforce had been vulnerable enough to provide an opening for the tainted prana to latch onto.
After he became a Campione that prana had been within him when he was remade into a mortal wielding the power of the divine. It had not been purged, rather it had been melded into him, welded into place by the power that transformed him. That had granted it stability, potency, enough so that it remained distinct from Shirou's own power and didn't fade from existence due to being swallowed up by the young Emiya's own vastly increased prana.
When Odysseus had drawn it out of Shirou it had been tangled up in his life force, killing him even as it was pulled out. Though not able to extract the whole thing he'd been able to tug an 'end' loose, an end that he'd merged with the energies he'd collected. The result had been an unstable portal, incomplete and impossible to use, but not impossible to see through. A portal that showed enough to drive a god mad.
Shirou had broken the connection, and unknown to him Excalibur had closed the unstable portal and prevented terrible destruction. The energies, the foreign prana that Odysseus had extracted had returned to the Campione's body without him really being aware of it.
Now that the Heretic God was dead those same energies were tugging on the prana he had stored within his body. This time there was no resistance, no tug of war. The remnants of a power that had stepped between world came free easily and flowed into the unconscious form of the eighth Campione, melding with their counterpart within him.
Of course, what was created by that melding wasn't . . . simple by any stretch of the imagination. The traces of the Kaleidoscope, the remnant prana of another world, the divine life forces of a Heretic God and Campione, the left over energies from the portal that had manifested upon the island, all of them came together to create something new.
And as this took place even more complications were mounting.
"Muuuu! What is this?"
In a realm above that of the mortals a child-like figure stared at the interplay of powers taking place before her and puffed out her cheeks in adorable frustration. Why was it that her newest adopted child never failed to make things complicated?
She was Pandora, the All-Giving Woman, the one who brought forth all disasters, along with the last shred of hope. She was a True Goddess, not a Heretic Deity running out of control as they were swallowed by their desires. She was the Mother of all God Slayers, the one that imparted the might of slain divinities upon those she found worthy. She was the King Maker, the Throne Forger, the Crown Giver!
And right now, she was jumping up and down in place and waving her arms about like an angry chicken.
The cause of her flustered state was the current incarnation of the Circle of Usurpation before her. The Circle was one of the greatest Divine Treasures in existence, an artefact that allowed the user control over the divine powers of a vanquished deity. To be sure, there were a great many conditions and complications in both its power and its use, but even so it was a prize that many deities would be willing to give all they had for. The Circle was the key component of the great ritual that was worked by her and her husband, Epimetheus, a great spell that could be called both a blessing and a curse in that it gave rise to the Supreme Kings known in the modern day as Campione.
At this moment the Circle of Usurpation was manifested as a great ritual circle upon the ground, one lit with divine light that shone through the hazy white that permeated her realm. Within it were the lights that represented the Authorities of the god that had just been slain, the god known as Odysseus. There were a large number, easily a dozen at least. At this moment they were dull, only a soft glow hinting at the divine power that was their nature, but Pandora knew that once they were fed with magical energies from a suitable host then they would shine with a light fit to put stars to shame.
All of these godly powers orbited a single glowing orb many times their size, like planets too close to a sun. The central sphere was a lightly shining blue in colour and dashed with streaks of silver that seemed to rise to the surface only to the sink back beneath the blue only for others to rise afterwards. Off to the side was a swirling cloud of colours that ran the entire spectrum. The cloud spun in an almost galaxy-like fashion, hovering away from the central orb, but giving the impression it wished to draw closer.
The display was a vastly simplified representation of the interaction between the soul of Emiya Shirou and the divine Authorities that could potentially be his. Normally it would be a simple process, one that the goddess had managed hundreds of times since she established the ritual.
But not this time.
"Fuuu, why must this mother have such a difficult son? Doesn't he know that a filial child is meant to make their parent's life easier, not harder?"
The first thing Pandora had noticed was that the ritual she was so familiar with had stalled only a few moments after Odysseus had passed on. That had been unusual, normally the only times that the Ritual of Usurpation would delay was if the battle was not one that she would approve of, such as a victor dealing the death blow to a deity only after someone else had weakened them. The All Giving Woman had no intention of accepting cowards or cheaters as her children, nor would she reward any of her children that used such unworthy methods. The Circle was attuned to her thoughts, so if it detected circumstances that she would wish to intervene in then it would hold the process of usurpation while attracting her attention.
That wasn't what was happening this time though.
Pandora had been flustered to find that the whole thing had ground to a halt, like some sort of clockwork with a steel spike driven into it. She could feel the forces behind the ritual straining to continue, but for the first time in her existence an outside force was acting against them. She'd shifted the Circle into its current state so she could take a look at what was happening, and what she saw was making her scowl in adorable frustration.
