Never before did Athena feel so awkward, disgruntled, and ashamed in her entire Godhood. She'd told Arturia to emulate herself, and somehow this felt like a direct jab. Was this the impression that Arturia had of her?

No grace, no class, no elegance? A bumbling mortified child?

Athena stiffened. Now that she thought of it, there was a time in her dark history where that description was viable.

The display Arturia was showing now made it feel as if Arturia had chosen to emulate that point in Athena's life, and she grudgingly resisted the urge to be petty. The Trojan war's pettiness was already a strong example of how the pettiness of the Gods could escalate.

Endure it. You are a Goddess.

"You liar!" Arturia continued her earlier tirade.

Athena scowled.

It was true that Athena had assured Arturia that she'd be cloaked in her presence, but she'd also said that Arturia had to play her part. Was the implication that she'd be visible for that, not explicit enough?

Athena opened her mouth. "I didn't lie-"

"You con!

"If you could just stop and liste-"

"Swindler!"

"Y-You dare call a Goddess of Wisdom a swindler!" Athena blurted out, indignance getting the better of her. For a second, she didn't know how to react, but was soon lost in her own temper.

"I-I told you I couldn't do this, but you kept insisting and even assured me!"

"That makes me a swindler?!"

"It means you take responsibility, now hide me again!"

"No."

"Please."

"Suffer, plebian."

Let it be known that few would ever insult or accuse Gods of anything right in their faces. They were idols of worship and reverie. This was to say, they lacked experience and the corresponding tolerance not to stoop to the same level.

If Paris's choice regarding the most beautiful Goddess in legend was enough to cause the downfall of an entire kingdom, what of direct insults?

In this case, oddly human.

Athena crossed her arms, snorted, and turned away like a woman wronged. Her chin was craned up, and a haughty expression bled through her prior indifference until she recalled that they had an audience.

The second-hand embarrassment was already slowly killing her.

Still, she was the bigger woman here. Coughing despite the light blush over her cheeks, she forcibly grabbed Arturia's shoulders to keep her in place, before turning back to a stunned Kaoru and her mother.

"Apologies." Athena could barely keep her face straight anymore. This was likely the blackest point in her entire life. "The Praetor has performance issues."

Arturia's mouth opened and closed, trying and failing to escape this tyranny but only flailing like a fish out of water instead. Athena's grip on her shoulders was absolute. Even when Arturia tried to shift her body in another direction, petty Athena had had enough, directly lifting her up and hoisting her forward in what Arturia realized was a bastardized version of the "Lion King."

Arturia adored lions, but this was pushing it way too far over the edge.

"P-Put me down!" She protested, legs feebly swaying beneath her while a sick type of vindictive satisfaction worked its way over Athena's face.

Athena directly ignored Arturia at this point. If she couldn't handle it, then Athena decided to take matters into her own hands.

"Ahem, behold her splendor," Athena said, absolutely straight faced while brandishing Arturia around, her limbs rag dolling as she slowly succumbed to resignation. "Sun kissed hair, regal features, and the shyness of adolescence, truly there's no one else that this Goddess could willingly follow. You all must see it too, right? Her unfading glory?"

Her dying breaths?

Arturia stared hollowly into the distance, complexion tomato red as a lone tear trickled down the left side of her cheek. Goodbye social image.

"…" Kaoru clapped a hand over her mouth and turned away from the sight before her so fast that Arturia just knew that the woman didn't dare let out her giggles.

In comparison, Kaoru's mother had no such qualms. Before she could even help it, one of those tender smiles older women gave towards precious moments had subconsciously made its way onto her face.

Arturia sniffled, tucking her head between raised shoulders. NOooooooo!

Her shoulders hunched, face hanging so low that Athena could no longer 'show off' the extent of her ravishing beauty.

It felt more like Athena was one of those door-to-door saleswomen, and Arturia, the product in question. Hell, Arturia should have been suspicious when she'd seen Athena in her younger form taking note of those advertising commercials on TV.

"What are you doing? We're almost there, can't you see it? My effectiveness? The tension has practically all disappeared. This is the perfect chance," Athena whispered, trying to get Arturia to puff back up to be on proper display.

