Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1360: Recognition

Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos -

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After dispelling his Reality Marble, Ozymandias had a clearly somber expression on his face as he descended to rejoin the others. Altera was a monster beyond anything he could have imagined. She had even been able to cut down the Cosmos Sphinx, Wehem-Mesut; a being capable of reforming itself indefinitely; in a single blow. Since it had taken a blow in his stead, Ozymandias knew he had nearly lost his life at the hands of Altera; despite having taken her serious from the onset of battle...

What Ozymandias had no way of knowing was that Altera was an ent.i.ty that, on a fundamental level, transcended traditional Heroic Spirits. She was a completely alien existence and, though the Throne of Heroes was able to call upon her Spirit; it also possessed the capabilities to call upon other Alien Heroes, Conceptual Ent.i.ties, and even Outer G.o.ds. She also possessed the t.i.tles of 'King of Combat' and the 'Great King of Destruction', legacies that granted her actual power through the Throne of Heroes.

Ozymandias also possessed two t.i.tles: 'King of Kings' and 'King of Construction' but, as a 'Great King of Destruction', Altera was basically a perfect counter to him. He could not create faster than she was able to destroy; even with a veritable ocean of magical power at his disposal.

From the very beginning, there had only ever been two outcomes to their battle: the first ending in Ozymandias' death and the second relying on Vahn's intervention. Now, the legendary King of Kings tasted his second defeat; this time learning the vastness of the heavens and the depths of history. He hadn't even been unrivaled during his lifetime so, while his pride would not allow him to easily lower his head to others; he understood there was a vast gulf between him and Altera...

Seeing the nightmarish woman pa.s.sively receive Vahn's caress, Ozymandias was reminded of the fact that the latter wasn't a being to be trifled with. Altera wasn't even the strongest being under his authority so, while he had never harbored thoughts of rebellion; Ozymandias decided he would be an ardent supporter of the Empire. His time to rule had ended more than a millennium prior so now, fate willing, he would enjoy life alongside his beloved once again. This time, he would not allow his pride to invite tragedy into their lives...


With Ozymandias having joined them, Vahn stopped patting Altera's head to say, "I've decided to end our compet.i.tion here. It was an error in my judgment to abstain from making a clear set of rules for everyone to follow. I wanted us to be able to go all out so that we might better understand each other moving forward. Ultimately, the victor of this event would have always been Artoria as, even if I went all out from the start; there is no real way to defeat her. If any of you would like to try, feel free to challenge her at your behest. For now, I officially declare this compet.i.tion concluded."

Hearing Vahn claim that Artoria was the strongest among them, Nero couldn't help but give her doppelganger an intrigued look, musing, "Umu, I would like to challenge you. Forgive me if my words offend you but I can't begin to fathom how you could be stronger than me. I still wish to prove myself so I am unable to let things end like this."

Since she had been antic.i.p.ating Nero's challenge from the start, Artoria was fully prepared to accept. She gave Vahn a look, asking with her eyes whether or not she could accept. As an Empress, she had a considerable amount of authority but; as Vahn had just announced the conclusion of the series of battles, she needed to confer with him. He may recognize her status as equal to her own but Artoria would not pa.s.s on an opportunity to elevate his status in the eyes of others.

Vahn would have preferred to end things there and then but, as a battle between Artoria and Nero could help to ease tensions; he ultimately decided to allow it. He was also curious about what would happen when Nero's performance came to an end so, without too much deliberation, he nodded his head and stated, "This will be the last battle of the day, then. Take care not to take things too far. If I feel things are getting out of hand, I will intervene without hesitation."

With Vahn's acquiescence, Nero gave her characteristic 'umu' while Artoria replied with a proper bow. Afterward, they both moved to their starting positions as Vahn, Ozymandias, Alexander, and Altera moved to the Imperial Viewing Area.

Once Vahn took his seat upon the Throne, he noticed that Altera was still holding her tri-colored blade in hand as she watched the battlefield with emotionless, calculating, eyes. He doubted she would jump into the battle without being told to but, just in case, he spoke in a faint tone, saying, "Altera, put away your weapon. There are no more battles for you to fight today. Relax and observe the battle..."

Hearing her Master's command, Altera turned to look back at him, answering, "I see..." in a soft monotone before placing her sword back into her chest. Then, with no other words necessary, she turned to observe the battle with an unwavering gaze.

