Once again, Nero found herself walking through her oldest nightmare.
Her feet fell on the cobblestones as she walked through the burning streets, the stone structures around her burning endlessly. Arches, pillars, domes, and other features of architecture that had not been used in the world for near two millennia were integrated into the buildings around her, extending in all directions. The scene achingly reminded her of her Rome, the night that her madness had once again taken her and she did naught by laugh while her city burned. Still, for all of the similarity to the capital of her rule, this was not Rome. Their features may have been old, but the buildings, the layout of the streets, were far closer to that of another city.
Fuyuki City, the night that it burned.
She had always tried to hide from Shirou how… distasteful she found it that his inner world so resembled one of the worst nights of her last life, but there was little to help for it. This was his World, the center of everything he was. And too be fair, it was her own influence through Aestus Domus Aurea that made it resemble a city of her empire; normally the architecture was far more modern. And that was to say nothing of the most prominent addition her Noble Phantasm had added to that World: wrapping all along the edge of the city, towering over even the largest structures are reaching to the sky was a wall. No, not a wall, but three tiered levels of walkways and arches, beyond which were booths intended for lounging and experiencing a performance. It was a theater after all. All this together made the… tone of the world was not the same as that night, if that made any sense.
As if to illustrate her point, one of the buildings she was walking past succumbed to the flames that were eating away at it and collapsed in to rubble with a deafening crash. Even as it broke apart and fell the flames burned brighter and reduced the debris to ash almost instantly. However, the ash did not settle and instead swirled and grew, taking shape in the air until it shifted and transform into another building in the old one's place. It was mostly the same as the last one, though there were a number of features that were noticeably different.
Though Ashes to Ashes seemed to be naught but destruction at first, the idea of rebirth was never far.
Regardless, she knew this World enough to know where she would find her husband. There was a pattern, a flow to the flames around her, and she followed them back to their center. In the middle of that World, there area where the buildings were not whole, but broken and melted. Nothing could properly form here as the flames were too hot and wild to allow it. This was the area in Fuyuki where Shirou Kotomine was born, where he gave everything he had to the fire to survive.
In the middle of that desolated area there was a resplendent flame the size of a man, and Shirou standing in front of it looking up at the black sky. His eyes were unfocused and his face wore a tight, feral grin. As she walked up beside him, Nero called out "Where is the enemy?"
The man didn't respond, barely twitching as he remained looking upward. Listening closely she could hear sound coming from his throat, something between a growl and a whine and her mouth twisted a little. His lack of verbal response wasn't unexpected: Shirou became more… primal when his Reality Marble was invoked, and usually forwent speech as a result. Still, that fact that she hadn't gotten any response was worrisome, as it was possible he forgot she was even here. That would be an issue when the fighting started.
She move around in front of him and slowly reached up to touch his face. "Shirou…" she said softly. The man twitched at the contact, and the flames around them grew brighter for a moment, but he let his head be pulled down. As he looked into her face, there was a flicker of light, and for an instant Nero saw it. A chain of brilliant gold extending from herself to the bonfire, wrapping around it as if to bind it, keeping the flame from growing out of control. She had been surprised the first time she had seen it when they had been training, but it wasn't hard to understand what it meant. Metaphors were a bit more literal in a Reality Marble, particularly one as straight forward as Shirou's.
As his face softened ever so slightly and the flames quieted a little, Nero was satisfied that he was at least aware of her presence. She was about to turn away when she saw something she did not expect. In another flicker that was almost too fast to see, Nero saw that there were two other sets of chains around that fire. One was platinum etched with designs and the other was iron that was embedded with colorful gems. Nero let out an exasperated sigh (though she hid the hint of a smirk) before she looked back to her husband. "I suppose I should not be surprised, but it's barely been a month since they've come back into your life."
Even in his current state, Shirou had the sense to look a little sheepish before he returned his gaze upward. Nero brushed it off and said "In any case, where is our enemy? I would have thought you would have at least engaged him by now."
The man did not responded, but his whole body spoke of tension. Finally, Nero followed his gaze upward towards the black sky, and noticed what was off about it. Every time she had seen this World previous the sky was darkened red, as it was filled with the smoke and clouds that reflected the light of the burning city below. But this time is was midnight black. So, what was-
Then the sky shifted.
As the darkness moved and gained definition, Nero realized that she had not been looking at the sky at all. Wings so large that they must have spanned kilometers stretched open to reveal the body of a bird, somewhere between a crow, a raven, and some sort of raptor. Like the others they had just faced this did not look to be some unholy abomination of malformed parts. In fact if it were not for the glowing red eyes (and the fact that it was the size of a small city), she would believe such a creature could be a magnificent bird.
But it wasn't. This was Gransurg Blackmore at the height of his power, resting inside the seat of his power. Though her Golden Theater set the stage to her general liking, it could not deny the full nature and scope of the Dead Apostle Ancestor's existence. As such, while the city below belonged to Shirou's Ashes to Ashes, the sky above belonged to Blackmore's Nevermore.
The creature above screamed, the sound of it almost a physical thing that reverberated throughout the city. There were no real words to speak of, but there was no need for any more words. The challenge was easy enough to understand.
Shirou let out a breath as he showed his teeth. "Come."
Blackmore descended, and as he moved Nero saw that there was in fact a sky behind him, though it's midnight black color made it difficult to tell where he ended and it began. And indeed it mattered not, for the sky descended with him. He landed with an earth shaking crash, and though his feet were not near the two they crushed several buildings under their heel. The darkness of the sky feel onto the buildings and things became… blurred. The dark tried wrap around the city and smother it, but wherever it touched the flames just burned brighter to beat it back.
However, Nero did not have time to look at the skyline. As soon as Blackmore touched down she moved, running straight for the nearest leg so that she could have something to climb. It would not do to not be able to strike at her foe at all, though she was not entirely sure how she was to deal with a foe that massive when she got there. As she ran however, she saw an unfortunately familiar sight. Feathers started to fall from the massive body that towered over her, and they started to warp and twist into the common bird familiars that she had been fighting previous.
While some feathers were inexplicably sized for normal avians, others were just as large as Blackmore's body would imply. And with the increased size of feathers, came increased size in familiars.
They were warped and twisted things, nowhere near the beauty and grace of his higher ranking minions, and their size made it all the more clear. Hulking monstrosities the size of large houses, their uneven numerous wings could not lift them off the ground, and some even bore arms ending in yet more talons. Terrible chimeric creatures that should never exist fell onto the city in a series of jarring impacts, screeching as they started to tear into any buildings that happened to be near them. There were also swarms of smaller, flight capable familiars circling about them, but Nero's attention was brought to a trio of the giant sized ones that landed in the street before her, their lumbering movements in her direction making it clear that she was their target.
However, before she even reached the first one a solid lance of flame tore through the thing's body, tearing it apart with a scream before it was burned to ash completely. Nero didn't bother to look behind her as more lances rained down from all angles to clear her a path. It was appreciated, but she couldn't rely on Shirou's support. Judging by the sounds of screams and explosions echoing now from all over the city, Shirou was already dealing with most of the larger familiars himself, which was to say nothing of dealing with Blackmore's body proper. As the fires in Nero's path cut out she saw a large group of smaller familiars swoop in to engage her instead. She would have to handle her ascent on her-
"Incoming!" Suddenly a barrage of rockets streaked down from on high, smashing in the ranks of the smaller ones coming at her and causing them to burst in a shower of gore. Nero pulled up short in confusion and looked up in time to see an armored figure jump of the roof of a nearby building and land in front of her. Minaka hefted the multi-barreled rocket launcher on his shoulder as he stood, letting loose a second volley as a larger monster, this one the size of an elephant, rushed at them. It did not quite end the beast, but the resulting series of explosions tore several chunks off and destroyed the legs, sending it crashing to the ground.
Nero looked at the man warily. She hadn't even realized that he had been drawn in the reality as well. "What are you-" she started to say.
"I'd like to think it's clear I'm not particularly fond of Blackmore." Minaka remarked as he tossed the empty weapon to the side. "Besides which I need him dead if I have any hope of getting out of here, so enemy of my enemy and all that." The man pointed down the street at the masses that were reforming. "I'll pave the way through the smaller one, you clip the big ones, and we keep moving for the top of this thing."
"… You have no weapons." Nero remarked as she looked him up and down.
At that moment there was a small crack in the air and pair of long metal pods, similar to the one he arrived in but much small, shot down from the sky and smashed into the ground next to Minaka. The backs of them opened up and a pair of guns popped out, appearing to be heavily modified and compact assault shotguns. The man's helmeted head turned back to her, and it wasn't hard to imagine his smile. "I loaded by before I left. I have all the weapons." In an instant he grabbed them and sprinted forward, far faster than any human normally could. The birds swooped in and converged to tear him to bits, but Minaka slid underneath them at the last second. The man spun as he slid across the street, shots from his guns blasting out in rapid fire as he tore them apart in kind.
