Disclaimer: The works of Type-Moon and Jō Taketsuki are their own despite my most fervent wishes. This is a fan work and if anyone does pay me for it the only thing it will accomplish is to get me into trouble. This is being done purely for fun, constructive criticism is welcome, and flames will be ignored. Please be gentle though, this is the first fanfic I've put on the net.

Hello, my readers, long time no see.

Those of you who check my profile might have already read the notice I put there last Christmas, but for those among you who haven't seen it and have been wondering what happened to me, let me fill you in.

I've been trying to write a novel for quite a few years now, in fact, I started before I first began to write fanfiction. My initial attempts were decent enough, but nothing I would call inspired. After a couple of years of writing this and my other fics I decided to try again, and found that I was doing a much better job. That first attempt, a high fantasy based around the idea of how dragons were first created, was to be the first book in the Golden Prophecies series, so I kept plugging away at it until I had more than 200,000 words written.

Then I stopped to take a look at it and realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

The problem was that as I wrote it, I'd taken time to build up the history, geography, and culture of this world I had invented, and all the races within it. I freely admit that I'd been influenced by such series as Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, and classic Dungeons and Dragons lore, but I'd done my best not to just ape them. Unfortunately, I had ended up with a rather complex mess, and inadvertently stumbled into more than a few fantasy clichés.

Quite simply, I was trying to write the whole Lord of the Rings saga before I'd even tried to write The Hobbit.

Then, back in late 2017, I decided to take a crack at something different. The result was the novel I've been working on since then, the novel that have finished!

The working title is Awakened Blood, book 1 of the Blood Divine series. The concept is that for a week the sun turns black, then, when the sunlight returns, the world has changed. All the gods, angels, demons, monsters and other legends from around the world have all regained access to the mortal plane. Some come back to try to conquer old lands, others just want to enjoy the modern world, while others have even grander plans.

Along with the gods has also come divine power, waking up old bloodlines and giving rise to thousands of demigods, Nephilim, and other half-breeds of legends the world over. And the main character, Adam, finds out that he is one of these demigods, one with a lot of eyes on him.

Since it was set in the modern world, I didn't have to work so much on set up, and I had fun building a new world upon that foundation. I had Apollo becoming a Hollywood superstar, angels flying across the world to thwart demon incursions, ocean deities getting pissed at the Great Pacific Rubbish Patch, it was fun, and I was inspired. I kept up my writing of my fanfiction as well, but I was making decent progress.

Then, towards the end of 2018, the business I worked at changed hands and I lost my job in the process. I wasn't too badly off, I had decent savings and since I lived with my family, I wasn't in danger of losing a place to live, so while I looked for a job I decided to focus on getting my novel finished, and so it became my main focus of attention. I got a new job at the start of the year, which cut into my writing time, but I kept at it. I finally got the first draft finished in march, but by then the whole thing was more then 400,000 words long.

In the process of editing it I decided to split it in two, leaving me with two books, one something like 90% finished and the other one about 80% done, and I've spent most of the year using my spare time to refine and rewrite them. The first book is completely done, and in the new year I'm going to start hunting for a publisher that will take it. I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to call myself a real author and have a book that any of you who want to can purchase. Wish me luck! When I do get it to buy I'll put a notice on my profile, so if you're interested keep an eye out there.

Now, in celebration of the completion of my first book, I've decided to put out this chapter that I've been sitting on for ages. I hope you enjoy it.

Now back to my fic. By the way, the bit below was written ages ago, but I still think it's valid.

On a completely unrelated note to my own story I'd like to take a moment to talk about fanfiction in general.

I started reading fanfiction something like twenty years ago, shortly after a trip to Mexico reintroduced me to the wonders of anime. Looking back it's kind of weird to think about how ignorant I was about some things, like Sailor Moon, it took me way too long to work out that the Japanese and dub versions were using different names, that had me confused for ages. Or Chibiusa, when I first started reading her name I thought of her as 'Chibi U.S.A.' since that was the thing that first sprang to mind when I saw her name. Ahh, the naivety of youth, huh?

Anyway, what prompted this little reminiscence was that recently I dug up some printouts I made of some of the earlier stories I read, back before there was a and there were dozens of little sites where authors were putting up their own work. Anyway, after a couple of sites housing stories I liked ended up closing down for various reasons, taking their stories with them, I started to print out some of the ones I liked. Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm going through some old boxes and come across my printouts and decide to read them again.

Reading them really brought home to me how much the quality of fanfiction has grown since then. Don't get me wrong, they were fun to read, but in comparison to stuff like From Fake Dreams and In Flight they were very unsophisticated. It struck me as very interesting, and as a matter of interest I went back and decided to have a read over my own old work.

Something you readers might know is that I have been writing fanfiction for almost as long as I have been reading it, only in those early days I didn't have access to a laptop, or even a computer of my own, so all my writing was done on paper at my desk. Looking back on that has really brought home to me how much writing my own stuff and getting feedback on this site has helped me improve. I've always considered dialogue to be my main weakness, but compared to what those early attempts were like it's really quite remarkable to see the difference.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really love fanfiction, and seeing how the passage of years seems to have improved the general quality of it, at least among the authors that I enjoy, has been pretty inspirational to me. I'll do my best to continue to work on my stories here, even as I try to finally knock out something that can be published as well. Thanks for bearing with me on this little rant, now, back to the matter of this particular fanfiction!


Look at that! An entire chapter without any direct contact with Shirou!

Honestly, that wasn't my plan when I set out to write this, but that's how it turned out. The main focus of this chapter was always going to be the final confrontation between Godou and Ahriman, but it was originally my plan to have it end with a bit more of the fight between Shirou and Odysseus. But as I kept writing that didn't seem right, it felt like it cheapened the rest of the chapter, so I had some mini-epilogues in the form of the points of view of Athena and Circe. In the end I was fairly happy with them, and I think they will lead into the next chapter nicely.

As an attentive reader might have noticed I've made a slight alteration to the White Stallion Authority. Normally I don't like to fiddle with canon Authorities, but after rereading the Campione Light Novels, and watching the anime again it only seemed to make sense to me. Godou has used this Authority a number of times against enemies that are pretty close to him, so it only makes sense that he has some sort of instinctual awareness of just how large the firestorm is going to be. I mean, at the end of his fight with Athena he's standing right at the edge of the crater that the Stallion blasted, and it doesn't look like he just ran there, meaning that he just stood there. As such I made a few amendments to the powers of the White Stallion to make things a bit more believable.

Well, this chapter sees the death of Ahriman. I hope that the battles leading up to his end, as well as the method of that end have proven entertaining and surprising. In many ways he has been my most challenging original villain to write. I always planned for him to be the first opponent that Shirou couldn't defeat, but making him one that would need Godou to step in was something that came later. Basically, I hope I did a better job with him than I did with Apollo.

Also, if you have any ideas as to what kind of Authority Godou might have gained from him then feel free to PM them to me. I have a general idea already, but in the past I've had readers send me some awesome ideas that I was happy to work into the final product, so if you think you have a good idea I'd be happy to hear them. Just remember Godou's theme as a Campione, Hero.

Well, here we go. Merry Christmas to all my readers. I know that this past year has been something of a kick in the teeth, but all we can do is roll with the punches and keep going as best we can. All my best wishes to you all, and my thanks to my Beta once again. I hope you enjoy this belated chapter.

Chapter Forty-One: All the Curses in the World

Athena stared out at the city before her and could not help but let a frown crease her features.

This . . . this was not what she had expected when she had been planning her return to the city of her intended foe.

She had thought that she would return to the city and then issue a challenge to her chosen prey. She had even had a plan, to find one of the mortal girls that flocked about him and issue the challenge through her. Of course, she would have scared the mortal, assert her own authority upon her and impress the gravity of the situation into her mind. It was the best way to ensure that Kusanagi Godou would take her words seriously after all. Any thoughts that it might also be satisfying to frighten one of the irritatingly beautiful mortal girls that were always following the God Slayer were ruthlessly suppressed as unbecoming of a mighty goddess. Naturally she could not be so irritated by mere mortals, so naturally she could not be having such thoughts, it was perfectly logical.

Anyway, that had been her plan, but she had not been expecting to find the city that her chosen foe resided in to be on fire when she arrived. Well, on fire, and infested with monstrous abominations.

Very well, perhaps she was exaggerating it somewhat in her mind. The city was spotted with flames and ruin, at least two of the mighty edifices that the mortals had built were consumed in flames, but the fires were not spreading. The beasts, creatures born of magic and curses if she was to guess, were numerous, but more of them were falling with every minute that passed. She could sense the power of other deities amidst the fighting, deities that she recognized. Tiamat, whose strength had returned considerably, Guinevere, weaker than a true goddess but still stronger than any mortal could hope to be, even . . . was that Lancelot?

Well, that was a surprise. The last that Athena knew the protector of the Handmaiden had still been caught within the spell that bound them as an eternal guardian. Seeing them fully manifested like this, it made her wonder if the divine knight had chosen to become a Heretic God. Tilting her head slightly to the side the goddess of darkness focused her senses more upon the distant form of the mounted knight, and what she saw caused her eyes to widen in surprise once more. Lancelot had shed her armour and was openly displaying her female nature, something she had not done for the better part of two millennia.

As Athena, the daughter of Zeus, she had been familiar with the divine amazon queen, the adopted daughter of savage Ares, the ruler of the savage warrior women that became famed throughout the world. However, after the Olympian pantheon splintered she'd not had cause to continue that association. It seemed that the queen had taken well to the role of a knight though, even from so far away Athena had no trouble in discerning the wild exultation upon the face of the warrior goddess as she and her mount charged one of the abominations.

This . . . this was absurd! How was she to properly challenge her prey with so many distractions vying for his attention?

The goddess's eyes narrowed slightly as she turned her focus outwards once more, her mind reaching out, but not focusing on any of the targets immediately visible, instead she looked for one that she couldn't immediately see.

With all this chaos running rampant, it was almost a certainty that her prey would be there in the thick of it. After all, he was a Devil King, a mortal that had defied the fate of mortals and ascended above them. With all these monsters, and no doubt their master, running about how could he be anywhere other than in the midst of the battle?

So . . . where was he?

Athena once again quietly cursed the old wounds that still lingered upon her. Yes, she had been able to regain her full strength thanks to the many stolen fragments of divinity that she had consumed over the course of her travels. Unfortunately, while that had gained her new powers it had not worked to completely restore the ones she had lost. Once, long ago, she would have been able to easily sense the presence of a Child of Pandora amidst the chaos, but it seemed that now her senses were duller than they had once been.

Such thoughts were banished as, in the distance, she felt a sudden surge of divine power, a mighty surge that rippled through the air like the shockwave of some enormous hammer striking the earth. She recognized that divine might, how could she not, had she not last encountered it when it had been used to cut apart the essence of her own immortality? It was easy to find as well, despite her dulled senses. Dulled they might be, but gone they were not, and in the face of the brilliant display that was being released they were enough to let her know where to find the King she sought.

A small smile crept upon her otherwise blank features as her head turned to stare off into the distance. Yes, she could see where her dear prey was battling with such vigour. It would seem that he was pushing himself though, even in his battle with her he had not driven his Authority to such lengths. His foe must be a formidable one, especially to be facing him after inflicting such chaos upon the rest of this mortal city. Her interest piqued the ancient goddess decided to try something a bit different. Her senses might be dulled, but for the first time in mortal decades she had power to spare, drawing upon her connection to the Void Athena drew upon the endless well of knowledge there, trying to supplement her weakened senses with information drawn from the Netherworld. It was an odd use of her power, one that she had never tried before, but if there was one thing that her past weakness could be thanked for it was that she had learnt to be more innovative in regard to her powers.

Yes, it wasn't perfect, but it was enough to allow her to extend her reach. It was still indistinct, but she could sense . . .

She was Athena, the one-time Queen of the Old Darkness, she did not recoil from what she sensed, but it was enough to cause a slight flinch to shake her small frame. Vile, that was the word that first came to mind, quickly followed by poisonous, rotting, and malignant!

In truth, it was quite remarkable that anything could draw such a reaction from her. Among her many domains was death, and death and the corruption it brought upon the flesh was rarely a pretty thing. In days long past she'd possessed altars upon which the dead forms of sacrificed animal and people had been left to rot over the course of months. The ghastly displays of worship had never bothered her, not even when rats, maggots and other vermin had set in to feast upon the corpses, even as they putrefied and decomposed. She'd seen plagues being born from the remains left upon her altar, and it had never been enough to concern her.

But this, this power that she just barely sensed, it was beyond anything she could have imagined before, and hers was the imagination of a deity.

Dark and vile, it was so mired in corruption and maliciousness that her mind was unable to fully grasp it. It was not simply a matter of it being deathly and corrupt, for both were naturally occurring parts of nature. When an insect died there was no evil in its passing, and when its body rotted into soil there was no evil in that either. The same was true of a bird, a mouse, a hound, or a man, there might be evil in the events leading to the death, but what followed was as much a part of nature as a wave on the ocean or a cloud in the sky.

But this . . . this wasn't the natural part of death and desolation, this was the butchery of the mad, the desecration of the cruel, this was pure evil, complete with all its vicious malevolence, all of it aching to harm and destroy.

The pale haired goddess's eyes narrowed as she continued to taste the divine power against which her prey was battling, her lips curling in distaste as the vile flavour of the divinity turned her stomach. Whatever god it might be that he was fighting they were not to be taken lightly, of that she was certain. Their nature also explained the current state of the city about her, since it was all too likely that such a malevolent deity would have delighted in unleashing such chaos upon the mortals, especially if it might distract and unsettle a King that sought to protect his subjects.

That thought was enough to give Athena pause as she stared off into the distance where she knew Kusanagi Godou was locked in mortal combat. Her prey had a soft heart, one always ready to aid those that might be under threat from a Heretic God. If one knew his character well enough then it was entirely possible for them to use those traits against him. The goddess knew that she had her own plans on how to force him into a fight if he proved reluctant to face her, and threatening the mortals of his city was an easy way to ensure their fated battle would take place.

It was not a clean tactic, but truthfully Athena had no real concern for the mortals that might be crushed by her plan. To her they were akin to ants that were unlucky enough to be in her path when she walked, their death beneath her was simply their fate and had little to do with her. As soon as they had served their purpose they would have faded from her awareness, as inconsequential as the fact that the sky was the same blue as always. This foe that she sensed though . . . the difference between them was that she would have used the threat of harming the mortals then ignore them, whereas this other deity would delight in their torture, even if it brought them nothing.

If that was the kind of tactic that the god facing her chosen prey was willing to employ then there was a not insignificant chance that they might succeed in defeating the Japanese King.

And that was an unacceptable outcome!

Kusanagi Godou was her prey, hers and no-one else's! Athena was not a generous goddess, and she would not share the pleasure of battling against the Child of Pandora that had already claimed victory against her once before!

On the other hand, she was not so contemptuous of the King she sought to battle that she would simply barge into his fight. She was no barbarian after all.

Nodding to herself she resolved to only observe for the time being. Should things begin to drift in a direction that she was unhappy with then she could act, but until then she would remain a spectator to the show that was unfolding.

With a gentle hop Athena leapt from the building she had been standing upon and began to make her way towards the far-off battle. Even though her movement had been a small one it had easily carried her the considerable distance to the next building. Alighting upon it she continued, each of her jumps bringing her closer and closer to her goal. She hoped that once she arrived her chosen prey would be able to put on a sufficiently engaging display of martial prowess, she did not want to become bored after all.


Godou gripped his sword in his hands as he slowly backed away from the child-like form of the god before him.

His current situation was far from the worst that he'd ever had to work through, but it was probably the most unnerving that he'd ever had to face. On the one hand he was going into this with a surprising level of remaining resources. During his fight with the curse monster earlier and during his fight to free Illya-chan the only Authority he'd used up had been the Warrior Authority. Aside from that one divine power all his others were still available to him, which left him with access to the clear majority of his arsenal.

On the downside he'd sunk enormous amounts of magical energy into keeping the Golden Swords going long enough to force the dark deity out of the young girl. Between that and his earlier fight he had to guess that he was down to something like half of his full strength. Under normal circumstances that would have been bad enough, but given the enemy he was up against it was probably even worse.

Ahriman was unquestionably the most intimidating Heretic God that Godou had ever faced, and that was not a claim he made lightly. Verethragna and the Monkey King had not been unimpressive, could not have been to anyone more aware than a comatose herring. They had each radiated a sense of absolute confidence, of a security in their strength and ability that had skirted the very edge of arrogance without passing over into it. However, their intimidation had been born of that strength, the very feeling that they were so powerful that it made mortals about them cower. Godou had been able to resist it by sheer dint of his own power being on par with theirs, though he remembered how overwhelming Verethragna had been before he became a Campione.

By contrast Ahriman didn't radiate strength and power like they had. Oh, to be sure one could feel the miasma and malicious energies boiling off his child-like form, but it lacked the same towering hugeness that the stronger gods Godou had faced possessed. No, the reason that the evil god was so intimidating was not related to power, it was something else entirely.

Every god that the Kusanagi heir had faced had only wanted to kill him. Even the deities that had bore him personal malice, like Jord or Apollo, they had only wanted to bring him down and reave away his life. Even at his most infuriated Apollo had only sought to inflict madness upon his enemy, a terrible thing, but limited in scope. Ahriman was different though, he didn't want to kill, instead he wanted so much more. He wanted to hurt, to torture, to despoil, to rape, to mutilate, to corrupt, to poison, to erode, to distort, to leave nothing but ruin and desolation in his wake, the only sound the sobbing and screams of his broken foes. The desire to inflict pain practically dripped from him, smothering out everything else.

A year ago, Godou would have said something like killing intent belonged in either movies or manga, then he'd faced gods and learnt that it was indeed something that existed. This, though, this wasn't a desire to kill, this was hatred, hatred on a scale that he'd never experienced directed at him, hatred on a level that he didn't think was even possible.

On the other hand, Ahriman wasn't a being that could be called sane, and just how much could a god that had sunk into madness hate?

"The curses that suffuse the World! The wishes of hatred that spawn from the hearts of mortal malice! I am their King, their Ruler, their God, to me is all obedience due and all submission owed! Bow before the curse from which all others are derived, kneel before the wellspring of malignance!"

The actual size of the child before him didn't change as he chanted the spell words in his distorted voice, but even though he didn't change it seemed as though he did. From where he stood the boy form of the god of evil seemed to loom, like a cresting wave about to come crashing down and sweep all away. The feeling built, more and more until it felt as though it wasn't a human sized figure before him, but rather as though some something of equal size to a skyscraper was standing over him. For a moment Godou considered throwing caution to the winds and using the Horse Authority immediately. Against something like this it was his best bet, but he wasn't sure if Ahriman wouldn't have a counter ready, that was the problem!

Then, as though a switch had been thrown, the massive presence was suddenly gone, replaced by just the form of Ahriman's child-like body once more. For a moment the King of Disaster could just blink in incomprehension unable to adjust to such a sudden and massive shift in the presence of his enemy, then he saw the black miasma bubbling around the feet of Heretic God, and he knew that something was coming.

At first is was like a small puddle about his feet, but the pool of inky black tar spread quickly, growing in size until Ahriman stood in the centre of a mire of black corruption large enough to swallow a small house. His childish body stood upon it as though the surface was as solid as stone, but Godou could see at the edges how small stones and loose dirt would slip over the edge and sink into the blackness as though it were quicksand.

"You broke my blades, boy, and you also cut the divinity that allowed me to keep my hold on that girl. I think it is time for your punishment to begin, so allow me to show you my fist!"

Oh boy, this was not good!

Even as the thought ran through his mind Godou could see what was happening. Something massive and multi-limbed had emerged from the black pool. Then it just kept on rising, like some monstrous tree reaching up into the dark sky. Only when it bent and came down did he realize that it was an arm. Then another one burst up out of the other side, the massive hand coming down hard enough to splinter concrete beneath it. Both massive limbs heaved, and a black form emerged from the bark miasma behind Ahriman.

The seventh Campione had seen huge monsters before, some of them truly massive in proportions. The Boar of Verethragna had been vast on a scale that living beings weren't meant to be able to reach. The giant that served Illya-chan had been massive in both size and presence, but not as big as the titanic apes that Sun Wukong had sent to capture him and his friends during the Monkey King incident. Then there had been the giant armoured form of Shirou's, a colossus of metal that had moved at blinding speed and radiated power like a fire would heat. Godou had seen giants before, and in terms of sheer size the thing before him was only of moderate size.

It towered over Ahriman's small form by at least fifty feet, and it seemed to be only the torso of the creature, everything from the waist down still being submerged in the black pool, so how large it was in truth was uncertain. Yet regardless of how large it was it was not the size that caused the hairs upon the back of the Devil King's neck to rise, but rather its form. It was humanoid, but only in the loosest terms possible. The torso was too thick, the muscles upon it both bulging and bloated. The arms emerged from the shoulders in unnatural ways, the arms too thick, and covered in pulsating tumour-like growths that gave them an uneven and swollen appearance. The hands were nightmarish, each of them more like trees than actual appendages, dozens of fingers of various sized bursting from the hands, sometimes even smaller fingers growing from the larger ones. Each digit ended in sharp talons though, so even the thinnest and weakest of the fingers looked like it could slice thought he flesh of a foe with ease.

The torso had no head upon its shoulders, instead a mouth like a broken crack ran across its chest where its heart should have been, the mouth gaping open to show rows of uneven but wickedly sharp teeth within. Beneath its skin muscles moved in a manner that shouldn't have been possible with natural biology, their cords squirming beneath the flesh like snakes that had been sewn in. upon its shoulders great sack-like tumours grew, covered in scabs that looked almost like armour.

The whole thing was black as the mire it had emerged from, though in some places it was slick like oil, while in other places it was more flesh-like. All that broke the blackness was the occasional red, red from weeping wounds that trickled crimson blood that almost seemed to glow.

Oh great, more nightmare fuel!

If all truth was to be told Godou had had just about enough of this night, but it was as though the world just kept on throwing one monstrous situation after another at him. Tonight had been the worst time that he'd had to endure since becoming a Campione! All the death, all the suffering, was this why organizations like the History Compilation Committee were so willing to submit to God Slayer, just for protection from this? Dealing with gods that left chaos in their wake unwittingly was one thing. Gods like Sun Wukong or Verethragna weren't malicious, they simply didn't take mortals into account when they acted. Even more aggressive Heretic Gods like Jord or Venus had focused their ire upon a target. This . . . this was unleashing the power of a god on the city with wanton abandon, and it galled him.

Of course, all the ire in the world wasn't all that concerning when a fist the size of a car was coming down at him!

When Ahriman had said he was going to show the young Kusanagi his fist Godou hadn't expected for him to be quite so literal, but there was no denying the effectiveness of the Authority that the dark god was invoking. It might not be the same as the mass of blades he'd summoned earlier, but there was no denying it reeked of power.

He'd been expecting the evil god to shout something, to launch into some sort of tirade about how he was going to kill Godou, then torture him even more after death, or something like that. However, it seemed that he was ditching such histrionics in favour of simply attacking his enemy. Internally Godou prepared himself, reaching out to the power of the Stallion. A foe this huge and corrupt was almost an ideal target, all he needed was a few moments and . . .

He didn't get the time he needed. Instead the monstrous giant attacked, but the attack didn't come in the form he'd been expecting. Godou had thought that it was going to lash out with those enormous and misshapen fists. He'd seen the way that they had torn the ground and the pavement just when it was lifting itself out of the black pool, and its size and mass were not for mere show. Even Ahriman's earlier comment, about showing the Devil King his 'fist', had seemed to suggest that he would be facing purely physical force.

Instead the grotesque giant brought its hand down and sank it into the ground beside the pool. To Godou's surprise the appendage thrust into the soil it had swung at as though it were water rather than dirt, no splashing, no explosion of dust, it just slipped in as though the solid ground was an illusion.

No, not illusion. The seventh Campione felt his eyes narrow as he focused on the area where the arm had disappeared. The ground there was black, blacker than it should be, even in the shadow of the giant's own black form. In fact, it looked . . . as black as the pool it had emerged from!

The realization clicked into place even as dozens of smaller black pools formed on the ground around him.

Once again, it wasn't skill or forethought that saved his life, it was pure primal instinct. He didn't think, he didn't ponder, he just reacted, throwing himself in the only direction that felt right. In the next instant dozens of those long black fingers stabbed out the small pools, the black talons upon them aiming to slash and pierce their target. Some of them were as thick as Godou's own legs, others were only as thick as a broom handle and seemed to be almost skeletal. Their appearance didn't matter though, each of them was intent upon spearing him through if they could, and they very nearly did.

The attack had been a good one, unexpected and swift. He'd been so caught up in the overwhelming physical presence of the monster his enemy had summoned that Godou had been unprepared for it to forego pure force and instead use an area precision attack. The dozens of emerging limbs had all been well directed, and the left almost no room to avoid them, if he went one way then he'd dodge into the path of three more, if he went another then the same would happen. Almost every direction he could have gone had been cut off, except for the one he took.

It wasn't perfect, his left side screamed in pain from where one of the black claws had scored a glancing strike off one of his ribs, and he had to swing his sword in a frantic slash to clear another of the fingers out of his way, but it was enough! And it was the only choice that could have saved his life, his instincts leading him well once more.