Vahn had the distinct impression that Altera knew little other than battle so, while others may think it was a picturesque scene; with her delicate frame and veil-like hair flowing gently amidst a flurry of rose petals, he couldn't shake the feeling he was witnessing something somber and melancholic. He needed to learn more about her past before it caught up to all of them so, after the battle between Artoria and Nero; he needed to discuss the matter with Alaya, Merlin, Scáthach, and, Altera herself...


When the final battle between Nero and Artoria began, Vahn was slightly surprised when the former, instead of beginning her performance; charged toward Artoria with incredible speed. Her figure was momentarily shrouded amidst flames which, in the next moment, gave way to reveal a reddish-black sword without a guard. At the same time, her outfit had once again changed, this time into a brilliant red battle-dress accented with whites and gold. She also had a pauldron on her right shoulder, her dominant arm, and two form-fitting greaves that had prominent heels.

With a sudden and intense burst of speed, Nero closed the distance between herself and Artoria in an instant; the latter waiting to meet her blow head-on. Vahn was able to see exactly how broken the [Imperial Privilege: EX] was in this moment as, after having her somewhat clumsy blow deflected by Artoria, Nero's movements instantly became more graceful as she twirled around on her heel and began a flurry of blows; each faster and sharper than the last.

Artoria never looked down on her opponents so, even when Nero's movements became an almost perfect emulation of her own abilities; she hadn't been caught off guard. Instead, she decided to use it as an opportunity to push her own swordsmans.h.i.+p further, knowing full well there were heights far beyond her current level of skill. Thus, to the awe of everyone except Altera, the two near-identical girls began a hypersonic dance of death; the trajectory of their attacks nearly impossible to read as a gradually increasing number of rose petals danced around them...

Though he knew Nero hadn't gone 'easy' on him, Vahn could tell she had been keeping some of her skills a secret in order to display her full might against Artoria. The main purpose of her partic.i.p.ation in today's challenge was to basically gain access to the Inner Sanctum so; from the beginning, Nero had set her sights on Artoria. In a way, she 'needed' to prove herself superior to the latter as, in her mind, it was simply unacceptable that someone borrowing her appearance was able to eclipse her in any category; even battle.

Unfortunately, even if she could display all of Artoria's skills with mastery, grace, and elegance, there was a gap in their parameters, overall battle experience, and ability to focus. Though she now had the earrings Vahn had given her, Nero still had trouble focusing her mind; even against an opponent right in front of her. Her nature made it nearly impossible for her to take a battle seriously as, due to her skewed view of what it meant to be an Emperor; she couldn't recognize that her opponent was a serious threat.

A stark contrast to Nero, Artoria entered into a state of absolute focus while in battle, her adherence to the chivalric code making it impossible for her to look down on opponents. She saw battles like this as an opportunity to improve herself, refine her skills, and breakthrough her limits. As for Nero, she saw battle as nothing more than a performance, a display of artistry, beauty, and elegance. Thus, as the battle progressed, Artoria was able to take advantage of the gaps in Nero's mentality; her holy sword periodically finding purchase to send out plumes of rose petals instead of blood...

During one particularly fierce exchange, Nero ended up getting cut from hip to chest in one clean swipe of Artoria's [Excalibur]. A ma.s.sive plume of rose petals escaped from the wound and, as if she had only just realized she was in battle, momentary focus flashed across Nero's emerald-green eyes. In the next moment, she attempted to parry Artoria's follow-up strike but, with the latter putting a considerable amount of strength into the blow; Nero's sword was sent careening through the air as a second blow, running perpendicular to the former, crossed her body.

Despite these two blows, Nero's smile never waned in the slightest. She used her momentary focus to stare back at Artoria, finding the latter with an intense and dauntless expression. This seemed to be amusing to her as, with her body dissipating into thousands of rose petals; Nero smiled with even greater brilliance than normal as she mused, "Umu, truly a woman worthy of our Master. You do our appearance justice, Empress, allow me to answer your resolution in kind..."

With Nero's figure disappearing from view, Artoria turned her attention to the surroundings, looking for any sign of the former's figure. She noticed there was an incredible volume of rose petals flowing counterclockwise throughout the entire theater but, after seeing Vahn destroy the attack previously, she was confident in being able to do the same.