Nero watched this for a moment before she shrugged and took after the man.
I could feel Blackmore's soul. How could I not, with it pressing against my own like it was. It felt… alien. Not disgusting or evil as I would have expected, but different. It wanted things I didn't understand, had goals that didn't make sense, and all around just felt fundamentally wrong somehow.
I had to burn it to ash.
All across my World flames kicked up into the darkness of the sky, seeking to sear it away to nothingness. Unfortunately, it didn't work, as the sky… refused. What? I then felt part of it try to open up, try to swallow me, but I didn't let it. I redirected and poured flames into that opening and I finally felt that dark start to fray and be consumed. But the moment it started it stopped again! Why?! I'll just have to make more-!
No, stop, Nero is here. You can't do that when Nero is here. Think. My brain finally wrests itself back from my instincts and I remembered what Merem had told me about Blackmore. Not much was known about his Reality Marble Nevermore (no one who had ever seen it had lived), but he did know that the Ancestor's magic was based on the manipulation of souls, and it stood to reason that his own inner World had a similar power. And considering Ashes to Ashes was my soul in a certain respect… well, it looked like he was able to deny it to some extent. At the same time though it was too volatile for him to handle, damaging him the moment he tried to do anything in kind.
In that respect, we were at a statement. Which meant that I would have to destroy his body instead. Which meant that I had to return my attention back to-
I stumbled and rolled as I hit the next rooftop, my sudden change in perception causing me to faulter for a moment before I leapt back into the air, a trail of fire blazing in my wake. I was not a moment too soon either, as a beak the size of a small skyscraper came crashing down where I had once stood. I knew I tended to lose focus on the fine details when I concentrated on the whole of Ashes to Ashes, but it was only at that moment, as I was soaring up into the air and looking back down, that I really noticed that Blackmore was a really fucking huge bird.
No matter. I cast out my hand in the creature's direction, and one of the buildings underneath it abruptly ignited completely, sending a huge pillar of flames straight up into one Blackmore's wing. The thing screeched in pain, but as large as the flame was, it was only large enough to burn away of few of Blackmore's feathers and strike a little way into the wing itself. My mouth twitched, and with a force of will an entire block ignited, it's fire pulling upward and twisting together into massive firestorm.
Blackmore screeched again as the flames tried to wrap around the same wing, but this time the creature just smashed the limb into the city beneath him. The pressure wave from the motion caused all of my flames to scatter, and the crushing impact caused me to flinch as I felt a sort of phantom pain as part of my World was damaged. I really felt like that shouldn't have been able to counter my fire so easily, but in our current place logic was a bit soft. That aside, I was managing to damage the Dead Apostle Ancestor, but his body was simply so huge that it would take a truly staggering amount of effort to put it down, especially with him resisting my normal tactic of turning him into more fuel for my flames. I need more…
I growled as I looked up to scan the 'skyline' that surrounded the city and sky. The massive viewing booths (for they had become colossally sized to scale with the walls of my wife's Theater) that lined their circular wall that enclosed my reality were all empty, but I could see more just beyond them. Nero's Golden Theater was constructed as a theater no one could leave until the performance was done, and while that was true here that very principle implied that there was a world outside of the one they were in.
And this theater had windows.
I could see it just past the seating of each booth, windows that looked out onto the darkened city of Shin Tokyo, each one a different angle from the point which the collective Reality Marble was deployed. In spite of the appearance, this didn't mean one could escape through those, as those inside could to little more than look out. Of course, if you happened to have a particular set of Eyes…
I gazed into that city through those windows and focused.
The air was filled with the sounds of energy, explosions and screams, and even with his new found power surging through his body Homura was starting to feel the strain. Not so much physically perhaps, but fighting in a super-human aerial battle between about sixty combatants for the first time in one's life is a bit stressful.
Homura fought for altitude as a pair of Hybrids armed with kama spiraled up behind him, tying to close in on him from two sides. At he reached the top of the aerial battle around them, he spun and bursts of fire shot out from him which exploded in a blinding screen. It managed to knock the two following him off course for the moment, and gave him some time to reorient and look at the conflict below. Floating as he was near the zenith (well, now it was the zenith) of MBI tower, he could see that things below him were getting… bloody.
To be sure, the sudden unlocking of their limits had been a great boon in leveling the playing field in terms of power, but it didn't help in regards to the Hybrid's toughness or regeneration. At that moment nearby he could see a Sekirei cave in her opponent's skull with a meteor hammer, but even as it dropped out of the sky he could see its head reforming, and soon enough it was pulling itself out of its drop a heading right back up. Similar scenes played out everywhere; limbs cut, bones smashed, energy seared, and gallons of blood spilled, but they just kept coming back. Few of the Sekirei had the power and skill needed to completely destroy the things cores, and the Hybrids were being careful now.
This was turning into a battle of attrition, and the Apostle Sekirei only needed to get lucky once to end one of their opponents. We need to end this soon, we need to form up and use those of us that can actually destroy these things, he thought to himself. Shirou would have been a great help in that regard, but the man was clearly busy with his own battle. Reflexively, Homura glanced over where he had last saw his Ashikabi and in that spot there was a bright light of shifting color, difficult to focus on at his current distance. Near that spot several of the buildings were on fire and burning very, very quickly. The tops of said buildings were simply disintegrating into flame and ash, which was flowing into that brightly glowing light before disappearing. I… would be so much more concerned about that if I wasn't so busy right now, Homura thought to himself.
Of course it was then a bit of movement caught his eye and he turn his head just in time to see a distortion of air moving at incredible speeds. He had just enough time to recognize Kazehana in the middle of it before it smashed into a small cluster of Hybrids, sending them flying into the side of the tower. Homura let out a mirthless chuckle as wind whipped and surged around other Sekirei. At least Kazehana is establishing her dominion over the sky, he thought to himself.
His attention returned to the Hybrids following him in time to see one of them recover and shoot towards him. Homura frowned as he took in a deep breath, heat building as he amassed his power and held out his hands towards his target. The black winged creature saw this and put on more speed, clearly planning on simply plowing through his attack to get to him. However, it didn't turn out the way she expected.
At the last second, Homura tilted his body downward, folded his wings in, and blasted his flames out behind him.
The Hybrid was taken completely off guard as Homura rocketed downward and smashed into her, hurdling them both straight at the ground. The excess heat that was pouring off the man caused the Apostle Sekirei to burn and char even as she tried to break free of his grip, but the pair was falling to the ground with such speed that she didn't have time. As they got within 20 meters, Homura focused his power again and this time an explosion of flames erupted in front of him, both slowing his decent and propelling his enemy even faster to the ground.
The Hybrid hit the plaza with a tremendous crash, with fire and concrete being thrown everywhere. Still, even as the dust started to clear Homura could see the burned and mangled body start to regenerate. Before he could even let out a curse at the creature's toughness and gather his power to reduce it to ash though, something burst out of the lobby of the tower and in a blink was at the impact crater.
Mutsu, with wings the color of dusty earth radiating from his back, brought the base of his hilt down onto the grounded creature. The crater instantly tripled in size, and the Hybrid in the middle was reduced to paste. Given how the mess remained still, Homura assumed that the thing's core had been crushed.
Homura looked on in shock for a moment before he finally managed to say "Mutsu! You're alive!"
The man in question grunted. "I managed," He remarked, "It was a little touch and go, but, well…" The man's wings twitched a little before he continued. "Anyway, behind you."
Homura blinked before he spun in the air, just in time to see an Apostle Sekirei diving towards him, dressed in light armor and a rapier driving towards his heart. Before he could do any about it though, a piece of concrete rocketed past him and smashed into her side, knocking her off target. She tumbled towards the ground as she tried to right herself, but a hand made of earth erupted from beneath her and grabbed her. The creature screamed as it was dragged down and swallowed by the concrete of the plaza below.
Mutsu remained where he was, though his hand in front of him unclenched. "I'll take care of any that get close to the ground. You focus on the battle above."
The fire Sekirei was a little shaken, but he nodded and took off into the air. He had to get the Sekirei organized somehow, even if he had no idea how to accomplish this. He considered shouting orders, but with all the chaos and noise no one would hear him. He then spied a nearby Sekeri being pushed back by a pair of Hybrids, fear clear on her face as her back hit the MBI tower.
Guess I'll just have to do this one at a time, Homura though grimly to himself before he beat his wings and shot forward.
The first one was so focused on her prey that she didn't notice the Fire Sekirei's approach until he was already on top of her, and thus could do nothing before his Fire Blade seared one of her wings clear off. As she fell to the ground the other quickly backed off and started to juke in the air to avoid the burst of flame Homura unleashed in her direction.