Godou didn't have time to recover though, like snakes orienting upon prey the fingers turned about in their pools of darkness, moving in ways that should have left the bones in them broken. This time they weren't quite as fast though, their turn taking time, and their movements less precise than they had been. It wasn't much, but it was enough to give the Campione the chance to get back on his feet. As such he was able to once again throw himself to the side as the mass of taloned fingers stabbed out at him once more.

This time though, he threw himself backwards, evading the thrust by putting himself out of its reach. They made the attempt though, stabbing into the ground less than an inch from his foot as they stretched in an effort to draw his blood. For an instant Godou thought that he'd be able to take a moment to regain his bearings, then dozens more portals appeared around him.

Oh right, the giant had two hands . . .

The thought rang through his head like some barely heard background music, mainly because the vast majority of him was more concerned about the fact that he was soon going to perforated from multiple angles.

"Fear of the winged, both the evil and the powerful, all shall fear I who hold these feathered wings. My wings will bring you curse and just deserts!"

The words were coming out of his mouth even as the power of the Raptor Authority infused him. The world around him entered the strange twilight setting that it always seemed to take on when he used the Authority of Godspeed. It wasn't as though the world slowed down, rather it was as though his own vision sped up to match it, the problem being that his mind had trouble keeping up.

Still, all those months of training had let him get good enough to track a wooden sword wielded by a master. Kenshirou sensei had taken advantage of the fact that though Godou could get beaten and bruised in sparring his enhanced bones were pretty much unbreakable, meaning that in those spars he didn't have to hold back. The teacher sent by Luo Hao might not have been on par with even the weakest of the monsters that the King of Disaster had faced, but when it came to the sword the man was first rate. Even Erica had said that in pure swordsmanship he surpassed either her or Liliana, it being only his lack of talent with magic that held him back from being their equal.

Kenshirou hadn't seen the need to hold back on his student, not when he was uniquely suited to enduring repeated blows that would have left a normal person crippled or dead with relative ease. It had led to a lot of headaches and bruises for Godou, but he had grown pretty good at tracking fast things coming at him.

And, apparently, it also helped him handle the speeds that the Bird of Prey Authority granted him.

Everything moved fast, but it wasn't as overwhelming to him as it had once been. He could see things moving to get in his way and was able to react to avoid them. More than that though, for the first time ever when using this Authority, he felt as though he wasn't about to spin out of control the moment he made the slightest misstep. Moving past the blurs that were the limbs trying to impale him Godou came to a halt a short distance away, spinning in place to face the pool of blackness that Ahriman was still standing on.

That . . . that had been pretty good, better than some of his other attempts. Of all his Authorities the Raptor was the hardest to handle, not simply because of the skill needed, but also because of the strain that it placed upon his body every time he tried to use it. In the past he'd been unable to properly gauge how much of a toll the use of the speed Authority was placing upon him, normally just continued on until he was hit by the chest pains and momentary paralysis that marked him having gone over his limits.

This time he didn't feel he was putting such a strain on himself though, mostly because he was able to eliminate unnecessary movements. It wasn't perfect, but it was a vast improvement on his previous uses. Now, the question was whether or not he could use it in a fight.

Kenshirou sensei had spent hours drumming it into Godou's head that the type of swordsmanship that he was teaching the Campione was not the sort that normal humans were taught. Against a normal mortal, at least one not wearing plate armour, the sharpness of the sword made strength a secondary concern to speed. Humans were not very cut resistant, and a sharp enough blade required very little force to sever flesh and muscles, normally the simple speed of the blade was more than enough to provide the force needed. As such speed and precision were the key aspects of a sword user, however the rules were far different for someone like a Campione.

Gods could have all sorts of defences that mortals could only dream of. Skin as hard as iron, flesh that healed any wound, immortality that ensured even the most grievous of harms couldn't let death in. The gods had a myriad of ways to preserve their lives, and almost none of them were vulnerable to a mortal wielding a sword.

There were exceptions of course, Salvatore Doni was one such after all. The sixth Campione had been a magical cripple, unable to use any sort of meaningful spell or enchantment. He had also been, to put not too fine a point on it, not very bright, not given to much deep thinking and neglectful of his studies. What he had been was a natural genius with a sword, and his skills had been so absurd that when he faced the Heretic God Nuadha it had been the mortal that emerged triumphant, rather than the god. But he was an anomaly, one of the inexplicable existences that defied the rules of the world, by no means an example of the average of the world, nor of the normal way the art of the blade was used.

Kenshirou had not taught his student in any sort of 'normal' way though, had he done so then he would have been failing his mistress in the task she had set him. Instead he had trained the seventh Campione in the style his predecessors had devised, and which he himself had improved. It was a style meant to fight magic beasts, to allow the great to battle the minor divine beasts that were just within the abilities of mortals to best. It was a style that heavily emphasized force in its attack, one that used magic to supplement its strength and overwhelm its foes.

It was a style that Godou freely admitted he was terrible at.

The thing was that while the Kusanagi heir had an absurd amount of raw power at his disposal, when it came time to manipulate it he was about as delicate as a berserk rhino in a sugar glass factory. His every attempt to use his magical energy in any way other than through his Authorities had met with some form of disaster. Trying to empower a blade had caused it to melt as the magic liquified the metal. Trying again had ended up with the blade exploding in a rather dangerous shower of shrapnel, though his enhanced skin had been able to protect him. A later attempt to empower a wooden sword had resulted in the wood coming back to life and growing twigs and leaves. What had been disturbing for Godou had been the way it had also sprouted roots that had wrapped around his hands like some sort of mini tentacle monster. In the end he'd kept the reanimated sword as a houseplant, and it was now happily growing in the corner of his room.

Seeing just how . . . calamitous the seventh Devil King's magical control was Kenshirou had tried to focus on the more body-based portion of the art. Under other circumstances it would have been a lost cause, after all, how could the flesh compare to the power of magic? However, Godou wasn't so limited due to the Authorities that he possessed. In the case of a normal mage they would employ spells and artefacts to enhance their physical prowess in order to be able to match the supernatural foes they would face. The Kusanagi heir had a permanently enhanced body, as far as endurance went, but he also had three physical enhancement Authorities in the form of the Bull, the Camel, and the Raptor, each of which increased him in some way to a level that mortal magic could never hope to match.

Ultimately it had all come down to repeated effort, practice, and being hit over the head way too many times for his liking, but it had worked out. Granted, given the conditional nature of most of his Authorities this wasn't something that he'd had any real chance to practice, but right now he had both the opportunity and the need to see what he could do.

He was moving again, the god-speed of the Raptor causing the world around him to distort as he moved through it. Ahead of him he could see the last set of fingers that had stabbed out at him, their black lengths reaching out of the small pools of blackness as though they were warped tree limbs that had grown from the ground. His earlier dash had seemingly caught them by surprise, because they were only just beginning to rise after having stabbed down at where he'd been. Maybe they would have tried to retreat back into the pools they'd sprung from, but he didn't plan to give them the chance.

Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi was clutched in both hands, the sword all but vibrating with eagerness as he closed in on the fingers. The sword remained at his side, despite it having been used again and again through the night. Unlike the Authorities gained from Verethragna the divine sword was far harder to exhaust so long as its wielder continued to supply it with magical energy, and Godou had been providing it with considerable amounts over the course of the fight. The blade was in no way tired, rather it was eager to taste the blood of another foe, eager to serve its master in battle.

And blood it had! Moving with the god-speed of the Raptor the King of Disaster raced by the cluster of fingers, passing them by with only an inch separating him from them. Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, on the other hand, reached out to the side, its blade parallel to the ground and braced in its wielder's arms.

It wasn't the most elegant way to battle, but it was effective, a method that Kenshirou had suggested after speaking to both Erica and Liliana about Godou's previous uses of the speed-based Authority. He had likened it to the blades that had been attached to chariots in ancient times, using their speed and weight to give power to the blades that could scythe through any enemies foolish enough to come in range of their bite. The seventh Campione wasn't as heavy as a chariot, but he was moving at vastly greater speeds, and the sword he held was sharper than any mortal blade could ever hope to be.

The fingers were resistant, their black flesh and the warped bone beneath harder than woven kevlar and forged iron, but it made no difference. The Sword of Susanoo bit into and then through the malformed digits, tar-like blood bursting forth from them one after another as they were severed and sent tumbling to the ground. Off to the side Ahriman, who still stood upon his pool of black mud beneath the looming form of his monster, screamed in a combination of pain and anger, his voice a distorted mess that no biological throat could have possibly mimicked.

Well, that had seemed to hurt him at least, that was a good sign, right?

Godou paused some distance past the cluster of fingers that he'd cut through as though they were the limbs of an overgrown hedge. Turning he tried to take in the whole situation at a glance, even as he did his best to hold still and let his body recover. The Raptor placed a burden upon him, but between his past experience and his new training Godou thought that he had a better grasp on it now. Taking breaks like this, when he could, would extend the length of use he could get out of the Authority, and it gave him a moment to try and grasp the current situation.

The headless giant had reared back, the hand that had lost most of its fingers held up in the air in clear pain. Its other arm came slamming down, its hand disappearing into another pool of black sludge, but this time he was ready for it. At the first sign of the smaller puddles forming around him the Devil King was off once more, a short burst of speed to put him out of the grasp of the emerging fingers. Then, as they shot through now empty air he turned and accelerated again, his sword slicing through them as smoothly as it had the other cluster.

Again, the grotesque giant reared back, and again Ahriman let out his distorted scream, and Godou couldn't help but feel a sense exhalation and pride swell up within him. This might be a famed and feared god, but he was taking him to pieces without too much difficulty. Yes, he'd been a pain to deal with when he'd been hiding inside Illya-chan's form, but now that he'd been pulled out he was far less trouble to deal with. All the training that the Kusanagi heir had been forced to undertake was paying off! He'd be able to win this! He'd be-

A sharp pain in his left ankle shattered his train of thought as his eyes fell to the ground, then felt them grow wide at what he saw.

At first, he couldn't quite make out what it was, the darkness of the night and the poor lighting of the park combining to make it all but impossible to see through the shadows dancing about his feet with every movement. Then the moon came out from behind a cloud, and for a brief moment he had all the light he needed to see what had attacked him.

They looked more like worms that snakes, they had no heads or mouths, simply blind heads that sightlessly seemed to home in on him. Their bodies were sinuous, but not in the way that a serpent would have been, instead they bent and contorted as thought here was not a single bone in any of them. Most of them were some distance off, and didn't seem to be moving all that fast, but the one closest to him had reared up and stabbed the sharp pointed end of its blind head into his leg, the action strong enough to draw blood.

It took him a moment to understand what he was seeing, to recognize his attackers, but as soon as it clicked in his mind he found himself stumbling back.

The fingers, the ones that he'd hacked off only a few seconds ago, it was them!

Each of the severed digits was now moving, dragging themselves over the ground in a manner similar to the worms that they resembled. Their ends were still flat where they had been sliced, but they no longer leaked the dark blood that had spilled forth earlier. Instead it was as though each of them was its own being, a creature alive in its own right.

There was another sudden movement, and Godou stumbled back as he was only just able to avoid another stabbing, the talon on the worm's head only scoring a shallow cut rather than digging in deeper. He bit back a hiss of pain, then had to dodge again as another of the severed fingers stabbed out at him.

Damn it! They weren't massively mobile, but in the few moments since he'd cut them off they'd spread out so that no matter which way he dodged he'd end up close to one. Using god-speed again he put some more distance between them and him, circling around until he was facing Ahriman and his massive creature from the side. As he came to a stop he felt a twinge in his chest, not the normal pain, nor the paralysis that sometimes came with the use of the Authority, but perhaps a warning that he was pushing thing a bit too far.

"So, what think you of my fist, little Devil King?"

The evil god's voice echoed across the empty park. It wasn't loud, but somehow that distorted voice managed to carry across the distance and easily sound as though he were speaking from only a couple of feet away.

"I haven't seen any fists yet."

Godou knew that Kenshirou sensei would probably be screaming at him for talking in a battle if he was here, but for once he thought words might have a place in this fight, especially if they bought him the time he needed to let his body recover. It would also give him a chance to think, to try and work out what his next move should be.

"Ah, but is a fist not made from fingers? And are those fingers not given force by an arm? And you have given me so many fingers to use in this battle, and soon they shall have arms to give them power and force. All the more might to serve their ruler."

There was something . . . off about the words that Ahriman was using. This wasn't just idle boasting, that had been what Apollo had spouted whenever he chose to rant during battle. This was more secure, more grounded, despite the madness all but dripping from the voice itself. He wasn't throwing about wild claims of his superiority and inevitable victory, so what . . .

The King of Disaster's eyes darted back to the spot where the worms had been, unsure of what he was looking for, but certain there would be something. On seeing that the animated severed digits were still there he almost looked elsewhere, thinking that the threat must be something else, but movement caught his attention. Looking back at them he had to blink a couple of times, just to make sure that the darkness and the adrenaline surging through his blood weren't playing tricks on his sight.

The worm-like creatures were still there, but they were no longer as uniform as they once were. Instead they were each . . . changing. Some were growing longer, their cut ends extending into longer tails, doubling or even tripling their length. Others were bulging madly, as though balloons beneath their black skins were inflating and the shrinking, things could be seen to be wriggling about within them when their skin was at its most stretched, the hide becoming all but transparent when pushed to the limit. Still others had blisters forming along their entire length, blisters that burst even as he watched, insectile legs emerging from them to give the worms a grotesque centipede-like appearance. Even worse was that all of the were growing, swelling in size regardless of how they were changing.

More monsters? Godou immediately tried to estimate his chances against the growing swarm. There had been at least a couple dozen fingers in each of the clusters that he'd cut off, possibly as many as three dozen. Given that there he'd done that to both of the hands then that meant that he'd be dealing with something like fifty of the creatures, at the least.

Oh. Shit! He'd been set up! He hadn't been crippling his foe when he'd lopped those fingers off, he'd just been helping it to propagate the minions it created. Godou felt a grimace spread across his face as he realized that he'd been misunderstanding the nature of the Authority he was facing. With its massive size it was easy to think of it as a direct threat, as simply another monster spawned by Ahriman's nature. It was larger and stronger than the others he'd seen with Circe, and the ones that were attacking the city, but that was how he'd thought of it, just another monster that he had to bring down.

Stupid! He'd been right there, he'd heard the divine spell words that his enemy had used to call it up, he should have put the pieces together! It wasn't a minion like the things it had spawned, rather it was an incarnation of the evil god's sovereignty over the curses that made up such a vast portion of his power! He was identifying himself as the source, the original, the curse from which all others flowed, both their originator and their king.

That made sense, given what he'd seen the giant do. At the start he'd thought it was just attacking directly, but now he understood it had just been spreading out, masking its efforts under the guise of trying to attack him. Had Godou not cut the fingers off then it was most likely that the pools that they'd emerged from would have closed on them and done the job as neatly as he had done.

The grimace turned into gritted teeth as the King of Disaster realized how much he'd been played. Not only had he essentially been trying to hurt the malformed giant by doing the equivalent of trying to kill it by cutting its hair with some blunt scissors, he'd also been exhausting his own resources in the attempt. The Raptor wasn't the most draining of his Authorities, but it did place more stress on his physical form than the others, and he'd been forced to use it multiple times already. Being forced into it wasn't a huge loss, but it was enough to make the situation less than ideal.

And then then there was the fact that he had to deal with the soon-to-be incoming hoard of fresh curse monsters.

Not good, not good at all! Already he could see some of them coming at him, their size now more on par with horses that anything else. They were growing quickly, and he imagined it would only be about a minute at most before they were on the same scale as the creatures he'd faced at the side of Circe. Maybe they had some sort of flaw, something that would explain why Ahriman hadn't used this Authority before. If he had, and there wasn't some sort of limiting factor that Godou wasn't seeing, then he could have flooded the city with dozens monster, not the relatively small number that he had used. Maybe it was because he couldn't do it while in hiding? Maybe these monsters weren't going to be very long lived? There was no way to be certain, and it didn't change the current situation.

Alright, what were his options?

Destruction was the only logical response, some sort of attack that would let him wipe out both the monsters that had been spawned, and the grotesque monster that was spawning them. If he could also take out Ahriman in the deal that would also be an acceptable bonus, but the main concern was dealing with those monsters in such a way that they couldn't spawn more of themselves.

Of course, the first option that came to mind was the Stallion Authority. After all, amongst his usurped divine powers it was unquestionably the one possessing both the most firepower and the greatest range of destruction, so if he used it then there was a good chance it would consume everything, the beasts, the giant, maybe even Ahriman himself. The downside was that it was an ace he still didn't want to play, things were still too early in the game, and his intuition was screaming at Godou to hold onto it for now.

His next thought was to use the Boar, the giant was certainly a large enough target to meet the qualifications needed to use it, and its destructive power was not to be underestimated. The problem was that everything about the god Godou was facing seemed to be poisonous and corrosive. The Boar's nature as a summoned divine beast was in many ways its greatest strength in that it allowed the Authority autonomy and independence that the others lacked. However, in this case its state as being all but indistinguishable from a living being meant that it might well be vulnerable to the poison that surround its master's foe. Godou had no desire to see what that black sludge might do to the giant boar, but he was willing to bet it wouldn't be anything good. To top it off that there was also the fact that powerful as the Boar Authority was it might not be best suited for dealing with the smaller beasts that had been spawned. The divine beast's charge and trample were devastating against large targets, but smaller ones like them might be able to slip through. Probably not many, but it might well be enough.

Another option was the Shining Chariot, but that came with its own problems. The Authority was not one he was yet comfortable using. Sure, he had summoned it a time or two, but he still had trouble getting it as fully under his control as he would have liked. Still, it was a powerful Authority, and its affinity for fire meant that there'd be nothing, but ashes and cinders left of any of the monsters it dealt with. It also had a considerable advantage of manoeuvrability as well as speed. Where as the Stallion and the Boar were each massively powerful single attacks the Chariot would let him strike again and again, as well as let him put distance between himself and his enemy if such was needed. Also, like Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, the Authority he'd usurped from Apollo wasn't limited to a single use but would instead hold out as long as his reserves of magic did. Of course, all those advantages were contingent upon him being able to control the divine chariot well enough to make use of its strengths.

The final option that he could see was to use the Goat Authority, another problematic divine power he was unsure of using. If he employed it to the natural heights it could reach then it would be able to inflict damage that was almost on par with that of the Stallion. What made it even more potent, at least from a purely tactical view, was that its nature meant that he wouldn't be using up his own strength, rather he'd be drawing in the energies of others and not exhausting himself.

The main problem, though, was that Godou simply didn't like the Authority, since it required him to act like a king in order to draw out its full power. The last time he'd used it to its full potential had been back when he'd been facing off against Sun Wukong, and it had . . . unfortunate side effects. At the time he'd been trying to draw upon all the people that the Monkey King had wronged when he tried t set up his new kingdom, but what he ended up doing was giving them all nightmares about an evil Devil King threatening them to aid him. Godou considered himself a decent guy, and there was only so much that a guy's heart could take before it started to feel trampled.

Of course, there was also the problem that right now he didn't fulfil the requirements to activate it.

The Goat required others to be present that wished to act as his strength. In the past Erica, Liliana, Yuri and Ena had all helped him in covering that base, though they had ended up suffering when he'd drained them to fuel the Authority. As things stood he couldn't activate it here, but if he fell back towards the gates then he could meet up with Yuri and some of the History Compilation Committee agents. He was sure that they would be able to fulfil the conditions needed, then he could start drawing on the entire city for power. With all the chaos that the other attacks had stirred up Godou had no doubt that there were countless panicking innocents that would be willing to lend their aid to strike back against the cause of their torment, and with the sheer population of Tokyo the seventh Campione had no doubt that the amount of power he'd be able to draw on would be massive.

The only problem was that he'd be putting them squarely in Ahriman's line of fire.

At the moment the evil god was focused on him, but if any other targets were to enter his sight Godou had no doubt that Ahriman would target them with the cruellest and most vicious curses he could level against them. So far the dark god had shown himself to be perfectly willing to use mortals to further his ends in this fight, and the Kusanagi heir was quite sure that he'd be able to use them against him if given the chance. Getting them to help him was liable to only provide hostages to use against him, only worsening his position.

All of this went through Godou's head in the space of a couple of heartbeats, then he was moving again.

He didn't use the Raptor, even though he could feel it waiting for his call. The Authority had already been getting close to overuse, he had to give it some time to cool down before he used it once more. Instead he took off running, circling around the large dark pool that Ahriman had created, being careful to keep plenty of distance. Off to the side he could hear the clicking and rustling as the creatures born from the giant's severed fingers completed their transformations and began to come after him.

"There is no running from this, little killer of gods," his enemy's discordant voice rang out across the battlefield, sounding as though he were standing behind Godou and was speaking into his ear. "From the first curse were all others born, and in the millennia since then mankind has not ceased to pour forth more and more curses in unending numbers. You can run as you wish, but the curses now have your scent, your taste! It doesn't matter where you flee, where you hide, they shall hunt you, and they will find you!"

For all that his voice was distorted there was no mistaking the smug assurance to his words, but that was not what had the Devil King's attention. Ever since Ahriman had invoked that grotesque giant he had not moved from the spot where he had been standing upon the surface of the dark pool. Why was that? So far in their own fight the demon of old hadn't moved around too much, but during his fight with Shirou he had been flinging Illya-chan's body about like a toy. Did that mean something, or was it simply a consequence of the Authorities he'd been employing so far?

His thoughts shifted as he heard a rapid thumping echoing through the air and growing closer with every second. His eyes darted about and locked onto a trio of creatures heading straight for him, but they weren't limited to the ground, instead they were flying through the air!

The creatures were moth-like in only the vaguest sense of the word. Their basic body structure was that of a moth, and the design of their wings was closer to a moth than any other natural creature that Godou could offhandedly think of, but that was about it. Moths didn't have ragged edges to their wings that ended in serrated edges that seemed to be growing teeth out of them. Moths didn't have mantis-like arms that ended in blades of bone and claw. Moths didn't have mouths composed of dozens of interlocking mandibles that looked more like some incredibly complex torture machine than they did body parts. Moths didn't drip droplets of a viscus green liquid that hissed as it hit the ground and visibly left pits in concrete. And, possibly most important of all, moths were not the size of small wolves!

The flying monstrosities closed in on the Campione with shocking speed, their huge wings eating up the distance faster than anything their size had a right to move. But for all their speed it did them no good, fearsome in appearance though they might have been cunning did not seem to be a part of these creatures. Had they been wiser then they would have flown higher, rather than remaining in reach of the ground. Once more activating the speed of the raptor Godou wasted no time in cutting all four of the monsters down, the blade of his sword slicing each apart without difficulty.

It was only after he came to a halt that he realized that he'd been baited, and that he'd fallen for it. By attacking the winged creatures he'd dealt with the immediate threat, but in doing so he'd carelessly moved himself closer to the other monsters that were moving towards him. Already he could see a mass of twitching limbs and writhing bodies drawing closer to him as the horde of mismatched creatures climbed over each other in their eagerness to reach him. If anything, their competition seemed to be slowing them down, but he had little doubt that soon they would be on him regardless.

For a moment he considered using the God-speed to get some more room, but a slight twinge in his chest convinced him otherwise. His efforts had been good, but for all his new control he couldn't afford to push things any further or else he might end up vulnerable when he could least afford it.

He was being pressed into a corner, there was no other way to put it, and that thought was enough to make something click into place in his mind.

Yes, he was being pressured, and when you gave it some thought wasn't that a bit strange? During the early portion of their fight, back when he'd been inhabiting Illya-chan Ahriman had been more aggressive, threatening to drown Godou in his blades if the God Slayer's own Authority had faltered even a bit. However, since this portion of the fight had begun he had been more passive, seemingly content to let his growing swarm of nightmares catch up to his foe and consume him, no other moves seemed to have been made. What was even stranger was that even though the giant's hands seemed to have recovered from having the fingers slashed off it had made no move to attack again.

And that, all of it, just didn't feel right! Ahriman was practically dripping with murderous intent, yet he just stood there and waited? It didn't match, it was wrong, so there had to be something that the Kusanagi heir wasn't seeing!

All of this came and went in the space of a pair of heartbeats, and even as he came to the realization Godou was already moving, using his normal speed to put some more distance between himself and the oncoming tide of monsters. But even as he did so he kept on observing the world around him, kept trying to see the clues he was sure were there, but which he was missing! In his hand the Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi continued to hum gently, wordlessly reassuring its wielder that it remained ready to slash at any he so chose. It was something, enough to help settle his nerves just a bit as he moved.

Alright, what was he not seeing? What had Ahriman done since he summoned that monster?

