Time [00:14:17] February 27th, 2004

Manannán crouched beneath a wild swipe at her head and shot back, disintegrating the ground beneath her feet as Illya crashed a hand down on the incarnated God, or attempted to at least.

"She's gotten faster and stronger." Manannán relayed, pausing for a moment to admire her magenta hair in the wind as Gray shot forward and sliced off both of Illya's hands before kicking her up into the air, a twitch of her fingers turning her Grim Reaper into a bow as tall as herself and three times as resplendent.

"She's risen from an Undead to a Nightkin. And her output is only increasing." The grey-haired warrior relayed pulling the drawstring back.

A small salvo of arrows composed entirely of pure energy rose to greet the drooling, feral Illya. Blood and viscera rained from the air as eight went through her before the Dead Apostle's hands regenerated as if they had never been gone and batted away the rest with crazed, wild, swipes.

"Oh! It would appear so!" Manannán awed, placing a hand over her eyes as she looked up at Illya in the night sky, only to watch her hit the ground in a catastrophic explosion of dust and blood. "Though I can't much imagine why you'd be so worried over a Nightkin of all things."

"Because the chances of her power increasing even more are far too high. She got this curse directly from an Ancestor after all." Gray shot back, transforming her bow into a shield and raising it in preparation for-

The ground beneath Gray's feet cracked and the ring of metal echoed through the artificial clearing that the three fighters had created, Illya standing behind Gray with a broken and mangled hand dripping blood as she panted.

'Her speed has already increased yet again, but her power and durability haven't caught up.'

Three piercing beams of light shot through Illya, getting a screech of pain from the young girl as Gray transformed her shield back into Grim Reaper.

"I'll cover ranged support, Gray! You just focus on keeping her locked down." Manannán shouted, swiping a hand through the air and forming a string of runes.

"Understood!" Another of Illya's hands went flying as Gray ground herself to a stop opposite of her, Grim Reaper spinning in her hands as she blocked one of her wild strikes with the shaft of her scythe and pummeled her temple with the pommel.

The two engaged in a series of quick back and forth strikes as Manannán covered for Gray with flying blades of pure water. The two of them burned through Illya's regeneration almost as fast as it could work, yet her aggressiveness never ceased or cooled. Instead, it only seemed to become more and more heated, the dullness in her eyes seeming to fade away more and more as her anger and output continued to rise.

Gray shook her head and blinked as she twirled around a wild kick from the Dead Apostle, trying to rid herself of the memories of who Illya had once been. She'd had so little time with the young girl, but she had been such a breath of fresh air for Gray, so upbeat and positive. She'd been Shirou's precious younger sister…

"Please, Illyasviel." Gray lopped off three of Illya's fingers with a circular slash, kicking the shaft of her scythe to loop it back the other way and knock the mutilated hand back into Illya's own face, circling it around and up over her left shoulder to bring it straight down into Illya's torso, nearly bisecting her right shoulder entirely from her abdomen. "If there's any part of you left in there, please…for Shirou's sake please just stop fighting!"

"Why…do…that?" Gray's eyes widened, her body going entirely slack for a moment, allowing a fist to slam into her nose and throw her back into Manannán; both of them sliding back along the upturned soil before she could ground herself enough to stop moving.

"O-Onii-chan…will be…sad…If- die…" Illya mumbled, her fingers flexing as some of the plant life beneath her feet began to wither and fade.

"I-Illya? You're still there?" Gray coughed, stumbling to her feet as Manannán helped her back upright.

"N-not sure….like fog….wanna eat…wanna end….better than before…" Illya grumbled, clutching her face in one hand while the other swiped out wildly, her nails eating into her face and creating small gouges that already started to fill back in.

The Celtic God hummed to herself while crossing her arms, looking Illya up and down as thoughts and theories whizzed through his mind.

"Is this making any sense to you?" Gray asked her ally cautiously, still tense and prepared for Illya to attack at a moment's notice.

"I think I have a vague idea. Based on Bazett's knowledge, higher ranking Dead Apostles are more 'aware' and sentient. But they also don't rise in rankings as quickly as Illya is either. I think something unique is happening before our eyes. Perhaps as her output and rank as a Dead Apostle ascends, more of her 'common sense' will rise to the surface alongside it."

"Yes!" Illya gasped, pointing a sharp-nailed finger at Manannán's face. "High rank….more me….Keep fighting. More fighting….more me!" Bloodlust began to overshadow the shine of intelligence in Illya's eyes, getting a dark scowl from Gray and a worried frown from Manannán.

"Looks like we have to keep fighting, and if we can't kick her ass into gear fast enough, she'll be gone for good. What an annoying situation that Sumerian Goddess has put us in."

Before the Celtic God could say anything else, both Gray and Illya charged at each other, both of their eyes glowing with internal power as sparks hung in the air and the ground caved beneath their feet. Illya's left arm missed everything past the elbow as it flew high into the air between the two of them.

'So long as I keep fighting Illyasviel, I can drag her out of this curse that's infected her body! I can bring her back to Shirou in one piece! I'll keep going, I'll keep fighting. No matter how strong I need to strike, how ruthless I have to be, how fast I have to go. I'll bring his sister back to him. I won't allow this day to end in defeat!'

The scythe in her hand seemed to vibrate ever so slightly, but whether it was because of Gray's own nerves or Add's consciousness having survived unlocking eleven seals, she had no idea and no way to check currently. As far as she knew, her first friend was already gone, sacrificed to stop the world from ending before humanity could do anything to combat it.

That sacrifice was already too much in her mind, she couldn't- wouldn't allow anymore today if she had the ability to stop them. And right here, right now, she had the ability to bring Illya back from the brink. It went without saying, but Gray would push the Dead Apostle as far as she needed to save her.

And if that meant carving her up until the pieces could barely put themselves back together then so be it.

XXXxxxXXX

Time [00:15:10] February 27th, 2004

Ishtar couldn't help but take a step back as she craned her neck up to look at the location that she currently found herself in. A sky lit up in the orange hues of dawn with a good amount of cloud coverage. The thick, ruined, forest that had previously surrounded them swapped for small, but still noticeable, rolling metallic hills coated in hundreds- thousands of blades. A river stretching from a cliff face to Ishtar's left that spewed black smoke and winded its way through the numerous, uncountable, hills. Atop one of which sat a simple, humble, forge that spewed smoke almost as black as the cliffs through its singular chimney.

If not for the utter lack of life, it might have even reminded Ishtar of Mesopotamia.

"Well now, what an interesting world you've created around us, Shirou Muramasa." Kama hummed from her spot next to the river, further down the hill that Ishtar herself stood upon, Astraea further behind the two of them.

Ishtar turned to face the same way that Kama was facing, only for her eyes to widen, her legs tensing and launching her high into the air to avoid the golden chains that arched out the ground like sentient missiles. The Goddess reached for her most used Authority as easily as one would breathe and found it slipping through her grasp, her limbs beginning to flail in a panic the second that she realized what was happening.

'I can't fly! There are no heavens here!?'

The cold blank, almost lifeless, eyes of Shirou filled her vision as he launched himself after her, his hand reaching for her throat with an almost visible layer of killing intent over it.

Deep within their shared mental space, Rin grinned darkly. Her eyes sparkled with a vindictive glee that Ishtar actually could feel, thanks to their shared form.

With her newfound lack of control in the air, Ishtar had no option to dodge such an attack, simply placing her forearm in the way inst-

Crack!

The sound of Ishtar's instinctive scream was matched, and silenced, only by the sound of her body striking the land with so much force that it inverted an entire hill. The dust from her impact cleared from Ishtar's form as she rose back to her feet, her forearm bent at a 90-degree angle and stuck there.