In the normal course of events, she wouldn't have even needed to concern herself. The Circle would have captured the Authorities of the slain deity, formed a connection with the soul of the slayer and then allowed nature to take its course. With such a connection it was only natural that the Authority with the greatest compatibility with the soul would be drawn to it, then fuse with it in the act of the Campione usurping the divine power of their fallen foe. Sometimes, in rare cases, the fallen god would approve of their slayer, and more than a single Authority would be imparted. It was a rare thing, but the goddess had seen it before.
What she had never seen was what was before her.
The Authorities were drifting towards the soul, several of them showed strong compatibility, enough that there should have been no issue. However, whenever they drew close, they were being driven away, forced back by a strange current of energy that seemed to reject them. On top of that there was that weird swirling thing that Pandora had never seen before. It wasn't really an Authority, not something that should be a part of the ritual, but somehow it was here anyway!
Pandora didn't know what was happening, but somehow she knew it was the fault of her youngest child. After all, hadn't she been the one to declare him as having the strangest destiny of all the Devil Kings?
She hadn't realized just how right she'd been.
Shirou thrashed in the darkness trying to reach out to Sakura but failing despite his best efforts.
The world . . . wasn't working right. That was the thought that ran through his mind as he wildly flailed about yet failed to move so much as an inch. He felt like something was wrong, but he couldn't work out what it was. For that matter, he didn't know where he was, what he was doing here, or even where he had been. All there was, was himself and the dark.
Even through all that though, he could feel something. It wasn't anything rational, nothing he could see, hear or feel on his skin, the feeling was pure intuition, instinct and nothing more. There were no words to describe it, no names for it. But that didn't matter, because through it was a connection that his entire heart would have been able to recognise even if his mind and soul had been set on fire by some cruel god.
The connection was distant, weak, tenuous to the point that it felt as though it would snap at the slightest pressure. Yet at the same time it was crystal clear to him. There was a path to Sakura!
Perhaps if the young Devil King had been more lucid he would have been sceptical, or at least cautious. All his research had shown that the world he lived in was unfamiliar with the concept of parallel worlds. They knew of different planes of existence, but not of worlds that were similar but changed by different choices. They didn't know of outlandish worlds where the rules that governed the world were indescribably foreign. They had no way of travelling to those worlds, and the only hint of that power that he'd seen had been the wild portal opened by Odysseus.
To suddenly feel a link to Sakura like this . . . had he possessed more of his reason then he would have been suspicious. Maybe it was a trap, an illusion, maybe even a trick of his own mind. Well, he would have been cautious, but that wouldn't have kept him from charging in. he'd just have charged in more alert for a trap than he'd otherwise have been.
He tried to struggle along the link, to follow it to the girl at the other end, but found he could no more move than a mountain could dance. Worse than that, something was moving across the link, eclipsing it, blotting it out. Shirou could feel it, feel the impressions of it trickling into his muddled mind as it grew brighter and the link grew dimmer.
*A bow that can pierce all, tipped with iron that can become Steel. It could be his, it could be strong. It could combine with the Steel that waited in his internal world. It could be a bow to launch Noble Phantasms with such power that-*
He pushed it away. He wasn't sure how he did it, but he did. He didn't want power, he didn't need it, not now. He needed the link, and this power, this bow, was in the way! His will surged out like a wave, crude and only barely directed, but strong enough to pick the power up and push it from the path of the link. The eighth Campione felt a burst of satisfaction as the connection to the distant Sakura snapped back into its former brightness, but then felt another presence encroach upon it, new impressions of power and glory starting to drown out the link once more.
*Steel in the form of a Sword. It resonated with Unlimited Blade Works, a resonance that spoke if power, of unity, of destruction. It could become the bane of all weapons crafted by man, a counter to even the myriad of weapons wielded by the King of Heroes himself! It could-*
He felt something in his inner world react, but again he paid it no mind. Ruthlessly he drove the eclipsing power out of the way, giving it no heed, no purchase, no attention. It was in the way, nothing more. For a few moments he could focus his mind along the link, and he was sure that it was stronger now, maybe even . . . closer? Was that it? Then once again a power broke his concentration as it forced its way into his mind.
*A ship to bear him wherever he desired. A ship that could be of wood but could also be of Steel. A ship made of blades, crewed by the souls sworn to him. A weapon to make gods-*
For a brief moment Shirou hesitated. Anywhere? Could the ship take him to Sakura? Instinctively his befuddled mind reached for the bright power, trying to understand it, to see if it offered what he wanted.
Then he felt the link fray, almost break, as the power that represent the ship of blades seemed to surge towards him, an odd eagerness in its pulsing depths. For a frozen instant the King of Steel was paralysed with indecision. The ship felt . . . right, as though it would work well with him, as though it would complement his powers in some ideal way. It felt strong, it felt potent . . .
