Given the nature of the information Caligula had imparted, Romani did a full system sweep of Rome's surroundings and discovered the presence of a Divine Spirit on route to Rome.

The estimate was three days.

With the knowledge of the Great Founder's march on Rome, preparations by Caesar to reorganize the Roman Legions was expedited through Romani's help using 3D-modeling simulations.

Everyone was then quickly drawn up into an impromptu strategy meeting.

"Welcome back," Shirou greeted Ritsuka and Mash in the wide hall of Nero's imperial throne room. "It must have been an adventure."

Ritsuka wordlessly nodded while Mash vigorously agreed. "You wouldn't believe it, but after Caesar withdrew his troops from northern Rome, Boudica and Spartacus began pushing inward."

The exhaustion on Ritsuka's face was evident when even Mash was placing a hand on his shoulder. "It took Jeanne, Sieg, and Mash just to stop their march, and even then, we needed Martha's help to negotiate and explain the circumstances to Boudica who finally managed to calm down Berserker."

"Oppressor, OPPRESOR!"

Loud screaming accompanied Mash's explanation in the background, Caesar covering his ears in exasperation from where he stood using Arthur as a shield from that man of muscle.

Considering that Caesar, Boudica, and Spartacus had been warring as enemies until Caesar withdrew, the tension was understandable between them.

Among the new arrivals, it was Boudica who appeared calmest, rather, it was closer to subdued than anything else.

Saber Alter had been the one to greet Boudica and the others, but as fellow Heroic Spirits, the affair was cordial as each knew that the purpose of their summoning had to do with the era's singularity. Mash and Ritsuka had already filled Boudica in on Rome's current arrangements using Romani's communication network as an information relay.

Then there was Nero who couldn't get the message and was laughing boisterously around Boudica whose expression was growing increasingly stoic.

Shirou himself was showing a similar expression to Ritsuka.

"I heard what happened from Dr. Romani," Ritsuka said with a long sigh. "You must have had it hard too?"

Shirou and Ritsuka shared a look before two out of the last four Masters of Chaldea stopped mopping and focused.

[I believe everyone is here. So begins Chaldea's strategy meeting! All in attendance say I!]

"…"

"Umu, I like his energy."

"There's a time and place…"

"Useless." Saber and Jeanne Alter scoffed.

Arthur shrugged with bemusement, while the only one to really entertain the request was Spartacus.

"Doctor, fighting," Mash murmured meekly.

.

.

.

[…I don't need consoling!]

It sounded like he was crying before the projection of Romani centered on Mash's shield laid flat on the ground, clapped his cheeks and focused.

[We have three days. Behind the enemy is an army of Roman Legions roughly equal to our current forces. Caesar, is it true that you said Lev was the mastermind and owner of the Holy Grail in this Singularity?]

"That is the case," Caesar acknowledged. "He was the bastard who summoned myself and our fellow emperors and sent us loose on our Rome."

[Which means to say his continued interference is negligible considering Chaldea defeated Lev in the prior Singularity. Good, that means less variables.]

If Lev were around, he may have been able to summon more Servants, but this was not going to be the case.

The Holy Grail is currently ownerless in the Singularity.

Beyond whatever countermeasures Lev had devised prior to his arrival in Orleans, the only main concern is Romulus, the Great Founder of Rome.

"Then if we stop Romulus, the Singularity will resolve itself?" Mash inquired.

[That should be the case, and if what Caesar shared is correct, we may not even have to battle if the Great Founder is spurred into action solely by Command Seal. Shirou and his Tracing in this regard are life savers.]

Rule Breaker, the Noble Phantasm that displayed its worth in the prior singularity.

Ritsuka and Martha found themselves nodding, but not everyone was convinced.

"I wouldn't be so quick to judgement," Saber Alter raised counter opposition, her jaw still aching from that one good hit. "Each Servant will have their own motivation, and as Singularities aren't tied to proper Holy Grail Wars, there's no automatic transfer of Servant Command Seals to a new Master. A Servant would have to establish a new contract. The most Rule Breaker can do is sever the connection."