The kind of grip strength needed to snap her arm like that, if it had actually wrapped around her neck…

Ishtar stumbled back to avoid the meteorite of bloodlust that was Shirou's landing, barely blinking at the dust and pebbles that tried to assault her form. A blade of striking silver and longer design than average swung out of the dust cloud, flying over Ishtar's head as she lurched back, and a quick push with the balls of her feet and twist of her hips had her spinning out of the way of another two.

The stinging sensation of a cut on her neck made her all too aware of how close she had just been to a beheading, a green hue overtaking her arm as it snapped back into place and her fingers began to flex and move once more.

"Oh? Is that all you had?" She taunted, grinning darkly as Shirou appeared before her in a crack of wind, his arm curled over his chest and his sword stretched out behind him.

Golden light shimmered overhead of the two of them, weaponry of all shapes and sizes bouncing off and shattering, the blade of Shirou himself striking a similar sheen that appeared between him and Ishtar. The explosion of force registering in Ishtar's mind before the sight of the glowing crack along its length had, the crater that they had stood in gouged into a small chasm under the sheer might of Shirou's Sword Breaker.

"….-all I want, it's not like he'll be able to focus on anything but her for a while~"

Kama's voice was quiet, carried over the winds only because the rain of blades in the sky had not yet struck the ground and Ishtar's form had not yet been caught by Shirou and his blade once again. But it was loud enough for everyone to hear it, whether they were meant to or not. A manic gleam of bloodlust shone in Shirou's eyes as he spun to face Kama and Astraea, his form disappearing in the green glow of Reinforcement and shattering of the earth.

XXXxxxXXX

Astraea hummed and clenched her fists at her side as she skipped across the earth of Shirou's Reality Marble, arrows striking the ground both where she had been and in the surrounding area. Kama grinned cruelly from the top of the hill she stood upon, opposite the river to the battleground of Shirou and Ishtar, as she fired arrow after arrow.

The Greek Goddess was almost certain that her Indian counterpart was mocking her, by using only the weapon in her hand and none of her other, more thaumaturgical, abilities but that was perfectly fine by Astraea. After all, both of them were almost identical in age, both featuring records and stories stretching as far back as 8-7th century BC, but it was Ishtar that was the real wild card amongst the summoned Goddesses. A Goddess that eclipsed the 20th Century BC even in the most conservative of estimations and 30th Century BC at the longest, a Goddess whose weight of Mystery alone put her above common deities like the Princess she truly was.

So right here, right now, while they had the greatest advantage over Ishtar that they likely ever would, she needed to be dealt with. Unfortunately, Shirou could not do that alone with the skillset that Astraea had seen through her host's memories, so she would have to deal with or escape from Kama as quickly as possible.

A rain of blades from across the river slowed the pace of the two Goddesses' battle as they both took a moment to look over at the ensuing destruction, watching the small chasm that was carved into the rolling hills of Shirou's territory by his own hand.

"I can just feel the misery rolling off of him, can't you?" Kama spoke, almost conversationally.

Astraea dodged another four arrows before grabbing one of her host's gemstones and hurling it at the Indian Goddess, only to click her tongue as the white-haired woman detonated it mid-way with a bullet of blue flame.

"I want his attention on me, it's like an itch I can't escape." Kama hummed, her eyes glowing faintly in the shadows of her fringe, "I want him to put all his attention on me, just like he is with Ishtar. But once I kill you, I can go over and hog his attention all I want, it's not like he'll be able to focus on anything but her for a while~"

Astraea opened her mouth to say something, only for it, and her thoughts, to die on her as Shirou hurled himself across the river.

A vapor cone coated his form as he appeared behind Kama, his face entirely overshadowed apart from his wide, unblinking, unfeeling eyes. His sword wielding arm curled back over his shoulder and his muscles held so tense his skin conformed to their shape like latex.

'Huh. I see part of what you appreciate in your boyfriend, Luvia.'

"I hardly believe that now is the time to comment on such things."

Metal shattered, the air fizzled and cracked with power, Astraea's golden eyes widening as even she got picked up by the shockwave of Shirou's strike. The Goddess clipping a hill and spinning chaotically for a moment before she could summon her blade and stab it in the ground, a single bead of sweat rolling down her cheek as a dull throb emanated from her hip.

"You miserable human." Astraea's attention swiveled to the even more disheveled form of Kama, blue flames flickering off her form and dirt smudged to almost every inch of exposed skin she had. "If I hadn't sensed you in time, I would have been cut in two right then and there!"

"Good to know." Both Goddesses froze at the sound of Shirou's voice, a reaction not of their minds, nor an instinct of their own souls, but a reaction of the bodies to which they now inhabited.

'He sounds so dead…'

"!" A scream of rage, not from any of the congregated fighters but from the Princess of the Mesopotamian Pantheon, echoed through the Reality Marble.

A pillar of pure golden mana blinked to life with a shockwave that flattened the nearby hills and an intensity that melted any blade that so much grazed the condensed energy. The pillar thinned out and tilted to the side before flashing across the landscape in a blur of motion, Kama and Astraea high in the air and Shirou bent at a 90-degree angle by his knees.

Shirou's hair waved chaotically in front of his blank eyes as the hills around him completed their impromptou plateauing in a wave of metal powder that blew behind him. One of his hands reaching into the earth beneath him and digging into it like it was naught but wet clay, his grip tightening and embers flying high into the sky as he flexed his legs and his core. The red-haired teen snapping back upright in a blur of motion, thirty-two golden chains firing out of the ground alongside him. His right arm trailing behind him and firing off a spear in a shockwave, the landscape behind him lighting up in explosions as both Kama and Astraea were assaulted by the simplest ability of Unlimited Blade Works, its aerial assault.

Ahead of him, seventeen of his chains exploded in shrapnel, the others seeming to rebound off of something and fly high in the air as Ishtar skipped along the terrain. Her hand flashing out towards the incoming spear and a coating of gold mana enshrouding its form before grounding it ruthlessly, her eyes focused on only the approaching form of her opponent.

A Zweihander of almost two and a half meters in length found itself in his grip as he hit the ground squarely with both feet and leapt with Reinforced strength over the river, the blade held over his head as he arched over the landscape towards the approaching Goddess.

But Ishtar was done playing by Shirou's rules.

The Goddess ground herself to a halt and smiled charmingly at the falling form of Shirou, winking and blowing him a kiss, pink hearts appearing in his eyes as his grip on his blade slackened.

'I can't fight her. She's so beautiful.' The world around Shirou seemed to take on a more vibrant hue as he stared at Ishtar, even the hatred in his features melting away as he stared at her perfect form. 'With Rin's looks she's- S-she's-…Rin's looks… Rin... Rin. Rin, Rin, Rin Rin RinRINRINRINRINRINRINRIN.'

The vibrant hue in Shirou's mind lit aflame around him, Ishtar's charm charring under the sheer hatred for her that he carried. His grip reaffirmed itself stronger than ever, the fairy letters in his eyes glowed brighter, and the burning hatred in his heart consumed him head to toe.

The teen filled his lungs with air and tensed his arms swinging down only once he got within range, all of the power and breath held in his body leaving with a single proclamation.

"Erdbrecher."

The skies shook and the earth trembled and cracked, boulders the size of houses shooting into the air from the air pressure of the cataclysmic strike alone. Ishtar panting a little as she hung from the Boat of Heaven Maanna by a single arm, having barely managed to escape from the area of the attack in time.

'What the hell is this human? To be able to beat and burn away my charm in a second? Your memories are completely useless!'

"Oh, my heart bleeds for you. Hey, here's an idea. Lets switch and I'll show you how it's really done, hm?~"

'How about you sit still and stay quiet so that I can be rid of this pest once and for all!' Ishtar snapped mentally, her eyes scanning over the battlefield before locking onto the blacksmith atop a mildly close hill.

She had no idea exactly how Reality Marbles worked since even the research that Rin Tohsaka had done in preparation for Shirou's had turned up mostly anomalies and estimations in the best of cases due to their taboo nature. However, she knew enough about the kinds of pseudo-realities that witches and sages used back in her day to know the general rule of such domains.