Well, he hadn't moved around, that was the most obvious thing, and he had also made all these new monsters. The monsters were kind of weird though, not in their creation, but in how he was using them. Earlier he had seemed to favour a style of overwhelming force with those cursed swords, but now he seemed happy to send these creatures after him piecemeal, and that made no sense at all. Wouldn't it have been better to have the flying monsters come in at the same time as the ground-based ones? It would have been harder to deal with, he was sure of that, but instead it was as though they had just been sent to die. Granted, it had drawn him into a disadvantageous position, but surely that couldn't be all that-

His train of thought was interrupted as a shape came at him from out of the darkness ahead of him! It hadn't been large, only about the size of a chicken he guessed, but it came straight at his face so fast that there was no mistaking its intentions. The King of Disaster's reflexes were equal to the challenge though, and even as it came at him the sword he held was brought up into a standard, but effective, blocking position. The attacking creature barrelled into the weapon, bisecting itself upon the supernaturally sharp blade before falling to the ground as its wings stilled. One half fell to the side with a dull thump, but the other half struck Godou's shoulder as its momentum carried it on. Almost immediately the God Slayer felt a burning there, and he reached up to see droplets of some viscous liquid had already eaten through his clothes and were now trying to burn into his skin. The supernatural durability of a Campione's body seemed to be holding it off, but it still stung as though an angry bee had stung him repeatedly.

His eyes dropped to the severed form even as his ears heard the rapid thumping of more flapping wings, then widened in recognition. It as smaller, but it was more or less just a copy of the moth creatures that he'd sliced apart only a few moments ago. The wings were slightly different, and the legs were more spiderish than mantis-like, but the similarities were plain as day. Where had they come from?! There hadn't been any of the severed fingers that way, only the-

The full implications came crashing down just as he threw himself to the side to avoid a sudden rush by three more of the moth-like monsters. These had spawned from the dismembered bodies of the ones he had faced before! No wonder Ahriman hadn't hesitated to send his forces in piecemeal, Godou hadn't been cutting down foes as he passed them, he'd just been effectively surrounding himself and ensuring he had more enemies to face, all at the same time. If this regeneration was true of all the creatures spawned by the headless giant then his current efforts were almost totally useless against them, all his attacks did was by him a momentary reprieve at the cost of facing an increased number of foes later.

Internally cursing Godou reached for the power of the Raptor once again, accelerating to the velocity of God-speed and bypassing the enormous insectile monsters without lashing out at them. He moved as far as he could, circling around the black pool, but again he stopped at the first twinge in his chest. He'd been able to make some more space for himself, but he guessed that he'd only have a handful of seconds before the flying monster caught up, and he wouldn't be able to use the Raptor again, he could feel that he was already pushing it as far as he could without expecting backlash.

Things were starting to slide into place now, and the picture that was forming as his understanding grew was not one that seemed to be at all sunny.

Ahriman had chosen an angle of attack that was not only neutralizing the Authority in his hand, the Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, but also several others in his arsenal. The divine sword might be supernaturally keen and able to absorb aspects of other Authorities, but in this situation its advantages were all but useless. The monsters didn't possess any Authorities that the sword could turn against his foes, and their regeneration meant that every time he cut a foe apart all he was doing was creating more enemies that he'd have to fight later. The same problem also applied to the Raptor, the Bull, the Boar, and the Camel Authorities, all of them were based on physical speed or strength, meaning anything they did would at most slow down the spawned creatures, and at worst create more of them.

He was being herded, boxed in until his only options left were the ones he was unsure if he wanted to take!

Chariot, Goat or Stallion, those were his choices. No, actually the Goat wasn't an option at this point either, since dragging this hoard of monsters towards his allies was not something he was willing to risk. That meant that his options were limited to two Authorities, the only ones that he could trust to destroy these monsters and not leave pieces of them behind to grow and multiply.

Which one though, that was the question! The Stallion was the more powerful, but the Chariot had more sustained power, even if it couldn't deal as much as quickly. Then there was the question of how well he could drive it, if he had to, and that wasn't something to take lightly.

The sound of more wingbeats let Godou know that he was nearly out of time. He had to make a choice!

He only thought for another second, then decided to go with his gut once more. It wasn't the most sophisticated method by which to make a judgement, but Godou had come to accept that he wasn't an intellectual fighter, like Erica. She could look at a situation and plan steps ahead, set things up so that she could turn things to her advantage with some carefully chosen spells or moves. That wasn't him, he was never going to be that kind of guy, instead he was driven by his instincts, he didn't think, he felt!

And this felt like the right choice!

"For victory, hasten forth before me! O Immortal Sun, I beseech thee to grant radiance to the stallion. O Stallion that moveth godlike with wondrous grace, bringest forth the halo of thy master!"

Night became day as a sun that should not have existed drove back the dark clouds that obscured the sky. This was the power of the White Stallion, the avatar of Verethragna most strongly associated with fire and the sun. Its light blazed down upon the devastated park, and for a moment even Ahriman seemed to shrink back before its radiance, but he quickly rallied, standing in the shadow of his grotesque giant and turning to face the seventh Campione.

"So, you bring the burning might of Verethragna down upon me now? Do you think it will be enough, boy? The god you usurped that power from used it against me in the past, at the behest of Mithras when he sent his friend to drive me away. I have felt its fires before, and I have endured them! Do you think that you can do better?!"

There was contempt and scorn int that voice, but there wasn't fear, there wasn't hesitation. Had Godou made the right choice, or had he allowed himself to be led by the nose? Well, it didn't matter now, he was committed to the use of the Authority, he just hoped his plan worked, or he might well end up as a victim of his own power.

A lesser aspect of his Authority was an instinctive knowledge of the scope of damage that it would inflict, it was with that knowledge he could use it on a foe and not worry about being caught in the issuing eruption of flames and force. The problem now was that if he wanted the blast of his White Stallion to engulf Ahriman, his giant, and the multitude of beasts that had been spawned by it then it was going to have to be large enough to catch Godou in its flames as well.

Being a Campione might enhance one's endurance, but there were limits, and in the fires of the solar Authority it was unlikely that there would be anything left of him other than the charred remains of his skeleton. He might, just might, be able to survive if he activated his Ram Authority at the right time, but even the resurrection Authority might have a hard time bringing him back from being just bones and ash, and it wasn't something that he wanted to try out, it seemed too risky.

'Too risky', the sheer irony of the thought was almost enough to make him chuckle as he brought his hands down to call down the White Stallion. What he was planning could only be described as lunacy, but he was going to do it anyway!

Damn it! He really had gone and abandoned his common sense!

Above, the sun that had illuminated the night condensed into the form of a horse, a massive thing easily thrice the size of any natural breed. Its body flickered with sun fire and its eyes gleamed a red that would have made the finest rubies in the world seem dull by comparison. For a brief moment it just hung in the air, then, in response to its master's command, the great stallion reared up upon its back legs, its front hooves pawing at empty air, then it came charging down, aiming directly at the monstrous giant that stood over Ahriman.

And as soon as he had given his command Kusanagi Godou turned and fled as fast as his legs would carry him!

From behind him he heard an exclamation of contempt, but the King of Disaster didn't let it slow him down, he got only one chance at this, and he had to get it right if he didn't want to end up flash roasted by his own power!

Behind him the White Stallion came crashing down upon the hulking form of the headless monstrosity, but not before the huge form had raised both its arms to block the incoming Authority, its malformed fingers elongating grotesquely to interweave and form what might have been a nightmare version of a net, or a web. As the horse made of flames came down the black digits tried to wrap about it, the fingers moving like snakes, as though any bones they might have had were now gone.

The black tendrils encircled the Stallion, their skins bubbling and blistering where they touched it, and somehow managed to hold on despite the fierce struggles of the divine beast. Burns were forming along the entire length of the giant's arms now, but despite the struggles of the being of living fire the tendrils tightened about it. The edges of its flames began to darken, blackening as the corruption of the burning flesh seemed to leak over.

"Impressive! But not enough! Not nearly enough to-"

Ahriman's triumphant gloating was cut off as Godou spun in mid-step and turned to face the giant that now held his Authority captive. At the same time his left hand came up, the palm flat as though pressing against an invisible wall as it faced the White Stallion.

"No timidity, no surrender! Never retreating, never faltering! Oh, divine beast of the brightest halo, let none bar your path and let nothing stand in your way! Burn like the sun and grant me victory, for I am Noble!"

The spell words rang across the battlefield, and the efforts of the horse made of sun fire redoubled as more of Godou's vast magical energy was fed into it. The thick boneless fingers wrapped about it smoked and blistered more ferociously, then burst into flames! The darkness that had been edging the Stallion's fires also burnt away, leaving the divine beast unsullied by the corruption that had tried to take root upon it.

A loud groaning sound escaped the grotesque giant as its hands vanished into ash and smoke, only for that to be cut off as the burning charge completed its attack and fell upon the abominable creature.

The King of Disaster had been prepared for the coming eruption of power, but even so he was blinded by the massive firestorm of searing white flames that roared out to engulf the battlefield. Off to the side he could hear the chittering of the hoard of curse creatures drawing close, but that was quickly overwhelmed by the howl of the very air being seared away by the oncoming tide of fire. Through squinted eyes he could just barely make out the sight of a silhouette vanishing amidst the flames, but that became a secondary concern as the towering wall of fire quickly began to spread outwards, threatening to roll over him and deal him the same fate that had befallen the monster called by his enemy.

"Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, drink your fill of the feast of fire before you!"

It was all that Godou had time to say before the flames washed over him, yet he did not burn. Pain erupted upon his exposed skin, hot and stinging, but it was not the pain of fire roasting his skin, rather it was the burn of having been out in the sun for too long. It was painful and unpleasant, but it was far better than the white-hot agony he'd feared he'd be having to deal with.

All about him the fire roared on, but about him was a single spot untouched by the mass of sun fire seething about him. Had an outside observer been looking on then they would have equated his position to hiding from wind in the lee of an object. In this case the object was the divine sword in his hands, which was greedily sucking up all the flames that came near it, thus clearing out a small space amid the tide of fire which the seventh Campione was huddling in. The flames weren't touching him, so he wasn't burning, but the heat was still relentless, and he didn't know how much longer he could endure it.

Fortunately, he, didn't need to learn, because after a few seconds that seemed like an eternity the flood of sun fire abated. The world cleared, and he was able to see the results of the use of his Authority.

"Oh, come on!"

The words escaped him as he saw that the giant had not fallen. Its arms had been reduced to charred stumps, its body was covered in seared wounds that still leaked rivulets of blood over burnt skin, along with other juices that he couldn't even try to identify. One shoulder was almost completely missing, the stump of an arm hanging from a roasted ruin by only a few strands of muscle and tendon. Even the gaping maw in its chest had suffered, having the teeth in it broken or shattered while those that did remain had been blackened or even melted.

The pool of darkness that the massive abomination stood in seemed to be mostly gone, less than a third of it remaining save for a crescent shaped remnant from which the monstrous torso of the giant emerged. The rest of the area formed an enormous crater that was slowly starting to fill with water running into it from the nearby lake, and Godou noted that if the city was still there when morning came it would only take a little work to turn the crater into a partway decent pond. Funny the things you randomly notice in the heat of the moment. Still, that was just a distant thought though, and the majority of his thoughts were focused upon more important matters.

Such as the fact that Ahriman had survived!

The child-like form of the dark god stood before the burnt bulk of the giant, but he seemed to have suffered none of the burns that littered the monster, his clothes, his skin, even his hair showed no signs of even having been disturbed, let alone subjected to the firestorm that had engulfed the area.

Godou's eyes narrowed as he took the sight in. Yes, the evil god's form was TOO unharmed. Nothing should have been able to endure the wrath of the White Stallion without at least some damage, and that Ahriman had simply indicated that he was using some sort of Authority to negate that damage. The only question was what kind of divine power it was, some sort of invisible shield? Something that allowed him to perfectly recover from the damage? Some sort of . . . what?!


The single word was a command and a curse at once. Despite the distance separating them Godou had no trouble in seeing the hateful glare being directed at him by the child-like form of Ahriman. His eyes might be pits of darkness, but even so the malignant animosity in them was easy enough to recognize. Still, he only had a brief moment to view the god, because in the next instant the body of the giant seemed to become liquid and fall back into the pool that it had emerged from. For a moment the seventh Campione wondered if he'd somehow dealt it enough damage that it could no longer hold its form, but such thoughts were dispelled by the sight of a vaguely skull-like head emerging from the pool.

The head was enormous, easily the size of a small van, and the whole thing made of a black obsidian material rather than white bone, save for some red veins that coloured it in places. Despite the principle appearance being that of a human skull there were significant differences. The back of the skull was elongated and narrow, ending in a number of spikes and horns. The face was human enough, but the teeth were a mess of chaotic fangs, and the lower jaw split apart into a collection of fanged mandibles that should have belonged in a nightmare rather than the real world.

Up and up the horrible skull rose, the neck holding it up growing longer and longer as it slowly swayed form side to side. Beneath it a long sinuous body slithered out of the pool to curl up in the crater that the White Stallion had blasted into the ground.

"Another snake? Why does it have to be another snake?"

Even as he muttered the question to himself Godou knew that the answer didn't really matter. Snakes were often associated with evil in many old religions and legends, so it wasn't really much of a surprise that a god of evil would have ties to them. Of course, Athena had strong ties to them, and that was because snakes had been ancient symbols of wisdom, so perhaps that line of thought was incorrect. It hardly mattered at this point, what was of far more pressing concern was that multi-ton monster now barrelling towards him!

To all appearances the attack was a simple attempt to swallow him whole. Well, perhaps not swallow him, those mandibles and fangs looked like they'd shred his body long before the monster had any chance to take him down its throat, if the King of Disaster was any judge. Not something he wanted to experience first-hand!

The head darted out, those mandibles spread wide to snap him up, but not so wide that he wasn't able to throw himself out of the way. The main body of the monster passed him like a runaway freight train, a prisoner of its own momentum. Okay, that could give him a few seconds to-

The world spun about as something slammed into his side, the impact hard enough to pick him up and send him cartwheeling through the air! Somehow, he managed to keep a grip on his sword, but that was only thanks to God-only-knew how many times Sensei had yelled at him never to drop his weapon. Tightening his grip on it when he was thrown had been more of a reflexive action than it had been a thought-out move, but at least it kept the Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi in his hands rather that spinning off somewhere.

Of course, this was all only a secondary concern, the great majority of his attention was on biting back a moan of pain as he hit a concrete bench hard enough to rattle the teeth in his head.

Alright, he didn't seem to have any broken bones, the bodily enhancements of a Campione seemed to have managed that at least, but it didn't seem to have spared him from harm completely, not if the taste of blood at the back of his throat was anything to go by.

Getting a grip on the bench he'd smashed into with his free hand the seventh Campione forced himself to his feet and tried to take stock of the situation. Ironically the small flight he'd taken seemed to have bought him at least a little breathing space, as the monstrous snake-thing was now a good distance off. Had he really flown that far? No, he could see the spot where he'd been standing, and it wasn't that far off, only about thirty feet or so.

. . . he'd just thought that being thrown thirty feet wasn't all that far, his common sense continued to be eroded.

No, he could have a fit of depression about that later! Right now, he had to focus on the current situation. Anyway, it seemed that after passing him the monster had continued on, only to start to turn some distance off. Godou wasn't sure why it took so long for it to turn, but he wasn't going to argue with good fortune. Seeing he had at least a little breathing room he took the chance to try and get a grip on how things currently stood.

Alright, the monster was over there, Ahriman was back there, what else was there to worry about? Answer; nothing. It looked like even though the god and his servant had managed to endure the White Stallion's firestorm none of the smaller monsters had been so durable. Of the flying beasts or the chittering crawlers there seemed to be nothing left but ash in the wind. That was one thing at least, a multiplying horde of monsters was not something he wanted to have to deal with as this battle continued! Now, all he had to do was figure out how to kill the snake thing without spawning a whole new army of the damned things.

He tried to stand up, only to feel a stabbing pain in his side, and taste a bit more blood in his mouth. Oh, right, that wasn't good. If he had to guess he'd have to say that the monster had swung its tail at him as it went by and had managed to get a near perfect hit on him when it did. His bones might have been able to endure the impact, but by the feel of it his insides had been somewhat less durable. He was suffering from some internal damage right now, and if he didn't do something about it soon then a bit of blood in his mouth was going to be the least of his problems.

Great, just to make things even better the damned snake had completed its turn and was now coming back at him!

Staggering slightly, he stepped away from the bench and clutched the hilt of his sword in both hands. He could see the inhuman face of the serpent bearing down on him, but he had to time this just right if he wanted it to have any chance at success.

Alright . . . now!

"Every sinner shall tremble before my power. Now is the time, that I obtain the toughness of ten mountains, the strength of a hundred rivers, and the power of a thousand camels! Upon my mighty self, I shall bear the symbol of the raging camel!"

The vitality of the Authority shot through him as he spoke the last word, and he could feel the pain of his injuries fading away almost immediately afterwards. To his mind that had always been the greatest asset of this Authority, the Camel might grant strength, endurance and combat instincts, but it was the recovery aspect that was something of a cheat code, in his opinion. If you used it right, you could go from nearly defeated to back to the top of your game in just a few seconds flat.

Kind of like right now! And best of all, the serpent didn't see it coming.


Godou let out a shout as he spun in place and delivered a spinning snap kick right to the side of the massive snake's head just as it got into range. Under normal circumstances trying this would have resulted in him having his leg snapped up by those massive mandibles, and even if he had somehow managed to get an accurate kick in then it would have been as effective as mouse charging an oncoming truck. However, once you brought in the power of the divine Authority he was wielding things changed.

The huge skull-like head of the monster was smashed to the side as though a runaway tank had suddenly slammed into it. There wasn't too much damage, just a few small cracks along one side, but that wasn't important right now! What was of greater import was that Godou had the opening he needed, and he wasn't going to waste it.

In one smooth movement, one that was aided by the vitality rushing through his body, the seventh Campione shot forwards, driving the blade of his sword deep into the exposed belly of the snake. It let out a shriek of pain and started to move to retaliate, but Godou didn't intend to let it have the chance!

"Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, release your anger and burn this beast to ash!"

All the fire that the divine blade had consumed in order to keep its wielder from burning was released in an instant, straight into the body of the beast it was stabbed into.

The monster that Ahriman had created was powerful, it was durable, and it was strong, but it was not able to survive such an attack directly to its innards. It had time for a single distorted shriek of pain before a gout of fire and smoke burst out of its throat, spewing everywhere as its mouth and mandibles caught fire. The body tried to thrash about, but even that was a wasted effort, and before long the length of the creature lay still, smoke wafting out from between its scales.

"Well done," The voice of the dark god once more echoed across the battlefield, their distorted words dripping scorn that he made no effort to conceal. "You have slain my Beast of the First Sin, you have broken my Cursed Weapons, and you have burned the Malediction Spawn. Those are three of my Authorities you have laid low, and how many of your own Authorities has it cost you? Your Golden Swords are gone, the wings of your Raptor clipped, the White Stallion spent, and now the Camel is facing its end. Atop that your sword is also approaching the ends of its endurance, though its edge is still keen do you think it can continue long after the toil it has endured?"

Damn it, Godou hated to admit it, but Ahriman might be right. The Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi had been the Authority that he'd been using since the night's battles began and it had been serving him faithfully this entire time. The problem was that he'd never had to put it through so much before. It had fought the monsters, then absorbed the Golden Sword, then fought once more, only to drink up the destructive flames of his solar Authority, and then released them back out shortly thereafter. The sword was still holding strong, but it had its limits, and the seventh Campione had the uneasy sense that he was starting to push a bit too close to them.

There was also the fact that what the evil deity had said about his other Authorities was dangerously close to the mark. As the fight was progressed he was having to exhaust his Authorities to face Ahriman's, and by the looks of this he was burning through them faster than his enemy.

Certainly, he still had a good number left, but several of them would be more or less useless. The Youth Authority wasn't an option since he was fighting alone. Were Ena, Liliana or Erica here then it might have been worth using it to power them up, but they weren't, and he was unsure if he wanted them anywhere near this monster. Other gods had treated them as assistants to him, things to be brushed aside rather than combatants to worry about, Ahriman, though, would gleefully target them and do his best to torment them as much as he could before killing them. Their absence also meant that the Gale Authority was also largely useless, at least in a direct fight. He supposed that if Erica was watching the fight then she might well put herself in danger to summon him if he found himself in a dangerous enough situation, but that was an uncertain chance at best. Lastly the Ram was also of minimal use, just as he'd thought earlier, it might save his life from one attack, but Ahriman would have no issue with ripping his helpless form apart afterwards, so that wasn't a viable option.

That left him with only a small number of Authorities left, in reserve he had the Boar, the Bull, the Goat, and his Chariot. He currently had the Camel in use, and his divine sword had a little more force left in it, though he could only guess at how long it would last before becoming completely exhausted. A formidable arsenal of powers to use against most mortals, or even gods, but he wasn't so sure of how much he could count on it here.

The problem was that Ahriman wasn't like any enemy Godou had faced yet. No, that wasn't quite true, there was a certain similarity to Athena, now that he thought about it. Both of them had used magic to fight from a distance, and both of them had used minions to fight both for and alongside them. Athena had been more aggressive, coming at him with that scythe of hers in a way that still gave him the occasional bad dream. Ahriman seemed to be more content to attack him from a distance or try and achieve some sort of control over the area. Each was a valid strategy, but it was less direct than what he was used to having to deal with.

What was worse was that the evil gods Authorities seemed to be more . . . poisonous than anything he had encountered before. Those swords, that giant, even the smaller monsters that had spawned, all of them had a lingering quality that made him think that letting the fight drag on any longer than needed to was not a good idea.

The problem was that he still wasn't sure how he could bring this to an end any quicker than he was doing right now!

He could try to charge in and attack Ahriman directly. The Camel certainly gave him enough power to literally kick a god to death if he had to, but if the battle was that simple then it would probably have been over by now. All gods had some form of immortality, a means to evade death if they needed to. Godou was unsure if any of the Authorities he'd so far been able to overcome were connected to that immortality though, so he could not be sure that if he took such a direct route of attack whether or not it would be effective. If he wasn't careful he might end up simply putting himself too close to Ahriman and be unable to evade when he counterattacked.

"Misfortune that can lay low a country, desolation that can reduce men to beasts, answer my command, obey my orders, unleash your cruel thirst, your dry hand, your empty promise! Bring them all to despair, bring ruin to all that would stand against me!"

Okay, that was not good! Another Authority, and this one based around a drought by the sounds of it. This was a good time to make some more space and see if he could work out a weakness.

Once again Godou's first impulse seemed to be the right choice. No sooner had the powerful leg strength of the Camel carried him away with a strong leap than a strange distortion rippled out from Ahriman spreading to a distance of a good fifty feet around him before coming to a halt and hanging in mid-air, visible as though it were a shimmering heat mirage. It was strange, easy to see, but impossible to make any of its detail out. However, it was a clear marking of the extent of the current Authority, and that was important.

As for what was taking place within the boarders that the shimmer marked, that was far more worrying.

All the plant life within the area of the new Authority simply died. That in itself would have been worrying enough, but it was different from the earlier times when the evil god's malicious aura had killed the plant life about him. Then it had been as though the plants had been poisoned by some absurdly fast acting chemical. They had wilted, died and rotted at an accelerated rate that could easily be seen by the naked eye. Now it was as though all water had somehow been erased from them, every blade of grass or stalk of weed caught in the area of effect became desiccated in an instant. They simply dried up and crumbled to dust in the space of a few seconds.

What was even more intimidating was when Ahriman began to slowly advance, causing the edge of the distortion in the air to run across the lake. Two things happened that immediately showed how dangerous this new Authority could be. Firstly, the water within the area of effect simply disappeared. It didn't vaporize or get sucked up, instead it simply ceased to be, vanishing as though it had never existed to begin with. More water had flowed in to try and replace what was lost, only for it to share the same fate. Only when the advance of the god took the area of the Authority past the lake did the effect end, though by then the lake had visibly reduced in volume.

And that led to the second thing that the seventh Campione had noticed, namely that as the field absorbed more water it grew in size.

It wasn't an explosive growth, but it was clear that the increase in its size was connected to the water it made disappear, because as soon as the field left the lake and ceased to affect the water the rate of its growth slowed considerably. Great, so not only was this new Authority a mobile drought, it also became bigger the more it worked. Given that it was constantly reducing the plants it touched to desiccated ruins that meant that it was constantly growing by tiny increments. It wasn't much, but it would add up, and if the effect reached underground then as soon as Ahriman got over some water or sewage lines then it's growth would speed up again. Godou wasn't sure how large the Authority could grow, but he knew that droughts had decimated entire civilizations in the past, and Authorities could always be devastating if used the right way. This one could be a city killer if it got momentum behind it, so he couldn't afford to let it grow too much.

Alright, he had a goal, now how was he meant to achieve it? If he went into that effect then he'd be a dried-up husk in no time. On the other hand, if he did nothing then the Authority would grow and he'd simply be in a worse position. Damn it! Why couldn't one of these life and death battles be simple for a change? Was it too much to ask for an enemy that he could beat just by punching them in the face a couple of times?