Homura scowled before he looked at the Sekirei he saved. "Don't fight alone. Find someone who can destroy their core and work with them. Spread the word, go!" He yelled, and without waiting he turned back towards the Hybrid that got away and lashed out his hand. "Fire Hydra!" he invoked, and several twisting serpents of flame shot forth that arced out in several paths that all converged on her person, leaving her no avenue for escape. The creature screamed as she ignited, a particularly powerful strike burning and sloughing most of the flesh from her torso. For a grotesque moment Homura could see the thing's innards, blackening tissue and organs behind a crumbling rib cage along with a darkly glowing core near the heart-
And a second brighter core nestled right next to it.
Homura stopped in midair he was so surprised by the sight. "What?! How-?!" he cut himself off when he suddenly realized he knew the answer to that: the missing cores from the dead Sekirei. They had been implanted in the Apostle Sekirei. But what did that mean-
Before he could even complete that thought, the second core suddenly darkened along with the first and the two started to strobe erratically. Homura swore he started to see fractures start to form where the two spheres touched, but his view was obscured when the flesh around them bubbled and surged. The Apostle Sekirei regeneration suddenly went rampant, surpassing the damage his flames were doing and… restoring wasn't the right term. The flesh that grew back looked cancerous and sickly, a second set of malformed wings grew from the creature's back and it's featured twisted into even more inhuman proportions. A blood red light poured from its mad eyes, and Homura knew that any semblance of intelligence was gone. Fire gathered in his hands to destroy the thing before it could finish, but what happen next caused both his body and his blood to freeze. A piece of bone emerged from its back, and with a sickening crunch the thing pulled the bone protrusion from its back, extending until it held a long pole with a curved edge of bone within its hands.
The monster leveled the sick parody of Kaho's weapon at him and charged.
Before it could impale him though, there was a sudden flash of white, and the creature found itself blind and unable to move. This was because its head and limbs were bound in several layers of white cloth. The thing let out a muffled scream as it thrashed and tried to escape its bindings, but they only became tighter as they started to pull. For a few seconds there was a wet tearing sound before its body was simply torn apart into bloody chunks which fell towards the ground.
Homura let out a breath before he looked up, and saw something both surprising and welcome. Floating in the air before him almost looked to be an angel (somewhat scantily) clothed in white, with a short skirt, chest straps and hood. In addition to the bolts of cloth that swirled around her like a living thing, the energy of her wings rippled and flowed like a veil in the wind. It was a little different than he remembered, but there was no mistaking her. "Uzume! You came!"
The woman titled her head up and gave a small smirk. "Course I did, bro. When the landlady sent the call out, I knew I couldn't leave you guys out to dry. I just had to find a safe place for Chiho first." She glanced around at the globe of battle and then at herself. "Though it looks like I missed a lot for it. The hell happened?"
Homura shook his head "Too much to explain and I don't even really know. Just kill all the ugly things. Speaking of which, I don't think the one you just took down is dead yet, so-" he cut himself off as he looked down, seeing another surprising sight.
Lightning arched between a pair of Sekirei just below them, forming a sort of net that had captured the pieces of the monster Uzume had just rended. As the massive amount of electricity crackled and burned the pieces dissolved into nothingness one by one until only the torso was left, and even with its accelerated healing it was no match for that much continuous power. With a crack the body finally disappeared completely.
Even without the lightning powers and leather bands that made up their clothing, it wouldn't have taken much for Homura to recognize those two. He had run into them several times in the past after all. "A little strange to have you fighting with me rather than against me for once." He remarked dryly.
The older one, Hikari, scoffed at that. "Oh come on, I know they were unwinged, but it wasn't like they weren't going to be a threat later. Now could we please focus on stopping the end of the world?"
The two them took off, lightning dance between them as they moved and harried the various Apostle Sekirei. Homura let out a breath and moved on, dancing between the aerial skirmishes to get the Sekirei to fight together.
From a fortress of ice, Sakura watched the battle in front of her unfolded.
In truth, Sakura was only half paying attention to the Sekirei that had wandered back towards them, as she was rather nonplussed by Akitsu's creation she had used to shield her and her sister. Rather than a simple dome of ice like before, the construct around them resembled a feudal Japanese fortress the size of a large house, complete with walls, turrets and a central tower that rose above the rest. It was very impressive, but…
"Akitsu, you really didn't have to make me a throne." Sakura said as she shifted on her hard seat. It was rather thoughtful she supposed, but it wasn't the most comfortable, and it made her a little self-conscious.
"Ah…" Akitsu said from her position beside her. "Sorry, Ashikabi-sama."
"Its fine," the woman remarked as she got up, the throne sinking down into the floor as she did so. She was situated in the center of the fortress, which was mostly hollow save for few structural supports. Sakura walked across the icy floor to the nearby 'window' though that was merely more translucent ice. She was about to express concern for the… practically of such a thing when yet another stray beam of energy streaked their way. Sakura had just a moment to see the fortifications start to shift before the window turned opaque, and the fortress shook from the massive impact. It died down after a second though, and when the window cleared she saw the damaged parts of the fortress were already reforming.
With a slight hum, Sakura moved up to join her sister, who was staring at the fight intently. It was a bit hard to follow given the speeds the various participants were moving at, but Sakura could pick out the important bits. Yume was still mostly keeping to the air and raining down energy at her opponents, but she didn't seem to be in complete control of the fight. That was because Karasuba had taken to the air as well with wings of shadow, her speed even greater than before as she ducked in past Yume's attacks to get close. Miya was still wingless and stuck on the ground, but she never failed to take advantage of the openings that Karasuba made. As she watched Sakura saw Yume forced back as Karasuba sliced into one of her wings, before she suddenly rocketed upwards to avoid a pressure wave unleased from Miya. She was not entirely successful, and the thing lost the lower part of her legs. Though, Sakura could see the limbs starting to regenerate just before she lost track of the combatants again.
They watched this for a moment longer before Rin suddenly went ridged. "Where's Tsukiumi?" she said, a sudden panic and dread entering her voice. Rin quickly reached into a pouch near her belt a pulled out a gem, a sapphire which she held in her hand and rapidly let out an incantation. After a moment the gem started to pulse with light, and Rin let out a shaky breath. "She's still alive."
Sakura's knowledge of gemcraft was old and unused, but she imagined that Rin had given Tsukiumi a similar gem which she had tied to her life force, a simple way of letting the magus know the status of the Sekirei.
Sakura was about to say something when Rin beat her to it, looking up and staring intently at the nearby skirmish. "We have to do something." Sakura blinked and turned to look fully at her sister, who made a face in response. "What? I don't particularly care for being useless either."
"What about your earlier plan for getting into the island?"
Rin shook her head. "After all that nonsense I don't even know where the center is anymore, never mind trying to find an entrance to this damn place. Stepping foot outside of this thing is practically a death sentence. No, we have to find some way to put down… Yume."
Sakura spread her hands helplessly. "I'm not arguing, but… how? Yume has to have power bordering on the most powerful of Servants. Akitsu might be able to help, but neither of us has the power to-" she cut herself off when she noticed the flat look that Rin was giving her. She rolled her eyes and continued. "Alright, I might strong enough, but there's no way I can get close. She's moving far too fast."
Rin glanced back at the battle. "I don't think that you'll have to use your full power. If the Jinki can be separated from her, she should at the very least lose a considerable amount of power. You'll just need to hit her with enough Disintegration to disrupt the connection."
"Perhaps, but that doesn't change my point."
Rin looked back at her. "What do you have that can work at range?"
Sakura shifted awkwardly. "Nothing, really. I haven't had much success on that front."
"Then there is no time to waste, is there?" Rin remarked.
Such as it was, the three quickly moved to the tower of the ice fortress (Akitsu creating an elevator to reach the top swiftly). The parapet opened to give Sakura a clear view of the fight, and she and Rin started working together to create a spell she could use. Rin fist tried to contain Sakura's power in one of her gems, but it turned to dust instantly. She then tried to weave a more complicated spell to contain it, but it too collapsed as soon as it got close to Sakura's shadow (and made a small explosion that took some chunks out of a nearby ice post). Sakura tried to contain it herself to keep it from destroying Rin's magecraft, but she couldn't do that and also make it strong enough to be expected to do its job.
Eventually, after several more rounds of rapid experimentation, Sakura became fed up and held her hands out in front of her, her ribbons wrapping around her as she focused her power. With a growl, Sakura cast out her hands and shot her shadow out towards Yume, a bolt of the stuff leaving her and streaking through the air towards her target.
The bolt dissipated into the air before it even made it halfway.
Sakura gave a scream of frustration. Why was this such a problem for her?! Out of shear annoyance she started grabbing a few of the chucks of ice that had broken off around her and throwing them. It was such that on the third attempt she didn't notice she had grabbed something entirely different, and with a snap one of her solidified ribbons broke off in her hands as she tossed it.
The piece soared though the air for a short ways before coming down on the front wall of the ice fortress, dissolving it almost instantly.