But it could not reach Sakura.
The flash of insight came like lightning, and in the same instant Shirou threw the power aside, driving his will at it with all the strength and fury he could. It resisted for a moment, too close, too anchored by their brief contact, but Shirou would not be denied. With an almost rending sensation it came loose and was sent spinning and sputtering into the darkness as the young Emiya once more focused upon the link, trying to follow it, trying to reinforce it.
The next interference came quickly though, driving into his mind as it blotted out the link.
*The fury of the skies at his command! Rain, thunder, hale, wind, and lightning, any one of them could be his to call, if he so chose. The power to drown cities, smash mountains, send entire nations into fear and ruin could be his! The wrath of the skies could answer his call and strike down all that opposed-*
Again, he shoved it aside, no hesitation this time. The power offered was potent, but it failed to resonate with him. It had no kinship, no affinity to his soul. Without thinking twice he pushed it aside and once more focused on the link, on Sakura.
*The dead could be called in another manner, another path could be opened for them. They could be more than spirits given temporary form through materialization through his magic, they could have substance anew. He could call them by the hundreds, by the thousands, a tide of the unliving to serve him and-*
Another obstacle, another rejection. Yes, there was power there, power that would feed and strengthen his Rule of the Underworld, but he didn't care. His focus was narrowing down now, focusing more intently than ever upon the link. There was something close now, something he wanted in a desperate mindless manner that Shirou had never experienced before. The gossamer thin link suddenly surged and thickened and through it he could feel . . .
*A distant doorway that opened up onto something he had never seen before, but which looked achingly familiar! He could see through it, see a familiar garden, a familiar house! And there, working in the kitchen where they'd quietly enjoyed each other's company so many times, was Sakura!*
Without thought, without caution, he reached out with his mind, with his will, with his heart, with his soul, with everything he could bring to bear! He reached out and seized the distant doorway!
Hesitantly, Pandora peeked out from behind the pile of ghostly mist that she'd been hiding behind. Honestly, up until a few moments before she hadn't even known that she could pile up the strange misty ground that made up the realm she dwelt in. It had never even occurred to her to try. However, when things started to go completely out of control she'd been motivated to find some sort of shelter, and an old spell had occurred to her in her desperation.
It looked as though things had calmed down, though her heart was still pounding away a mile a minute in her chest. Really, what kind of filial son ended up bombarding his adopted mother with flying orbs of divine power? The goddess had seen it take place and she was still having trouble believing what she had witnessed.
Things had been strange enough when the ritual was grinding to a halt and the Authorities were just hanging there, trying to reach her son's soul but being held back. Then a tiny line had suddenly connected the central orb to the spinning nebula. The connection was miniscule, barely as thick as a single line of spider's silk, but the connection blazed with light as it formed, so much so that Pandora had to shield her eyes lest she be blinded.
That had been unexpected enough, but what came next caught her completely by surprise. One of the smaller spere that represented a potential Authority for Shirou moved between him and the spinning cloud, causing the connection between them to be interrupted. For a brief moment she'd though that the Authority would be claimed, it had a good compatibility, and it was a strong one. Then the next instant the powerful goddess had to throw herself to the side as the Authority came flying out of the Circle as though it had been fired from a cannon!
That shouldn't have been possible! All of it! Rejecting the Authority, doing so with such force, even the fact that the Authority left the Circle of Usurpation should have been impossible, but it happened anyway!
Pandora just had time to get to her feet before another of the radiant sphere representing a divine power came flying out of the Circle, this time not directly at her, but close enough to make her flinch. Then another, and another. Some came out with more force than others, and there weren't that many of them, but after the fourth nearly went through her head the All Giving Woman remembered a spell from long ago, raised her hasty fortification and hid behind it.
It was over now, at least she thought it was. There weren't any Authorities left in the Circle to be thrown out. All that was left was that strange swirling cloud galaxy thing that Pandora was still unable to identify. As her eyes cleared her defences, she saw that the link between it and the central orb that represent Shirou had grown stronger. It was no longer quite as blinding, but the thread that represented the connection was thicker now, a cord rather than a gossamer line. While she watched the link grew taut and began to pull the swirling galaxy of multi-coloured mist towards the central sphere, like a fisherman reeling in a catch.
"What was that?"
The question was almost plaintive as the goddess stared at the scene before her and then took a look at the area around her. The Authorities that had been sent flying had faded away, unable to sustain themselves outside of a host or the Circle. Most likely they had returned to Odysseus when he had been forced back into his legend, so she didn't have to worry about them. What concerned her was the strange event taking place before her.