[You mean if Romulus intent is still to oppose Nero's Rome? I see, a prepare for the worst scenario.]

Nero's expression darkened at the news, nerves playing with the sinking feeling in her stomach.

The Founder may disagree or object to certain things in her rule, but he wouldn't deny her Rome. Surely not…?

"In that case, Rome's armies stand roughly equal to the Great Founder's forces," Caesar said, doing the math. "They've been properly trained, and our Legions are strong. However-"

"Morale," Arthur spoke up, providing his input. "One is the founder of the nation, and the other is a successor whose rule is yet to be wholly established."

Romulus, the mortal who ascended into Godhood and myth.

It was not difficult to predict who Romans would rally under.

Silence permeated for a moment while the implications set in.

If both armies were similar in strength and size, then if there was a case of defection, the defector's side would have an overwhelming disadvantage.

"Then we'd just have to stop Romulus before he sways the direction of our forces," Shirou suggested, determination causing him to ball his hands into fists.

One aspect to be fortunate about in pre-modern warfare was the principle of traditional war.

"Before any war, the leaders and representatives meet? Don't they?"

Caesar's eyes twinkled. "An ambush and treachery, I can't say I like the latter, but I do appreciate a well-placed strike."

Saber Alter and Arthur clicked their tongues. The action being proposed directly conflicted with their views on honour to the point Saber Alter was going to object.

Smirking, Jeanne Alter quickly stood next to Shirou, flashing Saber Alter with a provocative smile.

"What?" Jeanne Alter leered. "Can't follow the Master to hell? Hehe, more for me. This was the path sworn on our contract to begin with! To watch the world burn!"

Saber Alter shot Jeanne Alter a dirty scowl while Jeanne gasped, scandalized at the debauchery of her younger sister.

[No hold up. Remember, this is only 'if.' We can't just gravitate towards it!]

"Does anyone have any better ideas?" Ritsuka asked.

There was no answer.

In three days, the Singularity would hopefully end.


It was tradition for leaders to meet before war with the rival armies and allies waiting on either side of their fortifications.

Nero acted as leader, Saber Alter all too wiling to vacate the position as Nero's proxy and fade into the background.

Rome's walls were lined with defenders and Roman legions manning ballista while Nero, Shirou, Ritsuka, and the allies waited alone outside of Rome's walls.

The intention to honor tradition was clear, and Romulus would not fail to spot this.

Three days had passed, and the signs of impending conflict were appearing over the horizon towards the hills. The rhythmic march of an army generated a soft drone through the grass, echoed by clanking straps of armour, and the steady breath of grunting and heavy exhales.

Nero steeled her resolve.

Wearing a black dress as opposed to her usual red, Nero was at the center of her Rome's morale. Saber Alter who'd willingly given up the role was wearing full plate armour and her visor to conceal her face whereas Jeanne Alter made no such effort.

Around Nero were Shirou, Ritsuka, and Caesar while the other Servants were positioned as body guards and hung a distance behind the main group.

When the earth began to shudder at the vibrations of men marching in war armors, a Roman flag billowed upon a distant hill as an enemy flag bearer appeared in view.

Thereafter, a figure adorned with intricate metals, and wielding a red-tipped lance appeared leading the army behind him.

In the legend of Romulus and Remus, the twins and the wolf, the two brothers would stand on opposite hills. However, this time, Nero stood on the hill of Rome while Romulus was standing on an opposite hill.

Nevertheless, the Romans could draw parallels and a silent lull befell the battlefield.

Romulus took note of Nero and the others waiting in a location for formal declarations and gestured for his army to remain still as he boldly approached onward alone.

As befitting a man who was the founder of a nation, his very presence inspired awe and revere, even if his attire was oddly reminiscent of Spartacus's gladiator suit.

"Romans," Romulus greeted upon arrival, eyes sweeping over the gathered Servants before focusing on Nero and those immediately around her. "You have prepared well, but a new Rome will be built here."

Caesar coughed.

As agreed, prior, Caesar opened dialogue. A fellow Servant summoned at the same time as Romulus, he had a right to speak as he knew the direct circumstances.