Take out the heart of the World Egg and the pseudo-reality simply can't hold itself together anymore.

"This farce has been amusing, blacksmith!" Ishtar called out victoriously, pulling herself up to sit on top of her bow as it began to draw in mana. "But I'm rather sick of this environment, so I'm going to rid myself of it!"

On the ground, Shirou's eyes widened in alarm, the gigantic blade of Ig-Alima forming out of the earth to launch Shirou at Ishtar as a storm of blades coalesced above her, only to meet a storm of energy bolts that outnumbered them four to one. A cackle leaving her lips as she saw the alarm in Shirou's expression, already knowing that she had won based on nothing but that alone.

The teen threw a spear at the twin-tailed Goddess in a desperate last-ditch attempt to disrupt her bow, only for the spear to halt mid-air as Ishtar caught it with her mana, smiling mockingly at the teen and waving with a curl of her fingers as she crossed one leg over the other.

The Boat of Heaven Maanna fired; Its bolt of energy the size of a bus and its destructive power drowning out pretty much anything else that Unlimited Blade Works had to offer. The bolt making a straight shot for the forge with absolutely nothing impeding its process, the stone melting and slagging a hundred meters of the projectile itself.

The cataclysm of the strike spoke for itself the danger that Ishtar posed, the epicenter of the impact heated to such a point that lightning arced over the lands and leapt to the skies as the metallic hills melted to pure magma. The shockwave passed over both Shirou and Ishtar before rushing back inwards to fill the vacuum that it, itself, had created and imploded with a second, almost as strong, blast of super-heated air.

The world still stood.

Ishtar's hand shook and her smile died a quick, agonizing death. Her gaze sliding from ground zero to the dangerously smirking figure of Shirou, who was now equal to her in altitude with a Warhammer larger than himself mid-swing towards her.

He'd lied to her without saying a single word, letting her take out the forge and bask in her victory all so that he could close the distance uncontested. He'd played her.

The world turned to blurred browns, silvers and golds as Ishtar was hurled off her bow by the force of Shirou's strike, the Goddess bouncing off a hill and cracking against the once-distant cliff-face. Punching clean through it and onto the top, finding herself in a brand-new hellscape of molten metal and putrid black smoke. A resplendent spear finding its way into her grip and digging into the ground to grind her to a halt before she hit the magma, a grimace appearing over her features for a few moments until she could begin healing herself.

Light, graceful footsteps brought her back to the edge of the cliff, the rapidly approaching form of Shirou bringing a glare that promised only death and suffering back to her features as she stared coldly down at him.

His footsteps were covering more ground than they realistically were meant to, no doubt because of the training he had done with that dark-skinned servant leading up to this morning. Even with that, though, Ishtar knew she had about 40 seconds to spare before he reached the base of the cliff, giving her the perfect opportunity to cool her head and come at this from the correct angle.

She had him beat in terms of raw power, that fact was undeniable, but he had more technique than her in a close-range engagement and the mind of a warrior, as simple and brutish as it was. He'd sucked her into his own rhythm and managed to land not just one, but two serious blows on her.

Something which would be paid back in blood by the blasphemous blacksmith.

But now, she could set her own rhythm and force that red-haired human to dance to her own tune- Ishtar raised a hand and fired off the equivalent to a small battalion's worth of Gandr shots on the blades that attempted to rain on her head.

-as all humans were meant to do.

XXXxxxXXX

Meanwhile, Gray and co.

Dust shot high into the air, a blur shooting out of the dust and high into the sky, four trees flying after the blur like missiles. A roar of power from the ground blowing the dust away to reveal Illya with cuts all over her body sealing themselves. A wide grin, with teeth slightly too sharp, splitting her features as she held a hand out to her side and wordlessly erected a pillar of earth to block three blades of water, their tips stopped only a centimeter from Illya's form.

"You've…only been…using long range spells." Illya spoke, her neck and arm twitching spastically for a moment before she seemed to regain some semblance of control. "Am I not….strong enough to get more?"

"Nope! At least not yet. Besides, Gray is so worried about you." Manannán answered simply, humming below her breath as she noticed the instant shine of bloodlust-tinted madness that coated her eyes.

'Her speech and cognitive functions are almost back to what they should be, but she's not out of the woods yet. And I think overwhelming her with too much at once could throw her sanity in the opposite direction to what we want. We need to keep ramping things up and pressuring her until she reaches equilibrium, wherever that is.'

"You're acting like Illya will go completely feral if you gouge a hole in her." Bazett snorted from inside their mind, watching the proceedings through her own eyes, technically.

'Oh, it's not like overpowering her is the issue, we just can't know what overpowering her to the point of complete weakness would do.'

"How humble of you…"

'Thanks!'

A streak of silver bounced from thrown tree to thrown tree before a blue and gold boomerang cut through part of what remained of the forest's foliage. Its shadow, from the waxing crescent moon, casting itself over Illya before solidifying. The Dead Apostles eyes widening in equal parts awe and horror over what she realized was about to happen.

The shadow of the boomerang seemed to almost solidify before searing through the flesh and muscle of the Dead Apostle girl, a scream of pain tearing itself out of her throat as the curse going wild within her form fought against the sanctifying rite.

Sliding to a stop beside Manannán, Gray couldn't help but grit her teeth and wince at the screams of pain coming from her best friend's sister.

"Hm, that weapon is pretty effective at bringing the curse out. I think she's about to skip from the precipice of Nightmare all the way to an Inferior Dead Apostle…"

"Great, that just means that she's closer to the surface." Gray replied, almost callously, as she caught her boomerang and transformed her boomerang back into Grim Reaper with an almost casual motion that was clearly practiced.

"Hm, overall, yes. But for the immediate moment I don't imagine the curse is going to play nice with trying to be purified." Manannán hummed, reaching for the metallic container strapped to her back for the first time in the fight.

"Of course not. It's a curse, such things rarely react well to purifications." Gray shot back spinning her scythe in preparation to move forward, only to have to deflect a knife hand aimed directly at her throat by the once again completely feral Emiya in a burst of wind and a crack of both bone and earth.

'Three steps forward, two steps back. Don't lose heart now.'

XXXxxxXXX

Time [00:19:57] February 27th, 2004

Boulders of flaming, half-melted metal rained from the heavens as Shirou hopped across the lava of his Reality Marble, his feet never touching the molten metal for more than a fraction of a second at the time as he shot himself forward. Blades twisted and cooled out of the magma and fired high into the sky at the twin-tailed Goddess as she sat upon her bow. With a snap of her fingers, bubbles of that very same magma rose into the air and blocked the flying weaponry, exploding in showers of magma that burnt straight through Shirou's shirt and got small hisses of pain as it landed on his skin before rapidly cooling.

The red-haired blacksmith dove over a small dragons head formed of magma, his body tilted on instinct so that his hands would touch the molten material first. The shadow of a chunk of molten metal the size of a castle cast itself over his form, inching ever closer to Shirou as his fingers moved towards the ground, the skin on his fingertips beginning to heat up as they neared the multi-thousand-degree material.

Shirou's fingers graced the top of the lava, glowing hot metal snap froze to shining alloys and the palm of Shirou's hand took on every single bit of light that had once exuded from the molten ground. The teen spun so that he could bring his right hand around to slap against the underside of the molten meteor with only a single second to spare before it crushed him beneath its mass.

A brief sparkle shone from underneath the meteor, Ishtar only staring at it with cold eyes and tilting Maanna on an axis to avoid the beam of pure heat that exploded out of the back of her attack. The jingle of chain links instantly catching her attention and causing her to drop out of Maanna without a second thought, avoiding the Chains of Enkidu that wrapped her precious bow within their grasp. Four-pointed spear-tips curved mid-air to chase after the Goddess, only to explode into golden shrapnel as Ishtar fired a bullet of pure mana at each one of them.