The swirling cloud had finally reached the central sphere, drawing it in to create a ring about itself. The ring slowly contracted, then sank into the blue globe, for a brief moment a band of silver marked where the ring had sunk in, then it faded. Then the sphere representing the soul of her eighth adopted faded from view, the ritual for which it had manifested completed.
"But . . . How . . . Why . . . What?!"
Pandora simply found it impossible to put her sheer bewildered confusion into some sort of coherent question. All she could do was stare at the place the ritual circle had been and splutter in wordless incomprehension.
It wasn't meant to be this way! She was the overseer of the Ritual of Usurpation! She had been in charge of it for millennia! She . . .
A sigh escaped her lips as she exhaled and did her best to let the tension out as she calmed herself. In keeping with her youthful appearance Pandora knew herself to be somewhat temperamental, easy to rile up but also as quick to calm down. Yes, she was still frustrated, but she wasn't going to throw a tantrum over it.
As she drew in a deep breath, she found her mind recalling an event several months ago, at least as the mortals counted it. She remembered an unusual event, the death of a god that was not a god, but yet was a god at the same time. She remembered a choice she had to make, a choice that would determine if a young man lived or died. She'd seen him through the Ring of Usurpation, a ragged husk of a teenager more dead than alive after having slain the god that wasn't quite a god. In the end she'd been moved by the fact that he'd managed such a feat while only a step or two from his grave. As she'd told him, his body was breaking, his memories withering, his mind collapsing, yet he had still fought on, he had still wanted to live.
So, she'd made her choice, deciding to unleash that strange young man upon the world as a supreme king of kings, a Campione.
A smile touched her face as she finished calming and turned her attention to the mortal world once more, her divine senses reaching out for the child she'd just been thinking about.
"I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. Still, please remember that you're meant to shock other people, not your dear adopted mother."
Settling back into her normal peace the goddess decided to continue to watch. There was going to be an interesting show coming, of that she was certain.
"We have arrived! Your brother should be just over-"
Illya didn't bother waiting to listen to the rest of what her driver had to say, she was already out of the limo before the vehicle had finished stopping. Once again, she reinforced her body as well as she could, pushing herself to move faster as she dashed by building and trees, then over grass as she drew closer to the shoreline.
Where was he? She'd received word that Shirou's giant armoured form had been seen crashing into the sea near here, bringing down a ship with him. That had only been a few minutes ago, and Illya had been lucky enough to have been in the general area. Some creative, and possibly illegal, driving on the part of the limo's driver had seen them here in admirably short time.
The experience had been . . . interesting, enough that some small part of her was considering asking Shirou to buy her a car of her own once this whole mess was over. She vaguely remembered her mother commenting on a car being her favourite toy, so maybe she should give it a try? Mama's car had been a . . . mendees bends? Something like that anyway.
Still, all of that was just chatter at the back of her mind, the rest of her was focused on trying to find her lost onii-chan.
It wasn't as easy as she would have wanted it to be. This was an area meant to be enjoyed in the daytime, not the night. Yes, there were streetlights about, but there weren't enough to illuminate the entire beach. On top of that it was low tide, meaning that the beach reached out further into the darkness than it normally would, giving her that much more to search.
Of course, before she started running around in a panic the first thing she did was try to reach out with her magecraft. Sensing concentrations of prana had been one of the first things that she'd been taught by her family in preparation for the Holy Grail War. Being able to feel Servants coming or seek out Masters had been an elementary part of her education, though her lessons had been as harsh as every other aspect of her treatment at her 'family's' hands. While it had never been a speciality of hers the young Einzbern had been able to gain some proficiency in the art, enough to let her find Shirou easily when she'd been in Fuyuki.
Unfortunately, right now it seemed to be less than helpful. The area seemed to be saturated with leftover power from the clash that had taken place. It wasn't much, and the magic energy would dissipate over the course of a few hours without any effects, but for now the diffuse haze of prana hanging over the whole beach was making it hard to find her brother.
Normally it wouldn't have been a problem. Unless Shirou was deliberately trying to hide then the sheer amount of magical power in his body stood out to her like a bonfire amidst tiny candles. She'd seen that huge fire die down before though, in the wake of his battles with gods or fellow Campione. If he'd exhausted himself then the ambient leftover prana might be enough to cover him up, at least until her recovered some. Until then she was stuck looking for him the old-fashioned way.
Well, not completely old-fashioned. Illya smiled to herself as she ran her hands through her hair, pulling out a few loose white follicles free. Soft blue light radiated from her hands as she manifested one of her best personal Mysteries, Engel Rid, the Angel's Poem. In short order the hairs in her hands had transmuted into several glowing azure wireframe outlines of birds, first two, then four, then eight. With a single mental command she sent them flying along the beach, their soft light joining the night as she felt the sensory input flowing into her mind from them.