Just as during her battle with Vahn, Nero's body reformed almost immediately after her previous figure vanished. This time, she appeared next to where her sword had been lodged into a wall, one of the places Artoria had been paying attention to from the start. Thus, following the sound of a loud explosion, the two golden-haired beauties began another round of exchanges; this time with Nero's sword blazing with vermillion flames that intermixed with the mana shrouding Artoria's body in a beautiful, albeit explosive, manner.

Though the infusion of flames into her attacks might have pressured other opponents, Artoria had fought against Karna on several occasions. She was also adept at using [Cantus Bellax] to create a permanant shroud of mana around her body so, while the flames were intense enough to gradually melt the magically enchanted gold in their surroundings, it wasn't enough to singe a single hair on Artoria's head. Instead, her own attacks became more intense as she began to infuse a considerable amount of mana into each blow, pus.h.i.+ng herself and Nero beyond their natural limits.

It was in the midst of these exchanges that Nero began to notice with increasing excitement that her usual headaches were nowhere to be seen. Even though she had started to focus on the battle, there was a gentle flow of energy in her mind that allowed her to remain calm; something that, if not for her status as an Emperor; would have brought a tear to her eye. Now, it brought an excited smile to her face as, with ever-increasing intensity, she began to meet Artoria's blows; her jubilation fueling her to continue.

As the intensity of the battle increased, so too did the volume of rose petals within the theater. There was also an audible sound of applause resonating throughout the grand hall, its volume tied to the intensity of the duo's 'performance'. Vahn had speculated this was the case during his battle against Nero so it was interesting to confirm it from the perspective of a spectator. From here, he could get a much better grasp on the nature of Nero's n.o.ble Phantasm; using it as inspiration to empower his own Reality Marble in the future...

Eventually, the sound of applause reached a crescendo and, after one particularly intense exchange with Artoria, Nero allowed her sword to be knocked aside freely. Then, spreading her arms wide, she fell towards the ground with an almost amorous look on her face as she allowed herself to crash into the floor below.

Since she had already seen Nero perform this same technique previously, Artoria wasted no time in pulling out and activating her [Avalon]. Then, as Nero appeared in the center, how having reverted back to her rose-red dress, Artoria, surprisingly, stored away [Excalibur]. Instead, she pulled out one of the most powerful, and awe-inspiringly beautiful, armaments in the entire world: [Rhongomyniad], the Lance that s.h.i.+nes to the Ends of the World.

Even Nero was captivated by the beauty of Artoria's spear, stopping her dance mid-step as she could tell there was no point in continuing. Then, for the second time in a single day, albeit with a smile on her face, she watched as her most powerful attack was destroyed. Artoria needed only raise her holy spear towards the sky to cause a majestic pillar of light to shatter, not just her theater, but Arcueid's Marble Phantasm. Fortunately, in preparation for these exact circ.u.mstances, the original location of the battle had taken place high above Avalon; even further up than where Leviathan usually idled...

When [Rhongomyniad]'s light finally faded away, 80% of Nero's theater, with the exception of the Imperial Viewing Area and the first floor, had been completely annihilated. To further emphasize her complete victory, Artoria didn't even seem winded by the attack as she stood proud; her aura both majestic and inviolable. In this form, she was virtually immune to any kind of damage, even that from True Magic and High Thaumaturgy. At the same time, she had one of the most powerful weapons in the entire Record in hand, it's full power able to deal lasting damage to even Tier 5 ent.i.ties.

With all of these things in her favor, even Altera wouldn't be able to contend against Artoria as, even with her monstrous power, she would be unable to 'reach' the latter. It was for this reason that Vahn had stated that Artoria was certain to be the winner as, even if he went all out, the best he could do is leave her with light wounds as they fought a literally endless battle. Though he would undoubtedly find some way to bypa.s.s her defenses, likely by entering Avalon himself, this wasn't something that others could hope to achieve without the all-powerful cheat that was Source Energy...

Thus, without any further suspense, the battle between Artoria and Nero was brought to an end as the latter gave a curt nod and muttered, "You performed exceptionally. Umu, this is my utter defeat." Then, having overtaxed her body far beyond its limits, Nero fell backward with her arms spread wide, a bed of rose petals spontaneously manifesting to cus.h.i.+on her fall... <-(p.atreon link)

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