There was a long paused as Rin and Sakura looked down at the hole in the wall before they looked at each other. Then, as one, they nodded in understanding as they both had same idea.
As Rin pulled out more gems and started weaving her spells, Sakura let out a breath and closed her eyes, focusing on the image of something she had used a life time ago. Projection, the magic of making a hollow copy of an object out of nothing, combined with her Shadow to make more of her ribbons forming in her hand. These ribbons interwove and compressed, layering on top of each other to form a solid pole in her hand, its curve a perfect recreation of what she remembered. A black thread laced between the two tips and the completed bow now rested in her grip.
In her other hand the process repeated itself and formed and arrow, this Projection filled to the brim with her power, the weight of it threatening to dissolve the projectile even as she held it. She had been on the archery team back in high school, and had actually been rather good at it too. If there was any way she could hit something at range, this would be it.
Of course, the distance to her target (as well as its speed) was far greater than a normal human could reasonably expect to hit. Fortunately for her, Rin had her covered, as a number of gems floated into the air before her. "If my calculations are right, this should accelerate your arrow to supersonic speeds the moment it passes through circle," Rin said as the gems arranged themselves in the air and a formalcraft pattern appeared flat before her. "Still, even though it will only pass through for a moment, your Disintegration trait will destroy the magecraft, so if you miss we'll not get another chance before she can retaliate."
"So, no pressure." Sakura said dryly as she took her stance. Steadying her breathing, she pulled the bow up and drew the arrow back, focusing on the fight down her range. She shut out everything around her, focusing the whole of her attention on her target. She watched the Sekirei and Apostle move and dance, tension thrumming through her body as she waited.
Then, for an instant, Yume flew above the other two and hung in the air.
She let the arrow fly.
When Matsu felt the surge of power rushing through her, she didn't have long to think about it. She only had moments to adjust to her new wings before Kochou was on her, forcing Matsu to take flight for the first time. She didn't even have time to marvel at that, for as she soared through the streets to avoid her pursuer she could feel everything. Every device, every computer, every network with 3 blocks around her was under her complete control. Beyond that she could feel the ebb and flow of the internet, the barest bit of her focus opening up countless options for her.
And at the moment it was almost completely useless to her.
Matsu dove into the alley between two buildings as she tried to lose her pursuers, juking through the air as she spun around to face them. A small flock of ravens followed her in, and she promptly opened up with her submachinegun moment she saw them. She managed to hit one, which fell out of the sky in a shower of feathers and blood, but the rest swerved out of the way and keep coming at her. It was only a second later that an enraged Kochou followed after them, and Matsu was forced to turn back around and put on speed.
Even with her sudden upgrade, Matsu did not like her chances going one on one with the angry Apostle Sekirei. The Hybrid was still likely stronger than her, and there was the little matter of her regeneration to consider. And while Matsu did have absolute control on any of the electrical systems around her, she had yet to find one that could actually put the bitch down. That said, Matsu had an idea, if what she saw a few minutes ago was what she thought it was. In the back of her mind she frantically hacked and searched through her connection to the net, trying to find access to what she was after.
Till then though she had to do something about Kochou, and she certainly couldn't do anything in the open air. On the edge of her digital perception, she noticed an apartment building. A quick scan of its electronics revealed something she could work with. That will do, she thought as she changed course and dove towards it.
In a few seconds she had cleared the distance to the building and streaked towards one of the windows near the middle. Matsu grit her teeth and crossed her arms in front of her just before she smashed though, ignoring the pain from the shards of glass as she rolled across the floor of the living room she had entered. Mastu scrambled to her feet as she used her power to tap into the electricity and appliances in the apartment, and suddenly everything was a dizzying strobe of lights and sounds as everything started to turn on and off at random. She managed to get to the front door just as the first of the raven familiars burst into the room, and she stumbled out into the hallway and shut the door behind her just before they could slam into her.
She could hear their shrieks of anger and confusion from the other side of the door, no doubt aggravated by the all of the flickering lights and sounds of the room they were in. Of course, she didn't expect them to be completely disabled by it. Just distracted long enough that they wouldn't notice the live incendiary grenade she had dropped before she left.
There was a low thump from the other side of the door that was followed by even louder screeches before smoke started to pour out from underneath. Matsu let out a breath at took stock. The hallway she had waked into was actually an open atrium where the stairs circled up the sides, leading to apartments with a wide open space in the middle. As she looked around her power found a remaining access point into MBI's network, and that thread of her mind continued to dig as she craned her neck upward. It looked like at the top there was a side stairway leading to roof access, which was good because-
The door behind her burst open, and a snarling (and slightly one fire) Kochou came through. Apparently she hadn't bothered to find an entrance that was less on fire. She slammed into Matsu and both went tumbling over the edge of the railing towards the floor below. Luckily Matsu was able to disentangle herself quickly and flew upward, though her opponent followed after her. The two spiraled upward through the atrium, Matsu firing her gun as she tried to hold the other woman off. A few of the bullets hit, but with her regeneration it barely slowed Kochou down.
When they reached the top Matsu tried to break off and head for the roof exit, shooting towards the stairs that lead to the door. Unfortunately, Kochou intercepted her and viciously smashed her elbow into the woman's back. Matsu screamed out in agony as she crashed painfully into the stairs, her forward momentum carrying her the rest of the way to smash through the door to the roof and send her sprawling onto the rooftop itself.
As Matsu tried to pull herself up, Kochou walked out to stand over her, much or her clothes having been burned off in the ensuing chase but otherwise fine. Her expression was somewhere between enraged and smug as she said "Are you done wasting my time yet? Because I am really looking forward to regaining face with my Master by bringing him back yours."
Matsu managed to bring herself to her knees before she spat out "Were you this psychotic before you turned into a monster or did you just decide to run with it after the fact?" As she spoke her hand slipped into her sleeve, grasping something she had gotten back at the Church base for just an occasion like this.
Kochou laughed. "Amusing, but I think we're past point of quips and last words." She said, and her talons extended viciously as she pulled her hand back.
Before the blow could land, Matsu managed to get out "Are we past the point of you learning a florescent bulb perfectly mimics sunlight?" And with that she used her power to activate the florescent spotlight on the top of the door frame. As the light washed over them Kochou flinched and spun, and-
Nothing happen. Matsu had just been spinning bullshit off the top of her head. A mundane spotlight couldn't hurt a vampire. It could work for a momentary distraction though. And in that moment of distraction, Matsu moved, slipping the item out her sleeve and into her hand. In a fluid motion, she dived forward, deployed the Black Key and plunged it into Kochou's shadow.
The Apostle Sekirei's body froze in place, and she let out a strangled cry. "Wh-what is this?!"
"A backup plan." Matsu said as she pulled herself to her feet. Her thoughts raced as she finally found the network sub routine and access codes she was looking for and setup the necessary commands. "You know, for all of your ranting about your supposed superiority, you're still going to die. And it's because of the one thing I'm still better than you at."
"And what's that you stupid little-!" Kochou snarled before Matsu cut her off.
"Hacking." She said simply, before Matsu mentally sent the execute command and took to the air with a beat of her wings, quickly pulling away from her immobilized target.
Kochou's muscles strained as she tried to free herself, but that was forgotten a moment later when she noticed something directly above her. In the artificial night above she swore that she could see a pinprick of light growing larger and brighter.
She had only a second to scream before the orbital laser burned her to ash.
The tide of the aerial battle was shifting slowly. Homura managed to gather more and more of the Sekirei to work in groups, but the Hybrids continued to escalate by having more of their number… transform. These second forms were little more than berserkers, but the increase strength, abilities and regeneration made them even worse to deal with. Still, the Sekirei managed to fight on by working together. Kazahana focused her air superiority on restricting all of the hybrid's movements, keeping them boxed in with cyclones and knocking more than a few down for Mutsu to deal with. Uzume trapped and bound anyone that got close, making it easy for the twins or Homura to finish them off.
The rest of the Sekirei stayed on defense, watching each other's backs and supporting him and the others where they could. But they had only managed to take out a few, and with more and more going 'second stage', their progress was slowing. Just a little bit more, Homura thought to himself in frustration. We need just a little bit more…
"Uh, bro?" He heard Uzume said as she pointed to a nearby street below them. "You might want to look at this."
Homura turned his head to look. He paused in midair for a moment and shook his head before looking again.
He needed that second look to confirm that, yes, what he saw was a tidal wave about 20 stories tall was crashing down the street towards the plaza. And standing on top of the crest of that wave, her arms folded across her chest, was none other than Tsukiumi.
He stared at that for a moment before he nodded to himself. "That'll do."
In a few short moments the wave and Tsukiumi reached the plaza before, with a ponderous motion, the mass of water divided and split into several streams which shot up into the air. These streams whipped around in the winds that Kazehana created before lashing out and smashing into the assorted Hybrids, battering them and throwing off their attempts to regroup.