Closing her eyes Illya stood in place and did her best to manage the multiple incoming data feeds to her mind. Fortunately, she didn't have to actually control her constructs, they were autonomous enough that such micromanagement was more detrimental than useful. Actually taking in the data they were sending back, sifting it and understanding it, that was the real task.
Back during the War she wouldn't have been able to manage this, she wouldn't even have been able to manifest more than five of her Engel Rid. She'd had the power, but her mental aspects hadn't been developed enough use them as scout like this. Her arrested growth, the modifications made to her, they'd ensured she was a formidable Master, but they had also cost her. During the Heaven's Feel Illya had been unable to move faster than a brisk walk, Berserker had been her main means to get around fast. Since coming to this world she'd been improving though, her body repairing and restoring itself, even as she retained the benefits from the changes made to her.
Illya remained rooted in place as the glowing constructs swooped and soared up and down the beach. Minutes passed and a trickle of sweat ran down the side of her face as she pushed the birdlike creations to search further and faster. The pressure upon her mind and spirit grew as she began to take in growing amounts of information as her constructs grew further and further apart.
It wasn't really a question of range, rather it was about disparate data. The more they spread out the more dissimilar the areas they investigated were, different nearby buildings, different adverts and posters. It was mostly minor details, but it added up, and the human brain, even the brain of a powerful prana using homunculi, wasn't designed to take in so many different data inputs at once.
Still, Illyasviel forced herself on, unwilling to give up until she-
A smile touched her lips as one of her magecrafted drones spotted a familiar figure. He was some ways down the beach, but close enough that she could quickly reach him. As she took off the Engel Rid flew back to her, taking up guarding posts about her as well as lighting up the darkness of the beach.
When she found him Shirou was lying in the shallows, water lapping around him, but unable to cover him over. He looked . . . used up was the only way that Illya could think to describe it. The vibrant potency of his prana was only a dim shadow of its usual self, his clothes were ripped, visible bruises marred his body and even in the blue light of her creations she could tell he was somewhat pale. And yet, despite all of that, his face was split by an exultant grin.
At her words his eyes opened, and he looked up at her.
"Illya . . ."
He sounded every bit as exhausted as he looked, but that smile still stayed on his face.
"Did you get a good Authority?"
Honestly, that smile was starting to unnerve her slightly. Her brother never showed such . . . such triumph before, not after any of the gods that he'd defeated. Perseus, Hades, Mordred, after each battle he'd just picked himself up and got going. He'd never stopped to bask in glory or crow over whatever divine power he'd gained, it just wasn't his nature.
"I've found it! I've found a way back home, back to Sakura!"
For a moment she didn't quite understand the words. Yes, she knew what each individual word meant, but the concept behind all of them together, that was what she was having trouble wrapping her mind around. Behind her she could hear shouts and the sounds of engines as more of the History Compilation Committee members arrived. There was still a lot of work ahead, an attack like this one was not going to have a graceful aftermath, but at that moment Illyasviel didn't really care. Instead, her mind was caught up in a single thought as comprehension began to break through her shock.
"This changes everything!"
Shirou's New Authority
Homeward Bound: The Precious Journey – Let the doorway open, let the path form. From where I stand to the destination I would return to let nothing bar my way, not mountain or ocean, not time nor space. Let not even the vaulted halls of the divine nor the walls between the infinite mirrored realms keep me from returning to my lost hearth!
This Authority, if such it can really be called is an anomaly in the world of the Campione, a unique existence without precedence.
Normally an Authority is an incarnation of a god's power, both an aspect of their legend and a prized treasure. In many ways they are akin to Noble Phantasms but are far more integrated into their masters. In terms of composition, they are composed of hyper-condensed divine power that is then imprinted with experiences derived from the host deity. This can be done in an instant, using past deeds or legends, or done over a long time, using experiences as they occur. With a Campione these Authorities are transplanted via the Ritual of Usurpation, normally causing some mutation so that the divine power more suitably fits the new host.
This Authority is unique in that it is not a 'pure' divine construct. Instead, it is a mongrel power, one forged from several different energies all forced together within a divine 'skin' and around a divine 'core' of power. The majority of the energies making up this Authority are of more mortal origin, though not weak by any means. The prana that dwelt within Shirou and that was harvested by Odysseus is foreign to the Campione world, not harmful but possessing a different signature to it. Furthermore, this foreign prana contains traces of both the Kaleidoscope and the Heaven's Feel True Magics.
This does not mean that possession of these Pranas would allow their possessor to use either of these powers, nor can the True Magics be learned from them. Instead, the prana simply contains certain aspects of how the True Magics work, remnants that are simply pieces of the greater whole. On their own they would be useless, but when combined with divine power that changes.