"Founder," Caesar greeted with arms open, eloquent tongue unleashed. "Must we find ourselves on opposite sides? I alone managed to escape the fate of a Command Seal forcing me to commit actions far beyond my intention, but now there is a solution! We as emperors of our great Rome must not play puppet to the whims of a mad man when offered the chance of resolution outside of Rome's expense."

"Indeed," Romulus did not deny the point.

"Yes! Exactly!" Caesar did not waste the opportunity, revealing a copy of Rule Breaker Shirou had Traced before hand. "With this Noble Phantasm, all magic contracts and magic itself will be severed and returned to their natural order. That goes for Command Seals as well, returning you your free will. The Founder would never willingly turn his spear on our great Rome!"

"That is also correct," Romulus agreed again.

Eagerly, Caesar pressed on. "Then let us set you free-"

"No." Romulus firmly denied.

When Command Spells contradict the will of the Servant, the opposition would put that Servant in a disadvantage while carrying out the order. However, if the command aligned with the objective of the Servant, there could be no greater advantage to augment a Servant's parameters for a certain cause.

"Behold the sky. Behold the earth. Everything you see is Rome," Romulus said with a genuine fondness and belief before it hardened.

"But that," Romulus pointed his spear in the direction of Nero's Golden Palace, the center of Nero's rule. "That which we see there, is not Rome and can never be allowed to be Rome."

Romulus could sense it. A festering darkness, indulgence, greed, lasciviousness, and gluttony of primal origin relating to mankind's sin.

"If before there was reluctance to march on Rome," Romulus drew a line into the ground and stood opposite to it, gesturing for Caesar and the others to join him in earnest. "Now it must be destroyed before it's too late."

Stunned would be the best way to describe everyone's expressions.

Romulus's voice was both loud and carried in the wind. The distant murmurs of Rome's defenders on the walls could soon be heard, but that wasn't the priority with the Great Founder now before them.

Caesar looked uncharacteristically caught off guard by the words.

"B-But that doesn't make sense!" He protested. In his time spent with Romulus, even under Command Seal, Caesar respected Romulus from the bottom of his heart. "You said that Rome lives through all of us, and as emperors of your legacy, we too are Rome!"

"You are Rome," Romulus said, verifying the truth in Caesar's words.

Yet, it made what came next all the more impactful.

Romulus shook his head, glancing at Nero and then towards Rome where the darkness lingered ever still. As a Grand, he could feel it from even here. The unmistakable presence of his very own antithesis.

"Emperor Nero, you as you are now, you are not Rome." The red of Romulus eyes took a solemn hue. "Rome must be reset by my hand."

Shirou's expression hardened at the blatant admission, leaving no room for misunderstanding.

It was as they feared.

Even with Rule Breaker's use, Romulus's goals were not aligned with theirs, and he would still be an enemy.

Worse, Nero appeared the most unsettled and disturbed by the words. Much more than the bustling murmur of the Roman armies listening from afar.

It was one thing for the Great Founder of Rome to compare Nero's empire with that of her forefathers, but it was another thing entirely to be the sole one to be rejected on principle.

She too had the greatest respect for the Great Founder, and to hear what she just did-

Her pupils were shaking, her self-confidence and self-assurance taking its largest blow and leaving a hollow cavity in her chest.

Her Rome…was truly erroneous?

Then all her efforts, her aspirations, her everything, it was all a mistake?

Nero could not hide her grief.

On the side, Boudica held her tongue and forcibly muffled Spartacus from speaking despite inwardly agreeing with Romulus.

She'd held back by virtue of character. To her, distinction was clear enough.

Nero was one thing, but the Roman Empire she ruled was the direct cause of the Iceni's downfall, and the primary recipient of Boudica's resentment.

By principle alone, Boudica should be standing on Romulus's side, but her will and resolve as a Heroic Spirit of proper human history let her see the bigger picture in mankind's survival.

And yet-

Nero Claudius of the present era was no Heroic Spirit.

To her, this wasn't the past, but the present.