The fire Sekirei watched this in aw before a voice drew his attention. "Homura." Tsukiumi said as she floated up and came to a stop beside him. "Why are you holding back?"
The man had to stop himself from rolling his eyes, both at her greeting and her assumption. Not that she was entirely wrong. "Friendly fire." He said as he gestured to the chaos around them. "I may have a lot more power, but I don't have any more control than I used to. I can't increase my flames without incinerating the other Sekirei."
Tsukiumi let out a grunt, but she nodded. "Very well. We'll have to end this together then." She gestured and water flowed around her. "I'll set them up, you knock them down."
Homura looked at her for a second before he nodded in realization. He then took a deep breath and started to 'stoke' the fire in him. With each breath he took the flames around him hotter and bigger, and soon he the air around him changed from a bonfire to a firestorm, swirling and churning in the space around him. Tsukiumi backed off as he fought to control it, to keep his own power from consuming him. He felt his body burn like it had in the days before his winging when his flames had run rampant, but that just meant he had the practice to push through the pain.
As he was doing this, Tsukiumi cast out her arms to direct her element around the battlespace, smash and tossing any Apostle Sekirei they touched though the air. The attacks did damage to be sure, but that wasn't the main goal. Slowly but surely the Sekirei started to disentangle from their undead sisters, and soon enough Homura spotted one of the second stage Hybrids that had become sufficiently separated from the rest.
With a scream Homura unleased a massive torrent of fire at his target, a wild and uncontrolled wave that threatened to spread and consume several Sekirei that happened to be close by. However, bands of water surged forward and all but wrapped around the blast of fire, shielding all but the intended target from its fury. The abomination tried to run, but the size of Homura's attack was so large that there was no escape, and the thin only had a moment to screech before it was enveloped by the torrent.
One by one he repeated this, none of his targets being able to flee due to Tsukiumi's entrapment.
Soon there was only about a dozen left, and Tsukiumi let out a snarl as she lashed out with her hand. Though a large portion of her water had been evaporated from containing Homura's attacks, she used the remaining water in the air to chase after their targets and smash into them, completely enclosing them in watery prisons. Homura's firestorm raged forward, flames licking at the spheres of water but for an instant not connecting with them. That instant ended when Homura and Tsukiumi let out a great shout.
Water turned to hydrogen and oxygen, flames collapsed in, and then the sky was full of stars.
Miya was sore, frustrated, and confused, but with a single-mindedness she continued to fight. She had to, even though things had stopped making sense. She didn't know what had happened to Yume to make her emit that wave. She didn't know what had happened to Karasuba to make her show her winging light.
She didn't know why she felt so alone.
As she cut and slashed at the abomination before her, part of her wondered if things could have turned out differently than they had. As Karasuba dove back to avoid being vaporized by a tracking energy beam, she wondered how many people were fighting now out of rage and loss as she was. And as Yume raised high above them and there was a lull in their battle, she wondered how many were fighting for love instead.
But in that lull, there was a sudden crack in the air, and even Miya almost missed the dark bolt that screamed past her. It was so fast and unexpected that none of them could react before it smashed straight into the Jinki on Yume's upper right wing.
There was discordant tone as the great treasure of the Sekirei cracked, and energy of all kinds and colors surged from the jewel. Yume screamed as her wing started to tear itself apart, but that wasn't all. The other Jinki embedded in her flesh started to pulse wildly, erratic bursts of red energy rippling under her skin in time with them. In places where it grew too bright the energy simply ripped itself from her body, bits of blood and flesh incinerating with these bursts. Fires ignited and splashed over the ground wherever those pieces hit, as if her body was a volatile substance.
Miya wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but she could see that one of the Jinkis had been disrupted somehow. Aside from the damage that itself was causing, it was clear that the way the treasures had been integrated into the abomination's body required all eight to function properly. With one missing, the rest were trying to compensate. And failing horribly.
Yume screamed as crimson light burned her from the inside, beams lashing out from her body at random even as she struggled to get herself back under control. She plummeted out of the air and smashed into the ground, barely managing to stay on her feet. Miya saw her chance and tried to move in, but even in her horrifying pain Yume had not forgotten her. She cast her out her hand and an erratic blast of energy surged towards Miya. Although the attack's power was not focused the resulting spread made it impossible to dodge completely, and Miya's leg was clipped. She screamed in pain as she stumbled to the ground, and even as she tried to pull herself to her feet she knew that she would not be fast enough to avoid the next attack.
And yet, before Yume could unleash her barely contained power there was a cry, and out of the flames with her shadowy wings spread wide was Karasuba. Her blade was held low and she charged straight in at blinding speeds, with no thoughts to defense if she couldn't clear the distance in time. And she didn't. She managed to get within a few meters of Yume before the Apostle Sekirei Ascendant turned to face her and let off an even more powerful blast than before. The beam only barely missed Karasuba's center of mass, completely destroying the woman's left arm and shoulder. The Black Sekrei twisted back and stumbled-
Before her wings suddenly beat and turned that motion into a forward spiral, clearing the rest of the distance and plunging her sword straight into Yume's glowing core.
Time seemed to slow for Miya in that instant, and she could see everything as the pair stared to fall back. Yume's face was twisted in pain and confusion, not understanding what had happened. Karasuba on the other hand bore a smile, though different from the manic and frenzied one she had all fight. In it now was something between triumph and almost… content. And even more surprising when her head darted forward and her lips locked on to Yume's the moment she twisted the blade.
There was only an instant of the whole of Yume's body blazing in brilliant energy, and Miya found herself being hurled back as everything exploded.
A pillar of light rose to piece the darkness above. The night began to recede, the dawn once again began to rise, and ever so slowly, heaven began to fall to earth.
Nero and Minaka existence was one of movement, slaughter and fire.
They had carved a bloody swath through the familiars that had stood in their way, and had managed to reach one of Blackmore's legs with only moderate resistance. As well, climbing the leg had not been too difficult; Nero had simply run up the length of the limb while it had been extended for a kick, and Minaka's armor had some sort of jump jet built into the back that allowed for limited flight. Before they knew it they had ascended the beast and stood upon its back.
And they still had a kilometer to run before they reached their target.
Nero hacked a tiger sized monstrosity in half as she ran from feather to feather, trying to keep her footing as best she could on the constantly shifting bird. Minaka had opted to instead move in a series of bounding leaps, jumping from spot to spot (and sometimes familiar to familiar) all while the guns in his hands fired away. Nero rarely ever saw him reload, but those small drop pods continued to periodically rain down from the sky and embed themselves in the flesh of their opponent. Whenever the man ran out of ammo he would just toss the weapons aside and snatch up fresh ones as he moved. The man had already cycled through several pistols, shotguns, machineguns, and was now working with some sort of multi-purpose grenade launcher.
"So…" the man said as he smashed feet first into a humanoid crow thing, using it as a spring board to launch into his next target (but not before he attached a timed sticky grenade). "What's it like being married to Shirou? He treats you well I hope."
Nero spun as she rolled past a pair of creatures that tried to rake her with their talons as they passed, her sword lashing out as she did so. "You really wish to talk about this? Now?"
She was only somewhat paying attention to him, but she got the impression that he was shrugging his shoulders (right before he put his fist through and abomination's chest). "If not now, when? Besides, the only side of him I know is… that."
The Servant didn't need to look at him to know what he was referring to. By reflex she looked up into the sky above them and saw a giant roiling mass of fire, flames spreading out to the sides as if to mimic being wings themselves. She also saw more flames being pulled in to the central mass from all along the walls of her theater, emanating from the booths like it was coming from… outside. That would have been very concerning for her if she wasn't infinitely more concerned about the staggering number of fiery meteors that resulted from this.
Even as Blackmore raged and smashed at the city around him, the Dead Apostle Ancestor was constantly bombarded with fire, scorching feather and flesh, incinerating his minions in mere seconds if they happened to get in the way. She and Minaka had been forced to avoid more than a few on their journey across the colossal avian's back. And that was to say nothing of all of the firestorms had had been kicked up from all of the impacts.
Nero let out a breath before she looked over at Minaka. "You do not have to right know about Shirou's life after all you have done. You can ask him yourself if you managed to survive this, though I don't imagine that he will oblige you."
Minaka was silent at that for a moment, focusing instead on delivering a vicious ax kick to a crow abomination that shattered the thing's spine. He landed in a crouch before he sprung forward to match pace with the Servant. "As you wish. Head's up, we've got a road block."
Nero looked back forward to see that a number of the large familiars, the ones about the size of small mansions, had formed up in front of them to block their way. Nero pulled her blade up to her shoulder, tip pointed forward. "A reverse of before. I set them up, you knock them down." She put on more speed and in a blink she was in range. "Aestus Estus: Rosa Ichthys!"