After being incubated within both a powerful Campione and a Heretic God these fragments of prana melded with divine power to become self-sustaining within them. After combining they became a new power, one similar to an Authority yet different in both composition and origin. In many ways the result of this pseudo- Authority is both less and more than a purely divine one.
In function Homeward Bound is extremely simple. It allows Shirou to open a gateway to a path that can transport him to any location that he has regarded as 'home'. This effect can transcend virtually any limitation, allowing Shirou to move through space, between realms, dimensions, realities, even through time if so needed. It is possible to block this effect, with Authorities that have an imprisoning or binding effect of their own, but in doing so they have to place themselves in direct opposition to the power of this Authority. In doing so it becomes a contest of power, whether the one trying to restrain Shirou will run out of power before he does. Since Homeward Bound is a surprisingly efficient Authority it is virtually impossible to block unless the opposing force has power reserves roughly double of whatever Shirou can bring to bear.
Of course, despite its power this Authority is far from almighty and suffers from several limitations.
The first and simplest is that the only destinations that can be selected are Shirou's homes, namely his residence in Fuyuki in the Nasuverse and his manor in the Campioneverse. For a place to be a home for him there has to be a strong emotional connection, not the sort of link that can be formed casually. Consequently, it is hard for him to form new destinations that this Authority will transport him to.
The second limitation is that this Authority has a rather long use time and is very delicate. After the incantation is made it takes a full twenty seconds for the portal to form, then nearly half a minute for the path beyond it to be complete. Additionally, Shirou must maintain concentration upon the Authority the whole time this is happening, any disruption being enough to collapse the forming portal and path and forcing him to start again. Consequently, this Authority is impractical to use in the midst of battle, Shirou's own battle awareness would work against him and make it impossible for him to properly focus.
Lastly, the use of this Authority is anything but inconspicuous. When employed Homeward Bound releases a massive magical signature that can easily be felt for miles by anyone with a magical sensitivity. As such secrecy in it use is utterly impossible.
In the final analysis this Authority is powerful within narrow limits, but can only be used in a secured environment, preferably with allies nearby to act as protectors. Even so, it is what Shirou has been looking for since arriving in the Campioneverse.
Authorities of Odysseus
The Second Invitation: Return to the Underworld – This Authority is derived from the duties he performed as Pushan, further bolstered by the time Odysseus sought wisdom from the dead during his Odyssey.
In absolute terms this Authority is a relatively weak one. It holds no power over the living and cannot be used to summon any aid to the user's side. In addition, there are conditions upon its use, meaning it can only be invoked after a specific number of foes have fallen. Once there is enough death upon the battlefield, be it from mortal souls passing or from summoned servants being destroyed, the gates of the underworld become open enough to use this Authority.
In effect this Authority could best be regarded as an 'anti-undead' divine power. It functions by forcing any souls that have been called from the afterlife back into whichever realm they were called from, essentially unmaking the power keeping them on the mortal plane. As this Authority functions by returning the dead to where they belong rather than destroying them its effects are much more passive and pervasive than other exorcism type Authorities. This means its virtually impossible to fight against, regardless of how wilful or powerful the one trying to resist it is.
This Authority works against all types of undead, including ghosts, spirits of various kinds, even more 'alive' undead such as vampires and corpse homunculi. In the cases of these more 'living' undead this Authority can be used to drain their power and vitality rather than outright banishment to the underworld, if the Authorities user so chooses.
Ultimately this is only a situationally powerful Authority, potent at what it does but otherwise lacklustre. It is best employed against Campione such as Voban or gods such as Hades.
Somewhat ironically this Authority would be much more valuable in the Nasuverse as it can be regarded as the ultimate anti-Servant Authority. Used in the context of a Holy Grail War it can instantly defeat any Servant regardless of their power by cancelling the very magic calling them from the throne of Heroes. Under the effects of this Authority their summoning is cancelled on the spot, meaning that even Servants able to gather their own mana or exist without a Master are still unsummoned, the magic sustaining them coming apart at the very root.
Wrath of the Heavens: The Catastrophe that Precedes the Rainbow – Arguably the strongest Authority derived from Odysseus' identity as Quzah. It derives from his reign as a time as a god of weather than came to be associated with the devil Shaytan, and was the Authority used to forcefully break free from his pantheon when his wish to leave was denied.
In many ways this is a very simple Authority. Once invoked it causes the manifestation of a huge bank of storm clouds, easily large enough to cover a capital city. After being established the cloud bank will begin to generate its own magical power, slowly building a reservoir of force that can then be unleashed at its user's command. These attacks principally take the form of lightning bolts of immense power. Each one strikes with enough force to destroy whole apartment buildings, and multiple can be released in rapid succession. Alternatively, it is possible to slowly build up a single bolt possessing the power of many condensed into one. This attack is far harder to set up, but hits with a power comparable to the Stallion Authority.