"…You bully." Arturia continued sniffling, almost turning into a sob as a feeling of utter helplessness assailed her. Athena was a Goddess, her physical prowess far above Arturia. How could she resist? It's like one of those moments when someone with stage fright was forced on stage, and unable to leave. No, this was exactly it!

"I want to go home." Arturia became utterly listless.

Athena could tell that she was losing Arturia's cooperation, but it was absolutely crucial that this opportunity at Arturia's expense shouldn't be wasted.

Think.

In all Athena's wisdom, she knew only of one reason she could use to persuade this overly righteous girl to forego her sense of propriety and shame.

"Will you allow yourself to be a burden for Shirou?" Athena questioned lowly, feeling the way Arturia perked up.

Good. This line of questioning obtained Arturia's attention.

"Or is it that you just don't care enough? Look at how he sacrifices, look upon his actions, and answer thusly in thy understanding of him. Is he the sort to ravel in the adrenaline of violence and war like that pig-head Ares, or is he the kinder sort to use diplomacy? Now ask this of yourself, and think deeply upon it. A fool who would rather save everyone, is willing to turn a blind eye to coercion and underhanded means. Do you believe he enjoys it? That he likes it…Who do you think he's doing it for, and now look at yourself, stumbling at the mere notion of embarrassment and a bit of shamelessness? You'd do well to learn from my uncle's son, Jason. Useless as he may be, the way he treated his crew was leagues ahead of you. Flagrant, audacious, and egotistical, that man was the height of it, but for his crew, he would choose to endure anything. What of you, young Arthenia?"

Arturia's brow twitched, a pit forming in her stomach instantly. Slowly, surely, her drooped features began to twitch.

"Your own sentiments and reservations can't even rise to match that man's unwavering faith and resolve. A pity."

Athena wasn't a God of Wisdom for nothing. Already, she'd grasped the core of Shirou's personality and motivations, and perfectly articulated it into speech.

What Athena didn't know, was that Arturia knew Shirou all too well from the story she'd read from Merlin's manuscript. Hence, each word that Athena delivered felt like an acute jab to her gut.

Furrowing her brows, Arturia swallowed and glanced back up at Kaoru and Ms. Sayanomiya.

Heat was making her vision swim and ears to redden, but this time she found the resolve to look passed her growing mortification.

It was always Shirou moving on her behalf, and now it was finally her turn and was balking at the get-go.

She at least had to try.

If she couldn't bring herself to lie due to her own ethics, then why not just use half-truths?

"M-Ms. Sayanomiya," she stuttered, ignoring the snicker Kaoru involuntarily let out. It just couldn't be helped. The contrast between Arturia's sudden seriousness, and the ludicrousness of her position was too humorous.

More so at the proud look Athena was giving, now that the Praetor was finally stepping forward.

"I-I know that it's hard to believe, but we really don't mean any harm, and are actually trying to seek cooperation. Shirou and Athena are tied to me and-"

"I believe you," the endearing smile working its way onto Ms. Sayanomiya's face was all too telling.

"Y-You do?" Arturia sputtered. She didn't think it would be this easy. She'd just been thinking of what to say in order to be convincing, and now it seemed her effort to gather courage was wasted.

"Let's just say that I do, but first, Kaoru told me of a magic crest on the back of your hand that anchors your Authority. May I see it?" Ms. Sayanomiya asked.

Arturia glanced at Athena, and after a curt prompting, Arturia raised her hands to display her Command Seals. The potency of the magic surrounding them appeared both foreign and distinct. Foreign in that, it was a type of magic never before seen or recorded, and distinct in that the connection it tethered between Arturia, Athena, and Shirou was genuine.

"Denial of Madness…" Ms. Sayanomiya brooded to herself.

As far as Authorities went, it wasn't difficult to understand the crux of this one, nor its sheer potential. If more Heretic Gods could be contracted, then Arturia alone could rival the strength of multiple Campione, albeit, her own physical capabilities appeared limited to that of a regular human. Then again, the trade off made sense in its own way.

Kaoru may have been right. An Eighth Campione who still needed time to grow.