And the Great Founder, he…

Her breaths grew hoarse and her heart beat rapidly in her chest from panic and doubt.

"No, my Roman child. My apologies. I was without proper context." Romulus seemed to see right through Nero, yet his pitying gaze did nothing else than further deride her rule from Nero's perspective. "Your Rome is not wrong. It is the pitfall eating away at you that must be stopped before the time of Revelation."

The single word may not have meant much to the ignorant, but history depicts the emperor Nero with multiple interpretations. One of the most famous pertaining to that single word is found in religion and faith.

In Nero's current party, two saints and a former saint were in attendance.

"Revelation…Revelation?" Martha's expression distorted as it clicked. The same was true of Jeanne and Jeanne Alter.

All three glanced at Nero, two wary, the other intrigued.

Jeanne and Martha subtly moved to Ritsuka's side and whispered into his ear. "Master, I, I don't want to doubt our side but, Revelation speaks of a Beast, an Evil of Humanity…and Romulus does not seem to be lying."

Beast?

Arthur's ears perked up as he played the role of a silent observer in the singularity.

As tensions were growing increasingly turbulent, and people were being swayed by Romulus's charisma, Shirou could see everything spiraling out of control.

Everything was all wrong.

It wasn't as if he didn't have the ears to understand or the mind to comprehend why people's stances on the conflict may shift, but they just didn't get it!

Due to the nature of his Tracing, Shirou alone understood Nero's mentality, character, and motivations best.

Admonishing Nero was not the way to a good ending. Rather, it was the opposite!

Wearily, Shirou took one look at Nero, and felt a rising dread.

The vague cheer and bluster he had been able to muster out of her prior had disappeared and was replaced with something wholly fragile- like a child on the verge of tears with everything she did seeming to be wrong.

As an adult, it wasn't tears, but the absence of expression that denoted a gradual mental deterioration.

The dull look in Nero's eyes, the shaking of her body, and the almost languid way she was watching the army and her allies behind her, 'her Romans,' become steadily wary of her under Romulus's persuasion, it was killing her.

The setting sun and the brittleness of a gilded rose bereft of light that inevitably withers.

That was the tale of Nero's darkest days.

Not good.

Nero's rise and fall was precisely based on her popularity and Roman sentiment.

Because of everyone's actions, and the reasoning behind Romulus's objective against Nero, they were reaching a point of no return! Dammit.

Shirou gritted his teeth.

There was no longer any time to be idle.

"You are wrong, Lord Romulus." Shirou stepped forward in the moments before battle.

"Shirou!" Saber and Jeanne Alter were the ones to protest and tried to pull Shirou back from sight, but Shirou was adamant and the protest fell on deaf ears.

Of all the times for Shirou's Hero Complex to emerge, it had to be now.

Saber Alter pursed her lips and grimaced while Jeanne Alter was just starting to begin to understand Shirou through the dream cycles.

In contrast, Nero glanced up at Shirou with a stunned gaze, her lips bleeding from how tightly she was biting down on them.

"Wrong?" Romulus was not overbearing, but his very demeanor put pressure on those who stood against him. "Behold my spear. It is the proof that Rome is here!"

Shirou knew no fear, or rather, he didn't value himself over others enough to listen to that fear.

He already knew the words Nero needed to hear, and if that meant making an enemy of Romulus, then so be it.

Humanity's existence was at stake.

"Nero is Rome."

His sole voice pierced through the silence.

In the darkness of those that stood against Nero, a sudden opposing voice offered the one hand a Nero of the original timeline had desperately wished for while watching the setting sun.

If even just one person, one voice, had come to her, would the result have been different?

Nero alone would know.

"And so long as she stands, even alone-"

Staring fixedly at Shirou who remained unwavering under the Great Founder's momentum,

"I will never let it fall."

Nero found the will to bloom once more.

"Umu, that's right," Nero murmured, moving to stand in front of Shirou.

Nero glared at Romulus who seemed to look at her in a new light.

The formal declaration of war was over.

"I. Am. Rome."

There could be only one outcome.

Nero Invicta!


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