The true value of this Authority is that though the initial investment of divine power to set up the clouds is steep once it is set up no further cost is needed to use it. The mass of clouds generates their own magic, building it up until it is ready to be used in either smaller or greater attacks. The speed at which power is built is dependent upon many factors. The natural magical richness of the land, the amount of magic employed in the area, conflict beneath the clouds, the presence of deities other than the user, all of these contribute to the generation of divine power.
In terms of both sheer power and scale this Authority is exceedingly powerful, able to rain down lightning swiftly and potently enough to reduce a city to ruins in barely an hour. When used in combat against a Campione or a deity it is a potent threat, able to slay the unprepared or even break through defences of invulnerability, given time.
In addition, there are other ways to employ it. It is possible for the user of this Authority to consume the built-up energy of the Wrath of the Heavens in order to heal themselves and restore their own reserves of power. Doing so will cause this Authority to disperse though, and it will not be able to be reused for a full week. Alternately, this Authority can be used to create winds like a hurricane, or torrential rains like a typhoon. Though not as potent in direct conflict they can be used to ruin cities or drive out the inhabitants in less destructive ways than levelling them with lightning barrages.
Taxidiotis: The Far Travelled Steel of Troy – The first true Authority of Steel possessed by Odysseus, developed during his time in the Greek nations. Though not a 'True' deity of Steel Odysseus' long travels and changing nature allowed him to develop traits of other types of gods such as nature and ocean. This Authority is the first of his Steel Authorities, an embodiment of his time as a soldier king in the Trojan War.
In function Taxidiotis is a fairly straightforward Authority. So long as Odysseus holds the sword that is the incarnation of this Authority, he receives a boost to all his physical abilities, strength, speed, agility, precision, endurance and so on. In many ways this ability is similar to Shirou's Dragon Slaying Hero, the boost provided more or less the same, though the resistance to injury that it provides is higher.
As a weapon itself Taxidiotis is potent, able to clash with the like of Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi without breaking. Somewhat unusually amongst Steel Authorities it possesses an Anti-Civilization aspect, rather than an Anti-Dragon one. Consequently, it deals increased damage proportionate to the sophistication and complexity of whatever it encounters. Targets such as a simple club of wood or a carved staff will receive no extra damage, indeed they may take reduced damage from this Authority. More complex creations such as swords or spears will face a small increase in damage, but sufficient to be negligible. More complex creations, such as suits of chainmail and armour, will be at a severe disadvantage due to being the products of an advancing civilization.
Constructs or buildings that require greater effort or resources to create, such as buildings ranging from castles to skyscrapers, are especially vulnerable, enough so that Odysseus can tumble fortresses with minimal difficulty. Likewise modern machines are extremely vulnerable, enough so that little more than a tap is needed to destroy such things as computers or motor vehicles.
The downside is that this Authority comes with a condition upon its use, and should this condition be violated then it will immediately dispel and become unusable for thirty days. The condition is that Odysseus cannot retreat from a battle. During the Trojan War the Greeks never retreated. Though they were repelled and driven back from the walls the Greeks never relented in their war on Troy, never left, never gave up. Odysseus can back away, make space or dodge backwards, but if he tries to break combat and escape this rule will be violated.
The Many Coloured Steel of the Sky – In many ways the quintessential Authority that defined Odysseus as a hero-god, and the Authority that covers his transition from Quzah to his Greek identity.
This Authority manifests as a large metal bow, one with colours rippling across it like the sheen of oil in water, though far more beautifully. Along with this bow come twelve floating axes that take up formation around the user. These axes each have hole a in their heads that contains an orb of grey storm clouds crackling with lightning. The axes will act automatically to defend Odysseus, hitting with potent force, though less than what he is capable of while using Taxidiotis, as well as parrying blows aimed for him. In general, these weapons are fast and accurate, enough so to deter all but the most determined of foes.
With this bow Odysseus can fire his 'normal' arrows, the ones he manifests through natural use of his divine nature, with greater power and accuracy. However, the true value of his Authority is found in its ability to manifest his Storm Steel arrows, potent attacks that combine the disparate aspects of his divinity. Upon being fired these arrows change into lightning bolts tipped with steel blades. These attacks strike with enough force to be comparable to the Arrows of Artemis fired by John Pluto Smith, though their aspect is more suited towards piercing damage than it is to explosive. It should also be noted that though this attack has a strong similarity to the iron-tipped lightning of Excalibur this is only a superficial detail. The Many Coloured Steel of the Sky lacks any sort of 'Anti-Campione' power.
That being said, it is folly to underestimate this Authority. Save for his Ship this is without doubt the closest Authority to Odysseus' core identity. Since this is tied to so much of his being this Authority has more of his divinity behind it than most of his other divine powers. As a result, this Authority can clash with other powers of matching strength and overcome them by virtue of possessing stronger potency.