"Droughts are fearsome things, little king," Ahriman spoke as he continued to advance. "They could not be battled, they could not be driven off, they could only be endured. But even with the finest preparations that mortals could come up with sometimes it was not enough. The water would end, and there would be nothing to sustain the crops, then there would be nothing to cleanse the body, and then there would be nothing to drink. It was always enjoyable to watch your kind fighting over a few sips of water. It was always enjoyable to see the depths that you would fall to in your desperation to seize any chance to live. I have seen fathers offer up the still beating hearts of their own children in the hopes that it would grant them rain! I have seen mortals turn upon their dearest friends and rip them apart due to thinking that the drought was somehow their fault. Yes, droughts are fearsome, and they are enjoyable."

Had the situation been any less dire then the young Kusanagi might have rolled his eyes at the villainous monologue that his enemy seemed to be indulging in, however right now it wasn't just some mindless vanity. Ahriman was standing in the centre of a moving battlefield that was to his favour, and one that was constantly increasing its size, the evil god might well be insane by the standards of other gods or even by mortals, but he wasn't stupid. His monologue served three purposes, the first and simplest was to buy time if his enemy was foolish enough to stop and listen to it. Every second that a foe listened to him go on was another second where the field of the Drought was growing. Alternately it might serve to provoke an unwary foe into attacking him without thought, something that could lead to an easy victory on his part. Lastly it could demoralize an enemy, make them start to doubt that they could win against such a monster, one that took joy in the suffering of entire nations.

He supposed it might also cause more confident foes to underestimate him, given that he did sound a bit like a typical demon lord character, but that was probably not intentional.

Well, he couldn't let himself get sucked into his opponent's pace. If he wanted to do something then he'd have to do it now, or else he'd cede any initiative to Ahriman.

Retreat or attack, those were his options. He could fall back to meet up with Yuri and the agents at the park entrance, then he could switch to the Goat Authority and engage the evil god at a distance. This Drought was powerful, but it didn't look to offer much in the way of defences, so some lightning might be able to hurt him enough to make him drop the Authority.

Or would it?

Godou wasn't sure, but he seemed to remember something about lightning not travelling through dry air, did that mean the Goat's thunder would be unable to reach him? No, wait, that was stupid, how could lightning exist in a dry area, it was the result of clouds after all. But . . . hadn't he once seen a documentary about lighting forming in dust clouds? Or had that been dust explosions?

The seventh Campione grimaced as he tried to force his memory to surrender the knowledge he needed, only to give up a second later. Godou wasn't an unacademic person by any stretch, consistently getting decent grades at school despite the various troubles he'd had to deal with in the last year, but this kind of trivia wasn't something he could just bring to mind at the drop of a hat. Mentally he made a note to do some studying on lightning if he made it through this. That should have been something he'd done ages ago.

Regardless, even if the lightning couldn't reach the Heretic God directly there were other options, ideas he'd had but hadn't had a chance to play with. If the absolute worst came to worst he could see about activating the Bull and simply hurl debris at Ahriman. It wasn't the most sophisticated option, but it could work.

Alternately, he could just attack.

It was the stupid option, the muscle headed one, the sort of thing that those brainless heroes in Shonen manga tended to do, only for a convenient plot twist to save them. They could be fun to watch, but Godou had always thought that they were a bit short on brains when they did that sort of thing.

So why was he feeling the urge to do just that?!

Intuition, instinct, gut feelings, whatever you wanted to call it, all of it was urging the King of Disaster to abandon caution and just charge in to attack the god that was taunting him.

"Do you think you would beg? Would thirst and desperation drive you to beg for your life, to kiss my sandal and plead for forgiveness? I have seen that happen to one of your kind, an arrogant mortal that usurped the power of a god and thought himself so mighty. He begged through cracked and broken lips, begged for water, then he begged for mercy, then he just begged for death. Do you think you will beg?"

Alright, caution to the winds then! Godou tended to think of himself as something of a pacifist, in that he didn't particularly like violence, but when he saw a need for it he didn't hesitate.

Even if it meant doing something really stupid.

On the plus side Ahriman looked very surprised when the seventh Campione deliberately charged into his field. He looked even more surprised when said Campione did not, in fact, dry up into a desiccated and weakened husk. However, the greatest expression of surprise to cross his face, and one that Godou planned to privately cherish for the rest of his life, came just before the sole of his sports shoe impacted the evil god's face with all of the force that the Camel could impart!

The Kusanagi heir landed on his feet just as the force of his attack sent Ahriman careening through the air away from the lake. The childish form of the god of curses came slamming down into the crater that had been formed by the White Stallion's earlier attack. His back hit the ashen earth, then turned into a roll as he came down. The impact would have easily been enough to leave a normal mortal spread out across the ground in a fine paste, but Ahriman was made of sterner stuff than that. Even so, that level of impact from both the attack and the landing was enough to rattle anyone, even a god, and it took him a few moments to stagger back to his feet. Time that Godou was able to use to evaluate the situation.

On the plus side it looked like the field of drought the evil god's Authority created wasn't able to affect the Campione, at least not with any degree of speed. He'd only been in there for a few seconds, but it had been enough to leave him feeling a bit dry mouthed, but nowhere near as parched as he'd feared he'd be. He wasn't sure why that was, but he guessed that it probably had something to do with the magic resistance all Campione possessed. If this Authority was based upon imposing magic on an area, then it was possible that his resistance to magic would let him endure it.

No, no Ahriman had said that he'd used it against a Campione before, so he had to know how effective it was. As far as Godou knew the degree of magic resistance that each God Slayer possessed was more or less the same. That meant that if another Campione had been beaten by this Authority then it was able to overcome that resistance, so . . .

"H-How . . .?"

Ahriman's question was halting, the first time that the deity had shown any uncertainty this entire battle. It wasn't a huge thing, he didn't seem to be falling apart of under great stress, but it was noticeable, and it was the first sign that Godou was getting to his enemy since he'd managed to free Illya-chan.

Unwilling to let the initiative slip away from him the young Devil King charged again, the ground shattering beneath him as the power of his Authority propelled him along as though he were more cannonball than human. He closed the distance in a split moment, entering the field of Drought once more, only this time rather that launching a straight attack he instead brought him leg down in a crushing axe kick.

The move was a calculated one, not an act of raw aggression. Godou didn't want to send the dark god flying again, that would just put him closer to other water sources he could drain to feed his Authority. Instead the King of Disaster wanted to keep him right where he was, inside the crater that was devoid of life and already a scorched ruin. If there was anywhere that it was more or less safe to beat the Heretic God to death then it was here.

Unfortunately, Ahriman must have seen it coming, despite his earlier shock. Even as the kick had come down the child-like god had been moving to the side so that rather than coming down straight upon his head Godou's heel instead glanced off his shoulder. Had he been mortal it might well have been enough to wrench the arm from its socket, maybe even tear it off completely. At the very least the shoulder would have been shattered, the bones reduced to shards and the muscles pulped into uselessness, and his arm crippled. However, this was not some fragile mortal, and he just let out a grunt of pain before moving back.

Godou didn't relent though, and attacked once more, the innate combat skills of the Camel letting him perform moves that would have made seasoned martial arts masters stare in admiration. Each kick was delivered with crushing force, strength enough to crumble steel or pulverize rock, and every one of them was aimed to break their target!

And it wasn't enough.

Ahriman was not as fast as Godou, he was not as skilled, and he was not as strong, but he had all of these qualities in just sufficient measure to ensure he was no easy target. He moved quickly enough to turn blows that would have been punishing into only glancing hits. He was just skilled enough to be able to see where the attacks were coming from and turn with them enough to bleed off some of their strength. He was strong enough to take the glancing blows and not be helpless to control his motion. In all he could not fight back against the seventh Campione, but at the same time he couldn't be put down easily. This was becoming a case of a death by a thousand cuts, or rather blows in this case.

The problem with that was that none of the damage was sticking to his foe! Godou could literally see the scuffs and bruises that he had managed to inflict upon his enemy healing before his eyes just as fast as he was able to inflict them.

Damn it! He wasn't sure how to deal with this. In the past he'd never had to overcome an enemy that recovered so quickly. Sure, he'd had to deal with gods that were near invulnerable, but this was the first time facing one that could completely undo the damage that was dealt to him!

And worse than that, the Drought field was starting to get to him. It was slow, but he could feel his throat getting drier, his lips growing stiffer, even his skin feeling dusty. Whatever it was that was letting him work through Ahriman's Authority wasn't perfect, it was still leeching the water out of him. It was just taking longer.

"Ah, now I understand."

Godou's eyes widened, and he was only just able to jump backwards in time to avoid the hand trailing pitch-black miasma as it swept through the space he'd just been occupying. He moved to dart back in, but the Heretic God stamped a foot on the ground and caused another eruption of the dark mist of curses to spring up between them. The mist congealed into an almost liquid wall between them, a black film that caused the ground it touched to spit and hiss. Godou wasn't entirely sure what it was, but he was certain that touching it would be a bad idea.

"The Camel is a hardy beast, and Verethragna could call upon its power, a power you have inherited from his defeat! The Camel can survive in the desert where the heat kills all else, it can endure the drought where all others would dry up and die, that is why you can continue to battle me within the effects of my Authority!"

The seventh Campione could only see a vague outline of his foe but even so he got the impression that his enemy's insane smile had returned.

"But in time even the Camel will fall to the unrelenting thirst! Tell me, little King, does the dryness reach you yet? Do you find yourself yearning to wet your throat, to quench your thirst? How long will it be before that thirst becomes debilitating? How long will it be before the strength begins to leech from your limbs as the water leaves your body? Do you believe you can defeat me before you succumb?"

This time Godou didn't wait around as Ahriman spoke, doing so would only play into his plan, after all. The Heretic God's words only confirmed his own suspicions, that he had limited time to work with and he couldn't afford to waste any of it.

His problem was how to get to his enemy, now that the facts of the fight had been made clear. This had ceased to be a direct battle, and had instead become something of a siege. Ahriman was hiding behind his defences while the Child of Pandora tried to breach them. However, in this case it was not the defenders that were being starved, rather it was the attacking force that only had limited resources. Godou supposed that if worst came to the worst he could fall back and drink from the lake, since there was plenty of water there. Granted, it probably wasn't the cleanest water that could be had, and would probably not be safe for a regular person to drink, but he was pretty sure that the enhanced body of a Campione would be able to handle it.

Of course, that was all dependant upon Ahriman not reaching the lake first. Already his area of Drought had grown some more, though not a huge amount. If the fight dragged on it might well end up reaching the lake, then it would be consumed to fuel the Drought's growth and Godou would be out a convenient source of water. He had to get something done before it came to that, otherwise his situation would continue to worsen until the mad god was standing over his withered remains.

Trying to break through the shield of black vitriolic liquid the Kusanagi heir kicked some rocks into the air and then sent them shooting towards the Heretic god. Each stone was the size of a grapefruit, and was flying fast enough that they might as well have been cannonballs.

However, for all the power he put into them they had little effect. The oily film that now stood as protection for Ahriman caught them as though they were simply tennis balls being thrown into a net. Before they could make any sort of headway they had been wrapped in the black liquid, which suddenly began to bubble as though it had come to the boil. In the next instant there was no hint of the stones left, and the barrier of vile blackness had returned to its previous state.

No, Godou was quite sure that he didn't want to try punching his way through that, or kicking though it as the case might be. The problem was that once again he was hemmed in by his lack of options. Should he call up the Chariot? At this point it was the last of his main trump cards, unless he wanted to risk other to use the Goat Authority.

"No, I will not allow it to be so easy for you anymore, Devil King!"

Godou was forced to dodge as a long jet of the same viscous black mud that the Heretic God was using to defend himself shot out at him. The attack was only short lived, but the Kusanagi heir could see how it ate into the ground where it landed.

"You have broken my swords, cut my Authority to usurp the flesh of others, slain the incarnation of the root of sins, and endured the thirsts of the drought, but do you really think that will be enough?!" Ahriman's discordant voice echoed across the battlefield again. "I am not one of these younger gods that you have faced in the past, I am old, and I am powerful! Mortals have been sinning for as long as they have been able to form thoughts and draw air, this has given me so many Authorities to choose from! Be assured, if you seek to exhaust the arrows that are in my quiver then you shall be waiting for a long time, long enough for me to enjoy the sight of your bleached bones!"

Was he telling the truth? Godou had no way to be certain, but he had a distinct feeling that it might be the case. Either way, it didn't really matter, he couldn't afford to let this run on any longer than he could possibly manage. The thirst being inflicted upon him by the Drought was already beginning to reach painful levels, his throat feeling as though it was being lightly touched by sandpaper. He didn't know how much longer it would be until it could incapacitate him, but he really didn't want to find out.

Alright, what were his options? He could either fall back and try to drink some of the lake's water, or he could attack and see if he was able to overwhelm whatever defences Ahriman was able to mount against him before the Drought Authority finished leaving him a dehydrated corpse. It was a gamble, and this time his guts didn't seem to want to voice their opinion on the matter.

Damn it! If something didn't change soon then he was in real trouble.


Athena stood in the shadows of a tree and watched the distant fight.

She was unconcerned with either of the combatants noticing her, not while she stood in the darkness that was her domain. Ahriman might be one of the few gods she knew it wise to be wary of, but his power was not well suited to uncovering hidden foes, unless he chose to raze the entire area. King Godou, on the other hand, was more troubling to hide from, given his formidable intuition and his tendency to stumble into dangerous situations, but even he was not too much of a concern. During the decades and centuries when she had been weak the Goddess of Darkness had grown skilled in concealing herself from those that might try to take advantage of her lessened power. Many a Campione had sought to claim an easy Authority by taking her life, but by wisdom and guile she had been able to evade them all, even as she searched for the missing fragments of power that were hers.

So, she had no fear of being spotted, not so long as she maintained her distance and kept to the shadows. No, her concerns were for other matters entirely.

The tides of battle had once again shifted, and this time it had not been in the favour of her chosen prey. It was not yet a hopeless situation, but is was unfavourable enough that she actually found herself considering the best way in which she could intervene without being discovered. Of course, as soon as the notion occurred to her she dismissed it. Kusanagi Godou had to sharpen his fangs if he was to meet her in battle at his best, and if she were to lend him undue aid in his combat with his current foe then Pandora might well elect not to grant him an Authority as reward for his victory. An unacceptable outcome in Athena's mind.

No, she could not act as a crutch for her future foe, doing so would be completely unacceptable. Him gaining aid from his mortal followers was one thing, after all they were those that were drawn in by his power and rule, subjects that were extensions of his reign. The All Giving Witch that ruled over the rewards of the God Slayers would count their aid as being part of a Campione's power, but she would not accept a victory when one of her children slaughtered a foe defeated by another, or if more than one of them allied against a single god. Such unfair battles were not to be rewarded, and to even try would simply incur her disapproval.

No, if she were to go and fight at the side of her dear enemy, she would only serve to weaken him for their own battle, and that was a thought that could not be borne. Instead she had to think of some other way to affect the outcome of this battle. Something subtle, something that Pandora could not possibly raise an objection to.

The child-like goddess' face frowned as she focused upon the Seventh Campione. Was there something different about him? Athena felt her brow crease in frustration as she felt the patchwork of joined fragments that made up her divinity shift again. It was not a sense she had herself possessed in the past, but several of the shards of divinity she had consumed had belonged to goddesses with ties to animals that Athena had no connection to. Wolves, bears, fish, even peacocks. Though she had not assimilated those traits into her own Authority some minor elements had bled through, coalescing into not quite a new Authority, but certainly a new ability. It wasn't something she could use over great distances, but at this much shorter distance it was another matter.

Hesitantly reaching out with this new sense the Queen of the Old Darkness reached out and tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that was irritating her. The method she used was subtle, far more so than the options that had been available to her with her old powers.

There was a . . . scent to him, one that didn't belong. No, that wasn't quite it. The scent belonged, it was a part of him now, but it hadn't started that way. Kusanagi Godou . . . his scent was of flesh and bone, of metal and fire. He had a smell that was like the heroes of old that had burnt offerings in her name and called upon Athena to grant them excellence in battle. This new scent, it was of sunlight and sand, of warm air and clear skies. What was more, it smelt of power, subtle power, but power none the less.

A power that was not his, a power that had been . . . given to him?

Athena's frown deepened as she noticed a distinctly feminine scent to the new power that dwelt within her prey. A goddess then, a goddess had granted him power? Why? Had it been an Authority then she would have understood it, it would simply mean that her future foe had been able to add a new weapon to his arsenal. However, whatever this power was it was not divine power, though it was power of a divine origin, instead it was . . . knowledge?

It was hard for her to fully grasp what she was sensing, but increasingly felt her suspicion to be correct. Rather than power it would seem that a goddess had granted knowledge of the divine mystic arts to Kusanagi Godou. Exactly why she was uncertain, but that was far less important that another fact, namely how such knowledge had been imparted.

Due to the protection from even divine magic that all Devil Kings possessed it would have been impossible for this gift to have been sent mind to mind. As such the only way that a goddess could have imparted it would have been to cast the spell internally by . . .

Of course, Athena knew of this method, she had employed it against him herself, kissing the seventh Campione and planting her curse of death within him had been the best way to deal with him at the time. Now though . . . she doubted that she would use the same tactic again, kissing him seemed unnecessarily complicated. Yes, that was her real reason, there were no others! But . . . did that mean that some other goddess had been pressing her lips to his?!

Athena felt anger start to stir in her at the thought. She could accept her prey spending time with his mortal women, after all they were hardly any consideration for a goddess, and since time immemorial heroes had always had women at their sides. She could accept them, for they were beneath her, and in the end they would be inconsequential to their final battle. This time she would not be so foolish as to leave herself open, this time she would not let that blonde girl interfere, this time it would only be the two of them!

But now it seemed there was another deity that might muddy the waters. Athena knew that the other Campione, the one that Guinevere had named as the King of Steel, had begun to gather deities to his side, rather than slay them and usurping their divine might. She had seen it as an interesting oddity, but nothing more. Emiya Shirou was not her chosen foe, so what he did was of little concern to her. Perhaps he might attempt to aid Kusanagi Godou against her, but she felt certain that she understood her prey's mind, and she was equally certain that he would consent to a duel between just them, no outsiders, provided she prepared the correct motivation, of course.

However, now it seemed that she might have miscalculated. Had her prey seen the route that his fellow King had taken and sought to emulate it? Had Kusanagi Godou begun to take goddesses to his side as conquered servants? Had he begun to take them as lovers?!

The more she thought about it the more the thought outraged her, that some other goddess might have gone so far as to offer their knowledge and magic to her chosen prey. Although . . . the thought did occur to her that if Kusanagi Godou were to have defeated a goddess and then spared her then it would make a certain sense for her to have offered him some conciliatory prize for her defeat were he not to gain an Authority from them. Perhaps they had given it to him before he had convinced them to remain with him? Or maybe they had not remained at all, and simply left after granting the prize?

There were too many unknowns, but now that she saw it Athena felt a growing irritation as a thought occurred to her. She had been defeated by Kusanagi Godou, and when she had he had not raised his hand against her to usurp a divine power from her. Instead he had simply asked her to leave and stop causing trouble in his nation, a request she had acceded to since it was the duty of the defeated to obey the victor. Certainly, she had returned later as part of her alliance with Brynhildr and Andromeda, but that had been a separate matter since she had kept her word and left the nation. Still, her return sis mean that she might once again be in debt to the seventh Campione, did it not? That was not a comfortable thought, and one that needed to be addressed immediately!

Fortunately, it seemed that whomever the goddess was that her prey had encountered, they had provided an excellent inspiration as to how the Queen of Darkness might go about discharging that debt. After all, was not knowledge and power a great asset to possess? And was not she Athena, goddess of wisdom? Yes, she nodded to herself, this made perfect sense.

She would have to see about it as soon as possible! After all, it would hardly do for her prey to go into battle without all the weapons that were his at his disposal.

Now, how best to do this . . .


Godou had never been this thirsty in his life!

He'd tried to break through Ahriman's defences, and though he'd had some success it hadn't been anywhere near enough to secure victory. His efforts to kick rocks through his shields of black ooze had failed for the most part, though one of the bigger ones had somehow made it through to impact him on his left hip. The strike must have come as a surprise because for a moment his defences had faltered. The King of Disaster had taken full advantage of the proffered opening and had covered the distance between them so fast that a watching observer could have missed it by blinking.

His heel had slammed into the mad god's ribcage with extremely satisfying force, and Godou was sure that he'd felt ribs break at the point of impact. To a mortal the damage from that one blow would have been more than enough to take them out of the fight and send them to a hospital, however for Ahriman it was only a temporary inconvenience. True, the hit sent him hurtling backwards, but as he landed the Kusanagi heir could hear the snaps and crackles as his ribs returned to their proper place, and in the time it took him to stand the evil god was already almost completely healed. Had he been in better shape Godou would have capitalized on the opportunity, but by then his thirst had grown great enough that after the initial surge and attack he'd had to pause to recover as his head had swum at the sudden motion. By the time he was ready to continue Ahriman was back on his feet and had re-established his protection.

It wasn't as decisive as he would have hoped for, but the attack did force the Heretic God back into the desolate area he had already created, and he didn't seem to be trying to advance from it. Thirsty as he was Godou had been afforded a moment of respite to collect himself, though the conclusion that he drew during that time was not a welcome one.

The simple fact was that he was more or less back to square one, only his position was now worse than it had been. The thirst of the Authority was setting in deeper now, even though the Camel still let him endure the worst of it, and his enemy seemed to have shaken off all the damage he'd inflicted as though it had been rainwater on a jacket. Maybe that regeneration had some limits, but at the moment the seventh Campione had no way of knowing what they might be. More and more it was looking as though he was going to have to use the Shining Chariot as a final card, since no other options seemed to be making themselves visible.

Could he retreat to get some water? The option had appeal, and he was sure that he was fast enough to do it, the problem was that his intuition was yelling against it! He didn't know why, but something was shouting at him that if he retreated then he would lose. Sure, getting some water would let him go on for longer, but all that would mean would be that it would take him longer to lose. It was advance or die, and he wasn't sure that the last step he could take would be the winning move that he needed.

"I know that look, little King," And, of course, Ahriman would not shut up! "Can you feel it dragging at you? Can you feel it slowing you down, making your blows weaker, your recovery longer? It shall only grow worse. Soon you will have greater difficulty dodging my attacks, then you will begin to take more damage, only a little at first, but it will cumulate. Then you will try to stand your ground, but your defences will begin to crumble as your strength fails. After that you shall try to use what remains of your power in a final attack, hoping to overwhelm me by holding nothing back, but this shall also prove hopeless. You shall cast all you have against me and I shall remain, as I always do, and you shall be left broken and spent before me, with nothing to call upon as my Drought takes your last water. Tell me, do you think you will beg at that point? Will you show me that broken and hopeless face I wish to see?"

If it had just been the sort of self-aggrandizing monologue that Apollo had indulged in then it wouldn't have been so bad. Hell, Godou would have welcomed it since the Heretic God had always paused a bit as he ranted, as though he had expected his foe to wait and be an obedient audience. Ahriman, on the other hand, never stopped, even as he spoke he kept lashing out with those jets of black bile. Granted, while he kept that protective membrane up his rate of fire seemed to be limited, but he was using those attack intelligently, forcing the Campione to dodge around, and use up his reserves of energy even faster.

Even worse than that, though, were the things he was saying. They weren't wild boasts, or at least they didn't sound like them. Instead his words were more insidious, sounding like predictions of the future, things that would come true no matter what he tried. Godou knew that it was just a trick, just a psychological attack, but that damned voice was impossible to shut out! That discordant monstrosity of a voice seemed to reach across the distance and sound as clear as if the evil god had been only a couple of feet away, and the words were just as hard to ignore. What he described, Godou could already feel some of it actually happening, feel his limbs getting weaker, his steps unsteadier, and his throat drier with every passing second.

He needed to change things, and as things stood, he had only one option.

"O golden-"

The first couple of spell words were all that was able to leave his mouth before a sudden wall of darkness sprang up to separate him from Ahriman. The seventh Campione broke off his chant, his heart suddenly hammering at the thought that the Heretic God was doing something different, something unexpected. Had he gained greater reach? Was this an attempt to hem him in so that the drought could finish him off before he had a chance to move away?

All of that flashed through his mind in the first few seconds, then it was dismissed as he noted that the darkness surrounding him wasn't the same darkness that Ahriman used. His was more . . . vile, for want of a better term, it was a dark miasma that was black because it was so deeply stained it could be no other colour. This darkness was that of the night after the sun had set, the absence of light rather than an overwhelming presence of taint. Hold on a second, hadn't he seen this somewhere before?

"Kusanagi Godou, one is delighted to see her future foe has maintained the sharpness of his fangs."

The voice came from almost directly behind him, and it took all his self-control not to lash out with a kick at the unexpected presence. Turning he saw the familiar form of first goddess he had fought in Japan, her clothes the familiar wool jacket, mini-skirt, and knee-high socks that he had grown used to seeing. Even the knitted cap was there, perched upon her silvery hair, giving her what would have been a charmingly innocent appearance, were one not fully aware of just how dangerous she really was.

Illya-chan might be the creepy kid in his life, but that was only because Athena wasn't around as much as she could have been. Shirou's sister might creep him out a bit with her hidden edge of violence and unsettling intelligence, but the Queen of Darkness was in a league of her own in that regard. She might appear small and cute, but Godou could well remember that she would have happily depopulated Tokyo for no other reason than that she didn't want to hold back her power after regaining it. She was also the goddess that had attacked him at random intervals for the better part of a month before she left. It had gotten so bad that he'd even taken to carrying Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi to bed with him. The fact that he'd actually had to use it to protect himself twice from attacks that came while he was sleeping, was more depressing to him that it was anything else.