This was an opportunity, an investment.

More than anything, what truly managed to convince Ms. Sayanomiya beyond mere appearances, had been the interactions between Arturia and Athena. And no, it wasn't just because her maternal senses had found the scene adorable…

The level of trust and bickering couldn't be faked.

"We will work with you," Ms. Sayanomiya found herself nodding, much to Kaoru's relief.

Kaoru didn't say it, but Arturia reminded her too much of her own juniors in the committee looking to her for guidance. Moreover, the innocence Arturia displayed was just too precious in that there was no way she could possibly harbour nefarious intentions.

With Ms. Sayanomiya's agreement, relief flooded through Arturia's body, knowing that she'd succeeded.

Turning to glance at Athena, Arturia swallowed audibly, tentatively.

"Can you put me down now?"

Athena snorted, causing a shudder to travel down Arturia's back.

"I suppose that this Goddess could, but young Arthenia, did you forget?"

"W-What?"

Athena pointed at the other petrified statues in the room, as Arturia soon understood the implication.

"B-But we secured Ms. Sayanomiya's support. She can convince them!" Arturia protested.

A thinly veiled smile, petty in nature, was Athena's only reply. After all, why change an approach that clearly worked?

"Ahem," Athena cleared her throat while withdrawing her petrification authority and hoisting Arturia up higher like a divine pedestal. "Behold! Her splendor, revel in her furor…"

Another tear trickled down Arturia's cheek.


Tension permeated throughout the area, but in its own way, this only served to clear Shirou's mind of doubts. Any unnecessary thoughts were discarded, and only the goal intended for him existed. Sadly, this couldn't be said to be same for everyone.

Erica and Godou shuddered as they stood up out of their seats. Erica eyes were dilated, while the graveness in Godou's features instantly became more pronounced. Grabbing Erica's arm, Godou pulled him behind her while shielding his eyes from the buffeting pressure Voban and Shirou were releasing, but it wasn't enough.

Feeling the wind pick up, Godou and Erica were almost pulled off of their feet if not for Godou holding them both down.

"Erica, do you think it's him?" Godou whispered, features flickering with nervousness.

"H-He's…No wait. It's different?" Erica mused direly, eyes squinting in the blowing wind.

However, she and Godou were unable to make an accurate assessment despite the distinct sense of familiarity. In its own way, this was only to be expected.

Athena was nothing if not prepared and insightful. Behind every action was careful consideration and contingency plans in the case of failure.

A hard stance was what was required at present- A deterring force one could say.

Athena had known full well that the basis of Divine Fort Andromeda's deterrence was the unknown 'coalition' of numerous Heretic Gods guarding its walls. The Authorities of various pantheons and legends visible and felt emanating from the Divine Fort gave credence to this point, yet in the case of a full-scale confrontation, there was no way the ruse wouldn't be quickly discovered.

Shirou and Athena couldn't be in two places at once, and the number of Campione in the world clearly outnumbered them. In Athena's wisdom and domain as a God that presided over War, how could she not consider these aspects?

What mattered now, was initiative, and maintaining a state of misinformation. It was even better if the enemy could come to their own conclusions to reached as 'truth.'

In this regard, Athena had deployed an Authority in her jurisdiction in the shared legends of her pantheon. The tale of Perseus was widely known, and one of the common gifts Athena had granted was an item known as the 'cap of invisibility.'

In its loosest term, the analogy of the cap of invisibility garners many attributes similar to the helm of Hades, such that they shared overlapping domains.

Invisibility of any sort would never work against the divine senses of Gods or Campione, but in that case, what did the 'Cap of Invisibility' translate to as an Authority?

Legends were often interdependent on one another over time, and the earliest known use of the 'cap of invisibility,' was the concept of obscurity.

The identity of those that Athena bestowed this Authority upon would not be so easily deduced unless inferred from the Authorities the God in question used. However, this was why it was perfect.

Athena had never resorted to using this Authority on herself mainly out of pride that she'd resort to hiding her glory, and meaninglessness, as she'd expose her identity the moment she began fighting. A Goddess with sovereignty over snakes, petrification, and wielding the Shield of Aegis couldn't have made her anymore obvious.