Though powerful this Authority is subject to limitations. In order to create an arrow to launch from this bow Odysseus has to sacrifice an axe, breaking it in order to retrieve the orb of storm clouds from it, which then becomes the arrow he will use. As a result, the more he uses the offensive aspects of this Authority the more its defensive aspect suffers. It also means that he is limited to twelve shots. Each axe broken requires a full day to recover, and while any of the axes are missing this Authority cannot be used.
If he so chooses Odysseus can sacrifice more than a single axe for an arrow, essentially 'stacking' his sacrifices to create a more potent attack. Two axes will create a large explosion in addition to the piercing damage, with each additional sacrificed axe doubling the damage output. Should Odysseus use all twelve axes at once then the resulting attack can be regarded as a 'certain kill shot' against even the toughest target. The only way to survive it is to dodge, no defence or survival tactic will work against it.
Ship of the Endless Voyage – An Authority that grew up around Odysseus as his journey continued.
Originally a sort of divine carriage used by his original self, Pushan, it was not initially a true Authority, merely a part of the god's divine equipment, such as a knife or sword. When Pushan left to travel this changed as he relied more and more upon his carriage to help him travel. When he took to the seas the carriage became a boat, then eventually grew into a ship. As more and more of the deity's identity became focused on his endless travels what was once simply a possession grew into an Authority. By the time Odysseus had become the dominant personality the Ship of the Endless Voyage had become the core Authority of his immortality.
As an Authority this divine power lacks the raw destructive might of the Many Coloured Steel of the Sky or Wrath of the Heavens but possesses far more utility and flexibility. This Authority manifests as a large wooden Greek-style longship, the same one that Odysseus would have travelled in during the Odyssey. Despite being made of wood the divine nature of this Authority means that it is far more resilient than any mortal construct, as such it would be easier to sink a modern battleship than it would be to bring this ship down. In many regards its durability can be taken as its main strength, the ship functioning as a floating fortress.
In addition to its durability the Ship of the Endless Voyage is a formidable transport vessel in that it is capable of travelling ANYWHERE, or at least anywhere within the confines of the world of the Campione. In practical terms this means that by riding this ship Odysseus can make his way to any of the sub-realms that adjoin the realm he invokes this Authority in. For example, should he use it on the mortal realm then he could use it to travel to such realms as Faery, Alfheim, Avalon, or the Dreaming. Depending upon the protections defending such realms from unwanted visitors the journey may be long or difficult, but regardless, this Authority will allow Odysseus to reach them.
Nor is the ability to travel between realms the limit of this ship's powers. It is not limited by the physical properties of a sea vessel, meaning that it can sail through the air with as much ease as it can the water. In terms of manoeuvrability, it is not equal to that of a modern fighter plane, but it can reach greater speeds. It can travel at these speeds without the effects that should result, such as sonic booms or disturbances to the atmosphere. Though less combat oriented than the likes of Shirou's pegasus or Godou's chariot this Authority is faster and far more durable.
Though, this is not to say that the Ship of the Endless Voyage is lacking in offensive capabilities. Though this Authority is a marvellous ship, few ships are worth much without a crew, and this divine vessel does not lack one. Though most of the basic functions of this Authority can be conducted simply by Odysseus willing it so, the more complex things, such as maintaining battle readiness, repairs and defence, need a crew. To meet these needs the ship can create ghostly servitors of hardened divine energy.
These servitors are not true ghosts, souls trapped or absorbed by the Authority, rather they are divine constructs imprinted with the recorded skills and abilities of the mortal heroes that have served upon Odysseus' ship in the past. These recreations of past heroes are quite formidable in the own right, able to use powerful magical weapons or magic skills. Though not on par with true divine beasts or servant Authorities they could be compared to Erica or Liliana's level or power at the start of the Campione series. This means that in battle the crew can draw weapons and fight enemies at close range, rain arrows down on them, or even send a few nasty spells their way. It isn't enough to face a foe wielding Authorities, but when the crew uses the defensive aspects of the ship to their advantage, they are generally a match for a divine beast.
It should be noted that the crew are also a weakness though. After they manifest, they are linked to the Ship of the Endless Voyage, therefore if enough of them are destroyed in a single attack it can cause the entire Authority to destabilize. Should this Authority be broken or destroyed then Odysseus will lose his immortality until he can devote enough of his divine power to its regeneration.
In final analysis this Authority possesses some combat power, but that is not where its true power shines. It is as a vessel of travel that its true value shows, as a craft hat can bear its master to virtually any location within the 'world' it exists within, as well as other worlds that are 'close' at a metaphysical level. A worthy treasure for a god that loves to travel.