Okay, so Athena was back, what did that mean? He really, REALLY, hoped that she didn't want to have that rematch she kept on going on about right now. He already had plenty on his plate, and he didn't think he could handle it if she decided to add to the mess already there.

"Athena?! What are you doing here?!"

Well, at least he wasn't the only one that had been caught off guard by this development, and Ahriman didn't sound any happier about it than Godou did, maybe that was a good sign. He wasn't too sure.

"One apologizes for this intermission, there was no intention in this goddess's heart to interfere in the battle between you. But one has to ensure that a long overdue debt is paid."

As she spoke the second child-like deity descended to the ground and started to close with the Campione. Godou didn't get the feeling of any ill intent from her, but since he was splitting his attention between her, the darkness she had conjured up, Ahriman's black miasma, and Ahriman himself, he wasn't in the most observant frame of mind. Still, he didn't really have a choice, if Athena was here to harm him then his odds of getting out of this alive, let alone victorious, were plummeting faster that an anvil that had been thrown out of a cargo plane.

"Okay, so what do you mean you have a de-"

The remained of his question was cut off as the goddess of Wisdom closed the distance between them, levitated up a bit, threw her arms around his neck, and pressed her lips to his. Godou felt his eyes suddenly going wide as he realized what was happening, but that was about all that he could manage. Before he could even think of regathering his wits his thoughts were once again scattered as Athena apparently decided that the kiss wasn't deep enough and began to employ her tongue to solve the problem. Her kiss was also a great deal more . . . thorough than the one she'd used month ago to poison him with a curse. This one was searing enough to leave him comparing it to Circe's one just a few minutes ago, and not being able to be sure which was the more ardent.

Damn it, he wasn't a lolicon! That was the last thought to run through his head before he had other concerns to occupy his attention.

For the second time in a single night he felt . . . something pass to him through the kiss. Just as with Circe earlier he could feel a concentrated bundle of something settle into place in his mind. And just as with the other goddess he could tell that there was power there. It was . . . packaged neatly away, but he could feel it was ready to open, he just wasn't quite sure of how to do it just yet. He blinked, returning from the odd sensation, only to find that Athena was still kissing him, her arms pulling her tight against his chest even as she still floated almost a foot off the ground.

Perhaps sensing that he had returned from his small mental segue the childish goddess released her grip and moved away.

"One's debt has been paid. Compensation owed for the return of this goddess after she had been bidden to leave. One shall now leave Kusanagi Godou to his battle, but remember, none but this goddess have the right to claim your life."

The darkness about him flickered, and it was as though Athena were swallowed up and take. One moment she was before him, then in the next she was gone.

"Interfering wench," Ahriman snarled as he made a gesture, another jet of black miasma lashing out at Godou. "Her time will come after you! She shall be merely more prey for later. More another toy to enjoy breaking!"

Whatever Athena had done hadn't gotten rid of the Campione's thirst, but it had given him a second wind. His throat was still dry, his stomach still clenched, and his eyes burned, but he didn't feel as exhausted as he had only moments before. The power of the Camel surged through him, and his legs sent him springing to the side, the ground cracking from the force of his take-off. It wasn't as good as the speed of the Raptor, but it made for a decent substitute.

He'd gotten a reprieve, but that didn't mean he was in the clear. He was still being whittled away, still being slowly ground down. If he wanted any chance of winning, then he could no longer afford to hold back.

"Oh, golden sun! Oh, racing hooves! Oh, chariot that traces the path of the skies. Come to me for battle and victory, come to me that all shall fall before the brilliant glory of the charging sun!"

Fire burst up around him as the chariot came into being. The golden and silver horses whinnied loudly at they rose on their back hooves, their front ones pawing at the air for a moment, before coming down to earth, the impact of their hooves raising up another burst of flames. Godou felt warmth flooding through him as he took the reins in his hands. Again, it wasn't as though his thirst had been banished, but once again he had more energy, making it easier to endure the dryness in his throat.

With a snap of the reins the horses charged, the fire around them and the chariot intensifying as they thundered forwards. Ahriman lashed out with another stream of black and malignant filth, but the attack was turned aside by the chariot's flames, the condensed miasma hissing like water dropped into a frying pan. The seventh Campione felt a moment of vicious satisfaction as the child-like god was forced to dodge to the side in order to avoid being trampled, but it was only a passing emotion.

Being able to strike the Heretic God would have been a nice bonus, but it hadn't been his main aim. Instead he focused on the chariot taking to the air, the fire beneath the hooves of the horses and the chariot's wheels acting as a support every bit as unyielding and solid as the firmest earth. In seconds he was more than a hundred feet off the ground, and more importantly, out of the area of his enemy's drought.

Godou could feel the relief as he escaped the area of the Authority, a lessening of pressure as he was no longer being taxed. Still, he couldn't afford to take a second longer than he had to. He had to get rid of this field, somehow!

The problem was how though. How could he destroy a drought? The field wasn't one he could physically attack, not with the Authorities that he had available to him. The Warrior Authority would have been the best, the golden swords ideal for slashing apart something as nebulous and intangible as this Drought. Sadly, that option was no longer open to him, so he had to work with what he had.

How to end a drought . . . how to end a drought . . .

He had nothing, that was the sad truth. Sure, he had some ideas, but he did not have the tools to pull them off. The closest he could come to was somehow knocking Ahriman into the middle of the lake and hoping that it was enough to overload the Authority, and that was a slim reed to put his hopes on. The lake was big, but not that large. This was a divine power, so it was more likely that rather than being overloaded the Drought would consume the water and simply use it as fuel to spread further. That was one disaster he was hoping to avoid!

Another idea was to try to attack Ahriman directly, charge into the teeth of this Authority and try to slay him before its effects could bring Godou down. It was a rash tactic though, and though he had used 'all or nothing' approaches in the past this time it didn't feel right. His gut were telling him that if he went that route victory might evade his grasp.

The sword in his hand vibrated, and dull thrum as though it was trying to growl. The seventh Campione blinked as he looked down at the divine weapon, a thought fighting its way past his growing thirst and tiredness. Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi might be his best chance against this Authority. The divine blade was a weapon closely tied to storms, and there was little that ended droughts more effectively than a strong rainfall.

Drought . . . rain . . . the two words rang in his mind as he used his free hand to pull on the reins, bringing the path of the chariot around to once more face Ahriman. The problem was that though the Shining Chariot was a fast and powerful Authority on the attack, it was lacking in manoeuvrability once set on a course. Against massed numbers or targets of large size it was deadly, but to a smaller and nimbler foe it could be avoided. Not easily, but it was possible enough to be a concern, especially in a battle of attritions such as this one. Ahriman didn't seem to be the most agile god Godou had ever faced, but he seemed capable of evading long enough for his Drought to do its work.

The young Kusanagi needed to do something other than just try and trample him with the burning hooves and wheels of his sun-based Authority. And he needed to break the Drought, maybe even more than to hurt the Heretic God.

Still holding the reins with his off hand, he focused on the sword he held in his right hand. He could feel the power in it, something that he wouldn't have been able to do a few months ago. All that training he'd been forced through . . . it had yielded some benefits despite how much he'd disliked it. he was more in tune with the divine blade, more able to sense the power roiling within it.

Steel and storms, metal and lightning, they seethed about within the god weapon, strangely contradictory, yet potent beyond belief. Godou focused in on the storms, on the dark and thick energy that made him think of clouds that darkened the sky. Clouds fat with rain waiting to be shed, the sort of downpour that could break a drought and reduce it to nothing but a painful memory. The power was there, all it needed was his own magic to bring it forth, of that he was certain.

The problem was that Godou didn't want to bet everything on a straight clash. In theory this was the best way to fight the Drought, with a power directly opposite to it. The Drought was an Authority, a direct divine power, whereas Ame no Murakumo's weather control was a power of the Authority, a secondary effect rather than a main power. When placed in contest the blade might have the advantage of the elements involved, but the Authority was still a power of greater rank, something that left the result too nebulous. He needed something else.

The chariot completed its wide turn, and Godou got his first good look at the ground beneath him. Most of the park was in darkness, the fight having torn up any underground wires and demolished any nearby streetlights. Still, the Shining Chariot lived up to its name, the light it gave off enough to illuminate the area as easily as a panel of floodlights. From up here he could see the reach of the Drought Authority, the way it showed up as a slight discolouration on the ground around the Heretic God. Already it was large, almost the size of a small city block. The area wasn't even though, resembling the spread of a patch of mould more than some perfect circle.

He could also see where it was growing as it drank in more water and left the plant-life around it desiccated and crumbling. It was a slow growth, but it wasn't stopping.

Gritting his teeth, the devil King aimed the path of his chariot and thundered down towards the distant Heretic God. He had little hope of actually striking his enemy, but that wasn't his intention.

He felt the thirst of the Drought grip him as soon as he entered the field of the Authority. Being on the chariot dampened the effect, but it remained potent even so. Godou could feel it clawing at his throat, feel his head getting lighter as what little saliva he'd been able to get back into his mouth vanished. He could take it, but he didn't know for how long.

Again, Ahriman avoided the Authority, flowing to the side in an inhuman, almost liquid, way. His small frame made the dodge easier, and another stream of corrosive miasma lashed out at the chariot as it sped past. It was poorly aimed though, and mostly evaporated in a violent hiss as it brushed the edge of the Authority's flaming aura, a foul scented cloud the only remnant of it. The attack was the only attack the Heretic God had time to unleash though, because before Ahriman could gather himself for another attack Godou and his chariot had left the Drought, ascending into the sky once more.

For his part the Kusanagi heir allowed a small smile to touch his dried lips. That pass had confirmed a couple of his suspicions, or at least leant them weight. While using the Drought it seemed that Ahriman's ability to attack was considerably lessened. The speed and force with which he could release those streams of that corrosive black muck was noticeably less than what it had been before. Was that a consistent loss? Was maintaining the Drought lessening his other abilities?

His thoughts were interrupted as a thrum ran up his arm, a pulse of power that he hadn't been expecting. In his grip Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi was almost vibrating with pent up energy, the internal storm thick with waiting power. Again, Godou was reminded that the sword he held wasn't just some magic weapon, it was a god in its own right, one that was subordinate to him, but which still retained its own will. The god-blade might not be speaking to him, but it was making its desires known.

The divine sword wanted to fight! It wanted to bring down this evil god, and it was preparing the very essence of a cataclysmic storm within itself in eager anticipation.

The power of a storm . . .

The thought repeated in Godou's head, and an idea started to take shape. It was crazy, but at the same time it felt right, as though it followed a logic that eluded his conscious mind but was there all the same. The idea grew, spreading and crystalizing in the brief time that it took for the chariot to make another swinging turn. Soon he had the thundering charge of the burning hooves and wheels lined up upon Ahriman once more.

This time he came in low, the chariot coming down to the earth and rumbling across it as it closed with the Heretic God. Again, the seventh Campione could feel the thirst digging in deeper, but he ignored it, his focus upon what he intended to do next. Once more his Authority tried to trample the old god of evil beneath its hooves, and once again the attack was dodged, but in the wake of the seemingly futile action Godou acted!

Keeping hold of the reins in his left hand he leaned back and crouched all in one motion, turning sideways as he did so and leaving himself right on the back lip of his chariot. He was close enough that he could smell the singeing of the stones his Authority was passing over, he could hear the tiny clattering of stones as they bounced off the wheels. And behind him he could see the receding diminutive figure of Ahriman, the false child staring at the God Slayer, a look of confusion on his face. Godou felt a tiny flash of satisfaction at the sight, but he didn't have time to give it any thought.

Instead he focused on the sword he held. He focused on the storm that was held within the metal of the blade. He focused on driving his own strength into it, on whipping the storm up until rain and lightning cascaded from it in equal measure. The storm within the blade was no longer merely a storm, it was now a hurricane, a typhoon of the sort that hammered nations and left floods and wreckage in its wake. It only took a moment, but after that brief time the blade was practically humming with power, tiny sparks of lightning playing across it, and the blade wet with tiny beads of water. It was as though the sword could barely contain the power it now held and was eager to let it loose.

In a single savage motion Godou reared back, then stabbed down, the sword in his hand passing the lip of the Shining Chariot and impaling the earth behind it. The divine sword sank in as though it had been stabbed into porridge rather than stone and soil. With any mortal weapon this would have resulted in the sword being pulled from his hand, or in him being pulled from the chariot, but neither happened. Rather than catching in the ground the sword cut through it, leaving a gash in the rubble trailing behind the burning chariot.

The world SCREAMED!

For Godou there was no other way to describe it. He could feel the storm within the blade seething, sheets of rain falling, lightning cracking the sky, thunder loud enough to shake the very earth. He wasn't entirely sure what would happen if he were to aid Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi in unleashing it, but he was sure it would have been . . . impressive. As soon as the sword began to cut through the territory claimed by the Drought it was as though the storm had come under attack!

There weren't the words in the human language to describe what he felt. It wasn't so much a clash of forces as it was a clash of concepts. Ame no Murakumo contained rain, the Drought sought to consume it, and that very rain sought to end the drought. They weren't coming into physical contact, there was no rain, and the dryness was not a living thing. Even so the concepts clashed, and the world around them distorted, warping in ways that made the Devil King's head hurt just to look at.

Still, he didn't relent, he didn't hesitate, and he didn't stop. The Shining Chariot continued its charge, swinging around swiftly enough to dodge another attack from Ahriman, and lengthening the cut that Godou was inflicting on the Authority of the Heretic God.


Even over the rising shriek emerging from the clash of the two Authorities the Kusanagi heir could hear the distorted scream of his enemy. He could hear the bewilderment in it. The anger, the frustration, all of them bled through, and he knew that it meant his efforts weren't futile.

He could feel a resistance now, feel the tug on the blade as something tried to stop it. His right hand tightened on the hilt, his knuckles turning white as he refused to let his grip waver. The chariot charged on, dragging him along even as the resistance grew. The whine and scream of the distortion rose in pitch, a yowl rising into a shriek, before becoming something that not even the most tortured metal or instrument could have produced. Godou gritted his teeth as he did his best to endure it, even as he endured the growing pain in his hand and arm.

He just had to hold on a little bit more!

. . . Just a bit more . . .

. . . Just a bit . . .

. . . Just . . .

With a suddenness that caught him by surprise something gave way! The resistance that had been fighting him was suddenly gone so abruptly that his arm jerked into the air, the sword coming free of the earth in a single sharp motion. The seventh Campione just had time to be confused before the entire field behind him exploded!

Where the Drought had been before the earth explosively shattered, as though it were all composed of glass and had been struck from beneath by some giant shockwave. What slabs of concrete were intact fractured upwards, sharp slabs of it jutting into the air, like teeth in some huge set of jaws. More than that, the water that had been missing returned, the air growing thick with moisture, small puddles forming, then soaking into the parched earth.

For his part Godou still felt thirsty, but the harsh edge was gone. He still wanted a drink, but he could hold out, could still fight without it. Grinning triumphantly he stood up, grabbing the side of the chariot with his free hand, even as he kept his grip on the divine sword. He might not have been holding the reins anymore, but the divine horses drawing the Authority still responded to his will, bringing them around in as tight a turn as they could manage. Doing so brought Ahriman back into his line of sight, and the Devil King needed no subtle clues to tell him that the Heretic god was enraged.

The child-like form of the dark god stood amidst the wreckage left by the breaking of his Authority like some sort of disturbing statue. His posture was rigid, his arms stiff at his sides. His face though . . . Ahriman had never really looked like a child, despite his physical appearance. Something had bled through, in his body language, his expression, in the very way he moved. That had never been more apparent that it was at that moment though, his face a contorted mask that barely seemed to be human, let alone a child.

Sheer, unadulterated hatred was written across his features. The sort of raw loathing that it wasn't possible for a mortal mind to experience. Only madness could create such an emotion, because madness was the only result of enduring such a feeling.

Fear wasn't something Godou had much familiarity with, despite his tumultuous life. He was better acquainted with doubt, worry, consternation. Despite having faced gods that wanted to kill him he honestly was more perturbed by Erica showing up naked in his room to try and seduce him. In battle he felt caution, a respect for his enemies and the power they held. He felt trepidation at being hurt, but he always kept it and his other doubts under control.

Actual fear . . . the closest he'd ever come had been when Shirou had them all down at the end of their fight. Back then he'd had nothing left, the bombardment he'd taken having battered him enough to beat the fight out of him. He'd known that if he could get some time he'd be able to recover, to get back in the fight, but for those few minutes he'd been helpless. Unable to move, unable to use his Authorities, barely even able to speak, he'd been helpless. He hadn't really had time to feel fear, not with all that was going on, but it had been there, hiding in his heart.

As he stared at that mask of seething hatred the young Kusanagi couldn't help but feel that emotion once more. In the face of such hatred, such a desire for him to suffer and die, it was the only sensible reaction. Still, Godou had no intention to let it rule him. Instead he brought his chariot to a halt, taking up the reins once more and preparing to charge again. However, before he could begin to move the voice of the Heretic God echoed across the broken parkland.

"Enough!" More than ever Ahriman's voice seethed with hatred and anger, enough to make Godou wince. "I had thought to reserve this punishment for the thief that dared to steal from me, but I shall be content to let you taste despair first!"

All around him the ground began to move, to squirm in an almost animal manner. Dead plants, broken stone, crumbled pavements, all of it began to move, circling around the child-like form of the insane deity. Above him even the sky began to darken, black clouds of miasma forming to choke off the stars above, and to block the lights coming from the city.

"Sixteen lands were created," Power hung on the words as they were spoken, and the Campione knew he couldn't delay any longer. "Sixteen lands lush and fertile. I hated them. I cursed them. I set loose calamity and hardship upon them! These are my black gifts, my enduring legacy! These are the Sixteen Scourges that shall forevermore torment the lives of mortals!"

Out of position, he was out of position! Godou gritted his teeth as he realized he wasn't going to make it. His last charge had been powerful, but it had put too much distance between him and his enemy. Even driving the chariot as fast as he could, he wouldn't be able to close in time to prevent the use of the Authority.

As Ahriman spoke several spheres of black tar-like mud coalesced into being around him. Godou didn't take the time to count them, but he would have been willing to lay money on there being sixteen of them. Each had a different feel to them though, one seeming to radiate cold, another reeking so foully he could smell it even from a distance, another seeming to have blades moving about just beneath the surface. Still, they all felt powerful and dangerous. And they were all still growing in size. Already they were as big as beach balls, and with every passing moment they swelled further.

For just a moment Godou hesitated, unsure of the best course of action, then he felt Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi vibrate in his grip.

He didn't even need to look down to know the state of the sword. The divine blade might be scuffed, burnt, and even blunted in places, but it remained unbroken. The strain it had gone through insufficient to completely smother its desire to strike down the enemy, and the sentient weapon was eager to re-join the fight.

That feeling resonated with the Campione, firming his resolve. Hesitation was not his ally in this fight, as time only served to let his foe build his strength. With another crack of his reins the chariot once more began its charge, flames building around it as it thundered down like a falling meteor.

The first of the black globes came at them from the side, the vile tar that seemed to make it up churning madly as shapes swum beneath its surface. The god slayer's hands twisted, pulling the reins to the side in an instinctive motion, and the celestial chariot veered sharply, dodging the huge orb as it careened past. Another sphere came at them, the black muck spitting out tongues of flame the colour of tar. There was no time to dodge, but Godou didn't even try. The flames of the orb were malignant, but he was certain that the fires of his chariot were in no way inferior.

With a sound similar to two cars slamming together the two Authorities clashed. It wasn't a head on collision, rather it was more of a glancing blow as they struck at an angle and then deflected off each other. Even so the force released from that impact was tremendous, as black and golden flames tried to burn each other from existence. Even within the protection of the Shining Chariot the Kusanagi heir felt the force of the blast roll over him, forcing him to shift in order to keep his balance. Below he saw what little pavement remained intact fracture under the hammer blow of the released force. He could spare it no more attention than a quick glance though, because he was closing in on Ahriman, and two more of the spheres were coming at him, one from above, one from the left.

Again, Godou reacted on instinct, following his intuition before even having time to think. The chariot swerved again, dodging the globe that smelt of waste and rotting meat, and charged straight into the path of the other sphere, the one that constantly had blades and other weapons thrusting out of its surface and then being pulled back in. It felt violent, aggressive, but it was also something he could fight against, unlike the creeping rot that seemed to radiate from the other.

The blades of the black muck screeched as they slammed into the aura of flames surrounding the chariot, their darkened lengths piercing through in places even as other portions of the aura held. One horse whinnied in pain and anger as a curved blade drew a line of burning blood from its right shoulder, but it didn't falter. Another blade stabbed into the side of the chariot itself, metal shrieking as the two divine powers warred, sparks flying as they did so. The dark haired Campione had to bring up his sword to block something that looked like the cleaver of an insane butcher that came slashing at his head, the weapons deflecting each other with another shower of sparks.

Then they were past, the sphere of malignant tar and weapons behind the chariot and its rider, a clear run at the child-like form of Ahriman open to the Campione and his Authority.

Godou gripped the reins of the two horses, snapping them again in an effort to get greater speed from them. In his mind more spell words rose up, ready to lend more strength to the chariot and its beasts. if he could make this, then he'd be able to hurt the Heretic God, maybe even kill him!

"Burn, o sun! Trample, o hooves! Thunder across all that would oppose me, o wheels! Let none stand before my divine might! Let all foes fall and let the light of victory shine on me and all my allies!"

He felt magic surge from him, leaving his body and flooding into the Authority he was riding. This time there was a pain in his chest, not a great one, but enough to make him wince ever so slightly. This night was pushing him, the realization rose up in his mind as he tried to focus on his enemy. No battle in the past had ever been such a long and drawn out affair. After fighting Luo Hao he'd had the chance to regain his energy before facing off against the Monkey King. When he'd fought Shirou it had been an intense fight, but even though he'd been pushing himself he hadn't fought long enough to drain his reserves of magic.

That was what was happening now though. The monster earlier, freeing Illya-chan, facing Authority after Authority in rapid succession. This was becoming a battle of endurance as well as power. How many times had Godou used spell words to boost the potency of his Authorities, or his own performance? How many times had he channelled more magic into his attacks to overpower the force they were facing? The magical reserves of a Campione were massive, almost incomprehensible to mortals, but they weren't unlimited. It was possible to tap that well until it went dry. To be sure, a Devil King would recover at an absurd rate and be ready for battle with only a day's rest, but in battle that was useless.

The King of Disaster wasn't completely sure how low he was running, not having anything to have compared it to, but he could feel that it was getting bad. He couldn't afford to let this drag on any further if he could help it. His eyes narrowed as he focused on not just Ahriman, but the black spheres as well. They all seemed to be out of position, some were swinging towards him, like planets in some horrendously fast orbit, but they wouldn't make it in time. Others were coming at him in straight lines like cannonballs, but even they weren't moving fast enough to catch the racing chariot.

All of this flashed through Godou's head in an instant, the space of time it took his Authority to come crashing down towards the Heretic God, and all of it seemed unimportant. He was practically on top of the evil deity! The Kusanagi heir felt a triumphant smile start to form on his face . . .

Then it all went wrong.

The dark tide seemed to come out of nowhere. No, that wasn't right! It came out of Ahriman's shadow! As though seeing a scene in a movie Godou's mind replayed it, only an instant behind the actual event. The blackness beneath the mad god, it had seemed like his shadow, but just before the hooves of the horses could come slamming down on the child-like form it had surged outward. It spread across the ground, even as it leapt up, the shadows becoming the black muck so swiftly that there was no chance of escape.

Instead, the God Slayer unleashed the aura about the chariot as intensely as he could. He abandoned speed, he abandoned force, he took every scrap of power he could and channelled it into the flames!

The miasmic filth practically screamed as it explosively vaporized, the force of it enough to push the chariot and its beast back a few steps, as well as send Ahriman stumbling back as well. But the childish figure didn't fall, instead he set his feet and forced himself through the rushing wind.

"Not enough! Not nearly enough!"

Godou tried to reply but failed as he tasted blood in his mouth. Blinking in surprise he stared down at himself, then had some trouble comprehending what he was seeing.

The left side of the Shining Chariot was cracked open, broken like a car that had been struck a glancing blow by a speeding truck. It was buckled inwards, the outer aura likewise broken by the . . . thing that had stabbed into it. the thing that had stabbed into him.

The mass looked like a black stalagmtite composed of many different objects seemingly welded together. Godou had to blink before he was able to make them out. Knives, needles, hooks, clubs, warped pieces of metal, chains with serrated edges, there were hundreds of different things making the spike up. All of them had only two things in common. Firstly, all seemed old, primitive even. He could recognise them, but it was like they were first attempts made by someone that knew what they wanted, but not how to make them. Needles were crooked, blades bent, the links of the chains irregular and uneven, it was like that for all of them. The other thing they all shared was their petrified state. Be they made of wood, metal, or even bone, all of them seemed to have become the same black stone, fusing together to create the stalagmtite that had impaled both his Authority and his abdomen.