She speared through their number with a blinding burst of speed, and as she did petals of fire flaked off her blade at her passed. The petals swirled and flared, searing into the monsters eyes, exposed skin, and all other vulnerable parts. Even as the screeched in pain Minaka hefted his grenade launcher and launched a rapid series of explosives, emptying the drum. A staccato of high explosives and blessed shrapnel ripped through their ranks, and by the time it was done and the man passed they were not but charred meat.
Minaka discarded the launcher as he caught up with Nero, and yet another drop pod fell in front of him. He snatched up the new weapon as they ran past, a long high tech looking rifle of some kind. "Do you actually know where we are going? But it seems that 'all the guns' is running out faster than I thought."
She nodded. "We're almost there." And indeed, in a few seconds more they were. The pair stopped at point near the upper part of Blackmore's back, centered between the wings. "This is where we must strike, for this is the location of the beast's heart."
Minaka spared a glance downward. "…We may need to do some digging first."
Nero let out an exasperated breath. "I know, and I am not looking forward to it. Unless you happen to have a better idea…"
The man tilted his head a bit before he looked off to the side, noting a new batch of familiars headed their way. "Perhaps… what would it take for you to make a hole about as large as a man, deep as you can?"
The woman arched an eyebrow and said "About a minute, but I'll need cover. Why?"
Minaka was already moving, firing off high powered shots at the approaching enemies. "Just do it, I've got a plan!"
Nero didn't take long to think about it, planting her feet and raising her blade before her. Prana started to gather into her Noble Phantasm, almost radiating off it as she focused on the task. For his part Minaka emptied his weapon just before another drop pod landed next to him, this one noticeably larger. The oncoming horde was almost on him as he turned to pull out his latest weapon.
Nero heard the whir of something starting to spin up, and Minaka let out a growl as he swung massive rotary cannon around to level at the approaching monstrosities before unleashing a roaring torrent of bullets. The heavy rounds ripped and tore through everything in their path, the large familiars being torn to chunks and the smaller ones being reduced to little more than fine mist. Unfortunately, as effective as it was, the rotary cannon was too cumbersome to move around with swiftly, and though it made short work of anything in its line of fire, the familiars quickly learned to spread out and surround the man.
Bullets ripped through the flesh beneath him as he swung the gun around to track a fast moving avian that tried to flank him, but it only served as a distraction for a large beast that dashed in from his other side. The thing brought down an oversized taloned wing onto the weapon, slicing it down the middle and throwing Minaka off balance. The thing then brought its arm up and smashed it into Minaka's front, sending his sprawling back. The armored man rolled with it as best he could before getting to his feet, grabbing hold or the bear-like bird's arms as it pounced on him. There was an instant where the two struggled against one another in a test of strength before Minaka shifted his weight and tossed the creature through the air, causing it to barrel into three more familiars that had tried to get close to Nero.
As Minaka moved he held out his hand, and from the last pod a second weapon launch out towards him. As he caught it Nero saw that this was not a gun like the others, but a two meter long great sword that had a nearly eighteen centimeter width blade, made out of some kind of silver alloy with holy sigils etched onto the metal. As he sliced cleanly though the creature that charge at him again, the wound hissed and smoked as if the weapon was burning hot.
The Servant was almost done charging her attack when one of the abominations slipped by Minaka, flying straight at her with talons bared to claw out her eyes. She prepared herself to take the hit, but in a blink Minaka appear between them, having just enough time to interpose himself and take the hit instead. He let out a grunt of pain as the magically enhanced claws bit through his armor, but he spun and sliced the offending creature into three parts. The next few seconds were a frantic dance as she darted around Nero to kill or ward off any more familiars that drew close, though for every few he killed one would get a lucky shot in and damage his attire even more.
Just as Nero was starting to worry for him, her prana finally reached its peak. She hefted her blade high and screamed before he blade ignited with the most powerful Prana Burst she had ever managed before bringing it down onto Blackmore's hide. It was not a specific attack or use of her Noble Phantasm, but rather just an application of her power and prodigious skill to carve a rent through the flesh as she wanted. Light and flame exploded at the point of contact, and Blackmore himself let out a scream of pain as the attack dug deep into his body, and everyone but Nero who was around the point of impact was blown away.
When everything settled, she looked upon her work to see a burned hole in the flesh that plunged so deep that she could not see where it ended. To be sure even a wound such as this would not fell a beast of Blackmore's size, so she turned to look at Minaka and said "Done. What now?"
The man managed to scramble to his feet and join her at the gaping injure, and after a moment he nodded to himself. "Now we run. I have a thermobaric missile inbound!" He yelled before he started to run.
Nero blinked in surprise before she took off after him, the two slashing their way through the few familiars that tried to stand in their way. They didn't get far before Nero saw it, the large metallic cylinder that shot through the air in a high arc that came down on their previous position. The missile dove for the wound-
And with a loud and sickening sound got lodged in the opening.
"Shit!" Minaka yelled as he skidded to a stop, looking at the stuck missile. Its thrusters still fired and tried to drive it deeper, but it got nowhere, and Nero knew that the damaged would be much more superficial if the payload couldn't be delivered deeper into the body. Before she could do anything though, Minaka shouted "Keep going, I've got this!" and dashed back towards it. The man ducked and weaved through the enemy hoard before he finally used his jump jets to boost into the air. The man managed a graceful flip before he came down and smashed the end of the missile with the flat of his sword, hard. There was a tearing noise followed by the missile dislodging itself and vanishing from sight.
And then the whole area of Blackmore's body ruptured.
Considering that thermobaric explosives required air to properly detonate, the resulting blast probably shouldn't have been as large as it was. However, between Ashes to Ashes affinity for fire, and her Golden Theater's affinity for spectacle… well. The world for her turned upside down as she found herself tumbling through the air, a disgusting rain of feathers, blood and flesh flying with her. She forced herself not to retch and she got her body under control just before she scrapped into the side of a building, landing with her feet against it and bleeding of her momentum by running down the side till she reached ground level.
She skidded to a stop in the street just as the earthquake rocked the entire city, causing her to stumble a bit. As she turned back she saw why, and was forced to strengthen her efforts not to be sick. Some distance away was Blackmore's massive body lying on its side, what was left of its back pointed at her. Much of the upper back was completely gone, in its place a gaping hole of blood, broken bone and rent flesh so large you could fit a building in it. Much of the spine was destroyed, giving her a clear view of several similarly ruined organs. But most importantly it gave her a clear view of the one organ still intact: Blackmore's heart, beating rapidly inside its ruined shell.
This was her chance. With the spine destroyed the Dead Apostle Ancestor was paralyzed, and that gave her the chance to destroy his heart and end this. "Shirou! Strike at his open heart!" She called out before she sprinted forward, sword held out behind her as she readied her attack. However, before she made half the distance most of Blackmore's body… dissolved for a lack of a better term. Everything but the torso broke apart into specks of black, and as Nero drew closer she realized that it was more familiars. An order of magnitude more familiars, converted from the useless parts of his massive body and in such number they resembled an ocean of darkness.
The murmuration of birds swirled a formed a cyclone around what was left of the main body, pressed so tightly together that Nero could barely see past them. Nevertheless she hit that wall at full speed with the intent of plowing right through it. Unfortunately, the swirling motion of the cyclone deflected most of her momentum off to the side, and even as she hacked away at them the familiars tried to slice her to bits. To be sure her Servant body made their efforts almost meaningless, but a thousand tiny wounds can kill just as easily as a single large one, and soon enough she started to feel the pain of numerous lacerations on her arms and torso.
Before it could grow too bad there was a sudden explosion and burst of flame 'upstream' of her, disrupting the flow of bird abominations coming at her. Nero used this opportunity to jump back out of the vortex, sliding to a stop just in front of the living pyre that was her husband. The man gestured and flames continued to pour towards Blackmore from all angles, but the cover was so thick that nothing could get through.
Nero felt a worried frown cross her face. If we can't stop Blackmore before he regenerates this will become a war of attrition, she thought before she glanced up. Streams of fire were still pouring in from the outside. And if it does, I worry there won't be much of a city left to save.
As she stared at the burning roman city surrounded by colossal theater walls and a raven almost as large as said city, Takami realized that she was becoming jaded. After all, she had only felt like she had a minor heart attack upon having her view of reality completely crushed once again.
Such as it was, she remained standing by the drop pod that Minaka had shoved her into on top of that building, because quite frankly everywhere else was madness. Fire rained from all directions, bird like monsters (other than the insanely giant one) were swarming everywhere, and Takami swore that the black sky above was trying to swallow everything. So she stuck by the damn pod, even if the thing was constantly launching smaller pods off of itself.