Then how about Shirou who had the ability to freely interchange his Authorities?

If Athena were around, a devious glint of vain glory would have appeared in her eyes. Truly she was a genius.

Using this set up, the impression of 'numerous' Gods existing within Divine Fort Andromeda could be artificially created by instructing Shirou to use different Authorities each time he fought.

How devious. How thrilling. Wisdom was its own form of beauty, and she was surely its pinnacle.

Meanwhile, caught in the ensuing deception, Erica and Godou were understandably perplexed, but had no way to alleviate the jarring feeling of familiarity.

Alas the Authority of Gods, weren't so easy to see through.

In any case, it didn't change the fact that Erica knew that an ensuing battle between a God and Campione wasn't something ordinary magic users could endure, let alone survive without some form of protection.

Voban's knight that had barely managed to catch a grip onto the bolted table was grunting and exerting strength in a bid to not get blown away miles into open ocean. She'd managed to get back on her feet, and was stubbornly trying to brave the pressure on her own. This irked Erica more than she'd be willing to admit. This was a 'friend' she'd practically grown up with, and Voban showed no signs of providing any support for her.

"Liliana, now's not the time to be stubborn! Get over here!" Erica shouted towards Voban's knight.

Erica and Liliana had known each other for a long time, and often competed with each other in their training to become great knights of their associations. Their knowledge of the supernatural and the divine was second only to the competitive nature that existed between them. Hence, Erica knew that the only way to persuade Liliana was to adopt a hard stance. That…or blackmail. Either or, as it was entirely for Liliana's sake anyway.

"Mind your business Blandeli! I serve another Lord!"

"One that cares little if you're dead or alive, given one of his particular documented Authorities!" Erica immediately replied.

"That's…" Liliana trailed off.

"My point exactly, now stop trying to fight me on this!" Erica grunted, her eyes squinting even further closed as the pressure around them began to escalate further. "Don't think that I don't know about that diary you're-"

"Blandeli!" Liliana's complexion turned livid, embarrassment and rage causing her entire body to heat up in aggrievement. She was turning red, and it was only made worse by the ordinarily white and clear complexion of her skin.

Gnashing her teeth, Liliana eventually succumbed to 'persuasion,' grudgingly making her way over and allowing the aura Godou exuded as a Campione to rebuff the pressures surrounding them. Even then, this natural protection obviously wasn't going to be enough.

It was at this point that Godou felt that he had no other choice than to summon the aura of one of his Authorities to whether through the storm. However, the moment that the divine fluctuations were felt, Voban's livid gaze seemed to pierce directly through the chaos.

"Do not interfere, seventh!" Voban declared ominously, his voice carrying an excitement not found in years. "I am not one to strike at my kin without reason, so do not give me one to end you."

Snorting, Voban shifted his attention back to Shirou, as the warning had already been delivered.

Frowning, Godou didn't wait for permission before grabbing Erica and Liliana, and using his superhuman physiology to get them somewhere that wasn't on a boat in the middle of a growing storm. Large waves were already rocking the organized yacht back, making it highly likely that the vessel could begin to sink at a moment's notice.

"Erica!" Godou called out as the surface of the ocean rapidly approached with his descent.

"Leave it to me!" Erica placed one palm over the other and activated a spell known as the wings of David to enact miracles ordinarily perceived as impossible in the modern age.

When Godou landed on the water, he didn't sink, but instead stood upon an unseen platform of magic energy that was far more stable than the yacht. Letting out a small sigh of relief at their general safety, Godou, Erica, and Liliana couldn't bring themselves to actually feel happy.

Voban was dead serious about this fight. In fact, the thrill of battle was practically all that he lived for in his age. If Godou, Erica, and Liliana could infer this from Voban's actions, then could Shirou not?

Having taken the time to assess his opponents before him upon arrival, Shirou felt as if he had a certain idea of each individual's characteristics. Godou and Erica were likely keener to follow whatever arrangement Athena had predicted they'd do, but Godou was one of seven.

Athena had briefed Shirou on a plan, but not all plans were meant to be followed.