Ishtar spun midair and thrusted her palm towards the ground, a jet of wind blasting out; not only cooling the molten ground but also slowing her descent so that there was no chance of injury upon landing. The Goddess almost immediately raced towards Shirou the moment that she hit the cooled and hardened ground, her thoughts running a mile and minute.

'My host has seen him use that skill before, but never in a combat sense. Heat transference, such a simple ability but remarkably useful in a setting such as this. Damn you, Gilgamesh.' Ishtar growled in her mind, side-stepping the thrust of the sword with said namesake and bringing her leg up and around.

Ishtar had done nothing but avoid melee confrontation up until this stage, however she also knew that Shirou would be expecting such a thing. His generally enhanced body, yet another thing to blame Gilgamesh for, and his Fairy Eyes made him a formidable foe in close combat, but Ishtar's pure physical abilities were undoubtedly above Shirou's, even if only slightly. So that, alongside her surprise entrance into close combat meant that, for the first time in this engagement, Ishtar landed her first clean blow on the teen.

There was a small shockwave and the ear-splitting crack of bone as Ishtar's leg completed its arc past Shirou's jaw and touched down on the ground once more, the Goddess batting the off-balance and half-completed sword swing to the side with the heel of her palm. The ground shattered beneath them as she launched the teen away with a Zhen Jiao elbow strike to the blacksmith's sternum.

Ishtar, usually, would have followed after the teen to keep up the pressure of her attacks but instead found herself staring blankly at her own hand, curling and uncurling her fingers a couple of times as if it was the first time she was truly seeing them.

"What…was that?"

She had meant to kick him away from her, that's what she had been planning. So why had she gone with that strike…?

A plume of magma burst into the air behind her, her eyes widening in mute horror while shadowed in the overwhelming glow of the raining magma.

Because it was simply the instinct of her host, that was the simple answer she came to. Yet it was an answer that Ishtar did not want to be the truth because it meant that either Rin's soul was beginning to heal from her initial possession, or parts of her own soul were beginning to be tainted by that of her hosts. Undoubtedly a consequence of taking out the blade made of Gilgamesh's corpse as early as she had.

Taking on pieces of her host wasn't, inherently, the end of the world. In some cases, like the scuffle that had taken place only two seconds ago, it was actually beneficial to have some of the skills honed over the years by Rin. But Ishtar didn't see any of those positives, she only saw the absolute worst-case scenario.

Rin's love for Shirou could corrupt its way into Ishtar's soul.

If that happened, any chance of victory she had was gone and any chance she had of surviving suddenly nosedived exponentially. She could already feel the vindictive excitement coming from the soul of her host, which meant that she'd likely be doing anything she could to make that worst-case scenario a reality starting from right now.

Ishtar was now, in the worst-case scenario that Rin could taint Ishtar's soul properly, working on a time limit to kill Shirou Muramasa. She absolutely hated to be put on a time limit.

The sound of footsteps caught her attention, a Gandr charged and fired from her finger before she even had a chance to think. The cursed bullet flew off in two separate directions in a flesh of metal, the black smoke of the magma receding with the upturned wind pressure to show Shirou in all his glory.

His shirt was torn, burnt, and stained with blood but still mostly intact from Ishtar's clean strike and her continued barrage beforehand, however it was his face that truly showed the power behind the Goddess's strikes. His jaw hung from only a single joint with his muscle tissue and skin stretched and torn unnaturally, blood pouring from his exposed injury onto both his shirt and the heated metal beneath him.

Yet, looking at Shirou's eyes, Ishtar would have guessed that the teen wasn't even able to feel the fact that she'd nearly kicked his jaw entirely off. The fairy letters spun slow and ominously, and his pupils locked directly onto her with a focus that Ishtar had only ever seen once before, in Enkidu.

A bubble of molten magma popped, weaponry of all shapes and sizes launched themselves free of the ground and arched towards Ishtar at near-supersonic speeds, only to crash into shields and bolts of golden mana that met them head-on. Goddess and blacksmith stared each other dead in the eye as their clash increased in both power and quantity. A bolt of Ishtar's scraped along Shirou's side and created a shallow gash as a red Celtic spear of Shirou's burst clean through her shield of mana and pierced the ground behind her; the Goddess tilting her head to the side to avoid the tip of the spear.

A few locks of black hair fell to the ground, sinking into it like it was made of wet sand and not hardened metal.

'So, he even has armaments that can pierce through magical constructs? Hardly a surprise.' Ishtar thought calmly to herself, the ground shattering beneath her with a pulse of golden mana, shards of Enkidu's Chains flying high into the air –their surprise attack thwarted before it could even begin.

What was a surprise, however, was the sight of Shirou's muscle tissue and sinew beginning to sew itself back together, followed shortly behind by his skin as it pulled his jaw back into position and realigned it before growing new tendons and covering them over with the appropriate muscles and finally sealing it shut. The teens face back to normal as if they had never been torn open by the Goddess's strike.

'A regeneration factor? How absolutely perfect.' Ishtar spat sarcastically to herself, glaring at him as her own volley of attacks grew even more numerous and aggressive, beginning to rumble the ground beneath them. 'Its power seems to be equal to mine, but whereas I have to activate a spell to do so, his is entirely passive. It's like you custom-designed him…' She thought to herself, the sight of their battle cutting out for half a second as her mind's eye went haywire.

For that brief moment, she was no longer standing in a Reality Marble partaking in a small artillery war, instead, she was in a nebulous void, staring up at a gigantic half-blacked out version of Gilgamesh. The King of Heroes's grin was the only feature of his face that she could make out as his hands, the size of buildings, molded a lump of clay between their gigantic forms, slowly, and carefully, forming it into a facsimile of Shirou.

Of course, claiming that Gilgamesh specifically built Shirou to fight Ishtar was a slight overreaction, even Ishtar knew as such. She hardly believed that he'd let himself bite the dust if he knew that she was going to appear. Yet she couldn't help but blame the man regardless, because it was instinct and because he was about 60% of the reason that teen could even stand against her right now.

With a burst of mana and an explosion of stone and magma, Ishtar shot toward Shirou, her form blurring from the sheer speed of her kick-off even for Shirou's enhanced eyesight. The Goddess slammed to a halt behind Shirou into another catastrophic explosion of metal and magma, only to flicker to the opposite side of him once more as he struck out with a swing that swirled the air around him and blew all the molten metal away from them.

Ishtar's lips twisted in a victorious grin as she struck forward with her palm aimed directly at his spine, only to abort the attack mid-way through and jerk her head back to avoid the lance that burst out of the ground. The edge of Shirou's own sharp grin and one of his glowing eyes peeked over the corner of his shoulder before Ishtar launched herself high into the air to gain some room from the spiky-haired teen.

'He read through me again. What an annoying, cheeky little blacksmith. Yet…'

Ishtar slammed into the molten magma of the upper cliff face feet first, the magma flash-freezing mid-capillary wave as Ishtar began to build up mana in the palm of her right hand while clenching her left, light goosebumps ghosting over her arms and legs.

'Yet what is this sense of danger in the air?'

XXXxxxXXX

Time [00:21:43] February 27th, 2004

Astraea batted the bus-sized spear away from herself in a burst of mana and shot forward, catching a singular arrow by its shaft and dodging the rest as they exploded in oversized lotus flowers around her. The blonde and blue-haired Goddess hopped over a wave of blue flames that turned the hills around them to slag and clenched her fist tightly.

A droplet of blood from her hand fell to the ground and sank into it like water in loose topsoil, disappearing entirely.

The sky above her darkened and a brilliant golden light shined from her clenched fist, spreading out and forming a constellation behind her with her fist at the center. A high-pitched, bratty, laugh left Kama as she saw what the Greek Goddess was building up.