She also wasn't alone either, though she had yet to determine if that was a good thing or not. Sitting nearby was a boy in white robes that could be no older than fourteen, but his presence unsettled her for some reason (possibly because he remained cheerful in the face of the apocalypse). It was easy enough to tell that he was involved with Shirou's Church in some form, so it was reasonable for her to guess that he was more than he seemed. Not that he cared to answer her questions straight though. The clearest answer she had gotten out of him was why he was just sitting there to begin with.
"I feel that Kotomine has this matter well in hand, and I do not care to raise a hand against an old friend if I can help it."
She had left the strange boy alone after that, instead just watching the 'battle', if you could call it that. She shifted uncomfortably as the bird kaiju shifted its weight, its huge wing coming perilously close to her location.-
Suddenly a huge explosion erupted from the back of the kaiju, and its wail of pain was so loud that it forced Takami to cover her ears. It was so distracting that she almost didn't notice the thing start to tip over. Towards her. She let out a scream of panic and covered her face with her arms out of sheer reflex (though a second later she felt immensely stupid for doing so, as it wasn't like that was going to save her). Fortunately, when the crash came a few seconds later it only knocked her off her feet rather crush her.
As she picked herself up she saw that she had come dangerously close, though. The things body had landed right next to the building she was on, and it was only due to that fact that hers was well over forty stories tall (not that she remembered any roman buildings reaching that height) that she was actually above the carcass. She was half temped to get closer to the edge of the roof to have a look, but without warning the number of bird monsters surged into a veritable maelstrom, pushing her away.
It was such that she almost didn't notice a much more humanoid figure pulling themselves over the lip of the roof. She blinked in surprise when she finally saw him. "Minaka?"
The man was, to put it bluntly, a wreck. Numerous parts of his armor were dented and damaged, and half of his faceplate was simply gone. There were a number of scorch marks covering him, and a few dark spots that were likely blood, though she couldn't tell it if was his or not. In his hand was a sword with a broken blade, though there was still a good half meter left. "Ah, Takami. Holding down the fort I see." He said as he walked over to her, a slight limp in his step.
"What…" she started to say, trying to figure out where to even begin. "What the hell happened?"
The man snorted as he reached the pod, fumbling to open a panel. "You should see the other guy. Actually, you probably did."
"That's not what I meant and you fucking know it." She snapped before gesturing around them. "What the hell is all this?"
"Eh, a set of metaphysical pocket dimensions fused together, I think. I don't know, this is really out of my wheelhouse." After rummaging around the compartment he found what he was looking, and injector of some kind. "Right, just need a boost to patch me up. Uhg, this is going to suck…" The man then opened up his chest plate (well, it fell open more like) and stuck the needle into the base of his neck.
Minaka let out a tight scream through grit teeth as the substance entered his body, and he twitched before his legs gave out from under him. He collapsed and twisted so that he was leaning back against the pod, breathing heavily as he let the injection run its course. Something about that reaction reminded Takami of something, an old project involving fast healing nanites. It wasn't in production due to how painful they were to use. She was about to ask about it when she caught a glimpse of Minaka's bare chest past his armor, and what she saw made her go still. "Minaka…" she said slowly. "What's that on your chest?"
"What? What are you taking about-"Before he could fend her off, Takami strode up to him and peeled away the shattered piece of his chest plate.
There on his chest, though it was blotchy and malformed, was a Sekirei Crest.
There was a long moment of stunned silence before Takami said "The armor does nothing, does it."
Minaka snorted at that. "Of course the armor actually works. What, you think the super strong alloys and CNT muscle fibers are for show?" He resealed the plate as best he could. "Of course, it's the… biological enchantment that's letting my body withstand the enormous forces the suit exerts on me. Plus all the combat stims which are helping me react fast enough to control it, but that's neither here nor there."
Takami gaped at that, her mind putting the pieces into place. She knew that Minaka had the genetic potential to be an Ashikabi, but he had always brushed off the idea of actually joining the plan directly, saying he had a far different role to play. And now she could see that he hadn't ignored his genetic potential at all. "The gene therapy conversion…" she all but whispered. "You used it to give yourself Sekirei abilities."
"Well, unfortunately I have yet to develop the wind powers I always wanted so that I could make my cape billow on command…" The man remarked as he pulled himself to his feet. "But I can't really argue with the results."
"Are you out of your fucking mind?!" Takami screamed at him. "I worked on that project! I know that it has to be killing you! Your body is tearing itself apart on a cellular level! I… How long ago did you start the treatment?"
"Oh, a little over six years ago." Minaka said, not looking at her as he pulled his gear together as best he could. He managed to reseal his chest plate and affix the armor onto his arm, but the faceplate was completely smashed. He tossed the ruined metal aside as he pulled himself to his feet. "Didn't really start seeing results until 2 years ago, and the side effects-"
"How long?" Takami interrupted, her teeth clenched. "How long do you have left?"
Minaka paused at that before he looked off to the side. "Well, we've made some advances since we made that study, and I'm sure there's something in Kouten that could-"
"Don't fuck with me Minaka!" the woman shouted. "Not now! How long do you have left to live?!"
The man was silent for a long moment before he let out a sigh, and when he spoke his tone was somber. "Six months to a year." He said as he moved past her, walking towards the edge of the roof, towards the edge of the maelstrom of birds.
It that moment, Takami felt so tried. Everything that had happened over the past few months, everything she had experienced in the past few day, every revelation she had learned felt lick it came crashing down on top of her. "Why?" She asked as her shoulders sagged. "Why do this? Why do any of this? I… I barely even know what going on anymore and I'm sick of it! So just tell me why!"
Minaka did not reply immediately, instead looking down at Blackmore's body. He could just barely make out the heart through all of the familiars and flames, a nightmare of death laid out below him.
Finally, the man said "How much does a man have to pay for a mistake?"
Takami blinked, not expecting that. "W-what?"
"If a man realized he did something wrong, and was willing to fix it, how far must he go?" Minaka's tone was soft, devoid of its usual mirth and humor as he looked out at the flames. "Surely the greater the mistake, the greater the price, but what if he couldn't pay it? Not without sacrifice. Not without more sin."
Takami felt confused and uncertain. "I don't understand."
The man continued, not acknowledging her. "Years and years can pass as the man works, pushing away the things he cares about the most lest they be tainted. Didn't always work though. Some were still lost, forced to suffer for another man's mistake. And even if the man finally reaches the end of his penance, the end of his toil to make things right, will he be able to get what he lost back?"
Takami blinked at that, starting to realize what he was getting at. "Minaka… you…"
His head perked up a bit. "But then, maybe for some mistakes that's not what the man is supposed to receive. Maybe the best he can hope for is a chance to see what was most precious to him one more time, and to say the thing that he had wished he could say for all those years."
His head turned back and he looked Takami in the eyes. "I love you Takami. I have always loved you."
And then Minaka tipped forward and dove off the building into the hell below.
It was only a few seconds from the top of that roof to the massive carcass below, but for Minaka it felt far longer. As the flames washed over him he remembered everything, every act he committed over the past two decades to bring him to this point. Now was the moment when he determined if it was not all for nothing.
As the vortex of bird monstrosities rose up to meet him, Minaka lashed out with his broken blade, his arm a blur as he cut apart any that came close to him. But as he fell their numbers became greater, the swarm of creatures rising up to rip and tear him became ever denser. As they became too numerous to handle, He felt the ones that got through impact his armor, every blow slowing him down and chipping away at his defenses.
In that instant, just before he lost all of his momentum against that black wall, he activated the thrusters on his back, slamming him downward in one final push.
Pain exploded through his body as the bird creatures tore through him as much as he did through them. Blood spilled from his mouth as his suit's warnings blared, and he lost sensation in most of his limbs. But he could still feel the one that matter, the one that held his broken sword. And now there was nothing between him and his target.
With a scream made from years of sorrow and rage, Minaka plunged his blessed blade into Blackmore's heart.
While Nero had been working on a plan, she had not neglected her observation of her foe. Even so, it would have been hard to miss the moment when Blackmore and all of his swarm shrieked as one, twitching and writhing as if in sudden pain. She knew not what caused it, but they dared not waste that chance. "Shirou! Time for the final curtain!"
She did not turn to look, but she felt his presence behind her, and his deep breath followed by the sudden flow of flame past her showed his acknowledgment. Nero gathered her prana as she held her blade before her, its tip pointed upward. She swept it before her in a circle, and as fiery afterimages of the blade traced themselves in the air her outfit shimmered and changed. Reds and blacks gave way to purest white, her armored skirt and torso becoming frilled trail and open zipper, and her crown was replaced by an ornate open veil.
While Nero technically need not wear her wedding dress for her next attack, her most magnificent attack all but required her most magnificent outfit.
Fire from all over that city surged and poured into one place, barely contained until the moment it was to be used. The instant Nero's blade completed its circuit, there was a moment of stillness. Then Nero spoke.
"Aestus Estus: Fax Caelestis!"