All of this registered in the Campione's mind in the space of an instant, then was blown away as the pain hit!

Godou was no stranger to pain, especially since having become a Campione. He'd been poisoned with curses, blown up, bitten, stabbed, and pummelled with enough force to smash boulders into gravel. This was different from anything he'd ever felt though, a pain that seemed to paralyse him from within, hold him pinned like an insect held by the needle of an uncaring child.

"I have given mortals many things," Ahriman's voice carried through the pain as clearly as a bell on a cold morning. "Winter. Famine. Sickness and death. All of them have continued to haunt your kind throughout your existence on this world, but I feel there is one that has always been my favourite of those first Sixteen Curses."

The Heretic God paused for a moment, and in that brief interlude the young man's eyes darted around frantically taking in his situation even as he struggled with his pain.

The chariot was immobilized, claws and bands of the black composite stone having wrapped around them. It looked as though the stone had tried to pierce their flesh but had been held at bay by their auras of flame. So, instead it had spread around the aura, trapping the golden stallions in loose bindings that still held them. Their fiery coronas burnt at the stone, melting it away in places, but it seemed to regenerate as fast as it was damaged, holding them in place.

The chariot itself hadn't fared any better. The aura about it had fended off most of the attacks, but it had still broken in some places. The largest was where the point had speared through the side and the rider, but Godou could see other areas that had broken. One wheel was pinned by a spike through the spokes, while the other was half submerged in hardened stone. The rest were relatively small, but they clung to the Authority with malignant tenacity.

"Cruelty, it stands above all others." There was an unmistakable note of satisfaction in that inhuman voice. "Disasters cause pain, violence causes pain, fear and dread can cause pain, but none can inflict such suffering as the desire of one mortal to hurt another. Only cruelty will keep a victim alive to inflict more pain upon them. Only cruelty will leave a victim untouched but helpless, and force them to watch as those they love suffer in their place. only cruelty can consciously and wilfully break a victim until they long for the release of death."

Godou tried to move, to pull himself from the spike impaling him, but every movement sent fresh waves of pain through him. Every effort he made felt as though something were twisting in his insides, shredding him in punishment for his attempts. For a moment he couldn't move, could only stand there like some sort of stunned ox being led to the slaughter, his mind numbed by pain exhaustion.

Then he rallied, drawing strength from the Authority about him, its warmth flowing through him, healing him. It wasn't much, but it was enough!

Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi came down, the divine edge sheering through petrified items and freeing its wielder. The seventh Campione stumbled back, the pain in his guts lessening as the piece of stone lodged there came loose but was unable to take the time to rest. In response to his cut the main part of the spike had started to grow, smaller points emerging from the severed end like some sort of malignant growth. Before they could extend too far Godou was swinging at them though, his sword hacking the spike down until it was only a stump.

But even as he did so another one of the huge black orbs slammed onto the side of the chariot. Again, the aura held, but more of it broke, and the horses whinnied in anger and pain as splashes of black tar speckled them, burning them where it touched.

"Not enough! You can fight against it, but the strength of cruelty is great, too great to so easily escape. Now hold still as my Scourges consume you."

More and more of the orbs came in, smashing into the protective aura of flames that surrounded the chariot and pressing in against it. Inside his head the God Slayer could feel the pressure building as the Authority demanded more and more magic to maintain its defences. The tempo of the battle had shifted, going from an explosive contest of power and speed to an endurance grind of power against defence. The globes of malevolent power were eating away at his protection, and he knew he would be exhausted before they were.

"Winter, War, Old Age, Tempests, how many Scourges can you endure, little king? How much will you bear before you break?!"

Another spot of the aura broke, black rock spilling through. There were more orbs coming in, but they weren't joining the attack on the chariot, at least not directly. Instead they were merging with the Scourge of Cruelty, sinking into it like water thrown into a full bathtub. He could feel the stone grow, not just in size, but in power, in strength. Where before the black mass of petrified tools of pain and violence had simply grown in an almost organic manner it was now flexing like a living thing. Its motions were small, but he could feel it beginning to squeeze the Authority it held, not just growing up around.

"Not long now. Will you beg? Will you plead? Will you just die?"

In a way it would have been better if Ahriman was simply gloating, but it wasn't anything so simple. Yes, he talked, but even when he did, he never stopped. Even as he taunted Godou he was moving, pushing his power into the Scourges, never letting up, never giving a moment's respite! Godou never thought that he would end up missing fighting Apollo, but right now he really wished he was fighting the less vicious and less competent Heretic God.

The horses let out a whinny that was closer to a shriek of pain than any sound a stallion should make. The seventh Campione could see them thrashing in their binds, trying to escape or fight back, but unable to get free. The grasps of stone closing around them were too strong, they couldn't break free!

For some reason that last thought stuck in his head, even as he did his best to cut away at the encroaching Cruelty. Strong, it was too strong. That meant something . . . what was it? what was he missing?

It hit him like a thunderbolt! Strength, the newest Authority was strong, so that meant that he had another option open to him. The Bull! It could only be used when he was facing a foe with strength that surpassed human limits. But strength wasn't what he needed, not now! He needed something else, power, potency, not raw physical might.

Should he abandon the chariot? He was low enough that he could make the jump, then switch to using the Bull when he landed. If he could put its strength behind Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi could that turn the tide?

It didn't fit, not against this kind of Authority. Pure physical power was a poor match-up against curses, like a bear trying to fight quicksand. He needed something different, something . . .

A plan started to form in his mind, a desperate plan, but one that Godou thought had a chance. It wasn't something he'd tried before, but he knew that it could be done. Slashing about him in a series of vicious strikes he managed to drive the cursed stone back a bit, opening some room. All around him the Scourges seemed to be merging, forming a single composite nightmare that seemed determined to crush the chariot, rider and horses included. There wasn't any room for hesitation!

"With horns of gold, with muscles . . . of steel, bull that possesses strength to . . . smash all that stand against me! Deliver your power . . . to me, be yoked to my chariot and let your strength be as one . . . with the shining sun!"

Even as he spoke the words pain exploded in his temples. What he'd endured before had been a grind, a slow but constant pressure on his mind as he endured the feeling of greater and greater pressure upon his magical reserves. This . . . this was as though someone was detonating explosives inside his head, but somehow failing to kill him, leaving him to suffer!

He didn't let it stop him though, instead he kept on forcing the words out, gritting his teeth for a brief moment before continuing on. He'd expected something, some reaction, but this was beyond his expectations. Still, he couldn't relent.

What he was doing was an imitation of one of Shirou's tricks. Godou knew that his fellow Devil King could combine Authorities to create new effects. The most famous example of this trick was how he had fought Lancelot in their famous duel, combining the power of his armour with his curses. The result had been enough to destroy an army of Steel, a manifestation of the knight goddess's immortality. Erica had forced him to sit through a lecture about it, and one thing she'd told him had stuck.

The seventh Campione had a great many Authorities, so he should be able to do something similar, merging them to greater effect. The problem was compatibility, as some of them were almost anathema to each other. Had he tried to combine his chariot with the Stallion Authority then it would have been a good combination, though the impression he got when thinking about it was that it would be a costly one. Both were Authorities tied to the sun, so their compatibility was good. The Shining Chariot and the Bull on the other hand . . .

At its core the Bull Authority was a divine power tied to the earth, with minor links to the power of Steel. It wasn't an Authority that should be working in concert with the chariot. But that was what Godou was doing anyway.

The burning aura around the chariot flared, the stone breaking apart as though it had failed to contain an explosion. The horses moved apart as a new set of reins appeared between them, metal and leather forming from nothing even as a new form shimmered into being between them. The form was huge, at least twice the size of the horses on either side of it and bulged with muscles that seemed to strain against the hide that contained them. Horns of gold glinted in the light of the fiery aura, and hooves that seemed to be made of wrought iron pawed at the fire it stood upon. Fire burst out of the nostrils of the massive bull in two small jets as it exhaled, the action accompanying its final manifestation into a corporeal being.

There was a moment, just as the great beast settled into place, where a feeling of outrage, of rebellion, flared through the link the Campione shared with his Authorities. This was not where it belonged. Fire was not a part of its nature. It was an Authority meant to manifest through its master's body, not to be summoned as an outer force. Even through the pain in his head Godou could feel the wrongness of how it was being used, but he forced his way past it!

Instead, he cracked the reins in his hands, urging the beasts yoked to the chariot on.


Ahriman had no intention of allowing him an easy time though, and the remaining orbs came crashing down like malevolent meteors. Godou felt them smash into the protective aura about the Chariot and felt the sharp draw on his power as the reinvigorated Authority demanded more magic. He saw the world swim in front of his eyes, and he felt something warm and wet drip from his nose. Then he heard a pop in his left ear, and he stumbled to the side as the world seemed to lurch.

But even as he did so the bull roared, rearing up and slamming its hooves down upon the fire that supported it. At its side the stallions likewise flexed their power, bucking in place, even as they pulled the chariot on. About them the aura of flames seemed to shift, increasing in power, but growing duller in intensity. The Bull's power of the earth mixed with the fire of the sun to create a corona about the Authority that seethed and heaved like magma, magma eager to burst forth and flow.

Magma that gleefully ate into the curses attacking it!

The composite aura created by the combined Authorities was inherently unstable. Neither of the divine powers being forced together were compatible with each other, yet they had been forced to meet and fuse by the power of their owner. The result was unstable, but it was also potent. The lava aura not only possessed both the power of earth and fire, it also retained the anti-darkness trait of the chariot, its power enhanced by the strength of the Bull. Against any other curse-based Authority it would have been enough to break them, but the Sixteen Scourges were far from an 'ordinary' Authority, if such a thing existed.

Ahriman was an old god, and this age was reflected in the depths of his nature. The Scourges were manifestation of the hardships that humanity had to face as they left the simplicity of a beast-like existence and entered the early stages of civilization. Things that had just been parts of the world, such as winter, sickness, or death, became things to fight against, not simply to accept. With their increase in understanding humanity came to learn that the world could be changed, that the trials they endured weren't simply a part of life that nothing could be done about. The metaphorical Eden had been abandoned, and humanity lost the animal innocence they had once possessed.

Yes, they recognised them for what they were, parts of the world to be fought against, but that battle was not one that was always won. So many died, so may lost their lives as early humanity dragged itself from the mud and filth of its earliest forebears. So many paid, so many suffered, so many were lost in one way or another. To those early ancestors of humanity these losses could not simply be the result of blind chance, it couldn't be something as simple as luck.

There had to be one responsible! There had to be someone they could blame! There had to be someone they could hate!

That was just another part of the legend that gave rise to the god that would one day be known as Ahriman.

Those scourges that mankind had to learn to endure, they became part of his power, one of the foundations, one of the basic building blocks of his makeup. This Authority came before the curses that humanity came to hurl at each other, they came before they feared some evil god taking them over and forcing them to commit evil that they could barely understand. They were the first things mankind knew to hate, the first things they cursed, even before they had invented the words with which to do so.

The burning aura didn't buckle, but the Chariot was still driven from the sky! Its defences held, but the force allowing the vehicle and its beast to remain airborne was weaker than the forces slamming against it. Rather than continuing the charge that would have led it to running down Ahriman's child-like form the wheels of the burning Authority were driven into the ground, the earth cratering under the force of the impact. Then another of the globes of darkness struck!

And another!

And another!

And another!

"You cannot win, Godslayer!" The Heretic God screamed the words, even as he relentlessly gestured, sending orb after orb crashing down on the grounded chariot. "The Scourges are too old, too strong, to be destroyed so simply! Bring all the force you wish; they shall still crush your very essence!"

His words echoed across the battlefield with such force that the dust in the air rippled visibly, and the water in the lake trembled. Even so, Godou didn't hear a word of it, his attention entirely consumed by something else. Instead, all his attention was focused upon keeping the volatile mixture he had created under some semblance of control.

Although the Scourges crashing into the shield of his Authority were powerful, they were not sufficient to draw his attention, not with his focus as tightly on trying to maintain his new Authority.

Godou threw himself back as he felt the volatile mixture of divine powers slip from his control! Around him the Scourges were crashing down, unleashing their full destructive power in a display that would have been terrifying at any other time. Now though, he couldn't spare them any attention, save to dodge them as he did his best to cover as much distance as he could in as short a time as possible.


Ahriman's exclamation of surprise and confusion at the sudden retreat of his enemy was cut off as the mound of overlapping dark spheres that had been crushing down on the Shining Chariot suddenly shuddered. There was a groaning noise as the Scourges poured forth their malevolent powers, the metal of the chariot corroding, the flames momentarily banking, the horses and bull shuddering as sickness and age ravaged their bodies even as their divinity tried to fight back. At any other time it would have been a horrific sight, however another matter was of greater importance.

Cracks ran along the sides of not only the chariot, but also the beasts yoked to it. Both the horses and the bull resembled living beings or porcelain that were on the verge of falling apart. Even more alarming was that a dull red light was shining from those cracks and growing brighter by the second!

The Heretic God only had a moment to blink in surprise before the beasts and chariot shattered and exploded!

The blast expanded in a sphere, a roiling mixture of flames and plasma propelled at speeds comparable to a cyclone and empowered with divine might. It was similar to the pyroclasm unleashed by the Stallion Authority, similar but with clear differences. The power of earth was included in this destructive eruption, stone and dirt carried by the spinning flames at insane speeds, heated until matter verged upon the edge of becoming energy, so hot that it seared the very air as it screamed by.

Earth and fire, a potent combination in accord, but in a way even more deadly due to their opposition. Like matter and anti-matter being forced into contact, the released energy by the colliding forces of the opposing Authorities unleashed power beyond either of them on their own. Destructive power that even the Sixteen Scourges were unable to stand against.

Godou felt the impact of the explosion on his back as it sent him flying, but more than that he could feel the cracking in his mind as both the Authorities screamed in silent rage and pain. The divine powers . . . they were hurt, damaged by this forced union and its destructive aftermath. He could feel that they would recover, but it would take time, longer than he would normally have to wait before he could use them again.

All of this flashed through the Devil King's mind as he flew through the air, but any further contemplations were knocked from his mind as he hit the ground.

". . . owww . . ."

It seemed like such an inadequate voicing of his pain, but it was the best he could manage. In all truth it was only due to the enhanced vitality of being a Campione that he was even still alive. He had a deep stab wound in his abdomen, his brain was doing its best to hold together under internal pressure that should have given him a stroke, he had severe bruising on one side, was badly dehydrated, and now had first degree burns across most of his back. Had he been a normal mortal he would have long ago gone into shock, and would most likely be dead already.

Still, as badly as he'd been beaten he'd managed to escape the worst of the blast. Ahriman, who'd been closer due to being caught by surprise and having drawn nearer in order to more forcefully direct his Authority, was not so fortunate.


Pain to his ears joined Godou's list of complaints as the inhuman scream of the pained god echoed across the park, not as powerful as before, but somehow more piercing, like an iron nail being driven into his ear canal. Rolling over he tried to spot his enemy amidst the boiling inferno behind him. His back screamed in protest, but he gritted his teeth and did his best to ignore it.

He could still make out Ahriman's form through the flames, but only because the insane god was doing his best to fight back against them. The black miasma of his curses flowed out of his small form like blood into water. The darkness stood out in sharp contrast to the burning flames, and around him the area seemed to blacken, despite the dull brilliance of the burning conflagration about him. The Scourges seemed to be gone, consumed as the Chariot died its fiery death, and the fog of curses the Heretic God was using to protect himself was visibly shrinking, torn away by the forces he battled against.

The seventh Campione's vision swam for a moment, the scene before him going in and out of focus. The huge roiling dome of energies seemed to shudder for a moment, as though about to lose cohesion. For a moment Godou felt his heart freeze as he wondered what would happen if the powers already out of his control rampaged even further, what if they spread outwards, consuming everything until they were completely spent? Ahriman being caught in the blast had ironically helped contain the chaotic energies, the clash between them and his malignant power keeping the clash between them localized. The two divine powers focused in upon one and other and failing to spread outwards.

Before his eyes the dome collapsed inwards, the forces forming it consuming themselves and the black miasma they'd been warring against. It shrank down, drawing into a single point, then winking out like a snuffed candle. It would have almost been anti-climactic, were it not for the field of devastation it left in its wake. The fires of the Stallion Authority might leave a blasted crater, but this . . . the very stone and soil of the ground had been fused into volcanic rock that popped and hissed as it cooled. Godou had no idea how the History Compilation Committee was going to cover this up, but however they did it was going to take lots of effort.

Then the God Slayer saw movement, something more alive and deliberate than just rubble moving as it settled into place. To the far side of the crater a figure was staggering to its feet.

To call the form a human would have been too generous. Before Ahriman had worn the appearance of a child as though it had been an ill-fitting suit. You could tell that what you saw was wrong, that despite the shape, features and proportions being correct the being within them was anything but what it seemed to be. Now though, the figure shakily trying to stand was nothing more that a seething mass of black shadows barely contained within the vague outline of a human shape. There were arms and legs, a head and a torso, but all of them seemed to be constantly flickering and changing, growing longer or shorter like candle flames dancing in the air.

"YyyYyOooOOuUuUu . . ."

The voice seemed to twist in his ears, contort and distort as he barely comprehended the simple word. The near overwhelming power and penetration of it was gone, but even so it was not weak. What wasn't missing was the fury that had occupied it before, only now that rage seemed to have gone beyond simple hatred and become something entirely more corrosive and burning.

The stumbling figure of black shadow fire turned to face the downed Campione, and though there were no eyes that Godou could see he nonetheless felt it as the Heretic God locked onto him.

"Youuu . . . you did . . . did thisssss to . . . me . . ."

The voice warbles and stuttered, twisting about in strange contortions that only added to the Kusanagi heir's headache. But as unsteady as it sounded the figure began to lurch towards the prone devil King.

"My curses . . . my drought . . . my scourges . . . you broke them all! You . . . you . . . do you think . . . do you think that is enough?!"

As he stumbled on the flames making up the figure seemed to flare, growing, expanding, and causing the figure himself to grow in turn. After only a few steps Ahriman was already more than ten feet tall, and as he lurched on, he only grew taller, broader, a titan made up from an inferno of shadows and black flames.

"You have cost me . . . so much. So much power . . . it shall be so long until I . . . until I can recover."

The giant of darkness stumbled, lost his footing and crashed down on all fours, the melted edges of the crater shattering beneath him. The impact making it clear that Ahriman still had weight and substance despite seeming to be only made of those black fires.

"I was going to destroy you . . . I was going to torment you until your soul broke, and nothing was left . . . nothing but a hollowed-out effigy to fill with my curses."

Godou couldn't tell if the Heretic god was speaking to his enemy, or just to himself, but it didn't really matter. His focus wasn't on the barely coherent ramblings of the Heretic God, rather it was on his own body. A body that had endured too much, a body that finally seemed to have reached its limits.

This battle had unquestionably been the most bloody and vicious that he'd had to endure since becoming a Campione. Not even going up against Shirou had torn him up like this. The pain was tremendous, but he could take it thanks to his increase vitality. The problem was that his body just wasn't responding as he wanted anymore. He could still feel his legs, he could still move them, but somehow the signals his brain was sending were getting scrambled. When he tried to stand, when he tried to even just move, all his legs would do was twitch and spasm.

"Now . . . now it will not be . . . so merciful! I . . . I shall CONSUME you! You . . . you shall be fuel for my recovery! You shall become . . . become part of me, forever . . . there, in my mind . . . in my soul . . . no way out . . ."

The giant figure tried to get to his feet, but stumbled, crashing back down to his knees, one leg sinking into the ground as the earth beneath him melted into a black corrupted mud. Still, he didn't relent, dragging himself along, determined to reach his foe. Determined to exact his revenge. The ground beneath him continued to melt and bubble, not like his earlier corruption of it, but rather as though it could simply not support his very existence.

Godou refused to simply lie there passively. He refused to be some stunned cattle waiting to be slaughtered. Despite his pain, despite his exhaustion, despite his very thoughts feeling sluggish and hamstrung he tried. He tried to get up, he tried to reach for where Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi had fallen not far away, he tried to draw upon an Authority, and it all yielded a single result.


His body refused to do what he wanted. His divine sword felt stunned, unresponsive, exhausted beyond anything he'd ever felt from it. The divine blade should recover in time, but it would take days, or even weeks. As for his power . . . what few Authorities remained to him were unresponsive, the conditions needed to use them not cleared, his magical reserves so drained that he might not even be able to do so even if that weren't the case. He could move his arms, but they felt so weak, so drained, that he couldn't do more than lever himself up into a sitting position. He couldn't even drag himself over to where Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi lay. All he could do was slump against a torn-up chunk of concrete and watch as the being of shadows and black fire drew closer.

Inside the Campione raged!

It wasn't a familiar emotion to him. Godou was normally a fairly easy-going type. Yes, he'd been outraged by the casual treatment of people by Heretic Gods, the way they simply dismissed the wreckage and ruin they left in their wake. Yes, he'd gotten angry at the way Voban had been so casual about using Yuri to achieve his goals. He'd been angry at Ahriman taking over Illya-chan over and wearing her like a skin suit. However, each of these occasions had never reached in all that deeply. Rage, fury, these weren't heights of emotion that came naturally to him.

But now they did, anger so bright it was almost incandescent. Frustration that tore at him from the inside out. Impotent rage that seethed like a trapped beast.

Strangely, none of these feelings were directed at the oncoming Heretic God. Ahriman was Godou's enemy, and he was a monster the likes of which the seventh Campione had never faced. Yes, he was even trying to kill Godou in a way that would eclipse even the torments of hell in cruelty, but he wasn't the target of his anger. The Kusanagi heir had only one direction for his frustration, for his anger.


As strange as it was Godou didn't hate his enemy for his condition. Yes, he had anger at Ahriman, but it was his own limits that stood in his way, his own mistakes that had brought him to this lamentable state. He hated being brought to such a helpless condition, hated being unable to act, to fight. It wasn't violence or fear that drove him, it was a single basic and simple desire, but one that burnt like a young star.

Kusanagi Godou wanted to win!

That was it, as simple, almost childish, as it might be, that was the source of his frustration and drive. The young man didn't want to lose, he wanted to seize victory. That was what had driven him to stand against Verethragna, that was what had let him continue to cut down gods and grow in power. He didn't want to bow down before them, he didn't want to stepped on like an ant. Godou wanted to grasp success despite the odds, to protect himself and what was his from anyone!

In the privacy of her own head Erica often thought of her beloved king as a man born out of his time, and in many ways that was an accurate assessment. Had he not become a Campione, and just lived a mundane life, Godou would probably have ended up as some sort of champion sports figure, or a renowned gambler, or possibly even a successful CEO, his drive and desire for victory propelling him on. Had he been born a thousand years ago then he'd probably have been a conqueror, a leader backed by hoards of devoted followers akin to the likes of Alexander the Great. He wasn't suited to a banal existence, he was one that strove to climb higher, even when he wasn't aware of it.

At that moment, as Ahriman advanced upon him the seventh Campione wanted in a way he never had before. He wanted to live, he wanted to fight, he wanted to bring down this insane monster! But most of all, he just wanted to win! He pushed, pushed with his body, with his mind, with his soul. Pushed to move his unresponsive body, pushed to think of something he could do, pushed to make one of his Authorities respond. Unthinking, unknowing of what he was doing, he reached out with the magic that he'd gained as a slayer of the divine, magic he'd never been able to use except with an Authority.

He reached out . . . and something responded.

In another time, in another place, somewhere far away in the kaleidoscope of the multiverse, another Kusanagi Godou would have been given gifts of knowledge by other versions of Athena and Circe. The result of combining the wisdom imparted to him by the two goddesses would have allowed the Campione to master the ritual of destruction and rebirth, and the creation of a new Authority. From Athena he would gain the knowledge of how to form the Black Blade, the Sword of Beginnings and Ends that was the rival to the Sword of Divine Salvation. From Circe he would gain the Dawn's Secret Archives, knowledge and skill to use magic in ways normally beyond him. These gifts in concert enabled him to create a massively destructive force, a black star able to stand against the might of the King of the End.

In this time and place Godou had received gifts from the same goddesses, but the circumstances and motivations involved with those gifts had been very different. In this world Circe had been the first to grant the Devil King her favour, and it had been as a gift of allegiance rather than as a prize to the one that defeated her. Also, the goddess of the Dawn had known the foe that he would face. In the other world she would have gifted her defeater the knowledge needed to perfect an incomplete skill out of a sense of fairness. In this world she had granted her new king knowledge based upon the foe he was being forced to fight, the foe she desperately wanted him to defeat.

In the other world Athena would have granted the knowledge she did to her rival out of a combination of malice and generosity. She blamed Lancelot and Guinevere for interfering with her battle, and she wished to impart some prize upon her favoured foe, so she had granted him the knowledge that would potentially allow him to stand against The King of the End. In this world she was acting out of a combination of jealousy and reckless generosity, eager to gift her favoured prey with an overdue reward, and even more eager to outdo whichever goddess had been kissing him before her.

The results were different, the situation was different, the gifts were different.