"Using constellations in a place like this? They don't exist here!" She cackled, pulling the drawstring of her bow back, an arrow of pure blue flames materializing in her grip.

"Whether they do or not hardly matters!" Astraea shot back simply, beginning her descent towards the silver-haired Goddess, "Just as justice, so long as I live, so too does the constellation Virgo!"

Astraea spoke a big game, but even she could tell that her constellations, and other star-related abilities, were severely hampered inside this Reality Marble of Shirou's. Likely for the same reason that Ishtar was unable to fly, though Astraea had no way of knowing for certain.

Kama let her arrow fly and Astraea swung her fist forward, blinding golden light striking all-encompassing blue flames in a ball of heat and energy that carved away at the ground beneath them. The sphere of fire and golden energy grew larger and larger before detonating in a world-shaking explosion that blew both Goddesses far apart. Cracking the earth beneath them in titanic slabs of metal and alloy that flew into the air and rose from the ground; Every single movement of such massive metal slabs rippled the ground of the Reality Marble like an earthquake and split the hills like wet paper.

The body of Kama smashed through and bounced off three of such titanic slabs before being buried in a faraway hill, groaning in pain as she lay there, completely limp.

'Is wasting this much energy even worth it…?'

An image of Shirou's face as he saw her, and the other Goddesses, flashed through her mind. The disapproving burn of Sakura and Parvati deep within her only grew stronger as it did.

"Yeah. Yeah, it's all worth it to see that." She groaned, her fingers digging into the metal of the ground she lay within and beginning to pull herself out.

Once she was done with this Greek Goddess she could go over to Shirou, could have all his misery focused on her, could have all of her love focused on him…She couldn't delay anymore.

Beneath her, droplets of blood and a few strands of silver hair sunk into the ground.

Meanwhile, almost a kilometer away from her, Astraea rose to her feet, wiping some blood off her lips with the back of her hand. A green glow encompassed her hand as she activated a healing spell and supercharged it with her own mana to heal the injuries from her clash with Kama.

'Luvia, what is Shirou doing right now?'

"Even I don't know, Astraea. I've never been inside his Reality Marble before."

'Unfortunate. Because whatever it is…' The Goddess looked down at her arms, where goosebumps had started to form, and her hand was starting to grow slightly unsteady. 'Our body is beginning to grow highly worried over it.'

"All the more reason to take out Kama quickly then, hm?"

Astraea let out a small huff of laughter, crouching low to the ground as her spell finished.

"I should have expected such an answer."

Astraea's form fizzled out of sight, the hill she was on shattering to metal powder and shrapnel that tore another five hills behind her to rubble.

XXXxxxXXX

Time [00:23:23] February 27th, 2004

Shirou slid back across the hardened ground of his warzone with Ishtar, his feet digging trenches in the metal beneath him until he finally ground himself to a halt. The sword in his right hand clattered to the ground as his fingers relaxed involuntarily thanks to the ninety-degree angle that his forearm was now stuck in, much like Ishtar's earlier in the engagement.

His breath came out in heavy gasps as blood dripped from his torso, multiple holes gouged in him that were already beginning to close up, luckily none of them had made it all the way through his enhanced body. Sweat caked every inch of his body as he flexed the fingers of his left hand to make sure that it, unlike its other half, was still functioning.

Thirty meters apart from him, also breathing heavily but not as much so, Ishtar grinned proudly. A green glow encapsulated her body as she worked on the myriad of cuts, mild burns, and small piercing wounds coating her form. A proof of the slowly shifting dynamic between the two of them, and of Ishtar's growing lead over the teen.

Not to say that Shirou was completely out of the fight, of course. Ishtar still watched everything the teen did like a hawk, well aware that he had multiple armaments, such as Enkidu and Gilgamesh, that could end this fight in a single instant if given the right opening.

"There! Now we're even for the start of this fight, brat." Ishtar grinned cockily, the sky above them lighting up in balls of fire and shards of metal as the two re-ignited their projectile salvos.

"We aren't even until you lay dead." Shirou spat, leaving the sword forgotten at his feet as he grabbed the hilt of Kuro and-

'Behind!'

Ishtar spun on the heel of her foot and knocked away Shirou's left hand as it reached for her neck once more, golden chains bouncing off a translucent barrier behind her back as his right arm, broken and flailing in the wind swung towards her.

'Is he attacking with his useless limb because it's already out of commission? Wait! His reg-' The muscles and bone of Shirou's arm snapped themselves back into place, suddenly speeding up not only the momentum of his fist but also throwing off the timing of her own deflection.

The heel of Shirou's palm slammed into Ishtar's nose, fracturing it instantly as he followed through with the motion of his strike and threw Ishtar far back, skipping her over a flowing river of magma before she struck an upturned boulder from their previous fighting with a loud thwack!

The Goddess rose to her feet with a small growl, her left hand clutching the boulder as her right healed her face, golden cracks spreading over the boulder before it shattered like it had been strapped with C4. Hundreds, thousands of memories ran through her mind as she tried to figure out what the teen had just done and came up with nothing.

"Huh, who would have thought that never learning about Kuro-chan's abilities would come in such handy. Don't you think, Ereshkigal?"

"Ah! Uh, I guess? Please try not to exert any energy Rin, your soul is still highly unstable."

Ishtar just growled and let her hand drop once more as she felt the injury to her face snap back into place and finish its healing. The Goddess curled and uncurled her fingers in a rolling wave as she tried, and failed, to ignore the building –impending– aura of death that pressed down on her.

'He's planning something, building towards something that has even me on edge…'

Ishtar shot back towards Shirou once more, swiping her hand forward and rippling the earth into a gigantic metal tidal wave that overshadowed the teen in a mere second. The Goddess felt his Prana attempting to break through hers to affect the spell and merely pump more mana into it to rebuff his attempt entirely. A flash of metal and a crackle of air had her stepping to the side on near instinct to avoid the small chasm that was cut into his Reality Marble by his own hands, the blade in his hand crumbling to shards of metal that sank into the ground before they even had a chance to bounce.

Something which caught Ishtar's eye.

A brief hum left her lips as she dropped low and swung a leg out at him, missing entirely as he lifted his leg to avoid hers, and hopped over him before performing yet another Zhen Jiao and hip-and-shoulder checking him forward into his own Chains of Enkidu when they rose from the ground to try and grab her. Two lasers of golden mana struck the twin Blades of Gilgamesh that flew through the air to try and skewer her before they could hit, melting them to scrap metal instantly: their remains hitting the ground and sinking back into them just like the shards of his blade from beforehand.

Something in Ishtar's mind seemed to latch onto this specific particularity of the Reality Marble that she stood within. Something deep and foreign even to herself. Her mind churned over what it could mean as she Reinforced her limbs and entered a brief scuffle with Shirou.

For every single hit she got, Shirou managed to land five on her, yet even when he managed to cut her with that god-forsaken blade Gilgamesh that burnt like hell, her attacks still did far more damage to the teen than he did. The teen stabbed twice with his blade, cutting along her clavicle and the side of her neck before three bolts of mana spawned in the air around him and detonated.

The sudden change in their behaviour, from behaving like projectiles to explosives, caught the teen off guard, the foot of Ishtar swinging in an arc directly for his head once more. Though, while the explosive bolts had caught him off guard, the Goddess going for a kick had not. The teen's counter for this had been decided after she nearly took his entire jaw off minutes beforehand.

Once again, his hand wrapped around the hilt of Kuro-chan, a brief flash of purple lightning burning itself into Ishtar's mind as her leg swung clean past Shirou's face, with only a few drops of blood landing on his cheek. The Goddess's foot flipped and twirled in the air above the two of them.

Ishtar's eyes widened, the purple lightning flashing through her mind once more.