In a burst, Nero flashed forward, a trail of flame behind her as launched through the swarm of pained birds in a deadly thrust. In an instant, she had reached the foul heart, and in an instant more she had passed it. Her attack had been so fast, and seemingly so light, that a casual glace would see nothing at all. But while her wound was not large it was deep, and as Aestus Estus had reached the core of the heart it had deposited a powerful ,compressed fire of her own. And this time Shirou did not need to merely attack at the same time, for with his Eyes in his World, he could touch and add to that fire as if it was right in front of him.
And so, as Nero planted her sword and spread arms wide, both her and Shirou's Fire exploded as a massive pillar of flame a hundred meters in diameter that scourged the blackened sky itself, consuming Blackmore's body and soul from the inside out.
There was fire, there was light, and it was done.
Settle, settle, I had to settle. It was always so hard after giving it my all, but I had to let Fire calm. After consuming something as powerful the whole of a Dead Apostle Ancestor it wanted to rage and consume more, but I forced it down. I let my World collapse and I once again found myself in Shin Tokyo, though it was brighter than when I left. It was day time once again and Kouten could not be seen. I think I heard some kind of huge crash down near the bay, but I didn't care about that at the moment. I excused myself from my wife (she agreed to make sure that everyone else was doing alright), while I set out to find someone I had lost track of in my battle frenzy.
After some searching, I finally found her, along with Minaka, at the base of the building he had crashed his pod into. I carefully picked my way through the rubble as I approached, but my mother didn't notice. She was busy pumping her hands against Minaka's chest, trying to pump life back into his prone form. I could tell that it wasn't going to work though; both of his legs were bloody stumps and he was missing his left arm at the shoulder, which was to say nothing of the holes in his torso.
My mother face was twisted into a frantic snarl, distress clear in her features as her arms shook from the strain. "You bastard," she growled out between her teeth. "Damn you, you bastard."
"Mom…" I started to say as I reached out for her from the side.
Takami angrily swatted my hand away and went back to screaming at the body. "No! You don't get say that to me!" she screamed as she simply started pounding on the chest with her fists. "Do you hear me?! After twenty years of ignoring me, pushing me and your daughter aside, you don't get to just say that to me!"
I moved in closer and wrapped my arm around her shoulders, and Takami's pounding finally slowed. "Mom," I said softly.
It was only then I noticed the tears in her eyes. "You don't get to say that to me and JUST DIE!" she screamed out before it turned into a sob. As I moved to hold her tighter my mother could do nothing but scream in rage, frustration and loss. I didn't know what Minaka's last words to her had been, but given the broken sword held in his remaining hand… maybe they had been something left of the man she used to know after all.
Tremors shook Takami's body. "N-no…" She reached down to touch the side of Minaka's face. "Hiro-chan…" she managed to get out between sobs.
"…You have… no idea how much I missed hearing you call me that."
I shot to my feet as Takami sat bolt upright, our eyes wide. Minaka's own eyes barely cracked open, and his remaining arm twitched. "M-Minaka?" Takami asked hesitantly. "You- you're alive."
"Alive is a very strong term." He replied, his voice filled with weariness. He just barely managed to tilt his head up to look down at his ruined body. "At this point I'm mostly a pile of half dead organs wrapped up in a half dead life support system. The only reason I'm not in a coma yet are the dregs of the combat stims in my blood."
"We- we can fix this." Takami stuttered before a more resolute expression formed on her face. "If we can back to the labs, we can at least stabilize you. Shirou, help me pick him up while-"
She cut herself off when she looked at me. I said nothing at I stood over him, my face a neutral mask. Then, a Black Key slid into my hand and deployed.
Takami blinked in confusion, but it only took her a second to realize what the motion meant. "What? No. No you can't do that. You can't do that now. He sacrificed himself to kill that thing!"
"That doesn't change what he's done." I said flatly. "It doesn't negate all of the atrocities he's responsible for."
"But you can't!" Takami shouted as she tried to move over him, desperation in her voice. "He's not- I can't lose-!"
"Takami." Minaka said, and he gently pushed her away from him. "It's fine."
"I will face my sins. I haven't come this far to run away from my actions now." He said a bit more forcefully before he turned his head to face me. "Is there anything you would have of me before you pass judgement, Executor?"
My face twisted, and for a moment I hesitated. My exhaustion was making it difficult to think clearly and the man's behavior was completely different from the few times I have interacted with him before. None of us were going anywhere, so I found myself asking "Why? What was the point of all this?"
The man looked surprised by my question, but he answered. "Ah, well, I suppose the simple of it was that I was trying to fix a mistake."
"Blackmore." He replied. "Even before I discovered the Kamikura Island I had been searching the world for the supernatural, something more than the mundane. I had been carful, I knew that many before me had sought the supernatural and met with some untimely deaths because of it. I was actually surprised when, shortly after I found the Sekirei, I found someone from that world reaching out to me in kind."
My mouth quirked a little. "Did he find out about what you had discovered?"
"I don't know, but it doesn't matter. I was…" Minaka let out something that was between a sigh and a cough. "I was enamored by him. A magic wielding vampire? How could I not take it as a sign that the new Age was on us? I told him about everything."
"…That was pretty fucking stupid." I remarked.
"It was pretty fucking stupid." Minaka agreed with a snort. "It didn't take long after we started our partnership that I started to notice things. Missing employees, shady deals, questionable experiments. I tried to rationalize it at first, but then Takehito-" his voice caught in his throat, and an expression of shame crossed his face before he controlled it. "By the time I realized my mistake it was too late. He all but controlled my company, and everything I cared about was in danger."
"So you pushed what you cared about away." Takami said, her voice flat and her expression gaunt.
"It was the only thing I could think to do." The man replied with a helpless gesture. "I had to be what he expected, the self-centered fool he thought I was. I… it worked, for the most part. It gave me time to setup what I needed, set my plan in motion. The Sekirei Plan."
"I fail to see how that exercise in cruelty did anything more than give Blackmore exactly what he wanted." I remarked sharply.
Surprisingly, Minaka chuckled at that. "Blackmore could have taken control of Kouten the moment he had enough control of a Sekirei to initiate the Ritual of Succession. He could have even left Miya and the rest in stasis to do it. I'm the one who told him that all of the Sekirei had to be winged, and it had to be with the most compatible Ashikabi. The scientifically illiterate bastard never even questioned me about it."
I scowled in confusion. "So, what, the whole plan was you? Releasing them into the city, forcing death battles, making a spectacle out of their suffering?! Why?!"
His face fell a bit. "To give them a chance." He said softly. "I couldn't protect them from Blackmore, not really. But in searching the translated archives from the Sekirei ship, I found something that I could use. An elaborate play that could keep them out of his clutches for a while, and make him think he couldn't interfere. It was cruel, but I hoped that those that survived would become all the stronger for it, ready for when they would have to fight."
The melancholy lasted for a moment longer before his voice picked up again. "Though, that was not the only reason. I knew that I would need outside help to truly counter and defeat Blackmore, but the creature was watching me. I needed to stage something big and flashy, something that would be noticed by those in the supernatural world. Sure I carefully kept all information about the Sekirei from leaving the city… but how could I possibly be blamed if a member of the Mage's Association happened to win an all-expenses paid trip to Shin Tokyo?"
I snorted. "I doubt that adding magi to this mess would have made it better." I paused and my brow furrow. "But you never did that, did you? The Church would have known about any prominent Magi within the city. What changed your mind?"
For the first time since I met him, a genuine smile crossed his face. "You." He said. "Believe me when I say I was as surprised as anyone when you turned up at that airport. A member of the Burial Agency here to set up shop in my city, and my own-" Minaka cut himself of before continuing. "I was not one to believe such things, but as this was even more perfect than what I had planned, I have to wonder if it was Fate that you came here."
He fell silent after that, having nothing more to say. I was silent as well for a long moment, digesting the information. What the hell was I supposed to do with this knowledge? Could I even trust that he was telling the truth? And even if he was, did it really matter? He still was responsible for the deaths and suffering of god knows how many people, so what if he realized his mistake? God damn it.
Slowly, I raise my sword arm up, ready to throw the blade down through his skull.
Minaka did not look afraid, only content as he said "I know, that after all I have done and all you have become on your own, that I have no right to call myself your father," Minaka drew his head up and looked at me with a smile. "But I am proud that you are my son."
For a long crystalized moment, we were still. In that moment of catharsis after battle, after suffering, after everything that had happened since the moment I set foot in that city, we understood.
My arm snapped down and the blade flew.
It buried itself in the concrete beside his head.
A/N: Epilogue in a few days.
Whew. This chapter was going to be half again as long as it currently is believe it or not, but I got really tired or writing fight scenes. In any case I'll have more to say about this chapter and the series in general next time, as a sort of retrospective to wrap everything up.
Oh, and as for the bit where Nero made the hole in Blackmore, I am aware of what skills she has. Think about it.