Godou felt the packages in mind open, spreading like flowers, then unfolding like some incredibly complex origami being undone. Each was different, the texture, content, and delivery of the knowledge they imparted having wildly distinct 'flavours' to them. The gift from Circe was an archive of magic, not simply spells but also wisdom upon how to manipulate the basic energies that made up all mystic forces. Along with the information came a feeling, as though he had learnt all that he knew on this while studying in some brightly lit temple of marble. The impression of white marble and golden sunlight seemed to tinge everything.

The spells he now knew were based upon purification, upon the concept of destroying or dispersing evil and curses. It wasn't really a surprise, Circe had known the kind of monster he was going to fight, so it only made sense that she had tried to arm him as best as she could. The Archive of the Pure Dawn was a compilation of every spell she knew that could have been of use to him. He could see it now, how he could infuse those spells into his Authorities could have made them more effective against Ahriman. It wouldn't have been an overwhelming edge, but it would have been significant.

The problem, though Godou himself was unaware of it, was that he had no aptitude for magic at all. Erica had tried to teach him once, thinking that he should get some advantage out of his massive well of power, but the results had been . . . disappointing. The blonde Italian knight wasn't normally frazzled, but towards the end of her efforts she had looked quite haggard and had developed a twitch in her left eye. By the time they were finished she'd told her king that he had all the magical grace of a blind and drunk gorilla, and his finesse was even worse. She'd taken what looked to be an unhealthy number of aspirin and then gone straight to bed.

That same inability with magic had been what delayed the opening of the Archive until this point, his mind just hadn't been geared to be able to make sense of it in its initial form. The magical knowledge had needed to reconfigure itself into a form compatible with his mind. It should not have taken as long as it had, but even a goddess had been unable to anticipate his utter lack of compatibility with any sort of spellcasting.

Athena had likewise chosen to gift the seventh Campione with knowledge that would be of use to him, and hers was derived from the shadows and secrets that were the realm that the former goddess of darkness ruled over. If Circe's Archive felt as though it had been taught in a sunlit temple then the grimoire passed to him by Athena conveyed the impression of studying in dark candle-lit catacombs. The knowledge had the feel of darkness, spiderwebs, old scrolls and leather-bound books.

Just as with the Archive the knowledge imparted upon him by Athena was meant to fight the Heretic God he faced. The Grimoire of Devoured Sins was a compilation of her own knowledge on how to face and destroy the malignant forces of gods that could be called evil. As a goddess that had once reigned as Queen of the Gods the deity now known as Athena had experience in facing them. However, unlike the sun goddess Circe, the one-time Queen of Darkness had little aptitude for the dispelling of curses, instead, she had taken a different route to deal with them.

She ruled over darkness, and darkness eventually claimed all. Working from that basic principle she had created a unique magic of her own, a divine spell that skirted the edge of being an Authority, the Black Sun of Devoured Sins.

It had been the knowledge of this branch of spells that she had gifted to Godou as a repayment for her return. Under other circumstances she might have been more cautious about handing out such a powerful wealth of magical wisdom, however she wasn't being quite as coldly rational as she normally was.

Someone else had given Godou knowledge before her, some other goddess had kissed him and granted him their favour. So, Athena was quite determined to make sure that she outdid the divine floozy that had dared to lay lips on her man . . . her chosen prey, that was what she meant to think! He was her chosen prey!

Regardless, she'd been determined to show the seventh Campione which of them could provide the more beneficial gift, which of them was the more useful goddess. So, there was the tiniest outside possibility that she might have gone a bit overboard.

Either the Archive or the Grimoire would have given Godou the advantage he needed, if used early in the fight. As things stood it might well be too late to employ them effectively. However, there was one factor that neither goddess had accounted for.

In Godou's mind the two unwrapping parcels of knowledge met. Despite the differences between them there was common ground, a shared purpose. The magical constructs of knowledge briefly clashed, then there was an intermingling, a fusion as the principles governing the two different forms of magic. Concepts interwove, secrets blended, and something new was born.

It should have been impossible. It certainly wasn't anything that either of the goddesses had planned to happen. Divine knowledge should not be so malleable, it should not modify itself so easily, it should not interact with other knowledge in such a way. To be able to break it down, rework it, recombine it . . . such was the province of genius that stepped into the realm of the divine. Perhaps some of the eldest and most brilliant of the deities of magic could have done it, perhaps the great Devil King, the Sorcerer Emperor of ages past could have done it, but even such illustrious figures would have been hard pressed.

Kusanagi Godou was no such mastermind. He was well aware of his weaknesses, and he was aware of his ignorance. He knew nothing of magic, he had no talent for it, and in a way that was his saving grace. Had he attempted to control them in any way, had he exerted even the slightest influence upon them, then the merger would have failed catastrophically, most likely destroying both packages of divine wisdom completely. By allowing them unrestricted movement the first stages of union between them were made possible.

Still, anything beyond that initial blending would not have been possible were the seeds that grew sown on any other fields. They should have fought, clashed, contradicted, and finally separated, damaged from the failed union. It was a question of the odds, really. In theory it was possible for the divine gifts to complement each other perfectly, but to do so every tiny detail had to go right. It should have been impossible! It should never have happened!

But then . . . the same could be said of a mortal slaying a god.

Godou was a Campione, a walking impossibility that existed in defiance of the fate of mortals. He might not have been aware of it, but the same luck that allowed him to defy the world once before fought for him again. Futures that could have been, futures in which the joining failed, fell away stillborn, pruned from the path of fate until there was only one road to follow. It was not a certainty. It was not a path to victory set in stone. The Kusanagi heir was facing a god, so for all his power to defy fate his foe had an equal chance to set fate in stone to their benefit. This was a clash between a god and a god slayer, and it could go either way.

What it did do was allow Godou to seize the future where the gifts given to him combined. The future where something new was born!

"Upon a barren shore, beneath a sun that has grown red as it sets, the serpent that feeds of the helpless eggs of the unborn wings rises!"

The words came as easily as with any Authority, but the feeling of them was completely different. With the divine powers of a deity, it always felt as though he were riding a barely tamed stallion, the power of the Authority only just under his control. The words were the mount working with him, giving the Campione the control he needed to grant the power direction. These words though, it was more like being caught in a raging river and only just being able to keep his head above water. He was being dragged along, and even though it had been his decision to unleash this current, now that it was free all he could do was try to ride it.

"Though desolation is all about it, the serpent endures, the serpent devours, the serpent is warmed by the light of the setting sun!"

One arm rose up shakily, his fingers spread, streamers of white and black magic rising up about him, flooding up into the air above his palm.

"Know that I shall look upon the total of all the world's evil! Know that I shall be as the serpent and remain unflinching and unbowed before it!"

Across the space separating them Ahriman looked up, the back mass of dark fire making up his face was eyeless as before, but there was still the impression of eyes going wide.


The voice was a roar as the Heretic God redoubled his efforts, clawing his way closer, even as his limbs refused to support him. The ground beneath him melted and broke even as it was torn up by his efforts. His every advance left a trail of destruction in his wake, but it wasn't able to stop the Campione as he continued the chant.

"By the dawn that brings new light to the world the serpent shall swallow all the evils that try to devour it! The serpent shall grow fat upon their bile, and then it shall subsume them, their broken remnants to be cast off with the old skin!"

The separate energies were flowing from him in a steady stream now, twisting about each other in a complicated yet beautiful dance. Up above him they met and flowed about each other, coalescing into a pulsing mass of conflicting black and white.

"Form now, hunger that devours all evil! Cast your pale light as you reflect the coming dawn, Moon of the White Serpent!"

The twisting mass of magic finally came into focus, the white taking the form of a huge white snake wrapped about an enormous black orb. The serpent's fangs were buried in the sphere, seeming to be drinking from it like some sort of vampire, yet the sphere didn't decrease in size, nor did the snake relent.

For a moment, Godou just blinked up at the result of his spell. He was exhausted, his mind fuzzy with tiredness, and he was having trouble comprehending what he was seeing, even if it was linked to him. This wasn't an Authority, this wasn't anything he had any experience with. For a moment he wondered if it would do any good, after all, only an Authority could be used to defeat a Heretic God, so what could this spell do? Then he realized what he had just thought, and a self-depreciating smile crossed his lips.

His eyes fell from the snake and the orb and focused upon Ahriman. Despite being unable to rise to his feet the god of evil and hatred had still managed to more than half the distance between them. He was dragging himself along, his limbs moving in ways that should have torn muscles from bone, that should have shattered joints, that should have left his spine a twisted wreck. Yet there was no hint of give in him, instead he just forced himself along, his hatred driving him on more surely than any engine could have managed. There were still no eyes, yet somehow the Campione felt their gazes lock as he raised his hand to the serpent and the sphere.


He felt that he should have shouted the command, made it a roar that all could hear. The problem was that he barely had the energy to lift his limb, let alone shout out his defiance. The last command came out low and flat, as though he had just ordered a coffee at a counter.

The results couldn't be denied though, not unless you were a madman. Above him the serpent withdrew its fangs from the black sphere and rose up like a cobra in the face of a threat. No hood spread, but instead its jaws gaped open pointing towards the dark god even as he crawled along the ground towards its master.

"This shall not be enough! This is not an Authority! This cannot stop me! I shall KILL YOU!"

Ahriman screamed it, even as he dug his claws into the earth to pull himself along. There was something in his distorted voice though, a note of . . . fraying, breaking, something that could be heard even through the insanity that seemed to permeate him. There was rage, and hatred and frustration, but there was also . . . fear?

The black flames that made up his body began to move, rising into a point, then a pillar, then a stream as the end of the pillar connected with the gaping jaws of the serpent and was swallowed.

"You think that can save you?! Do you think this spell can stomach my curses?!" A twisted parody of a laugh escaped the Heretic God. "Do you think it can endure the hatred, the pain that and anguish that gives birth to cruelty and loathing? It is no Authority! IT WILL FAIL!"

No magic can defeat a god, that was just the common sense of the world. Magic was of mortals, even the magic of gods was likewise limited, never equalling the sacrosanct powers of a true deity. It had been tried many times through the centuries, and always the practitioners found their craft coming up short in the face of the inherent might of divinity.

Godou watched as the snake feasted, its body bulging as it drew in more and more. He watched as Ahriman continued to drag himself closer and closer, despite his dark flames beginning to bank. He watched as his own arm trembled from the simple effort of just keeping it raised. He watched all of this, and he smiled.

Magic couldn't match the power of a divinity? What did that matter to him? He was a Campione, a living defiance of the supposed hierarchy of the world! He was a mortal that had killed a god, and he had seen magic that could eclipse an Authority with his own two eyes. His smile widened as he remembered that world that Shirou-kun had created, a world of impossible gears, near desolate plains, and seemingly infinite weapons. If that world could defeat an Authority . . .

He poured every last drop of his remaining magic into the spell, causing the white scales of the serpent to shine as though made from polished ivory! The draw upon the dark flames grew, the pillar of darkness having become and inverted tornado, its end funnelling into the gaping mouth of the spell-born snake.

"What . . . ? NO!"

Yes! Godou could the fear in the god's voice now! There was still that hatred, that rage, but where before the fear had been a whisper, now it was growing, taking root.

Still, fear lent the Heretic God a strength that rage had not, a frantic, scrabbling strength, but enough to spur the fallen deity on. Enough to let him close in on the seventh Campione even as the serpent fed.

"I . . . I will kill you! I . . . I will . . . I . . . I will not . . . die!"

Godou heard the desperation in that discordant voice, the drive, the frantic determination, and for a moment wondered what could drive it. When the gods came to their mortal world it was because they rebelled against their legends, they came seeking what they could not have. Doing so left them drunk on their power, eager for sport and battle, but it was not as though they despised the legends they came from. He'd killed several gods, and while they might not be eager to leave, while they might resent him for slaying them, they didn't fear to return, only to lose what they had.

What, then, did Ahriman return to? He had lived here, on the mortal plane for uncounted years, centuries at the very least. Was the legend he returned to one of such horror? He was the devil of his pantheon, the source of all evil, the beast to be shunned and hated. Did he exist in some sort of hell? Was his legend to languish in a perdition where he was not the ruler, but rather the main prisoner?

Or was it something else? Something more . . . permanent. Godou knew that it was possible for god to . . . well, not die, but rather to fragment. Erica had explained it to him, if their legend grew too dispersed, if the thread connecting them grew too thin, then it was possible for a god to fragment into the deities that made them up. Mordred, for example, could have broken into the gods that made him up, Laran, Ares, Mars, even the knight Mordred, each of them would become their own entity, and the composite being they had once made up would cease to be. Was that what Ahriman feared, fragmentation?

To his surprise, the King of Disaster found that he really didn't care.

The heretic God advanced, the distance all but eliminated. All he needed was just another couple of feet, then the Campione would be in his reach. He could hold him, tear at him, kill him and feast on the strength of his soul. Two feet, that was all that was needed, all that separated him from victory. Two feet . . .

It might as well have been two miles.

Just before he could reach Godou, Ahriman collapsed, the last of his strength going out of him. Above the malevolent god the serpent gorged itself, its body fat and bulging to an almost grotesque degree. The last of the flames of shadow were sucked away from Ahriman, the dark flickers fading away to reveal what they had been hiding, the true form of one of the most feared gods in the world.

The form unveiled by the lost black fires was not that of a child, nor was it a man, nor was it even a monster. In some way any of those would have been easier to look upon than the form that was revealed. Any of them could have been more easily accepted, more easily viewed as an enemy by the stunned God Slayer.

The figure was . . . almost as small as a child, but it was wrinkled and gnarled like some old man that had lived in the sun and been forced to work back-breaking labour his entire life. That alone would have been insufficient to shock Godou as much as he had though, it was the rest that took him so far aback. The limbs of the figure were so long, spindly and fragile, they seemed unreal, like a man trying to be like a spider, and failing. Then there was the emaciated state of the creature, the way its skin was pulled tight over its skeleton, every rib, every joint of the spine clear and easy to see.

But worst of all was the face, the face that was turned to face the Child of Pandora that had done this to him.

The features were . . . wrong, as though they belonged to a creature that was trying to appear human but hadn't managed to get it quite right. The eyes were too large, the face pinched in impossible ways, the ears curling in diseased ways that made the stomach churn to see. Even the shape of the skull was subtly wrong, as though the brain it housed was too long, and oddly flattened. The head tottered on the end of a distended neck, above crooked shoulders, and a ribcage that seemed to be too long and uneven.

This was Ahriman, this was the true form of one of the oldest and deadliest gods of evil, once shorn of all the curses, maledictions and sins that hovered about him. A wretched, misshapen thing that could not even stand upon its own two feet. The god had feasted upon the blackest aspects of mortal-kinds souls for age after age, it had supped deeply over the years, and what had been consumed had become a part of him. He had built this up, layer upon layer being added as the world turned and mankind inflicted one atrocity after another upon itself. He'd grown strong, grown poisonous, grown powerful enough that even other gods feared him.

But under it all, he was still the same pitiful, malformed deity that had been born from the clumsy understandings of men and women that struggled to make sense of their own nature.

"no . . . no, they are . . . mine. mine. mine."

The voice was so much less than it had once been, a thin reedy sound more akin to wind whistling though some rusted hole than anything else. Any other time it might have elicited sympathy from the normally kind-hearted Campione, but Godou was painfully aware of the true nature of the being before him. There was no redemption here, no second thoughts, no forced path. Ahriman was a creature that gloried in the malevolent and twisted path he had been forced to walk, and this moment of weakness was nothing more than that, a moment that would pass all too soon.

Instead, he just clenched his upraised hand into a fist, and let his arm drop.

"You want them, then they're all yours."

Above him the engorged snake seemed to smile as its mouth closed, the thin stream of blackness, now closer to mist than flames, cut off. Perhaps the Heretic God had a moment to think that the spell had somehow run its course, that it could take no more. Godou didn't know and didn't care. He was just using the last way he had to strike back at his enemy.

The serpent tightened its coils about the black sphere, and the previously perfect globe of blackness seemed to deform under the pressure, like clay squeezed between fingers. Then the globe began to shrink, even as the scales of the snake began to darken. As the black sphere grew smaller and smaller the scales that had once been a pristine white darkened until they resembled the clouds of an oncoming storm. Soon the black was gone, as was the white, and all that remained was the grey snake, bunched up in a knotted coil and gazing down at the remnant of a god beneath it.

"what . . . ? no, i . . . they are mine . . . why . . . what . . ."

There was something almost pathetic about the broken and befuddled way the Heretic God was speaking. Only a short time ago he had been terrifying, a creature from the depths of a madman's nightmare! Now . . . this was all that remained of him. Under other circumstances Godou might even have shown mercy, as he had with Athena.

But this time . . . this was different. He'd seen what Ahriman was, right down at the deepest core of his heart of hearts. This pitiful sight before him . . . it was what the god was, but it wasn't his nature laid bare. Even in this wretched, warped and twisting form there was that hatred, that hatred of anything and everything that existed.

Like hell he was going to give that monster a chance!

In all honesty, the seventh Campione had almost no idea what he was doing. The knowledge of the combined archives of magic was still far from fully integrated into his mind, even if he could make use of them. In many ways he was like a desperate blind man who'd just felt a trigger and promptly pulled it because he felt he had no choice. It might have been a pistol, a crossbow, a sniper rifle, a water gun, or a portable nuclear weapon launcher, he had no way of knowing. He'd known the nature of the spell he was using, knowing that it could be regarded as an anti-curse spell, but that had been it. As to what it was doing now . . . Well, it just felt like the smart thing to do.

The great grey serpent uncoiled like a spring finding release. Godou had grown almost used to seeing beings that could move at supernatural speeds, but even so it seemed as though he'd missed some part of the action. One instant the snake had been curled up, then the head and neck had shot forward in a way that would have made any cannonball feel inadequate and impotent! For a tiny fraction of a second the Kusanagi heir thought that the massive jaws intended to try to swallow the remnant of a god whole.

He was wrong.

As though it were composed of tar the serpent seemed to . . . splash upon impact. To be sure, it struck with enough force to pulverise the already broken and melted concrete the god had been lying upon, but it was still less than Godou had been expecting. He'd thought it would behave like the Stallion Authority, erupting into a vast maelstrom of power. Instead, the huge snake seemed to have melted into a great pool of thick and viscous grey liquid. For a moment the God Slayer felt cheated, let down by his own power.

This impression only lasted until the Heretic God that was now in the centre of the grey pool began to thrash. At first it had simply seemed to be more of the feeble flailing it had been doing earlier, an attempt to move that was too weak to achieve anything. Then those movements grew more frantic, gaining an energy they had lacked, and energy that seemed unnatural. Limbs thrashed about so violently it seemed they might end up snapping from the force. Hands scrabbled about, Ahriman's head whipped this way and that as though he were trying to break his own neck.

And through it all . . . the Heretic God began to scream!

This was not his earlier rage, nor was it his hatred, nor even his frustration. This was something else entirely, a crazed cocktail of agony, terror, and bewilderment that reached out and tried to claw its way into his ears as it shrieked into the night!

"nowhytheycannot! Nonono! Iminemineminemine! Cannothurtcannotdisobey! Whywhywhywhywhyyyyyy!"

The words blurred into each other, a cacophony of nonsense that was just barely understandable. It was just a flow of thoughts, whatever he was thinking being voiced even as Ahriman struggled with all the strength of insanity.

At first, he thought that the grey remains of the serpent was somehow acidic, that it was burning the Heretic God. Then he saw that the pool of . . . whatever it was composed of was somehow moving on its own. He could see it now, the way it had first only gripped the god caught in it, keeping him from escaping. But now, as it had a grip, it was moving more aggressively. Godou watched in a sort of fascinated horror as the grey viscous liquid seemed to stab into the papery skin of the wretched thing Ahriman had been revealed to be. The punctures were small, at least at first, but then the bleakly coloured liquid began to force its way in, tearing the holes wider. At first there was only one such attack, but then there was another wound, another puncture, and then another, and another.

The screams of the god lost their words, all that remained was a long unending shriek that no mortal lungs could have possibly produced. Godou felt his ears ring from the unearthly noise, felt them start to bleed again, but he didn't look away. He felt compelled to watch, to see this . . . thing that he had unleashed run its course.

He was slowly starting to grasp something of what was happening. The magic he had used was still active, running off the final fumes of magical power that still ran through him. It couldn't do much, but as it settled down and fed on his slowly recovering magic, he began to feel something.

It was distant at first, so faint that he had first thought it to be nothing but a trick of his exhausted mind. But then it became clearer, more insistent. Not words, not images, but emotions, sensations, and, above all, desires.

-The knife cut through flesh, warm blood spilling forth to sate his hatred, to cool the fires of his anger at the unfaithful-

-Disgusting, so thin, so gaunt, barely even a human anymore. Leave it to die, more food for them after all, no need to-

-Mine! It's all mine now! None for any other! None for anyone! All mine! Mine! Mi-

-Hold her down. So pretty. So tasty. Soon to be used. Soon to be discarded. Soon to b-

-Kill him! Murder her! Kill them all! Murder them a-

-Drag them down into the dirt! Make them f-

-They should feel it too! Feel failure! Fe-

-Make them flinch! Make them tre-

-Take their freedom! Chain th-

-Damn them! Damn them t-

It felt as though his very soul was swimming in raw sewage, the muck, the filth, it was beyond description. Still, he knew what it was. How could he not? He'd faced it enough times over the course of this fight, after all.

Curses, cruelties, crimes, they were all there. As were a million petty hatreds, the casual and quickly forgotten malices that made up the dirty part of so many lives. As were the silent, buried guilts, the festering wounds and sores upon the consciences of good men and women, wounds that in time sickens and rotted, eating away at principles and resolves. The unthinking hatreds, the most meticulously planned cruelties, they were all there.

The collective evils of all mortal life. Well, perhaps not, at least not in their entirety, whatever had been taken from Ahriman was only a portion of what he possessed, but it was enough. Bile rose up in the God Slayer's throat at the thought that this was only small part of what the god lived with every day of his existence. Was it any wonder that he'd gone insane?

Whatever the case, those curses, those evils, all of them had no love or loyalty to the one they once served. Whatever the serpent had done to them had severed that control, and now the morass of condensed miasma was tearing into him as it would any victim. Godou could see his emaciated form bulge and swell as the grey liquid forced itself into him, stretching his skin, bloating him until it was tight against the internal pressure.

For a moment, just one brief instant, Ahriman reared up, some last burst of strength letting him rise to his knees, his crooked back somehow straightening enough to let him face the Campione. Their eyes met, Godou exhausted but still steady eyes meeting a gaze that held nothing but hatred, pain, and madness. For a space of an eyeblink they remained like that, gazes locked as though trying to battle one last time, then the Heretic God fell.

His body ballooned then, swelling to absurd proportions as the remains of the snake drove into him. What little of it that could find no entrance instead clung to his outside, making him appear as though the grey pool he lay in were trying to grow over him, oily grey webbing reaching from him to the pools surface. For a few heartbeats the swelling paused, and a long shrill scream reached out of Ahriman's throat, a cry of both agony and defiance!

Then it cut off as the bloated form of the evil god exploded.

It should have been gory, it should have been something out of a nightmare, but Ahriman wasn't some simple being made of flesh and blood, and it wasn't his body being ripped apart by the forces acting on him. He was a god, and it wasn't his physical form that was being attacked. Godou watched as his enemy just came apart, his form fragmenting under its internal pressures, and those remains crumbling away into sand that glittered through the air like broken jewels. That was it, one moment the most malignant god he'd ever faced was there, then he was gone.

In his place was a massive roiling pillar of miasma, no longer grey, but so black that it would have made the void between stars look tepid by comparison. The tower of swirling malevolent energy seemed to reach up into the night sky until it merged with the sky, the light of distant stars falling away from it as though they were afraid.

It would probably have been of greater concern to the young Devil King if the last of his flagging stamina hadn't chosen that moment to run out on him. In that moment all his exhaustion, pain, and general stress, which had all been held at bay by little more that pure bull-headed stubbornness, all slammed into his at once.

Godou was tough, even for a Campione he had an ability to endure that was remarkable, but even so he had his limits. As such he was out cold before his head finished reaching the ground as he slumped back


"Oooh, that was a marvellous fight!"

In a world beyond the world, in a place between the plane of mortals and the realm of Legends, a being that looked like a young girl gazed into the eternal greyness about her and saw beyond it. She might not be some great warrior, her powers might not be able to wreck the wonder and ruin that so many other deities were famed for, but she was not without her own skills. Even from here, a place that should not even exist, she could still peer into the mortal realm and observe it. She could still watch as her children fought.

Her hands clapped in delight as she felt the dark god die. It was something that she never tired of, not even as first centuries, then millennia, passed her by. To see the impossible take place, to see the order between mortals and deities overturned in such a way . . . how could she possibly grow tired of it?

"Splendid! Truly a splendid battle! Oh, my dear child, mother is so very proud of you!"

She enthusiastically cheered her adopted son, even as she watched the strain of his battle overcome him and send him tumbling into slumber. She had no doubt that he would survive, even weakened as he was. No, the focus of her attention was her own Authority, and a decision she had to make. She frowned as she tilted her head slightly first one way and then the other, her pale violet hair rustling with her movements.