'That's the trick behind it!' She thought, looking at Shirou's face as her own thigh moved out of her eyeline of him, only to see his gaze locked on her severed foot, his arm held out behind him with Kuro drawn and still crackling faintly with that same purple lightning.

Ishtar wasn't sure what exactly brought the revelation on, or how her mind even jumped to the conclusion that it did in that moment in time. What she did know, however, was that it was the absolute truth, and she knew it. A half-charged, split-second Gandr struck her flipping limb and threw it far into the distance, Shirou's eyes following it faithfully as he turned away from her, yet Ishtar couldn't even take the time to capitalize on that fact, already launching herself after her severed foot.

Her red eyes scanned the environment as she hopped on one foot, using Mana Burst to keep her speed up while haphazardly trying to heal her leg.

'We fought there, and there, and there! There's nothing left, no blood, no hair, absolutely nothing!'

Ishtar had figured out the underlying ability of Unlimited Blade Works and the growing sense of death that had overcome her, but perhaps a moment or two too late. This land was one that created blades, every blade in this place was either a creation or a reference to be used in the future creation of more blades. But therein lay the issue, there were a myriad of weapons held in this world that a human, mutated by fairies or not, should not be able to understand, and yet they stood here tall and proud.

But a Reality Marble, as Rin Tohsaka had found out, was a reflection of one's soul turned into a World Egg that replaced the observable world of Gaia with its boundaries. A Reality Marble, as almost paradoxical as it sounded, was not held to the same standards of understanding as a human mind was and thus could learn what a human mind could not comprehend.

In the regular world, where Shirou had to scan something to place it within his Reality Marble, the information still sat there but it did so unused. It was information that Shirou himself copied down but information that his mind could not comprehend, like copying a written work in a foreign language. It could be copied but its contents remained a complete mystery, and that went doubly so for anything divine in nature.

However, inside his Reality Marble? Inside his Reality Marble that could comprehend what was placed inside it and could make use of any materials that it needed to, to create a blade? Inside his Reality Marble, anything that the Goddesses dropped, leaked or had lopped off could be consumed by the Reality Marble.

And to consume a thing was to know a thing.

'He's creating an Anti-Ishtar blade!' Shirou blinked into existence ahead of her, small purple arcs of electricity over his form and Kuro-chan held in his grip as he reached out for Ishtar's foot.

"NOOOOO!" Mana coated Ishtar's entire form as she pushed off with everything that she had, throwing all caution and pride to the wind.

The twin-tailed Goddess crashed into Shirou's side, instantly shattering five of his ribs as her mana flared around her, burning her own severed limb to ash as the two of them were thrown clear off the edge of the cliff, twisting and tumbling through the air like a golden meteorite towards the twisted monolith of metal and flowers that had become Astraea's and Kama's battleground.

XXXxxxXXX

Time [00:27:00] February 27th, 2004

Astraea and Kama both jumped back from each other, both Goddesses' bodies lightning up in green glows as they began to heal the myriad of wounds over themselves as a golden meteor burst over the edge of the cliff in the distance and arched towards the battleground of the two Goddesses. The furious, slightly frightened, high-pitched scream of Ishtar drowned out practically everything else as the meteor crashed into the ground and dug a long, deep trench to Astraea's right. The woman ran over to where the meteorite came to rest, only to see a spear burst out of the ground, pierce Ishtar's shoulder, and throw her even further back than Kama stood.

A pained gasp left Shirou as he tried to push himself to his feet, his shirt in tatters as his entire back was scraped and torn to shreds from the landing of their brief flight. A horrified gasp came from Astraea's mouth as she ran over to him, using a healing spell on him even when he huffed and tried to shrug her off, some blood dribbling out of his mouth when he took a particularly deep breath.

"Shirou! You can't keep fighting like this!" Astraea tried to argue, happy to at least see the boyfriend of her host rapidly being put back into workable shape as both her spell and Avalon went to work at full capacity.

"HOW DARE YOU!"

Ishtar's scream was followed by thousands of golden bolts of mana raining from the sky, which Shirou met with a single hand raised towards them.

"Rho-"

A wave of blue fire, as high as three storeys and as wide as four city blocks, surged over the now flattened metallic hills, Astraea rushing forward with a series of constellations sparkling over a gemstone held in her hand, the Goddess throwing it forward before it pulsed with golden mana and ballooned to over a hundred times its previous size. The blue firestorm slammed into the gemstone and surged around it in a curling sphere of deific power.

"-Aias."

A multi-layered, purple flower mana construct bloomed to life in Shirou's palm and expanded before him, weathering the mana bolt onslaught as a timer in Shirou's head clicked down the seconds.

Two hundred bolts struck the conceptual shield and bounced off without issue.

A thousand bolts hammered against the construct, shattering its first layer and getting the grit of Shirou's teeth.

A further seven hundred bolts struck the second layer, breaking through in a crack of glass and a full body tense of the red-haired blacksmith.

Another thousand bolts detonated against the third layer, shattering both it and the fourth layer in quick succession, Shirou bracing his arm as cuts began to open themselves along his upper body.

Another four hundred bolts detonated against the fifth layer, shattering through it and turning some of Shirou's skin purple with bruises, the timer continued to tick down in his head.

Seventy-Three more bolts detonated against the sixth layer before Ishtar appeared behind Shirou in a crack of metal and a burst of mana, the teen already lurching to the side as he spun around to avoid the spear aimed directly at the back of his head. His conceptual defense shattered into motes of prana as his fingers dug into the earth of his own domain, his Magic Crest lighting up as the ground softened and slagged under the heat before he threw it up at her. The brief distraction of his molten attack let him fling himself away horizontally to the ground to avoid the rest of the golden projectiles.

A few grunts left the teen's mouth as he bounced and rolled before he got his feet back under him, a hateful glare burning in his eyes as he grabbed the nearest blade from the ground –A blade with no particular name or ability other than its ridiculously honed edge. All three Goddesses faltered for half a second as a pulse of blood-red mana washed over them originating from Shirou, stopping with Kama on the very edge.

Both Kama and Ishtar knew what this was from personal experience, their hosts' memories from a mere two years ago forcing themselves to the forefront of their minds.

"Just be cut down already." Shirou snarled, swinging his blade; A simple, small swing with absolutely none of them within its range.

Chink!

From her position, crouched so low she was practically on her knees with her forehead pressed to the ground on pure instinct, Astraea froze and looked up. The top of her crystal wall began to tilt further and further over Astraea and Ishtar as Kama's blue fire suddenly spluttered out of existence.

Astraea placed her hands together on the ground and clicked her tongue, giant pillars of crystal shooting from the metallic earth to catch the falling wall, supporting its weight and freezing it in place all at once.

Meanwhile, behind the crystal, Kama fell to a knee, her stomach cut open from something she hadn't even been able to see coming. The cut had gone clean through her without any resistance, but only to the edge of the blood-red boundary that had appeared a moment beforehand. Meaning that rather than being cut in half, as she assumed would happen if she had stood even a step further ahead, she just had to heal some cut organs, a far simpler –and actually achievable– task.

Meanwhile, Ishtar launched herself straight towards Shirou as she hit the ground after jumping over his mystery slash, being the only Goddess to have figured out the true danger that fighting in this demented realm posed.

"You think you're real clever don't you." Ishtar growled as her kick was dodged, leaning out of the way of another slash that cut through three of Astraea's crystal pillars and the top of the crystal wall, sending all four of them crashing to the ground as Astraea cut her losses and jumped back to approach Ishtar and Shirou.

"Stop talking." Shirou growled crouching beneath a swipe at his chest with Ishtar's spear and blocking a kick from Ishtar's newly regenerated foot, the shrapnel of his own blade cutting into him as it shattered into a hundred pieces.

'He's been playing me this whole time. Playing on my attitude and overconfidence when it comes to him. But whatever he's planning, I need to be prepared for him to pull it out at any time.'