At the very least, Shirou had his own plethora of battle experiences to draw from that Athena wasn't privy to at all. If their present goal was to stall until they could consolidate their foundation and provide an apt living environment for Arturia, then sending a single nameless vanguard time after time using different Authorities wasn't going to be as effective as understanding an opponent's personality.

Athena had obviously made her plans on the basis of rationality, but here's where everything flips on its head…Campione may or may not be rational or follow a certain trail of logic.

Wisdom was its own sharp edge, and the height of arrogance was for one to assume that they could account for everything. This would often be the bane of Gods of Wisdom- the unexpected.

Shirou could see full well from the growing intent in Voban's eyes, that the man would surely give chase and attack Fort Andromeda even if he was rebuffed. Then there were also the personalities of the other Campione. Who was to say that they'd avoid a direct confrontation and instead decide to initiate an infiltration or reconnaissance mission?

Fortunately, the other Campione weren't here yet, and the primary individual to deal with was Voban. His battle intent was palpable, but so too was the overwhelming feeling of pride and confidence exuding from the man.

Voban feared no one, and would be commanded by no one, which in its own way, made things simple.

Shirou abruptly reeled in his magic energy, revealing his intent to not do battle at present. Voban scowled, as shock and quirked brows could be seen from the rest.

"I've come to issue a challenge," Shirou boldly declared, directly veering off whatever plan Athena had envisioned, an action that would irk her to no end every time Shirou would do it the future. Moreover, in its own way, it felt like Shirou was taking revenge for Arturia, and Arturia wouldn't miss the irony of this later.

'Bully me? You'll have to talk to Shirou first.'

Regardless, the moment Voban heard Shirou's words, the scowl on his face gradually lifted. His arrogance was built over a history of conquest and victory, such that it was ingrained into his bones. A God daring to run away from a battle with him was one thing, but issuing a challenge was another.

"A challenge, you say?" Voban echoed while similarly drawing back the presence of his Authorities. "Go on. I'm listening."

By reading what he could of Voban's personality, Shirou had just guaranteed that Voban wouldn't randomly begin an attack. While Shirou was at, he could even make this a matter of reputation and standing.

"Seven Campione, Seven Gods to do battle, interested?" Shirou stated, Voban's eyes brightening considerably at the sheer number of opponents he could fight. This was seven new Authorities all in one place.

Voban's features grew sharp a second later.

"I do not like to share."

"You don't have to."

"Oh?"

"If you win one duel, you can directly challenge the next God. We'll even give a rest period if required."

Now Voban's attention was completely caught. If before it was only a mild interest, now there was no denying the zeal slowly creeping through Voban's aged features. With each victory he obtained, his strength would only increase further. Moreover, this was a matter between Gods and Campione, natural enemies meeting each other in armed combat to the death.

Never before could he feel his blood pumping so strongly like the day that he slew his first Heretic God.

"Schedule a date, this ocean does not do justice for battle." Voban tacitly agreed, his excitement causing the edges of his mouth to curl.

"Wait, you can't just agree to something like this in someone else's countr-"

"Know your place, seventh!" Voban seethed. "This battle is no mere challenge, it's a provocation between Gods and Campione. You have no right to refuse, granted, you and the rest may not even get the chance to participate!"

Voban turned his attention back to Shirou.

"One week. That's as long as I'm willing to wait." Not only that, but the allotted time was enough for the other Campione around the world to gather as well. "See to it that all preparation is prepared by then."

Shirou nodded. What more did he have to say when the only one who was likely going to be fighting was him unless Athena wanted to step up?

In any case, he'd won a week's reprieve.

What Shirou didn't understand at this time, was how the rest of the world would react to this. His challenge, his provocation, had all but verified an actual coalition of Heretic Gods rather than just speculation like Athena had wanted. If just one was enough to wipe a country off of the face of the earth, then what of the implied seven inside Divine Fort Andromeda? That was a hard number, and not a guess.

History would mark this moment as a turning point.

A 'misunderstanding,' the strength of an actual God compared to Heretics, and the existence of an elusive Eighth Campione at the center of it all under a bulwark of snakes and steel…


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