On the one hand, she really wanted to reward her child for this victory. It had been a magnificent fight, with so many ups and downs that she'd felt her heart thunder in her ears as she watched. Her boy had put forth such effort, such innovation with his divine powers . . . He'd pressed himself so hard, how could she not repay such deeds.

The fact that the god he'd slain had been an evil bastard that she personally despised might also have factored into it, if she was being honest.

On the other hand, as much as she didn't want to, she still had to be fair. Great as his efforts had been her adopted son had not won completely unaided. Those two goddesses had both helped him, granting him power and knowledge that he wouldn't have been able to win without. Did that mean that his victory was invalid? Did their interference count against him? She really wanted to say: 'It doesn't matter, he won', but she held herself back. After all, as the All-knowing and All-giving, the source of the Campione, she had to stay fair

A cute and youthful face scrunched up in adorable concentration as she once again went over the facts in her mind. Had her son received aid in the battle? Yes, Athena's interference had broken the tempo of battle, giving him a brief reprieve and a chance to collect himself, and for her to grant him her gift. However, it wasn't as though the goddess had fought Ahriman herself, nor as though she had held him off while Godou recovered. Her interference had been momentary. Additionally, it wasn't as though Ahriman hadn't had earlier aid himself. Working with other gods had let him use her eighth child's adopted sister as armour, thus forcing Godou to expend an Authority to save her.

She nodded to herself, the decision firming in her mind. The seventh of her current children might have had some aid, but it had been comparable to the aid his foe received. There allies had not interfered directly, they had simply placed weapons in his metaphorical hands. The goddesses had armed Godou, given him some refreshment, and left him to his battle, nothing more. It had been Godou that had taken up those weapons and used them. It had been he that achieved victory, even when it had seemed out of reach.

"Yes," She thought out loud. "I shall declare this victory a true one, one worthy of a slayer of gods. Congratulations, mama is so proud of you!"

Smiling beatifically the youthful seeming goddess allowed her own power to go to work, the Circle of Usurpation, her mightiest personal Authority, beginning to harvest the power of the slain god and feed it back into Kusanagi Godou.

Still, as she did so her attention was divided. Her efforts did not suffer from it, after all she was a goddess, but it was unusual for her to be so distracted. It was understandable though, rarely had she ever had the opportunity to see so many momentous events so close to each other. Some distance from the site of Ahriman's fall her eighth child was locked in a battle of his own, a complex one that was not to his advantage. Normally this would have been the main focus of her attention, but something closer to her seventh child was taking up her attention.

Even in death Ahriman was unwilling to quit the stage gracefully or quietly. With his death all constraints upon the myriad of curses and disasters that he had carried about himself like jewellery and fine clothing had been unleashed. Yes, there were much depleted from the battle, Ahriman having used up much of their power in his eagerness to kill Godou, but they remained potent. Worse still, they were feeding upon the ambient fear, anger and hatred that floated freely about the mortal city.

At any other time, it might not have been too much of a concern, the curses would have feasted, then dissipated into the air once they ran out of food. The general atmosphere of the city would have been bleak for a while, despair easier to set in, joy harder to find, but it would have been a temporary thing. In only a few days, a couple of weeks at the most, the pall over the city would have faded and things would have gone back to normal.

On this night that was not the case though. The attack upon the city had fostered much panic, much fear and anger that clogged the air, even as the monsters were brought down and memories magically altered. In addition, Ahriman had vented vast amounts of his own bile and miasma during his battle. Much of it had broken down, destroyed in that same battle, but the energies that had made it up had lingered, and the released curses found fertile sustenance in those remains. With such nourishment to feast upon they could sustain themselves to the point of self-sufficiency. They would be able to grow, spread, multiply until they could swamp the world. This could be the end of the world!

Pandora pondered it for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. The simple truth was that 'end of the world' events took place more often that most mortals would have believed. Athena's revival was a good example, when she'd tried to swamp the world in darkness. She hadn't done it out of maliciousness, she'd simply been enjoying letting her divinity run wild and hadn't given the mortals caught in it any thought. Gods far too often returned to the mortal world, then carelessly let loose some power that threatened to roll over the whole planet. But the world was not without its own defences, other gods that moved to thwart such threats, Campione eager to fight, lost rituals, or even Divine Ancestors. Always the damage was limited, and the world continued to spin despite everything unleashed upon it.

As Pandora completed the use of her Authority and imparted the spoils of victory upon her adopted child, she wondered what would 'save the world' this time.


Athena was feeling both pleased and irritated.

On the one hand she was delighted by the way her chosen prey had managed to defeat his foe. True, she would have preferred if he had solely used the knowledge that she had imparted upon him, but the end result had been sufficiently magnificent to make up for his . . . indiscretion. In all honesty she was amazed that he had been able to combine her knowledge with that gifted to him by the other goddess. The child-like goddess still wasn't sure as to whom the other deity was, but she sensed that they were tied to the sun in some way. Such contradictory gifts should not have been able to be combined, yet the results spoke for themselves. A spell the likes of which she had never seen before, almost an artificial Authority in the sheer depths of its power.

For her Godou to have created such a marvel filled her with pride, the knowledge that he could only do so due to her gift serving to warm her heart even more. Her chosen prey had once again proven that he was indeed worthy of the time and effort she had placed in him. When the time came for their final battle it would be a spectacle to make the very heavens tremble.

That was why she was pleased, the source of her irritation on the other hand . . .

Athena stared up at the towering pillar of miasma and curses and realized that she might be forced to take a more active role than she would have wished. She could see how the mass of loosed curses before her was preparing to grow and spread, to swallow up the sky and inundate the entire city with their malevolence. Her head tilted slightly as she stared up at the blackness that seemed to devour light, a thought crossing her mind.

This seemed to be the darkness that so many mortals had begged her to protect them from.

She could see why they would fear it so, and why it could have been a catastrophe if given time to gain momentum. The mass of curses seemed to have taken darkness as a medium and were using it to spread their influence and reach as they grew, meaning that once fully matured they would manifest as a tide of darkness sweeping across the land. Within that blackness the curses would have free reign, being able to torment and kill any caught within them. Mages and other magic users might be able to defend themselves, if they were sufficiently powerful or prepared, but for the vast majority of mortals being caught within it would be a living hell followed by a painful death.

Those that had sought out her protection had been wise. This release of divine malignance was the sort of disaster that shaped portions of history. Idly she wondered how the mortals would explain it to themselves, give that divine acts hid behind mundane masks to them. Would it be some sort of plague, one that brought suffering and madness to its victims? Or might it be something simpler, such as a volcano erupting and burying swaths of the land beneath ash and molten rock? She was unsure and uncaring, but the question of how it might affect Kusanagi Godou brought it to mind.

Thinking of her chosen prey made her eyes narrow as she evaluated the situation once more. As he was, he might be vulnerable to this miasma, the fog of curses capable entering his lungs and choking him while he lay unconscious. Of course, it would only require a minor effort upon her part to move him to safety, but what would that mean for her when the mass of malignant magic spread across the city, and then the rest of the nation? She had made many pacts to protect the mortals that had vowed their worship to her, and such pacts had to be upheld. Providing protection to so many would cost her in power. True, for most she had simply granted them artefacts that would grant them some defence against the coming blackness, but if this was what they faced . . .

If she was to uphold her end of the bargains, then she would need to invest more of her power into those gifts, then grant more potent protection to those lacking such artefacts. All in all, it would be an irritating level of expenditure. Certainly, with her returned strength she could afford it, but it would set her back further than she would have wished.

Her brow creased in annoyance as she gazed up at the pillar of black malice wishing she could simply be rid of it. then she blinked in realization as a thought occurred to her, one that could see many of her problems solved.

Reaching out she felt her own darkness wrap around the poisonous column of evil and curses. The feeling was a disgusting one, as though she were being forced to handle rotting offal and stinking excrement with her bare hands. Loathsome, that was the only word she could think of to describe the sensation, one that extended to every level conceivable. Spiritual, magical, physical, emotional, mental, it didn't matter upon which level she attempted to interact with the remnant of Ahriman's power, there was no portion of it that failed to revolt her. How the god could have existed with such a force not only being constantly in contact with him, but actually being a part of his very essence, she had no idea. Actually, considering that he was insane by the standards of other deities, this might explain a lot.

Gritting her teeth and trying to ignore the repugnant sensation of the baleful miasma, Athena concentrated, feeding her power into the act. Her own cleaner darkness wrapped around the roiling filth, constricting, it, containing it. her grimace became a sneer as she knew that she had caught the tide of curses in time. They had grown, but they had not had enough time to properly feast upon the free energy in the area. They were potent, but they had not yet begun to multiply, so their strength and numbers were low enough for what she needed.


It wasn't a curse, not like anything Ahriman would have used. She was the goddess of darkness, of the wisdom of women, of the boundary between life and death. Serpent, woman, owl, she was many things, and that multitude leant her strength. She did not invoke death as a malediction, instead she called upon it as a natural force, the ending that could be found at the end of life. This mass of evil and malice, aberration though it might be, was still a living thing, one composed of magic and divinity rather than flesh and blood. It fed, it spread, it lived, at least in some primal mindless way.

And an existence that lived could also die.

She sent her power out, the choking, sapping, crushing power of a goddess of death. This was not a power that inflicted death, rather it was a power that brought forth the natural death that any creature found at the end of its life. Instead of being something in the distant future she instead brought it to the present, inflicting it upon the object of her ire.

This was not some invincible or almighty Authority; in fact, it was one of her weakest abilities. Against creatures with any sort of immortality it was useless, so it could not be used against her fellow divinities. Likewise, it was of no against Campione, their innate resistance to magic making it impossible for the death to get a grip upon them. Ultimately it was a power only suited to destroy weaker foes, beings that would normally have been beneath her notice.

In this case it was well suited though. The curses and living miasma were beneath her, weak beings unable to resist her power. True, in time they might have been able to grow to the point where through sheer numbers and shared strength they would have been a threat, but at this time, so early in their growth, they were unable to protect themselves from her power.

An ear-splitting whine rose into the air as her darkness crushed inwards. It was a wordless keening, the death-cry of more curses than even she could count.

Quickly the tower of darkness collapsed in upon itself, her own darkness consuming it, ruthlessly annihilating all it came into contact with until there was nothing left. Death claimed all of the curses, their bile being silenced and their forms broken down into untainted magical energy that slipped away into the atmosphere.

A tiny bead of sweat ran down the side of Athena's face as she lowered her arm. That had been more taxing than she had been expecting, the living miasma more potent and resistant than she'd been prepared for. Such concentrated malice . . . she could understand why it could have grown to be a calamity if left unchecked. Had such a mass of curses grown out of control then she could easily see it becoming something worthy of the premonitions of doom that had plagued the land. Once grown and spread they would have been akin to a swarm of locusts, individually of minimal danger to any being of sufficient power, but so numerous that their destruction would be difficult.

Still, despite her tiredness she was quite pleased with the outcome. By destroying the encroaching malignant darkness at its source, she had essentially completed her pacts with all the mortals that had begged for her protection. As of now she had no need to spend any more of her power on the upkeep of their defences, which meant that she could now reserve her own strength while partaking of the magic offered by their worship. Such worship would be invaluable in aiding her to complete her recovery and integrate the foreign divinity she had assimilated. All in all, destroying the prophesised darkness before it was able to gain momentum had been a win for her.

Off to the side she heard a slight moan as Kusanagi Godou began to regain consciousness. Additionally, she could feel the approach of one of the magic knights that served him, the same one that had aided him in their first battle. For a moment the Earth Mother considered remaining, perhaps intimidating the mortal that was constantly about Athena's chosen prey. It would serve as a reminder to her that while the seventh Campione might show her favour she was still far beneath a goddess such as the Queen of Darkness.

It was just an idle thought though, and she quickly dismissed it. it was not yet time for the anticipated battle between her and her chosen prey, and Athena was hesitant to take any actions that might precipitate it too early. Yes, she was willing to step back for now, though later she would see to it that King Kusanagi repaid her for this action that had benefited his city.

She was broken from her thoughts by a sudden surge of power from deeper in the city, a pointed reminder that her prey's battle had not been the only one to be raging. Turning her head Athena extended her senses, trying to gain a feeling of how the distant battle progressed.

What she felt was . . . strange. If the clash between Kusanagi Godou and Ahriman had been a battle between fortresses, then the distant conflict was a personal duel between champions. Neither of them cast about the raw power that her prey and his foe had brought to bear, but the force they were using was sharp, focused and deadly. For a moment she considered leaving so that she could witness the battle, then dismissed the thought as something occurred to her.

The other goddess, the one that had granted her prey knowledge before her. She must still be about her somewhere, no doubt seeking to sink her claws into the young Supreme King as soon as she could. No doubt she planned to use the fact that her gift had proved pivotal to his victory to worm her way closer to him, either in an attempt to slay him or . . .

No! Athena refused to allow such a thing! Quite clearly it was essential that she stay close to her chosen future foe so as to protect him from this . . . this harridan that clearly didn't have his best interests at heart.

Her mind made up the goddess settled down within her concealments to wait and watch over the fallen Campione.

Still, she was curious about how the other fight would end.


Circe clutched her magic about herself as stared down at the battlefield below her.

In the distance she could feel the fall of Ahriman, and her elation at the death of the monstrous deity had almost caused her to drop her cloak of spells. The knowledge that such a monster was gone eased her heart no end, and she had already made a personal resolve to 'specially' thank the God Slayer once matters were settled. She had never heard of a god and a God Slayer having a child, but so great was her gratitude that she would have no issue with it, if such he desired.

It would require some effort on her part of course, and she would need to complete her recovery from the wounds inflicted upon her by that other uncouth son of Pandora. The brass replacements she had constructed were marvellous creation, but they would not be up to the task of letting her bear a child.

Still, such matters were not for now, despite her desires. The threat was not yet gone, not while one of the mad gods still lived.

That was why she stood where she was, upon a building, cloaked in the most sophisticated concealment spells she could, and staring into a cauldron of brass filled with quicksilver. The surface of the liquid metal was as smooth as glass and served as a mirror. The reflection it cast was not of her face though, rather it showed a scene far distant. A scene of grave importance to her.

A Heretic God battled a God Slayer, their struggle a game of cat and mouse with blood on the line. Each sought to evade the other and gain an advantage. Each sought the other's death, and neither were willing to relent.

Circe was well aware as to which of the combatants she wished to emerge victorious. The death of Ahriman took a great weight from her mind, but monstrous though he had been it had never been the god of curses that had led their group. Odysseus had been the one to engineer this all, he had been the one to find the other god, he had been the one to bring him back here, and he had been the one to plan this night of horrors. The travelling god could not escape, not if she wanted to know any sort of ease.

Unfortunately, it was impossible for her to intervene, not as things stood. Her own power was exhausted after her feats of the night. Playing her part in the plans of her 'allies', the surprise attack that had slain the beast of Ahriman, the knowledge and power she had imparted upon King Godou, all of it had been draining. At the height of her power, it would have been easy for her, but in her weakened state . . .

All she could do was watch, and hope that this other King could match Kusanagi Godou's achievement.


Authorities of Ahriman

Black Sovereign Over Curses: The Beast of the First Sin – This Authority represents not only Ahriman's dominion over the curses and maledictions of the world, but also the supremacy of the first sin, the first evil. This original sin has been lost, even Ahriman unaware of what it was, but its nature endures in this Authority, the first and greatest curse that claims dominion over all others.

In battle this Authority initially takes the form of a massive headless and vaguely humanoid form that pulls itself from the mire of corrosive mud that its user can produce. This giant is an extremely dangerous combatant, possessing immense strength, durability, and considerable speed for its size. Its form is not human though, and it can manifest extra limbs, or parts of limbs, that can mutate into dangerous and monstrous forms. However, it is not dangerous simply due to mere physical abilities.

The Black Sovereign possesses a number of more esoteric powers beyond brute force. The first is its ability to claim territory close to it, using that claimed area to extend its attack by partially submerging within that territory, and then unleashing attacks elsewhere. As the claimed territory increases in size more potent and complex attacks can be employed, allowing for multiple attacks from multiple angles at once. This ability is tied to the second power of the Black Sovereign.

Just as all other sins and evils came from the first sin so do lesser monsters and abominations spawn from the Beast of the First Sin. It is a form of immortality, where any portion of the beast that is separated from the main body, be it entire severed portions, or simple splashes of blood, will gain a life of their own and mutate into completely new beings. What makes this even more deadly is that the new monsters remain under the control of this Authority, meaning any attempt to damage it simply leads to an ever-growing number of additional enemies.

These lesser spawns are considerably more fragile than their 'parent', but even so can be a great threat. These creatures possess a certain level of adaptive regeneration, meaning that they can change to match and overcome a tactic that is consistently used against them. In some cases, they can also split into further smaller monsters, depending upon the type of damage they receive. They are also capable of tracking a target with almost unerring accuracy once they have their scent. Even if a target escapes using flight or teleportation, the curse born monsters can still track them anywhere in the world, making escape an impossibility.

Another potent trait of this Authority is that as long as it stands upon the battlefield it will absorb all damage done to its master, effectively making them invulnerable as long as it endures. The lesser monsters spawned from the Black Sovereign are also linked to its immortality, meaning that if a sufficient number of them exist after the main body is destroyed the protection will persist until they are also dealt with. This protection does come with restrictions though. As long as this Authority is being used the user must remain immobile and close to the Black Sovereign. Also, it is impossible to make use of any other Authorities while this one is in use.

Should the Black Sovereign be destroyed its body will be used as fodder for the creation of one final monster, the Beast of the First Sin. This monster can be considered the nucleus of the Black King, a representation of the first evil that led to the creation of all others. This monster is extremely dangerous, though not as hardy as its larger form. The Beast of the First Sin is a creature of extreme poison, the sin it represents manifesting as a venom that even gods should fear. As a form of condensed curse miasma this poison will paralyse and eventually kill virtually any being it is inflicted upon. The only exceptions will be against gods with specific anti-poison Authorities.

However, while this aspect of the Authority is swift and deadly it is also fragile. Should the target evade or block the initial lunge it is a relatively easy matter to retaliate and destroy this final incarnation of the Authority. It has little in the way of defences, and its immortality is next to non-existent.

If likened to a Noble Phantasm the closest one comes is the demons summoned by the Caster of the Fourth Holy Grail War. It is capable of creating further servants and possesses a level of recovery and regeneration that makes it difficult to deal with. Nothing short of absolute annihilation can permanently keep it down, meaning that firepower on the level of Excalibur is the best way to go.

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The Cruel Drought – Arguably one of Ahriman's weaker Authorities, though in a battle of attrition it can be a very potent power. It should be a component of a greater Authority, but due to Ahriman's origins in Africa, a place where early humanity was at the mercy of droughts, it is a power of its own. Many of the earlier evils that made up his nature were conducted due to the pressure placed on civilization by a lack of water and the struggle for control of the few reliable water sources.

The Cruel Drought creates an area about Ahriman where the concept of 'water' is actively rejected. The area dries up, those within it rapidly become thirsty as they suffer rapidly advancing dehydration, as well as a drain upon their vitality, and an increasingly potent disruption to their minds. The longer a victim is within the territory of this Authority the worse the effects become. Ordinary mortals caught within it will succumb quickly, either to thirst, or to delirium that quickly becomes violent. Magic users can protect themselves to a degree, if they possess the correct spells or knowledge, but even so this merely delays the same outcome by a few minutes at most. Other gods or Campione can resist the effect, depending upon their own powers or attributes, but in time it can wear away at even these defences and affect them as well.

What makes this Authority more dangerous is its ability to grow. As it encounters and consumes more water its area of effect will increase, largely without limit. Salt water doesn't impact this Authority, nor does any other liquid unfit for human consumption. Only 'drinkable' liquids are consumed by the Cruel Drought, leading to a growth of area proportional to the amount of water consumed.

While using this Authority Ahriman's output of curses and miasma is reduced, but not removed. He can still launch streams of corrosive corruption, not with the same speed and power as before. The territory also moves with him, Ahriman always being at the centre of it. This is an initial weakness, but as the effects of the Authority grow this flaw is mitigated and eventually cancelled out.

When compared to Noble Phantasms the Cruel Drought could be regarded as an anti-army type, due to its large and spreading area of affect. Its suitability to destroying multiple weaker enemies makes it a natural counter to such Noble Phantasms as Iskander's army, or the multiple incarnation of the Many-Faced Hassan. Its slow effect upon stronger units makes it unsuited to dealing with more personally powerful Servants, such as Arturia or Heracles. Each of them could endure it long enough to close with Ahriman and kill him in close combat.

In final analysis this is a troublesome Authority, one that can take time to gather momentum, but once it does it can become a nightmare to deal with.

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Sixteen Calamities of Origin – Quite possibly the most potent of all Ahriman's Authorities. This divine power is tied back to his position as the origin of all the hardships that mankind has to contend with.

In form this Authority manifests sixteen orbs of liquid miasma, each encapsulating one of the calamities. Each sphere is a self-contained internal world somewhat akin to a more primitive version of a Reality Marble, one that doesn't manifest to replace the world but is instead a phenomena in it. The internal 'world' of each sphere is a nigh endless space occupied entirely by matter, energy, or some active concept tied to the nature of the calamity that is embodied. For example, the calamity of winter is nothing but an infinite frozen landscape, while cruelty is something akin to Unlimited Blade Works, but contains nothing but implements of torture or harm.

Each orb can externalize a portion of nature it contains. Winter freezes what it touches, war extrudes weapons in a manner similar to an inferior Gate of Babylon, tempest is surrounded by gale force winds, while famine drains life energy and vitality from those in contact with it. All sixteen spheres have different effects, but none of them are to be taken lightly. The longer they are in contact with a target the more potently they actualize their effect upon it, their influence building upon itself and gaining momentum with time. The magic resistance of a Campione or Heretic God can resist for a time, but once enough momentum is gained this resistance can be overcome.

In terms of pure power each sphere is roughly equivalent to an A or A+ Noble Phantasm, especially if given time to ramp up. When a calamity reaches its greatest point of output it if releasing enough of its particular effect to count as an anti-army/anti-fortress effect. It is also possible for Ahriman to 'break' a calamity, sacrificing it to release a full power effect for a few brief seconds before fading away. A broken calamity can achieve such results as covering an entire battlefield in pestilential diseases, or tear a giant apart with a hoard of self-wielding weapons.

This ability is powerful, but leaves this Authority incomplete and unusable after it is released until the broken calamity regenerates. The length of this regeneration is dependant upon how many of the calamities are broken. Just a single one will only require a day or two to recover, two or three may take as long as a week, if more are broken the regeneration time increases almost exponentially. Should Ahriman break all of the calamities then it will take an entire year for this Authority to recover, though there are methods available to him to accelerate the process.

There are other limitations and side effects that come with the use of this Authority. For starters it is impossible for Ahriman to employ all the calamities at once. Controlling them requires considerable willpower and focus, sufficient that even an insane god such as he can only command four or five of them at a time. Next is the bleed-over effect of controlling such powerful malignant incarnations of power. As he controls them Ahriman is himself affected by them, his already twisted personality further warped by whatever calamity they embody. Given that he is already insane by any normal measure of sanity these influences have only a minimal effect upon him. however, that effect can be significant.

Using winter, for example, causes his mind to become more predatory, less focused upon inflicting pain and more upon slaying and consuming a foe. By contrast using cruelty will make him even more vindictive and vicious, so eager to inflict pain that he may commit tactical errors simply to prolong his enemies suffering.

As a final resort Ahriman can employ this Authority as a final attack, combining all sixteen spheres into a single massive one large enough to blot out the sky. This combined orb will radiate corrupted divine energy that returns all mortal existence back to a devolved and corrupted state. Buildings, items, and constructs of all types will break down and decay as though time were passing for them at an accelerated rate. Their remains will melt into a similar black mud to Ahriman's miasma, funnelling to him to empower the god. Living creatures will corrode, their flesh breaking apart into sludge that will be absorbed by the black mud.

At any time Ahriman can bring the giant orb crashing down in an attack that can be regarded as an anti-world/anti-god attack. Damage is inflicted via an imposition of the concept of 'corruption that destroys the world', meaning that it is fully capable of breaking Reality Marbles catastrophically enough to damage their users. If a user of Marble Phantasms has their manipulations affected by this Authority, then they will suffer severe feedback sufficient to inflict significant damage. If employed against the mortal world the full power of this Authorities final form is sufficient wipe a large landmass clean of life and leave it uninhabitable for decades at the least.

There is a price to be paid for the use of such power though. Should he employ his most potent Authority in such a manner Ahriman must temporarily sacrifice his immortality until the Authority fully recovers. With his immortality stripped from him Ahriman is much more vulnerable, every bit as much so as a mortal human. He still has access to his other Authorities but has become a potent but fragile glass cannon. As such he will not employ this aspect of his Authority unless he has no other choice.

In final analysis this is a very potent Authority, one that can stack up against the likes of even Gilgamesh's Ea, though it lacks the ability for repeated use. The varied nature of each calamity provides a high level of versatility, and the range and control enable a large field of uses. All in all, it is a nightmare to fight for anyone without some form of purification power, or defence against curses or evil.