Ishtar's foot cracked the earth beneath them, and her spear blade cut a clean arc as she twirled it around and upwards, cutting a scalpel-sharp gouge diagonally up the teen's chest, blood spraying in the air. The teen grabbed one of the two blades at his side and grinned darkly as his own blood followed the arc of her weapon.

"Tyranny."

Ishtar faltered for half a second as the special ability of the Gilgamesh reared its ugly head once more, her own reflection looking back at her in the perfectly polished flat of the Blade of Gilgamesh as it flipped slowly in the air, thrown up by Shirou to distract her. The teen pulled another blade from the earth at his side, Ishtar managing to twist herself just enough to clash his blade with her own spear, a burst of mana shattering the blade in its entirety and throwing Shirou's left arm back and to the side.

The sense of death magnified tenfold, Ishtar's brain running through a million strategies a second as she tried to figure out when, and how, the teen would bring the blade out.

Kuro slid a few centimeters out of its sheath, held in a reverse grip in Shirou's right arm. Ishtar's eyes widened in realization, her grip loosening and the spear slipping from her grasp before she clenched her fist once more.

Purple lightning crackled and danced across Shirou's form as he appeared on the opposite side of Ishtar, his left hand now holding a resplendent katana. The length of its blade measured about 76 centimeters and its metal a pure, unblemished gold much the same as Ishtar's mana, its cross guard an eight-pointed star of that same gold, and its hilt as red as Ishtar's eyes, covered in a black Tsuka Ito the exact same shade as her hair.

The teen's eyes widened in unblinking, bloodthirsty victory as he swung the blade down, Ishtar spinning towards him with eyes equally wide and unblinking, the concentration in both of their expressions overwhelming all else, the world narrowing to only a single point, a single entity in all of creation.

The world narrowed down to Ishtar and her spinning form, golden mana crackling into a translucent layer of defense around her body.

The world narrowed down to Shirou and his all-or-nothing swing with his Anti-Ishtar blade, the purple electricity around his form crackling out of existence.

The handle of Gilgamesh found its form in Shirou's right hand, his thumb and ring finger folding around it before the rest could, the mana around Ishtar's form suddenly doubling in size as the oppressive aura of the blade ceased. A crack formed on the back of unnamed katana as it neared Ishtar's shoulder, the air already beginning to fizzle and vibrate under the sheer potential power of Shirou's Sword Breaker.

At the same time, Ishtar's fist flew towards Shirou's stomach, a regular punch with no thaumaturgy behind it, as far as Shirou was aware. Undoubtedly a painful strike but one that Shirou could tank so long as his sword struck tru-

Ishtar's eyes narrowed in hatred and concentration, Shirou's eyes widened in fear and alarm. The air cracked and exploded, reality itself compressing into the zone of impact before rebounding back into place like a rubber band.

"SHIROU!"

The world around them shattered like glass, leaving them back in the moonlit forest in a spray of blood and a SNAP. The body of Shirou hurled back in a shockwave so strong it even threw Ishtar back, the both of them flipping chaotically for a moment before finding their feet under them. Both combatants slid to a stop with long, deep trenches in the ground and a single trail of blood that couldn't have been healthy.

Some blood trailed down Ishtar's torso from the cut that went about 12cm down from her shoulder, utterly ruining her shirt and making the Goddess wobble on her feet just a little before finding her balance once more.

Some blood trailed down Shirou's chin slowly, his eyes covered by his hair as he stood stock still on his feet. Blood drained from his torso like a fountain as his intestines hung from the open hole in his abdomen like cotton falling out of a stuffed toy.

"Ha…Haha! HAHAHAHA! That was a Perfect punch! That should have torn you in half, Shirou Muramasa! To protect yourself that reflexively, what are you!?" Ishtar laughed, her eyes blown wide, and her lips pulled in a wide grin, the Goddess utterly high off of adrenaline after such a close encounter with death.

"T-The one…" The blood pouring out of Shirou's torso began to immediately, and dramatically, lessen as his intestines began to pull themselves back into place.

'His regeneration is stronger the more drastic the wound?'

"W-who will….end you." Shirou stuttered, his head raising just enough for his eyes to pierce into Ishtar's own, her breath stuttering alongside her heartbeat for just a moment.

'Those eyes. Those eyes that hold such a determined fire…like nothing will ever stop them or slow them down. Those eyes of such life and selfish want…Oh, how I love those eyes.'

Somehow, someway, Ishtar's cold, cold heart had found something to warm it up, even if only minutely. A long-forgotten vice that had once drawn her towards Gilgamesh of Uruk, and now drew her towards Shirou Muramasa.

But one stutter of the heart did not equate to a love that transcended the hate that led to a death match, and neither did it affect the other threat of the three Goddesses.

'Hm. My connection to Mara is surprisingly weak right now. So, I don't think I could call her in, especially not with one of Alaya's dogs sitting around.' Kama thought as she stepped towards Shirou, her eyes drifting to the crouched, unblinking form of Okita Alter atop a tree close-by. 'But I hardly need that right now. Since this body has something far better at catching Shirou's attention…~'

"Kama you can't! Doing that right now will-"

'Quiet. Just continue tending to our nice and quiet host, at least one of you learned your place in all this.'

"I have to thank you, Shirou Muramasa-" She hummed, stopping a couple of meters away from him, a ring of blue fire igniting to life around the two of them, cutting them off entirely from the other two Goddesses. "-for showing me the way that it's meant to be done. Now allow me to refine your formula even further."

Shirou's eyes widened and a blade appeared in his palm, the teen took a step towards Kama only to collapse to a knee while vomiting blood, another small bucket gushing out of his abdomen as his organs and muscles continued to knit themselves back together.

"I am the creation of my fears."

"Alone and afraid; Strengthened and warped."

"The shadowed lands that give rise to what should be forgotten."

Kama's shadow darkened and stretched behind her, a series of ten sewing needles reaching out of the darkness and digging into the earth, shifting and pulling something out. A tall, thin, and unnaturally lanky entity pulled itself free as the darkness rolled down its form and dripped back into the shadow-like water. An immaculate black and white suit covered its 270cm (8.8 Ft) tall frame, its pale, ashen skin pulled tight against its bones by a thin, almost invisible wire.

Its lips were stretched in a wide, unsettling, and permanent grin by much the same method, the expression sewn into place alongside its eyes; pulled shut over seemingly empty eye-sockets and kept there via a whip stitch. Its arms raised slowly at its sides to let Shirou see its hands as he panted and dripped both sweat and blood, its limbs hovering over Kama almost protectively. Its hands were wide with its skin once again pulled taught to its skeletal structure, the center of its palms cut out with large spools of wire fitted into the slot and five threads splitting off, each one going into the bones of the palm leading to each of its five respective fingers.

The base of each of its fingers had that same 'skin pulled taught over bone' as the rest of its body until it got to the middle knuckles of the fingers. Where the extremities turned from flesh and bone to pure metal with a small, thin slot just above the top knuckle, where its fingers then stretched into long, unbelievably sharp points with the wire from the palm spools disappearing into the hidden depths of its pointed extremities from the hole just above its top knuckle.

"Shirou Muramasa, I introduce to you the only crystallized native of Sakura Matou's Reality Marble, the King of Nightmares: Control." Kama introduced, her expression cool and confident, her arms held out to her sides.

Unfortunately for her, since she had no way of knowing, summoning a part of Sakura's Reality Marble –and strengthening the resulting creation– at this moment in time was the worst thing that she could have ever done.

While Kama had authority over the body while Sakura's soul healed, and thus the authority to empower and bring forth her Reality Marble in whatever manner she wished, there was one thing that she did not have authority over. And that one thing was, quite simply, control over the Reality Marble.

Pinpricks of blood fell to the earth as needles pierced in and out of Kama, wires going through her and wrapping around her limbs in the time that it took her to even realize that Control had acted. Her mouth opened to scream, only for a wire to wrap around her neck and restrict.

Shirou froze, not knowing whether to act or not. His thoughts ran a mile a minute as he tried to figure out if this creation of Kama's own hand was an ally to him or still an enemy.

Slowly, Control tapped its fingers up Kama's torso, starting from her sternum and working up until its pointer needle landed on Kama's chin, drawing a pinprick of blood where it easily broke through her skin. Her head was forced to tilt up and stare at the smiling figure looming over her as her flames ignited and spluttered out over and over, wires tightening and loosening in tandem over her body each time they did.

The taught skin of Control's neck and chest shifted and rolled, words leaving its mouth even as it did not speak. Its voice deep and crackling.

"You…Are…Not….Queen. You…Are…A…Threat."

The skin of Control's eyelids began to pull open, the whip stitches snapping and unraveling one by one to reveal pits of deep, unending, void where eyes should have been. Kama's mana flared around her in a display of instinctual, primal, terror.

"You…Lack…C-O-N-T-R-O-L."

Time [00:29:58] February 27th, 2004

XXXxxxXXX

Next Chapter Preview: The Battle of Kings heats up

"Primordial Runes are still effective, but barely. I'd say its Magic Resistance sits somewhere around B rank."

"Your regeneration is fast, but can it be beaten? Let's check."

XXXxxxXXX

"Something is wrong with my Master."

XXXxxxXXX

"Pashupata."

XXXxxxXXX

"We were never a Queen; we were a puppet! A stand-in for little-miss sword-in-the-stone!"

"It's not Artoria's fault. It never was. Just because she was more worthy to be ruler, doesn't mean that we were less so."

"Sikera Ušum."

XXXxxxXXX

"Please, Ozymandias, cease your blathering…. because right now my Master truly wants something dead…. And I don't know if even I can hold back all this bloodlust."

XXXxxxXXX

Hi~

I apologize for nothing. Fight me.

Regardless, how was everyone's March? Mine has been….eh? Some good things happened, some bad things happened, I've been denied by a bunch of jobs and have started making a stockpile of chapters for YSJ.

My muse has been so fucking attached to YSJ lately its actually criminal.

A little bit of backstory for this chapter, it originally was somewhere in the 15-16K range, which would have made it my second longest chapter ever, but the pacing just felt off somehow and I really couldn't figure out how to balance so many scenes and fights simultaneously. So, in the end, I ended up chopping off all the Servant scenes to make them part of the next chapter (It's all servants in April baby) and ended up cutting out another scene altogether. This is something that I've never really done before, because usually I have a solid goal of where to start a chapter, where to end a chapter, and fill in the rest as I write.

The fact that, that's worked out so well for me so far should be a warning about the addictive nature of gambling but hey, to each their own.

However, the lack of Servants this chapter is what facilitated the preview for next chapter. I wanted to show you guys that its not going to be skipped over and given the respect its earned and deserves but I also didn't want to put all the effort in to write an entirely separate chapter that would be God-knows-how-long.

Also, rest in peace Akira Toriyama. I won't lie and say that I grew up on Dragonball or that you were an inspiration in my life. But you were a truly amazing author and person and you inspired so, so many people that went on to inspire me, so I can never thank you enough for that.

I couldn't walk past that, its like one of the biggest things that's happened in the anime/manga community all month, if not the biggest.

And now, shilling time!

Discord code: ctMzhq3 OR plasmaassassin
Original Story: "Young Swordmaster's Journey" on Royal Road.

And finally,

REVIEW REPLIES:

Hashirama 1710: Not like its your fault, but thank you.

Zensored: That makes me very happy to hear, thank you!

Bosterflaming: He conscripts Zelretch to throw him into new timelines specifically to fuck with that Earth's Ishtar.

Hnh058513: My discord had a goddamn field day with this knowledge, thanks.

Batmanuchiha: I think it's just the angle that I'm thinking about it, because I've gotten a little push back on this from multiple people actually. And my argument is "What truth does Gray learn by entering this battle?", because at the end of the day it's a battle for humanities survival but it doesn't lead her to learn anything new, or understand something in a new way.

Voidicus: Honestly that was one of the preliminary ideas for this fight XD

Mandvisahuxx111: Hi there, a couple things to note. One, because Ozymandias has the Ramesseum Tentyris to counter it. Two, Because its been collecting for quite a while. Three, while you make some points with the other servants and strategies they could have used, saying that Heracles wouldn't listen to someone else just because he's older is outright ignoring his own legend.

ThisIsStorm101: This comment started a small essay war in my discord, congrats.

Nagato Angelo: Thank you so much! I'm glad my eldritch monstrosity of a brain continues to impress. Also, about that last statement: [86 PSYCHIC DAMAGE HAS BEEN TAKEN]

GreekAntrielos: Look, the only thing that stops me from making that canon is because I know the bitch-fit that my lore guy would throw at describing the Throne of Heroes like that.

Tkorn1001: Thanks!

YuukiAsuna-Chan: I get where you're coming from, and I agree to an extent, but at the same time I've also seen some amazing points from the discord essay war mentioned in a comment above that show why character death isn't strictly necessary.

Baumbarth: Illya has the Dead Apostle curse from Enhance in her heart, it was sealed there by Caren after that fight. And thank you very much!

Ariadne Venegas: I'm just taking it at my own pace, trying to ignore my parents ideas on what I 'should' be doing right now. But thank you very much, reading all that helps to keep me calm when I'm a bit stressed.

TalonScythe: I regret nothing and I can take it to higher heights. Which is one of the reasons why my beta-team is fucking hyped/terrified for the Chaldea Sequel.

theQmaster: How are you handling this one then? X3

AnimeFan13579: You're one of the only commentors I saw that actually hypothesized that Ishtar would be corrupted by Rin's feelings, great job. And yeah, all the Gods/Goddesses were purely because of their FGO counterparts XD

Conner Kumiai: First of all, thank you so much for your review. Secondly, I might do that idea for the Year Three anniversary, with the sword stat sheets. Thanks for the suggestion.

Ineedmoresaintquartz: You figured me out. I'm Beast MLVIII: the beast of cliffhangers.

Shattered sheild: This Shirou has far, farrrr more Od/Prana than Canon Shirou does, by quite a few times. As for the Servant's actions, you're correct in that they could definitely do that, and it'd probably be the smarter option. But the strategy that they went with wasn't bad, per se. It focuses on speed, engaging as many enemies in as little time as possible to stop them from building up something or reinforcing other avenues. And as for the Garden of Babylon, it's in an active bombardment/artillery war with the Ramesseum Tentyris at the moment. Keeping not only its Sphinxes busy but also splitting Ozymandias' attention between his physical body and the Dendera Bulbs and stopping the ridiculous energy output of the pyramid from being aimed squarely on the Servants.

Adro-Sama: *Insert Lloyd Frontera face*

Pvsn: This made me laugh quite hard when I first read it. Good job.

Zukafew119: Hello hello! First of all, I really hope you enjoy YSJ. It's my brand new baby and it has so little readers right now ;-;. As for Illya being stuck in a teenagers body, so was Artoria, and I see no one complaining about that. Also the little information we have on Altrouge proves that, that isn't as much of an issue as you might think. And holy shit you went on an absolute reading binge this month huh? And finally, I am a Helldiver, I was at Malevelon Creek fighting the good fight, and yes, I'm aware of the power of a brotriotic hug to save lives.

Primordial Inscriptor Z-09: Astraea is still on Shirou's side, he just widened his final barrage to catch all of them instead of letting Kama and Astraea duke it out while he went after Ishtar.

AAAND REVIEW REPLIES OVER!

I hope you enjoyed, I hope you like next month's chapter, and remember that Gilgamesh is watching you, and he's having many hundreds of clay tablets inscribed with your filthy sins. He commands me to tell you to clean your room by the way, there will be no filth in his kingdom.